because he was smart

Marian Anderson and Albert Einstein were friends!! Like, friends. Not acquaintances. I am related to Marian Anderson and she hung out with Einstein. Considering the purposefully reposted quote along side Einstein’s notion that the limiters of potential are limited as well, I imagine they had some profound conversations.  That’s nearly as impressive to me as her “dissing” the D.A.R. by singing on the steps outside in response to their choice to disrespect her in honor of the organization’s racial exclusion policy.

Anyway, here’s more on Einstein’s stand for equality. It was a lot more involved than delivering a speech at a University, and there are many more details here than in the article posted yesterday.  Not that the speech wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought. It was!  Not only was Mr. Einstein brave enough to speak out, he did it while he was ill.  Outside.  Ok, it was May, so maybe the weather was fine, but I’m just saying if he was looking for an excuse not to speak, sounds like he had it, but chose not to use it.  Instead, he got up there and spoke to the impressionable minds of the “first institution found anywhere in the world to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences for male youth of African descent.”  If young African American males today are largely still in need of academic encouragement and inspiration and respect, I can only imagine how impactful and empowering Einstein’s presence alone was pre Brown vs. Board of Ed.  Just the simple fact that he spoke, and the forbidden, unspoken truth contained in his words.  I have a feeling this brilliant man knew exactly what he was doing.

Albert Einstein, I acknowledge your greatness as a champion of human and civil rights and your hand in illuminating the fact that limiting the potential of a significant portion of society limits everyone in that society

Thank you.

xo,

Tiff

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Albert Einstein at Lincoln University

(photo of Marian Anderson in background?)

Albert Einstein passionately fought race prejudice, according to new and old docs

by Ronda Racha Penrice

Nearly 60 years after his death, the great scientist Albert Einstein is still making headlines. The launch of Einstein Archives Online — a more advanced repository of his work — is a long-term collaboration by Israel’s Hebrew University, which he co-founded, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he was a guest faculty member on several occasions, and Princeton University, where he was a faculty member, generated global attention on March 19. Eventually, over 80,000 documents held in Hebrew University’s Albert Einstein Archives and Caltech’s Einstein Papers Project will be available on the Internet. About 2,000 are currently available.

Despite this unprecedented access, however, one thing hasn’t changed: Einstein’s strong support of African-American civil rights and his defiant stance against racism are largely footnotes, especially for the mainstream press. While it will, no doubt, be exciting to pull up correspondence between Einstein and W.E.B. Du Bois one day, his association with Du Bois was just the tip of the iceberg.

Einstein, as documented in the 2003 book Einstein on Race and Racism by veteran science writer and journalist Fred Jerome, who also covered civil rights activity in the South in the 1960s, and New York librarian Rodger Taylor whose early writings have focused on jazz and early African-American life in New York, staunchly denounced racism and segregation in the United States, even as his health steadily failed and his own mortality drew nearer.

Jerome first delved into Einstein’s human rights advocacy in his 2002 book, The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret War Against the World’s Most Famous Scientist. In that groundbreaking work, Jerome highlighted a May 3, 1946 speech Einstein gave at historic Lincoln University, the alma mater of both Thurgood Marshall and Langston Hughes and, as its then president Horace Mann Bond pointed out, “the first institution found anywhere in the world to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences for male youth of African descent.” Interestingly, a young Julian Bond, Horace Mann Bond’s son, was there that day.

The speech was especially significant because, as Jerome also writes in The Einstein File, “During the last twenty years of his life, Einstein almost never spoke at universities.” He routinely turned down almost all of the honorary degree requests he received.

On top of that, Einstein’s health was not the greatest. Yet, he stood outdoors to receive his honorary degree from Lincoln University, which can actually be viewed on the Einstein Archives Online now, and, even more importantly, spoke these poignant words reported in the Baltimore Afro-American May 11, 1946: “There is separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.”

And he was not. Einstein, as Jerome notes in his essay The Hidden Half-Life of Albert Einstein: Anti-Racism for the Journal of the Research Group of Socialism and Democracy Online, spoke these words in a time known by some as “the Bloody Spring of 1946” because it was just after black men had returned from World War II to the harsh reality that the Double V campaign, which The Pittsburgh Courier especially championed, had succeeded in saving the world from Hitler, but had not destroyed racism at home. 

On February 25, 1946, William Fleming, a white radio repairman, assaulted Ms. Gladys Stephenson, a black woman, and her son James, a Navy veteran, defended her, resulting in both of their arrests. When some white men, including four policemen, headed towards the black side of town, known as Mink Slide, later that evening, they found that a group of veterans had organized themselves for self-defense, and shots were fired.

“African-Americans firing on white policemen was enough for the governor to rush in 500 State Troopers with submachine guns who attacked Mink Slide, destroying virtually every black-owned business in the four-square-block area, seizing whatever weapons they could find, and arresting more than one hundred black men,” writes Jerome.

Twenty-five of the black men arrested were indicted for attempted murder. Einstein immediately joined the National Committee for Justice in Columbia, Tennessee, headed by Eleanor Roosevelt and also supported by Mary McLeod Bethune, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Joe Louis, A. Phillip Randolph and Langston Hughes that March. With Thurgood Marshall serving as the chief defense attorney, 24 of the 25 men were acquitted.

The violence didn’t stop in Columbia. On July 26, the heinous murder of two black men, one a veteran, and their wives in Monroe, Georgia was even reported by the New York Times. As with the majority of these acts of domestic terrorism, justice was not served. Einstein was outraged enough to lend his prominence to actor and activist Paul Robeson’s American Crusade to End Lynching (ACEL) that September.

Despite being too ill to participate in the mass rally at the Lincoln Memorial on September 23, 1946 (the day after Lincoln proposed the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in 1862), Einstein penned a brief letter to President Truman confirming his support of the ACEL.

“May I wholeheartedly endorse the aims of this delegation, in the conviction that the overwhelming majority of the American people is demanding that every citizen be guaranteed protection from acts of violence,” he wrote. That same month, Einstein penned a much longer letter in support of the National Urban League Convention that highlighted the economic injustices, among other inequalities, experienced by black Americans.

