James Brown Comes to the Screen

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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.

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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.

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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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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

School Board Votes to Ban Classic Novel From Libraries

Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man

In another unfortunate instance of Morgan Reynolds Publishing’s home state of North Carolina making national news for doing something embarrassing and wrong-headed, last week the Randolph County school board made the decision, in a 5-2 vote, to remove Ralph Ellison’s classic novel Invisible Man from Randolph County libraries.

What prompted this move? It was a single complaint from an outraged parent, who in twelve page letter, complained that the book “is not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers.” The parent detailed many of the novel’s depictions of sex and rape, with little to no consideration of the context of those scenes, or what they mean to the novel and it’s depiction of a racially divided America.

Of course, credit must be given to this parent: she seems to at least have read the book. Or at least skimmed it. Randolph County’s school board members were given copies of the book in anticipation of voting on it, and when asked about whether or not they had read it, the only response came from Board Chair Tommy McDonald, who stated “It was a hard read.” Efforts to find out if the board members had read the book didn’t pan out, either: the school board’s attorney encouraged its members not to speak to the press regarding the decision about the book, or even answer the question of whether or not they read it.

Still, this didn’t stop school board member Gary Mason from stating, authoritatively, “I didn’t find any literary value.” Of course, some people might disagree; people such as the critics and scholars who selected Invisible Man for the National Book Award in 1953, or the Library of Congress, who named it one of “The Books That Shaped America,” or even the writers of the AP English Literature exam, who have included passages from Invisible Man on the AP exam thirteen times in the last fifteen years.

So the board voted to remove Invisible Man from Randolph County libraries. It should be noted here that two of the board members, Emily Coltrane and Todd Cutler voted against removing the book from libraries. But their five fellow school board members out voted them. There names are Tommy McDonald, Gary Mason, Gary Cook, Tracy Boyles, and Matthew Lambeth.

They may have expected this matter to be over and done, but in today’s internet era, when news can be spread from the smallest corners to the whole of the world in a matter of seconds, things don’t stay hidden long. So word of this decision got out, and spread around the world, warranting mention from dozens of news organizations such as the Huffington Post, National Public Radio, the Christian Science Monitor, and even getting a mention on Russian news sources.

So quickly, the Randolph County School board decided to hold another meeting, this Wednesday (the 25th of September), to reconsider their decision. How that meeting will go remains to be seen, but at the moment, it seems as though the school board is hastily trying to reverse course and cover up a major potential embarrassment.

I hope they do reverse their decision, but even if they do, it does not excuse the staggeringly stupid and arrogant action they initially took, and that action should not be forgotten. These people compromise a school board; they are responsible for determining the educational course of the children of their county, and yet they couldn’t read or properly comprehend one of the most well known and respected novels of the twentieth century. This is completely unacceptable, and even if they right their wrong after being nationally shamed, it is frankly unforgivable. Again, the names of the school board members who voted to remove Invisible Man from Randolph County Libraries are: Tommy McDonald, Gary Mason, Gary Cook, Tracy Boyles, and Matthew Lambeth.

Maybe I am being overly critical. Maybe these board members are just stealthily trying to direct kids’ attention to this literary classic. After all, what better advertisement for a work of art is there then that some cabal felt the need to hide it from innocent eyes? What better enticement to read something than “you are not allowed read this?”

"You know you're not supposed to go in there. What is your fascination with my forbidden closet of mystery?"

“You know you’re not supposed to go in there. What is your fascination with my forbidden closet of mystery?”

(For any young readers whose interest is piqued, free copies of Invisible Man are being made available.)

Coincidentally, this controversy has coincided with the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. In this annual event, the ALA celebrates the freedom to read by examining all of the books that have frequently been challenged (and too often banned) throughout American history. (A Randleman High School student will also be holding her senior project, a banned book Read Out, Thursday. Her project was planned before the Invisible Man banning.) It is grim reminder that some people have always sought to suppress any knowledge or ideas they find objectionable or simply don’t understand. But it’s these challenging ideas and works that allow for meaningful discourse on complicated issues (such as racism and racial equality, subjects covered eloquently in Invisible Man), and allow society to change.

The national outrage that has come down on Randolph County’s school board is certainly heartening, but this is an issue that should never even have come up. The fact that there is still debate over whether or not certain books should be suppressed for the public’s perceived best interest is unacceptable.

