Just before becoming the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, Reverend Dr. William J. Barber developed ankylosing spondylitis, an extreme and very painful form of arthritis. In this excerpt from The Third Reconstruction, he recounts the three months he spent in the hospital, when, having reached the depths of despair, he received an inspiring visit from an “amputee angel,” and eventually learned firsthand the incredible power of people standing together.
I learned a great deal in Martinsville about moral leadership—more than I realized at the time. But I did not know what was next for me when our family moved back to North Carolina in 1991. Preaching had helped me find a voice of moral dissent, but my father had shown me long before that you don’t have to pastor a church to preach. I was at the core of my being a preacher, but I knew that preaching did not have to be my job. In fact, I had begun to think I might be more effective if it weren’t. The pastoral work of managing a tight-knit community was not without its challenges and frustrations, which inevitably took time and energy away from public justice work. One of my aunts kept telling me I needed to stop trying to be a lawyer. I wasn’t sure what I was trying to become, but I knew I wasn’t in a hurry to find another church.
This is the second entry of our Montgomery Bus Boycott Turns 60 Series. About two months into the Montgomery Bus Boycott, times start to become dangerous for Martin Luther King, Jr. and his family. Death threats over the phone are coming in daily to King’s home, most of which Coretta Scott King answers. Aware of his role as a leader, Dr. King turns to his faith for strength and resolve in the face of danger. Sixty years ago today, the danger arrives on his porch in the form of a bomb. This excerpt from Stride Toward Freedom brings us close to the reality of fear Dr. King lived with, and the resilience of the King family.
One night toward the end of January I settled into bed late, after a strenuous day. Coretta had already fallen asleep and just as I was about to doze off the telephone rang. An angry voice said, “Listen, nigger, we’ve taken all we want from you; before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.” I hung up, but I couldn’t sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point.
Happy Publication Day to pop music critic and culture journalist Rashod Ollison and his memoir Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues & Coming of Age Through Vinyl! In Soul Serenade, Ollison tells his story of growing up gay in central Arkansas, searching for himself and his distant father, and how the consoling power of soul music guided him through the tough times. We caught up with Ollison before he geared up for his book tour, beginning today in Virginia Beach, VA, to ask him what writing the book meant for him and the inspiration that went into it. Check his event calendar to see his tour dates. And once you settle down with his book in your hands, put on his playlist featuring the songs that brought his memoir to life.
As a genealogist, DNA has intrigued me ever since its first promotion as a consumer product in 2003. That was the year Dr. Rick Kittles launched African Ancestry, a company that specializes in uncovering the genetic origins of people of African descent. It marked twenty-eight years into my personal research into a family tree that winds from the backwoods of Mississippi and Alabama through a Great Migration terminus in Chicago. All along the way, one thing I longed to know more than anything else was the root of my continental African origins. This was in spite of the tangled morass of genes that include a copious assortment of Europeans that resulted in me looking more white than many white people I know.
My phone buzzes one more time. I look over at the glowing screen to see that I have been tagged once more in the Ron Clark dance video from his school in Atlanta. I nod, give a half smile at the screen, and continue on my school visits. Today, I’m in the Bronx, and am working with a group of students who are researching cell division so they can add a layer of complexity to their rap song on mitosis and meiosis. The three young men I am sitting with are concerned because the simple rhyme scheme they have developed thus far isn’t going to cut it. This realization hits after they overhear a pair of young ladies perform their rap on the reproductive system that cites recent research in biology and comes replete with choreographed dance moves to match the verse. My phone buzzes again. I am tagged in the Ron Clark video again. My response this time is two fold. My first is: Damn, this white boy got some rhythm. The second is: I feel sorry for anyone who thinks they’re just gon’ “Hit the Quan” to academic success. The fact is, if you ain’t got Clarks rhythm, and the structures are not in place to support and validate such a transgressive approach to teaching, you will fail miserably. In fact, you may end up doing much more of a disservice to the students than a traditional school would. Ron Clark works at a school that is named after him with a certain funding structure, certain rules of conduct, and very particular philosophies. If you do not have any of these structures in place, or any strategies for circumventing the ones you are bound by, I feel bad for you son...You’ve got ninety-nine problems and Hittin’ the Quan in school is one.
Every year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is celebrated as one of the greatest orators in US history, an ambassador for nonviolence who became perhaps the most recognizable leader of the civil rights movement. But after more than forty years, few people appreciate how truly radical he was. For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we present to you an excerpt of Cornel West’s introduction to The Radical King—now available in paperback—a collection of Dr. King's writings curated by Dr. West. In it, he unearths the Dr. King the FBI and the US government knew to be radical, every bit as radical as Malcolm X.