When the Nassau Inn in Princeton refused Marian Anderson lodging during her 1937 concert there, Einstein invited her into his home as a guest and they maintained a friendship. Anderson actually stayed in the Einstein home in 1955 two months before his death. Before Einstein even came to this country permanently in 1933, he responded to a 1931 letter written to him by Du Bois, who had studied at the University of Berlin where Einstein was on the faculty, to write something small against racism to be published in The Crisis. Later, Einstein supported Du Bois even as Senator McCarthy placed him at the top of his target list.

From the Scottsboro Boys case to the numerous attempts to stop the execution of Willie McGee, a black Mississippi sharecropper accused of raping a white woman, and efforts to prevent New Jersey from extraditing Sam Buckhannon, a black Georgian who had escaped a chain gang after serving 18 years for stealing a pack of cigarettes, Einstein used his fame to condemn American racism.

In the wake of the monumental effort to digitize Einstein’s life and genius for the masses, let’s hope that more of us will follow Jerome’s lead, and acknowledge Einstein’s greatness as a champion of human and civil rights for African-Americans as one of his greatest contributions to the world.

old paris, eiffel

Excerpted from a blog post by Rodger Taylor on a presentation in Paris about Einstein and racism:

The Book in Bed presentation was by far the largest audience — it seemed a hundred or so people. Half of them appeared to be high school aged.

“Einstein was White. Why should or did he care about racism?” — was a question asked by a French high school student. The question sparked conversation and also framed our presentation the next day.

Some of the responses as to why included:

Because Einstein was smart.

Because he realized that limiting the potential of a significant portion of society limits everyone in that society.

Because he was empathetic — and if he could imagine what is was like to be a beam of light projected into space, he could imagine what it was like to be black in America.

Because he got to know black people on a personal basis — both in the town of Princeton where he lived and beyond and that made a signficiant difference in how he felt about the racism they experienced.

mary ellen pleasant

As I was searching the internets last week for photos of black women with white children, I stumbled upon a historical figure who, once again, I am shocked and dismayed to never before have heard mention of:  Mary Ellen (“Mammy”) Pleasant.  I want to know so much more!  Or at least the truth.  I highly doubt that Mary Ellen needed to conjure the dark forces to leverage social change, however I’m sure that that tale eased the minds of the opposition and provided ammunition for attacking Pleasant’s ideals.  I found quite a few intriguing articles on her life and chose the following two to share.  Honestly, when someone next asks me who (dead or alive) I would most like to have dinner with, Mary Ellen Pleasant will be on the short list.

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“American civil rights began in the 1850’s with Mary Ellen Pleasant.”  Racism surprised African Americans like Pleasant who came to the Bay Area because they believed in a better life in San Francisco… The Bay Area, where Pleasant lived, became a “hotbed of civil rights activity” in the 19th century and the activists’ rallying cry was “eradicating slavery.”- Dr. Albert Broussard

Mary Ellen Pleasant (1814? – 1904)

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VIA

Mary Ellen Pleasant is perhaps better known as “Mammy Pleasant”, but it was a name she detested. She was born a slave in Georgia some time between 1814 and 1817, the illegitimate daughter of an enslaved Vodou priestess from Haiti and a Virginia governor’s son, John Pleasants. She was bought out of slavery by a planter and indentured for nine years as a store clerk with abolitionist Quakers in Massachusetts.

Around 1841 she married a wealthy mulatto merchant/contractor from Ohio and Philadelphia named James Smith, who was also a slave rescuer on the Underground Railroad. The two worked to help slaves flee to safety in Canada and safe states. Smith died in 1844, leaving her a $45,000 fortune and a plantation run by freedmen near Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.

Because of slaver reaction to her own ongoing Underground Railroad activities, she was forced to flee to New Orleans in 1850 where she met the Vodou queen Marie Laveau who trained her in how to “pressure the powerful to help the powerless” —blacks and poor women—gain rights and jobs. She then went to San Francisco, arriving in April 1852. Because she had no “freedom papers” she passed herself off as white, while she worked as a steward and cook in a white boardinghouse and invested in real estate and various business activities.

Pleasant’s training with Marie Laveau proved beneficial. Pleasant became so successful at leveraging social change that many called her San Francisco’s “Black City Hall”. Her activities and her money helped ex-slaves avoid extradition, start businesses and find employment in hotels, homes and on the steamships and railroads of California.

In 1858 she returned to the East, bought land to house escaped slaves, and aided abolitionist John Brown both with money and by riding in advance of his famous raid at Harper’s Ferry encouraging slaves to join him.

She went back to San Francisco where her investments with an influential business partner helped her amass a joint fortune estimated at $30 million. She later led the Franchise League movement in San Francisco that earned blacks the right to testify in court, and to ride the trolleys. Her lawsuit in 1868 in San Francisco against the North Beach and Mission RailRoad was used as a precedent in 1982 to achieve contemporary civil rights. Mary Ellen Pleasant died in San Francisco in 1904. Her body was taken by friends to Napa and buried in Tulocay Cemetery. On her tombstone is inscribed “the mother of civil rights in California.”

For more information, incuding a book on Mary Ellen Pleasant by Susheel Bibbs, see http://hometown.aol.com/mepleasant.

VIA

“Mammy Pleasant: Angel or Arch Fiend in the House of Mystery?”

By p. joseph potocki

Mary Ellen “Mammy” Pleasant’s legacy is an enigma rolled up inside layers of legend, gossip, greed, fantasy, racism and conjecture.

This week’s column title first headlined Sunday’s edition of the San Francisco Call—back on May 7, 1899. That 19th century investigative hit piece featured three unflattering John Clawson illustrations portraying “Mammy Pleasant” as a bonneted evil-eyed crone. The story gobbled up the entire front page of that day’s paper. Its “Angel or Arch Fiend” dualism embodies endless confusion and contradictory assertions surrounding the life of this incredible woman—confusion and contradictions lingering on to this very day.

