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Posts Tagged ‘martin luther king’

Bus segregation was not the first issue that grabbed the attention of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. when the young pastor moved to Montgomery, Alabama in 1954. His first campaign in his new home focused on a sentence of death for Jeremiah Reeves, a 16-year-old black boy convicted of raping a white woman, which512px-Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTS_6-wikicommons became his first civil rights campaign in his new home. Reeves had confessed under duress, but later recanted, a claim widely believed in the black community. King joined the NAACP’s efforts to save Reeves’ life.

So did Claudette Colvin, like Reeves a student at Booker T. Washington High School. Colvin, who the next year would be arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus nine months before Rosa Parks did the same thing, recalled, “Jeremiah Reeves’s arrest was the turning point of my life. That was when I and a lot of other students really started thinking about prejudice and racism. I was furious when I found out what had happened.” [1]

“In the years that [Reeves] sat in jail,” Dr. King wrote in Stride Toward Freedom, his book about the Montgomery movement, “several white men in Alabama had also been charged with rape; but their accusers were Negro girls. They were seldom arrested; if arrested, they were soon released by the Grand Jury; none was ever brought to trial.” [2]

Reeves was found guilty by an all-white jury and put to death on March 28, 1958.

A week later King addressed a “Prayer Pilgrimage” rally in front of the State Capitol building. “The issue before us now is not the innocence or guilt of Jeremiah Reeves,” King told a crowd of two thousand. “Even if he were guilty, it is the severity ad inequality of the penalty that constitutes the injustice. Full grown white men committing comparable crimes against Negro girls are rare ever punished, and are never given the death penalty or even a life sentence.”[3]

Such gerrymandered justice was a well established fact of life in the South, going back to the days of slavery when blacks were commonly executed or lynched for crimes that drew less harsh punishment — or none — when committed by whites. This discriminatory pattern continued after emancipation, as Stuart Banner documents in his book, The Death Penalty: An American History. “In the first half of the [twentieth] century,” he writes, “the southern states punished many crimes by death only if they were committed by blacks, in the second half of LR&Mark11-14-12 019the century they accomplished the same result by delegating to all-white juries the discretion to choose capital or noncapital punishment.”

“The death penalty was a means of racial control,” observes Banner, a UCLA law professor.

Sadly, the role played by race in decisions about the death penalty persists. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, recent studies “add to an overwhelming body of evidence that race plays a decisive role in the question of who lives and dies by execution in this country. Race influences which cases are chosen for capital prosecution and which prosecutors are allowed to make those decisions. Likewise, race affects the makeup of the juries which determine the sentence. Racial effects have been shown not just in isolated instances, but in virtually every state for which disparities have been estimated and over an extensive period of time.”

New Hampshire is a case in point.

Michael Addison was charged with capital murder for killing Michael Briggs, a police officer, in 2006.

John Brooks was charged with capital murder for hiring three men to assist him in killing Jack Reid, a handyman, in 2005.

The trials took place in adjacent counties in 2008.

Addison, a poor black man with a prior criminal record, was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Brooks, a white millionaire businessman, was found guilty but spared the death penalty.

Monica Foster, Brooks’ attorney, said of her client after the sentence was announced, “He’s not the kind of people juries routinely kill,”

Racial disparities in the use of the death penalty have been a focus of scholarly research for decades. According to Justin Levinson, Robert Smith, and Danielle Young, authors of a 2013 study, “The most consistent and robust finding in this literature is that even after controlling for dozens and sometimes hundreds of case-related variables, Americans who murder Whites are more likely to receive a death sentence than those who murder Blacks.” They note as well that “Black defendants are sentenced to death more frequently than White defendants, especially when the universe of studied cases is narrowed to include only those cases that result in aexecutejustice11-14-12 capital trial.”

What Levinson, Smith, and Young found ought to be a wake-up call for anyone interested in the fairness of our judicial system. After studying 445 jury-eligible citizens in six states where the death penalty is most actively used, they concluded that “implicit racial bias does have an impact on the administration of the death penalty in America.”

