Hero of the First Amendment: Pauli Murray

First Amendment of the Bill of Rights:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

 

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Pauli Murray has been one of my personal heroes for years.  It’s a good thing she was a real person, because if she were a fictional character, any decent editor would complain that she was unrealistic and demand that the author tone her down to something more plausible. Pauli Murray (born Anna Pauline Murray) was a poet, a lawyer, a civil rights activist, an educator, and the first female African-American to be ordained as an Episcopalian priest.  She helped co-found both CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) in 1942 and NOW (National Organization for Women) in 1966.  She was turned down when she applied for a position at Cornell University because her references (Eleanor Roosevelt, Thurgood Marshall, and Philip Randolph) were too radical. In her younger days, she’d been turned down from attending the University of North Carolina (which her ancestors had helped found) because she was Black and from attending Harvard because she was female. Her reply to Harvard was classic.

“I would gladly change my sex to meet your requirements, but since the way to such change has not been revealed to me, I have no recourse but to appeal to you to change your minds. Are you to tell me that one is as difficult as the other?”

Pauli Murray was arrested for sitting in the wrong part of the bus fifteen years before Rosa Parks, and for following Gandhi’s example of peaceful civil disobedience while Martin Luther King was still in short pants. She led sit-ins in Washington, DC during WWII.

Saturday afternoon, April 22, 1944, Pauli Murray and fellow students from Howard University began a demonstration at Thompson’s, at Eleventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, a cafeteria only a few blocks from the White House.  Some picketed outside.  Some, including Pauli, went inside and asked to order. The cafeteria refused to serve them, so they took empty trays to vacant tables and sat down. Pauli, as the only female law student at Howard University at the time, was spokeswoman for the group.  Politely but firmly, she reminded the staff at Thompson’s that Washington, DC, law did not require segregation.  It was custom, not legally required.

Police watched the picketers and the crowd gathering to protest the protesters to make sure no laws were broken, but they did not interfere. The posters said:

  • “Are you for HITLER’S Way (Race Supremacy) or the AMERICAN Way (Equality)?  Make Up Your Mind!”
  •  “We Die Together.  Why Can’t We Eat Together?”
  • “Our Boys, our Bonds, our Brothers are Fighting for YOU!  Why Can’t We Eat Here?”

The students from Howard entered the restaurant in small groups, two or three at a time.  They continued to occupy tables, preventing paying customers from eating.  Six African-American soldiers, who were not involved with the demonstration and had not known Thompson’s didn’t serve African-Americans, came in to get a meal.  White soldiers and sailors were already inside Thompson’s eating.  When the manager refused to serve them, they, too, sat down at empty tables and read the newspapers, rather than going elsewhere to look for somewhere that would serve Blacks.  By five o’clock that evening, there were fifty-six demonstrators (including the soldiers) taking up tables.  Thompson’s was losing money.  The manager asked them to leave, but Pauli pointed out they were not breaking any laws.  The district supervisor of the Thompson’s chain came and asked them to leave.  Pauli refused, politely.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. will do years later, she was practicing civil disobedience (with an emphasis on the civility).  Finally, after telephone consultations with Thompson’s main office in Chicago, the restaurant agreed to serve them, after four and a half hours of peaceful sit-in.  The cafeteria’s waitresses refused to serve African-American customers, so the manager and the district supervisor had to act as waiters.

Pauli, being a law student at the time, knew the First Amendment and “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

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“What is often called exceptional ability is nothing more than persistent endeavor.” Pauli Murray

Pauli Murray was born November 20, 1910, in Baltimore, Maryland.  She died July 1, 1985 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In between 1910 and 1985, she fought against racism and sexism.  She was the first African-American Deputy Attorney General for the state of California.  In 1947, Mademoiselle Magazine named her Woman of the Year. She wrote poems, essays, and books. She was the first African-American to earn a doctorate of law at Yale University.  She taught law at several colleges, both in the United States and Ghana.

She held these truths to be self-evident:  that all men and women are created equal.