I’ll never forget meeting Sid Mintz, who passed away last month. I was a young(ish) book editor at Beacon Press, hoping to develop our anthropology list. Why not start at the top? Years earlier, Sid had transformed the fields of both history and anthropology with the publication of Sweetness and Power, which was no less than a retelling of the rise of capitalism through the story of sugar. Sid invited me to lunch at the Baltimore Museum of Art. I was nervous.
Click here to sign the petition demanding better working conditions for the Boston Globe delivery workers.
If you live anywhere near the Boston area, you’ve probably heard or read something about the Boston Globe’s recent delivery debacle. Since the newspaper contracted with a new delivery company starting December 28, the entire delivery system collapsed, and subscribers have been puzzled and furious that their daily newspaper has vanished with little explanation and little hope for restoration any time soon.
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber speaking at a Moral Monday rally. Photo credit: Flickr user twbuckner
The Third Reconstruction, written by the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, is out today. In his memoir, Reverend Barber tells the stirring story of how he helped start a state-by-state movement—uniting black, white, and brown; rich and poor; employed and unemployed; gay and straight; documented and undocumented; religious and secular—to bridge America’s racial divide. Only through such a diverse fusion movement, he argues, can we make progress toward ending racial and economic injustice. The Third Reconstruction is as much a blueprint for community activism as it is an inspiring call to action from one our most compelling grassroots organizers. At the end of the book, Reverend Barber provides fourteen steps for building a social justice movement.
MU students protest inside Jesse Hall after report of racism, October 6, 2015. Photo credit: Flickr user KOMUnews
“There are – there are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to, to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less – a slower-track school where they do well.
“One of – one of the briefs pointed out that – that most of the – most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re – that they’re being pushed ahead in – in classes that are too, too fast for them.”
Justice Antonin Scalia’s words during the Supreme Court’s revising of the Fisher v. University of Texas case of affirmative action have been rattling around the insides of many who work and study on college campuses. His words caused outrage, but in fact, they are representative of the widespread and erroneous belief that campuses are apolitical locations of merit and ability. His words are racist because they absolve and therefore further the bedrock of institutionalized racism on college campuses. And these words are echoed in the limited ways that higher education currently has responded to students’ accounts of racism.
There he goes again. Last week Justice Antonin Scalia spoke plainly on his misgivings about affirmative action. Afterwards, his commentary was a constant subject at holiday cocktail parties in Washington, DC where I live. Abigail Fisher’s case challenging the University of Texas’ use of affirmative action was back before the Supreme Court for the second time in three years. At the oral argument, to audible gasps, Scalia clumsily engaged in “mismatch theory,” speculating that African-American collegians would be better off attending “less-advanced,” “slower-track” schools where they might achieve more because classes are not “too fast for them.”
Since then several commentators have cited extensive social science research discrediting this theory. The evidence points to the exact opposite of Scalia’s intuitions. For students of all backgrounds, graduation rates and long-term success improve with the selectivity of the college they attend. More importantly, as I argued in Place, Not Race, affirmative action candidates, with their lower standardized tests scores, have been found to come closest to meeting universities’ professed mission statements about cultivating leaders who use their educations to give back to society.
Islamophobia has reared its ugly head again. As author and journalist Linda K. Wertheimer noted in her previous post, education about world religions couldn’t be more important in today’s climate. Education about other religions comes not only from the classroom, but also from the life stories of others. In his book Acts of Faith, interfaith leader Eboo Patel writes about the time he spent with his devout Muslim grandmother in India. In this excerpt, he recounts the invaluable lesson his grandmother gave him in what his faith stands for.
In The Jew in the Lotus, Rodger Kamenetz writes that many young people view religion as an old man saying no. Growing up, my “old man” was a woman—my grandmother, with whom I was now staying in Bombay. She would come to the States every few years and live with my family, occupying the living room from midmorning to early evening watching Hindi films. I avoided her as much as possible. “Are you saying your Du’a?” she would ask if she caught me before I managed to reach the back staircase. If she woke up earlier than usual and saw me at the breakfast table before I left for school, she would say, “Are you giving your dasond?” referring to the tithe that Ismailis give. She was disappointed that I had no close Ismaili friends when I was a teenager. “You will marry an Ismaili, right?” my grandmother would ask, catching my arm, as I was sneaking out. I am embarrassed to say it now, but I dreaded her visits and did my best to avoid her.
Sixty years have passed since the Montgomery Bus Boycott. We at Beacon are commemorating the anniversary of this milestone in civil rights history with a series that highlights key events and players in the boycott’s timeline. The first entry in our series is an excerpt from Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, Dr. King’s account of applying the large-scale nonviolent resistance movement that desegregated the Montgomery buses. Rosa Parks has just been arrested for not giving up her seat on the Cleveland Avenue bus. Once the news reaches Dr. King and the proposal of a boycott starts floating around, he, along with a number of others, knows it’s time to act.
