January 15, 2014, “Trouble the Water” Film Screening & Symposium
By Emily Nyren, Intern Alumni and Volunteer
On January 15, 2014, SPOHP hosted renowned documentary filmmaker Tia Lessin for a film screening and symposium related to her award-winning film, “Trouble the Water.” In the afternoon, the UF Center for Women’s Studies held a symposium discussion, and SPOHP held a screening of the documentary that evening. In the film, Kimberly Rivers Roberts and her husband Scott document the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina with their own original footage, as well as their struggle to recover in the following months.
Panel Event: Tia Lessin with Prof. Sharon Austin, Prof. Barbara Mennel, Prof. Churchill Roberts, and Prof. Judith Page in Ustler Hall
Panelists included the following UF faculty: Professor Sharon Wright Austin, Director of the African American Studies program and professor of political science, Professor and film scholar Barbara Mennel from the English Department, and Professor Churchill Roberts of the College of Journalism. Professor Judith W. Page, the Director of UF’s Center for Women’s Studies, moderated the panel. During the discussion, Dr. Austin described New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina. Before the storm: the city had the highest rate of childhood poverty and was the murder capital of the United States.
Background: Hurricane Katrina
Despite knowing this, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and other members of New Orleans local government did not provide public transportation for those without vehicles or the money needed to evacuate. The Ninth Ward, the neighborhood where the film’s heroes emerge, is the poorest section of New Orleans and subsequently, the recipient of the least amount of aid.In the film, Kimberly Rivers makes note of the lack of transportation and says, “If I had wheels I’d be gone too. I’m not leaving because I can’t afford it.” According to Dr. Austin, New Orleans’s political problems can be explained by the lack of a cohesive political regime. Because the mayor did not have a good relationship with other city leaders, political infighting occurred, causing miscommunication and lack of effective action.
As discussed during the panel by Barbara Mennel, “Trouble the Water” exposes the blatant contrast between on-the-ground footage like Kimberly’s and the biased media coverage. According to Mennel, the film documents the socioeconomic inequality faced by residents of the Ninth Ward while also displaying the forms of resistance used to expose the political power structure of the local and federal government. Kimberly’s neighbors looked to her for community and strength in a neighborhood that was already accustomed to waiting for help and change. At the end of the symposium, Lessin describes her purpose for traveling to Louisiana ten days after the storm. Wanting to know why the aid was so late, Lessin traveled to Alexandria, LA to film the return of Louisiana National Guardsmen from Baghdad. While there, Kimberly found Lessin’s camera crew and the two struck up a partnership that led to the creation of the film.
Screening Presentation: “Trouble the Water” with Tia Lessin in Pugh Hall
Justin Hosbey, a graduate coordinator for SPOHP’s African American History Project and a third year doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology at UF, introduced Lessin to the audience. Hosbey’s doctoral research focuses on post-Katrina New Orleans and the social consequences of the privatization of public schools and prisons. Many members of the audience showed agreement for Hosbey’s claim that calling Katrina a “natural disaster” is a misnomer because the human response to the hurricane is more responsible for the disastrous effects. Hosbey’s claim is proven after watching the film because it takes you through the many steps taken by Kimberly, Scott and their new friend Brian as they attempt to carve out a new life without help from anyone in power.
One of the most shocking aspects of the film was the blatant lack of response by the federal government and FEMA to the crisis. After the storm, President George W. Bush claimed that the U.S. could simultaneously defend the country via the War on Terror while also aiding victims of Hurricane Katrina. Evident in the film was the lack of help from the National Guard as it took days for them to arrive from far-away states like Oregon. 6,000 of Louisiana’s National Guard, including their high-water vehicles, were serving in Baghdad during Hurricane Katrina. This information caused vocal disbelief from the audience during the film. If the federal government had not sent the vast majority of Louisiana’s Guardsmen overseas, the citizens of New Orleans would have undoubtedly received more expedient help in the immediate hours after the storm instead of enduring 100 hours without food or water.
During the Q/A, Lessin explained the formatting of the film. Lessin wanted to mirror the way that PTSD occurs by continuously returning to the location of the disaster. Her method inspired deep empathy from the audience as well as outrage that so little help was provided for vulnerable groups, including the poor, elderly, and hospitalized.
“Trouble the Water” illustrates the concern of New Orleans’ economic and political leaders for increasing tourism rather than rebuilding neighborhoods and communities that still need aid, almost ten years later. While certainly not the first or last time that a local and federal government has acted with the interests of the powerful and wealthy in mind, the situation of Katrina is particularly upsetting. At the end of the film, one and a half years after the storm, Kimberly says, “Here in New Orleans its like they’re preparing people for prison.”
The response to Hurricane Katrina, as depicted in “Trouble the Water,” is both an instructional how-to for governments that wish to perpetuate inequality for its citizens as well as an inspiring story of perseverance and mutual-aid for those like Kimberly and Scott who did not give up.
“Keep Your Trash” 1971 Documentary on Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike Newly Released for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebrations on UF Digital Collections
Gainesville, FL—Award-winning PBS documentarian Churchill Roberts was a doctoral student at the University of Iowa in 1971 when he produced the first documentary film recounting events of the historic 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers strike and assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Four decades after its original release, “Keep Your Trash” is now newly digitized and available on the UF Digital Collections through the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program and George A. Smathers Libraries.
Roberts became personally involved with the strike when he began working with a group called Memphis Search for Meaning Committee as a young graduate student, collecting footage and interviews about the strike shortly after Dr. King’s death.
Thinking back over four decades after the making of “Keep Your Trash,” Professor Roberts recalls:
“The events in Memphis changed my life completely. Before attending Iowa, I had taught communication for a year in a vocational program funded by the Manpower Development Training Act, an act of Congress to help people at the bottom of the economic ladder, particularly minorities, develop job skills. Teaching in the vocational program made me realize how unfair society had been to the less privileged. Dr. King’s assassination brought a sense of urgency to the problem.