 

 

 

Hero of the First Amendment: Ida B. Wells

First Amendment of the Bill of Rights:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Mary Garrity - Ida B. Wells-Barnett - Google Art Project - restoration crop.jpg Ida Bell Wells-Barnett

Who was Ida B. Wells?  She was an American heroine.  She was a teacher, a journalist, a lecturer, and a civil rights activist. She fought for freedom of the press and freedom of speech.  She worked to publicize the evils of lynching and fought to stop it.  She worked for female suffrage and equal rights for men and women, white and Black.

Ida Bell Wells was born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16, 1862. When her parents and one of her brothers died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, she became a teacher to support herself and her remaining siblings, so the family would not need to be split up among various relatives. She eventually moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where teachers earned better pay, although she still earned less than white teachers.

“On May 4, 1884, a train conductor with the Memphis and Charleston Railroad ordered Wells to give up her seat in the first-class ladies car and move to the smoking car, which was already crowded with other passengers.” She refused, and was forcibly removed from the train. She sued. A local circuit court awarded her $500, but the railroad appealed, and the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the case.

Wells began writing for newspapers, mostly on racial issues.  She became editor and co-owner of the Free Speech and Headlight in 1889.  In 1891, she lost her teaching job when the Memphis Board of Education disapproved of her articles criticizing the condition of the “colored” schools in Shelby County.  In 1892, she began in earnest the crusade for which she is most famous:  publicizing the evils of lynching, and explaining that lynching was not the result of white justice-seekers too impatient to wait for the courts, but of white businessmen and leaders determined to stop African-American economic competition and social improvement.  In 1892, Tom Moss, an African-American grocery store owner and a friend of Ida B. Wells, was arrested for defending his store from white vandals.  He and his business partners, Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart, were dragged from the jail and murdered by a lynch mob.

Wells not only wrote about her friend’s lynching.  She traveled the south for two months, investigating other lynchings and collecting statistics.  When she wrote about her findings, especially  that lynchings were not the result of Black men raping white women, a mob in Memphis broke into her newspaper office and destroyed her printing press.  She was out of Tennessee at the time, and was warned not to return to Memphis.  She traveled in the north and the midwest, writing and lecturing about lynching. She went to Europe on a lecture tour.

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Unable to return safely to Memphis, she settled in Chicago, where she and Frederick Douglass organized a boycott of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. She, Douglass, Irvine G. Pen, and her future husband, attorney Ferdinand L. Barnett, co-wrote a pamphlet explaining Reasons Why the Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition. More than 20,000 copies of the pamphlet were passed out to visitors to the exposition.

Ida B. Wells married Ferdinand L. Barnett, an African-American lawyer and journalist, in 1895. He was a widower, with two sons by his first wife.  He and Ida B. Wells-Barnett (one of the first women to keep her own name after marriage) had four children together.

 The Ida B. Wells-Barnett House, a National Historical Landmark in Chicago, IL, is where Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Ferdinand L. Barnett lived from 1919-1930.

In addition to her many newspaper articles and speeches on lynching, Ida B. Wells-Barnett wrote two pamphlets, both of which are out of copyright and available on-line.  In Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, published in 1892, she examined the causes of lynching and suggested that African-Americans use their Second Amendment rights to protect themselves.

The lesson this teaches and which every Afro-American should ponder well, is that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honour in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give. When the white man who is always the aggressor knows he runs as great a risk of biting the dust every time his Afro-American victim does, he will have greater respect for Afro-American life. The more the Afro-American yields and cringes and begs, the more he has to do so, the more he is insulted, outraged and lynched.

In 1895, she published The Red Recordwhich examined lynchings since the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.  Most white northerners were either unaware or refused to believe how widespread lynching was in the south.  Wells-Barnett explained “ten thousand Negroes have been killed in cold blood,  without the formality of judicial trial and legal execution” since slavery had ended.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Ida B. Wells-Barnett tried to balance raising her family with fighting against lynching, fighting for women’s suffrage, and working for urban reform for the many African-Americans who were fleeing the dangers and poverty of the south to come to northern cities looking for a better life.  She founded the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and the National Afro-American Council in 1896. In 1909, she helped W. E. B. DuBois found the NAACP.  She founded the Negro Fellowship League in 1910.  She died in Chicago, March 25, 1931.

