Sunday, July 14, 2013

July 14

This was Gerald R."Jerry" Ford's high school graduation picture,
taken in Grand Rapids, Michigan,  43 years before he'd become
U.S. President No. 38.  Wasn't he dreamy? 

"The Constitution is the bedrock of all our freedoms; guard and cherish it; keep honor and order in your own house; and the republic will endure." Gerald R. Ford (July 14, 1913 ~ Dec. 26, 2006)

  So, it happens that a decent man and one of our nation's presidents came into the world one hundred years ago today. Baby Leslie Lynch King Jr. was born in Omaha, Nebraska, little knowing that he'd later be named after Gerald R. Ford, the man baby Leslie's mom married a few years later, having escaped her abusive husband, bless her heart and courage.   Much less that a disgraced president would peg him for the vacated VP spot after Spiro Agnew's downfall. Or that he'd have to step into the Big Job himself, after Richard Nixon's own disgrace and downfall?  

Or did baby Jerry know, as all babies do ever so much more than they can articulate by way of their fresh, immature mechanisms? Earlier this evening I read a short story by Muriel Spark that got me to thinking. In it she writes, "...babies, in their waking hours, know everything that is going on everywhere in the world...."   I had considered that babies come into the world, still perfectly aware of the language spoken in Heaven or whatever realm they've just left. Unable to speak it. Forgotten it by the time they can form words.  

Anyway, the day poor, valiant Mrs. King's baby was born, I'd be willing to bet that grand parades were going on in Paris, being as it was Bastille Day. 

  Being as it was the 124th anniversary of the day when crowds of outraged Parisians, fed up with the sordid chasm between haves and have nots and their heedless, corrupt government, launched the uncivil uprising that sparked the French Revolution.  The 28th U.S. President was newly inaugurated and things were tough and rowdy in the Balkans.  And of course the troubles there and many an elsewhere were laying the groundwork for the assassination in Sarajevo less than a year later that'd spark the great and terrible war, thanks to gaggles of bullheaded diplomats and jealous, pissy monarchs, unwilling to compromise their nationalistic, i.e. partisan views. That'd lead to another war even worse, even more deadly. In 1942, young Jerry Ford of Michigan signed up to serve in it, in the U.S. Navy. 

Gerald Ford didn't run for the presidency. Scandalous twists of fate and a Constitutional crisis plopped him into it, but he stood up the job with decency, even going so far as to get himself in some serious soup by pardoning his tormented, resentful predecessor, wiping out the legal trouble Nixon had gotten himself into with all his conniving. And why? For the sake of national healing, as Ford saw it. For the common good - what a concept. 


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Long Live the Republic

So, here we are, Citizens, our experiment in self-governance has made it 237 years. That's how long it has been since those warm, tense gents, all properly clad in natural fibers, signed off on the earnestly edited wording of their Declaration of Independence.  More than once over the years I've written - and illustrated - done my best to capture this critical, pivotal time/space intersection at July 4, 1776/ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
What wouldn't I give for a time machine - if only to witness
this room, those delegates, in that nervous summer of 1776
Most memorably, in The Revolutionary John Adams. 

But too, in my first book about the Adamses of Braintree, Young John QuincyThomas Jefferson,  George Washington, and The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin. All of these, but for my regrettably out-of-print book about young JQA,  were done in a very happy, industrious season of work with the National Geographic. Currently, I'm yet again envisioning the stormy birth of our revolutionary republic. More specifically, how our national flag came about, in a book, tentatively titled A New Constellation: FLAGS and the Star Spangled Banner. It will be set in a history of flags, ending with Francis Scott Key's heartfelt poem, written after he'd witnessed the British bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenryHow does this book differ from my earlier works? For one thing, it will be published by Albert Whitman. They published my most recent book, that being about a most stubborn, idealistic patriot, trouser-wearing dress reformer,and Medal of Honor, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker.  Really, I generally do historical books because such subjects suit my realistic way of drawing and painting AND I love the research. The Finding Out. Which has involved traveling to such places as the Adamses' homes, to Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Independence hall. The hardest part about doing these books has been distilling down all of the informations to the limited word count required for a proper picture book. Gotta leave room for the pictures, right? 

I write this in honor of the Day, this Glorious Fourth, but also in answer to questions posed by my author friend, Leslie J. Wyatt. Such as What would I like to try as a writer that I haven't yet? As a matter of fact, I've been doing just that lately: revising and revising a contemporary, middle-grade fantasy novel. I'll keep you posted. I would like to write a bestseller!  God knows I've tried that more than once, but, as has been said, many are called. Few are chosen.  And What scares me? What scares all too many of us in this here 'land of the free, this home of the brave: That the grand legislative machine conceived by those long-gone founders will fail in its ability to govern the nation, thanks to our all too partisan and divided land. In the weeks to come, do be watching for other writers, the gifted Sharon Mayhew, for instance, as they ponder Leslie's questions.

