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When the past is present…

“…The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” James Baldwin


Another perfect college acceptance year at Urban Prep

But critics say school pushes out kids with problems

For the third year in a row, every senior at Urban Prep Academy, the only all-African-American, all-male charter high school in Chicago, has been accepted to college, the school’s leaders said.

Urban Prep Academy students cheer on their classmates during last year's assembly. (Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune / February 16, 2011)

Urban Prep Academy students cheer on their classmates during last year's assembly. (Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune / February 16, 2011)

The academy also said that 83 percent of its first graduating class in 2010 has re-enrolled in a second year of college, a rebuttal to critics of the school who have charged that students aren’t always ready for college.,0,4299010.story


Podcast: Third Coast Digest Mark Metcalf interviews Virgil Cameron and Fran Kaplan about ABHM’s Past, Present and Future

The podcast, part of the series “Backstage with Mark Metcalf,” is accompanied by a short story about the museum, photos and links.

Listen to the podcast here:


Trayvon Martin Video Shows No Blood or Bruises on George Zimmerman

The surveillance video, which was obtained exclusively by ABC News, shows Zimmerman arriving in a police cruiser. As he exits the car, his hands are cuffed behind his back. Zimmerman is frisked and then led down a series of hallways, still cuffed. Zimmerman, 28, is wearing a red and black fleece and his face and head are cleanly shaven. He appears well built, hardly the portly young man depicted in a 2005 mug shot that until a two days ago was the single image the media had of Zimmerman.

The initial police report noted that Zimmerman was bleeding from the back of the head and nose, and after medical attention it was decided that he was in good enough condition to travel in a police cruiser to the Sanford, Fla., police station for questioning.

His lawyer later insisted that Zimmerman’s nose had been broken in his scuffle with 17-year-old Martin. In the video an officer is seen pausing to look at the back of Zimmerman’s head, but no abrasions or blood can be seen in the video and he did not check into the emergency room following the police questioning.

See video at:


Duluth racism ads drive some into a rage

One of the stated goals of Duluth’s billboard campaign is to create a community dialogue. In that regard, it got more than it bargained for.

Hundreds of the city’s white residents have complained that the campaign’s kick-off images and messages are offensive. The campaign, they say, blames all racism on whites and implies that white people aren’t smart enough to recognize racism. Meanwhile, the campaign’s defenders and sponsors, including Mayor Don Ness, say they’ve received dozens of hateful messages and e-mails from all over the world, as news of the campaign hit websites that cater to white supremacists and other racists. One message to Ness: “Die, scum, die.”

Ness said Duluth already showed it can have uncomfortable discussions about race relations. Several years ago, despite decades of silence and initial resistance from some city leaders, Duluthians placed a memorial on the downtown street corner where a white mob lynched three black circus workers in 1920, what many have called the darkest moment in the city’s history.

Billboard intended to open racism dialog

A billboard in Duluth MN was intended to open community dialog about racism


Race on ‘Mad Men’: What Could Satisfy Us?

Given past critiques of black roles on-screen, is there anything the writers can do to make us happy?

Since Mad Men is back with us and the year is 1966, it looks as if the handling of race on the show will finally be more up front than it has been before.

However, are we in for three months of indignant editorials about how the Mad Men writers just “don’t get” the black thing? We’ve been primed for it by common complaints that there haven’t been enough black people on the show, period. However, if the complaining continues, one will have to ask: Is there anything the Mad Men people will be able to do right?

I wonder. For example, many would have preferred that Mad Men follow the Drapers’ maid, Carla, home

Carla, the Drapers' maid, on Mad Men

Carla, the Drapers' maid, on Mad Men

and explore her life as a black person during the turbulent 1960s. But we have just seen what happens when white Hollywood makes a film about black maids in the ’60s: The Help. And it would seem that the proper way to feel about The Help is that it was a botched job.


Nelson Mandela’s Archives Now Available Online

Mandela archives now available online

Mandela archives now available online

At a news conference in Johannesburg Tuesday, Mandela’s archivists and Google said their $1.25 million project to digitally preserve a record of the anti-apartheid leader’s life is now online. The project was first announced a year ago.

Researchers — and anyone else — from around the world now have access to hundreds of documents, photographs and videos. The archive has been launched with more than 1,900 entries, and more are being added.


With a Black President, Race Talk Is Harder

Right now the nation has embarked on a massive conversation about race surrounding the tragic death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. On Friday, President Obama weighed in. “I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out: How does something like this happen?” he said.

It’s an important conversation to have — but I fear it won’t lead anywhere. After all, we’ve seen plenty of these debates in recent years, invariably prompted by some tragedy or controversy. Think Troy Davis. Or Shirley Sherrod. Or Jeremiah Wright. Or Henry Louis Gates Jr. Or even Rodney King. We have big debates over racial prejudice and disparities in this country, and then nothing happens.

I thought things would be different by now.


A New Book Takes a Fresh Look at Black Culture

Poet Kevin Young switches to prose with his latest work, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, a slick and witty critique of just what constitutes blackness in the mainstream. The book takes a critical look at how mass media and popular culture portray black culture. Through a collection of narratives and essays, Young makes a compelling argument that black culture is, indeed, American culture.


Milwaukee Public Schools are not full of thugs–Facebook campaign by students

Milwaukee Public Schools students are on a crusade to change the image of the district–

MPS students and graduates protest on facebook

MPS students and graduates protest on facebook

one Facebook page at a time. The goal is simple: Change the negative attitudes some people have about the district.

More than 100 MPS students and counting are changing their Facebook profile pictures to indicate that they are not thugs. Some pictures indicate the universities they will be attending in the fall. Other pictures indicate what MPS graduates are majoring in at their respective schools. Still others indicate what the future will bring.


The Lingering Legacy of Lynching and Trayvon Martin

When I learned that 17-year old Trayvon Martin was gunned down by a man who registered his boyish face and casual presence in his gated-community as dangerous, I once again felt the sorrow of mothers and fathers who for generations agonized over how best to protect their children from the horrors of lynching.

Hanging bodies of Abe Smith and Thomas Shipp, lynched in Marion IN 1930

Hanging bodies of Abe Smith and Thomas Shipp, lynched in Marion IN 1930

I am painfully aware that unlike Trayvon, Oscar Grant’s head was not covered by a hoodie when shot in the back by officers on a railway platform in Oakland, California in 2009. Nor was 49-year old James Craig Anderson’s when he was beaten and run over with a truck by a group of white teens in Brandon, Mississippi in 2011. When 14-year old Emmett Till’s mutilated body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River in 1955 and family patriarch, Anthony Crawford, was stabbed, beaten, shot, and hanged in Abbeville, South Carolina in 1916–neither of these victims of lynchings wore hoodies. What these black males have in common with Trayvon is that they were beloved by their families and friends, moving through life with many of the same values and dreams that we all share, yet someone else saw them as less than human.