Tim Cook, Bayard Rustin, and the Changing Politics of Coming Out

Tim-Cook-5CAround October 30th of this year, headlines began appearing revealing that Apple CEO Tim Cook was gay. Though Cook’s sexuality wasn’t a secret before, it wasn’t something the successful tech executive had spoken of publicly. (As was his right: a CEO’s sexuality has no bearing on his company.) But ultimately, Cook decided to publicly announce his sexual orientation as a means of helping others.

As Cook said in a statement, he values his privacy, but “if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”

A significant thing to note about Cook’s statement is that he doesn’t just admit he’s gay, but specifically states that he’s “proud to be gay.” Though the LGBT community frequently uses similar language (such as in Pride events), I personally can’t recall another well known figure using such language in their public coming out. (I could be completely off on that, though. Let me know!) It’s reminiscent of black pride and James Brown‘s “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

That brings me to Bayard Rustin, the civil rights pioneer who was a key strategist of the non-violent protest movement, and was instrumental in planning and executing the 1963 March on Washington. Rustin also was gay. Like Cook, his sexuality was not a secret, but Rustin tried to downplay it, fearing that it could provide fodder for opponents of the Civil Rights Movement, who would try to paint one of its key strategists as a pervert. Indeed, they did so after Rustin was arrested on charges of lewd conduct in California. Still, important Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and A. Phillip Randolph sought out Rustin’s expertise to plan the March on Washington, and challenged those who discriminated against Rustin due to his sexuality.


Rustin and Cook are worth comparing for the different ways that the two men thought their sexual preference would affect their work, and illustrating how society has progressed. Rustin feared that too much public knowledge of his sexuality could derail the work he was doing for civil rights. But some fifty years later, for Tim Cook, publicly acknowledging his homosexuality is a tool to help, a way to fight for the civil rights movement, not a potential weapon to use against it.

(It’s important to note that Rustin was not ashamed of his sexuality, and that near the end of his life, he campaigned as passionately for gay rights as he had black rights earlier.)

The differing attitudes are a clear reflection of the way people’s views on homosexuality have changed. Things aren’t truly equal for LGBT people yet: the fact that Cook’s sexuality is even news proves that. (Just as things aren’t truly equal for black people yet, either.) But the differing attitudes towards publicly coming out suggest progress and acceptance, and that things are changing for the better.

To learn more about the life of Bayard Rustin and his work, please check out No Easy Answers: Bayard Rustin and the Civil Rights Movement by Calvin Craig Miller from your local library or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing. To find out about Apple, the company run by Tim Cook, and its inception and founding by Steve Jobs, please consider Steve Jobs by Jim Corrigan.

– Josh Barrer

Associate Editor


Published in: on November 7, 2014 at 10:42 am  Leave a Comment  


Congratulations to Malala Yousafzai, co-winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.

Published in: on October 10, 2014 at 8:57 am  Leave a Comment  

James Brown Comes to the Screen


This Friday, August 1, the new movie about James Brown will be released. Titled Get On Up, the film stars Chadwick Boseman as Brown. The film also features Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Craig Robinson, and Dan Aykroyd, Brown’s co-star from Doctor Detroit (and The Blues Brothers). As of this writing, no reviews have been published, so its unclear if Get On Up will be good. It’s easy to be dubious though. The trailer makes Get On Up look like a pretty standard biopic.  And Boseman doesn’t really look like Brown. Of course, nobody really looks like James Brown, so that can’t be held against the movie.

Regardless of the movie’s eventual quality, James Brown is a compelling character: he was an essential figure in 20th century American history and culture, and his music’s influence can still be heard today. His story is a great one: as for a telling of it, I suppose I’ll not so humbly recommend Proud: The Story of James Brown by Ronald D. Lankford, our (Morgan Reynolds) biography of the singer. It’s a good one.

Born into poverty in the 1930s, Brown revolutionized R&B music into something vital and earth-shaking, and the live shows he put on were intense and dynamic. He influenced generations of musicians that followed him, and helped shaped the sound of modern pop and rap.


Brown was also a radical and influential advocate for civil rights, and inspired many with his song “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.” He also toured in Vietnam, performing for American troops.


