Monthly Archive for October, 2012

Upcoming Events for the Week of October 29, 2012: Colors of Confinement, The Loving Story, and More

Community members across the country will have plenty of civil rights related events to choose from this month: book talks and signings, lectures by top-notch scholars, films about human rights and civil liberties, and more. Here are a few highlights from this week’s calendar:

Chapel Hill, NC—On Tuesday, October 30, 2012, Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, a women’s studies movement scholar and professor, will present the 20th Annual Sonja Haynes Stone Memorial Lecture.

Washington, DC—On Thursday, November 1, 2012, Eric Muller, editor of Colors of Confinement: Rare Kodachrome Photographs of Japanese American Incarceration in World War II, will hold a presentation and signing at the National Archives and Records Administration. Muller’s book, published in August, showcases sixty-five stunning images from an extremely rare collection of color photographs, along with interpretive essays by scholars and a reflective essay by a former internee.

Chapel Hill, NC—On Thursday, November 1, 2012, UNC Chapel Hill’s Stone Center will hold a lunchtime film screening and discussion of The Loving Story, which chronicles the trial of Mildred and Richard Loving, which eventually struck down laws against interracial marriage. (For more on the Loving trial, check out this blog post.)

For more information, and to see our full event calendar, click here.

The Tuskegee Study: 40 Years of Unethical Medical Experimentation

On October 27, 1972—only 40 years ago today—an advisory panel advised ending the now-infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment, a study in which hundreds of African American men were used (to quote the Associated Press) as “guinea pigs.”

Over the previous forty years, hundreds of African American men—some who had syphilis and some who didn’t—had been involved in the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” These men were simply told that they were being treated for “bad blood” and were not informed of the purpose of the study; they certainly did not have the necessary information to give informed consent.

Participants were told that they would receive free food, medical exams, and burial insurance; however, these benefits were outweighed by the fact that they did not receive proper treatment to cure the disease. Shockingly, when penicillin became the choice treatment for syphilis in 1947, it was not given to the men. By some reports, at least 28 men died as a result of untreated syphilis.

Nearly 40 years after the study began, in July 1972, an Associated Press reporter published an article about the study, stating:

“For 40 years the U.S. Public Health Service has conducted a study in which human guinea pigs, denied proper medical treatment, have died of syphilis and its side effects.

“The Study was conducted to determine from autopsies what the disease does to the human body.”

Public outcry was immediate and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare launched an investigation. An advisory panel formed to review the experiment decided that although the men had agreed to the study, it was still “ethically unjustified” given the risks and the lack of knowledge gained over four decades. The panel in October 1972 recommended an immediate end to the study, and it officially came to an end the next month.

It would be another 25 years before the government formally apologized to those affected by the study (read President Clinton’s apology here).

In 1974, a $10 million settlement was secured. Participants, their wives, and their children were granted lifetime medical benefits and burial services. The last surviving study participant died in 2004, but there are still several offspring receiving benefits. The study lives on in American history as a prime example of medical racism.

To learn more, check out Susan Reverby’s Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and Its Legacy (UNC Press 2009), Susan Reverby’s Tuskegee’s Truths: Rethinking the Tuskegee Syphilis Study (UNC Press 2000), and James Jones’ Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (Free Press 1992).

This story from NPR also provides a good summary. For more information, and to view a timeline, check out this page from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) web site.

To see photographs and records related to the study, check out this page from the National Archives and Records Administration.

Harriet Washington, in Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present (Anchor 2008), argues that the Tuskegee study, while certainly the most heavily publicized, was not the only instance of experimentation on African Americans.

On This Day: The Million Woman March

On October 25, 1997—15 years ago today—hundreds of thousands or even a million women filled the streets of Philadelphia in the largest gathering of women in the world.

The event had been months in the planning, and by early October the organizers expected half a million attendees—and hoped for many more. Organized by grassroots activist Phile Chionesu and housing activist Asia Coney, the protest drew speakers, musicians, and individuals from across the country to an event intended to unify and empower African American women of varying ages and backgrounds and to strengthen bonds in the African American community.