On December 1, 1955, an attractive Negro seamstress, Mrs. Rosa Parks, boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus in downtown Montgomery. She was returning home after her regular day’s work in the Montgomery Fair, a leading department store. Tired from long hours on her feet, Mrs. Parks sat down in the first seat behind the section reserved for whites. Not long after she took her seat, the bus operator ordered her, along with three other Negro passengers, to move back in order to accommodate boarding white passengers. By this time every seat in the bus was taken. This meant that if Mrs. Parks followed the driver’s command she would have to stand while a white male passenger, who had just boarded the bus, would sit. The other three Negro passengers immediately complied with the driver’s request. But Mrs. Parks quietly refused. The result was her arrest.
Dina Gilio-Whitaker riding the waves. Photo source: Dina Gilio-Whitaker
This blog appeared originally on Gilio-Whitaker's site RumiNative.
At first glance, using the terms surfing and indigeneity (as in “Indigenous”) in the same sentence may seem like a non-sequitur, something that doesn’t connect or make sense. Yes, it makes sense in the context of Hawaii given that the modern sport of surfing as we know it emerges out of Native Hawaiian culture. But what does surfing have to do with American Indians? Quite a bit as it turns out, based on research and writing I’ve been doing for several years now.
Montgomery comrades Rosa Parks and Virginia Durr come together in South Hadley, Massachusetts, 1981. Photo credit: Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives, Portrait Collection.
Today’s theme for University Press Week is Presses in Conversation with Authors. In our entry in the blog tour, our executive editor Gayatri Patnaik interviews Jeanne Theoharis, author of the 2014 NAACP Image Award-winning The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Theoharis is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College of CUNY and the author of numerous books and articles on the civil rights and Black Power movements, and the politics of race in contemporary America. She is also series editor for a new Beacon Press series, Stride Toward Justice: Confronting Race, Gender & Class in the United States. The series offers progressive voices writing on and at the intersection of race, gender and class and is an urgent response to the injustices of our times and the ideas that hide and sustain them. Theoharis’s coeditor for the series is Melissa Harris-Perry, Presidential Endowed Chair in Politics and International Affairs, the director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University, and host of Melissa Harris-Perry, which airs weekend mornings on MSNBC.
George Orwell’s 1984 taught us that language—and who uses it—truly does matter. In the case of educating Texan youth about American history, language matters a great deal. McGraw-Hill Education’s current geography textbook, approved for Texas high schools, refers to African slaves as “workers” in a chapter on immigration patterns. Other linguistic sleights of hand include using the passive voice to obscure slave owner’s brutal treatment of slaves. It appears we have a Ministry of Truth at work after all, just like the one where Orwell’s ill-fated hero Winston Smith worked, rewriting history. The fact is especially disconcerting, as Texas is the largest consumer of textbooks.
I wrote The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks to challenge the limited stories and troubled uses of Parks and the movement. There was nothing natural or passive about what Rosa Parks did but rather something fiercely determined. It was not a singular act but part of her larger lifelong history of activism, a string of acts of bus resistance in the years preceding her stand, and a collective uprising following her arrest that led to a mass movement in Montgomery. To the end of her life, Parks believed the struggle for racial justice was not over and she continued to press for more change in the United States.
Lamentations and cries that the Republicans were at it again trying to suppress the black vote arose when the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency announced on September 30th that because of budget cuts it would close thirty-one part-time-county-owned satellite drivers’ license offices. Eight of these were in counties where seventy-five percent of the registered voters are black. Many are in rural communities with high poverty rates and little or no public transportation. In addition to protesting, active and determined organizing to obtain the required voter identification for the unregistered might be a useful strategy in countering Alabama Republicans’ move.
Edith Barksdale Sloan speaking at the first national conference of household workers, in 1971. (Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, National Archives for Black Women’s History)
I’d been following the domestic workers movement here in Massachusetts as they campaigned to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. In 2014, Massachusetts became the fourth state to approve the domestic workers bill of rights which guarantees basic work standards, such as meal and rest breaks, parental leave, protection from discrimination, sexual harassment, etc. I wanted to know more about the movement and this lead me to Premilla Nadasen, who was involved as an activist and historian.
I tend to gravitate towards stories of fierce activists and agitators on the margins, so naturally I was fascinated by the history Premilla unearthed in Household Workers Unite. The women she writes about—Dorothy Bolden, Geraldine Roberts, Josephine Hulett—were all brilliant organizers who responded to the challenges that were unique to their profession, challenges that were so severe that mainstream labor regarded them as “unorganizable.” For instance, domestic workers were isolated in the home, they could have any number of employers at any given time, and perhaps most problematic, their work was categorically disregarded as work. They were excluded from basic state and federal labor rights; and were, to quote Geraldine Roberts, “invisible workers.”
In response, they recruited other domestics on buses and street corners, made alliances with black freedom movements and women’s rights groups. They sought to professionalize the occupation through technical training programs.