Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Congressman John Lewis

Born: February 21, 1940 in Troy, Alabama.

Early Life

He was born on February 21, 1940, in Troy, Alabama. His family were sharecroppers. He was a hard-working young man who overcame poverty and political disenfranchisement to educate himself.

In John Lewis's own words:

"More people were living in Pike County the year I was born than at any time before or since. The 1940 census shows 32,500 residents of the county-roughly double the number living there at the end of the Civil War.

There is no question about the beauty of the place, at least not in my mind. For all the wounds and scars and pain that surround it, this is still home to me. My earliest memories are not of drudgery and labor, oppression and inequality, exclusion and neglect. Those memories would take shape later, as I grew up. But the world I knew as a little boy was a rich, happy one. In the same way that my mother never felt poor as a little girl, I didn't know the meaning of the word when I was small. We were poor-dirt poor-but I didn't realize it.

Sundays we would listen to WRMA, the gospel station. The Pilgrim Travelers, the Soul Stirrers, the five Blind Boys of Mississippi- groups like these were all over gospel radio in the 1940s. A decade later their upbeat, wall-rocking sounds would evolve into something called rhythm and blues. A decade after that it would become the music they called soul. We just loved it

More than anything else-besides work, of course, which became the center of my life as soon as I was big enough to join my parents in the fields-the most important thing in my family's life, and in almost every family's life around us, was church" (Lewis, 17-20).

College Life

He graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville and then received a bachelor's degree in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University. As a student, Lewis was very dedicated to the civil rights movement. He organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville and took part in many other civil rights activities.

SNCC involvement

In 1961, Lewis joined SNCC in the Freedom Rides. Riders traveled the South challenging segregation at interstate bus terminals. Lewis and others received death threats and were severely beaten by angry mobs. In 1963, when Chuck McDew stepped down as SNCC chairman, Lewis was quickly elected to take over. Lewis' experience at that point was already widely respected--he had been arrested 24 times as a result of his activism. He held the post of chairman until 1966.

Where is he now??

John Lewis’s devotion to community service and his abilities and stature as a leader and activist are also reflected in his political career. In 1981 he was elected to the Atlanta City Council, where he pushed for ethics in government and neighborhood preservation. Five years later, in 1986, he was elected to Congress, where he has served for over two decades as the representative for Georgia’s 5thdistrict. Congressman Lewis is currently Senior Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party in the House, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, a member of the Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight.

As Time Magazine noted, Congressman John Lewis’s life and career is “a stirring portrait of the power of moral consistency and courage.” For his bravery and steadfast devotion to human rights, justice, and civil liberties for all Americans, the Tubman African American Museum is proud to present Congressman John Lewis with our first Tubman Lifetime Act of Courage Award.

In his own words:

"By eight I'm in my office, along with my staff, to begin what is typically at least a twelve-hour day. Committee and subcommittee meetings, visits from constituents and lobbyists, a steady stream of receptions and fund-raisers, breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings, television and radio and newspaper interviews and press conferences, and, of course, my duties on the floor of the House itself-these responsibilities fill my days when Congress is in session.

Some of those people never dreamed I would still be in office today. When I was first elected in 1986, there were more than a few skeptics who predicted that I would, as one observer put it, "be ground into paste by Washington's Capitol Hill glue factory." Twelve years later I've been reelected five times and am fortunate enough to have risen to the position of chief deputy Democratic whip, making me one of the highest appointed or elected black officials in the country.

They have also appreciated my ability to build the foundation that every congressman must have, positioning myself to take care of the bread-and-butter needs of my district as well as helping to steer and govern the nation as a whole. It was dealing with this nitty-gritty end of politics, the intricate process of connecting with the light coalitions and getting on the right committees to be able to bring fair share of federal dollars and resources back to my district...." (Lewis, 480-81)

In recent news, Lewis says that he is supporting Obama:

WASHINGTON — After months of personal soul-searching and political pressure, Rep. John Lewis on Wednesday formally announced that he's switching his influential support from Sen. Hillary Clinton to Sen. Barack Obama, whom Lewis now sees as the heir apparent to the racial progress Lewis himself has spent his life fighting for.

Lewis cited the overwhelming preference for Obama in his Atlanta district as a reason for his change of heart. But he also talked about Obama's campaign as a transformational moment, an opportunity born of Lewis' own sacrifices in the 1960s civil rights movement.

"Something's happening in America, something some of us did not see coming," Lewis said. "Barack Obama has tapped into something that is extraordinary.

"It's a movement. It's a spiritual event," Lewis said of the surging Obama campaign. "It's amazing what's happening."

Lewis had not talked with Obama or Clinton prior to announcing his switch, so it's unclear what role he'll play as the election continues.

"I have not been asked to campaign for Sen. Obama," Lewis said in a statement released later Wednesday. "I support his candidacy for president and will cast my vote for Sen. Obama as a superdelegate at the Democratic convention."

Obama issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying, "John Lewis is an American hero and a giant of the civil rights movement, and I am deeply honored to have his support."

Clinton, questioned about Lewis during a satellite interview with Houston television station KTRK, said: "I understand he's been under tremendous pressure. He's been my friend. He will always be my friend. At the end of the day, it's not about who is supporting us, it's about what we're representing, what our positions are, what our experiences and qualifications are, and I think that voters are going to decide."

Lewis' announcement last October that he was backing Clinton, a longtime friend, over Obama, the nation's first truly viable African-American candidate for the presidency, angered many of Georgia's black constituents and numerous civil rights elders who had fought for black voting rights alongside Lewis.

It also created political opposition for Lewis, who has run for Congress unopposed for the past decade. The Rev. Markel Hutchins of Atlanta recently announced his plans to oppose Lewis in this year's Democratic primary because, Hutchins said, Lewis has lost touch with his constituency.

"It was a long, hard, difficult struggle to come to where I am," Lewis said.

At the time he endorsed Clinton, Lewis said, Obama was an unknown and Clinton not only had across-the-board appeal but also was clearly ready to lead the nation.

"I did it because I felt in my heart that I had to support Mrs. Clinton because of our friendship," Lewis said.

"I don't regret it," Lewis added. "The political thing to do would have been to have done nothing, to not endorse anyone.

"Sometimes, you have to be on the right side of history," he said.

Lewis' comments were intended to clear up confusion caused about a week ago when The New York Times reported that he was going to vote for Obama over Clinton as a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention this summer if neither had enough delegates to declare victory outright. Lewis' office called the report inaccurate but never clarified whom he was supporting.

In an interview Wednesday, Lewis said his decision was an anguishing one.

During his last visit to Selma, Ala., where in 1965 police beat him nearly to death during a protest, Lewis stood between Clinton and Obama and praised the potentially historic election of both.

Former President Bill Clinton attended Lewis' 60th birthday party, but Obama was at his 65th.

With Lewis' switch to Obama -- along with Rep. David Scott, another Atlanta Democrat, who also left Clinton for Obama -- all of Georgia's African-American congressmen are now backing Obama.

Georgia's other congressional Democrats -- Rep. Jim Marshall of Macon and Rep. John Barrow of Savannah -- still have not endorsed either of their party's presidential aspirants.

Wednesday was the 48th anniversary of the day Lewis was arrested for the first time -- at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Nashville that did not serve blacks. And he's now talking about Obama as the heir of the civil rights fight.

"Mr. Obama is the embodiment of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a lot of people," Lewis said. "He represents something different, something new. But he also represents a long line of individuals who come around from time to time who carry the aspirations of the people."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/27/08

(By Courtney Beck)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sojourner Truth

NAME: Isabella Baumfree (Sojourner Truth)


BIRTHPLACE: Ulster County, New York

FAMILY BACKGROUND: Sojourner Truth was born in 1797 on the Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh estate in Swartekill, in Ulster County, a Dutch settlement in upstate New York. Her given name was Isabella Baumfree (also spelled Bomefree). She was one of 13 children born to Elizabeth and James Baumfree, also slaves on the Hardenbergh plantation. She spoke only Dutch until she was sold from her family around the age of nine. Because of the cruel treatment she suffered at the hands of a later master, she learned to speak English quickly, but had a Dutch accent for the rest of her life.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: She was first sold around age 9 when her second master (Charles Hardenbergh) died in 1808. She was sold to John Neely, along with a herd of sheep, for $100. Neely's wife and family only spoke English and beat Isabella fiercely for the frequent miscommunications. She later said that Neely once whipped her with "a bundle of rods, prepared in the embers, and bound together with cords." It was during this time that she began to find refuge in religion -- beginning the habit of praying aloud when scared or hurt. When her father once came to visit, she pleaded with him to help her. Soon after, Martinus Schryver purchased her for $105. He owned a tavern and, although the atmosphere was crude and morally questionable, it was a safer haven for Isabella.