Chionesu and Coney, who argued for improvements in education, healthcare, economics, and more, developed specific proposals to help African Americans, particularly women. Ultimately, the march led to the development of a global movement for females of African descent. Soon after the march, U.S. House of Representatives member Dale Kildee paid tribute to the march.

Although there are no official attendance numbers, estimates range from 300,000 to more than 2,000,000—very impressive numbers, especially given that, rather than working through major civil rights organizations and famous speakers, organizers relied on a network of smaller organizations, fliers, the Internet, and word of mouth to publicize the event. Women who attended said they came away with pride, confidence, and hope.

This was not the first large-scale march in America; earlier years had seen the March on Washington, the Million Man March, and more—and, three years later, the Million Family March would again draw crowds.

To learn more, check out this article from the Los Angeles Times, printed the day after the march. This earlier article, printed right before the event, discusses the plans.

For more information, check out this page from

To see a photograph showing the crowd, check out this page from Wayne State University’s Reuther Library. To listen to a few excerpts from speeches made that day, check out this article from CNN.

From North Carolina alone, thousands of women traveled to the event, many in large groups. To see a WRAL article published prior to the march, click here.

Readers will also be interested in Peter Ling and Sharon Monteith’s edited volume Gender and the Civil Rights Movement (Rutgers University Press 2004).

Remembering Benjamin Oliver Davis, Sr.

On October 25, 1940—72 years ago today—Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., became the first African American general officer of the United States Army.

Born in 1877, Davis first fought in the military in 1898. He rose through the ranks as lieutenant, captain, and lieutenant colonel, before being promoted to brigadier general on October 25, 1940.

Davis continued to lead a distinguished military career, receiving the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Service Medal, as well as honorary degrees and foreign awards. He retired in 1948 after fifty years of service to the U.S. military. The U.S. Postal Service in 1997 issued a commemorative stamp in honor of his service.

Davis’s son, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps when he became the first African American general in the United States Air Force, 14 years almost to the day after Davis, Sr. was promoted to general.

To learn more about Davis, Sr., check out this biography from the Center of Military History, as well as Marvin Fletcher’s America’s First Black General: Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., 1880-1970 (University Press of Kansas 1999).

To learn more, and to view photographs of himself and his headstone, check out this page from the Arlington National Cemetery website.

To read about other “first” African Americans to serve the U.S. Army, check out this article from the United States Army.

Although Davis was promoted in 1940, the road toward equality in the U.S. armed forces was long. In 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, abolishing racial discrimination in the United States armed forces; the military was finally integrated by the end of the Korean War in the mid 1950s. For a chronological view of armed forces desegregation, check out this page from the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.

To learn more about African Americans’ service in the U.S. armed forces, check out Kimberley Phillips’ War! What Is It Good for?: Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq (UNC Press, 2011).

To learn more about the connections between armed service and minority rights, check out Ronald Krebs’ Fighting for Rights: Military Service and the Politics of Citizenship (Cornell University Press, 2006).

To learn more about Davis’s son, check out his autobiography Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., American (Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press 2000).

From The Chapel Hill News: Unexpected library discovery unearths historical tale

The Chapel Hill News recently printed a story about new research by historian Benjamin Filene, a UNC-Greensboro history professor whose trip to the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library (UNC Chapel Hill) set him off on a multi-year study surrounding fifty 1930s-era photographs.

The photographs, which were used to illustrate Stella Sharpe’s children’s book Tobe (UNC Press 1939), explore African Americans’ lives on North Carolina farms. Filene has traced the photos to two Greensboro families, and the stories to an African American tenant family living on Sharpe’s own land. Apparently, Sharpe wrote the book after one of the African American tenant farmers asked her why the individuals pictured in her children’s books didn’t look like him.

Filene will continue his research, with the possibility of exhibiting it in the Orange County Historical Museum, where he will give a talk this coming Sunday, October 28.

