BHM 2018 – Day 3: Members of the Presidential Cabinet, Part 1

African Americans in Presidential Cabinets

Ever since President Johnson appointed Robert Weaver to be the Housing and Urban Development Secretary, we have been at the executive table and part of the overseeing arm of the federal government. All totaled, since 1966, there have been 22 of us. It is somewhat sad that we keep getting chosen to head up “Urban Development”, but we have had other positions as well. Secretary of State, Commerce, Agriculture, Labor and Energy, and Attorney General. The only positions we have not held are Defense, Interior and Treasury. I want to take a look at the Departments as well as the men and women who ran them, to show a bit of the power we have had in the last 60 years.

Robert Weaver was born in 1907 and was Harvard educated, including a doctorate in economics. His involvement in presidential politics dates back to the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he was one of 45 prominent African Americans who made up the “Black Cabinet”, or Federal Council of Negro Affairs. The Black Cabinet worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to make sure that blacks got 10% of the welfare funds from “The New Deal”. The Department of Housing and Urban Development was designed by Kennedy to deal with the substandard, aged housing left in US cities after white-flight and the problems of unemployment. Some of HUDs agencies and offices include the Federal Housing Administration which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage agencies, the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, the Office of Public and Indian Housing which runs Section 8, and the Office of Community Planning and Development which deals with affordable housing and homelessness. Kennedy initially started the work necessary to create HUD and Johnson finished it, appointing Weaver in 1966. The first black woman to reach a cabinet position was also Secretary of HUD. Patricia Roberts Harris was born in 1924, a Delta from Howard with a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University. In addition to a short stint as Dean of Howard’s Law School, Harris was formerly the Ambassador to Luxembourg under Johnson and on the Board of Directors for IBM, Scott Paper and Chase Manhattan Bank. Carter appointed her as HUD secretary, and later Secretary of Health and Human Services. During confirmation one senator suggested that she had too much wealth to head HUD. Her reply: I am a black woman, the daughter of a Pullman (railroad) car waiter. I am a black woman who even eight years ago could not buy a house in parts of the District of Columbia. I didn’t start out as a member of a prestigious law firm, but as a woman who needed a scholarship to go to school. If you think I have forgotten that, you are wrong.

The next HUD Secretary was Samuel Pierce, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1981. Pierce, born in 1922, was an Eagle Scout, a member of both A Phi A and Alpha Phi Omega at Cornell, part of the US Army CID during WW II, and had law degrees from Cornell and New York University. A life-long Republican, he had government positions under Eisenhower, Governor Rockefeller of New York and under Nixon. However, he also argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of MLK. Pierce permitted a fair amount of corruption to occur under his watch including political favoritism, mismanagement and abuse, involving millions of dollars. Many under him were charged and convicted of felony charges. He was not one of the Secretaries to be proud of.

Another HUD Secretary was Alphonso Jackson under George W. Bush. Born in 1945, he attended Truman State, and got his law degree from Washington University. He worked with housing issues throughout his career, including director of the US Department of Public and Assisted Housing in DC and the Housing Authority of Dallas which he drastically cleaned up from a series of discrimination lawsuits. with run-down housing buildings and unsafe conditions to a city with high standards for housing and commercial development projects. Jackson knew Bush personally, was nominated as Deputy Secretary, and then rose to Secretary in 2004. But he resigned under allegations of unethical conduct in the awarding of HUD contracts. Ben Carson has been named the most recent HUD Secretary and has served for the past year.

There have been 3 black men in the role of Secretary of Transportation. The role of the Department of Transportation is “to Serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible, and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people, today and into the future. It includes the Federal Aviation Administration (air traffic control and satellite management), the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (2.6 million miles of pipeline transporting 1 million daily shipments of hazardous materials and 64% of US energy commodities) and an Office of Inspector General (oversight for fraud). The first black Secretary of Transportation was William Thaddeus Coleman, Jr, nominated by Gerald Ford in 1975. Born in 1920, as can be expected, Coleman faced traditional racism as a child: Coleman was suspended for cursing at a teacher after she praised his honors presentation by saying, “Someday, William, you will make a wonderful chauffeur.”[ When Coleman attempted to join the school’s swim team he was again suspended, and the team disbanded after he returned so as to avoid admitting him, only to re-form after he graduated. Coleman attended University of Pennsylvania, served in WWII and attended Harvard Law. In 1947, he was a Law Clerk for the Supreme Court. He also worked as counsel on Brown vs. Board of Education – the Supreme Court case that ended segregation nationwide in public schools. In addition to his work as a lawyer, he worked with the NAACP, the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of Kennedy, was on a delegation to the UN and served on the boards of Pepsico, IBM, Chase Manhattan Bank and PanAm. As DOT Secretary, he presided over issues of pipeline safety, the supersonic Concorde jet, and use of car airbags. The next black DOT Secretary was Rodney Slater, under Bill Clinton in 1997. Born in 1955, Slater attended Eastern Michigan University and got his law degree from University of Arkansas. Slater had several positions under Clinton during Clinton’s tenure of Arkansas governor. As president, Clinton appointed Slater to run the Federal Highway Administration in 1993, and to the DOT Secretary position in 1997. During his tenure, Slater negotiated a $200 billion investment in surface transportation and laws to improve airline safety. The last DOT Secretary was Anthony Foxx under Barack Obama in 2013. Born in 1971, he attended Davidson College and New York University law school. In addition to his legal work, he served as a law clerk in Cincinnati, worked for the department of Justice and the Congressional Judiciary Committee. He served as mayor of Charlotte, NC in 2009, creating 4000 jobs and reinforcing Charlotte’s role as a critical energy industry hub. Obama picked him as DOT Secretary, resigning from his mayoral position. He won transportation moneys for 72 different projects nationwide in a single year of his tenure.

In 1979, Carter created the Department of Health and Human Services, splitting up Health, Education and Welfare into a Health Department and a Department of Education. Carter tapped Patricia Harris Roberts to leave HUD and fill the role of Secretary for the new department. HHS currently runs Medicaid and Medicare, the Centers for Disease control, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health as well as other agencies. The second black HHS secretary was Louis Wade Sullivan, appointed in 1989 by George W. Bush. Sullivan, born in 1933, was a graduate of Morehouse College and Boston School of Medicine. He went on to teach at Harvard, Seton Hall College, became co-director of hematology at Boston University then dean and later president of Morehouse School of Medicine. As HHS secretary, Sullivan oversaw creation of the FDA food label, and the public education program focused on the health dangers from tobacco use. After ending his position as Secretary of HHS, he went back to Morehouse College of Medicine and served for another 20 years.

Bill Clinton has the historical position of having had the most black cabinet members on his staff, with a total of 7, in his 8 year tenure. In his first term, he named Mike Espy as Secretary of Agriculture, Ron Brown as Secretary of Commerce, Hazel O’Leary as Secretary of Energy and Jesse Brown as Secretary of Veteran Affairs. Mike Espy, born in 1953, was educated in Howard and received his law degree from Santa Clara University. He worked in many political positions including Assistant Secretary of State in Mississippi, Assistant State Attorney General. As Secretary of Agriculture (USDA), Espy was head of the SNAP/Food Stamp program, as well as developing and executing federal laws related to farming, agriculture, forestry, and food. Unfortunately, Espy only served for one year, and was accused, but acquitted, of accepting gifts. He went back to work as a lawyer in 2008. Ron Brown, born in 1941, educated at Middlebury College, the racism Brown encountered included his membership to Sigma Phi Epsilon. The national charter of SPE at Middlebury was rescinded and the fraternity became a local known as Sigma Epsilon. Brown served in the Army in 1962 in both Korea and Europe, worked in the Urban League then got a law degree from St. Johns University. Brown worked on Edward Kennedy’s presidential campaign, and then went on to become a lobbyist. In 1989 he was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, helping to secure Clinton’s presidency. Brown was subsequently made Secretary of Commerce, the arm of the government concerned with economic growth and job creation. The Department of Commerce includes some surprising offices, including the Census Bureau, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service, the Patent and Trademark offices and the National Institute for Standards and Technology. Several administrations, including the Obama administration have proposed eliminating and redistributing the Department. Ron Brown died in a plane crash in 1996. Hazel O’Leary was born in 1937 earned her bachelors from Fisk and her law degree at Rutgers. O’Leary had a strong legal record, as a prosecutor, as well as a history of working in Energy offices under President Carter. From 1989-1993 she was working as an executive VP to Northern States Power Company in Minnesota. It was O’Leary who oversaw reducing the department by 1/3rd, and shifting the focus from Nuclear Energy to efficient and renewable energy. She also declassified documents showing how the US had conducted radiation experiments on US citizens such as mentally disabled children, impoverished pregnant women, US soldiers and prisoners. When O’Leary left political life, she ran a consulting firm, and then became Fisk University president in 2004. Jesse Brown, born in 1944, was a Marine Corp veteran who served in Vietnam, was disabled and went to work for the DAV. In 1988, he became executive director. The Department of Veterans Affairs runs the Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration and the National Cemetery Administration. While Brown was secretary, he expanded services offered to female veterans, homeless veterans and veterans exposed to chemicals during Vietnam.

. In 1997, Clinton named Alexis Herman to Secretary of Labor, Slater to Transportation and Togo West Jr. to Veteran Affairs. Alexis Herman was born in 1947 and earned her bachelors from Xavier University as a Delta. Herman spent most of her career as a labor advocate, in Mississippi, Georgia and New York. Carter appointed her to the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau in 1977 where she worked to get more minority women hired to Fortune 500 firms. Later, Herman worked on Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns and served as chief of staff under Ron Brown for the Democratic National Committee. In 1992, Herman was deputy director of the Presidential Transition Office, then Director of the Office of Public Liaison. Some of her major work was winning support for NAFTA. The Department of Labor is responsible for occupational safety, wage and hour standards and unemployment insurance benefits, as well as other labor related matters. Herman was responsible for two minimum wage increases and personally served as mediator for the 1997 UPS workers strike. After the end of Clinton’s term, Herman stayed involved in campaign politics with Gore, Kerry and Hillary Clinton. She has 20 honorary doctorates. Togo West Jr. followed Jesse Brown as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Born in 1942, West was an Eagle Scout and high school valedictorian, with an engineering degree and law degree from Howard, West was a member of both Alpha Phi Omega and Omega Psi Phi. West joined the army in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in 1965, practiced law briefly and then was appointed as Associate Deputy Attorney General under Ford. Before serving as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, West was Secretary of the Army from 1993-1998. West only served as Secretary of Veteran Affairs for two years, after which he returned to private practice.

Tomorrow, I will cover the remaining Secretaries.


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BHM 2018 – Day 2: About those 7 Black Presidents

About those 7 black presidents before Obama…
Whether we have had presidents with “one drop” of black blood or not depends on who you ask. If you ask white historians, they will tell you “no”. If you ask Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eminent black historian, he will tell you “its wishful thinking”. If you ask various Afrocentric historians, there definitely were, and any effort to say otherwise is a cover-up.
I want to take a moment to point out to my white friends how complicated the issue is. In the 1700’s, there was something called the seven-eighths rule. If you had ONE black great-grandparent, then you were black. And of course, if you were black, then you could be enslaved. So having a black great-grandparent was something most people hid to the best of their ability. Now, after the Civil War, many Southern states adopted the “One Drop Rule”. If you couldn’t prove that you were as white as driven snow, you were “black” and to be treated poorly, as all African-Americans were of the time were. How would anyone know? That’s where it gets tricky. In America, up until the last 60 years, there was tremendous incentive to “pass”. Maybe not all the time. My grandparents passed when they wanted to go on cruises. My father tried to pass in World War II. Even I was told to deny my heritage when I went to summer camp in Iowa.

Passing is an ugly thing, because passing exposes you to the dark side of white supremacy. When white supremacists think that you are a sympathizer, they say some of the ugliest things imaginable. And unless you are a very brave person, someone who is passing says nothing. Passing when no one else in your family can pass may mean never seeing them again, never having roots, never having a family history that you can claim, or making up lies. And the reward, being treated as a regular human being, because that’s what it means to be white in America, vs. being treated like garbage, because that’s what it meant to be black in America. Even 1/8th black, even one-drop black.

