Category: Politics

Universities Partner to Produce the Official Oral History of Barack Obama’s Presidency

President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza via commons.wikipedia.org)

The Obama Foundation has selected the Columbia Center for Oral History Research to produce the official oral history of Barack Obama’s presidency, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

The project will provide a comprehensive, enduring record of the decisions, actions, and effects of his historic administration. The University of Hawai’i and the University of Chicago will also serve as contributing partners for the project, documenting Obama’s early life in Hawaii and his years in Chicago, respectively.

“Michelle Obama famously observed, ‘You can’t really understand Barack until you understand Hawai’i,’” said University of Hawai’i President David Lassner. “UH and our extraordinary Center for Oral History are looking forward to exploring those early days with those who were part of President Obama’s story.”

“We are pleased to collaborate with Columbia on this exciting project,” said University of Chicago faculty members Adam Green and Jacqueline Stewart in a joint statement. “The stories of Michelle and Barack Obama are intertwined with the story of Chicago and the South Side in particular. We look forward to contributing to that historic narrative, with a focus on how their city helped to shape them as civic leaders.”

Starting this summer and over the next five years, the Obama Presidency Oral History Project will conduct interviews with some 400 people, including senior leaders and policy makers within the Obama administration, as well as elected officials, campaign staff, journalists, and other key figures outside the White House.

The project will also incorporate interviews with individuals representing different dimensions of daily American life, whose perspectives will enable the archive to include how the general public was affected by the Obama administration’s decisions. Additionally, the research team will collect information about Michelle Obama’s work and legacy as First Lady.

“We are honored to document the legacy of President Obama. Our goal is to set a new benchmark for presidential oral histories in terms of the diversity and breadth of narratives assembled and depth of understanding achieved,” said Mary Marshall Clark, director of the Columbia Center for Oral History Research and a project co-investigator. “Central to our project is a commitment to candidly document the stories of key administration alumni and bring them into conversation with the varied experiences of Americans from all walks of life.”

In addition to hosting the project, Columbia has announced the formation of the Obama Presidency Oral History Advisory Board, composed of leading presidential historians, authors, and scholars who can speak to how the Obama administration affected the lives of those inside and outside of Washington D.C.

To read more: https://www.jbhe.com/2019/06/universities-partner-to-produce-the-official-oral-history-of-barack-obamas-presidency/

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Offers New Online Database of Court Cases of Enslaved People Seeking Their Freedom

According to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently debuted an online database of more than 500 court cases in which enslaved persons had sued to gain their freedom. The Dred Scott case in 1857 is the most famous of such cases, but there were many more.

The project collected, digitized, and makes accessible the freedom suits brought by enslaved families in the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, Maryland state courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court. African-American enslaved families accumulated legal knowledge, legal acumen, and experience with the law that they passed from one generation to the next.

The freedom suits they brought against slaveholders exposed slavery a priori as subject to legal question. The suits in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, raised questions about the constitutional and legal legitimacy of slavery, and by extension, affected slavery and law in Maryland, Virginia, and all of the federal territories.

One such case was that of Ann Williams, who leapt from the third floor window of a tavern on F Street in Washington, D.C., after she was sold to Georgia slave traders and separated from her family. She suffered a broken back and fractured her arms, but she survived.

In 2015, original documents about her came to light at the National Archives. Williams and her husband were reunited and had four more children. Then she sued for her freedom. And won. Below is a short film about her story:

The online database concentrates on cases filed in Washington, D.C. in the 1820s and 1830s. More than 100 of these cases involved enslaved persons who were represented by Francis Scott Key, the author of the “Star Spangled Banner.” As such the database is named “O Say Can You See: Early Washington, D.C., Law and Family.”

