Category Archives: Black History Month

>Rosa Parks


I do like to save the best for last.

Rosa Parks is one of my heroes. Ask most anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that I would have loved to have known her; that she is an inspiration to me, to stand up….or sit down….when you want to make a change.
She was born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her childhood brought her early experiences with racial discrimination and activism for racial equality. After her parents separated, Rosa’s mother moved the family to Pine Level, Alabama to live with her parents, Rose and Sylvester Edwards, on their farm. Both her grandparents were former slaves and strong advocates for racial equality.
In one experience, Rosa’s grandfather stood in front of their house with a shotgun while Ku Klux Klan members marched down the street. The city of Pine Level, Alabama had a new school building and bus transportation for white students while African American students walked to a one-room schoolhouse, often lacking desks and adequate school supplies. Rosa knew that, merely because of the color of her skin, she would not be treated equally.
In 1929, while in the eleventh grade, Rosa left school to attend to her sick grandmother in Pine Level. She never returned to school, but instead got a job at a shirt factory in Montgomery. In 1932, she married a barber named Raymond Parks who was an active member of the NAACP. With Raymond’s support, Rosa Parks finished her high school degree in 1933 and she, herself, soon became actively involved in civil rights issues.
Rosa Parks joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943, and served as the secretary to the president, E.D. Nixon until 1957.
Now, in those days, not so very long ago, in Montgomery, Alabama, city code required that all public transportation be segregated, and that all bus drivers be given “powers of a police officer of the city while in actual charge of any bus for the purposes of carrying out the provisions” of the code.
While operating a bus, drivers were required to provide “separate but equal”–there’s that old chestnut again–accommodations for white and black passengers by assigning seats. This was accomplished with a line, an actual sign, roughly in the middle of the bus separating white passengers in the front and African Americans in the back.
But African Americans didn’t just have to ride in the back. When they got on the bus, they would pay their fare, then get off the bus, walk to the back and reboard. No one wanted colored people walking in between the white people.
If the seats in the front of the bus filled up, and more white passengers got on, the bus driver would simply move the sign back, separating black and white passengers, and ask black passengers give up their seats so the whites could sit down.
On December 1, 1955, after a long day working at the Montgomery Fair department store, Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus for home. She got on, paid her fare, got off, walked to the back, got on again, and found a seat in the first of several rows designated for “colored” passengers.
Though the city’s bus ordinance did give drivers the authority to assign seats, it didn’t specifically give them the authority to demand a passenger to give up a seat to anyone regardless of color. However, Montgomery bus drivers had adopted the custom of requiring black passengers to give up their seats to white passengers when no other seats were available. If the black passenger protested, the bus driver had the authority to refuse service and could call the police to have them removed.
As the bus Rosa was riding continued on its route, it began to fill with white passengers. Eventually, the bus was full and the driver noticed that several white passengers were standing in the aisle. This apparently was unacceptable. He stopped the bus and moved the sign separating the two sections back one row and asked the four black passengers in that row to give up their seats. Three complied, but Rosa refused. She stayed seated.
The driver demanded, “Why don’t you stand up?”
Rosa replied, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.”
Can I get a You Go, Girl.
The driver called the police, who arrested Rosa at the scene and charged her with violation of Chapter 6, section 11 of the Montgomery City code. She was taken to police headquarters where later that night she was released on bail. On December 8, Rosa faced trial and in a thirty-minute hearing was found guilty of violating a local ordinance. She was fined ten dollars, plus a four-dollar court fee.
The very evening she was arrested, E.D. Nixon, head of the local chapter of the NAACP, began to organize a boycott of Montgomery’s city buses. Ads were placed in local papers and handbills were printed and distributed in black neighborhoods. Members of the African American community were asked to stay off the buses Monday, December 5th in protest of Rosa’s arrest. People were encouraged to stay home from work or school, take a cab or walk to work. With most of the African American community not riding the bus, organizers believed a longer boycott might be successful.
On Monday, December 5, 1955, a group of African-American community leaders gathered at Mt. Zion Church to discuss strategies. They determined that the effort required a new organization and strong leadership. They formed the “Montgomery Improvement Association”–the MIA–and elected Montgomery newcomer Dr. Martin Luther King, as their first president.
The boycott of December 5th was a success, and so it was continued. Some African-Americans carpooled, others rode in African American-operated cabs. But most of the estimated 40,000 African American commuters walked, some as far as 20 miles to get to work.
Public buses sat idle for months, severely crippling the transit company’s finances. But the boycott faced strong resistance, with some segregationists retaliating with violence. Black churches were burned and both Martin Luther King and E.D. Nixon’s homes were attacked. Other attempts were made to end the boycott as well. The taxi system used by the African American community to help people get around had its insurance canceled. Other blacks were arrested for violating an old law prohibiting boycotts.
See, the black folks weren’t allowed to protest, or have an opinion, or stay seated.
But the African American community also took action. Under the Brown v. Board of Education decision that said “separate but equal” policies had no place in public education, a black legal team took the issue of segregation on public transit systems to federal court.
In June of 1956, the court declared Alabama’s racial segregation laws for public transit unconstitutional. The city appealed and on November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling. With the transit company and downtown businesses suffering financial loss and the legal system ruling against them, the city of Montgomery had no choice but to lift the law requiring segregation on public buses.
The combination of legal action, backed by the unrelenting determination of the African American community made the 382-day Montgomery Bus Boycott one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation in history.
That’s right, people. The boycott lasted over a year!
Although she was now a symbol for the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks suffered as a result. She lost her job at the department store and her husband lost his after his boss forbade him to discuss his wife or their legal case. They were unable to find work and eventually left Montgomery.
Rosa Parks moved her family–her husband and mother–to Detroit, where she made a new life for herself, working as a secretary and receptionists in U.S. Representative John Conyer’s congressional office. She also served on the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
In 1987, at age seventy-four, Rosa Parks, along with life-long friend Elaine Eason Steele, founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. The institute runs the “Pathways to Freedom” bus tours, introducing young people to important civil rights and Underground Railroad sites throughout the country.
In 1992, she published Rosa Parks: My Story, an autobiography recounting her life in the segregated South. In 1995, her memoirs, Quiet Strength, focused on the role religious faith played in her life.
Rosa Parks received many accolades during her lifetime including the Spingarn Medal, the NAACP’s highest award. She also received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award. On September 9, 1996 President Bill Clinton awarded Rosa Parks the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given by the U.S. executive branch. The next year, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given by the U.S. legislative branch. In 1999, Time magazine named Rosa Parks one of the 20 most influential people of the twentieth century.
On October 24, 2005, at the age of ninety-two, Rosa Parks quietly died in her apartment. She had been diagnosed the previous year with progressive dementia. Her death was marked by several memorial services, among them lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington D.C. where an estimated 50,000 people viewed her casket. Rosa was interred between her husband and mother at Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery in the chapel’s mausoleum. Shortly after her death the chapel was renamed the Rosa L. Parks Freedom Chapel.
All of that because she wouldn’t give up her seat. People used to say that Rosa wouldn’t get up because she’d worked all day and was tired.
She, herself, said she wasn’t physically tired, she was just “tired of giving in.”
I know that feeling all too well.


