Category: Black History

NC Civil Rights Museum Opens at Site of the First 1960s Lunch Counter Sit-ins

This is great news!


The International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina

In Greensboro, NC, the site of the first 1960s lunch counter sit-ins has been turned into a civil rights museum. This is an excerpt from a story by the AP:

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The four college freshmen walked quietly into a Greensboro dime store on a breezy Monday afternoon, bought a few items, then sat down at the “whites only” lunch counter – and sparked a wave of civil rights protest that changed America. Violating a social custom as rigid as law, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond sat near an older white woman on the silver-backed stools at the F.W. Woolworth. The black students had no need to talk; theirs was no spontaneous act. Their actions on Feb. 1, 1960, were meticulously planned, down to buying a few school supplies and toiletries and keeping their receipts as proof that the lunch counter was the only part of the store where racial segregation still ruled.

They weren’t afraid, even though they had no way of knowing how the sit-ins would end. What they did know was this: They were tired, they were angry and they were ready to change the world.

The number of protesters mushroomed daily, reaching at least 1,000 by the fifth day. Within two months, sit-ins were occurring in 54 cities in nine states. Within six months, the Greensboro Woolworth lunch counter was desegregated.

The sit-in led to the formation in Raleigh of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which became the cutting edge of the student direct-action civil rights movement. The demonstrations between 1960 and 1965 helped pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

On Monday, February 1, 2010, the 50th anniversary of that transformative day, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum will open on the site of the Greensboro Woolworth store. The dining room is still there, with two counters forming an L-shape. One counter is a replica because the fixture was divided into parts and sent to three museums, including the Smithsonian. But the original stools and counter remain where the four sat and demanded service.

A video about the sit-ins from the History Channel is here:

The Museum’s web site – www.sitinmovement.org – has a very interesting homepage, which is worth a few seconds to browse.

A slideshow of photos from the museum has been produced by the New York Times, along with this article.

It’s wonderful to the efforts of these brave people memorialized and saved for review and consideration by future generations.

Faithful Slaves Monument: Thanks, But No Thanks

This is a monument in York County, South Carolina, to memorialize the “Faithful Slaves” of the the Civil War.


Faithful Slaves Memorial, York County, South Carolina; from The Historical Marker Database

The monument reads in part:

Dedicated to the faithful slaves who loyal to a sacred trust toiled for the support of the army with matchless devotion and sterling fidelity guarded our defenceless homes, women and children during the struggle for the principles of our Confederate States of America.

Full details of the monument are here. The comments at the link say that the thirteen-foot marble monument “is a tribute to the faithfulness of the Southern negro to the women and children of the South during the war… (and) probably the only one of its kind in the South.”

The folks who built this monument may well have been heartfelt in their motivations. But looking at it from my own vantage point, I find the thing disturbing and perverse.

I am going to describe the memorial with a metaphor that some might find objectionable… don’t say I didn’t warn you. To me, this memorial is akin to a rapist thanking a rape victim for being quiet during the act, thereby not alerting others to what was happening.

In both cases, thanks are being given for an action that benefits the victimizer, but does nothing to help the victim.

I can see why these folks would feel gratitude toward the slaves that are honored by this monument. In 1860, there were over three and a half million slaves in the South. But by the end of the Civil War, some estimates say that over 500,000 slaves fled their masters to go to contraband camps, head North, or otherwise seek freedom. Many males slaves joined the Union army or served the army in support roles. Meanwhile, many of the slaves who didn’t flee aided and abetted the Union effort by serving as spies, guides, or providing other support.

So, any slave who stayed with and supported their masters and masters’ families was undoubtedly seen as a blessing.

The thing is, this memorial is all about what the slaves did for their masters. I think it’s fair to ask, what did the slaves receive in return? Did they receive their freedom? Did they receive land or property, or reimbursement at a fair wage for their labors? Did they receive any political rights? The answer to these questions appears to be no.