But a year and a half later, in 1810, she was sold again to John Dumont of New Paltz, New York. Isabella suffered many hardships at the hands of Mrs. Dumont, whom Isabella later described as cruel and harsh. Although she did not explain the reasons for this treatment in her later biography narrative, historians have surmised that the unspeakable things might have been sexual abuse or harassment (see the biography on Harriet Jacobs, the only former slave to write about such), or simply the daily humiliations that slaves endured.

Sometime around 1815, she fell in love with a fellow slave named Robert, who was owned by a man named Catlin or Catton. Robert's owner forbade the relationship because he did not want his slave having children with a slave he did not own (and therefore would not own the new 'property'). One night Robert visited Isabella, but was followed by his owner and son, who beat him savagely ("bruising and mangling his head and face"), bound him and dragged him away. Robert never returned. Isabella had a daughter shortly thereafter, named Diana. In 1817, forced to submit to the will of her owner Dumont, Isabella married an older slave named Thomas. They had four children: Peter (1822), James (who died young), Elizabeth (1825), and Sophia (1826).

The state of New York began in 1799 to legislate the gradual abolition of slaves, which was to happen July 4, 1827. Dumont had promised Isabella freedom a year before the state emancipation, "if she would do well and be faithful." However, he reneged on his promise, claiming a hand injury had made her less productive. She was infuriated, having understood fairness and duty as a hallmark of the master-slave relationship. She continued working until she felt she had done enough to satisfy her sense of obligation to him -- spinning 100 pounds of wool -- then escaped before dawn with her infant daughter, Sophia. She later said:

"I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right."

Isabella wandered, not sure where she was going, and prayed for direction. She arrived at the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen (Wagener?). Soon after, Dumont arrived, insisting she come back and threatening to take her baby when she refused. Isaac offered to buy her services for the remainder of the year (until the state's emancipation took effect), which Dumont accepted for $20. Isaac and Maria insisted Isabella not call them "master" and "mistress," but rather by their given names.

Isabella immediately set to work retrieving her young son Peter. He had recently been leased by Dumont to another slaveholder, who then illegally sold Peter to an owner in Alabama. Peter was five years old. First she appealed to the Dumonts, then the other slaveholder, to no avail. A friend directed her to activist Quakers, who helped her make an official complaint in court. After months of legal proceedings, Peter returned to her, scarred and abused.

During her time with the Van Wagenens, Isabella had a life-changing religious experience -- becoming "overwhelmed with the greatness of the Divine presence" and inspired to preach. She began devotedly attending the local Methodist church and, in 1829, left Ulster County with a white evangelical teacher named Miss Gear. She quickly became known as a remarkable preacher whose influence "was miraculous." She soon met Elijah Pierson, a religious reformer who advocated strict adherence to Old Testament laws for salvation. His house was sometimes called the "Kingdom," where he led a small group of followers. Isabella became the group's housekeeper. Elijah treated her as a spiritual equal and encouraged her to preach also. Soon after, Robert Matthias arrived, who apparently took over as the group's leader, with the activities becoming increasingly bizarre. In 1834, Pierson died with only the group's members attending. His family called the coroner and the group disbanded. The Folger family, whose house the group had moved into, accused Robert and Isabella of stealing their money and poisoning Elijah. They were eventually acquitted and Robert traveled west.

Isabella settled in New York City, but she had lost what savings and possessions she had had. She resolved to leave and make her way as a traveling preacher. On June 1, 1843, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth and told friends, "The Spirit calls me [East], and I must go." She wandered in relative obscurity, depending on the kindness of strangers. In 1844, still liking the utopian cooperative ideal, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Massachusetts. This group of 210 members lived on 500 acres of farmland, raising livestock, running grist and saw mills, and operating a silk factory. Unlike the Kingdom, the Association was founded by abolitionists to promote cooperative and productive labor. They were strongly anti-slavery, religiously tolerant, women's rights supporters, and pacifist in principles. While there, she met and worked with abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and David Ruggles. Unfortunately, the community's silk-making was not profitable enough to support itself and it disbanded in 1846 amid debt.

Sojourner went to live with one of the Association's founders, George Benson, who had established a cotton mill. Shortly thereafter, she began dictating her memoirs to Olive Gilbert, another Association member. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave was published privately by William Lloyd Garrison in 1850. It gave her an income and increased her speaking engagements, where she sold copies of the book. She spoke about anti-slavery and women's rights, often giving personal testimony about her experiences as a slave. That same year, 1850, Benson's cotton mill failed and he left Northampton. Sojourner bought a home there for $300. In 1854, at the Ohio Woman's Rights Covention in Akron, Ohio, she gave her most famous speech -- with the legendary phrase, "Ain't I a Woman?" :

"That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place, and ain't I a woman? ... I have plowed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me -- and ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man (when I could get it), and bear the lash as well -- and ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children and seen most all sold off to slavery and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me -- and ain't I woman?"

Sojourner later became involved with the popular Spiritualism religious movement of the time, through a group called the Progressive Friends, an offshoot of the Quakers. The group believed in abolition, women's rights, non-violence, and communicating with spirits. In 1857, she sold her home in Northampton and bought one in Harmonia, Michigan (just west of Battle Creek), to live with this community. In 1858, at a meeting in Silver Lake, Indiana, someone in the audience accused her of being a man (she was very tall, towering around six feet) so she opened her blouse to reveal her breasts.

During the Civil War, she spoke on the Union's behalf, as well as for enlisting black troops for the cause and freeing slaves. Her grandson James Caldwell enlisted in the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts. In 1864, she worked among freed slaves at a government refugee camp on an island in Virginia and was employed by the National Freedman's Relief Association in Washington, D.C. She also met President Abraham Lincoln in October. (A famous painting, and subsequent photographs of it, depict President Lincoln showing Sojourner the 'Lincoln Bible,' given to him by the black people of Baltimore, Maryland.) In 1863, Harriet Beecher Stowe's article "The Libyan Sibyl" appeared in the Atlantic Monthly; a romanticized description of Sojourner. (The previous year, William Story's statue of the same title, inspired by the article, won an award at the London World Exhibition.) After the Civil War ended, she continued working to help the newly freed slaves through the Freedman's Relief Association, then the Freedman's Hospital in Washington. In 1867, she moved from Harmonia to Battle Creek, converting William Merritt's "barn" into a house, for which he gave her the deed four years later.

In 1870, she began campaigning for the federal government to provide former slaves with land in the "new West." She pursued this for seven years, with little success. In 1874, after touring with her grandson Sammy Banks, he fell ill and she developed ulcers on her leg. Sammy died after an operation. She was successfully treated by Dr. Orville Guiteau, veterinarian, and headed off on speaking tours again, but had to return home due to illness once more. She did continue touring as much as she could, still campaigning for free land for former slaves. In 1879, Sojourner was delighted as many freed slaves began migrating west and north on their own, many settling in Kansas. She spent a year there helping refugees and speaking in white and black churches trying to gain support for the "Exodusters" as they tried to build new lives for themselves. This was to be her last mission.

Sojourner made a few appearances around Michigan, speaking about temperance and against capital punishment. In July of 1883, with ulcers on her legs, she sought treatment through Dr. John Harvey Kellogg at his famous Battle Creek Sanitarium. It is said he grafted some of his own skin onto her leg. Sojourner returned home with her daughters Diana and Elizabeth, their husbands and children, and died there on November 26, 1883, at 86 years old. She was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery next to her grandson. In 1890, Frances Titus, who published the third edition of Sojourner's Narrative in 1875 and became Sojourner's traveling companion after Sammy died, collected money and erected a monument on the gravesite, inadvertently inscribing "aged about 105 years." She then commissioned artist Frank Courter to paint the meeting of Sojourner and President Lincoln.

Sojourner Truth has been posthumously honored in many ways over the years:

* a memorial stone in the Stone History Tower in Monument Park, downtown Battle Creek (1935);
* a new grave marker, by the Sojourner Truth Memorial Association (1946);
* a historical marker commemorating members of her family buried with her in the cemetery (1961);
* a portion of Michigan state highway M-66 designated the Sojourner Truth Memorial Highway (1976);
* induction into the national Woman's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York (1981);
* induction into the Michigan Woman's Hall of Fame in Lansing (1983);
* a commemorative postage stamp (1986);
* a Michigan Milestone Marker by the State Bar of Michigan for her contribution (three lawsuits she won) to the legal system (1987);
* a marker erected by the Battle Creek Club of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs (also 1987);
* a Mars probe named for her (1997);
* a community-wide, year-long celebration of the 200th anniversary of her birth in Battle Creek in 1997, plus a larger-than-life statue of her by artist Tina Allen; and
* the First Black Woman Honored with a Bust in the U.S. Capitol (October, 2008)

DATE OF DEATH: November 26, 1883

PLACE OF DEATH: Battle Creek, Michigan

PORTRAYED BY: Stephanie Tolliver

Source: Abraham Lincoln: The War Years Vol. 2, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc
(photograph circa 1862) ©

(Posted by Alex)

Friday, May 9, 2008

Medgar Evers

Medgar Wiley Evers was born July 2, 1925, near Decatur, Mississippi, and attended school there until he was inducted into the army in 1943. After serving in Normandy, he attended Alcorn College (now Alcorn State University), majoring in business administration. While at Alcorn, he was a member of the debate team, the college choir, and the football and track teams, and he also held several student offices and was editor of the campus newspaper for two years and the annual for one year. In recognition of his accomplishments at Alcorn, he was listed in Who’s Who in American Colleges.

