Saturday, September 18, 2010

Portrait of civil rights pioneer unveiled

A portrait of civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns was unveiled this week in our nation's capitol:

Johns, then 16, led a 1951 student strike in Prince Edward County that led to the inclusion of Virginia in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing school segregation.

The portrait depicts Johns on April 23, 1951, the day of the student strike. It was painted by Richmond native Louis Briel.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hymn inspired Jefferson Thomas of the Little Rock Nine

Today's New York Times obituary of Jefferson Thomas of the Little Rock Nine features the following segment about what inspired Mr.; Thomas to hang on as he suffered from hate and abuse at Central High School in 1957 and 1958:

In 2007, Mr. Thomas told The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that prayer had helped him through the integration struggle. He said that one Sunday at church he heard the hymn “Lord, Don’t Move My Mountain, Just Give Me the Strength to Climb,” inspiring him to pray for strength, rather than for the acceptance of his classmates.

“It seemed that overnight, things stopped being so bad,” he said. “The same things were happening, but they didn’t hurt me as much. I didn’t feel like I was a failure. I felt victorious because I made it through the day.”

Jefferson Thomas, one of Little Rock Nine, dead at 68

Jefferson Thomas, one of the Little Rock Nine, died Sunday at age 68 from pancreatic cancer.

From the AP obituary:

Mr. Thomas played a number of sports and was on the track team at Dunbar Junior High School, but others had little to do with him once he entered Central, the state's largest high school.

"I had played with some of the white kids from the neighborhood," Mr. Thomas said. "I went up to Central High School after school, and we played basketball and touch football together. I knew some of the kids.

"Eventually, I ran into them . . . and they were not at all happy to see me," Mr. Thomas added. "One of them said: 'Well, I don't mind playing basketball or football with you or anything. You guys are good at sports. Everybody knows that, but you're just not smart enough to sit next to me in the classroom.'"

Ms. Beals said Monday that Mr. Thomas was nicknamed "'Roadrunner' because he was so fast. You could sometimes avoid danger by running fast."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mississippi Burning case may be last crime of civil rights era in which charges may be filed

In today's Jackson Clarion-Ledger, it is noted that the murders of three civil rights workers in Neshoba, Miss., in 1964 may be the last crime of that era in which prosecutions can be made. The article lists some of the Mississippi Burning suspects who have yet to be brought to justice:

The FBI’s investigation into the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers may represent the nation’s last and best chance to prosecute unpunished killings from the nation’s civil rights era.
"It is one of the very few viable cases left," said former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones of Birmingham, who led the successful prosecution of two former Klansmen for a 1963 church bombing that killed four girls.

"The door is closing quickly," he said. "There's not much time left."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Civil rights photographer dead at 79

Charles Moore, whose photos depicted the Civil Rights Movement is dead at age 79. From the Los Angeles Times obituary:

From 1958 to 1965, he trained his lens on the unfolding drama of civil rights as a news photographer for the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser and Life magazine.

His shockingly graphic images -- of police dogs attacking protesters or marchers being assaulted by powerful water hoses -- helped propel what had been a regional dispute onto the national stage.

As his photographs created national outrage, they quickened the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to John Kaplan, a University of Florida journalism professor who wrote his master's thesis on Moore.

"He had the courage to stand up in the face of danger and let Americans know what was really happening, through his work," Kaplan told The Times. "That is why he is an unsung hero."

Monday, March 15, 2010

New book examines pay phone calls made by James Earl Ray

It has been nearly 42 years since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, but the mysteries surrounding that event continue.

A new book delves into those mysteries, including pay phone calls made by King assassin James Earl Ray, some of which may link the assassination to the Ku Klux Klan:

So far the authors haven't been able to track down two phone calls made to Mississippi. Each number was unlisted.

One was to south Jackson: (601) 372-3537.

The other was to Laurel: (601) 428-8829.

In those days, Laurel was the headquarters of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi and the home of Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers. Bowers' business, Sambo Amusement, had an unlisted number then.

FBI records mention the White Knights' offer of a $100,000 bounty to kill King — a bounty that Ray may have believed he would get if he killed King.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Selma priest recalls Bloody Sunday

(CNN) -- The Rev. Maurice Ouellet remembers the day vividly: March 7, 1965. As he walked out of church after serving Sunday Mass, he encountered silence. Then sirens.

"Everything was dead, still," said the priest, now 83. "It was haunting. Then the sirens started going. Every kind of siren in Selma was blowing. And I just knew something terrible had happened."

Standing on the steps of St. Elizabeth's -- Selma, Alabama's "black" Catholic church -- the young white priest was about to witness one of the most iconic days of the civil rights era. It would come to be known as Bloody Sunday.

The sirens were coming from the Edmund Pettus Bridge, only a few miles away. Selma law enforcement and Alabama state police, led by Sheriff Jim Clark, had forced back nearly 600 marchers with tear gas and billy clubs.

In the days leading up to the historic march, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had focused his nonviolent campaign for civil rights on this rural section of Alabama. By March, Selma had become ground zero in the fight to gain voting rights for blacks.

Ouellet and his fellow priests found themselves on the front lines.

Responding to the mayhem around him, Ouellet made his way to Selma's Good Samaritan Hospital, where many of the injured were taken. Run by Ouellet's fellow Edmundite priests and the sisters of St. Joseph, it was the only hospital in Selma that served blacks.

Inside, Ouellet encountered Etta Perkins, a nurse tending to the wounded.

"Father, they're going to kill us all," Ouellet remembers her hollering.

Perkins' son would become the first black mayor of Selma. But on this day, Ouellet had little hope for racial harmony.

"I was shattered," he recalls. "They were beasts. I wondered if it was all worth it."

Perkins remembers that tear gas was the biggest problem. Some of the injured "were in real misery," she said.

Because Samaritan was known as the "negro hospital," Perkins says, a lot of doctors refused to come help. "The Sisters of St. Joseph carried a heavy load that day."

In the hospital's cafeteria, Ouellet saw people strewn everywhere.

"I looked down, and there was a little girl, probably about 15 or 16, lying on the floor. She wasn't moving, and she had blood coming out of her head." Ouellet picked her up. "She opened her eyes. Her eyes focused right into my face, and she said, 'Oh, Father, I hurt.'"

Ouellet rushed the wounded girl to the front of the line to receive care and soon came across another badly injured person. The man was lying flat on his back on a food cart.

"He looked more like someone had taken a knife and sliced a piece of his head," the priest said. "He was just lying there bleeding."

The quiet man was John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Now a congressman from Georgia, Lewis had led the march that day, and the severe beating he suffered has become one of its lasting images.

Lewis "didn't say anything," Ouellet recalls. "I couldn't really tell if he was conscious. His eyes were vague, but that was his way, I understand. He had been beaten so many times that when he did get beaten, he would just go quiet. That is when he would go into his mode of nonviolence."

Only weeks earlier, another young black man had been brought to Good Samaritan after sustaining injuries at the hands of authorities. Jimmie Lee Jackson had been shot by a state police officer during a march in nearby Marion, Alabama.

Perkins sat with Jackson the night before his death.

"He was in too bad a condition to talk," she recalled. "I kept him comfortable as best possible."

His death became the catalyst for King's decision to march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery.

Long before the historic march and the violent confrontation at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Ouellet and his Catholic mission of mostly white priests and nuns had been working directly with those suffering the worst effects of a segregated Selma.

The Society of Saint Edmund had come to Selma in 1937 to set up its mission. Ouellet joined in 1952. The Edmundites faced intimidation from local officials and constant death threats from the white community as well as the Ku Klux Klan.

By 1965, Ouellet found it harder and harder to separate his duties as a clergyman from his sympathy for the plight of his parishioners. He was one of few white men who attended the meetings organized by King's supporters in Selma.

"I had gotten kind of discouraged," he said. "People were leaving. They were scared for their life."

Ouellet remembers one of his first conversations with King. "He thanked me for what I was trying to do and said, 'Isn't it wonderful that we are getting all kinds of people coming down, and we're even getting priests and sisters?'"

Ouellet was not as optimistic. "I said, 'Well, it's about time they got here.'"

King's response helped change Ouellet's perspective on the struggle in Selma. "His head snapped up, and he said, 'Oh, Father, don't say that. The important thing is that they are here.'"

Committed to becoming even more involved in King's cause, Ouellet quickly found himself at odds not only with local officials but with his own church hierarchy, especially when he and others at the Edmundite mission asked to be allowed to participate in the growing marches. The answer the mission director received in this letter from Alabama's Catholic Archdiocese reveals the conflict of conscience facing the church in a divided state:

"I won't stand for any priest of the Diocese going in parades or sit-ins. ... The march on Washington and the marches in Baltimore have done absolutely no good. ... Of course, you realize you are stirring up great trouble for yourself, as I have told you, Selma and the surrounding country as far as the negro is concerned is and always has been the worst in the state. They hate the negro, and hate him worse than they love the Church. ... While I am Bishop of Mobile, there will be no picketing by priests or nuns, and no marching."

