BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It’s just before 2 p.m., the end of a workday that began at 5:30 a.m. for Dolester Miles, a self-taught pastry chef who, in May, was named the best in the nation by the James Beard Foundation. Wearing a spotless white bib apron over an equally spotless chef coat, with sleeves neatly rolled above her elbows, she stands in the compact kitchen of Bottegarestaurant, deftly smoothing a thin layer of whipped cream frosting on a towering, three-layer coconut pecan cake.
She flicks her offset spatula all the way around where the top and sides meet, employing rote precision born of three decades of experience to create a crisp, perfect edge. After she coats the cake with toasted coconut, it’s ready to be picked up by a patron waiting to pay $80 for it, plus tax. Anyone who has eaten that cake, which yields 14 slices, knows two things: that it’s worth every penny, and that the last crumb of it will be snatched up and savored like the last word of a great novel.
Miles, who goes by Dol, oversees a staff of four and the baking production of the four restaurants owned by chef Frank Stitt and his wife, Pardis, including their fine-dining flagship, Highlands Bar & Grill.
In addition to the coconut pecan cake, Miles’s fruit cobblers with flaky biscuit tops, her lemon tarts with swirls of caramelized meringue and her silken panna cottas are legendary in Birmingham. She handles with alacrity the array of Southern, Italian and French favorites found on the menus of the Stitts’ restaurants. A prep list 44 items long on the Thursday before Labor Day revealed the breadth of her work. Production included: chocolate pots de crème; citrus shortbreads; hamburger buns; pizza dough; buttermilk tarts; batches of ice creams, sauces, fig jam and frangipane (an almond-based tart filling); polenta cakes; and crème caramels.
Miles was one of 20 semifinalists in the Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Pastry Chef category for five years running, and among its five finalists for the past three years. The awards gala at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House was a celebratory one for the Stitts, too. After being nominated for 10 consecutive years as the nation’s Outstanding Restaurant, Highlands won. The first time Miles was a finalist, she couldn’t believe it.
“I never really understood how the Beard thing goes, how you get nominated and all of that and, you know, from being down South, from Alabama! Most of them be from New York, California, Chicago — all those big places,” she said. “But to be nominated from all the way down here? That was amazing.” (Miles’s fellow 2018 finalists were from New Orleans, Minneapolis, Chicago and Los Angeles.)
The Democratic National Committee has launched a new initiative, the Seat At the Table Tour, a Black women outreach tour designed to “rebuild relationships, restore trust, and strengthen infrastructure within communities to champion Democratic values and build towards electoral victories,” Refinery29 has learned.
Black women have been the Democratic Party’s most reliable voting bloc since the 1990s. Doug Jones’ win over Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate special election in December especially highlighted Black women’s power; they were largely credited to lifting Jones to victory through on the ground organizing and voter registration efforts.
Despite this, however, the Democratic Party has been criticized for neglecting the needs of Black women and not adequately supporting Black women who are running for office. Many Black women candidates, particularly in Alabama, have been operating with little institutional support, as Refinery29 reported in June.
According to the DNC, the tour, in collaboration with the Congressional Black Caucus and Black women mayors, will consist of listening and training sessions for Black women.
“This is the Democratic Party’s opportunity to show that we want more than just Black Women’s votes. We also need and want Black Women’s input, ideas, and organizing power,” Waikinya Clanton, the DNC’s director of African American outreach, told Refinery29. “We want to hear from Black Women across this country about what keeps them up at night and what we can do to help fix it. Whether it’s training candidates on how to address certain issues, training organizers on how to advocate on issues locally or connecting Black women Democrat. We want to connect and work with Black women to help move this country forward in a real and meaningful way.”
The tour officially kicked off June 16 in Brooklyn, where the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, was honored.
According to Black Women In Politics, a database of Black women running for office, there are 603 Black women candidates this year.
“This is our chance to invest in more than just candidates and state parties but opportunity to invest in infrastructure and people who help sustain communities,” Clanton said.
An Alabama teen was determined to obtain his high school diploma, despite the fact that his family doesn’t have a car. Images of Birmingham, AL teen Corey Patrick walking and taking the bus to his graduation have gone viral, with a few stars promising to buy the determined student new wheels for all of his hard work and dedication to his education.
Speaking to WBRC, Patrick revealed that his mom suggested he take the bus to his commencement since she had no way to get him there. “I told Corey, well the best thing to do is just get on the bus and we will work from there,” said Felicia White, Corey’s mother.
