"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

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.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Jesse Owens

"Any black who strives to achieve in this country should think in terms of not only himself but also how he can reach down and grab another black child and pull him to the top of the mountain where he is. This is what a gold medal does to you."

James Cleveland (Jesse) Owens was born September 12, 1913 in Oakville, Alabama and moved to Cleveland at the age of 9. His talent came to the attention of a junior high track coach who allowed him to train for the team in the mornings because of his after-school job at a shoe-repair shop. At Cleveland East Technical High School he set records in the 100-yard dash (9.4 seconds), 200-yard dash (20.7 seconds) and broad jump (24 feet, nine and five-eighths inches).

Although he wasn't given a scholarship, his coaches encouraged Owens to attend Ohio State University. They helped his father find a job, and Owens himself worked three part-time jobs to pay for school and support himself, his wife Minnie Ruth, whom he married in 1931, and their daughter. While at OSU he had eight NCAA championships, four each in 1935 and 1936. At a Big Ten track meet in May 1935 he set three world records and tied a fourth. Despite this success, he was not allowed to live on campus, and when travelling with the team would be forced to stay in segregated hotels and eat on the team bus instead of in restaurants with the rest of the team.

Adolph Hitler intended the 1936 Olympics in Berlin to be a showcase for the Nazi regime and Aryan superiority, but Owens' performance was a victory for America and for people of color around the world. He won four gold medals, including setting a record in the long jump of 26 feet, five and one-quarter inches. This record stood for 25 years, and the feat of four gold medals was unequaled until Carl Lewis did the same in 1984.

Writing in Ebony magazine, Lerone Bennett, Jr., said that the Berlin games
"...would become a legend and would be passed on from generation to generation, growing in the telling, the story of an incredible moment of truth when the son of a sharecropper and the grandson of slaves temporarily derailed the Nazi juggernaut and gave the lie to Hitler's theories on Aryan (read White) supremacy.... [Owens's] story, which will be told as long as men and women celebrate grace and courage, was more than a sports story. It was politics, history even, played out on an international stage with big stakes riding on every contest."
Nevertheless, Owens returned to a segregated America. President Roosevelt ignored his triumph, and after a ticker-tape parade in New York City, he had to take the freight elevator to attend the reception in his honor at the Waldorf-Astoria. While the rest of the Olympic track team went on to compete in Sweden, he followed up endorsement offers. These caused his amateur status to be revoked, and without the possibility of future competition the offers were withdrawn. To support his family and earn money to finish college, Owens ran exhibition races against horses, trucks, cars and motorcycles.
"People say that it was degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse, but what was I supposed to do? I had four gold medals, but you can't eat four gold medals."
He invested in a dry-cleaning store and the West Coast (Negro) Baseball League but neither did well, and he filed for bankruptcy and was later prosecuted for back taxes. In 1942 he became the director of minority employment for the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, and in 1950 moved to Chicago as a salesman for the Leo Rose Sporting Goods Co.

Owens became involved in youth activities in Chicago, joining the board of the South Side Boys Club and organizing the Junior Olympics, as well as serving on the Illinois Youth Commission. He started his own PR firm in 1955, and became a prominent speaker for businesses and youth organizations. In an obituary in the New York Times, William Oscar Johnson is quoted as calling him a "professional good example".

During the 1968 Olympics Owens drew criticism from African Americans for not supporting the black power salute of sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos. In his 1970 autobiography Blackthink he said, "The black fist is a meaningless symbol. When you open it, you have nothing but fingers – weak, empty fingers. The only time the black fist has significance is when there's money inside. There's where the power lies." Another, more militant, book was published in 1972 entitled I Have Changed My Mind.

Owens received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ford in 1976 and the Living Legend Award from President Carter in 1979, with Carter saying "Perhaps no athlete better symbolized the human struggle against tyranny, poverty and racial bigotry." He died March 31, 1980 in Tucson, Arizona. Due to the efforts of Rep. Louis Stokes of Cleveland the Congressional Gold Medal was presented to his widow in 1990. The track and field stadium at Ohio State was named in his honor, as was the annual award for the outstanding athlete of the USA Track and Field Association.

"I always loved running -- it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs."

