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Social Justice

Before Rosa Parks: The 15-year-old Alabaman who also refused to give up her seat

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Nine months before Rosa Parks’ historic act of civil disobedience on a Montgomery, Ala. bus, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin also refused to give up her seat.

Claudette was born in Montgomery on Sept. 5, 1939. She grew up in one of the city’s poorer neighborhoods. A good student, she studied hard at school and earned mostly A’s in her classes. On March 2, 1955, Claudette was riding home from school on a city bus when the driver demanded she give up her seat to a white passenger. She refused, saying, “It’s my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare.” Claudette felt compelled to stand her ground.

“I felt like Sojourner Truth was pushing down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman was pushing down on the other—saying, ‘Sit down girl!’ I was glued to my seat,” she later told Newsweek.

Refusing to give up her seat resulted in Claudette’s arrest on several charges, including violating the city’s segregation laws. She shared that she sat in jail for several hours, terrified. “I was really afraid, because you just didn’t know what white people might do at that time,” she later said. She did not spend the night in jail because her minister paid her bail. Her family spent the night without sleep in fear that there might have been some retaliation for Claudette’s actions.

After considerable deliberation, the NAACP decided not to use Claudette’s case in challenging segregation partly due to concerns that her pregnancy outside of marriage would distract from their cause.

In court, Claudette declared that she was not guilty. She was ruled against and given probation, which made finding a job difficult.

Claudette became one of four plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle that ruled Montgomery’s segregated bus system unconstitutional. Claudette later moved to New York City and worked as a nurse’s aide. She retired in 2004.

“It just killed me to leave the bus. I hated to give that white woman my seat when so many Black people were standing. I was crying hard. The cops put me in the back of a police car and shut the door,” she said.

It could be said that Claudette initiated the fight against this injustice. Rita Dove’s “Claudette Colvin Goes to Work” later became a song, and Phillip Hoose gives her story a fresh perspective in “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice.” Colvin’s former attorney, Fred Gray, told Newsweek, “Claudette gave all of us 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.”

Black History

Freedom’s Journal: The First Voice of Black America

The four-column weekly publication was printed every Friday. Stories covered foreign and domestic news, editorials, births and deaths in the local black community, weddings, advertisements, and notices for retailers and companies that did not discriminate. Featured were articles on countries such as Haiti and Sierra Leone.

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Freedom’s Journal, Vol. 1 No. 1, March 16, 1827. Courtesy Library of Congress (sn83030455).

It was 1827, a time when white publishers didn’t run obituaries of African Americans. Politics, sports, money and social issues were reported from the perspectives of whites only.

That same year, John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish founded Freedom’s Journal in New York City. It was the first black-owned and -operated newspaper in the United States. The days of major papers snuffing out the voices of Black America were ending.

The four-column weekly publication was printed every Friday. Stories covered foreign and domestic news, editorials, births and deaths in the local black community, weddings, advertisements, and notices for retailers and companies that did not discriminate. Featured were articles on countries such as Haiti and Sierra Leone.

To encourage Black achievement, it printed biographies of renowned Black figures such as Paul Cuffee, Touissant L’Ouverture and Phyllis Wheatley.

Also included were editorials expressing contempt of slavery, racism and other injustices suffered by Blacks. At the same time, many white papers openly supported slavery and racially biased acts. Boston writer David Walker, an agent for the paper, penned “David Walker’s Appeal,” dubbed the most radical of all anti-slavery documents. In it, he called for slaves to rebel against their masters.

According to Nieman Reports, “Russwurm and Cornish placed great value on the need for reading and writing as keys to empowerment for the Black population and they hoped a Black newspaper would encourage literacy and intellectual development among African Americans.”

The publishers sought to broaden readers’ awareness of world events while acting as a beacon to strengthen ties among Black communities across the U.S. During the paper’s heyday, subscriptions were $3 per year and circulated in 11 states, the District of Columbia, Haiti, Europe and Canada.

In 1827, Cornish resigned from the publication, leaving Russwurm as the sole editor. Cited were differences regarding African-American colonization of Africa. According to Nieman Reports, “Russwurm had begun to promote the colonization movement led by the American Colonization Society, which wanted to free African-American slaves and offer them the opportunity of transport back to Africa.”

The newspaper’s position was unpopular with its readership. Subscriptions quickly declined. By March of 1829, the loss of circulation forced the paper to cease publication.

After the paper shut down, Russwurm emigrated to Liberia. It was the area established on Africa’s western coast to receive those recruited by the American Colonization Society. There, Russwurm became governor of Liberia’s Maryland Colony.