“We found that death-qualified jurors implicitly valued White lives over Black lives by more rapidly associating White subjects with the concepts of ‘worth’ or ‘value’ and Black subjects with the concepts of ‘worthless’ or ‘expendable.’ This finding could potentially help to explain why real capital juries impose death sentences more regularly for White victims: at least at an implicit level we value White lives more than Black lives, and thus, perhaps, we seek to punish those individuals who have destroyed those whom we value most.”

The implications of this finding go far beyond the death penalty.

As for Dr. King, it is worth noting that his comments on the prosecution, conviction, and execution of Jeremiah Reeves did not directly reject capital punishment, just “the unequal justice of Southern courts.” As King matured into the leader we honor today, his critique of injustice deepened and blended with a prescription for change.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that,” he famously said.

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence,” King told the world on the day he received the Nobel Peace Prize. “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

The realization of King’s vision is far off. Abolition of the death penalty would be an excellent step in the right direction.

To get involved, join the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

 


[1] Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009, p. 23-24

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom

[3] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Statement Delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage Protesting the Electrocution of Jeremiah Reeves,” April 6, 1958

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Kevin Powell:  “Practice something ancient called ‘love’”

“Can you say ‘action steps?’” Kevin Powell asked the crowd at the beginning of his speech at the Manchester NAACP’s annual Freedom Fund dinner.

The popular writer, speaker, and activist held the attention of about 100 people at the Puritan Conference Center in Manchester, where he touched on his own family background, the need to “pass the baton” to a new generation of leaders, and the urgent need to end violence against women, which he called “the number one human rights issue” of our time. 

Powell delivered six action steps.

Quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., he called for “a revolution of values,” based on the practice of “something ancient called ‘love.’”

Second, the elders deserve respect but need to get out of the way of a new generation of leaders.

Third, he stressed the importance of financial literacy.

Fourth, demand higher quality than what the culture industry is now peddling.

Next, we need to “take care of ourselves” through attention to diet and exercise.  Movement leaders need to set good examples, he said.

Finally, we need to pay attention to mental health, too.  “We’re no good to anybody if we’re not healthy and whole,” Powell emphasized.

Branch president Ernesto Pinder presented Excellence in Service Awards to Sandra Hicks, Rashida Mohammed, Caludette Williams, Bill Gillett, and the Rev. Bill Exner. 

The Manchester chapter of the nation’s oldest social justice organization will turn 50 years old next year.  For more information and to sign up as a member, visit their web page.

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Talesha Caynon and Marsha Murdaugh make last minute preparations for the 29th annual MLK Day Breakfast.

MLK Day Celebrated in Hollis and Manchester

“Celebrate, Remember, and Act” was the theme of the Rev. Renee Rouse’s message to the Martin Luther King Day Breakfast held in Hollis, New Hampshire jan 21 2013 004 this morning.  Yes, today is a day to celebrate freedom.  But what we each do with it is the challenge, the minister from the Brookline Community Church said to a full hall at the Alpine Grove, where Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity held its 29th annual MLK Day event.

Likewise, Nashua Mayor Donalee Lozeau talked about memory, calling the holiday a day for “thoughtful reflection” on lessons we can learn from history, including what she called “intentional mistakes.”

Surely among those we can count New Hampshire’s stubborn resistance to honoring Dr. King, resistance that was finally overcome in 1999 after a 20-year struggle.  One thing we might learn, I suppose, is the importance of persistence.  Another worthy of reflection is the importance of the holiday itself as a day to not only ponder history but to ponder our own roles as makers of history.  In those roles, Dr. King remains a powerful model.

Every year I  have the privilege of speaking at the MLK Breakfast, giving jan 21 2013 010 what OBU calls “the update.”  Back in the day it was an update on the campaign to prevail at the State House for the King holiday.  Now, I get to speak about what is going on at the State House related to the prophetic vision we associate with Dr. King.

