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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Whitney M. Young, Jr.

"Every man is our brother, and every man’s burden is our own. Where poverty exists, all are poorer. Where hate flourishes, all are corrupted. Where injustice reigns, all are unequal." ~ Whitney M. Young, Jr.


Whitney Moore Young, Jr. was born July 31, 1921 in Lincoln Ridge, Kentucky, near Louisville, where his father was president of the Lincoln Institute, an all-black boarding high school which is now the Whitney Young Museum. He attended Kentucky State University where he received a BS degree and was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.


During World War II Young served in a road construction unit in Europe. As a First Sergeant he was responsible for mediating between African American troops and white, mostly Southern, officers, developing skills that he would use throughout his career.


After the war Young earned a Master's degree in Social Work at the University of Minnesota and became involved with the St. Paul National Urban League. He later served at the League's president of the Omaha chapter.


With President Johnson, 1966
Young served as Dean of Social Work at Atlanta University from 1954 through 1961. During this time he also became Georgia State President of the NAACP. 


In 1961 he was chosen to serve as Executive Director of the National Urban League. He took the organization from a paid staff of 38 to over 1600 and the annual budget from $325,000 to over $6 million, while changing its middle-class emphasis to one focusing on the urban poor by being one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington and starting programs such as the "Street Academy" college preparation for high-school dropouts and a domestic "Marshall Plan" for American cities. 



These programs are detailed in Young's books To Be Equal (1964) and Beyond Racism (1969). They were also an influence on President Johnson's War on Poverty. Young served as a frequent advisor to Johnson, as he did with Presidents Kennedy and Nixon, and in 1969 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was also president of the National Association of Social Workers from 1969 to 1971, urging the profession to address issues of poverty and racial reconciliation. 

While attending a conference sponsored by the Ford Foundation in Lagos, Nigeria, Young drowned while swimming on March 11, 1971. He is remembered as one of the pioneers of community organizing and as a gifted negotiator able to bridge the gap between corporate America and the needs of the urban poor.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Betye Saar

“I am intrigued with combining the remnant of memories, fragments of relics and ordinary objects, with the components of technology. It’s a way of delving into the past and reaching into the future simultaneously.” ~ Betye Saar


Born July 30, 1926 in Los Angeles, Betye Saar was inspired by watching the building of Simon Rodia's Watts Towers while visiting her grandmother as a child. Of African, Native American and Irish heritage, she has said that the purpose of her art is to "reach across the barriers of art and life, to bridge cultural diversities and forge new understandings." She graduated from UCLA in 1949 with a BA in design, and later studied printmaking at Pasadena City College and Long Beach State University. Working in a collage or assemblist style, she incorporates a variety of objects into her pieces, using themes of mysticism and nostalgia as well as challenging racist stereotypes.


Saar's best known work is The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972) showing a sterotypical mammy holding a broom in one hand and a rifle in the other. Her art has been on exhibit throughout the country, sometimes with the work of her daughters Lezley and Alison, both artists. A traveling retrospective was presented by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2006 in honor of her eightieth birthday.


The Liberation of Aunt Jemima


Midnight Madonnas


Ragtime

Long Memories

Blackbird

Crossings

Friday, July 29, 2011

Chester Himes

"If one lives in a country where racism is held valid and practiced in all ways of life eventually, no matter whether one is a racist or a victim, one comes to feel the absurdity of life....Racism generated from whites is first of all absurd. Racism creates absurdity among blacks as a defense mechanism." ~ Chester Himes, My Life of Absurdity


Novelist Chester Himes was born July 29, 1909 in Jefferson City, Missouri. His father was an industrial arts teacher at a number of historically black colleges. When Himes was about twelve years old the family lived in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where his brother was denied treatment at a white hospital after a school accident. Himes wrote in his autobiography The Quality of Hurt, "That one moment in my life hurt me as much as all the others put together.... A white man was refusing; my father was pleading. Dejectedly my father turned away; he was crying like a baby. My mother was fumbling in her handbag for a handkerchief; I hoped it was for a pistol."


