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.
Although the Orange and Peach-producing states of Florida and Georgia have yet to bear the historic fruit of African-American gubernatorial victory (fingers still crossed for you, Stacey Abrams!), there were many historic elections won last night by African-Americans and people of color that GBN would like to celebrate as we move into 2019 with more diverse local, state and federal governments, hopefully geared towards just change and unity:
Ayanna Pressley is elected first black House member from Massachusetts. Pressley was the first black woman to serve on Boston’s city council and made history again after defeating the 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano in the primary. She did not face a challenger in the general election, and last night was officially elected to the House of Representatives.
In her victory speech, she said: “These times demanded more from our leaders and from our party. These times demanded an approach to governing that was bold, uncompromising and unafraid. It’s not just good enough to see the Democrats back in power but it matters who those Democrats are.”
Jahana Hayes is elected first black congresswoman from Connecticut. The 2016 National Teacher of the Year and first-time political candidate Jahana Hayes won her bid to represent Connecticut’s fifth congressional district. Alongside Massachusetts’ Pressley, will be one of the first two women of color to represent New England.
In upstate New York, Schenectady nativeAntonio Delgado beat outRep. John Faso to take the Hudson Valley’s 19th Congressional District seat the Times-Unionreports. The candidates were in a dead heat for a while, but Delgado eventually pulled ahead. Delgado now becomes the first black congressman to represent the district.
Underwood has been a longtime advocate for access to affordable quality health care, first as a nurse and later as a senior advisor in the Obama administration.
Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, first Native American congresswomen. An attorney and former MMA fighter, Davids became the first Native American congresswoman and the first lesbian congresswoman from Kansas. Raised by a single mother army veteran and a member of the Wisconsin-based Ho-Chunk Nation, Davids was a fellow in the Obama White House.
Haaland is a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo people. Haaland is focused on progressive issues like Medicare-for-all and a $15 minimum wage, she says she is most passionate about the environment and promoting clean, renewable energy.
She is a Democratic-Socialist who served on the state legislature from 2009 to 2014 and ran her congressional primary campaign supporting Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage and abolishing Ice.
Omar is the first Somali-American, first refugee and first woman of color elected to represent the fifth congressional district of Minnesota.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory in the June congressional primary in New York shook up Washington and the Democratic party. The progressive challenger and member of the Democratic socialist party unseated a powerful 10-term New York congressman, running with a campaign ad that said: “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.” Now 29, she has become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, first Latina congresswomen from Texas
More than a third of the population of the Lone Star state may be Latino, but until Tuesday, no Latina had been elected to represent the state in congress. Escobar, a former county judge, won her race in Beto O’Rourke’s former district in El Paso, while Garcia trounced her Republican opponent in Houston.
“It’s about time,” Garcia told supporters, according to the Texas Tribune. “But you know, it’s never been about being a first. It’s always been about being the best.”
Letitia James is Elected New York Attorney General. James was overwhelmingly elected as the attorney general of New York on Tuesday, shattering a trio of racial and gender barriers and now in position to be at the forefront of the country’s legal bulwark against the policies of the current federal administration.
Wesley Bell is elected St. Louis County, Missouri’s first black prosecutor. Bell’s victory was no surprise, as his real victory came in the August 7 Democratic primary when he crushed incumbent Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch – who made enemies of blacks and progressives – for 27 years. Bell celebrated making history with supporters on election night last night, now that his win is official.
Also, all 19 black women who ran for various judicial seats in Harris County, Texas won their races last night, marking the single biggest victory for black women in the county’s history.
And with the passing of Amendment 4 in Florida, 1.4 million people with felonies on their record will be getting the right to vote back. This re-enfranchisement of former felons who have served their sentences (except for those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses) will likely be significant factor in future elections in that state.
The mother of 18-year-old Michael Brown, unarmed Black teenager who was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson, is running for Ferguson City Council.
Four years after Brown’s death, McSpadden made the announcement Friday afternoon.
“Yesterday made four years for my son’s death. I thought that I would wake up and would be really sad… but when I woke up I had a different type of energy. I had a energy of get up out this bed and go. You have work to do.” McSpadden told theGrio in an exclusive interview.
