Tag Archive | Black History Month

The Mississippi Three

olympic-torchIt was a tragic event that happened before I was born, but it was a time that must be remembered and prevented from ever happening again. This post is my torch… my bringing of light to a dark, dark place in history. May our knowledge enlighten and raise our understanding of the pressure we must still exert to obtain and maintain equality for all to enjoy peace on earth.

James, Andrew, and Michael ~ You will always be remembered.

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Source: Wikipedia

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James Earl “J.E.” Chaney (May 30, 1943 – June 21, 1964)
Andrew Goodman (November 23, 1943, – June 21, 1964)
Michael Henry Schwerner (November 6, 1939 – June 21, 1964)

In 1964, civil rights activist Andrew Goodman volunteered along with fellow activist Mickey Schwerner to work on the “Freedom Summer” project of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to register blacks to vote in Mississippi.

Having protested U.S. President Lyndon Johnson’s presence at the opening of that year’s World’s Fair, Goodman left New York to train and develop civil rights strategies at Western College for Women (now part of Miami University) in Oxford, Ohio.

In mid-June, Goodman joined Schwerner in Meridian, Mississippi, where the latter was designated head of the field office. They worked on registering blacks in rural areas to vote. Michael Schwerner had been working closely with an assistant in the office and fellow civil rights activist James Chaney.

Chaney had previously participated in the 1962 Freedom Rides as well as other non-violent demonstrations. He organized voter education classes, introduced CORE workers to local church leaders, helped them get around the counties, and acted as a liaison with other CORE members.

On the morning of June 21, 1964, the three men set out for Philadelphia, Neshoba County, where they were to investigate the recent burning of Mount Zion Methodist Church, a black church that had agreed to be a site for education and voter registration. On their return to Meridian, the three men were stopped and arrested by Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price for allegedly speeding. The trio were taken to the jail in Neshoba County where Chaney was booked for speeding, while Schwerner and Goodman were booked “for investigation”. After Chaney was fined $20, the three were released and told to leave the county. Sheriff Price followed them on State Route 69 to the county line, then turned around at approximately 10:30 p.m. On their way back to Meridian the three young men were stopped on a remote rural road by two carloads of KKK members who approached their car and killed all three men.

Sage_Chapel_stained_glassLegacy and memorials:

~A tall stained glass window in Sage Chapel at Cornell University honors the memory of James, Andrew and Michael.
~A memorial at the Mt. Nebo Baptist Church commemorates the three civil rights activists.
~A plaque near Riverside Boulevard at 70th Street in New York City commemorates the three men.
~The sacrifice of the murders contributed to Congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, federal legislation to enforce social justice and constitutional rights.
~In 1998 the James Earl Chaney Foundation was set up by his brother Ben Chaney in his honor to promote the work of civil rights and social justice.

Representation in media:

~The band Flobots’ song, “Same Thing,” asks to bring back Chaney.
~Meridian, a novel by Alice Walker, portrayed issues of the civil rights era.
~Phil Ochs wrote his song, “Here’s to the State of Mississippi”, about these events and other violations of civil rights that took place in that state.
~Tom Paxton included the tribute song, “Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney”, on his 1965 album, Ain’t That News.
~In the novel Song of Susannah by Stephen King, Susannah Dean reminisces about her time in Mississippi as a civil rights activist. She thinks about making love to James Chaney and singing the song “Man of Constant Sorrow”.
~The murders were depicted by Norman Rockwell in an illustration titled Southern Justice (Murder in Mississippi) published in Look in June 1965. (See my previous post)
~Richard Farina’s song “Michael, Andrew and James” performed with Mimi Farina, was included in their first Vanguard album, Celebrations for a Grey Day, released in 1965.
~Simon and Garfunkel’s song “He Was My Brother” was dedicated to Andrew Goodman who was their friend and a classmate of Simon’s at Queens College.

Reference source: Wikipedia

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Paintings by a Warrior For Peace

Norman Rockwell - Do Unto OthersI am offering a loving salute to Norman Rockwell (Feb 3, 1894 – Nov 8, 1978) for the power he demonstrated in all his paintings but especially the later ones after he left the Saturday Evening Post. Thank you Mr. Rockwell for being a strong, quiet, and powerful Warrior For Peace who created art that will forever speak to the heart of issues to be addressed for global peace.

“Do unto others…” For most Americans in 1961, the familiar adage really meant, “Do unto others who look like you.” Norman Rockwell, in his painting Golden Rule challenged that hypocrisy and laid the truth of “the other” smack dab in the middle of America’s coffee tables. Golden Rule appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on April 1, 1961.

The-problem-we-all-live-with-norman-rockwellAlso in 1961 widower Norman Rockwell married a third time, to retired Milton Academy English teacher and ardent liberal Mary L. “Molly” Punderson. With her encouragement, in 1963 he ended his 47-year relationship with the Saturday Evening Post and spent the next decade painting for the magazine Look where his work depicted his interests in civil rights.

In January 1964 Rockwell painted The Problem We All Live With depicting six year old Ruby Bridges walking to school in New Orleans on the court-ordered first day of integrated schools (November 14, 1960) for a Look story.

