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Black History


SAN ANTONIO OBSERVER — 50 year serves as a great opportunity to look back and see how far race in America has come and according to Race and Social Policy Research Center Director, Wornie Reed, “the bottom line is that we have not come very far, if at all, since 1968.”




By Cece Leonard, The San Antonio Observer

December 26, 2018 — As 2018 comes to an end, we close out a 50 year period that began with the tumultuous 1968. This was the year Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated; the year the Fair Housing Act passed; the year the Kerner Commision report revealed the cause of riots; and the same year John Carlos and Tommie Smith gave the Black Power salute at the Olympics.

50 year serves as a great opportunity to look back and see how far race in America has come and according to Race and Social Policy Research Center Director, Wornie Reed, “the bottom line is that we have not come very far, if at all, since 1968.”

Reed notes “Unfortunately, the data show that with all of this progress on the electoral front there was little if any relative improvement in the lives of African Americans. In fact, with the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, made 2018 one of the the worst years for voter suppression of African Americans and other minorities since 1968.”

Quoting Reed


Poor People's Campaign then and now

“This year marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign when MLK put his life on the line to start a very aggressive push to force the country to address the issue of poverty. He said, “I choose to identify with the underprivileged. I choose to identify with the poor. I choose to give my life for the hungry. I choose to give my life for those who have been left out…This is the way I’m going.”  We called the rate of poverty an outrage then. It is worse now. The numbers and proportions of people in poverty in the United States have increased since 1968.”



 “In 2008 the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, co-chaired by former Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretaries, Democrat Henry Cisneros and Republican Jack Kemp, investigated the state of fair housing. To assess progress since the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the Commission held hearings for six months in five major cities. They concluded that ongoing discriminatory practices in the nation’s housing and lending markets continued to produce residential segregation.”

“Despite this bipartisan assessment, the current Administration is scaling back fair housing enforcement and moving to make it more difficult to find patterns of discriminatory or predatory lending. They have passed legislation to exempt banks from their obligation to collect and provide data routinely collected on their lending processes.”



“The Great Recession of 2007-8 was far worse for African Americans. Black homeowners had a higher percentage of their wealth tied up in home equity, and they were much more likely to be victims of predatory lending during the housing boom. Blacks and Latinos were more than twice as likely as comparable whites to receive high-cost loans. African-Americans have lost over half of their wealth since the beginning of the recession through falling homeownership rates and loss of jobs.”

“African American families are continuing to fall behind whites in building wealth — how much a family has in savings, investments, real estate, and cash, less any debts. White family wealth was seven times greater than black family wealth in 2016. Despite some fluctuations over the past five decades, this disparity is as high or higher than was in 1963.”

“Further, there has been no reduction in labor market discrimination. At the Race and Social Policy Research Center at Virginia Tech, we analyzed the income of all black and white full-time workers in the United States between 1967 and 2005. Controlling for education, we found that for every dollar a white worker earned in 1967 a black worker earned 65 cents. In 2005 a black work earned 66 cents for every dollar that a white person earned, not a real increase.”



 “During the last 50 years African Americans have become even more prominent in sports, with four current stars arguably considered the best of all time in their respective sports: Simone Biles in gymnastics, Serena Williams in Tennis, Tiger Woods in golf, and Lebron James in Basketball. Nevertheless, just like in 1968 black athletes are protesting racial discrimination. Two years ago Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest the disproportionate use of police force against African American males and related issues, That protest was joined by other African American athletes, in football and other sports. And some of it continues.”

Kerner Commission Report:

“One month before Martin Luther King was assassinated, the Kerner Commission released its report. This Presidential commission investigated the riots and disorders of the mid-1960s and reported what MLK called a “physician’s warning of approaching death, with a prescription for life.” The Commission offered the most forthright analysis and discussion of the racial situation in America that has ever been done by a high-level commission or committee.”

“The Kerner Commission stated that “White racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II.” And they continued, “What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

“The Kerner Commission concluded that the United States had three options for dealing with the situation. One was to do nothing, which was not acceptable. A second option was to work on improving black ghettoes, which was useful but not desirable. The third was to integrate cities, suburbs, and transportation to workplaces (factories and plants). Many Americans thought we would choose the third option and be on our way to a better America. However, one month later Martin Luther King was assassinated, blacks rioted all over America, and the narrative changed—from correcting what white society had wrought to blaming it all on the problematic culture of black folks. To this day we have not overcome the political and policy effects of that narrative.”