At Iowa, I took a course on race relations and focused my early research on the portrayal of minorities on television. Later, I had an opportunity to make several PBS documentaries about unsung heroes of the civil rights era.”
To commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Roberts released a copy of “Keep Your Trash” to the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program for educational use, and the film is now available to the public through the generous support of George A. Smathers Libraries.
From October 9-13, the Oral History Association hosted its 47th annual conference in Oklahoma City, OK. The conference featured presentations from researchers from around the world, including members of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Dr. Paul Ortiz, Joanna Joseph, and Graduate Coordinators Jessica Taylor, Justin Dunnavant, and Ryan Morini.
The Oral History conference gave me great insight into the breadth of research being conducted within oral history. Panelists flew in from all over the world representing communities from as far afield as Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and Argentina. I had the opportunity to meet with scholars studying similar themes of displacement and dispossession and track similarities between the civil rights struggles of African Americans and the Maori of New Zealand. Unknowingly we even crammed into an elevator with the renowned oral historian Alessandro Portelli.
My presentation entitled, “Veterans of SNCC: The Painful Memories of the War for Equality” contextualized Freedom Summer in the framework of warfare and presented a need for Civil Rights veterans to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Such a designation would allow them to acquire veteran’s benefits and the accolades associated with heroism in military service. My powerpoint presentation was interspersed with audio clips from interviews conducted with veterans of Freedom Summer.
In addition to our individual presentations, SPOHP members collectively accepted the Stetson Kennedy Vox Populi (“Voice of the People”) Award on behalf of the program. In sharing our work, audience members asked how we find the strength to continue when confronted with stories of immense hopelessness and grief. Pondering the question for the first time, I came to the realization that it’s often the most depressing stories that give you the motivation to carry on.
The highlight of the conference resonated in the keynote address. Dovie Thomason left the audience with some deep reflections on ethics and the significance of oral histories. She reminded us of the seriousness of retaining oral histories, stressing that the best storyteller must be a great listener, first and foremost. My only regret is that I was able to attend the conference earlier. I look forward to participating in the 48th annual conference, “Oral History in Motion: Movements, Transformations, and the Power of Story” in Madison, Wisconsin next year.
While I’ve attended and presented at conferences before, I’ve never done so as part of a team of students. The experience can be isolating as a lone undergraduate and graduate; it’s difficult to network when the distance between yourself and a group of senior scholars remains at the forefront of your mind. However, as part of a delegation representing not only my university but an award-winning program, I felt that together we collected conversations and experiences over the course of the conference that made our own conversations about oral history stronger.
During our off-time, I don’t think that any two of us attended the same panel: we were each other’s eyes in every room. I’m excited to share what I learned about lyrics as oral history in the New Deal workshop with Dr. Frisch in my own and others’ survey classes, and Justin talked to us about some weaknesses in a panel he attended that helped us strengthen our own presentations the night before. We also met with other grad students who presented on post-World War II Germany in a panel we could not attend, but still shared their ideas with us at a chance meeting in the lobby. The grad student network at the OHA was open and supportive, but I suspect that it is undergirded by equally supportive and reassuring advisors and advocates established in the field.
UF students gave as good as they got at the OHAs, and that alone bolsters camaraderie. Working late at night to perfect presentations and anticipate post-panel discussion questions paid off the day of our presentation. Joanna and I helped Justin narrow down his clip times, and I spent dinner talking over heritage and anthropology with Ryan the night before. Together, we knew to complement one another’s presentations with our respective opinions and perspectives on our time in Mississippi while keeping the individuality of our experiences in the field. The results reflected both our Mississippi and Oklahoma experiences. The audience felt at ease to laugh and inquire with us, and our circle of friends tied to Mississippi got larger.
The ASALH Annual Meeting is an occasion to explore the history and culture of Africans and people of African descent. The convention brings together more than one thousand people–academics, community builders, educators, business professionals and others–who share an abiding interest in our annual theme. For nearly a century, scholarly sessions, professional workshops, and public presentations have served to analyze and illuminate the contributions of people of African descent to the world.
With more than 175 panels featuring our members who are prominent figures in Black cultural studies, as well as scholars and students from all disciplines, the ASALH Conference presents an optimal opportunity for leading academicians to present research and current projects, and to learn about leading projects in the field of African American History.
With standing room only, Ryan Morini presented on oral history methodology. He described the history of AAHP and shared clips of interviews with former Lincoln High School students and educators to highlight the emergent themes of the Black High School Alumni Associations as well as the politics of memory and nostalgia. Justin Dunnavant presented on the significance of educator activists in Florida Civil Rights. Using the life of Harry and Harriette Moore, he explored the role activist educators played in desegregating Gainesville and gathering resources for black schools.
Concluding the panel, Civil Rights Attorney John Due led us into “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round.” He then continued reflecting upon a life of activism of his wife, Patricia Stephens Due. In connecting the struggle to today, Due forewarned young activists not to blindly repeat the activist strategies of the 1950s and 60s but to learn from them and chart a new way forward. He shared his pride in the work of the Dream Defenders.
Before the panel, Justin sat down with John Due for an interview about the history of his activist work in Florida, focusing on social justice and civil rights. Mr. Due was also interviewed in Gainesville in 2011. The interview is available online at the University of Florida Digital Collections.
On October 5, 2013, SPOHP Director Dr. Paul Ortiz gave the following plenary address at the annual Association for the Study of the African American Life and History conference in Jacksonville, Florida. Dr. Ortiz moderated the SPOHP panel, “Teach Them How to Sing: Harry T. Moore and Patricia Due, Florida’s Activist Educators,” featuring presentations from Attorney John Due and AAHP graduate coordinators Ryan Morini and Justin Dunnavant.
Welcome to the Sunshine State. A place where we are—to borrow from Brother Walter Mosley—always outnumbered, always outgunned.