At Alcorn he met Myrlie Beasley, of Vicksburg, and the next year, they were married on December 24, 1951. He received his B.A. degree the next semester and they moved to Mound Bayou, Mississippi, during which time Evers began to establish local chapters of the NAACP throughout the Delta and organizing boycotts of gasoline stations that refused to allow blacks to use their restrooms. He worked in Mound Bayou as an insurance agent until 1954, the year a Supreme Court decision ruled school segregation unconstitutional. Despite the court’s ruling, Evers applied for and was denied admission to the University of Mississippi Law School, but his attempt to integrate the state’s oldest public university attracted the attention of the NAACP’s national office, and that same year he was appointed Mississippi’s first field secretary for the NAACP.

Evers and his wife moved to Jackson, where they worked together to set up the NAACP office, and he began investigating violent crimes committed against blacks and sought ways to prevent them. His boycott of Jackson merchants in the early 1960s attracted national attention, and his efforts to have James Meredith admitted to the University of Mississippi in 1962 brought much-needed federal help for which he had been soliciting. Meredith was admitted to Ole Miss, a major step in securing civil rights in the state, but an ensuing riot on campus left two people dead, and Evers’ involvement in this and other activities increased the hatred many people felt toward Evers.

Related Links & Info

Medgar Evers College:
The name of Medgar Evers has been immortalized in many ways but perhaps none more so grandly than in Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College, a unit of the City University of New York.

Film: For Us the Living
Myrlie Evers’ book about her husband was made into a TV movie starring Howard Rollins.

Statue of Evers in Jackson:
A statue of Medgar Evers was erected to honor him in his adopted hometown of Jackson on June 28, 1992.
“It may sound funny, but I love the South. I don’t choose to live anywhere else. There’s land here, where a man can raise cattle, and I’m going to do it some day. There are lakes where a man can sink a hook and fight the bass. There is room here for my children to play and grow, and become good citizens—if the white man will let them....”
—Medgar Evers, “Why I Live in Mississippi”

On June 12, 1963, as he was returning home, Medgar Evers was killed by an assassin’s bullet. Black and white leaders from around the nation came to Jackson for his funeral and then gathered at Arlington National Cemetery for his interment. Following his death, his brother, Charles, took over Medgar’s position as state field secretary for the NAACP. The accused killer, a white supremacist named Byron De La Beckwith, stood trial twice in the 1960s, but in both cases the all-white juries could not reach a verdict. Finally, in a third trial in 1994 (and thirty-one years after Evers’ murder), Beckwith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The legacy of Medgar Evers is everywhere present in the Mississippi of today. This peaceful man, who had constantly urged that “violence is not the way” but who paid for his beliefs with his life, was a prominent voice in the struggle for civil rights in Mississippi. Many tributes have been paid to Medgar Evers over the years, including a book by his widow, For Us, the Living, but perhaps the greatest tribute can be found in changes noted in Mississippi Black History Makers: “Ten years after Medgar’s death the national office of the NAACP reported that Mississippi had 145 black elected officials and that blacks were enrolled in each of the state’s public and private institutions of higher learning.... In 1970, according to statistics compiled by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, more than one-fourth or 26.4 percent of black pupils in Mississippi public schools attended integrated schools with at least a 50 percent white enrollment. When Medgar died in 1963, only 28,000 blacks were registered voters. By 1971, there were 250,000 and by 1982 over 500,000.”

—John B. Padgett

(Article first posted August 1997)
Updated September 2002

Bio credit:

Video credit: :

Picture credit:

Lyrics credit:

This video is a song Bob Dylan wrote after Medgar Evers’ death called, “Only a Pawn in Their Game”.


A bullet from the back of a bush
took Medgar Evers' blood
A finger fired the trigger to his name
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man's brain
But he can't be blamed
He's only a pawn in their game.

A South politician preaches
to the poor white man
"You got more than blacks, don't complain
You're better than them, you
been born with white skin"
they explain
And the Negro's name
Is used it is plain
For the politician's gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers,
the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man's used
[ Find more Lyrics at ]
in the hands of them all like
a tool
He's taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
'Bout the shape that he's in
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

From the powerty shacks, he
looks from the cracks to
the tracks
And the hoof beats pound in his brain
And he's taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide 'neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain't got no name
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game.

Today, Medgar Evers was buried
from the bullet he caught
They lowered him down as a king
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He'll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Sarah C. Roberts

Sarah C. Roberts is a little known Freedom Fighter in American history. Roberts was only five years old when she and her father challenged the Boston Board of Education in 1849. The final decision in Roberts’ case, given by the Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw set up the ultimate precedence for the Plessy vs. Ferguson “separate but equal” ruling of 1896.
Roberts, with her lawyers Charles Sumner and Robert Morris, sued the city of Boston for the right to attend public school with white children. They intended to prove that "separate" schools did not meet the statutory requirement for "common" schools for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The school Roberts was supposed to attend; the Smith school did not have the same funding, faculty, or other materials that were available in the white schools in Boston. In order to be fair, Sumner and Morris maintained, the Boston school board needed to intervene and provide identical, integrated facilities.
The City defense argued that the law was that that each child would receive adequate education at a school which was geographically closest to them, and that it did not make sense for Roberts to travel across town to attend the Sun Court school for which she had been kicked out of one day previously for attempting to go to class.
In their final arguments, Sumner declared that before the law all men must be equal, and that it was necessary for "distinctions [to] disappear. He is not poor, weak, humble, or black; nor is he Caucasian, Jew, Indian, or Ethiopian... He is a man, the equal of all his fellow-men." Chief Justice Shaw retorted that in order to ascertain the best meaning of "equality," one had to look beyond the "great principle" to the law and its continuous adaptation to "respective relations and conditions" (Roberts v. The City of Boston, 1849, p. 206).10 Such a view treated societal norms as the key phenomena in need of investigation, while the law worked best when it mirrored these relations. At one point in his opinion, Shaw claimed that if there was an "odious distinction of caste," as the petitioners maintained, then it was the sole result of "a deep-rooted prejudice of public opinion" which "is not created by law, and probably cannot be changed by law" (p. 209). Essentially, that laws must be influenced by public opinion, and that it was not the job of the judiciary to go against general public attitudes.
As Marfouf Hasian Jr. and Geoffrey Klinger conclude in their paper on Sarah C. Roberts and Lemuel Shaw, “the belief that prejudices were not created or changed by the law provided the theoretical ground to justify political positions maintaining "separate but equal" education. When the law is treated as simply a reflection of some temporary majority, it became an impediment to meaningful social change both for that time and for subsequent generations.”

Sources- qa3669/is 200210/ai n9146075/pg 10

Posted by Mia Ragent

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Amelia Boynton Robinson

Civil rights leader Amelia Platts Boynton Robinson was born on August 18, 1911 in Savannah, Georgia. Both of her parents were of African, Native American, and German descent.

Robinson began fighting for voting and property ownership rights and education for African Americans in the 1930s along with her husband Samuel William “Bill” Boynton who was president of registration and voting of the Fourth Congressional District. The Alabama Lawyers Association wrote that Samuel William Boynton “laid the historical foundation for the Voting Rights Act.” In 1936, Amelia Boynton Robinson wrote a play called “Through the Years”, a musical drama centered around the life of a freed slave, in order to raise money for a community center in Selma, Alabama that black people would be able to go to. She also served as Home Demonstration Agent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the 30s.

Robinson lost her husband Bill to a heart attack in the 1960s, but this did not stop her from continuing to fight for freedom. Robinson’s own home and office served as a meeting place to plan civil rights demonstrations. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his attendants along with Congressmen and attorneys from across the U.S. were among those in attendance. In 1964, Robinson was the first African American woman from Alabama to seek a seat in Congress and the first woman to run as under the Democratic Party in Alabama. Amelia Boynton Robinson assisted in leading the first march across Edmund Pettus Bridge to Montgomery, Alabama on “Bloody Sunday”, March 7, 1965. She ended up gassed, beaten, and left for dead by Alabama State Troopers. Unfortunately, the gas seared her lungs and permanently damaged her singing voice. The photograph of the injured Amelia, which was seen on the news throughout the world, helped to gain support for the civil rights movement. When the Voting Rights Act was signed and made into law in 1965, Robinson went to Washington D.C. to meet with President Lyndon Johnson after he signed the act.

