Thursday, February 25, 2016

Give me a revelation!

Sometimes you just need an exclamation point!
At least, that's how I feel about the song "Revelation" by Third Day.

I heard this song one morning and it just seemed to crystallize how I felt right at that moment--I just didn't have a clue as to where I was going.

This song is not a casual prayer request.

This is not the song of someone just sitting at a desk with their hands folded, running down their daily prayer list, asking God to, "please bless . . . please take care of . . . please be with . . . "

Rather, this is the song of someone begging, pleading, with hands upraised, stretched out to heaven, screaming, crying, "Give me a revelation!"

It fits very well with what my "word" for this year is, which is "dissatisfaction".

I don't know if Third Day intended for these lyrics to be written with an exclamation point, but as far as I'm concerned, they need it!

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.
My life
Has led me down the road that's so uncertain
Now I am left alone 
And I am broken
Trying to find my way
Trying to find the faith that's gone
This time
I know that you are holding all the answers
I'm tired of losing hope
And taking chances
On roads that never seem
To be the ones that bring me home

Give me a revelation!
Show me what to do!
'Cause I've been trying to find my way
I haven't got a clue!
Tell me should I stay here?
Or do I need to move?
Give me a revelation!
I've got nothing without you
I've got nothing without you!

My life
Has led me down this path that's ever winding
Through every twist and turn
I'm always finding
That I am lost again
Tell me when this road will ever end?

Give me a revelation!
Show me what to do!
'Cause I've been trying to find my way
I haven't got a clue!
Tell me should I stay here?
Or do I need to move?
Give me a revelation!
I've got nothing without you
I've got nothing without you!

I don't know where I can turn
Tell me
When will I learn?
Won't you show me where I need to go?
Let me follow your lead
I know that it's the only way
That I can get back home

Give me a revelation!
Show me what to do!
'Cause I've been trying to find my way
I haven't got a clue!
Tell me should I stay here?
Or do I need to move?
Give me a revelation!
I've got nothing without you
I've got nothing without you!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Manic Monday: Food fight!

The Republican race for the White House has degenerated into a food fight worthy of Animal House!

I watched the GOP debate held a week before the South Carolina primary, and it was the worst display of political behavior I have ever seen.  You had Donald Trump accusing people of lying, you had Marco Rubio accusing a fellow Hispanic of not speaking Spanish, and you had moderators who were either unwilling or unable to keep order.

For the first time in my life, I am considering a protest vote.  I cannot, in good conscience, support Donald Trump for the White House.  He is full of bluff and bluster, he is rude, and he thinks that the White House can be run just like his reality show.  He does not realize that you cannot fire Congress. This is not The Apprentice.  And he has no specific plan on how he's going to run this country, other than "build a wall and make Mexico pay for it" and "we're going to make this country great again".

I don't support Hillary because I don't trust her, and I don't support Sanders because someone has to pay for all the "free" stuff that he's promising.  When those that Sanders wants to tax to pay for these "free" programs leave the US and/or renounce their citizenship, how is all this free stuff going to be paid for?  Who is going to pay for it?

My avatar on Facebook right now is a picture that says "Vote for Snoopy".  That sums up how I feel about this election.

The next Republican debate will be February 25th.  Do not be surprised if you see the ghost of John Belushi dressed in a toga, yelling, "Food fight!"

Because that's what this election has come down to.  If the GOP loses in November, it will be their own fault!

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Some final thoughts on Black History Month . . .

The idea I had -- of writing two articles a day, one on an African-American "off the beaten path", so to speak, and the other about a white person active in civil rights or abolition--was a good one. However, I bit off more than I could chew.  That's why I stopped writing in about the middle of the month.

The concept, though, is promising, and maybe there are other ways I can pursue it.  There's more to black history than Martin Luther King, Barack Obama, and sports and entertainment figures.

While researching people for Black History Month, I came across several references to the "condescending and patronizing" attitudes of whites in the abolitionist movement towards blacks.  That comment made me stop and think.

I'm a white Southern woman.  I was born in the South, raised in the South, and live in the South.  I want badly to understand--to the best of my ability--the background of black history.  But I also worry that I may be guilty of those "patronizing and condescending" attitudes towards blacks.

A quote I read from someone summed up the civil rights movement as:  "Rosa Parks sat down, Martin Luther King stood up, and the white folks came in and saved the day."  There is a lot more to black history than that.  In the civil rights movement, there were the Claudette Colvins who sat down long before Rosa Parks did.  There were also the white people, like Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who worked in Mississippi and were murdered because of their work.  In the abolitionist movement, there were those who helped blacks escape slavery and those who spoke and wrote against it.

I wrote this series because I'm tired of hearing about the "go-to" people in black history.  I want to hear about blacks and whites who contributed to the rich history of African-Americans in this country.  And I think people should know about those blacks and whites--those whose names aren't always mentioned in history classes, and yet who shared their talents and gifts with us.

I am also tired of white people being cast as "the enemy" and black people being cast as "ignorant thugs".  Make no mistake:  We do have a terrible and tragic history of racism and prejudice in this country.  There are white people that have been guilty of crimes against blacks solely because of hate and prejudice.  See Emmett Till; Selma, Alabama; Jim Crow laws; slavery; and others.  And I think there's so much emphasis (at least in my view) on the black experience because it was not until the mid-1960's that legalized discrimination was finally outlawed.  Although it's true that other minority groups--and some white groups--were victims of discrimination, most of them weren't the victims of blatant, legalized discrimination, nor were they bought and enslaved to the extent that blacks were.

(If you doubt that whites were historical victims of discrimination, look up the acronym NINA.  And if you doubt that Asian were ever victims of discrimination, check the immigration laws in the late 1800's to the mid-1900's.  Also, read a history of Japanese internment camps.)

On the other hand, there are blacks who do behave as thugs.  I'm sorry to say that, but it is true.  I think there are blacks who exploit the past history of African-Americans for their own selfish purposes.  I think there are some blacks who threaten to holler "racism!" in order to get their own way, and people cave in because they don't want to be thought of as racist.

And I also think there are whites who exploit the racial divide in this country to stoke the fires of fear and hate as well.

When are we going to truly fulfill the dream of Martin Luther King, who wanted people to be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin?

Let's start now.  Let's look beyond the stereotypes and attempt to see the person and not the skin color.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Black History Month: Susan B. Anthony

"Wait a minute . . . Susan B. Anthony?  Are you sure you have the right person?  Are you writing during the correct month?  This is Black History Month, not Women's History Month!  Aren't you a little early with this article?"

Yes, this is the Susan B. Anthony, women's rights advocate, champion of the right to vote for women . . . and abolitionist.

Susan B. Anthony was born on February 15, 1820 (196 years ago tomorrow!) in Adams, Massachusetts.  She grew up in a Quaker family and, as a child, developed a strong moral code.  She began her schooling at a Quaker school near Philadelphia.

When her father's business failed many years later, Anthony came back home and became a teacher. In the mid-1840's, the Anthonys moved to the Rochester, New York, area.  They became involved in the abolitionist movement, using their farm as a meeting place for anti-slavery Quakers.  People that joined them were abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass.  Anthony, around that time, was hired as the head of the girls' department at the Canajoharie Academy.

She left Canajoharie in 1849 and started devoting more time to social issues.  When she attended an anti-slavery conference in 1851, she met a woman who would become a lifelong friend and comrade in arms, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  Increasingly, Anthony honed her skills by speaking not only against slavery, but on other social issues, including temperance (limiting or stopping the sale of alcohol.)  When she was denied a chance to speak at a temperance convention simply because she was a woman, she began to realize that she--and other women--wouldn't be taken seriously in politics unless they also had the right to vote.

