Did You Know?

Sixteen men and no women have been

executed in the United States in 2017.

Black History

On December 1, 1955, a woman, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a white person.  This act ignited a spark in the American Civil Rights movement, leading to boycotts of the busses and demands to an end of racial segregation.  But everyone knows about Rosa Parks and her famous refusal!  But, do you know about the woman who came before Rosa?  About the other women who refused to give up their seats?

 

Aurelia Shines Browder Coleman was born on January 29, 1919, in Montgomery, Alabama, where she remained for her entire life, working a variety of jobs including nurse, midwife, seamstress, businesswoman and housewife.  Her education came later in life, not completing high school until she was in her 30s.  She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in science from Alabama State University, where she graduated with honors and was member of the National Alpha Kappa Mu Honor Society.  It was also during her time at college that she was inspired by a professor to become involved in tackling the injustices of the transportation system. 

 

On April 19, 1955, seven months before Rosa’s historic stand - or sit? - Aurelia refused to give up her seat to a white person.  Her refusal led to her arrest and imprisonment.  It also led to the filing of a lawsuit, Browder v. Gayle.  Four other black women were also part of the case - Susie McDonald, Jeanette Reese, Claudette Colvin, and Mary Louise Smith.  All had faced racial discrimination on public transportation.  Aurelia was chosen as the lead plaintiff on the case due to her middling age, 45.  Jeanette withdrew from the lawsuit shortly after it was filed due to pressure from the white community.

 

The lawsuit resulted in the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama ruling on June 13, 1956, that segregate buses were unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.  Alabama appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of the United States which upheld the lower court’s ruling and ordered that the buses in Alabama be desegregated.

  

During the month of February, Black History Month, we must remember to look back at incidents such as these.  As uncomfortable as remembering these events may be, they are part of our history as Americans.  To move forward in the present, we must remember the past, but not dwell in it, and, if possible, right the wrongs that have been made.

On December 1, 1955, a woman, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a white person.  This act ignited a spark in the American Civil Rights movement, leading to boycotts of the busses and demands to an end of racial segregation.  But everyone knows about Rosa Parks and her famous refusal!  But, do you know about the woman who came before Rosa?  About the other women who refused to give up their seats?

 

Claudette Colvin was born on September 5, 1939.  She lived in a poorer section of Montgomery, Alabama.  By 1955, Claudette attended Booker T. Washington High School, where she excelled.  Claudette was a dreamer - she wanted to be President someday!  Coincidentally, by March 2, 1955, Claudette was learning about the civil rights movement in school.  She had just written a paper about the local customs at department stores.  People of color were not allowed to try on clothes or shoes.  They were not allowed in the stores’ dressing rooms.

 

It was this paper she was thinking about on her bus ride home on March 2, 1955.  It was her only way home from school, as her parents did not have a car.  Claudette sat in the colored section of the bus.  But the white section filled up, forcing a white woman to stand.  The bus driver told Claudette, along with two other black girls to move and allow the white woman to sit.  Claudette refused saying, “It’s my constitutional right to sit her as much as that lady.  I paid my fare, it’s my constitutional right.”

 

Nine months before Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin was handcuffed, arrested, and forcibly removed from the bus, all the while proclaiming that her constitutional right was being violated.  Claudette later said that she “felt like Sojourner Truth was pushing down and one shoulder and Harriet Tubman was pushing down on the other - saying ‘Sit down girl!’”  Claudette also said she “was glued to [her] seat.” 

 

Claudette, a 15-year-old girl was terrified after being arrested.  She was released after her minister paid her bail.  So why didn’t Claudette’s brave stand ignite the Civil Rights movement?  The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People did consider using her case to challenge the segregation laws, but ultimately decided against it because of her youth.  Claudette also became pregnant around the time of her arrest.  As a teen, unwed mother, the Association thought that she would attract too much negative attention.