Amelia Boynton Robinson met Lyndon LaRouche during the early 1980s, and in 1984, she became a board member of the Schiller Institute, which was founded by Lyndon LaRouche and Helga Zepp-LaRouche. Robinson has participated in hundreds of events at the Schiller Institute over the past 17 years, and has encouraged thousands of school-age children to learn about the history of the United States and to work for social change.

In addition to working for social change in the U.S., Robinson has gone to Europe as well. In the spring of 1990, Robinson spoke to thousands of people in Germany about the Martin Luther King movement. Soon after, Robinson won the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Medal on July 21, 1990 for her dedication to fighting for civil rights and human rights. In 1992, Robinson went to Croatia and worked with the Croatian Mothers of Peace, and in 2001, Amelia traveled to Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and Italy to become part of Lyndon LaRouche’s struggle for a New Bretton Woods system and the Eurasian Land-Bridge.

On March 14, 2000, 35 years after the Voting Rights Act became law, the politically active Robinson went to Washington D.C. to speak at a press conference at the National Press Club. As a member of the Michigan Democratic Presidential Caucus, she helped to release their findings that the Gore Democrats were ruining the Voting Rights Act by trying to stop Lyndon LaRouche’s 2001 presidential campaign.

At 96 years old, Amelia Boynton Robinson who has claimed that “it’s better to wear out than to rust out” is still alive today, and has been a registered voter since 1934. She is currently Vice Chairman of the Schiller Institute. People can read more about Amelia Boynton Robinson’s life and achievements in her autobiography titled Bridge Across Jordan, which was published in 1991 by the Schiller Institute. The book focuses on Robinson’s fight for both civil and human rights for American citizens of all racial backgrounds.

Here is an open letter from Robinson to European citizens from March of 2008:

- This Could Be a Treaty of Death for Nations -

March 20, 2008

It is very interesting and even fascinating to daydream (and sometimes in reality) to think of the growth of a family, from a couple, to many children, and from the one couple there are many and many generations throughout the world. And you love them, because they are your relatives, and take interest in them all, and we often speak of their successes. Then, why should any people be compelled to make war against their neighbors or friends and relations?

As a member and co-founder of Schiller Institute, living to give the best future to the BüSo, the LaRouche Youth Movement, and all the youth of the world, I want peace for everyone. But can there be peace without justice? There is no justice where evil men burn their brains out, planning wars and strife, violating the very concept of a nation!

Have you ever heard of the United States South, with its plantation sharecropper system, and our struggle to get people to register and vote throughout the United States? Have you ever heard of Bloody Sunday, on March 7, 1965 in Selma, Alabama, where people were beaten, and many lost their lives just because, when they reached voting age, they wanted to act as full citizens of their native country, the United States? Those are the very rights of man.

Well, that experience should never be repeated again in any country or countries, in a civilized world. With the shedding of blood, with their sweat and tears, human beings have fought to erase the fine print and hidden illegal terms in any contract, constitution, treaty, or governing law that cannot easily be interpreted or understood by all, and which the feudal system of the Dark Age has fought against justice to return.

I invite you to read my autobiography, Amelia Platts Boynton Robinson, Bridge Across Jordan, which now exists in German, Italian, and French. This book will give you a glimpse of what could happen, if you take your God-given right to national sovereignty for granted. The death penalty could be imposed upon one of your own, and he or she could rot in jail for years, while the law is being discussed by faceless bureaucrats. This Lisbon Treaty is a return to slavery, feudalism, and the plantation system: Demand a referendum in your country, now; otherwise, by then, complaining about it will be too late.

It is time to raise the issue: Do you want to be slave countries, or free people? It is as you wish.

It was Martin Luther King in his famous "I Have A Dream" speech on Aug. 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C., who reminded the world that all men are created equal, and that we are all God's children. Then, let us, all over the world, make his dream come true. He gave his life for this truth: Let us give our love, truth, and justice throughout the world.

Wherever you see young people with tables of literature, braving the hot or cold weather, or where they have meetings, please pay special attention: It could save you from a disaster, or it could cause us to stop, think, and discuss before your treaty becomes a Treaty of the Death of Freedom.

I invite you to make a change in the respect for your national constitutions that are being violated, even in your capitals. Cleaning up a constitution can only be accomplished when the citizens living under it fight for that right, and ensure that if it is to be changed, let the citizens of that sovereign country make the changes, not an army of politicians from other countries, who would rob you of your sovereignty, laws, constitution, and your way of life.

Constitutions see that every citizen has the same protections from birth to death, letting no committee or unelected bureaucrat make the laws of your nation. Be proud of who you are, build your nation, and offer help to your neighbors, in the solid tradition your forefathers handed down to you. In this, no country small or large has supremacy over any other, but all are equal in what they have to give to humanity.

How would you or your children feel, knowing that you have gone to war with your neighbor, because the treaty demands it, or if your whole country is put under a dictatorship that you cannot refuse, or you're compelled to go along or approve of the death penalty of someone, who might be one of your citizens, or even of your family. You can only blame yourselves for not fighting for your sovereign country, or forever blame yourselves for losing your rights as a nation, to become a part of the plantation system under the fascist Lisbon Treaty.

My spirit is with you in your struggle,

Amelia Boynton Robinson

This video on YouTube is of Robinson during a Kwanzaa celebration (the purpose of her speech is to empower African Americans and to give them a sense of pride and unity):


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dr George Simkins Jr.

Dr. George Simkins Jr.

Greensboro dentist George Simkins attended Meharry Dental College in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1944 to 1948, when only two dental schools accepted black students. He assumed that segregation would continue, but soon set about trying to undo it: he fought segregation at a local golf course but again lost the case before the Supreme Court, this time on a technicality; he sought to desegregate a swimming pool; and in what may have been his most significant civil rights achievement, he built a case against segregation in two Greensboro hospitals. The Supreme Court decided Simkins v. Moses H. Cone Community Hospital in the plaintiffs' favor, ending the legal segregation of medical care. In this interview, he describes his various civil rights efforts and the responses of his white opponents, who resisted desegregation by fighting it in court as well as with harassment and threats. While Simkins won a major civil rights victory in the early 1960s, he sees a return of segregation in public schools, and a lack of sympathy for civil rights among political and judicial leaders. This interview will provide researchers with insights into a motivated individual's efforts to undo segregation and the hostile response of the white community, a response that continues to resonate today.

Longtime civil rights activist and Greensboro dentist, he was president of the local NAACP chapter from 1959 until 1984. In 1955, he and several other black men were arrested for trespassing after they played nine holes at the all-white, municipal Gillespie Park Golf Course. He and the others appealed their convictions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against them by a 5 to 4 vote. Gov. Luther Hodges commuted their sentences. Rather than integrate Gillespie, the city closed the course. It reopened seven years later, but in the meantime nine of the original 18 holes were gone.

Simkins also was involved in court actions to desegregate Wesley Long Community and Moses Cone hospitals, the public libraries, and the municipal tennis and golf facilities. He also was among those whose lawsuit resulted in a federal judge ordering the Greensboro city schools in 1971 to use busing to bring about total integration of the schools. Simkins died in November 2001.

GEORGE SIMKINS, interviewee

Page 1

Dr. Simkins, maybe you could give some of your background—your education, and when you started practicing in Greensboro?

I was born here in Greensboro, in fact I was born here in this house I live in. I attended the elementary schools here in Greensboro, and Dudley High School. I went to Herzel Junior College in Chicago for two years, 1941 and '42, and went to Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama in '43 and '44, and to Meharry Dental College in Nashville, Tennessee, '44 to '48. I interned at Jersey City Medical Center from '48 to '49, and I've been back here in Greensboro ever since. I worked at the Health Department for about five years in public health dentistry. We had a trailer, and we would go from school to school, doing fillings, profies and extractions. That was '49 to '54. I started private practice in '55, and have been practicing general dentistry ever since. I'm still practicing.

When you entered dentistry in 1949, what was your sense of the opportunities that were available for African-American health professionals? Did it seem like there were more opportunities opening up than there had been before?

At that time, there were two dental schools that accepted blacks, Meharry and Howard, in Washington, DC. Some of the Northern schools would accept blacks, but no dental school in the South. There weren't many opportunities at that time.

Were you aware of any attempts to encourage Southern schools to admit black students at that time, or was it accepted that those two schools would be the main places?

At that time, everything was "separate but equal." I had no idea that these schools would later be integrated, because I thought it was going to stay the same.

By the time the [Simkins v. Cone] case arose in 1962, why do you think you and the other plaintiffs chose that route to try to open access for blacks to better health care. Were there other options that you thought about at the time, or was a lawsuit agreed on as the best way to go about it?