After briefly attending Ohio State University, Himes was sentenced to prison for armed robbery in 1928. He began writing, and had short stories published in Bronzeman and  Esquire. Paroled after eight years, he moved to Los Angeles where had a brief career as a screenwriter. He worked in the shipyards and his novel If He Hollers Let Him Go, published in 1945, deals with the racism he encountered in the workplace. Another novel, Cast the First Stone, is based on his prison experience. Heavily edited before its release in 1952, it was reissued as Yesterday Will Make You Cry in 1998 using the original manuscript.


Neither novel sold well, and in 1953 Himes left America for France where he became friends with other American expatriates such as James Baldwin and Richard Wright. When a French publisher suggested he write a detective novel he produced For Love of Imabelle which won France's 1957 La Grand Prix du Roman Policiers for the best detective novel. This became the first of a series featuring Harlem detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones. One, Cotton Comes to Harlem, was made into a 1970 movie starring Godfrey Cambridge, Raymond St. Jacques, and Redd Foxx. For Love of Imabelle was filmed in 1992 under the title A Rage In Harlem  with Forest Whitaker, Gregory Hines, Robin Givens, and Danny Glover.


Himes suffered a stroke in 1963, and also had Parkinson's disease. He died in Moraira, Spain, on November 12, 1984 at the age of 75. Critic Michael Marsh summarizes his career by saying, "Himes produced 17 novels, more than 60 short stories, and two autobiographical volumes, revealing a unique knowledge of the dark side of human nature and the corrupting influence of racism. He believed in the basic brutality of man and, especially in his early works, man's helplessness in the face of circumstances. Life is often a stacked deck. Himes retained this perspective throughout his career, perhaps because it evolved out of his own experience."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Red Summer of 1919 - Nationwide Rioting

"It was the most horrendous sight I'd ever seen . . . We locked the plant, went downstairs, and drove home in silence. My hands were wet and there were tears in my eyes. All I could think of was that young black man dangling at the end of a rope." ~ Actor Henry Fonda, witness to Omaha lynching at age 14


Will Brown, lynched in Omaha
Like the events in Chicago described yesterday, what happened in Omaha on September 28, 1919 also grew from labor unrest at the local stockyards and conflicts with European immigrants. With over 10,000 African Americans, Omaha had one of the largest black populations west of the Mississippi. Earlier that week Will Brown had been arrested for allegedly raping a white woman. A mob of 4000 set fire to the courthouse and demanded that Brown be turned over to them. He was hanged nearby, then his body was dragged though the streets and burned. National guard troops arrived early the next morning to stop further violence.


Another attempted lynching led to a death toll some estimates place at over 100 in Knoxville on August 30. Although the suspect had been moved to Chattanooga for his safety, the rioters dynamited the jail, taking confiscated whiskey and firearms. Violence spread throughout the city.Two platoons of National Guardsmen arrived quickly but could not restore order until the next day. Dozens of arrests were made of white men who took part but all were acquitted.

Front Page of Arkansas Gazette
Even more deadly was the Elaine Massacre in eastern Arkansas beginning September 30 with unconfirmed deaths as high as 200. It began with a confrontation between sherriff's deputies and African American sharecroppers who were gathered to demand equal treatment from landowners. Rumors quickly spread about their intent, and white men from surrounding areas in Arkansas and Mississippi poured in to put down the revolt. Federal troops where called in and were responsible for a number of the African American deaths. The violence ended with the arrest of between 250 and 300 African Americans. Of that number, twelve were sentenced to death but their sentences were overturned due to the efforts of the NAACP Field Secretary James Weldon Johnson and attorney Scipio Jones.

369th Infantry Regiment, World War I
"Harlem Hellfighters"

The return of over 350,000 African American troops from World War I was a major factor in the events of the summer. After fighting for their country these men found it difficult to readjust to life in Jim Crow America and their presence increased white repression. Outbreaks in Washington DC, Charleston, and Bisbee, Arizona stemmed from conflicts involving African American sevicemen. Cameron McWhirter's recent book Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America traces this and other causes.






