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

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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford, the second of four children, to George and Ramah Wofford on February 18, 1931. Both of her parents came from sharecropping families who had moved North in pursuit of better living conditions in the early 1900s, and her father’s family had faced a great deal of discrimination. Due to these bitter memories and the racial troubles he endured during his childhood, he maintained a strong distrust of whites throughout his lifetime. Morrison’s parents instilled the value of group loyalty, which they believed was essential to surviving the harsh realities of racial tension during that era. As an African-American in a town of immigrants, she grew up with the notion that the only place she could turn to for aid and reassurance would be within her own community in Lorain, Ohio. Here, Morrison had "an escape from stereotyped black settings -- neither plantation nor ghetto". (1)

Storytelling, songs, and folktales were a deeply formative part of her childhood. She attended Howard University (B.A., 1953) and Cornell University (M.A., 1955). After teaching at Texas Southern University for two years, she taught at Howard from 1957 to 1964. In 1965 she became a fiction editor. From 1984 she taught writing at the State University of New York at Albany, leaving in 1989 to join the faculty of Princeton University. (2)

Morrison's first book, The Bluest Eye (1970), is a novel of initiation concerning a victimized adolescent black girl who is obsessed by white standards of beauty and longs to have blue eyes. In 1973 a second novel, Sula, was published; it examines (among other issues) the dynamics of friendship and the expectations for conformity within the community. Song of Solomon (1977) is told by a male narrator in search of his identity; its publication brought Morrison to national attention. Tar Baby (1981), set on a Caribbean island, explores conflicts of race, class, and sex. The critically acclaimed Beloved (1987), which won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is based on the true story of a runaway slave who, at the point of recapture, kills her infant daughter in order to spare her a life of slavery. Jazz (1992) is a story of violence and passion set in New York City's Harlem during the 1920s. A work of criticism, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, also was published in 1992. Her novel Paradise (1998) is a richly detailed portrait of a black utopian community in Oklahoma. Her later novel, Love (2003), is an intricate family story that reveals the myriad facets of love and its ostensible opposite. (2)

The central theme of Morrison's novels is the black American experience; in an unjust society her characters struggle to find themselves and their cultural identity. Her use of fantasy, her sinuous poetic style, and her rich interweaving of the mythic gave her stories great strength and texture. (2)

Published in 1987, Beloved was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988, adapted for film in 1998, and remains one of Toni Morrison’s most well-known and critically-acclaimed works. It was influenced by a published story about a slave, Margaret Garner, who in 1851 escaped with her children to Ohio from her master in Kentucky. Not only does it expose the atrocities and depravities of the institution of slavery in the tradition of slave narratives that have come before it, but the novel also shows the powerful hold that this past has on slaves even after they have won their freedom. Beloved is a novel replete with ghosts, not only in the guise of its title character, but also in the ghostly memories of enslavement that still haunt Sethe and Paul D. The plot of the novel is somewhat disjointed, as the story moves through the narratives of various characters at different points in their history; the central plot unfolds at 124 in Cincinnati, and a smattering of chapters are devoted to abstract monologues. In part, the novel provides a chronicle of Sethe’s struggle to escape the slave farm at Sweet Home and live in freedom with her children, ending tragically with the death of her youngest daughter when she is rediscovered by her former master. In a similar fashion, Paul D’s story begins at Sweet Home and follows his escape, capture, and imprisonment on a chain gang in Georgia. Paul D, Sethe, her daughter Denver, and the ghostly Beloved all converge in the present while the characters each try to come to terms with their pasts. (1)

I believe that the novel Beloved is a fascinating and heart-wrenching narrative exploring the ways in which the oppression and violence of slavery continue even after individuals have attained “freedom” from the system. Although the protagonist is “free” from slavery, this part of her past continues to haunt her in a very real way. The novel shares this theme with the novel we will soon be reading, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Also featuring a female protagonist, this novel shows how racial oppression and slavery continue to affect the lives of blacks who are legally “free” from slavery according to US law. Both give compelling stories of the ghosts of slavery in American society. Especially Morrison’s novel, published in 1987, shows that these themes are still a part of our society, and for complete racial equality, there is still work and understanding to be done.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

The son of a slave woman and an unknown white man, "Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey" was born in February of 1818 on Maryland's eastern shore. He spent his early years with his grandparents and with an aunt, seeing his mother only four or five times before her death when he was seven. (All Douglass knew of his father was that he was white.) During this time he was exposed to the degradations of slavery, witnessing firsthand brutal whippings and spending much time cold and hungry. When he was eight he was sent to Baltimore to live with a ship carpenter named Hugh Auld. There he learned to read and first heard the words abolition and abolitionists. "Going to live at Baltimore," Douglass would later say, "laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity."

Douglass spent seven relatively comfortable years in Baltimore before being sent back to the country, where he was hired out to a farm run by a notoriously brutal "slavebreaker" named Edward Covey. And the treatment he received was indeed brutal. Whipped daily and barely fed, Douglass was "broken in body, soul, and spirit."

On January 1, 1836, Douglass made a resolution that he would be free by the end of the year. He planned an escape. But early in April he was jailed after his plan was discovered. Two years later, while living in Baltimore and working at a shipyard, Douglass would finally realize his dream: he fled the city on September 3, 1838. Travelling by train, then steamboat, then train, he arrived in New York City the following day. Several weeks later he had settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, living with his newlywed bride (whom he met in Baltimore and married in New York) under his new name, Frederick Douglass.

Always striving to educate himself, Douglass continued his reading. He joined various organizations in New Bedford, including a black church. He attended Abolitionists' meetings. He subscribed to William Lloyd Garrison's weekly journal, the Liberator. In 1841, he saw Garrison speak at the Bristol Anti-Slavery Society's annual meeting. Douglass was inspired by the speaker, later stating, "no face and form ever impressed me with such sentiments [the hatred of slavery] as did those of William Lloyd Garrison." Garrison, too, was impressed with Douglass, mentioning him in the Liberator. Several days later Douglass gave his speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society's annual convention in Nantucket-- the speech described at the top of this page. Of the speech, one correspondent reported, "Flinty hearts were pierced, and cold ones melted by his eloquence." Before leaving the island, Douglass was asked to become a lecturer for the Society for three years. It was the launch of a career that would continue throughout Douglass' long life.

Despite apprehensions that the information might endanger his freedom, Douglass published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written By Himself. The year was 1845. Three years later, after a speaking tour of England, Ireland, and Scotland, Douglass published the first issue of the North Star, a four-page weekly, out of Rochester, New York.

Ever since he first met Garrison in 1841, the white abolitionist leader had been Douglass' mentor. But the views of Garrison and Douglass ultimately diverged. Garrison represented the radical end of the abolitionist spectrum. He denounced churches, political parties, even voting. He believed in the dissolution (break up) of the Union. He also believed that the U.S. Constitution was a pro-slavery document. After his tour of Europe and the establishment of his paper, Douglass' views began to change; he was becoming more of an independent thinker, more pragmatic. In 1851 Douglass announced at a meeting in Syracuse, New York, that he did not assume the Constitution was a pro-slavery document, and that it could even "be wielded in behalf of emancipation," especially where the federal government had exclusive jurisdiction. Douglass also did not advocate the dissolution of the Union, since it would isolate slaves in the South. This led to a bitter dispute between Garrison and Douglass that, despite the efforts of others such as Harriet Beecher Stowe to reconcile the two, would last into the Civil War.

Frederick Douglass would continue his active involvement to better the lives of African Americans. He conferred with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and recruited northern blacks for the Union Army. After the War he fought for the rights of women and African Americans alike.

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