To read the Chapel Hill News article, click here.

Sharpe’s book, Tobe, is available for purchase through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.

Upcoming Events for the Week of October 22, 2012: 20th Century Archives, Marian Wright Edelman, and More

Community members across the country will have plenty of civil rights related events to choose from this month: book talks and signings, lectures by top-notch scholars, films about human rights and civil liberties, and more. Here are a few highlights from this week’s calendar:

Chapel Hill, NC—On Tuesday, October 23, 2012, there will be a brown bag lunch discussion entitled “Twentieth Century North Carolina Civil Rights in the Archives: Materials in the Reading Room and Online.”

Durham, NC—On Thursday, October 25, 2012, Marian Wright Edelman will give the 2012 Crown Lecture in Ethics. Edelman, a civil rights activist, economic justice proponent, and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient who founded the Children’s Defense Fund, will discuss income disparity and the state of America’s poor children.

Los Angeles, CA—On Thursday, October 25, 2012, the four UCLA ethnic studies centers will host a panel discussion on the upcoming election: “Inside Out: Social Justice, Activism, and the 2012 Vote.

For more information, and to see our full event calendar, click here.

On This Day: Arrests in Atlanta

On October 19, 1960—52 years ago today—Martin Luther King, Jr., and dozens of other individuals were arrested during a sit-in protest at Rich’s lunch counter in Atlanta, Georgia.

More than eight months after four African American college students launched the student sit-in movement at the F.W. Woolworth Co. lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, protests were underway in numerous cities across the county. The movement had already achieved some success, furthered by the organization of a new group: the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In March, San Antonio had become the first major Southern city to integrate its lunch counters, by April Galveston had become the second city in Texas to integrate its lunch counters, and by June six more cities across the nation had followed suit. The students in Atlanta sought to continue this success.

Although he did not lead this demonstration, King participated in it as he did in other sit-in demonstrations.  (He had previously urged college students to “fill up the jails of the South … to arouse the dozing conscience of the nation.”) On October 19, 52 protesters were arrested for violating legislation from 1960 which allowed individuals to be charged with a misdemeanor if they refused to leave private property when asked.

Charges against sixteen of the activists were dismissed by October 20, but 35 protesters remained in jail. King vowed to remain in the cell for a year rather than make bond.

Ultimately, the 35 jailed protesters were released on bond. However, unrelatedly, King had been given a 12-month probationary sentence on a charge of driving without a valid Georgia license (based on an “anti-trespass” law enacted to curb lunch counter sit-ins). Officials used this violation to hold him in jail, and King was sentenced to four months in a Georgia public works camp.

This steep sentence for an arguably frivolous charge was met with shock and anger by the NAACP, civil rights activists, the American populace. NAACP executive secretary Roy Wilkins stated “This incident and the picketing and the protest and other demonstrations are merely evidence of a problem to which the state of Georgia will have to address itself, whether it wants to or not.”

Fortunately, King did not remain incarcerated for long. His attorneys quickly filed an appeal. Meanwhile, Senator John F. Kennedy, then a presidential candidate, expressed his support to King’s wife, and his brother, Robert Kennedy, convinced a judge to grant bond. King was released on October 27, two days after he was sentenced and one day after he arrived at the Georgia State Prison.

The Kennedys’ efforts to free King convinced many African Americans to vote for the Democratic candidate in the national presidential election less than two weeks after King’s release, which Kennedy won. Click here to read a news article from the Associated Press, in which King thanks Kennedy.

Over the next eight years, before he was assassinated, King continued his fight for civil rights and equality, through sit-in protests, mass marches, writings and speeches, and more. Last October, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial was dedicated (click here to see pictures from the dedication ceremony). With the construction of the memorial, King became the first African American of the many American officials honored on the National Mall in Washington D.C. To learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr., check out this blog post.

Activists continued sit-in protests across the country. Their work, in tandem with other civil rights protests such as the freedom rides, eventually led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in public spaces. (Click here to see a photograph of King at the Act’s signing.)

