Tag: African_American

#SaturdayStamps: W.C. Handy

W.C. Handy, in full William Christopher Handy, (born November 16, 1873, Florence, Alabama, U.S.—died March 28, 1958, New York, New York), African American composer who changed the course of popular music by integrating the blues idiom into then-fashionable ragtime music. Among his best-known works is the classic “St. Louis Blues.”

Handy was a son and grandson of Methodist ministers, and he was educated at Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College in Huntsville, Alabama. Going against family tradition, he began to cultivate his interest in music at a young age and learned to play several instruments, including the organ, piano, and guitar. He was a particularly skilled cornetist and trumpet player. Longing to experience the world beyond Florence, Alabama, Handy left his hometown in 1892. He traveled throughout the Midwest, taking a variety of jobs with several musical groups. He also worked as a teacher in 1900–02. He conducted his own orchestra, the Knights of Pythias from Clarksdale, Mississippi, from 1903 to 1921. During the early years of this period of his life, Handy was steeped in the music of the Mississippi Delta and of Memphis, and he began to arrange some of those tunes for his band’s performances. Unable to find a publisher for the songs he was beginning to write, Handy formed a partnership with Harry Pace and founded Pace & Handy Music Company (later Handy Brothers Music Company).

Handy worked during the period of transition from ragtime to jazz. Drawing on the vocal blues melodies of African American folklore, he added harmonizations to his orchestral arrangements. His work helped develop the conception of the blues as a harmonic framework within which to improvise. With his “Memphis Blues” (published 1912) and especially his “St. Louis Blues” (1914), he introduced a melancholic element, achieved chiefly by use of the “blue” or slightly flattened seventh tone of the scale, which was characteristic of African American folk music. Later he wrote other blues pieces (“Beale Street Blues,” 1916; “Loveless Love”) and several marches and symphonic compositions. He issued anthologies of African American spirituals and blues (Blues: An Anthology, 1926; W.C. Handy’s Collection of Negro Spirituals, 1938; A Treasury of the Blues, 1949) and studies of black American musicians (Negro Authors and Composers of the United States, 1938; Unsung Americans Sung, 1944). His autobiography, Father of the Blues, was published in 1941.

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#SaturdayStamps: Salem Poor

Salem Poor was an African-American slave who purchased his freedom, became a soldier, and rose to fame as a war hero during the Battle of Bunker Hill during the American Revolution.

Salem Poor was born into slavery in 1747 on a farm in Andover, Massachusetts owned by John Poor and his son John Poor Jr. Many New England families treated their slaves as live-in servants and near family members, which may have been the case in the Poor family. Salem Poor purchased his freedom on July 10, 1769, from John Poor Jr. for 27 pounds, a year’s salary for an average working man at the time.

In August 1771, Poor married Nancy Parker, a maidservant to Captain James Parker who was half Native American and half African American. The couple continued to live in Andover and had a son named Jonas born in about 1775.

In May 1775, Poor enlisted in the militia, serving under Captain Benjamin Ames in Colonel James Frye’s regiment, opposing the British troops occupying besieged Boston. On June 16, 1775, Frye’s regiment, along with two others, was ordered to march from Cambridge to Charlestown (Boston). There were about 350 men in Frye’s regiment, and, with several hundred men from the other two regiments, the group totaled about 850. Poor, along with other soldiers then began to build a redoubt, or fort, on the top of Breed’s Hill, adjacent to Bunker’s Hill. The next day, the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought on June 17, 1775, which included more than 100 African American and Native American soldiers fighting for the nation’s liberty.

Salem Poor is best remembered for his actions during the Battle of Bunker Hill, where he is credited with killing British Lieutenant Colonel James Abercrombie as well as several British soldiers. Later that year, Poor’s valor and gallantry at the Battle of Bunker Hill prompted 14 officers, including Colonel William Prescott, to cite him for heroism and petition the General Court of Massachusetts with the following statement:

“To the Honorable General Court of the Massachusetts Bay: The subscribers beg leave to report to your Honorable House (which we do in justice to the character of so brave a man), that, under our own observation, we declare that a negro man, called Salem Poor, of Col. Frye’s regiment, Capt. Ames’ company, in the late battle at Charlestown, behaved like an experienced officer, as well as an excellent soldier. To set forth particulars of his conduct would be tedious. We would beg leave to say, in the person of this said negro, centers a brave and gallant soldier. The reward due to so great and distinguished a character, we submit to the Congress.”

