February 18, 1965 – Black Civil Rights Peaceful Protestor Beaten and Shot By Police in Alabama

Jimmie Lee Jackson was a civil rights activist in Marion, Alabama, and a deacon in the Baptist church.

Jackson had tried to register to vote in Alabama without success for four years. He was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., who had come with other Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) staff to Selma, Alabama, to help local activists in their voter registration campaign.

Jimmie Lee Jackson

Jimmie Lee Jackson

On this night in history, about 500 people organized by the SCLC left Zion United Methodist Church in Marion and attempted a peaceful walk to the Perry County jail, about a half a block away, where young civil-rights worker James Orange was being held. The demonstrators planned to sing hymns and return to the church, but the processional was interrupted by Marion police, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers, who stopped the marchers and then began to beat them.

Police later said that the attack was based on their belief that the crowd was planning a jailbreak. Among those beaten were two United Press International photographers, whose cameras were smashed, and NBC News correspondent Richard Valeriani, who was beaten so badly that he was hospitalized. The marchers turned and scattered back toward the church.

Richard Valeriani filing from his Selma hospital bed on Feb. 19, 1965 (photo courtesy NBC News)

Richard Valeriani filing from his Selma hospital bed on Feb. 19, 1965 (photo courtesy NBC News)

Jackson, his mother Viola Jackson, and his 82-year-old grandfather Cager Lee, ran into Mack’s Café behind the church, pursued by state troopers. Police clubbed Lee to the floor in the kitchen; when Viola attempted to pull the police off, she was also beaten. When Jackson tried to protect his mother, one trooper threw him against a cigarette machine. A second trooper, James Fowler, shot Jackson twice in the abdomen. The wounded Jackson fled the café, suffering additional blows by the police, and collapsed in front of the bus station.

Jackson, who had been unarmed as were the other protestors, died eight days later in the hospital. Jackson was buried in Heard Cemetery, an old slave burial ground, next to his father, with a headstone paid for by the Perry County Civic League. His headstone has been vandalized, bearing the marks of at least one shotgun blast.

Jackson’s death was part of the inspiration for the Selma to Montgomery marches in March 1965, a major event in the American Civil Rights Movement that helped gain Congressional passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In 2007 former trooper Fowler was indicted in Jackson’s death, and in 2010 he pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He was sentenced to six months in prison.

February 16, 1847 – Missouri Outlaws Education of Black Slaves

The issue of statehood for Missouri triggered a national controversy as Congress debated the future status of slavery in the land acquired through the Louisiana Purchase. The “Missouri Compromise” allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state, thus keeping the balance of slave and free states equal in Congress.

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In 1825, Missouri passed laws imposing various restrictions on both enslaved and free blacks. The General Assembly also endeavored to prevent abolitionist influence on Missouri slaves, and in 1837 passed an act to “prohibit the publication, circulation, and promulgation of the abolition doctrines” with hefty fines and/or imprisonment stipulated for violators.

By 1840, nearly 13 percent of Missouri’s population was composed of enslaved black people, while free black people made up less than one percent of the state’s residents. Still, the mood in the country was volatile, and the white people of the state feared a possible rebellion [of their allegedly happy slaves].

On this day in history, the Missouri General Assembly passed a law stating:

… [n]o person shall keep or teach any school for the instruction of negroes or mulattoes, in reading or writing, in this State.” ‖ Act of February 16, 1847, § 1, 1847 Mo. Laws 103.

As explained on the website of the Missouri State Government:

An uneducated black population made white citizens feel more secure against both abolitionists and slave uprisings, although it probably did little to suppress the desire for freedom.”

The act also forbade the migration of free blacks to the state. The penalty for anyone violating any of the law’s provisions was a fine not to exceed five thousand dollars, a jail term not to exceed six months, or a combination of fine and jail sentence.

February 14, 1818 – Birthday of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey on February 14, 1818 (he did not know the exact date, but chose this one).

As the Oxford African American Studies Center tells the story, “Despite his situation, Frederick managed to learn to read and write, sometimes by bribing white boys into teaching him in exchange for bits of bread. At the age of about twelve, he acquired a copy of the Columbian Orator, a book of famous speeches that formed the basis for his later skills as an outstanding public lecturer. After he gained basic literacy, Frederick began to reach out to others, assisting his fellow slaves to read and operating a forbidden Sunday school. As he gained more knowledge of the world at large, he could no longer passively submit to a life of slavery. In September 1838, he borrowed the identification papers of a free black sailor and boarded a train for the North. Locating in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he took the name Frederick Douglass, after a character in Sir Walter Scott’s epic poem, The Lady in the Lake.”

Frederick Douglass as a young man

Frederick Douglass as a young man

Within a few years Douglass gained fame as an abolitionist, author, and orator. He published his narrative detailing his time as a slave, edited his own newspaper, and traveled throughout the United States and Britain lecturing on important civil rights and social justice topics. When the Civil War erupted in 1861, Douglass was twice invited to the White House to see President Abraham Lincoln, and then acted as a recruiter for African American troops. At the unveiling of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington’s Lincoln Park, Douglass was pressed to speak, and after he did, received a standing ovation, as well as a gift from Mary Todd Lincoln of Lincoln’s favorite walking stick.

Frederick Douglass in later life

Frederick Douglass in later life

Following the war, Douglass continued speaking, writing, advising presidents, and encouraging civil rights movements. Douglass died of a heart attack at Cedar Hill on 20 February 1895, having just returned from a rally for women’s suffrage. He was buried in Rochester, NY, where many members of his family still lived.

Douglass’s three autobiographies are still read and respected: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845); My Bondage and My Freedom (1855); and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881, 1892). His famous speeches make him one of the most quoted men of the nineteenth century.

