Anna May Wong

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[A black and white photograph of Anna May Wong looking glamorous as all hell circa 1935. Her gaze is focused somewhere behind her and to her right, creating the illusion of ignoring the camera and her onlookers. This photograph is in the public domain, and was found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anna_May_Wong_-_portrait.jpg ]

Today’s post is dedicated to the talented and absolutely fabulous actress known as Anna May Wong. Born Wong Liu Tsong (Yellow Frosted Willow) in Los Angeles early in 1905 to Chinese-American parents who ran a laundry, Wong went on to become one of the only Asian-American actresses of the early to mid-twentieth century in American cinema (Hodges, 1). Beginning her career at a young age, first in silent film and moving into talkies, she worked in the film industry as a renowned actress until her untimely death in 1961.

Her films ranged from 1922’s The Toll of the Sea, 1929’s Piccadilly, 1931’s Daughter of the Dragon, and 1943’s anti-Japanese propaganda film Bombs Over Burma, with her being cast in different “ethnic” roles ranging from Inuit to Mongolian throughout her career. As scholar Anthony B. Chan notes in Perpetually Cool: The Many Lives of Anna May Wong (1905-1961), Wong’s varied roles were “designed to reveal an exotic, stern, and mysterious Asian being rather than a matter-of-fact person who relished the art of repartee. Her films served to create an aura of aloofness that seemed to encourage a sexual encounter but at the same time pushed aside the possibility of touching and intimacy” (Chan, 193).

Wong was constantly cast as the “ultimate cinematic tease” in Hollywood films (Chan, 193), as a stereotypical “Dragon Lady” in her early years, leading her to leave for Europe in search of more fulfilling roles that did not rely on her playing a supporting “exotic” character. By leaving the United States film industry for the industries flourishing in Europe, she was able to escape being constantly typecast as an exotic supporting role, which came out of a combination of anti-miscegenation laws that disallowed her from having on-screen romances with anyone who was not Asian and from Euro-American actresses constantly being cast in yellow-faced leading Asian roles. Eventually, she was signed on to Paramount in the 1930s and returned to the United States after starring in several European films of varying success. As her fame grew in the United States during the 1930s, she began to advocate on behalf of the Chinese-American community and new Chinese refugees during a time of extreme anti-Asian racism and hostility in the United States that had begun with the California Gold Rush in the mid-nineteenth century and continued on throughout the next century.

Wong’s career spanned a breadth of roles, from stereotypical and offensive to witty and empowering, that constantly subverted Euro-American expectations of (East) Asian-American women. She was an “icon to the people of Chinese North America” who wrote tongue-in-cheek signatures on publicity photos destined for Euro-Americans, such as “Orientally yours” (Chan, xii;  Hodges, xvii). Anna May Wong’s life leads us to interrogate the ways that rebellion and subversion often co-exist with what, at times, appear to be the upholding of oppressive norms. Furthermore, Wong’s “exoticized” beauty forces us to grapple with the ways in which beauty is often weaponized against particular gendered and racialized historical subjects, leading to a forced simplification of an individual’s complexity and humanity. Wong’s sexualized appeal as a racialized subject of White fetishes regarding East Asian women is an essential aspect in understanding the complicated history of media portrayals of Asian women that reverberate into the present day.

We here at the HHBlog have the utmost respect for trail-blazing women like Anna May Wong and hope that in detailing a little bit of her life in all of its intricacies, we have inspired you to think critically about the way women living at the intersections of fetishized and sexualized racism resist, rebel, and survive.

~ M

Bibliography

Chan, Anthony B. Perpetually Cool: The Many Lives of Anna May Wong (1905-1961). Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2007.

Hodges, Graham Russell Gao. Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012.

Tiana (Thi Thanh Nga). “THE LONG MARCH: From Wong to Woo: Asians in Hollywood.” Cinéaste 21, no. 4 (1995): 38-40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41687420.

Anna May Wong

Lucy Hicks Anderson

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[A photograph of Lucy Hicks Anderson looking fantastic, year unknown]

Lucy Hicks Anderson was a Black trans woman born in Waddy, Kentucky in 1886. She, like many of the people featured on this blog, does not appear in high school history textbooks, or even in most university textbooks either. Instead, her story comes to us through the work of people outside of the academy who work tirelessly to ensure that the histories of their own marginalized communities continue to be remembered and (re)told.