No other soldier of the American Revolution received such recognition.

Poor immediately re-enlisted in the militia and served at Fort George in upstate New York under General Benedict Arnold in 1776. Salem fought in the Battle of White Plains on October 28, 1776, and the Battles of Saratoga in September and October of 1777, before retreating with the other patriots to the winter camp at Valley Forge in 1677-78. Later, he fought in the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, and continued to fight with the Patriot forces until March 20, 1780, when he was apparently discharged.

That year, he married his second wife, Mary Twing, a free African American. The couple briefly moved to Providence, Rhode Island. By 1785, the marriage was over and Salem married a white woman named Sarah Stevens in 1787.

Poor then married Sarah Stevens, a white woman, in 1787. In 1793 he was known to have spent several weeks in the Boston Almshouse and was briefly jailed for “breach of peace” in 1799. He married for the fourth and final time in 1801 and died in poverty in Boston in 1802. He was buried on February 5th, but the location of his grave remains unknown.

In 1975, the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp for Salem Poor in honor of his heroism during the battle.

#SaturdayStamps: Ethel L. Payne

Pioneering journalist Ethel Lois Payne was born on August 14, 1911 in Chicago, Illinois to William A. Payne and Bessie Austin. Known as the “First Lady of Black Press” for her extensive list of accomplishments as a writer, journalist, and reporter, Payne, according to her colleagues, asked questions no one else dared to ask.

Payne attended Lindblom High School which was located in a white Chicago neighborhood. Despite the unwelcoming environment, she became an accomplished student in her English and history courses. One of her English teachers encouraged Payne to write and helped her with her first submission to a magazine.  The article was subsequently published. Payne pursued higher education at Crane Junior College and Garrett Biblical Institute, graduating from the latter institution in 1933. Upon graduation she decided to become a lawyer. The University of Chicago Law School, however, refused to accept her application because of her race.

Payne never became a lawyer.  Nonetheless, she devoted the rest of her life and career to racial justice issues.  In 1948, Payne responded to a Red Cross call-for-action to serve American forces in Japan and became a hostess for a military services social club. While in Japan, she met a reporter from the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper, and allowed him to take her journal back to his editors. Impressed by her writing, the newspaper used her journal notes to formulate an article about racially discriminatory practices in the U.S. military in Japan.  The article, the first of a series, was published on the front page of the Defender. In 1951, Payne was hired full-time by the Chicago newspaper and became the first African American woman to focus on international news coverage in addition to her national assignments.

Payne pursued assignments around the world. In 1955, she attended the Bandung Conference with the writer Richard Wright.  She covered the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. In 1966, she reported from Vietnam. and the following year she covered the Biafran War.  Her interviews with prominent leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.Nelson Mandela, and Senator John F. Kennedy made her a widely known and prominent global reporter.

In 1955, Payne was one of only three black journalists to cover the White House.  During one White House press conference she asked President Dwight D. Eisenhower what he was going to do to address racial disparities in the United States. His angry response made front page news the next day, but it also pushed civil rights issues to the top of the agenda for Eisenhower’s Administration and those that followed him. Her critiques carried significant influence at a time when U.S. State Department eagerly sought to depict to leaders around the world, and particularly in the new countries of Africa, the idea that American race relations were amicable.

After working with the Defender for 25 years, Payne in 1972 became the first African American woman to serve as a radio and television commentator when she was hired by CBS News. Throughout the 1980s she reported on apartheidin South Africa and worked for the release of Nelson Mandela.

Ethel Payne died at the age of 79 after a heart attack in Washington, D.C. on May 29, 1991. Her many honors included an award from the Capital Press Club in 1967 for her reporting during the Vietnam War and the TransAfrica African Freedom Award in 1987.

#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Korryn Gaines?

A Baltimore County jury awarded $37 million in damages to the family of Korryn Gaines, a black Maryland woman killed by county police in an August 2016 standoff that also injured her 5-year-old son.

The six female jurors decided in less than three hours that Cpl. Royce Ruby, the Baltimore County officer who fired the fatal shots, violated the civil rights of Gaines, 23, and her son, Kodi.

