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Jazmine Brooks, on her way to Maine

6 Jul

My niece, Jazmine Brooks, is a naturally gifted dancer who has been working hard at her craft since she was a young girl. No surprise there. Jazmine’s mother, M’Balia, and grandmother, Malaya, my sister, are fierce dancers as well. Now a senior in college, Jazmine has been invited to the Bates Dance Festival, an international gathering of dancers, choreographers, educators and students.

You can watch Jazmine’s audition video above and find out more information about how you can help her with her trip to Maine by visiting her posting on INDIEGOGO.

Marian Anderson’s Easter Sunday triumph

10 Apr

Reposting this in honor of the 75th anniversary of Marian Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial. It’s hard to believe that I wrote that Boston Globe editorial 25 years ago.

Regular readers of this blog know that the legacy of singer Marian Anderson looms large in my consciousness. My mother held her up as a hero. My sister was named for her. My father, a contemporary, was apparently smitten with her.

One of the first assignments as an editorial writer for the Boston Globe was to write a piece in honor of the 50th anniversary of Anderson’s  concert on the Lincoln Memorial, Easter Sunday 1939.

In that first Globe editorial, published on April 9, 1989, I wrote:

“Fifty years ago today, Marian Anderson stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before 75,000 awed spectators and offered up her brilliant operatic contralto.
The concert was a triumph in an era of legal and customary segregation. Anderson, by then an accomplished performer in the US, Europe and South America, had hoped to perform at Washington’s Constitution Hall. The Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her perform there because she was black. Amid protests from musicians and public figures, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR, and with her help, the show went on at the Lincoln Memorial.
Since then, Anderson has been a symbol of pride and achievement. Introducing her at the Lincoln Memorial that Easter Sunday in 1939, Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes said: “Genius knows no color line. She has endowed Marian Anderson with such a voice as lifts any individual above his fellows as a matter of exulted pride to any race.”

Unbeknownst to me then, my father had written about that concert in 1939:

“‘Whereas only about four thousand persons usually listen to her concert, seventy-five thousand persons in a visible audience and millions in an invisible audience heard Marian Anderson sing her program of triumph on Easter Sunday afternoon in the Lincoln Memorial Park within striking distance of the Capitol’s dome.
Miss Anderson’s unusually large audience was swept to her on the wings of bigotry and racial intolerance. Since a couple of nations in Europe seem to vie with each other in acts of racial persecution, it seems to be Uncle Sam’s serious ambition today to be on the right side of the pale – a sort of see-how-good-I-am attitude.
America’s escutcheon is well blotched with racial intolerance, discrimination and persecution. Up to now it’s the Negro who is borne the brunt, if not all, of this form of treatment. Lynching, ruthless lynchings, the Scottsboro Boys are inerasable marks. Scoldings, however, from within and jeers without are gradually bringing about actual efforts to earn herself a cleaner slate.
The old Devils of the American Revolution ran true to the Old America and cried ‘color’ to Miss Anderson.  . . .  But seeking no ally with Nazism and Fascism, official America loaned Miss Anderson the Lincoln Memorial Park and facilities for a worldwide audience. “

Coincidentally, Anderson died on April 8, 1993, almost exactly 54 years to the day after her triumphant concert. In another Globe editorial, I wrote that to my mother Anderson “represented a triumph over segregation and a counterweight to Aunt Jemima images.”

“As a youngster, Anderson was denied admission to a Philadelphia music school because she was black. She was given the keys to Atlantic City, but was not allowed to stay in a hotel there. When she sang in segregated concert halls, she demanded that seats be allotted to black ticket buyers in every section of the auditorium. . . Anderson often referred to herself with modest detachment. But for several generations of black women in America such modesty is unnecessary. Marian Anderson’s name and her memory are synonymous with the magnificence of  her voice.”

Happy Easter!

A call to serve

20 Jan

MLK-serveAt two local services to mark the birthday of Martin Luther King yesterday the speakers focused less on the man himself and more on the power of individuals to force change.  At Stanford’s Memorial Church, Rev. John Harrison reminded those of us who live in comfort to “see” those who are not so fortunate.

LaDoris Cordell,  MC at the Palo Alto community celebration in the afternoon, reminded the audience about the four young freshmen at North Carolina A&T who asked themselves  in 1959 “At what point does a moral man act against injustice?” and shortly thereafter, began challenging the Jim Crow policy at the local Woolworth lunch counter.