The “Mammy” tag, clearly meant to be a slam, fits neatly within a cluster of Black stereotypes. While Pleasant’s tall, thin frame, her finely honed features and regal bearing contrast sharply with the rotund happy-to-be-a-slave mammy of plantation lore, the name itself attempts to place her on par with a Samba, an Uncle Tom, Step and Fetchit, or to a licentious Jezebel. The mythology of these “halcyon days” of slavery is what social historian Eric Lott calls “the dialectic flickering of racial insult and racial envy.”

Mary Ellen “Mammy” Pleasant’s legacy is an enigma rolled up inside layers of legend, gossip, greed, fantasy, racism and conjecture. She’s been called “San Francisco’s Powerful And Sinister Ruler”, “The Black City Hall”, but also a “one woman social agency” and “the Mother of Civil Rights in California.” That covers one heck of a lot of reputational territory.

Some claim that Mary Ellen Pleasant was a mixed blood Voodoo Queen who aimed “the black arts” against her enemies, that she sold babies, murdered as many as 49 people, ran brothels, committed fraud, spied through walls on victims she would later blackmail, and that she held unholy powers over a vast network of underlings and protégés. One rival charged that Pleasant murdered the rival’s husband, and having accomplished the dastardly deed Pleasant then “put her fingers in the hole in the top of his head and pulled out the protruding brains.”

Others tout Mary Ellen Pleasant’s work as a philanthropist, her many devoted friends, both black and white, her financial wizardry, undying devotion to women’s and civil rights, and, before that—her commitment to the abolition of slavery. In fact, Mary Ellen Pleasant’s Napa gravestone reads—“SHE WAS A FRIEND OF JOHN BROWN.”

Indeed, upon Brown’s capture following his ill-fated attack on Harper’s Ferry he carried with him a promissory note signed MEP. Had not the authorities misread the letter M for a W its certain Mary Ellen Pleasant’s neck would have been stretched as did John Brown’s.

Everything about Pleasant’s formative years is subject to debate. She was born a slave in Virginia, or Georgia, or perhaps it was Louisiana. She claims to have been born free in Philadelphia on August 19, 1814. Others say she was born in 1817, give or take a year—or two. She was convent educated, or else was entirely self-taught. Her mother may have been a West Indies Voodoo Queen, or not. Her father was a wealthy white slave owner. Then again, perhaps he was a slave. Nobody knows for sure.

What we do know is that sometime between 1848 and 1852 Mary Ellen Pleasant arrived in San Francisco. She may have been accompanied by her second husband, a former slave named James Pleasant, or Pleasants, or perhaps it was Pleasance. Whatever his surname it’s clear that the shrewd, focused and ambitious Mary Ellen was a power unto herself.

James, who died in 1877, seems hardly to have factored into Mary Ellen’s life. His one notable contribution was in the co-creation of Mary Ellen’s one and only child, Elizabeth, whom she called Lizzy. However, Mary Ellen gave their daughter her first husband’s family name, which was Smith. It was only fair, since James Henry Smith had left seed money to Mary Ellen upon his death some years before. Mary Ellen built her financial empire with the help of these funds.

Once in San Francisco, Pleasant set about purchasing boardinghouses, real estate, laundries, restaurants and stock shares in mines, railroads and other business ventures. This was no small accomplishment in an era of near unfettered legal bias against both racial minorities and women. Monies from these investments built her the 30-room mansion dubbed “the House of Mystery,” atop Cathedral Hill in San Francisco.

In her later years Pleasant purchased a large tract of land set against the Mayacamas Mountains. She named it Beltane, either after Thomas Bell, or, as some critics claim, in honor of the ancient pagan celebration of the same name. Beltane lies outside Glen Ellen, in the heart of the Sonoma Valley. The stately New Orleans-style Victorian house she built there (now a B&B) is set amidst an immense flowering garden and hundreds of shady oaks. One fanciful claim is that Pleasant cast Voodoo spells from a cave somewhere on the property.

But with all her accrued wealth, Mary Ellen Pleasant seems always to have performed, or dressed as if she performed, domestic labor. It’s said that she would ride to the markets in her own custom built carriage, accompanied by a driver and a footman, each garbed in impeccable livery. Though always attired in a servant’s black dress and large white apron, she “walked like a duchess.”

Sometime in the mid 1860s Mary Ellen Pleasant hooked up with a stockbroker named Thomas Bell. The “canny Scot” was money savvy, but lacked imagination. Pleasant took him under her wing. Together they created one of the largest financial partnerships in that era of San Francisco. Pleasant and Bell may (or may not) have been lovers.

It’s said that Mary Ellen arranged Thomas’s marriage to the future Teresa Bell, having first instructed Teresa in the “genteel arts” necessary to flourish in elite society. Others say Thomas Bell discovered the beautiful Teresa on a visit to a house of ill repute. No matter which story is true it seems the marriage provided adequate cover from charges of miscegenation, which might otherwise have been leveled at the cohabitation of the white Thomas Bell with the octoroon (or perhaps quadroon) “Mammy” Pleasant.

What’s undeniably true is that Mary Ellen Pleasant was actively involved in the Underground Railroad, and that she placed both former slaves and geographically displaced freemen as domestics in many of San Francisco’s “better” households. She also clearly advocated for and personally rescued unprotected and often attractive young white women, who Mary Ellen then trained to become the wives and mistresses of wealthy men in The City.

These actions led to many of the questionable charges against her, since persons beholden to Pleasant for their livelihoods provided her their eyes and ears within San Francisco’s most prominent households.

Mary Ellen was well into her 80’s when her finances began to unravel. She’d both overextended her business dealings, and had incurred the wrath of her former protege, Teresa Bell. Mary Ellen had exposed Teresa’s young lover to embezzlement charges, landing him a stint in San Quentin prison. As payback, the mentally unhinged Teresa became Pleasant’s eternal foe. She set to pummeling Pleasant’s good name—even long after seeing Mary Ellen to her grave. The sensitive nature of Thomas Bell’s and Mary Ellen Pleasant’s financial partnership allowed Teresa to gain control of their mutual resources following Thomas’ death. As a result Mary Ellen Pleasant was stripped of her wealth and forced into bankruptcy.

