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  • Originally published 06/13/2013

    Martha Bergmark: Remembering Medgar Evers

    Martha Bergmark is founding president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice.On this day, 50 years ago, I was a white teenager in Jackson, Mississippi, absorbed most of the time with the typical concerns of childhood. But I vividly remember 12 June 1963, because that night my family and I heard the news that Medgar Evers, a well-known civil rights leader in our state, had been shot and killed in the driveway of his home, just a few miles from where we lived.

  • Originally published 06/13/2013

    George Wallace’s daughter lives in shadow of his segregationist stand

    For 50 years Peggy Wallace Kennedy has lived in the shadow cast by her father, Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, when he stood in a doorway and tried to stop two black students from integrating the University of Alabama.That single episode in the American civil rights movement — his infamous “stand in the schoolhouse door” — attached an asterisk to her name, she says. It’s a permanent mark she can never erase, despite her own history as a moderate Democrat who gave early support to candidate Barack Obama for president in 2008.“If you’re George Wallace’s daughter, people think the asterisk will always be there. ‘Oh, your father stood in the schoolhouse door,’” she said in a recent interview.Kennedy was just 13 at the time. Her mother, Lurleen Wallace, had whisked her away to a lake fishing cabin with her three siblings that day, so they would be nowhere near the wrenching historic drama in which her father played a leading role....

  • Originally published 06/11/2013

    Kennedy’s Finest Moment

    June 11, 1963, may not be a widely recognized date these days, but it might have been the single most important day in civil rights history.

  • Originally published 06/09/2013

    When presidential words led to swift action

    WASHINGTON — These days it is hard to imagine a single presidential speech changing history.But two speeches, given back to back by President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago this week, are now viewed as critical turning points on the transcendent issues of the last century.The speeches, which came on consecutive days, took political risks. They sought to shift the nation’s thinking on the “inevitability” of war with the Soviet Union and to make urgent the “moral crisis” of civil rights. Beyond their considerable impact on American minds, these two speeches had something in common that oratory now often misses. They both led quickly and directly to important changes.

  • Originally published 06/06/2013

    Jim Downs: The History of Mrs. Obama's Heckler, or Caught Between Civil Rights and a Hard Place

    Jim Downs is an associate professor of history and American Studies at Connecticut College, specializing in African-American studies and nineteenth-century American history. His book, Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction, was just published by Oxford University Press.On June 4, 2013, Ellen Sturtz, a gay rights activist, heckled first lady Michelle Obama at a meeting of the Democratic National Convention. Ms. Obama allegedly responded by saying that she would leave if the heckler did not stop. The audience, however, cajoled the first lady to stay and the gay rights activist was purportedly escorted out of the venue. Mrs. Obama continued her speech by talking about the future of children.

  • Originally published 06/04/2013

    Civil rights museum planned in Miss.

    Mississippi is hoping to make history again — this time with the nation's first state-sponsored civil rights museum.This fall, officials will break ground on the civil rights museum and the companion Museum of Mississippi History in hopes of having both ready in time to celebrate the state's bicentennial in 2017.There's one catch — $30 million is needed to finish the inside of the buildings, which share a common area.Under the law, the state has agreed to a 50-50 split between state and private funding for 50,000 square feet of exhibits for the museums. Archives officials estimated the acquisition and creation of the exhibits at $14-$16 million....

  • Originally published 06/04/2013

    Taronda Spencer, 54: Spelman College archivist, historian

    As the archivist at Spelman College, Taronda Spencer was responsible for preserving the past. At the same time, she had a tremendous impact on the future of the college and its students.A 1980 graduate of Spelman, Spencer became the institution’s archivist in 1998 and the college’s historian in 2000. In those roles she routinely helped researchers, and anyone else who may have been looking, find information among the collections of papers and memorabilia that belong to the school.“Taronda’s job as the college archivist was unique,” said Beverly Guy-Sheftall, professor of women’s studies and founding director of the Spelman College Women’s Research and Resource Center. “We were looking for someone who had the qualifications of a college archivist, but who would also work within the Women’s Center unit, because we were also interested in fostering research on African-American women.”...On May 17, two days before graduation, Taronda Elise Spencer, of Atlanta, fell ill while at a Spelman function that evening. She died later that night after suffering a massive heart attack. She was 54....

  • Originally published 04/05/2013

    Why Jackie Robinson still matters

    LOS ANGELES — There’s a scene in “42” in which Jackie Robinson, the first black player in modern Major League Baseball, endures intolerably cruel racial slurs from the Philadelphia Phillies’ manager.It’s early in the 1947 season. Each time the Brooklyn Dodgers’ first baseman comes up to bat, manager Ben Chapman emerges from the dugout, stands on the field and taunts him with increasingly personal and vitriolic attacks. It’s a visible struggle, but No. 42 maintains his composure before a crowd of thousands.As a viewer, it’s uncomfortable to watch — although as writer-director Brian Helgeland points out, “if anything, the language we have in that scene was cleaned up from what it was.”...

