Tag Archives: civil rights

On NYC’s Paratransit, Fighting for Safety, Respect, and Human Dignity

Britney Wilson | Longreads | September 2017 | 18 minutes (4,410 words)

 

He pulled up on the wrong side of the street fifteen minutes late for my pick-up time. I was sitting outside, in front of the New York City office building where I work, in a chair that the security guards at my job have set aside for me. They bring it outside when I come downstairs in the evening and take it back inside whenever I get picked up, so I don’t have to stand while I wait anymore. I was on the left side of the street; he pulled up on the right. I stood when I saw him, and taking a few steps closer to the tide of people rippling endlessly down the sidewalk that early evening, I waved one of my crutches in the air trying to get his attention. He looked up and down the street. I wasn’t sure if he’d seen me.

“Excuse me,” I said, taking a few more quick half steps forward, trying to catch the attention of a passer-by, “do you see that Access-a-Ride across the street?”

“The what?” the passer-by asked.

“The Access-a-Ride,” I repeated. “That little blue and white bus across the street.” I pointed my crutch in its direction, and his gaze followed its path.

“Oh,” he said. But just as I was about to request the man’s assistance, I saw that the driver had finally spotted me. He put his hand up as if to tell me to stay put.

“Nevermind. I think he sees me,” I said. “Thanks anyway.”

My Access-a-Ride driver, a skinny older Black man with glasses and a graying beard, exited the vehicle and crossed the street toward me. I bravely parted the latest oncoming wave of pedestrians and made my way to the curb to meet him.

“Come on,” the driver said when he reached me, urging me to step right out into traffic on Broadway and cross with him, but I was reluctant.

“I’d rather wait for the light to change,” I said.

“Don’t worry, I’ll stop traffic for you,” he said, moving toward the middle of the street, his right hand extended making a “stop” motion toward the oncoming cars. I tried to pick up my pace while also being careful not to place my crutch tips on anything slippery, or get too close to other pedestrians rushing to the other side of the street.

“Take your time. I’ll make them wait,” he attempted to reassure me. I wasn’t reassured.

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How Can Alt-Right Women Exist in a Misogynistic Movement?

Days before the events in Charlottesville, Harper’s published the cover story from their September issue about the prominent women of the alt-right: Women who want to bring others into a movement that is misogynist at its very core. In the piece, “The Rise of the Valkyries,” Seyward Darby profiles Lana Lokteff, the “queen bee” of the alt-right who David Duke has described as a “harder-hitting” Ann Coulter with a “movie-star quality.” Lokteff finds likeminded women online and promotes them via Red Ice, a white nationalist media company she runs with her husband. But for women to have a voice in the alt-right, let alone be prominent in the movement, is its own paradox, as Lokteff admonishes women to give counsel to men and embrace classic notions of femininity. I spoke with Darby about what it takes to interview a subject whose very existence appears to undermine her own claims. Read more…

More Than a Riot Going On: A ‘Detroit’-Inspired Reading List

Reactions to Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film Detroit have been polarized, and the considerable backlash may have caused its opening weekend box office to suffer. Bigelow’s films are known for their tightly-choreographed combat scenes and their fictionalization of brutal historical events. In Detroit, Bigelow takes on the story of the Algiers Motel incident, where three young black men—Carl Cooper, Fred Temple, and Aubrey Pollard—were tortured and killed by police officers in the motel’s annex. In the early morning hours of July 26, 1967, a few days into the unrest that would eventually become known as the Detroit rebellion, the three young men, along with many others, took refuge at the motel amid a city-wide curfew. Police forces received reports of sniper fire and raided the Algiers, finding a group of black men socializing with white women. There were interrogations, humiliations, assaults, and eventually murder. No gun was ever found on the grounds of the Algiers, and the police involved were found not guilty on all charges associated with the incident.

Conversation about the film has touched on questions about who has the authority to tell what stories. Bigelow is a white woman from the West Coast who said she knew herself not to be the “ideal person” to make the movie. But she and former journalist Mark Boal, the film’s screenwriter, worked with black academics, historians, and eyewitnesses to ensure a certain level of accuracy in the story. Jelani Cobb, a historian and staff writer at The New Yorker, Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., head of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard were among those reportedly consulted.

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Our Zombies, Ourselves: An Undead Reading List

When you think of zombies, it’s likely you envision something like the flesh-eating, immortal creatures created by George Romero, who defined a new genre of horror with Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Thanks to Romero, who died this week at the age of 77, the zombie movie has become more than a chance to feel scared. It’s also an essential lens through which we can view pop culture, politics, and society. In honor of the great director, here is some our favorite writing about the terror of the living dead.

1.“Why Black Heroes Make Zombie Stories More Interesting,” by Matt Thompson (NPR Code Switch, October 2013)

One of Romero’s most famous narrative coups was casting a black actor as the hero of his 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead. It was a decision that turned a run-of-the-mill horror movie into a complex commentary on the civil rights movement, and imbued other zombie films with the ability to criticize society.

The thing about good zombie fiction (and I say this as someone who enjoys an awful lot of zombie fiction) is that the zombies are never the most horrific thing. Zombies don‘t typically have the capacity for complex thought — they don‘t execute stratagems, play politics, torture people. All they do is feed. The true horror in any zombie story worth its salt is what other people do when faced with the zombie threat. Zombies are merely relentless; humans can be sadistic.

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Nina Simone’s Three Years of Freedom

In a sprawling essay at Guernicawriter and journalist Katherina Grace Thomas turns a lens on the three years Nina Simone spent in Liberia in the mid-1970s. Thomas paints a portrait of the nation before its Civil War, teeming with opulence and possibility. Black Americans like Simone, as well was artists and political leaders from newly independent countries in Africa, flocked to Liberia to exchange ideas and enjoy the high life at late-night discotheques.