Pleasant’s diaries were stolen and lost to posterity, while many of Teresa’s hallucinatory rants made their way into newsprint following Pleasant’s death. Consequently, Teresa Bell’s accounts fundamentally shifted the Mary Ellen Pleasant mythos into the realm of evil phantasma. Fortunately, contemporary scholars have begun setting Mary Ellen Pleasant’s record as straight as a story with such twists, squiggles and gaping holes can be set. As confusing and contradictory as her life story may be, Mary Ellen Pleasant optimistically forecast her own legacy when she wrote:

“… You can’t explain away the truth.”

Mary Ellen Pleasant

SOURCE


a fearless champion

I knew nothing of Evelyn Cunningham before her death.  Shame on me.  All I know now is that in the name of Evelyn, in the name of Lena, and in the name of the nameless:  I have got to do better.  I’m posting segments of the New York Times obituary of Ms. Cunningham and what I presume to be one of the last interviews with her that appeared in the NY Daily News in November of 2009.  For whatever reason, today I am particularly struck by what she said about her four husbands.  I feel a feminist kick coming on…

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Evelyn Cunningham, a civil-rights-era journalist and later an aide to Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York, died on Wednesday (April 28th, 2010) in Manhattan. She was 94 and lived in Harlem most of her life.

At a time when few women worked at newspapers — never mind as reporters handling hard news — Ms. Cunningham covered many of the civil rights era’s biggest stories, including the battle over school desegregation in Birmingham, Ala., and the work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Starting in 1940, she worked for more than 20 years as a reporter and editor for The Pittsburgh Courier, a black newsweekly with nationwide circulation. Much of that time she worked out of the paper’s New York office.

In the newsroom, she was nicknamed “Big East,” partly because of her height, 5-foot-11 in heels. She also became known as the “lynching editor,” a reference to her reporting on such killings in the segregated South.

…Ms. Cunningham entered another realm of public life in the late 1960s, when she took a job as special assistant to Governor Rockefeller, who had been impressed with her when she interviewed him as a candidate.

Governor Rockefeller named her to lead an office on women’s affairs, and she later served on many government panels dealing with women’s rights and community issues. She continued to advise him when he became President Gerald R. Ford’s vice president.

Evelyn Elizabeth Long was born on Jan. 25, 1916, in Elizabeth City, N.C., the daughter of a taxi driver and a dressmaker. She moved with her parents to New York as a child, and earned a bachelor’s degree from Long Island University. She had no children.

…Politically, Ms. Cunningham described herself as a “Rockefeller Republican,” Ms. Bell-Stevens said. “She said, ‘That means I’m a liberal Republican,’ and then she would add in more recent years that there hasn’t been a good one since.”

In a statement, Mayor Michael R Bloomberg, who appointed Ms. Cunningham to a commission on women’s issues in 2002, said, “With the passing of Evelyn Cunningham, all New Yorkers and all Americans who value our ideals of liberty and justice for all have lost a good friend and a fearless champion.”

…Ms. Cunningham married four times, taking the name of her third husband. Her fourth marriage was to Austin Brown, a Juilliard-trained pianist and watchmaker who died last year.

“Each one of my husbands tried to diminish my independence and my work,” Ms. Cunningham said in a profile in The New York Times in 1998. “They all loved me most while I was cooking — and I am not a good cook.”

Well-versed journalist Evelyn Cunningham writing piece on ‘unknown black history’

CLEM RICHARDSON

Monday, November 23rd 2009

VIA

She has interviewed and worked with some of the most historically significant people of the past 60 years; Nelson Rockefeller, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Sheriff Eugene (Bull) Connor, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Yet at 93 years old and after a journalism career that began in 1940 with the Pittsburgh Courier, it’s American women of all races who most impress Evelyn Cunningham.

“The women in my country, there does not seem to be anything they cannot be,” she said. “Presidents, heads of banks, millionaires. In the United States, women seem to gain or get practically everything they want.”

Seated on an overstuffed chair in the sunny study of her Riverside Drive apartment in Harlem, the television tuned to CNN, Cunningham said “I’m still a reporter, every inch of me.”

Though she doesn’t get out as much as she used to, Cunningham said she’s busy.

With the help of a group of local college students who do her leg work (“They think I’m this talky old lady,” she said.), she is writing and rewriting a piece on black history.

“I call it unknown black history, and there is a lot of it out there,” she said. “So much of black history is unknown, but even I am shocked to find out how much of it there is.

“Black people don’t even know what’s missing,” said Cunningham, who declined to give examples pending publication of her work. “That intrigues me to no end. Here I am part of a people who do not know much of their history.”

Cunningham honed her reporting skills covering lynchings in the South before and during the civil rights movement.

She was one of the first reporters to identify the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a rising leader in the movement, and once asked Connor, who became infamous for using police dogs and fire hoses on peaceful demonstrators, for an interview.

He walked away.

Cunningham and several members of the Pittsburgh Courier staff of her era were awarded a George Polk Award in 1998 for the paper’s civil rights reporting.

After the civil rights era, Cunningham went on to hold a variety of civic and government positions, including special assistant to New York Gov. Rockefeller and on President Nixon’s Task Force on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities.

Having lived and worked in the segregated South – she was born in Elizabeth, N.C.- Cunningham said Barack Obama’s election “is hard to believe, hard to believe.

“No, I did not see it happening,” she said. “I never saw it, imagined it, or believed it, and here we got a black President.

“I met him right here in this apartment,” she said. “He came up to see me when he first visited the city. I adored him. He was a natural born leader.

“He is the greatest thing to hit our country.”

But if Cunningham could cover one story today it would not be local.

“I would go to Africa,” she said. “There is so much … I can only put it this way, dirty work going on there that even Africans don’t want people to know.