Brown also struggled with drugs and the law, and strove, not always successfully, to be a family man and a good man. In short, his life was a full one.

To read about James Brown, check out Proud: The Story of James Brown by Ronald D. Lankford (ISBN# 978-1-59935-374-6) from your local library or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

– Josh Barrer,

Associate Editor

(All pics appear in Proud: The Story of James Brown)

(And while we are on the topic of movies about the subjects of Morgan Reynolds biographies, don’t forget The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, due out this November.)



Published in: on July 29, 2014 at 9:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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Freedom Summer, 50 Years Later

Freedom Summer Activists in 1964.

Freedom Summer Activists in 1964.

In June 1964, fifty years ago this summer, activists from across the country traveled to Mississippi to help register black voters. Mississippi, like many other states at the time, was notorious for using various laws and intimidation tactics to keep black people from voting. The Freedom Summer project was intended to fight that racism. For the activists, many well-off, Northern college students, it was a life changing experience, and their efforts ended up helping to change the course of the state and ultimately, the country.

Today, so many years later, much has changed, but unfortunately, much persecution still exists. New voter ID laws, like the laws that the activists of Freedom Summer struggled against,  are particularly damaging to poor black people. Mississippi has also become one of the battleground states in another civil rights struggle, the gay rights movement.

In light of these contemporary struggles, many are looking back at the summer of 1964 as a reminder of the work and sacrifice of so many. PBS is airing a special program on the events of Freedom Summer, while the state of Mississippi itself is examining its own history via a special exhibit at the state archives that features photographs, articles, and sets that recreate the Freedom Summer experience. Many of the people involved in Freedom Summer are still alive today, and only just now getting a chance to tell their stories.

It’s easy to think that momentous movements like Freedom Summer happened in another time, another world even.  But it was truly not that long ago that young people were fighting, and sometimes even dying, for seemingly self-evident rights.

To learn more the events of Freedom Summer, and the people who risked their lives for equality and the right to vote, please check out Freedom Summer by David Aretha (ISBN # 978-1-59935-059-2) from your local library or purchase it from it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing. For more about that era and the struggle for equal rights, from the murder of Emmett Till to Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington and beyond, please see Morgan Reynolds’ acclaimed Civil Rights Movement series, which currently features thirteen titles, each telling an important story of this key period in American history.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor


Published in: on June 13, 2014 at 12:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

Connecting to the Past by Picking up a Book

to kill a mockingbird

Until earlier this week, Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird was not available electronically. Readers had to discover Lee’s story of young Scout Finch growing up in a small Alabama town the old-fashioned way, by cracking open a book. (Or by seeing the acclaimed 1962 film version. But a student assigned to read To Kill a Mockingbird for school would certainly never just watch the movie, right? Right?) But now, Lee, who just last year sued for control of the copyright of her work, has agreed to let her book be published electronically, for reading on computers and e-readers.

In a statement, Lee said: “I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries. I am amazed and humbled that Mockingbird has survived this long. This is Mockingbird for a new generation.”

As many more people acquire e-readers and read their books online, this was undoubtedly a smart choice for Lee and her publishers, who surely want to give people the option of reading her classic novel for as long as possible, in whatever format is the most popular. E-books and electronic publishing certainly seem to be the way of the future right now, and it’s good to know that whatever the future will bring, people will still be able to read To Kill A Mockingbird.

A different question raised by this news, though, is if the experience of reading a book like To Kill a Mockingbird, which is so tied to a specific time and place in the past (Alabama in the 1930s) will be affected by reading on a digital platform. For a young person reading To Kill a Mockingbird today, they are looking at a world very different from their own. Could reading about it on an e-reader create an even bigger sense of disconnect?

Books, physically, are a spectacular and lasting connection we have to the past. Our lifestyles and hobbies and distractions may change, but reading a book is reading a book, no matter when you do it. A book printed today is not fundamentally different from a book printed one-hundred years ago (or two or three hundred years or more, for that matter). Little technical things may change, but it’s still pieces of paper with printing on them, bound in a particular order to convey a story or inf0rmation. When someone today reads about Scout Finch picking up a book, they are able to connect with that moment. No matter how different their life and situation may be from Scout’s, they understand what a book feels like.

