When the past is present…
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When the past is present…
“Nothing has been easy. Everything has had to be earned.”
Black history is finally taking its rightful place within the Smithsonian Institution with the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s grand opening on Saturday.
While the museum is now opening to considerable fanfare ― the ceremony includes a three-day festival and a dedication led by President Barack Obama to mark the historic occasion ― getting the project off the ground was anything but easy.
A group of black Civil War veterans first advocated for the idea of a national African-American history museum in the early 1900s. Decades later, a group of congressmen led by civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) took the fight for the museum to Capitol Hill. Lewis introduced legislation to fund the museum every year for 15 years, but it was defeated every time.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said the museum faced plenty of challenges, from “overt bigotry” to “lack of prioritization.”
“In many ways, it itself is reminiscent or reflective of the African-American experience. Nothing has been easy. Everything has had to be earned,” he said.
Some representatives who opposed the museum said the project was too costly. Others, like Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), warned the museum would set a dangerous precedent and open the floodgates for additional museums dedicated to other racial minorities.
“Every other minority will give thought to asking the taxpayers to pony up for a special museum for them,” Helms said in 1994.
In 2001, President George Bush created a commission to explore the need for the museum and develop a plan of action. After much debate over the location for the museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act was finally signed into law in 2003, establishing the 19th Smithsonian museum.
But the project still faced another hurdle: funding. It would ultimately cost $540 million and the federal government was only going to cover half.
Bunch said the funding situation was “unusual.” According to The New York Times, government funds have covered all or most of the building costs for every other Smithsonian museum.
Organizations including the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contributed millions to the project. The museum also found support from the black community. According to The Washington Post, 74 percent of individuals who donated $1 million or more to the project were African-American.
The museum’s three-tiered building, which sits on the National Mall alongside the Washington Monument, is inspired by Yoruban caryatid ― a slender wooden column with a crown at the top. The museum is filled with everything from historical artifacts of the days of slavery to pop culture relics.
“In essence what you will find in this museum is a tension. A tension between difficult moments and a tension between moments that are full of happiness hope and resiliency,” Bunch said.
And with Obama’s dedication on Saturday, the journey for the museum has truly come full circle. Booker said the presence of the first black president coupled with the museum’s opening will mark “spiritual culmination” of sorts.
“I mean these two moments in history have met up in a beautiful way, almost as if it were sort of ordained by the spirits, like the heavens are sort of rejoicing,” he said. “I just think it’s a wonderful exclamation point on the journey of this museum.
Take a virtual tour of the new museum.
Watch the full Dedication Ceremony.
Below are the dates and sites of upcoming film festivals around the country and samples of the movies by and about African Americans that you can expect to see there:
Service To Man won the American Black Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize in Miami in June 2016. It will screen this weekend in both the BronzeLens Film Festival in Atlanta and the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham AL.
Milwaukee Film Festival’s Black Lens Program
Nine Rides was shot on an iPhone!
New York City’s UrbanWorld Film Festival celebrates its 20th Anniversary!
The fest’s line up of movies will be announced soon.
Because America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) is based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, visitors to ABHM online have inquired about our response to the recent unrest in a predominantly black neighborhood in our city. Though not immediately apparent on the ABHM website, our museum’s principal spokesperson has been helping local, national, and international press explain these events by supplying interviews and articles. (See links to several of these below.)
For twenty-eight years, ABHM has provided a safe place where people of all backgrounds can learn about America’s racial history and talk straightforwardly about race and racism. Online, our museum tells many of the stories seldom told in American history books and documents how that history affects our society today. Offline, we present frequent talks and facilitate interracial dialogs in this community and beyond.
When a group of young people took out their anger and frustrations with local policing and poverty by setting fire to a police car and three businesses, many people seemed surprised. We were not. This was a combustible situation. That car and those establishments represented the complex set of debilitating conditions that have hurt Milwaukee’s African American community for generations. During the 1960’s struggle for civil rights here, there were calls to find remedies for institutional discrimination. Fifty years later, those remedies remain largely unimplemented.
The UN General Assembly proclaimed 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent with the goal of achieving “recognition, justice and development.” Can we achieve these in the USA? We believe that ABHM can be part of the solution.
Our museum’s founder, Dr. James Cameron, worked all his life to educate Americans about the ways that ongoing racial injustice prevents America from living up to its stated ideals of liberty and justice for all. Despite being lynched as a teenager, he always dreamed that Americans would come together to form “one single and sacred nationality.”
