"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." ~ James Baldwin
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
P O Box 1752 Paris TX 75461 ~ 903.783.9232 ~ naacp6213@yahoo.com
Meets First Thursday of Each Month at 6:00 PM ~ 121 E Booth

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rev. Joseph Lowery

"We pray now, oh Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration. He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national, and indeed the global, fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hands, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations." ~ Inaugural Benediction, January 20, 2009

Joseph E. Lowery was born October 6, 1921 in Huntsville, Alabama. His father was a mortician and his mother was a teacher. He earned a bachelor's degree from Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, a divinity degree from Paine Theological Seminary, and a doctorate in divinity from the Chicago Ecumenical Institute. He is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

While pastoring Warren Street Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama in 1955 Lowery was head of the Alabama Civic Affair Association during the Montgomery bus boycott. When boycott leaders joined together after its successful resolution to form the Southern Christian Leadership Convention, he was named vice president of the SCLC. He later served as board chairman (1967-1977) and president (1977-1997) while leading churches in Mobile, Birmingham and Atlanta.

With Martin Luther King
Currently Lowery is currently best known for giving the benediction at President Barack Obama's inauguration in January 2009. The prayer made many references to familiar phrases from the civil rights movement, starting with a verse from James Weldon Johnson's Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing and closing with a controversial allusion taken from Bill Broonzy's Black, Brown and White Blues.

celebration for Lowery's 90th birthday is scheduled for this Sunday in Atlanta.

Fannie Lou Hamer

"I guess if I'd had any sense, I'd have been a little scared - but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it seemed they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember."

Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer was born October 6, 1917 in Montgomery  County, Mississippi, and raised in Sunflower County in the Mississippi Delta. She was the youngest of 20 children and began picking cotton at the age of 6, leaving school in sixth grade to work full time in the fields. When she was in her twenties her employer found out she could read and write and made her a time keeper; in the evenings she cleaned his family's home.

In 1962 Hamer attended a SNCC rally at her church where speaker James Bevel urged the audience to register to vote. The next week she and 17 others rode in a rented bus to the county seat of Indianola to register, with Hamer leading the group in singing hymns and praying during the journey. She was unable to pass the test, which contained questions about such things as the state constitution, but passed it on the third try. Those involved in the voter drive were threatened and shots fired into their homes at night. Hamer and her husband lost their jobs and were evicted, losing their car and their furniture.

Hamer was hired as a field organizer by SNCC for $10 a week, working on voter registration and poverty programs throughout the state. In June 1963 she was part of a group arrested and badly beaten in Winona; as a result she most most of the sight in one eye and walked with a limp. During the Freedom Summer of 1964 she worked with youth volunteers from around the country and helped organize the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), a coalition of the different civil rights groups working on voting rights.

In response to the all-white state Democratic Party, African Americans founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, open to all residents. Hamer became the Vice Chair and spokesperson, leading a delegation at the Democratic National Convention in August 1964. In a nationally televised address the the Credentials Committee she outlined conditions in Mississippi and asked that the group be seated. President Lyndon Johnson, afraid of losing southern support, sent Humbert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and others to negotiate. When offered only two at-large seats, the MFDP refused. Although they were not represented in 1964, the publicity helped lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and changes in the party representation in 1968.

Hamer, along with Victoria Gray and Annie Devine, ran for Congress in 1964 and 1965 primaries on the MFDC ticket, again to challenge the legitimacy of the "regular" Democratic Party. Although all three lost, they challenged the seating of the elected representatives, claiming the state registrar's office had not recognized their petitions. The U. S. House of Representatives denied the challenge by an 85-vote margin.

Hamer with (l-r) Emory Harris, Stokely
 Carmichael, Sam Block, Eleanor
Holmes and Ella Baker
In 1968 Hamer served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, and was given a standing ovation when seated. Throughout her life continued to work for grass-roots change in the Delta through Head Start, Freedom Farm Cooperative, and a lawsuit for school integration. Shortly before her death she was named an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She died on March 14, 1977 in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. The phrase she is most known for, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired" is carved on her tombstone.

H. Rap Brown

In and of itself, color has no meaning. But the white world has given it meaning—political, social, economic, historical, physiological and philosophical. Once color has been given meaning an order is thereby established.

Hubert Gerold Brown was born October 4, 1943 in Baton Rouge, earning the nickname "Rap" as a teenager because of his verbal skills. He attended Southern High School and Southern University in Baton Rouge, spending summers in Washington D.C. with his older brother Ed, a a student at Howard University and member of Howard's Nonviolent Action Group (NAG). In 1964 he stayed in Washington instead of returning for his final year of college, and began working at the United Planning Center, a neighborhood anti-poverty program, and was named chair of NAG although he was not a Howard student.

Through NAG Brown had met several SNCC members, and in 1966 he became SNCC's Alabama Field Organizer, working on voter registration. When Stokely Carmichael resigned from SNCC the next year, Brown replaced  him as chairman but left himself in 1966 to join the Black Panther Party as a Minister of Justice.
"I say violence is necessary. It is as American as cherry pie."
After speaking at a July 1967 rally in Cambridge, Maryland that resulted in armed confrontations with police and fires that destroyed two city blocks, Brown was charged with inciting to riot and arson. His attorney, William Kunstler, arranged for him to turn himself in to the FBI, and while he was out on bail he was arrested for being in possession of a rifle while flying from Baton Rouge to New York City. The weapons charges were eventually dropped but when the Cambridge courthouse where Brown's arson trial was scheduled to take place was bombed, he disappeared and was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. He was arrested in New York City in October 1971 on robbery charges and served five years in Attica state prison.