- Rev. T.J. Toolen, Oct. 26, 1963

Archbishop, Mobile-Birmingham

Barred from marching, the Edmundites housed and helped feed the crowds, many of them clergy, who poured into Selma after Bloody Sunday. People slept in an unopened wing of the new Good Samaritan Hospital, on floors of offices, in the school and with the priests and the nuns from the mission. The risk of fallout for their actions is evident in this angry letter from the Archbishop:

"I want Ouellet out of Selma. He is a good priest but crazy on this subject. ... It is destroying the Church in Alabama and I cannot sit idly by and see this done. ... No one has done more for the negro people than I have but that is all forgotten by these new men who have come in and only see one side of a question. I have put up with as much as I am going to. ... I have always felt closer to the Edmundite Fathers than any other Community in the Diocese, but Selma has cured this.

- Archbishop T.J. Toolen, March 18, 1965

The marchers finally left Selma for Montgomery on March 21, two weeks after Bloody Sunday. Many of the supporters who joined the march that day were clergy from across the nation.

But Ouellet was not one of them. Toolen had ordered him to leave Selma. It was a difficult time for the young reverend, who had poured so much of himself into the causes of the black community. "I cried. It was the only way I could handle it at the time."

Monsignor Michael Farmer, the current vicar general of the Archdiocese of Mobile, points out that Toolen had been very active in advancing the rights of African-Americans himself but had his hands tied as the leader of a church that was still very segregated in the South.

"He appears to be not as open, but you must take in his age and lived experience," Farmer said. "The approach that was being used at the time he was not able to comprehend."

Ouellet now understands the bishop's motives.

"He opposed what we were doing," he said. "He was a segregationist, but he wasn't a bigot."

Ouellet says the bishop was well aware of the turbulent times and the danger they all faced. He admits that being moved out of Selma may have saved his life. "I was really committed. It was not that I wanted to get myself killed; it was just, if this is what it takes, then this is what it takes."

After continuing his career with the Edmundites for nearly 30 years in cities across the country, Ouellet is retired and back in Selma, where the Edmundites continue their mission work. In addition to feeding and clothing the poor, they operate rural clinics and in many cases still provide the only doctors available to their patients.

Ouellet lives in a home for the elderly. There, he is cared for by African-American nurses, many of them from the families he once served.

Lewis recalls "Bloody Sunday" march

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., recalled the "Bloody Sunday" march in Selma during an observance of the 45th anniversary of the march:

Georgia Congressman John Lewis strolled to the middle of the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday and remembered the incident 45 years ago when he and other marchers were beaten on the day known as "Bloody Sunday."

Lewis spoke about the beating he and other marchers received during the 1965 march. He then joined about 10,000 in a recreation of the 1965 march. Marchers included Civil Rights foot soldiers and civil rights leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Killen claims God is on his side

Edgar Ray Killen, 85, convicted of the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers, claims God is on his side and will punish those who put him in prison. Killen is suing the FBI:

"Almighty God ... is listening and is recording your acts, thoughts and deeds. One by one you will give account to him," Killen wrote in a six-page letter obtained by The Clarion-Ledger from a Klansman. His lawyer confirmed the letter is indeed Killen's.

District Attorney Mark Duncan, who along with Attorney General Jim Hood prosecuted Killen, responded, "I don't have any trouble standing before God with my role in it."

In 2005, a Neshoba County jury convicted Killen, now 85, on three counts of manslaughter for his role in the Klan's June 21, 1964, killings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, commonly known as the Mississippi Burning case.

The FBI is reexamining the killings. Four suspects in the case are still alive.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

FBI continuing to investigate civil rights era murders

From today's Washington Post:

By Carrie Johnson
Sunday, February 28, 2010; A01

Three years after the FBI pledged to investigate more than 100 unsolved civil rights killings, the agency is ready to close all but a handful. Investigators say they have solved most of the mysteries behind the cases, but few will result in indictments, given the passage of decades, the deaths of prime suspects and the challenge of gathering evidence.

"There's maybe five to seven cases where we don't know who did it," said FBI Special Agent Cynthia Deitle, who is heading the bureau's effort. "Some we know; others we know but can't prove. For every other case, we got it."

Even without taking cases to court, the project has filled in broad gaps in the stories of the murdered, many of whom were forgotten victims from a brutal chapter of American history.

Officials now believe, for example, that an Alabama state trooper killed an unarmed civil rights protester in 1965, a case that helped inspire the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to march in the state. In the deaths of two North Carolina men in police custody -- one found in 1956 with a crushed skull and the other who refused medical treatment in 1960 after a heart attack -- the agency concluded that there was no federal law it could use to pursue the cases.

Investigators have walked through rural cemeteries looking for clues, searched yellowed documents in government archives and interviewed witnesses, some so shattered by their experiences that they still refused to talk. Along the way, officials discovered a more complex story than they had imagined.

In nearly one-fifth of the 108 cases, they learned that the deaths had no connection to the racial unrest pulsing through the South at the height of the civil rights struggle.

In at least one case, the victim had been killed by a relative, but the family blamed the Ku Klux Klan. In other cases, a victim drowned or was fatally knifed in a bar fight. Two black women registering voters in the hot Mississippi summer died in a car accident. One man died under his mistress -- a bedroom secret kept for more than four decades until the bureau came calling.

The FBI's project, which at its peak involved more than 40 agents working in cities across the South and along the Eastern Seaboard, was the agency's most focused campaign to find out what happened in the deaths. For some families, hopes of a legal reckoning have been dashed, but the investigation has produced a different kind of accounting.

"These racially motivated murders are some of the greatest blemishes on our nation's history," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights. "We owe it to people who were all a part of this struggle to be persistent. . . . If we can solve a number of these cases, that's fantastic. But if we can bring to closure all of these cases, I think this will be well worth the effort."

At the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., where the names of victims are etched on the walls of the organization's civil rights memorial, President Richard Cohen added, "Justice in a few of those cases is going to have to serve as a symbolic victory in all of them."

Long-lost evidence
From a conference room on the third floor of the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover Building in the District, the civil rights struggle continues. But four decades or longer after the deaths, nearly every aspect of the trail has gone cold.

Special Agent James Hosty, a former police officer from Kansas who joined the FBI after helping capture the notorious "BTK" serial killer, has spent three years hunting down leads in a case near Atlanta.

In 1946, four black sharecroppers were killed on Moore's Ford Bridge in Walton County, Georgia, prompting President Harry S. Truman to order the FBI to work round-the-clock to bring the shooters to justice. As many as two dozen people, some of them prominent members of the community, might have been involved in the deaths, investigators say.

But no charges were filed -- and volumes of case files sat untouched in FBI archives in Silver Spring for decades until the investigation was reopened by Howard Hatfield, who is an assistant special agent in charge at the Atlanta office, and an agent was assigned full time to the case.

"It basically took six to eight months to get through those records and determine who was alive or dead," Hosty said.

Some of those Hosty thinks witnessed or were involved in the killings had neither a Social Security number nor any other identifier that would allow him to determine whether they are alive and could be questioned or prosecuted.

The case remains unsolved, but new evidence allowed investigators to secure a search warrant in 2008, 62 years after the deadly encounter. FBI agents in Atlanta said they continue to work leads, hoping for a breakthrough from witnesses who at the time feared talking to authorities but since might have changed their minds.

In many of the unsolved cases, family members or victims' rights advocates have complained about how long it has taken for the federal government to investigate and about what they say is the lack of results. But more reasonable expectations are called for by Alvin Sykes, who was part of a successful effort to have the government reopen the investigation into the 1955 killing of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a Mississippi case that helped launch the civil rights movement.

"From the beginning, our focus was not just to prosecute cases but to find the truth," Sykes said. "We're not disappointed, but we do expect to find a significant number of more cases through the outreach effort, a criminal manhunt to find these people, and go from there."

Few legal tools
"Welcome to my headache," said Deitle, who was handpicked by the current FBI director, Robert S. Mueller III, to lead the re-energized civil rights effort.

The government has scant legal tools at its disposal in prosecuting the decades-old deaths because it can use just three federal statutes on the books before 1968, when Congress passed an expansive statute governing civil rights prosecutions.

The pre-1968 statutes apply in homicides only if a victim was killed on federal land; a victim was kidnapped and killed; or if an explosive device was transported across state lines with the intent to injure, according to Paige Fitzgerald, a Justice Department lawyer who played a central role in two of the cold cases that went to trial in recent years.