Beginning in 1852, Anthony began working on behalf of the cause of abolition.  She was active in the American Anti-Slavery Society, becoming an agent for them in 1856.  Her work as an agent put her on the front lines of a battle where she encountered mobs and threats.  She had things thrown at her. She was hung in effigy.  In Syracuse, her image was dragged through the street.

Anthony didn't stop.  She continued to work with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the two of them began to tie together female and black suffrage.  In 1863, they founded the Woman's National Loyal League, which supported the Thirteenth Amendement that abolished slavery, and they also campaigned for full citizenship both for blacks and for women.  Even after the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, Anthony continued to campaign for equal rights for all.  She began to publish The Revolution, a newspaper, in 1868, in which she talked about the cause of equal rights. Later, in Rochester newspapers, she would attack lynchings and racial prejudice.

She died March 13, 1906.

We know Susan B. Anthony as a fighter for the rights of women.  Her name will always be associated with her crusade for equal treatment for her gender and with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.  But her desire for equality was not just for her gender, but for all people, including African-Americans.  When we think of Susan B. Anthony, we should remember her concern for all, both male and female, black and white.

Sources used:

"Her Story : Abolitionist," National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House website 
"Susan B. Anthony Believed In Black Humanity," African-American Registry website 
"Susan B. Anthony," website
"Susan B. Anthony,"
"Women's National Loyal League,"

Black History Month: Claudette Colvin

In Montgomery, Alabama, a bus driver ordered a black passenger to give up her seat to a white rider.

She said, "No."

The bus driver had her arrested and taken off the bus.

You know the rest of the story.

No, you don't.

Not in this case.

The date was March 2, 1955, and the rider who refused to move was Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old girl.  She was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on September 5, 1939.

When Colvin was ordered to move, she told the bus driver, "It's my constitutional right to sit here.  I paid my fare."

For that, she was handcuffed, dragged off the bus, and taken to an adult jail, where she spent several hours until her parents came.  She was terrified.  She didn't know what white people would do to her. She was charged with disorderly conduct, defying the segregation law, and assault and battery.

Her minister came and paid her bail, and after Claudette came home, her father sat up all night with a shotgun, fearful of reprisals from the KKK.  One can only imagine the level of tension and fear in the house; jumping at every creak, every rustle of a leaf in the yard.  In 1955, in the South, the Colvins had good reason to be afraid.

When Colvin went back to school, some students applauded her for her courage.  Others thought she'd made it harder for them.  She lost most of her friends, because their parents said that Colvin was "crazy" and "an extremist".

Rather than just sit by quietly, Colvin wanted to fight.  She talked to Fred Gray, who was one of two African-American lawyers in Montgomery.  When Gray talked with Colvin, he was ready to file a lawsuit.  But after discussing her case with other community leaders, they decided to wait.  Colvin was young, she didn't have civil rights training, and the community wasn't quite ready for her situation.

Right about that time, Colvin became pregnant out of wedlock.  The community felt that Colvin's image as a young, unwed mother would attract too much negative attention.

But African-Americans didn't have to wait very long for the event that would challenge Montgomery's segregationist laws.  Nine months later, on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for the same "crime" that Claudette Colvin had committed.

Colvin said that she understood why the NACCP chose Rosa Parks to challenge the law.  "They thought I would be too militant for them.  They wanted someone mild and genteel like Rosa."

Colvin paid a legal and personal price for her actions on that Montgomery bus.  While she pled not guilty to the charges against her, the court found her guilty and gave her probation.  She was labeled as a troublemaker, and she eventually dropped out of college.  And her reputation made it impossible for her to find work.

She ended up moving to New York City, where she worked in Manhattan as a nurse's aide in a nursing home.  In 2004, she retired.

Recently, she said, "It's good to see some of the fruit of my labor . . . I don't mind being named, as long as we have someone out there to tell our story."

Fred Gray, her attorney, also credited Colvin with giving everyone "moral courage.  If she had not done what she did, I am not sure that we would have been able to mount the support for Mrs. Parks," he said in an interview with Newsweek.

Fred Gray, along with Charles D. Langford, became the lawyers that filed Browder v. Gayle, the federal lawsuit that would eventually end segregation on city buses in Montgomery, Alabama.  Four plaintiffs were involved in that case.

Fred Gray's star witness?

Claudette Colvin.

Rosa Parks sat down for the civil rights movement.  But Claudette Colvin opened the way for her to do it.

Sources used:

"Claudette Colvin," website
"Before Rosa Parks, A Teenager Defied Segregation On An Alabama Bus,"

Friday, February 12, 2016

Black History Month: Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman had no more money.  He had spent every penny he had buying a train ticket to Jacksonville, Florida, and he'd just been told that he'd have to pay extra to ship his trunk.  The schools in his hometown, Daytona Beach, Florida, only went to the seventh grade, and if he wanted to go to high school, he had to go to Jacksonville.

He sat down on the steps and began to cry.  A black man, dressed in overalls, saw him, walked over, and paid the charges.

He never introduced himself.

When Howard Thurman published his autobiography, With Head and Heart, he dedicated it "to the stranger in the railroad station in Daytona Beach who restored my broken dream sixty-five years ago."

Perhaps, if that stranger had not happened by and been moved to pay for Howard Thurman's baggage, we would never have heard the "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963.

Howard Thurman was born in Daytona Beach, Florida, on November 18, 1899, and raised by his grandmother, who was a former slave.  After high school, he went on to Atlanta's Morehouse College, where he graduated in 1923 as valedictorian.  From there, he attended Rochester Theological Seminary, graduating in 1926.  His first church was Mount Zion Baptist in Oberlin, Ohio.

Thurman, in January, 1929, left his pastorate and studied at Haverford College.  There, he encountered the Quaker theologian Rufus Jones, who led the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a group that was both pacifist and interracial.  While studying with Jones, Thurman became aware of the need to cultivate a personal relationship with God.  Thurman's time at Haverford started him on his path that would emphasize activism rooted in faith, guided by spirit, and maintained in peace.  He described his time with Jones as the watershed event of his life.  But where Jones thought in a global sense, Thurman thought locally.  He asked the question, "How can we manage the carking fear of the white man's power and not be defeated by our own rage and hatred?"

He began exploring these issues, and three years later, he wrote an essay titled, "Peace Tactics and a Racial Minority."  In this essay, he wrote of a white America who had the "will to dominate and control the Negro minority", which gave blacks a hatred that was spiritually crippling.  Perhaps, he suggested, a "technique of relaxation" may break the cycle.

In 1935-36, Thurman led a delegation of African-Americans to South Asia, where they met the great Mohandas Ghandi.  Ghandi, in his discussions with Thurman, asked, did Christianity have the power to overcome white racism? He pointed out that Hindu principles gave his countrymen a basis for their nonviolence resistance to British power.  Couldn't Christianity do the same for African-Americans?

Thurman pondered that question in the years that followed.  He began to combine what he had learned from Ghandi about nonviolence with what he'd learned from Jones about one's personal relationship with God, and infused his learning with a religious sense of protest against race-based segregation.

In 1944, Thurman went to San Francisco and helped found the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples.  It was the first congregation in the United States that was fully integrated and multi-cultural.  "Do not be silent," he encouraged its members.  "There is no limit to the power that may be released through you."

