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George Washington Williams: Turning Experience into History

It was during a trip to Europe that Williams met Leopold, a German prince who became the first king of the Belgians. Leopold spoke highly of the Congo, sparking Williams to visit several times. While there, he wrote two explosive articles about the treatment of Africans under Belgian rule: “An Open Letter to His Serene Majesty Leopold II, King of the Belgians and Sovereign of the Independent State of Congo” and “A Report Upon the Congo-State and Country to the President of the Republic of the United States.”

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George Washington Williams was a preacher and historian.
George Washington Williams was a preacher and historian.

By Tamara Shiloh

Best known as the man who exposed King Leopold’s “benevolent enterprise” in the Congo as brutal imperialism, George Washington Williams (1849–1891) was also an American historian, clergyman, politician, lawyer, lecturer, and soldier.

He was the first person to write an objective, researched history of Blacks in America. His first book, “History of the Negro Race in America” (1882), is one of the most important contributions any American has made to the field of history.

Williams had little academic education as a youth. He was, however, in the church “learning about Jesus,” he later wrote. His father, a laborer and troubled alcoholic, was often absent. His mother then worked outside of the home. These circumstances pushed young Williams into rebellion. His parents placed him in a refuge house for undisciplined and unruly children, where he could learn a trade.

It is said that Williams became a barber, but no evidence of that has been found. What is known is that he was desperate to leave the home, to seek freedom and independence.

When Williams learned that the door for African Americans to enlist in the Union Army had opened in 1862, he joined and fought in the Civil War. At the time, he was 14 years old and knew he didn’t meet the age requirements. Determined to leave the home, however, he used false names, likely William, or Charles Steward, according to historians.

When the Civil War ended in 1865, Williams enlisted in the Mexican army to help fight the French colonists.

He later enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1867 but only served one year. His military experiences would later prove to be influential in creating such works as “The Ethics of War, A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion,” and “The Constitutional Results of the War of the Rebellion.”

Upon separation from the military, Williams returned to what he knew: “learning about Jesus.” He enrolled in the Newton Theological Institution where he prepared for the ministry and was ordained in 1874. He served as pastor of different churches while editing and publishing several journals. He also served in the Ohio House of Representatives (1879–1881) and would soon become a world traveler.

It was during a trip to Europe that Williams met Leopold, a German prince who became the first king of the Belgians. Leopold spoke highly of the Congo, sparking Williams to visit several times. While there, he wrote two explosive articles about the treatment of Africans under Belgian rule: “An Open Letter to His Serene Majesty Leopold II, King of the Belgians and Sovereign of the Independent State of Congo” and “A Report Upon the Congo-State and Country to the President of the Republic of the United States.”

Leopold was devastated by the exposure of his harsh policies, mutilations, and brutal reign and tried to discredit Williams who continued to speak appeal to an international audience. Eventually, the Belgian government took over the Congo Free State. Williams traveled to other African colonies controlled by Great Britain, Portugal, and Egypt.

When the trip ended, Williams fell ill and died in England. He was 42.

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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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