We first wrote letters to Moses Cone and Wesley Long Hospitals, asking them to admit black physicians and dentists on their staff. We just got the run-around on that. We wrote several letters, and they just denied us. After so many denials, it started like this. A patient came in my office, I think his name was Donald Lines, he was a student at A & T. He had a temperature of 103, and his jaw was swollen. I knew right then that this boy needed to be in the hospital, where he could get some attention. I called the black hospital, which was L. Richardson, and they told me they could not admit
Page 2
him because they had a waiting period of two and three weeks, and that they just didn't have any beds available. You would go over there, and there would be beds in the hallways. You'd have to walk down a narrow path through the hallways without running into the beds, because it was so crowded. Later that same day, I called up Cone and Wesley Long hospitals, and they had beds available, but they would not accept him because of his race.

So they didn't even have separate wards, they were both completely white hospitals?

Wesley Long wouldn't accept you at all. Cone had a policy where if it was something that L. Richardson did not have, they would accept the patient, but he would lose his doctor—he would have to get a white doctor who was on the staff there to work on him. This case was nothing that L. Richardson couldn't handle, if they had room. The boy needed to be on antibiotics and hospitalized, but Cone would not accept him. So at that point, I called Jack Greenberg, who was the head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund out of New York. I told Jack, "We really need to do something about these hospitals. They will not accept any black patient, and if Cone accepts them, they lose their doctor." He said, "George, if you can organize the black physicians, I will see what I can do." At this point, I knew that some of the younger fellows wanted to open up these hospitals, and some of the older fellows didn't. One of the reasons some of the older fellows didn't want to was because everybody was operating at L. Richardson. Whether you were qualified or not, you could operate over there. These fellows didn't want to lose their income from operating, and they knew if they had been admitting to Cone and Wesley Long, they would have to be board certified to do any operations, so they weren't too much for it. They also figured that if you opened up Cone and Wesley Long, it would hurt L. Richardson. Patients would stop going to L. Richardson. I went around with a petition, and got guys that I knew who would sign up—I put their names on there first. Then I would approach the older fellows, and those that were reluctant, when they saw all the younger fellows down there, some of them signed, and some of them wouldn't sign. So I got about 11 plaintiffs in all, some patients, the majority of dentists. Then Jack asked me to see if either of these hospitals had been built with federal Hill-Burton funds, because that was the way we had to go in court. If they had not been built with Hill-Burton funds, there was nothing we could do to open them up, because they were strictly private hospitals. I was elated to find that both hospitals had been built with Hill-Burton funds, and we preceded to attack them at that point, on the grounds that they had been built with Hill-Burton funds. I went around and got 50 dollars from each [plaintiff], so they could pay for the expense of the suit. I sent that to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and we hired a local lawyer. He never would file suit after we had done all the work, so I called Jack, and said, "Jack, I think we've got a scared lawyer on our hands. We need to get this thing filed." Because it was months and months, and it never was filed. He understood, and said he'd take care of it. So he called Conrad Pearson, who
Page 3
was an NAACP attorney in Durham, and Conrad came over the next day and filed the case. So that's how we got started. Of course, we lost it in Middle District Court, Judge Stanley ruled that the hospitals were private, and they had a right to discriminate if they wanted to. Then we appealed it to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and we won a 3-2 decision. Then the hospitals appealed it to the United States Supreme Court, and they were denied. Bobby Kennedy was the Attorney General at the time, and he wrote a brief on our behalf to the Court to try to get the Court to open up these hospitals to everybody. That was about it.

That's interesting that the first lawyer was so intimidated. I wonder why he accepted the case at all?

I did too. But I guess the more he thought about it, he just didn't want to take any chance. At that particular time, it was hard to get any black lawyers to do anything in civil rights.

Was there fear of violence, or professional problems?

They feared that the courts would not look favorably upon them, and they just didn't want to risk their profession on cases that were not popular.

It sounds like you had known Jack Greenberg previous to when you filed the suit. What was your relationship with him? Were you active in the NAACP?

I had gotten involved in civil rights on December 7, 1955. The city had two golf courses. One was Gillespie, and the other was Nocho Park. We tried to get them to fix up Nocho, and they never would do it, yet they were slipping out and fixing up Gillespie. Of course, Gillespie was for whites, and Nocho was for blacks. The city leased Gillespie for a dollar to a white group, one of whom was chairman of the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department, to keep blacks off of it. He set up rules that you had to be a member, or the invited guest of a member, to play out there.

So he turned it into a private club, basically.

Basically, but it really wasn't, because any white person could go out there, pay their money and play. But they told us that it was a private club.

I'm surprised there was a public golf course for blacks at all.

There was. We had a little nine-hole course out there. Six of us one Wednesday afternoon when I was off, we went out there to play. They arrested us for trespassing. We put our money down. They had the black policeman to come by that night and take us to jail. My father, who was a dentist, went our bail. We were found guilty in city court, and we appealed it to the next level. In the meantime, we went into federal court and got a declaratory judgment, and the federal judge was Johnson J. Hayes. He said that anybody who pays taxes and has to go out and fight for this country ought to be able to enjoy the recreational facilities provided by the city, and said as far as he was
Page 4
concerned, the city was still in the saddle, although they had leased this course. He said this course was to be integrated in three weeks. In about two weeks time, the clubhouse mysteriously burns down, the fire marshals come out and condemn the whole course, because the clubhouse was burned down. We had two lawyers, a man and wife team, and they had gone into federal court and got the declaratory judgment for us, where the federal judge gave us a strong declaratory judgment. But on the trespassing case, they forgot and left the declaratory judgment out of the record when we appealed it to the state Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court found us guilty, because the lawyers had made a mistake. I went up to Thurgood [Marshall, chief legal counsel of the NAACP], that's how I met Thurgood Marshall and Jack Greenberg. I went up to New York and asked Thurgood, "We need you, because I can't fight these lawyers, and the city and everybody by myself. I need the NAACP to help us." He looked at the record, and told me, "Your lawyers ought to be the ones to go to jail." At that time, we'd been given an active jail sentence. "They have screwed this case up. I'm not going to mess my record up by taking a case like this, because you cannot win. You're going to lose it by one vote, Tom Clark is going to vote against you in the Supreme Court. But I will pay for your printing costs." We went all the way to the [U.S.] Supreme Court, and sure enough, we lost by a 5-4 decision. Earl Warren was the Chief Justice, and he said, "I cannot understand how something so important could be left off the record. If this was on the record, there would be no question about whether you all are guilty or not." Because our lawyers messed up, we lost it by one vote.

So this case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States?

Yes, this was our golf case. Warren gave such a strong dissenting opinion that Luther Hodges, who was governor at the time, commuted our sentences. We had to pay a fine, and didn't go to jail. But that's how I had contact with Thurgood Marshall and Jack Greenberg and the lawyers at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

I didn't know golfing could be so dangerous!

Everything was dangerous back then. Anything you tried to integrate was.

After the golf case, did you participate in any other civil rights activity before the hospital case?

We went to the swimming pool, and said, if you're not going to let us play golf, maybe you'll let us swim. So they had a swimming pool that was two years old, and we sent somebody out. They immediately closed it and made it for members only. They got mad and shut down the black pool at Nocho. The city said they were getting out of the recreational business, and they tried to sell Nocho Park swimming pool. They had just paid 250 thousand dollars for the white swimming pool, and they let it go for about 60. The man who bidded on it was from Mount Airy, and he was the wrong person, because they wanted somebody in the city to have it. They told him if he got it, they weren't going to zone it right for him, and he wouldn't be allowed to make
Page 5
any money at all from concessions. So he said, "Why would I want it, then?" So they had another bid, and the people from the city that they wanted to get it, got it. They kept it for a few years, and finally decided they couldn't make any money, and it was a bad investment. The city later took it back over on an integrated basis.

Why didn't the city want the first guy to buy it?

Because he wasn't the right person to own it. They wanted somebody from within the city of Greensboro.

So he was an outsider.

That's right.

You said that some of the older black doctors were reluctant to try to integrate facilities. I've heard in some places that as there were new, increasingly high-tech facilities being built, do you think that a hospital like Richardson would have continued operating even if the other two hospitals hadn't been integrated?

Yeah, definitely. Because the demand was there.

It was kind of a sure thing for them?

Blacks didn't have noplace to go but L. Richardson. There was a great demand for L. Richardson. No other hospital had a waiting list like that around here. With the large population in Greensboro, they were set. You knew it was an inferior facility, but at that point, there was nothing you could do.
- bio info

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

W.E.B. Du Bois

Born: February 23, 1868
Died: August 27, 1963
William Edward Burghardt DuBois, to his admirers, was by spirited devotion and scholarly dedication, an attacker of injustice and a defender of freedom. A harbinger of Black nationalism and Pan-Africanism, he died in self-imposed exile in his home away from home with his ancestors of a glorious past—Africa. Labeled as a "radical," he was ignored by those who hoped that his massive contributions would be buried along side of him. But, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, "history cannot ignore W.E.B. DuBois because history has to reflect truth and Dr. DuBois was a tireless explorer and a gifted discoverer of social truths. His singular greatness lay in his quest for truth about his own people. There were very few scholars who concerned themselves with honest study of the black man and he sought to fill this immense void. The degree to which he succeeded disclosed the great dimensions of the man."

