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Christopher Phelps

a Philadelphia radio journalist who became an international icon in debates over race and the death penalty after he was convicted for the murder of a police officer, was born Wesley Cook to Edith and William Cook, migrants from the South. The family subsisted on welfare in the housing projects of North Philadelphia. As a boy Cook read avidly and sought enlightenment, attending services with his Baptist mother and Episcopalian father, then dabbling in Judaism, Catholicism, and the Nation of Islam. When he was about ten years old his father died of a heart attack, prompting him to assume a protective role toward his twin brother, Wayne, and younger brother, William.

The black liberation movement shaped Cook's coming of age. In a 1967 school class in Swahili, a Kenyan teacher assigned him the first name Mumia. In 1968 at age fourteen he and some friends protested ...


Todd Steven Burroughs

radical prison journalist and author. Mumia Abu-Jamal was born Wesley Cook in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a teenager in the 1960s he was attracted to the Black Panther Party (BPP). Cook—christened “Mumia” by one of his high school teachers—helped form the BPP's Philadelphia chapter in spring 1969 and became the chapter's lieutenant of information. He wrote articles for the Black Panther, the party's national newspaper, and traveled to several cities to perform BPP work. He left the party in the fall of 1970 because of the split between Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton.

After attending Goddard College in Plainfield Vermont Cook now calling himself Mumia Abu Jamal the surname is Arabic for father of Jamal Jamal being his firstborn returned to Philadelphia and began a radio broadcasting career in the early 1970s Abu Jamal was part of the first generation of black journalists to become professional newscasters for ...


Inmates at the state prison in Attica, New York, had several grievances before their uprising on September 9, 1971. In 1970 several hundred inmates went on strike over low wages for prison labor—about thirty cents a day—and the high cost of items in the prison commissary. The strike, however, had little effect. Inmates also complained repeatedly of severe overcrowding, but again with little result. Toward the end of the year, several prisoners filed petitions in federal court accusing guards of beating them. The guards, nearly all of whom were white, were also accused of censoring black publications—more than half of the inmates were black—and of treating members of the Nation of Islam religious movement especially harshly. The complaints produced few changes.

In the summer of 1971 several prisoners published a list of their demands for better conditions including higher pay better medical treatment and an end to censorship ...


Steven J. Niven

the first woman executed by electric chair in Georgia, was born in Cuthbert, Georgia, to Queenie Baker, a sharecropper, and a father whose name is unknown. Little is known about her early life. If typical of the African American experience in southwestern Georgia in the early 1900s Baker's childhood was probably one of long working hours and low expectations. Indeed, it was in the debt-ridden and desperate Georgia black belt of the early 1900s that W. E. B. Du Bois discovered the Negro problem in its naked dirt and penury Litwack 114 In an attempt to escape from that world of debt and desperation Baker began working at an early age at first helping her mother chop cotton for a neighboring white family the Coxes Like other black women in the community she also worked as a laundress and occasional domestic for white families in town Despite the legacy ...


Jesse J. Esparza

The Black Panther Party (BPP) was one of the most prominent and notorious organizations of black power to emerge during the 1960s. It successfully organized thousands of militant blacks committed to improving the social conditions of their communities. The Panthers’ founders, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, were initially inspired by the work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in conjunction with activists from rural Alabama who formed the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). But Newton and Seale, attracted also to the revolutionary rhetoric and black nationalistic ideals of Malcolm X, adopted the black panther as a symbol and formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in October 1966 in Oakland, California, after they were unsuccessful in their efforts to influence the politics of existing campus organizations. Newton was a former street criminal who had gone on to study at Oakland's Merritt College, and Seale was a ...


Gordon S. Barker

On 24 May 1854, after leaving the secondhand clothing shop owned by Coffin Pitts on Boston's Brattle Street, Anthony Burns was arrested by the notorious slave catcher Asa Butman and several associates on trumped-up charges of petty theft. They took Burns to the courthouse and held him in a third-floor jury room. Burns's former owner, Colonel Charles Suttle of Virginia, and his agent, William Brent, joined Burns in the room, thus beginning Boston's last and most famous fugitive slave case.

Burns's arrest and trial fueled northern resentment of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which had been evident in earlier fugitive slave cases. Renowned for their participation in the Underground Railroad, Boston abolitionists spirited many fugitive slaves to freedom, including William and Ellen Craft and Frederick (Shadrach) Minkins. Several Bostonians had also voiced their support of the daring Jerry Rescue in Syracuse in 1851 Although the city ...


