Hooray for Jackie Robinson! Activism and Volunteering

Hooray for Jackie Robinson!

Activism and Volunteering

Not being reactive is not being passive. It’s not a kind

of stupidity, holding back or being uninterested, removing

oneself from the world. Real equanimity isn’t indifference.

It’s the capacity to be present with your whole being and

not add fuel to the fire.–Jack Kornfield

I had my first taste of “activism”–terribly naïve, but well-intentioned–when I wrote letters to “Dear Chairman Mao Tse-Tung,” the first on May 23, 1956, as well as letters in support of the Civil Rights Movement which absolutely captivated the attention of a few of my grammar school teachers, nuns, who gave me books to read. It was the year of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. I was 12 years old, living far away in Norwalk, Connecticut. Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s organization solicited letters of support from many churches, including our Catholic church. A few nuns were very active in asking for letters of support, but only from those who really believed in the cause. I learned so much from their attitude of not imposing their activism on others. Several of us jumped at the chance in addition to write letters to China to ask for the release of innocent prisoners. The nuns knew that letters had to be respectful but very definite in listing the names of the prisoners & stating in the opening that China’s government passed the deadline promised to release the prisoners. Then the rest of the letter appears to just kiss Chairman Mao’s ass, but maybe that is just diplomacy. The nuns encouraged us to write something original and brief. We wrote the letters very carefully in pen.


When I woke up to “activism,” the most pressing social issue for me was the African -American Civil Rights Movement, in the middle 50’s.

In 2017 DNA testing showed my father’s genes to be mixed: I discovered I was about half black Haitian and half Iberian on my father’s side. I never knew how intimately connected I was to black roots, which we all have most basically. We arose from Africa, mother of our common humanity.

When, as an elementary school student, I was writing letters in support of Civil Rights, I would never feel piously righteous about other countries’ lack of human rights (such as in China), because of the obvious lack of human rights for African Americans in my own country at that time.

Human rights is both a local and a universal issue. I’m told it’s none of my business to talk about other countries. An activist aligns his or her voice with others, against what is felt as abuse of human rights, in whatever country. Writing a letter was so small, but many people, inspired by Dr. King, were throwing tiny pebbles into the lake of change.

A great hero of my youth was the gallant and dignified, yet tough, Jackie Robinson, and–with awe– I visited Ebbets Field to see him play with the Dodgers. My abiding memory of him: stealing-sliding across home plate in the 1955 World Series, with my beloved Yankee’s catcher, Yogi Berra, going crazy. The Bums–to my dismay– finally won!

Jackie’s plea was for an inclusive humanity. In 2007, it was sixty years since Jackie courageously started playing ball professionally, breaking the “color barrier,” despite vicious racist taunting and facing segregated hotels, restaurants, transportation, water fountains.

In the early 60’s, I became aware of Cesar Chavez (whom I first saw sitting serenely at the Jesuit seminary in Los Gatos, California) and later I would volunteer with the United Farm Workers Union Movement organized by Cesar and Dolores Huerta who has carried on the work for so many courageous and enthusiastic years.


“Activism” was coined around 1915 to denote the doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action (as mass protests), some active forms of opposition/call for human rights, such as marching for civil rights, picketing to organize a union. Now activism includes much more humble–but needed both by the student & the community–efforts such as a high school student helping the local library or school. Unlike the time of my high school, volunteering is an essential part of most high school students’ experience, not only as a requirement on a university application, but also growing as a person who is learning to give as well as to take, to be interested in others as well as in himself. Though I’m writing about some of the more jazzy stories, actually most of my volunteering has been as simple as collecting clothes, books, visiting a convalescent home or being on a soup kitchen line.


One of the students recently came back from a tour of Alcatraz which he found fascinating. I was teaching high school boys in San Jose, Bellarmine High School (1969-71) when a buddy, Marcus Holladay, called me and asked if I’d help the organizing effort of getting clothes, blankets, food for American Indian people who had “occupied” Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay (November 9, 1969) to make people aware of contemporary Indian people and how they feel treated in the U.S. society. They were in Alcatraz for 17 months, supported by donations.

American Indians started having some fights among themselves (“being their own worst enemies” said one of the organizing leaders). On June 11, 1971, one of the leaders was arrested for stealing copper from Alcatraz. It was over, but they had gotten some people thinking a bit more broadly about Indians whom we’ve come to see as complex, full of nobility as well as treachery as in us all.


On April 6, 1930, Mohandas Gandhi (born October 2, 1869) manufactured salt from sea water, publicly breaking British law (“civil disobedience”) in a movement to bring political freedom to the Indian people. Indians were only supposed to buy British salt.

Salt water from tidal marshes was collected in pots. The sun then evaporated the water, leaving salt behind which was put on sale. “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.” India became independent seventeen years later.

It’s October 2, 2000. In India, thousands gather at a sweetly incensed park on the Jumna River at Delhi where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. Today hymns are sung, verses from the Gita, the Koran and the Bible are recited. Stories, poems, prayers, people blend into each other; pleas for peace in the Middle East. Cotton thread is spun on small spinning wheels (as our ever-changing stream of life) to recall Gandhi’s virtue of simplicity.


