Toni Morrison and Stephen Colbert on Her Books and Race

Toni is awesome! She deconstructs race as a social concept….

 

Being Gullah or Geechee, Once Looked Down On, Now a Treasured Heritage

Being Gullah or Geechee, Once Looked Down On, Now a Treasured Heritage.

The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor links historic African-American communities in four southern coastal states.

Emory Campbell remembers growing up Gullah on Hilton Head Island, before the golf courses and the resorts. He remembers hunting in the forests and roaming free in the marshes. He remembers an island where white people were a rarity and his family was part of a close-knit community of African-American farmers and fishers, of teachers and preachers. He remembers the curse and blessing found in the island’s isolation, of having to take a ferry to get to the outside world.

And he remembers the year it all changed: 1956, when the first bridge opened and the developers poured in. Campbell was 15. Today, the cemetery where his ancestors are buried is corralled by vacation homes set back from a fairway at the Harbour Town Golf Links. To visit, he needs to get waved through at a guardhouse.

“This part of the South used to be too hot for anybody to care about before mosquito control, before bridges and air conditioning,” said Campbell. “We were the ones that endured, and ironically, it is us who is now suffering.”

The Gullahs or Geechees are descendants of slaves who lived and still live on the coastal islands and lowcountry along the coast of the southeastern United States, from the St. John’s River in Florida to the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. (Gullah tends to be the preferred name in North and South Carolina, Geechee in Georgia and Florida.) Their communities dot the 400-mile strip, and they are slowly disappearing, casualties of progress and our love affair with coastal living.

In 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the Gullah/Geechee Coast on its list of most threatened places. “Unless something is done to halt the destruction,” the trust said, “Gullah/Geechee culture will be relegated to museums and history books, and our nation’s unique cultural mosaic will lose one of its richest and most colorful pieces.” (Read “Lowcountry Legacy” in the November issue of National Geographic magazine.)

Drayton Plantation Slaves (Former?) c.1865

Dead Confederates and Street Names

In the city of Richmond, Va is a street named Monument Avenue. On it, every few blocks are statues of the various personages of the Confederacy from Virginia who participated in the Civil War. The street was later modified to contain statues of famous people from Richmond, Va to include tennis great Arthur Ashe and famous oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury.  8 US Presidents hailed from Virginia, yet in our State capital there is a major street dedicated to dead confederate generals. Welcome to the South.

Now to say that Civil Rights upset some folks in Virginia is an understatement. One County, Prince Edward, shut their entire Public School System down for 5 years to prevent desegregation. So racism is no stranger to the state.

The City of Alexandria, Virginia was also the home and residence of confederate General Robert E. Lee. The Lee-Custis Plantation sat on the very grounds of what became the Arlington Cemetery. Several of Lee’s descendants still live in the City. The reason Arlington Cemetery sits where it is is that through the front door of his mansion, Arlington House,  Lee would have to confront some of the hundreds of thousands of those he was responsible for killing as part of the war…Each and every day. In case you are wondering where the Custis name came from, Lee’s wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee, was indeed the great granddaughter of Martha Custis, George Washington’s wife.

Arlington House, Formerly confederate General robert E. Lee’s home

Law requiring Confederate street names questioned

Alexandria, a Northern Virginia city steeped in Civil War history, is considering repeal of an old law requiring certain new streets to be named for Confederate generals.

City Councilman Justin Wilson introduced legislation for Tuesday night’s council meeting to do away with a 1963 law requiring that any new “streets running in a generally north-south direction shall, insofar as possible, bear the names of confederate military leaders.”

Wilson’s bill also would eliminate a requirement that new east-west streets be named for persons or places prominent in American history.

Wilson said he wants to remove a series of anachronistic laws, and his proposal also would repeal a ban on “lewd cohabitation” and laws regulating a bygone fad of “rebound tumbling,” a form of trampolining.

As a practical matter, there is little likelihood that the city will be naming new streets any time soon. The city, inside Washington’s Capital Beltway and separated from the nation’s capital by the Potomac River, is essentially built out. In fact, the street grid of the city’s Old Town section dates to Colonial times.

Wilson said that symbolically, he believes it’s a good thing to strip from the code a provision that in some ways glorifies the Confederacy. But he made clear he is not proposing that the city change existing street names, some of which honor Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, whose Dred Scott decision denied citizenship and constitutional protections to blacks before the Civil War.