Thurman's 1949 book, Jesus and the Disinherited, was a foundational work for a nonviolent civil rights movement.  He interpreted the basic goal of Jesus' life as helping the disinherited people of the world change from within so that they could survive in the face of oppression.  He wrote that a love rooted in the "deep river of faith" would help people overcome persecution.

In 1953, Thurman became the dean of Marsh Chapel, located at Boston University.  He taught classes and preached sermons that inspired students who were committed to social justice, and who would later lead and participate in the Civil Rights movement.

One of the students he inspired was a fellow Morehouse man who'd come to Boston to earn a doctoral degree.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thurman served as Marsh Chapel's dean for twelve years.  During that time, he ministered to over 30,000 people from a variety of faiths and nationalities.  He retired from Boston University in 1965, and then founded the Howard Thurman Educational Trust.  The Trust would provide funding for college students in need.  He continued to write and speak until his death, eventually authoring 21 books.  He died on April 10, 1981.

In his book, Footprints of a Dream, Thurman wrote, "The movement of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making.  In a moment of dedication, they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges and to kindle a hope that inspires."

Perhaps it was the movement of the spirit of God that gave an anonymous man the wisdom to "dare a deed", and pay the freight charges for a young boy, so that the boy's hope would be kindled and thus inspire others, including those that would lead the fight for civil rights.

Sources used:

Stefon, Matt, "Howard Thurman : American Theologican and Scholar," Encyclopaedia Britannica Online
"This Far By Faith: People of Faith: Howard Thurman," website
"About Dr. Thurman," Boston University, Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground, website.

Black History Month: Angelina Grimke Weld

The threatening crowd screamed in outrage.  At one point, a rock shattered a window, scattering glass over the floor.  Undaunted, the speaker kept going, refusing to be shouted down by a mere mob.

The next day, the same mob burnt down that building--which had only been open for four days--while police and firemen watched.

The speaker, Angelina Grimke Weld, had been married all of two days, and would soon be expelled from her Quaker religion because she married a Presbyterian.  It was only part of the price she paid for daring to be a woman that spoke out against slavery.

Angelina Grimke was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 20, 1805, the youngest of fourteen children.  She and her sister Sarah were daughters of a wealthy plantation owner, yet, instead of remaining in their upper-class lifestyle, they chose to oppose slavery.

Angelina moved to Philadelphia in 1829, several years after Sarah.  She joined the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and began writing to newspapers, protesting slavery.  She gained the attention of area abolitionists, and because she and Sarah knew about slavery from first-hand observation, they asked the sisters to join their cause.

When Sarah and Angelina began speaking in public, people were outraged because they dared to speak in front of mixed-gender crowds.  In the 1830's, people were shocked to see a woman do such a thing.  After Sarah was reprimanded for speaking at a Quaker meeting about the subject of abolition, she and Angelina packed up and moved to New York.

In 1835, she wrote a letter to prominent abolitionist and publisher William Lloyd Garrison, encouraging him to keep fighting for the cause.  She told him to stand firm and never surrender. Without asking permission, he published her letter in his periodical, The Liberator.  That was the day her career as a public figure began.

Angelina was embarrassed by her letter's publication, but apparently, her devotion to the cause was stronger. In 1836, she published Appeal to the Christian Women of the South.  It was a work that not only discussed how slavery hurt blacks, but also showed how it hurt white women and the family.  Southern society tolerated men having sex with their female slaves, and Angelina wrote of the result:  "the faces of many black children bore silent testimony to their white fathers."  She spoke from experience; her own father had sired both white and black children.  When the letter was published, postmasters seized and destroyed copies and hostility rose against Angelina and Sarah.  They would never again visit home.

Sarah and Angelina devoted the year of 1837 to traveling and speaking.  Increasingly, they spoke to audiences that were made up of both men and women.  They set themselves apart by debating with men, which startled people.  On July 17, 1837, two men challenged Angelina Grimke to a debate over both slavery and a woman's right to a public voice.  She accepted.  An eyewitness account described Angelina as "calm, modest, and dignified," and that she "with the utmost ease brushed away the cobwebs, which her puny antagonist had thrown her way."

She married a fellow abolitionist, Theodore Weld, on May 14, 1838.  It was two days later that Angelina spoke at the newly opened Pennsylvania Hall, holding the audience's attention despite the angry crowd outside.  The next day, that angry mob, infuriated by the site of blacks and whites attending together, torched the building.

Angelina never spoke in public again.  But she did continue to write and publish, encouraged by her husband and sister.  She also taught school and had three children.  She lived to see the end of slavery, dying of a stroke on October 26, 1879.

By writing, speaking, and daring to step out of the box of "conventional behavior", Angelina Grimke Weld paid the price of being persecuted and ostracized.  Because she was willing to pay the cost, she contributed to the success of the abolitionist movement in the United States.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Black History Month: Sarah Grimke

Sarah Grimke wanted to be a lawyer.  If she had been born 150 years later, she probably would have done so.  As it was, the circumstances of her time kept her from the study of law.

But instead of becoming a lawyer, she became something else:  one of the most powerful voices against slavery in the United States.

Sarah Moore Grimke was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on November 26, 1792, one of fourteen children.    She grew up in a wealthy, privileged family; on a plantation where she saw the results of slavery first hand.  But instead of following the path of most girls and young women of that time--marriage, children, and ruling over her own plantation--Sarah Grimke rejected that life.  As a child, she secretly taught slave children to read, in opposition to both her family and state law.

Frustrated by the lack of opportunity for women in Charleston, Sarah made frequent visits to Philadelphia.  She moved there permanently in 1821.  Her sister Angelina followed her several years later.  Both sisters became interested in the abolitionist movement while living in Philadelphia.  They began to speak on the subject to audiences consisting of both men and women--a practice that people considered shocking.  Sarah, in 1836, was reprimanded for speaking to a group of both men and women about abolition.  It was the last straw for her.  She and Angelina moved to New York to work with the abolitionist movement there.

Criticism of both sisters followed them to New York, but Sarah continuted to speak and to write. She would not be silenced.  Because of her background as the daughter of a slaveowner, she had witnessed first-hand what plantation slaves experienced.

In 1836, Sarah wrote and published, "Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States."  In it, she challenged the clergy to understand that slavery was an offense against "divine order".  She said that enslaving a human was the same as treating them as a beast.  This contradicted the characterization of man as being "a little lower than the angels".  She continued with arguments she derived from Scripture, and ended by calling on the church to help end slavery.

The next year, both Sarah and Angelina appeared and spoke at New York's Anti-Slavery Convention. Afterwards, they began a speaking tour in New England.  In Lowell, Massachesetts, they spoke before 1500 people, both men and women, who'd come to hear them talk about the abolition of slavery.  There were Massachusetts clergy who condemned them, quoting Paul, who said that "women should be silent".

In 1838, Angelina married Theodore Weld, who was also an abolitionist, and Sarah went to live with her and her new husband.  They continuted to write and speak about slavery, and also entered into the subject of women's rights.

Sarah, along with her brother-in-law, published a collection of newspaper stories from Southern newspapers.  In American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, they used the actual words of white Southerners as those Southerners described escaped slaves, slave auctions, and other incidents describing the inhumanity of slavery.

Sarah, who never married, worked as a teacher in a school operated by Theodore Weld.  By 1864, with the Civil War nearly over, both Grimke sisters turned their attention to the cause of women's rights.  Sarah died on December 23, 1873, in Hyde Park, Massachusetts.