  • Originally published 04/04/2013

    William Hood: My Dinner With MLK

    William Hood is a professor emeritus of art history at Oberlin College and a visiting professor at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.FORTY-FIVE years ago, the Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr. went to a small dinner party in Atlanta, not far from the campus of Emory University. It was a quiet January night in 1968. I was one of the guests.Our hostess, Wanda White, was a young public-school teacher. In the fall of 1967, she worked with Mrs. King, helping with her schedule, as well as other personal and professional responsibilities. During a conversation, Wanda asked the Kings over for a low-key dinner. They accepted, and Wanda invited some of her close friends. (All of us were white.)My best friend, Larry Shaw, and I were invited to the dinner. He came from a long line of salt-of-the-earth skilled tradesmen anchored in Appalachian South Carolina and the red clay fields of Georgia. My father was a successful industrialist in Birmingham, Ala. We anticipated the approaching dinner with the empty-headed excitement of young people who rarely think beyond their own self-interest....

  • Originally published 03/29/2013

    Civil Rights Groups: School Safety Not Dependent on Guns

    In a pre-emptive move against a school safety proposal from the National Rifle Association that is expected to include a call for more people trained and approved to carry guns at schools, a coalition of civil rights groups unveiled its own safety plan Thursday. It seeks the creation of positive school climates, thoughtful and comprehensive crisis plans, and improved safety features that don’t turn schools into fortresses....

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Steven Conn: The Fetish of States' Rights

    Steven Conn, editor of To Promote the General Welfare: The Case for Big Government (Oxford University Press USA/2012), is professor and director of Public History at Ohio State University. Ronald Reagan kicked off his presidential campaign in 1980 with a speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi. It's worth remembering, especially in light of several recent events, why that was so important.Philadelphia was a small sleepy town like dozens of others in the South, brutally segregated according to Mississippi law and customs, just like dozens of others. It became nationally famous -- and symbolic -- when three civil rights workers doing advance work for Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964 were murdered by some of the local white supremacists. They instantly became martyrs to a heroic cause.Sixteen years later, candidate Reagan didn't mention James Cheney, Andrew Goodman or Michael Schwerner in his speech. Instead, Reagan announced: "I believe in states' rights," and he promised the all-white Mississippi crowd that he would "restore to states and local governments the power that properly belongs to them."

  • Originally published 03/18/2013

    Robert Elias: A Lost Hero of the Civil Rights Era

    Robert Elias is a professor of law and politics at the University of San Francisco. He is the author of the forthcoming book “At What Price Equality? The Heroic Court Battle and Mysterious Disappearance of Lloyd Gaines.” Lloyd Gaines had just become a civil rights pioneer. Denied admission to the University of Missouri’s Law School in 1935 because he was African American, Gaines sued, without much hope of winning in Jim Crow America. Yet after the U.S. Supreme Court finally heard his case in 1938, the justices ruled that unless Missouri created a black law school overnight, it would have to admit Gaines to the all-white law school. This was astonishing news for a black boy born dirt-poor in rural Mississippi who had watched racism follow his family’s migration north to St. Louis.In the spring of 1939 it appeared, remarkably, that Gaines would enter the Missouri Law School later that year as the first African American ever enrolled there. On the cold, rainy evening of March 19, Gaines told a housemate he was going to buy stamps. He went out . . . and was never seen again.

  • Originally published 02/27/2013

    Rosa Parks statue set to be unveiled at Capitol

    Rosa Parks is famous for her 1955 refusal to give up her seat on a city bus in Alabama to a white man, but there's plenty about the rest of her experiences that she deliberately withheld from her family.  While Parks and her husband, Raymond, were childless, her brother, the late Sylvester McCauley, had 13 children. They decided Parks' nieces and nephews didn't need to know the horrible details surrounding her civil rights activism, said Rhea McCauley, Parks' niece....

  • Originally published 02/08/2013

    Who Killed Emmett Till?

    Emmett Till was one of the 3,446 black men lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968, but his story is not just one more statistic. How the death of a boy from Chicago galvanized the civil rights movement and changed the world.