“That bothers me. It’s terrible and sad.”

racial identity shaped by social experience, or white mulattoes

This entire post is reblogged from Renegade South: histories of unconventional southerners.  I find it to be a fascinating piece of American history.  It’s one of those stories in which “american” history and “african-american” history are so intertwined that a distinction between the two can hardly be made.  That’s just how it always should be, in my opinion.  This country has just one history.  It’s black and white and everything in between.  The story is long and may be hard to follow, but I think it’s worth the effort.

The Family Origins of Vernon Dahmer, Civil Rights Activist

by renegadesouth

Vernon F. Dahmer, a well known Mississippi civil rights worker, was murdered in 1966 by white supremacists connected to the Ku Klux Klan. Before the night of January 10, 1966, when the Dahmer grocery store and home were firebombed, Vernon had been leading voter registration drives in his community. To facilitate that effort, he had recently placed a voter registration book in the grocery store he owned.

Dahmer Grocery Store

Vernon Dahmer’s grocery store, located on Monroe Road, 3.5 miles from the Jones County line. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Vernon Dahmer, Western Union Telegram

It took many years and five court trials to convict KKK Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers in 1998 of having ordered the murder of Vernon Dahmer. Today, Dahmer is revered for his courageous work on behalf of black civil rights. In honor of his memory, both a street and memorial park in Hattiesburg bear his name.

In the essay that follows, Dahmer’s grandniece, Wilmer Watts Backstrom, and Yvonne Bivins, a member of his extended family, enrich our understanding by telling the story of his family roots in southern Mississippi. Dahmer’s multiracial heritage included white, black, and Indian ancestors. The narrative begins with the story of his grandmother, Laura Barnes.

The Family Origins of Vernon F. Dahmer, Mississippi Civil Rights Activist

By Wilmer Watts Backstrom and Yvonne Bivins

Laura Barnes was born in Jones County, MS in October 1854. According to her daughter, Roxanne Craft, “she was given to a black family to raise because she was born out of wedlock to a white girl.”

The 1870 census for Twp 9 in NE Jones County, Mississippi, shows that fifteen-year-old Laura was living in the household of Ann Barnes, a 55-year-old mulatto woman born in Mississippi whose occupation was housekeeper. A young mulatto boy, Augustus, age 12, also lived in the home.  Living next door to the Barnes family were Andrew and Annice (Brumfield) Dahmer.

Laura Barnes

Laura Barnes, grandmother of Vernon Dahmer, Sr., courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

After the Civil War, Andrew Dahmer and his brothers became traveling salesmen who peddled their wares in Wayne, Jones, and Perry Counties in Mississippi. Andrew soon met and married Annice Brumfield, whose mother, Altamarah Knight Brumfield, was the daughter aunt of Newt Knight and Serena Knight.

Andrew and Annice’s neighbor, Laura Barnes, met Andrew’s brother, Peter Dahmer, in the early 1870s. They began a relationship that resulted in the birth of a baby boy in 1872, who Laura named George Washington Dahmer. Peter apparently did not acknowledge his child, and soon moved to Chickasaw County with several brothers, where they farmed and built a mercantile business.

For giving birth out of wedlock, Laura became a “marked woman.” During this period in her life, she operated a boarding house for the railroad and sawmill workers in northeast Covington County and near “Sullivan’s Hollow” in Smith County. The “Hollow” was notorious for its lawlessness and racial bigotry.  Blacks were not welcome there.  Black families that did live there were descendants of Craft and Sullivan slaves.

Laura hired a black man from the hollow named Charlie Craft. Working closely together on her place, they soon fell in love and developed a relationship. This would bring trouble, because although Laura was raised by a mulatto woman and listed as mulatto on census records, whites still considered her off limits to a black man.

Charlie and Laura Barnes Craft

Charlie and Laura Barnes Craft, grandparents of Vernon Dahmer. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Charlie Craft was born in Smith County, MS, around 1853.  According to family history, he was part Creek Indian and part African, with piercing eyes and coal black straight hair. A former slave of Bryant Craft, Charlie was known as a man who had never run from a fight. Story has it that after a shootout with the infamous Sullivans, he left Smith County, but doubled back to spirit away his siblings. Because newly freed slaves were not welcome in Smith County, they moved to Covington County, where they settled on a ridge south of the Hollow in the Oakohay area. Here, they established a prosperous community called Hopewell.

By 1880, thirty-year-old Charlie and twenty-eight-year old Laura lived in the Oakohay District.  Four children lived with them: George (Laura’s son by Peter Dahmer), age 10; [Roxanne] Viola, age 7; Bettie, age 5; and Elnathan, age 2. All, including Laura and her son George, were listed as “mulattos” on the 1880 federal manuscript census for Covington County.  Living nearby were Charlie Craft’s mother, Melvina, and several siblings.

One night a local white mob filled with home brew surrounded and attacked their home.  Both Laura and Charlie were excellent shots. Laura shot and killed one of attackers as they tried to protect their children from the mob and, in so doing, the couple had to flee “the ridge.” Laura’s son, George Dahmer, helped them escape.  Upon arriving in the Kelly Settlement, they moved off in the swamps on the Leaf River on the old “William Jenkins Place.”

George Washington Dahmer

George Washington Dahmer, father of Vernon Dahmer, son of Laura Barnes Craft and Peter Dahmer, stepson of Charlie Craft. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr

The area commonly known as Kelly Settlement was settled by John Kelly, a white man born in North Carolina about 1750.  John and his wife, Amelia, left Hancock County, GA, and arrived in Mississippi in late 1819, settling in Perry County.  By 1820, the Kelly household included John, Amelia, sons Green, 16, and Osborne, 18, Osborne’s wife Joene, and nine slaves. Among these slaves were the parents of Sarah, whose descendants later formed Kelly Settlement. Although the 1820 federal manuscript census for Perry County listed no free blacks living in the household of John and Amelia Kelly, descendants claim that Sarah’s folks were not slaves, but free people who accompanied the Kelly family to Mississippi.