Ultimately, I find this memorial to be self-serving and hollow.

I’m sure that the monument’s builders believed they were doing a good thing. But thanking a slave for being a good slave… that doesn’t resonate with me at all. If I was a slave, my reaction would be “thanks massa… thanks for nothing.”

Now, here’s a memorial I’d like to see. It features a huge statue, with a group of white men on one side, and a group of slaves on the other. The white men include Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederacy), Alexander Stephens, (Vice-President of the Confederacy) or John C. Calhoun (a leading proponent of slavery and secession prior to the Civil War). Their mouths are open, their faces etched with a mournful apology. On the other side, the slaves have a blank but measuring stare, as if they are trying to make sense of words that they never expected to hear.

On the base of the monument, there are two words: “We’re Sorry.”

Are there any such monuments in the South, or anywhere in this country? There should be.

(Hat tip to cwmemory.com )

Birthing a Slave: Reproduction and Inhumanity during America’s Slavery Era

Most people know of slavery, but we don’t know about slavery. Specifically, we don’t know how dehumanizing it was to be a slave.

We might understand what it’s like to be denied freedom or dignity at an intellectual level. But for many of us, we don’t have a grasp on how horrible the institution was, in the day to day life of an enslaved person. Most of us don’t “get” what it was about inhuman bondage that made it so inhuman.

For example: what was it like to be slave mother?

Some insights on this are given in the book Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South, by Marie Jenkins Schwartz. The book tells the history of a somewhat esoteric subject: the need of slaveholders, and the doctors they hired, to control and manage the bodies and reproductive lives of slave women.

But while the subject is esoteric, the details of how this played out in plantation life are chilling and disturbing.

Birthing-a-Slave
Cover of Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South by Marie Jenkins Schwartz.

The first chapter of the book, titled “Procreation,” has a gripping account of the stakes involved in the reproductive ability of slave women. I’ve provided some excerpts from that chapter below. Upon reading this, you will understand how lacking in humanity and dignity this peculiar institution was:

…an important aspect of slavery… has been all too often ignored: slaveholders expected to appropriate and exploit the reproductive lives of enslaved women. Control of one’s body was not a fundamental right of slaves. Emboldened by law and custom to do with human chattels as they wished, (slave) owners felt entitled to intervene in even the most intimate of matters. Women’s childbearing capacity became a commodity that could be traded on the open market.

During the antebellum era the expectation increased among members of the owning class that enslaved women would contribute to the economic success of the plantation not only through productive labor but also through procreation. The idea was at once both powerful and seductive and shaped the way women experienced enslavement, the way owners thought about the future of slavery, and the way doctors practiced medicine.

As of 1808, when Congress ended the nation’s participation in the international slave trade… the only practical way of increasing the number of slave laborers was through new births. If enslaved mothers did not bear sufficient numbers of children to take the place of aged and dying workers, the South could not continue as a slave society.
***

Women entering their childbearing years-especially those who had proven their fertility through the birth of a baby-sold easily and for a high price. Former slave Boston Blackwell, who witnessed the sale of two women in Memphis, Tennessee, reported that a girl of fifteen who had no children sold for $800, but a breeding woman sold for $1,500.

Human reproduction was so important to the continuation of slavery that members of the South’s ruling class willed their heirs the unborn children of slaves as well as living people. Anna Matilda King of Georgia assured her daughter that she would inherit not only the slave Christiann but also “her child and future children.” This wish to benefit future generations of slaveholding families pressed owners to look for ways of ensuring that enslaved mothers bore plenty of children. “If it was not for my children I would not care what became of the negroes,” Elizabeth Scott Neblett wrote her absent husband during the Civil War… Neblett maintained that she would gladly do without slaves to save the bother of managing them, but for her children’s sake she could not let them go.
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Why did South Carolina Secede from the Union? In Their Own Words: to Protect Their States Rights to Maintain Slavery.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the Civil War this year. It is an absolutely engaging subject, one that commands the constant and ongoing interest of tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of Americans.