His Formative Years
W.E.B. DuBois was born on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. At that time Great Barrington had perhaps 25, but not more than 50, Black people out of a population of about 5,000. Consequently, there were little signs of overt racism there. Nevertheless, its venom was distributed through a constant barrage of suggestive innuendoes and vindictive attitudes of its residents. This mutated the personality of young William from good natured and outgoing to sullen and withdrawn. This was later reinforced and strengthened by inner withdrawals in the face of real discriminations. His demeanor of introspection haunted him throughout his life.

While in high school DuBois showed a keen concern for the development of his race. At age fifteen he became the local correspondent for the New York Globe. And in this position he conceived it his duty to push his race forward by lectures and editorials reflecting upon the need of Black people to politicized themselves.

DuBois was naturally gifted intellectually and took pleasurable pride in surpassing his fellow students in academic and other pursuits. Upon graduation from high school, he, like many other New England students of his caliber, desired to attend Harvard. However, he lacked the financial resources to go to that institution. But with the aid of friends and family, and a scholarship he received to Fisk College (now University), he eagerly headed to Nashville, Tennessee to further his education.

This was DuBois' first trip south. And in those three years at Fisk (1885–1888) his knowledge of the race problem became more definite. He saw discrimination in ways he never dreamed of, and developed a determination to expedite the emancipation of his people. Consequently, he became a writer, editor, and an impassioned orator. And in the process acquired a belligerent attitude toward the color bar.

Also, while at Fisk, DuBois spent two summers teaching at a county school in order to learn more about the South and his people. There he learned first hand of poverty, poor land, ignorance, and prejudice. But most importantly, he learned that his people had a deep desire for knowledge.

After graduation from Fisk, DuBois entered Harvard (via scholarships) classified as a junior. As a student his education focused on philosophy, centered in history. It then gradually began to turn toward economics and social problems. As determined as he was to attend and graduate from Harvard, he never felt himself a part of it. Later in life he remarked "I was in Harvard but not of it." He received his bachelor's degree in 1890 and immediately began working toward his master's and doctor's degree.

DuBois completed his master's degree in the spring of 1891. However, shortly before that, ex-president Rutherford B. Hayes, the current head of a fund to educate Negroes, was quoted in the Boston Herald as claiming that they could not find one worthy to enough for advanced study abroad. DuBois' anger inspired him to apply directly to Hayes. His credentials and references were impeccable. He not only received a grant, but a letter from Hayes saying that he was misquoted. DuBois chose to study at the University of Berlin in Germany. It was considered to be one of the world's finest institutions of higher learning. And DuBois felt that a doctor's degree from there would infer unquestionable preparation for ones life's work.

During the two years DuBois spent in Berlin, he began to see the race problems in the Americas, Africa, and Asia, and the political development of Europe as one. This was the period of his life that united his studies of history, economics, and politics into a scientific approach of social research.

DuBois had completed a draft of his dissertation and needed another semester or so to finish his degree. But the men over his funding sources decided that the education he was receiving there was unsuitable for the type of work needed to help Negroes. They refused to extend him any more funds and encouraged him to obtain his degree from Harvard. Which of course he was obliged to do. His doctoral thesis, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade in America, remains the authoritative work on that subject, and is the first volume in Harvard's Historical Series.

Easing On Down The Road
At the age of twenty-six, with twenty years of schooling behind him, DuBois felt that he was ready to begin his life's work. He accepted a teaching job at Wilberforce in Ohio at the going rate of $800.00 per year. (He also had offers from Lincoln in Missouri and Tuskegee in Alabama.)

The year 1896 was the dawn of a new era for DuBois. With his doctorate degree and two undistinguished years at Wilberforce behind him, he readily accepted a special fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania to conduct a research project in Philadelphia's seventh ward slums. This responsibility afforded him the opportunity to study Blacks as a social system.

DuBois plunged eagerly into his research. He was certain that the race problem was one of ignorance. And he was determined to unearth as much knowledge as he could, thereby providing the "cure" for color prejudice. His relentless studies led into historical investigation, statistical and anthropological measurement, and sociological interpretation. The outcome of this exhaustive endeavor was published as The Philadelphia Negro. "It revealed the Negro group as a symptom, not a cause; as a striving, palpitating group, and not an inert, sick body of crime; as a long historic development and not a transient occurrence." This was the first time such a scientific approach to studying social phenomena was undertaken, and as a consequence DuBois is acknowledged as the father of Social Science.

After the completion of the study, DuBois accepted a position at Atlanta University to further his teachings in sociology. For thirteen years there he wrote and studied Negro morality, urbanization, Negroes in business, college-bred Negroes, the Negro church, and Negro crime. He also repudiated the widely held view of Africa as a vast cultural cipher by presenting a historical version of complex, cultural development throughout Africa. His studies left no stone unturned in his efforts to encourage and help social reform.. It is said that because of his outpouring of information "there was no study made of the race problem in America which did not depend in some degree upon the investigations made at Atlanta University."

During this period an ideological controversy grew between DuBois and Booker T. Washington, which later grew into a bitter personal battle. Washington from 1895, when he made his famous "Atlanta Compromise" speech, to 1910 was the most powerful black man in the America. Whatever grant, job placement or any endeavor concerning Blacks that influential whites received was sent to Washington for endorsement or rejection. Hence, the "Tuskegee Machine" became the focal point for Black input/output. DuBois was not opposed to Washington's power, but rather, he was against his ideology/methodology of handling the power. On one hand Washington decried political activities among Negroes, and on the other hand dictated Negro political objectives from Tuskegee.

Washington argued the Black people should temporarily forego "political power, insistence on civil rights, and higher education of Negro youth. They should concentrate all their energies on industrial education." DuBois believed in the higher education of a "Talented Tenth" who through their knowledge of modern culture could guide the American Negro into a higher civilization. (See Chapter 4, "Science and Empire" in DuBois' Dusk of Dawn.)

The culmination of the conflict came in 1903 when DuBois published his now famous book, The Souls of Black Folks. The chapter entitled "Of Booker T. Washington and Others" contains an analytical discourse on the general philosophy of Washington. DuBois edited the chapter himself to keep the most controversial and bitter remarks out of it. Nevertheless, it still was more than enough to incur Washington's continued contempt for him.

In the early summer of 1905 Washington went to Boston to address a rally. While speaking he was verbally assaulted by William Monroe Trotter ( a Harvard college friend of DuBois). The subsequent jailing of Trotter on trumped-up charges, apparently by Washingtonites, raised the wrath of DuBois. This incident caused DuBois to solicit help from others "for organized determination and aggressive action on the part of men who believe in Negro freedom and growth.

Twenty-nine men from fourteen states answered the call in Buffalo, New York. Five months later in January of 1906 the "Niagara Movement" was formed. So called after the cite of the meeting place–the Canadian side of Niagara falls. (They were prevented from meeting on the U.S. side.) Its objectives were to advocate civil justice and abolish caste discrimination. The downfall of the group was attributed to public accusations of fraud and deceit instigated and engineered presumably by Washington advocates, and DuBois' inexperience with organizations and the internal strain from the dynamic personality of Trotter. In 1909 all members of the Niagara Movement save one (Trotter, who despised and distrusted whites and their objectives) merged with some white liberals and thus the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was born. DuBois was not altogether pleased with the group but agreed to stay on as Director of Publications and Research.

The main artery for distributing NAACP policy and news concerning Blacks was the Crisis magazine, which DuBois autocratically governed as its editor-in-chief for some twenty-five years. He was of no mind to follow pedantically the Associations views, and therefore wrote only that which he felt could lift the coffin lid off his people.

His hot, raking editorials oftentimes lead to battles within the ranks of the Association. Besides this, the NAACP was, at that time, under the leadership of whites, to which DuBois objected. He always felt that Blacks should lead and that if whites were to be included at all, it should be in a supportive role. The meteoric and sustained rise in the circulation of the Crisis, making it self-supporting, tranquilized the moderates within the Association. This afforded DuBois the ability to continue his assault on the injustices heaped upon the Blacks.

World War I had dramatic affects on the lives of Black folks. Firstly, the Armed Forces refused Black inductees, but finally relinquished and put the "colored folks" in subservient roles. Secondly, while the war was raging, Blacks in the southern states were moving North where industry was desperately looking for workers. Ignorant, frightened whites, led by capitalist instigators, were fearful that Blacks would totally consume the job market. Thus, lynching ran rampant. Finally, after the war, Black veterans returned home to the same racist country they had fought so heroically to defend.

Dr. DuBois, using the Crisis as his vehicle, hurled thunderbolts of searing script, scorching the "dusty veil," and revealing the innards of a country whose quivering heart beat bigotry. So vitriolic and eloquent was his pen, that subsequent reaction from his followers caused congressional action to:

  1. Inaugurate the opening of Black officer training schools.
  2. Bring forth legal action against lynchers.
  3. Set up a federal work plan for returning veterans.