While in Attica Brown converted to Islam, changing his name to Jamil Abdullah al-Amin. When he was released in 1976 he went to Atlanta, opening a grocery store and leading the Atlanta Community Mosque.

In 2000 he was charged with shooting Sheriff's Deputies Ricky Kinchen and Aldranon English as they were serving him with a warrant for failure to appear for a speeding ticket. Kinchen was killed; English survived and named al-Amin as the shooter. He was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole. Because of his high-profile background, in 2007 he was transferred to ADX Florence supermax prison in Colorado.

James Forman

"Forman was volatile and uncompromising, an angry young man. His head had been clubbed many times on the front lines in Dixie. He was impatient with Urban League and NAACP types; he was nervous and perhaps a trifle battle-fatigued." ~ James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart

James Forman was born October 4, 1928 in Chicago, spending time when he was not in school with his grandparents in Marshall County, Mississippi. He graduated with honors from Englewood High School in 1947 and after a semester at a community college joined the Air Force, serving in Okinawa. He then enrolled at the University of Southern California but after being arrested outside the campus library on suspicion of robbery and being beaten while in custody he returned to Chicago. In 1954 he enrolled in Chicago's Roosevelt University, graduating in three years. He began attending graduate school at Boston University, but after being inspired by the court-ordered integration of Central High acquired press credentials from the Chicago Defender in 1958 and went to Little Rock, where as his obituary in the Washington Post stated, he "filed a few stories, worked on a social-protest novel and looked for opportunities to organize mass protests in the South."

Such an opportunity came through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and by 1961 Forman had been named Executive Secretary of SNCC under Chairman John Lewis. His skill at organizing and directing voter registration volunteers, as well as handling administrative details, publicity, and fundraising, were what Eleanor Holmes Norton called an "organizational miracle in holding together a loose band of nonviolent revolutionaries who simply wanted to act together to eliminate racial discrimination and terror." SNCC became one of the "Big Five" civil rights groups, along with the older National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Urban League, Congress of Racial Equality, and Southern Christian Leadership Convention. Forman took part in organizing the August 1963 March on Washington and was responsible for rewriting Lewis's speech to make it less inflammatory. The next year he led a group of 10 SNCC members in a visit to Guinea.

As SNCC became more militant, in 1966 Lewis and Forman were replaced in office by Stokely Carmichael and Ruby Doris Robinson. Forman helped negotiate the brief merger between SNCC and the Black Panther Party, and for a time took part in Panther leadership, serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Director of Political Education. In 1969 he participated in the Black Economic Development Conference in Detroit, culminating in the "Black Manifesto" calling for $500,000,000 in reparations.

Forman continued to write and participate in the civil rights movement. In 1980 he earned a master's degree in African American History from Cornell University, and in 1982 a PhD from the Institute for Policy Studies Union of Experimental Colleges and Universities. He taught at American University and campaigned for statehood for the District of Columbia. He died January 10, 2005 at the age of 76. His son, James Forman, Jr is a professor at the Yale Law School.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Timothy Thomas Fortune

During twenty years of active journalism in New York I have found it to be true that the successes we achieve in life, of whatever character, usually cost us so much in effort and anxiety that very little capacity for the enjoyment of the fruits of our labors is left us.

Timothy Thomas Fortune was born October 3, 1856 in Marianna, Florida. He was educated at the first Freedmen's School in Florida and served as a page in the State Senate before apprenticing at a Jacksonville newspaper. After studying journalism for a year at Howard University he worked at the People's Advocate newspaper in Washington, D.C. before relocating to New York City in 1881.

Fortune then worked as a printer and editor for several newspapers before acquiring financing in 1884 to establish his own paper, The New York Globe, later known as The New York Freedman and The New York Age. Also in 1884 he published his first book, Black and White: Land, Labor and Politics in the South, a vivid description of the discrimination and racism of the post-Reconstruction era. His writing appeared in 30 books, including a volume of poetry, Dreams of Life, in 1905.

In 1890 Fortune led a meeting of over 100 delegates from 23 states to form the National Afro-American League, which he had proposed in an earlier editorial as a "national all-black coalition of state and local chapters to assert equal rights and protest discrimination, disenfranchisement, lynching, and mob law." The League only lasted four years but was revived in 1898 as the National Afro-American Council, which again met with little success yet stayed in existence long enough to serve as a fore-runner of the Niagara Movement. Fortune is credited with being the first person to use the term "Afro-American."

Although after the death of Frederick Douglass in 1895 Fortune was considered the most outspokenly militant African American in the North, he frequently collaborated with Booker T. Washington, editing  for Washington and promoting his views in the Age. This stance led to criticism and decreased revenue for the paper, and after years of heavy drinking Fortune suffered a nervous breakdown in 1907. His biographer, Emma Lou Thornbrough wrote that "unable to bend as Washington had, he was broken." Washington, as a major stockholder, took control of the Age, later selling it to Fred R. Moore. It continued to be published until 1960.

Fortune gradually recovered and worked at newspapers in Philadelphia, Washington, and Indianapolis, and in 1923 became editor of Marcus Garvey's Negro World. He died in Philadelphia on June 2, 1928 at the age of 71.

Bartow Black

’Twas when the Proclamation came,—
   Far in the sixties back,—
He left his lord, and changed his name
   To “Mister Bartow Black.”

He learned to think himself a man,
   And privileged, you know,
To adopt a new and different plan,—
   To lay aside the hoe.

He took the lead in politics,
   And handled all the “notes,”—
For he was up to all the tricks
   That gather in the votes;

For when the war came to a close
   And negroes “took a stand,”
Young Bartow with the current rose,
   The foremost in command.

