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Juanita Jackson Mitchell: First African-American Woman to Practice Law in Maryland

Juanita Jackson Mitchell was an African-American woman who was monumental in challenging segregation in public schools in Baltimore, MD. Born in segregated Arkansas in 1913, Mitchell grew up with a love for poetry and film.  She was the daughter of Kieffer and Dr. Lillie Mae Jackson. Her family often showed films in their home because African-Americans were segregated or barred from attending theaters in the south due to Jim Crow laws.

In the 1920s, Mitchell’s family moved to Baltimore where Mitchell graduated from Frederick Douglass Highschool and attended Morgan State University (today Morgan is an HBCU). She then finished her degree at the University of Pennsylvania where she graduated with a B.S. in education. She also earned an M.A in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. A few years later, she became the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Maryland Law school, which had earlier denied her admission for undergraduate studies due to her race. She became the first African-American woman practice law in the state of Maryland. She married Clarence Mitchell Jr. in 1938, who was active and later held leadership in the NAACP.

Juanita Jackson Mitchell worked to advocate for voting rights for Marylanders through the NAACP. She also co-led a march to Annapolis, the Capitol of Maryland, to advocate for Civil Rights. She started the “City-Wide Young People’s Forum,” to train African-American youth about Civil Rights. During the Great Depression, Juanita Jackson Mitchell also organized a campaign to encourage African-Americans to only support stores that were desegregated.

She worked with Thurgood Marshall and The Afro-American newspaper,  to challenge the separation of Black and White children in Baltimore public schools. In 1935, Baltimore County did not have any high schools for Black children and there was only one high school in Baltimore city for children, Frederick Douglass. Not until 1939, did they increase the number of Black schools in the city. In addition, teachers in Baltimore who were African-American earned less than similarly credentialed white teachers. Black schools in the city were also very crowded, so crowded that at Douglass highschool, the children had to study in shifts. Jackson and Marshall brought several lawsuits against the Baltimore City schoolboard to challenge segregation up until Brown v. Board of Education was passed.

It is probable that Juanita Jackson Mitchell’s passion for education and equality came from her family. Her mother came from a line of educators and was a descendant of  Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Her mother, Lillie Jackson, was also a Civil Rights activist and a teacher. Lillie Jackson played a vital role in expanding the NAACP in Baltimore, which had been founded in 1912, but remained inactive until 1935. Juanita Jackson’s father was born on a plantation in 1836 and learned to read “by women in the big house” (Baum, 34) and later led the African-American schools in his county as a commissioner.

 

Baum, Howell. Brown in Baltimore. Cornell University Press, 2010.

http://www.blackpast.org/aah/mitchell-juanita-jackson-mitchell-1913-1992

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juanita_Jackson_Mitchell

News, Uncategorized

Race: National Geographic

Thank you Abagond! National Geographic has put out a race issue to make amends for their past racist portrayals of Black people and other people of color. National geographic routinely showed nude Black women and other women of color and displayed them as though they were not women, but animals.

See here. 

So, to make up for their racist past, the April 2018 issues of National Geographic displays a photo of two mixed-raced siblings, one who can pass for white, the other who cannot. The caption reads:

These twin sisters make us rethink everything we know about race” 

As Abagond said,

“Huh? One of the sisters could pass for White, but that stuff has been going on for hundreds of years. Who is this “we”?

The bottom line is Black people have known about the whole passing situation for centuries because we’ve lived with it. MOST African-Americans have European ancestry and most of us have stories of relatives who could pass for white and others who could not. There’s nothing to rethink on the part of Black folks…we’ve been knowing National Geographic’s racist editorials were wrong.

For decades Black people dealt with the reality of race, we knew white men were sleeping with and producing offspring with Black and mixed women, so most of us have always known that the lines of the race were more blurred. Duh…

Here is a classic story of a woman whose mother passed for white, so National Geographic you’re about a few centuries too late on this one:

 

 

via National Geographic’s racism

Films, Personal Experiences

Tell Them We Are Rising- HBCU Documentary

via cc greensboro sit ins

I watched Tell Them We Are Rising, it is a documentary by PBS, which tells the history of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States. After the Civil War, one of the first things that African-Americans did was build an education system. Prior to that time, many colleges, and leading academics of the time, including in the North, were opposed to having institutions of higher education for African-Americans. Initially, the school system for Black children was limited because many African-American teachers hadn’t had the chance to go to college and therefore could only teach the children as much as they knew. However, when HBCUs became available, many African-Americans had opportunities to gain higher education.

