W.E.B Du Bois

But today I see more clearly than yesterday that back of the problem of race and color lies a greater problem and that is the fact that so many civilized person’s are willing to live in comfort even if the price of this is poverty, ignorance, and disease of the majority of their fellowmen, [and] that to maintain this privilege men have waged war until today war tends to become universal and continuous.
— W.E.B Du Bois

Known for his intellectual legacy and relentless, uncompromising activism, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois lived an extraordinary life. Although W.E.B. Du Bois was raised in an integrated community, unlike most Black people during this time, Du Bois was interested in studying race. W.E.B. Du Bois experienced his first encounter with racism as a student at Fisk University, where he attended until 1888 - graduating as a junior and enrolling in Harvard. And further experienced the malicious violence against Black people in the South while teaching at Atlanta University

By 1895 Du Bois earned an education that very few people of any race had. He completed his Bachelors, then his Masters and Doctorate degrees at Harvard, becoming the first Black person to attend Harvard and the first Black person to receive a Doctorate degree. During a time when many Black people were pursuing higher social status by appealing to the principles of whites, Du Bois was known for his many unwavering writings and philosophies in regard to unconditional equality and civil rights of Black people in America. Being an advocate of higher education, Du Bois strongly believed that higher education was essential in the success of his people in this country.

As a supporter of socialist principles, Du Bois analyzed capitalism’s role in maintaining poverty within the Black community in a number of his essays, and, as a result of his popularity and philosophies, came under immense examination by the U.S. government.

 

dubois2.png

 

After being denied a passport to travel for eight years, Du Bois was finally able to travel overseas. During his travels, he visited a number of communist countries. While visiting China in 1959, Du Bois expressed his dismay with the United States by stating, “in my own country for nearly a century I have been nothing but a nigger.” In 1961 Kwame Nkrumah, president of Ghana, invited Du Bois to work on an Encyclopedia Africana. Moving to Accra, Ghana in 1961, Du Bois renounced his U.S. citizenship and remained there until his death in 1963.

It is important to recognize Du Bois’ unapologetic Black pride, and his work as he consistently strived for unconditional equality and rights for our people. He sought to empower Black people through education, culture and leadership and his legacy will continue to live on through those who fight today for Black liberation.

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.
— W.E.B Du Bois

Contributed by: Mariel Watkins

WILLIAM STILL - "FATHER OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD"

HIS FAMILY TREE

William Still was a free Black man, born on October 7, 1821 in Burlington County, New Jersey. Referred to as the Father of the Underground Rail Road, he helped approximately 800 black men and women escape to freedom in the North. 

His parents, Levin and Charity Still, were born into slavery in Virginia. In 1798, Levin bought his freedom and moved to New Jersey. Charity escaped slavery with their 4 children, but they were all recaptured and returned to slavery. The second time Charity escaped, she was only able to bring the couple's 2 daughters with her to New Jersey -- leaving their 2 sons behind. 

 

THE FATHER OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

William Still was an abolitionist and conductor on the Underground Rail Road for 18 years. During this time he raised funds, provided shelter, and facilitated the resettlement of escaped slaves in the North. He got his start in 1847 at the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery as a clerk. After Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Society appointed him as chairman of its Vigilance Committee, which was tasked with supporting escaped and freed slaves that reached Philadelphia. In this position, William interviewed hundreds of men and women; he recorded their stories, including a short biography, details on their experiences in slavery, the routes they took to escape, their ultimate destination, and any aliases they adopted.

William was compelled to begin recording these stories by a personal experience. In 1850, he interviewed a runaway slave who went by Peter Freedman. While listening to Peter's story of his mother's 2 escapes from slavery, William realized that Peter was one of the sons that his mother left behind. This experience encouraged William to record these stories so that escaped slaves could be reunited with their families.

William hid these recordings until well-after the Civil War, understanding the danger that this information could create for escaped slaves, potential runaways, abolitionists, and free Black men and women. In 1872, William shared these recordings in his self-published book The Underground RailroadHis book is the only first person account of the Underground Railroad that is written and self-published by a Black American.  

A DEDICATED ACTIVIST

In addition to his lifelong commitment to abolition, William Still was very active in the fight to protect the civil rights of Black men and women living in Philadelphia. At that time, Black Philadelphians were also prohibited from riding street cars in the city. William attacked this racial discrimination in an 1859 North American and United States Gazette article asking why the "City of Brotherly Love" taxed Black citizens to maintain highways they weren't allowed to use. In 1861, he began grassroots organizing, getting thousands of signatures for an anti-discrimination petition that he then presented to the Board of Railway Company Presidents. 