Long live the Republic! 
"I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will triumph in that Days Transaction, even although We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."  John Adams, July 3, 1776

Sunday, February 10, 2013

BLACK HISTORY MONTH No. 10: 12 Things to Know About Booker T. Washington

     So, of course I'd heard about Booker Tliaferro Washington. In school. Along the way. But I'd never really read about him until I was working, first, on a book about Theodore Roosevelt, and then on my book about Geo. Washington Carver a few years ago.  Booker T. W. is something of anachronism these days, even categorized, I'd say most unfairly, as an Uncle Tom.

"I have learned that success
 is to be measured not so much 
by the position that one has reached in life 
as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome 
while trying to succeed."

:Character is power."

"Few things can help an individual 
more than to place responsibility on him, 
and to let him know that you trust him."

Booker T. Washington

1.  Why should Americans know about him?  Because Mr. Washington, who began his life in slavery, became an educator, speaker, and author of great significance at a critical time in our nation's history, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.  Decades after the Civil War, racism was still rampant in America. Plenty of white citizens, particularly in what had been the Old south were doing their best, i.e. worst to keep former slaves and their children ground underfoot. How? With violence and intimidation. Keeping poor people down. Written and unwritten laws, together known as Jim Crow.

2. As was the case with Frederick Douglass and many another African American of this era, BTW's mother was enslaved. His father was a white man, a wealthy farmer or "planter" as such was known in Virginia, where BTW was born. April 5, 1856.

3. Every sort of hard, rotten sort of physical labor was the way BTW was able to work his way through African American schools, present-day Hampton University. and Virginia Union University.

4. Armed with this education, 25-year-old BTW became head of a leaky, shabby set of buildings near Tuskegee, Alabama.  It would be his job, his and his determined African American students, to turn those worn out buildings into a SCHOOL.     Which they did. 

5. One of BTW's  best known hires?  That'd be Geo. W. Carver, the "Peanut Wizard," the "Sage of Tuskegee." In 1896.  A year after the big speech BTW made in Atlanta, the speech that won him so much praise and scorn.

6. It was known as the Atlanta Exposition Speech or, by some, such as W.E.B. Du Bois, as the 'Atlanta Compromise.  Booker T. Washington delivered this address to a mostly white audience in Sept 1895.  Here is BTW's recounting of it, from his 1901 memoir, Up From Slavery.  It's a hard listen from a modern p.o.v.  In 1895, the speech made him a national popular sensation.  

He called for African Americans to be hired [rather than the immigrants who were pouring into the U.S. just then] as the humble, loyal, and hard-working people they were - who should passively accept segregation. Blacks & whites could exist together, as separate fingers on one hand.

7. BTW's pragmatic p.o.v. was highly necessary, considering all of the money he was constantly trying to raise, considering all of the favor he was actively courting from influential people, particularly white ones, ever leery of being asked to move too far or too fast from the status quo.

8. BTW was so popular that President Theodore Roosevelt invited him to dine with him at the White House. I mean, think of it: In the entire history of the slave-built place, black people were the ones who cooked and served meals and washed up afterwards.  Only fitting that a significant educator should be asked to visit with the President - but the response from the outraged South was so foul, filthy, backwards, racist. Disgusting and shocking even now to read....

9. He continued his heavy workload at the Tuskegee Institute. 

10.  Booker T. Washington lies buried there, since his death, Nov 14, 1915, when he was only 59.

11. A visit to Tuskegee University is well worth the visit: There's a handsome museum/ National Historic Site there, detailing the work of Booker T. Washington and his employee/sometime nemesis Geo. Wash. Carver.

12. There is also, in Franklin Co., VA, the Booker T. Washington National Monument.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH No. 9: 12 Things to Know About W.E.B. Du Bois

"One ever feels his twoness – 
an American, a Negro; 
two souls, two thoughts, 
two unreconciled strivings; 
two warring ideals in one dark body, 
whose dogged strength alone 
keeps it from being torn asunder."

"To be a poor man is hard, 
but to be a poor race in a land of dollars 
is the very bottom of hardships...
"But what of black women?
...I most sincerely doubt 
if any other race of women 
could have brought its fineness 
up through so devilish a fire." 

W.E.B. Du Bois 1868 ~ 1963

1. The initials in his name stood for William Edward Burghardt and his last name (derived from the French language) is pronounced Du Boyz.

2. He came into the world at the time/space intersection 23 Feb 1868/Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

3. Behind that wonderful, thoughtful face, pictured here was a brilliant mind. William's friends, fellow church members, and neighbors recognized that early on. In fact they pooled their resources to help him go to college, to Fisk University, in Nashville, TN.  It was created after the Civil War, as a school for African Americans, and by the time Wm. went there in the 1880s, Fisk was famous all around the world, thanks to its far-traveling Jubilee Singers. 

 I don't know that I even want to think about what it must have been like for this gifted young Bay Stater traveling southward and experiencing the  deeply wounded, still recovering, furiously racist South. Color barriers. the Klan. Jim Crow. Etc, etc. 