In comparison with her sister, Sarah was shy and not a dynamic public speaker.  But her experiences and her writings make her a strong voice for the cause of abolition.  She also dared to express herself not only in front of women, but in front of men also.  Sarah Grimke, in speaking for the rights of slaves and the abolition of slavery, was a woman that refused to allow the conventions of the time to silence her.

Sources used:

Lockard, Joe, "An Epistle To the Clergy Of the Southern States," Antislavery Literature.
"Sarah Moore Grimke,"
Berkin, Carol, "Angelina and Sarah Grimke: Abolitionist Sisters," History Now: The Journal of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute.
"Angelina and Sarah Grimke," Young and Brave: Girls Changing History, from National Women's History Museum and Girls Learn International, Inc. website

Black History Month: Phillis Wheatley

When she was 14, she published her first book of poetry.

Before that, she learned Latin and Greek, theology, and ancient history; as well as mythology and literature.

Did I mention that her poetry book was published in 1773, and that the author was a slave?

Her name was Phillis Wheatley.  We don't know the actual date or place of her birth, only that she was probably born in Senegal/Gambia about 1753.  Some biographers think that she may have been a Fula, a Muslim people who read Arabic.  In 1761, she was likely kidnapped and taken into slavery. She arrived in Boston, Massachusetts that year on a slave slip called "The Phillis".  There, she was bought by a couple, John and Susannah Wheatley, and became Susannah's personal servant.  They gave her a new name, Phillis Wheatley.  Her first name came from the ship that brought her to Boston; her last name became that of her owners.

I can only imagine what thoughts this little girl was having.  She was around seven or eight years old, taken from her native land, probably chained in the ship's hold--or, at the least, transported in horrible circumstances--then hauled up onto an auction block, inspected, eyed, ogled, and finally, after the words, "Going once, going twice, sold!", delivered into the hands of a master.  She had no idea how he was going to treat her.  Would he whip her?  Rape her?

Apparently, John and Susannah saw something in this young girl.  The Wheatley's daughter Mary began teaching her English, and Phillis learned very quickly.  Less than a year and a half later, she was reading difficult passages in the Bible.  She started studying Latin and English literature when she was 12.

For a white, male 12-year-old, these would be major accomplishments.  For a white, female, 12-year-old, it would be unheard of.  For a 12-year-old female slave?  Impossible!

Except it wasn't.

Wheatley started writing poetry.  When she was around 13, the Newport Mercury published her first poem, about two men who nearly drowned at sea.  As she grew up, her owners would show her off to their friends, who called her a "lively and brilliant conversationalist".  While the Wheatleys appreciated her and her talents, Phillis Wheatley would never be considered their social equal.  She was a privileged slave, but still a slave.  The white world gave Wheatley her "place" in that society.

When Wheatley was 20, her owners sent her and their son Nathaniel to England.  She wrote a poem to Mrs. Wheatley:  "Susannah mourns, not can I bear,/ To see the crystal shower, /Or mark the tender falling tear, /At sad departure's hour."  The lines show Phillis' affection for her mistress.  

While Wheatley was in England, she published her first and only book of poetry, "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral," and dedicated it to her English patron, Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon.  The volume included a statement from John Wheatley and a preface where 17 prominent Bostonians, including John Hancock, said that she, indeed, had written the included poems.

When Phillis Wheatley published her book of poems, she became the first African-American and first American slave to publish poetry, and only the third American woman to do so.  She continued to write after her book was published.  She wrote several poems honoring George Washington, and sent one of them to him in 1775.  He invited her to visit him at his headquarters, she accepted, and visited him in 1776.  

Although Wheatley's poetry won her fame, she faced serious struggles in her later life.  She suffered from poor health all her life, and one of the reasons she traveled to London was to be treated for her health problems.  But she had to return from London in 1774 due to the death of Susannah Wheatley. Susannah's husband John died just four years later.  And when the Revolutionary War broke out, it took front and center stage in the United States, and because her patrons had British connections, that made it impossible for them to support and promote her poetry.  Wheatley, ultimately, was unable to publish another collection of her poems.  

Wheatley became a free woman upon the death of her masters.  She eventually married John Peters and had three children.  While she continued to write poetry, she lived in poverty, and all three of her children died in infancy.  She was around 31 when she died in Boston, on December 5, 1784.

Phillis Wheatley has been criticized for adopting a "white voice" and abandoning her own race.  But she had to walk the line between her feelings, her patrons, her readers, and the God in whom she strongly believed.  Alice Walker, among other African-American feminist poets, claims Phillis Wheatley as an inspiration.

Her slavery was tragic, and so was her life after slavery.  And her history as a slave was a unique one, one not experienced by the vast majority of slaves.  But she used her position to write and to publish, and thus secured for herself a special place in African-American history.

Sources used:

"Phillis Wheatley",
Virginia Commonwealth University, Ann Woodlief's Web Study Texts, "On Phillis Wheatley".

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Monday, February 8, 2016

Black History Month: Anthony Benezet

The American abolitionist movement owes much to the decision of the Benezet family to uproot themselves from France.

The Benezets were a well-to-do Huguenot (Protestant) family living in Saint-Quentin, France, when their son Anthony was born on January 31, 1713.  Anthony was just two when the family moved to Holland in order to escape religious persecution.  Later, they went to London, where Anthony was educated and became a Quaker, a member of the Society of Friends.

In 1731, the Benezets immigrated to Philadelphia, and the sons of the family went into the merchant business.  He married a few years later, and then decided to become a teacher.  Not only did he teach students in the daytime, he began an evening class for poor black children in his own home.  When he saw his students' accomplishments, he knew that the myth of racial inequality was just that, a myth. He taught these children until 1770, when, with the help of the Society of Friends, he started a school for them in Philadelphia.

Until 1755, Benezet taught in a Quaker school.  He was not only concerned about the education black children received; he was very distressed by the inferior education given to women.  So, in 1755, he started the first public girls' school in America.  One young girl, deaf and mute, was a special recipient of Benezet's compassion.  He designed a special program for her so that she, too, could be part of his school.

Perhaps it was compassion and empathy, brought about by his family's experience with religious persecution and his own interactions with children considered "inferior", that drew him into the abolitionist movement.  He read and heard reports from people who traveled.  A Quaker minister, John Woolman, also influenced him to become concerned about slavery.  Benezet started writing to English abolitionists, and he also wrote pieces for newspapers and almanacs on the subject.

Benezet, in his work, insisted on the equality of all people.  He wrote:  "I can with truth and sincerity declare, that I have found amongst the negroes as great a variety of talents as amongst a like number of whites; and I am bold to assert, that the notion entertained by some, that the blacks are inferior in their capacities, is a vulgar prejudice, founded on the pride of ignorance of their lordly masters, who have kept their slaves at such a distance, as to be unable to form a right judgment of them."

Benezet continued to write, and many years later, English abolitionist Thomas Clarkson read his writings.  Clarkson was researching abolitionist works at the time, and said that in Benezet's publications, "I found almost all I wanted."

On May 3, 1784, Anthony Benezet died in Philadelphia.  He left money to continue the work of teaching black children and also to support the fight for justice of those illegally held as slaves.

He wished to be buried in an unmarked grave., and his wish was granted.  However, he did not die unmourned.  Hundreds, representing all religions and races, came to pay their respects.  It was a fitting tribute to a life that was characterized by both compassion for those discriminated against and persecuted and the desire and determination to do something about it.