One of the more controversial issues concerning the Civil War is, what was the “cause” of this War?

Many say that the central issue of the war was slavery. Others say the central issue was the South’s desire to protect their states rights.

Myself, I don’t think those are mutually exclusive statements. I believe the Civil War was about states rights – that is, the states rights to maintain slavery.

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s let the Southerners tell their own tale.

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union. On December 24, 1860, the state issued its Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union. This document is South Carolina’s declaration of independence from the Union.

The following text is an excerpt from the document, and a very large excerpt at that. For emphasis, I have bolded the word slave, or other references to slavery, such as labor, which refers to slave labor; and persons. In some cases, I’ve added a parenthetical note, with the abbreviation Ed. (for Editor), to explain a comment which might not be immediately understood by the reader.

I think it’s quite clear: South Carolina seceded because they believed that the institution of slavery was in peril. Here, in their own words, is South Carolina’s reason for leaving the Union:
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Photo Exhibit: The Black South of Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange is a famous American photographer. She worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during the 1930s, going across the country and taking pictures that documented the effects of the Great Depression on the American people.

She is most known for her Migrant Mother picture, which has been called “an iconic image of the Great Depression.” Lange’s work took her all over the South, where she took pictures of both struggling blacks and whites. Many of her FSA photographs are available from the Library of Congress’ online archives.

I used several of the photos to create this slideshow of black life in the South during the Great Depression.

There photographs are a vivid reminder of how tough those days were. But it’s notable that the black folks in these pictures look hardened, but not broken. They are lean, strong, and unbowed. Life is hard, and they accept it as such. Indeed, for many of them, a hard life is the only life they’ve known.

These pictures were taken in Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas during the mid to late 1930s.

The music is from a traditional spiritual performed by Texas gospel singer Blind Willie Johnson (vocal and guitar) and Willie B. Harris (vocal) in 1927. The song is titled “Keep Your Light Trimmed and Burning.”

Was Slavery a Cause of the Revolutionary War? Yes. (Book Review of SLAVE NATION)

Reasons for the Revolutionary War, as typically taught in American schools:

• The American people were fiercely independent. They wanted to do things for themselves. They didn’t want the British government, which was an ocean away, telling them how to live their lives.

• A combination of harsh taxes and the lack of an American voice in the British Parliament gave rise to the famous phrase “taxation without representation.”

• Americans started stockpiling guns and ammunition in violation of British laws. Their defense of such a stockpile led to the shots fired at Lexington and Concord and the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

***
On June 22, 1772, nearly a century before the slaves were freed in America, a British judge, with a single decision, brought about the conditions that would end slavery in England. His decision would have monumental consequences in the American colonies, leading up to the American Revolution, the Civil War, and beyond. Because of that ruling, history would forever be changed. This book is about that decision and the role of slavery in the founding of the United States.

- from Slave Nation: How Slavery United The Colonies And Sparked The American Revolution, by Alfred and Ruth Blumrosen

***

“You can’t handle the truth.”
- from the 1992 movie A Few Good Men
***

Truth hurts. And this might be one of the more hurtful truths an American can learn: a major reason for the Revolutionary War was the protection of slavery.

slavenationfrontThat’s not something they teach in the schools. But our history lessons might look different in the future, if more people read the book Slave Nation: How Slavery United The Colonies And Sparked The American Revolution, by Alfred and Ruth Blumrosen. (The book cover is to the left.)

The Blumrosens, former lawyers for the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice, have a background in equal employment law. Over the course of their careers, they developed an interest in the historical causes of America’s racial inequities. The result is this book, which applies a lawyer’s insight into what they show to be a disturbing aspect of American history.

The main point of their book is that the American colonists-particularly Southern colonists-were afraid that the British government would abolish slavery. And that this fear was a major reason for the colonists’ desire to break away from Great Britain.