ABHM is a Site of Conscience, member of a coalition of memorial museums and sites in active and post-conflict zones around the world. As such, we help our compatriots understand how America’s racial history affects our country today and how, together, we can create a bright and fair tomorrow for all America’s children.
If you would like to further understand the issues that sparked the fires of August 13, 2016, please follow links below – and then explore seldom-told stories in American history in ABHM’s galleries.
“Milwaukee Shooting: Curfew Imposed in Hopes of Restoring Calm” by Madison Park, Holly Yan and Ray Sanchez, CNN
“Evidence of Things Unknown” by Reggie Jackson, Milwaukee Independent
“Complex Issues Contributed to Recent Milwaukee Unrest” – Central Time Show on Wisconsin Public – Radio Interview with ABHM Head Griot Reggie Jackson
“What It’s Like to Be Black in Milwaukee” by Ray Sanchez, CNN
“After decades of segregation, anger boils over in Milwaukee” by Brendan O’Brien, Reuters
“Why Sherman Park Media Coverage Was Out of Focus” by Reggie Jackson, Milwaukee Independent
“Community Leaders Reject WEDC’s Jobs Claims for Sherman Park Area” by Matthew Brusky, Milwaukee Independent
“Teenage girl stands as park peacemaker despite any tensions” by Shateria Wiley, YouthRise Milwaukee
SPARTA, Ga. — When the deputy sheriff’s patrol cruiser pulled up beside him as he walked down Broad Street at sunset last August, Martee Flournoy, a 32-year-old black man, was both confused and rattled. He had reason: In this corner of rural Georgia, African-Americans are arrested at a rate far higher than that of whites.
But the deputy had not come to arrest Mr. Flournoy. Rather, he had come to challenge Mr. Flournoy’s right to vote.
The majority-white Hancock County Board of Elections and Registration was systematically questioning the registrations of more than 180 black Sparta citizens — a fifth of the city’s registered voters — by dispatching deputies with summonses commanding them to appear in person to prove their residence or lose their voting rights. “When I read that letter, I was kind of nervous,” Mr. Flournoy said in an interview. “I didn’t know what to do.”
The board’s aim, a lawsuit later claimed, was to give an edge to white candidates in Sparta’s municipal elections — and that November, a white mayoral candidate won a narrow victory.
“A lot of those people that was challenged probably didn’t vote, even though they weren’t proven to be wrong,” said Marion Warren, a Sparta elections official who documented the purges and raised an alarm with voting-rights advocates. “People just do not understand why a sheriff is coming to their house to bring them a subpoena, especially if they haven’t committed any crime.”
The county attorney, Barry A. Fleming, a Republican state representative, said in an interview that the elections board was only trying to restore order to an electoral process tainted earlier by corruption and incompetence. The lawsuit is overblown, he suggested, because only a fraction of the targeted voters were ultimately scratched from the rolls.
“The allegations that people were denied the right to vote are the opposite of the truth,” he said. “This is probably more about politics and power than race.”
But the purge of Sparta voters is precisely the sort of electoral maneuver that once would have needed Justice Department approval before it could be put in effect. In Georgia and all or part of 14 other states, the 1965 Voting Rights Act required jurisdictions with histories of voter discrimination to receive so-called preclearance before changing the way voter registration and elections were conducted.
Three years ago, the Supreme Court declared the preclearance mandate unconstitutional, saying the blatant discrimination it was meant to prevent was largely a thing of the past.
But since the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling in the voting-rights case, Shelby County v. Holder, critics argue, the blatant efforts to keep minorities from voting have been supplanted by a blizzard of more subtle changes. Most conspicuous have been state efforts like voter ID laws or cutbacks in early voting periods, which critics say disproportionately affect minorities and the poor. Less apparent, but often just as contentious, have been numerous voting changes enacted in counties and towns across the South and elsewhere around the country.
They appear as Republican legislatures and election officials in the South and elsewhere have imposed statewide restrictions on voting that could depress turnout by minorities and other Democrat-leaning groups in a crucial presidential election year. Georgia and North Carolina, two states whose campaigns against so-called voter fraud have been cast by critics as aimed at black voters, could both be contested states in autumn’s presidential election.
Kristen Clarke, the president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a leading voting-rights advocacy group, said that before the Supreme Court’s Shelby County ruling, discriminatory laws and procedures had been blocked by the preclearance provisions.
Now, she said, “We’re seeing widespread proliferation of these laws. And we are left only with the ability to mount slow, costly case-by-case challenges” to their legality….
The local voting changes have often gone unnoticed and unchallenged. A June survey by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund found that governments in six former preclearance states have closed registration or polling places, making it harder for minorities to vote. Local jurisdictions in six more redrew districts or changed election rules in ways that diluted minorities’ votes…..