The FBI looks for room to maneuver within the old statutes. In a Florida killing, for example, an agent was dispatched to secure Global Positioning System coordinates to determine whether the killing occurred on land once belonging to a Native American tribe.

One case has drawn the agency's focused attention because it might be connected to other interstate Ku Klux Klan attacks.

On Dec. 10, 1964, Frank Morris, a shoe store owner in Ferriday, La., woke to the sound of tinkling glass. He emerged from a cot at the back of the burning building with third-degree burns covering his body. Morris survived four days in a hospital, but he wasn't able to name the attackers before he died.

At the time, FBI investigators found a charred finger near the crime scene that did not belong to Morris. Over the years, the finger was lost. But an agent had recorded a fingerprint, which remains in the FBI's files.

"So," Deitle asked one morning last month, "who's missing a finger in Ferriday?"

An undercover agent has been canvassing the town for a fingerless man, and the FBI lab is searching for fingerprint matches. But in the meantime, the case remains unsolved.

In an FBI office in Jackson, Miss., Jenny Williams, a supervisory special agent, has instructed 11 agents working on nearly four dozen cold cases to take nothing for granted -- even reports of the demise of the prime suspects, especially when death certificates are not available.

"We definitely don't take someone's word for it," Williams said. "We'll send people out to a cemetery. We have evidence that's a picture of a tombstone in a cemetery, old small-town family cemeteries."

Special Agent Jeromy Turner walked a 300-headstone cemetery in Yazoo City, Miss., four times looking for a dead man. Relatives insisted that the man was buried in a plot there, but "I never could find him," Turner said. "Finally, I was able to locate a funeral home owner who had the death certificate that showed he was buried in that cemetery, but the family had disowned him." There was no headstone marking his grave.

Among the most promising cases are those in which accomplices have not been prosecuted. That is a central focus in the killing of Louis Allen, a logger and member of the NAACP in Amite County, Miss., who was ambushed in January 1964 after years of threats.

Allen's son Henry and other family members have plastered the community with posters thanking God "for anyone willing to come forward to solve this heinous crime. Anonymity promised." They are offering a $20,000 reward for information.

Deitle, who helped investigate the New York Police Department shooting of immigrant Amadou Diallo 11 years ago, said the FBI effort is one of the last opportunities to investigate the dark alleys of the segregated past.

"If we don't correct history, then who's going to go back through this? Who's going to fix history to make it accurate?" she asked.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Linda Brown graduated from Springfield, Missouri high school

Television station KSPR in Springfield ran a story Thursday about civil rights pioneer Linda Brown of the Brown v. Board of Education case, talking about her graduation from an integrated Springfield, Missouri, high school:

In 1950, Topeka, Kan. resident Oliver Brown tried to enroll his daughter in an all-white school. She was denied, but that paved the way to the landmark Supreme Court case, Brown v Board of Education of Topeka.
"[Brown] didn't understand why he had to walk his little daughter by a school to get a to another school to get an education," says Denny Whayne, who knew the Brown family.
Brown lent his name to what became the landmark civil rights. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled separate but equal wasn't equal.
"They didn't have the types of facilities and the types of equipment and books and things," says Wes Pratt, Coordinator of Diversity Outreach and Recruitment at Missouri State University.
Shortly after, Springfield schools were integrated. The city's black high school, Lincoln, had its last graduating class in 1955.
"So the, if the seniors wanted to graduate from Lincoln, they could, then they closed it," says Whayne.
Four years later, Oliver Brown become pastor of a Springfield's Benton Ave. AME Church. His girls entered the Springfield School system.
"Easy to get along with. They didn't try to act better than anybody. They didn't try to put the bourgeois on us because they were involved in the case," says Whayne, who graduated from Central High School in 1963.
Linda Brown graduated from Central in 1961. Her father died in 1961... a month after seeing his daughter graduate from an integrated school.
Brown benefited from the same education as Springfield's white students, and with it, walked into the history books Springfield students now study.
"I think it shows a lot about the school and how it's progressed historically," says Taylor Fairbank, Central High School senior.
"The fact that Linda Brown went here, just shows that Central's diverse background has some support, and we've always been a diverse school," says senior Delanie Cooper.
Central's a school that's proud of its diversity.
"I don't see people in races. I just see them as potential bus friends. I know that sounds really cheesy," laughs Cooper.
And it's proud of its history.
"It's about the history. She was part of history, involved in Central High School. Her family was one of the many families that made it happen, that fought, that fight the good fight, in order to see that everybody was treated equally," says Whayne.
Linda Brown-Thompson now lives back in Topeka, Kan. She declined to be interviewed for this story.
She now tours the country, giving lectures on the case, emphasizing that her family was just one of thirteen involved.

Edgar Ray Killen sues FBI

Eighty-five year old former Klansman Edgar Ray Killen, in prison for the 1964 murders of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, is suing the FBI:

Edgar Ray Killen, an 85-year-old former saw mill operator and one-time Baptist preacher, was convicted in 2005 of manslaughter based in part on testimony from a mistrial 40 years ago in Mississippi.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court seeks millions of dollars in damages and a declaration that Killen's rights were violated when the FBI allegedly used a gangster known as "The Grim Reaper" during its investigation.

"Money is secondary, we really just want the truth out," said Robert A. Ratliff of Mobile, Ala., who represents Killen. "What we're looking for is the complete, unredacted FBI file. Stand up and tell us what happened."

Killen has maintained his innocence in the killings. He is serving a 60-year sentence at a prison in central Mississippi.

Ratliff said one of the defense lawyers, the late Clayton Lewis, who represented Killen and several others in a 1967 federal trial was a paid FBI informant.

And, he said, known gangster and killer Gregory Scarpa Sr. was hired by the FBI allegedly for $30,000 to coerce witnesses to tell where the bodies were buried and who put them there.

The FBI has never acknowledged using Scarpa. FBI spokeswoman Deborah Madden had not seen the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.

Killen walked out of federal court in 1967 because the jury couldn't reach a verdict.

Some of the information and testimony from that trial was later used to convict him, when many witnesses were dead and he no longer had the chance to question his accusers, Ratliff said. Some of that testimony was based on information gathered by Lewis and Scarpa, he said.

Stories about Scarpa, who died in 1994, has been the stuff of gangland lore. But in 2007, Scarpa's mistress testified in an unrelated case involving an FBI agent.

Linda Schiro said she came to Mississippi with Scarpa and he once shoved a gun into a Klansman's mouth to get information for the FBI. Her entire testimony during that trial was later questioned, though, and an FBI agent accused of conspiring in a mob murder spree was cleared.

Still, after that trial, New York Supreme Court Justice Gustin Reichbach said he was troubled by Schiro's testimony and referenced the Mississippi Klansman story.

"That a thug like Scarpa would be employed by the federal government to beat witnesses and threaten them at gunpoint to obtain information ... is a shocking demonstration of the government's unacceptable willingness to employ criminality to fight crime," the judge said.

The lawsuit also claims Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who helped prosecute Killen in 2005, was complacent in a "conspiracy of silence" for knowing about the FBI's alleged improper conduct.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Freedom rider dead at 68

(From the Dayton, Ohio, Daily News)

Teacher and veteran civil rights marcher Hellen O’Neal McCray died Wednesday, Feb. 24. She was 68.
A Yellow Springs resident since 1966, she taught English and literature at Wilberforce University. She also taught school in Springfield for 29 years.
As a college student, she was jailed in Mississippi as a Freedom Rider in 1961, the first of four arrests for her civil rights work, which included several years with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
The Freedom Rides were a series of demonstrations in which volunteers, many of them college students, rode buses into the segregated South to test civil rights law.
She is among the Freedom Riders featured in a documentary, “Freedom Riders: The Children Shall Lead,” produced by The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi.
She was born in Clarksdale, Miss., and attended Immaculate Conception School, Myrtle Hall Colored School and Holy Rosary School in Lafayette, La., according to her biography for the online African American HistoryMakers Website.
In a 2007 interview, she said, “One of the things I find really frightfully lacking, especially in the young, is that they really don’t know much about the story of the ’60s. It was a time in American history that changed a whole way of living, and they know about Dr. Martin Luther King and that’s about it,” she said. “Young people have no history because the history has not been taught.”
Of Black History Month, she said she’s often disappointed.
“Although I think their lives should be celebrated, we celebrate the same three or four people every year. There is no depth to what we know about or teach about the civil rights movement.”
Funeral arrangements are pending at Porter-Qualls Funeral Home, Xenia.

Friday, February 19, 2010

In speech to students, John Lewis advocates "good trouble"

In a speech at a North Carolina college, civil rights pioneer John Lewis rekindled the spirit of the movement. From the Charlotte Observer:

John Lewis knew he was talking to students, so he came to Charlotte's Central Piedmont Community College on Thursday with a simple prod.