So, what would it mean if there were black presidents? Nothing more than a historical tidbit, to some, but to the descendants of presidents, it is so offensive that President Harding’s children did genetic testing to show that going back 4 generations, everyone was white. If you remember the uproar over Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings descendants, Thomas Jefferson’s legitimate descendants tried for generations to claim that Hemings’ children were sired by Jefferson’s brother or cousin.

So, what about the black community? Why would it be so important to claim these individuals as “black”? To some, again, historical tidbit. To others, proof that “we” are capable of great things. To others, proof that “we” are interwoven into the fabric of society far more than white society wants to admit. If you believe that 7 of our presidents had African blood, what does it mean to you?

Below are the yes and no versions of the “story” of the 7 black presidents. Decide for yourself.

Seven Black Presidents Before Barack Obama
1. John Hanson (a Moor) was actually the 1st President of the United States, he served from 1781 – 1782 and he was black. The new country was actually formed on March 1, 1781 with the adoption of The Articles of Confederation. This document was actually proposed on June 11, 1776, but not agreed upon by Congress until November 15, 1777. Maryland refused to sign this document until Virginia and New York ceded their western lands (Maryland was afraid that these states would gain too much power in the new government from such large amounts of land).
Once the signing took place in 1781, a President was needed to run the country. John Hanson was chosen unanimously by Congress (which included George Washington). In fact, all the other potential candidates refused to run against him, as he was a major player in the revolution and an extremely influential member of Congress.
As President, Hanson ordered all foreign troops off American soil, as well as removal of all foreign flags. He established the Great Seal of the United States, which all Presidents since have been required to use on all Official Documents. He declared that the 4th Thursday of every November to be Thanksgiving Day, which is still true today. Even though elected, one variable that was never thought through was that America was not going to accept a Black President during the heart of the enslavement period. Enter George Washington.
Rebuttal: John Hanson (d. c. 1860) was an African American associated with the American Colonization Society,[1] which sought to relocate black Americans to Liberia. In Liberia, he served as a senator from Grand Bassa County.
Senator Hanson has been confused with an earlier John Hanson, a white politician from Maryland who served as President of the Continental Congress during the American Revolution. According to this myth, John Hanson of Maryland was actually black. Internet sites promoting the hoax use the photograph of Senator John Hanson of Liberia to support the claim, even though photography had not yet been invented when the earlier John Hanson was living, as he died in 1783, and photography was not commercially introduced until 1850s.
2. Thomas Jefferson was the 3rd President of the United States, he served from 1801 – 1809 and he was black. His mother a half-breed Indian squaw and his father a mulatto (half white and half black) from Virginia. He fathered numerous children with Sally Hemmings, a mulatto slave with whom he lived with in Europe.

Rebuttal: Vaughn and others claim Thomas Jefferson’s mother Jane Randolph Jefferson was of mixed-race ancestry.[3][8] The academic consensus does not support such claims. In her recent analyses of historical evidence about the Hemings and Jeffersons, for example, the scholar Annette Gordon-Reed makes no claim of African descent in the Randolph family.[24]
Specifically, Vaughn says, “The chief attack on Jefferson was in a book written by Thomas Hazard in 1867 called The Johnny Cake Papers. Hazard interviewed Paris Gardiner, who said he was present during the 1796 presidential campaign, when one speaker states that Thomas Jefferson was a mean-spirited son of a half-breed Indian squaw and a Virginia mulatto father.”[25] An overlapping claim is that, in an 18th-century Presidential campaign, someone speaking against Jefferson’s candidacy and in favor of that of John Adams accused Jefferson of being “half Injun, half nigger, half Frenchman”[26][27] and born to a “mulatto father”[26][27][28] or slave[29] and “a half-breed Indian squaw”,[26][27][28] this birth to a mulatto and an Indian allegedly “well-known in the neighbourhood where he was raised”[30] but otherwise unproven. Vaughn also quoted biographer Samuel Sloan’s statement that there was “something strange” about Thomas Jefferson’s reportedly destroying papers and personal effects of his mother Jane Randolph Jefferson after her death. That is the extent of his evidence.
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates Monticello, the major public history site on Jefferson, characterizes Jefferson’s parents this way: “His father Peter Jefferson was a successful planter and surveyor and his mother Jane Randolph a member of one of Virginia’s most distinguished families.”[31] They describe the quote in The Johnny Cake Papers as one frequently repeated, but it is attributed in written sources to the 1800 rather than the 1796 election campaign and clearly is one made by political opponents. The Johnny Cake Papers were a collection of folk tales published in 1879, not 1867, and only one tale commented on Jefferson.


3. Andrew Jackson was the 7th President of the United States. He served from 1829 – 1837 and he was black. His mother was a white woman from Ireland who had Andrew Jackson with a black man. His father’s other children (Andrew Jackson’s stepbrother) was sold into slavery.
Rebuttal: Andrew Jackson referred to a charge that his “Mother … [was] held to public scorn as a prostitute who intermarried with a Negro, and [that his] … eldest brother [was] sold as a slave in Carolina.”[33][34] Less specific was a rumor of Jackson having “colored blood”, meaning having “Negro” ancestry;[35] this rumor was unproven. President Jackson’s father was born in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, in current-day Northern Ireland, around 1738.[36] Scholars Hendrik Booraem, Robert Remini, and H. W. Brands are agreed he had no black ancestors.[37]


4. Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, he served from 1861 – 1865 and he was black. His mother was from an Ethiopian Tribe and his father was an African American. It was told that his father was Thomas Lincoln, a man to cover the truth, but he was sterile from childhood mumps and was later castrated, making it impossible for him to have been his father. Lincoln’s nickname “Abraham Africa-nus the First.”
Rebuttal: According to historian William E. Barton, a rumor “current in various forms in several sections of the South” was that Lincoln’s biological father was Abraham Enloe, which Barton dismissed as “false”.[38] According to Doug Wead, Enloe publicly denied this connection to Lincoln but is reported to have privately confirmed it.[39] Another claim was that Lincoln was “part Negro”,[40] but that was unproven. Mail received by Lincoln called him “a negro”[41] and a “mulatto”.[41][42] Thomas Lincoln’s “complexion [was] swarthy”.[43] According to Lincoln’s law partner William H. Herndon, Lincoln had “very dark skin”[44] although “his cheeks were leathery and saffron-colored”[45] and “his face was … sallow,”[45] and “his hair was dark, almost black”.[46] Abraham Lincoln described himself ca. 1838–’39 as “black”[47] and his “complexion” in 1859 as “dark”[48] but whether he meant either in an ancestral sense is unknown. The Charleston Mercury described him as being “of … the dirtiest complexion”.[49]

5. Warren Harding was the 28th President of the United States, he served from 1921 – 1923 and he was black. Harding never denied his ancestry. When Republican leaders called on Harding to deny his “Negro” history, he said, “How should I know whether or not one of my ancestors might have jumped the fence?”
Rebuttal: Warren G. Harding was said to have African ancestry; one claim was by his political opponent, a controversial and racist historian, William Estabrook Chancellor. Chancellor said Harding’s father was a mulatto[5][6][7] and Harding’s great-grandmother was black.[6] During Harding’s campaign, Democratic opponents spread rumors that Harding’s great-great-grandfather was a West Indian black and that other blacks might be found in his family tree.[50] Chancellor publicized rumors, based on supposed family research, but perhaps reflecting no more than local gossip.[51] In an era when the “one-drop rule” would classify a person with any African ancestry as black, and black people in the South had been effectively disenfranchised, Harding’s campaign manager responded, “no family in the state (of Ohio) has a clearer, a more honorable record than the Hardings’, a blue-eyed stock from New England and Pennsylvania, the finest pioneer blood.”[52] “Many biographers have dismissed the rumors of Harding’s mixed-race family as little more than a political scandal and Chancellor himself as a Democratic mudslinger and racist ideologue.”[6] According to Chancellor, Harding got his only academic degree from Iberia College, which had been “founded to educate fugitive slaves.”[8][53] The college was founded by abolitionist supporters in the Presbyterian Church in Ohio for students of both genders and all races.
“When asked directly about Chancellor’s account, Harding did not make any effort to deny that he may have had an African-American ancestor. He said he did not know and demonstrated that it was not a significant issue.”[6]
The rumors may have been sustained by a statement Harding allegedly made to newspaperman James W. Faulkner on the subject, which he perhaps meant to be dismissive: “How do I know, Jim? One of my ancestors may have jumped the fence.”[54] However, while there are gaps in the historical record, studies of his family tree have not found evidence of an African-American ancestor.[55]
In 2015 genetic testing of Harding’s descendants determined, with more than a 95% percent chance of accuracy, that he lacked sub-Saharan African forebears within four previous generations.[56]
6. Calvin Coolidge was the 29th President of the United States, he served from 1923 – 1929 and he was black. He proudly admitted that his mother was dark but claimed it was because of a mixed Indian ancestry. His mother’s maiden name was “Moor.” In Europe the name “Moor” was given to all Black people just as in America the name “Negro” was used.
Rebuttal: Calvin Coolidge’s mother Victoria Moor was claimed to be of a mixed-race family in Vermont.[5][8][53] Vaughn noted that her surname was derived from “Moor”, a European term for people of North Africa. He did not note that another meaning of her surname is the landscape feature of moor or bog. People’s surnames were often based on such landscape features when surnames became generally adopted in 14th century England. Moor/Moore is a common name in England, Scotland, and Ireland.[57] Coolidge said his mother had some Native American ancestry.[citation needed]


7. Dwight E. Eisenhower was the 33rd President of the United States, he served from 1953 – 1961 and he was black. His mother, Ida Elizabeth Stover Eisenhower, an anti-war advocate, was half black.

Rebuttal: Dwight D. Eisenhower’s mother was said to be of mixed blood from Africa and mulatto.[3][5][7] However, historians and biographers of Eisenhower had documented his parents’ German, Swiss and English ancestry and long history in America. Some of his immigrant ancestors settled in Pennsylvania in 1741 and after, and migrated west to Kansas.[58]


So there you have it. Afrocentric historians say one thing, and white historians say another. Harding is pretty conclusively white, if you believe genetic testing, which is what was used to establish the Jefferson/Hemings connection. The others? I am surprised that the testing hasn’t already been done, if it’s so important that they be “pure white”.
My opinion, it doesn’t matter. If they didn’t want to claim it, then I’m not going to try to claim them. However, to all of the white people who are offended at the possibility, I wish they would look deep within themselves, and recognize that if they really think there’s something, ANYTHING wrong with these men having some black ancestry, then they are racist. And they need to see it for what it is, and try to change. Having black ancestry actually means that you are the descendants of survivors, people determined to have lives, have love, have families, under the worst circumstances. It should be something to be proud of. At least that’s how I see it.

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BHM 2018 – Day 1: African Americans in US Politics

Hi all,
Black History Month is here! I did a quick poll about what to do this month and a few people said that they’d like to see me do black politicians. So, I will be doing: Presidents, Cabinet members, Senators, Congresscritters, Governors, Judges, Mayors, and Ambassadors. Perhaps some key state officials.
But today, I wanted to start out with an overview of the state of African-Americans in American politics. I have reviewed numerous articles about this, and I’m very glad that it’s being looked at, even though the data is grim. After all, we have to see the problem and understand the problem in order to do something about it.


By conventional measures of income, education, or occupation at least a third of today’s African Americans can be described as middle class. That is an astonishing–probably historically unprecedented–change from the early 1960s, when blacks enjoyed the “perverse equality” of almost uniform poverty in which even the best-off blacks could seldom pass on their status to their children. Many blacks view political representation as a potential catalyst for increased racial equality, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Roughly four-in-ten black adults (38%) say that working to get more black people elected to office would be a very effective tactic for groups striving to help blacks achieve equality.