At a very young age, Lucy began wearing dresses and other items of clothing gendered as “women’s clothing” or “feminine clothing.” According to blogger and activist Monica Roberts (aka the TransGriot), an African-American trans woman, “[s]ince the transgender definition hadn’t been coined at that time to diagnose what was going on in [Lucy’s life], her mother took her to a physician who advised her to raise young Lucy as a girl” (Roberts, 2011). Lucy left high school at age fifteen and began working as a domestic worker, eventually leaving Kentucky for Texas. After working for a decade in a hotel, she met her first husband Clarence Hicks, whom she was married to from 1920 until their divorce in 1929.

After her first marriage, Lucy went on to own and operate a brothel, and eventually met her second husband Reuben Anderson. They married in 1944, but unfortunately it was this second marriage that caused her to encounter various legal problems. When it was discovered by a District Attorney that Lucy was not born “biologically female,” she was prosecuted for perjury based on there being no legal objections to the marriage, with the transantagonistic implication that her being a trans woman “should” have caused there to be a legal objection.

Lucy, in response to this obvious pile of hateful garbage, told reporters that she “def[ied] any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman. I have lived, dressed, acted just what I am, a woman.” After this initial set of legal problems, Lucy and her husband were convicted of fraud in 1946, as she had received allotment cheques from the American military as the wife of a U.S. soldier i.e., as the wife of Reuben Anderson. Unfortunately, Lucy and Reuben were tried and found guilty, with both being sent to prison. Once Lucy was released from prison, she went on to live in Los Angeles (because she was barred from returning to her previous home by the police commissioner) until her death in 1954.

Today’s post is dedicated to all of the QTPOC who lost their lives in the targeted hate crime shooting that took place in Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016. Lucy’s story is emblematic of the ways in which trans and gender non-conforming people have been legally and extra-legally persecuted in the United States, and of how despite this, they continue to resist, thrive, and survive.

~ M

Bibliography

Black Past [Kevin Leonard]. “Anderson, Lucy Hicks [Tobias Lawson] (1886-1954).” http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/anderson-lucy-hicks-1886-1954. Accessed June 25, 2016.

Roberts, Monica. “Black Trans History: Lucy Hicks Anderson.” The TransGriot. http://transgriot.blogspot.ca/2011/08/black-trans-history-lucy-hicks-anderson.html. August 2011. Accessed June 24, 2016.

 

Lucy Hicks Anderson

Joan Nestle

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[A wonderful photograph of Joan Nestle, found on her website http://www.joannestle.com/]

Born in May 1940, Joan Nestle is a Jewish working class lesbian icon of the twentieth century. Nestle grew up in the Bronx, New York City, with her mother Regina working as a seamstress in the Garment District to support her family.

Nestle, in her seventy-five years, has been an activist, a writer, an historian, an archivist. She is a self-described “queer, pre-Stonewall fem [sic]” for whom “sex and politics are inseparable,” each informing “the other; passions spilling over into social visions; social visions carried on every entry” (Nestle, xii). Nestle actively defended femme-butch relationships and gender identities at a time when there was no space or tolerance to do so in mainstream America. She fought on behalf of  and alongside Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, stood up for her community of working class lesbians, and was actively pro-sex during the sex wars of the 1980s.

Nestle even took on history itself, writing of how history is “a place where the body carries its own story” (Nestle, xv). She wrote herself and her communities into American history through her writing and teaching, claiming erotic writing as “a documentary [as much] as any biographical display,” a “people’s most private historic territory” (Nestle, xvi). Her writing did not, however, go without controversy, leading to her books being banned at various times and places during the sex wars and afterwards. Alongside her writing, she helped found and curate the United States’s oldest and largest lesbian archival collection, the Lesbian Herstory Archives (which were housed in her New York City apartment for decades).

Nestle is most definitely worthy of the title of Historical Hottie. We here at the Blog tip our proverbial hats to her beautiful spirit.