His generation of students, he told them, "got in the way and got in trouble - but good trouble."

Against their parents' wishes, they sat at "whites-only" lunch counters in Southern dime stores asking for service and refusing to leave until they got it. They rode buses into the Deep South to test a Supreme Court ban on segregated bus stations. They marched to vote.

Many were beaten, and some died for it.

Much good came from their "trouble-making" - segregated restrooms, hotels, theaters and restaurants were banned after the 1964 Civil Rights Act; literacy tests and poll taxes were outlawed by the Voting Rights Act a year later.

"When people are not treated right, you have an obligation to do something about it," said Lewis, the 12-term U.S. House member from Georgia and civil rights warrior who walked arm-in-arm with the movement's titans.

" ... So get in the way, get in trouble - but good trouble."

Remembering Jimmie Lee Jackson

A Huffington Post article remembers Jimmie Lee Jackson, whose murder helped lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965:

About a hundred had exited the church when they heard the voice of Sheriff T.O. Harris, amplified over a loudspeaker: "This is an unlawful assembly. You are hereby ordered to disperse. Go home or go back in the church."

James Dobynes, a church minister, called out: "May we pray before we go back?"
Harris did not respond. Suddenly, all the streetlights went out. Within seconds, reporters began to hear wood cracking against bone, thudding into flesh, people screaming. Using their clubs, two state troopers began beating the minister, who had gone to his knees to pray and now cried out: "Jesus! Oh, Jesus! Have mercy. Jesus!"

Local thugs joined in the melee, attacking churchgoers as well as reporters and photographers. NBC reporter Richard Valeriani was clubbed and suffered a bloody head wound. Someone slugged UPI photographer Pete Fisher while others took his camera and smashed it on the ground. Other photographers had their cameras sprayed with black paint. As a result, not one photo of this bloody police riot was taken. (Many years later, artist Jonathan Frost created a series of paintings based on historical accounts of the riot and events that followed.)

The church's doorway was jammed. People could not go back; so, they began to run, seeking refuge in a neighboring funeral parlor, homes and other buildings close to the church. Jimmie Lee tried to shepherd his mother and 82-year-old grandfather to safety, but a trooper knocked the older man to the ground. Jimmie Lee picked him up and carried him into Mack's Cafe, where a dozen or more people had sought sanctuary. On Col. Lingo's orders, state troopers charged into the cafe and began swinging their clubs, smashing the light fixtures, spewing glass throughout the room until all that was left was one bare bulb in a far corner.

One trooper knocked Viola Jackson to the floor. When Jimmie Lee sprang forward to shield his mother, the trooper grabbed Jackson and pushed him into a cigarette machine. Without warning, a second trooper, James Bonard Fowler, drew his revolver and shot Jackson twice in the abdomen. The powder burns on Jackson's torso indicated the unarmed man had been shot at point-blank range.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Civil rights pioneer speaks in Dallas

Civil rights pioneer Rev. James Lawson, who trained the original Freedom Riders, spoke in Dallas over the weekend, according to an article in the Dallas Morning News:

By WENDY HUNDLEY / The Dallas Morning News

One of the key architects of the nonviolent civil rights struggle is bringing his message of faith and peace to North Texas.

Violence "is the No. 1 enemy of the human race," the Rev. James Lawson told the congregation at St. Luke Community United Methodist Church on Sunday after he was introduced as a "living legend."

Lawson, 81, who is pastor emeritus at Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, is in Dallas to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro, N.C., lunch counter sit-ins that helped spark the student movement to end segregation and racism.

Lawson, who will give the keynote address at 7 p.m. today at the Black Academy of Arts & Letters, began studying Gandhi's principles of nonviolent resistance in the 1950s in India.

He brought those teachings to the civil rights movement when he was asked by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. – who shared his philosophy of passive resistance – to join the struggle in the South.

Activists trained by Lawson launched a series of sit-ins to challenge segregation in Nashville, Tenn., restaurants and cafes. These young civil rights workers went on to organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which played a key role in the Freedom Rides, the 1963 March on Washington and other key events.

Lawson has paid a price for his beliefs.

He served 13 months in prison because he refused to report for the draft during the Korean War.

In 1960, he was expelled from Vanderbilt University in Nashville because of his work with the civil rights movement. Lawson now serves as a Distinguished University Professor at Vanderbilt.

Although Lawson has come under fire for critical remarks he has made about Christianity and the U.S., he steered away from current politics Sunday, only questioning U.S. resources devoted to the military.

"Why do we need 800 military bases in 300 countries?" said Lawson, who has opposed the war in Iraq.

The civil rights pioneer continues to train the next generation of nonviolent activists, but he looks back on the success of the civil rights struggle with pride.

"Dallas had 'White' and 'Colored' signs all over the county," he told St. Luke parishioners. "Those signs are gone," Lawson said. "They came down because some people determined it was shameful to have them."

Lowery admitted to the hospital

Civil rights pioneer Joseph Lowery was admitted to the hospital this weekend, according to published reports.

Lowery, 88, one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, is in the intensive care unit at Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta, Ga.

Lessons to learn from Jackie Robinson

Sunday would have been Jackie Robinson's 91st birthday. The following article was featured on Associated Content:

Jackie Robinson has a birthday today. According to his official website, the Jackie Robinson birthday was in Cairo, Georgia on January 31, 1919, 91 years ago today. The Jackie Robinson birthday is a time to ponder the effect this man had on the Civil Rights struggle in this country. He didn't live to see the many advances for people of color, but without him and other courageous folks, what would've been accomplished?

Jackie Robinson died in 1972 at the age of just 53 years old due to heart and diabetes issues, according to his Wikipedia biography. Can you imagine the cross this man had to bear in 1947 being the first African American player to play in the modern era of Major League Baseball? Think of the pressures, the abuse by opposing ballplayers and fans that he had to put up with in a time when Jim Crow laws were still in effect in many parts of the United States. The Jackie Robinson birthday of January 31 should inspire us to think about standing up for what we believe in, even if that means people will not be happy with our stands.

When it comes to sports milestones, Jackie Robinson never got to see a black man become the full-time manager of a Major League Baseball club, which would happen when one of his own contemporaries, Frank Robinson, got the job with the Cleveland Indians in 1975. The Hall of Famer never got to see Bill Lucas named the first black general manager in Major League Baseball history in 1976, according to the Atlanta Braves website here. This man never got to see a black quarterback lead a team to a Super Bowl victory, as Doug Williams led the Washington Redskins to a 42-10 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII January 31, 1988, on what would've been his 69th birthday. Jackie Robinson never got to see the first African American coach a team to a Super Bowl championship, which Tony Dungy did in Super Bowl XLI in February of 2007 for the Indianapolis Colts. The Jackie Robinson birthday should be remembered as a man's lifetime greatly spent having to defend his own race from the assumptions that they didn't have the mental abilities to lead men on the field and from the sidelines.

And as for matters of a more significant nature, the Brooklyn Dodger never got to see the historic event of Barack Obama being elected president of the United States in 2008. Jackie Robinson wasn't alive to see this historical event, but nonetheless, he's been there in spirit as people have struggled for equality. Many of us wish for things to be better and work for their fruition to come about. Yet we may not see those things come to pass during our lifetimes, but our efforts still help pave the way for others to see those advancements made.

January 31, the Jackie Robinson birthday, is a time to really ponder what it means to push forward against the odds and let the advancements sought after come as they may. His birth comes a day before Black History Month commences, too.

Today marks 50th anniversary of Freedom Rides

Today's Los Angeles Times features an article on the 50-year anniversary of the first of the Freedom Rides:


The "sixties" were born on Feb. 1, 1960, 50 years ago this week, when four African American college students staged the first sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. Since then, the mythology of the '60s has dominated the idea of youthful activism.

Of the three big events of the early civil rights movement -- the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision, the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott and the sit-ins -- the sit-ins have always been the least understood and, yet, the most important for today's young activists.

We forget how troubled the civil rights movement was in January 1960. It was six years after Brown, but fewer than 1 in 100 black students in the South attended an integrated school. And during the four years after the end of the bus boycott, Martin Luther King Jr. struggled to build on that victory. Many worried that the civil rights movement had ground to a halt. Then Greensboro changed everything.

In the time before Twitter, the rapid spread of the sit-ins was shocking. The first sit-in was an impulsive act, led by college students. They spread to Nashville, Atlanta, Miami, Durham, N.C., and Little Rock, Ark. -- more than 70 cities and towns in eight weeks. By summer, more than 50,000 people had taken part in one.

At the time, this was not just the largest black protest against segregation ever; it was the largest outburst of civil disobedience in American history. The sit-ins rewrote the rules of protest. They were remarkably egalitarian: Everyone participated; everyone was in equal danger. And they went viral because they were easy to copy. All one needed for a sit-in was some friends and a commitment to a few simple principles of nonviolent protest.