About Reed

Reed is the Director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center at Virginia Tech. He is an expert on race, ethnic health disparities, social policy, criminal justice and his research focus is on criminal justice, discrimination, healthcare, and labor. Reed’s expertise has been featured in Huffpost, CTV (Toronto, Canada), WBFO (Buffalo, NY NPR Affiliate), WFAE (Charlotte, NC NPR affiliate),  WCVE(Richmond, VA PBS member station) and WVTF (Virginia NPR affiliate).

This article originally appeared in The San Antonio Observer.

Bay Area

West Oakland Black Woman Owned Food Collective, “The Black Culinary Collective (BCC)”

“We are doing our part to change the narrative of excellence being categorized as an exception for black makers.





   A group of Black women who own food businesses are rising from the devastation of the pandemic by sharing a commercial kitchen in West Oakland.

     The Black Culinary Collective (BCC) is led by Chef Reign Free, owner of Red Door Catering, which opened in 2006. 

    Red Door Catering has a 5,000-square-foot kitchen space.  During the pandemic Free’s catering business fell and her business was damaged during the protests.  

     Free also knew other Black chefs who didn’t have the money to rent commercial kitchen space during the pandemic.  

      And so, she applied to and received $50,000 from the Oakland Black Business Fund, which, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, is “an organization that aims to address Black entrepreneurs’ historical lack of access to capital, to help members join the collective rent-free.”

     The collective currently has four members (Teas With Meaning, Baby Bean Pie, Pound Business, and Final Sauce) and is looking for six more.  The members will share the kitchen, sell their goods to the public on-site, and collaborate on projects.  Members will also receive consultations, mentoring and advice on their food businesses.

     BCC hopes to open in August and will be located at 2925 Adeline St. Free continues to raise funds to help collective members have up to a year in the collective rent-free. 

     “It’s important for the people who work in the food and beverage industry to not only know how to cook, but to understand the history and the cultural significance of those that came before us,” Free told the Oakland Post. “We are doing our part to change the narrative of excellence being categorized as an exception for black makers. 

     “The companies that are a part of the collective have established the discipline that allows them to see their vision with clarity and purpose; having a beautiful space that supports learning, collaboration, and service allows us to continue to scale in ways that will positively affect the next generation. The more we share our gifts and talents within our community, the more our communities will thrive.”


     For more information, go to

The San Francisco Chronicle, Mercury News, and were sources for this report.

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Democrats in Sacramento Take Steps to Make Voting Easier

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 




The electoral process is foundational to the durability of America’s democratic structure.

And as the battle for fairer voting laws rages on, politicians and activists on the political Right claim they are responding to allegations of widespread voter and election fraud. Those on the Left say they are rallying to fight a coordinated political offensive to restrict access to the polls and increasing reports of voter suppression.

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. 

But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

Invoking the violent history of voter suppression in the South that her parents endured, which sometimes involved murders — California Secretary of State Shirley Weber says it is a priority of hers to “ensure the right to vote.” 

“I tell people all the time that no number is good unless it’s 100% in terms of voter participation,” Weber told the Public Policy Institute of California. “Why didn’t 5 million go to the polls? We need to figure out where they are and what stopped them from going.”

In the California Legislature, an amendment to Senate Bill (SB) 29, which passed earlier this year, was one bill in a broader legislative effort to secure the right to vote in vulnerable communities.

Before that amendment passed, California law dictated that a ballot would be mailed to all eligible voters for the November 3 statewide general election in 2020 as well as use a Secretary of State vote-by-mail tracking system to ensure votes are counted. 

SB 29, which the governor signed into law in February, extended those requirements to any election “proclaimed or conducted” prior to Jan. 1, 2022.

A record number of voters participated in California elections in 2020. Some political observers attribute that spike to the vote-by-mail system instituted last year.

“To maintain a healthy democracy in California, it is important to encourage eligible voters to vote and to ensure that residents of the state have the tools needed to participate in every election,” the bill reads.

Senate Bill (SB) 583, introduced by California State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), would require the Secretary of State to register or preregister eligible citizens to vote upon retrieving the necessary paperwork from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Citizens who do not wish to be registered can opt-out of the process altogether.

Newman stressed the importance of access and simplifying the voter registration process. 

“In our state there are an estimated 4.6 million U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote who have not yet registered,” Newman said. “Our obligation as the people’s elected representatives is to make the process simpler and more accessible for them.”

On April 27, the Senate Transportation Committee passed SB 583 with a 13 to 3 vote. The Appropriations Committee has set a hearing for May 10. 