But perhaps none of the battles is more striking than the one in Hancock County, about 100 miles southeast of Atlanta, where three in four of the roughly 10,000 residents are black. The racial divide here is deep and prolonged; the white mayor of the county seat, Sparta, made headlines in 1970 after responding to black citizens’ school-desegregation protests by equipping the town’s six-member police force with submachine guns.
By the 1990s, the Justice Department had invoked its preclearance authority to block measures that it said would weaken minority representation on the Sparta City Council, but political control of the county was frequently split. By last year, black politicians ran Sparta, a white majority controlled the Hancock County commission, and a furious contest was underway between black and white slates to control the next Sparta administration.
The five-member Hancock County Board of Elections and Registration was controlled by three white members — the chairwoman, appointed by a local judge, and two members appointed by the Hancock County Republican Committee — one of whom, curiously, is a Democrat. According to documents filed in a federal lawsuit in nearby Macon, the board began taking steps last August that seemed destined to tilt the playing field to the white slate’s advantage.
The board first proposed to close all but one of the county’s 10 polling places, a move the N.A.A.C.P. and other minority advocates argued would disenfranchise rural blacks who could not travel long distances to vote. Board members eventually chose to eliminate just one predominantly black precinct. But around the same time, they began to winnow the county’s roll of registered voters, ordering an aide to compare the registrants’ stated addresses with those on their driver’s licenses to spot voters who had moved after registering to vote.
By October, a month before the city election, the board and a private citizen who appears to have worked with its white members had challenged the legality of 187 registered voters in Sparta. The board removed 53 of them, virtually all African-Americans — roughly one of every 20 voters. As a “courtesy,” court papers state, county sheriff’s deputies served summonses on the targeted voters, commanding them to defend themselves at election board meetings.
Some did, and were restored to the rolls. Others reacted differently to a police officer’s knock on their door.
“A lot of voters are actually calling to say they no longer wish to be on the list, so now we have people coming off the list who no longer want to vote,” Tiffany Medlock, the elections supervisor for the Hancock County elections board, told a Macon television reporter in late September. “It’ll probably affect the City of Sparta’s election in a major way….”
Full article here.
More Breaking News here.
A federal appeals court decisively struck down North Carolina’s voter identification law on Friday, saying its provisions deliberately “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to depress black turnout at the polls.
The sweeping 83-page decision by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upended voting procedures in a battleground state about three months before Election Day. That ruling and a second wide-ranging decision on Friday, in Wisconsin, continued a string of recent court opinions against restrictive voting laws that critics say were created solely to keep minority and other traditionally Democratic voters away from the polls.
The North Carolina ruling tossed out the state’s requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls and restored voters’ ability to register on Election Day, to register before reaching the 18-year-old voting age, and to cast early ballots, provisions the law had fully or partly eliminated….
In the Wisconsin decision, Judge James D. Peterson of Federal District Court ruled that parts of Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law are unconstitutional. He ordered the state to make photo IDs more easily available to voters and to broaden the range of student IDs that are accepted at the ballot box.
The decision also threw out other rules that lengthened the residency requirement for newly registered voters, banned distributing absentee ballots by fax or email and sharply restricted the locations and times at which municipal voters, many of them Milwaukee blacks, could cast absentee ballots in person.
Judge Peterson’s sharply worded 119-page ruling suggested that Wisconsin’s voter restrictions, as well as voter ID restrictions in Indiana that have been upheld in the Supreme Court, exist only to suppress votes.
“The evidence in this case casts doubt on the notion that voter ID laws foster integrity and confidence,” he wrote. “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections.’’
The court decisions — the third and fourth federal rulings in recent weeks against Republican-enacted voting restrictions — were made as the two political parties raced from their summer conventions into the critical final months of the campaign, with Wisconsin, like North Carolina, considered a contested state.
North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature rewrote the state’s voting rules in 2013 shortly after the Supreme Court struck down a section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that had given the Justice Department the power to oversee changes in election procedures in areas with a history of racial discrimination….
Civil rights advocates and the Justice Department had sued to block the law, but a Federal District Court judge upheld it in April, writing that the state’s “significant, shameful past discrimination” had largely abated in the last 25 years.
On Friday, the three-judge panel emphatically disagreed, saying the lower court’s amply documented ruling had failed to consider “the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”
The judges noted that Republican leaders had drafted their restrictions on voting only after receiving data indicating that African-Americans would be the voters most significantly affected by them.
Read the full article here.
More Breaking News here.