For a comprehensive list of early sit-ins, click here. Time magazine provides a brief photographic history of the sit-in movement here, including a photograph of the sit-in at Rich’s.

To learn more about sit-ins and other student-dominated civil rights protests, check out Wesley Hogan’s Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America (UNC Press 2007).

For a firsthand account by a sit-in protester from Tennessee, check out Merrill Proudfoot’s Diary of a Sit-In, available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.

In their illustrated children’s book, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, Andrea and Brian Pinkney celebrate the Greensboro Sit-In and the movement to which it contributed.

On This Day: The Civil Rights Cases

On October 15, 1883—129 years ago today—the Supreme Court struck a major blow to the fight for equality when it ruled the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional, rejecting the argument that it was authorized under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Eight years earlier, in a last-ditch effort to protect the rights African Americans had gained in the decade following the Civil War, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 signaled an important step in the fight for equality, stating:

Be it enacted, that all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude.

The Act imposed punishments on those who violated its provisions and gave exclusive jurisdiction to federal courts to rule on cases related to the Act.

Unfortunately, this Act was rarely enforced. And then, in 1883, the cases of five African Americans who had been denied accommodations in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 were consolidated into one issue for the Supreme Court to review: the Civil Rights Cases.

Eroding the progress made on civil rights in the previous ten years, the Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment did not give the federal government the power to regulate the Act. Claiming that the issues discussed in the Civil Rights Cases only constituted private wrongs, the Court held that the Amendment  gave Congress the right only to enforce state action. The justices further argued that the Constitution did not prohibit discrimination, but rather only prohibited involuntary servitude.

Justice John Harlan famously dissented, arguing that “such discrimination is a badge of servitude, the imposition of which congress may prevent under its power, through appropriate legislation, to enforce the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendment.”

Those who opposed the decision worried that it represented a step toward legalized segregation. They were correct: over the next eight decades African Americans saw their rights further eroded. Segregation became the rule rather than the exception in the workplace, in housing, and in public life. Not until the second half of the twentieth century would the rights so clearly stated in 1875 become the law of the land once more.

To learn more about the Civil Rights Cases, check out this page from PBS and this page from OYEZ. To read the Supreme Court’s 1883 ruling against the Civil Rights Act, click here.

To read the New York Times article printed one day after the Court’s decision, click here.

Justice John Harlan, who wrote the famous dissent, would later produce another famous dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson.

To read the text of the four Reconstruction Era civil rights acts passed by Congress, the last of which was the Civil Rights Act of 1875, click here. For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, click here.

To learn more about race relations during this period, check out J. Michael Martinez’s Coming for to Carry Me Home: Race in America from Abolitionism to Jim Crow (Rowman & Littlefield 2011).

To learn more about the erosion of civil rights, check out Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (Anchor 2009).

To learn more about the history of civil rights and the Supreme Court, check out Abraham L. Davis and Barbara Luck Graham’s The Supreme Court, Race, and Civil Rights: From Marshall to Rehnquist (Sage 1995).

On This Day: The Black Panther Party

On October 15, 1966—46 years ago today—Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale came together to form the Black Panther Party for Self Defense—a militant group whose tactics would soon become controversial.

A century after the end of the Civil War, African Americans still faced discrimination and hostility throughout the country.  They lived daily with poor healthcare and housing, a lack of educational opportunities, and the threat of mob violence and police brutality. Civil rights groups had been active for years across the country, staging protests, taking desegregation battles to the courts, and agitating against poor treatment. Newton and Seale had many of the same goals in mind, but they favored a more revolutionary approach.

On October 15, Newton and Seale drafted the party’s Ten-Point Program, expressing their economic and political grievances and establishing set goals. Newton and Seale sought decent housing, fair trials, and the protection of African Americans from police brutality, among other things.

