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.”

Huge Coal Ash Spill Cleanup Brings Concerns Of Environmental Racism: More “Dumping in Dixie”

What is Environmental Racism? Here’s a description from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Environmental racism refers to intentional or unintentional racial discrimination in the enforcement of environmental rules and regulations, the intentional or unintentional targeting of minority communities for the siting of polluting industries, or the exclusion of minority groups from public and private boards, commissions, and regulatory bodies.

Since the term “environmental racism” was coined, researchers have investigated why minorities are more likely than whites to reside in areas where there is more pollution.

Some social scientists suggest that the historical processes of suburbanization and decentralization are examples of white privilege that have contributed to contemporary patterns of environmental racism.

In the United States, the wealth of a community is not nearly as good a predictor of hazardous waste locations as the ethnic background of the residents, suggesting that the selection of sites for hazardous waste disposal involves racism. These minority communities may be easier targets for environmental racism because they are less likely to organize and protest than their middle or upper class white counterparts. This lack of protest could be due to fear of losing their jobs, thereby jeopardizing their economic survival.

In brief, environmental racism is the idea that black communities, because of their economic or political vulnerabilities, are targeted for the placement of noxious facilities, locally unwanted land uses, and environmental hazards.

The main victims of environmental racism have been poor black areas in the South. The ground breaking book Dumping in Dixie by Dr. Robert D. Bullard was one of the first to provide details on this disturbing phenomenon.

Bullard’s book was written in 1990. Fast forward to 2009, and it doesn’t look like things have changed at all. In December of last year, there was a huge spill of toxic coal ash around Kingston, Tennessee. The clean-up effort – you guessed it – seems to include a lot of dumping in Dixie.

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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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In 2008 Election, Black Women Have the Highest Voter Turnout Rate

The Pew Research Center has recently released a report on voting in the 2008 election titled Dissecting the 2008 Electorate: Most Diverse in U.S. History. As indicated by the report’s title, the big finding was that this election featured best-ever turnout numbers for non-whites, such as African Americans and Hispanics.

The report, which looks at voting by ethnicity and gender, discloses a surprising statistic: black women had the highest voter turnout among all all groups in the 2008 election. This is noted in the following chart:
Voter-Turnout-by-Gender-and-Race

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Quality of Life, by Race and Gender: the Human Development Index

How do you measure the quality of life in broad terms for nations, or large groups within nations?

Most quantitative measures of quality of life are based on standard of living statistics, which in turn are based mostly on income or other purely economic factors.

A group called the Human Development Project (the Project) finds fault with that approach, saying that other measures are needed to truly understand how well people are living:

The indicators most frequently deployed in evaluating public welfare-GDP, the Dow Jones and NASDAQ, consumer spending and the like-only address one aspect of the American experience.

The human development model emphasizes the broader, everyday experience of ordinary people, including the economic, social, legal, psychological, cultural, environmental processes that shape the range of options available to us.

This approach has gained support around the world as a valuable tool in analyzing the well-being of large population groups.

The Project has developed a rating system called the Human Development Index which measures achievement in three basic categories:
• long and healthy life (as indicated by life expectancy at birth)
• access to knowledge (indicated by al degree attainment and school enrollment)
• decent standard of living (indicated by median earnings)

By applying these measures, the Project has developed the following Human Development Index scores for the United States, by race and gender:

American Human Development Index (HD) Rankings by Race and Gender, 2005
human-development-race-ranking-table5
* Enrollment can exceed 100% if persons 25 years old or more are enrolled in school.
Source: The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009

Of note:

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In Texas, No Justice… Just Us: The Stories of Regina Kelly (Dee Roberts) and Timothy Cole

American Violet is a new movie that is based on a true story of the Texas criminal (in)justice system. As described on Youtube,

Based on true events in the midst of the 2000 election, AMERICAN VIOLET tells the astonishing story of Dee Roberts (critically hailed newcomer Nicole Beharie), a 24 year-old African American single mother of four young girls living in a small Texas town who is barely making ends meet on a waitress salary and government subsidies.

On an early November morning while Dee works a shift at the local diner, the powerful local district attorney (Academy Award® nominee Michael OKeefe) leads an extensive drug bust, sweeping her Arlington Springs housing project with military precision. Police drag Dee from work in handcuffs, dumping her in the squalor of the womens county prison. Indicted based on the uncorroborated word of a single and dubious police informant facing his own drug charges, Dee soon discovers she has been charged as a drug dealer.

Even though Dee has no prior drug record and no drugs were found on her in the raid or any subsequent searches, she is offered a hellish choice: plead guilty and go home as a convicted felon or remain in prison and fight the charges thus, jeopardizing her custody and risking a long prison sentence.

Despite the urgings of her mother (Academy Award® nominee Alfre Woodard), and with her freedom and the custody of her children at stake, she chooses to fight the district attorney and the unyielding criminal justice system he represents. Joined in an unlikely alliance with an ACLU attorney (Tim Blake Nelson) and former local narcotics officer (Will Patton), Dee risks everything in a battle that forever changes her life and the Texas justice system. AMERICAN VIOLET also stars Emmy Award® winner Charles S. Dutton and Xzibit.

Here’s the movie trailer:

This is an independent movie, and is not in wide release. But if it is in your town, it might be worth a look.

The movie is based on a true story, which is detailed here. Another site has an engaging interview with Regina Kelly, upon whom the Dee Roberts character is based. Kindly enough, the video was placed on Youtube:

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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.