 

Even in the days before the internet, the court of public opinion had already ruled.  The once quiet, straight A student was deemed a troublemaker.  She was forced to drop out of college and it became impossible to find a job due to her reputation.  She eventually moved to New York City, where she worked as a nurse’s aide in a Manhattan nursing home until 2004.

 

Claudette never did become President, nor did she regret her actions that day.  She was proud of what she did and of her part in starting the Cilvil Rights Movement.  Claudette went on to partake in the lawsuit which challenged the constitutionality of Montgomery’s segregated bus system.  On December 20, 1956, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered Montgomery and Alabama to end bus segregation.

  

During the month of February, Black History Month, we must remember to look back at incidents such as these.  As uncomfortable as remembering these events may be, they are part of our history as Americans.  To move forward in the present, we must remember the past, but not dwell in it, and, if possible, right the wrongs that have been made.

On January 31, 1961, several young men, mostly from Friendship Junior College in Rock Hill, South Carolina, chose to eat lunch at the counter of a local McCrory’s Five & Dime.  They walked into the restaurant, sat down, and ordered hamburgers, soft drinks, and coffee.  The men were refused service and ordered to leave the establishment.  When the men refused, the police were called.  The young men were beaten, to the cheers of the crowd that had gathered.  The men were hauled off to jail.  They were given a choice: a $100 fine or 30 days of hard labor at the York County Prison Farm.  One man paid the fine.  The remaining nine chose to serve their time, sparking a “jail, no bail” movement.

 

What caused such an ordinary activity as going our for lunch to spark such brutal actions?  Simply the color of the men’s skin.  They were blacks, sitting at a “White’s Only” lunch counter.  They were not the first people of color to sit at the “White’s Only” lunch counter, nor would they be the last.  Their actions helped the sit-in movement continue to gain steam.  In addition to encouraging the sit-in movement, the group also started the “jail, no bail” movement.  By refusing to pay bail, the men showed complete dedication to the civil rights movements, and encouraged others to do the same.  When people of color were arrested and then paid their fine, they were paying for the city to continue to be able to arrest people like themselves.  By choosing to stay in jail (where they were not exactly model inmates, as they refused to work at least twice), they were forcing the white authorities to pay for their housing, food, and supervision for their 30 day imprisonment.  This idea spread, filling jail cells.

 

On Wednesday, January 28, 2015, 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett and Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III, the nephew of the judge that sent the men to the prison camp, overturned the conviction of the men who became known as the Friendship 9: John Gains, Clarence Graham, Willie Thomas “Dub” Massey (now a substitute teacher in the Rock Hill area), Willie McCleod, James Wells, David Williamson Jr., Mack Workman, Robert McCullough (deceased August 7, 2006), and Thomas Gaither (the only one who was not a student at Friendship College).  

  

As we approach Black History Month (February), we must remember to look back at incidents such as these.  As uncomfortable as remembering these events may be, they are part of our history as Americans.  To move forward in the present, we must remember the past, but not dwell in it, and, if possible, right the wrongs that have been made.

In the United States of America, the month of February is Black History Month.  It is a time to remember the achievements that men and women of color made throughout the history of this country.  From a time of slavery to a time of freedom that did not really feel all that free, to a movement that would change the nation forever, men and women of color have played key roles in making a better quality of life for all mankind.

 

Near the end of the Civil War, a child, the last of many, was born to Mary and Giles, slaves to Moses and Susan Carver in Diamond, Missouri.  The date of birth for the child is unknown.  The child was named George Washington and given no surname, as his father was killed before his birth.  About one week after his birth, George was kidnapped, along with his sister and mother, and sold in Kentucky.  Moses was able to retrieve George and bring him back to Missouri.  In 1865, about one year after George was born, the Civil War ended and slaves were freed.  Moses and Susan chose to keep George and to educate him.  Since no school nearby would accept clack children, George adopted their surname and went on to become known to history as George Washington Carver.