Source: https://www.jbhe.com/2019/05/new-online-database-of-court-records-of-cases-of-enslaved-people-seeking-their-freedom/

Historic Shelley House in St. Louis Gets Official Recognition on New U.S. Civil Rights Trail

When J.D. Shelley and Ethel Shelley attempted to buy this house at 4600 Labadie Avenue in St. Louis in 1948, they were told it could not be sold to blacks. Their fight went to the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in a ruling that struck down racial covenants in housing. (Photo: FrancisNancy via commons.wikipedia.org)

The historic “Shelley House” at 4600 Labadie Avenue in St. Louis was dedicated yesterday by the National Park Service as Missouri’s first official site on the new U.S. Civil Rights Trail. U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay and Aurelia Skipwith, deputy assistant Secretary of Interior, headlined the event.

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail, created by legislation written by Clay, aims to preserve significant places that had critical roles in the civil rights movement in the United States.

The Shelley House was at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court decision (Shelley v. Kraemer) which struck down restrictive racial covenants in housing in 1948. The nationally impactful decision pitted J.D. and Ethel Shelley, a black couple who wanted to buy the house, against Louis and Fern Kraemer, white neighbors who tried to keep them out.

Other notables in attendance were St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt, and members of the Shelley family.

Source: https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/columns/joe-holleman/historic-civil-rights-house-in-st-louis-gets-official-u/article_2c7013a7-11db-511e-8955-80d61b1e85cf.html

Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s Mother, to Run for Office in Florida

Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old whose shooting death by a neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman set off a national conversation on racial profiling and the inequities in the criminal justice system, formally announced yesterday she is running for local office in Florida.

Fulton became an activist after the death of her son in Sanford, Fla., in 2012 by making speeches around the country as she worked to curb gun violence. She now she aims to do so from inside the government as a policy maker. She will contest the mayor of Miami Gardens Oliver G. Gilbert III for a seat on the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners.

“At first I didn’t want to be the voice for Trayvon after he died, but I decided I have no choice,” Ms. Fulton said in an Instagram video announcing her campaign. “Now I am called to act and called to serve,” she said. She joins other mothers such as Lezley McSpadden and U.S. Congress member Lucy McBath, who also senselessly lost their unarmed sons to gun violence, in running for office.

Fulton is a former housing agency employee who believes a new chapter of serving the public is in order for her. “My time as a public servant began 30 years ago at Miami-Dade County. Since 2012, I have advocated tirelessly to empower our communities and make them safer,” she relayed in an Instagram post. “But the work is not done. I am proud to announce that I will run to represent District 1 on the county commission.”

Read more:

DOCUMENTARY: “Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project” Tells Story of Marion Stokes, Activist and Archivist Who Single-Handedly Preserved Over 30 Years of TV History

Marion Stokes privately recorded television twenty-four hours a day for over thirty years.

Stokes is the subject of Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, a new documentary that highlights her work as an archivist, but paints a complex picture of a woman who was brushed off as an eccentric for most of her life. For thirty-plus years, multiple tapes (sometimes as many as eight) would record concurrently across multiple televisions as Stokes personally watched two monitors at once.

Former librarian Stokes, who became independently wealthy through technology and real estate investments, began casually recording television in 1977 and taped a variety of programs, but thought news was especially important.

In 1979 during the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which coincided with the dawn of the 24-hour news cycle, Stokes began recording MSNBC, Fox, CNN, CNBC, and CSPAN around the clock by running as many as eight television recorders at a time. Marion single-handedly built an archive of network, local, and cable news from her Philadelphia home, one tape at a time, recording every major (and trivial) news event until the day she died.

The taping ended on December 14, 2012 while the Sandy Hook massacre played on television as Stokes passed away from lung disease at the age of 83. In between, she recorded on 70,000 VHS tapes, capturing revolutions, lies, wars, triumphs, catastrophes, bloopers, talk shows, and commercials that tell us who we were, and show how television shaped the world of today.

“She was interested in access to information, documenting media, making sure people had the information they needed to make good decisions,” says the film’s director, Matt Wolf.

Stokes was no stranger to television and its role in molding public opinion. An activist archivist, she had been a librarian with the Free Library of Philadelphia for nearly 20 years before being fired in the early 1960s, likely for her work as a Communist party organizer.