Suppressing speech or art doesn’t protect a society, it stifles and ossifies it. It was works of art like Invisible Man and the protected freedom of expression of countless activists that spurred on the Civil Rights Movement and helped ensure the freedom of all Americans. By deciding that books with challenging ideas might be offensive and should be banned, and by believing that they have the authority to decide what is and isn’t appropriate for the public, what injustices are people like the Randolph County school board allowing?

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

To learn more about Invisible Man and the life of its author, please check out Ralph Ellison: Author of Invisible Man from your local library (ISBN# 978-1-931798-69-3) or order it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

 

UPDATE: The school board met again Wednesday (the 25th) and reversed their decision.  Invisible Man will again be available in Randolph County libraries. Only Gary Mason, the board member who claimed the book had “no literary value,” voted to uphold the ban.

Special Guest Blog: Fifty Years After the March on Washington, Where Are We Today?

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(Editor’s Note: This August 28 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous March on Washington. To mark this momentous occasion in American history, we will be running several blogs over the rest of this month examining the state of civil rights in America. To start, we present a special guest blog by David Aretha, author of numerous books in Morgan Reynolds’ The Civil Rights Movement series, including its two most recent additions, Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1963 March on Washington and Brown v. Board of Education.)

During his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. bellowed “I have a dream” eight times, often following with metaphorical phrases. “I have a dream,” he said, “that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” He dreamed that the state of Mississippi, “a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression,” would be “transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

Looking to the heavens and then shaking his head, King declared to a crowd of 250,000: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

 King roused the crowd so much that shortly afterward he had a look of fear on his face. “You was smoking,” King’s friend Clarence Jones told him afterward. “The words was so hot they was just burning off the page!” Watching on television at the White House, President Kennedy said of King: “He’s damned good. Damned good.”

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this August, educators and journalists are asking the question: “Have Martin Luther King’s dreams been fulfilled?” Are Americans today judged by the “content of their character?” Does American justice roll “down like waters?” Some respondents—politicians, historians, sociologists, and people on the street—will say yes, the dream has been fulfilled. But many others will say that we have a long, long way to go.

During the 40th anniversary of the March, in 2003, cultural geographer Derek Alderman noted that at least 730 cities and towns had honored the beloved icon with a street name, mostly in African American neighborhoods. Sadly, most of those streets had become boulevards of despair.

It is ironic that virtually every Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in America is a street of abandoned buildings, abandoned businesses, abandoned people, abandoned dreams,” stated James P. Danky of the Wisconsin Historical Society. “Those who honor King’s name need to think about fulfilling the promise of his dream to those who have been forsaken in our inner cities.”

In many ways, King’s dreams have come true. The Civil Rights Act spelled doom for government-sanctioned segregation; by the 1970s, the only “Coloreds Only” signs you’d find would be on abandoned buildings in the rural South. After the passage of the Voting Rights Act, virtually every African American could register to vote without hindrance. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 banned discrimination in the sale and rental of housing. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), formed in 1965, has been mostly successful in one of its major initiatives: preventing workers from being denied jobs based on their race.

Some conservatives claim that government has gone overboard in helping African Americans—to the point where whites are the ones discriminated against. They point to affirmative-action initiatives in higher education. To give minority students a break after generations of oppression, federal legislation allowed schools to accept a certain percentage of minority applicants even if some white applicants had better test scores. Also, in hundreds of American cities, judges’ “busing” decrees resulted in black students being transported to predominantly white schools—and vice versa—to achieve racial balance. Both of these practices were hotly debated from the late 1960s to the 21st century. In recent decades, courts have greatly rolled back affirmative-action and busing initiatives.

While African Americans have virtually achieved equal-rights status in terms of jobs, housing, voting, etc., they do not enjoy equal prosperity. Far from it. In 2010, the median-average household income for African Americans was $32,068, compared to $50,673 for whites. In 2011, approximately 28 percent of African Americans lived below the poverty line (an increase from 25 percent in 2005), compared to about 9 percent of whites.

During the recent recession, the black unemployment rate jumped from 8 to 16 percent while the white rate went from only 4 to 8 percent. Inner-city schools have become such “failure factories” that many students never graduate high school. According to a 2004 book by Thomas M. Shapiro, “The net worth of typical white families is $81,000 compared to $8,000 for black families.”

Conservatives claim that black Americans are responsible for their own hardship. They note the fact that more than 70 percent of African American children are born out of wedlock. Poor family values, they say, is the problem. They point to Newark, New Jersey, where a nation-high $22,000 a year was spent to educate each student, yet half of the school system’s students did not graduate. Many whites have long been fed up with having to spend their tax dollars on welfare programs and food stamps (even though such programs are just tiny percentages of state and federal budgets).