Filed under Alabama, Black History Month, Bus Boycott, Civil Rights, KKK, Montgomery, NAACP, Racism, Rosa Parks, Separate But Equal

>Freedom Summer


Freedom Summer was a highly publicized campaign in the Deep South to register blacks to vote during the summer of 1964. Thousands of civil rights activists, many of them white college students from the North, descended on Mississippi and other Southern states that summer to put an end to the long-time political disenfranchisement of African Americans in the region. Although black men had won the right to vote in 1870, thanks to the 15th Amendment, for the next 100 years many were unable to exercise that right.

White local and state officials systematically kept blacks from voting through formal methods, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, and through cruder methods of fear and intimidation, which included beatings and lynchings.

The inability to vote was just one of many problems blacks encountered in the racist South, but the civil-rights officials who decided to zero in on voter registration understood its crucial significance; so did the white supremacists. An African American voting bloc would be able to effect social and political change, especially in the South with its large African American population.

Freedom Summer marked the climax of intensive voter-registration activities in the South that had started in 1961. Organizers chose to focus their efforts on Mississippi because of the state’s particularly dismal voting-rights record: in 1962 only 6.7% of African Americans in Mississippi were registered to vote, the lowest in the nation.

The Freedom Summer campaign was organized by a coalition called the Mississippi Council of Federated Organizations, which was led by the Congress of Racial Equality–CORE–and included the NAACP, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee–SNCC.

By mobilizing volunteer white college students from the North to join them, the coalition scored a major public relations coup as hundreds of reporters came to Mississippi from around the country to cover the voter-registration campaign.

The organization of the Mississippi Freedom Party–MFDP–was a major focus of the summer program. More than 80,000 Mississippians joined the new party, which elected a slate of sixty-eight delegates to the national Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City. The MFDP delegation challenged the seating of the delegates representing Mississippi’s all white Democratic Party.

While the effort failed, it drew national attention, particularly through the dramatic televised appeal of MFDP delegate Fannie Lou Hamer. The MFDP challenge also lead to a ban on racially discriminatory delegations at future conventions.

Freedom Summer officials also established 30 “Freedom Schools” in towns throughout Mississippi to address the racial inequalities in that state’s educational system. Mississippi’s black schools were invariably poorly funded, and teachers had to use hand-me-down textbooks that offered a racist slant on American history.

Many of the white college students were assigned to teach in these schools, whose curriculum included black history, the philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement, and leadership development in addition to remedial instruction in reading and arithmetic.

The Freedom Schools had hoped to draw at least 1000 students that first summer, and ended up with 3000. The schools became a model for future social programs like Head Start, as well as alternative educational institutions.

Freedom Summer activists faced threats and harassment throughout the campaign, not only from white supremacist groups, but from local residents and police. Freedom School buildings and the volunteers’ homes were frequent targets; 37 black churches and 30 black homes and businesses were firebombed or burned during the summer of 1964; and the cases often went unsolved.

More than 1000 black and white volunteers were arrested, and at least 80 were beaten by white mobs or racist police officers. But the summer’s most infamous act of violence was the murder of three young civil rights workers, a black volunteer, James Chaney, and his white coworkers, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.