 

George eventually received his high school diploma from Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas.  After graduating high school, George applied and was accepted into Highland College, only to be denied admittance because of his race.  George then homesteaded a claim, and began conducting biological experiments and compiled a geological collection.  He began taking classes at a local college, where his drawings caught the attention of a professor who recommended he take botany classes.  George enrolled and became the first black student at Simpson College, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree.  He then went on the received his master's degree at Iowa State Agricultural College. 

 

Booker T. Washington asked George to lead the Department of agriculture at the Tuskegee Institute.  It was during this time that George left his mark on history.  George reinvigorated farming in the South.  From growing cotton and tobacco, the soil in the South was depleted of minerals needed to have healthy, prosperous crops.  George encouraged farmers to plant peanuts to replenish the soil.  Since there was an overabundance of these crops, George developed over 300 peanut-related products including milk, chess, instant coffee, face powder, shampoo, ink, dyes, vinegar, soap, shoe polish, shaving cream, synthetic rubber, plastics, linoleum, chili sauce, flour, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and cooking oil.  George also discovered over 100 new products from sweet potatoes, 75 from pecans, and some from Georgia clay.  The exact number of products George invented is unknown because he only held three patents.  Why only three?  In George's words, "God gave them to me.  How can I sell them to someone else?"

 

George had a great love for God.  He was, in everything, the hand of God.  As a child, George developed a relationship with God after having another child tell him about prayer.  After the conversation, George went up into the barn loft and prayed.  He does not know what he said, only "that I felt so good that I prayed several times before I quit."  George was unable to enter a church for many years because of his race, but to him, Nature was God's house.  George called his lab "God's little workshop."  George sought to share his love of science and God, which he viewed as going hand in hand, with as many as possible.  As a leader at the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), he encouraged young people to understand God by studying nature.

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In the United States of America, the month of February is Black History Month.  It is a time to remember the achievements of men and women of color made throughout the history of this country.  From a time of slavery to a time of freedom that did not really fell all that free, to a movement that would change the nation forever, men and women of color have played key roles in making a better quality of life for all mankind.

 

On February 14, 1790, a slave was born to Benjamin Chew, who was a wealthy merchant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The child, named Richard, and his family, were then sold to Stokeley Sturgis, a plantation owner in Delaware.  The family was divided up when Sturgis faced monetary problems.  Richard remained with Sturgis, along with an older brother and a sister.  They continued to serve Sturgis, but also began attending meetings of the local Methodist Society, which welcomed all blacks, slaves and free men.  Richard attended classes every week and taught himself to read and write.  In 1782, Richard became licensed to preach.

 

Sturgis, who was a nonbeliever, encouraged Richard's and his family's attendance.  Richard said he and his brother decided to "attend more faithfully to our master's business, so that it should not be said that religion made us worse servants."  Sturgis, proud of his slaves, would boast to others "that religion made slaves better not worse."  He also told Richard to "ask the preachers to come and preach at his house."  During that meeting, the white preacher said that slave-owners were "weighed in the balance, and...found wanting."  It was a life changing message.

 

Sturgis, after converting, "believed himself to be one of that number and, after that, he could not be satisfied to hold slaves, believing it wrong."  In January of 1780, Sturgis told Richard that he could purchase his freedom for $2,000.  Richard set out to earn the money.  He worked for the Revolutionary forces to secure the money for his freedom, eventually taking the surname Allen to signify his status as a free man.

 

In 1786, Richard was finally able to purchase his freedom.  After gaining his freedom, he began preaching to blacks and whites in Maryland, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  Richard would travel, working only when he needed money.  "My usual method was, when I would get bare of clothes, to stop travelling and go to work.  My hands administered to my necessities," he explained.  He would often work as a sawyer and a wagon driver.  Richard said that he walked so many miles that his "feet became so sore and painful that I could scarcely be able to put them on the floor." 

 

One day, while preaching near Philadelphia, Richard was approached by a Methodist elder to preach to the blacks who attended St. George's Methodist Church.  The service took place at 5:00 am, so it would not interfere with the whites' service.  Richard agreed and moved to Philadelphia, where he met his wife, Sarah, who was also born a slave, but had since been freed.

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