~ M

Bibliography

Nestle, Joan. A Restricted Country. San Francisco: Cleis Press Inc., 2003.

Joan Nestle

Dr. Hilde L. Mosse

Today’s Historical Hottie comes to us from Kaitlin, an MA History student who studies histories of immigration and ethnicity; class; and gender in 20th-century Canada. Here at Historical Hotties Blog, we want to make sure that there are more than just our two voices deciding on who we will feature each week. So look forward to more guest posts, and for now, enjoy what Kaitlin has wonderfully written up on Dr. Hilde L. Mosse:

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[Photo of Hilde L. Mosse, source http://www.rodagroup.com/hilde.html]

On Wednesday nights throughout the 1950s, you could find Hilde Mosse at 215 West 133rd Street, Harlem, New York. She served as head psyciatrist at the Lafargue Clinic, the first mental health clinic to offer accessible psychiatric services to the neighborhood. Harlem intellectuals Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright and émigré psychologist Frederic Wertham founded the clinic with a team of volunteers and community members to meet the psychiatric needs of the community. Mosse was one of many intellectuals, doctors, clergy, and artists who worked to establish a progressive model of mental health care as an “integral part of the struggle for racial equality in the United States in the early post-World War II-era.”* A refugee from Nazi Germany, who honed her commitment to social justice through close involvement with the sex reform movements of the Weimar Republic, Mosse volunteered her time at the clinic each week until its closure in 1959.

In writing a post on Hilde Mosse, I am turning some attention to one of the many European émigrés who fled persecution based on their heritage, profession, or political beliefs. I admire Mosse for her commitment to social justice in the face of adversity. Her activism recognized the interlocking relationships among institutional racism, structural violence, and medical practices. Mosse is hot for her courage to adapt and pursue her political convictions throughout her personal and professional life.

Born into a privileged Berlin family in 1913, Mosse fled from Europe to America in 1938. In the isolation of exile, she worked tirelessly to help her family, friends, and peers escape Nazi persecution. The courage and resilience of those touched by this history is outstanding. Though Mosse is not particularly unique amongst the countless stories of escape and survival in these years, she is unusual for her success in pursuing her commitments to the “social and political ideals she had gained from volunteer work in a Berlin working-class district and the left-wing anti-fascist struggle.”** Though many historians argue that the spirit of Weimar Reform died with the rise of National Socialism in Germany, Mosse’s investment in the Lafargue Clinic is one case where it carried on in exile.

In the aftermath of World War II, Black Americans were outspoken of the irony of fighting white supremacy abroad while living in an apartheid America. Harlem residents who had recently migrated from the South faced segregated housing and forced slum conditions in their new Northern homes; conditions which adversely affected their mental health. Harlem intellectuals and community members looked to psychiatry as a tool to alleviate the psychological brutality of living in an unequal society. This reality was recognized by the clinic’s blend of psychological traditions with pragmatic solutions to best meet their clients’ needs. It was a collaborative project between experts and residents in a quest for racial justice.

After the clinic’s closure in 1949, Mosse went on to work in the field of child psychology. She maintained close ties with the director, Frederic Wertham, and helped him prepare evidence of the harms of segregated schooling. Recently, Mosse’s niece remembered,

 

“One of Hilde’s proudest moments was when a special letter was received by the Lafargue Clinic from the head of the NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund, Thurgood Marshall, future Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. The letter thanked Lafargue for their assistance with the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education.” ***

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[Photo of Hilde L. Mosse with client, source http://www.rodagroup.com/hilde.html]

 

Mosse’s privileged upbringing helped her throughout her life. It allowed her the best schooling and medical training, skills that carried over and helped her in America. Her English language skills, for example, helped her secure a teaching job upon first arrival. Though overqualified for the position, it was an opportunity that eluded many émigré health professionals. Despite this privilege, she faced the destruction of her life in Germany and met the challenges of rebuilding in a foreign country. Throughout these hardships, she maintained her political convictions and belief that society should be made more just through social actions. Mosse was one of the volunteers who made the Lafargue Clinic possible; recognizing her as a historical hottie is a reiteration of the importance of the communities and collaborations in enacting—through collective effort and perseverance—social change.