So how have we done? We represent around 13% of the US population. .” Between 1971 and 2009, the percentage of African-American state legislators more than quadrupled, from 2 to 9 percent. But the gains have been uneven. We are seeing increased representation in Congress, and unparalleled representation in the presidential cabinets (except now). But in the Senate, in state legislatures, in city councils, where policies most clearly affect the daily lives of African-Americans, the gap between population and representation is notable. Take Ferguson, for example. Though African Americans make up about two-thirds of Ferguson’s population, they hold just one of the six seats on its City Council. Similarly, representation in state legislatures is low and statehouses are some of the best and most reliable pipelines for national politics. About three-fourths of lawmakers in Congress got their jobs after holding political office in their states.


What is the impact when there is descriptive representation in politics? A legislating body is descriptively representative if its members reflect the demographics of the community they’re supposed to represent. Descriptive representation is very important. Descriptive representation fosters engagement between citizens and their representatives, forging connections that promote policies and practices that reflect the lived experience of citizens and are viewed by the community as fair and sensible. Studies show that African Americans tend to be more engaged with the political process when they are descriptively represented. They pay closer attention to elections and vote at higher rates when they are represented by an African American official and are more likely to run for offices that are or have been held by an African American. In addition, African American officials tend to be more engaged with the African American communities they represent than their non-African American colleagues. Research suggests that African American legislators are more responsive to African American constituents than white lawmakers.8 They also advocate more forcefully for African American interests during the legislative process, proposing legislation and making speeches that promote African American interests at significantly higher rates than non-African American officials.


And what are our issues? Here are a few.
• Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 would lift over 3.5 million workers of color out of poverty.
• Changes to policing policies would end “stop and frisk” practices.
• Adding paid sick leave hours would increase public health.
Other issues include:
• injustices in our criminal justice system and incarceration rates – Incarceration in the U.S. has increased by 500 percent over the past three decades, with people of color vastly over-represented in our nation’s prisons and jails even though the national crime rate has dropped,
• the ability to get credit and mortgages (still a problem),
• the wealth gap – racial wealth and income gap that is higher today than at any point since the Federal Reserve began tracking it 30 years ago,
• and voter suppression – since Obama was elected, with the highest black turnout in an election, 33 states enacted voter ID laws and other voter suppression laws. And with the reversal of the Supreme Courts position on the Voting Act, Southern states have the right to change voting policies.

So, we need to increase representation. But there are significant obstacles. First, there is “racial gerrymandering,” packing minority voters into a handful of districts to limit the number of representatives they can elect. Then there is economics: Few minorities can afford to get by on a part-time legislator’s salary — or have the kind of careers that will afford them the flexibility to serve in office. Most new candidates either fund their campaigns with their own money or with family help. That is far less likely to happen in African-American households. Black, Latino and other minority candidates also often lack political connections, Finally, the lack of minority representation is self-perpetuating, because it’s harder for people to imagine running for the legislature if there aren’t any lawmakers like them. After years of largely ignoring minority groups, political parties are still trying to figure out how to woo them as voters and donors, and not necessarily how to recruit them to run for office.

But there’s a flip side to this. It’s painful, but not surprising. The appearance of black political clout is deceiving. Despite gains in participation and representation, blacks continue to fare worse than whites in converting their policy preferences into law. This poor performance is more revealing than statistics on turnout or black electoral success. As support for a policy rises within the black community, the odds of it being achieved actually decline. At both federal and state levels, blacks hold much less sway than whites. A federal policy with no white support has only a 10 percent chance of being enacted, while one with universal white support has a 60 percent shot of adoption. But while a proposal with no black support has a 40 percent chance of becoming law, one enjoying unanimous approval has only a 30 percent probability of enactment. In other words, as support for a policy rises within the black community, the odds of it being achieved actually decline. In contrast, both federal and state laws are acutely sensitive to the preferences of whites, men, and the rich. What really matters in a democracy is getting policies enacted that correspond to people’s views. And on this front, blacks still have a long way to go. Their opinions—on vital issues like crime, welfare, and housing—are too often ignored by elected officials when they conflict with whites’ preferences.

As I said, it’s not surprising. And a lot of it has to do with money. The dominance of big money in our politics makes it far harder for people of color to exert political power and effectively advocate for their interests as both wealth and power are consolidated by a small, very white, share of the population. The undemocratic role of big money is especially exclusionary for people of color, who are severely underrepresented in the “donor class” whose large contributions fuel campaigns and therefore set the agendas in Washington and state capitals across the country. Donor and corporate interests often diverge significantly from those of working families on economic policies such as the minimum wage and paid sick leave, people of color are disproportionately harmed because a larger percentage are poor or working class.

The only answer I see to this problem is to get money out of politics. Only by getting money out of politics do we stop the unfair influence from the rich on issues that affect African-Americans. No more powerful example is there than mass incarceration. Mass incarceration fuels the prison-industrial complex. It affects the bottom line for hundreds of corporations and a healthy portion of the 1%. They don’t want the system to fail, they don’t want the system to shrink, they don’t want the steady stream of workers to go away. That’s why Sessions is willing to revive the War Against Drugs. It is in the interests of the 1%. And as long as they have the clout to affect elections, they have the power to determine public policy, policies that can severely impact people of color. Doing this reading has helped me understand that the issue of campaign finance has to be ranked as one of the highest policy platform issues of African-Americans. Up there with jobs and environmental issues, such as maintaining clean water in our communities.
And so, I kick off black history month with a look at our African-American politicians, realizing that they truly have an up-hill battle in representing us. So often, I have heard people suggest that our elected officials lose their way, get bought and influenced by the system. I’m no longer sure that that explains why we don’t see more policy change even though we have proportional Congressional representation. It’s that when our issues and needs conflict with the 1%, the 1% wins. Somehow, we need to get that to change.

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Fifty Years of Memories

My mother died last week. And as the eldest son, I have a myriad of memories of her that I want to share. My earliest memories are the beatings. Like when she beat me for accidentally setting my sister’s hair on fire. Not to mention the time I put a snake in the toilet. Or the time she caught me with a telescope looking at the Brown’s making the bedsprings break next door. I was inquisitive. Mom beat me a lot.

Now, you have to understand the nature of beating we’re talking about here. We’re not talking a simple hand job. Oh no. We’re talking take your pants off, lie down take-it-like-a-man belt whippings. The kind that keep you from sitting down for days, but you have to sit anyway because you can’t explain it to your teacher since she knows that you do little things, like sticking bubble gum on girl’s seats and putting toy cars down the toilet – I love toilets, and she wouldn’t sympathize. And I’m sure y ou think that 50 years later, I should have gotten over it. And I admit, I did love her anyway, and was in a forgiving mood in my older years, so I could forget some things, like the time she forebade me from going to the amusement park with my friends, AND beat me all because of a snake I put in my sister’s underwear drawer. We lived next to a creek so there was an ample supply of snakes.

Still, as time went on, she became a very interfering mother. I quickly learned not to bring girls home because she would dig out old photograph albums of me in diapers playing with my own poop that I’d scooped out of the back of my butt… and I was really eating it in that most priceless photo. I tried destroying that photo many times. She seemed to have an infinite number of copies because as soon as I’d taken it out of the album and burned it – I love matches, another would pop up, just in time for the latest girl to be introduced to it, with comments like “wasn’t he cute” or worse still, he was 5 before he got out of diapers, like some girl needs to know that I was slow in some forms of development. So yes, I loved my mother but she continued to meddle in my love life long after she should have stopped. She would purposely forget girls’ names and name the old one, or the even older one and sometimes try three or four names of ex-girlfriends before getting it right, and follow it up with “Oh are you the one who Martin took to the Bahamas, and then the girl would be expecting me to take HER, even if I didn’t really like her that way at all. Yes, I should have learned early that you don’t bring your women home to meet your mother, but she would pop by unannounced, catch me with said woman, hopefully not at the wrong time, but definitely some mornings when a woman would only be at your house because you got some the night before, and she would insist that we come for dinner, and of course said woman would say “Oh your mother is so nice.” And that would be that, and I’d be stuck because you can’t fight two women at once. So there we’d be, after she’d pulled out the photo albums, and was making some food that made me drool because my mother’s cooking ALMOST made up for some of the beatings, and she’d be inviting my lady friend into the kitchen and showing her herbs, and unfortunately asking nosy questions about her and about me and about how far things had gotten, and whether she thought things were getting serious and how many children we might have, because, she’d throw in how much she would love a grandchild, and the next thing I’d know she’d be bringing the entire grandmother-wannabe thing up at the dinner table.

And oh by the way, in case you’re wondering where my dad was, he died when I was young and sometimes I think it was the smartest thing he ever did, because I do remember my mother nagging him. I was about 15 when he died, and old enough to know nagging when I heard it, such as “when are you going to take out the trash, fix the garage door, paint the shutters, fix the roof, hang the photos, clean out the basement,” or just plain “take a bath”. I admit, my dad wasn’t keen on bathing twice a day like my mom wanted him to and it was a bone of contention between them. I think he chose not to take a bath just to spite her, as though that was the only thing he could think of to do that would really get her going, and it did because there were plenty of times when he slept on the couch and she probably threw him out of the bed because she was sure that he smelled of something, even when I couldn’t tell. And sometimes Dad just slept on the couch intentionally. Usually because his favorite team was playing until 11pm at night on a Sunday or a Monday and mom would never stand for staying up that late when she had to go teach little brats in middle school and get up at 5am just to be sure to be on top of everything, and my dad had a desk job and didn’t have to get up until 7am to be at work by 9 and mom hated that something awful so sometimes I think she nagged him just because she envied him. Now I’m not suggesting that Dad slept downstairs all the time because I can attest to the fact that there was some bed-creaking over the kitchen when I would sneak down to see what was in the fridge, and even if there were no moans and groans, I would catch mom smiling on the way out the door if I got up early enough, and dad would hum as he went out the door, and there would be no nagging for a few days, and if I was really smart, I might even get out of a beating or two while her good mood lasted.

Still life really changed when my dad died because he had been the one who taught me how to fix things, and planted a few other ideas in my head that my mom never approved of. It was my dad who taught me how to trap insects, and how to fish, and once he even took me camping with two of my buddies and told ghost stories that made the hair on the backs of our necks stand up because we knew that we had hiked about 4 miles from the car, and we were in the middle of the woods with no cell phones because there were no cell phones back then, and there were twitches and noises and crunches and no light and no one except the four of us, and we were all nine years old and super susceptible to stories about things that go bump in the night. At any rate, dad died of a heart attack when I was 15 and my mom acted as though she didn’t miss him, but I knew it was a front because sometimes I would catch her crying at night, and I let her have her privacy because every once in a while I would cry and damned if I was ever going to let anyone know.

It turns out that some 15 years after my dad died I finally got on mom’s right side by marrying and producing grandchildren in that order, and I know that if I had done it out of order, I would have never heard the end of it, so I made sure to wrap my whopper on the regular and even if a girl suggested that I go bareback I would think of my mother and all of the cussing and screaming and carrying on she would do if she found out that I had sired a child out of wedlock, so it was just something I made sure I never did. I sense that there were a few young ladies who had decided that I was quite a catch because I had a degree and worked at a lab and made good money and I’ve noticed that some women put aside their feelings about who’s attractive and who’s not when it comes to men with jobs, salaries and cars, so I was actually in demand by the time I got into my late 20’s and that’s when my mom started in with the grandchild stuff.

I married Jeannette at the JP and I know it infuriated my mother because she had plans to be all decked out but I told her she’d have her chance when my sister got married, and I wanted to spend my money on the honeymoon which we did quite nicely with a trip to Barbados and the whopper was definitely unwrapped because the little bundle of joy showed up 9 months later, on schedule as far as my mother was concerned, and I have to admit that it was quite handy that she decided to retire early and become the full-time babysitter for Jolyn and Chris and only those two because the tubes got tied, snipped burned, whathaveyou after those two which was a good thing because Chris was a lot like me, and my mother let me know constantly with stories about how he liked to frighten his sister, and put his fingers into light sockets, and climb into dishwashers and swing on chandeliers after climbing up the chairs in the dining room and just generally acting like a 4 year old, which meant that Jeannette would spank him, but not beat him, and my mother changed up on me and would not whip my children, and in fact would just tell them to wait until we picked them up because she believed that she’d done enough disciplining when we were kids and she would let us handle it in our own way.