But here’s something to think about: Traditionally in America, families need about three generations before they move into the upper middle class. Generally speaking, the first generation—the one that immigrates to the United States—is working class, the second generation is middle class, and the third generation enters the professional ranks and moves into the upper middle class. While many African American families have been in the United States for more than a century, they have had full rights for only a short period of time.

Say a black man was born in 1963 and had a daughter at age thirty. The father was among the first generation of African Americans to enjoy equal rights in regards to education, housing, and employment. Thus, he can be compared to first-generation U.S. immigrants, the “bottom of the ladder” citizens who have historically had low-paying jobs. The black man’s daughter could be compared to second-generation immigrants—those who tend to rise to the middle class. But his daughter would be just twenty years old in 2013; she hasn’t even started her career yet.

Black Americans have been greatly hindered by a lack of financial assets. A well-off couple can afford to move to a suburb with a good school system; can pay for their child’s private schooling and college education; can give their child money to help with a down payment on a house; can help pay for their grandchildren’s education; and can leave a large inheritance to their survivors. In 1960, 50 percent of African Americans lived in poverty. Thus, the black Americans of the late 1900s had to make it on their own, without much financial support from Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa.

With more than 80 percent of African Americans living in urban settings—with many renting instead of owning—they have largely missed out on skyrocketing housing appreciation. From January 1970 to March 2007, the median-average price of a new home in the United States soared from $23,600 to $262,600, allowing homeowners to “cash in” big when they sold their homes. African Americans who were unwelcome in the burgeoning suburbs in the 1960s and ’70s (and in some areas, beyond that) missed out on that accumulated wealth—not to mention the benefits of good suburban schools.

In addition, some sociologists claim, many African Americans are still caught up in a “cycle of despair.” Over the centuries, most immigrants have come to the U.S. willing and eager to work hard and achieve the American Dream. But many African Americans never bought in to the American Dream—or at least didn’t think it would work for them. Their ancestors were brought to America against their will and were systematically oppressed up until the 1960s.

As Malcolm X said, “I don’t see any American Dream; I see an American nightmare.” Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael said that his father had naively bought into the American Dream. “My old man believed in this work-and-overcome stuff . . . ” he said. “He did carpentry all day and drove taxis all night. . . . The next thing that came to that poor black man was death—from working too hard.”

Those who grow up in poverty and bad school systems often find it difficult to believe that good study habits and hard work will lead to financial success. Some think that drug dealing is the only way to make good money and that being in gangs is their only chance to “be somebody.” According to a 2010 report by the Schott Foundation on Public Education, 53 percent of black male students drop out of high school without a diploma. Antipathy among black males has added to the burden of black women. From 1974 to 2004, the median income of African American men fell 12 percent while the income of black women rose 75 percent.

In most every facet of life, children have a strong tendency to imitate the behavior of their parents. Children of churchgoers, for example, are more likely to go to church as adults. And those whose parents didn’t pursue the American Dream are more likely to not pursue it themselves. It’s part of the “cycle of despair.” Moreover, parents who did not drive down the “highway of success” lack the experience to help their children drive down that proper road.

Most sociologists believe that racism—institutional (aka systematic) racism—still plays a major role in keeping African Americans in poverty. Author Herb Boyd explained in Civil Rights: Yesterday & Today:

. . . examples of institutional racism include laws created by the white majority that severely punish “black” crimes [such as possession of crack cocaine] but are lenient on “white” (such as corporate) crimes; “country club” prisons for executives; harsher sentencing for blacks compared to whites who commit the same crimes; better funding for white parts of a city than for black neighborhoods; a tax system that allows for greater funding for suburban schools than city schools; refusal of corporations to open grocery stores in inner cities, resulting in poor food options for blacks; and a disinterest by the white majority in resolving crises facing the poor, such as gang violence, homelessness, and inadequate health care.

African Americans achieved their legal rights decades ago, and whites and blacks have become a lot more comfortable interacting with each other. Most Americans embrace the idea of sitting down at a “table of brotherhood,” and most are now inclined to judge a person on the “content of their character” instead of the color of their skin.

 Unfortunately, the “cycles of despair” still spin, and institutional racism keeps millions of African Americans confined to poverty. Despite the promises of “hope and change” by the country’s first black president, conditions only worsened for African Americans during the recession. Unemployment in black communities skyrocketed. Home foreclosures reached unprecedented levels. The budgets for public schools and social programs were slashed. The black middle class shrunk, and the poverty rate rose.