His voice upon the “stump” was heard;
   He “Yankeedom” did prate;
The “carpet-bagger” he revered;
   The Southerner did hate.

He now was greater than the lord
   Who used to call him slave,
For he was on the “County Board,”
   With every right to rave.

But this amazing run of luck
   Was far too good to stand;
And soon the chivalrous “Ku-Klux”
   Rose in the Southern land.

Then Bartow got a little note,—
   ’Twas very queerly signed,—
It simply told him not to vote,
   Or be to death resigned.

Young Bartow thought this little game
   Was very fine and nice
To bring his courage rare to shame
   And knowledge of justice.

“What right have they to think I fear?”
   He to himself did say.
“Dare they presume that I do care
   How loudly they do bray?

“This is my home, and here I die,
   Contending for my right!
Then let them come! My colors fly!
   I’m ready now to fight!

“Let those who think that Bartow Black,—
   An office-holder, too!—
Will to the cowards show his back,
   Their vain presumption rue!”

Bartow pursued his office game,
   And made the money, too,
But home at nights he wisely came
   And played the husband true.

When they had got their subject tame,
   And well-matured their plan,
They at the hour of midnight came,
   And armed was every man!

They numbered fifty Southern sons,
   And masked was every face;
And Winfield rifles were their guns,—
   You could that plainly trace.

One Southern brave did have a key,
   An entrance quick to make;
They entered all; but meek, you see,
   Their victim not to wake!

They reached his room! He was in bed,—
   His wife was by his side!
They struck a match above his head,—
   His eyes he opened wide!

Poor Bartow could not reach his gun,
   Though quick his arm did stretch,
For twenty bullets through him spun,
   That stiffly laid the wretch.

And then they rolled his carcass o’er,
   And filled both sides with lead;
And then they turned it on the floor,
   And shot away his head!

Ere Black his bloody end did meet
   His wife had swooned away;
The Southern braves did now retreat,—
   There was no need to stay!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

John Russwurm

"We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the public been deceived by misrepresentation of things which concern us dearly. It shall ever be our daily duty to vindicate our brethren, when oppressed, and to lay the cause before the public... From the press and the pulpit we have suffered much by being incorrectly represented. Men... have not hesitated to represent us disadvantageously, without becoming personally acquainted with the true state of things."

John Brown Russwurm was born October 1, 1799 in Port Antonio, Jamaica to a white English father and a black enslaved mother. He was sent to school in Quebec at the age of seven and later came to live with his father and step-mother in Portland, Maine. He attended Hebron Academy and after graduation taught at an African American school in Boston. Although his father had died, he returned to Maine in 1824 to live with his step-mother and attend Bowdoin College. He graduated two years later, becoming the third African American college graduate in the country.

Russwurm then went to New York City where he and Samuel Cornish, a Presbyterian minister, began publishing Freedom's Journal, the first newspaper to be owned operated, edited, and published by African Americans. Although the paper originally opposed  the American Colonization Society's efforts to organize African Americans to emigrate to Liberia, when Cornish resigned leaving Russwurm as sole editor, Russwurm began promoting colonization.

Russwurm settled in Liberia in 1829, working as editor of the Liberia Herald and Superintendent of Education in Monrovia, the capital. In 1836 he became Governor of Maryland-in-Liberia, a settlement founded by the Maryland Colonization Society. He worked to build relationships with neighboring Africans as well as with the white leaders of the colonization societies.  After Liberia gained independence in 1847 he worked to unite the two colonies, although this did not occur until after his death. He died in Liberia on June 17, 1851 at the age of 51.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Richard Berry Harrison

"... the strangest thing about it all is not that I dared to do it, but that I got audiences of my own race and kept them awake while doing Shakespeare—taking all the parts, moving from side to side of the stage or hall without letting people see that I was moving, holding them without any let-ups between bits of dialogue. I did that for twenty years all over this country, keeping at the last, seven plays and more than 100 recitations in my mind."

Richard Berry Harrison was born on September 28, 1864 in London, Ontario to parents who escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad. Reputedly he was named for Shakespeare's play Richard III. As a child he sold newspapers on the street, often outside theaters in hopes of meeting the actors. He saved money to attend plays and often recited in church and school.

As a teenager he worked as a bellhop in Detroit, sometimes receiving theater or opera tickets as tips from guests. One guest, theater manager Chambliss Hill, arranged for him to attend the Detroit Training School of Art. After Harrison graduated in 1887 Hill tried to help him get acting roles but none were available for African Americans. In 1891 Harrison began touring the country in a one-man show, reciting poetry and Shakespearean monologues. He met poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar at the Chicago Exhibition in 1893 and the two toured together, with Harrison reading from Dunbar's book Oak and Ivy.

Harrison then worked as a railway porter and dining car steward, and contacts made on the railroad enabled him to study with the Jessie Bonstelle Stock Company in Detroit and to be hired as a reader for the Behymer Lyceum Bureau in Los Angeles. While touring with the Lyceum Bureau he began teaching elocution and drama to church groups and started a summer program in New York. He also taught courses and workshops at North Carolina A&T, Branch Normal College (now University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff), and Flipper-Key College in Oklahoma. In 1922 Harrison started a summer drama program for teachers at NCA&T, spending his winters teaching, directing, and speaking for the Greater New York Federation of Churches.