This is the perfect time to think about and to debate the meaning(s) of Emancipation. This is the perfect place to think about the meaning of freedom. Because, brothers and sisters: in Florida, every year is the year of the Ballot or the Bullet.
Florida is not only the new Mississippi of America, we are worse than Mississippi. The Republican shutdown of our government is designed to play primarily to a base of fanatics in Florida. Florida is a state of 20 million people where the Tea Party is youthful, pro-gun, anti-woman, pro-development, anti-environment, pro-guest worker & anti-immigrant, pro-privatization, anti-teacher, pro-prisons, anti-black.
If Emancipation means the right to breathe clean air and drink clean water than Florida falls short. In the 20th century we were a leader in environmental racism. Jacksonville is crawling with Superfund and toxic dumping sites, nearly all of which are located in black-majority neighborhoods. This is the abbreviated story of one of the Superfund Sites. It was called “Brown’s Dump” and the city dumped burned waste on a 50 acre site near 33rd and Pearce into the 1950s. The groundwater was contaminated by arsenic, lead, and mercury. Guess what school was built there in 1955, and guess which children were poisoned by the toxic waste for half a century? All you need to know is the name of the school: Mary McCleod Bethune Elementary School.
Today, Florida is a state where 8 year old children are locked in prison with adults. For a full century, governors conservative, reactionary and supposedly liberal administered a concentration camp for juveniles called Dozier Industrial, located just a few hours down the road from here. This was a place where middle-school age children were beaten, raped, murdered. As we speak, unmarked graves are being exhumed from this monstrous monument to Jim Crow that was only closed in 2011. In the first years of the 20th century, this state already recorded the highest juvenile incarceration rate in America.
In Florida, the 13th Amendment was viewed by state officials and employers in the 20th century as a provisional document at best. In the 1890s, a Florida prison camp captain gave Florida a name that reflected its growing national reputation. J.C. Powell dubbed Florida, “The American Siberia.” Wisconsin was known for its colleges. Florida was known for its convict labor camps. Decades later, Stetson Kennedy was one of many investigative journalists who found the state’s turpentine farms, phosphate mines, and truck farms teeming with slavery & he testified before the United Nations in 1952 that hundreds of thousands of workers toiled in forced labor situations throughout the South.
When James Weldon Johnson penned the great song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Sunshine State boasted the highest per capita lynching rate in the United States. Sydney Catts, the eventual winner of the 1916 Florida gubernatorial campaign bragged that he had quote “killed a negro” as part of his platform which also included virulent anti-Catholicism. No wonder James Weldon Johnson wrote: “Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod
felt in the days when hope unborn had died…”
In the next decade, anti-black massacres and mass murders raged across the state fueled by the great Land Boom. When African Americans tried to register to vote in 1920, the Ku Klux Klan reorganized. In 1920, the Ocoee Massacre was followed by the Perry Civil War of 1922, was followed by the Rosewood Massacre. In 1926, Alice Dunbar Nelson shocked the nation with her editorial on Florida’s Marion County Radio Lynching. Nick Williams was accused of speaking impudently to a white female shopkeeper. Williams was abducted by local citizens and Alice Dunbar Nelson described the lynching:
Quote: “The affair is staged near a broadcasting station, Northern visitors are called out of their beds to see the horror, and to taste well of the sweetness of a murdered man’s cries. The microphone records and transmits the victims dying moans, and the Floridians far and near who are unable to be among those present tune in on Station S-A-V-A-G-E and have their cup of cruelty filled to its poisoned brim. Shots come with startling distinctness over the aerials of the listeners in, and head phones and loud speakers give out alike the yells and curses of the superior Nordics who need five hundred to kill one.”
No wonder James Weldon Johnson wrote: “We have come, over a way that which tears has been watered. We have come, treading out path through the blood of the slaughtered.
Florida’s leading daily newspaper, the Florida Times-Union published so many editorials upholding the concepts of segregation, voter suppression, and cheap labor that it would take many volumes to hold them all. Please note that this newspaper has never apologized for the decades of crimes it endorsed in the name of white supremacy. Typical of such columns was an editorial published in 1904 titled “The Color Line that Belts the Earth.” The editors of the Times-Union intoned that: “In the South, the negro in politics is not tolerated—in other sections he must obediently follow. There are lynchings so nearly everywhere that the rule is established, but the South does not forbid the black man to earn a living as do our neighbors. If the negro be wise he will respect the limits set for him as does the elephant and the tiger and the other who accept rules and make no pretense to reason…”
“No pretense to reason!” If this state has been a leading site of oppression its African American communities have also birthed many of the nation’s greatest freedom fighters: Mrs. Bethune, Howard Thurman, A. Phillip Randolph, Harry & Harriette Moore, Zora Neale Hurston, Patricia Stephens Due, John Due, Stetson Kennedy and so many more. If the Sunshine State defined oppression in the United States its people, Black, Latino & radical whites have fought to redeem the meanings of Emancipation.
Florida is the place of that marvelous egalitarian Jose Marti, the unvanquished Seminole Nation, the Conch Republic, Fort Mose & the largest slave rebellion in American history. In the 1880s Key West was revered as quote the “Freest Town in the South” ruled by the Black & Afro-Cuban Knights of Labor. Four decades later, even as trade unionism was being crushed in Ybor City’s tobacco mills, Cuban immigrant labor activist Gerardo Cederorina y Piñera observed in the depth of the Great Depression that quote “In the present system, so inappropriate, man finds himself worse-off than the beasts; but a day will arrive in which justice shall be done, and I trust this will not long be delayed.” The former lector’s testimony in the closing paragraph of Stetson Kennedy’s Palmetto Country (1942) ends with a mixture of sadness as well as a note of possibility.