Fifty years after the March on Washington, America still has a long way to go to truly fulfill the dreams of Martin Luther King.

-David Aretha, author

Published in: on August 12, 2013 at 2:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Arguments In Supreme Court over Voting Rights Act of 1965

Lyndon Johnson gives Martin Luther King a pen after signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Lyndon Johnson gives Martin Luther King a pen after signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Yesterday, on Wednesday, February 27, while President Obama and many other politicians honored civil rights icon Rosa Parks with a memorial statue in the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about dismantling the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Specifically under discussion was Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain states (mostly in the South) with a documented history of discriminating against minority voters get permission from the Federal government to make any changes to its voting procedures. This measure was initially supposed to only be in effect for five years, but has been extended multiple times and expanded to help guarantee the rights of non-English speaking voters as well.

Why is this law, so integral to the Civil Rights movement and ensuring the civil liberties of black Americans (and many other minorities), being challenged now? Though there are a number of technical arguments concerning the fact that the law was extended largely on data from 1975, the principal argument seems to be that times have changed. Lawyers from Shelby County, Alabama, who have brought this case to the Supreme Court, argue that discriminatory voting procedures are no longer being practiced, and the states under the jurisdiction of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act are being unfairly punished and slandered.

Shelby lawyers argue that the increasing number of prominent minority politicians, and of course, the first black president, Barack Obama, are signs that the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary. Statistics were read showing that the black voter turnout in Massachusetts (not covered under Section 5) is much lower than in Mississippi (covered under Section 5). While these facts are heartening, it’s hard not to notice that they don’t prove Section 5 is unnecessary as much as they prove that Section 5 is effective, and arguably, should be expanded. (Indeed, New York Times columnist Charles Blow argues that Section 5 should be expanded far beyond the states it currently covers, both to ensure to fair voting practices for every citizen and also to puncture the argument that Section 5 puts an unfair stigma on the covered states.)

Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence that voter suppression tactics continue today. As author David Aretha points out in his book Selma and the Voting Rights Act, the presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 both raised questions over whether there was an effort to disenfranchise voters (in Florida in 2000, and Ohio in 2004). There were numerous reports of voter suppression efforts during the 2012 election. And Shelby County, Alabama, the county bringing this case to the Supreme Court, had its own voting rights scandal in 2008 when the federal government demanded the state alter it’s district policies to ensure that minority voters were properly represented.

Still, many of the Supreme Court justices seemed amenable to arguments that the Voting Rights Act’s time had passed. One of the most heated moments of the hearing came when Justice Antonin Scalia remarked that the law’s continued usage was a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” This prompted Justice Sonia Sotomayor to later pointedly ask  “Do you think that the right to vote is a racial entitlement?”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Though a decision on this case likely won’t be made for some time, this case illustrates vividly that the fight for Civil Rights, fought so hard by Martin Luther King Jr. and millions of others, is far from over.

To learn more about the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle to pass the Voting Rights Act, check out Selma and the Voting Rights Act by David Aretha (ISBN# 978-1-59935-056-1) from your local library, or purchase it and other titles in the acclaimed Civil Rights Movement series from Morgan Reynolds Publishing. Or get Supreme Court Justices: Sonia Sotomayor by Sandra Shichtman (ISBN# 978-1-59935-156-8) to learn more about the Justice, and be sure to check out Morgan Reynolds Publishing’s Supreme Court Justices series to learn about many prominent figures in the High Court’s history.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

The Lasting Legacy of Slavery and Those Who Fought It

shacklesTonight (January 8th, 2013) brings the premiere of the new PBS American Experience miniseries, “The Abolitionists.” The historical series details the lives of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimké, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown, and their historic efforts to abolish slavery and the slave trade in the United States.

This mini-series is just one piece in what seems to be a newly renewed interest in a sad period of American history where it was legal to own slaves, and a war had to be fought to guarantee the freedom of an entire segment of the U.S. population. In movie theaters, two recent hits are Lincoln (about President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to pass the 13th Amendment which permanently outlawed slavery) and Django Unchained (about a former slave seeking vengeance). Number two on the New York Times best seller list of paperback nonfiction is Team of Rivals, the Lincoln biography that inspired the film Lincoln. Later this year will see the release of the independent film Twelve Years a Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Brad Pitt. The film is an adaptation of the famous memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup, a free born black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.

