Monday, March 21, 2011

Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King contributions honored in Missouri ceremony

The contributions of two women of the civil rights era, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, were recognized during a program in Cape Girardeau Sunday:

Several speakers, singers and dancers were part of the sixth annual Memorial Tribute, which committee director Debra Mitchell-Braxton said is to recognize Women's History Month and to bring Parks' and King's legacy to life.

"Rosa Parks was the 'mother' of the civil rights movement and Coretta King was the 'first lady,'" Mitchell-Braxton said. "What we're trying to do is keep the dreams of these two women alive. You have to have leaders; we need more leaders in our community."

The congregation's singers performed a gospel song, "I'm Still Holding On," about keeping God close in order to deal with struggles.

"When I first heard it I was going through a lot," choir member Gwen McGee said. "But, these last 20 years have been good."

Speakers highlighted the women's accomplishments, among them fighting for peace and resisting racial segregation, and youth from House of Prayer performed a play focusing on the history of the African-American culture and the importance of God in its history.

Geneva Allen, a member of St. James, called the women "she-roes" who fought for the rights black Americans and women have today. Both women were Christians and both fought for equality, she said.

"Thanks to God that they were both trailblazers," she said.

King biographer Taylor Branch laments downfall of non-violence

During a speech in a Baltimore church, historian Taylor Branch, author of an acclaimed three-part biography of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, lamented the disappearance of the non-violence philosphy that King used during the civil rights movement:

"We don't really understand the dividends that nonviolence has paid," he said of the strategy for social change.

"Nonviolence set off a broad and wonderful expanse of freedom. It was not just the gains made for black people," he said. "Later, women's rights advanced out of this movement. So did the rights of gays and the disabled people who had been shunted aside."

He said that King and other civil rights leaders used nonviolence as a valuable and "potent tool" in the 1960s, particularly in Mississippi, during the era of the Freedom Riders and the peaceful protests. "For Martin Luther King, nonviolence was a leadership doctrine," he said.

But by the time of King's death in 1968, it was being discredited by others in the movement as being "old-fashioned" and "pious." He cited Stokely Carmichael and others as deflecting attention away from the nonviolent philosophy as they advanced their own, more strident approaches.

"Stokely Carmichael became more fashionable," said Branch. "Nonviolence became nonrespectable in the New York Review of Books."

Hank Thomas, original Freedom Rider, honored by Mississippi Senate

Hank Thomas, one of the original Freedom Riders, was honored by the Mississippi Senate last week:

Thomas says when he rode to Jackson he was not even allowed in the Capitol building because of his race.

"This is my first time ever in this capitol. So you can imagine as I am thinking "50 years ago...". No, as the Senator said I wouldn't even be allowed in here. And to get this kind of honor, it gave me chills," Thomas said.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

New book profiles Branch Rickey, the man who signed Jackie Robinson

The Albany Times Union has the lowdown today on a new biography of the legendary baseball genius Branch Rickey, written by Jimmy Breslin.

Rickey was the Brooklyn Dodgers executive who signed Jackie Robinson to break the major league color barrier:

Breslin's new book, "Branch Rickey: An American Life," tells a classic American bootstrap story. With belief in hard work and faith in God and in the equality of all men, Branch Rickey climbed from poverty to success in the quintessential American industry: baseball. Breslin shows us that when we talk about Jackie's courage, we have to acknowledge Rickey's courage, too.

Robinson is, of course, a role model, for anyone who has to face being a "first." Branch Rickey is also a model, showing us that making a profit doesn't have to be separate from making social change.

Few of us will have the opportunity to enact history in the dramatic way that Jackie Robinson did. But we all have opportunities to be like Branch Rickey, who ensured the moment could happen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March 15 anniversary of President Johnson's call for Voting Rights Act

Yesterday, March 15, was the 46th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's call for a National Voting Rights Act in the wake of Bloody Sunday in Selma:

“I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy,” Johnson began. “I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every section of this country, to join me in that cause.”