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The Word Is ‘Nemesis’: The Fight to Integrate the National Spelling Bee

Cynthia R. Greenlee | Longreads | June 2017 | 2,900 words ( 12 minutes)

In 1962, teenager George F. Jackson wrote a letter to President John F. Kennedy with an appeal: “I am a thirteen-year-old colored boy and I like to spell. Do you think you could help me and get the Lynchburg bee opened to all children?”

The long road to the National Spelling Bee has always begun with local contests, often sponsored by a local newspaper. Nine publications, organized by the Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal, banded together in 1925 to create the first National Bee in Washington, D.C.

Decades later, George Jackson was protesting the policies of the local newspaper that sponsored the Lynchburg, Virginia contest, which excluded black students from participating in the official local competition — the necessary step that might send a lucky, word-loving Lynchburg child to nationals. There was more at stake than a coveted all-expenses-paid trip to the capital, an expensive set of Encyclopedia Britannica, and a $1,000 cash prize. For local and national civil rights activists, keeping black children from the spoils of spelling fame was an extension of Jim Crow educational policies that should have ended, in theory, with the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

While the Warren Court decided in 1954 that “separate but equal” would no longer be the law of the land, there were still “Negro” schools and white schools educating children across the South less than a decade later. A patchwork of local responses met the desegregation orders that followed the Supreme Court ruling, including deliberate foot-dragging, some real confusion about how to undo what years of white supremacy had wrought in the nation’s schools, and full-throated defiance to educational equity.

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Coretta Scott King Fuelled the Civil Rights Movement with ‘Courage, Dignity, and Poise’

Did you know that after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the Memphis Fire Department sent his widow, Coretta Scott King, a bill for transporting him to the hospital? At Lenny, resident historian Alexis Coe talks with Wayne Dowdy, manager of the history department in the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library in Memphis, Tennessee, on how racist tension and discrimination created the environment in which King was assassinated and how Coretta Scott King’s “courage, dignity, and poise” in the face of horrific tragedy fueled the civil rights movement.

Alexis Coe: Coretta Scott King returned to the city where her husband had been assassinated three days after claiming his body. This was truly extraordinary. On a national level, she’s demonstrating that the civil-rights movement would not be deterred by the death of its leader. If she could, in the most nascent days of her widowhood, with small children at home mourning the loss of their father, show up to fight, so should everyone else. And on a local level, she’s telling Memphis, and Mayor Loeb, this needs to end. Now. How closely was the country watching her and, by extension, Loeb?

Wayne Dowdy: The courage, dignity, and poise shown by Mrs. King impressed many Americans and certainly influenced the many white Memphians who pressured Loeb to settle the strike. In addition, Mrs. King’s two visits must have influenced the conduct of the majority of Memphians who, unlike those in other urban centers, stayed true to Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence.

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“I Would Prefer Not To.”

Judith Levine, co-founder of the National Writers Union, writes in the Boston Review on how an 1853 Herman Melville novella might be the key to contemporary political resistance:

No respect for pencil pushers? Get over it. America’s army of bureaucrats, who number over 750,000 in federal agencies alone, may now be the bulwark between totalitarian plutocracy and constitutional democracy. Imagine if civil servants, from secretaries to social workers to scientists—to police—refused to cooperate? Call it the Bartleby Strategy. Its rallying cry: “I would prefer not to.”

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Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Martin Luther King Jr. was many things — a radical, a moderate, a peacekeeper, a hellraiser, a father, a husband, a crusader against the evils of capitalism, a proponent of love and also revolution. He was a man known to be deeply sensitive, sometimes misogynist, often depressed, blisteringly funny. He was all of these things and more. And like so many brothers and sisters before and since, his beautiful and rich mahogany tones have been flattened to the matte black of the history books that paint him as the friend of well-meaning whites and the moral opposition of angry blacks. And like King, we as black people are so much more than white supremacy would have us believe.

Who and what are we really commemorating on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day? Writing in The Establishment, Ijeoma Oluo unpacks the myriad ways Dr. King’s story has been softened and re-written to weaken black activism and bolster white supremacy.

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Using Technology to Fight the Power

In a new story for Wired, Bijan Stephen looks at how the Black Lives Matter movement uses social media to organize and fight for change. As Stephen writes, “any large social movement is shaped by the technology available to it,” tailoring their goals and tactics to the media of their time. For the nascent Black Lives Matter movement, that technology has been platforms like Twitter and Facebook. But civil rights organizers were using technology to mobilize long before the advent of social media. Here’s what that looked like in the Jim Crow South:

In the 1960s, if you were a civil rights worker stationed in the Deep South and you needed to get some urgent news out to the rest of the world—word of a beating or an activist’s arrest or some brewing state of danger—you would likely head straight for a telephone.

From an office or a phone booth in hostile territory, you would place a call to one of the major national civil rights organizations. But you wouldn’t do it by dialing a standard long-distance number. That would involve speaking first to a switchboard operator—who was bound to be white and who might block your call. Instead you’d dial the number for something called a Wide Area Telephone Service, or WATS, line.

Like an 800 line, you could dial a WATS number from anywhere in the region and the call would patch directly through to the business or organization that paid for the line—in this case, say, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

On the other end of the line, another civil rights worker would be ready to take down your report and all the others pouring in from phones scattered across the South. The terse, action-packed write-ups would then be compiled into mimeographed “WATS reports” mailed out to organization leaders, the media, the Justice Department, lawyers, and other friends of the movement across the country.

In other words, it took a lot of infrastructure to live-tweet what was going on in the streets of the Jim Crow South.

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