I have to give mom credit, she actually liked Jeanette enough to remember her name, and not complain about her cooking which was just so-so, and most importantly not to meddle in how Jeannette reared our kids, although Jeannette reciprocated by asking for advice which made my mother like her more. It was actually a good thing that I had a son because between my mother, my sister, my wife and my daughter I was feeling a bit outnumbered, so Chris and I would go out a lot and have man time together and I would take him to get his hair cut, and show him how to fish and swim and do boy stuff, even play with snakes since I took him to all of the hands-on museums that my daughter wouldn’t be caught dead in and we went to the zoo a lot and amusement parks and even camping a few times, although we didn’t go nearly as far into the woods as my dad had taken us back when I was nine because Chris wasn’t quite up to it until he was much older and by the time he was older, he was more of a loner than I was, and so I gave him his space and focused on making sure that Jolyn didn’t do anything I didn’t approve of in the boy department.

When I turned 40 and the kids were 9 and 10, my mom started to decline, so I converted the garage into a small studio apartment for her and she had her own door to come and go as she pleased which she abused somewhat by sneaking off with men that I thought took advantage of her, because even at 60 she was still good-looking, and I didn’t want her to be hurt although goodness knows she’d been taking care of her self since before I got on the planet, but the best thing about having mom adjacent to us was the fact that she still liked cooking and Jeannette quickly let her take over and we finally had down-home meals that made you want to go to sleep afterward and I had to admit that this made up for the downside, which was mom’s meddling ways. Before she lived with us, she had been content to let things be but once she moved in, she found a way to turn me into dad, and convince Jeannette that I was the handiest man on the planet and anything Jeannette wanted I could do so she shouldn’t hesitate to ask and in fact, turning to me would save money, even if I really didn’t have the time or energy to do some of the things mom swore I could do, but it happened that way. “take out the trash, fix the back door, paint the shutters, fix the roof, hang the photos, clean out the basement, I’m sure it sounds familiar because it was the same litany she had come up with for dad, and I suffered through it because Jeanette would back her up every time and you just can’t argue with two women who have teamed up against you so I came up with a rule that requests for things around the house could not be made on Saturday, Sunday or Monday from August to February which of course meant that I could only be asked to do things that took an evening, and I am sorry to say that my Fridays, and some of my Saturday mornings were spent doing projects that I wasn’t even sure where necessary, but I did them so that I could get sex, yes I admit it Jeannette would use that trick from time to time, but I’m happy to say that I could make her smile all the way from Friday to Tuesday with my mojo so that didn’t happen very often.

It was only a few years ago when I turned 50 that mom started going down hill, and it was hard because well, I was just unprepared for someone who had been such a rock in my life to all of a sudden start to crumble, shrink, stoop and basically wither on the vine the way she did, but she had gotten diabetes and a kidney problem on top of that, and she refused to change the way she ate because, after all, down home cooking isn’t the healthiest and on top of that, she loved sweets so it was not so surprising that if she wasn’t willing to give up her ways and I certainly couldn’t make her, then things weren’t going to go her way in the health department. So I watched her decline, but I watched her decline happily at the same time because she was determined to do it her way and by gosh it wasn’t going to be without sweets or any other wonderful things that she insisted be in her life. So suffice to say she went faster than she should have and one day, she just didn’t wake up.

I guess I shouldn’t say that I ever wished her ill, even though she was a stern mother and a challenging housemate, because she was good at what she did and I have to admit that I didn’t turn out half bad, which I give her full credit for, and my sister did fine as well rounding out her motherly responsibilities. Maybe I say it because it’s easier to man up and say such things rather than get misty eyed and maudlin over the simple reality that at some point it’s someone’s time to go and there’s no changing that eventuality so you may as well accept it by the time you’ve turned 50 like I have. She lived a good life, she knew love, she had the grandchildren she required of us, she had dates long after most, and she ate well. I think perhaps it’s easier to remember the beating and the meddling because then I remember her as she was, with the good and the bad for balance. And that makes it easier.

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Transforming Jack Sprat’s Wife

Transforming Jack Sprat’s Wife

February 1st –

Dear Celia,
I miss you so much. Why did you have to move away? We were doing so well. Walking the mall, eating our smoothies, drinking our diet sodas. I lost 30 pounds, and then, in the time you’ve been gone, I put it all back and then some. I’ve now hit 350 pounds. I truly am Bess the Cow. I’ve just got to do something but I don’t know what. I’ve tried Weight Watchers, I’ve tried Atkins. But they just don’t fit into my lifestyle. My oh-so-thin husband complains if I change what we eat, and I watch him dive into his food with such gusto that I end up having more than I should. I swear, I will never master portion control. But I have to do something. I’m 39 years old and I am sick and tired of being fat.
Missing you,

February 14th –

Dear Celia,
I’ve found a this old book in the used bookstore called Fit for Life, and it talks about veganism. According to the book, if you give up animal products and don’t eat fatty foods like potato chips, you can lose weight without portion control. Oh gawd, I want this. But Jeff will have a massive fit. He’ll never give up his meat and cheese. Can you imagine him without steak and fried chicken? Never. I’ll have to cook separate meals. I know it’s going to drive me crazy. But I really want this. Celia, do you think you could help me. Maybe send little encouraging postcards? I don’t know if I can do this alone. Let me know.
February 28th –
Dear Celia,
I’ve decided to go cold turkey. Nuts and berries. Now, really, there are fat bears, and fat cows… I’m not sure about this, but I’ve tried everything else. I stuck a wad of stamped postcards in here. If you could just send one every other week, I know it would make a difference.

March 7th –
Hey Bess, you’ve got this. Love C.
March 14th –
Dear Celia,
you’re not going to believe this. It’s been two weeks and I’ve lost 15 pounds. That tightness in my clothes is gone. It’s so wonderful. And that postcard made my week ‘cause Jeff is acting really strange. I’m still cooking everything he loves, but he used to come in the kitchen, wrap his arms around me and whisper “I love my moo-moo”. He doesn’t do it anymore and I really miss that.
March 21st –
Hey Bess, he’ll come around. Remember that he loves you. Love C.
March 28th –
Dear Celia,
I lost another 5 pounds, but nuts and berries are getting boring. I’m going to have to figure something else out. Spaghetti with marinara sauce (with some meatballs for Jeff). Stir-fried veggies – with some shrimp for Jeff. I looked on-line for a support group, but nothing fits. Weight Watchers and Atkins preach portion control. And PETA folks are so fanatic. I’m not trying to save the planet. I just want to lose weight. I guess I’m going it alone. At least I have you. Loving your post cards.
April 4th –
Hey Bess, love you back. C
April 11th –
Dear Celia,
I lost another 5 pounds and I’m finding cookbooks with interesting recipes. Seems it’s all about beans. Baked beans, beans and rice, beans in chili… and Beano. Because Jeff is seriously complaining about the gas. Sometimes he sleeps on the couch. But I’m under 325 pounds. I wish he would support me. Please keep those post cards coming.

April 18th –
Hey Bess, I’m with you all the way, C.
April 25th –
Dear Celia,
I’ve lost 30 pounds and my clothes are super loose. People are starting to notice and it feels good. I could never tell Jeff; I know he would be angry. But Celia, I’m starting to think that I could lose some serious weight. Maybe 50 pounds. Maybe more. I can’t remember being under 300 pounds. It’s been so long. Jeff has never known me under 300 pounds. I guess this is too much change for him. Do you remember me under 300 pounds?
May 2nd –
Dear Bess, whatever your weight, you are beautiful. C.
May 9th –
Dear Celia,
I lost another 5 pounds and got a hair cut. Jeff is furious. I never realized how much long hair meant to him. But the braids got heavy, the perm was a pain. I love me au naturelle. Did you know I’ve got some curl? I’m going to get professional photos. Glamour Shots. Dammit, I feel good about myself. He’s just going to have to cope.
May 16th –
Hey Bess, keep on keepin’ on. C
May 23rd –
Dear Celia,
Check out these photos! I got my Glamour Shots, and they gave me a makeover. I’ve never really tried make-up before. Real foundation and everything. I love the look. I think I’m going to sign up for a class. I want to learn how to do this for myself, and they have a program for 4 weeks on Monday nights. That can be Kentucky Fried Chicken night for Jeff. And I lost another 5 pounds.

May 30th –

Hey Bess, you’re amazing! C

June 6th –

Dear Celia,
I lost 5 more pounds. I’m under 310 and for the first time in years, I can see my toes. So I went and got a pedicure. Sat in the chair and felt those massage balls go up and down my back. Put my feet in the water just like a Jacuzzi, felt strong hands up and down my calves, could feel the slough come off my heels. My feet are so soft. I decided to get French tips. With a little V. I feel so sexy. I’ve really been neglecting myself. It’s time to change that.

June 13th –
Hey Bess, you’re on a roll. Keep going! C

June 20th –

Dear Celia,
I lost 5 more pounds and I’ve decided to re-invent myself. I’m giving myself a new name. Bessie is a name for a cow. I’m going to be BeBe. Let me know what you think. I’ve been practicing it on piece of paper, I’ve changed my name on Facebook, I’m going to personalized stationary and send it to everyone I can think of. Good-bye, Bess. Hello, BeBe! With a picture of my Glamour Shot. I’ll be the talk of the family reunion.


June 27th –
Hey BeBe, I love it! C

July 4th –

Dear Celia,
I DID IT! I’ve lost 50 pounds. It’s hard to believe. But it’s for real. I’m down to 300 pounds. I’m going to take pictures of the scale and post them on the wall. I need to really celebrate this, but I’m not sure how. In the past, I’ve always celebrated with food. I don’t even want to. I don’t want to mess with my success. So, maybe a facial and a full body massage. Gotta take care of this new body. But Celia, I’ve got to tell you. Jeff is acting worse and worse. It’s like he doesn’t want me to lose the weight. I thought he’d be happy for me. Not sure what to do. Last year, I would have eaten a bucket of chicken or a gallon of ice cream. Today – a mixing bowl full of lettuce with balsamic vinaigrette.


July 11th –

Hey BeBe, you can’t let Jeff get to you. Just keep going. C.

July 18th –

Dear Celia,
I’ve lost 5 more pounds. So it’s time to buy new clothes. Not sure why I put it off. Maybe because I don’t trust what’s happening. And I don’t know if I can keep the weight off. But this has got to be part of my reinvention. And I’m going to buy some dresses. I’m starting to have a waist, and I want to show it off. Not sure to whom, but I do. No more tents for clothing. And no more fat cow catalogs. I’m fitting into a size 26. Hello Dress Barn Woman and Lane Bryant. Good-bye Catherines and size 5X. In fact, I think I’m going to buy a suit. Just one. I’ve always wanted to go to church in one of those beautiful white suits. Maybe even a hat. Re-invention.


July 25th
Hey BeBe, you’re fabulous! C
August 1st –
Dear Celia,
There’s a job opening for a supervisor in my department. I’m going to go for it. I’ve been at this call center for so long, I’ve gotten every kind of call, put up with so much abuse. But I’m good at what I do, and I deserve this. And I now look the part. I wear a dress to work every day, with some make-up, I don’t frown so much, people have noticed the changes in me, and I’ve shown that if I put my mind to something, I can do it. Do you realize what an accomplishment it is to lose 60 pounds? Yup, I lost 5 more. I want this job so badly I can taste it.
August 8th –
Hey BeBe – it’s already yours. C
August 15th –
Dear Celia,
I got the job! I’m going to be the floor supervisor. And they’ve doubled my salary. I’m even making more than Jeff. I wish he’d be happy for me. All he can think about is that I might have to do overtime, and whether I’d still be home in time to make dinner. It can’t always be about him, can it? Still, I have to admit, I’m doing this for myself. He never told me that he wanted me to lose weight. I was always his “Little Moo-Moo”. He won’t even call me BeBe. And when we go out, he’s constantly looking around and saying stupid little things like “He may be looking at you, but all he wants is sex.” I don’t even see when men look at me. And that’s not why I’m doing this. Dammit, I want to be healthy. Do you know what it’s like when you go to step on the scale at the doctor’s office, and they pull out a special scale? Or when you get the “obesity talk” with scare stories about diabetes, high cholesterol and heart attacks? He just doesn’t understand. And it hurts, Celia. It really hurts.
P.S. Five more pounds.