“I think we struggle in the city with our history,” Wilson said.

Alexandria was occupied by Union troops for most of the Civil War and, like the rest of Virginia, has a history of slavery and segregation. It is now a liberal bastion in Virginia – Barack Obama won 71 percent of the vote in 2012.

On historic Duke Street in Old Town, the building that was once home to the nation’s largest domestic slave trading company is now home to the Northern Virginia Urban League, which operates the Freedom House Museum there to tell the story of the slave trade.

Cynthia Dinkins, president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Urban League, said she personally supports any legislation that keeps the city from unduly honoring the Confederacy. Still, while she is wary of glorifying the Confederacy, she said care must be taken remember unpleasant parts of American history.

“Some of my challenge in dealing with Freedom House is that people don’t want to remember” that part of our history, she said.

Wilson said he has not heard of any opposition to his bill so far.

Officers with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which has occasionally protested when it sees efforts to scrub recognition of Confederate leaders from the public square, did not return emails and phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.

A public hearing on Wilson’s legislation is scheduled for Jan. 25.

Nations Oldest Park Ranger Words of Wisdom

This is awesome!

If you are over 55 and grew up in the Southern US – you more than likely remember segregation and Jim Crow having lived through the last parts of it. Ranger Soskin at 92 years of age has seen much of the change in this country starting before WWII. Her insights are fascinating…

Nation’s oldest full-time park ranger, from California, furloughed

The nation’s oldest full-time national park ranger, who works at the  Rosie the Riveter museum in Richmond, Calif., recently joined the ranks of the furloughed because of the ongoing U.S. government shutdown.

Betty Reid Soskin, 92, is a ranger at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Northern California.

“At 92, I am very sensitive to the passage of time. We learned about the furlough gradually,” Soskin said told the Associated Press last week. “When it came at midnight (on) October 1, it seemed like a major interruption in my life because I don’t have time and these young folks were wasting my time, precious time.”

To make matters worse for Soskin, California officials refused Friday to use state money to open national parks, which means no reprieve for Soskin.

Soskin works three days a week as a tour guide and two days in the administrative office at the park that honors not only the famous Rosie but also tells the story of the home front during WWII.

Soskin became a park ranger seven years ago and leads tours at the park and museum that honors the women who worked in factories during wartime.But that all changed last week when the government shut down.

“It was like hitting a wall to come out from under my hat and back into civvies,” Soskin said.

She said she feels uncertain when she watches the developments between lawmakers in Washington, D.C., unfold on television.

“There are times when I feel like the only grown-up in the room. It’s a little disconcerting to feel like no one’s in charge. That’s the feeling I have when I watch the news,” Soskin said. “There are not enough wiser heads in Washington to determine where we should go. That uncertainty is unnerving.”

The National Park Service confirms that Soskin is the oldest full-time park ranger. At 93, Lyle Ruterbories, who works at Glacier National Park in Kintla Lake, Mont., near the U.S. and Canadian border, is the oldest seasonal ranger the park service is aware of, park service spokesman Jeff Olson told the AP this week.

The Redskins, Leroy Jackson…And Jack Johnson

For those unfamiliar with sports history, Jack Johnson was the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion around the turn of the last century. His life and experiences were chronicled in a movie – “The Great White Hope”.

Unable to find anyone who could defeat Johnson, he was jailed for his relationship with a white woman.

Now, allegations have surfaced that the Washington Redskins, an NFL Football team which was the last in the NFL to bring on black players, because of then owner George Preston Marshall’s racism – fired one of their first black payers for the same “crime”.

Now, to be honest – growing up in the Washington area, during the time before the Redskins recruited Bobby Mitchell – most black folks rooted for and followed the Baltimore Colts with Johnny Unitas, and running back Lenny Moore. while the team had several black players before Bobby Mitchell, it was the thrilling combination of Sonny Jurgensen’s long “bombs” to Mitchell which turned things around.

Leroy Jackson, Former NFL Player, Cut For Getting Caught With White Woman: Nephew

A relative of a former NFL player who was a pioneer for civil rights in sports made a bombshell allegation.

David Irons, the nephew of former Redskins running back Leroy Jackson told Yahoo Sports that his uncle was cut from the team “because they caught him in a hotel room with a white woman.”

