Monthly Archive for March, 2012

Announcing Freedom’s Teacher, the Enhanced E-book

The University of North Carolina Press today announced the publication of a special enhanced e-book version of Freedom’s Teacher:  The Life of Septima Clark by Katherine Mellen Charron.  Produced in collaboration with the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston, the enhanced e-book features nearly 100 primary-source items, including photographs, documents, letters, newspaper clippings, and 60 audio excerpts from oral-history interviews with 15 individuals–including Clark herself–each embedded in the narrative where it will be most meaningful.


YouTube demo of Freedom’s Teacher enhanced e-book

First published in 2009, this biography tells the story of civil rights activist Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987), who developed a citizenship education program that enabled tens of thousands of African Americans to register to vote and to link the power of the ballot to concrete strategies for individual and communal empowerment.

Clark, who began her own teaching career in 1916, grounded her approach in the philosophy and practice of southern black activist educators in the decades leading up to the 1950s and 1960s, and then trained a committed cadre of black women to lead this grassroots literacy revolution in community stores, beauty shops, and churches throughout the South. In this engaging biography, Katherine Charron tells the story of Clark, from her coming of age in the South Carolina lowcountry to her activism with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the movement’s heyday.

“Developing this enhanced e-book, we undertook a wondrous journey,” said Charron. Continue reading ‘Announcing Freedom’s Teacher, the Enhanced E-book’

Remembering the Scottsboro Boys

On March 25th, 1931—81 years ago today—nine African American teenagers who would soon be known simply as the Scottsboro Boys were arrested on a Southern Railroad train in Alabama.

Accused of rape by two white girls, the nine teenagers (the youngest of whom was only thirteen years old) would spend the next two decades struggling for justice.

The nine were among roughly two dozen young men and women riding the train that day. After a fight between white and African American teenagers, the group was met at the station in Paint Rock, Alabama, where dozens of armed men rushed the train, rounded up the nine black youth they were able to find, and drove them to jail.

Enter Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, two young white mill workers who told the group that they had been raped at gun- and knife-point by a group of twelve African Americans. Price identified six of the men, and the guards assumed the others had attacked Bates.

Alabama Governor B.M. Miller ordered the National Guard to protect the suspects, who were under threat of lynching by several hundred men surrounding the jail. Only twelve days later, the nine went to court—a few at a time—represented by an unpaid real estate attorney and a forgetful and out-of-practice 70-year-old attorney.

The round of trials was a mess. The two ill-prepared defense attorneys offered no witnesses besides the defendants themselves, Price was cross-examined for only a few minutes, Bates was not asked about the contradictions between her testimony and Price’s, the examining doctors were not cross-examined at all, and the defense attorneys did not even offer a closing argument.

By the end of the first round of trials, eight of the nine teenagers had been convicted and sentenced to death.

The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed all but one of the eight convictions and death sentences.  Then, the United States Supreme Court overturned the convictions in Powell v. Alabama by a 7-2 vote, ruling that the defendants’ Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and competent legal counsel had been denied. The Court ordered new trials with new lawyers.

The boys, confined to terrible prison conditions, awaited their second trials, scheduled for 1933. The new trials were characterized by brief questioning of the accusers and testimony by only one eyewitness with questionable credibility.

And then came the biggest shock of the case: accuser Ruby Bates, who had had not been seen for months before the trial, showed up in the courtroom and recanted her testimony—she said there was no rape, and that Price had told her to frame a story (click here to see her testimony).

Shockingly, Bates’ testimony did not change the jury’s minds. Haywood Patterson—the first of the nine to be tried—was pronounced guilty. Judge James Horton suspended the jury’s death sentence, but the Alabama Supreme Court ultimately removed him from the case.

And so it went on, trial after trial, verdict after verdict. By January 1936, defendant Hayward Patterson began his fourth trial—this time, however, he was sentenced to 75 years in prison, rather than death.

Finally, by June 1950—19 years after their arrest—all of the Scottsboro Boys had been paroled, freed, or pardoned. Two of the young men later authored books about their lives.

Although the last of the Scottsboro Boys died in 1989, their story lives on today as disturbing reminder of the racial injustice that plagued America—and particularly the Deep South—for many decades after the Civil War.

For short biographies of each of the individuals involved, click here.

To learn more about the case, check out PBS’s Scottsboro: An American Tragedy.

For more information, click here.

The University of Missouri at Kansas City created an online exhibit about the trials (click here). To read brief quotes by those involved, click here. For links to each of the appellate decisions, click here.

This 1933 editorial provides an enlightening view into the racial prejudice inherent in these trials.

Today, the nine are memorialized in the Scottsboro Boys Museum & Cultural Center.

Remembering Viola Liuzzo

On March 25th, 1965—47 years ago today—on the last day of the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march, Viola Liuzzo, a 39-year-old white female civil rights worker, was killed by white supremacists while driving a 19-year-old black activist to Montgomery to pick up civil rights demonstrators waiting to return to Selma.