From 1968 to 1971, she had co-produced Input, (which itself was recently recovered and digitized) a Sunday-morning talk show airing on the local Philadelphia CBS affiliate, with John S. Stokes Jr., who would later become her husband.

Input brought together academics, community and religious leaders, activists, scientists, and artists to openly discuss social justice issues and other topics of the day. Marion also was engaged in civil rights issues, helping organize buses to the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, among other efforts.

“Our vision is really aligned with Marion’s,” says Roger Macdonald, director of the television archives at the Internet Archive. “It’s really bold and ambitious: universal access to all knowledge.” Marion’s son had contacted the Internet Archive when he was trying to find a home for her tapes in 2013.

Macdonald immediately seized the opportunity. Those tapes were soon donated to the Internet Archive and are still in the process of being organized and digitized.

To read more about Marion Stokes and Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project (https://recorderfilm.com):

https://www.fastcompany.com/3022022/the-incredible-story-of-marion-stokes-who-single-handedly-taped-35-years-of-tv-news

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/marion-stokes-television-news-archive

https://theoutline.com/post/7370/recorder-documentary-marion-stokes-interview-matt-wolf?fbclid=IwAR3eFB6ld4rxYoKnFfEgR19qbBk76OAD1P_Ok2NcgQQeYylgacCKyoIBm0M&zd=3&zi=g25ve4g2

Upcoming screenings of Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project:

Montclair Film Festival
May 8, 12

Maryland Film Festival
May 9, 10

SF DocFest
June 8, 10

MCA Chicago
June 21

Interview with Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project director Matt Wolf, which includes clip from film at 6min mark:

And The Children Shall Lead Them: Georgetown University Students Vote to Pay Fee to Benefit Descendants of Enslaved People Sold By School

Georgetown University Healy Hall (photo via wikipedia.org)

According to jbhe.com, the student body of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. recently voted on a proposal to add a semester fee of $27.20 that would go toward a fund to benefit descendants of the 272 enslaved persons once owned and then sold in 1838 by the university to pay off debt. The referendum passed by a vote of 2,541 to 1,304, which means nearly two-thirds of enrolled students are in favor of the new fee.

“The university values the engagement of our students and appreciates that 3,845 students made their voices heard in yesterday’s election,” said Todd Olson, Georgetown’s Vice President for Student Affairs, in an official statement. “Our students are contributing to an important national conversation and we share their commitment to addressing Georgetown’s history with slavery.”

Georgetown administrators, however, have said the student referendum is nonbinding, and the school’s 39-member board of directors would have to vote on the measure, according to the school’s student newspaper, the Hoya.

If Georgetown’s board approves, reports The Huffington Post, it would be one of the first major U.S. institutions to create a fund for slavery reparations.

Critics of the reparations fund have argued that it should not be current students’ responsibility to atone for the school’s past.

Like many American institutions in recent years, Georgetown has been grappling with its role in slavery. Last year, Georgetown issued a formal apology to the descendants of the 272 slaves and announced a policy to give them priority in admissions. The university also renamed two campus buildings, including one in honor of Isaac Hawkins, the first person listed in the 1838 sale.

Nationally, the issue of reparations has been in the spotlight lately. Earlier this week, the New York Times published an opinion piece entitled “When Slaveowners Got Reparations”, pointing out how President Lincoln signed a bill in 1862 that paid up to $300 to slaveholders for every enslaved person freed when he emancipated those in bondage in Washington D.C. In 2014, journalist and best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote “The Case for Reparations,” for The Atlantic, highlighting the topic, and even typically conservative NY Times writer David Brooks wrote in March why he’s come around to the cause.

Several 2020 Democratic presidential contenders have expressed support, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who this week announced legislation to study the issueSens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also have called for a closer look at the issue.

Princeton Seminary Students Call for Reparations and Creation of Black Church Studies Program for School’s Role in Slavery

Alexander Hall at Princeton Theological Seminary (photo via commons.wikipedia.org)

According to the Washington Post, the Association of Black Seminarians, who are comprised of Princeton Theological Seminary students, have petitioned for and are calling on the institution to offer reparations for its role in and past ties to slavery. To quote the Post:

“A group of black seminarians has collected more than 400 signatures in an online petition calling on the institution to “make amends” by setting aside $5.3 million annually — or 15 percent of what the seminary uses from its endowment for its operating expenses — to fund tuition grants for black students and establish a Black Church Studies program.