Image result for ida b wells Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Her home in Chicago is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is currently a private home and not open to tours. The Bolling-Gatewood House in Holly Springs, MS, once the home of Spires Bolling, the man who owned her as a child, is now the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum. Several schools are named after her, including the Ida B. Wells Academy in Memphis and the Ida B. Wells Preparatory Elementary Academy in Chicago.

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Who Was Sophie Scholl?

November 9, 2016, was the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, as well as the day Donald J. Trump was declared president-elect of the United States of America.  That makes November 9 a good day to remember that not all Germans were Nazis, and even in the worst of situations, there are people who work to make things better.

Sophie Scholl was such a person.

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Sophia Magdalena Scholl was born 9 May 1921 in Forchtenberg am Kocher in northern Baden-Württemberg, Germany.  Her father, Robert Scholl, was the mayor of  Forchtenberg am Kocher. She was the fourth of the six children of Robert and Magdalena Müller Scholl.  Sophie had three sisters and two brothers, and she lived a happy, normal childhood.  When she was nine, her family moved to Ludwigsburg.  They moved to Ulm when she was eleven. When she was  twelve, she joined the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls), which was the female auxiliary of the Hitler Youth.  She soon became disappointed in the organization.

As the daughter of a liberal politician, she learned her father and his friends did not always agree with the government.  Sophie enjoyed art.  She met what were called “degenerate” artists, modern artists whose work was frowned upon by the Nazi government.  As she grew older, Sophie, who was raised a devout Lutheran, became interested in theology and philosophy.  She read the sermons of  Cardinal Clemens August Graf von Galen, the Roman Catholic bishop of Münster.

Sophie wanted to attend the University of Munich, where her older brother Hans was a student.  According to German law at the time, Sophie had to work six months in the Reichsarbeitsdienst (National Labor Service) before she could be admitted to the university.  She did not like the paramilitary lifestyle of the National Labor Service, nor the Nazi indoctrination which was such a large part of it.

At the University of Munich, Sophie studied biology and philosophy.  Her brother Hans was the founder of a student group called the White Rose that was opposed to the war and to the Nazi regime.  The White Rose wrote pamphlets and graffiti urging passive resistance to Nazi policies.  Sophie ignored her brother’s protests and joined the White Rose.  As a young woman, she was less suspicious to the  authorities, which made it easier for her to distribute the pamphlets.  The pamphlets had such messages as:

”Nothing is so unworthy of a nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition by a clique that has yielded to base instinct…Western civilization must defend itself against fascism and offer passive resistance, before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield.”

Wehrkraftzersetzung was a crime in the eyes of the Nazis. It means “negatively affecting the fighting forces.” People who expressed doubts about Germany’s chances of winning the war, or about Hitler’s leadership were arrested for Wehrkraftzersetzung.  Robert Scholl was arrested for calling Hitler “God’s scourge” on Germany.  Naturally, the Nazi government disapproved of the White Rose and their writings, and attempted to find them.

February 18, 1943, Sophie, her brother Hans, and their friend Christoph Probst were arrested for distributing anti-war leaflets. They were tried February 21, 1943, and executed February 22, 1943.  Sophie told the judge, “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”

Although Sophie Scholl is almost unknown in the USA, she is remembered as a martyr and a heroine in Germany and widely respected in Europe.  Scottish folk singer George Donaldson of Celtic Thunder wrote a song about Sophie Scholl called “The White Rose.”  British punk band Zatopeks also recorded a song called “Sophie Scholl” and the French rock band Mickey 3D recorded a song called “La Rose Blanche.”  In Germany there are many schools and streets named in her memory.

Sophia Magdalena Scholl (9 May 1921 – 22 February 1943)

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Remember Sophie Scholl, and do what you can to work for peace and justice.