* Gabriel N. Mendes, Under the Strain of Color: Harlem’s Lafargue Clinic and the Promise of an Antiracist Psychiatry (Cornell University Press: 2015), 4.

** George L. Mosse, Confronting History: A Memoir (Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000): 77.

*** Honoring My Aunt, Dr. Hilde L. Mosse. The Roda Group. Accessed June 02, 2016. http://www.rodagroup.com/hilde.html.

 

Bibliography

Ash, M. G. “Women émigré psychologists and Psycho-analysts in the United States.” In Sibylle Quack’s, Between sorrow and strength: women refugees of the Nazi period. Washington, D.C.: German Historical Institute, 1995.

Grossmann, Anita. Reforming sex: the German movement for birth control and abortion reform, 1920-1950. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Honoring My Aunt, Dr. Hilde L. Mosse. The Roda Group. Accessed June 02, 2016. http://www.rodagroup.com/hilde.html.

Mendes, Gabriel N. Under the Strain of Color: Harlem’s Lafargue Clinic and the Promise of an Antiracist Psychiatry. Cornell University Press, 2015.

Mosse, George L. Confronting History: A Memoir. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000.

Stewart, Catherine A. “Crazy for this Democracy”: Postwar Psychoanalysis, African American Blues Narratives, and the Lafargue Clinic.” American Quarterly 65, no.2 (2013): 371 – 395.

 

 

Dr. Hilde L. Mosse

Yuri Kochiyama

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[A beautiful photo of Yuri Kochiyama in later years, found on the fantastic blog http://blog.angryasianman.com/2014/06/legendary-activist-yuri-kochiyama-dies.html that everyone should check out. Photograph by AnRong Xu, http://www.anrongxu.com/]

As I’m sure many of you have seen, Google recently dedicated the “Google Doodle” to Yuri Kochiyama in commemoration of what would have been her ninety-fifth birthday. This decision has been met with praise, spurring the writing + reposting of countless articles and blog posts on her life, and with an unfortunate amount of scorn from those who disagreed with her radical politics. We here at the Historical Hotties Blog decided to take this opportunity to add one more post in celebration of her life, in defence of her beliefs + activism, and in praise of the types of solidarity she engaged in with Black communities as a non-Black person of colour (NBPoC).

Kochiyama was born ninety-five years ago to two Issei* in California. During the Second World War, herself and her family along with 120,000 other people of Japanese descent were forcibly uprooted and imprisoned in concentration camps. It was during her time spent in a camp in Arkansas that she began to see the similar ways in which people of colour, in this case Black Americans and people of Japanese descent, were treated by the American government and broader American society. It was also during this time that Kochiyama met her husband, a Nisei* American soldier named Bill Kochiyama.

Although initially involved in more mainstream Civil Rights activism, Kochiyama went on to become involved in the Black nationalist struggle, Puerto Rican independence, and various other interrelated causes. In 1960, Yuri and Bill moved to Harlem with their six children. By this point, Yuri Kochiyama was already in her mid-40s – definitely not the type of person that is commonly imagined as the “politicized young activist” that many associate with the 1960s. In 1963, Kochiyama met Malcolm X and developed a close friendship with him, involving her in the ongoing struggles of Black liberation and against American imperialism. Kochiyama went on to befriend and support the struggles of Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and many other radical activists of colour and working class activists across the United States. Due to her political beliefs, Kochiyama was under constant surveillance by the American government, which she was aware of and was conscious to “not bring heat on certain activists in the black liberation movement” (Kochiyama, 1972). By being aware of how her surveillance was affecting Black activists, Kochiyama exemplifies ways in which NBPoC can work with, for, and (when appropriate) on behalf of Black activists without causing further harm to Black communities. Kochiyama’s activism, as an Asian American woman, was therefore never at the expense of Black Americans – an important point to make note of as the “model minority” myth associated with many (East) Asian Americans has been propagated as a form of anti-Black racism.**

Yuri Kochiyama was a controversial figure, to say the least. While many conservatives paint her as an unpatriotic communist and terrorist, I think she embodies what solidarity and active support can look like from a NBPoC with Black communities in the United States. Kochiyama was a self aware freedom fighter who understood the power behind anti-Black racism and how she needed to actively fight against it as a Japanese American woman. She was someone that built ties with people of colour around the world struggling against imperialism, oppression, capitalism, and suffering brought on by systems of power beyond her control. Kochiyama continues to inspire us to this day, and provides us with just one “jumping off point” from which to understand the ways in which we can build community and struggle with each other across different ethnic and racial divisions.

