Image result for Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan


It’s become an MLK Day tradition for conservatives to point to King’s speeches on nonviolence and equality as a way to criticize modern black activists. Meanwhile, King’s popular image—transmitted in elementary school lessons for the holiday—has been drained of its radical social critiques and has instead become a generic symbol of equality and kindness to all.

The way Reagan spoke about King’s achievements at the signing ceremony reflected a view of Civil Rights as a movement that long ago had accomplished its goals.

In a 2005 paper for Presidential Studies Quarterly, Denise M. Bostdorff and Steven R. Goldzwig looked at how Ronald Reagan helped create this new image of King.

In the 1960s, King called for “a broad-based and gigantic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged”—something akin to the benefits given to GIs after World War II. He also called for a guaranteed annual income, opposed the Vietnam War, and repeatedly advocated preferential treatment for African-Americans as a response to continuing and historical oppression. But by the time Reagan was elected in 1980, 12 years after King’s death, most politicians recalled his successful fight to end legally sanctioned segregation in the South and not his more radical critiques of American society as a whole.

For his first years in office, Reagan, like most on the American right, opposed a holiday for King. But when public sentiment shifted, he agreed to sign the holiday into law in 1983. The way he spoke about King’s achievements at the signing ceremony reflected a view of Civil Rights as a movement that long ago had accomplished its goals.

Read more here.

Do You Know Marie Daly?

Marie M. DalyMarie M. Daly   Chemist, Scientist, Scientist(1921–2003)  

Marie M. Daly is best known for being the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States. Marie M. Daly was born on April 16, 1921, in Queens, New York. She was raised in an education-oriented family, and Daly quickly received her B.S. and M.S. in chemistry at Queens College and New York University. After completing her Ph.D. at Columbia—and becoming the first African-American woman to obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States—Daly taught and conducted research. She died in New York City on October 28, 2003.   Read more here.



Grandchildren of slaves.

Grandchildren of slaves.
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library.

Inspired in part by journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, conversations about reparations for slavery and its aftermath have become mainstream. But they aren’t new: Reconstruction’s unfulfilled promise of “forty acres and a mule” had antecedents dating back to America’s founding.

Belinda was a slave under Royall for four decades and was old and penniless when she finally gained her freedom.

On February 14, 1783, an elderly ex-slave known only as Belinda submitted a petition to the Massachusetts legislature. She asked for an annual pension for herself and her invalid daughter, Prine, to be paid from the estate of their former owner, Isaac Royall. Royall had been one of the largest slave owners in the colony before he had fled to England in 1775. Because he turned out to be a royalist, his estate was confiscated and his two dozen slaves were manumitted (there’s some speculation as to whether some were sold, including Belinda’s son Joseph). Belinda was a slave under Royall for four decades and was old and penniless when she finally gained her freedom.

Former slave Belinda's petition for reparations.

Former slave Belinda’s petition for reparations.

Her petition is one the earliest examples of reparations for the slave trade and slavery, Roy E. Finkenbine reported. He puts her plea in the context of the many freedom lawsuits and legislative petitions for emancipation that were submitted by the African-American community in Massachusetts in the 1760s-1780s. In a 1783 case, for instance, the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared that the enslaved Quock Walker was free and that the equality clause in the state constitution outlawed slavery throughout its jurisdiction. Additionally, some slaves, after gaining their freedom, successfully sued their masters for compensation.

Read more here.




Columbia Records/Courtesy Neal Peters Collection

This April marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Billie Holiday, the recording artist fondly known as “Lady Day.” Known as much for her demons as her pioneering jazz vocals, Holiday is a member of both the Grammy and the Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.

In “Lady Day: A Major American Musician and Recording Artist of the Twentieth Century,”Jacqueline Birdsong-Johnson cites Holiday’s voice as nothing short of groundbreaking. “Prior to jazz ensemble recordings with Billie as lead vocalist,” she explains, “jazz artists were only envisioned to be instrumentalists.”