In 1930 Harrison was cast as The Lord in Marc Connelly's Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Green Pastures, although at first he was reluctant to take the part, saying the play sounded like "Uncle Tom in Heaven". It ran on Broadway for 16 months, and Harrison toured for another five years, with a total of 1657 performances. He became well known throughout the country, and received the NAACP's Spingarn Medal in 1930 for his performance and for his earlier work on stage and teaching. On his 70th birthday in 1934 he was awarded an honorary MA from Howard University and honorary PhD's from NCA&T and Lincoln University. He appeared on the cover of Time  magazine one week before he died on March 14, 1935 at the age of 70.

"Richard B. Harrison still draws out of us a reverence and wonder that we do not often feel toward mortal men; and as long as he walks the earth like a natural man but with a serenity that now distinguishes him from his fellows, sheer goodness will continue to seem like a miracle. What moves us to tears in the theatre is the sight of that kindly, gentle old man and the sound of his resonant voice. The Green Pastures has enriched him. His performance has grown in simplicity and warmth of his spirit." ~ Brooks Atkinson, New York Times

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hiram Revels

“I find that the prejudice in this country to color is very great, and I sometimes fear that it is on the increase…. If the nation should take a step for the encouragement of this prejudice against the colored race, can they have any grounds upon which to predicate a hope that Heaven will smile upon them and prosper them?”

Hiram Rhodes Revels was born September 27, 1822 in Fayetteville, North Carolina to a free mixed-race father and Scots mother. Although it was illegal to teach African American children at the time, he was secretly tutored by a free African American woman as a child, and was apprenticed as a barber by his brother. He then attended seminary in Indiana, and was ordained by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1845. After serving temporary appointments in several states he attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and was then appointed to a congregation in Baltimore where he was also principal of a boys' high school.

During the Civil War Revels helped form two Union regiments and served as a chaplain at Vicksburg, Mississippi, seeing action at the Battle of Vicksburg. After the war he moved from the AME Church to the Methodist Episcopal Church, and served in Lexington, Kentucky and New Orleans before settling in Natchez. He worked two years with the Freedmen's Bureau establishing schools near Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi.

Revels was elected alderman in Natchez in 1868 and to the Mississippi State Senate in 1869. On the first day the senate was in session in January 1870 he gave an opening prayer that fellow Natchez politician John R. Lynch described in his memoirs as "...one of the most impressive and eloquent prayers that had ever been delivered in the [Mississippi] Senate Chamber.... It impressed those who heard it that Revels was not only a man of great natural ability but that he was also a man of superior attainments." The State Senate was responsible for choosing U. S. Senators at the time, and Revels was elected to fill a one-year term in the unexpired seat that Jefferson Davis had vacated in 1861.

Opponents in the U. S. Senate claimed that Revels had been a citizen for only the two years since the Fourteenth Amendment had been ratified, but the Senate voted to seat him by a margin of 48 to 8, and on February 25, 1870 he became the first African American United States Senator. Since that time there have been five others. Revels served on the Education and Labor Committee and the Washington D.C. Committee, unsuccessfully fighting a bill to keep Washington schools segregated.

After leaving the Senate, Revels was named president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University) in Claiborne, Mississippi, the first land-grant college for African American students. He resigned in 1874 for political reasons but returned two years later under a new state administration after having taught theology at Shaw College (now Rust College) in Holly Springs.

Revels retired from Alcorn in 1882 but continued in the ministry, pastoring a Methodist Episcopal Church in Holly Springs and later serving as district superintendent. He died at a church conference in Aberdeen, Mississippi on January 16, 1901 at the age of 78.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Alexander Twilight

But subjugation by war and superiority of physical or intellectual strength never gave man the right to reduce his fellow man to his service without his own consent. This however was the custom in antiquity and seemed to be quietly submitted to, till a recent date.  This practice built the mighty pyramids of Egypt, and has handed down to us the errors of those times.... From these practices of barbarism, ignorance and cruelty, arose our American slavery, so much detested now by enlightened nations, as knowledge has so much increased.  That such remains of the past should be found at the present day, rests upon this fact that men do not advance alike or upon the same subjects at the same time, owing more to circumstances than any other cause. ~ Alexander Twilight, Sermon #14

Alexander Lucius Twilight was born September 26, 1795 to free, mixed-race parents in Corinth, Vermont. From the age of 8 he worked as a laborer on a neighbor's farm, reading and educating himself in his spare time. In 1815 he enrolled in Randolph's Orange County Grammar School, completing secondary school and two years of college. He then entered Middlebury College as a junior, earning a bachelor's degree in 1823, reportedly the first African American in the country to do so.

Twilight then taught in Peru, New York while studying theology and was licensed to preach by the Presbyterian Church.  In 1829 he was hired as headmaster of the Orleans County Grammar School, later known as Brownington Academy, in Brownington, Vermont. He also served as pastor of the local Congregational church.

Athenian Hall
Twilight designed and raised funds for Athenian Hall, a four-story dormitory competed in 1836. The first granite public building in Vermont, it now serves as the Old Stone House Museum and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The same year he was elected to the Vermont General Assembly, becoming the first African American to serve in a state legislature.

Due to disputes with school trustees, Twilight left Brownington in 1847 and taught in Quebec before returning five years later to resume his duties as headmaster until incapacitated by a stroke in 1855. He died June 19, 1857 in Brownington at the age of 61.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mary Church Terrell

"Surely nowhere in the world do oppression and persecution based solely on the color of the skin appear more hateful and hideous than in the capital of the United States, because the chasm between the principles upon which this Government was founded, in which it still professes to believe, and those which are daily practiced under the protection of the flag, yawn so wide and deep."