Senate Bill (SB) 503, introduced by Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park), proposes that if a signature shares enough characteristics with a previous signature from the same voter, then it would be recognized as official on voting paperwork.

Current law dictates that a signature has to match exactly for it to be considered valid.

Disability Rights California (DRC), a non-profit advocacy organization that advances and protects the rights of Californians living with disabilities, has come out in support of SB 503.

“Studies have shown that signature matches disproportionately impact voters with disabilities,” Eric Harris, director of public policy for the DRC wrote in a letter. 

“Voters with disabilities, including seniors, are more likely to vote by mail and would have to sign their name on their ballots,” Harris argued. “A voter’s signature changes over time and for people with disabilities, a signature can change nearly every other time one is written. Some people with disabilities might have conditions that make it difficult to sign your name the same way multiple times.”

For now, the Senate Appropriations Committee has tabled SB 503, placing the bill in what the Legislature calls a “suspense file,” where it awaits further action by lawmakers. 

At the federal level, lawmakers have introduced two bills in the U.S. Congress to expand voting rights, the For The People Act of 2021 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The For The People Act, or H.R.1, proposes a three-pronged approach to expanding election access: Voting, campaign finance, and ethics.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and senior vice president for Advocacy and Policy, compared the current voting rights battle to that of the Civil Rights Movement in a press conference about H.R.1 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“If you look at some of those 1960s shots of the C.T. Vivians of the world, of the Joe Lowerys and so many others that helped lead Americans to those registration sites, you’ll see them actually literally being beaten to the ground,” Shelton said, referring to well-known Civil Rights Movement activists. 

The John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, or S.4263, would amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to restore the powers it lost after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder.  In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws requiring states and local communities to first clear any changes to voting their local laws with the feds, was unlawful.  

“Well, we’ve become more sophisticated in our disenfranchisement,” Shelton continued. “We want to make sure that we stop that disenfranchisement all along the way and that’s why we’re convinced that a bill named for John Lewis and a bill that speaks for the people are bills that need to pass.”

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Black History

Odetta Gordon: Citizen of the World

Bob Dylan once commented that “hearing Odetta on record turned me on to folk singing.”




Odetta Gordon (1930–2008) was born in Birmingham. After her father’s death, she moved to Los Angeles with her mother. What she didn’t leave behind was the soul of Birmingham. The city’s deep Southern music had become a part of young Odetta’s being.
At age 13, Odetta studied piano, had voice training, and taught herself to play the guitar. Later, she earned a degree in classical music from Los Angeles City College and performed in a 1949 production of Finian’s Rainbow in San Francisco. Soon (1950s) she would emerge as an important figure in the New York folk music scene.
Gordon relocated to New York City, where her talent was supported by performers such as Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger. With their encouragement, she performed and recorded more widely. Her repertoire included a distinctive blend of spirituals, slave songs, prison and work songs, folk ballads, Caribbean songs, and blues. Her career had taken off.
In New York, Gordon released her solo recording, Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues (1956), followed by At the Gate of Horn (1957). Bob Dylan once commented that “hearing Odetta on record turned me on to folk singing.” Her voice beckoned four repeat performances at the Newport Folk Festival (1959–65) and subsequent appearances at Carnegie Hall, on television and in several films including Sanctuary (1961).
Gordon’s career continued to blossom. She performed with symphony orchestras and in operas worldwide. She was a featured performer throughout the states, her audience weaving through various cultures. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dubbed Gordon “queen of American folk.” She had the “ear” of the people, thus  were next on her agenda.
In 1963, Gordon performed at the historic March on Washington and took part in the March on Selma. She sang for President Kennedy and his cabinet on the nationally televised civil rights special, Dinner with the President. Through addressing political and social issues Gordon had become an important advocate for civil rights; an activist for social change.
Sadly, the movement lost steam and interest in folk music began to wane. As a result, Gordon’s career started to lose its fire. Still, she continued to perform throughout the 1960s and 70s internationally. She recorded Odetta Sings the Blues (1967) and in 1974, appeared in the television film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. In 1987, the concert marking forty years of her life as a performer (1986) was released as the live recording Movin’ It On.
In 1999 President Clinton awarded Gordon the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given in the arts in the United States. The Library of Congress, in 2003, named her a Living Legend.
Gordon is remembered as an American folk singer who was noted especially for her versions of spirituals and became for many the voice of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. She passed away on December 2, 2008, at the age of 77.

Image:  By Jac. de Nijs / Anefo – Nationaal Archief, CC0,

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