Today, community organizers in Florida are carrying these struggles forward and giving us new ways to define Emancipation. Just when we thought we had reached rock bottom in the wake of the brutal murder of Trayvon Martin, the Dream Defenders came to the fore. This remarkable group of young people is solid in their understanding of history and social movement building. They waged a full month sit-in in Tallahassee in the Governor’s mansion, and they are on the front lines today of direct action organizing. Latino Dream Activists have joined with their allies in the Dream Defenders to protest the murder of Trayvon Martin and to demand that the state of Florida repeal the Stand Your Ground Law & that the state end modern day slavery in Florida agriculture. These youthful community organizers are making a dent in this state’s wall of injustice by combining education with social action. They draw on the wisdom of elders such as Congressman John Lewis, Harry Belafonte & John Due even as they chart out new pathways of justice.
Where do we go from here? While the Dream Defenders are trying to register 60,000 new voters in Florida, The Sunshine State is moving to organize a new voter purge. Nationally, we are at a point of both crisis as well as the opportunity to build something remarkable. In the election of 2012, 75% of Latinos who cast their ballots in the presidential election, cast them in support of President Barack Obama. Is it any wonder that state legislatures across the land are now targeting the voting rights of Latinos? The supervisor of elections of Polk County, Florida stated that on the eve of the 2012 Presidential Election, the state was trying to force her to purge Latino voters. “It was sloppy, it was slapdash and it was inaccurate,” Polk County Supervisor Lori Edwards stated. “They were sending us names of people to remove because they were born in Puerto Rico. It was disgusting.”
In Conclusion then, we need to understand that the problems we face today are systemic, national and international. Pope Francis understands this; internationally, the Catholic Church is headed towards a new Vatican 2 because its leader—as well as many cardinals in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin American now know that the crisis of global capitalism is not going away anytime soon. It is only in the United States, where Catholic leadership is lagging behind the times and refusing to stare reality in the face and say: our current economic system does not work.
I will defer my remaining time to A. Phillip Randolph, a native of Florida and his speech at the March on Washington in 1963. Brother Randolph lays out in fine detail a central part of our problem today: American society continues to place the rights of property over human rights….
For one thing, we must destroy the notion that Mrs. Murphy’s property rights include the right to humiliate me because of the color of my skin. The sanctity of private property takes second place to the sanctity of the human personality.
It falls to the Negro to reassert this proper priority of values because our ancestors were transformed from human personalities into private property. It falls to us to demand new forms of social planning, to create full employment, and to put automation at the service of human needs, not at the service of profits — for we are the first victims of unemployment. Negroes are in the forefront of today’s movement for social and racial justice because we know we cannot expect the realization of our aspirations through the same old anti-democratic social institutions and philosophies that have all along frustrated our aspirations.
Unfortunately, the oppressive dynamic that Randolph exposed in 1963 has not changed in one measure. What has changed now is that African Americans cannot be the only group in Florida and in the larger society to struggle against the grotesque injustices found in states like Florida. We all must join in this newest epoch of struggle. Thank you.
On January 24, 2013, Dr. Carlos Muñoz, Professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California at Berkeley and SPOHP Advisory Board member, gave the following speech at Kent State University. Dr. Muñoz was the keynote speaker at Kent State’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration, themed “Empowering the Individual, Strengthening the Community.”
Dr. Muñoz is a member of SPOHP’s new Advisory Board for 2013-2014.
“Dr. King’s Legacy During the Age of Obama: A Call for an Authentic Multiracial Democracy”
I am dedicating my lecture to the memory of the four Kent State students who were killed by the National Guard on May 4,1970, when they were protesting our nation’s invasion of Cambodia that expanded the war in Vietnam. Their names were Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Knox Schroeder, & Sandra Scheuer. May they rest in peace. Another 9 students were wounded. They also deserve to be mentioned: Joseph Lewis Jr., John R. Cleary, Thomas Mark Grace, Dean R. Kahler (paralyzed for life from his wound), Douglas Alan Wrentmore, Alan Michael Canfora, James Dennis Russell, Robert Follis, and Donald Scott MacKenzie.
Dr. King inspired people from all walks of life to tap into their own inner spirit and courage and to commit their lives to the struggles for racial equality, social justice, human rights, and peace. His ideas and vision remain meaningful today. What he taught us by word and deed back in the 1960s remains the cornerstone for the struggles of today and the ones we must engage in tomorrow. He argued that there cannot be individual freedom unless there is freedom for all the oppressed. He underscored for us that each individual citizen must share the responsibility for the welfare of the community at large. We should be good American citizens, but most importantly, we must be good citizens of the World. He set the example that we as individual citizens have the responsibility to speak truth to power.
Dr. King inspired me to contribute to the making of the Mexican American civil rights movement throughout the Southwest. It became known as the Chicano movement. The movement was ignited by non-violent protest by Mexican American students against racism in the largely segregated high schools of Los Angeles, California. Over 10,000 students walked out of the schools in 1968 during the first week of March, and brought the nation’s largest school system to a standstill. It was the first time Mexican Americans had marched en masse against racial and ethnic inequality in the history of the United States.
Several weeks after the 1968 student strike. I was one of thirteen Mexican American civil rights activists who were indicted and imprisoned for “conspiracy to disrupt the educational system of the city of Los Angeles”. We each faced 66 years in prison for the felony “crime” of conspiring to organize non-violent protest. In 1970, the California State Appellate Court ruled we were innocent by virtue of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I thank God for that amendment and the civil liberties we enjoy every day. If it were not for that amendment, which as you know, grants us freedom of speech, I would be in prison today instead of being with you.
When I was doing the research for my book on the Chicano Movement, I discovered that those of us who organized the student walkouts had been targets of the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program, known as COINTELPRO. The COINTELPRO included police and military intelligence agencies that conducted political surveillance of activists identified as the key leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and other social movements during the 1960s. Activists were arrested on trumped up charges, undercover agent provocateurs and informants were placed in movement organizations, and character assassination stories about activists were leaked to newspapers throughout the nation. Dr. King was also a target of the COINTELPRO.