At the end of April, 2007, two hundred and eighty of their neighbors’ Chongquing, China properties have been leveled, but Yang Wu (a martial artist) and his wife, Wu Ping, stand alone on a shaky dirt hill in their brick family home (since 1944 and completely re-built from the ground up in 1994). They’ve refused to give up to developers who want a mall and luxurious apartments. They’re surrounded by a huge, bull-dozed pit. Wu Ping says: “People must live with dignity… if you are right, you must stand up for yourself and not allow your rights to be trampled.” A local court has ruled that the house must be vacated. Yang is hanging a protest banner while Wu Ping sadly says: “I am losing hope.”

In May of 2007, peasants from counties in Guangxi province, protested against China’s one-child policy. They protest forced sterilizations and mandatory abortions. Fortunately such coercive government action is much less common than in the late 70’s and 80’s.

The Internet reported (June ’07) the cry for help from 400 fathers looking for their sons who were made slaves at brick kilns in Henan province. Some of the dads even went “undercover” to see for themselves the terrible working conditions at some kilns where the grueling day might start at 5 a.m. and end at midnight. Outraged Chinese citizens sparked the government to raid about 11,000 kilns. More than 500, including some children, were gratefully released from the pernicious grip of forced labor. President Hu Jintao ordered a thorough investigation.


I’m in Rowland Heights, California listening to Chinese Falun Gong members–Bin Li, Jie Li, Hongwei Lu, Lingyun Zhao, Fengling Ge– who are talking about being in Chinese labor camps and prisons for practicing their beliefs. They are speaking out to put pressure on the Chinese government and Communist Party to stop persecuting Falun Gong members in China.

They are asking for support. Bin Li with tears in her eyes recounts: “All of us were brainwashed. We were beaten, insulted so gradually you think, why are you here? At some point I thought I shouldn’t exist in this universe.” She says she’s grateful to have come to the U.S. in 2004, with a visa as a visiting scholar. An AIDS activist who was previously banned from leaving China was recently allowed to receive an award in the United States. Activists continue to ask for reform of the extensive use of detaining civil rights activists without trial. They advocate for the end of censoring the Internet.

Former student and friend, Dong Fong Liu, just came back from China. He is interested in highlighting the need of the Chinese government to protect coal miners, to keep improving work safety in the coal mining industry which provides 70% of China’s energy needs. Also there is a movement to provide a minimum wage. Government officials need to enforce new government policy; 60% of 5.5 million coal miners are rural immigrants who are more vulnerable to exploitation. In 2006, 4,746 miner lives were lost in accidents, gratefully down 20% from the previous year. June 5, 2012, marks the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. I saw a picture of thousands and thousands of people in Victoria Park (Hong Kong) holding candles to remember the pro-democracy student movement in an earlier memorial. Activists continue to ask for deeper political reform in China.


I’m in Watts today (2003) and meet Anna Carter, a lovely lady who wears flowers in her Afro. Only about 40% of the high schoolers finish here; Watts is the location of Verbum Dei High School where the Jesuits recently started a program. Students at Verbum Dei work one day a week for businesses, both for learning and to make a reasonable tuition possible.

Anna is called the Seed Lady, as she started the Watts Family Garden Club last year. It is full of youngsters playing and helping plant tomatoes, pansies, chamomile in the yard.

She recently came back from Cuba where she learned farming techniques in urban environments. She was part of a delegation with the organizations, Food First and Institute for Food and Development Policy. They were studying using raised compost container beds in cities.

Anna was born in Oakland, California. In the middle 90’s, she was electrically shocked; some Native American friends suggested she touch the roots of trees and work with soil to heal the electricity in her body. After three years of convalescing, she took a master gardening program through the University of California system. She found teaching others took her mind off her pain and self-pity.

She says she wants people in the community to see that they are themselves agents (seeds) of change, that they can empower themselves, feel good about themselves, feel self-respect, even in a rough environment. She offers classes in vegetarian cooking and gardening: “Wok with Me”; “The Value of a Seed”; “The Organic Greenhouse”


The whole establishment was of majestic appearance,

with richly adorned towers and fairy-like turrets, the four-

storied courts, their dragon-like projections and colored

eaves, carved and ornamented pearl-red pillars, richly adorned

balustrades, and roofs covered with tiles, reflecting light

in a thousand shades. –Huien-Tsiang, writing about Nalanda

I’m at a peaceful protest against the Taliban’s obliteration of ancient Buddhist carvings and remarkable statues in Afghanistan. I think about the early 12th century Turaskas, fanatical, murderous Muslims from Afghanistan, who entered India and destroyed all the Buddhist communities in their path of destruction. I remember the sad story of the over-running of the great Buddhist monastic university, Nalanda; and the beheading or burying alive of thousands of Buddhist monks. Nalanda was a center of learning and contemplation from the fifth century to c. 1200. You can still view the ruins of Nalanda in India. Once a walled city of teachers and students, its prestige of open inquiry, discussion, debates and scholarship attracted gifts from kings from Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Java, Bengal, China, Sumatra, Mongolia, Japan, Korea, Turkestan. At Nalanda, students and teachers explored and plumbed the meanings of the Hindu Vedas and Upanishads (pre-Buddhist scriptures) and the Buddhist philosophies of Hinayana, Mahayana, Madhyamika and Yogachara. The Buddhist saint, Naropa, was once the abbot of the university. Nalanda’s extensive library–torched by the invaders– was said to have burned for months, devoured by fire and hatred.


It’s Christmas vacation, ’03, and I’m accompanying an Evangelical Christian church to Baja California, Mexico. This church goes twice a year to San Tecla which is home to a large ranch, which attracts indigenous Oaxacans to travel north for a better salary of about $8.00 a day which is twice what they can get in Oaxaca, if work is even available.

