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Gates examines period after Reconstruction in new book

FLORIDA COURIER — At the end of the Civil War, Sidney George Fisher, a White gentleman from Philadelphia, declared, “It seems our fate never to get rid of the Negro question.”  Although slavery had been abolished, “the problem – what shall we do with the Negro – seems as far from being settled as ever. In fact it is incapable of any solution that will satisfy both North and South.”

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By Dr. Glenn C. Altschuler, Special To The Florida Courier

At the end of the Civil War, Sidney George Fisher, a White gentleman from Philadelphia, declared, “It seems our fate never to get rid of the Negro question.”  Although slavery had been abolished, “the problem – what shall we do with the Negro – seems as far from being settled as ever. In fact it is incapable of any solution that will satisfy both North and South.”

Between 1865 and 1877, the federal government sought to institutionalize for Blacks “a new birth of freedom,” through military occupation of the South, civil rights legislation, and amendments to the United States Constitution.

Resisted in the North as well as the South, the “experiment” was ultimately abandoned. In the “Redeemed” states of the former Confederacy, sharecropping replaced slavery, Blacks were prevented from voting, and subjected to pervasive, demeaning, violent forms of Jim Crow segregation.

Reconstruction and redemption

In “Stony the Road,’’ Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a university professor at Harvard, prolific author and documentary filmmaker, tells the story of Reconstruction and redemption. A synthesis of scholarly work on race between 1865 and the 1920s, with a focus on literature and visual culture, his book provides a powerful and timely reminder that African Americans have never stopped resisting White supremacy, despite the “unbearably hostile climate it has created.”

Gates documents the myriad ways in which racist ideology infiltrated every aspect of American life.

Well-credentialed scientists “proved” that Blacks were and would remain inferior to Whites, helping justify laws against miscegenation and intermarriage. Proponents of the Civil War as a noble “Lost Cause” insisted that plantation slaves were well-treated and content; during Reconstruction, they maintained, outside agitators unleashed the beasts previously dormant in them.

Intentional images

Images of ignorant, subhuman Sambos, Gates reveals, were ubiquitous in advertisements, consumer products, Uncle Remus stories, children’s games, greeting cards and sheet music. Postcards with photographs of the bodies of Blacks hanging from trees and Whites attending the lynchings were popular as well.

These images, and, of course, scenes from the box-office blockbuster “Birth of a Nation,’’ Gates writes, meant that when a White person encountered a real-live Black, the latter was “an already read text.”

As pseudo-scientists, historians, Supreme Court justices, and Ku Klux Klan vigilantes marched in lockstep to keep Blacks in their place, African Americans fought back to reclaim their rights and their image in what Gates calls “another kind of civil war, a war that was cultural as well as political, a war that featured the concept of “the New Negro.”

Among the disparate individuals and groups creating a counter-narrative to the claims that all Blacks were created unequal were W.E.B. Du Bois and his “Talented Tenth”; writers and poets of the Harlem Renaissance; jazz pioneers; the anti-lynching activists; members of the Niagara Movement and the NAACP.

Still work to do

Eventually, politics took precedence, Gates points out, because many Blacks concluded that cultural constructions without political agency were likely to be “empty signifiers.”

Equally important, Gates seems to endorse the view, held, ironically by both advocates of racial equality and unreconstructed Southerners, that “there never was an Old Negro or a New Negro; there were only Negroes.”

As the poet Sterling Brown proudly proclaimed, African Americans are the legatees of a great people.  Not only did they “survive the storm of anti-black racism,” they somehow managed to thrive, create vital and vibrant cultures, “despite the obstacles placed upon them on that stoniest of roads.”

A century later, Professor Gates adds, amidst “ugly language spewed and ugly images strewn, daily across our ever-present screens,” it seems clear that racial justice is incomplete, “frighteningly vulnerable to reversal,” and there is a lot of work to do.

Dr. Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He wrote this review for the Florida Courier.