Most important, the sit-ins were designed to highlight the immorality of segregation by forcing Southern policemen to arrest polite, well-dressed college students sitting quietly just trying to order a shake or a burger. The students believed deeply in Thoreau's idea that the only place for a just person in an unjust society is jail.

The contrast with King's early efforts was stark. He had worked hard during the bus boycott to prevent arrests. To his thinking, only protests that remained within the bounds of the law could win the war against Jim Crow. The NAACP similarly believed in the power of the courts to end school segregation. But such efforts were so bureaucratic that ordinary African Americans often felt more like observers than participants.

To their African American contemporaries, the college students seemed the unlikeliest group to revive the civil rights movement. Just three years earlier, E. Franklin Frazier, the eminent black sociologist, had condemned them for believing that "money and conspicuous consumption are more important than knowledge." What did Frazier miss?

He failed to see how the comfort of postwar affluence and popular culture bred agitation and activism as easily as it did indifference and apathy. The sit-ins owed more to Little Richard and Levi's than to Jesus and the Bible.

Youth culture in the '50s often made it seem that generation mattered more than race. After all, weren't African American couples sharing the dance floor with white ones on the hit teen show "American Bandstand"? Yet, in their everyday lives, black teens still felt the sting of segregation. The first thing the Greensboro Four did before starting their sit-in at Woolworth's was to purchase some school supplies at the store. If their money was good enough for pencils, why weren't they good enough to have a seat at the counter?

To many Americans, the sit-ins were unnerving. In a 1961 Gallup Poll, 57% of those who responded said the protests hurt the civil rights movement. Black elders such as King and NAACP head Roy Wilkins tried to control the sit-ins by co-opting the students as junior partners.

The students instead formed their own organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. SNCC soon emerged as the most dynamic, creative and influential civil rights organization in the '60s. It produced a generation of black leaders, including John Lewis, Julian Bond, Bob Moses, Stokely Carmichael, Marion Barry and dozens of others.

SNCC took the movement to the most violent reaches of the Deep South. Its aggressive tactics -- the courting of arrests and the willingness to risk beatings -- forced the confrontation with racial segregation that compelled congressional intervention. The great milestones of the movement -- the freedom rides, Freedom Summer, Selma, Birmingham -- grew from the tactical innovation of the sit-ins. King may have stirred the nation's soul with the movement's poetry, but SNCC moved it to action with the prose of its grass-roots organizing.

Fifty years later, my students tend to see SNCC's members as mythic figures, a "greatest generation" of activists whose achievements they cannot equal. But I remind them of what they have in common with the SNCC generation. Both have been condemned by adults for their materialism, pop culture and assumed political apathy. Both grew up in a period of relative prosperity that left them comfortable but also unsatisfied. Both came of age when new forms of communication -- TV then, the Internet now -- unsettled politics.

There are many lessons from the sit-ins relevant to the lives of today's young people. Before it was a bumper sticker, SNCC lived out the true meaning of "think globally, act locally." But the most important lesson is to stop looking at the '60s as the manual for modern activism. What made the sit-ins so powerful is how they broke away from the prevailing wisdom to create a new model for change. Look forward, not back, I tell them. It's not your parents' movement anymore.

Andrew B. Lewis is the author of "The Shadows of Youth: The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Plessy, Ferguson descendants to speak in Topeka Sunday

The 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson established the doctrine of separate but equal, which was overturned by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1954. Descendants of Plessy and Ferguson will speak 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24, at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kan.:

Phoebe Ferguson found it "daunting" when she learned her grandfather prevailed in a U.S. Supreme Court case that made segregated schools and even train travel the law of the land.

On the flip side of that case, Keith Plessy is humbled to be the descendant of Homer Plessy, a black man arrested in 1892 when he rode in a white-only railway car in New Orleans.

In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson became synonymous in the United States with the doctrine of "separate but equal," meaning separate facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional as long as they were equal. It was applied to schools, restaurants, theaters, restrooms and other public facilities.

Former Dodger Bragan, initially opposed to Jackie Robinson, but later a supporter dead at 92

Former Brooklyn Dodger catcher and big league manager Bobby Bragan has died at age 92.

Bragan, a reserve catcher, was initially opposed to playing on the same team with the first African American player, Jackie Robinson, in 1947, but quickly changed his mind:

Playing for the hometown Dodgers, Bragan was part of the group of players that objected to Jackie Robinson's addition to the Brooklyn club. After spending time with Robinson, Bragan quickly relented. "After just one road trip, I saw the quality of Jackie the man and the player," Bragan told in 2005. "I told Mr. Rickey I had changed my mind and I was honored to be a teammate of Jackie Robinson."Bragan quickly relented. "After just one road trip, I saw the quality of Jackie the man and the player. I told Mr. Rickey I had changed my mind and I was honored to be a teammate of Jackie Robinson."

The above information is from today's New York Baseball History Examiner.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

John Lewis offers memories of Martin Luther King

Original Freedom Rider to speak at Ohio Wesleyan

Diane Nash, one of the original Freedom Riders will speak Feb. 4 at Ohio Wesleyan University:

Nash will speak at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4 in the Benes Rooms of Ohio Wesleyan University’s Hamilton-Williams Campus Center, 40 Rowland Ave., Delaware. Her presentation, “The Civil Rights Movement: A Fifty-Year Perspective,” will include time for audience questions, and is free and open to the public. Her presentation kicks off the university’s commemoration of Black History Month.

“Ms. Nash is a towering figure in the freedom struggle,” said history professor Michael Flamm, Ph.D., who is coordinating her Ohio Wesleyan visit. “She provides a personal and inspirational perspective that no textbook or lecture could. I hope everyone comes to hear her speak about her extraordinary life and her timely thoughts on civil rights and race relations in the 21st century.”

In spring 1960, Nash publicly questioned Mayor Ben West about the morality of segregation, resulting in his pronouncement that Nashville’s lunch counters should be open to everyone. She then helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, through which she planned and publicized lunch counter sit-ins and “freedom rides” throughout the South.

In 1962, while living in Mississippi, Nash was jailed for teaching African American children the techniques of direct nonviolent protest. Her ideas and efforts were instrumental in 1963’s March on Washington, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Later, she helped to develop the strategy for the Selma, Ala., right-to-vote movement, which led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For her efforts, Nash received a “Rosa Parks Award” from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, presented in 1965 by Dr. King himself.

California woman recalls Freedom Summer

Paradise, California resident Karen Duncanwood recalled her experiences with Freedom Summer in an interview with the Oroville Mercury-Register:

Duncanwood was a 19-year-old freshman at San Francisco State University in 1964 when she volunteered, out of moral outrage, she said, to go to Mississippi to help with Freedom Summer, a project to encourage black citizens to register to vote.

READ more comments from Duncanwood
Even though her father told her she couldn't go, she got a ride with some other students to Ohio, where they were to be trained.

It didn't take long for fear to set in.

At the training site, Duncanwood said Rita Schwerner, the wife of civil-rights worker Michael Schwerner, addressed the 300 new arrivals and explained her husband and two other workers had been missing for 16 hours and were presumed dead. They'd been murdered, it turned out.

At the week-long training, Duncanwood found out much more about civil-rights abuses in the South. She also was taught how to protect her head if police tried to beat her, and she learned rules to try to be safe, such as always to travel in groups and never to leave home after dark.

When she and other new workers arrived in Mississippi by train, two welcoming parties awaited them, she said. The first was a group of about 50 whites who carried signs and shouted insults. The second was a much larger group of blacks, who were very happy to see them.
The blacks took them to a local church for further orientation. But before long, the sheriff appeared at the church saying he wanted the 80 or so volunteers to report to his office.

There, he lectured them on how they were misguided and ought to just go home, she said. The bad people were the black people, he said. Their men robbed white people and raped women.

Duncanwood said she lived with two other women volunteers in the home of an older black couple who grew cotton on five acres. The house was very simple with an outdoor privy. They bathed in a big tub.

Her hosts were warm but reserved at first, for they'd had no social contact with whites, she said.

In Mississippi, the system was rigged so that very few blacks could ever register to vote.

For one thing, they had to pay a poll tax, which few could afford.

Then, they were required to pass a test given by the county registrar of voters. The registrar would take a passage from the state constitution and ask the applicant to paraphrase it.

A third barrier was the fear of reprisal for even attempting to register, Duncanwood said.

The primary job assigned to Duncanwood and her roommates was teaching in a Freedom School.

They taught young blacks the history of their race and other subjects designed to help them break out of the apathy that kept them bound.

"They were so hungry to learn," she said.

One night, however, the church where the school was held was firebombed and destroyed — one of 67 bombings and burnings that occurred that summer.