But for people who have no real conception of what a physical book is, this moment of connection with the character and story will be lost. They may recognize what a book is intellectually, but have no understanding how it feels. It’ll just be another thing making Scout’s world alien from their own.

Listen, I’m not a Luddite. I love books, but have no problems with technology. I’ve read books on computers and iPads, and it’s pretty nice. Plus, here at Morgan Reynolds, we release all our books electronically as well as physically and even have some e-book exclusives that not only tell great stories but will also look spectacular on your digital screen of choice. And when you get down to it, the important thing is that people read at all- what they read on is a minor issue.

Furthermore, To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic novel for a reason- it tells a great story filled with memorable characters, and features themes that resonate beyond any particular time or place.

But it is interesting to think that for centuries, the physical act of reading a book has remained largely unchanged, and very soon, it may be completely altered. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing- it just is. Still, even though To Kill a Mockingbird may now be accessible with just a quick click on your Kindle, it may be worth holding onto the old, dusty, dog-eared paperback on your shelf. The future is coming no matter what. It can spare a few moments to be wistful about the past.

To learn more about Harper Lee, and how her life inspired her classic novel, please check out Real Courage: The Story of Harper Lee by Katherine Don (ISBN# 978-1-59935-348-7) from your local library or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Climate Changes Exposes Ancient, Giant Virus

Global warming is thawing Siberia's permafrost.

Global warming is thawing Siberia’s permafrost.

In his book Extreme Threats: Climate Change, author Don Nardo lays out a number of potentially calamitous consequences that might result from climate change. Heat waves, droughts, prolonged and devastating periods of freezing temperatures, increased numbers of natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes; the list goes on and on. But a new, particularly icky threat has recently come to life: gigantic, ancient viruses.

Earlier this month, scientists discovered a 30,000 year old giant virus buried some one hundred feet in Siberia’s frozen ground. Called Pithovirus sibericum, scientists believe the virus was sealed in the cold region’s permafrost (soil at or below a freezing temperature for more than two years). Indeed, many animals and organisms have been preserved for centuries in the frozen ground (some researchers have even tasted perfectly preserved wooly mammoth meat). But climate change and warming of the Siberian region have caused the layers of permafrost to decrease at steady rate, exposing many of these ancient lifeforms, including many viruses that been sealed away for thousands of years.

Pithovirus sibericum is one such virus, and it’s big. Literally. At just 1.5 micrometers, it may not sound large, but it’s about 1,000 times larger than an average virus (such as influenza); it also contains about 2,500 genes, while influenza has just thirteen. And research shows that the newly thawed virus has been revived and is growing and multiplying.

You can tell it's an old-timey virus from the push-broom mustache.


Fortunately, this particular virus strictly attacks single cell organisms, such as amoebas; it doesn’t attack more complex organisms like humans or animals. But, the researchers studying the giant virus worry that’s it just one of many frozen in the permafrost. The more that global warming thaws out the frozen ground, the more likely other ancient viruses will be found and potentially revived.

Admittedly, the chances of these viruses becoming a threat to humanity are low. But as one of the scientists working on the project says, “there’s always the first instance, right?”

Not too mention that earlier this year, scientists reconstructed the genetic code of a strain of the bubonic plague that wreaked havoc in the Roman Empire under Emperor Justinian; they were able to do so by extracting DNA from the teeth of two ancient bodies found by land developers in Germany. Scientists hope that studying the bacteria will give a greater understanding the plague’s evolutionary journey, providing insight into human history and the disease itself, which still affects some people today.

Still, ancient viruses and bacteria being extracted from frozen ground and preserved teeth bring to mind science fiction and apocalyptic scenarios. Of course, that kind of thing is just fiction . . .  anyway, now I’m off to move into a hermetically sealed biosphere and shower in Purell.

To learn more about the other dangers posed by climate change, as well as what we can do to slow it down, check out Extreme Threats: Climate Change by Don Nardo (ISBN# 978-1-59935119-3) from your local library or order it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing. For more about the Bubonic plague, influenza, and other diseases, please see Morgan Reynolds’ Diseases in History series.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Published in: on March 12, 2014 at 2:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Pete Seeger and “We Shall Overcome”

(from left) Martin Luther King Jr., Pete Seeger, Charis Horton, Rosa Parks, Ralph Abernathy, in  1957.