Shattered windows, bombed-out churches, white mobs jeering at black schoolchildren, southern governors defiantly proclaiming that their states would never integrate—these are, with good reason, the images of the white response to civil rights that remain seared into American public memory. Violence always underpinned the South's system of Jim Crow segregation and black disfranchisement, and a significant number of whites were prepared to suppress violently any African American challenge to the prevailing racial hierarchy. Yet the acts of terrorism against civil rights workers and the bombast of white-supremacist politicians, though important, do not capture the full spectrum of the white response to the African American freedom struggle of the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

The term commonly used to describe white opposition to the civil rights movement massive resistance implies a unified synchronized counterattack As leaders of the organized resistance discovered however strategic unanimity eluded segregationists from the start Some whites ...


William H. Brown and Graham Russell Hodges

[This entry contains two subentries dealing with law as specifically applied to African Americans from the seventeenth century through the nineteenth century The first article discusses the development of crimes and punishments related to slavery through 1830 while the second article discusses law and legal penalties as applied to ...


Eric W. Rise

The history of the criminal justice system has been closely linked to the African American experience in the twentieth century. In the wake of emancipation, southern states turned to the criminal justice system to perform social control functions previously served by slavery. After the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century, politicians used the language of crime control to signify lingering racial animosities. In the meantime blacks were arrested, convicted, and incarcerated in numbers far greater than would be predicted based on their representation in the total population. In 1940 the Uniform Crime Reports compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that the arrest rate for serious felonies was 17 per thousand for blacks compared to 6 per thousand for whites. By 1978 those rates had climbed to 100 per thousand for blacks and 35 per thousand for whites. In 1923 blacks constituted about 10 percent of the ...


Miguel Gonzalez Perez

was born in Bilwaskarma, in Nicaragua’s North Atlantic Autonomous Region, on 10 November 1947. She is best known for the leading role she played in promoting the peace negotiation process that in 1986 ended a ten-year military conflict that pitted the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, or Sandinista National Liberation Front) revolutionary government against the Miskito indigenous rebels who were struggling for autonomy along the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast. She is also an international advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples.

Cunningham grew up in Waspam the capital city of the Wangki River region near the border with Honduras which is considered the motherland of the Miskito people She was born to Nester Judith Kain Nelson and Wilfred Bill Cunningham Davis both from Pearl Lagoon on the southern part of the Caribbean coast She grew up in a working class family of mixed cultural heritage of Miskito African and ...


Wesley Borucki and Joseph Wilson

[This entry contains two subentries, on the riots of 1943 and 1967.]


DeCarlous Spearman

attorney, judge, poet, and activist, was one of ten children born to Albert, a laborer, and Mary Burleson Doyle, a laundress, in a four room house in Austin, Texas. In 1928 Doyle graduated Salutatorian from Anderson High School and magna cum laude from Samuel Huston College (later Huston-Tillotson College) in 1933. After college he taught in the Austin public school system and later took graduate courses at Columbia University.

On 4 March 1947 the Texas State University for Negroes (later Texas Southern University) was established to keep Heman Sweatt, a black applicant, from entering law school at the University of Texas (UT). This new school offered something unavailable to blacks in Texas, the opportunity to attend law school in their own state. On 22 September 1947 Doyle was the first student to register at the new law school This would be ...


Julie Gallagher

lawyer, activist, and children's advocate. Marian Wright was born in Bennettsville, South Carolina, to Arthur Jerome Wright, a Baptist preacher, and Maggie Leola Bowen Wright. Raised with a strong sense of community, Marian Wright was taught that character, self-discipline, determination, attitude, and service were the substance of life.

As a student at Spelman College in Atlanta, Wright studied with the historian and civil rights activist Howard Zinn. She also traveled to Europe, where she spent fifteen months learning to take risks and to follow her own path. Wright graduated as valedictorian of her Spelman College class in 1960 and proceeded directly to Yale University Law School. While still a law student she worked on a project to register African American voters in Mississippi. She graduated with a law degree in 1963.

Wright first went to work for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational ...