Dr. Du Bois
4. W.E.B.DuB. continued his studies in social sciences at Harvard, eventually becoming, in fact, the FIRST African American to earn a  Ph.D. there (in 1895). He studied in Berlin, Germany, too.  Toward the end of the 19th century, at just about the time that Geo. Wash. Carver was making his way from Iowa University to his professorship at Booker T. Washington's   Tuskegee Institute, Dr. Du Bois became a history and economics professor at Atlanta University.  

 And you know what else; Dr. Du Bois created and published The Philadelphia Negro, a sociological study, a serious work of scholarship about a group of black folks living there.

Booker T. Washington

5. At the beginning of the 20th Century, two of the strongest African American voices were those of Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee and Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois.  As to perceptions of their people and as to the poverty and seemingly bottomless bigotry facing their race, these two powerful men were in deep disagreement.

6. Booker T. W., who was 8 yrs. older than Dr. Du B., had come the hard way to a go along to get along acceptance of white supremacy It was a hard, but immovable fact. The best that blacks could do for themselves was keep their heads down and get whatever vocational training they could to get and stay hired. He'd come to national prominence  with an 1895 speech in which he said, in part, "The wisest of my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly."
The Founders:  Niagara Movement, 1905
7. Dr. Du B's response was his book The Souls of Black Folk.   Equal rights were to be fought for and leadership skills were to be taught and developed. Moreover, Du Bois and the other founders of the NIAGARA MOVEMENT declared that blacks 'should not submit to being humiliated, degraded, and remanded to an inferior place."

8.  In 1910, Dr. Du B. was in at the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 
And you know, "Colored" rather than "Black"  was Dr. Du B's idea, the idea that ALL dark-skinned people, all round the world, should work together to conquer the scourge of prejudice.
9.  As the new NAACP's Publicity and Research Director, W.E.B. Du Bois founded and edited the organization's successful and significant monthly journal, The CRISIS.   In its pages he spoke out against the continuing assaults, lynchings, riots, massacres, on African Americans, against the world wars, the old colonial empires...

10. Over the years Dr. Du Bois wrote book upon book (including, even, a romance), the chief of which, his magnum opus was considered to be his history, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860~1880.  

11.  And over the years, this cruel old world never ceased to offer outrage.

12. Dr. Du Bois, 95, was in Ghana, working on the ENCYCLOPEDIA AFRICANA, when his long life came to an end, on 27 Aug, 1963.  The very next day, a world away, thousands attending the March on Washington, stood silent upon hearing that the scholarly warrior for equality had passed away.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH No. 8: 12 Things to Know About Dorothy Height

"Without community service, 
we would not have a strong quality of life.  
It's important to the person who serves 
as well as the recipient.  
It's the way in which we ourselves 
grow and develop."

"Greatness is not measured by 
what a man or woman accomplishes,
but by the opposition he or she
has overcome to reach his goals."

Dorothy Irene Height  1912 ~2010

1.  About three weeks before the great ship Titanic went down, Dorothy Irene Height was born in Richmond, Virginia, the old capital city of the Confederacy, on 24 March, 1912.

2, But it wasn't long before her folks moved, so Dorothy grew up in Pennsylvania.  As a high school student, she entered a national contest, writing and speaking about the U.S. Constitution. Ms Height, the only African American contestant and won a 4-year college scholarship.

3.  17-yr-old Dorothy was accepted  at Barnard College, in 1929. Then turned away: they'd already accepted as many Negros as they had to that year.  imagine that

So she went to NY University.  She'd earn college degrees in social work and educational psychology.

4. For decades,  Miss Height employed these disciplines as an energetic and constant worker in organizations devoted to making civil and economic life more just. In a racist world where, generally speaking, women and girls still, as ever, get the short end of the stick, Ms. Height had her work cut out for her.  Against lynching and AIDS. For universal suffrage and reproductive freedom. Softening the burdens of poverty.

5. To that end, Ms. Height involved herself with the YWCA,  which got started in the latter 1800s, in England, as more and more young women were moving to London and other big cities to work in factories.

Mary McLeod Bethune
6.  And the National Council of Negro Women, founded by the great leader and educator, Mary McLeod Bethune.  

7.  In Mrs. Bethune, Ms. Height found a valuable mentor.

8. Dorothy Height served as president of the Nat'l Council of Negro Women for 40 years, from 1957 until 1997.  As such, she advised U.S. Presidents.

9. Of the key individuals who brought about the March on Washington in August 1963, only Dorothy Height was NOT asked to speak.  "I didn't feel I should elbow myself to the front when the press was focused on the male leaders."  After all, as Ms. Height would often say, it wasn't a question of personal limelight but collective struggle.  

10.  For her life time of service to her country, Dorothy Height was given 3 dozen honorary doctoral degrees (AND an honorary degree from Barnard, 75 yrs. after they closed the door on her)  AND her nation's two highest civilian awards.  In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded Ms. Height the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Ten years later, President Geo. W. Bush awarded her the Congressional Gold Medal 

11. Apart from all else, Ms. Height was a lady of glorious hats.   Note this treasure of a VIDEO:  in which Ms. Height wore a very nice one at the White House, recounting to President Barack Obama her memories of young Martin Luther King. 