(from left) Martin Luther King Jr., Pete Seeger, Charis Horton, Rosa Parks, and Ralph Abernathy, in 1957.

Earlier this year,  on January 27, acclaimed folk singer and activist Pete Seeger passed away at the age of ninety-four.  Seeger had a long and distinguished career, beginning in the 1930s when he was just a teenager. He was instrumental in the movement to re-popularize folk music in the 1950s and 1960s; was blacklisted for his leftist political ideals and was indicted for contempt of congress for his refusal to answer questions from bullying House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955; and was an early champion of the music of Bob Dylan. Later, in the late 1960s and 1970s, he used his music to protest the Vietnam War, and lent his talents to many other causes. He performed at the 2009 inaugural concert for President Barack Obama, and continued writing and performing tirelessly up until the end of his life.

But one of the things Seeger is most known for is the song “We Shall Overcome,” the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.

Seeger didn’t write “We Shall Overcome.” Like many folk songs, it was pieced together from several sources and passed from musician to musician, each adding their own unique element to it, though it was mostly derived from a 1901 gospel song called “I’ll Overcome Someday.” By the time Seeger began performing the song, it had become “We Will Overcome.” Seeger changed the key lyric slightly, “We will” became “We shall,” as he felt that the revised phrase had a powerful, open sound when sung. He also wrote several new verses for the song. Seeger’s version of the song was performed by many folk singers, and quickly became popular amongst activists fighting for civil rights and laborers’ rights*. Seeger played the song at a 1957 performance: Martin Luther King Jr. was in the audience. Though King was familiar with the song, he was particularly struck by Seeger’s version.

By the 1960s, “We Shall Overcome” was known by everyone in the Civil Rights Movement, and they sang it proudly and defiantly at protests and gatherings, to give themselves strength and confidence to face the oppressive forces they were challenging. It was performed at the famous 1963 March on Washington, though not by Seeger; he was out of country with his family, so the song was performed by popular folk singer Joan Baez. (Another Seeger song, “If I Had a Hammer” was also performed at the March, by folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary.)

In an interview with radio host Tavis Smiley, conducted in 2012, Seeger reflects on his life and long career, including the evolution of “We Shall Overcome” and how it came to be part of the Civil Rights Movement. Near the end, he sums up his beliefs on the power of social protest: “The people with money can break up any big thing they want, but they don’t know what to do when there are millions of little things, so I  say, go ahead with your little things and don’t think they are unimportant.”

“We Shall Overcome” was just one of the many little things Seeger contributed during his lifetime, and it played a part in changing the world.

To learn more about the 1963 March on Washington and the people who bravely stood together singing “We Shall Overcome,” please check out our acclaimed book, Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1963 March on Washington by David Aretha (ISBN# 978-159935372-2) from your local library, or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing. For further reading, please see the rest of our Civil Rights Movement series.

-Josh Barrer,

Associate Editor

*In addition to its association with the American Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome” has been an anthem for many oppressed peoples fighting for civil rights. It became particularly significant in South Africa, where it was sung by freedom fighter Frederick John Harris, prior to his execution for a bombing in protest of the country’s apartheid policy. A recorded version of the song, performed by Seeger, but with the last line, “We shall all be free,” sung by Harris was suppressed by the government, but became important to the anti-apartheid movement.

Pardoning the Past, Looking Towards the Future

Charles Weems and Clarence Norris, two of the Scottsboro Boys, read a newspaper in their Alabama jail cell.

Charles Weems and Clarence Norris, two of the Scottsboro Boys, read a newspaper in their Alabama jail cell.

At the start of this year, I wrote about Alan Turing, and the effort to get the renowned scientist and mathematician an official pardon from the the British government. Now, as the year is coming to an end, that pardon has been given: on December 23, 2013, the Queen of England officially absolved Turing of his crimes, just under sixty years after his death.