Patrick proceeded to pound the pavement and caught the bus in his graduation cap and gown, with the bus driver snapping photos of the young man that eventually spread all over the internet. His family eventually found a ride and met him at the school. “I had to do what was necessary for me to walk this year,” Patrick said.
His mother revealed that Corey was determined to graduate with his friends after moving to a new neighborhood. “Corey was getting up at 4:30 in the morning and had to be at the bus stop at 5:41 in the morning for the last year. Even when he would get out of school he couldn’t get from that side of town until 5:19 when the bus runs back over there. So he doesn’t make it back this way until about 6:30 or 7 o’clock.”
The Shade Room is now reporting Da Brat, Tyrese and Rickey Smiley have committed to buying the young man a new ride so he’ll never have to worry about making it to an important event again.
by Jamia Wilson (with reporting by Samantha Leach) via glamour.com
Before Black Panther celebrated the all-female freedom fighters of Wakanda, real-life black women formed their own type of special-forces unit in Alabama. When a whopping 98 percent of African American women voters united behind Doug Jones, they were able to elect him as the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate in more than 20 years. They didn’t just defeat Roy Moore; they rocked the political status quo.
They have no intention of stopping there.
An unprecedented groundswell of at least 70 black women have launched electoral campaigns across Alabama for local, state, and national offices in 2018, according to the nonprofit Emerge America, which trains women to run for office. While this echoes a national trend (the Black Women in Politics database lists 590 black female candidates across the country, 97 of them for federal seats), experts say the numbers in Alabama are particularly striking. From first-time hopefuls to seasoned veterans, twenty-somethings to sixty-somethings, women are lining up to disrupt the mostly white, mostly Republican old boys’ club in the state. (Only two black women are running as Republicans in Alabama this year, both for local seats, according to the state’s GOP office.) “African Americans are a quarter of the population here, yet they aren’t seeing their issues front and center,” says Rhonda Briggins, a co-founder of VoteRunLead and an Alabama native, “so they’ve decided to run themselves.”
Representative Terri Sewell, 53, who’s up for re-election this year, was the first black woman to represent Alabama in Congress when she was elected in 2011. “As a congressional intern during the late eighties, I remember walking the halls of the Capitol and not seeing many black women in any role, let alone as elected officials,” she says. “When I was first elected, making my voice heard as a black woman surrounded by older white men was a challenge. This year we’re proving the strength of our voice at the ballot box.”
Ironically, it was the election of a white guy—thanks to the record-breaking mobilization of black women—that motivated many of these candidates to jump into the race. “After so many black women carried Doug Jones over the threshold, I think more women across the state began to see our political power,” says Ashley Smith, 34, a Montgomery native running for district judge in Lowndes County.
Wendy Smooth, Ph.D., a political scientist at Ohio State University, agrees the high voter turnout in last December’s special election inspired black women candidates to tap into the political momentum. “There was this robust energy, and once energy like that has been released, it doesn’t go away,” she says. “And once women learn [how to] get a candidate elected into office, a lightbulb comes on and they say, ‘This isn’t that hard after all. I too can do this.’ ” But, she’s quick to point out, the uptick of black candidates in Alabama and beyond is not just reactionary. These candidates are building on a tradition of activism among black women that’s resulted in major social progress. They’ve done the work, using their coalition-based organizing methods, to fight voter suppression, help Barack Obama win the presidency, and change the game in the special elections. Running for political office is a key part of their strategy.
Briggins emphasizes that these women are making deliberate next steps in a larger blueprint for change, in both their communities and the country, noting how past seeds laid the groundwork for growth. “Women are primarily the workers behind the Alabama New South Coalition and Alabama Democratic Conference, organizations that, since the civil rights movement, have become the foundation of black political power in Alabama,” she says. Continue reading “Meet 18 Candidates Leading the Historic Rise of Black Women Running for Office in Alabama”→
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It’s an unlikely location for a political uprising: A onetime drug rehab center in an office park, where metal bars still line the windows and the hum from the nearby I-20/I-59 overpass is constant. But it is here that Jameria Moore, a 49-year-old attorney, launched her campaign for a judgeship on the Jefferson County Probate Court. She is one of about three dozen African-American women who are running for office as Democrats across deep-red Alabama.
It’s an unprecedented number, according to party officials. Many, like Moore, are running for the first time. And many, like Moore, say Democrat Doug Jones‘ unexpected Senate victory in December inspired them to take a chance. But there’s more to this wave of black women candidates than that.
“It’s so important that we step up, that we show the nation that we can lead,” Moore told NBC News in a recent interview, as a small team of volunteers bustled about her law office and prepared for the campaign ahead. “That, here in Alabama, we’re ready to lead our state into the future.”