 Mary Eliza Church was born on September 23, 1863 to free, middle-class parents in Memphis, Tennessee. She attended elementary and high school in the north, and received a bachelor's degree in the classics from Oberlin College in 1884, serving as editor of the Oberlin Review and being named class poet. She was one of the first African American women in the country to earn a college degree. She then taught at Wilberforce College in Xenia, Ohio and at M Street High School (now Dunbar High) in Washington DC before returning to Oberlin for a master's degree. She then studied in Europe for two years, and when she returned she married Robert H. Terrell, her supervisor at M Street.

Married women were not allowed to teach at the time, and she became active in women's suffrage and civil rights movements, writing and lecturing throughout the south and the east.  In 1896 she became president of the newly-founded National Association of Colored Women's Clubs. She served on the Washington DC Board of Education from 1895 through 1906, the first African American woman in the country to hold such a position. In 1904 she was invited to participate at the International Congress of Women in Berlin, and she gave her speech in German and French as well as English.

Along with Ida Wells-Barnett, Terrell was one of the two African American women signing the call that led to the formation of the NAACP in 1909. She was also a founder and charter member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. During World War I she worked with the War Camp Community Service, providing recreation and demobilization help for African American servicemen. After the war she was a delegate to the International Peace Conference in London. When the 19th amendment gave women the vote she was elected president of the Women's Republican League during Harding's campaign in 1920.

Terrell continued her public appearances for civil rights with the goal of educating the white population about the discrimination, lynching and disenfranchisement of African Americans. In 1950 at the age of 86 she participated in a sit-in at Thompson's Cafeteria in Washington, and was part of a lawsuit filed when the group was not served. Three years later the Supreme Court in their favor, which was the beginning of desegregation in Washington. She died July 24, 1954 at the age of 90 in Annapolis, Maryland.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Charles L Black

 "If a whole race of people finds itself confined within a system which is set up and continued for the very purpose of keeping it in an inferior station, and if the question is then solemnly propounded whether such a race is being treated 'equally,' I think we ought to exercise one of the sovereign prerogatives of philosophers — that of laughter."

Charles Lund Black, Jr. was born September 22, 1915 in Austin, Texas, the son of a prominent attorney. He graduated from high school at age 16 and attended the University of Texas, earning a bachelor's degree in Greek and a master's degree in English. The studied Old and Middle English at Yale before earning an LLB from the Yale Law School in 1943.

Black served as a teacher in the Army Air Corps and worked a year in private practice before joining the faculty of the Columbia University School of Law. While there he worked with Thurgood Marshall writing legal briefs for Brown v Board of Education and did other civil rights work throughout the south. In 1956 he became the first Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale, and in 1986 returned to Columbia as an adjunct professor when his wife, Barbara Aronson Black, was named dean of the law school. He was known as a leading scholar in constitutional law, using a structural analysis of the language and logic of the entire document
"He was my hero. He made so many of the great moral issues of the twentieth century seem clear in retrospect, although they were quite controversial at the time. He had the moral courage to go against his race, his class, his social circle." Akhil Amar, former student and current Yale constitutional law professor
Black's interest in human rights was awakened in 1931 when a performance by jazz great Louis Armstrong at the Driskill Hotel in Austin led him to question the cultural norms of racism and segregation. He was a vehement opponent of capital punishment, and his 1974 book Capital Punishment: The Inevitability of Caprice and Mistake argues against its use. He wrote over twenty books dealing with law, including Law of Admiralty (1957, with Grant Gilmore), widely-used as a practical reference to maintain consistent maritime law around the world, and Impeachment: A Handbook, published in 1974 during the Watergate hearings.

Black had many interests and talents outside the law. He began writing poetry at the age of 40, publishing three books of verse. A musician, he played the trumpet and harmonica, and narrated a segment on Louis Armstrong in Ken Burn's Jazz documentary. In 1971 he began hosting a Louis Armstrong evening at Yale Law School on the anniversary of Armstrong's death, playing 78 RPM records from the 1920's and 30's. He was also a sculptor and painter, and acted in Yale theater productions, including starring as Cicero in Julius Caesar. He died in New York City on May 5, 2001 at the age of 85.
"When you let it be known that you're against racism, you immediately meet the nicest people. The same is true of capital punishment."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kwame Nkrumah

"There is a close connection between socio-political development, the struggle between social classes and the history of ideologies. In general, intellectual movements closely reflect the trends of economic developments. In communal society, where there are virtually no class divisions, man's productive activities on outlook and culture is less discernible. Account must be taken of the psychology of conflicting classes." ~ Kwame Nkrumah, Class Struggle in Africa

Kwame Nkrumah was born September 21, 1909 in Nkroful, Gold Coast (now Ghana). He was educated at Catholic mission schools and seminary, and taught for several years before coming to the United States to study in 1935. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics and sociology from Lincoln University, followed by a degree in theology. While at Lincoln he organized and was president of the African Students Organization. He then attended the University of Pennsylvania, receiving master's degrees in education and philosophy, and went on to study at the London School of Economics where he helped organize the fifth annual Pan-African Congress. During these years he was influenced by the works of DuBois, Gandhi, Lenin, Marx and Garvey.

In 1947 Nkrumah left England to serve as General Secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention, a moderate nationalist movement. He became a leader among the younger, more eglitarian members of the party, and his campaign for universal suffrage gained him the support of farmers, union workers and women. He formed the Convention People's Party in 1949, which sought independence through civil disobiedience and non-cooperation with the British. The colonial administration arrested Nkrumah and other CPP leaders, and he was sentenced to three years in prison.