Holiday’s voice, unique phrasings, and fearless innovation changed that. As Holiday’s fame grew, Birdsong-Johnson notes, she used a unique combination of blues and jazz elements to create a new type of vocal—one that had a lasting impact due to over 350 recordings that showcased her vocal style and raised the profile of jazz worldwide.

In contrast, Farah Jasmine Griffin uses Holiday as a lens through which to view the writings of Amiri Baraka, who wrote a series of texts about Holiday as a mysterious, contradictory fellow poet. Griffin cites Holiday as a sort of “artistic ancestor” of Baraka, tracking his responses to Holiday as he moves from mere description to inspiration. “If she is tragic on one side, she is all hipness, flipness, and flirtation on the other,” writes Griffin. “…her individual, personal tragedy is a collective, historical tragedy of black people. Holiday is the figure through which the weight of this collective history is expressed.”

Read more here.    Listen/watch here.

MLK and the Sanitation Worker’s Strike

Presented by Patricia Smith

I’m standing here before you this morning because I’m sad about something that I saw on TV last Tuesday night.  It bothered me so much that on Wednesday I called Pastor Camp and told him about what I had seen and how I thought that something should be mentioned in church on Sunday.  He too had seen the show and he agreed with me.

On Tuesday night I was watching The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell   (It’s a late night news show). The host said that Martin Luther King was going to get the last word that night.  The “last word” is supposedly the most important part of the show and that night it really was.

That show was about the Sanitation Worker’s Strike that took place in Memphis, Tennessee back in 1968. I remember when that incident happened so I watched it and as I watched it, I wept and I couldn’t get to sleep that night.  My heart was broken and I was ashamed of myself because I hadn’t known the REAL reason for the strike and had never even bothered to look into it. Granted, I was still in school when it happened but I’m not there now.  This is a part of our history!!  I should have been interested, inquisitive or even just plain curious but I hadn’t been.  BUT NOW I AM.

For the 1,100 sanitation workers, who were all male and exclusively African American, the working conditions were atrocious.  They worked rain or shine for 10, 12, 14 hours a day but were only paid for 8 hours at about $1.27 an hour. According to the Miami, there was no curbside pickup.  The workers had to suffer the indignities of going through other people’s backyards picking up their garbage, collecting fallen tree limbs, dead cats, chicken bones and the like.  Since there were no garbage cans, these downtrodden men carried metal tubs full of rubbish and rotten food on their heads and these tubs were often rusted through and the garbage leaked on them.  The workers often got maggots in their hair and down the collars of their shirts.

Blacks tolerated these injustices for fear of losing their jobs until February 1 1968, the catalyst, the “straw that broke the camel’s back” happened.  Two sanitation workers, Echol Cole aged 36 and Robert Walker aged 30 tragically lost their lives. They were a part of a four man crew that used a dilapidated old garbage truck that they had complained about for years. It was a rainy day so Cole and Walker wore rain coats. Two of the four men sat in the cab of the truck which left Cole and Walker with the choice of hanging on to the poles on the side of the truck or sitting in the back where the hydraulic packing arm crushed the garbage against the rear of the truck.  Because of the driving rain, they chose the latter and then the unthinkable happened.  The trash compacter, which had been retrofitted with a makeshift motor, was accidently triggered.  The first man was pulled in the compactor and ground up with the trash and second man’s raincoat was caught on the truck and he could not escape so he too was ground up. The deaths of these men and plus many other indignities that they were forced to endure are what caused Martin Luther King to be invited to speak in Memphis.

The next day after the accident, the headline in the Memphis paper proudly touted the fact that Elvis Pressley’s daughter Lisa Marie, had been born.  No mention of the two sanitation workers.  No mention of how their mangled bodies had to be separated from the ground up garbage.  No mention that their widows, one of who was pregnant at the time, were given just $500 towards their husband’s $900 dollar funerals in a pauper’s grave.  These facts hadn’t been shared because these men were black.  I now know that I have no reason to be ashamed for not knowing these facts but I still have a reason to be sad.  The people that forced these men to work under these terrible conditions are the ones who should be ashamed.