The Chicano Movement adopted Dr. King’s philosophy of Non Violence and echoed his ideas for racial equality and justice. Our movement connected us directly to the historic common ground of struggle against racial and ethnic injustice that Mexican Americans have shared with African Americans. The difference is that whereas their ancestors were brought to the United States as slaves, our ancestors became a colonized people within the new boundaries of an expanding American Empire. It was a consequence of the war between Mexico and the United States that ended in 1848 with Mexico losing half of its territory. The northern part of Mexico became what is now known as the Southwestern United States.
From 1848 until the early 20th century, Mexicans were also lynched and could not vote unless they paid a poll tax they could not afford. Mexican children could not attend white schools. They were placed in dejure segregated “Mexican Schools”. Mexicans were not allowed in public places like swimming pools and restaurants. Signs reading “No Mexicans Allowed” were common throughout the Southwest during the time those that read “No Colored” and “No dogs” were common in the South.
As was the case with African Americans, Mexicans were considered a racially inferior people. During the 1920s and 30s, when the U.S. Congress engaged in debates over Mexican immigration, white politicians and academics gave testimony that categorized Mexicans as a menace to the dominant culture. The debate pitted those concerned with keeping America “racially pure” and protecting white workers from foreign competition, against those who argued that Mexican cheap labor was essential to capitalism.
Those representing right wing conservatives argued that Mexicans were a threat to the cultural and social fabric of American society. They defined Mexicans as the most “insidious mixture of white, Indian, and Negro blood strains ever produced”. Others argued that Mexicans “were eugenically as low powered as the Negro…. of low mentality, inherently criminal, and therefore a degenerate race that would afflict American society with an embarrassing race problem”.
These racist attitudes and beliefs about Mexicans and other Latinos continue to permeate our society at large. Today you can see that clearly in the state of Arizona, Georgia, and other states that have passed laws or are proposing laws that criminalize Latino undocumented immigrants.
During the same time Congressional hearings were taking place during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, Mexican Americans engaged in court battles against the segregation of their children into “Mexican Schools”. The most important court case took place in 1946 and was named “Mendez vs. Westminster. It ended segregation of Mexican American children in California. The Mendez case paved the way for the historic “Brown v. Board of Education” nearly a decade later in 1954. Indeed, Thurgood Marshall, at the time a young attorney, was a co-author of the NAACP’s Amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the Méndez case.
The Mendez and Brown historic cases got rid of segregation in the public schools but they did not open the doors to equal opportunity in the dominant political, social, and economic institutions. It took the Black, Chicano, Asian, and Native American civil rights movements of the 1960s that were inspired by Dr. King, to open those doors for people of color as a whole.
If Dr. King were alive today, no doubt he would have celebrated President Obama’s initial election in 2008. But Dr. King would have reminded us that a black president alone would not be able to overnight make the changes he promised. He would have reminded us that Obama is not a messiah with the power to change the reality of racial and ethnic inequality. Dr. King would have been correct because inequality in our society remains alive and well today, as a matter of fact conditions for people of color are worse today than they have ever been. Dr. King would have been critical of President Obama’s because no significant efforts have been made by his Administration and the Congress to change that reality. He would have been as disappointed, as I am, that President Obama continues to focus on the issues of the middle class and has ignored the poor. He bailed out Wall Street during his first term, but the gap between rich and poor has become wider than ever in the history of our nation. When Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, 12% of Americans lived in poverty. Today it is 15.1% and the Census Bureau expects it to rise to rise to 15.7%. In real numbers that adds up to over 46 million people living in poverty.
POVERTY BREAKDOWN BY RACE/ETHNICITY (DATA FROM U.S. CENSUS BUREAU)
25% Native American (28.4% on reservations)
More Women in poverty than Men:
19% of our nation’s children live in poverty = 14 million – the data make clear that children of color are over represented in ranks of poor.
34% of black children,
31% of Latino children
31% Native American
11% White Children
61% of black and Latino children live in families that struggle to make ends meet. More than 35.8 million Americans used food stamps in 2012. Half of them were children.
WHITES 7.4. %
EDUCATIONAL INEQUALITY HAS ALSO CONTINUED TO BE A REALITY UNDER THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION.
The 1954 Brown v. the Board of Education and the 1946 Mendez v. Westminster that ended dejure segregation and opened the doors into white schools for black and Latino children. But today they continue to be victimized by defacto segregation in the poor and working class inner city school districts throughout the nation. Latinos are now the most segregated student population in the nation and they also have the highest drop out rate, or more accurately, the “Push Out Rate”.
In higher education, affirmative action programs that were products of Dr. King’s civil rights movement and the Chicano Movement have been either terminated or watered down as a result of conservative mostly white opposition. The consequence is that Black and Latino student enrollments have drastically declined in public colleges and universities across the nation. For example, Black students at my campus are now largely invisible, except on the football and basketball teams. And Latinos, who are now the majority people of color population in my state, have also declined and remain under-represented in institutions of higher education.
The following 2010 U.S. Census numbers tells us the consequence:
B.A. Degrees = Whites 18.5%, Black 11.6%, and Latino 8.9%
Graduate/Professional Degrees = Whites 10.8%, Blacks 6.1%, and Latino 4.1%
(In terms of women, 30 percent of white women had a college degree or higher, compared to 21.4 percent of black women and a mere 14.9 percent of Latinas.)
Those who have led the struggle against Affirmative Action have been victorious because they have effectively co-opted Dr. King’s ideas and vision for a colorblind society. They have falsely redefined Affirmative Action as a “racist in reverse” policy discriminatory to White students. It is ironic that Ward Connerly, a conservative African American and a product of affirmative action, who served as a regent of the University of California, has been a prominent leader in the struggle against affirmative action throughout the nation.
This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech that he made at the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C.. The most quoted words from that speech are as follows:
“I have a dream that my four 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”.