The British called for a general election on limited home rule in February 1951, and the CPP won 34 of 38 seats in the Legislative Assembly. Nkrumah was released from prison and named Leader of Government Business. The constitution was amended to provide for a Prime Minister, and he was elected to this position by the Assembly in March 1953. The CCP pursued full independence, and on March 6, 1957 the Gold Coast became the first black African nation liberated from British rule, merging with British Togoland to form Ghana. A new constitution was ratified in 1960, with Nkrumah being elected President. He increased his focus on pan-Africanism, traveling throughout the continent, and Ghana became a charter member of the Organization of African Unity in 1963.

Nkrumah's legacy as a African nationalist and visionary is unequaled but his leadership in Ghana steadily deteriorated and became more repressive. In 1958 the Preventive Detention Act suppressed political opponents by calling for the arrest and detention of anyone criticizing the government, without recourse to a jury trial. Although Nkrumah had supported labor strikes earlier, in 1961 he had strikers arrested because the strikes interfered with industrial expansion. In 1964 the CPP became the only legal political party and Nkrumah was elected President-for-Life.

With W. E. B. DuBois
Assassination attempts were made in 1962 and 1964, and shortly after Nkrumah left for a visit to North Viet Nam and China in February 1966 Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka of the National Liberation Council staged a successful coup. Nkrumah never returned to Ghana, continuing his pan-African efforts from Guinea at the invitation of President Sekou Toure. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1971 and went to Bucharest, Romania for treatment where he died April 27, 1972 at the age of 62.

Troy Davis

That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.
                             --Langston Hughes

Unless there is a last-minute intervention, Troy Davis will be put to death tonight at 7:00 EDT by the State of Georgia. In 1991 Davis was found guilty of the first degree murder of police officer Mark McPhail. Two years earlier McPhail was shot in a parking lot while working as a security guard at a Burger King. Since then, seven of nine eye-witnesses have recanted their testimony. There is no physical evidence -- fingerprints, weapons, or DNA -- linking Davis to the crime. Three of the jurors who voted for the death penalty now believe they were mistaken. Witnesses claim to have heard Davis's original accuser, Sylvester "Redd" Coles, confess to the murder.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have made appeals on behalf of Davis. So have former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former FBI Director William Sessions. Yesterday, NAACP National President Ben Jealous issued this statement urging supporters to fast and gather this evening.

Click here for petition information, email addresses and phone numbers to contact, or for the most current information check Twitter or Facebook using the hashtags #TooMuchDoubt or #TroyDavis. 

Below is a message Troy Davis wrote to his supporters on September 10.
 To All:
I want to thank all of you for your efforts and dedication to Human Rights and Human Kindness, in the past year I have experienced such emotion, joy, sadness and never ending faith. It is because of all of you that I am alive today, as I look at my sister Martina I am marveled by the love she has for me and of course I worry about her and her health, but as she tells me she is the eldest and she will not back down from this fight to save my life and prove to the world that I am innocent of this terrible crime. 
As I look at my mail from across the globe, from places I have never ever dreamed I would know about and people speaking languages and expressing cultures and religions I could only hope to one day see first hand. I am humbled by the emotion that fills my heart with overwhelming, overflowing Joy. I can’t even explain the insurgence of emotion I feel when I try to express the strength I draw from you all, it compounds my faith and it shows me yet again that this is not a case about the death penalty, this is not a case about Troy Davis, this is a case about Justice and the Human Spirit to see Justice prevail. 
I cannot answer all of your letters but I do read them all, I cannot see you all but I can imagine your faces, I cannot hear you speak but your letters take me to the far reaches of the world, I cannot touch you physically but I feel your warmth everyday I exist. 
So Thank you and remember I am in a place where execution can only destroy your physical form but because of my faith in God, my family and all of you I have been spiritually free for some time and no matter what happens in the days, weeks to come, this Movement to end the death penalty, to seek true justice, to expose a system that fails to protect the innocent must be accelerated. There are so many more Troy Davis’. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this Unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country. 
I can’t wait to Stand with you, no matter if that is in physical or spiritual form, I will one day be announcing, 
Never Stop Fighting for Justice and We will Win!  

Update: Troy Davis died at 11:08 PM EDT. His last words were to his executioners, "May God bless your souls." NAACP President Ben Jealous had this reaction.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Jelly Roll Morton

"When my grandmother found out that I was playing jazz in one of the sporting houses in the District, she told me that I had disgraced the family and forbade me to live at the house... She told me that devil music would surely bring about my downfall, but I just couldn't put it behind me."

Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe was born September 20, 1895 in New Orleans accordings to statements by himself and his siblings, although other accounts give a date of October 20, 1890. He took the last name of Morton from his stepfather; it may have been an Anglicized version of Mouton.

Morton played the harmonica, guitar and trombone as young child and by age 14 was playing piano in the brothels of Storyville. He was mentored there by ragtime pianist and composer Tony Jackson, and claimed that their after-hours jam sessions were the beginnings of jazz. It was at this time that he began using the nickname "Jelly Roll". By 1904 he was touring the South playing in minstrel shows and  honky-tonks.

Settling in Chicago in 1914, Morton began writing down his compositions with Jelly Roll Blues being the first published jazz sheet music. After living in Los Angeles and Vancouver he returned to Chicago in 1923 and began recording on the Victor label with his band, The Red Hot Peppers, becoming the most widely-known jazz musician of the day. The depression and the rise of swing music put an end to his recording career and he started touring with burlesque shows until 1935 when he was hired as the manager and piano player for a bar in the Shaw area of Washington DC.

Morton was asked by folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax to record music and interviews for the Library of Congress in 1938, producing over eight hours of tapes. These were released as a CD boxed set in 2005, winning two Grammy Awards, as well as a lifetime achievement award for Morton.