Similarly, back in November, the last three of the Scottsboro Boys who had yet to be exonerated were granted a posthumous pardon. (The Scottsboro Boys were a group of black teenagers who were falsely accused and convicted of rape in 1931. The unfairness of their case and the trials that convicted them helped ignite the Civil Rights Movement.)

Though the stories obviously have many differences, they both show modern authorities attempting to rectify the injustices of the past with symbolic gestures. As well intentioned as they are though, this hardly seems like enough. Though there is some satisfaction to the fact that official records will no longer indicate these people as guilty of crimes they didn’t commit, their lives were still ruined by the charges unfairly brought against them.

So what value then is there in trying to correct the mistakes of the past? The past is past, and nothing can change it. But in granting these pardons, in admitting that mistakes were made, and offering some justice–if only symbolically–after the fact, we can hope that we are making a promise to the future. A promise that such injustices will not occur again, a promise that we can and will do better, or at least try.

At Morgan Reynolds Publishing, we spend a lot time thinking about history, about the past, about the thousands of events that have occurred throughout time that have led us to where we are today. Whether it’s the story of young men unfairly accused of a crime because of the color of their skin, or of a genius mathematician who pioneered computer science, or the way the spread of a disease affected civilization, or even the way a fashion designer overcame poverty to clothe a president, everything that has happened has the led the world to where it is today, for good and ill. By studying it, by trying to understand, we aim to understand the world around us, and hopefully–hopefully–have a greater grasp on where we are going and who we are. So that we can do better. Or at least try.

We don’t grant official pardons, but we do try to always present the truth, or as much of the truth as can be known. We believe that the facts should speak for themselves, that the truth offers its own condemnations, and its own pardons.

Thanks for reading along with us. We are looking forward to the new year, and hope you’ll keep reading.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Champion of Freedom

Champion of Freedom

Published in: on December 6, 2013 at 9:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Finding New, Life Saving Uses for Drones

droneUnmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, as they are commonly called, are a key topic in the worlds of technology and the military. These vehicles, which can be piloted remotely from anywhere in the world, are poised to redefine warfare and quite possibly the state of the world. As author Don Nardo writes in his book Drones, the US military estimates that drones participated in five missions a day in 2012; by 2016, that number is projected to rise to seventy a day.

But while drones are primarily made and used for military operations, unmanned aerial vehicles have a number of other, non-combat uses. In the wake of the devastating Typhoon Haiyan that struck the Philippines, reporters and rescue workers have used drones mounted with cameras to take stock of the devastation.

Some observers, though, think drones could be doing much more to help the people affected by the typhoon, as well as people in other disasters and life threatening situations. A drone equipped with a thermal camera, for example, could not merely document the damage, but find survivors still in need of assistance. Drones could also be used to deliver food and supplies, serve as communication hubs, fight fires, and more.

Largely, life saving measures like these are not happening though. This is largely because of as of right now, drones are primarily thought of as a military tool: as such, all the drones currently in use are being used and programmed for military operations, not rescue ones.

Finding a non-combat use for drones would undoubtedly be a good thing. Most importantly, it could save lives, but it could also combat the growing mistrust of drones throughout the world. Drones strikes against suspected terrorists and insurgents have largely succeeded in killing their targets, but have also killed many civilians in the process; Pakistani officials, for example, claim drone strikes have killed sixty-seven civilians since 2008.  Indeed, even when a drone strike eliminates a reviled target, execution by drone carries a stigma that causes many to sympathize with the assassinated, for good or ill, as was the case with Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban killed in a controversial drone strike.

Clearly, drones, which allow for aerial combat without endangering the lives of pilots, are going to be an integral part of military operations going forward. But their reputation as underhanded and vicious weapons as deadly to civilians as to enemy combatants make their deployment risky and complicated. Its probably too late for drones to offer much aid to the people of the Philippines, but hopefully the next time disaster strikes, drones will be able to assist and lessen suffering and death. Finding ways to use this amazing technology to actually save lives instead of just ending them might make a drone filled future less foreboding.

To learn more the development and usage of drones, please check out Drones by Don Nardo (ISBN# 978-1-59935-384-5), part of Morgan Reynolds’ The Military Experience. In The Air series, from your local library, or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Published in: on November 19, 2013 at 11:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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