Remembering the Black Holocaust

Off the Cuff with Fran Kaplan

Fran Kaplan is nothing if not passionate. A dedicated educator, social worker and self-described “social justice activist,” Kaplan became involved with America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) in 2006 when she spent a week interviewing James Cameron, the museum’s founder, for a film about his life. After his death and the closing of the 20-year-old museum, she remained in touch with his son. Her role as coordinator of ABHM’s Virtual Museum grew from that relationship. The Virtual Museum continues ABHM’s work online (, until it can reopen in brick-and-mortar form. Off the Cuff spoke with Kaplan about the project’s goals and race relations in general.

Dr. Fran Kaplan discussing America's Black Holocaust Museum with Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI 4th District) and the staff of Congressman John Lewis (GA 5th District) in Washington, DC.

Dr. Fran Kaplan discusses America’s Black Holocaust Museum with Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI 4th District) and the staff of Congressman John Lewis (GA 5th District) in Washington, DC.

How would you describe the Black Holocaust Museum’s aims?

ABHM builds public awareness of the harmful legacies of slavery in America and promotes reconciliation and healing. We envision a society that remembers its past in order to shape a better future: an equitable society in which every person is equally valued and cared for, a country that is, in Dr. Cameron’s words, “a single and sacred nationality.”

What does your involvement entail?

As coordinator of ABHM’s Virtual Museum, I seek out and manage the resources—human and financial—that keep our online museum growing. I find volunteer academics and independent scholars to curate exhibits, along with student interns and community volunteers that produce other features. I also write grants and manage our local “offline” public programs, such as our popular film/dialogue series.

Why open a virtual museum? What are the benefits there?

In the 21st century, much of our lives are lived online. Information-based institutions are evolving to meet that reality. The Great Recession brought a significant reduction in funding. Buildings are expensive. Putting ABHM online was a financially prudent first step to its revival. Later we will reestablish our physical presence. Meantime, you can visit ABHM 24/7 for free—in your pajamas! Another benefit of going virtual has been discovering how many people around the world are interested in ABHM’s exhibits. The museum gets thousands of page views weekly from 200 countries.

Who do you see as your target demographic?

Americans aged 10 to 100—students, educators and the general public. The social studies taught in most American classrooms do not adequately prepare us to understand and repair our country’s long-standing racial divide. ABHM fills the gap by recounting the untold and seldom-told causes of that divide.

Milwaukee is widely known as one of the more racially segregated cities. How might the museum’s presence function against this backdrop?

By helping Milwaukeeans learn how our city came to be like this, in the context of our nation’s history, and by bringing black and non-black Milwaukeeans together in activities that build trust, deepen relationships, enable truthful exchanges and lay the groundwork for joint action.

Obviously we’re experiencing a cultural/political moment of heightened awareness around systemic racism. What role do you see the museum playing in this time of chaos?

ABHM teaches the difference between systemic (institutional) racism and personal prejudice, and how people have confronted both throughout history. We provide a safe place to discuss the issues.

As a white woman, do people ever question your involvement? What would be your response?

Sure, though they seldom ask me directly. Dr. Cameron welcomed non-black allies, calling us “freedom-loving whites.” ABHM works with black and white audiences. When I participated in the civil rights movement, black mentors explained why whites should help whites understand and make systemic change. I try to do that. I also do my work in consultation with our predominantly black board of directors and my African American colleague, Brad Pruitt, ABHM’s community engagement coordinator.

Obviously, the word “holocaust” is not reserved for Jews, however, it is commonly associated with the Jewish persecution by the Nazis, the Shoah. What are the pros and cons of using that word to describe black captivity in Africa through enslavement and up to the present day?

Being Jewish, I understand the urge to keep the term “holocaust” specific to the Shoah. When Dr. Cameron visited Yad V’Shem, the Shoah memorial in Jerusalem, he was struck by the similarities in the suffering of European Jews and African Americans, hence his museum’s name. A description of these similarities can be found at

What is your ultimate goal for the project?

That one day, parents will bring their children to ABHM to wonder at the dinosaur-like fossils of the racial divide that we helped to heal long ago.

LeBron James wears ‘I Can’t Breathe’ t-shirt for warmups

By Brian Mahoney,

NEW YORK (AP) — LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and several Brooklyn players are wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts as they warm up for Monday’s game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Nets.