Here’s the problem with the way the Revolutionary War is taught: much of the story about the War centers on the northern colonies, particularly Massachusetts, where pivotal events such as the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre took place, and where the term “no taxation without representation” originated. And there’s no doubt that Massachusetts was a flashpoint in the coming war of independence.

But there were 13 original colonies, and the southern colonies had a unique interest of their own to worry about: protecting their “right” to keep slaves.

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Obama Sends Wreath to African American Civil War Memorial Site (Plus Details of My Visit to the Memorial)

In response to a controversy over the honoring of Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War, Barack Obama became the first president to send a wreath of flowers to the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, DC.

As reported by the New York Times,

Last week, a group of university professors petitioned the White House to end a longstanding practice of sending a wreath to a monument to Confederate soldiers on the cemetery grounds. The petitioners, including William Ayers, the University of Illinois at Chicago education professor whose acquaintance with Mr. Obama has been controversial, said the monument was “intended as a symbol of white nationalism” and gave “encouragement to the modern neo-Confederate movement.”

Instead of ending the practice of sending a wreath to the Confederate monument, historian Kirk Savage, writing in the Washington Post, offered this:

Many of my colleagues in academia are urging President Obama to pull the plug on this tradition. I doubt that he will, for the simple reason that the men buried around the Confederate memorial sacrificed, suffered and died just as the black and white soldiers of the Union did. Most of the descendants of those Confederates, whatever their political stripe today, would be loath to deny their ancestors a simple gesture of recognition.

President Obama, why not send two wreaths? One to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington Cemetery and another to the African American Civil War Memorial in the District, which commemorates the 200,000 black soldiers who fought for liberation from slavery in the Union armed forces. Here is an opportunity to remind us what real reconciliation, in this day and age, would mean. Send two wreaths with one common message: that the descendants of slaves and the descendants of slaveholders should recognize each other’s humanity, and do the hard work of reckoning with the racial divide that is slavery’s cruelest and most enduring legacy.

Obama seems to have followed Savage’s advice. As mentioned in the Times article, Obama did send a wreath to both the Confederate monument and the African American Civil War Memorial.

It remains to be seen if this will quell the controversy. As the comments to this posting on the liberal/Democratic blog Daily Kos indicate, there are many people who are upset with honoring the Confederate soldiers under any circumstances… and many people on the Democratic side who favor honoring the Confederate soldiers.

I do hope that this will result, at the least, in increased awareness of the role of blacks in the Civil War. I happen to live in Washington, DC, where the African American Civil War Memorial is located. I visited the site today (Memorial Day), and I was disappointed at how few people were visiting it. I was there for about an hour around noon, and no more than a handful of people beside me were there to visit. Note that, the Memorial is located right at a subway stop, so the site is certainly not hard to get to.

I took some video of the site, which immediately follows. The Memorial includes a life size sculpture; a wall that includes the names of all the soldiers who fought in the Civil War Colored Troops, as their regiments were called; and a small Museum.

As an aside, there were two wreaths at the site, neither of which was spectacular. It wasn’t obvious to me that either was from the White House, but I wasn’t looking for that when I made my visit. The wreaths are not quite visible in the video; I moved them aside while shooting the footage.

See also: 20 Years of Glory; In Memorial to the Colored Troopers of the Civil War

20 Years of Glory; In Memorial to the Colored Troopers of the Civil War

This is the 20th anniversary of the Academy Award-winning film Glory, that magnificent ode to the African American soldiers who served during the Civil War. Glory is considered one of the best Civil War movies ever made, due to its outstanding cinematography, excellent use of civil war reenactments, and inclusion of the perspective of African Americans on the Civil War (which was shockingly absent in many previous Civil War films).

The film, which was released in December 1989, did a modest box-office of $26,593,580. I understand that it’s had good video rental and sale numbers, fueled in part by its use in schools.

The fact-based movie, which was directed by Edward Zwick, stars Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, and Cary Elwes. Washington won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The film also won Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing.