August 22nd –
Hey BeBe – I feel your pain, but keep going anyway. C
August 29th –
Dear Celia,
My skin is starting to flab on me. I think it’s time to go to the gym. Not sure when to fit it in. Maybe after dinner. Or in the morning before work. I’m debating between Planet Fitness, Golds Gym and Bally’s. Planet Fitness has the best hours, but Bally’s has a pool. Can you imagine! Me in a bathing suit! Yup, that’s it. Bally’s. It will give me added incentive. And I lost 5 more pounds.
September 5th –
Hey BeBe – rock that swimsuit! C
September 12th –
Dear Celia,
I’m going to the gym twice a week, evenings, while Jeff is on his Playstation and I lost 5 more pounds. I don’t understand why he’s so angry all the time. When I showed him my swimsuit – a modest one piece suit with a high neck and a little skirt – he lost his ever-loving mind. Called me a whore and a slut and all kinds of other names too sick to mention. Said I wanted to be raped again. I almost changed my mind about going. I think that’s what he wants. For me to lose my nerve and go back to being Bess the Cow. But I can’t. I’ve come so far. My life is changing in unimaginable ways. I feel good about myself. I didn’t realize it before, but it’s new to me, this feeling. That I can do anything, be anything. OK, maybe not an astronaut, but you know what I mean. And I want this for myself. I deserve this. I am a beautiful person, inside and out, and I love me. It feels weird to say it, but I love me. And Jeff can just go to hell.
September 19th –
Hey BeBe – I’m glad you’re loving you. C

September 26th –
Dear Celia,
it’s probably TMI but I’m realizing that Jeff and I haven’t been together in about 3 months. I think it was when I hit 325 pounds. It’s as though he thinks I’ve become ugly. I want him to love me the way he used to. But I’m not sure I can make that happen and still be the new BeBe. I think he’s going to make me choose. Would it be selfish if I chose myself? I don’t know how to win him back without putting the weight back on. And I refuse. I just can’t do it. Not and be true to myself. I will never again be Bessie the Cow. I guess we need counseling.
P.S. Lost 5 more pounds.
October 3rd –
Hey BeBe – Be true to yourself. C
October 10th –
Dear Celia,
I suggested marital counseling and Jeff laughed in my face. He wanted to know what good it was going to do. He said he never wanted me to change, he never asked for me to change. I didn’t know I needed his permission. I’ve tried to keep some things the same. I made sure I still came home on time. I made sure to have his dinner ready. But it’s just not good enough. He says he hates the new me. The new look, the new name, the new job, the new weight. That I’m not the woman he married. And he said I’m not changing for the better as far as he’s concerned. I was surprised when he threw in the new job. Could that be a piece of it? That I make more than he does? It hasn’t changed me! Or maybe it has. I spend more on myself. And I don’t ask his permission because I don’t have to ask him for money. Yup, that’s probably a big piece of it. Somehow, I have to get him to counseling.
P.S. I lost another 5 pounds.
October 17th –
Hey BeBe – Jeff was always like that. Be bigger than him. C

October 24th –
Dear Celia,
I bought myself some Spanx to hold in the loose skin, and I’m thinking of getting surgery to cut the excess skin off. You wouldn’t believe how much it costs. And it’s cosmetic surgery. Insurance doesn’t cover it. That’s so unfair. I would have to take out a loan. I’m going to wait, and see how much weight I actually lose. No point in doing it now. I lost another 5 pounds.
October 31st –
Hey BeBe – that’s my girl. Cut it off, let it go. C
Dear Celia,
I did it! I’ve lost 100 pounds! I’m 250 pounds. I can’t even remember a time when I was under 250 pounds. Sometime in my twenties. Before I met Jeff. No, he never knew me when I was thinner. I guess he likes fat women. Broke women. Women with no self-esteem. Everything I don’t want to be anymore. So I guess he can’t love me anymore. It hurts, Celia. I think I’ll eat some watermelon. An entire watermelon.
November 7th –
Hey BeBe – change is painful, but seriously, you’ve got this. C
November 14th –
Dear Celia,
I think Jeff is having an affair. While I go to the gym. He started encouraging me to go. Nothing else makes sense. Why would he do this to me? I’ve tried to be the best wife I know how to be. Celia, I still love him. Maybe that seems crazy given everything he’s said, but he’s been my rock for so many years. Would you believe, we’ve almost been married for 15 years. And he’s stuck by me through so much. When we found out that I couldn’t have children, he didn’t leave me and he could have. When they found that tumor, he was right by my side. That time I got raped in the park, he didn’t blame me or back away. So much. And just because I want something for myself, he wants to rip it all away. It doesn’t make any sense. I wish I could have some ice cream. Watch me eat another watermelon.

November 21st –
Hey BeBe – you are woman, don’t cry – roar! C
November 28th –
Dear Celia,
I was right. Jeff is having an affair. We lost power at the gym so I went home early. I could hear the bed creaking from the front door. You would think that I’d be mad. I was just curious. And when I got to the bedroom, I was shocked. She was the biggest woman I’d ever seen. He was taking her from behind and hitting her. “Who’s my bitch, who’s my cow?” He was so filled with anger, and she was taking it. And maybe I’m seeing him as he is for the first time. It’s so important for him to be dominant that he has to be with a woman with low self-esteem. Celia, that’s not me anymore. So I guess that’s what it is. I walked away. I don’t think they even knew I was there. I’m going to stay in a hotel. All 240 pounds of me.
December 5th –
Hey BeBe – be strong. This is going to work out. C
December 12th –
Dear Celia,
this guy at work hit on me today. It was so weird. He’s one of the hottest men at the call center. And lawdamercy, the thought of having sex with him is enough to make me come all over myself. But I’m still married. To a lying, cheating no good son of a bitch, but married is married. I wonder if I would take him up on it if I was single. I don’t think so. I’m not the one night type. I think I deserve better. Someone I can get to know, spend quality time with… then sex. Look at me. I’m already thinking about being single. Maybe it’s time to talk to a lawyer.
December 19th –
Hey BeBe – hold out for the best. C

December 26th –
Dear Celia,
I’m down to 235 pounds and it’s time for new clothes again. And new Spanx. I’m a size 20, and it feels so good. I’m not fat, I’m curvy! Sure, the doctor may call me obese, but I know what I was, and that’s not me any more. I am BeBe Moore. Young, successful, beautiful. Jeff be damned.
January 2nd –
Hey BeBe – that’s my girl! C
January 9th –
Dear Celia,
Jeff said the craziest thing to me. He told me that if I’d eat a pork chop, he’d stay with me. So I had a bite. Just to see. And I nearly threw up. In that bite of pork chop was everything that I had been and never wanted to be again. In that bite of porkchop was Bess the Cow. I may be vegan for life! Never again prime rib, never again macaroni and cheese, never again sour cream on a potato, never again a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, never again a Hersheys bar, never again Nacho Cheese Doritos. Never again Bess the Cow. It’s a fair trade.
January 16th –
Hey BeBe – I am SO proud of you. C
January 23rd –
Dear Celia,
I’m 225 pounds and I think I’m ready to see someone about the surgery now. Maybe it sounds crazy, but I’m okay if I stay at 225. I’m a size 18, squarely in Women’s Plus, but if I don’t get down to 200, I’ll be okay. I want to tell you something crazy. All those postcards you send – I keep them in a scrapbook. I put gold frames around them with little flowers or hearts or stars. And at the top of the page, I put my weight in fancy digits from Michaels. The numbers keep dropping, and when I’m struggling, I just open up the scrapbook and there you are, encouraging me. I could have never done this without you.

January 30th –
Hey BeBe – it was all you. C
February 6th –
Dear Celia,
I guess I’m not done yet. I lost another 5 lbs. I think I’m scared to stop losing because I’m afraid I’ll start gaining. I went for my annual physical and my doctor nearly fainted away. She was so proud of me. She has referred me to a nutritionist who might be able to help me figure out how to keep the weight off forever. No backsliding. Not BeBe.
February 13th –
Hey BeBe – weight be gone! C
February 20th –
Dear Celia,
Jeff filed for divorce. Irreconcilable differences. I know it’s been coming but I still can’t say that word. Divorce. And I’m so tempted to eat something unhealthy. To stuff my face, to have everything I’ve denied myself all year. But I’m not going to do it. Look how far I’ve come. New name, new look, new job… it never occurred to me that all that change would be too much for Jeff. Or that he would want to hold me back. I didn’t realize he was so insecure. He wants to marry Julia. He says he wants to wear the pants, he doesn’t want me to make more than he does, he doesn’t want me to be more attractive than he is, he wants to be better than me, and if he can’t feel that way, he doesn’t want to be with me. He’s letting me keep the house. He just wants the retirement account. I guess that’s fair.
February 27th –
Hey BeBe – be true to you. C March 6th –
Dear Celia,
I have the house to myself, and it’s too big for me. I’m going to sell it. Rent an apartment. Maybe get a dog. Maybe take a cruise. They say that women take a cruise when they get a divorce. Or go to an island. Get my groove back. But I don’t want a man. The compliments are nice, but being sexy wasn’t really my goal, was it? I’ve never turned heads before. In fact, I was never with a man before Jeff. No one ever loved me before Jeff. And I’m no longer sure he loved me. He may have been too insecure to love anyone. Well, it’s time to get BeBe’s head on straight. A cruise. Oh, and I’m down to 210 pounds.
March 13th –
Hey BeBe – have a great time, you deserve it. C
March 20th –
Dear Celia,
I’ve just gotten back from my cruise. No, I didn’t meet a man. But I splurged on every possible excursion. I went snorkeling, played with sting rays, saw some Mayan ruins, bought jewelry. I did everything but eat. And let me tell you, being vegan on a cruise is hard. But I did it. Vegan for life. It isn’t what I planned. I just wanted to lose the weight. But I don’t want to go back to 350 pounds and I don’t know any other way to keep it off… except for portion control and I was never good at that. No, I’m just going to be one of those rabbit food eaters. And would you believe, I lost 5 pounds on the cruise.
March 27th –
Hey BeBe – it’s all about lifestyle changes. Living proof. C
April 3rd –
Dear Celia,
Can you believe it, I’m down to 200 pounds. I got a chocolate lab named Charlie. I take him on long walks twice a day. He sleeps with me and keeps me company. And life doesn’t seem so empty. You may not hear from me so often, but I can’t thank you enough for letting me tell you what’s been happening to me. You’ve been a rock and I love you for it. If there’s ever anything that you’re going through, write to me and I promise to listen.
Best wishes,

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BHM 2017 – Day 10: Murder in Mississippi (last one)

This is my last Black History Month piece. I’m sorry that I couldn’t do more. I have learned SO MUCH.  I was born in 1964 at the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement. For some strange, probably deliberate, reason, the Civil Rights Movement was not taught in either American History class that I took. Over the years, I have learned bits and pieces, but nothing as comprehensive as what I have learned this month. I have no doubt that those of you who are significantly older than me could write a book on the subject. And maybe those of you who were younger were lucky enough to learn about it in school. I envy you. 53 is late to learn this stuff, but better late than never. I hope you also have learned a few things that you didn’t know before, and have a better picture of all that went on, because there was SO MUCH. And perhaps you will be inspired to read more.


Happy Black History Month!