“Can you believe that?” Irons said, “They cut him for something that’s so common today. It’s unreal.”

In the Yahoo Sports interview, Jackson seemed to confirm Irons’ claim.

When asked why he was cut, Jackson said, “I think it probably was about a woman… interracial things and not being able to hold onto the ball.”

Jackson made history for being one of the first black players to be drafted for the Washington Redskins. While other teams in the NFL integrated much earlier, the Redskins held out until 1962. Yahoo Sports points out that owner George Preston Marshall was dead-set against hiring any black players until the Kennedy’s administration pressured them to do so.

Jackson wasn’t the first black player drafted, but he was the first to actually play a game.

The NFL has a long history of racism that extends far beyond the Redskins. James Harris, the first black quarterback in the NFL, described the alienation and humiliation he suffered. In once instance, he told 60 Minutes, all of his fellow teammates were put up in a hotel– except for him. He stayed at a YMCA and was asked to clean the equipment.

Today, out of 32 teams, only nine havestarting quarterbacks who are black.

Former Redskins Running Back, Leroy Jackson

Oscar Alert! – 12 Years a Slave

This one has the Film Critics atwitter after the Toronto Film Festival. It is a film depiction of the true story of Solomon Northup, born a free man, who was abducted and enslaved in the pre-Civil War US.  Unlike the fictitious Django – the film is based on a book on the real-life experiences of the author, Solomon Northup, by the same name. The book is the 1853 autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped in Washington D.C in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for 12 years before his release.

The other big plus to this one, is that it sticks to historical truth – unlike The Butler, where the Director chose to “spice up” the story, having the central character born in Georgia – instead of Virginia. Met Mr Allen at a Christmas Party at the White House in 1976. I remember him distinctly because of being introduced by a family friend ho was a chef there – and a conversation about the “honesty” and racial feelings of the various Presidents he had served under to that time with the Master chef. Now – gay people may have “gaydar” – but black folks have “racedar” – that is reading the body language and reactions of a white person they interact with. One of the things Allen said was to keep an eye on whether when then new President Carter came downstairs to greet the staff, whether he looked them in the eye while shaking hands (or even shook their hands, which Nixon would not do). He then went on to say that despite the common belief that Eisenhower hated black folks – when he shook your hand he looked you straight in the eye regardless of race. which said a lot more about the man than any Monday morning quarterbacks in the press. I broke into the conversation and asked him which did… And which didn’t. He told me a story totally confounding my then 70’s belief set.

I think back on that brief conversation and recall a quote from Martin Luther King…

Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.

I wish the movie was about that.

And unlike the movie – NO –  Ronald Reagan was no racist. Although unfortunately several of his senior staff, like Ed Meese, were sheet wearers.

TIFF 13: Did Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’ just change the game?

TORONTO — Brad Pitt didn’t say much during the question-and-answer session that followed the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of “12 Years a Slave” on Friday night, just a short comment on why he produced and co-starred in the Steve McQueen period drama.

But, like his turn as an abolitionist-minded maverick amid a group of brutal slaveowners, Pitt spoke volumes as he stood on the stage with cast and filmmakers. “If I never get to participate in a film again,” he said, his voice trailing off as if to imply this would be enough, “this is it for me,” he finally finished.

It’s a sentiment you could imagine the lead cast members —Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o and of course Chiwetel Eijiofor, standing out amid the standouts — sharing with Pitt. And it’s a sentiment you could imagine the audience feeling. Festivals come and go; movies rise and fade. But once in a great while there’s a film that feels almost instantly, in the room, like it’s going to endure, and change plenty of things along the way. And “12 Years” offers that feeling.

Director Steve McQueen (r) and co-Lead Actor Michael Fassbender (l).

Most narrowly, that’s true on Oscar level. By 9 p.m. Friday night, just six days into September, the film had already become a top contender for various acting, writing and directing prizes, as well as the big prize. You could say that’s premature. But you probably wouldn’t if you sat in the room. (Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan certainly didn’t hold back.)

It’s equally true on a social level. “12 Years” tells the fact-based story of Solomon Northup (Eijiofor), a free man who in 1841 was kidnapped and sold into slavery, and his travails — at once horrifying and surprising, no matter how much you think you’re ready for them — when he is trafficked to a series of Southern plantations for more than a decade.