If We Must Die, by Claude McKay


If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Red Summer of 1919 - Chicago

"...Racial feeling, which had been on a par with the weather during the day, took fire shortly after 5 o'clock when white bathers at the 29th street improvised beach saw a colored boy on a raft paddling into what they termed 'white' territory. ~ Chicago Tribune, July 28, 1919


National Guardsmen surround suspect in Chicago
In addition to bloody labor strikes earlier in the year, the summer of 1919 had over 30 violent race riots. Although those in Knoxville, Tennessee and Elaine, Arkansas were more deadly, none were as widespread or long-lasting as the one in Chicago which began on Sunday, July 27. 

The city had seen its African American population grow from 44,000 to 109,000 in the previous decade as stockyard and factory owners advertised throughout the south for workers. Another 20,000 white southerners had emigrated as well. With veterans returning from World War I this led to a housing shortage and fierce competition for jobs, especially between African Americans and recent European immigrants. 

Seventeen-year-old Eugene Williams was on a raft in Lake Michigan when he crossed into water in front of the beach used by white bathers. A group of youths began throwing rocks at him and one, allegedly thrown by George Stauber, hit him in the head. He fell off the raft and the white youths prevented anyone from going to his rescue. When police arrived the only arrest they made was of one black man. Fights broke out at the beaches and quickly spread to adjacent areas of the city.

Much of the violence was from roving gangs of Irish American youth seeking victims to attack. These groups were organized as Athletic Clubs throughout the city. Future Mayor Richard J Daley was a member of one, the Hamburg Athletic Club. Daly, 17 at the time of the riot, did never confirm or deny his participation.

By the middle of the week, heavy rains and the presence of 6000 National Guardsmen ended most of the violence, although sporadic outbreaks lasted nearly two weeks. Another 3500 troops were brought in to keep the peace, along with between 1000 and 2000 veterans who were deputized. There had been 38 fatalities, 23 of whom were African American, and 537 injured. Fires left about 1000 people homeless. 


Some civic leaders suggested immediate segregation in housing and workplaces as a solution to the racial problems, but the majority took a more long-range approach with the formation of the Chicago Committee on Race Relations to study the issues leading to the riot. Their report, which took two years to complete, focused on the underlying causes of racism and the competition for housing and jobs.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Red Summer of 1919 - The Causes

"The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People respectfully enquires how long the Federal Government under your administration intends to tolerate anarchy in the United States?" ~ Telegram to President Woodrow Wilson, August 1919


James Weldon Johnson
The summer of 1919 contained an unprecedented number of attacks on African American communities throughout the country, with over 50 lynchings during the year and thousands of people killed. NAACP Field Secretary James Weldon Johnson called it the "red summer", referring to both the the bloodshed and the "red scare" fear in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution that fueled the violence.


With World War I and immigration restrictions causing labor shortages, by 1919 an estimated 500,000 African Americans had moved from the South to northern urban areas to work in factories in the first wave of the Great Migration. Returning soldiers and a post-war recession led to a scarcity of jobs and increasing tension between the races. 


Wartime legislation had also created a repressive national atmosphere. The Immigration Act of 1917 enabled the deportment of suspected anarchists without due process, and widened the definition of anarchy. The Sedition Act of 1918 banned the use of "disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language" about the U.S. government, flag or or armed forces. Any organized protest by African Americans about labor practices or other justice issues was assumed to be influenced by labor unions or leftist groups.


J. Edgar Hoover
Leading government investigations was J. Edgar Hoover, head of the General Intelligence Division of the Bureau of Investigation (not known as the FBI until 1935). He targeted African American activists such as Marcus Garvey and A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters who advocated the right of African Americans to self-defense.