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sonia Sanchez

To Anita

walken like the sun u be.
move on even higher.
         those who
laugh at yo/color
         have not moved
to the blackness we be about
cuz as Curtis Mayfield be sayen
we people be darker than blue
         and quite a few
of us be yellow
         all soul/shades of
         yeah. high/yellow/black/girl
     walk yo/black/song
       cuz some of us
         be hearen yo/sweet/music.

Sonia Sanchez was born Wilsonia Benita Driver on September 9, 1934 in Birmingham, Alabama. Her mother died when she was a baby and she lived with various relatives, including her grandmother who died when Sanchez was six. She then went to live with her father and stepmother in Harlem, and began writing poetry as a young child. She attended New York City public schools and earned a BA in Political Science from Hunter College in 1955. She then did graduate work at NYU, studying writing under Louise Bogan.

Sanchez became part of the Black Arts Movement along with poets Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal. She was also in a writers' group affiliated with Broadside Press that included Nikki Giovanni, Haki R. Madhubuti and Etheridge Knight. She married Knight but the couple divorced in 1972. She had previously been married to Albert Sanchez, a Puerto Rican immigrant.

Sanchez moved to California in the mid-sixties, and taught at San Francisco State University from 1967 to 1969, where she was instrumental in creating a department of Black Studies. Returning to the east coast, she taught at the University of Pittsburgh where she created the first course on black women and literature in the United States. In 1977 she became a professor of English and Women's Studies at Temple University, a position she held until her retirement in 1999.

Sanchez's first published book of poetry was Homecoming in 1969, followed by We a BaddDDD People in 1970. Another, Homegirls and Hand Grenades, won the American Book Award in 1985. Much of her work is written in urban Black English, with deliberate misspellings and a creative use of punctuation and layout similar that that of e e cummings. She has written a total of 13 books of poetry, along with six plays and three children's books. She has recorded much of her work and is known for the jazz-like feel of her readings.

A Love Poem Written for Sterling Brown

              (after reading a New York Times article re
              a mummy kept preserved for about 300 years)

I'm gonna get me some mummy tape for your love
preserve it for 3000 years or more
I'm gonna let the world see you
tapping a blue shell dance of love
I'm gonna ride your love bareback
on totem poles
bear your image on mountains
turning in ocean sleep
string your sighs thru the rainbow
of old age.
In the midst of desert people and times
I'm gonna fly your red/eagle/laughter 'cross the sky.

(after the spanish)

forgive me if i laugh
you are so sure of love
you are so young
and i too old to learn of love.

the rain exploding
in the air is love
the grass excreting her
green wax is love
and stones remembering
past steps is love,
but you. you are too young
for love
and i too old.

once. what does it matter
when or who, i knew
of love.
i fixed my body
under his and went
to sleep in love
all trace of me
was wiped away

forgive me if i smile
young heiress of a naked dream
you are so young
and i too old to learn of love.
A Love Poem Written for Sterling Brown

              (after reading a New York Times article re 
              a mummy kept preserved for about 300 years) 

I'm gonna get me some mummy tape for your love 
preserve it for 3000 years or more 
I'm gonna let the world see you 
tapping a blue shell dance of love 
I'm gonna ride your love bareback 
on totem poles 
bear your image on mountains 
turning in ocean sleep 
string your sighs thru the rainbow 
of old age. 
In the midst of desert people and times 
I'm gonna fly your red/eagle/laughter 'cross the sky. 

by Sonia Sanchez

     (after the spanish)

forgive me if i laugh 
you are so sure of love 
you are so young 
and i too old to learn of love.

the rain exploding 
in the air is love 
the grass excreting her 
green wax is love 
and stones remembering 
past steps is love, 
but you. you are too young 
for love 
and i too old.

once. what does it matter 
when or who, i knew 
of love. 
i fixed my body 
under his and went 
to sleep in love 
all trace of me 
was wiped away

forgive me if i smile 
young heiress of a naked dream 
you are so young 
and i too old to learn of love.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ruby Bridges

Please God, forgive these people because even if they say those mean things they don't know what they're doing. So you can forgive them just like you did those folks along time ago when they said terrible things about you.