During the time of Lomax's interviews, Morton was stabbed in a bar fight, worsening previous lung problems. He moved to California to live in a more moderate climate, and died in Los Angeles on July 10, 1941.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fugitive Slave Act

"I hear a good deal said about trampling this law under foot. Why, one need not go out of his way to do that. This law rises not to the level of the head or the reason; its natural habitat is in the dirt. It was born and bred, and has its life, only in the dust and mire, on a level with the feet; and he who walks with freedom, and does not with Hindoo mercy avoid treading on every venomous reptile, will inevitably tread on it, and so trample it under foot,—and Webster, its maker, with it, like the dirt-bug and its ball." ~ Henry David Thoreau

The Fugitive Slave Act was passed September 18, 1850 as part of the 1850 Compromise between Southern slave states and Northern free states. It required states to returned escaped slaves to their owners with marshals receiving a  bonus for capturing slaves and being fined $1000 if they did not arrest an alleged escapee. Private citizens were fined the same amount for providing food, shelter, or transportation to runaways. An owner could claim a slave had fled by signing an affidavit, and no jury trials were held. As a result, many free blacks were arrested and sold into slavery. Between the time the act was passed and the beginning of the Civil War, an estimated 20,000 blacks fled to Canada.

Abolitionists increased their efforts with the passage of the act, and many citizens who had previously been neutral on the issue of slavery began to oppose it because the act made all residents and elected officials responsible for enforcement. Further adding to the opposition was the publication in 1852 of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.

In November 1850 Vermont passed the "Habeus Corpus Law" requiring state officials to aid escaped slaves, thus nullifying the Fugitive Slave Act in that state. The Wisconsin Supreme Court declared the act unconstitutional in 1854, although this decision was overturned five years later. Jury nullification in other states led to those being accused of helping runaways being found not guilty, most notably a case involving the rescue of Shadrach Menkins in Boston in 1851 prosecuted by Daniel Webster.

Although part of a compromise designed to appease both sides, the act solidified the North in opposition to slavery and the demands of the South. Thus, it became one of the major causes that led to secession and the Civil War.

Mary Burnett Talbert

“The hour has come in America for every woman, white and black, to save the name of her beloved country from shame by demanding that the barbarous custom of lynching and burning at the stake be stopped now and forever."

Mary Burnett Talbert was born September 18, 1866 in Oberlin, Ohio and graduated from Oberlin College in 1886 with a degree in literature. She taught at Bethel University in Little Rock for one year and then became assistant prinicipal of  Little Rock's Union High School, the first African American woman in the country to be an assistant principal.

In 1891 she married William Talbert and moved with him to his home town of Buffalo. She was a founding member of Buffalo's Phyllis Wheatley Club in 1899, the city's first affiliate with the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, which organized efforts to include an African American exhibit in the Buffalo's Pan American Exhibition of 1901 and to protest a plantation exhibit.

Meetings to organize the Niagara Movement were held in Talbert's home in 1905. She was also a founding member of the NAACP in 1909, forming a Buffalo chapter the next year and later serving as a national board member and anti-lynching committee chair. She was awarded the NAACP's Spingarn Medal in 1921, the first woman to receive this honor.

Talbert also worked to stop lynchings through the NACWC, which she served as national president from 1916 to 1920. During this time she was a delegate to the International Council of Women in Norway, and spoke throughout Europe about the conditions facing African Americans in the United States. Other priorities of the NACWC under her leadership were women's suffrage, prison reform, and restoration of the Frederick Douglass Home.

In addition to public speaking, Talbert wrote essays on a variety of topics, including the Achievements of African Americans in Twentieth Century Negro Literature. She died on October 15, 1923 at the age of 57.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing

"The blood of our little children is on your hands. Your irresponsible and misguided actions have created in Birmingham and Alabama the atmosphere that has induced continued violence and now murder." ~ Martin Luther King Jr. in a telegram to Alabama Governor George Wallace

On September 15, 1963 at 10:22 AM an explosion at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama killed four young girls in a basement ladies' room while they were preparing to take part in a special youth service. Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were fourteen years old; Denise McNair was eleven. Twenty-three others were injured. Klansman Robert Chambliss was identified as having placed a box under the steps of the church earlier that morning. A month later Chambliss was found not guilty of murder, and fined $100 for having dynamite in his possession.

Johnny Robinson, 16, was shot and killed by police later that day after throwing rocks at a car driven by whites waving the Confederate battle flag. Virgil Ware, 13, died after being shot by white teenagers while riding his bike.

The bombing drastically increased support of the civil rights movement, both nationally and abroad as the public could no longer accept the violence shown by opponents of the movement. Less than a year later on July 2, 1964 President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

In the 1970's Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley reopened the case, and found evidence in FBI files not presented at the original trial. In November 1977 Chambliss was convicted of first-degree murder at age 73 and sentenced to life in prison. He died in 1985. In 2000 the FBI announced that other suspects were Thomas Blanton, Bobby Cherry and Herman Cash. Blanton and Cherry were both convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Cash had died in 1994.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, 2005
The church was often a meeting place for civil rights organizations, such as CORE and SNCC which met there earlier in the year to plan and train for integration efforts and voter registration. After demonstrators had been met with fire hoses and police dogs, and two thousand including Dr. King were jailed, an agreement with city leaders had been reached in May to begin integration of public places.