On June 21, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner set out to investigate a church bombing near Philadelphia, Mississippi, but were arrested that afternoon and held for several hours on alleged traffic violations. Their release from jail was the last time they were seen alive before their badly decomposed bodies were discovered under a nearby dam six weeks later. Goodman and Schwerner had died from single gunshot wounds to the chest, and Chaney, the only African American in the trio, from a savage beating.

The murders made headlines all over the country, and provoked an outpouring of national support for the Civil Rights Movement. But many black volunteers realized that because two of the victims were white, these murders were attracting much more attention than previous attacks in which the victims had been black, and this added to the growing resentment they had begun to feel towards the white volunteers.

There was also growing dissension among the ranks over charges of assumed white elitism. Black volunteers complained that whites seemed to think they had a natural claim on leadership roles, and that they treated the rural blacks as though they were ignorant. There was also increasing hostility from both black and white workers over the interracial romances that developed the summer. Meanwhile, women volunteers of both races were charging both the black and white men with sexist behavior.

But despite the internal divisions, Freedom Summer left a positive legacy. The well-publicized voter registration drives brought national attention to the subject of black disenfranchisement, and this eventually led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, federal legislation that, among other things, outlawed the tactics Southern states had used to prevent blacks from voting.

Freedom Summer also instilled among African Americans a new consciousness and a new confidence in political action. As Fannie Lou Hamer later said, “Before the 1964 project there were people that wanted change, but they hadn’t dared to come out. After 1964 people began moving. To me it’s one of the greatest things that ever happened in Mississippi.”

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Filed under Andrew Goodman, Black History Month, Civil Rights, Coretta Scott King, Freedom Summer, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, Murder, NAACP, Racism, SNCC

>Black History Month

African American abolitionist Harriet Tubman was born into slavery, but escaped to Philadelphia in 1849, and subsequently became one of the most successful “conductors” on the Underground Railroad.
Returning to the South more than a dozen times, she is generally credited with leading more than 300 slaves–including her parents and brother–to freedom, sometimes forcing the timid ahead with a loaded revolver.
She became a speaker on the anti-slavery lecture circuit and a friend of the principal abolitionists; John Brown almost certainly confided his Harpers Ferry plan to her.
During the Civil War, Tubman attached herself to the Union forces in coastal South Carolina, serving as a nurse, cook, laundress, scout, and spy, and in 1863 she played an important part in a raid that resulted in the freeing of more than 700 slaves.

African American civil-rights leader Julian Bond, was a a student at Morehouse College, participating in sit-ins at segregated Atlanta restaurants. In 1960 he founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee–SNCC–serving as its communications director until 1965, when he was elected to the Georgia assembly.
Bond was denied his seat because of his statements opposing the war in Vietnam, but reelected in 1966, he began serving after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld his right to hold office. A state representative until 1974, he then served as a state senator from 1975 until 1987.
Bond led a group of black delegates to the 1968 Democratic Convention where he challenged the party’s unit rule and won representation at the expense of the regular Georgia delegation.
In 1986 he lost a Georgia congressional race to John Lewis.
In 1998 he became chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

African American civil-rights leader Ralph David Abernathy was a Baptist minister who helped Martin Luther King, Jr., organize the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. He was treasurer, vice president, and, after King’s assassination in 1968, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
An advocate of nonviolence as a means to social change, he led the Poor People’s Campaign on Washington, D.C., after King’s death.

African American contralto, Marian Anderson was the first African American to be named a permanent member of the Metropolitan Opera Company, as well as the first to perform at the White House.
Anderson first sang in Philadelphia church choirs, then studied with Giuseppe Boghetti. She began her concert career in 1924 and achieved her first great successes in Europe.
Her rich, wide-ranged voice was superbly suited to opera, lieder, and the spirituals that she included in her concerts and recordings.
In 1939, when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow her to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her DAR membership in protest and sponsored Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial.
In 1955 Anderson made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera. She was appointed an alternate delegate to the United Nations in 1958 and in 1963 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

African American author Ralph Ellison was a graduate of the Tuskegee Institute.
Originally a trumpet player and aspiring composer, he moved to New York City in 1936, where he met Langston Hughes, who became his mentor, and became friends with Richard Wright, who radicalized his thinking.
Ellison’s earliest published writings were reviews and stories in the politically radical New Masses magazine. His literary reputation rests almost completely on one novel, Invisible Man. A classic of American literature, it draws upon the author’s experiences to detail the harrowing progress of a nameless young black man struggling to live in a hostile society.