“[Michael] was just speaking to me, ‘Mom it’s time for you to shake it off. It’s time for you to do what you say you want to do. And get justice for me.”
McSpadden’s announcement comes on the heels of another game-changing candidate, Wesley Bell, who beat out incumbent St. Louis County prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, in the Democratic primary.
McCullouch was criticized for how he handled Brown’s case and was accused of being “buddy buddy” with police. McSpadden says Bell supports her candidacy and inspires her. “Seeing him win for St. Louis County prosecutor gave me hope that I can do this. That I can state adversity in the face and be the change my son needs,” said the 38-year old McSpadden.
McSpadden says she wants to use her platform to advocate for economic equality, access to health care, and a topic which surely hits close to home — community policing. “One of the things that I know to be true; the people who are employed as police officers do not live in this area, they are not familiar with the community or a regular John Doe who walks to and from the store. That’s a big issue.” McSpadden told theGrio.
McSpadden says she will advocate for building better community relations. “That should keep down this repeated pattern of words we hear in encounters ‘I fear for my life.’”
“The only thing that has changed within me is time. People say ‘time heals all wounds— I don’t know if this wound will ever heal, but I’ve gotten wiser and educated myself to know. I’m putting my faith into God. I have no doubt that I’ll be elected.”
Wednesday, a federal judge placed restrictions on the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, claiming their conduct during recent protests has violated demonstrators’ constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry ruled that the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against St. Louis police “are likely to prevail on the merits of their claims” that their First and Fourth Amendment rights had been violated.
The case stems from protests which took place in September, following the “not guilty” verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a white police officer who shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man, in 2011.
Perry found sufficient evidence that although there was no violence, police declared an assembly without taking the protesters’ rights and opinions into consideration. She also ruled that there was “no credible threat of force or violence to officers or property” when police rounded up citizens, including journalists, on Sept. 17. Following those arrests, the sitting head of the St. Louis MPD declared his department “owned” the night, as the officers mocked protesters by chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!”
Perry shared that officers had clearly retaliated against protected First Amendment speech simply because they did not prefer being criticized, and used chemical weapons to divert speech they didn’t favor.
“Plaintiffs’ evidence — both video and testimony ― shows that officers have exercised their discretion in an arbitrary and retaliatory fashion to punish protesters for voicing criticism of police or recording police conduct,” Perry wrote. “When all of the evidence is considered, plaintiffs have met their burden of showing that they are likely to succeed on their claim that defendant has a custom or policy of deploying hand-held pepper spray against citizens engaged in recording police or in expressive activity critical of police in retaliation for the exercise of their first amendment rights, in violation of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments.”
Perry says police are not permitted to declare an unlawful assembly unless there’s a clear and present threat, and they cannot use the law to punish people engaged in protected activity, such as protesting. Perry additionally confirmed chemical agents can’t be used, unless there is probable cause to arrest, and police are not able to threaten to use chemical agents against anyone engaged in expressive, nonviolent activity.
In October, during a hearing, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Anthony Rothert proclaimed “pepper spray is the new fire hose,” and said officers were using pepper spray “arbitrarily, gratuitously and without warning.” We are hopeful that more injustices will be brought to light and rightfully punished, as well as justice be served as these officers and others misusing their duty to serve and protect are corrected.
George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, recently named its North Plaza in honor of Roger Wilkins, a former long-time faculty member who died this past March. Angel Cabrera, president of George Mason University, said at the dedication ceremony, “when Roger came to George Mason, few knew much about this fledgling university in the suburbs of Washington D.C. Roger was one of those intellectual pioneers who helped put this university on the map.”
A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Wilkins moved to Harlem at the age of 9 and later settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a law degree at the University of Michigan.
Wilkins joined the Kennedy administration in 1962 as a special assistant to the director of the Agency for International Development. In 1965, he was appointed an assistant attorney general by President Johnson.
In 1988, Wilkins joined the faculty at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, as the Clarence J. Robinson Professor in History and American Culture. He remained on the faculty for nearly 20 years until his retirement in 2007.