This article originally appeared in the Florida Courier

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#NNPA BlackPress

IN MEMORIAM: Cheryl Hickmon: National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Dies

NNPA NEWSWIRE — THE BURTON WIRE — Hickmon, a beloved and celebrated member, served the organization for 39 years. The Connecticut native was initiated into the Alpha Xi Chapter at South Carolina State University in 1982 and was an active member of the Hartford (Conn.) Alumnae Chapter. The national office of the sorority released a statement announcing Hickmon’s  death which reads as follows, in part: “It is with great sorrow that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. shares the passing of our beloved National President and Chair of the National Board of Directors, Cheryl A. Hickmon. President Hickmon transitioned peacefully on January 20, 2022 after a recent illness.

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Cheryl Hickmon, national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, the nation’s largest African-American sorority.

By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D, NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor

The nation is mourning the passing of Cheryl Hickmon, national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, the nation’s largest African-American sorority. Hickmon was elected president of the organization dedicated to sisterhood, scholarship and service  November 21, 2021 at the 55th national convention held in Atlanta, GA.

Hickmon, a beloved and celebrated member, served the organization for 39 years. The Connecticut native was initiated into the Alpha Xi Chapter at South Carolina State University in 1982 and was an active member of the Hartford (Conn.) Alumnae Chapter. The national office of the sorority released a statement announcing Hickmon’s  death which reads as follows:

“It is with great sorrow that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. shares the passing of our beloved National President and Chair of the National Board of Directors, Cheryl A. Hickmon. President Hickmon transitioned peacefully on January 20, 2022 after a recent illness.

President Hickmon was a devoted member of Delta Sigma Theta since 1982 and served in various capacities at the chapter, region, and national level before being elected National President. She is remembered not only for her role as a leader but for being a colleague, friend, and most of all, sister.

The entire sisterhood of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated mourns the loss of President Hickmon. During this difficult time, we ask that you respect her family’s privacy and keep them in your prayers.”

In addition to serving as the national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Cheryl was employed at Montefiore’s Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Health in Hartsdale, NY where she supervised the In Vitro Fertilization Laboratories for Andrology and Endocrinology. A licensed Clinical Laboratory Technologist, Hickmon worked in the Reproductive Medical Laboratory for more than 30 years.
Members and supporters have been offering remembrances and calling for prayers in response to Hickmon’s death. Florida representative Val Demings,  who is a member of the sorority, shared her thoughts via Twitter:
Organizations including the NAACP and fellow Black Greek Letter Organizations like Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma and Alpha Kappa Alpha have issued statements about Hickmon’s passing.

Cheryl Hickmon is the daughter of the late Dr. Ned Hickmon of Hartford, CT and Bishopville, South Carolina and the late Consuella Anderson Hickmon of Hartford, CT and Cincinnati, Ohio. She is survived by her two older brothers Ned and David Hickmon.

Hickmon’s bio reads, “Cheryl lives her life by the motto … ‘Don’t measure life by the number of breaths you take but by the number of moments that take your breath away.’” She was 60.

This obituary was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Instagram or Twitter @TheBurtonWire. 

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Bay Area

IN MEMORIAM: Kituria Littlejohn McConnell, 71

Kit was born July 16, 1950, in Salisbury, North Carolina, to Horace and Esther Littlejohn. She was raised in Washington, D.C., where she married Attorney Gregory (Greg) R. McConnell in 1973. The couple first met at Backus Junior High School in 1963. They attended Coolidge High School and Howard University where Kit graduated in 1972 with a degree in English.

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Kituria (Kit) Littlejohn McConnell
Kituria (Kit) Littlejohn McConnell

July 16, 1950 – Jan. 16, 2022

Kituria (Kit) Littlejohn McConnell passed away peacefully at her home in Danville, California, surrounded by her family, on Jan. 16, 2022 at the age of 71, following a two-year battle with cancer.

Kit was born July 16, 1950, in Salisbury, North Carolina, to Horace and Esther Littlejohn. She was raised in Washington, D.C., where she married Attorney Gregory (Greg) R. McConnell in 1973.

The couple first met at Backus Junior High School in 1963. They attended Coolidge High School and Howard University where Kit graduated in 1972 with a degree in English.

It was during their time together at Howard University that they dated, and Kit honored Greg by agreeing to be his lifelong partner. Their marriage extended for 48 years until Kit’s passing.

After graduation from Howard, Kit excelled as a teacher at Eastern High School. Due to her exceptional teaching and interpersonal skills, she was tapped to teach a range of students with various achievement levels.