Ruby Bridges Hall was born September 8, 1954 near Tylerton, Mississippi and moved to New Orleans with her family when she was four. In 1960 she was one of six African American children chosen to integrate the New Orleans school system and the only one to attend William Frantz Elementary. The first day of court-ordered desegregation was November 14, and U. S. Marshals took her to school. She recalls that day, "Driving up I could see the crowd, but living in New Orleans, I actually thought it was Mardi Gras. There was a large crowd of people outside of the school. They were throwing things and shouting, and that sort of goes on in New Orleans at Mardi Gras."

White parents removed their children from the school, and teachers refused to have Bridges in their classroom. She spent her first-grade year as the only student of Barbara Henry, a newly-hired teacher from Boston. The marshals continued to escort her amid threats, and her mother suggested that she pray on the way to school. Her father lost his job for sending her to the all-white school, although supporters found him another one, and her grandparents in Mississippi were evicted from the farm where they sharecropped.

Norman Rockwell painted "The Problem We All Live With", showing Bridges dressed in white and surrounded by the marshals. The painting has been on loan to the White House from the Norman Rockwell Museum since June. It was also the cover of the January 1964 Look magazine. A White House blog said that Rockwell
" ...was a longtime supporter of the goals of equality and tolerance. In his early career, editorial policies governed the placement of minorities in his illustrations (restricting them to service industry positions only). However, in 1963 Rockwell confronted the issue of prejudice head-on with this, one of his most powerful paintings.”
Bridges is the subject of a children's biography, The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles (the child psychologist who counseled her in first grade), a 1998 TV movie, and the song Ruby's Shoes by Lori McKenna. She currently lives in New Orleans and has four grown sons as well as four nieces she raised after their father's death. She worked as a travel agent and is the chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation which has the slogan "Racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jacob Lawrence

"My belief is that it is most important for an artist to develop an approach and philosophy about life - if he has developed this philosophy, he does not put paint on canvas, he puts himself on canvas."

Jacob Armstead Lawrence was born September 7, 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His parents divorced when he was 12 and his mother moved the family to New York City, enrolling him in an arts and crafts center in Harlem to occupy him after school until she got off work.

Wright began taking formal classes at the WPA-funded Harlem Art Workshop and the Harlem Community Art Center in 1932, where director Augusta Savage got him a scholarship to the American Artists School and a paid position with the WPA. It was at the Art Center that he met his wife, artist/sculptor Gwendolyn Knight.

His first exhibit was in Baltimore at the age of 21 with a group of 41 paintings depicting the life of Toussaint L'Ouverture. Later series focused on Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and John Brown. Two years later a collection of 60 paintings on the Great Migration was shown at the New York's prestigious Downtown Gallery. The paintings were bought by the Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Collection of Washington D. C. Fortune Magazine covered the sale, printing color reproductions of 26 of the paintings and bringing Lawrence's work to the attention of the American public. Thus he became one of the most widely-known African American artist of the twentieth centrury.

With Gwendolyn Knight
Lawrence served in the Coast Guard during World War II, continuing to paint. His work from this time, and later paintings based on his experiences, made up the collection entitled War. Other series were Life In Harlem and Desegregation, with "The Ordeal of Alice" being the most well-known of the latter group. After the Desegregation series he focused on the theme of collaboration in The Builders, with one of the series being bought by the White House Historical Association in 2007 for $2.5 million. It currently hangs in the Green Room.

Lawrence taught at the Pratt Institute and at other schools in the New York area. In 1970 he and Knight moved to Seattle where he was on the faculty of the University of Washington. He was awarded the NAACP's Spingarn Medal the same year, and in 1983 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

He died in Seattle on June 9, 2000 at the age of 82. The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation administers their estates and archives their work. Knight died in 2005. The Seattle Art Museum gives an annual $10,000 award in their names to artists who "reflect the cultural contexts and values systems that informed their work."

"Our homes were very decorative, full of pattern, like inexpensive throw rugs. It must have had some influence, all this color and everything. Because we were so poor the people used this as a means of brightening their life. I used to do bright patterns after these throw rugs; I got ideas from them, the arabesques, the movement and so on."

The Seamstress


The Builders

The Ordeal of Alice



Migration 17


Migration 3