In his keynote during that same program, Clayborne Carson, founding director of the Martin Luther King Research and Education Institute at Stanford and the nation’s preeminent King scholar, talked about how in 1963 it was high school students revived a flagging campaign in Birmingham, Ala. He credited those teenagers for the success of that campaign, which was a turning point for the Civil Rights Movement and for King’s rise to prominence.

It would have been hard to imagine in 1963 that there would be a national holiday in honor of King or that the White House, occupied by its first black president, would employ something called the Internet to encourage citizens to honor King by doing good works.

But here we are in 2014 acknowledging our progress, but not for too long. There is still so much yet to be done.

A miracle in Alabama?

24 Dec
In this July 16, 1937 file photo, Charlie Weems, left, and Clarence Norris, Scottsboro case defendants, read a newspaper in their Decatur, Ala. jail after Norris was found guilty for a third time by a jury which specified the death penalty. Weems was to be tried a week later. Nine black teenagers known as the Scottsboro Boys were convicted by all-white juries of raping two white women on a train in Alabama in 1931. All but the youngest were sentenced to death, even though one of the women recanted her story. All eventually got out of prison, but only one received a pardon before he died. (AP Photo)

In this July 16, 1937  photo, Charlie Weems, left, and Clarence Norris, Scottsboro case defendants, read a newspaper in their Decatur, Ala. jail after Norris was found guilty for a third time by a jury which specified the death penalty. Weems was to be tried a week later. Nine black teenagers known as the Scottsboro Boys were convicted by all-white juries of raping two white women on a train in Alabama in 1931. All but the youngest were sentenced to death, even though one of the women recanted her story. All eventually got out of prison, but only one received a pardon before he died. (AP Photo)

From his earliest New York Age columns in the early 1930s to his very last in 1942, my father championed the cause of the Scottsboro Boys, nine young black men accused of raping two white women despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The teenagers were arrested in 1931 and a series of trials spanned more than a decade. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed two sets of convictions but several of the defendants languished in jail for years. My father wrote frequently about the young mens’ plight.  When he wrote his final column for the Age in 1942, five of the Scottsboro Boys were still in prison.

In his first Christmas column in 1933, my father wrote:

“Not so far away in unsympathetic cells in a Southern prison recline nine boys whose only offense to humanity is the color of their skin, in whose greatest mistake in life was to hobo on a freight train when two white prostitutes were also ‘passengers.’

At this point, we pause to wonder how much of the Christmas spirit has managed to evade therein. How much can they give glory to God in the Highest? Which God they may ask: The God who delivered Daniel from the lions’ den; The God who delivered the three Hebrew children from the fiery furnace; the God who delivered Jonah from the belly of a whale; the God who loosened the gods of Paul and Silas and opened the prison doors or the God who caused bears to devour little children because they mocked a baldheaded man?

If those boys have studied these parts of the scriptures, thinking of Victoria Price [one of the accusers] or Judge Callahan and the Alabama jurors they must conclude that the days of omnipotence are over, or some religious historian has appealed to our fantastic and superlative imagination.

Perhaps Judge Callahan, a visible disgrace to any hand that holds the scales of justice, will go to his church and tell his God that “his all is on the altar” and he will not share the fate, we read, that was meted out to Ananias and Sapphira.

While indulging in our Christmas delicacies and cocktails we might invoke a miracle for these boys’ deliverance.”

I’m not sure Ebenezer would consider the pardons of  three Scottsboro Boys 80 years later a miracle. But that’s as good as it gets.  In November, the Alabama board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously to grant posthumous pardons to the three remaining defendants, Haywood Patterson, Charles Weems and Andy Wright.

According to a Nov. 21, New York Times article, the decision “brought to an end to a case that yielded two landmark Supreme Court opinions — one about the inclusion of blacks on juries and another about the need for adequate legal representation at trial — but continued to hang over Alabama as an enduring mark of its tainted past.

I can’t imagine that he would be happy that it would take 80 years for justice to be delivered.”

I’ve often wondered what my father, a lover of musical theater, would think of the case being the subject of a Broadway play.

And I wonder whether posthumous pardons 80 years hence would restore or challenge his faith.

Justice for Trayvon Martin in 2093?