After the Civil War, Sarah’s children began to homestead land, marry, and raise children.  Working together as they had down on John Kelly’s place, they cleared the land to raise crops, cut timber, and hauled it to the Leaf River by oxen to float it down to the Gulf Coast.

Laura Barnes Craft’s son, George Dahmer, moved to the Kelly community ahead of the rest of the Crafts. In 1895, George married Ellen Louvenia Kelly, the daughter of Warren Kelly and Henrietta McComb.  Like his own mother, Laura, Ellen’s mother, Henrietta, was a white child born out of wedlock and given to a black family, the McCombs, to raise.  The McCombs were living on the William Jenkins place when the Crafts arrived in Perry County.  Ellen Kelly’s father, Warren Kelly, was the mulatto son of Green H. Kelly and the grandson of John Kelly, the original white settler of the area. Warren Kelly’s mother was Sarah, the daughter of John Kelly’s slaves (or perhaps free black servants).

Warren Kelly

Warren Kelly, son of Green Kelly and Sarah Kelly, father of Ellen Kelly Dahmer, grandfather of Vernon Dahmer. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

It was to this community that Charlie and Laura Barnes Craft fled with the aid of Laura’s son, George Dahmer. According to Wilmer Watts Backstrom (their great granddaughter), Charlie and Laura’s family lived in isolation for many years after being forced out of Covington County; they were prone to violent disagreements and exhibited heated tempers. This family drank heavily with much cursing.  They lived down in the swamps isolated from the community until the children were all grown.  As the children became adults, they gradually moved out of the swamps, married and had families of their own.

Charlie was employed by Green Kelly as a night watchman on the Leaf River. He died before 1910 in Forrest County, MS.  By that year, several of his and Laura’s children were married and living in Kelly Settlement, MS. Although Laura’s name does not appear on the 1910 Census, she was still alive that year. In 1920, she lived with her oldest child, daughter Roxanne Craft Watts, on the Dixie Highway, Forrest County, MS.  Laura died on 5 June 1922.

Ellen Louvenia Kelly

Ellen Louvenia Kelly, wife of George Dahmer, mother of Vernon Dahmer, daughter of Warren and Henrietta McComb Kelly. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Laura’s son and Charlie’s stepson, George Dahmer, identified as a black man even though his mother and biological father were white, demonstrating how strongly one’s racial identity is shaped by social experience.

George and Ellen Kelly Dahmer were the parents of Vernon Dahmer. George was known as an honest, hardworking man of outstanding integrity, rich in character rather than worldly goods. Like his father, Vernon worked hard and became a successful storekeeper and commercial farmer. Before his tragic death, he served as music director and Sunday school teacher at the Shady Grove Baptist Church, as well as president of the Forrest County Chapter of the NAACP. He and his wife, Ellie Jewell Davis, were the parents of seven sons and one daughter.

Vernon F. Dahmer, Sr.

Vernon F. Dahmer, Sr. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Vernon and Ellie Dahmer Family

Vernon Dahmer’s wife and children: seated left to right, George Weldon, Ellie J., Alvin; standing, left to right, Vernon Jr., Betty Ellen, Harold. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

empower women, eliminate racism

March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010

Thank you, Dr. Dorothy Height!

Here’s an excerpt of a 2008 NPR interview with Dr. Height.  You can read the transcript in its entirety HERE.

Civil Rights Elder Sees Dream Come True

hosted by Michel Martin

MARTIN:  Dr. Dorothy Height began a lifetime of activism during the Great Depression, a time when the simple right to vote free of the fear of violence seemed like an impossible dream for many African-Americans. And at the of 96, she is still going to the office just about every day trying to further the cause of equal rights for all Americans. She’s serving as chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women. She was kind enough to receive us at her office on historic Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday. We’re talking about President-elect Barack Obama’s historic win.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask you about that because you have been working in this field since you were a very young woman. I mean, really, your entire adult life. Since your early 20s you’ve been an activist. Did you believe this day would come in your lifetime?

…Dr. HEIGHT: Well, you know, I guess I got to – my faith was renewed working for 33 years with the YWCA of the United States. And I went there as a secretary or a staffer or something related to interracial education. After 33 years, I retired as a director of the Center for Racial Justice, and I split this organization, that from 1946 really set out to open its services to all women, regardless of race or with full regard for race, and so I saw the way an organization that was founded by white, Protestant women that now is very inclusive, and I was a part of that development.

When the YWCA in 1946 adopted an interracial charter, that was ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision on Brown versus the Board of Education, so that in a sense I had already the experience. And I listened to people when they kept saying – well, some people, particularly white people, will say this but they won’t go in. I also know that I worked with many white women who took a strong stand but they didn’t discuss it at home because their husbands didn’t agree with them, but they worked hard to see that the YWCA was integrated, as they called it. And today, the YWCA has Empower Women and Eliminate Racism as its slogan. And I think that made me know that there are many people who know that this is right to do and that they were willing to do it, but they didn’t necessarily announce it.

MARTIN: I remember that, reading in your memoir how your organization, the YWCA, was one of the first – and some precursor organizations were among the first to have integrated meetings, and how dangerous it was for some of these women to participate.

Dr. HEIGHT: At that time there were – when we had meetings, sometimes we were talking about the klan. Sometimes we found that we were denied services that we had been promised when they realized fully what it meant that we would be women of different races. But you know, I found that were strong women in all racial groups, and I think that’s what Barack Obama has shown us. There are people in every group who know what is right and who want to move, and they just need some kind of direction and some kind of feeling that other people are with them. I remember Dr. Mayo(ph) saying, I hear people say the time isn’t right. And he said, but if it isn’t right then it’s your job to ripen the time, and that’s the way I feel about it.

12 Nov 1960, New York, New York, USA — Eleanor Roosevelt is presented the Mary McLeod Bethune Human Rights Award by Dorothy Height, President of the National Council of Negro Women. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

…MARTIN: What role do you think civil rights organizations have now?

