Tag Archives: history

Remembering a 1939 sit-down strike

On this date in 1939, Samuel Wilbert Tucker and six collaborators staged what has got to be one of the cleverest civil rights sit-ins of all time. One by one, William Evans, Otto L. Tucker, Edward Gaddis, Morris Murray, and Clarence Strange went to the circulation desk at the Alexandria (VA, US) Public Library and requested library cards. As each was refused a card to use the library his taxes supported, he quietly went to the stacks, selected a book, sat at a table, and began to read it. Then the next followed with the same request, result, and action.

S. J. Ackerman’s 2000 account, published as “Samuel Wilbert Tucker: The Unsung Hero of the School Desegregation Movement” in Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, begins with the priceless description of these events shown at the right. Eventually, of course, library managers and city officials summoned the police. Meanwhile, according to story, Robert Strange (the sixth collaborator) raced to Mr. Tucker’s nearby law office and alterted him about how the events were occuring.

Inside the library, the police arrested the miscreant readers and led them outside. When they emerged from the library, the officers and five collaborators found 300 spectators, according to Mr. Ackerman. Mr. Tucker’s ploy had worked spectactularly on the ground, though it didn’t generate as much press as one might have hoped. According to Mr. Ackerman’s account, “The media paid scant attention to the episode. Preoccupied with the Hitler-Stalin pact, disclosed that same day, the Washington Star missed the story. The Post reported that ‘five colored youths’ had staged a ‘sit-down strike.’ The Times Herald and the African-American Washington Tribune used similar terminology.”

Even if it didn’t make a big splash, the 1939 sit-down strike in a public library sounds like an early incident in something pretty important. Civil rights. Non-violence. Rule of law. Access to public services. The list could go on and on….

There are sequels to this story: Mr. Tucker was later offered a library card for a “colored library,” and he refused it. He later co-founded an eminent law firm in Richmond (VA, US) and argued important civil rights cases, many before the US Supreme Court (including Green v. County School Board of New Kent County). He served for many years as the representative of Virginia’s NAACP. And very much more.

You can read more about Mr. Tucker including Mr. Ackerman’s account and the Wikimedia biographical entry about him.


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Prescient or Same-old-same-old?

The passing of Mario M. Cuomo, former Governor of the US state of New York, makes me wonder whether he was so savvy that he saw the future or he was just describing conditions that keep recurring. In his speech to the 1984 Democratic National Party Convention, he pitched what I consider one of the most cogent and moving counters to Mr. Ronald Reagan’s economic polices.

Mr. Reagan’s policies were implemented and we have suffered the consequences ever since. Mr. Cuomo anticipated it. He called it. He suggested compassionate, humane alternatives, as in this source for the full speech and these briefer excerpts.

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Catlin’s portraits of Native Americans

La-Doo-Ke-A, Buffalo Bull
A Grand Pawnee Warrior

Under the title “Testament and Spectacle” over on Times Quotidian, Theo Alexander has a post about portraits of Native Americans painted by George Catlin in the 19th century that were exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), London, during the spring of 2013. Mr. Alexander’s take about Mr. Catlin’s 1830s-portraits is pretty interesting, but the images themselves are really fascinating (and he writes about that, too).

There’s more about this show available from the museum’s site devoted to the exhibition. The NPG has supporting materials including video interviews and, of course, a store. These portraits apparently are on display at the Smithsonian in Washington (DC, US) and there is an accessible virtual display. The following image of hunters stalking bison by hiding under wolfskins comes from that display.

Buffalo Hunt under Wolf-skin Mask

Times Quotidian, which Nancy Cantwell edits, covers an array of arts and cultural topics. Its other content is worth perusing while one’s there.

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Thanks, Jeanne Manford!

Jeanne Manford, the founder of Parents and Friends and Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), died 8 January 2013. She showed a lot of us the way. It’s a sorry time, because she was such a pioneer. As PFLAG says, “It is with great sorrow that we share with all of you the passing of PFLAG’s founder, Jeanne Manford.”
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Ms. Clinton on religious freedom

Many people who know me will know that I hold little truck with religion. At best, I consider religions woe-begotten variations on reasoned ways to live one’s life humanely. However, as much as I find religions untenable, I shall defend folks’ right to espouse religious—or anti-religious and especially non-religious—views. Thus I was thrilled to hear the US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “Remarks at the Release of the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report” in which she delivered one of the most inspiring defenses of religious freedom I can remember hearing.

Whether you might agree or disagree with Ms. Clinton’s political positions, I think most people will agree that the core of her remarks are a spirited defense of foundational principles of human freedom. I hope people everywhere, regardless of political stripe, can watch or read this talk. There are, to be sure, the usual segments of the talk that have to do with thanking contributors to the talk, thanking allies, and calling out miscreants. But there are, as I heard it live while driving home from a meeting yesterday AM, sections of the talk that discuss fundamental human aspirations. Reminders of the ideas of principles on which the US and other democracies were based hundreds of years ago.

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sopa pipa



















search sopa & pipa at  free speech
(I care about my copyrights, but some things are more important.)

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Bill Russell Honored

Let’s get this straight: I’m a Lakers fan, which has certain implications about my regard for the Celtics. O.K.? Now, here’s something that I’m really happy to note.

William Fenton Russell received recognition that was very much deserved yesterday when US President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. Mr. Obama noted that Mr. Russell, the leader of the Celtic teams that beat the Lakers frequently during my formative years, describes himself not as a basketball player, but as a man who plays basketball. “Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men,” Obama said. “He marched with King; he stood by Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game. He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players, and made possible the success of so many who would follow.”

Mr. Russell’s extraordinary personal strength and resilience was tried repeatedly. He persevered, as too many people had to persevere. John Taylor documents some of this in The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball (see here). He is far, far more than a basketball player. Even if he was 5’9″ tall, people should look up to Bill Russell.

I linked the image here to a snippet of video published on YouTube by CBS News. The White House has published video of the full ceremony.

By the way, here’s a belated doff of the cap to Mr. Russell, who shares 12 February as a birthday with Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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