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers wears an 'I Can't Breathe' shirt during warmups before his game against the Brooklyn Nets during their game at the Barclays Center (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers wears an ‘I Can’t Breathe’ shirt during warmups before his game against the Brooklyn Nets during their game at the Barclays Center (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Kevin Garnett and Deron Williams were among four Nets wearing the shirts in support of the family of Eric Garner, who died July 17 after a police officer placed him in a chokehold when he was being arrested for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

“It was a message to the family. That I’m sorry for their loss, sorry to his wife. That’s what it’s about,” James said after the Cavaliers’ 110-88 victory. “I think everybody else gets caught up in everything else besides who’s really feeling it, and that’s the family. That’s what it’s about.”

Chicago star Derrick Rose wore one before a game Saturday and James said Sunday he wanted one. He got it from Nets guard Jarrett Jack, who provided them to players on both teams. A few NFL players had the saying written on different items of gear and shirts during pregame warmups before games on Sunday, including St. Louis Rams guard Davin Joseph, Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush and Cleveland Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi.

James said he and Irving did not discuss their plans to wear the jerseys beforehand. Irving went to warm up first, and at that point James was still saying it was only a “possibility” that he would be wearing it.

“We’re our own men, and we didn’t talk about it,” James said. “When we seen each other wearing the shirts, we looked at each other and just gave the nod. It goes from there.” The statement from the players came before a game that was attended by Britain’s Prince William and his wife, Kate, as well as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.“I respect Derrick Rose and all of our players for voicing their personal views on important issues but my preference would be for players to abide by our on-court attire rules,” Silver said.

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New York Mayor Details Talk with Biracial Son on Dealing with Police

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio hugs his son Dante de Blasio at his election night party on November 5, 2013 in New York City.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio made waves with the police union last week after comments that his biracial son needed to take special precautions when dealing with police.

According to the Huffington Post, De Blasio commented that after the Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict an officer responsible for the choking death of 43-year-old Eric Garner, he and his wife “had to literally train” Dante on how to handle dealing with police.  

“The head of the city’s police union said De Blasio’s statement ‘threw cops under the bus,” the Huffington Post notes.

De Balsio, who has refused to endorse the grand jury’s Eric Garner decision, didn’t back down from his position that the country, and the way children of color are policed is different from their white counterparts.

“It’s different for a white child. That’s just the reality in this country,” de Blasio said on ABC’sThis Week with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. “And with Dante, very early on with my son, we said, look, if a police officer stops you, do everything he tells you to do, don’t move suddenly, don’t reach for your cell phone, because we knew, sadly, there’s a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color.”

De Blasio noted that he didn’t believe that he was any different from any of father who has children of color.

“I’m just saying what people are actually experiencing and have been for decades,” de Blasio said Sunday. “I’ve talked to a lot of families of color, well before this time, because I’ve said things like this before. And they’ve said to me over and over and over again that they appreciate someone finally acknowledging that they have that conversation with their sons. It’s a painful conversation. You can sense there’s a contradiction in that conversation.”

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Daniel Pantaleo’s ‘Apology’ to Eric Garner’s Family Was Just Plain Sorry

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Demonstrators walk together during a protest Dec. 3, 2014, in New York City after a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner, who died after being put in a choke hold on July 17, 2014.

We’ve heard much over the past week about how Ferguson, Mo., police Officer Darren Wilson’s description of Michael Brown as a “demon” suggests that Wilson didn’t see Brown—and by extension doesn’t see black people in general—as fully human. And while these are different cases, in the wake of the failure to indict Eric Garner’s killer, I can only think of New York City police Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s less overt, but no less insidious, demonization of Garner in his version of an acknowledgment and “apology” for what he did.

His words are so incommensurate with what he did that they strain belief as having come from someone who, months ago, killed someone with his bare hands for nothing anyone would consider even a serious provocation.

It is never my intention to harm anyone,” he said.

“Harm” is a formal word; it comes from a clinical distance and also implies survivability. Someone with a dog bite is harmed. Calling someone choked to death “harmed” verges on abdication of responsibility.

“I feel very bad … ” Me, too—about the time I forgot to keep a neighbor’s lawn watered when she was on vacation once. If I had choked a man to death, however, I would express horror, guilt, the task of carrying the burden to my own grave. Pantaleo just feels bad. Aw.

“ … about the death of Mr. Garner.” Why the noun “death”? Here, using the noun connotes formality and therefore, again, distance: that is, his recoil from his having caused this death. More appropriate here would be “that I killed Mr. Garner” or even “that Mr. Garner died because of my actions.” A noun versus a verb can say much. Imagine someone who always said “since my marriage” as opposed to “since I got married.” Note that you would immediately smell that the person felt a certain distance from his or her spouse.

“Personal condolences” is a phrase one finds on cards sold in pharmacies. It’s so antique and overused that in this context it stands in relation to actual feeling as the phrase “How are you?” does to actually wanting to know. What’s next—a box of Whitman’s chocolates?