Dr. HEIGHT: Well, there’s still a lot of unfinished business. Right now you have going across the country a whole effort to destroy affirmative action. In other words, we’re finding that people are using civil rights in a negative way, and they’re calling it, this is a civil right. In a sense, these bills that are being introduced are really anti-civil rights, and they just use the term civil right in order to fool people and make them vote.

MARTIN: Are you speaking about Ward Connerly and some of his efforts to reverse affirmative action…

Dr. HEIGHT: Yes, Connerly has gone into several states, and he has does this in a misleading way, and I think people ought to be alert to it and realize that if you vote for what he is talking about, you’re cutting back something that got started during the days of Lyndon Johnson and was a part of the whole civil rights effort. It is not a preference. It is a way of saying, those who have been denied should be given an opportunity to be sought in (ph) so they can move ahead.

In 2004 President Bush presented Dr. Dorothy Height with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor.

MARTIN: There are those who would argue, though, that – to be blunt about it – that Barack Obama takes these so-called excuses off the table. People look at that, and they say, look at Barack Obama in the White House. And they say, what discrimination? What could they possibly – what barriers?

Dr. HEIGHT: Yes. I think they will, but I would hope that they would also say to themselves, we need to look at who has the opportunities. We need to look at – Obama himself pointed that to us, that you can’t have a flourishing Wall Street and a destroyed Main Street. He could have also said, I’m working for the middle class, but we still have poverty. And we cannot divide up like that. We cannot say who’s hurting the most. We have to make sure they be dealing with everyone.

I have been working since my teenage days when I did an oration and won my college scholarship on the Constitution of the United States. I chose the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. And I looked and realized, here, now, at this age, I’m still working to make the 14th amendment and its promise of equal justice under law, making it real for everybody. That’s what you have to do.

MARTIN: Is there anything that you fear about an Obama presidency, about having an African-American – the first African-American in the White House?

Dr. HEIGHT: I suppose it’s not a real fear. It’s a hope that we will not take it for granted, that now we have achieved and all of our problems are answered. I think we will (unintelligible), as he did, as he said, I will be president of all the people. And by that he meant that he will work for all of us and that we all have to realize that there is unfinished business in civil rights.

It will – we don’t need the marches that we had in the past. But we need more consideration in looking at the boardroom tables and at the policies that are going on, looking at what’s happening in industry, what’s happening in terms of employment opportunities, housing and the like. So that I think it opens up a new way for us to look at our community.

And one thing, I go down now to Deep South and Mississippi and places, where during the ’60s, we moved with fear. I go down now and people are so welcoming that I forget what part of the country I’m in. And I think the people who are saying, we have no problem, have the biggest problem, that they really need to see how we can all work together and recognize that we need each other and see how we can really make this a society in which a person is judged, as Dr. Hayes(ph) said, on the basis of their character and what they do rather than on color of their skin or the language which they speak or their sexual preference, or any of those things.

MARTIN: Since you were a young woman yourself, you’ve been famous when you work with young people. Do you have any wisdom to share, perhaps, to a young Dorothy Height who might be listening to us?

Dr. HEIGHT: I like to say to young people today, you are the beneficiaries of what a lot of people worked and gave their lives for. And you are enjoying things – no matter how bad it may seen, you are still better off than any of those who worked to bring us to this point. And the important thing now is not to go it alone on your own, by yourself, but see how you will join with others. Get organized in how you will serve others and how you will help to move this forward.

And I was so excited to hear President-elect Obama, like they call him now, to hear him say that he needed our help. And I think he does. And we need it not by thinking just of what we want, but how can we help achieve the kind of roles that he has said. Because when you do that and we’re for something bigger than yourself, there’s no way you can help but grow, and that will help to prepare you for the future.

constitutional/unconstitutional

I love, love, love this op-ed piece on gayness, marriage, family, laws, human rights, and injustice in the good old USA.

U.S. protects Constitution, not justice

State legislation sacrifices human rights in favor of religious ideology

Joshua Colston

SOURCE

When does a society decide to rectify an obvious longstanding injustice? The U.S. has a long history of allowing states to legislate unconstitutional laws such as miscegenation, segregation, slavery, women’s rights, reproductive rights, and LBGT equality based on an imposed religious morality.

Until 1967, the issue of interracial marriage was left up to the state. Opponents of interracial marriage felt that the mixing of races was unnatural, was against their religious ideals, and would lead to the death of the institution of marriage. Anti-miscegenation laws were enforced to protect mixed-race offspring from such an unnatural union.

Women’s rights opponents argued that women should’t be allowed to vote as they are mentally deficient, weak and neurotic by nature. It was argued that freeing the slaves was a disastrous concept and would lead to society’s downfall.

Some religious people believe that homosexuality is a choice or mental illness, advocating faith-based healing or sexual aversion therapies including electroshock or the administration of a corrective rape. No credible evidence shows these treatments to be effective. Rather, they end with suicide or-even worse-the subjects being expelled from their social groups. Am I mistaken assuming sexuality is innate?

The fact is this occurs in nature. Of the approximate 1,500 animal species we have extensively studied, nearly 450 exhibit homosexual behavior, engaging in same-sex relationships.

The belief that same-sex households lead to dangerous environments for children is absurd, since convicted drug dealers, neo-nazis, murders, rapists and convicted pedophiles are allowed to marry and raise children. Who poses a danger?

Coretta Scott King, civil rights leader, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s widow spoke at Richard Stockton College about gay rights: “Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing, and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages.” This is of the most respected and active people in the civil and women’s rights movements.

Some feel that gay marriage and homosexuality simply go against the established traditions of America. Is American marriage purely for procreation? What about infertile couples, couples who choose not to have children, and the elderly who have long been allowed to marry and are allowed the full benefits and legal protections of the union? American marriage is about mutual love and commitment, not primarily about procreation.

How can such a great society tolerate such a liberal definition of freedom of speech while limiting its definition of equality? Do we really want a society that enables Liberty to rob Justice blind?

the black codes

Northern States had them, too.  I think these things are worth examining.  If we want to know more about why and how things got so out of hand in this country (I mean beyond slavery itself), we retrace our steps back to decrees such as these.