Liuzzo, who had spent the previous five days providing transportation to SCLC demonstrators, was spotted by four white Klansmen while stopped at a traffic light by the Edmund Pettus Bridge—the spot where, only 18 days earlier, white law enforcement officers in an event thereafter known as Bloody Sunday had beaten civil rights demonstrators during their first attempt at the Selma-to-Montgomery March.

The Klansmen, who had hoped to kill King, targeted Liuzzo when they spotted African American Leroy Moton in her car. They engaged Liuzzo in a high-speed chase along the highway, pulled up alongside her car, and shot and killed her. Moton, who pretended to be dead, survived the attack. Continue reading ‘Remembering Viola Liuzzo’

Remembering Marcus Garvey

On March 23rd, 1916—96 years ago today—a man who would soon become one of America’s most well-known  black nationalists—the self-proclaimed “Provisional President of Africa”—arrived in the United States.

Marcus Garvey, a native of Jamaica, traveled to America on Booker T. Washington’s invitation. Although Washington died before Garvey arrived, Garvey settled in the United States and organized a chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association—an organization he had originally founded in Jamacia to push for racial uplift and improved educational and industrial opportunities for blacks.

Within two years, the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) would expand to cities and towns across America and the world, arguing for African American autonomy, self-sufficiency, and economic improvement. Promoting the idea of establishing an independent nation of African Americans in Africa, Garvey utilized elaborate dress, energizing events, inspiring banners, and more, as a way to instill in African Americans pride in being black.

He had high hopes for the movement now known as Garveyism or the “Back to Africa” movement. He incorporated the Black Star Line—a shipping line to foster black trade and transportation—in 1919. He also founded The Negro World, a weekly newspaper with international circulation and a strong agenda of black consciousness and economic independence. Banned in many areas of the world, the newspaper published work by African American figures such as Zora Neale Hurston and T. Thomas Fortune, and remained in circulation for roughly 15 years.

Garvey’s reign was short-lived; the Bureau of Investigation (now the Federal Bureau of Investigation) kept the UNIA under investigation for many years, and Garvey was eventually incarcerated for federal mail fraud and ultimately deported. However, he continued his movement in Jamaica and London, and loyalists kept the UNIA alive after Garvey’s death in 1940. A version of the organization, now called the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) still functions today.

To learn more about Marcus Garvey, click here.

UCLA’s Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers Project provides information, a photo gallery, and two audio clips from Marcus Garvey’s speeches (click here to hear Marcus Garvey speak).

To learn more about Garvey’s life and actions, check out PBS’s film Marcus Garvey: Look for me in the Whirlwind.

To learn about Amy Jacques Garvey, Marcus Garvey’s wife and a UNIA staffer, check out Ula Yvette Taylor’s The Veiled Garvey: The Life and Times of Amy Jacques Garvey (UNC Press 2002).

For more on Garveyism, check out Mary Rolinson’s Grassroots Garveyism: The Universal Negro Improvement Association in the Rural South, 1920-1927 (UNC Press 2007).

On This Day: The Civil Rights Restoration Act

On March 22nd, 1988—only 24 years ago today—Congress passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act, broadening the scope of earlier civil rights legislation and clarifying its application.

Passed over President Ronald Reagan’s veto, the Act was intended, according to the Senate Report, “to overturn Supreme Court’s 1984 decision in Grove City College v. Bell, . . . and to restore the effectiveness and vitality of the four major civil rights statutes [Title IX, Title VI, Section 504, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975] that prohibit discrimination in federally assisted programs.”

The Act was premised with two statements:

1)      Certain aspects of recent decisions and opinions of the Supreme Court have unduly narrowed or cast doubt upon the broad application of title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and

2)      Legislative action is necessary to restore the prior consistent and long-standing executive branch interpretation of broad, institution-wide application of those laws as previously administered.

Restoring federal protections for minorities, women, the elderly, and physically disabled individuals, the Civil Rights Restoration Act struck a decisive blow to discrimination, and was celebrated by many as a decisive victory in the long struggle for civil rights.

To read the full text of the Civil Rights Restoration Act, click here.

To learn more about Grove City College v. Bell, click here.

To read one reporter’s take on the bill, check out this opinion piece.

Remembering Automobile Workers v. Johnson Controls, Inc.

On March 20th, 21 years ago, the Supreme Court in Automobile Workers v. Johnson Controls, Inc. chipped away at gender-based employment discrimination, ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits companies from excluding or firing women from jobs that might pose reproductive health hazards.

The case resulted from the actions of one major manufacturing company—Johnson Controls, Inc.—but signaled an end to widely-used “fetal protection” policies across the U.S.