As sirens blare through the warm summer air on a recent Milwaukee night, a group of about 40 demonstrators gathered on the corner of North 7th and West Ring streets near a pedestrian overpass spanning the I-43 freeway….
The demonstration was a collaboration between Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Milwaukee and the Overpass Light Brigade (OLB) in solidarity with the family of Jay Anderson, a 25-year-old black man who was killed by police in June while sitting in his car at a Wauwatosa park. Other chapters of SURJ, a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice, held solidarity demonstrations across the country to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which has called for the end of police violence against black people.
The demonstrators, diverse in age and race, displayed the words “Black Lives Matter” for drivers traveling north on the expressway using OLB’s signature lighted letters. Lane Hall, a member of the Overpass Light Brigade, called the demonstration “a celebration, and a vigil, and a witness.” Attendees held the signs for about an hour, receiving supportive beeps from many passersby.
Claire Van Fossen, a white co-organizer of Milwaukee’s SURJ chapter, said the goal of the demonstration was to interrupt the daily routine of white people, “who can move so easily through our lives without having to be conscious of this kind of horror and terror that black people are enduring every day.” The Anderson family was expected to be present, but did not attend after seeing the video of Jay’s death for the first time, an experience Van Fossen, who has been in contact with the family, described as “horrible.”
Last week, the family, along with supporters, demanded that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office release full video footage of the incident, the name of the officer who shot Anderson and other evidence relating to the case.
Turning a corner
In the wake of the recent police killings of two black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, public opinion, particularly among white people, has started to shift, according to Van Fossen. She said 40 new SURJ chapters have formed in the weeks since the incidents, which set off another set of protests nationwide. Van Fossen said “several hundred people” have joined the local group’s Facebook page during that time, as well.
“We’ve received dozens of emails from white folks saying, ‘I’ve stayed silent on this too long,’” she said….
Kirsten Maier, 25, said an eye-opening experience for her was being able to point the finger back at herself. “I think one important thing that happened for me was … I, at some point, gained the ability to say out loud that I do act and think in ways that are racist,” she said. “And that’s not me, as a person; that’s the institutions that raised me.”
Maier, who has been involved with SURJ Milwaukee for about a year, said it’s important for white people to educate other white people “who haven’t given much thought to the ways that our institutions are racist.” She said white people can support people of color by showing up to protests and other demonstrations, and to talk about these issues with friends, family and coworkers….
“I think we have turned a corner,” Van Fossen said. “I think we’re at a seminal moment in our history, as a people, and I’m hopeful that things will improve” as more people are ready to take action….
Read the full article here.
More Breaking News here.
While the media has heavily covered Islamist terrorist activity and the recent deadly ambushes on police, it has largely overlooked increasingly brazen demonstrations and violence by the Far Right. In the last year, the level of violence has ramped up dramatically and is only now hitting its stride.
On July 7, Michael Strickland, a right-wing journalist who videotapes left-leaning protests and puts participants’ photos on the Internet, was arrested after waving a gun at a Portland Black Lives Matter rally. He claimed that he feared for his life. because someone allegedly shoved him while he was taping the peaceful demonstration.
After a late June confrontation with fascists who had secured a permit to rally at the California state courthouse, nine counter-protestors were hospitalized, with five of them stabbed. The fascists, operating under the banner of the Traditionalist Worker Party (but comprised mostly of members of the neo-Nazi Golden State Skinheads), fled after the clash with protestors. A loaded gun was left at the scene, which anti-fascists claimed neo-Nazis has dropped as they ran away.
Four months before, on February 28, three anti-racist activists were stabbed while confronting Ku Klux Klan members who were attempting to rally in Anaheim, California.
Patriot Movement paramilitaries took over an Oregon wildlife refuge for 41 days in January, their fourth armed encampment in two years.
And all of this has happened barely a year after 21-year-old White supremacist Dylann Roof attended a bible study session at Charleston, South Carolina’s historic Emanuel AME Church, and then fatally shot nine Black worshippers.
This violence needs to serve as a wake-up call.
The media is not hiding these incidents, but they are reported in isolation from each other. Taken together, they paint a picture of a resurgent, armed radical right-wing movement, which ranges from Patriot Movement paramilitaries to neo-Nazis. In the last year, this part of the Right has become brazen in ways not seen in years. They have lost their fear of seizing federal facilities at gunpoint, stabbing anti-fascist protestors, and shooting at Black Lives Matter rallies.