Sources used:

"Anthony Benezet (1713-1784)", The Abolition Project website
Anthony Benezet Facts,"

Black History Month: Debi Thomas

Sadly, Debi Thomas has been in the news lately for being broke and unemployed.

Which is a shame, given her accomplishments as figure skater and doctor.

Debra Janine Thomas was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on March 25, 1967.  When she was five years old, she strapped on a pair of ice skates and started skating.   By the time she was nine, she was taking formal lessons and winning skating competitions.  When she was ten years old, Alex McGowan became her coach, and he was responsible for shaping her career as she headed for the Olympic Games.

Judges often discriminated against Thomas when scoring her routines, giving higher scores to skaters with skills not as impressive.  But she kept going.  At 12, in the national novice finals, she won the silver medal.

Thomas kept skating and studying.  In February, 1986--while studying engineering at Stanford University--she won the US Figure Skating Championships, becoming the first African-American to do so.  Shortly afterwards, she won the world figure skating championship--again, the first African-American to do so.

She won the US Championships again in 1988 and was favored to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics that year.  Thomas and and figure skater Katarina Witt, from East Germany, both used the music from the opera Carmen in their long program, leading the sports media to dub Thomas' and Witt's rivalry the "Battle of the Carmens".  Thomas, unfortunately, lost that battle to Witt.  Witt won the gold medal; Thomas, the bronze.  Thomas' bronze medal was the first earned by any African-American, male or female, in a Winter Olympics; a fact that the sports media seemed to gloss over.

Thomas had gotten married just a few days before the Olympics in 1988.  The newly married skater went on to earn her bachelor's from Stanford in 1991.  The next year, she retired from skating and entered medical school at Northwestern University.  When she graduated in 1997, she decided to become an orthopedic surgeon.  Over the next years, she did a residency at Charles R. Drew University in Los Angeles, and received a fellowship at the Dorr Arthritis Institute, located in Inglewood.

She opened her own practice in Virginia in 2010, doing knee and hip replacements.

As a skater, Thomas received much recognition, being inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2000, and being a representative for the U.S. Olympic Committee at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.  She also supported several charities, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

So what happened?  What went wrong?

Her first marriage ended in divorce, Thomas said, because he "felt lost" in the middle of her fame.  A second marriage also ended in divorce, and she lost custody of her son from that marriage.

As a doctor, she lost two jobs, then opened up her own practice.  The second divorce caused her to lose her savings, and forced her to close her private practice.

Thomas' struggles are not uncommon for athletes and others who were once in the spotlight.  Any athlete needs not only physical strength and conditioning, but mental toughness as well.  Debi Thomas had both during her years in figure skating.  If she can summon up the mental toughness she had in those days, chances are that she can once again come out on top.

Sources used:

McRady, Rachel, "Olympic Figure Skater Debi Thomas Reveals She's Broke, Jobless," Us Magazine, November 9, 2015
"Debi Thomas," website.
Capretto, Lisa, "How an Olympic Icon Ended Up Living In A Bug-Infested Trailer," Huffington Post website, November 6, 2015

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Black History Month: Dominique Dawes

Dominique Dawes got her first piece of fan mail when she was 11 years old.  She'd been competing as a gymnast for about a year.

During her career as a gymnast, she didn't realize the impact she was making among young African-American girls.

She does now.  In a 2008 interview, she said, "I compare it to -- of course, it's not as big of a deal, but -- Tiger playing golf or the Williams sisters in tennis.  Being there on that stage and having young girls see a diverse team is what allows that sport to be seen as an opportunity for them because they see Tiger, or Venus, or me or someone who looks like them finding success."

Dominique Dawes got one thing wrong in that interview.

It is as big of a deal.

Dominique Margaux Dawes was born on November 20, 1976, in Silver Spring, Maryland.  (Just four months previously, Nadia Comaneci had wowed the world with the first perfect scores in Olympic gymnastics history.)  She started taking gymnastics lessons when she was six years old.  The woman who coached her, Kelli Hill, remained Dawes' coach for her entire career.  Dawes says of her coach, "I wouldn't be where I am without her support and guidance . . . She made me focus on the things I had control of and everything else was just put aside in a stack -- everything from how to judges felt about me to the temperature of the gym.  She was very big on instilling that lesson."

Dawes, at nine, would write "determination" on her mirror to prepare herself for her meets.  That attitude paid off as she moved upward in the world of gymnastics.

In 1988, she was the first African-American to make the US woman's national gymnastics team. Then four years later -- just five years after her very first gymnastics meet -- she and Betty Okino became the first African-American women to compete in the Olympic Games for the United States. She took home a bronze team medal.

Two years later, at the National Championships, Dawes was the first woman in 25 years to "sweep the board". She won the all-around and all four individual events (balance beam, uneven bars, vault, and floor exercise.)  That accomplishment helped name her "Sportsperson of the Year" by USA Gymnastics.

She competed in the Olympics again, in 1996, as part of the "Magnificent Seven" team that won the gold medal, the first US women's gymnastics team to do so.  But during the all-around competition, a fall and a step out of bounds cost Dawes the chance to win an individual medal there.  She rebounded during the individual floor exercise event, however, and ended up winning the bronze medal.  It was the first individual gymnastics medal won by an African-American woman.

Four years later, in Sydney, Dawes again competed as part of the American team.  The team finished fourth.  Ten years later, though, after an investigation, the US team was moved up to third place when a Chinese gymnast was found to be underage.  The Chinese had won the team bronze in 2000.  When the Chinese had to give up the bronze medal, the medals went to the United States team . . . which meant that Dominique Dawes became the first gymnast to belong to three separate medal-winning gymnastics teams.

Dawes retired from gymnastics after the 2000 Olympics.  Since then, she's been a motivational speaker and appeared on Broadway in the musical Grease.  She married teacher Jeff Thompson in 2013 and, in 2014, they had a baby girl.

Dawes will not rest on her laurels.  She says, "If you're just like, 'Hey, I won a gold medal and I have three Olympics under my belt and I broke down barriers,' and you do nothing else, it means nothing."

"Not as big of a deal"?

Not a chance!

Sources used:

Buckheit, Mary, "Catching Up With Dominique Dawes,", February 27, 2008 
"Dominique Dawes",
Wilson, Stephen, "Former US Olympian Dominique Dawes Gets Medal 10 Years Later," Christian Science Monitor online, April 30, 2010.
 "Newly Catholic Dominique Dawes Is Expecting a Baby Girl," Belly Itch Blog, February 8, 2014.

Black History Month: Moncure Conway

When a nonslaveholder said they hated slavery, it didn't necessarily mean they were an abolitionist, because very few southern whites worked to end slavery.

That wasn't true in the case of Moncure Conway, son of a Virginia planter and slaveholder. He hated slavery, and he devoted himself to ending it.

Moncure Conway was born on March 17, 1832, in Stafford County, Virginia.  The relatives of his father, county magistrate Walker Peyton Conway, included the families of James Madison and George Washington.  His mother, Margaret Daniel, was the granddaughter of a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  One of his uncles was a states' rights advocate.  And his great-uncle, Peter Vivan Daniel, was a member of the Supreme Court.  In 1857, Peter Daniel voted with the majority in the infamous Dred Scott decision, which stated that "the Negro has no rights which the white man was bound to respect" and included the ruling that African-Americans could never become U.S. citizens.

But Moncure Conway could not bring himself to follow in the thinking of his great-uncle. Conway's biographer, John d'Entremont, called him "the most radical white male who grew up in the antebellum South."