12. Ms. Height passed away 20 April 2010. Her obituary in the NY Times was one of MANY tributes to this great American.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

BLACK HISTORY MONTH No. 7: 12 Things to Know About Frederick Douglass

So, apart from the fact that - I mean, what sort of a cockamamie black history month deal would NOT include Frederick Douglass?  On the other hand, it seems kind of rotten to have him and these other complex individuals relegated to 1/12th of the year.  Frederick Douglass is just one heck of a fierce American.  Courageous. Ferocious. And oh my gosh, what a FACE!

"It is easier to build strong children 
than to repair broken men." 

"If there is no struggle,
there is no progress." 

I love this one:
"We have to do with the past 
only as we can make it useful 
to the present and the future." 

1.  He never knew his dad, a white man, and his mom, from whom he was early on taken away, died when he was a boy.  He came into the world in Maryland, around 1818, but no one knows for sure exactly when.

2. Yikes, I should have posted this next week!  Frederick chose Valentine's Day as his birthday.

3.  Originally, he was named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. 

4. Though doing so was against the law– and against the wishes of her husband: after all, an educated slave might become unhappy about being enslaved –  the wife of one of his white masters taught him his letters and young Frederick scavenged education from white kids, anywhere he could get it.  He practiced reading, newspapers, signs, anything he could find. Then he did his best to teach others.  Until angry, club-wielding white folks broke up his classes.

5. One of his masters, Edward Covey, was known as a "slave-breaker," one who'd beat and torment the spirit out of a slave.    16-year-old Frederick fought back, so much and so well, that Mr. Covey never beat him again.  

Anna Murray Douglass
      "I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions." 
6. On his 3rd attempt, 20-yr-old Frederick escaped. Stole himself away. In 1838.  With the help of his future wife Anna Murray.  Their marriage, which began on 15 Sept 1838, lasted 44 years.

7. In his anti-slavery speeches, he spoke so well, people wondered if he'd really been a slave.  So, he wrote his 1845 bestseller, his  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  

8. Then he left the country.  Went on a 2 year speaking tour of Ireland and England.  Because, really, there's nothing like an escaped slave writing a popular, incendiary autobio to attract the attention of his legal owner.   But you know what happened?  Frederick's fans in Great Britain passed the hat, came up w/ the money for his freedom.

9. Back in the U.S.A. in 1847, F.D. began an antislavery newspaper.  AND, he showed up at Seneca Falls, NY, at the very FIRST Women's Rights Convention.  In the years to come, F.D. would speak often about women's civil rights.  
When Amendment XV to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1870, African American men were allowed to vote.  Women, black or white, would have to wait another 50 years. 

10. For the rest of his life Frederick Douglass wrote newspaper articles, books, speeches. He campaigned for social justice, equal education.  With Ida B. Wells, he campaigned against the vile, nasty practice of lynching. 

Cedar Hill
Helen Pitts Douglass
11.  Is there a Frederick Douglass National Historic Site? Why yes!  Frederick and Anna bought Cedar Hill in southeastern D.C., in 1877.  Five years later, Anna died.  then, in 1884, F.D. remarried. His 2nd wife was sufragist Helen Pitts.   

"This proves I am impartial," F.D. said, laughingly, "My first wife was the color of my mother and the second the color of my father."

12.  The old lion died 11 years later, of a massive heart attack. 

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Black History Month No. 6: 12 Things to Know About FANNIE LOU HAMER

"I am sick and tired 
of being sick and tired."  

Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer 1917 ~ 1977 


1.  Fannie Lou, her 14 brothers, and 5 sisters were the children of Jim and Lou Ella Townsend,  They lived in Montgomery Co. Mississippi.

2. They were sharecroppers, meaning they all worked very hard out in the fields, farming land they didn't own in return for part of the crop.  "Life was worse than hard.  It was horrible!  We never did have enough to eat." 

3. Fannie Lou's folks worked and saved enough to own three mules and a pair of cows. A white neighbor poisoned all five animals.  The Townsends lived in a time and place where most white folks were dead set against black folks getting ahead.  

4. Fannie Lou Townsend and Perry "Pap" Hamer in 1944. 

5. Eventually they would adopt four daughters.

6. Throughout what had been the Old South/slave economy, there were loads of obstacles such as an expensive "poll tax" and/or an impossible written test, designed to keep African Americans from voting. You could get in serious trouble for even registering to vote. Nonetheless, in August 1962, Mrs. Hamer went to a church meeting. The topic?  Civil Rights. 

7. As I wrote of Mrs. Hamer in my book Rabble Rousers,   "Fannie Lou had never known she could vote. Now that she did, nothing was going to stop her. Either she'd be killed fast, she figured, or a little at a time, as she had been all her life."    
      Fannie Lou Hamer became part of a valiant generation who were determined to protest and fight to win their legitimate right to vote.