Glory-Morgan-Freeman
Morgan Freeman in Glory

Glory is a war film about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The 54th was one of the first formal units of the U.S. Army to be made up entirely of African-American men (not including the officers). As described in Wikipedia,

The regiment was authorized in March 1861. The 54th Massachusetts primarily was composed of free men. A number of the recruits were from states other than Massachusetts, with several coming from Pennsylvania and New York. Two of the recruits were sons of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The 54th trained at Camp Meigs in Readville near Boston. While there they received considerable moral support from abolitionists in Massachusetts including Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The film is told mainly from the viewpoint of the 54th’s Commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick). The movie shows how Shaw and his black soldiers grow from an initial period of unease bred of ignorance and lack of trust, to feelings of respect and pride in each other.

In July of 1863, Shaw volunteered the 54th for the honor of leading the charge against South Carolina’s Fort Wagner, a mission that means almost certain death. The end of the film, which stunningly showcases the horror and destructiveness of war, is a classic piece of moviemaking.

One of the most chilling and memorable scenes in the movie is the flogging of Private Trip, a runaway slave played by Denzel Washington, for insubordination. When Trip defiantly removes his shirt so that he can be whipped, it reveals a back filled with scars from prior beatings. These scars symbolize both the horrors of slavery, and the desire to face all afflictions, no matter the source, in order to achieve freedom.

Historians have pointed out that flogging was banned in the Union Army in 1861, and that it was unlikely that a private like Trip would have been whipped, at least by someone such as Colonel Shaw, who was known to be a stickler for rules.

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GREAT Photo Slideshow: A Day in the Life of Black America

I’ve become something of a junkie for vintage photos of African Americans. I’ve purchased over a dozen photo books that feature images of black folks from slavery times through the 1970s, and I can’t get enough. Well, I would… maybe if I had more money.

As a child of the 60s and 70s, I never ever saw images of black people in the history books. It’s like we didn’t exist. And when images of black folks were displayed, it was always in a negative or demeaning or depressing context.

I never got the full picture.

Perhaps that’s why, when I am able to find vintage pictures of black folks, I am touched and filled and uplifted. These photos show that black life wasn’t always about being downtrodden. You can see moments of joy, of pride, of strength.

And seeing how they lived makes me even more appreciative for what I have, and for what they’ve given me.

In that light, you MUST take a look at this GREAT slideshow of vintage photos of African Americans, which I’ll get to in a second.

But first, turn on some background music to add to your viewing experience. This vintage gospel song (circa World War II) by Bertha Houston, We are Americans, Praise the Lord, will do. Just click on this sound bar below, and then immediately click on the photo of the two women to start the slide show.

Black-Bathers
Click on this photo or here to start the slideshow.

This is something of a takeoff on the many A Day in the Life of… photo books, such as A Day in the Life of America by Rick Smolan and David Elliot Cohen. But make no mistake, these are great photos that paint a vivid and compelling picture of African American life from days gone by.

The photos are from the Discover Black Heritage section of the Flickr website. (Flickr is a media storage site, similar to Youtube.) The Discover Black Heritage section has a bunch of other slideshows featuring black vintage photos, which are very much worth your time.

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Check It Out: Links of Interest, 4/13/09

Here are links to some recommended reads.

Abagond has a blog entry about actress Ellen Holly:

Ellen Holly (1931- ) is an American actress, the first black actress ever to appear regularly on a soap opera. She played Carla Hall on “One Life to Live” from 1968 to 1985. She also played the president’s wife in “School Daze” (1988).

Holly grew up in New York, the daughter of a chemical engineer and a librarian. She studied acting at Hunter College and went on from there to act on stage. By 1956 she was on Broadway. She got in to the Actors Studio, the first black woman ever to do so. She later got parts in film and television too.