Ruby shot and killed Gaines on Aug. 1 during a confrontation in Randallstown, a suburb northwest of Baltimore City. Police serving a warrant for failure to appear in court over a traffic case kicked in the door to Gaines’s apartment to find her waiting with a shotgun. The ensuing six-hour ordeal ended when Ruby opened fire, killing Gaines and injuring Kodi.

The civil suit decision awarded more than $32 million to Kodi, $4.5 million to his toddler sister, Karsyn, and nearly a million dollars among Gaines’s parents and estate, court documents said.

Gaines family attorney J. Wyndal Gordon told The Washington Post on Saturday that the verdict was a “great decision” that will help make Gaines’s family whole after the incident. Gaines was shot four times by Ruby; one shot pierced her lungs and spine, and a ricochet struck her son, he said.

“Where is your moral compass?” Gordon asked rhetorically. “It was callous and sadistic.”
Ruby, who is white, remains on the police force and was promoted to corporal last year.
After the verdict was announced, Baltimore County Attorney Mike Field said in a statement that the county was “disappointed” by the decision and was reviewing its options, including an appeal.
“A mother died, a child was unintentionally injured and police officers were placed in mortal danger. By any account, this was a tragic situation,” Field said.

Baltimore County police spokesman Shawn Vinson told the Baltimore Sun that “the state’s attorney’s office reviewed the situation and deemed the shooting justified.” He declined to comment further.

Gaines’s mother, Rhanda Dormeus, told reporters Friday that she believed police were untruthful in testimony describing the shooting and the threat posed by Gaines.

“What we want is constitutional policing. We want them to be fair, we want them to have integrity, and we want justice,” Dormeus said. “And if they can’t do that, they shouldn’t be a part of the police force.” Since the incident, the county police department has expanded body camera wear for its officers and in 2017 began training for incidents involving people with mental-health issues. The county executive and local fraternal order of police group also did not return requests for comment.

Ruby testified that Gaines moved into the kitchen, with only her long braids and shotgun barrel visible. He fired once through a wall, believing she was raising her weapon to a firing position.

“There was no choice,” Ruby testified. “Officers were going to die if I didn’t take that shot.” He entered the room and fired three more rounds into Gaines, saying he feared that her finger was on the trigger.

Gordon disputed that version of events, saying Gaines was shot in the back, her lungs full of blood, indicating the additional shots Ruby took were unjustified.

Speaking outside the courthouse Friday, Kareem Courtney, Gaines’s boyfriend and Karsyn’s father, said taxpayers will bear the burden of the award, not Ruby.

“He’s not going to pay. He’s going to go home to his family. My family has been destroyed. My daughter’s not going to know her mother,” Courtney said, according to the Sun.

Kenneth Ravenell, the attorney for Kodi’s father, Corey Cunningham, told The Post that damages for the boy will be helpful for a lifetime of counseling and psychological treatment. Kodi explained in therapy that his mother went to make him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when she was shot, Cunningham testified.

Bearing witness to his mother’s death has jarred Kodi, his family members and teachers testified. “He’s a shell of himself,” Ravenell said, a once outgoing and happy child now introverted and sullen.

*Originally posted on the Washington Post.

 

#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Raheim Brown?

The Oakland Unified School District has agreed to pay $995,000 to settle two lawsuits filed in connection with a fatal police shooting outside a school dance that was later questioned by one of the two officers present at the scene, officials said Friday.

Raheim Brown, 20, of Alameda was shot and killed Jan. 22, 2011, by Oakland schools police Sgt. Barhin Bhatt after he allegedly tried to stab another schools police sergeant, Jonathan Bellusa, with a screwdriver, authorities said.

The incident happened as Brown was sitting in the passenger seat of a Honda Accord parked on Joaquin Miller Road, not far from where Skyline High School was holding its winter ball at a nearby park.

Bhatt told investigators that he opened fire on Brown because Brown had tried to attack Bellusa. Bellusa, though, told authorities that Bhatt fired two shots at Brown’s chest before his gun jammed and that by then, Brown was already incapacitated and no longer a threat.

Bellusa said Bhatt then fired five more shots, killing Brown. Bhatt told investigators he fired the second volley because Brown continued to move and was reaching for the gearshift.