Some Oaxacans settle in Baja California, and others travel seasonally. The church members and I arrive at the ranch early in the chilly morning to organize presents for children, food/clothes baskets for families; we’ve driven 2 ½ hours from the seaport of Ensenada, located on Bahia de Todos Santos, 65 miles south of Tijuana. There’s a rousing Christian service, with 120 children sitting in front of the church’s stage which features musicians, singers and lady preachers; electrically-guitared, percussion beats and melodies. We’re weaving and swaying, swooning with Jesus, alleluia-ing.

Dios es Amor is painted in large white letters on a brown cross. The sun is shining its bright yellow into the rocking church. Children go to some small classes, while the adults receive bags of beans, rice, sugar, clothes, soap, and shampoo. It’s very cold outside; some of the shivering children still don’t have shoes, so the church members make sure they are given sneakers. I watch a youngster receiving a gift, a sudden and quick beaming response, warming; the so-called “generous” volunteers realize they are receiving one of those small, fleeting satisfactions that feed our souls. Seven guys take a quick dirt road truck ride to view the ocean, speeding past the tomato plants, which the Oaxacan Indians are covering with plastic to protect from the bitter cold sea winds. We stay on the hilly shore for 30 minutes, slipping on wet rocks, mosty grays, some ivory-colored blotched with rust, white and brown corrugated clam shells, delicate detached crab legs; waves spray salty water on me. I take a handful of ocean water to splash on my face.

I recall visiting Oaxaca (Oaxaca gave us Mexican president, Benito Juarez, a Zapotec Indian) with its fertile, vast plateaus, pretty valleys, the gorgeous Sierrra Madre del Sur Mountain Range. Chiapas and Oaxaca have the largest Indian population in Mexico, within which lie generous bounties of culture, handicrafts, folklore, and spirituality.

The Indians here in San Tecla, doing farm work, are descendants of the Mixtec or Zapotec; they’ve left their villages reluctantly to improve the quality of their living.

Going home, we stop on the Tijuana border, on las playas of Tijuana. There are tall black spotted, rusted steel pilings which form the frontera. We see some people put their heads through openings, perhaps longing for the “other side.” As we cross the border, my friend, Margot Alvarado (from El Salvador) shows us where, in ’78, she went, with her three children, through a large drain into the U.S. She was lucky, she says, to have been led by a “good” coyote.


I was in El Salvador to remember the 5th anniversary of the violent passing (11-16-89) of six Jesuit priests from Spain (Ignacio Ellacuria, Amando Lopez, Joaquin Lopez, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Segundo Montes, Juan Ramon Moreno and their housekeeper and her daughter, Elba and Celina Ramos. Joan Didion, writing in 1982: “Terror is the given of the place. Bodies turn up in the brush of vacant lots, in the garbage, thrown in ravines in the richest districts, in public restrooms, in bus stations. Some are dropped in Lake Ilopango.” I went to El Salvador to touch and be touched by the land and its people, to cry for brothers and sisters who have suffered, to laugh and have fun, to try to understand and learn with reverence. And cry for myself, for my own tolerance for violence. I asked many how could politics-power-government, conceived to serve the people, to “en-right” and enrich all, become such a destructive repression and death?

El Salvador is a wonder: display of hills, vegetation, city marketplaces, refreshing ocean, and sure, great people, a wounded, but resilient people. I say a prayer at the memorial of the murdered Jesuit padres and for Elba and Celina Ramos who died with them. In the early morning, at the UCA University, around 2:30 a.m., six Spanish priests were jerked from their beds and executed. Their housekeeper, Elba, and her daughter Celina were also assassinated. There were about 300 officers and enlisted men at the UCA campus on the night of the murders. The UCA had been bombed in April and July of ’89.The death squad wrote “FMLN” over the walls to escape blame. In January of 1990, eight men were arrested for the murders, six from the Atlcatl Battalian and two officers of the military academy. Two men were convicted, Col. Benavides of seven murders, Lieutenant Mendoza of the murder of Celina Ramos. They were sentenced for thirty years. The provincial of the Jesuits in El Salvador, Fr. Tojeira, officially asked for pardon the two convicted men, because he stated those who ordered the attack were not brought to trial. Both men were set free. The Jesuits had openly favored a peace accord among the political factions in the country. Some of the military wanted to continue hateful polarities, especially propagating that the Jesuits were only supporting the guerrillas. The Jesuits, in fact, were imploring for the integration of the varied political and economic elements in Salvadoran society. Father Ellacuria and President Christiani, with all their ideological differences, were both talking about how they could unite energies to give to the peace accord. Many human rights groups say this is why far right elements killed Fr. Ellacuria and his friends.

The Jesuits favored agrarian reform and the end of political repression that stifled a sharing of power. Jesuits such as Rutilio Grande were speaking out for the poor, as well as for all elements in the society, political and economic. They were teaching principles of how to use and share, no matter what one’s wealth or political belief might be. They spoke openly for social justice, human rights and against political terror. In 1980, Oscar Arnulfo Romero (after three years as archbishop of El Salvador) was gunned down while saying Mass (March 24, 1980). Now I see pictures of bloody, mashed bodies of the six Jesuits and two women. I anguishly want to feel the supremacy of the soul and inviolable spirit; but before me are pictures of bloody corpses.