8. So what happened? She and her husband were fired and evicted.  Fannie Lou Hamer was shot at, jailed, and the police nearly beat her to death. 
 Still, she continued to raise her voice in protest.  
Going to meeting after meeting. Organizing Mississippi's Freedom Summer voter registration campaign of 1964

9. Not only was Mrs. Hamer a passionate speaker, she heartened and encouraged her fellow protestors with her singing.  You can hear her HERE. 

10.  Mrs. Hamer lost the election when she ran for the U.S. Congress in 1964.  As a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Mrs. Hamer was asked to speak to her fellow Dems at the 1964 Convention. You can hear her powerful testimony right HERE. 

11. Four years later, she was a part of her state's delegation to the Dems' troubled, raucous national convention of 1968. All along, Fannie Lou Hamer spoke out against the war in Viet Nam. She championed early childhood education.  She was active in Dr. Martin Luther King's Poor People's Campaign. again

12. Fannie Lou Hamer died March 14, 1977.  
Why should you know about Mrs. Hamer?  Because when it would have been so easy to just let things go on as they had been going on, she saw that the old way needed changing and risked EVERYTHING to change them.  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Black History Month No. 5: 12 Cool Things to Know About BHM and Hank Aaron, too.

So, wow, not being a sporty person, I learned a lot about Hank Aaron, who turns 79 years old today, that I never knew before. Very cool guy.

 "Failure is a part of success." 

"My motto was always to keep swinging. 
Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly
 or having trouble off the field, 
the only thing to do was keep swinging."

Hank Aaron

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, historian

"The thought of the inferiority of the Negro 
is drilled into hime in almost every class he enters 
and in almost every book he studies." 

Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron

1. So, long before February was designated BLACK HISTORY MONTH,  the boy baby who'd grow up to be known as Major League Baseball player, Hammerin' Hank Aaron was born on the 5th day of it, in Mobile, Alabama, down on the Gulf of Mexico.

2. In the beginning, in 1926, BHM was conceived as 'Negro History Week."  The 2nd week of February, as a matter of fact, in which a pair of notable winter babies were born: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

3. Whose idea was it? Really, a remarkable individual, a proud black man, and passionate historian, Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson.      

4. Dr. Woodson, who rec'd his Ph.D. (in history) from Harvard University in 1912, pioneered the idea - revolutionary for his timethat the history of African Americans was worthy of deep, scholarly attention. 

5.  Four years after Dr. Woodson died (3 April, 1950), Hank Aaron of Alabama made his Major League debut with the Milwaukee Braves.

6. Mr. Aaron started out his baseball career in the Negro American League, in the Indianapolis Clowns.   Knowing well that you gotta be a sturdy talented individual to be a clown, I'm thinking that that's a rather crummy/demeaning team name. 

7. In 1976, 50 yrs after the 1st Negro History Week, the first official African American History Month was celebrated.  

8. By that year, the U.S.A. Bicentennial, Hank Aaron was wrapping up his nearly 23 year-long career with the Atlanta Braves.  

9. 755 career home runs!  

10. And a big stink it was back on April 8, 1974, when Hank hit No. 715. Why? It meant that Mr. Aaron, who'd been getting lots of support as well as racist death threats, had broken the Babe's long-standing home run record. 

11. Never mind that one of his nicknames was "Bad Henry;" Hank Aaron was and is a gentleman athlete and active in the long struggle for fairness and equality, listed not only in the Civil Rights Hall of Fame,

12. but as of 1982, you'll find Hank "the Hammer" Aaron listed among the greats in baseball's Hall of Fame.  Wanna read more about him? Check out his autobiography, I Had a Hammer. 
Aim some happy birthday vibes in his direction and pay some attention to Black History Month.  You'll discover some REMARKABLE stories about your fellow Americans. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Black History Month No.4: 12 Cool Things to Know About Rosa Parks

"Whatever my individual desires were
to be free, I was not alone.  There were 
many others who felt the same way."

"I would like to be remembered as 
a person who wanted to be free...
so other people would be also free."

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks  
Feb. 4, 1913 ~ Oct 24, 2005

1. For one thing, as you can see here, Mrs. Parks was born 100 years ago today, back when big-bellied Wm. Howard Taft was the President; in the year that Harriet Tubman died, in Tuskegee, Alabama, home of educators Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver; legions of students - and, during WWII, valiant African American airmen at what is now Tuskegee University.

2. Rosa was born into an unfair world.  She grew up on a farm, in the frightening, infuriating days of JIM CROW.  In the wide-awake nights when Ku Kluxers rode the landscape, intimidating black folks or anyone the Klan didn't much care for.  In the fierce time of lynching.  51 African Americans are known to have been lynched in 1913, in Rosa's birth year. Beaten, strung up by their neighbors, because of the color of their skin. As my granny once said, "The only good thing about the good old days is that they're gone." 