In the words of Yuri Kochiyama, “I didn’t wake up and decide to become an activist. But you couldn’t help notice the inequities, the injustices. It was all around you.” Thank you, Yuri, for fighting against the injustices that surrounded you and continue to exist today.

~ M

* Issei is a Japanese word that refers to people of Japanese descent who immigrated to other countries, such as the United States, Canada, Brazil, Peru, and beyond. Nisei refers to the second generation – the children of Issei – in Japanese diaspora communities.

** For more on the model minority myth and anti-Black racism, please check out this articlethis other article, and lastly this great article as an introduction to why the model minority myth is important to understand in relation to anti-Black racism in the United States.

Bibliography

Kochiyama, Yuri. “The Impact of Malcolm X on Asian-American Politics and Activism.” In Blacks, Latinos and Asians in Urban America: Status and Prospects for Politics and Activism, edited by James Jennings, 129-141. London: Praeger, 1994.

Ross, Janell. “Google commemorates a very controversial civil-rights figure, Yuri Kochiyama.” Washington Post. May 19, 2016. Accessed May 20, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/05/19/google-commemorates-a-very-controversial-civil-rights-figure-yuri-kochiyama/

Woo, Elaine. “Yuri Kochiyama dies at 93; civil rights activist, friend of Malcolm X.” Los Angeles Times. June 3, 2014. Accessed May 20, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-yuri-kochiyama-20140604-story.html

Yuri Kochiyama

Terri-Jean Bedford

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[A fantastic photograph of Terri-Jean Bedford with her iconic black riding crop, retrieved from her personal website www.http://terrijeanbedford.com/%5D

Terri-Jean Bedford is a name that many in Canada might recognize, and whom many might question as to whether or not she might count as an “historical hottie” or a contemporary one. We here at Historical Hotties hope to constantly push the boundaries of what constitutes “history” – and that includes forcing us to rethink the lines between past and present, historical and contemporary.

Bedford was born in October 1959, and has spent a large portion of her life working in the sex work industry, most notably as “Canada’s most famous” (in her words) dominatrix and as the former owner/operator of Madame de Sade’s House of Erotica in the Thornhill neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario. In 1994, fifteen police officers stormed Madame de Sade’s, arresting Bedford (along with several other women) while committing acts of police violence including “pushing and shoving the female dominants, demanding that the accused call them ‘master,’ asking for a demonstration of boot licking, […] ridiculing the sadomasochistic props and clothes” and strip-searching the employees of Madame de Sade’s (Khan, 168). The arrests led to charges of keeping a bawdy house for Bedford. As defined by the Criminal Code, a bawdy house is “a place that is (a) kept or occupied, or (b) resorted to by one or more persons for the purpose of prostitution or the practice of acts of indecency.” However, Bedford and the accused insisted that the legal definitions of prostitution in Canada did not apply, as Bedford specifically mandated that no vaginal or oral sex could take place on the premises (in order to adhere to the law!). During the several trials that resulted from the 1994 arrests made in relation to Madame de Sade’s, Bedford only made legal appearances with her black riding crop in tow, dressed in black leather (like the total boss dom she is).

Bedford has gone on to become prominent in sex work advocacy in Canada and,along with Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch, was involved as an applicant in the high profile case Canada (AG) v Bedford, [2013] 3 SCR 1101. In Canada (AG) v Bedford, Canada’s prostitution laws were struck down, with bawdy house provisions being deemed unconstitutional.