Others also spoke out on protecting themselves. In an editorial in Crisis magazine W. E. B. DuBois wrote, "Today we raise the weapons of self-defense... When the armed lynchers gather, we too must gather armed." The summer of 1919 marked the first time that African Americans consistently fought back against oppression. 


This is the first of a three-part series on the Red Summer of 1919. Further posts will detail events in cities across the country.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Emmett Till

"Be careful. If you have to get down on your knees and bow when a white person goes past, do it willingly." ~ Mamie Till Bradley

Chicagoan Emmett Till was 14 years old when he was brutally murdered while visiting relatives in the Mississippi Delta for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The following publicity made this the most widely known lynching of the twentieth century. Outrage felt by African Americans across the country was one of the causes leading to the civil rights movement, with the Rosa Parks-inspired Montgomery bus boycott beginning only months later.

Till was born July 25, 1941 to Mamie Cauthon Till from Webb, Mississippi, and Louis Till. His parents separated when he was two, and Mrs. Till married Pink Bradley in 1951, divorcing him a year later. In the summer of 1955 Mrs. Till's uncle Mose Wright was in Chicago and he took young Emmett back with him for a visit to the Delta. Mrs. Bradley was reluctant to let her son go, warning him of the differences between her home state and the life he knew in Chicago.


Till, along with his cousins and other teenagers, went to Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market on August 24 in Money, Mississippi, a town of only 55 people. Carolyn Bryant was working alone at the counter of the store, which catered to sharecroppers and their families. Descriptions of what happened next vary, but witnesses agree that the other boys dared Till to flirt with Mrs. Bryant. It is reported that as he left the store some heard him whistle at her. However, Till had a stutter that he could overcome by whistling. The youths left the area quickly and were afraid to tell Mose Wright what had happened.



Carolyn's husband Roy was out of town at the time. After he returned several days later he and his half-brother J. W. Milam went to Wright's cabin in the early morning hours of Sunday, August 28 and forcibly took Till away with them. They beat Till, then shot him in the head and threw his body into the Tallahatchie River tied to a 70-pound fan from a cotton gin.

Till's badly disfigured body was discovered three days later. When questioned, Bryant and Milam admitted they had taken Till from his great-uncle's house but had let him go. They were later indicted for murder by the Tallahatchie County Grand Jury. Local press coverage at first expressed shame and anger but quickly turned defensive as the story spread across the nation. Mamie Till Bradley had her son's body sent back to Chicago and insisted on an open-casket viewing. Very graphic  photographs were published in Jet magazine and The Chicago Defender.

Jury seated on first two rows.
Bryant and Milam's trial began less than a month later on September 19. The defense claimed that the body could not be positively identified. Both were acquitted a week later after an hour's deliberation by the all-male, all-white jury. In an interview with Look magazine the next year they admitted that they killed Till, with Milam saying "Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless....  'Chicago boy,' I said, 'I'm tired of 'em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I'm going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.'"

In addition to global media coverage of the case and the wider issues of justice for African Americans, it has appeared in a number of literary works, including Bebe Moore Campbell's novel Your Blues Ain't Like Mine, Toni Morrison's play Dreaming Emmett, and poems Afterimages by Audre Lorde, A Bronzeville Mother Loiters In Mississippi. Meanwhile, a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon by Gwendolyn Brooks and Mississippi 1955 by Langston Hughes. 

                                        Mississippi—1955 (1955)
                                             by Langston Hughes


                                   Oh what sorrow!   
                                   Oh what pity!
                                   Oh, what pain
                                   That tears and blood
                                   Should mix like rain
                                   And terror come again
                                   To Mississippi.

                                   Come again?
                                   Where has terror been?
                                   On vacation? Up North?
                                   In some other section
                                   Of the nation,
                                   Lying low, unpublicized?
                                   Masked—with only
                                   Jaundiced eyes
                                   Showing through the mask?

                                   Oh, what sorrow,
                                   Pity, pain,
                                   That tears and blood
                                   Should mix like rain
                                   In Mississippi!
                                   And terror, fetid hot,
                                   Yet clammy cold
                                   Remain.