The Children Who Died

Johnny Robinson, age 16
Shot in the back by police officer Jack Parker firing from a squad car. Others in the car said the driver going over a bump or hitting his brakes could have caused Parker to fire. Other witnesses heard two shots. Robinson's family never talked about his death, and his brother and sister went to school the next day. "They shouldn't have just focused on them little girls," said Robinson's sister, Diane Robinson Samuels.

No photograph or information is available for Virgil Ware, age 13

Addie Mae Collins (4/18/1949 - 9/15/1963)

She and her sisters sold their mother's handmade aprons and potholders door-to-door after school. Liked playing hopscotch, singing in the church choir, drawing portraits and wearing bright colors. The youth center at an Ishkooda Road church in Birmingham is named for her.

Denise McNair (11/17/1951 - 9/15/1963)

Held tea parties, was in the Brownies, and liked to play baseball. Organized a neighborhood talent show in her garage every year to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy. Always smiled in pictures even when she lost her baby teeth.

Carole Robertson 4/24/1949 - 9/15/1963

Took tap, ballet and jazz dancing lessons on Saturday mornings. Avid reader and made straight A's. Member of Jack and Jill, Girl Scouts, marching band, science club. Wanted to be a history teacher when she grew up.

Cynthia Wesley (4/30/1949 - 9/15/1963)

Wore a size two and her mother made all her clothes. Liked to have parties in her back yard. She had invited a friend, Ricky Powell, to the youth service. He had agreed to come but instead had to attend a funeral with his family.

Information about the girls is from a Birmingham News article by Chanda Temple. Click here for the entire article, along with background on the bombing and Dr. King's eulogy for them.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Constance Baker Motley

"A lioness who braved great danger to use the laws of this land to fight racial bigotry" ~ DeWayne Wickham

Constance Baker Motley was born September 14, 1921 in New Haven, Conneticut, where her father was the chef at Yale's Skull & Bones Club and her mother was a founding member of the NAACP chapter. At the age of 15 she decided to become a civil rights attorney after being turned away from a whites-only swimming pool. While in high school she was president of the NAACP Youth Council and secretary of the Adult Community Center. Unable to afford college, her community service background led to a job with the National Youth Commission after having spent several months after graduation as a domestic worker.

While speaking at the Dixwell Community House, a local African American center, she came to the attention of local philanthropist Clarence Blakeslee, the primary donor of the center. Impressed by her intelligence and commitment, he offered to pay for her education. Motley first enrolled in Fisk University in Memphis, then transferred to New York University where she earned a bachelor's degree in economics in 1943. She then attended the Columbia University School of Law, graduating in 1946.

With James Meredith
While still in law school, Motley began clerking for Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Her early duties centered on discrimination in the military during and after World War II, and she worked on hundreds of court-martial cases brought to the NAACP. As the LDEF began focusing on education, she worked on Sweatt v. Painter, and wrote the briefs for Brown v. Board of Education.

After the successful Brown decision, she continued to work on school desegregation cases including those of Autherine Lucy, Charlayne Hunter Gault, and James Meredith. In Meredith v. Fair she became the first African American woman to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court. Throughout her twenty-year career with the LDEF she appeared before the Supreme Court ten times, winning nine and having the tenth -- a case involving minority representation on juries -- overturned in her favor twenty years later.

Motley was elected to the New York State Senate in 1964, and a year later was chosen by the New York City Council to fill a one-year vacancy as Manhattan Borough President. President Johnson appointed her U. S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York in 1966. She was the first African American woman on the Federal bench, and became Chief Judge in 1982 and Senior Judge in 1986. President Clinton gave her the Presedential Citizens' Medal in 2001, and she received the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 2003. She died in New York city on September 28, 2005 at the age of 84.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Alain Locke

"For generations the Negro has been the peasant matrix of that section of America which has most undervalued him, and here he has contributed not only materially in labor and in social patience, but spiritually as well.... In less than half a generation it will be easier to recognize this, but the fact remains that a leaven of humor, sentiment, imagination and tropic nonchalance has gone into the making of the South from a humble, unacknowledged source."

Alain Locke was born September 13, 1886 in Philadelphia. His grandfather, Ishmael Locke, had studied at Cambridge and established schools in Liberia before becoming the headmaster of a school in Providence, Rhode Island. He attended Harvard University, graduating summa cum laude with degrees in History and philosophy in three years as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and became the first African American Rhodes Scholar, studying at Hertford College of Oxford University. He then attended the University of Berlin and the College de France.

In 1912 Locke began teaching English at Howard University, where W.E.B. DuBois and Carter G. Woodson were also on the faculty. In 1917 he returned to Harvard, earning a doctorate in philosophy. His dissertation was on the premise that prejudices are not objectively true or false, and therefore are not universal. This was the beginning of his theory of "cultural pluralism", the view that the uniqueness of different styles and values within a culture are to be maintained and appreciated.

Locke returned to Howard as a full professor of philosophy but his desire for a curriculum including African American studies led to conflicts with the university president and all-white board of directors, and he was dismissed in 1925. Protests by students, alumni and the African American press led to his reinstatement but he did not return until three years later when an African American, Mordecai Johnson, was named president.

During this three-year period Locke firmly established his reputation as the leading authority on African American culture with the publication of The New Negro, an anthology of poems and prose, linked together by his essays about the increased race-consciousness, self-determination and sophistication of young, urban African Americans. He brought the Harlem Renaissance to the attention of white America, and mentored writers such  as Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Throughout his lifetime he published over 300 books and articles, including an annual list of books relevant to African American culture.

Locke was never able to promote African American studies at Howard, but he was successful in creating a department of social sciences in 1935 and a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 1953. He died in New York City on June 9, 1954 at the age of 67. He was a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.