The movie has many of the hallmarks McQueen has become known for — the meticulous composition, the bold and haunting sequences — but, far more than previous films “Hunger” and“Shame,” it has a galvanizing topicality. (For more on “12 Years” and how it was made see my colleague John Horn’s excellent piece in the Sunday Times.)

It also has the kind of bracing honesty that has always been rare in Hollywood and is even rarer these days, a Hollywood where, if tough issues are taken on at all, it’s under the garb of respectful period drama or easy sentiment.

Slavery is pretty much at the top of that list of tough issues. With films like “Django Unchained” and “Lincoln,“ the subject has have become slightly less taboo in the past few years — but only slightly.“Roots” broke new ground on TV more than three decades ago, yet few have followed in its path. McQueen is finally willing to pick up the trail.

But maybe that feeling of change was most apparent because the movie went beyond its ostensible subject of race and the fight for emancipation. After the screening, several people I was sitting near began comparing the movie, favorably, to other films about race. A worthwhile comparison. But the film also evoked parallels to a more unexpected movie, “Schindler’s List.” Exactly 20 years ago that film paired impressive filmmaking with a wrenching subject, and in so doing achieved something remarkable — used cinema to change the way we view a cataclysmic period we thought we knew. “12 Years” has the  power to do the same thing.

As this movie rolls out this fall, people will talk about the questions it raises, about the evolution of race relations, about what it’s saying on the matter of slavery, whether nearly 150 years after the end of the Civil War there is resolution or closure, whether there can ever be resolution or closure.

And there will be, inevitably, a backlash, people who will question the choices McQueen made, will scrutinize whether this detail softpedals the history or that detail overplays it, whether he went too far or not far enough, whether he fetishizes too much or too little.

Mostly, people will talk about slavery in a way they haven’t before because by seeing the film they’ll experience it in a way they never have before. McQueen on Friday summed up his reason for making a movie about slavery thusly: “For me it was a no-brainer. I just wanted to see it on film. I wanted to see that history on film. It was important. It was that obvious. And that’s it,” he said, putting a period on the sentence. But the conversation is only just beginning.

BTx3 is going to see this one. This one strikes a personal chord as part of my own family fought re-enslavement after the Revolutionary War for near 50 years. While no letters or material from those family members still exist (although there are a few pictures), there is ample evidence in court documents from 1790 through 1840 which document the trail… Including 4 court cases where slavers tried to claim various members of he family were escaped slaves. A decades long struggle which by a bit more than just local legend included several killings.

Why Travon Martin’s Murder Is a Watershed

Val Nickolas hits the nail on the head.Why most black men think the Zimmerman trial was a travesty.

Went through a couple of these experiences myself growing up, and later as an adult. Getting stopped in a$70,000 car, in a suit, with my then 80 year old mother 2 blocks from my house in a very nice neighborhood on the way home from taking her out to dinner… For having a loose license plate screw.

Had my Zimmerman moment as a teen, when I and two friends stopped by the local McDonalds for a meal. The driver was a couple of years older, and was known around the community as a bit of a bad ass. He later became a County Policeman and served with distinction for 30 some years. A car with four young white men first attempted to ram us in the parking lot as we drove out – missing us by a few inches. My older friend said “Forget it – they are probably a bunch of drunks”, and kept going without saying a word to the other driver. Half way home, we noticed the car full of guys was following us. We took a couple of turns through streets which basically took us around the block and back to the main, two  lane road (the area was pretty country at that time) – the car followed our every move. As the numbers were 4 to 3,we figured those guys weren’t interested in a stand up fight. They probably were armed. My friend carried a sawed-off under the seat (I said he was a bad ass) – but we didn’t want to force a confrontation on the road. I suggested we go to my house, which had a long circular driveway, shielded by a row of bushes and a wall. My Dad, who was out of town with my Mom, kept loaded guns by the doors after having the house shot at because of their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement (He never was real big on that “peaceful” stuff). When we pulled into the drive, the two non-drivers would jump out through the hedge unseen, and circle around to the house, letting ourselves in and collecting Dad’s venerable Pump and Double Barrel. IF the clowns followed us into the driveway, they would be faced with a three sided ambush, with no way out as the driveway would be blocked by our car, and the wall on one side, and the side of the garage on the other…

Which is exactly what happened.  We made them get out, and besides a case of beer, found two revolvers when we searched them and the car. We took the bullets, removed the cylinders, and tossed the revolver frames into the car – and collected 6 beers from the stash for our efforts. And with a graphic description of what was going to happen if we ever saw them in our town again…

Sent them on their way with instructions as to where to find their revolver cylinders in a few days.