“Their cause must be our cause, too,” Johnson said. All Americans “must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

The White House drafted legislation, which arrived on Capitol Hill on March 17, that banned literacy tests, named federal vote registrars and imposed federal penalties on anyone who interfered with voting in local, state or federal elections.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Today would have been Ralph Abernathy's 85th birthday

Civil rights pioneer Ralph Abernathy, known as Martin Luther King's right hand man, was born 85 years ago today:
At age 26, Abernathy became full-time minister at the First Baptist Church, Montgomery’s largest black congregation. Three years later, a man he’d met while at school in Atlanta became minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. The two soon became good friends. That man’s name was Martin Luther King Jr.

The turning point in Abernathy’s life – and indeed, a turning point for life in America – came on December 1, 1955 when a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus to make way for white riders. She was a coworker of Abernathy’s at the NAACP, and her arrest led King and Abernathy to form the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) in order to organize a boycott protesting Montgomery’s policy of segregated busing.

Three quarters of the city’s bus patrons were black, and the well-organized boycott had an immediate impact. When King was arrested and given a sentence of 386 days in jail, it brought national attention to the protest. The boycott would last over a year, until December 1956, when a federal ruling found bus segregation to be unconstitutional. Angry whites responded by firebombing Abernathy’s home and church, as well as those of King.

The boycott made Martin Luther King Jr. a nationally known figure, his impassioned speeches turning him into the face of the Civil Rights Movement while Abernathy remained largely in the background. The two men formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, with the aim of taking what they had learned in Montgomery and spreading organized, nonviolent civil rights protests throughout the South.

During the next thirteen years, King's and Abernathy’s tireless leadership brought the struggle for civil rights to Albany, Birmingham, Mississippi, Washington, Selma, St. Augustine, Chicago and Memphis as they helped spearhead marches, sit-ins, and other non-violent actions aimed at winning equal rights for African Americans. Abernathy was with King when he delivered the famous “I Have a Dream” speech during the August 28, 1963 March on Washington that helped gain passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).

FBI reopening investigation into 1965 murder of minister in Selma

The FBI is reopening the investigation into the 1965 beating death of Unitarian minister James Reeb in Selma, Ala.:

In 1965, three men — Elmer Cook, William Stanley Hoggle and Namon O’Neal Hoggle — were tried for murder, but the all-white jury acquitted the trio, despite testimony identifying the attackers.

A fourth man indicted, R.B. Kelley, was never prosecuted. He gave authorities the names of those he said attacked the ministers.

He denied playing a role himself, but police found a club in his car, according to FBI records.

At least one of those men, Namon O’Neal ‘Duck’ Hoggle, is alive.

Decades later, questions remain about the fairness of the trial. One juror, Harry Vardaman, was the brother of a key defense witness, Ben Vardaman. During jury selection, the judge refused to dismiss two white potential jurors who admitted they despised white civil rights workers for sharing meals with black Southerners.

All 13 black potential jurors were struck from the panel, causing the jury to be all white.

During the trial, defense lawyer Joe Pilcher suggested to jurors that “certain civil rights groups have to have a martyr, and they were willing to let Reeb die.”

In March 1965, Reeb, 38, traveled to Alabama in response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s invitation to ministers to join the Selma to Montgomery March. So did his friends and fellow Unitarian ministers, Clark Olsen and Orloff Miller.

On the night of March 9, the three white ministers had just finished dinner in downtown Selma at Walker’s Cafe, a historically black restaurant that had also opened its doors to white patrons.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Did James Earl Ray assassinate Martin Luther King for KKK reward?

Forty-three years have passed since the assassination of Martin Luther King, but investigators are still seeking information about the crime.

In his blog, investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger points to circumstantial evidence reported in a new book that James Earl Ray may have killed King for the $100,000 reward offered by the KKK:

Stuart Wexler and Larry Hancock, co-authors of the upcoming book, Seeking Armageddon: The Effort to Kill Martin Luther King Jr, are investigating that possibility.