I later spend a few days visiting the UCA University in the summer of ’94. The peace accord was signed in 1992. I feel a relaxed environment here at the university. Politically, first steps of the peace process are being taken. Pockets of healing and joy in piano, drums, guitars, voices of students, visitors, faculty, workers, buildings going up, dance, serious study, a full library. I hear talks that encourage more political enlightenment and calls for the end of repression and the opening of a milti-faceted society, imbued with a knowledge and cherishing of human rights.

I meet Ken Hauser, a volunteer from Virginia who has been making several trips to El Salvador, bringing needed materials to the poor from the generosity of U.S. businesses. I run into an ecologist from Ireland who’s working with farmers, organizing solutions to pollution and “natural resource exploitation” problems. I visit Padre Vito Guarato who is providing a home for 300 abandoned handicapped children, at Casa de Piedra.

I’m welcomed in the home of a former student whose father– a “casualty” of the civil war– is now in prison. She says many of her friends no longer will speak to her. Yet she speaks so lovingly of her “disgraced” father… how, when a little girl, she and her father would dig for clams, lying buried, like gray fruit in the moist sand. I am very inspired by many activist groups and individuals. I find the spirit of activism and volunteering, alive in young people and people of all ages. I don’t consider activism or volunteering as special; it’s very natural and rewarding to ourselves, as well as offering needed help; engaging activities to make others more independent and alive, to speak out for what we may strongly believe in, to offer financial help to a carefully considered cause. Activism’s engine is revved by this confidence in human beings’ resourcefulness (when really wanting some change).

Lakeside Landing RV Park, Cropwell, Alabama

If you own an RV or a trailer or a tent and a boat, then Lakeside Landing RV Park is a great place to be. Located about 30 miles east of Birmingham, Alabama, and six miles south of I-20 (Exit 158) along the banks of Logan Martin Lake, it is both convenient and a good value.

With 200 full hookup sites, mostly pull through, the park can handle about any type of rig. I saw a conversion bus, a pup tent, and most everything in between. The bath houses are adequate, though not luxurious by any means. Included in the price is also cable television showing around 60 stations. There is a boat launch, picnic area with tables and a laundry. Pets are allowed if on a leash and the owner is responsible for cleaning up after them. Wi-Fi is advertised, though we did not bring out computers and therefore did not use the service.

The sites are fairly level with most being a combination of rocks and grass. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table resting on concrete. A few trees are scattered throughout the sites, but much more shade is in the picnic area beside the lake. Our 32 foot unit with two slides fit nicely in site 135, just a few yards from the water’s edge.

A Chevron Food Mart serves as the RV office. They are well stocked with RV supplies, food and snacks. The staff was uniformly friendly and helpful. Lakeside Landing does not take reservations. It is strictly first come, first served. Their website says internet reservations are down and provides a number to call for reservations. When I called, the staff member advised they do not take reservations. With a Good Sam discount we were charged $24.75 per night inclusive. We paid in cash, but their park map indicates they take Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express.

Lakeside Landing is a particularly good park for those wishing to combine camping with boating and/or fishing. However, we found it to be pleasant for merely watching the water activities. We camped at Lakeside Landing for the first use of our new RV. Fortunately it was a pleasant experience all around and Lakeside Landing is a park worth giving a look.

The Stopped School Bus Conundrum

What’s so difficult about stopping for a school bus? It’s stopped. Its nifty little stop sign is hung out on its side. Its red lights are flashing. We simply stop and wait for it, right? After all, it’s carrying some of the most important cargo we possess as a society and said cargo isn’t always focusing on us or the traffic. So we stop. Besides, it’s the law, right? Or is it?

Hmmm! Well maybe. Kind of depends on where it’s stopped and which state of the union we may happen to be driving in. Is it safer to stop? Or will stopping immediately disrupt traffic flow and perhaps even get us rear-ended? Quite a bit of Googling has suggested that the Stopped School Bus conundrum may be a bit more vague than it would seem at first blush.

There are really only two reasons we should stop for a school bus. The first one is obvious. We don’t want to risk injuring those little cherubs who may be running to and from it. The second? “It’s the Law” and we don’t want to risk getting a ticket and a fine. For most of us, the first reason is the most important one. For others, it would seem that the second is reason enough. For (hopefully) a small minority of drivers, neither reason seems to matter much if at all.

In most cases, sorting out whether we should stop for this special vehicle is pretty straight forward. We’re bopping along on the same, two or four lane undivided street as is the bus. Suddenly it flashes Orange lights to warn us it is stopping, it slows, then it stops, flashing Red Lights. Whether the bus on our side of the road or on the other facing toward us, we should stop. Cool. How far away from the bus should we stop? Common sense will usually dictate but varying state laws will provide fairly stringent guidelines and state law does vary on the issue. Okay, but what if we’re on a multiple lane, divided highway? Well here again, if the bus is in front of us on our side of the highway, we’re obligated by both law and our own sense or morality to stop for the kiddies. State law seems pretty uniform on this one. If the bus is on the other side of that divided highway, however – it gets more interesting. If the bus is stopped on the opposite side of a divided highway, there really isn’t much risk to its cargo if you pass it on your side, but there may be risk to you if you stop. Other drivers driving with you might not expect you to stop. You will be inhibiting traffic flow (never a good thing), and at the very least, you might be offered some unfriendly hand gestures as other drivers buzz on by you.