Bedford is known in Canada as a vocal advocate for the rights of sex workers, working tirelessly to ensure that sex workers are treated with dignity and respect both in the proverbial eyes of the law and amongst the general public. Terri-Jean Bedford challenges us to reevaluate how we define whether someone is an historical personage or a contemporary one, and whether or not this distinction even matters. Furthermore, her work and the way she has been treated by the law and broader Canadian society forces us as historians to confront how we deal with questions surrounding desire, sexuality, consent, and sex work that bleed from the past into the present day. Bedford is most definitely a Historical Hottie, and one that makes us especially aware of the role “hotness” plays in different historical contexts of desire and (supposedly) deviant sexualities.

~ M

Bibliography

Canada (AG) v Bedford, [2013] 3 SCR 1101.

Khan, Ummni. “‘Putting a Dominatrix in Her Place’ The Representation and Regulation of Female Dom/Male Sub Sexuality.” The Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 21 (2009):  143-177.

Terri-Jean Bedford

Marian Anderson

American Contralto Marian Anderson
11 Nov 1936, London, England, UK — Original caption: 11/11/1936-London, England- Miss. Marian Anderson, American negro contralto, is pictured a[s] she arrived at Victoria Station here to keep an engagement at famed Queen’s Hall. Miss Anderson was once told by the Great Toscannini, “A voice like yours is heard once in a hundred years.” — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS\

[A stunning photograph of Marian Anderson – that style and smile! – obtained from the excellent blog Vintage Black Glamour (vintageblackglamour.tumblr.com). Reproduced here with original citation and title as found on Vintage Black Glamour.*]

Today’s HH post is in tribute to the incredibly talented (and absolutely gorgeous!) Marian Anderson, a Black American contralto singer. Born in 1897, she became central to the fight against racial oppression suffered by Black artists in the United States during the twentieth century. In April 1939, Anderson performed an Easter Sunday concert at the Lincoln Memorial (Washington, DC) in response to her being banned by the Daughters of the American Revolution from performing to an integrated audience. She later went on to become the first Black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera, doing so in January 1955. While establishing herself as one of the most eminent classical musicians and singers in the United States of the twentieth century, she simultaneously fought for the rights of Black Americans by taking part in the Civil Rights Movement (including singing at the 1963 March on Washington).

[“Marian Anderson Sings at Lincoln Memorial.” Uploaded March 26, 2010 to YouTube.]

Anderson is just one of the many, many Black artists who utilized their craft to advocate for the rights of Black Americans across the United States during the Civil Rights Movement. She was not only astoundingly talented as a singer, but also a fierce freedom fighter for the duration of her life. Marian Anderson was a woman who used her voice to its fullest potential, to both bring us beauty through song and to embolden us to fight against oppression.

~ M

Bibliography

“11/11/1936-London, England- Miss. Marian Anderson, American negro contralto, is pictured a[s] she arrived at Victoria Station here to keep an engagement at famed Queen’s Hall. Miss Anderson was once told by the Great Toscannini, ‘A voice like yours is heard once in a hundred years.'” Gainer, Nichelle. Vintage Black Glamour: Marian Anderson. Post accessed April 8, 2016. http://vintageblackglamour.tumblr.com/post/44168728592/marian-anderson-the-elegant-and-groundbreaking

Keiler, Allan. Marian Anderson: A Singer’s Journey. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2002.

 

*Nichelle Gainer (Vintage Black Glamour) has published a wonderful book, Vintage Black Glamour, and a forthcoming book Vintage Black Glamour: Gentlemen’s Quarters, both of which can be purchased here: http://vintageblackglamourbook.com/. We encourage our readers to check out her amazing work.

 

Marian Anderson

Viola Liuzzo

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[A photograph of Viola Liuzzo as a young woman, retrieved from the Levi Watkins Learning Center Digital Library http://www.lib.alasu.edu/lwlcdigitallib/liuzzo/bio.html]

Viola Liuzzo, born in Pennsylvania in 1925, was a woman whose life was launched into the public eye with her unfortunate and tragic death. Living a relatively quiet life until a few weeks prior to her death, she was a part-time university student, homemaker, and mother to five children. Throughout early 1965 she participated in marches in support of the Civil Rights Movement while living in Detroit, Michigan. However, when she witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday on television and heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s pleas for “all Americans [to] bear the burden” in the “struggle… for the soul of the nation,” she left her student- and family-life and traveled to Selma, Alabama. Once in Selma, Liuzzo lent her car and ability to drive to the Movement, along with greeting newcomers in the Movement’s hospitality suite.