His articles never quit. The countryside was inundated with DuBoisian unmitigated protest. This period marked the height of DuBois' popularity. The Crisis magazine subscription rate had grown from 1000 in 1909 to over 10,000 in May of 1919. His "Returning Soldier" editorial climaxed the period.

"By the God of Heaven, we are cowards and jackasses if now that the war is over, we do not marshal every ounce of our brain and brawn to fight the forces of hell in our own land.

We return.
We return from fighting.
We return fighting!
Make way for Democracy! We saved it in France, and by the great Jehovah, we will save it in the United Stated of America, or know the reason why."

Shortly after the Armistice was signed, DuBois, sailed for France in 1919 to represent the NAACP as an observer at the Peace Conference. While there he decided it was an opportune time to organize a Pan-African conference to bring attention to the problems of Africans around the world. While this was not the first Pan-African Congress (the first one was held in 1900), he had long been interested in the movement.

While the concept was lauded by a few revolutionaries, it failed because of lack of interest by the more influential Black organizations.

DuBois realized that for Africans could be free anywhere, they must be free everywhere. He therefore decided to hold another Pan-African meeting in 1921. While this one was better organized, he was dealt double trouble. First, following the war, "a political and social revolution, economic upheaval and depression, national and racial hatred made a setting in which any such movement was entirely out of the Question." More importantly, however, was the encounter with the astonishing Marcus Garvey.

"Unlike DuBois, Garvey was able to gain mass support and had tremendous appeal." He established the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) for the purpose of uniting Africa and her descendants. He instituted the visionary concept of buying ships for overseas trade and travel; he issued forth uncompromising orations on race relations and inspiration ("Up you mighty people. You can accomplish what you will!"); and held pageants and parades through "Harlems" with red, black, and green liberation flags flying (The colors symbolizes the skin, the blood, and the hopes and growth potential of Black people. The green is also symbolic of the earth.). His methodology was refreshing and inspiring. And it was in direct contrast to the intellectual style of DuBois.

DuBois' first efforts were to explain away the Garvey movement and ignore it . But it was a mass movement and could not be ignored.

Later, when Garvey began to collect money for his steamship line, DuBois characterized him as "a hard-working idealist, but his methods are bombastic, wasteful, illogical and almost illegal." Marcus Garvey, choosing to ignore the critiques of DuBois, continued with his undertakings until charges of fraud were brought forth against him. He was imprisoned and upon his release, he was exiled from the United States. He died in 1941.

The conflict between the two men was amplified by the white press. It also served to debilitate the progress of the future planned Pan-African Congress. Nevertheless, DuBois held his conference in 1923, and as expected the turnout was small.

When the conference was concluded, he set sail for Africa for the first time. During the trip through "the eternal world of Black folk" he made a characteristic observation–"The world brightens as it darkens." His racial romanticism was given free reign as he wrote–"The spell of Africa is upon me ..."

Ideology Change
Returning home from his African experience, DuBois had a chance to reflect upon his past. DuBois noted how America tactically side-stepped the issues of color, and how his approach of "educate and agitate" appeared to fall on deaf ears. He felt that his ideological approach to the "problem of the twentieth century" had to be revised.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 illuminated and made clear the change in his basic thought. The revolution concerned itself with the problem of poverty. "Russia was trying to put into the hands of those people who do the world's work the power to guide and rule the state for the best welfare of the masses." DuBois' trip to Russia in 1927, his learning about Marx and Engles, his seeing the beginning of a new nation form with regard to class, prompted him to say–"My day in Russia was the day of communist beginnings."

"He could no longer support integration as present tactics and relegated it to a long range goal. Unable to trust white politicians, white capitalists of white workers he invested everything in the segregated socialized economy." (Shades of Washingtonianism?) His ideology carried over to his editorials in the Crisis magazine.

By 1930 he had become thoroughly convinced that the basic policies and ideals of the NAACP must be modified and/or discarded. There were two alternatives:

  1. Change the board of directors of the NAACP (who were mostly white) so as to substitute a group which agreed with his program.

By 1933 DuBois decided his financial, organizational and ideological battles with the NAACP were unendurable, and he recommended that the Crisis suspend its operation. (The Crisis magazine, however, is still in existence today.)

He resumed his duties at Atlanta University and there upon completed two major works. His book Black Reconstruction dealt with the socio-economic development of the nation after the Civil War. This masterpiece portrayed the contributions of the Black people to this period, whereas before, the Blacks were always portrayed as disorganized and chaotic. His second book of this period, Dusk of Dawn, was completed in 1940 and expounded his concepts and views on both the African's and African American's quest for freedom.

As in years past, DuBois never relented in attacks upon imperialism, especially in Africa. (His book entitled The World and Africa was written as a contradiction to the pseudo-historians who consistently omitted Africa from world history.) In 1945 he served as an associate consultant to the American delegation at the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco. He charged the world organization with planning to be dominated by imperialist nations and not intending to intervene on the behalf of colonized countries. He announced that the fifth Pan-African Congress would convene to determine what pressure could be applied to the world powers.

This conference was dotted with an all-star cast:

  1. Kwame Nkruma–dedicated revolutionary, father of Ghanian independence, and first president of Ghana.
  2. George Padmore–an international revolutionary, often called the "Father of African Emancipation," who later became Kwame Nkrumah's advisor on African Affairs.
  3. Jomo Kenyatta–called the "burning Spear," reputed leader of the Mau Mau uprising, and first president of independent Kenya.

The congress elected DuBois International President and cast him a "Father of Pan-Africanism."

Thus, "W.E.B. DuBois entered into his last phase as a protest propagandist, committed beyond a single social group to a world conception of proletarian liberation."

Always antagonizing and making guilty groups feel extremely uncomfortable, he wrote in 1949: "We want to rule Russia and cannot rule Alabama." As s member of the left-wing American Labor Party he wrote: "Drunk with power, we (the U.S.) are leading the world to hell in a new colonialism with the same old human slavery, which once ruined us, to a third world war, which will ruin the world."

As the chairman of the Peace Information Center, he demanded the outlawing of atomic weapons. The Secretary of State denounced it as Soviet propaganda. Jumping at the chance to quiet "that old man," the U.S. Department of Justice ordered DuBois and others to register as agents of a "foreign principal." DuBois refused and was immediately indicted under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Sufficient evidence was lacking, therefore DuBois was acquitted. The subversive activity initiated by the U.S. government acted as a catalyst in the alienation DuBois already felt for the present system. His feelings were heard around the world in 1959. While in Peking he told a large audience–"In my own country for nearly a century I have been nothing but a NIGGER." By the time the U.S. press published the account, he was residing in Ghana; an expatriate from the United States. President Nkruma welcomed DuBois and asked him to direct the government-sponsored Encyclopedia Africana. The offer was accepted graciously and a year later, in the final months of his life, DuBois became a Ghanian citizen and an official member of the Communist party.

Free At Last
On August 27,1963, on the eve of the March On Washington, DuBois died in Accra, Ghana.

His role as a pioneering Pan-Africanist was memorialized by the few who understood the genius of the man and neglected by the many who were afraid that his loquacious espousals would unite the oppressed throughout the world into revolution.

Quotes from W.E.B. Du Bois

“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.”

“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

“To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.”

“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line -- the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea. It was a phase of this problem that caused the Civil War.”

“To stimulate wildly weak and untrained minds is to play with mighty fires.”

Some of the Major Offerings of W.E.B. DuBois

The Philadelphia Negro (1896)
The Suppression of the African Slave Trade (Harvard Ph.D. thesis, 1896)
Atlanta University's Studies of the Negro Problem (1897–1910)
Souls of Black Folks (1903)
John Brown (1909)
Quest of the Silver Fleece ( 1911)
The Negro (1915)
Darkwater (1920)
The Gift of Black Folk (1924)
Dark Princess (1924)
Black Reconstruction (1935)
Black Folk, Then and Now (1939)
Dusk of Dawn (1940)
Color and Democracy (1945)
The Encyclopedia of the Negro (1931–1946)
The World and Africa (1946)
The Black Flame (a trilogy)
______I. Ordeal of mansart (1957)
_____II. Mansart Builds a School (1959)
____III. Worlds of Color (1961) The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois (1968)
The Education of Black People: Ten Critiques, 1906–1960
(Edited by Herbert Aptheker–1973)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Richard Nathan Wright

Richard Nathan Wright was born September 4, 1908 in Roxie, Mississippi (not far from Nachez), the son of Nathan Wright, an illiterate sharecropper, and Ella Wilson Wright, a schoolteacher, and the grandson of slaves. In 1911 Ella takes Wright and barely one year old brother Leon Alan to Natchez to live with her family and the father later joins them and finds work in a sawmill. In 1913, the four Wrights moved to Memphis, Tennessee. But within a year, Nathan deserts them for another woman and Ella works as a cook to support the family.