Murder-in-Mississippi-Southern-Justice-1965A great departure from his previous sweet depictions of American life is the colour study of his finished painting called Southern Justice (Murder in Mississippi). It was for a June 1965 issue of Look and depicts the horrifying image of racism that resulted in the deaths of three Civil Rights workers as they worked to register African American voters.

These are events that Mr. Rockwell immortalized to help guarantee that we will never forget. As we close out Black History month for 2013 let us all do what we can to continue to work towards peace and equality, ensuring barriers are dropped and opportunities are equal for all. As MLK encouraged, judge not by the colour of skin but by the depth of a person’s character.

Reference sources: Chronogram.com and Wikipedia.com

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Langston Hughes

langston hughes poetry lineAs far back as I can remember, I have adored poetry. I’m especially drawn to the works of poets who courageously dive deeply into their stories… their journeys through life. These are my favorite kinds of poetry: raw and honest tales of joy and of woe. These are the poetic stories which can become eternal.

Writer-poet Langston Hughes (Feb. 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was born 111 years ago. Happy Birthday Langston Hughes! I am joined with millions of other readers who continue to be moved by your poetic stories to this day, for your works are eternal.

langston hughes poemJames Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri. His parents divorced when he was a small child and his father moved to Mexico. He was raised by his grandmother until he was thirteen, when he moved to Lincoln, Illinois to live with his mother and her husband before the family eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio. It was in Lincoln, Illinois, that Hughes began writing poetry. Following graduation he spent a year in Mexico and a year at Columbia University. During these years he held odd jobs as an assistant cook, launderer, and a busboy, and travelled to Africa and Europe working as a seaman. In 1924 he moved to Washington, D.C.  Hughes’s first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1926. He finished his college education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania three years later. In 1930 his first novel, Not Without Laughter, won the Harmon gold medal for literature.

Hughes, who claimed Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his primary influences, is particularly known for his insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties. He wrote novels, short stories and plays, as well as poetry, and is also known for his engagement with the world of jazz and the influence it had on his writing, as in “Montage of a Dream Deferred.” His life and work were enormously important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Unlike other notable black poets of the period—Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen—Hughes refused to differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of black America. He wanted to tell the stories of his people in ways that reflected their actual culture, including both their suffering and their love of music, laughter, and language itself.  Source: Poets.org

Here are a couple of delightful books for readers of all ages to enjoy:

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Langston Hughes: American Poet” By Alice Walker ~ Illustrated by Catherine Deeter

When Langston Hughes was a boy, His grandmother told him true stories of how African people were captured in Africa and brought to America enslaved. She told him about their fight for freedom and justice. Langston loved his grandmother’s stories. To learn more stories and bear more beautiful language, he began to read books. He fell in love with books and decided that one day he would write stories too, true stories about Black people.

When he was only fourteen, Langston wrote his first poem, and for the rest of his life he was always writing — stories and essays and, most of all, poems. He wrote about Black people as he saw them: happy, sad, mad, and beautiful. Through his writing he fought for freedom from inequality and injustice; and his gift of words inspired and influenced many other writers.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker was one writer Langston influenced. In this moving and richly detailed portrait she celebrates the life of an extraordinary man. Accompanied by stunning paintings by artist Catherine Deeter, Langston Hughes: American Poet will introduce a whole new generation to the life and works of a great African American Poet of the twentieth century, and one of the most important poets of all time.

AUTHOR BIO: Alice Walker (b. 1944), one of the United States’ preeminent writers, is an award-winning author of novels, stories, essays, and poetry. In 1983, Walker became the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction with her novel The Color Purple, which also won the National Book Award. Her other books include The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Meridian, The Temple of My Familiar, and Possessing the Secret of Joy. In her public life, Walker has worked to address problems of injustice, inequality, and poverty as an activist, teacher, and public intellectual.

langston hughes book cover - my people

My People Poem by Langston Hughes ~ Photography by Charles R. Smith Jr.

Langston Hughes’s spare yet eloquent tribute to his people has been cherished for generations. Now, acclaimed photographer Charles R. Smith Jr. interprets this beloved poem in vivid sepia photographs that capture the glory, the beauty, and the soul of being a black American today.

Editorial Review (Amazon.com): “Smith’s knack for pairing poetry and photography is well documented in books such as Hoop Queens (Candlewick, 2003) and Rudyard Kipling’s If (S & S, 2006). Here, his artful images engage in a lyrical and lively dance with Langston Hughes’s brief ode to black beauty. Dramatic sepia portraits of African Americans—ranging from a cherubic, chubby-cheeked toddler to a graying elder whose face is etched with lines-are bathed in shadows, which melt into black backgrounds. The 33 words are printed in an elegant font in varying sizes as emphasis dictates. In order to maximize the effect of the page turn and allow time for meaning to be absorbed, the short phrases and their respective visual narratives often spill over more than a spread. The conclusion offers a montage of faces created with varying exposures, a decision that provides a light-filled aura and the irregularities that suggest historical prints. A note from Smith describes his approach to the 1923 poem. This celebration of the particular and universal will draw a wide audience: storytime participants; students of poetry, photography, and cultural studies; seniors; families. A timely and timeless offering.” ~Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library

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By Langston Hughes ~ Calligraphy Image Source: blog.susangaylord.com

Langston_Hughes Hold Fast to Dreams