Today I began my comments at the beginning of King’s career, before Rosa Parks (and Claudette Colvin) refused to give up seats on Montgomery buses.  The issue mobilizing the Montgomery “Negro” community was the wrongful conviction and death sentence of Jeremiah Reeves, a Black musician accused of raping a white woman.  In his Montgomery memoir, Stride Toward Freedom, King said “the Reeves case was typical of the unequal justice of Southern courts,” where Black men could be executed based on false accusations yet white men who raped “Negro girls” were jan 21 2013 018 rarely arrested and never brought to trial.

The fact that King’s activism began with a campaign to stop an execution is little known, but might carry some weight in the only New England state where the death penalty remains on the books.  We are also a state in which the outcome of two recent capital trials demonstrates that the “unequal justice” King described is not limited to the South or confined to history.  Remember and act.

King’s career ended in Memphis during a strike of city workers aiming for recognition of their union, and that was where I took my comments.  While our own legislature finally rejected last year’s poisonous right-to-work-for-less bills, attacks on public sector collective bargaining are back.  Senate President Peter Bragdon has just come out with SB 37, a bill that would eviscerate the power of public sector workers at the bargaining table.  We need the spirit of Dr. King and the Memphis workers atjan 21 2013 028 the State House this year.  Remember and act.

But we can’t forget to celebrate, and this year we celebrate the dedication of the  NH Sisters of Mercy, who were awarded the Martin Luther King Award in Manchester at an event aptly called the Martin Luther King Day Community Celebration.  The “Mercies” have been at the forefront of umpteen struggles for social justice longer than I’ve been in New Hampshire.  While the MLK Day Award has almost always gone to individuals in previous years, it felt great for the Sisters to be recognized as the community they are.  

Selina Taylor, an organizer with the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty andjan 21 2013 041 a member of the leadership of the Manchester NAACP was also recognized with an award. 

Richard Haynes delivered the keynote at the afternoon celebration, where he stressed the importance of education to a full house at St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral’s community hall.  I’m sure he would have agreed with Rev. Rouse, who said we make a difference every day by “leaving footprints behind” for those coming up behind us.

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linda & program book Linda Gathright, a long-time community activist from Nashua, received the annual Martin Luther King Award at the annual Martin Luther King Day Community Celebration in Manchester.  Linda is among the founders of Outreach for Black Unity, and currently serves as its Chairperson, and has also served on the Board of the NH Minority Health Coalition and the NH Commission on the Status of Women.   Her award was presented by Dr. Marie Metoyer on behalf of the Martin Luther King Coalition, which sponsors the annual event.  

valerie mlk day 2011 Guest speaker Valerie Cunningham, who has devoted decades to research into New Hampshire’s Black history, recalled the young Martin Luther King, Jr.’s visit to People’s Baptist Church in Portsmouth in 1952, when he was studying at Boston University.  

The Celebration, held at St. George Greek OrthodDG & Traci 1ox Cathedral’s Hellenic Community Center, was deftly emceed by Russell and Jackie Weatherspoon, and also featured a performance by the West High School Jazz Band.

The thoughts of everyone involved in the Celebration were on Vanessa Johnson, a dedicated worker for the Coalition, who is ill.

The Martin Luther King Coalition is made up of twenty organizations.  This was its 29th annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. 

russell jackie  Woullard & LR mariebill signs up we shall overcome

 

 

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The New Hampshire House of Representatives convened on Tuesday, Jan. 4.  Its first act: adopting a rule enabling people to carry guns at the State House, but not including the House chamber itself.  The next day they droppted that restriction , too.   The Senate chamber may remain a gun-free zone, but otherwise, we might as well assume that legislators, visitors, and staff are packing heat.

Will the gun-love of our political culture be affected by yesterday’s political mass murder in Tucson?  It’s too early to guess.  But with the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. coming up Friday, my thoughts turned to his example.

King’s example came from  faith, but it was faith tested by experience that included death threats, political murder, and racist terror. 

In his  Nobel Prize Acceptance speech in 1964, King said:

“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.”

I hope those words continue to ring true.

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