Her campaign is mounting a robust effort in a local race with a crowded Democratic primary field — all in an intensely conservative state with a history of racial division.
“I have friends in other states who say, ‘I don’t know how you live in Alabama,’ and I tell them, ‘Why wouldn’t I live in Alabama?'” she said. “This is an opportunity, that’s how I look at it.”
Ninety-eight percent of black women voted for Jones, according to an NBC News exit poll — a decisive factor in the former federal prosecutor becoming the first Democrat in 25 years to be elected to the Senate from Alabama. Now, just three months later, an unprecedented number of African-American women are taking the next step in building on that momentum by running for local and statewide office.
More than 35 black women have launched campaigns or re-election efforts, and more than three-quarters of them are running here in Birmingham, in state and county judicial races, or for seats in the state legislature. Organizers and local officials say it’s evidence of a small but significant Democratic burst of political activism that could put a blue-hued dent in a deep-Trump state.
“Alabama is not a state that is known for electing women to office, so, in some sense, this is surprising, historic and much needed,” said Richard Fording, a professor of public policy at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
The effort has been partly driven by national groups, which hit the ground during Jones’ campaign and, after his win, stuck around, sensing further progress could be made.
“This place that was so resistant to change, where, now, a group of women who were looked down upon and dealt first-hand with the vestiges of slavery and segregation are the ones who can lead us forward — it’s monumental,” said Quentin James, founder and director of the Collective PAC, a two-year-old group focusing on recruiting African-American candidates in statewide and local races across the U.S.
“Where better to demonstrate the progress being made than in Alabama,” he added.
‘A LARGER TREND’
The new wave of candidates, as well as the voters who have empowered them, say their efforts and progress are driven not only by the encouragement they felt after Jones’ win, but the wide-ranging impact of the #MeToo movement, Barack Obama’s presidency and Trump’s divisiveness and perceived animosity toward minorities.
A half-dozen African-American women now running for office said in recent interviews that the gains made in local races in 2016 — when nine African-American women were elected as judges in Jefferson County — helped light the fuse.
As anti-Trump fervor rose, so, too, did the desire of black women to enter politics. And by fall 2017, as the #MeToo movement swept the country in October, and Jones won in December, it erupted into a full-blown fire.
Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., a four-term congresswoman running for re-election this fall who was cited as a trailblazer by many of the black women now running for office, said it’s vital that women of all races be a part of the policy-making process “as the nation grapples with the realities of sexual harassment and assault.”
Richard Mauk, chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Party, said he first felt inklings of change in the majority-Democratic county about 10 years ago when Obama came to power. “It showed that black people can be elected,” he said. “While it took a few years to trickle down, he, along with Michelle Obama, gave a lot of black women the idea that, yes, this is possible.”
Mauk said the party does’t have reliable records of candidate demographics, but said he’d never seen anything like this year’s large number of black women running.Jones, for his part, pointed out that African-American women have long been part of the political process in Alabama, even though they are significantly underrepresented in the state legislature.”
The difference now is simply the fact that you have more voices rising up,” said Jones, who added that he recognized his own election as something that empowered this new wave of African-American women to seek office.Meanwhile, James, of Collective PAC, singled out Trump as the main motivator.
“You have a president who attacks black women,” James said, pointing to recent criticism out of the White House of two Democratic congresswomen, Maxine Waters of California and Frederica Wilson of Florida. “They’re fed up, we’re fed up, and … it’s crucial we have more voices on the public stage to fight back.” Continue reading “Record Number of Black Women are Candidates in Alabama”→
The Philadelphia Museum of Art has acquired a significant group of works by self-taught African American artists, deepening the museum’s already rich holdings of so-called outsider artists and strengthening its overall collection of art by American people of color. The 24 works include three major assemblages by Thornton Dial, an iron and steel worker, pipe fitter, carpenter, and house painter who lived in Bessemer, Ala., near Birmingham.
The museum also acquired a number of works from Dial’s friends and relatives, and 15 quilts made by several generations of women from Gee’s Bend, a rural Alabama community near Selma. The quilts and assemblages were part of the 1,200-work collection of the Atlanta-based Souls Grown Deep Foundation, an organization devoted to documenting, preserving, and promoting the work of self-taught African American artists from the Deep South.“I think it’s a spectacular addition to the collection and another piece to add to our growing holdings of work by self-taught artists,” Timothy Rub, head of the museum, said Wednesday.
Rub said the acquisition, a partial gift from Souls Grown Deep and partial purchase, “fills in … an important piece of the story of American art, broadly understood.”