  • Originally published 02/05/2013

    Postal Service honors Rosa Parks with new stamp

    Hundreds of people, including some of Michigan's political elite, gathered Monday to celebrate the late Rosa Parks on what would have been her 100th birthday by unveiling a postage stamp in her honor steps from the Alabama bus on which she stared down segregation nearly 60 years ago.Parks, who died in 2005, became one of the enduring figures of the Civil Rights movement when she refused to cede her seat in the colored section of the Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white man after the whites-only section filled up. Her defiance and the ensuing black boycott of the city bus system helped the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. rise to national prominence...The Parks stamp is the second in a set of civil rights stamps being issued this year by the U.S. Postal Service.USPS launched the series Jan. 1 with the Emancipation Proclamation Forever Stamp, which was issued at The National Archives in Washington. In August, the series will culminate with the dedication of a stamp recognizing the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington...

  • Originally published 02/04/2013

    Turning students into historians in Milwaukee for a civil rights project

    Jasmine Alinder is Associate Professor of History, Coordinator of Public History, and Director of Urban Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Milwaukee, WI, has an important civil rights history that not many people know about. In the 1960s, battles raged here over open housing and school desegregation, and teens led much of the movement. Decades later, we still suffer from racial and economic segregation, but how many of our students can explain why? And what would it mean to them to find out that in 1960s Milwaukee, youth protested such inequality?

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    Historian honored by city of Chicago

    In his 94 years, historian and civil rights activist Timuel Black never had a week like this."This has been a busy week for me. I was honored Friday (Jan. 18) with the Champion of Freedom Award at city's Annual Interfaith Breakfast with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and today (Jan. 19) I am being given my very own street," Black said as he fought back tears. "It is always good to be given your 'roses' while you can smell them. And seeing all these people here today smells so good."A crowd of about 100 people gathered Saturday at the intersection of 50th and State streets as Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) unveiled the honorary Dr. Timuel Black St. sign....

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    Diane McWhorter: Good and Evil in Birmingham

    Diane McWhorter is the author of “Carry Me Home.”FIFTY years ago, Birmingham, Ala., provided the enduring iconography of the civil rights era, testing the mettle of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so dramatically that he was awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.During his protest there in May 1963, the biblical spectacle of black children facing down Public Safety Commissioner Eugene (Bull) Connor’s fire hoses and police dogs set the stage for King’s Sermon on the Mount some four months later at the Lincoln Memorial. And the civil rights movement’s “Year of Birmingham” passed into history as an epic narrative of good versus evil.

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    James A. Hood, Student Who Challenged Segregation, Dies at 70

    James A. Hood, who integrated the University of Alabama in 1963 together with his fellow student Vivian Malone after Gov. George C. Wallace capitulated to the federal government in a signature moment of the civil rights movement known as the “stand in the schoolhouse door,” died on Thursday in Gadsden, Ala. He was 70.His death was confirmed by his daughter Mary Hood.On the morning of June 11, 1963, Mr. Hood and Ms. Malone, backed by a federal court order, sought to become the first blacks to successfully pursue a degree at Alabama. A black woman, Autherine Lucy, had been admitted in 1956 but was suspended three days later, ostensibly for her safety, when the university was hit by riots. She was later expelled....

  • Originally published 01/16/2013

    Blain Roberts: The Ugly Side of the Southern Belle

    Blain Roberts, an assistant professor of history at California State University, Fresno, is the author of the forthcoming book “Pretty Women: Female Beauty in the Jim Crow and Civil Rights South.”...From 1921, when the contest began in Atlantic City, through World War II, only one woman representing a former Confederate state won the competition. Then, beginning in 1947, when a woman from Memphis earned the top honor, the fortunes of Southern contestants rose precipitously. From 1950 to 1963, seven southerners were crowned (each served the following year), including back-to-back wins by Mississippians in 1958 and 1959 — though southerners made up only one-fifth of the possible winners.These were, of course, the years when black Southerners opened a full-scale campaign against Jim Crow, prompting a bitter backlash by white Southerners. White resistance began in earnest in 1954, when the Supreme Court issued Brown v. Board of Education, its decision to desegregate public schools.

  • Originally published 05/28/2007

    The Kennedy Brothers and Civil Rights

    In The Bystander: John F. Kennedy and the Struggle for Black Equality, Basic Books, 2006, Nick Bryant concludes that JFK was too cautious and hesitant on civil rights.

  • Originally published 07/18/2014

    The Constitutional Havoc of the Income Tax Amendment

    Some days back I offered an interpretation of the motives and political economy behind the adoption of the 16th Amendment, noting at the time that it also caused extreme constitutional havoc by altering the relationship between the tariff system and the generation of federal tax revenue. While it is certainly possible to read this as a statement of political aversion to the modern income tax system, my characterization was actually an intended reference to certain very specific constitutional consequences of the income tax amendment that actually have little to do with any personal preferences regarding the validity of progressive income taxation.

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