While Donald Trump has “disavowed and will continue to disavow the support of any such groups associated with a message of hate,” the Republican presidential nominee has inspired and energized White supremacist organizers. In May, The Wall Street Journal reported that prominent fascist Andrew Anglin calls Trump “the Glorious Leader.” As Trump won multiple primaries in May, Anglin wrote on his Daily Stormer website, “White men in America and across the planet are partying like it’s 1999 following Trump’s decisive victory over the evil enemies of our race.” Mother Jones reports that William Johnson, the American Freedom Party leader whom Trump named as a delegate then rescinded the offer, has funded paranoid robocalls including one that decries how “the White race is dying out in America and Europe because we are afraid to be called ‘racist.'” “Trump’s candidacy has absolutely electrified the radical right,” Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center has told The Wall Street Journal….
Read the full opinion piece here.
More Breaking News here.
The first items recovered from the sunken slave ship have arrived in Washington, D.C., and will be displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
BY STEPHANIE KELLY, Reuters
U.S. state and local spending on prisons and jails grew at three times the rate of spending on schools over the last 33 years as the number of Americans behind bars ballooned under a spate of harsh sentencing laws, a government report released Thursday said.
U.S. Secretary of Education John King said the report’s stark numbers should make state and local governments reevaluate their spending priorities and channel more money toward education.
Between 1979 and 2012, state and local government expenditures grew by 107 percent to $534 billion from $258 billion for elementary and secondary education, while corrections spending rose by 324 percent to $71 billion from $17 billion, the U.S. Department of Education report found.
In that same period, the population of state and local corrections facilities surged more than four-fold to nearly 2.1 million from around 467,000, more than seven times the growth rate of the U.S. population overall. The prison population shot up following the widespread adoption of mandatory minimum sentence laws in the 1990s.
Seven states – Idaho, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia – each exceeded the average rate, increasing their corrections spending five times as fast as they did their pre-kindergarten to grade 12 education spending.
In just two states – New Hampshire and Massachusetts – growth in corrections expenditures did not surpass P-12 expenditures, even after accounting for changes in population. The report did not analyze different state policies that could explain these exceptions, King said on a conference call.
State and local spending on postsecondary education has remained mostly flat since 1990, the report said. Average state and local per capita spending on corrections increased by 44 percent as higher education funding per full-time equivalent student decreased by 28 percent, it said.
Two-thirds of state prison inmates did not complete high school, the report said.
A 10 percent increase in high school graduation rates would result in a 9 percent decline in criminal arrest rates, King said.
The United States spends about $80 billion a year on incarceration, White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett said on the conference call.
“One in three Americans of working age have a criminal record,” she said. “That creates an often insurmountable barrier to successful reentry.”
More Breaking News here.
In the past week alone, there was the 4-year-old girl in Falcon Heights, Minn., who was captured on video consoling her mother after they watched a police officer shoot the mother’s boyfriend through the window of a car. And there was the 15-year-old boy in Baton Rouge, La., who sobbed uncontrollably in front of television cameras after the similar shooting death of his father.
Then there were the four brothers, ages 12 to 17, whose mother was shot by the sniper who opened fire on officers in Dallas on Thursday night while the family was protesting police violence against blacks. The mother, who survived, threw herself atop one boy, as the others ran for their lives.
Again and again, children are finding themselves enmeshed in the country’s roiling debate over police treatment of African-Americans. The close-up views of violence, obviously traumatizing, are giving rise to a generation of young people who distrust authority, grow up well before their time and suffer nightmares that seem too real.
“As a mother, I have now been forced to raise a son who is going to remember what happened to his father,” said Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of the boy in Louisiana who sobbed over the death of his father, Alton Sterling. “That I can’t take away from him.”
While adults around them protest and demand criminal justice reform, young witnesses of the carnage are reeling from their losses and harboring pent-up depression that often comes pouring out in panic attacks and breakdowns, relatives say.
The list of young people burdened by these tumultuous times includes Tamir Rice’s teenage sister, who lost 50 pounds after watching the police shoot him in 2014; the daughter of Oscar Grant III, killed by a transit officer while lying down on a California train platform in 2009, who as a 5-year-old would ask playmates to duck when she saw the police; and the 9-year-old nephew of Sandra Bland, who began sleeping in his mother’s room after Ms. Bland’s death last year in a jail cell.
“They are aware of what’s going in the world, of how you can leave your house and you can very well end up in a body bag,” said a sister of Ms. Bland’s, Shante Needham, whose four children continue to struggle with the death of their aunt. “They watch the news. They see all the stuff going on on Facebook. And it’s sad that kids even have to think like that, that if I get stopped by the police, I may not make it home.”…
Read the full article here.
More Breaking News here.