                          

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Charles S. Johnson

"There is no domestic problem in America which has given thoughtful men more concern than the problem of the relations between the white and the Negro races." ~ The Negro in Chicago, 1922



The leading African American sociologist of his generation, Charles Spurgeon Johnson was born on July 24, 1893 in Bristol Virginia. He earned a bachelor's degree from Virginia Union University in Richmond and a doctorate from the University of Chicago where he studied under Robert E. Park. His studies were interrupted by World War I. He served in France in the 103rd Pioneer Infantry Division and achieved the rank of sergeant major.

In the aftermath of the 1919 riots he served on the Chicago Commission on Race Relations and co-authored the commission's report, published as the 700-page book The Negro in Chicago. Although critics felt the report did not place adequate responsibility for the riot on the white Jim Crow-era culture of the day, it has prevailed as the classic model of race relations reports.

From 1922 to 1928 Johnson was research director for the National Urban League in New York. During this time he founded and edited the league's Opportunity magazine, at the time a major voice of the Harlem Renaissance. He also edited the anthology Ebony and Topaz, containing the works of the premier poets, essayists and social scientists of the times.

Wanting to return to the South and to academic life, in 1928 he became chairman of the sociology department of Fisk University in Nashville and in 1946 he became Fisk's first African American president. He established the Fisk Institute of Race Relations, the first "think tank" at a historically black university, and published several books on the culture of the South with the most notable being Shadow of the Plantation (1934) and Growing Up in the Black Belt  (1940). He was able to attract faculty members such as Arna Bontemps, James Weldon Johnson, and Aaron Douglas.

In 1930 Johnson was part of a three-man League of Nations team investigating labor practices in Liberia. He later served as a consultant to President Hoover's Conference on Negro Housing and under President Roosevelt served on the TVA and consulted with the Department of Agriculture on farm tenancy. After World War II he was part of a UNESCO delegation sent to Japan to make recommendations about the country's educational system.

Johnson was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He died in Nashville on October 27, 1956 at the age of 63.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Louis T. Wright, M.D.

"There is no use saving the Negro from being lynched, or educating for sound citizenship if he is to die prematurely as a result of murderous neglect by America's health agencies solely on account of his race or color." ~ Dr. Louis Wright, 1937

Louis Tomkins Wright was born in LaGrange, Georgia, on July 23, 1891. His father was a doctor who had left medical practice to go into ministry and was a district superintendent for the Methodist Episcopal Church at the time of his death in 1895. Wright's stepfather, Fletcher Penn, was also a physician, being the first African American graduate of Yale Medical School. He practiced in Atlanta.

Wright received a bachelor's degree from Clark Atlanta University where he was class valedictorian, and was admitted to Harvard Medical School. He graduated fourth in his class yet was unable to find an internship in the Boston area. He was accepted by Freedmen's Hospital in Washington DC (affiliated with Howard University), and while there researched the use of the Schick test for diphtheria on African Americans.

Wright returned to Atlanta where he went into practice with his stepfather. In 1916 NAACP Field Secretary James Weldon Johnson came to Atlanta to start a local chapter. Wright joined and was elected treasurer. This marked the beginning of his life-long friendship with Walter White who was chapter secretary. At the outbreak of World War I Wright joined the Army Medical Corps and served in France, where he won a Purple Heart after being exposed to phosgene gas.

After the war, Wright settled in New York City, where he worked for the Health Department at applied for staff privileges at Harlem Hospital. When he was hired at the hospital six months later, four white physicians resigned in protest and Dr. Cosmo O'Neal, the hospital director who hired him, was transferred to working the gate-booth at Bellevue Hospital. However, other African American doctors were subsequently hired and the New York City Civil Service Commission reorganized the administration of the city's hospitals, creating the Department of Hospitals. By 1929 Wright had been promoted to assistant visiting surgeon and was also named NYPD Police Surgeon. He became the first African American to become a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (1934) and to become a Board Certified Surgeon, one year after the Board was created (1939).