Emmy Award-winning actor Robert Guillaume, best known as the title character in the TV sitcom “Benson,” died Tuesday. He was 89.
His wife Donna Brown Guillaume told the Associated Press he died at their Los Angeles home of complications of prostate cancer. Guillaume often played acerbic, dry-witted, but ultimately lovable characters like the butler Benson Du Bois, which he created on the 1977 series “Soap,” before his character was spun off in 1979. Guillaume won Emmys both for “Soap” (as supporting actor) and “Benson” (as lead actor).
He was also known as the the voice of Rafiki in “The Lion King,” for which he also won a Grammy for a spoken word recording. “Benson” ran on ABC for seven years until 1986. The show brought Guillaume an Emmy in 1985 for lead actor in a comedy. In the late ’90s he took on the role of Isaac Jaffe, executive producer of a cable sports show on the ABC sitcom “Sports Night,” and continued to perform even after being felled by a stroke.
Guillaume also possessed a powerful, mellifluous voice, which he used most notably to play the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” onstage. After suffering through a period of unemployment during the ’70s, he was cast in an all-black revival of “Guys and Dolls” as Nathan Detroit, which debuted on Broadway in 1977 and secured him a Tony nomination. He also guested during this period on sitcoms such as “All in the Family,” “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son” and “The Jeffersons,” which led to the supporting role of Benson in “Soap.”
He tried another sitcom in 1989, “The Robert Guillaume Show,” playing a marriage counselor. The series lasted four months before ABC pulled the plug. He returned to singing in 1990 in the Los Angeles production of “Phantom of the Opera” and on Broadway in the lead role of “Cyrano — The Musical” for four months beginning in November 1993. He also performed regularly in concert.
Guillaume was featured in films such as “Meteor Man,” “First Kid” and “Spy Hard.” On television he appeared in the HBO family series “Happily Ever After” and TV movies and miniseries including “Children of the Dust,” “Run for the Dream” and “Pandora’s Clock.” He appeared in Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” in 2003, and then made more frequent bigscreen appearances later in the decade, appearing in the Christian film “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry” in 2008; in the thriller “Columbus Circle,” starring Selma Blair, in 2010; and in the small musical dramedy “Satin” in 2011.
Robert Peter Williams was born in St. Louis, Mo., changing his name only after he decided on a career in acting. After completing his schooling he joined the Army in 1945 and was discharged 15 months later. He took on a number of menial jobs while studying nights at St. Louis U. He originally intended to study business but became interested in singing and transferred to Washington U. to study voice and theater. His performance at the 1957 Aspen Music Festival led to an apprenticeship at the Karamu Performing Arts Theater in Cleveland, where he appeared in operas and musical comedies.
After moving to New York, he made his Broadway debut in a 1960 revival of “Finian’s Rainbow” and found regular employment in the chorus of shows like “Fly, Blackbird,” “Golden Boy” and “Porgy and Bess.” In 1972 he took on the title role in the musical “Purlie” and also appeared in the revue “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.”He is survived by his second wife, TV producer Donna Brown Guillaume; one son (another died in 1990); and three daughters.
Lezley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, recently walked across the stage in Missouri to receive her high school diploma.What’s also interesting is that McSpadden earned her diploma alongside her daughter, Daysa Brown, thanks to the local school district’s adult high school education program, which allowed her to attend classes on weekday afternoons.
McSpadden dropped out of Ladue Horton Watkins High School after giving birth to her son Michael in her junior year. After creating the We Love Our Sons & Daughters Foundation, she decided to go back and get her diploma. The initiative, made in her late son’s honor, focuses on advocating for justice and advancing education.
Specifically, McSpadden got encouragement to go back and finish high school from Art McCoy, a Missouri school district superintendent after he learned she never completed school. McSpadden worked on getting her diploma at Jennings High School in Jennings, Missouri along with her daughter, Deja Brown. However, their schedules didn’t overlap. “She would just go to afternoon class, so we never really interacted at school or in class or anything,” Brown told the St. Louis American. “But I did help her on homework. Like, math, she was like, ‘I’m stuck! I don’t understand this!’ so I would try to help her the best I could, because it was geometry, which I took already.”