Although membership was low at first, the party gained attention in May 1967 after a protest at the California State Assembly, during which party activists carrying rifles marched on the capitol to protest California’s attempt (through the Mulford Act) to ban public displays of loaded firearms (something the Black Panthers were known for).

One month earlier, the first edition of its official newspaper, The Black Panther, had been printed. The paper gained readership fast, reaching a circulation of 250,000 by 1969. Within two years, the party had expanded throughout the United States, from the east coast to the west coast. Within three years, membership—diverse despite the leaders’ strong socialist leanings—reached 10,000.

In an effort to combat police brutality and protect African Americans targeted by police officers, armed Black Panthers followed law enforcement officers in what came to be known as Black Panther Police Patrols. Confrontations often led to violence between Black Panthers and police officers—violence which was blamed on the Panthers. Newton himself was convicted of manslaughter connected with the death of one police officer and the injury of another. (He spent three years in prison before his conviction was reversed. During this time, “Free Huey” protests were held across the country.)

Under scrutiny for its militant tactics, the Black Panther Party was monitored by the FBI’s COINTELPRO. Through this program, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who called the party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” sought to diminish the party’s influence, incriminating members, weakening leadership, and draining the group’s resources.

Ultimately, ideological differences between party leaders led to internal conflict. The party declined in membership throughout the 1970s, breaking up around 1982. A later group, the self-proclaimed New Black Panther Party, was formed in Dallas, Texas, in 1989, but it is considered illegitimate by members of the original Black Panther Party.

Although this controversial organization is most frequently remembered for its militant actions, it also developed programs to address economic, health, and social issues—perhaps most famously the Free Breakfast for Children Program, which spread across the country and fed thousands of children who otherwise would not have had access to such meals.

To learn more, check out Stanford University’s Black Panther Party Research Project. PBS’s Huey Newton Story provides lots of information on Newton himself and the actions of the Black Panther Party.

A number of scholars have turned their attention to the Black Panthers and the Black Power movement of which the Panthers are seen to have formed a part. For more information, check out Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams’ edited collection In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement (Duke University Press 2006).

In Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California (UNC Press 2010), Donna Murch explains how a relatively small city with a recent history of African American settlement produced such compelling and influential forms of Black Power politics.

In Spring 2013, UNC Press will release From the Bullet to the Ballot: The Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party and Racial Coalition Politics in Chicago, in which Jakobi Williams presents a comprehensive history of this Panthers chapter.

In David Hilliard’s edited volume, The Black Panther Party: Service to the People Programs (University of New Mexico Press 2008), the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation argues that social programs developed by the Black Panthers are still viable ways to address injustices today.

To learn more about violence associated with the group, check out Curtis Austin’s Up Against the Wall: Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party (University of Arkansas Press 2008).

For more on the lasting significance of the Black Panther Party, check out Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiaficas’ Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party: A New Look at the Black Panthers and their Legacy (Routledge 2001).

Upcoming Events for the Week of October 15, 2012: Education Disparity, Religious Liberty, and More

Community members across the country will have plenty of civil rights related events to choose from this month: book talks and signings, lectures by top-notch scholars, films about human rights and civil liberties, and more. Here are a few highlights from this week’s calendar:

Memphis, Tennessee—On Wednesday, October 17, 2012, the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel will hold its October Lunch & Learn. Josh Edelman, Senior Program Officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the Empowering Effective Teachers team, will discuss education disparity.

Raleigh, North Carolina—On Thursday, October 18, 2012, Paul Harvey, co-author of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, will give a book talk at NC State University’s Department of Religion. Harvey and co-author Edward Blum illustrate how the image of Jesus Christ has been used both to justify the atrocities of white supremacy and to inspire the righteousness of civil rights crusades.

Washington, D.C.—On Thursday, October 18, 2012, the Newseum will hold a screening and discussion of the documentary film First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty, which discusses freedom of conscience as a legally protected human right. A panel discussion, led by Nina Totenberg of NPR, about religious liberty will follow the screening.

For more information, and to see our full event calendar, click here.