The years of Dwight D. Eisenhower's two terms as president, 1953–1961, were turbulent ones for African Americans and civil rights in the United States. Although most historians agree that the new Republican President Eisenhower would have preferred simply to avoid the issues of racism and civil rights, he instead found himself plunged into the midst of some of the most significant moments in the African American struggle for equal rights. Buffeted at home and abroad by the impact of the increasing racial tensions and violence, Eisenhower compiled a record in dealing with the momentous issue of civil rights that was less than laudable—although, indeed, he did more than his predecessors Franklin D. Roosevelt, who refused to seek antilynching or civil rights legislation, and Harry S. Truman, who failed to get civil rights legislation through Congress and only reluctantly ordered the desegregation of the military.

For a man ...


The agency that became the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) originated on 26 July 1908 when U.S. Attorney General Charles Bonaparte ordered nine newly hired detectives thirteen civil rights investigators and twelve accountants to take on investigative assignments in connection with the need to regulate interstate commerce One hundred years later that cadre of thirty four had increased to over thirty thousand employees including more than twelve thousand special agents and more than eighteen thousand support professionals such as intelligence analysts language specialists scientists information technology specialists and others with a budget of more than $5 billion The modern FBI headquarters is located in Washington D C and the agency also has fifty six field offices in major cities throughout the United States more than four hundred resident agencies in smaller cities and towns across the nation and more than fifty offices known as Legal Attachés in U S ...


Ellen M. Wimberg and Ralph Shlomowitz

[This entry comprises two articles. The first is a historical and global overview of the various practices that constitute forced labor. The second is an in-depth discussion of the Soviet Union, a society where forced labor was of particular significance.]


SaFiya D. Hoskins

gang and organization founder, criminal, was born Jeff Fort in Aberdeen, Mississippi, to John Lee Fort, a steel mill worker, and a mother about whom little information is available. In 1955 Jeff moved with his parents and ten siblings to the South Side of Chicago and settled down in Woodlawn, a middle-class white neighborhood prior to the influx of blacks migrating from the South, and the backdrop for Woodlawn native Lorraine Hansberry's play, A Raisin in the Sun. Jeff's father John Lee Fort had secured employment in a Chicago steel mill. Spurning hostile neighbors and a divided community, Fort, twelve years old and relatively small for his age, organized a group of boys who patrolled Blackstone Street between the corners of 64th and 66th where his family lived, to battle with white and black gangs in the area. In 1960 one year later Fort founded ...


Sandra D. Harvey

Jewish businessman, convicted of murder and lynched by vigilantes in Georgia. It is believed that his case contributed to the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915.

Leo Max Frank was born in Texas but soon moved with his parents, Rudolph and Rachel Frank, to Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from Cornell University in 1906, Frank apprenticed in his uncle's factory. In 1907 Frank was given a supervisory position with the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, which had a sizable Jewish population. He met Lucille Selig there, and on 30 November 1910 they were married. Frank and his wife lived in an upscale Jewish neighborhood and were prominent members of the Jewish community.

On 27 April 1913, Atlanta police discovered the strangled and possibly raped body of a thirteen-year-old National Pencil Company factory worker, Mary Phagan. Authorities arrested the night watchman, Newt Lee ...


Andre D. Vann

lawyer, educator, and first black chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, was born in Ellerbe, North Carolina, the eighth of the twelve children of Walter Frye and Pearl Motley, farmers. In the late 1920s his father sought to ensure financial security for his family by purchasing a forty-six-acre tobacco and cotton farm with the assistance of a loan from a local bank, which made him one of only a handful of blacks who owned land in Ellerbe. Later his father purchased a small sawmill from white owners. Frye attended the segregated Mineral Springs School in Ellerbe and graduated as valedictorian in 1949. In June 1953 he earned a BS in biology with highest honors from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College later North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U S Air Force and served ...


Richard S. Newman and Paul Finkelman

Fugitive, or self-emancipated, slaves ran away in every American colony and state from the beginning of bondage until the Civil War ended slavery forever. Indeed, while fugitive slaves of the colonial and early national periods remain less celebrated than such antebellum counterparts as Frederick Douglass, Henry “Box” Brown, and Harriet Jacobs they too had a significant impact on the institution of slavery From the advent of plantation slavery in British North America in the seventeenth century onward fugitive slaves were intimately connected to patterns of slave resistance and rebelliousness Colonial masters had turned to African labor because of the high incidence of escapism among both Native American laborers and indentured servants No sooner had colonial masters shifted to racial slavery than bondpeople began running away too Moreover because the line between black slavery and indentured servitude remained fluid during the first half of the seventeenth century fugitive slaves ...