In September 1915, Richard entered school at Howe Institute. However, Ella fell ill early in 1916 and Richard's father Nathan's mother came for a while to care for the family. When she left, Richard and Alan had to live for a brief time in an orphange until Ella could have them live with her parents in Jackson, Mississippi. But again, Richard, Alan, and Ella were moved, this time with Ella's sister Maggieand her husband Silas Hoskins in Elaine, Arkansas. But whites murdered Hoskins, and the family ran to West Helena, Arkansas, and then to Jackson, Mississippi. After a few months, they return to West Helena, where mother and aunt cook and clean for whites. Soon, Aunt Maggie goes north to Detroit with her new lover.

Wright entered school in the fall of 1918, but was forced to leave afer a few months because his mother's poor health forces him to earn money to support the family. Unable to pay their rent, the family moved and Wright gathers excess coal next to the railroad tracks in order to heat the home. When his mother suffers a paralyzing stroke, they return with Ella's Mother to Jackson, and Aunt Maggie takes Leon Alan to Detroit with her.

At the age of 13, Richard entered the fifth grade in Jackson, and he was soon placed in sixth grade. In addition, he delivers newspapers and works briefly with a traveling insurance salesman. The next year, he entered the seventh grade and his grandfather died. He managed to earn enough to buy textbooks, food, and clothes by running errands for whites. In the meantime, Richard read pulp novels, magazines, and anything he can get his hands on. During the winter, he writes his first short story, "The Voodoo of Hell's Half-Acre," which is published in the spring of 1924 in the Jackson Southern Register. In May 1925, Wright graduates valedictorian of his ninth grade. He begins high school, but as Leon Alan has returned from Detroit, quits after only a few weeks so he can earn money. At ties he worked two or even three jobs.

In 1927, Richard read H. L. Mencken, and from Mencken, Wright learned about and read Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, Frank Harris, and others. Wright and Aunt Maggie moved to Chicago, while his mother and brother returned to Jackson, where Wright worked as a dishwasher and delivery boy until finding temporary employment with the postal service in Chicago. His mother and brother moved in with Wright and Aunt Maggie, and Aunt Cleopatra joins them. He makes friends, both black and white, in the post office, writes regularly, and attends meetings of black literary groups.

Following the stock market crash, Wright loses his postal job, but began work, in 1930, on a novel, "Cesspool," (published posthumously in 1970's as Lawd Today!) that reflects his experience in the post office. In 1931 Wright publishes a short story, "Superstition," in Abbott's Monthly Magazine, a black journal that fails before Wright collects any money from them. However, he did get an opportunity to write through the Federal Writers' Project. He became a member of the Communist Party and published poetry and short stories in such magazines as Left Front, Anvil, and New Masses.

He went to New York for the American Writers' Congress, where he speaks on "The Isolation of the Negro Writer." He publishes a poem about lynching in Partisan Review and writes an article for New Masses entitled "Joe Louis Uncovers Dynamite." After his return, he is hired by the Federal Writers' Project to research the history of Illinois and of the Negro in Chicago. His short story "Big Boy Leaves Home" (1936) appears in The New Caravan anthology, where it attracts mainstream critical attention.

In 1937 Richard Wright went to New York City, where he became Harlem editor of the Communist paper, Daily Worker. He helps to launch the magazine New Challenge , and publishes "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow" in American Stuff: WPA Writers' Anthology. "Blueprint for Negro Writing" appears in the first and only issue of New Challenge. A second novel manuscript, "Tarbaby's Dawn," makes the rounds with publishers and receives constant rejection; it is never published, but "Fire and Cloud" wins first prize in a Story Magazine contest.

The next year, Uncle Tom's Children is published in March to wide acclaim. "Bright and Morning Star" appears in New Masses, and Wright soon joins that magazine's editorial board. He works on a new novel and asks Margaret Walker to send him newspaper clippings from the Robert Nixon case in Chicago. In October, he finishes the first draft of this novel, which he calls Native Son. "Fire and Cloud" wins the O. Henry Memorial Award. By February 1939 he has a completed second draft of Native Son. After winning a Guggenheim Fellowship, Wright resigns from the Federal Writers' Project. In June, he finishes Native Son and marries Dhima Rose Meadman, a white modern-dance teacher. Ralph Ellison is his best man. He begins work on a new novel, "Little Sister," which is never published.

Native Son is published 1940 in March and the Book-of-the-Month Club offers it as a main selection. Though the book is banned in Birmingham, Alabama, libraries, Wright becomes internatinally famous. Unhappy with the stage adaptation of Native Son that Paul Green has been working on, Wright and John Houseman revise it with Orson Welles in mind as director. The book is a best-seller and is staged successfully as a play on Broadway (1941) by Orson Welles.

Wright expresses his opposition to the war first by signing onto an anti-war appeal by the League of American Writers, and second by publishing "Not My People's War." Both items appear in New Masses in 1941. He criticizes Roosevelt's racial policies in a 27 June speech to the NAACP, although communist party pressure forces him to lessen his critique. Wright gets involved in music: "Note on Jim Crow Blues" prefaces blues singer Josh White's Southern Exposure album and Paul Robeson, accompanied by the Count Basie orchestra, records Wright's blues song, "King Joe." Twelve Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States published in October. Wright becomes interested in psychoanalysis as a result of his reading Fredric Wertham's Dark Legend. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Wright signs a petition, which appears in New Masses, supporting America's entry into the war.

Wright is not drafted in 1942 because he is his family's sole support, but he unsuccessfully tries to secure a special commission in the psychological warfare or propoganda services of the army. He publishes "The Man Who Lived Underground" in Accent and "What You Don't Know Won't Hurt You" in Harper's Magazine. He breaks quietly with the Communist party. Wright begins American Hunger. In 1943 the FBI begins interviewing Wright's associates and neighbors, presumably to determine if 12 Million Black Voices constitutes sedition, but while that inquiry concludes during 1943, the FBI's investigations continue until Wright's death.

Book-of-the-Month Club tells Harper that it only wants the first section of American Hunger, which describes Wright's southern experience. Wright agrees to this demand and titles the new volume Black Boy. The second section is not published until 1977 (as American Hunger). "I Tried to Be a Communist" appears in the Atlantic Monthly, causing New Masses and Daily Worker to denounce and disown Wright. Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth in March 1945. It remains on the bestseller list from 29 April until 6 June. Theodore Bilbo, a senator from Mississippi, labels the book obscene. That year Wright also helped James Baldwin win a fellowship.

In 1947, a Hollywood producer offers to film Native Son, but wants to change Bigger Thomas to a white man; Wright refuses. Wright's works are being translated into several European languages. Wright decides to move the family to Europe permanently. But in reaction to the continued racism he encountered in America, Wright decided to move to France as a permanent expatriate. While in France, Wright took a growing interest in anti-colonial movements and also travelled extensively. Wright himself played Bigger in a motion-picture version of Native Son made in Argentina in 1951 .

Late in 1952, Wright begins working on a novel about a white psychopathic murderer. The Outsider (1953), was acclaimed as the first American existential novel. Three later novels were not well-received. Among his polemical writings of that period was White Man, Listen! (1957), which was originally a series of lectures given in Europe.

Wright had considerable company as an exile in Paris. James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and Chester Himes were just the most notable of the presences. Meetings amongst the individuals are lengendary.

In February 1957, Pagan Spain appears. It fails to sell well, despite favorable reviews. In October, Doubleday publishes a collection of Wright's lectures entitled White Man, Listen!. 1958 Wright finishes The Long Dream, his novel about Mississippi, and begins to work on its sequel, "Island of Hallucinations," which is set in France. When The Long Dream is published by Doubleday in October, it receives poor and sometimes hostile reviews, and it does not sell well.
On 14 January, 1959 , Wright's mother dies. In February, Wright sends Reynolds the manuscript for "Island of Hallucinations." He meets with Martin Luther King, Jr., who is on his way to India. Wright's new editor, Timothy Seldes, asks for substantial revisions on "Island of Hallucinations." Wright shelves the project and never completes it. In the spring, his play Daddy Goodness opens in Paris. Best American Stories of 1958 includes Wright's "Big Black Good Man."
A stage adaptation of The Long Dream opens on Broadway February 17, 1960 to poor reviews and closes within a week. Of his completed Haiku, Wright prepares 811 for publication. He begins a new novel, "A Father's Law," during the summer, but on returning to Paris in September, he falls ill. He prepares Eight Men, a collection of short stories, which World Publishers will publish in 1961. November 28, 1960, Wright dies. The cause of death is listed as heart attack. On the third of December, Wright is cremated along with a copy of Black Boy. His ashes remain at the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. The autobiographical American Hunger, which narrates Wright's experiences after moving to the North, was published posthumously in 1977.

Some of the more candid passages dealing with race, sex, and politics in Wright's books had been cut or omitted before original publication. Unexpurgated versions of Native Son, Black Boy, and his other works were published in 1991,however.