It is painfully clear from this statement that Pantaleo lacks the true feeling of horror we would expect of someone responsible for taking someone else from this earth for all but nothing. And it may well be that if he had killed a white man, his expression of responsibility would be equally chilly and distant. However, we are justified in suspecting not, given the realities of American psychology.

I am aware that some will say that it’s hasty of me to bring race into Pantaleo’s statement at all. However, it surely isn’t hasty to note that too many black men get killed by cops for murky reasons in this country. With not just Garner but also with Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice and John Crawford all within one year, it’s time we turned a corner. What kind of nation is this, in which a race of people think of how the cops treat them, or mistreat them, as a core facet of their very identity?

Anybody who thinks that saying this is to bring up race unnecessarily is, frankly, not thinking very hard.

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Ferguson Activists Predict Uphill Battle

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WASHINGTON — Activists involved with the Ferguson, Missouri, protests followed their presidential meeting on Monday with words of caution: There’s a long fight ahead to make crucial changes to police practices in the St. Louis region and across the country.

Several of those who met with President Barack Obama said they were generally encouraged, and they framed the White House meeting as an indication that their movement is having an impact. They said they saw some progress in the moderate initiatives on police training and push for police body cameras announced by the White House on Monday, though they agreed there was a lot more to be done. A list of goals released by multiple activists demands that the federal government, among other actions, get more aggressive in prosecuting police officers who kill people and stop sending money to local police departments that use excessive force or engage in racial profiling.


“We’re definitely going to keep doing the work on the ground, but meeting with the president, for me — well, I’ll say for everybody — is just an affirmation that this movement is working,” said Ashley Yates, co-founder of the group Millennial Activists United, in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. Yates, who goes by@BrownBlaze on Twitter, posted a selfie with Vice President Joe Biden following the meeting.

Phillip Agnew, of the group Dream Defenders, said on the call, “This moment has awakened the consciousness of folks around the country, and what we’ve seen — as much coordination as folks in Ferguson, folks around Ferguson, folks on this line have done to ensure that there’s infrastructure for this movement — there are people around the country that are waking up and acting on their own.”

“And that’s a hallmark of this movement: It is decentralized,” he said.

Leaders of more established civil rights organizations struck a similar tone, declaring that the changes that will grow out of the protests following the death of Michael Brown have just begun.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement Tuesday that the White House meeting was “a significant first step in acknowledging the problem of racial bias in policing and searching for real, concrete measures for change.”

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‘Icon Of Hope’

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As photos around the web show images of nationwide protests

12-year-old Devonte Hart hugs a Portland police officer during a local Ferguson rally. | Johnny Nguyen

in reaction to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, one particular image has received widespread attention.

Earlier this week, freelance photographer Johnny Nguyen captured a photo of 12-year-old Devonte Hart during a Ferguson-related rally in Portland, Oregon.

Hart, an African-American boy, was holding a sign that read “Free Hugs,” and the image Nguyen took shows Hart with tears streaming down his face while in a heartfelt hug with a white police officer.

“It was an interesting juxtaposition that had to be captured. It fired me up,” Nguyen told The Huffington Post on Sunday. “I started shooting and before I knew it, they were hugging it out. I knew I had something special, something powerful.”

Nguyen said the photo has since been shared more than 400,000 times on Facebook and reposted on more than 68,000 Tumblr accounts.

According to The Oregonian, which was the first outlet to publish the photo, the officer pictured in the image is Portland Police Sgt. Bret Barnum, who reportedly saw Hart holding his sign and called him over to engage in a quick conversation about the protest, school and life.

Barnum then asked Hart for a hug — and it was during this moment that Nguyen captured the touching photo that he shared with the world.

“I’ve been told this photo has become an icon of hope in regards to race in America,” Nguyen said.

“Prior to that day, I would scroll through the Internet and see the photos of images out of Ferguson, which all showed some violence and anger — some even to the point of hatred and destruction. This was the first photo I saw that showed something positive. It showed humanity.”

Following the protest, Hart’s parents — Sarah and Jen Hart — wrote a Facebook post that detailed more about their son and the events that led to the moment captured in the photo.

“My son has a heart of a gold, compassion beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, yet struggles with living fearlessly when it comes to the police and people that don’t understand the complexity of racism that is prevalent in our society,” the post read. “It was one of the most emotionally charged experiences I’ve had as a mother.”

As the photo continues to spread across the web, Nguyen said he hopes it will provide some people with a sense of peace along with a message of love and compassion.

“In order to move on and progress toward real change, we need every reason for hope that can be garnered,” he said.

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