One measure of equality suggested by the British sociologist T.H. Marshall is “citizenship” – the “basic human equality associated with  . . . full membership of a community.”  African American history, from bondage through the civil rights movement, is often seen through the political lens as a struggle for citizenship and full membership in American society.

Legislated repression in post-slavery South

…[I]t shall not be lawful for any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto to
intermarry with any white person; nor for any white person to intermarry
with any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto; and any person who shall so
intermarry shall be deemed guilty of felony and, on conviction thereof,
shall be confined in the state penitentiary for life … — from
Mississippi Black Codes, enacted Nov. 22, 1865

As formerly enslaved Blacks would soon learn, freedom was not as they had
anticipated. White southerners were anxious to regain power over them and
used the law in order to achieve that objective. In 1865, southerners
created Black Codes, which served as a way to control and inhibit the
freedom of ex-slaves. Codes controlled almost all aspects of life and
prohibited Blacks from the freedoms that had been won.

Not only did whites want to control ex-slaves, but also they needed
laborers. While things could no longer be exactly the same as in slavery,
they found a way to guarantee that Blacks would serve as their laborers. To
do this, they created Black Codes. While Codes were unique to the
post-Civil War south, they encompassed some of the antebellum restrictions
on free blacks, northern apprenticeship laws, and the Freedmen’s Bureau and
the War Department regulations. Codes regulated civil and legal rights,
from marriage to the right to hold and sell property to the predestined
definition of Blacks as agricultural laborers.

Laws were different in each state but most embodied the same kinds of
restrictions. Commonly, codes compelled freedmen to work. In many states,
if unemployed, Blacks faced the potential of being arrested and charged
with vagrancy. Many of those that did work had their day regulated. Codes
dictated their hours of labor, duties, and the behavior assigned to them as
agricultural workers.

Black Codes left Blacks with little freedom. The choice of the type of work
was often regulated. Many white southerners believed Blacks were
predestined to work in agriculture. In addition, the advantage of
regulating occupations provided them with laborers. In South Carolina, for
example, a special license and certificate from a local judge, attesting to
a freedman’s skill, had to be obtained before a formerly enslaved person
could earn a living in agriculture or indomestic service.

Self-sufficiency was also discouraged. Codes prevented Blacks from raising
their own crops. In Mississippi, for instance, they were restricted from
renting or leasing any land outside of cities or towns and Black ownership
was left up to local authorities.

Almost every aspect of life was regulated, including the freedom to roam.
Often Blacks were prohibited from entering towns without permission. In
Opelousas, Louisiana Blacks needed permission from their employer to enter
the town. A note was required stating the nature and length of the visit.
Any Black found without a note after ten o’clock at night was subject to
imprisonment. Residency within towns and cities was also discouraged. Local
ordinances in Louisiana made it almost impossible for Blacks to live within
the towns or cities. Residency was only possible if a white employer agreed
to take responsibility for his employee’s conduct.

“This Week In Black History: Legislated repression in post-slavery South.” Michigan Citizen. 2001.

Black Codes in Georgia: 1865–1900

W. E. B. DuBois and his students included a comprehensive hand-written list of the Georgia Black Codes (laws affecting blacks 1865–1900) as part of The Georgia Negro exhibit in order to demonstrate how the law had specifically been used as a tool to discriminate against black people. Three hundred pages of legal material were tediously copied out by hand. DuBois had included a similar compilation of laws affecting the slave trade in his classic 1896 work, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade.

Black codes

Sample pages from DuBois’s list of Black Codes

SOURCE


speaking of norman rockwell

This post is completely reblogged.  I came across it HERE yesterday while looking for more of Jason Claiborne’s work.  I became curious about Norman Rockwell’s own views on race.  Angelo Lopez broke it down pretty well, as far as Rockwell’s work is concerned anyway, and I thought I’d share.

Norman Rockwell and the Civil Rights Paintings

By Angelo Lopez

Fifty years after he first started doing work for the magazine, Norman Rockwell was tired of doing the same sweet views of America for the Saturday Evening Post in the early 1960s. The great illustrator was increasingly influenced by his close friends and loved ones to look at some of the problems that was afflicting American society. Rockwell had formed close friendships with Erik Erickson and Robert Coles, psychiatrists specializing in the treatment of children and both were advocates of the civil rights movement.

His most profound influence was his third wife, Mary L. “Molly” Punderson, who was an ardent liberal and who urged him in new directions. On December 14, 1963, Rockwell did his last cover for the Saturday Evening Post and he began working for Look magazine. Look magazine finally gave Norman Rockwell the opportunity to express his social concerns.

Rockwell’s first painting was The Problem We All Live With, one of his greatest paintings. This painting depicts Ruby Bridges, the little girl who integrated the New Orleans school system in 1960, being escorted to her class by federal marshals in the face of hostile crowds. It’s a simple picture, the disembodied figures of 4 stiff suited men and the vulnerable yet defiant figure of a school age African American girl marching lockstep. To the right is a tomato staining a wall, obviously thrown at the girl but just missing. My eyes focus on the girl and her immaculate white, a contrast to the graffiti stained wall in the background. As a painting it’s a wonder, with it’s composition conveying Rockwell’s message in a few simple figures. To look at the picture, go here.

An even greater departure from Rockwell’s usual sweet America paintings is Southern Justice, painted in 1963. Rockwell did a finished painting, but the editors published Rockwell’s color study instead, and I think his color study conveys the terror of the scene more successfully. It depicts the deaths of 3 Civil Rights workers who were killed for their efforts to register African American voters. It is done in a monochrome sienna color, and it is a horrifying vision of racism. A look of it can be seenhere.

Rockwell’s most optimistic view of the civil rights movement wasNegro In The Suburbs, painted in 1967. It depicts an African American family moving into a white suburban neighborhood. The African American children look over by the kids in the neighborhood, with all the children sharing a love of baseball, America’s game. This painting can be found in this gallery.