African American playwright and poet August Wilson was a largely self-educated man.
Wilson first attracted wide critical attention with his Broadway debut, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 1984–a play set in 1927 that dramatized the clash between the blues diva and a member of her band, and the larger conflicts brought about by racist American society.
Wilson’s plays center on the struggles and identity of African Americans and the deleterious effect of white American institutions on black American life. Wilson’s works draw heavily on his own experiences growing up in the Hill district of Pittsburgh, a black ghetto where nearly all of his plays are set.
His characters are ordinary people whose histories, frustrations, and aspirations Wilson astutely portrays. His cycle of ten dramas written over a period of more than 20 years include various overlapping characters and themes. In addition to Ma Rainey, it includes Jitney in 1982; Fences, a Pulitzer prize winner from 1987; Joe Turner’s Come and Gone in 1988; The Piano Lesson the 1990 Pulitzer prize winner; Two Trains Running from 1992; Seven Guitars from 1995; King Hedley II in 2001; Gem of the Ocean in 2003; and Radio Golf in 2005.
Acclaimed as landmarks in the history of black American culture, these works focus on the major issues confronting African Americans during each of the decades of the 20th century.
In 2003, Wilson starred in a production of his autobiographical one-man play How I Learned What I Learned.

African American James Lafayette Armistead was a patriot of the American Revolution. A slave in Virginia, Armistead sought and received permission from his master, William Armistead, to enlist under General Marquis de Lafayette, a French officer who joined Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War.
Lafayette was seeking men to spy on British general Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown. Impressed with Armistead’s intelligence, Lafayette had Armistead pose as a laborer looking for work. He was hired at Cornwallis’s camp and was able to relay information about Cornwallis’s plans to Lafayette.
Armistead also earned the trust of Cornwallis, who asked him to spy on the Americans.
As a double agent, Armistead was able to move freely between both camps. He provided Lafayette with critical information that enabled the general to intercept Cornwallis’s much-needed naval support and ultimately defeat Cornwallis at Yorktown in Oct. 1781, the decisive battle that ended the Revolution.
After the war, Armistead returned to the Armistead plantation as a slave. He met with Lafayette in 1784, when the general visited the United States. Lafayette wrote a glowing recommendation for his former spy, which Armistead used when he petitioned the Virginia House of Delegates for freedom.
He was finally freed on New Year’s Day 1787, and assumed Lafayette as his surname. He spent the rest of his life as a farmer in Virginia.

African American Stokely Carmichael lived in New York City after 1952 and graduated from Howard University in 1964. Carmichael participated in the Congress of Racial Equality’s “freedom rides” in 1961, and by 1964 was a field organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee–SNCC–in Alabama.
As SNCC chair in 1966, he ejected more moderate leaders and set off a storm of controversy by calling for “black power,” a concept he elaborated in a 1967 book. His increasingly separatist politics isolated him from most of the civil-rights movement, and he emigrated to Conakry, Guinea, in 1969. There he spent the rest of his life, calling himself a pan-African revolutionary but largely relegated to the political fringe.

African American Alvin Ailey, Jr studied dance in Los Angeles with Lester Horton, whose strong, dramatic style and views about multiracial casting influenced his choreography and artistic direction.
Ailey moved to New York in 1954, where he studied dance with Martha Graham and Charles Weidman and acting with Stella Adler. In 1958 he formed his own company, the American Dance Theater, which, multiracial since 1963, has been internationally acclaimed and has brought recognition to many African-American and Asian dancers via works that combine elements of jazz, modern, and African rhythms.

African American Joycelyn Jones Elders briefly served as the surgeon general of the United States under President Clinton. She was confirmed in September 1993 and angered conservatives from the get-go, as she was vocal in her support of sex education, the distribution of condoms in schools, abortion rights, and the medical use of marijuana.
But it was her December 1994 statement that “masturbation is part of human sexuality and a part of something that perhaps should be taught” that prompted President Clinton to seek and receive her resignation.

African American Crispus Attucks was an American revolutionary patriot of mixed African and American Indian ancestry; Attucks was the slave of William Brown of Framingham, Mass. He escaped around 1750 to work on whaling ships.
On March 5, 1770, Boston patriot Samuel Adams convinced sailors and dockworkers to protest the presence of British troops, and Attucks was the leader of the 50 men in the protest, shouting “Don’t be afraid,” as they advanced on the British. The soldiers fired on the protestors, killing Attucks and four others in what became known as the Boston Massacre. The bodies of the dead lay in state at Faneuil Hall for three days before receiving a public funeral attended by 10,000 people.
Although the soldiers were acquitted of the shootings on the grounds that the seamen were inciting a riot, Attucks and the others became heroes.

African American civil rights activist Ella Baker was a driving force in the creation of the country’s premier civil rights organizations.
After graduating as valedictorian from North Carolina’s Shaw University in 1927, Baker moved to New York City, where she lived in utter poverty, the result of the Great Depression. She and a group of others, founded the Young Negroes Cooperative League, whose members pooled funds to buy products and services at reduced cost.
In 1935, Ella Baker joined the NAACP as a field secretary and later served as a its national director. She scaled back her national responsibilities with the group eleven years later, but still worked at the local level to improve and integrate New York City’s schools.
Baker and several Southern black ministers and activists established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference–SCLC–in 1957; the SCLC was a major force in organizing the civil rights movement. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as the group’s first president and Baker was the director, though she mainly worked behind the scenes, while King was its spokesman.
In 1960 Baker left the SCLC when she helped students organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee–SNCC–at her alma mater, Shaw University. The SNCC’s purpose was to give young blacks a more organized voice in the civil rights movement.