After earning an AB degree from Pennsylvania's Dickinson College, he became a Methodist minister. But not long afterwards, he began shifting towards being a Unitarian and an abolitionist.  It was mostly the women in his family that encouraged him in this direction.  By contrast, his father and uncle "threatened to have him drummed out of town."  Right around this time, he discovered Ralph Waldo Emerson's writings, and started corresponding with him.  In 1853, he moved to eastern Massachusetts, where he met and developed his relationship with Emerson and also earned a degree from Harvard Divinity School.

During Conway's time at Harvard, a fugitive slave named Anthony Burns was arrested.  Abolitionists tried to free Burns through legal channels, and when that failed, they stormed the jail.  A deputy sheriff was killed in the chaos.  No doubt that influenced Conway to come out, in 1854, as an open abolitionist.  He spoke at the same Fourth of July rally where William Lloyd Garrison burned a copy of the US Constituion.  In his speech, Conway said that, "in Virginia, they not only had slaves, but every man with a conscience, or even the first throbbings of a conscience, is a slave."

The next year, 1855, Conway was ordained as a minister of the First Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C. He preached so fervently against slavery that he was fired in 1856.  Undaunted, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, became the minister of their First Unitarian Church, and married Ellen Davis Dana.  Gradually, he moved away from Unitarianism into "free thought", no longer believing in Christ's divinity or in miracles.

In July, 1862, Conway, upon hearing of fighting in the area in Virginia where he had lived, made up his mind to free his family's slaves.  After finding about thirty of them in Washington, D.C., and negotiating with railroad officials to take them to Ohio, they set out on a dangerous trip to Yellow Springs, Ohio.  When the slaves finally reached free territory, Conway "observed that every eye danced, every tongue was loosened, and, after some singing, they all dropped off to sleep.  It was not until the next day that I learned that the station which had wrought such a transfomation was the dividing line between the slave and the free states. . . . there the shadow of slavery ended."

The free people named their settlement along the Little Miami River "Conway's Colony".

In 1863, while in England, Conway--without permission from the US government--tried to bargain with the Confederate envoy to England, offering to support disunion if the Confederates would free their slaves.   Back home, Confederates relished in Conway's error, while fellow abolitionists protested.  Conway offered a meek apology to Secretary of State William Seward.

After the Civil War, Conway lived much of the rest of his life as an expatriate.  He served as the minister of London's South Place Chapel, a British free thought organization, and also wrote much on philosophy and religion.  While he was living in New York, he wrote biographies of figures such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thomas Paine.

Not long after his wife died of cancer in 1897, Conway moved to Paris.  He continued to write and travel until his death on November 15, 1907.

In 1862, when Conway learned of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, he called it a poor compromise, because the Proclamation freed slaves only in some states and didn't address the issue of equal rights.

"What will we do in 1962?" he wrote.

He could not have known that, by 1962, the Civil Rights movement was gathering steam and moving full speed ahead.

Sources used:

Schools, Norman L. "Moncure Conway (1832-1907)". Encyclopedia Virginia 
"Moncure Conway, Southern Abolitionist," Renegade South: Histories of Unconventional Southerners, January19, 2010
Boorstein, Michelle. "From 1850s Virginia, an Abolitionist Hero Emerges." Washington Post, Sunday, August 22, 2004

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Black History Month: Calvin Fairbank

When Reverend Calvin Fairbank was released from the Kentucky State Penitentary in 1864, he headed straight for his home in Ohio.  Upon reaching the state, he fell to the ground, "kissed the dirt of my adopted State, and rising to my feet, and throwing my hands high in (the) air, I shouted:  Out of the Mouth of Death!  Out of the Jaws of Hell!!"

His crime?

Helping slaves to freedom.

Calvin Fairbank, a Methodist minister, was born in New York State on November 3, 1816.  In his autobiography, he told of listening to the story of a former slave woman who had been sold and separated from her husband and family. He was outraged, and told his father, "When I get bigger, they shall not do that."

Fairbank, in 1840, became licensed to preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church.  By then, he'd already freed his first slave, and by 1844, he'd claimed to have rescued at least 44 slaves.  That year, he attempted to rescue the wife and children of a slave, Gilson Berry.  While he was unable to rescue that family, he did come across another slave, Lewis Hayden.  When Fairbank asked, "Why do you want your freedom?"  Hayden answered, "Because I am a man."

The Hayden family--their faces powdered with flour to make them appear white--managed to escape. Fairbank did not.  He was arrested, tried, convicted, and sent to prison at the Kentucky penitentary in Frankfort.  

He was pardoned in 1849 by Kentucky governor John J. Crittenden.  Upon his pardon, he went right back to helping slaves escape.  In 1851, he helped a female slave named Tamar flee from Kentucky to Indiana.  On November 9 of that year, marshals from the state of Kentucky abducted Fairbank and took him back to Kentucky, where he again stood trial for helping a slave escape.  Again, he was tried, convicted, and sent back to the penitentary.  When Fairbank began his second term in jail, he heard the warden say, "Take Fairbank to the hackling house and kill him."  The hackling house, part of the hemp production area, was so brutal that three inmates deliberately chopped off a hand do they wouldn't have to work there.  

While Fairbank was in jail for the second time, he was repeatedly flogged -- over 1,000 times, he reported -- and at one point, he was hit by a club and temporarily blinded.  

His ordeal ended on April 15, 1864, when the Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, Richard T. Jacobs, pardoned him.  He'd been released, as he said, out of the jaws of hell.  

Fairbank may have come out of the jaws of hell, but the brutal treatment he received there broke his health. He did marry and have a son, but he was unable to support his family. In 1898, he died. 

Fairbank, during his lifetime, reportedly helped 47 slaves escape. Those 47 people would not have known freedom without Calvin Fairbank being willing to put his life, health, and freedom on the line. 

Sources used:  

Prichard, James M. "Into the Fiery Furnace : Anti-Slavery Prisoners in the Kentucky Penitentary 1844-1870." Kentucky's Underground Railroad: Passage to Freedom," web site.
Fox, Aloysius, "November 9, 1851: Minister Calvin Fairbank Imprisoned," The Pandora Society website, November 9, 2015
Fairbank, Calvin. Rev. Calvin Fairbank During Slavery Times: How He Fought the Good Fight to Help Prepare the Way. Chicago: R.R. McCabe, 1890, retrieved from
Chesson, Michael. Review of Delia Webster and the Underground Railroad, posted at H-Net, Humanities and Social Sciences Online.

Black History Month: Betty Okino

When Betty Okino's coaches asked her if she understood Romanian, Betty answered, "Of course."

Big mistake.

From then on, her coaches started speaking in Hungarian, so Betty couldn't tell the other girls what they were saying.

Okino's coaches were Marta and Bela Karolyi, famous for training Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton, both of whom were Olympic all-around champions in women's gymnastics.

Elizabeth Anna "Betty" Okino, the daughter of a Ugandan father and Romanian mother, was born in Kampala, Uganda, on June 4, 1975. She came to the United States when she was three and, at first, was a competitive dancer. She began gymnastics at the age of nine, which is late in gymnastics circles. Her dance training served her well, though, and four years later, she was competing at the junior elite level.

In 1991, she won the American Cup competition, and she also won two medals at the World Championship--a bronze medal on the balance beam and a silver medal with her teammates. Undoubtedly, this contributed to her being selected to the Olympic gymnastics team in 1992. Okino and gymnast Dominque Dawes were the first African-American girls to be on an Olympic gymnastics team.