Inspired by the discrimination he had experienced and overcome throughout his career, Wright fought for equality in medical education and in medical care for all people. He continued be be active with the NAACP and was elected to its Board of Directors in 1931, becoming Chairman in 1934. Reunited with Walter White, who had become Executive Director, he secured funding from the Carnegie Foundation to research and make recommendations concerning health care needs of African Americans. He was awarded the Spingarn Medal in 1940.

In 1939 Wright was stricken with tuberculosis, likely due to lung damage during the war, and was hospitalized in Ithica, New York, for most of the next three years. Returning to the staff at Harlem Hospital in 1942, he was named Director of the Department of Surgery, and the physical limitations from his illness led him to concentrate on research. He developed a metal plate for knee fractures and a neck brace, as well as becoming known as becoming known as an expert on head injuries and skull fractures. He headed the team that first used Aureomycin, and published over 35 papers on the use of antibiotics. He was also one of the pioneers of chemotherapy in treating cancer. In total, he had approximately 100 papers published in medical journals.

The library at Harlem Hospital was named in Wright's honor months before he passed away on October 8, 1952 at the age of 60. Colleague Aubrey Maynard, who had been the first African American intern at Harlem Hospital in 1926, wrote these words recalling the occasion:

“Like some of his era, [Wright] had viewed with cold horror the scene of a lynching. He had known the surging fury of defiance when a mob moved toward his home and family. From boyhood he had felt the spur and the obligation to gain educational and professional status to fulfill the aspirations of devoted parents. He had been a black soldier in a white man’s army which fostered segregation and seethed with prejudice and injustice. Through the depression he had struggled to support his family as a doctor in the ghetto. Physical disability had eroded his strength. He had learned the promises and evasions and maneuvers—and occasionally the successes—of political life in a racist society. Step by step, he had gained professional and personal stature. Now, at his celebration of his sixtieth birthday, he cherished the hope that untold thousands would pass to fulfilled lives through the doors that he had opened. His friends, who remembered the long years, rejoiced with him.”
The above quotation is from the  June 2000 edition of the American Journal of Public Health, which contains an excellent article on Dr. Wright and the status of health care for African Americans at the time of his research.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Danny Glover

"Every day of my life I walk with the idea that I am black, no matter how successful I am. And our success is tempered by that; you're successful in this way given the fact you are black, and most blacks don't get to that point."


Actor and human rights activist Danny Glover was born in San Francisco on July 22, 1946. He attended San Francisco State University where as a member of the Black Students Union he participated in a five-month student strike to establish a Department of Black Studies, the first Ethnic Studies Department in the country. 


His acting career began when he enrolled in the American Conservatory Theater's Black Actors Workshop. He first appeared on Broadway in Master Harold... and the Boys. His first movie role was in Places in the Heart in 1984 and he is best know for starring in the Lethal Weapon series. He also appeared in The Color Purple, Witness, To Sleep With Anger, and Predator 2. His television credits include Emmy nominations for Mandela and Lonesome Dove.


Along with Ben Guillory he co-founded the Robey Theater Company in Los Angeles, named for actor Paul Robeson. He also co-founded the New York-based Louverture Films which develops and produces in socially relevant films. Its Trouble in the Water was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.


With Lethal Weapon  co-star Mel Gibson
Glover currently serves as chairman of TransAfrica Forum, an international non-profit organization promoting human rights in Africa and Latin America. He served as Goodwill Ambassador for the UN's Development Program from 1998 to 2004 and has also worked with UNICEF. he has served on the boards of Vanguard Public Foundation, the Algebra Project, Black AIDS Institute, Walden House, and Something Positive Dance Group.