Some of the best and brightest members of the Black community went to HBCUs. Some of the top doctors, lawyers and academics were HBCU graduates, including Thurgood Marshall who attended Lincoln University. After the advent of HBCUs, African-American school teachers could finally attend higher education institutions and acquire the skills needed to instruct their students. Many Black teachers were just as well-trained and educated (and in some cases better educated) as the white teachers. However, black teachers were paid less than white teachers of equivalent credential and training. HBCUs were monumental to the Civil Rights movement. The Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins at Woolworth, were led largely by HBCU students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Bennett College. In the 1970s, activism and Black power spread throughout HBCU campuses and culminated with the shooting of two students at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA in 1972.

Tell Them We Are Rising ended with the state of HBCUs in the present day. Some HBCUs are thriving, while others are struggling to stay open. Some HBCUs, that had been open since the 19th century, have had to close their doors in the last 20 years. Ironically, this the present day struggles of many HBCUs are due to integration. More competition and prejudice against HBCUs has impacted the institutions, which used to be central to the black community. Yet, some Black millennials and younger Black people have specifically sought HBCUs as a refuge from the racism and marginalization that they experience at their predominately white institutions.

My opinion: I attended predominately white institutions my entire life, from kindergarten to graduate school. While I loved my graduate school. My time in undergraduate school was miserable. In undergraduate school, I attended a large, mostly white school in a southern/border state and there was constant isolation. As far as my grade school experiences, I could write a book about the marginalization that I faced. Th damage to my psyche and self-esteem is something that still affects me to this day. Yet, I never even considered HBCUs until graduate school and I regret it. If I had to do over, I would’ve attended an HBCU at least in undergraduate school. It would have been nice not to be marginalized for once.

I’m not alone in my feelings, many young black people are discussing the prejudice that they experience at predominately white colleges and I’m sure many are regretting not having attended HBCUs.

Overall, I recommend this documentary. It’s informative, entertaining, and emotional. Not to mention, the visuals of the young Black women and men in the documentary are beautiful.

 

 

See the video below-

Black women issues, News

March for Our Lives: Naomi Wadler

Naomi Wadler is an 11-year-old student who led a walkout from her elementary school ,  on March 14, 2018, to protest gun violence. The walkout lasted 18 minutes. 17 minutes were to honor the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) school shooting, which occurred on February 14, 2018. 1 minute of the 18 minutes was to honor the shooting of  Courtlin Arrington, an African-American girl who was killed in an Alabama High school after the MSD shooting in Florida. On March 24, 2018, she spoke at the “March for Our Lives,” rally in Washington, D.C.

View her speech below:

“I am here today to represent Courtlin Arrington. I am here today to represent Hadiya Pendleton. I am here today to represent Tiana Thompson, who at just 16 was shot dead in her home, here in Washington, D.C. I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper…whose stories don’t lead on the evening news. I represent the African-American women, who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls, full of potential. It is my privilege to be here today. I am indeed full of privilege; my voice has been heard. I’m here to acknowledge their stories, to say they matter, to say their names because I can and because I was asked to be. For far too long these names, these black girls and women have been just numbers. I’m here to say never again for those girls too. I am here to say that everyone should value those girls too. People have said that I am too young to have these thoughts on my own. People have said that I’m a tool of some nameless adult. It’s not true. My friends and I might still be 11 and we might still be in elementary school, but we know. We know life isn’t equal for everyone and we know what is right and wrong. We also know that we stand in the shadow of the Capitol and we know that we have 7 short years until we too have the right to vote. So I am here today to honor the words of Toni Morrison. ‘If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.’ I urge everyone here and everyone who hears my voice to join me in telling the stories that aren’t told. To honor the girls, the women of color, who were murdered at disproportionate rates in this nation. I urge each of you to help me write the narrative for this world and understand so that these girls and women are never forgotten.” ~ Naomi Wadler

 

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Uncategorized

John Willis Menard, first African-American Man Elected to Congress

 

Sweet ocean goddess, divinely fair and free, outstretching far into the summer sea,

As if to catch the constant ocean breeze

That swiftly speeds over the gulf and seas!

~ John Willis Menard, Florida

John Willis Menard was a prolific writer, poet and the first Black man elected to Congress, however he was not seated. He was born in in 1838 in Illinois, not far from Abraham Lincoln. He was descended from Creole ancestry. His grandfather was a Frenchman who served at Lieutenant Governor of Illinois. Menard is common name for towns in Illinois and Texas.

Menard attended Iberia College in Ohio but did not finish. However, Menard was enormously successful.

He was the first Black clerk in the Department of Interior in Washington, D.C.