Obama’s speech in honor of Nelson Mandela

10 Dec
Video

‘The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own’

28 Aug
obama_march_on_wasington

President Barack Obama speaks at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr., spoke, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The bell at left rang at the 16th St Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. which was bombed 18 days after the March On Washington killing four young girls. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Dreaming in context

27 Aug

hand-made_signStanding on the National Mall on Saturday, inspired by the presence of tens of thousands, it would be easy to get caught up in the gauzy, dreamy reminiscence of the summer of 1963. But we would do well to remember just how ugly those times really were.

On June 12 of that year, Medgar Evers, field secretary for the NAACP, was gunned down in his driveway while his wife and children cowered inside their home. On Sept. 15, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair died when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. In between those two horrifying acts of domestic terrorism, and many unpublicized ones, was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

keeping-the-dream-alive“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check,” Martin Luther King, Jr. said during his speech on Aug. 28, 1963. “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”

Yes, the extemporaneous “Dream,” portion of King’s speech is what is most often remembered, but the bulk of his remarks were rooted in the harsh realities of the day. One of those harsh realities was that five years earlier on that very date, Aug. 28, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago who was visiting family in Mississippi, was shot and his body mutilated after he was accused of making a flirtatious remark to a white woman.

 Simeon Wright, Emmett Till's cousin, speaks at the podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, with Sabrina Fulton, mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, center, Trayvon's brother Jahvaris Fulton, second from right and Trayvon's father Tracy Martin during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963 March on Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)


Simeon Wright, Emmett Till’s cousin, speaks at the podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, with Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, center, Trayvon’s brother Jahvaris Fulton, second from right and Trayvon’s father Tracy  (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

At Saturday’s 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Simeon Wright, a cousin of Till who was with him that day in 1955 drew parallel’s between Till’s murder and the murder of Trayvon Martin and the verdicts that followed the trials of their assailants.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of Medgar Evers, who was scheduled to speak at the 1963 march, but didn’t make it that day, told Saturday’s crowd to reclaim the notion of “Stand Your Ground” changing its meaning from a law that gives license to kill those whom citizens deem a threat, to something positive and proactive.

“Make ‘stand your ground’ a positive ring for all of us who believe in freedom and justice and equality,” Evers-Williams said. “That we stand firm on the ground that we have already made and be sure that nothing is taken away from us, because there are efforts to turn back the clock of freedom.”


Rev. Al Sharpton
, whose National Action Network coordinated Saturday’s march, questioned why voter ID laws have only become necessary in the era of the nation’s first black president.

Peter Sussman, who was at the march in 1963, returned to the National Mall with his children and grandchildren.

Peter Sussman, who was at the march in 1963, returned to the National Mall with his children and grandchildren.

“When they ask us for our voter ID take out a photo of Medgar Evers; take out a photo of [Andrew] Goodwin [James] Cheney and [Michael] Schwerner; take out a photo of Viola Liuzzo. They gave their lives so we could vote.”

Sharpton harked back to the theme of the returned check.

“50 years ago Dr. King said that America gave blacks a check that bounced in the bank of justice and was returned marked ‘insufficient funds.’ Well, we’ve redeposited the check. But guess what? It bounced again. But when we look at the reason this time it was marked ‘stop payment.'”

They had the money to bail out banks and major corporations and give tax breaks to the one percent, but not for municipal workers, teachers or Head Start, Sharpton noted.

Sharpton said we also must work together to end  violence and mysogyny.

“We cannot sit around and watch the proliferation of guns in our communities or any other community. Let me say to our young brothers and sisters. We owe a debt to those that thought enough of you to put their lives on the line. We owe a debt to those who believed in us when we didn’t believe in ourselves. We need to conduct ourselves in a way that respects that. Don’t you ever think that men like Medgar Evers died to give you the right to be a hoodlum or to give you a right to be a thug.

incarceration“We need to teach our young folk, I don’t care how much money they give you, don’t disrespect your women. We’ve got some housecleaning to do and as we clean up our house, we will then be able to clean up America.”

Sharpton also addressed the theme of the “dream.”

“They will romanticize Dr. King’s speech. But the genius of his speech was not just the poetry of his words. The genius of his speech is, the with bloodshed in Birmingham, with Evers having been killed, with James Farmer one of his core leaders in jail. He didn’t stand here and discuss the pain. He didn’t stand here and express the anger. He said in the face of those that wanted him dead that no matter what you do, I can dream above what you do. I see a nation that will make change if we pay the price. Others saw voting booths we couldn’t use. King saw and possibility of an Obama 50 years ago. The world is made of dreamers that change reality because of their dream. And what we must do is we must give our young people dreams again.”

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