3. Rosa McCauley went to a one-room school house set aside for African American students. She furthered her studies at the Industrial School for Girls and at the Alabama State Teacher's College for Negroes, in Alabama's capital city, Montgomery.  

4. But Rosa had to leave school to look after her grandma and her mother, when they got sick. She got a job in a shirt factory.  And 19-year-old Rosa McCauley fell in love with a hungry-minded barber, named Raymond Parks.  Rosa and Raymond were married a week before Christmas, in the hard Great Depression year, 1932.   

5. With Raymond's encouragement, Rosa earned her H.S. diploma, in 1933.  And Mr. and Mrs. Parks of Montgomery (when they weren't cutting hair or sewing shirts and keeping house) involved themselves in African American campaign for their civil rights as full-fledged citizens of the United States of America. 

6.  In time, they joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. (A fine LINK, where you can read more about Mrs. Parks and her official capacity in the NAACP. For one thing, you'll learn about brave, stubborn Civil Rights campaigner, E. D. Nixon, who, among other things, helped get Rosa Parks out of jail!)

7.  E.D. Nixon and Mr. and Mrs. Parks were among the many black and some of the progressive white citizens of Montgomery, AL, who were DETERMINED to change the fact that their town's busses were segregated.  Lest African Americans ever forget that they were 2nd class citizens, city leaders made them sit AT THE BACK of the BUS.  AND, if the bus was crowded and a white someone wanted a seat at the back, any black someone must get UP and give up his or her seat. Distinctly unfair! Later on, seamstress Rosa Parks would say that all she was doing, on the 1st of December, 1955, was "trying to get home from work." 

8. True, but Mrs. Parks was also tired, sick and tired of hundreds of years of ugly treatment and inequality.  Rosa Parks was photo'd getting fingerprinted, having her mugshot taken, and sitting on a bus seat that she's REFUSED  to give up to a white person.  Rosa Parks became a national symbol, but she and thousands more had come to a fateful decision:  By golly, they would protest and STOP this unfairness.  They would WALK - even when they were exhausted... even when it was pouring down rain –instead of riding their town's busses.   So, with Mrs. Parks' arrest, began the MONTGOMERY [AL] BUS BOYCOTT.

9. Though white authorities did all they could to BREAK the famous Bus Boycottit lasted for more than a YEAR.  It ONLY ENDED on December 20, 1956, thanks to all of those proud, stubborn walkers. Thanks to drivers who risked arrest giving a walker a ride. Thanks to walking, writing, working, protesting and speaking by Rosa and Raymond Parks, their fellow activists,  E.D. Nixon, Ralph Abernathy, and the charismatic minister, chosen to lead the boycott , Martin Luther King, Jr.

10, AND, now that Rosa and the rest of the valiant protestors had gotten Alabama's attention, judges declared that bus segregation was UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

11. SO. The CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT was over now?  Nope. Really, it had just begun.

12.   Besides the self-empowerment institute  Rosa founded in honor of Raymond (after he died in 1977), Rosa Parks spent the rest of her long life supporting the causes in which she believed.  She told her story in a fine book for young readers, too, in 1992. Though the citizens and the Congress of the U.S. would refer to her as  "The First Lady of Civil Rights," ROSA PARKS, 'the Mother of the Freedom Movement,' was humble about the part she played. Until she died, 24 Oct. 2005, when she was 92.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Black History Month No. 3: 12 Cool Things to Know About Mary Ann Shadd Cary

       Okay, so I'd never heard of Mary Ann Shadd Cary until I had the privilege of writing and illustrating the book Rabble Rousers: Twenty Women Who Mad a Difference (pub'd by Dutton in 2003. One of them was Sojourner Truth, about whom I wrote yesterday.)  In learning about Mrs. Cary, honored I was to know of this valiant, stubborn lady. Honored I am to acquaint others with the fact that she lived.

"It's better to wear out than to rust out."

"Self-reliance is the Fine Road to Independence."

Mary Ann Shadd Cary  1823 ~ 1893
I find myself picturing her smiling and speaking, don't you?

1. Mary Ann's parents, Abraham and Harriet Shadd, were free black citizens of Wilmington, Delaware and big deals in the Underground Railroad: a very brave undertaking in their America. Mary Ann was the first of their 13 children.

2. When Mary Ann was only 16 years old, she used the education she'd received from Pennsylvania Quakers to start a school. Just think of that.  Who were her students? African American children. As in most places in the Land of Liberty, there was precious little equality and fairness for people of color, education-wise and otherwise. 

3. When Mary Ann was 27, the U.S. Congress came up with the Compromise of 1850 as a way to calm things down between pro- and anti-slavery Americans. Part of the legislation was the Fugitive Slave Act: Runaway slaves, who'd made it to the northern states could be arrested and sent back to their owners down South. As a result, any person of color could be captured, detained, and sent into servitude. Thousands of African Americans fled to Canada. That's what Mary Ann Shadd did, along with her brother, Isaac.  