In 1867, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill prohibiting racial discrimination on its railway lines and street cars. That same year, William shared his position against racial discrimination in a public address entitled A Brief Narrative of the Struggle for the Frights of the Colored People of Philadelphia in the City Railway Cars; and a Defence of William Still, Relating to His Agency Touching the Passage of the Late Bill.

 

HIS LEGACY

Through his enduring dedication to Black liberation, William Still provided future generations of Black Americans with a gleaming example of how we can each dedicate our lives to the fight civil rights and freedom. The actions he took to secure freedom for our people provide us with the history and knowledge we need to continue the fight in our lifetime. 

"The heroism and desperate struggle that many of our people had to endure should be kept green in the memory of this and coming generations."

-- William Still

 

williamstill2.jpeg

AINT I A WOMAN x SOJOURNER TRUTH

DELIVERED AT THE 1851 WOMEN'S CONVENTION IN AKRON, OHIO

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.

THE 12TH STREET RIOT: 1967 DETROIT RACE RIOTS

“Riots and rebellions aren’t things that are planned. It’s an accumulated outburst or reaction to ongoing repression.”

-- Dr. Melba Joyce Boyd

THE CAUSE

Known for being one of the most radical urban revolutions in U.S. History, the Detroit riots of 1967 was an immediate response to police brutality, a problem that we are still fighting today. Accompanying the initial act of police brutality, segregated housing and schools and rising Black unemployment, fueled the troubled spirit of Black Detroiters.

During the summer of 1967 around 60,000 Blacks lived in an area less than half the size of Detroit’s own Belle Isle. This area, known as Virginia Park, was the poorest neighborhood in Detroit, and the only whites seen in the neighborhood were those that commuted from the suburbs who owned stores on 12th Street.

More importantly, through the rise of the Black Power Movement, Blacks were celebrating Black culture and were prideful in being Black. One could assume that this created a sense of threat within the white community, and further augmented the existing tensions between whites and Blacks.

THE NUMBERS

4 days

43 killed

342 injured

1,400 buildings burned

5,000 people left homeless

7,000 National Guard and U.S. Army troops

Over 7,000 people arrested

50 million dollars in damage

THE TIMELINE

3:35am: Detroit Police bombarded The Blind Pig, where all 85 patrons were arrested. The police were suspected to have used force while removing the patrons, and the word was traveling fast.

 4:00am- 5:00am: The last prisoner was removed from the scene, and 200 people lined the streets observing the scene. The first bottle was thrown, and a second crashed through a police car.

 5:00am-6:00am: Thousands of people were rioting and looting, including whites. Additional police officers were sent to the scene

 6:30am: The first fire broke out, and not long after, the majority of the street was in flames

 1:00pm: The first injury was reported.

 3:00pm: The riot began to spread to other areas of the city.

5:00pm-7:00pm: Mayor Cavanaugh requested the National Guard and imposed a curfew between 9:00pm and 5:00am. Firefighters began to retreat as the fires became more robust.

9:00pm-10:00pm: The first gunshot victim was reported as a 16-year-old Black boy.

 

 

THE AFTERMATH

“I feel that the riots were instrumental in cementing that mentality [us vs. them] and we have yet to outgrow it. It was there before the riots. But (the riots) are where it came above board, and people realized that Detroit was going to be left to Black people.”

-- Desiree Cooper, former Detroit Free Press columnist

Being a revolution of such magnitude, the riot of 1967 has left a lasting impression on Detroit, changing the city forever. It is a common misconception that the riots were the cause of the “white flight” from the city, however, the majority of whites remained residents of the city after the riots. It was not until the election of Coleman A. Young in 1973, when Blacks had significant political control, that whites began to flee the city. 

The 1967 Detroit Race Riot was the natural result of over a half-century of racial oppression and discrimination in Detroit. The riot itself is a powerful reminder of what results from a people determined to fight the systems and practices which consistently oppress them. The riots were a moment of Black resistance and Blackpower, demonstrating the resilience of Detroit's Black population and the end of an era of White control in the city. 

Contributed by: Mariel Watkins

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ROSA PARKS

Rosa Parks, born on February 4, 1913, was a Civil Rights icon. Today marks the 102nd anniversary of the birth of this dynamic woman. Parks is often noted for her pivotal role in sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. But, in order to appreciate her work and true legacy, we must recognize her activism and personage beyond that moment on the bus. Here are 7 things they aren't teaching you about Rosa Parks...