In the divided highway scenario, there is much debate as to whether it is safer to stop or go but your State has probably provided guidance for you – and the State’s laws do differ. According to Wikipedia, New York State and Mississippi, definitely require a “stop and wait”, even if the bus buggy is on the other side of the divided highway. A quick peek at the New York State driver’s manual clearly confirms that you must stop. Alabama and West Virginia also require a stop, depending on the type of highway or the width of the divider.

For drivers in the rest of the states, a bus stopped on the opposite side of a divided highway, does not appear to restrict you from passing it. Obviously, you should pass with caution and a quick review of your state’s actual law is most definitely in order to confirm. (Don’t rely on Wikipedia for strict interpretation of State driving laws!)

How far from the bus should you stop? Again, the laws seem to vary from state to state, but somewhere between 20 and 100 feet seems to be the suggested distance. Not too much of a variance there! Here again, common sense and conditions would seem to dictate. Another stopped School Bus scenario can be more vague. The bus is at or near an intersection but it’s not on the street you’re on. It’s on the other, intersecting street, either to your left or your right. Hmmm again.

The first question at the intersection would seem to be “where is the bus”? Is it right at the intersection or further back on that intersecting road? If further back, “how far further back?”

If the bus is stopped right at the intersection, you obviously should not pass it. But what if you’re not actually passing it? Let’s say it’s on your right but you’re making a left turn. Did you actually pass it? Same question if it’s on your left and you make a right. You didn’t actually pass it did you? It appears to be a very grey area but discretion would be the better part of valor here. Few would fault you if you waited for the bus, but you could get nailed if you made the turn. Here again, it would seem that state law and even different judges could view the matter differently. Probably better to wait the minute or two and let the little cherubs do their thing.

Lastly, the lil’ old bus is on that side road but a bit further away from the actual intersection – where you are. How far down from the intersection is it stopped? I really couldn’t find anything which would clearly define how far from the intersection the bus would have to be, before you could legally pass it, but here again, a quick review of state regs would be in order.

Common sense would appear to dictate here also. If you need a pair of binoculars to see the bus, you’re probably good to go. The 100 foot distance might be a guideline here. I would certainly not pass the bus if it were within 100 feet. Over that range? You’re probably at the mercy of the traffic officer and the courts, and “somebody was honking at me” isn’t likely to get it.

As with any driving situation, one could always suggest safety over the law. We’re not suggesting anyone intentionally break driving laws here, but if I’m on a divided highway where traffic is doing sixty plus and obviously not stopping for the bus on the other side, I’m probably not going to risk causing a multiple collision by suddenly slamming on the brakes. On the other hand, if it’s the law in my state and I can safely stop, I’m certainly going to do so – and I’ll probably put on my four way flashers as a warning.

Bottom line? It’s not about the law. It’s about common sense. I’m not going to do anything to risk the future of those little citizens on or around that school bus. I’ll even take the hit to my rear bumper if I have too.

But it is very worthwhile to review local law and develop some guidelines to lean on, when you run in to the “Stopped School Bus” conundrum. When in doubt, stop – and always let common sense prevail. The risk is just too great if you don’t!

Warrior Woman – Ida B. Wells-Barnett

In the latter part of nineteenth century, social theories from Ida B. Wells-Barnett were forceful blows against the mainstream White male ideologies of her time. Ida Wells was born on July 16, 1862, in Holly Springs, Mississippi. It was the second year of the Civil War and she was born into a slave family. Her mother, Lizzie Warrenton, was a cook; and her father, James, was a carpenter. Ida’s parents believed that education was very important and after the War, they enrolled their children in Rust College, the local school set up by the Freedmen’s Aid Society (Hine 1993). Founded in 1866, the Society established schools and colleges for recently freed slaves in the South, and it was at Rust College that Ida learned to read and write.

Everything changed for Ida the summer she turned sixteen. Both of her parents and her infant brother died during a yellow fever epidemic, and Ida was left to care for her remaining five siblings. She began teaching at a rural school for $25 a month and, a year later, took a position in Memphis, Tennessee, in the city’s segregated black schools. Upon arriving in Memphis were teaching salaries were higher than Mississippi, Wells-Barnett found out that even though there was a stronger demand for literate individuals to teach, there was a stronger need for qualified ones. According to Salley (1993), because she needed qualifications in order to teach, she enrolled into Fisk University and gained her qualification in under a year. While returning to Memphis from a teaching convention in New York, she was met with racial provocation for the first time while traveling by railway. Ida was asked by the conductor to move to the segregated car, even though she had paid for a ticket in the ladies coach car.

She refused to leave, and bit the conductor’s hand as he forcibly pushed her from the railway car. She sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, and was awarded $500 by a local court. Even though she won the case, the headlines read, “DARKY DAMSEL GETS DAMAGES,” and the decision was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court and was reversed (Bolden, 1996). She was ordered to pay court frees in the amount of $200. This incident infuriated Ida and spurred her to investigate and report other incidents of racism. Outraged by the inequality of Black and White schools in Memphis and the unfairness of Jim Crow segregation, Ida became a community activist and began writing articles calling attention to the plight of African Americans. She wrote for a weekly Black newspaper called The Living Way. Wells-Barnett’s teaching career ended upon her “dismissal in 1891 for protesting about the conditions in Black schools” (Salley, 1993, p.115). During her time as a school teacher, Wells-Barnett along with other Black teachers was said to have gathered and “shared writing and discussion on Friday evening, and produced a newspaper covering the week’s events and gossip.” (Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998, p.151). The newspaper was officially established and published and distributed under the name Memphis Free Speech and Headlights throughout the Back community a year after she was dismissed. It has been said that her motivation to become a social analyst was the results of her involvement with the Memphis Free Speech and Headlights both as editor and columnist under the pen name Lola and as part owner. Unfortunately, her printing press was destroyed and she was run out of town by a White mob (Sally, 1993). After getting dismissed from her teaching position, her attention then shifted from schools to the issue that would dominate her work for most of her life; lynching. Lynching was the brutal and lawless killing of Black men and women, often falsely accused of crimes, and usually perpetrated by sizable violent mobs of Whites.