Brown’s parents, Lori Davis and Raheim Brown Sr., filed a lawsuit against the district, as did LaDonna Smith, the mother of Brown’s then-unborn child. The parents and Smith will each receive $497,500.

Of the total $995,000 payout, the district will pay a $250,000 deductible, while the rest is covered by insurance, said district spokesman Troy Flint.

David Kelvin, Smith’s attorney, said, “This young man was killed for nothing. I don’t believe you can put a price on that loss.”

 

#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Darrien Hunt?

An African American man has been shot and killed by police officers while holding a toy weapon.

The Utah police fatally shot 22-year-old Darrien Hunt on Wednesday. He was holding a fake samurai sword, which led some to believe he was cosplaying, or costume playing, as Mugen from the popular anime Samurai Champloo.

Hunt was killed outside the Panda Express in Sarasota Springs, Utah, after police responded to a complaint of a “suspicious individual” with a sword.

The initial police statement claimed that Hunt had “brandished the sword and lunged toward the officers with the sword” before they shot him.

Hunt’s family, however, is claiming that a private autopsy shows Hunt was shot in the back numerous times, and that multiple witnesses saw him running away from the police.

Hunt’s case is eerily similar to another recent police shooting that took place in the toy department of Walmart. On Aug. 5, John Crawford III from Dayton, Oh., was also shot and killed by police who mistook his toy weapon for a real one.

In both cases, police responded to a call of suspicious behavior. In Crawford’s case, witnesses stated that he was talking on his cellphone and leaning on a toy rifle that he had picked up while shopping in the store. Witnesses speculated that Crawford did not hear police directions for him to turn around, since he was shot while still holding his phone.

Both Utah and Ohio have open-carry laws, but the “weapon” in both of these cases was a toy—in Crawford’s case an unpackaged BB gun, in Hunt’s case a blunt-edged fake replica of a katana, or Japanese sword. Even if Hunt’s sword had been real, it is legal to publicly carry a sword under Utah’s open-carry law.

The original police statement claimed that “there is currently no indication that race played any part in the confrontation” that left Hunt dead. However, given that Saratoga Springs is a Ferguson-sized small town that is 93 percent white, many are skeptical that its 65-member police force has been completely forthcoming about the incident.

On Sunday, the Saratoga Springs police department issued a now-deleted Facebook post that called for patience with the investigation into the incident, claiming that news reports about the incident had been exaggerated:

Everyone should remember that the news outlets have ratings they need to gain. They don’t report facts. They use innuendo, opinion and rumor and then report it as fact. The same thing happens here on FB and other social media. The real facts are being determined by an independent investigation, and not in a rushed or haphazard manner. When those facts are gathered and analyzed, they will be reviewed by independent legal authorities. There is no cover up and there is no corruption. While this process is played out, we ask all persons to have patience with the process and allow the process that has been legally established to go forth. No one has been charged with any crime. The law has established that there must be probable cause for charges to be filed. Then even when and if charges were filed, in this country, all persons are innocent until proven guilty. This protection is extended to all persons, including cops.

Hunt’s mother, Susan Hunt, told the Deseret News that a picture she received from a witness taken just before the shooting shows her son standing peacefully, the sword nowhere to be seen. In the picture, he is reportedly flanked on both sides by policemen. Moments later, he would be dead.

“No white boy with a little sword would they shoot while he’s running away,” she said.

Witnesses who saw Hunt before the shooting were divided on what his behavior was before the incident, with one witness saying he appeared calm and others claiming he seemed distressed. Hunt’s outfit at the time he was killed indicated that he may have been cosplaying as Mugen from Samurai Champloo, a character who is known for his erratic behavior and large sword.

Ironically, although Mugen is a samurai, near the end of the series he ultimately walks away from violence.

Tragically for Hunt, the chance to walk away never came.

 

#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Kajieme Powell?

The police officers who shot and killed Kajieme Powell, 25, in St. Louis, Missouri, on Tuesday did so while being recorded by a man with a cell phone camera. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and police union officials say the video is exculpatory and that the two officers on the scene followed proper protocol. Many who’ve watched the shooting grant that the police were put in a difficult, volatile, potentially deadly situation, but still feel that their actions were wrongheaded. The footage certain to be debated in coming days begins at the 1:20 mark. Be forewarned that the video shows a man being shot repeatedly and killed. Due to its disturbing nature some readers may prefer to skip watching it entirely.