1.     Her activism began before her arrest in 1955, and it continued long after.

As a field secretary for the Montgomery NAACP (and the only woman in the chapter), she investigated horrific accounts of gang rape and white violence throughout Alabama. She attended the Highlander Folk School, which was an education center for activism in worker’s rights and racial equality in Tennessee. For decades after her work for Civil Rights in Alabama, she continued her advocacy in Detroit as an aide for John Conyers, to whom she offered crucial assistance in his first campaign for congress. She also spent time fighting against housing and economic issues in the city.

2.     She was not the first, or only, person arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.

There are many untold stories about Black people who refused to move when asked by bus drivers enforcing racist, segregationist practices. Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Mary Louise Smith, Susie McDonald, and Jeanette Reese were plaintiffs in a federal civil action lawsuit on Montgomery and Alabama’s bus segregation laws. Parks supported and worked towards building that case for those five women.

3.     She was not old & “too tired” to move from her seat that evening in December.

In her autobiography, she brought truth to that myth that she was too tired from a long day of work. “I was not tired physically, no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old… I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” The act was not planned or pre-meditated. Rather, it was sparked by Parks’ personal indignation and commitment to justice.

4.     She was an executive organizer in the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Following her action on the bus, Rosa Parks became deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement directly alongside other activists such as Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin, Jo Ann Robinson, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

5.     She was radical.

Often portrayed as soft-spoken, Mrs. Parks’ work in the Black Power Movement is often forgotten. She worked around issues of reparations, freedom for black political prisoners and economic justice. She is known mainly for her work in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, but her commitment to justice ran deep and she passionately supported the causes in which she believed.

6.     She was forced out of Montgomery and to the North shortly after the boycott.

While the boycott was still going on, Parks and her husband lost their jobs The constant threats of death and physical harm by those in and around Montgomery who did not appreciate her involvement in the Movement caused Parks to move with her husband to Detroit where she lived the rest of her life.

7.     She was the first woman whose death was honored at the U.S. Capitol.

When she died at the age of 92 in 2005, Parks received a tribute normally reserved for statesmen and military leaders. Over 30,000 people paid their respects as her body was brought into the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Currently there is a statue in the Capitol building, unveiled in 2013. 

FANNIE LOU HAMER

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” – Fannie Lou Hamer1964

Fannie Lou Hamer’s work and contributions to the Civil Rights effort for Black people in Mississippi were based in localized, community-based work that affected state- and nation-wide politics.

Hamer grew up a cotton-picker in the Mississippi Delta. Joining her family of sharecroppers in the cotton fields at 6 years old, by adolescence she managed to complete several years of school and pick hundreds of pounds of cotton a day.  In 1961, she set on the path to the forefront of the Movement that was forming in the rural South.  From her small town of Ruleville, Mississippi, she volunteered to go on a bus to Indianola to try to register to vote with 17 of her Black neighbors. She failed the literacy test, but stood out as a potential leader by her defiance of the police on the bus ride back to her hometown, Ruleville. The story goes that when the bus of volunteers were pulled over by the police after leaving the county seat, Hamer began to sing spirituals. This action became a defining characteristic of her activism. She was known for singing these hymns and exhibiting her spirituality while in the midst of working in the freedom movement. Her strong faith gave her the courage to speak out against the political oppression that was not only faced by herself, but also by the members of her rural community and Black people all over the country. The traditional singing of hymns was her effort to bring spiritual energy toward social, political, and even physical problem-solving and healing.

After her first attempt to register to vote, she returned to the land she sharecropped with her husband.  The plantation owner immediately demanded that she withdraw her application for voter registration or leave his land. She left.

Hamer was a grassroots activist whose public profile increased in the summer of 1963 after years of desegregation and voter registration work. She attended several conferences and trainings in community organizing and activism held all over the South by organizations such as SNCC and CORE. She began Head Start programs, farm co-ops, and worked with MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign. One of the major roles she played was during Freedom Summer, where she trained hundreds of volunteers in Ohio and led the development of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

Through the newly formed political party, she ran for political office several times, including two runs for Congress and a seat as a member of Mississippi Delegation of the Democratic National Convention. A strong-willed force, Hamer contributed to the fight for both racial and economic equality. During her fifteen-year career as a grassroots activist, she had to endure several encounters with the police, some of which ended in her arrest and being beaten.  Hamer’s activism demonstrated that she understood the connection between jobs, education and political influence. She was able to use her story of police brutality, poverty and disenfranchisement to work on a local and state level fighting for the equality ofBlack Americans. We remember Hamer for her strength & endurance, her propensity for socio-political activism and her commitment to Black liberation. 