It was during this Reconstruction Era, after the Civil War, that Black men made immediate civil gains such as voting, holding public office, and owning land. Yet, groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) developed at the turn of the century as a response. They made it difficult for Southern Blacks to vote or live in peace, attempting to maintain White supremacy through coercion and violence, including lynching (Salzman, 2004) . Infuriated by the Memphis lynching in 1892, which involved a close friend, Ida expressed her grief in an editorial: “The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the White man or become his rival. There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are outnumbered and without arms. There is therefore only one thing left we can do; save our money and leave town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, when accused by White persons” (Hine, 1993).

At the same time Wells saw what lynching really was; an excuse to “keep the nigger down” and execute Blacks “who acquired wealth and property.” (Duster, 1971) This sparked her investigation into the causes of lynchings. Since Whites could no longer hold Blacks as slaves they found in mob violence a different means of maintaining a system of “economic, psychological, and sexual exploitation” (Duster, 1971).

In addition, the result of her investigation and editorial sparked the Black community to retaliate and encourage all who could to leave, and those who stayed to boycott the city Railroad Company. Ida saw the success of the boycott, and asserted, “the appeal to the White man’s pocket has ever been more effectual than all appeals ever made to his conscience.” (Duster, 1971.)

As mentioned earlier, because of Well-Barnett’s racial identity, her social theory was well shaped by the events unfolding within her community as experienced by the first generation of African-Americans after Emancipation (Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998). According to Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998): “This community took as one assumption that White dominance and its accompanying doctrine of White supremacy had to be confronted. American social Darwinists were giving doctrine of White intellectual legitimacy to Whites, which at this time meant Anglo-Saxon, imperialism abroad and supremacy at home, providing dogma such as that in James K. Hosmer’s”Short History of Anglo-Saxon Freedom”(p. 159). Wells-Barnett’s social theory is considered to be a radical non-Marxian conflict theory with a focus on a “pathological interaction between differences and power in U.S. society. A condition they variously label as repression, domination, suppression, despotism, subordination, subjugation, tyranny, and our American conflict.” (Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998, p.161).

Her social theory was also considered “Black Feminism Sociology,” and according to Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998), there was four presented themes within the theory: one, her object of social analysis and of a method appropriate to the project; two, her model of the social world; three, her theory of domination and four, her alternative to domination. Although those four themes were present in her theory, one could assume that the major theme above the four was the implication of a moral form of resistance against oppression, which is not farfetched seeing that oppression was the major theme in her life.

She used an amazingly straight-forward writing style to prove a very bold argument against lynching, discrediting the excuse of rape and other excuses. Wells used specific examples and sociological theories to disprove the justifications of lynching made by Southerners. Within her pamphlets, Wells portrays the views of African-Americans in the 1890s. Southerners allowed widespread lynchings while hiding behind the excuse of “defending the honor of its women.”(Jones-Royster, 1997).

The charge of rape was used in many cases to lynch innocent African-American men. The victim’s innocence was often proved after his death. Wells states that the raping of White women by Negro men is an outright lie. Wells supports her statements with several stories about mutual relationships between White women and Black men. White men are free to have relationships with colored women, but colored men will receive death for relationships with white women (Duster, 1971). As shown by Wells, the excuses used by Whites to torture and murder African-Americans were false. In no way can these kinds of crimes ever be truly justified because of the victim’s crimes. Perhaps the most obvious reasons these crimes happened are hate and fear. Differences between groups of people have always caused fear of the unknown, which translates into hate. Whites no longer depended on African-American slave labor for their livelihood. When African Americans were slaves they were considered “property” and “obviously, it was more profitable to sell slaves than to kill them”(Jones-Royster, 1997). With all restraint of “property” and “profit” lifted, Whites during and after Reconstruction were able to freely give into their fear and hate by torturing and killing African-Americans.

Wells’ investigations revealed that regardless of whether one was poor and jobless or middle-class, educated, and successful, all Blacks were vulnerable to lynching. Black women, too, were victimized by mob violence and terror. Occasionally they were lynched for alleged crimes and insults, but more often these women were left behind as survivors of those lynched. Up to this time, African-Americans had almost never been free from some form of persecution; the period of Reconstruction was particularly difficult. With the occurrences of lynching steadily increasing with no hope of relenting, their new found freedom ensured little safety. Eventually, Wells was drawn to Chicago in 1893 to protest the racism of the exclusion of African Americans from the World’s Fair. With the help of Frederick Douglass, she distributed 20,000 pamphlets entitled “The Reason Why the Colored American is Not in the Columbian Exposition.” On June 27, 1895, she married Ferdinand Lee Barnett, lawyer and editor of the Chicago Conservator, and continued to write while raising four children with him (Duster, 1971).