Those who are against affirmative action, use that quote to include white children. But they ignore the fact that in that speech, Dr. King was making specific references to black racial inequality. Dr. king was well aware that white supremacy had created an institutionalized system of white privilege that has existed since it was instituted when our Republic was founded. He argued that laws or policies that allowed preferences to black people were legitimate because they didn’t disenfranchise other powerless groups of people. They instead contributed toward an equal playing field between people of color and the white majority.
If he were alive today he would argue that affirmative action remains critically important today because African Americans and Latinos remain underrepresented in institutions of higher education and other dominant social and political institutions. In contrast, they are over represented in the prisons.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 40% of all prisoners are African Americans and 26.6% are Latinos.
But if we add up the Latino undocumented immigrants in prison, that includes children, the Latino prison population percentage also adds up to 40%. That is not the type of affirmative action that Dr. King had in mind.
Today, we are once again confronted by critical and challenging times. As a matter of fact, I think we are currently living in the worst of times. A black President has not made a difference in making the times better. Dr. King would remind us that conditions will get better sooner than later if we build a mass movement for social justice and peace. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was able to get congressional support for his proposed legislation in the interest of the poor and working class only because a strong and vibrant mass labor movement demanded it. Social Security and the right to organize unions were two examples. President Lyndon B. Johnson received congressional support for civil rights legislation because there was a strong and vibrant mass civil rights movement that demanded it. We must build a powerful new movement that will hold President Obama accountable to make the changes he has promised and demand that he save the poor and working class like he saved Wall Street and the Corporations during his first term.
Dr. King courageously spoke truth to power to both liberals and conservatives. His words and criticism of political leaders who remain part of the problem instead of the solution, and of those who remain passive during the critical and challenging times our nation faced during the 1960s, still ring true today. He would be the first to hold President Obama accountable if he continues to ignore the poor and continues to pursue a foreign policy of intervention and war throughout the world.
In his 1967 speech entitled “A time to Break Silence” he spoke out against the War in Vietnam because the war was “the enemy of the poor”. As a Vietnam War Era Veteran, that speech was especially meaningful to me. In that speech, Dr. King vividly saw the connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle against poverty and racial inequality at home. He spoke out against the Vietnam War because it not only drained funds away from meeting the human needs of the poor at home, but also sent black men to ostensibly fight and die for democracy abroad when it did not exist in Georgia or East Harlem at the time.
As was the case in Vietnam, poor and working class Black and Latino soldiers have died on the battlefields of the Middle East and elsewhere while their families back home continue to struggle to survive against the conditions created by poverty and racial and class inequality.
Many of us have already broken the silence against the wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. But we need to remind those who have not, that Dr. King would also have wanted us to act and not be intimated by those who tell us it is unpatriotic to openly criticize our government and the President, regardless of race, during a time of war. Or that speaking out against war means that we don’t support our soldiers. To the contrary, those of us who favor the immediate withdrawal of our troops, demand it precisely because we do support them and we want them home safe and out of harms way.
We have lost enough of our young men and women of all races and ethnicities. As of today, 4,488 of them in Iraq and 2,575 in Afghanistan have died. (Department of Defense Data) We don’t want to lose anymore. We must also speak out against the killing of any more innocent people in those countries. Over a million of them have died in Iraq and in Afghanistan. We should not allow any more to die. We must also let President Obama and the Congress know that we won’t tolerate a war against Iran and Syria. We must also let it be known that we oppose the “dirty wars” that are ongoing today in Yemen, Pakistan, and Mali. And that we oppose Obama’s support of the African war lords in Somalia and Uganda that are killing and raping their own people. And that we also oppose continued U.S. military and other assistance to Israel because of its army’s massacre of over a thousand innocent people in Gaza in 2008-2009 and it’s continued military occupation of Palestine. Finally, that we demand that all the 736 U.S. military based around the world be closed.
We must have the same courage Dr. King had during the Vietnam War and demand that the over three trillion dollars being spent on war and military assistance must be diverted to fight poverty at home. In the process, it would a better way to resolve the economic crisis confronting our nation today. We must demand that as Obama and the Congress have supported the bail out of the corporate, banking, and financial institutions responsible for that crisis, that they must now bail out the poor and the working underclass during the next 4 years of the second Obama Presidency.
On the home front, we must demand that Obama’s Administration immediately cease its war against Latino undocumented immigrants. If Dr. King would be alive today, no doubt he would be speaking out in defense of the poor undocumented Latino immigrants who are forced to work as the cheapest labor force in the nation. They are the most vulnerable to economic and social injustice. They are treated like criminals although they are innocent victims of what I call a government terrorist war led by the ICE, the enforcement immigration agency of the Department of Homeland Security. ICE military style raids take place at the workplace and at the homes of undocumented worker’s families. Obama has gone down in history as the President who has deported the most number of people, over 450, 000 during his first term. He has also maintained a militarized border between Mexico and the U.S. and most recently has approved the use of drones as he has done elsewhere in the world. We must demand that President Obama and the Congress produce a comprehensive immigration policy based on the human rights of undocumented workers and their families.
Prior to his assassination in 1968, Dr. King called for the nation to dedicate itself to a nonviolent War on Poverty. He had decided to build a multiracial coalition of all poor people, inclusive of white, black, indigenous, Latino, and Asian. As part of the building process, he had started organizing a Poor People’s march on Washington. Dr. King believed the time had come to transform civil rights struggles into a mass movement for human rights because War and Poverty negatively impacts all the American poor regardless of race and ethnicity.
If we want to truly honor Dr. King’s legacy, we must build Poor People’s coalitions, inclusive of the immigrant poor, both documented and undocumented, throughout our nation. And hopefully, those coalitions can lead toward the organizing of another march on Washington to demand that the Obama Presidency and the Congress declare a war on poverty. Not a temporary one like the one declared by President Lyndon Johnson, but a permanent one that would last until poverty is eliminated!
Dr. King did not hesitate to speak truth to power no matter the consequences. We must do the same today. We must use his legacy as the inspiration for us to be active citizens beyond the time for elections.