Before escaping from prison in 1967, James Earl Ray reportedly learned of a $100,000 bounty that the White Knights were purportedly offering for King’s assassination.

On March 29, 1968, Ray (using the alias Harvey Lowmeyer) entered the Aeromarine Supply Co. in Birmingham and purchased a .243-caliber rifle.

The next day, Ray came back to the store and returned the rifle, exchanging it for a .30-06 rifle Remington Gamemaster. The owner told FBI agents that Ray had said his brother had told him it was the wrong kind of gun.

After King was assassinated, the FBI examined a series of telephone calls that Sam Bowers, imperial wizard for the White Knights, made in 1967 and 1968.

Bowers called Birmingham the same day that Ray bought the rifle.

“This could be very important, even if all it shows is that Bowers — or someone in Bowers’ amusement company — called a pay phone in Birmingham,” Wexler said.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Myrlie Evers talks about Medgar Evers' legacy

In this video, Myrlie Evers, wife of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, and a civil rights pioneer in her own right, talks about his work and his legacy:

Video: Recreation of Bloody Sunday crossing of Edmund Pettis Bridge held Sunday

Marchers mark 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday

Activists staged a recreation of the march across Edmund Pettus Bridge on the 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday:

Participants included U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who was injured in the melee in 1965, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Law enforcement officers attacked civil rights demonstrators marching toward Montgomery across the bridge on March 7, 1965. The movement only grew, and the Selma-to-Montgomery march was held later in response.

The march is credited with helping build momentum for passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Civil rights pioneer shows no signs of slowing down

The Montgomery Advertiser profiles civil rights pioneer F. D. Reese:

Reese would be­come president of the Dallas County Voters League and lead­er of the Selma public school teachers organization.
When his students left their classrooms to join demonstra­tions against racist voter regis­tration practices, he joined them and was fired for it.
All that's ancient history now and Reese is one of the few leaders of the protests still around to talk about it. He'll do it again this morning when he preaches at a Selma church during the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee.
He has been pastor of Ebenez­er Baptist Church for the past 46 years and he and his wife, Al­line, are proud great-grandpar­ents.

At the age of 81 he has no plans to slow down and has even begun thinking about writing his autobiography. It's been the thing to do these days for old civil rights warriors.

Reese, who taught for several years and served 12 years on the Selma City Council before losing a mayoral bid, once was reluctant to write it, but he knows that his tomorrows are growing shorter.

"Freedom Summer" author to speak at Pittsburg State University

Bruce Watson, author of the book Freedom Summer will speak at Pittsburg State University 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at room 109 at Grubbs Hall. The program is free:

“Civil rights is a huge topic in schools now, but what’s taught often begins with Rosa Parks and ends with Martin Luther King,” Watson said Wednesday in a telephone interview from his home in western Massachusetts. “I wanted to pay tribute to this turning point.”

More formally known as the Mississippi Summer Project, Freedom Summer was a campaign launched in June 1964 to register as many African American voters as possible in Mississippi, which at that time almost totally denied black persons the right to vote by charging them expensive poll taxes, forcing them to take especially difficult literacy tests and harassing would-be voters economically. Those who persisted in their efforts to exercise their right to vote often had their homes or farms burned, were beaten or lynched.

Volunteers were recruited on college campuses across the nation to go to Mississippi to work alongside the black Mississippians to help secure their rights. Over 1,000 out-of-state volunteers participated in Freedom Summer.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Report outlines the impact of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

(The following research paper was written by Tess Harmon, an eighth grader in Mr. Randy Turner's communication arts class at Joplin East Middle School.)
In the mid-1950’s, segregation flourished.  It seemed like African Americans couldn’t go anywhere without being mistreated.  One of the most conspicuous places of segregation was the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system.
The Montgomery city code mandated that “all public transportation be segregated” and that bus drivers had the same privilege as a police officer when it came to enforcing the city code.  Drivers had to provide “separate but equal” treatment.  To do so, buses place colored people in the back, and whites in the front.  If needed, a bus driver could ask a colored passenger to move. (