He authored an address called “To the Free Colored People of Illinois,” around the same time as the Lincoln- Douglas debate.

As an employee of the Department of Interior, Menard was sent to Belize to report on the conditions of the island. Menard believed, at one point, that Black people should be allowed to relocate to another country and his assignment was to determine the suitability of Belize. Menard did write a report on Belize, but ultimately the project went nowhere.

In 1865, he moved to New Orleans. It was just after the Civil War and the Reconstruction was beginning. For the first time, there were opportunities for African-Americans to (in theory) hold office. In New Orleans, Menard got a job as “Inspector of Customs.” It was also around this time that he published his first newspaper called “Free South,” which was later changed to “Radical Standard.”

When a seat in Congress opened in a special election for the 2nd Congressional district, Menard ran. However, Congress decided they weren’t quite ready for a Black member yet and so Menard wasn’t seated. He gave a spirited and fiery speech about the election before Congress. Soon after the injustice of the election, Menard moved to Florida. Once in Florida, it didn’t take long before he was elected to the Florida Legislature for a short time. Around this time in the late 1870s, he also began writing his poetry.

For most of his life, Menard had been an ardent supporter of the Republican Party (Abraham Lincoln’s party), however, he soon became disillusioned with the Republican party because they did not value African-Americans and were too willing to appease the Democrats, who campaigned on racism.

Ironically, because of Menard’s criticism of the Republican party, he caught the eye of George Drew, the newly-elected Democratic Governor in Florida. Drew appointed Menard as Justice of the Peace.

While in Florida, Menard also began writing a newspaper called the Southern Leader, which was successful. However, when yellow fever broke out in Florida, he moved away for a time. When he came back, he couldn’t revive his paper.

In 1889, Menard moved to D.C. and got a position in the Census office. He married a woman from Jamaica and had two children. He died on October 8, 1893. Throughout his life, Menard was very outspoken about the need for educational opportunities for African-Americans. He believed education was the defining factor for equality.

Menard lived through the era of slavery to see the rise of African-Americans during the Reconstruction and then he saw the Black Nadir. Despite his brilliance as a writer and speaker, even he faced discrimination and injustice.

“How long, O God! how long must I remain

Worse than an alien in my native land?” ~ John Willis Menard, The Negro’s Lament

From Lays in Summer Lands

Uncategorized

The Beautiful and the Damned: A review

The Beautiful and the Damned was a novel on my 2017 reading list. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned is a story about a young, well-to-do man who is grappling with finding his identity and purpose. Anthony Patch lives off the wealth of his grandfather and grows up in New York where he parties with socialites, drinks and falls in love with a beautiful woman named Gloria.  At first, it seems like Gloria and Anthony are a perfect couple. Gloria is beautiful, light-hearted and the envy of many girls in her social circle. She drinks in life and revels in her youth daily. Anthony is wealthy and has a world of opportunity at his feet. Yet, as time goes on, something happens that jeopardizes Anthony’s standing amongst New York’s well-to-do and elite and soon Gloria and Anthony begin to struggle to maintain their lifestyle and maintain their love for each other. The only thing that gives Anthony any purpose is his dream of writing.

Anthony grew up in a world of privilege and when his privilege begins to crumble and he struggles, he loses his footing and spirals down. Gloria is a woman, who was used to putting herself first, but when she marries Anthony, for the first time, she is forced to surrender to the reality that she may not always be able to put herself first. As a woman and a wife, Gloria has to grapple with the fact that not only does she have to take care of Anthony, but she must bear the consequences of his poor choices. Ultimately, Gloria is put into a subordinate position to her husband and her independent, free spirit withers with time.

Overall, it’s hard for me to completely like Anthony as a character. He seems over-privileged, entitled and sheltered. While Gloria comes off as vain, racist and superficial. Yet, it’s hard for me to completely dislike them as characters either. As life hits Anthony harder and harder, he is faced with the reality that for the first time in his life, he may have to try to earn his place in the world like everyone else. You almost feel sorry for him, as he fails constantly throughout the novel. Yet, part of me wants to slap him upside the head and tell him to get over himself, get a job just like everyone else, be a big boy and stop acting like he’s the center of the universe.  As for Gloria, at times I wanted to grab her by the shoulders, shake her and tell her to come off her high horse. She comes off vain, but as her relationship with Anthony deteriorates, you realize she is a woman in a society where women have few choices.

Overall, I did enjoy the novel. It was a departure from the books that I usually read. A major criticism of the book is that the few people of color and minorities are stereotypical, then again the book was written in 1922. I can see why people rave about Fitzgerald and so many of his works are considered classics.