I really didn’t think it could get worse than Alabama… until I started reading about Mississippi. (And yes, this is another long one.) The white people of Mississippi were so committed to segregation that they didn’t even need Jim Crow laws. Integration simply wasn’t permitted, and the level of force and violence that was used to enforce these codes was horrific. As historian Charles Payne recounts in detail, Mississippi had the highest rate of  lynchings of any state, recording 539 between the end of Reconstruction and the early 1960s.  And in the state’s plantation economy, conditions for many black farm workers weren’t much better than slavery. African Americans had virtually no education, no rights and no legal recourse against whites who exploited, cheated or attacked them. In the early 1960’s, Mississippi was the poorest state in the nation and 86% of all non-white families lived below the poverty line.


This was the backdrop of the actions of thousands of civil rights activists who, between 1956 and 1968, made the effort to integrate Mississippi and secure African-Americans the right to register, vote and elect black representatives to Congress.


I want to start with an acknowledgement of Mississippi’s civil rights martyrs:


1955:  NAACP leader Rev. George Wesley Lee was shot in the face and killed in Belzoni, MS for urging blacks to vote.  Lamar Smith, sixty-three-year-old farmer and World War II veteran, was shot in cold blood on the crowded courthouse lawn in Brookhaven, Mississippi, for urging blacks to vote. Fourteen-year old Emmett Till, visiting family from Chicago, was kidnapped and murdered near Money, MS, allegedly  for whistling at a white woman… who has recently admitted that she lied. And Black businessman Clinton Melton was gunned down at a Glendora gas in an apparent follow-up to the Emmett Till case.


1957: Clyde Kennard attempted to enroll at Mississippi Southern College. He was arrested and convicted on false charges of possession of liquor. He was sentenced to seven years at Parchman Penitentiary, where he was denied proper care for serious health conditions that eventually led to his death.


1959: Mack Charles Parker, a resident of Poplarville, Mississippi, was jailed for allegedly raping a white woman. A white mob abducted Mr. Parker from his jail cell, beat him, took him to Louisiana, and then shot him


1961 farmer Herbert Lee was shot and killed in Liberty, Mississippi, by E.H. Hurst, a member of the Mississippi State Legislature, because of Lee’s participation in the voter registration campaign.


1963: NAACP State Director Medgar Evers was gunned down in 1963 in his Jackson driveway by Citizens Council member Byron De La Beckwith from Greenwood, Mississippi


1964: CORE workers James Chaney and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner (white) and volunteer Andrew Goodman (white) disappeared near Philadelphia, MS. After several weeks of searching and recovering more than a dozen other bodies, the authorities finally found the civil rights workers buried under an earthen dam. Later that year, the lower half of Charles Eddie Moore’s body and the headless body of Henry Hezekiah Dee are pulled from the Mississippi River near Tallulah, LA; FBI believes they were kidnapped near Meadville, Mississippi, and murdered by Klansmen, 2 months prior. 14-year-old Herbert Oarsby’s body was pulled from the Big Black River near Canton, MS, dressed in a CORE t-shirt.


Additionally, in the summer of 1964, Freedom Summer:

  • 1,062 people were arrested (out-of-state volunteers and locals)
  • 80 Freedom Summer workers were beaten
  • 37 churches were bombed or burned
  • 30 Black homes or businesses were bombed or burned
  • 4 people were critically wounded

1966: Local NAACP President Vernon Dahmer was killed in a dynamite blast to his home in Hattiesburg and Ben Chester White was killed by Klansmen in Natchez.


1967: NAACP activist Wharlest Jackson was killed by bomb after promotion to a “white” job in Natchez and  National Guardsmen fired on a black student protest at Jackson State University, killing civil rights worker Benjamin Brown.


On the first day that I presented information about the Civil Rights movement, I noted that one of the catalysts was WWII. Interestingly enough, James Meredith and Medgar Evers were both veterans who felt that it was time for change to come to Mississippi. Social transformations following World War II that affected all of the South were especially potent in Mississippi. The increasing mechanization of farm work made for substantial dislocation among whites and blacks in the state. Thousands upon thousands left the land to find work. “In cities, blacks and whites competed for jobs, housing, recreation and seats on public transportation, and the problem of the color line assumed pressing urgency,” historian Pete Daniel writes. Like African Americans across the South, many returning to Mississippi from military service had experienced life in other countries with far less racial prejudice. Having fought to secure democratic freedoms abroad, they were determined to fight for freedom at home.


In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education was ruled on by the Supreme Court, pronouncing that school segregation was unconstitutional. In response, in 1956, the Southern Manifesto was signed by 19 U.S. Senators and 82 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including the entire congressional delegations of the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia. The Manifesto, written in response to the Brown decisions, accused the Supreme Court of “clear abuse of judicial power.” It further promised to use “all lawful means to bring about a reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution and to prevent the use of force in its implementation.”


Mississippi whites took their efforts to prevent integration to new levels. With all levels of government involved, two organizations came into being: the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, the White Citizens’ Council.  . These white supremacy organizations used many techniques, including surveillance, severe economic reprisals, and brutal violence to thwart civil rights activists; they also were quick to ostracize whites who didn’t openly join their ranks or support their cause. Those whites who retained a moderate or even liberal perspective were targeted by extremists. Some were forced to leave the state; others remained, but under constant threat. And the political process was blatantly affected. . “The fear was that black people would take over and destroy the [Southern] way of life. And the politicians jumped on it. ‘Elect me and we will maintain segregation.’ That’s all you had to say to get elected.” By 1956, the Citizens’ Council had chapters in a majority of Mississippi counties and had attracted some 80,000 members. Central to the Council’s message was the widely-held conviction that the civil rights movement was run by communists and that northern participants such as CORE members were ‘outside agitators’ in the truest sense of the term, representing forces hostile and alien to American values.”  Membership tended to be highest in counties where the population was more than 50 percent black. Headed by the most prominent local businessmen, professionals and governing officials, the goal of the Citizens’ Council was to use every possible means to lawfully resist desegregation. The Council routinely used the economic “squeeze” to punish black agitators. For instance, when African Americans signed a petition to desegregate schools in Yazoo County in 1955, the Citizens’ Council moved quickly. It paid for a local newspaper ad listing the names of the petitioners. The Council then coordinated reprisals against the signers. Charles Bolton writes:


The president of one local bank called all his customers on the list “and told them to come down and get their money out, that the bank did not want to do business with them any longer.” James Wright, a plumber with primarily white customers, not only lost his patrons but also was refused plumbing supplies by a wholesale house, and notified by his grocer that a loaf of bread would cost him a dollar. He soon left for Detroit.


The danger of challenging Jim Crow in Mississippi led the state to produce more than its share of powerful civil rights leaders, including Fannie Lou Hamer, James Meredith, Medgar Evers, Aaron Henry and many others. These seemingly ordinary people were propelled by a conviction that the racial order had to change. Activist and Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party leader Fannie Lou Hamer described her determination: “Sometimes it seems like to tell the truth today is to run the risk of being killed. But if I fall, I’ll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I’m not backing off that and no one will have to cover the ground I walk as far as freedom is concerned.”


NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers was a force to be reckoned with in Mississippi as early as the 1950’s when he helped organize a boycott of gasoline stations that denied blacks the use of the stations’ restrooms. Named field secretary in 1954, he organized boycotts and set up new local chapters of the NAACP all over the state, with both efforts toward voter registration, and legal defense. Evers also organized demonstrations, and economic boycotts of white-owned companies that practiced discrimination. Within three years he had nearly doubled NAACP membership in Mississippi to more than 15,000. Evers played a pivotal role in investigating Emmett Till’s death in 1955 helping to launch a separate investigation and find witnesses to Till’s abduction.


The first and little known event in Mississippi civil rights history was the Biloxi Wade-ins, where a black physician, Gilbert Mason, and 7 friends tried to integrate the Biloxi waterfront beaches.  Turned away while swimming in 1959, they asked to see the law saying that they couldn’t be there. There was none. A protest with 125 people was held a year later; violence erupted in what has become known as “Bloody Sunday or the Bloody Wade-in. Shots were fired, rocks were thrown, and there was fighting in the streets over the entire weekend. Ten people were shot and a large number were injured in fights. Gilbert Mason was arrested and convicted of disturbing the peace for his role in the protest.


The another notable event by African Americans to make a difference in civil rights was in 1961, when nine students from Tougaloo College, members of the NAACP Youth Council, were arrested for attempting to desegregate the “white only” Jackson  Public Library. The group became known as the Tougaloo Nine. Students from Jackson State marched to the jail in support and were met and attacked with clubs, tear gas and dogs.


Next, in 1962, James Meredith applied to University of Mississippi. When James Meredith set his sights on integrating The University of Mississippi he intentionally targeted what was perhaps the most hallowed symbol of white prestige in Mississippi. No African American had ever been knowingly admitted (at least one, brief instance is known of a light-skinned man passing as white in the 1940s). Plantation owners and the rest of the Mississippi gentry sent their children to what they called affectionately Ole’ Miss for the finest education the state could offer. Although his application was rejected, the Supreme Court ordered his admittance. On September 13, 1962, Mississippi Governer Ross Barnett rallied his people on statewide television and radio. “I speak to you now in the moment of our greatest crisis since the War Between the States,” Barnett declared. “We must either submit to the unlawful dictates of the federal government or stand up like men and tell them, never! I submit to you tonight, no school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your governor!”  When Meredith tried to register on September 20, 1962, he found the entrance to the office blocked by Barnett. On September 28, the governor was found guilty of civil contempt and was ordered to cease his interference with desegregation at the university or face arrest and a fine of $10,000 a day. On Sunday, September 30, Meredith arrived at the campus in Oxford with an escort of federal officials. Southern radio stations broadcast a call to arms and carloads of people rolled into town to defend Ole’ Miss against what they called an invasion by Meredith and the feds. A mob started pelting federal marshals with rocks, bottles and bricks. The phalanx of marshals responded with tear gas. Two people were killed and more wounded. Kennedy wound up sending 30,000 army troops to Oxford and the next morning Meredith walked across the debris-strewn campus to register. None of the rioters were ever prosecuted. Federal marshals protected Meredith during his time at Ole’ Miss. In 1963, Meredith, who was a transfer student from all-black Jackson State College, graduated with a degree in political science.


As a result of the riots of Ole Miss, the Citizens’ Council began to erode and in their place, came the Klan. Within 6 months of the riots, one man organized chapters in 76 counties in the state. These were the United Klans of America. But a rival Klan emerged in Mississippi at the same time, the White Knights of the KKK. They were more secretive than the UKA, and more deadly. In the summer of 1964, the White Knights soon attracted a following of nearly 10,000 white Mississippians. The racial terrorism ranged from cross-burnings and church-bombings to beatings and murder. According to sociologist David Cunningham: “The White Knights were responsible for most of the highly visible acts of violence in MS throughout ‘60s,”.

But as the Klan intensified its reign of terror, civil rights activists pumped up the pressure for change in Mississippi.


The efforts at voter registration escalated in the 1960’s. Mississippi had a terrible record of black voting rights violations. In the 1950s, Mississippi was 45% black, but only 5% of voting age blacks were registered to vote. Some counties did not have a single registered black voter. Whites insisted that blacks did not want to vote, but this was not true. Many blacks wanted to vote, but they worried, and rightfully so, that they might lose their job. In 1962, over 260 blacks in Madison County overcame this fear and waited in line to register. 50 more came the next day. Only seven got in to take the test over the two days, walking past a sticker on the registrar’s office door that bore a Confederate battle flag next to the message “Support Your Citizens’ Council.” Once they got in, they had to take a test designed to prevent them from becoming registered. In 1954, in response to increasing literacy among blacks, the test, which originally asked applicants to “read or interpret” a section of the state constitution, was changed to ask applicants to “read and interpret” that document. This allowed white registrars to decide whether or not a person passed the test. Most blacks, even those with doctoral degrees, “failed.” In contrast, most whites passed, no matter what their education level.