Pre-Boycott Rebellion

 Several of the black citizens of Montgomery, Alabama, grew tired of this treatment and decided to act.
One of these people was Claudette Colvin, a fifteen-year-old girl.  She was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Youth Council.  ( 
On March 2, as more and more white passengers boarded the bus, Colvin thought back to what she had learned in school that day.  They were studying black history, such as Harriet Tubman, an Underground Railroad worker, and Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and former slave.  They were also discussing the unfair consequences of the Jim Crow laws, such as not being able to try on shoes.  (
When the bus driver asked her to move, Colvin refused because she had paid the bus fee and it was her “constitutional right.” The driver then called the police, who arrested Colvin and took her to jail. (
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) thought about initiating a test trial for the unfair treatment on Montgomery buses, but as Colvin was only a teen at the time and later became pregnant, the NAACP did not feel that she was a good candidate. (
Another key person in the rebellion against the buses was Lillie Mae Bradford.  In May of 1951, Bradford had boarded the bus, paid her fare, and received her transfer slip.  When she sat down in her seat, she realized that her slip had been incorrectly marked.  This had happened many times in the past, not only to her, but many other colored people at that time.   (
Bradford decided that she was not going to quietly sit down without pointing the error out to the driver.  The bus driver simply ignored her and told her to go sit down.  Not letting the matter drop, Bradford sat down in the seat behind the driver and continued to ask him to correct the transfer slip.  (
The bus driver proceeded to call the police and have her arrested for disorderly conduct.  Bradford was soon released on bail. (
Mary Louise Smith also helped in the revolt.  On October 21, 1965, Mary was on the Montgomery bus, when she was asked to move for a white passenger.  Smith blatantly refused.  She was soon arrested and charged with failure to obey segregation orders. (
Like Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith was being considered for a test trial.  While Smith herself was a good candidate, she was not chosen because her father was a supposed drunk. (

The Rosa Parks Incident

December 1, 1955, was a day that changed history forever.  A woman named Rosa Parks, an NAACP member, sat in her seat on that Montgomery bus.  She did not know of the events that would permanently alter the way whites looked at colored people.  (
            When a white person boarded the bus, four blacks were asked to move.  One of them was forty-two year old Rosa Parks. (Stein)  The three stood up, but Parks remained seated, claiming, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.”  (
The bus driver was quick to arrest her, and she was charged with violating a city ordinance.  She was fined $10, along with a $4 court fee. ((

The Boycott

When news of Rosa Parks’ arrest broke, the black community was shocked.  It was decided that there would be a one-day boycott led by a new priest, Martin Luther King Jr.  About ninety percent of the black community participated (, though King only expected about sixty percent. (King)
King decided to form the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA).  The night of their first meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church, the community suggested extending the boycott. ( King believed that it was a good idea, and told the community, “We are here this evening to say to those who have mistreated us for so long that we are tired—tired of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression… For many years we have shown amazing patience.  We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated.  But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.”(King)
The boycott continued for a few days.  On December 8, MIA leaders and officials of the city met to discuss a proposal for buses that was fairer to blacks.  However, no agreement could be reached. (
This posed a problem for the colored community.  Very few blacks had cars, and the buses were their only way to get to work and school.  In order to overcome this problem, the MIA formed a car pool for those whose workplace was too far away to walk.  ( People fixed up old buggies and used horses to pull them.  Those who had cars gave rides to those who did not. (King)  Eventually, the car pool had more than two hundred private cars, most of which were operated by churches. ( One man saw an elderly woman walking down the sidewalk and offered her a ride.  When he asked her if she was tired, she turned to him and replied, “My feet are tired, but my soul is at rest.” (Stein)
Meanwhile, meetings with city officials continued, but like before, no agreement was made. (
As the boycott continued, it began to hurt the bus companies.  They were forced to raise prices from ten cents to fifteen cents. (Stein)  The city penalized taxis for charging blacks ten cents, the original fee for buses.  (King)
The city wanted to make it known that they would not stand for this kind of revolt.  Whites began to get more and more aggressive.  Martin Luther King Jr. began to get anonymous, threatening phone calls.  On January 30, 1956, King’s house, with his wife and daughter inside, was bombed, as was several others of the MIA’s leaders.  In mid-March, King was convicted of violating the anti-boycott law.  (
Though many of the leaders seriously considered abandoning the boycott, it lasted throughout the end of 1955 and 1956, a total of thirteen months. (


