Ella Josephine Baker

ella_baker_and_sncc_2

[A photograph of an impassioned Ella Baker, date and photographer unknown. Retrieved from http://ellabakercenter.org/about/who-was-ella-baker]

I had planned to write the first HHBlog post of 2017 on a different day, one removed from Inauguration Day and all of the trauma and violence going on today with this incoming American administration. But that would have felt false to me on multiple levels. The violence of this election season and of this inauguration are not housed within the confines of particular calendar dates or in the bodies of particular human beings, no matter how vile we may feel they are. This violence is systemic. It is a foundational part of the very institutions upon which the United States – as a settler colonial, capitalist, white supremacist, and patriarchal state – is built upon. So today – January 20th, the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States Mr. Donald Trump – marks our first HHBlog post of the year to both remind us that this is an interconnected struggle that has been going on long before our lifetimes, and to celebrate those who have been en la lucha in the generations before us.

Today’s inaugural post of 2017 is therefore dedicated to the one and only Ella Josephine Baker, a radical Black woman who helped lead the fight for Civil Rights in the twentieth century United States. Born in December 1903 in Virginia, she was an organizer and activist for the majority of her life, working primarily in less public roles than some of the more prominent men of the Civil Rights Movement, although she was no less important! While working alongside several Black activists such as W.E.B. du Bois and the Southern Chiristian Leadership Conference (SCLC), she also mentored a younger generation of radical Black activists such as Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture.

Baker was a proponent of radical participatory democracy who disavowed what she called “professional” leadership. She believed that “strong people” did not need “strong leadership.” She began her engagement in activism as a field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), traveling widely throughout the United States gathering funds and recruiting new NAACP members.  After some time, she returned to her adopted city of New York and worked with various local Civil Rights organizations until 1957 when she joined the SCLC as the executive director – at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Her work with the SCLC eventually led to the organization of the event that created the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), of which she remained an active member and supporter long after having let the SCLC.

After the demise of the Civil Rights Movement – due to American legislation, FBI infiltration, and assassinations of prominent leaders – Ella Baker continued to fight for racial justice, lending her support to the Puerto Rican Solidarity Committee and the Third World Women’s Coordinating Committee. Ella Baker fought for justice for over five decades, eventually passing away on her 83rd birthday in 1986. Baker serves as an inspiration for those of us who fight – in whatever way we are able to – for intersectional racial justice. Baker understood that although she was principally concerned with Black Americans receiving justice, that this was a struggle connected to entire systems of oppression and injustice that affected everyone. Ella Baker serves as a critical reminder that women of colour, especially Black women, have been at the forefront in fighting for justice and rights for all of us. I encourage our readers to seek out the words and wisdom of women of colour who have led fights for justice, and who continue to do so in our communities today. Thank you, Ella Josephine Baker, and the countless Black women and non-Black women of colour who continue to fight on behalf of our communities.

~ M

Bibliography

“Ella Baker: Biography.” Accessed January 20th, 2017. http://www.biography.com/people/ella-baker-9195848#synopsis

“Who Was Ella Baker?” Accessed January 20th, 2017. http://ellabakercenter.org/about/who-was-ella-baker

 

 

Advertisements
Ella Josephine Baker

Yuri Kochiyama

yurikochiyama04

[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

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

bioImg

[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

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)

Jack Greenberg

greenberg

[A photograph of a young Jack Greenberg, found on the Smithsonian’s educational website http://americanhistory.si.edu/brown/history/5-decision/challengers.html]

Where to start with Jack Greenberg? Greenberg served as the second Director-Counsel —  after none other than Thurgood Marshall — of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) from 1961 to 1984. The NAACP LDF was founded in 1940 with the mission of “achiev[ing] racial justice, equality, and an inclusive society” under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall.

Greenberg was born to a Jewish family in the Bensonhurst neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York in 1924. At the age of twenty-four in 1949, he joined LDF, initially because Marshall needed an assistant well-versed in American law to help him fight the legal, state-sanctioned system of Jim Crow in the United States. At the age of twenty-seven, Greenberg became the youngest lawyer who brought one of the most important civil rights cases of the twentieth century — Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, 1954 (commonly referred to as Brown v Board) — before the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. approached Greenberg as Director-Counsel of LDF to take on cases involving the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition (SCLC). Part of his legal representation of Dr. King included representing him in Birmingham, Alabama, winning him the right to march from Selma to Montgomery. Greenberg continued to fight for the rights of Black Americans for decades, being integral to “landmark legal cases” in relation to employment, education, housing, and voter registration during the 1960s and 1970s. Some of these cases include Meredith v Fair, 1961 (the integration of the University of Mississippi) and Griggs v Duke Power Company, 1971 (employment discrimination). Greenberg retired from LDF in 1984, later serving as dean of Columbia College.

Greenberg’s activism is, however, important to contextualize within broader histories of racialized oppression in the United States and the solidarity between non-Black Jewish Americans and Black Americans.* As noted in the freely accessible LDF @ 70 document published by the NAACP LDF, “Greenberg saw a resemblance between anti-Semitism and black oppression in the United States. Raised in a family committed to fairness and justice, Greenberg became part of the black world of the Civil Rights Movement.” Greenberg’s work in the Civil Rights Movement is representative of the important coalitions that have historically existed between two (often overlapping) groups of marginalized and oppressed peoples in the United States: Jewish Americans and Black Americans. The solidarities formed are much longer, and much older, than can properly be explained here, but it is nonetheless important to recognize them as interlocking histories of injustice and resistance.

By highlighting Greenberg today, we do not intend on decentering the Black Americans that fought valiantly during the Civil Rights Movement (and continue to fight today in the Black Lives Matter Movement, for example). We wish to instead highlight people like Greenberg who were not Black but dedicated their lives to the fight for the rights of Black Americans. The experiences of Greenberg’s own community in relation to anti-Semitism in part spurred him to fight for the civil rights of Black Americans, and he should continue to be a shining example for those of us who wish to stand in solidarity with Black folks who are struggling against systematic oppression today.

~ M

* It is important to make this distinction, as often times Black Jews are completely erased from histories of anti-Black racism and anti-Semitism, and the fight against these injustices, in the United States. This erasure of Black Jews from modern American history is not something that we at Historical Hotties Blog want to perpetuate, and therefore feel it necessary to address.

 

Bibliography

Greenberg, Jack. Crusaders in the Courts: How a Dedicated Band of Lawyers Fought for the Civil Rights Revolution. New York: Basic Books, 1994.

LDF. “History.” Accessed January 21, 2016. http://www.naacpldf.org/history.

LDF. LDF @ 70 Defend, Educate, Empower: 70 Years Fulfilling the Promise of Equality. 2010. http://www.naacpldf.org/files/publications/ldf@70_0.pdf.

Jack Greenberg