In 1968 Holly wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times about what it was like to be a light-skinned black woman. Agnes Dixon, who was then starting a new soap called “One Life to Live”, read that letter. It led her to create the character of Carla Gray (later Hall). She offered the part to Holly herself. Holly took it and became the first regular black female character on a soap. Other soaps soon followed their lead and had black characters of their own too.

I remember watching Holly on One Life to Live as a teenager. At the time, I didn’t appreciate that she was breaking new ground for black actors in the soaps.

I can see why so many people thought she was white: it wasn’t until the late 1960s that color TVs started selling in large numbers. On black and white TV, her light skin did make her look white.

She started out on the show doing a story line where she is a black person passing for white. A white male character on the show actually proposed to her, but she had to reject the proposal because she was not white. I later found out that the theme of the “tragic mulatto who passes for white” was a not an uncommon one for Hollywood (see Imitation of Life). But at the time, I was shocked that this kind of race-sensitive stuff was being shown on daytime television.
***

Monroe, Louisiana is a city of about 50,000 in north central Louisiana. It’s about a half hour drive from Grambling University. The following is from a recent story in the Monroe Free Press, which is one of the city’s African American newspapers:

Monroe: The city where it’s safe to say Nigga
City won’t fire or reprimand foul mouthed department heads

It started a few years back when we started reporting about the tendency of our police chief to curse and use extremely foul and graphic language publicly. In one instance he even told the police chief of Sterlington to get under the table and suck his…

There were no reprimands, lost days of pay, or other slaps on the wrist. The subliminal message is that such language is acceptable for department heads…

The most recent problems occurred this year when Sean Benton the Superintendent of Monroe’s Water Distribution plant was accused of referring to black employees of his department as Niggas and routinely using foul language and expletives in his references to others. Police had to be called once when Benton took off his shirt to fight a subordinate…

What raises eyebrows is that Benton is black. Most of his “Nigga” comments were made to blacks. The issue that this raises is whether or not “Nigga” is an generally offensive by whites but acceptable when used by blacks.

Because Benton has not been fired or reprimanded by the city’s black mayor it appears to be an endorsement of “Nigga” as acceptable language for a black professional in a department head status to use toward subordinates.

***

There’s been a slew of articles written in the past year or so about Tyler Perry. A recent piece about him in Entertainment Weekly, titled Tyler Perry: The Controversy Over His Hit Movies, claims to go “inside black America’s secret culture war”:

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Paul Robeson, a Giant of American Culture

Today, Aptil 9th, is the 111th birthday of Paul Robeson. He is a giant of our culture whose contributions should be celebrated by all, black, white, or other.

This is from Robeson’s entry in wikipedia:

Paul LeRoy Bustill Robeson (April 9, 1898–January 23, 1976) was an Afro-American actor of film and stage, All-American and professional athlete, writer, multi-lingual orator, lawyer, and basso profondo concert singer who was also noted for his wide-ranging social justice activism.

A forerunner of the civil rights movement, Robeson was a trades union activist, peace activist, Phi Beta Kappa Society laureate, and a recipient of the Spingarn Medal and Stalin Peace Prize. Robeson achieved worldwide fame and recognition during his life for his artistic accomplishments, and his outspoken, radical beliefs which largely clashed with the colonial powers of Western Europe and the Jim Crow climate of pre-civil rights America.

Paul Robeson was the first major concert star to popularize the performance of Negro spirituals and was the first black actor of the 20th century to portray William Shakespeare’s Othello. His 1943-44 Broadway run of Othello still holds the record for the longest running Shakespeare play. Despite Robeson’s vocal dissatisfaction with movie stereotypes, his roles in both the American and British film industry were some of the first parts ever created that displayed dignity and respect for the African American film actor, paving the way for Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte.

At the height of his fame, Paul Robeson decided to become a primarily political artist, speaking out against fascism and racism in the US and abroad as white America failed post-World War II to stand up for the rights of people of color. Robeson thus became a prime target of the Red Scare during the late 1940s through to the late 1950s.