What is behind this renewed interest in the Slavery era and the Civil War? Why are people today suddenly so drawn towards looking back at this horrific period in American history? It’s hard to say. January 1, 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, but it’s certainly more than that. Perhaps in this time, in which we feel irrevocably divided as a country politically, there are lessons to be learned from a period where a moral argument led to a war between the states. Maybe as we continue into the second term of the United States’ first black president, we can look back at a time when people were bought, sold, tortured, and killed just for the color of their skin, and see how far we’ve come, and unfortunately how much further we have to go.

Today (January 8th) also marks the 202nd anniversary of the 1811 German Coast Uprising, the largest slave revolt in U.S. history. Though fifty years before the Civil War, this event showed the considerable discontent and anger amongst American slaves. The story of this uprising will be covered in an upcoming book from Morgan Reynolds Publishing detailing a number of North American slave rebellions. The book is being written by David Aretha who wrote a number of acclaimed titles from Morgan Reynolds Publishing’s Civil Rights Movement series. The book will be one of six in a series about slavery, from it’s beginnings in Africa to an examination of slave life and culture, set to be published in Fall 2013.

For more reading about this time period and the abolitionists who helped change the nation, check out The Liberator: The Story of William Lloyd Garrison (ISBN 978-1-59935-137-7 ) and Unbound and Unbroken: The Story of Frederick Douglass (ISBN 978-1-59935-136-0), both by Amos Esty, from your local library, or purchase them from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

– Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Justice For Alan Turing, 60 Years After His Death?

ImageAlan Turing was a brilliant scientist and mathematician; as a codebreaker, he was vital to England’s efforts against the Nazis during World War II, and as a research scientist, his work helped pave the way for computerized artificial intelligence that we take for granted today. But his great legacy is marred by a criminal conviction: in 1952, Turing was tried, and convicted, of indecency for engaging in homosexual acts.

Even though homosexuality remains a heated topic of debate today, it’s easy to forget that homosexuality and homosexual acts were punishable crimes very recently. (Indeed, in many countries, it remains illegal.) In England, homosexuality between men was essentially made illegal in 1885, when statutes against homosexual acts were included in a new set of laws passed under the Criminal Law Amendment Act. These laws remained in effect until 1967. It was during this time that Alan Turing lived.

Now, a group of prominent scientists are calling for British Prime Minister David Cameron to officially pardon Turing, some 58 years after his death. The scientists, who include Professor Stephen Hawking and Royal Society President Sir Paul Nurse, argue that is time Turing’s “reputation be unblemished.”

This is not the first time that efforts have been made to get an official pardon issued for Alan Turing. In February 2012, over 23,000 signatures were collected for an online petition calling for him to be pardoned, but the motion was rejected by the British government. Before that, though, in 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an official apology to Turing, calling his arrest and punishment (which included forced injection of estrogen and revocation of his government security clearance) “appalling.”

The British government has also issued numerous honors and reminders of Turing’s legacy, including a street named after him in the city of Manchester, and a commemorative stamp issued by the Royal Mail in 2012, the centenary of Turing’s birth. Turing has also been recognized and praised for his work by UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) for contributions to the fields of code breaking and computer science.

Still, these honors aren’t enough for the scientists demanding Turing’s pardon; they find it unacceptable that the legacy of such an important scientist and national hero is tarnished by a criminal conviction, especially since the crime he was convicted of is no longer illegal.

So far the government has not responded to this new request from the scientists. The previous call for a pardon was rejected on the basis that Turing’s conviction was legitimate and in keeping with the laws of the time, which Turing knowingly violated. As that response was just made in February 2012, it seems unlikely that the government will respond differently less than a year later.

Others questions the value of pardoning Turing. In an editorial in UK newspaper The Telegraph, writer Tom Chivers argues that a pardon of Turing would serve little purpose. Chivers agrees that Turing’s conviction and punishment were appalling and wrong, but feels that a pardon issued now will be of no use to the long dead Turing, and will only serve to be a positive publicity stunt for David Cameron and the British government. Chivers argues that it would be much more meaningful for the government to issue a pardon to all people unfairly charged with the crime of indecency. “Don’t pardon Turing because he was a hero and a genius,” Chivers writes. “Pardon him, and everyone else, because there should never have been a crime in the first place.”

Regardless of whether or not Turing is issued a pardon, the controversy does have the positive effect of bringing publicity and attention to Turing, one of the 20th century’s most important scientific thinkers, who was integral in shaping the world as it is today. Indeed, this debate shows just how relevant Turing continues to be, and how his influence continues to be shape the future.

UPDATE (July 22, 2013)- Turing will be pardoned by the British government.