African American writer and performer, Maya Angelou toured Europe and Africa in the 1950s in the musical Porgy and Bess. She sang in New York City nightclubs, joined the Harlem Writers Guild, and took part in several off-Broadway productions, including Genet’s The Blacks and her own Cabaret for Freedom.
During the 1960s she was active in the African-American political movement; she subsequently spent several years in Ghana as editor of the African Review. Her six autobiographical volumes, beginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, have generally been well-received. She has also published several volumes of poetry, including And I Still Rise.
Angelou read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President Clinton in 1993.

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Filed under Alvin Ailey Jr, Black History Month, Crispus Attucks, Ella Baker, Harriet Tubman, Joycelyn Elders, Julian Bond, Marion Anderson, Maya Angelou, Ralph Abernathy, Ralph Ellison, Stokely Carmichael

>Shirley Chisholm


In 1972, thirty-seven years before Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, there was Shirley Chisholm. Black, Female. Running for president.
Shirley Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York,in 1924, but was just three, when she was sent to live with her grandmother on a farm in Barbados. It was there that she received much of her primary education; the Barbadian school system stressed the traditional British teachings of reading, writing, and history. Chisholm credits much of her educational successes to this well-rounded early education.

Chisholm returned to New York when she was ten, during the height of the Great Depression. Life was not easy for the Chisholms in New York, and Shirley’s parents sacrificed greatly for their eight children. Chisholm attended New York public schools and was able to compete well in the mainly white classrooms. She attended Girls’ High School in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, and won tuition scholarships to several distinguished colleges. However, unable to afford the room and board, and at the urging of her parents ,she decided to live at home and attend Brooklyn College.
While studying to be a teacher, Chisholm became active in several campus and community groups, developed an interest in politics and learned the arts of organizing and fund-raising. She developed a deep resentment toward the role of women in local politics, which, at the time, consisted mostly of staying in the background and playing a secondary role to their male equals. Women were secretaries, and got the coffee, for men who ran for office. Chisholm, through campus politics and her work with the NAACP, found a way for her voice, her opinions, to be heard.

Graduating with honors from Brooklyn College in 1946, Chisholm began work as a nursery school teacher and later as a director of schools for early childhood education. She became politically, and vocally, active with the Democratic Party, earning a reputation as one who challenged the traditional roles of women, African Americans, and the poor. In 1949, she married Conrad Chisholm, and the couple settled in Brooklyn.
After a successful career as a teacher, Chisholm decided to run for the New York State Assembly. Her ideals were perfect for the times; it was the mid-60s, the civil rights movement in full swing, and all across America activists were working for equal civil rights for everyone, regardless of race. In 1964 Chisholm was elected to the assembly.
During her service in the assembly Chisholm sponsored fifty bills, but only eight passed. One of the successful bills she supported provided assistance for poor students to go on to higher education, while another provided employment insurance coverage for personal and domestic employees. Still another bill reversed a law that caused female teachers in New York to lose their tenure if they took maternity leave.
In 1968, Chisholm decided to run for the U.S. Congress. Although her opponent was the well-known civil rights leader James Farmer, Shirley Chisholm won the election and began a long career in the U.S. House of Representatives.
As a Congresswoman, Chisholm focused her attention on the needs of her constituents, while serving on several House committees: Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, Rules and Education, and Labor. When she was assigned to the Forestry Committee, Chisholm protested her appointment and said that she wanted to work on committees that dealt with issues that affected her district. Forestry issues had little or no importance to the people she represented in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
During the Vietnam War, Chisholm was one of the first, and the most outspoken, to protest the amount amount of money being spent on defense, while social programs suffered. Chisholm argued that money should not be spent for war while many Americans were hungry, poorly educated, and without adequate housing.
Chisholm was also a strong supporter of women’s rights. Early in her career as a congresswoman, she took a stand on abortion, and supported a woman’s right to choose. She also spoke against traditional roles for women professionals, arguing that women were capable of entering many other professions. Black women especially, she felt, had been pushed into stereotypical roles, or conventional professions, such as maids and nannies; roles white women no longer wanted. Chisholm supported the idea that black women needed to escape, not just by governmental aid, but also by self-effort. Her antiwar and women’s liberation views made Chisholm a popular speaker on college campuses in the late 60s and early 70s.
In 1972 Chisholm decided to run for President. In addition to her interest in civil rights, she spoke out about the judicial system in the United States, police brutality, prison reform, gun control, drug abuse, among other topics. While Shirley Chisholm did not win the Democratic nomination, she did win an impressive 10 percent of the votes within the party. As a result of her candidacy, Chisholm was voted one of the ten most admired women in the world.
After her unsuccessful presidential campaign, Chisholm continued to serve in the House of Representatives until 1982. As a member of the Black Caucus, she was able to see the growth of black representation in the Congress grow.

In 1982, Shirley Chisholm announced her retirement from Congress.
While continuing her teaching after retiring from public life, Chisholm taught politics and women’s studies at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts; she was also the visiting scholar at Spelman College.

In 1987 she retired from teaching altogether.

Chisholm continued to be involved in politics by cofounding the National Political Congress of Black Women in 1984, working on Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988.

In 1993, President Clinton nominated Chisholm for the position of Ambassador to Jamaica, but Chisholm, because of declining health, turned down the nomination.