In 1829, Cornish re-entered the newspaper world with a goal to revive Freedom’s Journal, renaming it The Rights of All. But in less than a year, the paper failed. Freedom’s Journal had boasted a lifespan of two years. In spite of this short-lived history, its enormous impact on antebellum Black communities would live on as progress of the Black press continued.

Despite its troubles, Freedom’s Journal was instrumental in spawning other papers. Three decades later, more than 40 Black-owned newspapers were operating throughout the U.S. All 103 issues of Freedom’s Journal are available on the Wisconsin Historical Society website.

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Crime

Congress Begins Hearing on January 6 Capitol Riot

This week’s hearing represents the first official Congressional probe into how the incredible breach occurred on January 6, and political tensions surrounding the riot have only flared since then. Republicans have sought to evade any meaningful probe of what took place, but Congress started work to get to the bottom of it this week.

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USA Today Newpaper Photo Courtesy of Little Plant via Unplash

A congressional panel investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol Building began hearings this week, starting with testimony from Capitol police officers who were on scene that day. Televised on several networks, officers shared emotional testimony about being assaulted, tased, struggling to breathe, and more as they sought to prevent rioters from running over the Capitol building.

Officers also shared feelings of betrayal from Republican lawmakers who have downplayed or even denied the violence that occurred on January 6. “I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room,” Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer Michael Fanone testified. “Too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or that hell actually wasn’t that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”  The MPD are the police for Wash., D.C.

Lawmakers were emotional as video from the riot was replayed. “The main reason rioters didn’t harm any members of Congress was because they didn’t encounter any members of Congress,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), thanking the officers for their service. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) who has repeatedly broken with her Republican colleagues to condemn the riot, also said she had “deep gratitude for what you did to save us.”

This week’s hearing represents the first official Congressional probe into how the incredible breach occurred on January 6, and political tensions surrounding the riot have only flared since then. Republicans have sought to evade any meaningful probe of what took place, but Congress started work to get to the bottom of it this week.

Fanone, who rushed to the scene to assist, told the panel he was “grabbed, beaten, tased, all while being called a traitor to my country.” He suffered a heart attack following the assault. Daniel Hodges, also a DC officer, described foaming at the mouth while rioters crushed his body between doors and beat him in the head with his own weapon. He said there was “no doubt in my mind” that the rioters were there to kill Congressmembers. Another officer, USCP officer Harry Dunn, said a group of rioters screamed the N-word at him as he tried to keep them out of the House chambers. When the day had ended, he said, he sat in the Capitol Rotunda and cried.

Rioters stormed the Capitol Building on January 6 to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory. Then-President Donald Trump had egged on supporters to march on the capitol to “defend their country.”

Video showed rioters breaking windows and climbing through doors to get into the Capitol Building and, once inside, into the House Chambers where Congress members were conducting business. The head of the Capitol Police resigned the next day. Dozens of rioters have been charged in federal court, oftentimes using pictures and videos that they had posted themselves on social media. Others were reported to police by friends, relatives, or co-workers who recognized them in pictures and videos.

Earlier this week, lawmakers said they had reached a deal on a $2 billion spending package that would add more security resources. USCP officials have said they have long been spread thin due to a lack of funding.

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Commentary

Community Responds to OPD Chief’s Call for Help in Stopping Violence

Oakland Chief of Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong has reached out to the community asking for support, and rightfully so.  For this is not just an Oakland Police Department fight but our fight.    

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stop gun violence sign photo courtesy Chip Vincent via Unsplash

Seventy-five.

That’s the number of homicides that have occurred so far this year here in Oakland.  There have also been at least 300 acts of violence injuries perpetrated against the citizens of Oakland, many of them gun related.

Oakland Chief of Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong has reached out to the community asking for support, and rightfully so.  For this is not just an Oakland Police Department fight but our fight.

Those 75 families who lost loved ones to senseless acts of reckless violence are families from our communities. They’re our neighbors, our co-workers, and our friends.

The word of God reminds us to “Love our Neighbor as we love ourselves.” The Bible compels us to want the best and do the best for one another.

What would you want if one of your family members were one of those 75 who had been shot and killed in the streets of Oakland? What would you want?

The answer is simple.

You would want someone to care!  To shout with outrage and do something to end this cycle of violence!

On July 27, a group of community activists met with Armstrong to discuss how they could come together organizing in a city-wide community coalition to bring holistic ideas to create a wrap-around approach to combating violence. Those ideas include a) mental wellness, b) community chaplaincy, c) ask the formerly incarcerated to mentor and encourage youth in crisis, d) job development, e) entrepreneurship opportunities, and – last but not least — address our ever-growing homeless issues.

For more information on how you can be a good neighbor, please call 510-688-7437

All for the Peace — “Shalom” — of our Great City.

Pastor Scott is the president of Pastors of Oakland and leader of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries.

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