Those guys were so shook up we never saw them again, and they never did pick up their revolver cylinders which we set atop a fence post at the end of a dead end farm road.

Story could have been a lot different…But those beers were damn good.

Had another friend who managed to get stopped 3 times the same day by the same cop, supposedly looking for a robber on his way to visit his girl friend in the next county. Cop as hell on aged blue Mustangs.

I could have been Trayvon Martin

The Don Imus controversy a while back brought racial discrimination into the national conversation. But for many African-Americans like me it dug up a lot of deep, suppressed memories of hateful things that have been said and done to us over the years. Things we thought we had moved past but came screaming back like a freight train into our lives again.

For me, it was the George Zimmerman trial that sparked my memory. As a vice president in a national news division, I watched the trial through an objective lens my eyes have long been trained to look through. However at the end of the trial, those long suppressed memories made an unwelcomed hello.

I grew up in a military family and we always lived in middle class neighborhoods. I was an honor studentin high school as well as a student athlete running track. I even had an after-school job to earn spending money. That said, twice as a teen, I ended up looking down the barrel of police guns for no other reason that I happened to be a black teenager. I had completely forgotten about these incidents but the Zimmerman verdict opened that door again.

The first time, I was merely waiting for a bus to go to my job. Suddenly two California Highway Patrol vehicles jumped over the concrete middle island and they came screaming to a halt on either side of me kicking up a huge cloud of dust.

My first instinct was to run away but before I could figure out how to handle this, an officer from each car jumped out with handguns pointed at me, screaming for me to put my hands up and get down on the ground.

I started to ask what was going on, but they were having none of it and forcibly pushed me down into the dirt making my work clothes a filthy mess. They then asked me if I was the name of someone they were looking for. I told them no and they demanded ID. I did not have a driver’s license yet but fortunately I did have a picture ID from work. If I had not had that ID, I would have surely ended up in jail. After they realized they had the wrong guy, they got back in their cars and drove off. No apology, no checking if I was OK, no nothing.

It was the first time I came to realize that being black was not just a magnet for racist speech and actions directed at me but also could also cost me my life had I responded to a normal human being’s natural fight or flight instinct.

The second time was while I was in a convenience store, and a voice from behind me told me not to move a muscle. I glanced back and saw a shotgun pointed at the back of my head. I thought I was being robbed and I had an envelope in my coat pocket with money I had just cashed from my paycheck. I was thinking about trying to get it out and hide it in the snack display in front of me.

Had I done that, I would have died on the spot…

Another great piece on “Waking Up”  was written by Leonard Pitts for the Miami Herald –

Leonard Pitts Jr.: Zimmerman acquittal another reason to wake up

Four words of advice for African Americans in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal:

Wake the hell up.

The Sunday after Zimmerman went free was a day of protest for many of us. From Biscayne Boulevard in Miami to Leimert Park in Los Angeles, to the Daley Center in Chicago to Times Square in New York City, African Americans — and others who believe in racial justice — carried out angry, but mostly peaceful demonstrations.

Good. This is as it should have been.

But if that’s the end, if you just get it out of your system, then move ahead with business as usual, then all you did Sunday was waste your time. You might as well have stayed home.

We are living in a perilous era for African-American freedom. The parallels to other eras have become too stark to ignore.

Every period of African-American advance has always been met by a crushing period of push back, the crafting of laws and the use of violence with the intent of eroding the new freedoms. Look it up:

The 13th Amendment ended slavery. So the white South created a convict leasing system that was actually harsher.

The 14th Amendment guaranteed citizenship. So the white South rendered that citizenship meaningless with the imposition of Jim Crow laws.

The 15th Amendment gave us the right to vote; it was taken away by the so-called “grandfather clause.” The Supreme Court struck that down, so the white South relied on literacy tests and poll taxes to snatch our ballots all over again.

Our history is a litany: two steps forward, one step back…

 

Read more here:

 

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