Ida believed firmly in the power of the vote to effect change for African-American men and women. She saw enfranchisement as the key to reform and equality, and she integrated the Women’s Suffrage movement by marching in the 1913 Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C., with the all White Illinois delegation (Sterling, 1979). She continued to write in her later years, and remained one of the most widely syndicated Black columnists in America. She published articles on race issues and injustices that were printed in African-American newspapers nationwide. Toward the end of her life, Ida worked to address the social and political concerns of African-Americans in Chicago. She made an unsuccessful run as an independent candidate for the Illinois State Senate in 1930, and died the next year of the kidney disease uremia (Duster, 1971). Wells-Barnett’s influence was profound. When the federal government built the first low-income housing project in Chicago’s “Black belt” in 1940, it was named in her honor (Sterling, 1979). Her autobiography was published posthumously by her daughter, Alfreda Duster in 1971. In Chicago, she helped to found a number of Black female and reform organizations, such as the Ida B. Wells Club, the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago, and the Chicago Negro Fellowship League. She also served as director of Chicago’s Cook County League of Women’s Clubs. These clubs were a means for Blacks to join together for support and to organize to effect change (Duster, 1971). At the national level, Wells-Barnett was a central figure in the founding of the National Association of Colored Women, a visible organization that worked for adequate child care, job training, and wage equity, as well as against lynching and transportation segregation.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s passion for justice made her a tireless crusader for the rights of African Americans and women. She was a social reformer, a suffragist, a civil rights activist, and a philanthropist. Her writings, regardless of the risk to her safety and life, raised public awareness and involvement to address a number of social ills resulting in the oppression or murder of African Americans. Her service of time through the creation of myriad clubs and organizations improved the lives of her people. Her work in Chicago, in her final years, focused on providing for the needs of the city’s African American population. Modeled after Jane Addams’ Settlement House efforts, Wells created urban houses for Black men, where they could live safely and have access to recreational amusements while they searched for employment (Hines, 1993). Ida B. Wells-Barnett is sometimes referred to as the “Mother of the Civil Rights movement.” She refused to be moved from the Whites only railway car eighty years before the famous Rosa Parks held her seat on an Alabama bus. She encouraged the Black community to take steps to gain political rights, using the same means that would successfully be used much later during the Civil Rights movement such as economic and transportation boycotts (Hines, 1993).

In similar fashion to Margaret Sanger (of the Birth Control movement) and Susan B. Anthony (of the Women’s Suffrage movement), Wells-Barnett was a woman who dedicated her entire life to upholding her firm beliefs about social reform. She began by writing about the disparity in education and school conditions for Black children and spent much of her life working to abolish lynching through public awareness (Hines, 1993). Ida, through her example, writings, speaking, and service in various organizations, elevated the voice of women’s equality and suffrage. She was a pioneering Black female journalist, and led a very public life in a time when most women, Black or White, did not actively participate in the male political realm. Ida B. Wells-Barnett was connected to many prominent leaders and reformers, male and female, during her lifetime. Among them: Jane Addams (1860-1935) was a social reformer, social worker and the founder of Chicago’s Hull House, the most famous of the settlement houses. Addams and Wells-Barnett successfully worked together to block the segregation of Chicago’s public schools (Sterling, 1979). She was also connected to W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) who was a famous Black scholar, sociologist, researcher, writer, and civil rights activist who voiced opposition to the accomodationist views of his contemporary, Booker T. Washington (1856-1915). Washington urged African Americans to focus on self-improvement through education and economic opportunity instead of pressing Whites for political rights.

Ida B. Wells outwardly disagreed with Booker T. Washington’s position on industrial education and was mortified with his implication that “Blacks were illiterate and immoral, until the coming of Tuskegee.” (Hine, 1993) Outraged by his remarks, she considered his rejection of a college education as a “bitter pill.” (Hine, 1993). She wrote an article entitled “Booker T. Washington and His Critics” regarding industrial education. “This gospel of work is no new one for the Negro. It is the South’s old slavery practice in a new dress.” (Hine, 1993).

She felt that focusing only on industrial education would limit the opportunities of aspiring young Blacks and she saw Washington as no better than the Whites that justified their actions through lynching. Wells-Barnett joined DuBois in his belief that African Americans should militantly demand civil rights, and the two worked together on several occasions, most substantially as co-founders of the NAACP. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), of which Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a founding member, is still a thriving organization with thousands of members nationwide (Hines, 1993). The association continues to advocate and litigate for civil rights for African Americans.

Two of the primary issues on which Wells-Barnett worked on, anti-lynching and women’s suffrage, are now defunct issues. Lynching is a federal crime and women received the vote in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. For this reason, related groups that arose at the time, such as the Anti-lynching League, the Freedmen’s Aid Society, and the National Association of Colored Women are no longer in existence. Yet, the League of Women Voters was created as an outgrowth of the suffragist movement, and is an organization that still educates men and women about their responsibilities as voters. Wells-Barnett’s contribution to the field of sociology is so significant that her work “predates or is contemporaneous with the now canonized contributions of White male thinkers like Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, George Simmel, and George Herbert Mead, as well as the contributions of White female sociologists like Adams, Gilman, Marianne Weber, Webb, and the Chicago Women” (Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998, p.171). Ms. Wells-Barnett is an inspiring example of the power of the written word and the determination to succeed despite the odds. She was an African American woman, the daughter of slaves and considered the lowest of the low on the historical totem pole in American society and her tenacity, ambition, courage and desire for justice changed history. She was direct and possessed strength during a time when this was unheard of by a woman, especially a Black woman. A reformer of her time, she believed African-Americans had to organize themselves and fight for their independence against White oppression. She roused the White South to bitter defense and began the awakening of the conscience of a nation.