The mother-daughter duo crossed the stage on the same day at Chaifetz Arena on May 26. It’s also worth noting that McSpadden, who presented her daughter’s diploma, is the first graduate of the district’s adult program.
Deja Brown, who will attend Tennessee State University in the fall, told the St.Louis American that she’s proud of herself and her mother for finishing school. “I know it’s something that she’s wanted to do,” she said. “She’s done it and she’s worked really hard, and she’s so excited and I’m excited for her!”
Meanwhile, Benjamin Crump, the family lawyer, told the Post-Dispatch that the ceremony was especially meaningful considering the trauma the family has experienced. He said McSpadden told him she “has a purpose now to try to uphold the legacy of her son.”
Michael Brown was 18 years old when he was shot six times by white officer Darren Wilson in August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. His killing sparked days of protest in the predominantly black city. The unrest garnered national attention and Black Lives Matter protests spread throughout the country.
Six months ago, 11-year-old St. Louisan Sidney Keys III started a reading club for boys his age to band together in their love of books. He calls it Books N Bros, and the club has an emphasis on making reading fun while lifting up African American literature and culture.
“Books N Bros is a book club for boys and we read books and African American literature because every time I go to the library at my school, there aren’t many African American literature books there,” said Keys in an interview on St. Louis on the Air. “I already love to read and since we don’t get that much time to read in school, we just discuss in groups. I wanted to read a book but I also wanted to discuss it with other people.”
Keys’ mom, Winnie Caldwell, said she knew Sidney had always loved to read because he’d often come to her wanting to talk about books.
About six months ago, they went to visit EyeSeeMe, a bookstore in University City focusing on African American children’s literature. While there, Winnie shot a video of Sidney reading in the store and it went viral on Facebook. Some 62,000 people have viewed the video and it has been shared 1,700 times.
“He hadn’t seen [a bookstore] like that before and I certainly never had, so he was making himself comfortable on the floor, reading a book,” Caldwell said. “… When you get to a point when he is 11 years old and it was so shocking for him to relate to someone on the cover in a positive aspect rather than it be some negative urban story we see a lot. I would like to make sure he sees himself in being whatever he can be.”
After the video went viral, she and Sidney sat down to think about what he wanted to do next. A book club immediately jumped to mind.
“We specifically reach out to boys around ages 8-10 because that is statistically the age they stop reading — we wanted to combat that,” Caldwell said.
Keys added: “My motivation is I already love to read but it would be awesome, even better, to read with other people. I want to keep doing it because I don’t know what will make me stop reading because I love to read.”
The club meets once a month, discussing one book the club has voted on. While their numbers are still small, the book club has grown each month. Last month, two new members joined bringing the group to 7-10 members each month. The group is welcoming to boys of all backgrounds and races, but the club does focus on stories with African American protagonists.
Keys and Caldwell have also struck a deal with the Microsoft Store at the Galleria, where the book club meets. The boys discuss their books for an hour before each gets 30 minutes to play video games on a personal console at the store. A group called Serving with the Badge also donated 200 books to the book club so boys can take books home with them for their personal collection.
Some of the book club favorites so far have been “Danny Dollar,”“Hidden Figures” and “Supah Dupah Kid.” In February, for Black History Month, the group read “A Song for Harlem: Scraps of Time,” by Patricia McKissack, a St. Louis-based children’s book author.
For now, the book club has plans to stay boys-only, but Caldwell said there’s another book club called Nerdy Girls, which is aimed at girls between ages 6-12 and has over 75 members. Caldwell and Keys plan on partnering with Nerdy Girls in the future.
Caldwell said that if there are boys who are interested in joining the club, which costs $20 per month, they can find more information on the website https://www.booksnbros.com/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chuck Berry, who with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs about cars, girls and wild dance parties did as much as anyone to define rock ’n’ roll’s potential and attitude in its early years, died on Saturday. He was 90.