4. And what did she do when she got there? She taught, she wrote, made speeches, founded an integrated school (in Windsor, Ontario), and in 1854, Miss Shadd began a newspaper, thus becoming North America's  FIRST African American woman publisher.

5. Ms. Shadd's Provincial Freeman of Toronto, Canada was full of information for blacks looking to build new lives in the far, free North. Moreover the pages of this weekly paper were devoted to writings on the abolition of the wicked practice of slavery. 

6. In 1856, Mary Ann Shadd married Thomas Cary. Together they had a son and a daughter, Linton and Sarah.  Thomas passed away in 1860.

7. Mary Ann Shadd Cary moved to Washington, DC. When this working mother wasn't teaching or serving as a school principal, she was recruiting black soldiers for the Union Army.

8. After the Civil War and the final abolition of slavery, Mrs. Cary became the FIRST woman of color to enter the law school of Howard University, in 1869. 

Charlotte E. Ray, 1850 ~ 1911
9. Upon graduating, Mary Ann Shadd Cary was the second female of her race (after New Yorker, Charlotte E. Ray, in 1872) to obtain a law degree, in fact, one of the first U.S. females to do so, regardless of color.

10. Mrs. Cary applied her terrific energy to winning U.S. women the right to vote, to fully participate in civic life of their nation. 

11. To that end, Mrs. Cary founded the Colored Women's Progressive Franchise Association in 1880.

12. On June 5, 1893, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, educator, abolitionist, political dissident and activist, journalist, lawyer, and mom, died of cancer, having used her life and intellect to the fullest. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

BLACK HISTORY MONTH No. 2: 12 Things to Know About Sojourner Truth

"Truth is powerful and it prevails."

"I am not going to die;
 I'm going home like a shooting star."

"If women want any rights 
more than they's got, 
why don't they just take 'em 
and not be talking about it."

"Ain't I a woman?"

Sojourner Truth 1797? ~ Nov 26, 1883

1. For one thing, when Sister Sojourner was born, she was given the name Isabella Baumfree.

2. And she was born into slavery at the tail end of the 18th century, when owning human beings and forcing them to work for you all their lives was still perfectly legal. up north in New York State, in Swartekill, a tiny village by the Hudson River.  About a hundred miles north of NYC.

3. Her father was born in Ghana. He might have grown up in western Africa, but like many thousands of his fellow Africans, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Had to suffer that miserable boat trip across the Atlantic.  He was given the name James Baumfree. Both James and Elizabeth, his wife, whose folks were stolen from Ginea, are known to history thanks to their stalwart daughter, 'Belle.' 

4.  Belle wasn't allowed to be with Robert, the man she loved because he was owned by another white man. How sad and rotten is that?  

5. With Robert and another man to whom Belle was pretty much assigned, she had five children, Diana, Peter, Elizabeth, Thomas, and Sophia.  

6. In time, Belle escaped to freedom with baby Sophia. "I walked off, believing that to be right."

7. In time, Belle went to court to get back her little boy, Peter, who'd been illegally sold down south. She was one of the first and few women of color to go to law and win.

8. Years of hard labor for her masters made Belle very strong. And she was tall, 6 feet tall.

9. In the summer of 1843, as hundreds of pioneers were having the adventures of their lives on the Oregon Trail, Belle Baumfree took a new name: She would be known as Sojourner Truth. She would go walking from place to place, preaching her truth, that slavery was a wicked thing. That is must end.

Heroic William Lloyd Garrison 1805 ~1879
10. One way she paid her way was selling the harrowing story of her life, an eyewitness testimony of a life enslaved.  Did she write it? No, she'd never been taught how. No, she told her Narrative.  Did she publish it herself?  No, that was done by the great abolition activist William Lloyd Garrison.    Want to learn more about him and the heroic generation, who worked so long and hard against slavery? All those long decades BEFORE the Civil War? Then totally check out the terrific documentary, The Abolitionists, recently shown on PBS.

Sojourner Truth's Carte de Visite
11. And Sojourner Truth sold pictures of herself.   Cartes des visites, the photo"visiting cards," so popular in the 19th century. 

12. Oh the things that are to be known about this valiant woman number far and away more than a dozen. That she recruited and aided African American soldiers, serving in the Union Army. That she was injured by a brutal, furious white man when she tried to integrate the streetcars of Washington, DC. (He was probably scared, too. No excuse, but change IS pretty danged scary. It's hard when old ways are passing.)  But for sure I want you to know the moment in 1851 when Sojourner Truth walked to the front of a fine old church in Akron, Ohio, and testified.  After all, wasn't she a woman?