She was the nation’s first black congresswoman.
She was the nation’s first black presidential candidate.
She stood up for African Americans.
She stood up for the poor.
She stood up for women.
She fought against war.
She was a teacher.

She was a remarkable woman.


Filed under Black History Month, Equality, Politics, Shirley Chisholm

>Mahalia Jackson


special request from Charlie
Mahalia Jackson, forever known as the “Gospel Queen,” was born on October 26, 1911 into a poor family in the Black Pearl section of Uptown New Orleans, Louisiana; the Jacksons’ three-room dwelling on Pitt Street housed thirteen people. It was a shack, really, and sat between the railroad tracks and the Mississippi River levee with a pump that delivered water so dirty that cornmeal had to be used as a filtering agent. Jackson’s father, like many blacks in the segregated south, held several jobs; he was a longshoreman, a barber, and a preacher at a small church. Her mother, a devout Baptist who died when Mahalia was five, took care of the six Jackson children and the house, using washed-up driftwood and planks from old barges to fuel the stove.

As a child, Mahalia was taken in by the sounds of New Orleans, the rhythm of the city. She listened to woodpeckers rumbling, and heard music; trains rumbling past her house were songs; steamboats whistled, sailors and street people sang to her. All of New Orleans was music, and Mahalia Jackson soaked it in. When Mardi Gras arrived, the music grew louder, played everywhere, and, in her room, by herself, Mahalia Jackson quietly sand the blues of Bessie Smith.

But Jackson’s close relatives disapproved of the blues–a music indigenous to southern black culture–calling it decadent, and claiming that the only acceptable songs were the gospels of the church. In gospel songs, Mahalia was told, music was the vehicle of religious faith. As Jesse Jackson–no relation to the civil rights leader–said in his biography of Mahalia, Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord!, “It was like choosing between the devil and God. You couldn’t have it both ways.”

Mahalia made up her mind. When Little Haley tried out for the Baptist choir, she silenced the crowd by singing “I’m so glad, I’m so glad, I’m so glad I’ve been in the grave an’ rose again.… “

In 1927, at the age of sixteen, Jackson moved from Louisiana to to Chicago–in the midst of what was known as the Great Migration of blacks leaving the south. With only an eighth grade education but a strong ambition to become a nurse, Jackson earned a living by washing white people’s clothes for a dollar a day.

After her first Sunday church service, where she gave an impromptu performance of her favorite song, “Hand Me Down My Favorite Trumpet, Gabriel”, she was invited to join the Greater Salem Baptist Church Choir. She began touring the city’s churches and surrounding areas with the Johnson Brothers Gospel Singers.

Although other small choir groups had cut records in the past, the Johnson Brothers may have been the first professional gospel group ever, even producing a series of musical dramas in which Jackson starred. Her provocative performing style–influenced by the Southern style of keeping time with the body, with jerks and steps used for physical emphasis–enraged many of the more conservative Northern preachers, but few could deny her fierce talent.

Though she sang traditional hymns and spirituals almost exclusively, Jackson was still fascinated with the blues. During the Great Depression, she knew she could earn more money singing the songs that her relatives considered profane and blasphemous. But when her beloved grandfather was struck down by a stroke and fell into a coma, Jackson vowed to never enter a theater again, or sing the kinds of songs of which he disapproved, if he recovered. He did; and Mahalia never broke that vow. She wrote in her autobiography, Movin’ On Up: “I feel God heard me and wanted me to devote my life to his songs and that is why he suffered my prayers to be answered-so that nothing would distract me from being a gospel singer.”

Later in her career, Jackson would turn down lucrative offers to sing in nightclubs–sometimes as much as $25,000 a performance–even if the club owners promised not to serve whiskey. But she never dismissed the blues as anti-religious, like her relatives had done: it was simply a matter of the vow she had made, as well as a matter of inspiration.

“There’s no sense in my singing the blues, because I just don’t feel it,” she told Harper’s magazine. “In the old, heart-felt songs, whether it’s the blues or gospel music, there’s the distressed cry of a human being. But in the blues, it’s all despair; when you’re done singing, you’re still lonely and sorrowful. In the gospel songs, there’s mourning and sorrow, too, but there’s always hope and consolation to lift you above it.”

In 1929 Jackson met the composer Thomas A. Dorsey,the Father of Gospel Music, who gave her musical advice and became he mentor; they began a fourteen-year association of touring, with Jackson singing Dorsey’s songs in church programs and at conventions. Together they visited churches and “gospel tents” around the country, and Jackson’s reputation as a singer and interpreter of spirituals blossomed. She returned to Chicago after five years on the road and opened a beauty salon and a flower shop, both of which drew customers from the gospel and church communities. She continued to make records that brought her fairly little monetary reward.

In 1946, while practicing in a recording studio, a representative from Decca Records overheard Jackson sing an old spiritual from her childhood. He advised her to record it, and a few weeks later she did. “Move On Up a Little Higher” became her signature song, selling 100,000 copies overnight and soon passing the two million dollar mark. Black ministers praised it from the pulpit; black disc jockeys played it constantly. The black press hailed Mahalia Jackson as ‘the only Negro whom Negroes have made famous.”‘

The success of this record rocketed Jackson to fame in the U.S. and soon after in Europe. During this time she toured as a concert artist, appearing more frequently in concert halls and less often in churches. As a consequence of this change in her venues, her arrangements expanded from piano and organ to orchestral accompaniments.