Beyond saying the museum was able to cover the discounted cost of the works with its own funds, Rub declined to discuss the purchase price or the discount provided by the foundation to facilitate the acquisition.
Maxwell L. Anderson, president of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, said the acquisition fit with the organization’s overall strategy for gaining wider appreciation for the work of the artists. He noted that now “important works by African American artists who represent a distinctive voice in contemporary art are represented in [the Art Museum’s] permanent collection.”
“Partnering with the PMA and a growing number of other museums will ensure that the work and history of these artists is accessible to a broad audience,” said Anderson.
Ann Percy, the museum’s curator of drawings, said the museum considered the works to be representative of a “huge part of American art.” “But we didn’t have any,” she said, referring to pieces by self-taught or outsider African American artists from the Deep South. “We think it’s an important aspect of American art that we didn’t have represented in the collection.”
Thornton Dial, who died two years ago, was first inspired as a teenager by the “yard art” displayed on lawns throughout the area. He began constructing sculptural assemblages out of whatever he could find, strongly motivated to express his ideas and feelings about history, slavery, racism, politics, war, spiritual matters, economic dislocation, and homelessness.
The three Dial assemblages acquired by the museum – The Last Day of Martin Luther King (1992), High and Wide (Carrying the Rats to the Man) (2002), and The Old Water (2004) – combine found materials such as steel, tin, wood, carpet, barbed wire, upholstery, driftwood, goat hides, metal pans, broken glass, a stuffed-animal backpack, mop cords, and a broom.
Dial’s assemblages, and the two assemblages each by Lonnie Holley and Ronald Lockett, plus one piece by Hawkins Bolden and another by sculptor Bessie Harvey, provide ample evidence of the “profound subjects” at the heart of the work by these artists.
The celebrated quilt makers of Gee’s Bend have been practicing the art since the 19th century. They have became known in the 21st century as the result of two major traveling exhibitions: “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend,” in 2002, and “Gee’s Bend, the Architecture of the Quilt,” which visitors to the art museum enthused over in 2008.
Work by Mary Lee Bendolph and her daughter Louisiana P. Bendolph is contained within the acquisition. Quilt makers now represented in the collection are Delia Bennett, Nellie May Abrams, Annie E. Pettway, Henrietta Pettway, Loretta Pettway, Martha Jane Pettway, Sue Willie Seltzer, Andrea P. Williams, Irene Williams, Magdalene Wilson (1898-2001), and Nettie Young. The 15 quilts were made between 1930 and 2005. Rub said the works will be on display in the near future.
Senator-elect Doug Jones, the Democrat from Alabama who beat Republican Roy Moore in last month’s special Senate election, has tapped former Department of Transportation staffer Dana Gresham as his chief of staff, making him the only African-American chief of staff for a Senate Democrat.
“I would like to welcome Alabama native & former Asst. Secretary for Governmental Affairs at @USDOT Dana Gresham, who will be joining our team as Chief of Staff,” Jones tweeted Tuesday.
Prior to working at the Department of Transportation under President Barack Obama, Gresham worked for Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Ala., and Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala. The appointment follows pressure from several organizations representing various communities of color that asked Jones last month to hire at least one minority to a senior-level position.
Two Republican senators, though, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Jerry Moran of Kansas, reportedly have black chiefs of staff.
Seventeen organizations, including the NAACP, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and the National Urban League, wrote a letter to Jones in December suggesting he hire a person of color in light of the lack of diversity among Senate staff. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies organized the effort and drafted the letter.
“As a new Member of the U.S. Senate, you have an opportunity to show your constituents that not only do their voices matter, but that their experiences and skills are vital to the work that you do to represent them,” the groups wrote in the Dec. 19 letter to Jones. “Ensuring racial diversity among your staff would enhance the deliberation, innovation, legitimacy, and outcomes of your office and of the Senate as a whole. Hiring at least one person of color to your senior staff in Washington would speak loudly, and we ask that you do so among the qualified applicants that you will receive.”
News of Gresham’s hire was applauded across the Twittersphere.
“Great News! Birmingham’s own stand out Dana Gresham chosen to be Chief of Staff to Alabama’s Senator Doug Jones!” tweeted Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala. “Looking forward to working with them to move Alabama forward!! @GDouglasJones.”
Amanda Brown Lierman, political and organizing director for the Democratic National Committee tweeted, “Snaps for @GDouglasJones naming Dana Gresham as his Chief of Staff! #DougJones will be the ONLY #Senate #Democrat to have a black COS.”
And Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity tweeted, “Congratulations to Brother Dana Gresham [Mu Lambda ’97] for being appointed as Chief of Staff for Alabama Senator-elect, Doug Jones, who will be the only member of the Democratic caucus to have a Black/African-American chief of staff.”
According to Newsone.com, the published work of literary giant Zora Neale Hurston (Of Mules and Men, Their Eyes Were Watching God) will expand in 2018 with the posthumous release of a new non-fiction book in May, Melville House reported.
The book—titled Barracoon—is an anthropological work on Cudjo Lewis; the last known person to survive the transatlantic slave trade between Africa and the United States. Nearly 90 years ago, Hurston traveled to Plateau, Alabama, and listened to Lewis—who was in his early 90s—recount his heart-wrenching experiences. Hurston went back and forth to Plateau over the course of four years. During her visits, Lewis shared memories about his upbringing in Africa, dark details about being captured, and his voyage to America on the Clotildeship.
Lewis also spoke to Hurston about the perils of being an enslaved man in America and how his life changed following the Civil War. After gaining his freedom, Lewis and other former enslaved peoples cultivated a community in Alabama which was later landmarked and recognized as the Africatown Historic District. According to Bustle, Lewis was also featured in a short film created by Hurston in 1928; making him the only former bondsman born in Africa to be featured on a movie reel.
Harper Collins described the book as a piece that “brilliantly illuminates the tragedy of slavery and one life forever defined by it” and “an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.”
If you live in Lowndes County and are of voting age, it’s a safe bet that Perman Hardy has spoken with you about voting at some point in the past 25 years.
As one of the thousands of sharecroppers who worked white men’s land in Lowndes County over the years, 59-year-old Hardy recalls picking cotton after school growing up. She eventually finished her education, bought her own home, and had a successful career as a home health nurse.
But for the past two-and-a-half decades, Hardy has dedicated much of her free time to another pursuit: trying to ensure that every single person in Lowndes County shows up to the polls for every election in Alabama. A native of the unincorporated community of Collirene, she has done about as much as one person possibly could to boost turnout in the impoverished, majority-black county with a population of just 10,458 people.
“That’s my goal is to make sure everyone votes. That’s always been my goal. This is what I do every election,” she said as she steered her forest-green Chevrolet Tahoe through Collirene, a rural area that was once home to several cotton plantations that employed generations of slaves and sharecroppers. “We’re in an epidemic poverty county so it’s so important for us to vote today,” she told AL.com. “I took some people today who’ve never cast a ballot before.”
On Tuesday, like she says she does every time Alabamians head to the polls, Hardy spent more than 10 hours driving registered voters to polling stations who did not have transportation or were otherwise unable to make the trip without help. Over the course of the day, she personally drove more than 50 people to polling sites across Lowndes County.
Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in Tuesday’s Alabama Senate race with the overwhelming support of black women voters, 98 percent of whom cast their ballots for the Democrat. According to CNN’s exit polls, only 34 percent of white women voted for Jones, with 63 percent of that voter bloc offering their support to Moore instead. The Republican has been accused of pursuing inappropriate relationships with teen girls as an adult.
“Doug Jones would not have won today without the turnout we saw from African-American voters,” Symone Sanders, a Democratic strategist, told Newsweek. “Black women have been absolutely clear in their support for Democratic policies and Democratic candidates. It’s high time for Democrats…to invest in that effort.”
Sanders said it was the grassroots, on-the-ground efforts of Jones’s African-American supporters that helped bring black voters to the ballot box on Tuesday and push him across the finish line. But if Democrats want to carry their 2017 successes into the 2018 midterms, they can’t count on black women alone to carry the party.
“Black women have been attempting to save America since the dawn of time,” Sanders said. “That doesn’t mean we should allow the fate of America to be laid at the feet of black women. It has to be a multicultural effort.”
Still, others couldn’t help but notice the poetic justice of a Democrat with an upstanding record on civil rights winning in deep-red Alabama. “It’s no coincidence that Selma, where blood was shed in the struggle for voting rights for Black people, pushed Doug Jones ahead for good,” Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, tweeted following Jones’s win. Selma, Alabama—the site of 1965’s “Bloody Sunday”—was one of the Democratic candidate’s strong spots with black voters.
The Jones camp had tried to leverage the candidate’s civil rights record to appeal to African-American voters in the state. When he served as a prosecutor, Jones was responsible for convicting members of the Ku Klux Klan who bombed a Birmingham, Alabama, Baptist church, killing four young girls. “I’m very humbled and honored to have played a part in the civil rights saga, if you will, many years after the fact,” Jones said during a campaign rally in Montgomery, Alabama, another famous site for the civil rights movement.