His passport was revoked from 1950 to 1958 under the McCarran Act and he was under surveillance by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency and by British MI5 for well over three decades until his death in 1976. The reasoning behind his persecution centered not only on his beliefs in socialism and friendship with the peoples of the Soviet Union but also his tireless work towards the liberation of the colonial peoples of Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, his support of the International Brigades, his ardent efforts to push for anti-lynching legislation and the integration of major league baseball among many other causes that challenged worldwide white supremacy.

Condemnation of Robeson and his beliefs came swiftly, from both the white establishment of the US, including the United States Congress, and many mainstream black organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This mass vilification by the American establishment blacklisted and isolated Robeson for the latter part of his career.

Despite the fact that Paul Robeson was one of the most internationally famous cultural figures of his era, the persecution virtually erased him from mainstream culture and subsequent interpretations of 20th century history, including civil rights and black history.


Paul Robeson sings Ol’ Man River in the 2nd version (1936) of Showboat: “Colored folks work on de Mississippi / Colored folks work while de white folks play / Pullin’ dose boats from de dawn to sunset / Gittin’ no rest till de judgement day.”

The most notable aspect of Paul Robeson is that he always fought for the dignity and progress of the race, no matter what the personal cost. And as said above, that cost was very, very high.

To those who don’t know about Paul Robeson: please, find out and learn. This is a man who lost fortune, fame… everything… in the furtherance of the cause of African American progress.

His name deserves to be invoked among the pantheon of American and African American giants. Don’t let those who sought to destroy him and his legacy be successful.

Celebrate his life.

Video: Joint Center Forum on the Election

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is one of the premier research and public policy institutions – also known as “think tanks” – concern political, economic, and health issues of interest to African Americans and other people of color.

The Joint Center conducted a forum right after the election which provides a number of great insights on what this means for American politics and society. The speakers include Ronald Walters, a professor in government and politics at the University of Maryland and an advisor to Jesse Jackson during his campaigns for President; and David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center and an expert on African Americans in American politics.

The video is long, but if you can listen for 10-30 minutes at least, you’ll find it interesting, informative, and provocative:

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/841113

Ballots and Bullets (Repost)

Rev Carter of LA, awaiting the KKK after registering to vote

This picture goes back to the 1960s, in Lousiana. The picture’s caption: “Reverend Joe Carter, expecting a visit from the Klan after he dared to register to vote, stands guard on his front porch, West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana.”

Reverend Joe Carter was the first African American in the twentieth century to register to vote in West Feliciana, even though two-thirds of the parish’s residents were black.

After his registration, there were concerns about what reprisals, if any, would come from white segregationists. Indeed, the Ku Klux Klan burned at least one cross in response to Carter’s ground-breaking act.

The night after Carter registered to vote, vigilant neighbors scattered in the woods near his farmhouse, which was at the end of a long dirt road, to help him if trouble arrived. “If they want a fight, we’ll fight,” Joe Carter told photographer Bob Adelman. Hence, the picture of Carter on his porch, rifle in hand.

“If I have to die, I’d rather die for right, ” said Carter. “I value my life more since I became a registered voter. A man is not a first-class citizen, a number one citizen unless he is a voter.”

After Election Day passed, Carter said he “thanked the Lord that he let me live long enough to vote.”

This picture is from an excellent book titled Mine Eyes Have Seen: Bearing Witness to the Struggle for Civil Rights. The book features pictures from Life magazine photographer Bob Adelman, and chronicle the civil rights struggle in the South and urban black life in the North.

The book is moving and poignant, and reminds us of how far we’ve come. Was it really only 30-40 years that black people faced death threats merely for exercising the right to vote?

I highly recommend that you get this book, and even more, that you share it with the young. Many of them think that struggle is futile. They need to get an earful and eyeful from Rev Joe Carter.

That was then: John McCain says John Lewis “can teach us all a lot.”