Kit and Greg lived in the Washington, D.C., area until they moved to Hercules, California, in 1985. Her hobbies included reading, decorating, and traveling. Kit is regarded as a loving and kind woman who was thoroughly devoted to her family and friends. She was truly a good person that no one ever said an unkind word about. She was the spiritual leader of her family, firmly grounded in decency, compassion and sharing her goodwill toward all.

Kit is survived by her husband, Gregory R. McConnell; her three devoted children, Kalela Washington and husband Spencer of Olney, MD; Gregory (JR) McConnell Jr. of Oakland, CA, and Kimberley Riberdy and husband Jason of Dublin, CA; grandchildren Aliya G. Washington and Kituria J. Riberdy; sisters Phyllis Palm and Montressa Fisher; brother Horace G. Littlejohn, III; a host of loving in-laws, nieces, and nephews; and a score of lifelong devoted friends.

Kit is now reunited with her parents, Horace and Esther Littlejohn, and her sister, Millicent Littlejohn Wheeler who preceded her in death.

The family will convene a memorial service in the Washington, D.C., area this spring that will also be available for remote viewing. In lieu of flowers or other sentiments, the family requests that you go to your loved ones, hug them, and tell them you love them.

Thank you, Kit, for a love supreme.

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Activism

MLK: Letter from Birmingham Jail

It was a King supporter who smuggled the nearly 7,000 written words, handing them over to King’s lawyers. The letter was then transcribed and printed partially or in full in several publications including the New York Post, Liberation magazine, The New Leader, and The Christian Century. It was also published by The Atlantic (August 1963) under the title “The Negro Is Your Brother.”

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Photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from his arrest in 1963. Photo courtesy of teachingamericanhistory.org.
Photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from his arrest in 1963. Photo courtesy of teachingamericanhistory.org.

By Tamara Shiloh

The year was 1963. Cries for equality and an end to injustice for Blacks in Birmingham, Ala., were silenced by the city’s mayor Eugene “Bull” Connor. Alabama Governor George Wallace, stood on the steps of the state capitol and declared: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” This became the motto for those opposed to integration and the Civil Rights Movement.

Bombings targeting leaders of the Birmingham campaign triggered the Birmingham riot. Klan-led violence went unchecked. Massive protests for civil rights grew stronger.

In April, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a cell in the city’s jail: “Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known.”

These exact words targeted Birmingham for the next phase in the struggle for equality. A change that no one could have predicted was coming.

King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference had joined with Birmingham’s Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR). Their collective goal was to form a direct-action campaign that would cripple the city’s segregation system.

The city’s merchants would be under economic pressure if Blacks refused to patronize them during the Easter season. ACMHR Founder Fred Shuttlesworth described the campaign as “a moral witness to give our community a chance to survive.”

Despite a state court’s injunction and absence of a permit, King led the Easter boycott of white-owned stores peacefully on Good Friday. He was arrested by local police along with Ralph Abernathy and a few other protesters.

During the eight days of solitary confinement, King began to pen his response to white ministers who questioned why he and protesters had chosen to stage their protests in Birmingham. He did so on the margins of the Birmingham News.

It was a King supporter who smuggled the nearly 7,000 written words, handing them over to King’s lawyers. The letter was then transcribed and printed partially or in full in several publications including the New York Post, Liberation magazine, The New Leader, and The Christian Century. It was also published by The Atlantic (August 1963) under the title “The Negro Is Your Brother.”

Those pieces of paper had become the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the most important written document of the Civil Rights era of the time. It is one of the most famous defenses of nonviolent action against racism.

While incarcerated, King’s request for a phone call to Coretta Scott King had been denied. Coretta contacted the Kennedy administration, forcing Birmingham officials to permit the call. Bail money was made available, and King was released on April 20.

The Birmingham campaign was successful. Local officials removed White Only and Colored Only signs from restrooms and drinking fountains in downtown Birmingham, desegregated lunch counters, released demonstrators who were jailed, deployed a Negro job improvement plan, and created a biracial committee to monitor the agreement

Desegregation was slow, but change had finally arrived in what was once known as “the most segregated city in America.”

To listen to the letter in its entirety: “Martin Luther King Letter from Birmingham Jail,” by MLK.

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