We do not have the luxury to leave it up to President Obama to keep hope alive. Based on his poor record in his first term, we cannot assume he will keep his campaign promises the second time around.
The time has come for us to become active citizens in our communities, in our workplace, and elsewhere. We must become community organizers and continue to carry the torch for hope and fundamental, not symbolic change. In the final analysis, as my dear old friend and comrade, the late June Jordan put it, “we are the ones we have been waiting for.”
Dr. King’s ideas remain vibrant to those of us committed to social justice, human rights, and peace. The words he wrote and spoke on the issues of his time remain meaningful for us today. We must put them into practice and keep his revolutionary spirit alive and struggle to build an authentic Multiracial Democracy committed to social justice and peace at home and abroad.
Dr. King inspired me to have my own dream for an Authentic Multiracial Democracy. I would like to share my dream with you today.
I have a dream that Americans of all colors, ethnicities, cultures, religions, sexual preferences, the able and disabled, men and women, will give birth to an authentic Multiracial Democracy.
A Democracy that will promote and nurture racial and ethnic diversity and equality beyond symbolic tokenism.
A Democracy that will promote social, economic, and environmental justice, religious tolerance, and peace at home and abroad.
A Democracy with a government that will include a representative of every diverse group at the table of political power on behalf of the people, not the military- corporate- prison complex.
A Democracy with a national political multiparty electoral system where candidates for elective office include the poor and working class, not just those who are rich or middle class. With an electoral system where every vote will in fact be counted and not influenced by corporate lobbyists.
A Democracy where human needs are prioritized and not the needs of the rich and the corporations. And makes possible a government bureaucracy that assures the safety of our citizens, especially the poor, when natural disasters take place. No more Katrina’s!
A Democracy that honors all workers, those who are citizens and those who are not, the documented and the undocumented.
A Democracy that defines health care, housing, childcare, and education as Human Rights.
A Democracy that prioritizes youth as the most important investment for the future of our nation and builds more schools instead of prisons.
A Democracy that wages war against poverty and not sovereign nations that do not represent a direct threat to our security.
A Democracy that does not support dictatorships throughout the world.
A Democracy that will be based on love and compassion and not hate and greed.
In conclusion, I pass on to you the main lesson that I have learned during my years as a fighter for freedom and peace. And that lesson is that struggle is life and life is struggle. But most importantly, that victory is in the struggle!
–Dr. Carlos Muñoz, January 2013, Kent State University
The ASALH Annual Meeting is an occasion to explore the history and culture of Africans and people of African descent. Our convention brings together more than one thousand people–academics, community builders, educators, business professionals and others–who share an abiding interest in our annual theme. For nearly a century, our scholarly sessions, professional workshops, and public presentations have served to analyze and illuminate the contributions of people of African descent to the world.
ASALH members and friends from across the nation and the world come together extensively to explore the 2013 Black History Theme: “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington.”
With more than 175 panels featuring our members who are prominent figures in Black cultural studies, as well as scholars and students from all disciplines, the ASALH Conference presents an optimal opportunity for leading academicians to present research and current projects, and to learn about leading projects in the field of African American History. A full schedule of speakers and events is available online.
Dr. Paul Ortiz, SPOHP Director, will be a featured speaker on the Saturday, October 5 panel: “Making Emancipation: From a Black Reconstruction to a Black President.” Justin Dunnavant, Ryan Mornini, Marna Weston and Diedre Houchen of SPOHP’s Alachua County African American History Project, will be presenting their research at the conference.
“Teach Them How To Sing”: Harry T. Moore and Patricia Due , Florida’s Activist Educators
While many are well aware of the actions of civil rights activists in Alabama and Mississippi during the 1950s and 60s, much less information is available on the Civil Rights Movement in Florida. The state witnessed the first jail-in, the first NAACP official killed in the civil rights struggle, and a bus boycott that shut-down city transit in Tallahassee.
In order to provide a glimpse into some of the actions undertaken by civil rights veterans in Florida, this panel will focus on the lives of historic figures Patricia Stephens Due and Harry T. Moore. In addition to the lives of these individuals, we will also explore more theoretical themes associated with oral histories as well as educational pedagogy and activism. The use and analysis of oral histories serves as the common methodological thread that runs throughout all of our panel presentations.
Dr. Paul Ortiz will moderate the panel and Mr. John Due will serve as our discussant, providing valuable insight into the Civil Rights Movement in Florida from the perspective of a Civil Rights attorney, activist, and husband of the late Patricia Stephens Due.
A Closed Circuit: African American Educational Pedagogy, Structure and Community Organizing in Florida’s Jim Crow Diedre Houchen
This presentation examines the regional African American education tradition in North Central Florida during the latter Jim Crow era (1930-1950s). Building on research by Siddle-Walker, Coates, and others, (Coates, 2010; Patterson, Mickelson, Petersen, & Gross, 2008; Siddle-Walker, 1996, 2000; Siddle Walker, 2012), this investigation centers on the oral histories of students, teachers, principals and community members from several counties in North Central Florida which demonstrate “highly valued” African American segregated schooling . The purpose of such an investigation is twofold. First, to expand our understand of these school communities and the citizens and leaders that they produced, and second, to consider the ways that this exemplar system might influence pedagogy, practice, and structure in contemporary American schooling contexts, especially in light of our current needs for diverse, region specific, culturally centered practice.
Institutional Transformations and Community Metaphors: Methodological Approaches to Studying Historic Black High Schools Ryan Morini
This presentation discusses the use of oral history methodologies to study the community dynamics of the north Florida African American high schools that existed under segregated conditions. Black high schools were usually “downgraded” to middle schools during integration, but their central positions in north Florida communities seem only to have grown. Today, the alumni associations of many black high schools in north Florida are powerful community organizations. Very little of the history of these schools is documented, and it is an accordingly open research question as to why they continue to not simply endure, but thrive, attempting to incorporate younger generations who never attended the high schools in question. The attempt to record historical narratives and experiential recollections in this context has encouraged our research team to look for more nuanced approaches than the more traditional study of a bounded historical period.