What I see in this video (as well as in an even clearer version that CNN somehow obtained) is a man almost certainly suffering from mental illness who deliberately provokes these police officers, putting them in a terrible, unfair position that will probably haunt them forever—and police officers who immediately played into the orchestrated confrontation that the seemingly unstable man created. I also see an incident that contradicts what Police Chief Sam Dotson described to onlookers at the scene, as reported by the St. Louis Dispatch. The discrepancy comes after police arrive and start giving Powell orders…

…but he became more agitated and walked toward them, reaching for his waistband. Witnesses told police the man was yelling, “Shoot me, kill me now,” during the encounter, Dotson said. The officers drew their weapons and ordered Powell to stop. He did stop, but then pulled out a knife and came at the officers, gripping and holding it high, Dotson said. They ordered him to stop and drop the knife. When he got within 2 or 3 feet of the officers, they fired, killing Powell.

Was Powell holding a knife high as he approached the police officers? I don’t see that. It looks to me as though his arms remain low at his sides, and that detail doesn’t appear in the police report. The cause of this disparity isn’t clear, but the position of the knife doesn’t significantly change how much of a threat it posed, anyways.

With that in mind, it seems to me that the initial set-up chosen by the police officers was the bigger problem. The man with the knife wasn’t anywhere near other onlookers and perhaps could’ve been calmed or incapacitated with less than lethal force had the officers given themselves more space and time. If they had it do to over, would they have parked farther away, or stood on the other side of their vehicle while engaging the man? Would they assert themselves less confrontationally? (On the other hand, would you or I do any better in their place?)

“It is easy to criticize,” Ezra Klein writes. “It is easy to watch a cell phone video and think of all the ways it could have gone differently. It is easy to forget that the police saw a mentally unbalanced man with a knife advancing on them. It is easy to forget that 20 seconds only takes 20 seconds. It is easy to forget that police get scared. It is easy not to ask yourself what you might have done if you had a gun and a man came at you with a knife.” All true. “But there is still something wrong with that video,” he adds, doing his best to articulate specific objections that I share:

​The police arrive and instantly escalate the situation… Powell looks sick more than he looks dangerous. But the police draw their weapons as soon as they exit their car… They don’t seem to know how to stop Powell, save for using deadly force. But all Powell had was a steak knife. If the police had been in their car, with the windows rolled up, he could have done little to hurt them…

…Even when he advances on police, he walks, rather than runs… He swings his arms normally, rather than entering into a fighting stance. They begin yelling at him to stop. And when they begin shooting, they shoot to kill—even continuing to shoot when Powell is motionless on the ground. There is no warning shot, even. It does not seem like it should be so easy to take a life.

That’s how I felt, too.

A police officer might retort that law enforcement shouldn’t be obligated to take on any extra risk to their own lives in a dangerous situation wholly and needlessly created by a person menacing them. A citizen deliberately baiting police with a deadly weapon cannot expect restraint. Even a small knife can be deadly.

In the abstract, I can’t disagree with those principles—and if questionable police killings were confined to such circumstances, there’d be less cause than now to complain about overzealous law enforcement. Yet watching this video, it seems certain in hindsight that the threat could’ve been stopped with force short of at least nine and as many as 12 gunshots; and again, if they’d kept more initial distance between themselves and a man they knew to have a knife before they even arrived, perhaps no deadly threat would’ve materialized. If they’d stood well back and engaged, perhaps Powell would’ve kept coming with a knife until stopped.But they didn’t even attempt that strategy. (As Elizabeth Brown notes, deadly interactions with the mentally ill happen a lot, and failure to even try deescalating is often a factor.) I suspect that Klein is right when he says that in this case, despite clear video evidence of what happened, “what the police believe to be the right thing and what the people they serve believe to be the right thing may be very different.”

Perhaps highlighting different reactions will at least clarify how different Americans feel about the same incident. If nothing else, a gulf in public opinion almost certainly undermines the effectiveness of police departments that depend on community support. With that in mind, here are some illuminating reactions to the killing.

Again, though, did they have to immediately put themselves in such close proximity to a man with a knife? Couldn’t they have tried to talk him down if they’d shouted from a distance rather than immediately getting close with guns drawn?

 

 

*Excerpts taken from The Atlantic.