As a progressive seminary, Princeton could become a pioneer by distributing reparations, said Justin Henderson, president of the Association of Black Seminarians, the group behind the petition. The school has confessed and repented for the “sin” of its role in slavery, but “repentance doesn’t end with confession,” said Henderson, who will finish his master of divinity studies in May.

“Restitution is evidence of the repentance,” he said. “This is how we know the person has repented.”

To read further, click here.

T.I. Honored by Georgia Senate For His Philanthropy

T.I. (photo by ConcertTour.org via commons.wikipedia.org)

Grammy Award-winning hip hop artist, actor and Atlanta native T.I. was honored at the Georgia State Capitol last Friday.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Democratic State Senator Donzella James sponsored a resolution applauding T.I. (née Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr.), for spearheading several non-profit organizations, including Harris Community Works, which works with the disadvantaged, and For The Love of Our Fathers, which aids people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

T.I. is also credited for mentoring youth at local area schools in his hometown, hosting Thanksgiving turkey drives and delivering Christmas presents to families in need throughout Atlanta. He also started a real estate company called Buy Back The Block to help rebuild his old neighborhood in the Center Hill section of Atlanta.

Bronx Students Protesting for Change Declare Victory After Three-Day Lockout of Administration Sparked by Racist Video

According to bronx.news12.com, after days of students protesting for change at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in Bronx, NY, their lockout of administration has ended in victory.

Nearly 90 students took part in the lockout that started Monday, and some even slept at the school. Thirty students spent Wednesday afternoon and evening negotiating with board members and school administrators – alongside alumni mediators who were involved in a similar push for equality at the school almost 50 years ago.

The campaign for change was launched at Fieldston after a video surfaced recently showing students engaging in racist and hateful behavior a few years back.

Isbella Ali was one of the students who helped secure the changes, which include racial bias training for all staff and parents, recruiting more students and faculty of color, and introducing a mandatory black studies course to the curriculum.

“We’ll make sure that they implement the demands that they have agreed too,” says Ali.

The Board of Trustees signed off on 16 long-term improvements put forth by members of the “Students of Color Matter” movement. One of their demands for the administration was establishing a new system to report bias.

State Attorney General Letitia James released a statement saying, “Students in this state and around the country often learn about the importance of activism, civil rights, and social justice in their textbook, but rarely do they have the opportunity to live it.”

To see video: http://bronx.news12.com/story/40124399/fieldston-students-end-lock-out-claim-administration-accepted-demands

To read more: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/students-of-color-matter-are-protesting-at-ethical-culture-fieldston-school

Update: Honoring the Legacy of Marielle Franco from Los Angeles to New York

Today, March 14, 2019, marks one year after the assassination of Brazilian Councilwoman Marielle Franco, who fought tirelessly for the rights of women, the poor and the Black communities in her native country. Two recent events in the United States were held in celebration of her too-short-yet-impactful life, and more are listed below:

International Women’s Day Honor – The Bronx, NY

A seventh grade class at Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School selected Marielle Franco as their honoree this year for International Women’s Day. Shirley Phillips, CEO and Founder of Go Girlz Inc., stated, “Marielle ignited a new generation of young activists willing to protect her legacy. These students did all the artwork themselves. I did nothing except direct and lead them to research.”

Fight Like Marielle Franco – Lute Como Marielle Franco – Los Angeles, CA

The L.A. Chapter of Coletivo Por Um Brasil Democratico gathered a group of music artists, activists and scholars together at Los Angeles City Hall for a tribute of heartfelt music, teary-eyed speeches, and readings of one of Marielle’s essays in Portuguese, Spanish and English. Continue reading “Update: Honoring the Legacy of Marielle Franco from Los Angeles to New York”