Black History Month: Giving Bayard Rustin His Due

Bayard Rustin 3His influences were W.E.B. DuBois and Mahatma Gandhi. An intellectual, a Quaker, and a visionary, Bayard Rustin was the force behind the introduction of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s non-violent tactics. Rustin went on to become Deputy Director and Chief Organizer of the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

If you didn’t know that, or if you’ve never heard of him, it’s probably because homophobia within society at large and within the African-American Civil Rights Movement, a well-kept secret, relegated Rustin to the back of the bus, so to speak, to the background of the Civil Rights Movement. For example, in 1956, Rustin was hidden in the trunk of a car and covertly ushered out of Montgomery during the Montgomery Bus Boycott because the movement feared that an openly-gay man as an advisor would discredit the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King and the other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Three years earlier, he had been arrested for a homosexual act. Rustin’s sexuality, or at least his public criminal charge, was criticized by some fellow pacifists and civil-rights leaders; worse yet, he was attacked as a “pervert” or “immoral influence” by political opponents, black and white alike, from segregationists to Black power militants from the 1950s through the 1970s. As an openly-gay man, he became one of the Continue reading

Black History Month: The Burning and Collapse of Black Wall Street

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JB StradfordJ.B. Stradford, lawyer, businessman, and son of a freed Kentucky slave, is a major developer of the Tulsa’s African-American community of Greenwood in the 1900s. He owns the 65-room hotel located in the center of the thriving community that will later become known as “the Black Wall Street,” the wealthiest black community in the United States at the time. Most black Tulsans work as laborers and domestics, but a substantial number are teachers, lawyers, doctors and other professionals:

The Catalyst: Dick Rowland and Sarah Page

All goes well for the affluent community until 1921, when the arrest of a young black man, Dick Rowland, on a suspicious charge of assaulting a young white woman, Sarah Page, sparks what will be called by some as the “deadliest non-military domestic terrorist act in U.S. history,” the Tulsa Race Riot.

Black Wall Street Burned to GroundAccording to Wikipedia, Rowland was born in 1902. He drops out of high school to accept a job shining shoes in a white-owned and white-patronized shine parlor on Main Street in downtown Tulsa. Because Tulsa is a segregated city ruled by Jim Crow, black people are prohibited from using whites-only toilet facilities. There are no separate facility for blacks at the shine parlor; the owner has arranged for black employees to use a “Colored” restroom on the top floor of the nearby Drexel Building at 319 S. Main Street. On May 30, 1921, Rowland attempts to enter the Drexel building elevator and, although the exact facts are either unknown or in dispute, according to the most accepted accounts, he trips, and while falling, latches on to the arm of the elevator operator, 17-year-old Sarah Page. Startled, she screams, and a white clerk in a first floor store calls police and reports seeing Rowland flee from the elevator and the building. The clerk reports the incident as an attempted assault. Almost nothing is known of Sarah Page. Originally described as a 17-year-old orphan working her way through business college, she may be as young as 15 and has come to Tulsa from Kansas City while waiting for a divorce to be finalized.

The case against Dick Rowland will be eventually dismissed at the end of September 1921, following the receipt of Sarah Page’s letter by the County Attorney, in which she will state that she does not want to prosecute the case.

Once Rowland is exonerated he immediately leaves Tulsa and resettles in Kansas City. Little else is publicly known about the remainder of his life.

Greenwood, the once flourishing model community, is destroyed, and with it a major African-American economic movement. Among the devastated are 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, two movie theaters, plus a hospital, a bank, a post office, libraries, schools, law offices, a half-dozen private airplanes and even a bus system. The Tulsa race riot of 1921, like so many events in the chronological record of black people, is rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms or even in private before 1996. Though blacks and whites alike enter middle age unaware of what has taken of the Tulsa Race Riot, in 1996 the Oklahoma state legislature commissions a report on the event, and in 2001 it’s completed and finally establishes the historical record.

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Here’s the story of Greenwood, Oklahoma:

Charges against Rowland made the front page of the Tulsa Tribune, along with an editorial entitled, “To Lynch Negro Tonight.”

Black Wall Street NabNegro_Tulsa-paper Continue reading

Writing Challenge: Books and Nooks

This week’s Mind the Gap: How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand? Take the poll (below) and then explain your opinion by blogging about it on your site.


books in a bedI literally grew up with books and magazines and figuratively lived my early years in the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, where I grew up. Books also inhabited my bedside and bed.

One of my favorite activities was to sample the aisles of music stores and bookstores. I love flipping through the pages of books, reading the copyright pages, savoring the cover art. I knew the layout of bookstores that I frequented by heart. That being said, I went over to the “dark” side about four years ago by purchasing a Nook.

At the time, I believed that my choice was more utilitarian: the e-reader accommodates one-handedness – it’s easier to hold and read while I’m standing on the subway (not to mention proceeding from one page to the next); I had carpal tunnel surgery, so holding the e-reader was easier on my hands; I lost most of my extensive collection in a fire and, subsequently, moved into a MUCH smaller apartment that will never accommodate a large book collection. I am also a multiple-book reader; in other words, I read two, sometimes three, books at a time (usually two nonfiction and one fiction selection) and like the idea of having a them at my fingertips, especially when traveling or in transit. Am I in the mood for the nonfiction reading? Or perhaps fiction? I have the freedom of this type of reading experience without the weight in my backpack. And sometimes one of those selections is an actual book.Books under a bed

I surprised myself by taking to the Nook right away…and loving it.

There are certain types of books, though, that I still buy. I prefer to have anything about animals as books instead of Nook selections. Anything that is chart- or illustration- or photography-heavy, I will purchase in book form because the e-readers don’t do visual justice to these kinds of books.

I have cuddled up with books. Have I cuddled with my e-reader. I have, though it’s a different kind of cuddling. No thumb to hold my place while I change positions.

I am an allergic person, always have been, and as we all know, books collect and hold on to dust. My allergist is happy about my nook.


Now, I have to say, I enjoy being released from lending books to people who never return them. Sometimes I mention a really good book to a friend, and she or he will say, “I want to read that when you are finished,” and it’s a guilty pleasure for me to reply, “Oh, it’s on my Nook.” Ha!

Here’s what Marcus Tullius Cicero said about books: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” Probably would not have said this about e-readers.

Emily Dickinson wrote a poem, about, yes, a book:

A Book

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

NookIf you substitute “book” for “Nook” in the poem — ultimately, I think, the reading experience is the same.