On the night of March 25, 1965 Viola Liuzzo was horrifically murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. While driving with Leroy Moton, a nineteen year old Black activist, en route to Montgomery, Alabama, four members of the Ku Klux Klan — one of whom was Gary Thomas Rowe Jr., the top FBI informant for the Alabama KKK for five years– fired shots into Liuzzo’s moving vehicle. Liuzzo died instantly, with Moton escaping with his life only by pretending to be dead. They were targeted because Liuzzo, a White woman, and Moton, a young Black man, were breaking Jim Crow social mores that dictated the lives of everyone in the South by riding alone in a car together.

The FBI began an investigation into Liuzzo’s death, but Gary Thomas Rowe Jr. had all charges dropped against him and instead was revealed to be an FBI informant, eventually being given a $10,000 reward by the FBI for “his services.” Within hours, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke publicly about Liuzzo’s tragic murder, her White womanhood playing a key role in the attention that was paid to her death. Despite her death serving as a catapult to change legislation regarding the deaths of Civil Rights activists in the United States, it also brought unwanted attention to Johnson’s Administration and the FBI, with questions circulating as to why Rowe was illegally involved with the KKK and had not stopped the attack against Liuzzo and Moton. In the words of historian Gary May, “[t]o divert attention away from his informant… Hoover [the Director of the FBI at the time] created a more alluring subject for media attention. He and his men worked quickly to transform Viola Liuzzo, mother of five and part-time college student, into a blond seductress who came south not to fight for civil rights but instead to sleep with black men… None of this was true, but Hoover’s files eventually wound up in Klan literature” with the “killers’ attorneys distribut[ing] the hate-filled pamphlets to reporters,” making “Liuzzo’s character a major issue when their clients came to trial” (146).

Liuzzo’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, ending with her untimely death at the hands of White terrorists, is demonstrative of how White womanhood was understood during the 1960s in relation to Black masculinity; to activism and its often deadly consequences; to Southern narratives of sexuality; and to the ways in which White Americans were awoken to the oppression Black Americans faced often only through the violence that televisions projected into living rooms across the United States. It is important for us as historians to tell the stories of women like Liuzzo, while simultaneously being cautious to not replicate the imbalanced attention that was paid to her death versus the deaths of countless Black American activists that often go unnamed in modern histories of struggle and oppression in the United States.

~ M

Bibliography

Federal Investigation Bureau. Accessed March 25, 2016. https://vault.fbi.gov/Viola%20Liuzzo.

May, Gary. Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.

Stanton, Mary. “Viola Liuzzo.” In Encyclopedia of Alabama. Last updated January 7, 2013. Accessed March 25, 2016. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1377.

Viola Liuzzo

Sylvia D. Hamilton

Sylvia Hamilton

[A photograph of Sylvia D. Hamilton, from her professional page as Assistant Professor and Rogers Chair in Communications at the University of King’s College, Halifax http://www.ukings.ca/sylvia-d-hamilton]

Who counts as an historical subject? Who is worthy of our attention when historians tease out the narratives we call “history” from the amorphous past? And, moreover, who is the “we,” the “our” that can be found – sometimes explicitly, other times just a looming threat – in historical writing? For today’s post – the last in our celebration of Black History Month – I want to highlight Sylvia D. Hamilton, a Black Canadian filmmaker, and writer who has helped to shift both who counts as an historical subject in Canada and who counts as the historian, the always present “our” in historical writing. Sylvia D. Hamilton is therefore both historian and historical subject, both the one crafting narratives and the one centred in various stories.

