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Black History Month: Fannie Lou Hamer

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Fannie Lou Hamer 1964-08-22
By Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

"I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." - Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer was a central figure in the African American civil rights movement. She was the founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and later the National Women's Political Caucus. The courage she demonstrated in working to secure the right of African Americans to vote and to end segregation garnered national attention and brought increased awareness throughout the country of the plight faced by African Americans in the South.

Fannie Lou Hamer was born Fannie Lou Townsend on October 16, 1917, the youngest of twenty children. Her parents, Jim and Lou Ella, were sharecroppers in Montgomery County, Mississippi. By the age of six Fannie Lou began working alongside her parents and siblings in the arduous task of planting and harvesting crops. Her interest in the civil rights movement began in the early 1960s when she attended a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) meeting for the first time. The SNCC focused on voter registration for disenfranchised African Americans. Fannie Lou was determined to vote, and took the state required literacy test three times before passing. She became a registered voter in January of 1963.

Hamer's dedication to the cause of equality remained resolute. Hamer and other civil rights activists traveled to Winona, Mississippi and refused to comply with the local segregation law. In response, law enforcement arrested the group. While in jail Fannie Lou was savagely beaten by two inmates at the instigation of local police. For the remainder of her life Fannie Lou suffered permanent damage to her eye, her kidneys, and her leg.

The following year Hamer founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (1962) and addressed the nation at the National Democratic Convention, saying racial discrimination "is not Mississippi's problem. It is America's problem."

Click to find books and other materials on Fannie Lou Hamer are available at your Milwaukee Public Library.

Black History Month: Bayard Rustin

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Bayard_Rustin.jpgWhen most people think of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, they think of Martin Luther King Junior, the crowds, the 'I Have a Dream' speech, and all with good reason. Yet one of the chief organizers of the event, Bayard Rustin, remained carefully and pointedly out of the spotlight. Why? Why was a man who was so integral to the nonviolent resistance movement and to the civil rights movement as a whole sidelined?

The main reason was that he had a criminal record. In 1953, Bayard Rustin was arrested for what was then considered a crime: being a homosexual. Yet Bayard never shied away from who he was, and carefully crafted himself to work hard for the changes he sought from society, just rarely putting himself in the position of spokesperson to avoid his character being the subject of the spotlight as opposed to the ideals he championed (most famously, Strom Thurmond attempted to attack Rustin and Martin Luther King Junior by entering a picture into the Congressional Record of Rustin talking to a bathing Martin Luther King Junior, as if to imply the men had a 'special relationship'). After the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Rustin moved on to advocating stronger ties of the civil rights movement to the Democratic Party and the integration of labor unions. By the seventies and eighties, Rustin had begun actively advocating for gay and lesbian rights as well, continuing to champion equality for all until his death in 1987.

Just recently, on November 20, 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Bayard Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to honor his tireless work for equality. To honor the great work of this man, why not check out some of his writings from your local library branch? Or perhaps an excellent documentary on his life to learn more?

Black History Month: Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

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Congress of Racial Equality and members of the All Souls Church, Unitarian march in memory of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing victims
By O'Halloran, Thomas J., photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) may be most remembered for their organization of the Freedom Rides, a series of interracial protests against segregated bus seating in the late 1960s. Founded in 1942 by James Farmer, Bayard Rustin, Homer Jack, and George Houser in Chicago, IL, CORE was created to improve race relations and end discrematory policies through direct action and nonviolence. Following the principals of Mahatma Gandhi, CORE organized sit-ins, voter registration drives and the aforementioned freedom rides throughout the South. With their parent organization the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), CORE supported and advised the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in his Montgomery Bus Boycott. Throughout all of these nonviolent actions CORE members and volunteers faced teargas, were assaulted and jailed and some even killed.

The leadership of CORE founder James Farmer helped with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1968, Roy Innis became the National Director of CORE and the organization became more centralized. CORE's headquarters are in New York City and currently focuses on worker training and equal employment opportunities, crime victim assistance, and community-oriented crisis intervention.

For more information on the Congress of Racial Equality check out these titles at your local Milwaukee Public Library.