In April 2010 he was arrested during an SEIU workers' march in Maryland. He was also charged with disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly outside the Sudan Embassy protesting conditions in Darfur.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sgt. Major Christian A. Fleetwood

"Johnny Reb woke us with a few shells. Got his answer and left. Green wounded." ~ Diary Entry, June 10, 1864, Christian Fleetwood

Christian Abraham Fleetwood was born on July 21, 1840 in Baltimore and graduated from Ashman Institute (now Lincoln University) in Oxford, Pennsylvania in 1863 after spending time in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

He enlisted in the U.S. Colored Infantry in 1863 with the rank of sergeant due to his education, and was promoted to sergeant major three days later. He saw action in North Carolina and Virginia, and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery at the Battle of Chaffin's Farm on September 29, 1864 near Richmond. Of the nearly 200,000 African American men who served in the Union forces, he was one of 25 receiving this medal.

Fleetwood kept a pocket diary with daily entries during the year 1864. It can be seen at the Library of Congress website. His Medal of Honor is on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

After the war, officers in his regiment petitioned for Fleetwood to receive a commission, which Secretary of War Edwin Stanton declined. Fleetwood worked for two years in Ohio before returning to Washington DC to work for the Freedmen's Bank and the War Department. He helped to organize a National Guard battalion for the area, and was appointed its commanding officer in 1887 with the rank of major. Along with Major Charles B Fisher he also formed the DC Colored High School Cadet Corps and served as its first instructor.

Although deafened during his Army service, Fleetwood was choirmaster of four Washington churches. He died on September 28, 1914 at the age of 74.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Frantz Fanon


"I am black; I am in total fusion with the world, in sympathetic affinity with the earth, losing my id in the heart of the cosmos -- and the white man, however intelligent he may be, is incapable of understanding Louis Armstrong or songs from the Congo. I am black, not because of a curse, but because my skin has been able to capture all the cosmic effluvia. I am truly a drop of sun under the earth." — Frantz Fanon (Black Skin, White Masks)



Frantz Fanon was born to middle-class parents on the Caribbean island of Martinique on July 20, 1925. While attending high school at the prestigious Lycee Schoelscher he studied under poet Aime Cesaire who became a life-long mentor.

In 1940 pro-Nazi Vichy French troops were stationed in Martinique, a French Colony Racial conflicts arose between the colonial troops and the islanders, often escalating into violence. After high school, Fanon left Martinique to join the Free French Forces, serving in Casablanca, Algeria and France, where he won the Croix de Guerre.

After the war, Fanon studied medicine and philosophy in France, and was licensed as a psychiatrist in 1951. The next year he published his first book, Black Skin, White Masks. It was an expansion of his rejected doctoral dissertation on the damaging effects of European colonialism on persons of color.

Fanon took a staff position at the Blida-Joinville Psychiatric Hospital in Algeria, where his therapy with patients took their Arabic culture and the impact of racism into account. At the outbreak of the Algerian revolution he joined the national liberation movement, FLN, and was exiled from the country in 1957. From Tunis he continued to write, and was appointed FLN ambassador to Ghana in 1960 and attended conferences throughout the continent.

After being diagnosed with leukemia, Fanon wrote his final book, The Wretched of the Earth. In the preface, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that it was "not a book for white people but white people should have the courage to read to come to a greater understanding of what is at stake for the oppressed in a world dominated by ignorant and racist first world European people."

Fanon died in Bethesda, Maryland, on December 6, 1961, and was buried in Algeria. His work was a major influence on civil rights activists Huey Newton and Malcolm X.





Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Alice Dunbar-Nelson

For as long as we have segregated schools... we will have a biracial standard, and the Negro one will inevitably be lower. ~ Alice Dunbar Nelson, in Facing Life Squarely

Born to Creole parents in New Orleans on July 19, 1875, Alice Ruth Moore received a teaching certificate from Straight University (now Dillard University) in 1892 and taught English in the New Orleans public school system. Her first collection of verse and short stories, Violets and Other Tales, was published in 1895. She began a correspondence with poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar and the two married in 1898. Her second collection, Goodness of St. Roque and Other Stories, was published as a companion to his Poems of Cabin and Field.