 

– Josh Barrer,

Associate Editor

To learn more about Alan Turing, his interesting life, and his contributions to science and mathematics, check out Profiles in Mathematics: Alan Turing by Jim Corrigan (ISBN 978-1-59935-064-6) from your local library, or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

Published in: on January 2, 2013 at 1:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Myth of the Twinkie Defense

Harvey Milk, left, and George Moscone

Harvey Milk, left, and George Moscone

The recent bankruptcy of Hostess, makers of Wonder Break and the famous dessert cake Twinkies, means the end of two famous brands. Since the news was announced thousands of people have crowded stores in search of Twinkies, intent on storing up the sugary snacks. The end of Twinkies also brings to mind a tragic and famous moment in U.S. history, one that underscores how sometimes the myth is more influential than the facts.

 On November 27, 1978, former San Francisco city supervisor Dan White climbed through a window of city hall and walked to the office of Mayor George Moscone and fatally shot him two times. Then he reloaded his handgun and walked down the hall to the office of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay San Francisco supervisor, and shot him to death. White was quickly taken into custody.

 At his trial White’s defense team argued that White had been depressed at the time of the shootings. A psychiatrist called on by the defense to testify pointed to several changes in White’s usually impeccable appearance and habits as evidence of his clinical depression. One of the changes in behavior mentioned, almost in passing, was that the once health conscious White had begun eating large amounts of sugary snacks. He offered these changes and several others as evidence of White’s “reduced capacity,” which the defense argued was a mitigating circumstance that meant he was not guilty of first-degree murder but of a lesser offense.

 After several days of deliberations the jury found White guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder. Immediately there were protests and the violence of what came to be called the “White Night Riots.”

 The so-called “Twinkie Defense” became an instant sensation. However, the psychiatrist or defense attorney had never mentioned Twinkies. Precisely who first used the phrase “Twinkie Defense” is not clear. Some say it was a local satirist, while others say it was local newspaper columnist Herb Caen. Regardless of who first penned the phrase the words were never uttered in the courtroom. But that hasn’t stopped the “Twinkie Defense” from becoming an infamous example of how outrageous arguments have been used to free obviously guilty defendants.

 Harvey Milk’s life as a trailblazer for the rights of gay Americans is not overshadowed by his violent death or the myths that have sprung up around Dan White’s trial. Today he is remembered as one of the principal figures in the Gay Rights Movement. To learn more about his life and contributions to the progress of civil rights check out Morgan Reynolds’ biography of Milk, No Compromise: The Story of Harvey Milk by David Aretha (9781599351292 )

John Riley

Publisher

Published in: on December 6, 2012 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Cesar Chavez, who led a movement to improve the living and working conditions of thousands of migrant farmworkers in the United States, will have his California home, which he affectionately called La Paz, or “The Peace,” added to the National Register of Historic Places this week. President Obama will establish the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene, California, during a campaign swing through the state. “Chavez gave a voice to poor and disenfranchised workers everywhere,” the president said in a statement.

Chavez died on April 23, 1993. Jeff C. Young, author of Cesar Chavez, in the Morgan Reynolds series American Workers, writes that a year after his death President Bill Clinton honored Chavez with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our country’s highest civilian honor. Clinton said of Chavez, “The farmworkers who labored in the fields and yearned for respect and self-sufficiency pinned their hopes on this remarkable man, who, with faith and discipline, with soft-spoken humility and amazing inner strength, led a very courageous life. And in so doing, brought dignity to the lives of so many others, and provided for us inspiration for the rest of our nation’s history.”

 Chavez organized nonviolent boycotts against California’s powerful grape growers in the 1960s and 1970s, leading to new legislation for farmworkers nationwide. “He showed people that, if you work hard and never give up, you can make a difference,” said Chavez’s son Paul, the founder of the Chavez Foundation. “Fight the tough fight,” he added, “because you believe you can make a difference.”

 This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Chavez’s founding of the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the UFW. His home served as as national headquarters of the UFW, and Chavez is buried there. His gravesite will be part of the monument. By establishing the site at La Paz, short for Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, or Our Lady Queen of Peace, President Obama said, “Chavez’ legacy will be preserved and shared to inspire generations to come.”

The National Chavez Center in Keene, California

 Sharon F. Doorasamy

Managing Editor

 To read more about Chavez and his achivements, check out Cesar Chavez by Jeff C. Young in the Morgan Reynolds series American Workers (ISBN: 978-1-59935-036-3).

Published in: on October 8, 2012 at 10:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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