Duncanwood and her friends were convinced the local sheriff was responsible because they saw his car going in the direction of the church and then leaving in the opposite direction just about the time the building burned.

True to the way things were done in Mississippi at that time, the sheriff tried to blame a young black activist for the deed, Duncanwood said.

Freedom School continued, less conveniently, in the churchyard.

She said she experienced hostility from whites many times that summer.

Once, she said she and a couple of other female volunteers tried to worship at the local Episcopal Church. They wanted to participate in Communion.

Soon after they'd sat down, she said, the elders of the church tapped them on the shoulders and told them they weren't welcome.

They walked out to the church's lobby and spoke to the elders there.

Duncanwood said she explained she'd been raised Episcopalian and that she wanted to join in Communion.

She said the men reiterated they should leave. Then they pulled their hands out of their pockets, revealing that they had on brass knuckles. The women went outside and found the tires on their car slashed.

Civil rights leader pushes for action

In a speech on Martin Luther King Day, civil rights leader Rev. Joseph Lowery said there is still much work to be done:

In 1965, Lowery was also instrumental in the 50-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, where they pushed for voter rights. Before that march, King had said, "We are going to walk non-violent and peacefully, let the world and the nation know that we are tired now."

Lowery remembers that day like it was yesterday.

"I wasn't there bloody Sunday, but I went back and made the march and I carried the demands of the march to Governor Wallace," he said.

Still, he said there's still a lot of work to be done.

"We've got 300 mayors, black mayors, black president, yet within the shadows of city halls and the shadow of the Capitol there are people living in poverty, with little hope," he said.

Lowery said having President Obama in office should help to uplift us all.

"The fact that this country has moved to where they can elect a black president ought to inspire us to work harder to make the country even better," he said.

King's dream is still alive and well today. It lives, "in the hearts of millions of people," Lowery said.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Obama delivers message commemorating King anniversary

During a speech this morning at the Vernont Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D. Cl., President Barack Obama noted the lessons that can be learned from the life of Martin Luther King:

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Transcript provided for Obama speech commemorating MLK anninversary

Good morning. Praise be to God. Let me begin by thanking the entire Vermont Avenue Baptist Church family for welcoming our family here today. It feels like a family. Thank you for making us feel that way. (Applause.) To Pastor Wheeler, first lady Wheeler, thank you so much for welcoming us here today. Congratulations on Jordan Denice -- aka Cornelia. (Laughter.)

Michelle and I have been blessed with a new nephew this year as well -- Austin Lucas Robinson. (Applause.) So maybe at the appropriate time we can make introductions. (Laughter.) Now, if Jordan's father is like me, then that will be in about 30 years. (Laughter.) That is a great blessing.

Michelle and Malia and Sasha and I are thrilled to be here today. And I know that sometimes you have to go through a little fuss to have me as a guest speaker. (Laughter.) So let me apologize in advance for all the fuss.

We gather here, on a Sabbath, during a time of profound difficulty for our nation and for our world. In such a time, it soothes the soul to seek out the Divine in a spirit of prayer; to seek solace among a community of believers. But we are not here just to ask the Lord for His blessing. We aren't here just to interpret His Scripture. We're also here to call on the memory of one of His noble servants, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Now, it's fitting that we do so here, within the four walls of Vermont Avenue Baptist Church -- here, in a church that rose like the phoenix from the ashes of the civil war; here in a church formed by freed slaves, whose founding pastor had worn the union blue; here in a church from whose pews congregants set out for marches and from whom choir anthems of freedom were heard; from whose sanctuary King himself would sermonize from time to time.

One of those times was Thursday, December 6, 1956. Pastor, you said you were a little older than me, so were you around at that point? (Laughter.) You were three years old -- okay. (Laughter.) I wasn’t born yet. (Laughter.)

On Thursday, December 6, 1956. And before Dr. King had pointed us to the mountaintop, before he told us about his dream in front of the Lincoln Memorial, King came here, as a 27-year-old preacher, to speak on what he called "The Challenge of a New Age." "The Challenge of a New Age." It was a period of triumph, but also uncertainty, for Dr. King and his followers -- because just weeks earlier, the Supreme Court had ordered the desegregation of Montgomery's buses, a hard-wrought, hard-fought victory that would put an end to the 381-day historic boycott down in Montgomery, Alabama.

And yet, as Dr. King rose to take that pulpit, the future still seemed daunting. It wasn't clear what would come next for the movement that Dr. King led. It wasn't clear how we were going to reach the Promised Land. Because segregation was still rife; lynchings still a fact. Yes, the Supreme Court had ruled not only on the Montgomery buses, but also on Brown v. Board of Education. And yet that ruling was defied throughout the South -- by schools and by states; they ignored it with impunity. And here in the nation's capital, the federal government had yet to fully align itself with the laws on its books and the ideals of its founding.

So it's not hard for us, then, to imagine that moment. We can imagine folks coming to this church, happy about the boycott being over. We can also imagine them, though, coming here concerned about their future, sometimes second-guessing strategy, maybe fighting off some creeping doubts, perhaps despairing about whether the movement in which they had placed so many of their hopes -- a movement in which they believed so deeply -- could actually deliver on its promise.

So here we are, more than half a century later, once again facing the challenges of a new age. Here we are, once more marching toward an unknown future, what I call the Joshua generation to their Moses generation -- the great inheritors of progress paid for with sweat and blood, and sometimes life itself.

We've inherited the progress of unjust laws that are now overturned. We take for granted the progress of a ballot being available to anybody who wants to take the time to actually vote. We enjoy the fruits of prejudice and bigotry being lifted -- slowly, sometimes in fits and starts, but irrevocably -- from human hearts. It's that progress that made it possible for me to be here today; for the good people of this country to elect an African American the 44th President of the United States of America.

Reverend Wheeler mentioned the inauguration, last year's election. You know, on the heels of that victory over a year ago, there were some who suggested that somehow we had entered into a post-racial America, all those problems would be solved. There were those who argued that because I had spoke of a need for unity in this country that our nation was somehow entering into a period of post-partisanship. That didn’t work out so well. There was a hope shared by many that life would be better from the moment that I swore that oath.

Of course, as we meet here today, one year later, we know the promise of that moment has not yet been fully fulfilled. Because of an era of greed and irresponsibility that sowed the seeds of its own demise, because of persistent economic troubles unaddressed through the generations, because of a banking crisis that brought the financial system to the brink of catastrophe, we are being tested -- in our own lives and as a nation -- as few have been tested before.

Unemployment is at its highest level in more than a quarter of a century. Nowhere is it higher than the African American community. Poverty is on the rise. Home ownership is slipping. Beyond our shores, our sons and daughters are fighting two wars. Closer to home, our Haitian brothers and sisters are in desperate need. Bruised, battered, many people are legitimately feeling doubt, even despair, about the future. Like those who came to this church on that Thursday in 1956, folks are wondering, where do we go from here?

I understand those feelings. I understand the frustration and sometimes anger that so many folks feel as they struggle to stay afloat. I get letters from folks around the country every day; I read 10 a night out of the 40,000 that we receive. And there are stories of hardship and desperation, in some cases, pleading for help: I need a job. I'm about to lose my home. I don't have health care -- it's about to cause my family to be bankrupt. Sometimes you get letters from children: My mama or my daddy have lost their jobs, is there something you can do to help? Ten letters like that a day we read.

So, yes, we're passing through a hard winter. It's the hardest in some time. But let's always remember that, as a people, the American people, we've weathered some hard winters before. This country was founded during some harsh winters. The fishermen, the laborers, the craftsmen who made camp at Valley Forge -- they weathered a hard winter. The slaves and the freedmen who rode an underground railroad, seeking the light of justice under the cover of night -- they weathered a hard winter. The seamstress whose feet were tired, the pastor whose voice echoes through the ages -- they weathered some hard winters. It was for them, as it is for us, difficult, in the dead of winter, to sometimes see spring coming. They, too, sometimes felt their hopes deflate. And yet, each season, the frost melts, the cold recedes, the sun reappears. So it was for earlier generations and so it will be for us.

What we need to do is to just ask what lessons we can learn from those earlier generations about how they sustained themselves during those hard winters, how they persevered and prevailed. Let us in this Joshua generation learn how that Moses generation overcame.

Let me offer a few thoughts on this. First and foremost, they did so by remaining firm in their resolve. Despite being threatened by sniper fire or planted bombs, by shoving and punching and spitting and angry stares, they adhered to that sweet spirit of resistance, the principles of nonviolence that had accounted for their success.

Second, they understood that as much as our government and our political parties had betrayed them in the past -- as much as our nation itself had betrayed its own ideals -- government, if aligned with the interests of its people, can be -- and must be -- a force for good. So they stayed on the Justice Department. They went into the courts. They pressured Congress, they pressured their President. They didn’t give up on this country. They didn’t give up on government. They didn’t somehow say government was the problem; they said, we're going to change government, we're going to make it better. Imperfect as it was, they continued to believe in the promise of democracy; in America's constant ability to remake itself, to perfect this union.