The St. Charles County Police Department in Missouri confirmed his death on its Facebook page. The department said it responded to a medical emergency at a home and Mr. Berry was declared dead after lifesaving measures were unsuccessful.
While Elvis Presley was rock’s first pop star and teenage heartthrob, Mr. Berry was its master theorist and conceptual genius, the songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves. With songs like “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybellene” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” he gave his listeners more than they knew they were getting from jukebox entertainment.
His guitar lines wired the lean twang of country and the bite of the blues into phrases with both a streamlined trajectory and a long memory. And tucked into the lighthearted, telegraphic narratives that he sang with such clear enunciation was a sly defiance, upending convention to claim the pleasures of the moment. In “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” “Rock n Roll Music” and other songs, Mr. Berry invented rock as a music of teenage wishes fulfilled and good times. (The Beach Boys reworked his “Sweet Little Sixteen” into “Surfin’ U.S.A.” Mr. Berry sued them and won a songwriting credit.)
Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on Oct. 18, 1926, in St. Louis, he grew up in a segregated, middle-class neighborhood there, soaking up gospel, blues, and rhythm and blues, along with some country music.He spent three years in reform school after a spree of car thefts and armed robbery.
He received a degree in hairdressing and cosmetology and worked for a time as a beautician; he married Themetta Suggs in 1948 and started a family. By the early 1950s, he was playing guitar and singing blues, pop standards and an occasional country tune with local combos. Shortly after joining Sir John’s Trio, led by the pianist Johnnie Johnson, he reshaped the group’s music and took it over.
From the Texas guitarist T-Bone Walker, Mr. Berry picked up a technique of bending two strings at once that he would rough up and turn into a rock ’n’ roll talisman, the Chuck Berry lick, which would in turn be emulated by the Rolling Stones and countless others. He also recognized the popularity of country music and added some hillbilly twang to his guitar lines. Mr. Berry’s hybrid music, along with his charisma and showmanship, drew white as well as black listeners to the Cosmopolitan Club in St. Louis.
In 1955, Mr. Berry ventured to Chicago and asked one of his idols, the bluesman Muddy Waters, about making records. Waters directed him to the label he recorded for, Chess Records, where one of the owners, Leonard Chess, heard potential in Mr. Berry’s song “Ida Red.”
A variant of an old country song by the same name, “Ida Red” had a 2/4 backbeat with a hillbilly oompah, while Mr. Berry’s lyrics sketched a car chase, the narrator “motorvatin’” after an elusive girl. Mr. Chess renamed the song “Maybellene,” and in a long session on May 21, 1955, Mr. Chess and the bassist Willie Dixon got the band to punch up the rhythm.
“The big beat, cars and young love,” Mr. Chess outlined. “It was a trend and we jumped on it.”
The music was bright and clear, a hard-swinging amalgam of country and blues. More than 60 years later, it still sounds reckless and audacious.
FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — A veteran Miami police officer with two decades of experience dealing with the media and community leaders will take over as police chief in Ferguson, hoping to help the St. Louis suburb heal as it rebounds after the fatal 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown.
Miami Police Maj. Delrish Moss was announced as chief Thursday, putting a black man in charge of a mostly white department that serves a town where African-Americans make up two-thirds of the residents.
“This has been a long and strenuous process, but we believe Major Moss is the right choice,” Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said in a statement. “We understand the past 18 months have not been easy for everyone, but the City is now moving forward and we are excited to have Major Moss lead our police department.”
The 18-year-old Brown, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot by white officer Darren Wilson during a street confrontation on Aug. 9, 2014. The shooting prompted months of unrest that sometimes grew violent and helped spark the national Black Lives Matter movement.
A St. Louis County grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice declined to indict Wilson, who resigned in November 2014. But the Justice Department issued a critical report of Ferguson in March 2015, citing racial bias in policing and a municipal court system that made money at poor and minority residents’ expense.
Ferguson’s city manager, municipal judge and Police Chief Tom Jackson all resigned within days of the report. The Ferguson City Council just two weeks ago agreed to a settlement with the Justice Department that calls for major reforms in the city’s criminal justice system.