There are many resources on the life and thought of Frederick Douglass. For those of you who are Lincoln fans, you can combine the two interests in the book The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics by James Oakes.

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February 12, 1909 – NAACP Founded

On this day in history, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in New York City “to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.”

The NAACP was formed partly in response to the continuing practice of lynching and the 1908 race riot in Springfield, the capital of Illinois and resting place of President Abraham Lincoln. A group of white liberals issued a call for a meeting to discuss racial justice. Some 60 people, seven of whom were African American (including W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Mary Church Terrell), signed the call, which was released on the centennial of Lincoln’s birth.

While the meeting itself did not take place until three months later, this date, of Lincoln’s birth, is cited as the founding date of the organization.

William Edward Burghardt “W.E.B.” Du Bois (Feb. 23, 1868 – Aug. 27, 1963)

William Edward Burghardt “W.E.B.” Du Bois (Feb. 23, 1868 – Aug. 27, 1963)

Echoing the focus of Du Bois’ Niagara Movement began in 1905, the NAACP’s stated goal was to secure for all people the rights guaranteed in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution, which promised an end to slavery, the equal protection of the law, and universal adult male suffrage, respectively.

The NAACP named a board of directors as well as a president, Moorfield Storey, a white constitutional lawyer and former president of the American Bar Association. The only African American among the organization’s executives, Du Bois was made director of publications and research and in 1910 established the official journal of the NAACP, “The Crisis.”

Current objectives of the NAACP, as stated on its website, include:

• To ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of all citizens
• To achieve equality of rights and eliminate race prejudice among the citizens of the United States
• To remove all barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes
• To seek enactment and enforcement of federal, state, and local laws securing civil rights
• To inform the public of the adverse effects of racial discrimination and to seek its elimination
• To educate persons as to their constitutional rights and to take all lawful action to secure the exercise thereof, and to take any other lawful action in furtherance of these objectives, consistent with the NAACP’s Articles of Incorporation and this Constitution.

You can access an annotated guide to Congressional legislation related to the NAACP here.

February 6, 1788 – Madison Laments That Men Are Not Angels

On this day in history, the most famous of The Federalist Papers, No. 51, was published in “The Independent Journal,” a semi-weekly New York journal and newspaper published in the late 18th century. The newspaper’s content included contemporary essays and notices.

The paper is primarily remembered today for being one of several newspapers initially publishing The Federalist Papers – a series of eighty-five articles and essays discussing and advocating the ratification of the United States Constitution, written by John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. The newspaper released the first Federalist essay on October 27, 1787.

Federalist No. 51 was titled “The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments” was authored by James Madison, and included this famous observation:

But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

You can read the text of the entire Federalist #51 here.

James Madison

James Madison

February 5, 1917 – Immigration Act Passed Denying Entry to Immigrants from Eastern Asia & Pacific Islands

On this day in history, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917 by an overwhelming majority, overriding President Woodrow Wilson’s December 14, 1916 veto.

The 1917 Immigration Act, also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, restricted the immigration of ‘undesirables’ from other countries, including:

All idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons; persons who have had one or more attacks of insanity at any time previously; persons of constitutional psychopathic inferiority; persons with chronic alcoholism; paupers; professional beggars; vagrants; persons afflicted with tuberculosis in any form or with a loathsome or dangerous contagious disease; …polygamists…anarchists… prostitutes and anyone involved with prostitution…” inter alia.

This very long and detailed legislation goes on to state that entry will also be denied to immigrants from the ‘Asiatic Barred Zone’–much of eastern Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Much of the Immigration Act is devoted to delineating penalties and fines for violating the restrictions set forth in the act. You can read it in its entirety here.

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Black History Month Kid Lit Review of “28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World” by Charles R. Smith Jr.

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The author wanted to create a work for Black History Month that would go beyond the familiar names and faces bruited every year. His thoughts on this phenomenon that he gave in an interview are worth quoting, because they are so true!

“I remember sitting in my sixth grade class at Marian Anderson Elementary in Compton, California, when February rolled around and my teacher, Mr. Johnson, hung up the faces of Black History Month around the room. Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. surrounded us until early March. Each picture had information about the person depicted on the back of the image, and the pictures hadn’t changed since first grade. With no new countenances added each year, it was as if once black Americans had achieved equal rights in the law books, our history was complete.

How could that be? Weren’t there others who accomplished great things, past and present? That question became the focus of 28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World.”

He begins in 1776, during the birth of America, and ends in the present with America’s first black president. He includes an extra day at the end – not only for “leap year” Februarys, but to show that “great things can happen on any day to anyone” and to suggest that “Black History” is not limited to 28 days!

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It will no doubt be a relief to teachers as well as students to find such nice material (presented in free verse) on people other than “the usual suspects.” While he does feature Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Jackie Robinson, he also has stories about such notable but perhaps lesser-known African Americans as Crispus Attucks, Daniel Hale Williams, Henry Johnson and Matthew Henson.

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The form of the author’s verse changes according to the message he wants to convey. The spread on Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe features lines that go back and forth like a tennis match. The verse devoted to Malcolm X reflects the way his words were meant to educate, and to convey a broader message to his followers.

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I particularly like the author’s concluding sentiments for Day 29:

“What will today bring,
what will today be,
will today be the day
you make history?

….

Today is the day,
today is to be.”

Illustrator Shane W. Evans, a three-time NAACP Image Award nominee, just keeps getting better and better. His collage and oil pictures employ a vivid palette with the dominant colors reflecting the story being told. For example, he uses blues and silver for the two-page spread on the first male and female astronauts, and the bright colors of Africa for his spread on Nelson Mandela.

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Evaluation: One can only hope that this book’s appeal will not be confined to February.

Rating: 5/5

Published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings, 2015

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