           How do we know what Sojourner said on the long ago 29th of May, 1851? How she looked? Because someone who was there wrote down what she heard and saw that day. That's a good lesson, you guys: Want to make history? Write down what you know and remember so people in the future will know and remember, too. 
Frances Dana Barker Gage 1808 ~ 1884

The leaders of the movement trembled on seeing a tall, gaunt black woman in 
a gray dress and white turban, surmounted with an uncouth sun-bonnet, march 
deliberately into the church, walk with the air of a queen up the aisle, and 
take her seat upon the pulpit steps. A buzz of disapprobation was heard all 
over the house, and there fell on the listening ear, "An abolition affair!" 
"Woman's rights and niggers!" "I told you so!" "Go it, darkey!"
I chanced on that occasion to wear my first laurels in public life as 
president of the meeting. At my request order was restored, and the business 
of the Convention went on. Morning, afternoon, and evening exercises came and 
went. Through all these sessions old Sojourner, quiet and reticent as the 
"Lybian Statue," sat crouched against the wall on the corner of the pulpit 
stairs, her sun-bonnet shading her eyes, her elbows on her knees, her chin 
resting upon her broad, hard palms. At intermission she was busy selling the 
"Life of Sojourner Truth," a narrative of her own strange and adventurous 
life. Again and again, timorous and trembling ones came to me and said, with 
earnestness, "Don't let her speak, Mrs. Gage, it will ruin us. Every 
newspaper in the land will have our cause mixed up with abolition and 
niggers, and we shall be utterly denounced." My only answer was, "We shall 
see when the time comes."

The second day the work waxed warm. Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, 
Presbyterian, and Universalist ministers came in to hear and discuss the 
resolutions presented. One claimed superior rights and privileges for man, on 
the ground of "superior intellect"; another, because of the "manhood of 
Christ; if God had desired the equality of woman, He would have given some 
token of His will through the birth, life, and death of the Saviour." Another 
gave us a theological view of the "sin of our first mother."

There were very few women in those days who dared to "speak in meeting"; and 
the august teachers of the people were seemingly getting the better of us, 
while the boys in the galleries, and the sneerers among the pews, were hugely 
enjoying the discomfiture, as they supposed, of the "strong-minded." Some of 
the tender-skinned friends were on the point of losing dignity, and the 
atmosphere betokened a storm. When, slowly from her seat in the corner rose 
Sojourner Truth, who, till now, had scarcely lifted her head. "Don't let her 
speak!" gasped half a dozen in my ear. She moved slowly and solemnly to the 
front, laid her old bonnet at her feet, and turned her great speaking eyes to 
me. There was a hissing sound of disapprobation above and below. I rose and 
announced "Sojourner Truth," and begged the audience to keep silence for a 
few moments.

The tumult subsided at once, and every eye was fixed on this almost Amazon 
form, which stood nearly six feet high, head erect, and eyes piercing the 
upper air like one in a dream. At her first word there was a profound hush. 
She spoke in deep tones, which, though not loud, reached every ear in the 
house, and away through the throng at the doors and windows.

"Wall, chilern, whar dar is so much racket dar must be somethin' out o' 
kilter. I tink dat 'twixt de niggers of de Souf and de womin at de Norf, all 
talkin' 'bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's 
all dis here talkin' 'bout?

"Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and 
lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me 
into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!" And raising 
herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunder, 
she asked. "And a'n't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared 
her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). I have 
ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And 
a'n't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man--when I could 
get it--and bear de lash as well! And a'n't I a woman? I have borne thirteen 
chilern, and seen 'em mos' all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with 
my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a'n't I a woman?

"Den dey talks 'bout dis ting in de head; what dis dey call it?" 
("Intellect," whispered some one near.) "Dat's it, honey. What's dat got to 
do wid womin's rights or nigger's rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, 
and yourn holds a quart, wouldn't ye be mean not to let me have my little 
half-measure full?" And she pointed her significant finger, and sent a keen 
glance at the minister who had made the argument. The cheering was long and 

"Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can't have as much rights as 
men, 'cause Christ wan't a woman! Whar did your Christ come from?" Rolling 
thunder couldn't have stilled that crowd, as did those deep, wonderful tones, 
as she stood there with outstretched arms and eyes of fire. Raising her voice 
still louder, she repeated, "Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a 
woman! Man had nothin' to do wid Him." Oh, what a rebuke that was to that 
little man.

Turning again to another objector, she took up the defense of Mother Eve. I 
can not follow her through it all. It was pointed, and witty, and solemn; 
eliciting at almost every sentence deafening applause; and she ended by 
asserting: "If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world 
upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and she glanced her eye over the 
platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! 
And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let 'em." Long-continued 
cheering greeted this. "'Bleeged to ye for hearin' on me, and now ole 
Sojourner han't got nothin' more to say."

Amid roars of applause, she returned to her corner, leaving more than one of 
us with streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude. She had taken us 
up in her strong arms and carried us safely over the slough of difficulty 
turning the whole tide in our favor. I have never in my life seen anything 
like the magical influence that subdued the mobbish spirit of the day, and 
turned the sneers and jeers of an excited crowd into notes of respect and 
admiration. Hundreds rushed up to shake hands with her, and congratulate the 
glorious old mother, and bid her God-speed on her mission of "testifyin' agin 
concerning the wickedness of this 'ere people."