Six weeks before the Olympics, Okino fractured her back. She describes this as "quite literally the battle of good vs. evil". Would she give up, or would she hold on to her dream?

She chose the latter. In Barcelona, Spain, site of the 1992 Olympics, she won a bronze team medal, competed in the finals of the balance beam, and placed 12th in the all-around. Okino has described herself as being "tired and drained" by the time she got there. Despite her exhaustion, though, she was grateful for representing the United States at the Olympics.

The Code of Points, the handbook that is used by gymnastics judges, contains two skills--a triple pirouette on the balance beam and a dismount from the uneven bars--named the "Okino", after Betty. It is a type of fame achieved by very few gymnasts.

Okino retired from gymnastics after the Olympics and acted in several TV series. Today, she is married to Jacob Daniel DeVere, and together, they have pursued their interests in art, film and music. She can be found at One Drop Within the Wave, her website. 

In 2012, twenty years after Betty Okino's performance in Barcelona, the world watched as Gabrielle Douglas became the first African-American to win the all-around Olympic gold medal in women's gymnastics. Betty Okino deserves part of the credit for opening the door for her.

Sources used:

Friday, February 5, 2016

Black History Month: Levi Coffin

"Grand Central Station" is not only the name of a famous railroad station in New York City.  It's also the nickname given to the Indiana house where Levi Coffin and his wife Catharine lived.

Levi Coffin was born on October 28, 1798, in North Carolina.  He was a Quaker, a religious group that did not believe in slavery.  As a child, he and his father saw a group of slaves, and Coffin wondered how he would feel if his father were taken away from him, just like the slaves were taken away from their wives and children.

In 1826, he moved to Indiana with his wife Catharine.  When they learned that they were living on a route that escaped slaves used to flee their masters, they started helping shelter them and arranging transportation to Canada and elsewhere.  Because of his work, Coffin gained the nickname of "President of the Underground Railroad," and their home, the nickname of "Grand Central Station".

When asked why he helped slaves when he knew he could be arrested, Coffin explained that he "read in the Bible . . . that it was right to take in the stranger and adminster to those in distress, and that I thought it was always safe to do right.  The Bible, in bidding us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, said nothing about color, and I should try to follow out the teachings of that good book."

He moved to Cincinnati in 1847.  There, he opened a business that sold goods produced by free laborers.  He continued his participation in the Underground Railroad.  By 1850, safe houses were needed in free states as well as in slave states, because the Fugitive Slave Law allowed Southern slave owners to go to free states and reclaim their slaves.  In order to gain their freedom, escaped slaves had to go all the way to Canada.

In 1876, he published his autobiography, Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, which told of his life and his activities in helping slaves.  He died on September 16, 1877, in Cincinnati.  Several years later, a group of African-Americans in Cincinnati, to show their appreciation for Coffin's work, erected a monument over his grave.  It stands today, paying tribute to the man that ran the original "Grand Central Station".

Sources used:

Black History Month: Robert Smalls

"Pass the Planter."

The cry from the sentinel at Fort Sumter was the response Robert Smalls had been hoping for.  He put the Planter, a Confederate steamboat, in motion and headed straight for the ships that blockaded the coast.  The first ship that saw the Planter, the USS Onward, almost fired.

Then they saw the white flag.

Robert Smalls had just executed perhaps the most daring escape of the Civil War.  He'd swiped a Confederate ship, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, Howitzer guns, other weapons, and seventeen slaves, among them his own wife and children -- and did it all right under the noses of the Confederacy.

Smalls was born in 1839 in Beaufort, South Carolina, the son of a black slave and a white man.  As a child, his mother, a house slave, sent her son into the fields to experience true slavery.  She wanted her son to see the inhumanity of slavery, and she succeeded.  That experience gave him the spirit he would need to later escape to freedom.

Smalls was sent to Charleston when he was 12.  He learned to sail, and proved himself a capable and worthy seafarer.  Slowly, he earned the trust of his slave masters.  When he was assigned to steer the Planter, an armed Confederate steamship, he began thinking of his escape plan.  He knew the waterways, and he knew the signals that the Planter's whistle would give.  Now, all he needed was the chance.

It came on the night of May 12, 1862.  The three white officers in charge of the Planter, instead of spending the night aboard the ship, decided to stay on shore instead.  Smalls, and eight other crewmen, were left aboard.  When Smalls told them his plan, most of them decided to go with him.

Remembering a remark a fellow crewman had made -- "Boy, you look 'jes like de captain" -- Smalls put on the jacket and straw hat of the ship's captain and set out on his journey.  They made one stop, at a nearby wharf, to pick up other slaves, including Smalls' wife and children.  If caught, Smalls matter-of-factly stated to his wife, he'd be shot.

But the Planter was passed, and when it reached the USS Onward, the now-free slaves broke into celebration, singing, dancing, and laughing.  When Smalls met the captain of the Onward, he commented, "I thought the Planter might be of some use to Uncle Abe."

After the Civil War ended, he returned to South Carolina and bought his former owner's house.  He then began several business ventures, including a store, a school for black children, and a newspaper. Smalls also began a political career that culminated in his serving for five terms in the US House of Representatives.

Smalls once stated, "My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be equal of any people anywhere.  All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life."

Robert Smalls' courage and ingenuity proves the truth of his statement.

Sources used:

White, Micah, "Black History Unsung Heroes: Robert Smalls."
Roberts, Blain and Kytle, Ethan, "Robert Small's Great Escape," New York Times website, May 12, 2012
"Smalls, Robert, 1839-1915," United States House of Representatives, History, Art and Archives

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Black History Month: John Rankin

Slaves fleeing north in the 1840's had to wait at the Ohio River, in hiding, trembling in fear, until they saw the light of a lantern across the river.  It was safe.  They could come across, because shelter was waiting for them.

The lantern belonged to John Rankin, a Presbyterian minister, a Southerner by birth, and who was an abolitionist.

He was born on February 4, 1793 (223 years ago today!) in Tennessee.  Although he lived in the South during his early life, he began preaching against slavery after becoming a minister in 1817. Church leaders warned Rankin that he should never preach such views in Tennessee and, as a result, he and his family moved to Kentucky.  He ministered to the Concord Presbyterian Church, an antislavery congregation, until financial problems and growing personal danger caused him to relocate to Ripley, Ohio.

Not long after moving to Ripley, Rankin discovered that his brother Thomas, who lived in Virginia, owned slaves.  He wrote a series of letters that became known as Letters on Slavery.  They were originally published in the Castigator, Rankin's hometown paper, but in 1826, the letters were published in book form.

Rankin founded Ripley College in 1829, and two years later, he enrolled the school's first African-American student.  As a result, some students left Ripley College and didn't return.  

Rankin decided to "put his money where his mouth was", so to speak, and opened his home to runaway slaves.  In 1838, he helped a slave who escaped by crossing the Ohio River with her baby in her arms.  That woman, and that event, became the model for Eliza, the runaway slave, in Uncle Tom's Cabin.  Ripley's home--the one where the lantern shone--became one of the main stopping points on the Underground Railroad.  His notoriety grew to such a point that a $3000 bounty was placed on his head, and his home was often targeted by hunters demanding to search for fugitive slaves.  But never once was a slave recaptured that reached Ripley.

Rankin kept preaching and speaking out against slavery.  He, along with ten other Midwestern ministers, founded the Free Presbytery of Ripley, and then eventually united into the Free Synod of Cincinnati, later known as the Free Presbyterian Church.  

He died on March 18, 1886.  He supported the cause of abolition by holding the lantern that signaled "safety", and he lived to see that cause validated.