            Throughout the boycott, the entire black community had tried to have the bus segregation laws declared unconstitutional.  When a law similar to the Montgomery bus segregation policy was declared as such, the leaders of the MIA decided to take their case to court. (  On November 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court was ruled as unconstitutional, ending the Montgomery bus boycott.  (Stein)
            Ramsey Clark said, “If Rosa Parks had not refused to move to the back of the bus, you and I might have never heard of Dr. Martin Luther King. (
The Montgomery Bus boycott was said to be the first “mass attack on segregation.”  Others say that it was what started the Civil Rights Movement.  While all of these are respectable speculations, one thing is for sure.  History was changed forever.

King, Martin Luther Jr.  Stride Toward Freedom. New York: Harper & Row, 1958, Print.

Stein, R. Conrad.  The Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Canada: Children’s Press, 1993, Print.

“Before Rosa Parks, There Was Claudette Colvin.” NPR. Adler, Margaret. March 17, 2009.
“Claudette Colvin.” The Montgomery Advertiser. June 7, 2005.

“Claudette Colvin.” The Montgomery Advertiser. Kitchen, Sebastian.  June 7, 2005.

“Effects of the Incident.” Tripod. April 6, 2006.

“Lillie Mae Bradford.” The Montgomery Advertiser. Greene, Terri.  June 7, 2005.

“Mary Louise Smith.” Rivers of Change. February 20, 2011.

“The Montgomery Bus Boycott: Timeline.” The Montgomery Advertiser. June 7, 2005.

 “Rosa Parks Biography.” Academy of Achievement. October 14, 2010.

“Rosa Parks Biography.” February 20, 2011.

Selma to mark anniversary of march with bridge crossing

A bridge crossing will be held this weekend in Selma to commemorate the 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday:

Selma will mark the anniversary of a watershed moment of the civil rights movement this weekend with an annual commemoration that will end with activists young and old walking across a historic bridge.
The 18th annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee began Thursday in the west Alabama city with a reception and a mass meeting at Tabernacle Baptist Church, which briefly served as headquarters for the voting rights movement in Selma.
The weekend marks the 46th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday, when authorities beat back civil rights demonstrators marching toward Montgomery across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965.
The Selma-to-Montgomery march was held later in response, helping build momentum for passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Participants will walk across the bridge on Sunday to cap the annual commemoration.
During the weekend, organizers will honor members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which lasted for only six years in the 1960s but helped work for equal rights in everything from voting to housing to bus transportation.
SNCC's leaders included John Lewis, who is now a congressman from Georgia and is expected to attend the commemoration events.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Birmingham Church bombing survivor brings message of courage

During a speech in Eureka, Calif., Carolyn McKinstry talked about her experiences growing up in Birmingham in the 1960s, including surviving the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963:

The church was also the place that McKinstry's life would be forever changed on Sept. 15, 1963.
While volunteering as a secretary, a 14-year-old McKinstry was walking upstairs in the church to take roll that morning. She walked past the girl's bathroom, where her four friends were busy combing their hair and chatting. When McKinstry got to the top of the stairs, a phone was ringing. She said she answered it, and the caller only said, “three minutes.”
Moments later a blast shook the church's foundation, and McKinstry's four friends were dead.
”I still get real sad when I think about my friends in that their deaths were the blood price we had to pay for our freedom in Birmingham,” McKinstry said.