Harry T. Moore and the Tradition of Black “Educator Activists” Justin Dunnavant
Harry T. Moore has been described as the “first NAACP official killed in the civil rights struggle.” On Christmas Day of 1951, Mr. Moore and his wife, Harriette Moore, were assassinated in their home of Titusville, FL when a bomb exploded underneath their bedroom. As a prominent educator and activist, news of his death reverberated throughout the country, although the murder would go unsolved for more than half a century. Using the life and legacy of Mr. Harry T. Moore, this paper will draw heavily from oral histories and archives of the University of Florida to better understand the long tradition of “educator activists” in Florida. Furthermore this paper will highlight the various ways in which African Americans in Florida have remembered Harry T. Moore in more recent times.
“The Struggle Continues”: Patricia Stephens Due, CORE and the Tallahassee Civil Rights Movement Marna Weston
In solidarity with the February 1, 1960 Greensboro North Carolina Lunch Counter protests, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Tallahassee, Florida planned two sit-in actions against segregated downtown variety store lunch counters to take place within the month. The first sit in on Saturday, February 13 took place without incident. A second similar attempt on February 20 led to eleven immediate arrests. During Stephens’ forty-nine day stay in the Leon County Jail (March18 to May 5, 1960); she exchanged correspondence smuggled out of the Leon County Jail by local ministers. A particularly striking public letter establishes the earliest known student refusal to pay a fine, and remain in jail as a civil disobedience tactic against Jim Crow segregated lunch counters. Through her “Letter from Leon County Jail”, Stephens describes the originality and impact of FAMU CORE and previews herself, sister Priscilla and future husband, John Due’s beginnings as meaningful and determined advocates challenging Jim Crow, gender inequality, discriminatory labor and wage practices, substandard education, ignorance and hunger. For the next half century, Patricia Stephens Due put into practice what she preached with courage, grace, and dignity. This paper will draw from personal time spent with Mrs. Due and other members of Tallahassee CORE from December 2003 to the present. Individual historic reflections on the nature of courage as exhibited in the leadership of Tallahassee CORE shall be further delineated by comparing narrative texts distinguishing 1960 CORE actions to the public in both African American and majority white newspaper articles from 1960. Finally, a radio cast by Florida Governor Leroy Collins in March 1960 addressing the Tallahassee CORE direct action will reveal what state officials said of CORE and its leaders.
[left]Dr. Paul Ortiz (Chair)
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
248 Pugh Hall
PO Box 11215
Gainesville, FL 32611
Justin Dunnavant (Participant) Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
248 Pugh Hall
PO Box 11215
Gainesville, FL 32611
Marna Weston (Participant) Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
248 Pugh Hall
PO Box 11215
Gainesville, FL 32611
Ryan Morini (Participant) Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
248 Pugh Hall
PO Box 11215
Gainesville, FL 32611
Diedre Houchen (Participant) Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
248 Pugh Hall
PO Box 11215
Gainesville, FL 32611
John Due (Discussant)
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
248 Pugh Hall
PO Box 11215
Gainesville, FL 32611
Broadly defining Pan-Africanism as a political and cultural movement as well as an ideology, this course will trace the intellectual genealogy of Pan-African thought into the 20th century. Geographically, we will focus heavily on Pan-Africanism in the United States, England, Africa, and the Caribbean and briefly touch on Pan-Africanism in Latin America and Asia. In addition to the concept of Pan-Africanism, we will explore the related themes of Black Nationalism, Ethiopianism, and Negritude. Lectures will be supplemented with documentary films, recorded speeches, and other multimedia sources.
Susie Mae White, a retired Alachua County educator, author, businesswoman and dedicated church mother, died March 30, 2013 of natural causes at Woodland Care Center in southwest Gainesville.
Mrs. White was born in Madison County Florida to the late Rev. John A. Williams and Lucy Crawford Williams. Her education began at Rochelle Elementary, and graduated from Lincoln High School Class of 1935. She furthered her education at the following University’s: Florida Memorial College – Class of 1943 and 1948, University of Maryland – Class of 1953, Michigan State College in 1955, and Michigan State University in 1960. Mrs. White is a retired Alachua County Elementary School Teacher.
She also served in the capacity as Guidance Counselor, Social Service Specialist, and School Psychologist. Affiliations include: NE Eagle Eyes Organizer, Pleasant Street Historical Association, MPAC, Ministers Wives and Widows, Founder of Mother Dear’s Child Care Center, Founder of Friendship Day Care, FL Memorial University Alumni, Church Women United, FL Retired Education Association, AAUW, FL Association of School Psychologist. She was the recipient of various civic, social fraternal and religious awards, citations and honors. She was married to the late Rev. D.E. White and served her church in various capacities: Sunday School Teacher and Superintend ant, Bible School Teacher, State Director of Education for Leadership with the Florida General Baptist Division.
Community Oral History Workshop: Lawtey, FL (July 20,2011)
The Philadelphia Missionary Baptist Church of Lawtey invited SPOHP to conduct an oral history workshop, meet and interview community members who marched in St. Augustine during The Movement. Marna Weston lead a workshop with a live interview and post interview discussion.
Community Oral History Workshop: Starke, FL (July 12, 2011)
Jacqueline Totura & the Women’s Club of Starke invited SPOHP to discuss oral history collection and its relevance at the Bradford County Public Library. Marna Weston lectured on previous oral history interview experiences, scheduled future interviews, and fielded audience questions. The event was videotaped by the Women’s Club.
Community Oral History Workshop: High Springs, FL (June 30, 2011)
Reverend Byran Williams and the congregation of Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church in High Springs Florida again invited SPOHP to an evening of community reflections on the local impact of the Civil Rights Movement. Marna Weston conducted a second live oral history interview and entertained questions from the audience.