Third, our predecessors were never so consumed with theoretical debates that they couldn't see progress when it came. Sometimes I get a little frustrated when folks just don't want to see that even if we don't get everything, we're getting something. (Applause.) King understood that the desegregation of the Armed Forces didn’t end the civil rights movement, because black and white soldiers still couldn't sit together at the same lunch counter when they came home. But he still insisted on the rightness of desegregating the Armed Forces. That was a good first step -- even as he called for more. He didn’t suggest that somehow by the signing of the Civil Rights that somehow all discrimination would end. But he also didn’t think that we shouldn’t sign the Civil Rights Act because it hasn’t solved every problem. Let's take a victory, he said, and then keep on marching. Forward steps, large and small, were recognized for what they were -- which was progress.

Fourth, at the core of King's success was an appeal to conscience that touched hearts and opened minds, a commitment to universal ideals -- of freedom, of justice, of equality -- that spoke to all people, not just some people. For King understood that without broad support, any movement for civil rights could not be sustained. That's why he marched with the white auto worker in Detroit. That's why he linked arm with the Mexican farm worker in California, and united people of all colors in the noble quest for freedom.

Of course, King overcame in other ways as well. He remained strategically focused on gaining ground -- his eyes on the prize constantly -- understanding that change would not be easy, understand that change wouldn't come overnight, understanding that there would be setbacks and false starts along the way, but understanding, as he said in 1956, that "we can walk and never get weary, because we know there is a great camp meeting in the promised land of freedom and justice."

And it's because the Moses generation overcame that the trials we face today are very different from the ones that tested us in previous generations. Even after the worst recession in generations, life in America is not even close to being as brutal as it was back then for so many. That's the legacy of Dr. King and his movement. That's our inheritance. Having said that, let there be no doubt the challenges of our new age are serious in their own right, and we must face them as squarely as they faced the challenges they saw.

I know it's been a hard road we've traveled this year to rescue the economy, but the economy is growing again. The job losses have finally slowed, and around the country, there's signs that businesses and families are beginning to rebound. We are making progress.

I know it's been a hard road that we've traveled to reach this point on health reform. I promise you I know. (Laughter.) But under the legislation I will sign into law, insurance companies won't be able to drop you when you get sick, and more than 30 million people -- (applause) -- our fellow Americans will finally have insurance. More than 30 million men and women and children, mothers and fathers, won't be worried about what might happen to them if they get sick. This will be a victory not for Democrats; this will be a victory for dignity and decency, for our common humanity. This will be a victory for the United States of America.

Let's work to change the political system, as imperfect as it is. I know people can feel down about the way things are going sometimes here in Washington. I know it's tempting to give up on the political process. But we've put in place tougher rules on lobbying and ethics and transparency -- tougher rules than any administration in history. It's not enough, but it's progress. Progress is possible. Don't give up on voting. Don't give up on advocacy. Don't give up on activism. There are too many needs to be met, too much work to be done. Like Dr. King said, "We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope."

Let us broaden our coalition, building a confederation not of liberals or conservatives, not of red states or blue states, but of all Americans who are hurting today, and searching for a better tomorrow. The urgency of the hour demands that we make common cause with all of America's workers -- white, black, brown -- all of whom are being hammered by this recession, all of whom are yearning for that spring to come. It demands that we reach out to those who've been left out in the cold even when the economy is good, even when we're not in recession -- the youth in the inner cities, the youth here in Washington, D.C., people in rural communities who haven't seen prosperity reach them for a very long time. It demands that we fight discrimination, whatever form it may come. That means we fight discrimination against gays and lesbians, and we make common cause to reform our immigration system.

And finally, we have to recognize, as Dr. King did, that progress can't just come from without -- it also has to come from within. And over the past year, for example, we've made meaningful improvements in the field of education. I've got a terrific Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. He's been working hard with states and working hard with the D.C. school district, and we've insisted on reform, and we've insisted on accountability. We we're putting in more money and we've provided more Pell Grants and more tuition tax credits and simpler financial aid forms. We've done all that, but parents still need to parent. (Applause.) Kids still need to own up to their responsibilities. We still have to set high expectations for our young people. Folks can't simply look to government for all the answers without also looking inside themselves, inside their own homes, for some of the answers.

Progress will only come if we're willing to promote that ethic of hard work, a sense of responsibility, in our own lives. I'm not talking, by the way, just to the African American community. Sometimes when I say these things people assme, well, he's just talking to black people about working hard. No, no, no, no. I'm talking to the American community. Because somewhere along the way, we, as a nation, began to lose touch with some of our core values. You know what I'm talking about. We became enraptured with the false prophets who prophesized an easy path to success, paved with credit cards and home equity loans and get-rich-quick schemes, and the most important thing was to be a celebrity; it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you get on TV. That's everybody.

We forgot what made the bus boycott a success; what made the civil rights movement a success; what made the United States of America a success -- that, in this country, there's no substitute for hard work, no substitute for a job well done, no substitute for being responsible stewards of God's blessings.

What we're called to do, then, is rebuild America from its foundation on up. To reinvest in the essentials that we've neglected for too long -- like health care, like education, like a better energy policy, like basic infrastructure, like scientific research. Our generation is called to buckle down and get back to basics.

We must do so not only for ourselves, but also for our children, and their children. For Jordan and for Austin. That's a sacrifice that falls on us to make. It's a much smaller sacrifice than the Moses generation had to make, but it's still a sacrifice.

Yes, it's hard to transition to a clean energy economy. Sometimes it may be inconvenient, but it's a sacrifice that we have to make. It's hard to be fiscally responsible when we have all these human needs, and we're inheriting enormous deficits and debt, but that's a sacrifice that we're going to have to make. You know, it's easy, after a hard day's work, to just put your kid in front of the TV set -- you're tired, don't want to fuss with them -- instead of reading to them, but that's a sacrifice we must joyfully accept.

Sometimes it's hard to be a good father and good mother. Sometimes it's hard to be a good neighbor, or a good citizen, to give up time in service of others, to give something of ourselves to a cause that's greater than ourselves -- as Michelle and I are urging folks to do tomorrow to honor and celebrate Dr. King. But these are sacrifices that we are called to make. These are sacrifices that our faith calls us to make. Our faith in the future. Our faith in America. Our faith in God.

And on his sermon all those years ago, Dr. King quoted a poet's verse:

Truth forever on the scaffold
Wrong forever on the throne…
And behind the dim unknown stands God
Within the shadows keeping watch above his own.

Even as Dr. King stood in this church, a victory in the past and uncertainty in the future, he trusted God. He trusted that God would make a way. A way for prayers to be answered. A way for our union to be perfected. A way for the arc of the moral universe, no matter how long, to slowly bend towards truth and bend towards freedom, to bend towards justice. He had faith that God would make a way out of no way.

You know, folks ask me sometimes why I look so calm. (Laughter.) They say, all this stuff coming at you, how come you just seem calm? And I have a confession to make here. There are times where I'm not so calm. (Laughter.) Reggie Love knows. My wife knows. There are times when progress seems too slow. There are times when the words that are spoken about me hurt. There are times when the barbs sting. There are times when it feels like all these efforts are for naught, and change is so painfully slow in coming, and I have to confront my own doubts.

But let me tell you -- during those times it's faith that keeps me calm. (Applause.) It's faith that gives me peace. The same faith that leads a single mother to work two jobs to put a roof over her head when she has doubts. The same faith that keeps an unemployed father to keep on submitting job applications even after he's been rejected a hundred times. The same faith that says to a teacher even if the first nine children she's teaching she can't reach, that that 10th one she's going to be able to reach. The same faith that breaks the silence of an earthquake's wake with the sound of prayers and hymns sung by a Haitian community. A faith in things not seen, in better days ahead, in Him who holds the future in the hollow of His hand. A faith that lets us mount up on wings like eagles; lets us run and not be weary; lets us walk and not faint.

So let us hold fast to that faith, as Joshua held fast to the faith of his fathers, and together, we shall overcome the challenges of a new age. (Applause.) Together, we shall seize the promise of this moment. Together, we shall make a way through winter, and we're going to welcome the spring. Through God all things are possible. (Applause.)

May the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King continue to inspire us and ennoble our world and all who inhabit it. And may God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you.

Charlotte Observer relates role of North Carolina in civil right movement

As part of its observance of Martin Luther King's birthday, the Charlotte Observer notes the role the state of South Carolina had in the civil rights movement:

This week, as North Carolina celebrates King's birth, it will also remember the thousands of students - many of them from North Carolina - who risked beatings and even murder to integrate lunch counters, buses, hotels, schools and voting booths.