Black Cinema Film Series : Ethnic Notions

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Ethnic Notions looks at the portrayal of African Americans in American pop culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This Emmy award-winning documentary takes viewers on a disturbing voyage through American history, tracing the evolution of the deeply rooted stereotypes that have fueled anti-Black prejudice. Ethnic Notions was directed by Marlon Riggs, who, in addition to being a filmmaker, was also a poet, an educator and an activist.

Ethnic Notions is being shown as a part of the Black Cinema Film Series. In collaboration with Blk-Art, History & Culture, the Washington Park Library will present award-winning documentaries highlighting African American history and achievement throughout the year. Screenings will be presented with discussion sessions and are free and open to the public.

WHEN: Wednesday, February 19th at 6pm
WHERE: Washington Park Library, 2121 N Sherman Blvd

Black History Month: W.E.B. Du Bois

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webduboispic.jpgHe was an American civil rights activist, leader, Pan-Africanist, sociologist, educator, historian, writer, editor, poet, and scholar. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, better known as W.E.B Du Bois, was all these things and more. He helped found both the Niagara Movement and the NAACP, was the first African American to receive a Ph. D from Harvard, served as chairman of the Peace Information Center, and achieved a huge list of other accomplishments. Much like Frederick Douglass last week, it is impossible to sum up such an important figure in a few paragraphs for a blog entry.

I recommend reading any and all of his writings you can find at the library. There are also plenty of books about the man, as well. A prolific writer and a ceaseless advocate, he sadly did not live to see his ideals begin to become reality. He died the day before the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and before the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act became enacted. But much like Douglass previously, it is best to let the man speak for himself.

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, -- a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness, -- an American, a Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, -- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.

African American History with Clayborn Benson

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Clayborn Benson at a Kwanzaa celebration. Photo provided by Clayborn Benson

In celebration of Black History Month, Milwaukee Public Library is hosting several events at multiple library locations throughout the month of February. One of these events, African American History with Clayborn Benson will be held on Wednesday, February 12th at the Martin Luther King Library.

What impact did African Americans have on Wisconsin's inception as a state? What contributions did they make to the nation's Civil Rights struggle? What famous African American personalities have visited Wisconsin? Learn about African American migration patterns, how Wisconsin became a center of northern abolitionism, and how Wisconsin laws and policies shaped life for African Americans during African American Wisconsin History with Clayborn Benson. Historian Clayborn Benson is the founder of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum in Milwaukee and was an award-winning photojournalist at TODAY'S TMJ4 for 39 years.

Everyone is welcome to attend this event. No reservations are necessary.

Martin Luther King Library
310 W. Locust St

Wednesday, February 12
6:00PM to 7:00PM

Black History Month: Frederick Douglass

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"I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong." - Frederick Douglass.

The above quote is striking, is it not? But like many great sound bite quotes, it says so much more in context. This comes from a lecture that Douglass gave in 1855 to the Ladies of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Sewing Society:

My point here is, first, the Constitution is, according to its reading, an anti-slavery document; and, secondly, to dissolve the Union, as a means to abolish slavery, is about as wise as it would be to burn up this city, in order to get the thieves out of it. But again, we hear the motto, 'no union with slave-holders;' and I answer it, as the noble champion of liberty, N. P. Rogers, answered it with a more sensible motto, namely--'No union with slave-holding.' I would unite with anybody to do right; and with nobody to do wrong.

Frederick Douglass is one of those historical figures we all remember from school. The striking figure he posed with his handsome features and his mane of salt-and-pepper hair leaves quite the impression. But the real worth of this man came from his mind, his tongue, and his pen. For another taste of this man's amazing way with words, here is an excerpt from his more famous speech know as 'What to the slave is the 4th of July?':

Fellow citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! Whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, "may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!" To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave's point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July!

Douglass was a pioneer of civil rights, speaking and writing not just for abolition but also for universal suffrage and the desegregation of schools. A brilliant and eloquent orator, writer, and statesman, there is no way a brief blog entry can possibly do justice in explaining the greatness of such a man. I instead merely implore you to take a look at both his own writings and any of the various books about the man in our collection.

This entry is part of our coverage of Black History Month 2014.


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