Instead of the usual post where myself or Spirit write a tribute to an historical (and in this case, living) person, or set of persons, I will in its place allow for Hamilton’s own words to tell you where she is from and why she does the work she does. The following is an excerpt from her fantastic 2012 article “When and Where I Enter: History, Film and Memory.” Let her words inform you, remind you, or perhaps even challenge you into thinking about how Blackness is an integral part of the Canadian national project, and about how the same issues of anti-Black racism that exist in the United States punctuate Canadian history (and the many Canadian presents), as well:

Since our earliest days in Canada as African-descended people, we have striven to find a compass: to locate ourselves in this vast land, to plot our position on the physical and mental map of Canada…

I am the grateful daughter of Marie Nita Waldron and Gerald Mac Hamilton, the granddaughter of Ida Grosse and Gilbert Hamilton and of Hattie Kellum and William Waldron, and the great granddaughter of Charlotte and Charles Grosse. William Waldron was a sailor and watchmaker who came to Halifax from the Barbados at the turn of the century and married Hattie Kellum. All are the reason I can stand before you today.

I have become a seeker, trying to plot some of the co-ordinates, not just for myself, but also for others. For me, as a filmmaker and a writer, history and memory combine to create a lens through which I view the present. These joint themes figure in much of my work that draws on oral story telling, archival and other found documents and objects, and on geography to tell stories about African Nova Scotians and African Canadians generally.

My work re-inserts and re-positions African-descended people in our landscapes by presenting stories and images of people being witnesses to their own lives. Their experiences and stories are the evidence of their realities. I think that a true understanding of our past and its meaning, one rooted in our bones, is vital to our future.

 

Thank you to Sylvia D. Hamilton, for telling your story.

~ M

P.S. I encourage everyone who has access, to read Sylvia D. Hamilton’s article cited here. And I especially encourage everyone to watch her fantastic and at times heartbreaking documentary The Little Black Schoolhouse (2007) which chronicles the experiences of Black Canadians who were subjected to school segregation in Nova Scotia.

Bibliography

Hamilton, Sylvia D. “When and Where I Enter: History, Film and Memory.” Acadiensis XLI, no. 2 (Summer/Autumn 2012): 3-16.

 

 

 

 

Sylvia D. Hamilton

Women’s Political Council (WPC)

This week’s post is dedicated to the heroic Montgomery, Alabama-based Women’s Political Council (WPC).The WPC was begun by Mary Fair Burks in the fall of 1946, after Burks spent much of her life protesting Jim Crow laws by refusing to abide by them throughout the city. According to historian Danielle L. McGuire, “[a]fter a run-in with a white police officer… Burks decided to broaden her attack and form an army of women dedicated to destroying white supremacy” (76). In Burks’s own words, she was a “feminist before [she] really knew what the word meant” and felt that she had to spread her lone-woman protest to a broader, community-based one as when she “looked around[, …] all [she] could see were either masks of indiferrence or scorn” (McGuire, 76).

At the first WPC meeting in 1946, forty Black women attended and all shared their stories of experiencing racialized and gendered violence at the hands of White police officers in Montgomery. Initially beginning with sharing their experiences with each other, the women of the WPC spread their activism to include voter registration. It was thanks to these amazing women and their partnerships with other Black organizations that the rates of voter registration increased during the 1950s in Montgomery, Alabama. During the 1950s, the WPC continued to grow in strength and became known as the “most militant and uncompromising voice” for Black Americans in the South.

Although the WPC’s accomplishments in regards to voter registration in the Black community were very important, it was their protest of their mistreatment on city buses that they gained the most attention for. It is thanks to the WPC that the famed Montgomery Bus Boycott took place in 1955. Even before this famous direct action took place, the WPC had been planning a bus boycott to demonstrate against their mistreatment on city buses. The December 1st, 1955 arrest of Rosa Parks finally gave the WPC the opportunity to put their plans into action.

The women of the WPC fought for the dignity and respect that Black women were denied in the mid-twentieth century. Their battles, from voter registration to bus segregation, demonstrate the intersecting systems of oppression that affected Black women. The WPC fought against patriarchy and White supremacy, illuminating the radical and vanguard role that Black women have played in the fight for Civil Rights in the United States. We here at the Historical Hotties Blog tip our proverbial hats to the amazing and inspiring women that often put their lives on the line in their fight(s) against injustice and state-sanctioned oppression.

~ M

Bibliography

McGuire, Danielle L. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance – a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. New York: Vintage Books, 2010.

Women’s Political Council (WPC)