Through her campaign, writings, and agitation she raised crucial questions about the future of Back Americans. Today African-Americans do not rally against oppression like those that came before. Gone are the days when Blacks organized together; today Blacks live in a society that does not want to get involved as a whole. What this generation fails to realize is that although the days of Jim Crow have disappeared, it is important to realize that the fight for equality is never over. In the preface of On Lynching: Southern Horrors, A Red Record and A Mob Rule in New Orleans (a compilation of her major works), she writes, “The Afro-American is not a bestial race. If this work can contribute in any way toward proving this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service. Other considerations are of minor importance” (Wells, 1969).

Birmingham, Alabama – A Culinary Tour

After my Montgomery visit, I joined the group from Travel Media Showcase (TMS) that traveled north by bus to Birmingham. This city is a little larger than Montgomery proper, at about a 230,000 population, but the total Birmingham area has about a one million population. Its largest employer is the University of Alabama at Birmingham and several significant banks and life insurance companies are also headquartered there. Historically, Birmingham, the largest Alabama city, was noted as the “Pittsburgh of the South.”

During our Birmingham stay, our hotel was the Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort and Spa. This majestic hotel, on the city outskirts, was designed similar to the Fairmont of Banff, Canada. Due to its several outstanding golf courses, and resulting Scottish tie-in, Ross Bridge features in the late afternoon, just before sunset, a bagpipe player who tours the grounds, while serenading guests with unmistakable tones from his instrument. It is considered the golfers warning to finish their round.

Some of our group took a civil rights tour. Just as in Montgomery, Birmingham endured turmoil, violence and murder during the struggles that eventually ended racial segregation during the 1950s and 1960s. Several locations serve as reminders of these events and the ability today to focus on growth and progress for Birmingham.

The first phase of our culinary tour involved a series of stops at three vineyards, Ozan Vineyard and Cellars, Vizzini Farms Winery and Morgan Creek Vineyards. At these three establishments, we tasted a variety of wines, ranging from peach to red to dry red Muscadine.

Backgrounds of the three vineyard owners were quite interesting. For example, the Vizzini ancestors, emigrating from Sicily, but faced with Ellis Island overloads, were forced to enter the U.S. from New Orleans. As a result, Alabama eventually gained talent that would otherwise have been a plus for the Northeast. Ozan is owned by the Patrick family and Morgan Creek is owned by Mr. Brammer. Since all three are relatively small, they are able to produce quality wine with small staffs.

I especially enjoyed a chocolate raspberry wine offering at the Vizzini locale. As a result, we ordered ½ case of it as well as ½ case of the Paulina variety.

At Morgan Creek, it was pointed out to us that one of the vineyard’s prominent customers is actress Pauley Perrette, one of the stars of the TV series NCIS.

Later that night, our group enjoyed dinner at Frank Stitt’s Highland’s Bar & Grill. This establishment is highly rated, not only in Alabama, but nationwide. Chef Stitt has received the James Beard award as the top American chef. My dinner of braised pork shoulder, chowder and vanilla ice cream with a dash of Makers Mark, was preceded by an opening orange martini specialty drink that I thoroughly enjoyed.

On Saturday morning, our group started with breakfast at the Jones Valley Urban Farms. This location featured breakfast prepared by Chef Clayton Sherrod. Chef Sherrod is very personable and dynamic and serves as an able ambassador for Alabama cuisine around the world. He served breakfast highlighted by shrimp and grits and entertained us with a cooking demonstration.

Jones Valley Urban Farms is a nonprofit organization that utilizes vacant downtown property to grow organic produce and flowers.

After breakfast, we had two stops on the culinary tour. First was the Pepper Place Saturday Market. Booths showed off a variety of foods, such as peaches, fresh produce and very tasty cheese as well as arts and crafts. Next was the Peanut Depot, where traditional roasting methods produce thousands of pounds of peanuts each week. Although Virginia peanuts are used here, the establishment is part of an Alabama tradition. Some of the roasting equipment dates back more than 100 years.

We lunched at Niki’s West. It is renowned for its fast paced cafeteria line, featuring offerings such as pork barbecue, yams, grits and other good traditional Southern food.

Our Saturday culinary tour was topped off nicely by dinner at the Hot and Hot Fish Club, owned by Chef Chris Hastings and his wife Idie Hastings. Chris has also received a James Beard award as the top Southern chef. I started dinner with a chocolate martini. Following this drink, I selected chowder, shrimp and grits (well worth it, even after the same choice at breakfast) and dessert of apple ganauche and ice cream. Our waitress, Evelyn, was absolutely outstanding with her service and knowledge of every facet of the Fish Club menu.

On Sunday, our final day, we started with breakfast at Brock’s Restaurant in Ross Bridge. I ended the tour with a facial (yes, a man’s facial) at the Ross Bridge Spa. This was described to me as a “deep cleansing therapeutic facial…” that “…removes impurities.” After the treatment, I felt that this was a very accurate description.

The spa provides an interesting array of massages, related therapy and facials for both men and women.

In summary, we thoroughly enjoyed our Birmingham tour. We believe the city is an outstanding example of the forward-looking new South.