The manufacturing of automobile batteries at Johnson Controls, Inc., exposed employees to high levels of lead. In an effort to eliminate the lead exposure of women who might become pregnant, the company forbade its female employees of reproductive age and ability from engaging in tasks which might involve exposure to high levels of lead. In order to gain access to the higher-paying, lead-exposed jobs, women had to provide medical proof of infertility.

The United Automobile Workers brought the case to court, arguing that Johnson Controls’ policy constituted sexual discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Supreme Court noted in a unanimous decision that even when policies are well intentioned, they must still be considered unconstitutional if they result in discrimination. Johnson Controls did not require men to demonstrate proof of sterility—even though lead exposure also affects male reproductive health—and therefore, the Court argued, the company could not require women to do so:

The policy is not neutral because it does not apply to male employees in the same way as it applies to females, despite evidence about the debilitating effect of lead exposure on the male reproductive system.

While the work conditions may have been detrimental to reproductive health and pregnancies, the women were fully capable of performing their tasks, just as the men were. And whether or not the policy may have been well-intentioned, discrimination was still present:

The absence of a malevolent motive does not convert a facially discriminatory policy into a neutral policy with a discriminatory effect.

The ruling marked a decisive victory for women, who had previously been excluded from jobs considered hazardous. Up to this point, “fetal protection” policies had been widely used not just at Johnson Controls but also at other major companies across the country, such as General Motors. The decision thus provided previously unavailable advancement potential to women who, though fully capable, had previously been barred from jobs simply due to their gender and reproductive potential.

To listen to an audio clip of the argument, click here.

To read the full text of the Supreme Court’s opinion, click here.

To learn more about employment discrimination, click here.

For more on sex-based employment discrimination in particular, click here.

Remembering Uncle Tom

On March 20th, 160 years ago, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel that immediately captured the nation’s attention and precipitated increased anti-slavery agitation in the decade leading up to the Civil War.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin follows the personal lives of the slave known as Uncle Tom and his family as they suffer through the sales, violence, separation, and death that characterized American slavery. Fiercely religious and protective of his family, Tom puts himself in harm’s way to keep his family together and provide them with whatever protection he can.

Written partly in response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published in serialized form in the periodical the National Era. Immediately popular, the narrative was published in book form on March 20th, 1852, selling more than 300,000 copies in the United States within its first year of publication.

The narrative personalized the violent and horrifying nature of slavery, striking a nerve in an American culture which had for years looked the other way and allowed slavery to continue. In its 160-year history, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been translated into more than sixty languages and is still widely read today.

Stowe’s main character, Uncle Tom, was partly inspired by the life and memoirs of the Reverend Josiah Henson, a former slave turned abolitionist and Underground Railroad worker. Henson’s autobiography, Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life, is available through the DocSouth Books publishing initiative, in e-book and print-on-demand paperback format.

For more information about the story and significance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, check out the extensive information available online through the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.

To learn more about the publication history of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, click here.

A great collection of primary documents—including copies of original illustrations and book reviews—is available here.

To learn more about Harriet Beecher Stowe, click here.

The News & Observer recently published a great contextual summary: click here.

Cecil Williams Meets the KKK

From the Southern Oral History Program’s Civil Rights History Project, a clip from an interview with Cecil Williams, who was a fourteen year-old novice journalist when he decided to get some shots of a Ku Klux Klan rally in Orangeburg, SC. Here’s what happened next.

Cecil Williams from Southern Oral History Program on Vimeo.

Remembering Gideon v. Wainwright

On March 18th 49 years ago, the Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright took a major step in defining the rights of defendants charged with criminal offenses, ruling that the Constitution requires states to provide defense attorneys to individuals charged with serious criminal offenses who cannot afford to hire a lawyer themselves.

Clarence Gideon, a poor man, was charged in Florida with breaking and entering into a pool hall and stealing money from vending machines. When he requested a lawyer be appointed to represent him—he could not afford to hire legal counsel on his own—he was told that legal representation was only provided to defendants whose crimes might result in the death penalty.

While serving his five-year prison sentence, Gideon petitioned the Florida Supreme Court on the grounds that the judge’s refusal to provide legal counsel was unconstitutional. When his petition was denied, Gideon appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

On March 18th, in a unanimous decision, citing the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of legal representation, the Court ruled that criminal defendants have the right to be represented by a court-appointed attorney:

In our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to be an obvious truth. . . . Lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries . . .

From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which ever defendant stands equal before the law. This noble idea cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.

Thus, through this ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the provisions of the Constitution of the United States, affirming a basic civil liberty due to all American citizens: the right to a fair trial. It paved the way for further improvements to the criminal justice system, including the right of arrested individuals to be informed of their civil liberties—which would be affirmed three years later in Miranda v. Arizona.

To listen to audio clips of the oral argument, click here.

To learn more about the case and its significance, click here.

Voices for Civil Rights Part 3

Part 3 of the Southern Oral History Program’s series on WUNC, “Voices for Civil Rights,” aired this morning. Listen to it here.