FREEDOM SUMMER: THE MISSISSIPPI SUMMER PROJECT

Don't come to Mississippi this summer to save the Mississippi Negro. Only come if you understand, really understand, that his freedom and yours are one. ... Maybe we're not going to get many people registered this summer. Maybe, even, we're not going to get very many people into Freedom Schools. Maybe all we're going to do is live through this summer. In Mississippi, that will be so much!  

-- Bob Moses, COFO Project Director

The Mississippi Summer Project launched in June 1964 as an attempt to register as many Black voters as possible in the state of Mississippi. At the aid of the population of Black people in these rural counties, dozens of Freedom Schools, Freedom Houses, and community centers were set up to educate, encourage and register disenfranchised Black citizens. It was a summer of community building, organizing and protest that established voter registration drives, voluntary summer schools, and the short-lived Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

WHY? 

 In 1960, almost 60% of Southern Blacks lived in urban areas…

But, in Mississippi, almost 70% of Black people still lived in mostly isolated, rural areas of the state...

Black people made up 42% of the state’s population but by 1963, there were less than 7% eligible Black voters registered to vote…

There were 21 questions on the literacy test Black people had to pass in order to register to vote and 285 sections of the Mississippi constitution that applicants could be asked to interpret in order to successfully register...

HOW? 

4 organizations (COFOSNCC, CORESCLC)... 

2 week-long volunteer orientations held in Oxford, Ohio…

10 Weeks spent working in Mississippi…

More than 100 volunteer doctors, nurses, psychologists, medical students and other medical professionals providing emergency health care, teaching health education and advocating against Mississippi’s segregated health policies…

over 1000 out-of-state volunteers teaching, organizing and registering voters...


RESULTS

30 Freedom Schools established...

17,000 attempted Black registrants...

1,600 Black Mississippians Registered...

1,062 Volunteers/Activists arrested and beaten...

30 Black homes and businesses bombed or burned...

37 churches bombed or burned...

4 civil rights workers killed...

STOKELY CARMICHAEL & BLACK POWER

“Consciously we have to begin to organize our people. Organize our people! Organize our people! Organize our people! Nothing else! Organize our people! Our people! All our blood, even our life must go to our people. Nothing else.”

-- Stokely Carmichael during 1968 Free Huey Rally

Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) was a Trinidadian-American philosopher, pan-Africanist and civil rights activist. From 1961-1967, Stokely worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), starting as a field organizer and eventually being elected chairman of the organization in 1966. During his time at the SNCC, he was directly involved in the organization of countless southern marches and demonstrations, including Freedom Summer. As the mid-60s wore on and violence against Blacks peacefully demanding their rights continued, Stokely became increasingly disillusioned with the tactic of non-violence.

“In order for non-violence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.”

This disillusionment peaked in June of 1966 after the “March Against Fear.” University of Mississippi student James Meredith was making a solitary march from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi when he was shot by a sniper and critically wounded. Stokely and other fellow activists completed the march in Meredith’s name. When the marchers reached Jackson, they were arrested. Upon his release, Stokely gave the address where he popularized the phrase “Black Power”:

“There is a psychological war going on in this country and it’s whether or not Black people are going to be able to use the terms they want about their movement without white people’s blessing. We have to tell them we are going to use the term “Black Power” and we are going to define it because Black Power speaks to us. We can’t let them project Black Power because they can only project it from white power and we know what white power has done to us. We have to organize ourselves to speak from a position of strength and stop begging people to look kindly upon us. We are going to build a movement in this country based on the color of our skin that is going to free us from our oppressors and we have to do that ourselves.”

Stokely expounded on the meaning of Black Power in October 1966, during his famous Black Power speech at the University of California-Berkeley:

"We maintain, whether they like it or not, we gonna use the word “Black Power” and let them address themselves to that; but that we are not goin’ to wait for white people to sanction Black Power. We are tired of waiting; every time Black people move in this country, they’re forced to defend their position before they move. It’s time that the people who are supposed to be defending their position do that. That’s white people. They ought to start defending themselves as to why they have oppressed and exploited us."

In his 1967 book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, Stokely further described Black Power as

“a call for Black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community. It is a call for Black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations.”

For the duration of his life, Stokely Carmichael traveled nationally and internationally, spreading his vision of Black power and Black pride. 50 years later, his message of Black Power can be seen and felt in the contemporary movement for Black liberation that was catalyzed by Ferguson and continues to gain strength each day. This Black History Month, we encourage our brothers and sisters to continue organizing and solidifying our collective power!