In July 1960, SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) came to Mississippi to begin a month-long voter registration campaign in the town of McComb, in conjunction with C.C. Bryant of the NAACP. SNCC organized a voter registration education program, teaching a weekly class that showed people how to register. SNCC worker Marion Barry (yes, the notorious DC mayor) arrived on August 18 and started workshops to teach young blacks nonviolent protest methods. Many of the blacks, too young to vote, jumped at the opportunity to join the movement. They began holding sit-ins. Some were arrested and expelled from school. . At sit-ins which began on May 28, 1963, participants were sprayed with paint and had pepper thrown in their eyes. Students who sang movement songs during lunch after the bombing of NAACP field director Medgar Evers’ home were beaten. After Evers was killed in 1963, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella organization of local and national civil rights groups founded in 1962, organized the Freedom Vote.


The Freedom Vote had two main goals:

  1. To show Mississippi whites and the nation that blacks wanted to vote and
  2. To give blacks, many of whom had never voted, practice in casting a ballot


The mock vote pitted the actual candidates against candidates from the interracial Freedom Party. 60 white students from Yale and Stanford Universities came to Mississippi to help spread word of the Freedom Vote. 93,000 voted on the mock election day, and the Freedom Party candidates easily won. After the success of the Freedom Vote, SNCC decided to send volunteers into Mississippi during the summer of 1964, a presidential election year, for a voter registration drive. It became known as Freedom Summer. Bob Moses outlined the goals of Freedom Summer to prospective volunteers at Stanford University:

  1. to expand black voter registration in the state
  2. to organize a legally constituted “Freedom Democratic Party” that would challenge the whites-only Mississippi Democratic party
  3. to establish “freedom schools” to teach reading and math to black children
  4. to open community centers where indigent blacks could obtain legal and medical assistance

800 students gathered for a week-long orientation session at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, that June. They were mostly white and young, with an average age of 21. They were also from well-to-do families, as the volunteers had to bring $500 for bail as well as money for living expenses, medical bills, and transportation home. SNCC’s James Forman told them to be prepared for death. “I may be killed. You may be killed. The whole staff may go.” He also told them to go quietly to jail if arrested, because “Mississippi is not the place to start conducting constitutional law classes for the policemen, many of whom don’t have a fifth-grade education.” The volunteers helped provide basic services to blacks in the South. “Freedom clinics” provided health care, Northern lawyers worked in legal clinics to secure basic constitutional rights, and “Freedom Schools,” though illegal, taught blacks of all ages traditional subjects as well as black history. The Freedom Schools were  a great success. The proposal was a network of schools  that would foster political participation among Mississippi elementary and high school students, in addition to offering academic courses and discussions. A curriculum planning conference was held in March 1964. The three sections of the Freedom School curriculum were the Academic Curriculum, the Citizenship Curriculum, and the Recreational Curriculum. The purpose of these sections was to teach students social change within the school; regional history; black history; how to answer open-ended questions; and the development of academic skills. The Academic Curriculum consisted of reading, writing, and verbal activities that were based on the student’s own experiences. The Citizenship Curriculum was to encourage the students to ask questions about the society. The Recreational Curriculum required the student to be physically active.


. Over the course of Freedom Summer,  more than 40 Freedom Schools were set up in black communities throughout Mississippi. Students were encouraged to become active citizens and socially involved within the community. Over 3,000 African American students attended these schools in the summer of 1964. Students ranged in age from small children to the very elderly. Freedom Schools were established with the help and commitment of local communities, who provided various buildings for schools and housing for the volunteer teachers. While some of the schools were held in parks, kitchens, residential homes, and under trees, most classes were held in churches or church basements with the average approximately 15 years old. Teachers were volunteers, most of whom were college students themselves.


Approximately fifty Freedom Libraries were also established throughout Mississippi. These libraries provided library services and literacy guidance for many African Americans, some who had never had access to libraries before. Freedom Libraries ranged in size from a few hundred volumes to more than 20,000. The Freedom Libraries operated on small budgets and were usually run by volunteers. Some libraries were housed in newly constructed facilities while others were located in abandoned buildings


One of Freedom Summer’s most important projects was the establishment of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to challenge the all-white regular Democratic party in the state. In June, the names of four MFDP candidates were on the Democratic primary ballot as delegates to be sent to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, but all four lost. Later that month, the regular Democratic party adopted a platform that explicitly rejected the national party platform in the area of civil rights. The MFDP held a convention two days after the bodies of the CORE workers were found and selected a 68-person delegation, which included four whites and the formidable Fannie Lou Hamer, to go to the national convention.  The delegates wanted to be seated instead of the regular delegates at the convention. To do so, they had to persuade eleven of the more than 100 members of the Credentials Committee to vote in their favor. Senator Hubert Humphrey offered a compromise, with the blessing of the president. The white delegates would be seated if they pledged loyalty to the party platform. Two MFDP delegates, Aaron Henry and Ed King would also be seated, but as at-large delegates, not Mississippi delegates. Neither side liked the agreement, but in the end, both sides accepted. The trouble, however, was not over. When all but three of the Mississippi delegates refused to pledge allegiance to the party, the MFDP delegates borrowed passes from sympathetic delegates and took the seats vacated by the Mississippi delegates until they were thrown out. Though the MFDP did not fully accomplish its goals, it showed blacks that they could have political power.


There is no denying the effect that Freedom Summer had on Mississippi’s blacks. In 1964, 6.7% of Mississippi’s voting-age blacks were registered to vote, 16.3% below the national average. By 1969, that number had leaped to 66.5%, 5.5% above the national average.


The last pivotal event in Mississippi’s Civil Rights history was  in 1966, when James Meredith organized a March against Fear. It was meant to be a solidary march from Memphis, TN to Jackson, MS, a distance of 220 miles, to counter the continuing racism he saw in the South and to encourage African Americans to register to vote.  He invited only black men to join him and did not want it to be a large media event dominated by major organizations, but Meredith was shot on the second day of the march. He was shot with buckshot, and survived, but could not continue the march. By 1966, there was tremendous infighting between the SNCC, SCLC, MFDP and CORE, but they came together for the march. While, they struggled over tactics and goals, they were able to cooperate in community organizing and voter registration. They registered over 4,000 African Americans for voting in counties along the way. Ordinary people, both black and white, came from across the South and all parts of the country to participate. The marchers slept on the ground outside or in large tents, and were fed mainly by local black communities. Some people marched for a short time, others stayed through all the events; some national leaders took part in intermittent fashion, having commitments in other cities. On the early evening of June 16, when the marchers arrived in Greenwood, and tried to set up camp at Stone Street Negro Elementary School, Stokely Carmichael was arrested for trespassing on public property. He was held for several hours by police before rejoining the marchers at a local park, where they had set up camp and were beginning a night-time rally. According to one civil rights historian, an angry Carmichael took the speaker’s platform, delivering his famous “Black Power” speech, arguing that blacks had to build their own political and economic power to attain independence: “This is the twenty-seventh time I have been arrested and I ain’t going to jail no more! The only way we gonna stop them white men from whuppin’ us is to take over. What we gonna start sayin’ now is Black Power!”.


In Canton on June 23, the march was attacked and tear-gassed by the Mississippi State Police who were joined by other police agencies, after marchers tried to erect tents on the grounds of McNeal Elementary School.  As the march headed south, the number of participants grew. The march stopped at HBCU Tougaloo College before entering Jackson. Marchers could rest and get food and showers. Many more people joined the march at that point; national leaders returned to it from commitments in other parts of the country. The growing crowd was entertained by James Brown, Dick Gregory and other major musicians and entertainment figures, including actor Marlon Brando who spoke briefly.


Finally, an estimated 15,000 mostly black marchers entered Jackson on June 26, making it the largest civil rights march in the history of the state. The march served as a catalyst for continued community organizing and political growth over the following years among African Americans in the state. They have maintained a high rate of voting and participation in politics since then.



And that ends my notes on Mississippi’s Civil Rights History. Long and bloody. My husband says it hasn’t changed much. I have no intention of going down there and testing his theory. If you read all the way to the end, I commend you because, as I said, it was long. But I hope it was worth it. With knowledge comes power.

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BHM 2017: Day 9 – Atrocities in Alabama

When I first began to notice how much of the activities in the civil rights movement focus on Alabama, I thought I’d devote a day to it. And then when I started reading up on it, I thought I’d give it three days. But I’ll stick to one, so be ready. This is LONG. Read it in spurts. Come back to it, read some more. And be prepared to be overwhelmed by a sense of pride in what was accomplished in Alabama.


Four major Civil Rights battles were fought in Alabama.

In 1955-56, the black citizens of Montgomery fought to integrate the buses. Retaliation included the bombing of King’s home in January 1956.

In 1961, the Freedom Riders were bombed and beaten in Anniston, Birmingham, Montgomery, and finally arrested in Jackson.

In the spring of 1963, the effort to desegregate Birmingham was launched. Retaliation included the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church (in which 4 children were killed).

In 1965, three protest marches were carried out from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery to protest for voting rights.

I think I’ve covered the Freedom Riders. So let me talk a bit about the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

In early 1955, 15 year old Claudette Colvin, a member of the NAACP Youth Council, refused to give up her seat on a bus. The way it worked was, 10 back rows for black, 10 front rows for white, 16 middle rows for extra and the two didn’t mix. Once the white rows were full, the whites filled each middle row going back, and the blacks stood. Claudette was in one of the early middle rows. When she refused to get up, she was  arrested… but the NAACP decided not to showcase her because she was unmarried and pregnant. Instead, they trained Rosa Parks in civil disobedience and let her be the champion. Parks, the secretary of the chapter, let herself get arrested in November. ED Dixon, president of the NAACP chapter, bailed her out, but the Women’s Political Council decided to organize a one-day boycott. The flyer they distributed said:

Another woman has been arrested and thrown in jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus for a white person to sit down. It is the second time since the Claudette Colvin case that a Negro woman has been arrested for the same thing. This has to be stopped. Negroes have rights too, for if Negroes did not ride the buses, they could not operate. Three-fourths of the riders are Negro, yet we are arrested, or have to stand over empty seats. If we do not do something to stop these arrests, they will continue. The next time it may be you, or your daughter, or mother. This woman’s case will come up on Monday. We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial. Don’t ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday. You can afford to stay out of school for one day if you have no other way to go except by bus. You can also afford to stay out of town for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off all buses Monday


Thirty-thousand African Americans boycotted the buses on December 5th. That afternoon Martin Luther King, Jr. was called in by Ralph Abernathy to form the Montgomery Improvement Association, and the black citizens of Montgomery decided to continue the boycott. Organizers met with the mayor explaining that the boycott would continue until the bus company hired black drivers for routes through black neighborhoods and instructed white drivers to treat black passengers with courtesy and professionalism. At that point, they weren’t trying to integrate the buses, just make the seating arrangements fair with a fixed dividing line for the segregated sections of the buses. Such a line would have meant that if the white section of the bus was oversubscribed, whites would have to stand; blacks would not be forced to give up their seats to whites. The mayor rejected the terms. So the boycott got serious, and a lawyer named Fred Gray took up Claudette Colvin’s case and sued for integration of the buses.

Several hundred drivers coordinated a carpool system to get black workers to and from their jobs. Some white housewives also drove their black domestic servants to work. When the city pressured local insurance companies to stop insuring cars used in the carpools, the boycott leaders arranged policies with Lloyd’s of London, a company which once insured slave cargo ships.And in retaliation, King’s home was bombed, Dixon’s home was bombed, and Ralph Abernathy’s home was bombed. The boycott continued. For 381 days. The support was nationwide. Shoes wore out and churches took up collections for new shoes. Black taxis charged 10 cents, same as bus fare. When they were arrested for charging less than 45 cents, money was raised to bail them out. People walked, rode bicycles, rode mules, and hitchhiked. Eighty-nine boycott leaders, including King, were arrested. It just increased the national attention.