Sources used:

Black History Month: Marshall Keeble

If you are not a member or former member of the Churches of Christ, you've probably never heard of Marshall Keeble.

Come to think of it, if you're a member of the Churches of Christ, you may not have heard of Marshall Keeble.

You should, no matter whether you are or are not part of Churches of Christ.

Marshall Keeble was born near Murphreesboro, Tennessee, on December 7, 1878, the son of former slaves. When he died on April 20, 1968, it was estimated that he'd baptized an estimated 40,000 people.

He and his family moved to Nashville when Keeble was four.  He went to school until the 7th grade, and then went to work at a soap factory.

At 17, Keeble was baptized at the Gay Street Christian Church.  Two years later--after marrying Minnie Womack, a minister's daughter--he began to preach at the Jackson Street Church of Christ.  In 1914,  he decided to devote himself exclusively to preaching.  He traveled to brush-arbors, tents, barns, church buildings, and wherever else people would listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Not only did he go throughout the United States, he also made several trips to Nigeria.  Keeble's 1962 autobiography was abtly titled, From Mule Back to Super Jet with the Gospel.

Around 1920, A.B. Burton, friend, a fellow Church of Christ member, and founded of the Life and Casuality Insurance Company, started financing Keeble's work.  A website dedicated to the history of the Restoration Movement (which birthed the Churches of Christ), says that "The Bible and Burton gave Keeble the ability to make the world a better place."

Not only did Keeble preach, he also debated many from other religious groups.  He tackled the subjects of baptism, foot-washing, the Lord's Supper, miracles, the Holy Spirit, the Church, the Sabbath, and probably many, many other subjects.  It's said that after Keeble's debate opponents faced Keeble, they all retired from the debating arena and never came back for a second try.

Keeble's marriage to Minnie Womack lasted until her death in 1932.  They had five children; sadly, all of them died before Keeble did.  Two children died in infancy, one was electrocuted at ten, a daughter died in 1935, and their last child died in 1964.  Keeble married again, to Laura Johnson, in 1934.

Keeble was criticized for being "too accomodating" to the white people that supported him.  He encouraged Christian blacks to "turn the other cheek", but didn't ask for similar Christian behavior from whites.  He did preach to mixed groups, and when doing so, would reserve "whites-only" seating.  There were whites who embraced Keeble because he came across as "knowing his place" in society and in the church.

On the other hand, Keeble did address discrimination when he trained ministers at the Nashville Christian Institute.  And he mentored two people who became leaders in the American Civil Rights movement:  Fred Gray, who later defended Rosa Parks; and Floyd Rose, a minister who also advocated for civil rights.

When he died, over 3,000 people, both black and white, attended his funeral.

In 2000, the Christian Chronicle, a newspaper covering issues in Churches of Christ, named Marshall Keeble their "Person of the Decade" for the years 1940-1940.

There are transcripts and recordings still available of Keeble's sermons.  Those who go looking for them will find a picture of a passionate man of God who devoted his life to telling others about the Jesus he loved.

Sources used:

"Marshall Keeble, 1878-1968," Restoration History
"Marshall Keeble," Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Black History Month: Clarence Jordan

A little over a year ago, I picked up a paintbrush and spent nearly an entire day applying a coat of white paint to a bedroom door.  The reason it took so long was because the door kept absorbing the paint.

The door was located inside a house built by Habitat for Humanity, the well-known non-profit whose mission is to provide housing for low-income residents.  I was lucky enough to get to see the dedication of that house, now the home to a single mom and her two daughters.

Had it not been for a man named Clarence Jordan, I never would have picked up that paintbrush.

Clarence Jordan was born July 29, 1912, in Talbotton, Georgia, located between Macon and Columbus.  Growing up, he was influenced by his Southern Baptist culture but also by the values of what was called the "Social Gospel".

While a student at the University of Georgia, he went to conferences put on by the YMCA, and he became convinced that the gospel of Christianity and the cultural and racial traditions of that time didn't mix.  After he graduated from college, he went to seminary at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  He studied the Greek New Testament and eventually earned a doctorate.

Jordan, while in Louisville, met a man named Martin England.  England, a Northern Baptist minister, was interested in collective farming.  They both agreed that creating an interracial cooperative would both show the Christian values of harmony and virtue while helping both black and white sharecroppers.

In 1942, their idea led them to Sumter County, Georgia, and the tiny town of Americus.  (Americus is just down the road from Plains, Georgia, known as the hometown of former president Jimmy Carter.) Jordan, England, and their wives eventually founded Koinonia Farm.  "Koinonia"is a word transliterated from Greek meaning "Christian fellowship or communion".  Koinonia Farm would be a Christian community where resources would be pooled into a common treasury and all persons would be treated as equals.

The Jordans and the Englands built this community around four core beliefs:

  • Treat all human beings with dignity and justice.
  • Choose love over violence (pacifism).
  • Share all possessions and live simply.
  • Be stewards of the land. 
One of Koinonia Farm's goals was to teach local farmers--both black and white--farming techniques that they hoped would increase production and profit. By doing this, they hoped to break the cycle of poverty that entrapped so many local families.  A handful of families joined the farm, and they began growing crops and producing products that they sold to the community around them. 

Koinonia's commitment to both pacifism and racial equality, unfortunately, earned them threats, ostracism, and violence.  During the late 1940's, the farm held interracial Bible studies for their neighbors.  Because of their views on race, in 1950, the Jordans and other members of Koinonia were expelled from their church, the Rehoboth Southern Baptist Church.  

In 1954, hostility started focusing on Koinonia, and over the next several years, the farm became the target of a community boycott.  Their produce stand was shot at.  The Ku Klux Klan threatened violence unless the farm was sold.  By 1963, only four adults were left at Koinonia.  

That was the year Clarence Jordan put his Greek New Testatment knowledge to use.  He wrote and eventually published the Cotton Patch Gospel, meant to communicate the New Testament into the language of the American South.  For example, Jesus is born in Gainesville, baptizes in the Chattahoochee River, and tells people, "Come to me, all of you who are frustrated and have had a bellyful, and I will give you zest." Atlanta actor Tom Key and stage director Russell Treyz wrote a musical based on Jordan's translation of the Gospels of Matthew and John, which ran successfully off-Broadway and has had other successful productions as well.

When a new couple, Millard and Linda Fuller, arrived at Koinonia, they and the Jordans changed their focus.  They incorporated as Koinonia Partners, and in 1968, they started the Fund for Humanity.  This fund would finance the construction of adequate housing for people in need.  

If the phrase "adequate housing for people in need" sounds familiar, it should.  This is the concept behind Habitat For Humanity.  

Clarence Jordan died on October 29, 1969.  Koinonia Farms still exists today, growing and selling their products, providing guided retreats and courses, and giving its guests a place of refreshment. 

When I picked up that paintbrush to paint a door, I had no idea that I was part of a movement that came from one man's committment to treating all with dignity, choosing love, caring for the land, and living simply.  

Sources used:

Chancey, Andrew S. "Clarence Jordan: 1912-1969." New Georgia Encyclopedia: Arts and Culture: Religion
"Koinonia Farm,"
"Koinonia History Timeline", Koinonia Farms website
Waskey, A.J.L, "Cotton Patch Gospel." New Georgia Encyclopedia: Arts and Culture: Theater
Hatfield, Edward A, "Habitat For Humanity International." New Georgia Encyclopedia: Business and Economy: Non-Profit Organizations.