Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Black History Month: Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan (Born 21 February 1936 – Died 17 January 1996) was a lawyer, educator, an American politician, and a leader of the Civil Rights movement. A Texas Democrat, she was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, the first southern black female elected to the United States House of Representatives, and the first African-American woman to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic National Convention

She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous other honors. She was a member of the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors from 1978 to 1980. On her death, she became the first African-American woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery--final resting place of Governors, Senators, Legislators, Congressmen, Judges and other legendary Texans who have made the state what it is today.

Jordan taught political science at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for a year. In 1960, she returned to Houston, passed the bar and started a private law practice.
Jordan campaigned unsuccessfully in 1962 and 1964 for the Texas House of Representatives. She won a seat in the Texas Senate in 1966, becoming the first African American state senator since 1883 and the first black woman to serve in that body. Re-elected to a full term in the Texas Senate in 1968, she served until 1972. She was the first African-American female to serve as president pro tem of the state senate and served one day, June 10, 1972, as acting governor of Texas; albeit for one day, to date Jordan is the only African American woman to serve as governor of a state (excluding lieutenant governors).  During her time in the Texas Legislature, Jordan sponsored or cosponsored some 70 bills.
In 1972, she was elected to Congress, the first woman to represent Texas in the House in her own right. She received extensive support from former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who helped her secure a position on the House Judiciary Committee. In 1974, she made an influential televised speech before the House Judiciary Committee supporting the process of impeachment of Richard Nixon, Johnson's successor as President. In 1975, she was appointed by Carl Albert, then Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
In 1976, Jordan, mentioned as a possible running mate to Jimmy Carter of Georgia, became instead the first African-American woman to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.
Jordan retired from politics in 1979 and became an adjunct professor teaching ethics at the University of Texas at Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. She again was a keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in 1992.

In 1994 and until her death in 1996, Jordan chaired the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, which advocated increased restriction of immigration, called for all U.S. residents to carry a national identity card and increased penalties on employers that violated U.S. immigration regulations. Then-President Clinton endorsed the Jordan Commission's proposals.  While she was Chair of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform she argued that "it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest." Opponents of modern U.S. immigration policy have cited her willingness to penalize employers who violate U.S. immigration regulations, tighten border security, oppose amnesty or any other pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and broaden the grounds for the deportation of legal immigrants. In 1994, President Clinton Awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom and The NAACP presented her with the Springarn Medal. She was honored many times and was given over 20 honorary degrees from institutions across the country, including Harvard and Princeton, and was elected to the Texas and National Women's Halls of Fame.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Black History Month: Ida B. Wells

"The Winchester rifle deserves a place of honor in every black home." said the 4'6" African American school teacher.  The Winchester repeating rifle was the "assualt rifle" of it's day.  And here in the dark days after the American Civil War, is a black school teacher and eventual icon of African American History recommending that EVERY black household have such a weapon at the ready and help in conscious reverence!

What Ms. Wells lacked in stature she made up for beauty and many times over in spirit.  Few in the black narrative have had so little to lean upon and propped up so many from so far down.  Ms. Wells survived what Professor Johnson labeled the nadir of black history.  The lowest, darkest point in the experience.  Yes, lower than the days of slavery.  For in the middle and late part of the 19th century freedmen had graduated from slaves to victims and targets.  Lynchings were rampant. Blacks were killed indiscriminately and terribly and the law was seldom on their side to protect, defend, and certainly not to provide justice.

In this treacherous environment the diminutive Wells struck blow after blow for justice and security for the black community in America.  She initially sued railroads for discrimination and abuse of black passengers.  However, her greatest victories were against the horrific practice of lynching. The modern day American has no clue that in the 1890's if you accused a black man in the south of any crime, chances were that within 24 hours he would hang by the neck (or worse) until dead .  Nevermind the police, courts, lawyers--fairy tales in 1890--black men and women were slaughtered because a white person said they did such and such.  This simple violation of core human rights was the target of Well's keen aim and the justification for her call to arms.

She advocated, wrote for multiple papers and publishers and artfully refuted both white and black detractors. Her discovery, declaration, and condemnation of lynching was the chief accomplishment of her life's work.  Americans of every race, then and now, were and are largely ignorant of the number of killings that took place via the sham-justice of the lynch mob.  Black folks were emblazoned by oratory servants like Wells to fight back against the KKK, Jim Crow, and lynch mobs.  Godly whites were awakened to help and often opened the door for leaders like Wells, W.B. DuBois, and others who eventually became the NAACP.  It was a slow, bloody, fiery struggle.  Through forceful effort even to victory, Ida B. Wells-Barnett earned her place in Black History.

*My thanks to Professor Nicholas Johnson of Fordham Law School and his book Negroes and the Gun: the Black Tradition of Arms. 2014, Prometheus Books.  And some wikipedia stuff too. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Black History Month: Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass advised the best defense against slave catchers was a good revolver. I think that detail was omitted from my history lesson as a child.  Douglass knew that in 1854 the law could not be relied on to protect blacks straining to regain their natural state of freedom and liberty.  The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Interestingly, Abolitionists began to fight the measure as an overreach of the federal government. But while politicians debated and citizens resisted, the black man was hunted, kidnapped, or worse.

The most inspiring story I've read of Frederick Douglass is the moment young Fred Bailey stood up to the "N***er-Breaker" Mr. Edward Covey.  This despicable fellow was known for breaking the will of strong willed slaves by any means necessary.  Young Fred defeated Covey and another white man with nothing more than his fists, dignity, and perhaps Divine blessing. For that moment of resistance began the inevitable evolution of Fred Bailey the slave to Frederick Douglass the orator, abolitionist, freedman advocate, and statesman.

Consistently and advocate for self defense rather than political violence, Douglass was welcomed by both ethnicities bent on freedom for all men--and his enemies could never match his wit and mind in civil discourse.  At the 1888 Republican National Convention, Douglass became the first African American to receive a vote for President of the United States in a major party's roll call vote. Ever the orator and advocate Douglass is one of the most important figures in African American history.

A man's rights rest in three boxes.
The ballot box, jury box and the cartridge box. 

--Frederick Douglass

*My thanks to Professor Nicholas Johnson of Fordham Law School and his book Negroes and the Gun: the Black Tradition of Arms. 2014, Prometheus Books.