In November 1956, the Supreme Court upheld Claudette Colvin’s case – Browder v. Gayle, to desegregate city buses, and the buses integrated in December, ending the boycott. Score one for King, score one for Civil Rights, score one for African-Americans in Alabama.


The effort to desegregate Birmingham actually started in 1956. Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth worked diligently to integrate his city, starting the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) when the NAACP was banned from Alabama, and giving respite to the Freedom Riders in 1961.Birmingham, Alabama was, in 1963, “probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States,” according to King. Although the city’s population was 60% white and 40% black, Birmingham had no black police officers, firefighters, sales clerks in department stores, bus drivers, bank tellers, or store cashiers. Black secretaries could not work for white professionals. Jobs available to blacks were limited to manual labor in Birmingham’s steel mills, work in household service and yard maintenance, or work in black neighborhoods. Racial segregation of public and commercial facilities throughout Jefferson County was legally required, covered all aspects of life, and was rigidly enforced. Only 10 percent of the city’s black population was registered to vote in 1960. Fifty unsolved racially motivated bombings between 1945 and 1962 had earned the city the nickname “Bombingham”.

In 1962, Shuttlesworth secured a promise from white civic leaders to desegregate downtown water fountains and restrooms. . When the white leaders reneged on the agreement a few months later, Shuttlesworth appealed to King for help. King and the SCLC organized an elaborate plan to desegregate Birmingham with sit-ins, marches and boycotts of downtown stores: “The purpose of … direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation”.

Oddly enough, it may not have worked if it weren’t for the intense hatred and violence with which the white citizens responded to the King’s tactics, and in particular, the hostility of Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner, Bull Connor, who even said that we “ain’t gonna segregate no niggers and whites together in this town”. Protest actions in Birmingham began in 1962, when students from local colleges arranged for a year of staggered boycotts. They caused downtown business to decline by as much as 40 percent; the City punished the black community by withdrawing $45,000 ($360,000 in 2017) from a surplus-food program. Economic pressure on white business continued. In the spring of 1963, before Easter, the SCLC and Shuttlesworth initiated Project C, with a series of sit-ns, boycotts and marches designed to put Birmingham’s and Connor’s ugliness in the national spotlight. For example, a Birmingham boycott intensified during the second-busiest shopping season of the year. Pastors urged their congregations to avoid shopping in Birmingham stores in the downtown district. For six weeks supporters of the boycott patrolled the downtown area to make sure blacks were not patronizing stores that promoted or tolerated segregation. King was arrested on Good Friday, and wrote “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in which he chastised white clergy for not getting involved in the freedom struggle.  But the response from the white citizens was not controversial enough to draw national attention, nor were there enough arrests to crowd the jails. When the stores tried to integrate in response to the boycotts, Connor threatened to take their business licenses.

When enthusiasm for the efforts began to wane, a new plan was formed – D-Day, also known as the Children’s Crusade. D-Day called for students from colleges, high schools and even elementary schools to take part in demonstrations throughout the city. Actually, a lot of people were horrified at the risk involved, and even King was hesitant. But the plan went ahead anyway, and the students were trained in non-violence tactics, teaching them to overcome their fears of dogs and jails, and showing them the success of sit-ins in Nashville. On May 2nd over 1000 students skipped school for the demonstrations. Demonstrators were given instructions to march to the downtown area, to meet with the Mayor, and integrate the chosen buildings. They were to leave in smaller groups and continue on their courses until arrested. More than 600 students were arrested; the youngest of these was reported to be eight years old, and the jail held 1200 protesters, with a 900-man capacity. The demonstrations continued the next day with another 1000+ students, and Connor brought out the hoses, set at a level that would peel bark off a tree or separate bricks from mortar, to be turned on the children. Boys’ shirts were ripped off, and young women were pushed over the tops of cars by the force of the water. When the students crouched or fell, the blasts of water rolled them down the asphalt streets and concrete sidewalks. The protest ended at 3pm. And the damage was done. Northern reporters photographed it, and it made Life magazine. Television cameras broadcast to the nation the scenes of fire hoses knocking down schoolchildren and police dogs attacking unprotected demonstrators. A New York Times editorial called the behavior of the Birmingham police “a national disgrace.” The Washington Post editorialized, “The spectacle in Birmingham … must excite the sympathy of the rest of the country for the decent, just, and reasonable citizens of the community, who have so recently demonstrated at the polls their lack of support for the very policies that have produced the Birmingham riots. The authorities who tried, by these brutal means, to stop the freedom marchers do not speak or act in the name of the enlightened people of the city.” But it didn’t end there. The jail count swelled to 2500, and news went worldwide. News of the mass arrests of children had reached Western Europe; the Soviet Union devoted up to 25 percent of its news broadcast to the demonstrations, sending much of it to Africa, where Soviet and U.S. interests clashed. Soviet news commentary accused the Kennedy administration of neglect and “inactivity”.

Meanwhile, the protests continued. Protesters shut down businesses in the town, set off false fire alarms, picketed and sat in stores singing freedom songs. All totaled, there were 3000 protestors in downtown Birmingham.

On May 8 at 4 a.m., white business leaders agreed to most of the protesters’ demands. Political leaders held fast, however. The rift between the businessmen and the politicians became clear when business leaders admitted they could not guarantee the protesters’ release from jail. On May 10, Fred Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King Jr. told reporters that they had an agreement from the City of Birmingham to desegregate lunch counters, restrooms, drinking fountains and fitting rooms within 90 days, and to hire blacks in stores as salesmen and clerks. Those in jail would be released on bond or their own recognizance.

And then there’s Selma.

In the 1960’s, a group called the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) launched a voter registration drive in Selma, Alabama, joined by organizers from SNCC. Alabama had both a poll tax and a literacy test to keep blacks, and some poor whites from registering to vote. Selma was 57% black with 15,000 eligible voters, but only 130 were registered. The literacy test was administered subjectively, and even most educated blacks couldn’t pass it. Other tactics included restricted registration hours; economic pressure, including threatening people’s jobs, firing them, evicting people from leased homes, and economic boycotts of black-owned businesses; and violence against blacks who tried to register.

The DCLV and SNCC even held a special Freedom Day on October 7th, 1963, on one of the two days of the month that residents could register to vote. SNCC members who tried to bring water to the blacks waiting on line were arrested, as were those who held signs saying “Register to Vote.” After waiting all day in the hot sun, only a handful of the hundreds in the line were allowed to fill out the voter application, and most of those applications were denied by white county officials. United States Justice Department lawyers and FBI agents were present and observing the scene, but took no action against local officials. On July 6, 1964, one of the two registration days that month, John Lewis led 50 black citizens to the courthouse, but the county sheriff arrested them all rather than allowing them to apply to vote. Three days later an injunction was passed forbidding any gathering of three or more people under the sponsorship of civil rights organizations or leaders. This injunction made it illegal for more than two people at a time to talk about civil rights or voter registration in Selma, suppressing public civil rights activity there for the next six months.

When resistance from white officials proved overwhelming, King and the SCLC were called in to help in 1965. Local protests resulted in 3000 arrests by the beginning of February as organized efforts were made toward voter registration. Up to this point, the overwhelming majority of registrants and marchers were sharecroppers, blue-collar workers and students. On January 22, the DCVL president, finally convinced his colleagues to join the campaign and register en masse. When they refused Sheriff Clark’s orders to disperse at the courthouse, an ugly scene commenced. Clark’s posse beat the teachers away from the door, but they rushed back only to be beaten again. The teachers retreated after three attempts. On February 1st, King was arrested, this time for refusing to cooperate with traffic directions, and Malcolm X responded, stating: if your present racist agitation against our people there in Alabama causes physical harm…you and your KKK friends will be met with maximum physical retaliation from those of us who … believe in asserting our right to self-defense – by any means necessary.” And yet, only 100 African-Americans were successfully registered.

The idea of the march was in response to the shooting death of activist/deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson who was killed by a state trooper at the end of February, during a protest march in Marion. The SCLC decided that the march would run 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery, specifically to ask Governor George Wallace if he had ordered the conditions that led to Jackson’s death, and if he would protect black registrants. Governor Wallace denounced the march as a threat to public safety; he said that he would take all measures necessary to prevent it from happening. “There will be no march between Selma and Montgomery,” Wallace said on March 6, 1965, citing concern over traffic violations. He ordered Alabama Highway Patrol Chief Col. Al Lingo to “use whatever measures are necessary to prevent a march”. On March 7, 1965, an estimated 525 to 600 civil rights marchers headed southeast out of Selma on US Highway 80. The protest went according to plan until the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettis Bridge and entered Dallas County, where they encountered a wall of state troopers and county posse waiting for them on the other side.  The demonstrators were told to disband at once and go home. Rev. Hosea Williams tried to speak to the officer, but Cloud curtly informed him there was nothing to discuss. Seconds later, the troopers began shoving the demonstrators, knocking many to the ground and beating them with nightsticks. Another detachment of troopers fired tear gas and mounted troopers charged the crowd on horseback. Televised images of “Bloody Sunday”, the brutal attack presented Americans and international audiences with horrifying images of marchers left bloodied and severely injured, and roused support for the Selma Voting Rights Campaign.

A second march was then planed for Tuesday, March 9, 1965. They issued a call for clergy and citizens from across the country to join them. Awakened to issues of civil and voting rights by years of Civil Rights Movement activities, and shocked by the television images of “Bloody Sunday,” hundreds of people responded to SCLC’s call. But there was an injunction against the march, so King cut a deal and agreed to turn around on the bridge and not enter the county, in return for a promise of no violence. This decision created a major rift between King with the SCLC and the students of SNCC who no longer trusted him. SNCC led their own demonstrations in Montgomery with hundreds of demonstrators including Alabama students, Northern students, and local adults, in protests near the capitol complex. The Montgomery County sheriff’s posse met them on horseback and drove them back, whipping them. The SNCC students responded violently, throwing bricks and bottles. One leader said later, “If we can’t sit at the table of democracy, we’ll knock the fucking legs off.”

Finally, on March 17th, the injunction against marching was lifted and the third march was organized. To ensure that this march would not be as unsuccessful as the first two marches were, President Johnson federalized the Alabama National Guard on March 20 to escort the march from Selma. On Sunday, March 21, close to 8,000 people assembled at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church to commence the trek to Montgomery. In the first legs of the journey, the march was limited to 300 people over the two lane section of Highway 80. So at the end of the day most left and 300 camped in muddy fields so that they could walk the two lane section. When the highway was back to 4 lanes,  additional marchers were ferried by bus and car to join the line, with over several thousand marchers participating on the outskirts of Montgomery. That night on a makeshift stage, a “Stars for Freedom” rally was held, with singers Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Peter, Paul and Mary, Sammy Davis Jr., Joan Baez, Nina Simone and The Chad Miller Trio all performing. Thousands more people continued to join the march.

On Thursday, March 25, 25,000 people marched from St. Jude to the steps of the Montgomery Alabama State Capitol Building where King delivered the speech How Long, Not Long. He said:

The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. … I know you are asking today, How long will it take? I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long.”

After delivering the speech, King and the marchers approached the entrance to the capitol with a petition for Governor Wallace. A line of state troopers blocked the door. One announced that the governor was not in. Undeterred, the marchers remained at the entrance until one of Wallace’s secretaries appeared and took the petition.

The third march received national and international coverage; it publicized the marchers’ message without harassment by police and segregation supporters. Gaining more widespread support from other civil rights organizations in the area, this march was considered an overall success, with greater influence on the public. Voter registration drives were organized in black-majority areas across the South, but it took time to get people signed up.

The marches had a powerful effect in Washington. After witnessing TV coverage of “Bloody Sunday,” President Johnson met with Governor Wallace in Washington to discuss the civil rights situation in his state. He tried to persuade Wallace to stop the state harassment of the protesters. Two nights later, on March 15, 1965, Johnson presented a bill to a joint session of Congress. The bill was passed that summer and signed by Johnson as the Voting Rights Act.

Johnson’s televised speech in front of Congress was carried nationally; it was considered to be a watershed moment for the civil rights movement. He said:

“Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”


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