They separated in 1902, and she moved to Wilmington, Delaware, where she taught at Howard High School and directed summer classes at the State College for Colored Students and Hampton Institute. She also co-edited and wrote for the A.M.E. Review. In 1916 she married poet and civil rights activist Robert J. Nelson.

She was active in feminist issues of the day, and was a women's suffrage movement field organizer for the mid-Atlantic states. During World War I she served with the Women's Commission on the Council of National Defense and the Circle of Negro War Relief. In 1924 she campaigned for the passage of the Dyer anti-Lynching Bill.

Her essays and reviews were published in newspapers, academic journals and magazines such as the Urban League's Opportunity and the NAACP's Crisis. Her writing often dealt with issues of race, class and gender, as did her later poems such as "The Proletariat Speaks" and "I Sit and Sew". She died in Philadelphia on September 18, 1935 at the age of 60.
I Sit and Sew

I sit and sew -- a useless task it seems
My hands grown tired, my head weighed down with dreams—

The panoply of war, the martial tred of men,
Grim-faced, stern-eyed, gazing beyond the ken
Of lesser souls, whose eyes have not seen Death,
Nor learned to hold their lives but as a breath—
But—I must sit and sew.

I sit and sew—my heart aches with desire—
That pageant terrible, that fiercely pouring fire
On wasted fields, and writhing grotesque things
Once men. My soul in pity flings
Appealing cries, yearning only to go
There in that holocaust of hell, those fields of woe—
But—I must sit and sew.

The little useless seam, the idle patch;
Why dream I here beneath my homely thatch,
When there they lie in sodden mud and rain,
Pitifully calling me, the quick ones and the slain?
You need me, Christ! It is no roseate dream
That beckons me—this pretty futile seam,
It stifles me—God, must I sit and sew?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Nelson Mandela

 "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." ~ Nelson Mandela


Rolilhalha Mandela was born to a royal family on July 18, 1918 in the village of Mvezo in the Umtala district of South Africa. He was given the English name of Nelson the first day he attended school, the first person in his family to do so. He later studied at Fort Hare University but was expelled for protesting the university's policies. While working as a law clerk he finished college through an extension program of the University of South Africa and began studying for a law degree.


Mandela became involved in the African National Congress (ANC, or the left-wing South African political party) after the 1948 elections saw victories by the National Party which supported apartheid, or strict racial segregation. Although believing in Gandhi's prinicples of non-violence, he was arrested in 1956 along with 150 other ANC members  for treason. After a five-year trial all were acquitted. It was during this time that he met and married Winnie Madekizela, who was the first black social worker in Johannesburg and also active in ANC politics. The couple divorced in 1996.


Due to increasingly repressive governmental policy, in 1961 the ANC created an armed wing led by Mandela, arranging sabotage attacks and military training of party members. The ANC was banned as a result under the Unlawful Organisations Act and Mandela was smuggled out of the country. Upon his return he was arrested and in October 1962 was sentenced to five years in prison. The following summer other ANC leaders were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia and charged with crimes against the state. Mandela was included in these charges and was one of five defendants to be sentenced to life in prison. As a political prisoner he was allowed one letter and one visitor every six months and was forced to work in a lime quarry.


In 1986 Mandela was offered freedom on the condition he would renounce violence against the state and he refused, saying "What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts." Due to increasing world-wide pressure and the decline of the National Party he was released from prison by South African President Willem de Klerk on February 11, 1990. The ban of the ANC was also lifted at this time. Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.


Mandela and U.S. President Bill Clinton

South Africa's first elections allowing both blacks and whites to vote were held in 1995, and Mandela became president with the ANC receiving 62% of the vote. In his inaugural speech he said, "We have at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender, and other discrimination. Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another... Let freedom reign. God Bless Africa!"

Mandela resigned as head of the ANC in 1997 and resigned the presidency in 1999. He has continued to support children's causes and the fight against AIDS. In 2009 the United Nations declared July 18 as Mandela Day, observing his 67 years of public service with  participants giving 67 minutes in community service.