Another change to her style of touring, at least back home in the United States, was that now she was not so much as a hand-to-mouth singer.” Now, Mahalia Jackson toured in her own Cadillac. The car was big enough for her to sleep in when she was performing in areas with hotels that failed to provide accommodations for blacks; she also could store enough food in the car so that when she visited the segregated South she wouldn’t have to sit in the backs of restaurants.

Soon enough the emotional and resonant singing of the “Gospel Queen,” began reaching the white community as well. She appeared regularly on Studs Terkel’s radio show in Chicago and was ultimately given her own radio and television programs. On October 4, 1950, Jackson became the first gospel singer to perform mat Carnegie Hall–to a packed house no less.

In her autobiography how she reacted to the jubilant audience. “I got carried away, too, and found myself singing on my knees for them. I had to straighten up and say, ‘Now we’d best remember we’re in Carnegie Hall and if we cut up too much, they might put us out.”‘

She toured Europe again in 1952, hailed by overseas critics as the “world’s greatest gospel singer”. In Paris, she was dubbed the “Angel of Peace,” and throughout the continent she sang to capacity audiences. Jackson ultimately became equally popular overseas and performed for royalty and adoring fans throughout France, England, Denmark, and Germany. One of her most rewarding concerts took place in Israel, where she sang before an audience of Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

Her career at home also continued to rise. She had her own radio series on CBS and was signed to Columbia Records in 1954. In her autobiography, Jackson described a conversation with a reporter who asked why she thought white people had taken to her traditionally black, church songs. She answered, “Well, honey, maybe they tried drink and they tried psychoanalysis and now they’re going to try to rejoice with me a bit.”

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Jackson’s attention turned to the growing civil rights movement in the United States. Although she had grown up on Water Street, where black and white families lived together peacefully, she was well aware of the injustice engendered by the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South.

At the request of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahalia Jackson participated in the Montgomery bus boycott, an action precipitated by Rosa Parks’s refusal to move from a bus seat reserved for whites. During the famous March on Washington in 1963, seconds before Dr. King delivered his celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech, Jackson sang the old inspirational, “I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned” to over 200,000 people.

Not content with merely singing about goodness, Mahalia Jackson devoted much of her time and energy to helping others. She established the Mahalia Jackson Scholarship Foundation for young people who wanted to attend college. For her efforts in helping international understanding, she received the Silver Dove Award.

Mahalia Jackson died in Chicago on January 27, 1972, never having fulfilled her dream of building a nondenominational temple, where people could sing, celebrate life, and nurture the talents of children. Her funeral was attended by over six thousand fans.

And yet, with all the accolades heaped upon her….Greatest Gospel Singer ever…..Angel of Peace…Jackson considered herself a simple woman: she enjoyed cooking for friends as much as marveling at landmarks around the world. But it was in her music that she found her spirit most eloquently expressed. She wrote in her autobiography: “Gospel music is nothing but singing of good tidings-spreading the good news. It will last as long as any music because it is sung straight from the human heart. Join with me sometime-whether you’re white or colored-and you will feel it for yourself. Its future is brighter than a daisy.”

Two cities paid tribute to Jackson upon her death.

Beginning in Chicago, outside the Greater Salem Baptist Church where she got her start, 50,000 people, some who knew her, some who knew her by her music, filed silently past her mahogany, glass-topped coffin. The next day, as many as could — 6,000 or more — filled every seat and stood along the walls of the city’s public concert hall, the Arie Crown Theater of McCormick Place, for a two-hour funeral service.

Three days later, a thousand miles away, the scene repeated itself: again the long lines, the silent tribute, thousands filling, this time, the great hall of the Rivergate Convention Center in New Orleans. The funeral cortège of 24 limousines drove slowly past her childhood place of worship, Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, where her recordings played through loudspeakers.


Filed under Black History Month, Civil Rights, Mahalia Jackson, Uncategorized

>Mildred and Richard Loving


Fifty years ago it wasn’t gay marriage, it was interracial marriage.