This past August, John McCain and Barack Obama attended a forum hosted by pastor Rick Warren. Warren asked McCain to name three wise who would be relied upon in his administration. This is part of McCain’s response:

WARREN: This first set of questions deals with leadership and the personal life of leadership. The first question, who are the three wisest people that you know that you would rely on heavily in an administration?

MCCAIN: First one, I think, would be General David Petraeus, one of the great military leaders in American history, who took us from defeat to victory in Iraq, one of the great leaders…

I think John Lewis. John Lewis was at the Edmund Pettis Bridge, had his skull fractured, continued to serve, continues to have the most optimistic outlook about America. He can teach us all a lot about the meaning of courage and commitment to causes greater than our self- interest.

It seems that the McCain campaign hasn’t taken too well to Lewis’ latest advice.

UPDATE: As noted in the above link, the McCain campaign was angered by John Lewis’s statement that “the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign” is “sowing the seeds of hatred and division,” and was reminiscent of the harsh rhetoric of former Alabama governor, and arch-segregationist, George Wallace.

Suffice it to say, McCain and Palin are nothing like George Wallace. I think it’s a mistake to use Wallace’s name in the same breath as the two Republican candidates for President and Vice-President. That kind of talk makes McCain look like the victim.

But at the same time, I have no doubt that Lewis’ comments were heartfelt. I’ve noticed that many, many, many black folks over the age of 60 (such as my mother) have a very real fear that Barack Obama will be assassinated. These are the folks who remember the killings of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr, Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, and the four little girls in a Birmingham church.

The virulent anti-Obama frenzy that’s being whipped-up lately is making a lot of people scared. I don’t know if the McCain camp gets that.

Getting Out the Black Vote: Struggle in Mississippi, Enthusiasm in Atlanta

As noted in an earlier post, the voting rate for blacks is way behind the white voting rate. In 2004, 67.2% of voting-age whites voted in that year’s presidential elections, versus just 60% of voting-age blacks.

The challenges in mobilizing black voter turnout are discussed in this excerpt from The State of Black America 2007, which was published by the National Urban League:

In the past, the conventional wisdom among many political operatives has been to motivate African american voters through one of two strategies:

1. A Sacrifice-Privilege strategy highlighting how the right to vote has been won through blood, death, and tears.

2. A Losing Ground strategy designed to motivate black votes into the voting booth to protect gains recently accomplished through programs and policies.

Regardless of the strategies used to motivate voters, we have heard an increasing level of discontent among black voters about the political establishment. African American voters over the age of 40 are more responsive to the Sacrifice-Privilege strategy, but express frustration with the lack of communication from some elected officials and government itself.

Conversely, for voters born twenty years after the passage of the Voting Rights act (in the 1980s), the Losing Ground strategy is not an effective motivating tool because their social equilibrium is balanced less through historical reflection and relevance and more through a self-analysis of how they see their lives and experiences in the language of political policies and messages crafted to motivate them. Consequently, their voting rate is less predictable and more inconsistent than voters who reached adulthood in the 1960s and 1970s.

The big news of the Obama campaign has been its success in attracting both old and young black voters.

That success can be seen in these two mini-documentary/campaign ads which were produced by the Obama campaign. The first mini-doc looks back at the struggle to register Mississippi voters in the mid-1960s; and looks forward to the elections of this year. It’s a moving piece; have a look:

The enthusiasm of the folks in the video just warms the heart.

And it’s more than matched by these students at the Atlanta University Center (with a guest appearance by actress Jasmine Guy):

It still remains to be seen if any of this will be enough to help Obama win the general election. But if Obama does lose, at least these folks can say, it wasn’t because we didn’t try hard enough.

Note: The quote from The State of Black America 2007 is from Essay 10: Who’s Going to Take the Weight? African Americans and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century, by Dr Silas Lee.

PS: See also:
• Video: Obama Supporter Brittany Washington
• Democrats Hope for a Huge Black Turnout