"I knew I could be killed, but it didn't matter," remembers the Rev. David Forbes of Raleigh, one of the founding members of SNCC. "It was time. If we had to give up some blood, so be it."

It started with a sit-in

On Feb. 1, 1960, students from the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina (now N.C. A&T State University) sat down at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, kicking off a wave of student-led sit-ins that led to violent confrontations, and eventually desegregation, in restaurants across the South. The idea spread like wildfire, mobilizing thousands of students - and King saw an opportunity.

In April 1960, his group, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, pulled together a meeting of student leaders from all over the South. They chose to hold it at Shaw University, home to an active student movement and the alma mater of one of King's top aides, Ella Baker.

The idea was to harness the collective energy of students, who until then had been protesting in isolated groups within their own cities, and coordinate nonviolent protests.

At the time, Forbes was a Shaw student and the head of the Raleigh Sit-In Movement. Earlier that year, he had organized Raleigh's first sit-in at a downtown Woolworth. He had earned the distinction of being the first sit-in protester arrested in the Capital City.

He and hundreds of fellow students were gathering nearly every night to discuss strategy and train in nonviolent protest tactics, inspired by King. Their philosophy was to dress well, treat people respectfully and never to fight back against violent attacks. They learned to cover their heads and turn their backs to the blows.

"As King would say, love is more powerful than dynamite," Forbes said. "White folks use dogs and tanks and dynamite. White folks can quell riots, but they had not had any experience in dealing with love and passivity."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

King FBI documents may be opened to public

Legislation to open thousands of FBI documents about the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King will be introduced in the U. S. Senate by John Kerry.

Kerry, D-Mass., said the bill, which failed in 2006, can pass this year in honor of King. "I want the world to know what he stood for," Kerry said. "And I want his personal history preserved and examined by releasing all of his records."

The bill calls for creating a Martin Luther King Records Collection at the National Archives that would include all government records related to King. The bill also would create a five-member independent review board that would identify and make public all documents from agencies including the FBI — just as a review board in 1992 made public documents related to the 1963 John F. Kennedy assassination.

"This is personal for someone who came of age in the civil rights movement and was inspired by Dr. King," Kerry said. "He challenged the conscience of my generation and still moves a new generation of volunteers and activists to speak out against prejudice and suffering, wherever they might take place."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Malcolm X: an influential leader

(Karissa Kiblinger was an eighth grader at South Middle School during the 2008-2009 school year.)

A foster child and street hustler who went on to become a world leader.
Born as Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, Malcom X would never know, nor would he ever imagine that he’d be remembered as one of the most influential African- American leaders through the periods of 1950’s and 60’s.

Louis Norton Little, a homemaker occupied with the family’s eight children and Earl Little, an outspoken Baptist Minister who strongly supported Black Nationalist leader, Marcus Gravey, raised Malcolm. Because of Earl’s belief in the movement for black independence, the family became a target of the Ku Klux Klan. Soon death threats drove the Littles out of town. The family later settled in Lansing Michigan, but Earl still continued to make public speeches in favor of the (UNIA) Universal Negro improvement Association, and in 1929 the result of this led to the family’s house being burned down be members of the Black Legion.
Two years later in 1931, Earl’s body was found lying across the town's trolley tracks. Police ruled both incidents as accidents, but the family was left to believe that members of the black Legion were at fault again.

Several years later, Louis had an emotional breakdown and was committed into the State Mental Hospital of Kalamazoo in 1937, where she would reside for the next twenty-six years of her life. It was reported that Louis never fully recovered from Earl’s death.

This left Malcolm, only at six, and his other seven brothers and sisters to be split up amongst different orphanages and foster homes.

Malcolm was said to be a very bright and focused student, graduating at the top of his class his junior high year. However when a favorite teacher of Malcolm’s told him that his dream of becoming a lawyer was “ no realistic job for a nigger,” Malcolm lost interest in school later leaving him to drop out, never getting to high school.

Boston Massachusetts was Malcolm’s escape.

Living with his half sister on his father’s side, Malcolm began working several peculiar jobs. Shoeshine boy, soda jerk, busboy and waiter. Eventually he landed a job with the New Haven railroad, which gave him an opportunity to meet very educated African-Americans. But after some time Malcolm was fired from this job and at around this time he began committing petty acts of crime. He soon started to go by the name of “Detroit Red” and

1942 was coordinating various, narcotics prostitution and gambling rings while selling drugs and hustling on the streets.

Eventually Malcolm and his buddy “shorty”, also known as Malcolm Jarvis, moved to Harlem, New York, where they were arrested with burglary charged and for carrying concealed weapons. Their sentence was ten years.

It was 1946. Malcolm was now being held in prison, but as others thought of jail as just a place to serve their time. Malcolm used his time in solitude to further his education. During this period of self-enlightenment, Malcolm’s younger brother visited to discuss his recent conversion to the Muslim religious organization, The Nation of Islam. Malcolm became very intrigued with his brother’s words and stories and began studying the teachings of, Nation of Islam leader, Elijah Muhammad, faithfully.

Muhammad taught that white society actively worked to keep African-Americans from empowering themselves and achieving political, economic and social success. Among other goals, the Nation of Islam fought for a state of its own, separate from one inhabited by white people. By the time he was paroled in 1952, Malcolm was a devoted follower with the new surname "X." He considered "Little" a slave name and chose the "X" to signify his lost tribal name.

Intelligent and articulate, Malcolm was appointed a minister and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad also charged him with establishing new mosques in cities such as Detroit, Michigan and Harlem, New York. Malcolm used newspaper columns, radio and television to communicate the Nation of Islam's message across the United States. His character, drive and conviction attracted an astounding number of new members. Malcolm was largely credited with increasing membership in the Nation of Islam from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963.
In all of this, Betty Sanders stood by Malcolm’s side to marry him on January 14th in Lansing, Michigan in 1958.

The crowds and controversy surrounding Malcolm made him a media magnet. He was featured in a week-long television special with Mike Wallace in 1959. But was later faced with the uncomfortable reality that his fame was upsetting his mentor, Elijah Muhammad.

Racial tensions ran increasingly high during the early 1960s. In addition to the media, Malcolm's personality had captured the government's attention. As membership in the Nation of Islam continued to grow, FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) agents infiltrated the organization (one even acted as Malcolm's bodyguard) and secretly placed bugs, wiretaps and cameras to monitor the group's activities.

And after the civil rights movement in 1962, Malcolm discovered that Elijah was having secret, sexual relations with as many as six women. Some even resulted in kids. Deeply hurt by Elijah’s hypocrisy and deception, Malcolm refused Elijah’s request to keep the matter quiet.

Then when Malcolm received criticism after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy for saying, "[Kennedy] never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon," Muhammad "silenced" him for ninety days. Even though Malcolm suspected he was silenced for another reason. In March 1964, he terminated his relationship with the Nation of Islam and organized the OAAU.. Organization of Afro-American Unity.

In that same year, Malcolm went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The trip proved life altering, as Malcolm met "blonde-haired, blue-eyed men I could call my brothers." He returned to the United States with a new outlook on integration. This time, instead of just preaching to African-American’s he had a message for all races.. This outraged Muhammad. The Nation of Islam even warned Malcolm that he had been marked for assassination. After repeated attempts on his life, Malcolm rarely traveled anywhere without bodyguards. On February 14, 1965, the home where Malcolm, Betty and their four daughters lived in East Elmhurst, New York was firebombed. Everyone escaped injury free, but it wasn’t the case on February 21st, 1965. when Malcolm was assassinated when he started to address a rally in New York City.

From the New York Times:
Malcolm X, the 39-year old leader of a militant Black Nationalist movement, was shot to death yesterday afternoon at a rally of followers in a ballroom in Washington Heights. Malcolm, a bearded extremist, had said only a few words of greeting when a fusillade rang out. The bullets knocked him over backward. The police said a total of seven bullets struck Malcolm. About two hours later, police said the shooting had apparently been in a result of a feud between followers of Malcolm and members of the group he broke from last year, the Black Muslims.
Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Buttler and Thomas 15X Johnson, were charged with the first-degree murder of Malcolm X, on March 1966. All were later found out to be members of Nation of Islam.

Fifteen hundred people attended the funeral for Malcolm in Harlem on February 27th, 1965 at the Fait Temple Church of God in Christ. Friends of Malcolm buried him themselves. Later that year Betty gave birth to their twin daughters, Malaak and Malikah.

“It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.”
-Malcolm X.

"You know, right before Malcolm was killed he came down to Selma and said some pretty passionate things against me, and that surprised me because after all it was my territory there. But afterwards he took my wife aside, and said he thought he could help me more by attacking me than praising me. He thought it would make it easier for me in the long run."
-Martin Luther King Jr.