Mildred Jeter Loving and Richard Perry Loving were married in June of 1958 in the District of Columbia; they’d gotten married in DC because they couldn’t get married in Virginia due to that state’s Racial Integrity Act–a law banning marriages between any white person and any non-white person.
Oh yeah, Mildred was a Black woman; Richard was a white man.
After marrying, they returned to Carolina County, Virginia and were charged with violating the ban. See, Mildred and Richard Loving were asleep in their own bed when their house was invaded by police officers who hoped to find them having sex–which was an altogether different crime.
Mildred Loving pointed to the marriage certificate on the wall in their bedroom. The police, rather than seeing they weren’t committing some kind of interracial sex crime, used the certificate as evidence for a criminal charge since it showed they had been married in another state.
The Lovings were charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia, and Section 20-59, which classified “miscegenation” (a mixture of races especially marriage, cohabitation, or sexual intercourse between a white person and a member of another race ) as a felony punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years.
On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia.
The Lovings were being run out of town because of who they loved.
Sound familiar?
The trial judge in the case, Leon Bazile, said: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
Using God as a way to keep people from marrying? Sound familiar now?
Mildred and Richard Loving moved to the District of Columbia, and in November of 1963 The ACLU filed a motion to vacate the judgement and set aside the sentence because it ran counter to the 14th Amendment–equal protection under the law.
The case ultimately reached the Supreme Court and, in October of 1964, after their motion was still undecided, the Lovings began a class action suit in the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
In early 1965, the three-judge district court decided to allow the Lovings to present their constitutional claims to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Virginia Supreme Court Justice Harry Carrico wrote an opinion for the court upholding the constitutionality of the anti-miscegenation statutes and, after modifying the sentence, affirmed the criminal convictions. Carrico said the 14th Amendment didn’t aplply to the Lovings case because both the white and the non-white spouse were punished equally for the “crime” of “miscegenation.”
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions in a unanimous decision, dismissing the Commonwealth of Virginia’s argument that a law forbidding both white and black persons from marrying persons of another race, and providing identical penalties to white and black violators, could not be construed as racially discriminatory.
In its decision, the court wrote: “Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”
Some activists believe that the Loving ruling will eventually aid the marriage equality movement for same-sex partnerships, if courts allow the Equal Protection Clause to be used. Law professor F.C. Decoste states, “If the only arguments against same sex marriage are sectarian, then opposing the legalization of same sex marriage is invidious in a fashion no different from supporting anti miscegenation laws.”
These activists maintain that miscegenation laws are to interracial marriage, as sodomy laws are to homosexual rights and that sodomy laws were enacted in order to maintain traditional sex roles that have become part of American society.
Richard Loving died in a car accident in 1975.
On June 12, 2007, Mildred Loving issued a rare public statement, which commented on same-sex marriage, prepared for delivery on the 40th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision of the US Supreme Court. She said, in part:
“Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.
I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”
Mildred Loving died of pneumonia on May 2, 2008. Her daughter, Peggy Fortune, told the AP: “I want (people) to remember her as being strong and brave yet humble — and believed in love.”
Part of the Washington Post’s obituary read: “A modest homemaker, Loving never thought she had done anything extraordinary. ‘It wasn’t my doing,’ Loving told the AP in a rare interview a year ago. ‘It was God’s work.’”


Filed under Black History Month, Civil Rights, Equality, LGBT, LGBT Rights, Marriage Equality, Racism, Richard and Mildred Loving, US Supreme Court, Virginia, Washington D.C.

>Mary McLeod Bethune


On July 10, 1875, Mary McLeod Bethune was born in Mayesville, South Carolina, the daughter of former slaves. Fortunate in that she was able to gain a formal education, Bethune had hopes of becoming a missionary in Africa, but, as she put it, “Africans in America needed Christ and school just as much as Negroes in Africa. . . . My life work lay not in Africa but in my own country.”
She first taught school in Georgia and later in South Carolina, Florida and Illinois, devoting her life to ensuring the right to education and freedom from discrimination for black Americans. Bethune believed that through education, blacks could begin to earn a living in a country that still opposed racial equality. Bethune worked tirelessly until her death and would not rest while there was “a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth.”
As a young teacher in Chicago, she visited prisoners in jail, giving them inspiration through song and offering them a small chance at education. She worked at the Pacific Garden Mission, serving lunch to the homeless, and counseled the residents of Chicago’s slums. In Florida, she organized a Sunday school program and sang to prisoners. Bethune went wherever she could, to speak to, to sing to, to offer assistance to, to educate, Black Americans.
In 1904, she opened the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls; the first class had just five girls, but later accepted boys as well. Tuition was 50 cents a week, but Mary McLeod Bethune never refused to educate a child whose parents could not afford the payment. She worked tirelessly not only to maintain the school, but she also fought the segregation and inequality facing blacks. In those days, many people objected to education for Blacks, but Bethune’s passion and dedication silenced nearly all her critics of both races. She encouraged people to “Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it might be a diamond in the rough.”
Having immense faith in God and believing that nothing was impossible, Bethune also opened a high school and a hospital for blacks. She remained president of the school for more than 40 years. In 1923, she oversaw the school’s merger with the Cookman Institute, thereby forming the Bethune-Cookman College.
With her school a success, Bethune became increasingly involved in political issues. It was through her discussions with Vice President Thomas Marshall that the Red Cross decided to integrate, and blacks were allowed to perform the same duties as whites. In 1917, she became president of the Florida Federation of Colored Women, and in 1924, became president of the NAACP, at that time the highest national office to which a black woman could aspire.
She worked under presidents Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Theodore Roosevelt on child welfare, housing, employment, and education. In June of 1936, she was assigned director of the Division of Negro Affairs and became the first black woman to serve as head of a federal agency. As director, she traveled across the country, speaking out for equal education and treatment for blacks.
Mary McLeod Bethune was the forerunner of ‘no child left behind.’ She was a child of slavery, teacher, preacher, advocate, protester, politician, advisor to presidents.
Mary McLeod Bethune died on May 18, 1955.

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Filed under Black History Month, Civil Rights, Mary McLeod Bethune