I questioned about eleven fellow African Americans to find out if they knew the reason for the Memphis Sanitation Workers strike.  Some of them had heard about the strike but not one of them knew about Echol Cole or Robert Walker.  Of the people that I asked, one was a retired teacher who knew none of the facts and the other one had been my sociology teacher when I attended community college a few years ago. She knew about the strike and instantly told me that this was the first time that MLK had attended a rally that was about social class and economic rights rather than just civil rights and race issues but even she was not aware of the story about Echol Cole and Robert Walker.  Because of what I told her, she said that she’s going to add their story to her curriculum.       SMALL STEPS . . .

If you are in a good place in your life, you probably got there on the backs of someone from the past, you probably got there on the backs of people who were treated like animals, you probably got there on the backs of people who fought and died so that you could be treated like the people of GOD that you are and in the case of those sanitation workers, you probably got there on the backs of people that were treated like the garbage that they disposed of … They should always be remembered.  Always.   I just want you to remember these men, Echol Cole and Robert Walker.  Don’t let their deaths be forgotten because you probably got to this place on their backs.




Struggling to cope with past sexual abuse and a mother who works long hours at a low-wage job, Alex regularly breaks down while at school.

The screaming, crawling and crying of this 5-year-old at North Windham Elementary School – and the arrival of an ambulance when he sometimes begins to hurt himself – are disruptions that make it hard to keep other students focused.

“It’s a continued struggle to survive emotionally,” said Catina Cabán-Owen, the only social worker at her school of 466 students. “This child does not have the support, because the mother cannot provide it.”

Alex, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, is watched by a neighbor while his mother works. His father is not around.

A student walks by one of the many boarded up houses in an impoverished neighborhood in Hartford on the way to school.

While Alex’s struggle is extreme, his basic story – a student living in poverty who needs help coping with trauma – is common. He is among many students for whom poverty creates or exacerbates obstacles to learning. Read more here. 

Women’s History: Mae C Jemison

A town of freed slaves was destroyed to make Arlington cemetery

A town of freed slaves — on Robert E. Lee’s old estate — was destroyed to make Arlington cemetery

Residents of Freedman’s Village reading books outside their barracks in Arlington, Virginia, between 1863 and 1865. (Library of Congress)

Freedman’s Village was a haven for so-called ‘contraband’ people

Sojourner Truth was outraged, but her feelings didn’t show in a letter she wrote about her meeting with Abraham Lincoln in October 1864. She’d gone to Lincoln to call his attention to the conditions at settlements for former slaves, including one called Freedman’s Village, where she asked to be appointed as a counselor. “I was never treated with more kindness and cordiality,” she wrote to a fellow abolitionist of her meeting with the president. Lincoln granted her request to work at the camp, and Truth lived there for a year, preaching and otherwise advocating for the people who lived there.

Freedman’s Village, which started in 1863 with 50 wooden houses, was touted as a model community when it was dedicated, with farms, a hospital, an orphanage, and a home for the elderly. By 1864, though, conditions were dismal. People were hungry, unwanted by the surrounding community, and exploited by opportunists. “I am a going around among the colored folks and find out who it is sells the clothing to them that is sent to them from the North,” Truth wrote to her daughter, deeply dismayed, shortly before her meeting with Lincoln.  Read more here.

Who Was Hiram Revels?


Image from New York Historical Society
2 days ago
On February 25, 1870, Hiram Rhodes Revels became first African-American member of the United States Senate.  His swearing in drew both large crowds and significant debate. Those who objected to his being sworn in claimed that Revels did not meet the constitutional requirement of having been a citizen for nine years. They claimed that blacks had only definitively gained citizenship through the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868, and that prior to the amendment, blacks were not American citizens according to the Dred Scott case. The senators supporting Revels, however, argued that the Civil War and Reconstruction Amendments made it impossible to refer to any discriminatory ruling of an earlier era. Ultimately, the Senate voted to seat Revels by a wide margin: 48 to 8. Learn more.

First Blacks in the Americas

‘First Blacks in the Americas’: New Educational Website Touches on Untold History of Dominican Republic’s Earliest Black Africans