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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 ...

Article

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 ...

Primary Source

On the evening of 8 December 1811 thirty one year old Charles Deslondes led a group of slaves along the Louisiana coast in what would become the largest protracted slave uprising in American history Also known as the German Coast Uprising the rebel force burned plantations and freed other slaves as it marched toward New Orleans In January 1812 Deslondes s soldiers battled a militia led by General Wade Hampton 1752 1835 at Francois Bernard Bernoudi s plantation which is briefly summarized in the newspaper article below After two days of fighting which included cavalry and pikes the militia defeated the slaves and captured Deslondes A tribunal held soon thereafter sentenced Deslondes and over a dozen other leaders of the revolt to death The bodies were dismembered and Deslondes s head was placed on a pike as a warning against future uprisings In the context of the Haitian Revolution and ...

Primary Source

The day-to-day trade of human beings involved the brutal practice of separating mothers from their children. Though there were some laws to protect the rights of slave women, the usual practice was to sell mothers with their infants together. However, as the advertisement below indicates, a child who had reached the age of six was already regarded as old enough to be bought separately. This post, it should be noted, is found in the Pennsylvania Gazette, a Philadelphia-based newspaper cofounded by Benjamin Franklin.

Article

Camille A. Collins

founder of MOVE, an anarchist communal organization active primarily in the Philadelphia area, was born Vincent Leaphart in the Mantua section of West Philadelphia.

Africa served in the Korean War, though little else is known about his early life. In the early 1970s, while working as a neighborhood handyman and dog walker (nicknamed “the dog man”), he began to corral followers. With the assistance of Donald Glassey a white graduate student in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania Africa a third grade dropout compiled the MOVE doctrine in a document known as The Guidelines His group was first known as The Christian Movement for Life later The Movement and finally MOVE Numerous press reports stress the fact that MOVE is not an acronym and therefore the tenets of the group can only be vaguely delineated Responding to this criticism group member Delbert Africa quipped It means what it says ...

Article

Joshunda Sanders

activist and sole adult survivor of a deadly bombing of a home of the MOVE organization, in one of Philadelphia's black neighborhoods, that killed 11 people and left over 250 people homeless. Africa was born Ramona Johnson in West Philadelphia, where she was raised by her mother, Eleanor Jones, and attended Catholic school from first through twelfth grade. She then attended Temple University, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in Political Science and an associate's degree in Criminal Justice. In 1976, her last year at Temple, she was hired by Community Legal Services, the state-sponsored legal aid in Philadelphia. There she worked helping tenants with legal issues they had with their landlords, an experience that set the foundation for activism later in her life. “Prior to that I was not active in anything,” Africa said I had a general idea about injustice by police brutality and ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

Revolutionary War sailor, is known for his service on the Continental navy sloop Ranger under Captain John Paul Jones. A story passing as truth has been written about Scipio Africanus stating that he was a slave owned by Jones and accompanied him on the ships he commanded. In fact virtually nothing is known about Africanus except for the fact that he was a free man when he enlisted to serve on board the eighteen-gun Ranger for one year while she was building at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, sometime between March and July 1777.

While we know little about Scipio Africanus the man some guesses as to his servitude and character may be ventured That he was a slave prior to his naval service as suggested by his first name is likely Classical Roman names such as Scipio Cato and Caesar were commonly given at birth by owners to slaves ...

Article

William H. Brown

The Afro-American Council was one of the earliest national African American political organizations in the United States. The council was essentially a rebirth of the Afro-American League, which existed from 1890 to 1893. The purpose of the Afro-American League, and later the Afro-American Council, was to provide a national forum for African Americans, to respond to the growing level of white violence against blacks in the southern United States, and to fight increasing legal segregation.

In its initial existence as the Afro American League the organization advocated five principal goals or points of protest to fight the suppression of black suffrage in the southern United States to fight legal and social support for lynching to equalize funding for white and black schools to end the system of chain gangs in the South which were used to provide cheap labor to white business owners and to remove discrimination in railroad ...

Article

Johnie D. Smith

lawyer and judge, was born A. Macon Bolling in Indiana; the names of his parents and the exact date of his birth are unknown. He changed his name to Macon Bolling Allen by an act of the Massachusetts legislature on 26 January 1844. Details of Allen's early life and education are sparse and contradictory. His birth name is given in some sources as Malcolm B. Allen, and his birthplace as South Carolina. Evidence suggests that he lived in Maine and Massachusetts as a young man. Maine denied his initial application to the Maine bar because of allegations that he was not a state citizen, but he purportedly ran a Portland business before 1844. It is known that he read law in the Maine offices of two white abolitionist lawyers, Samuel E. Sewell and General Samuel Fessenden and that Fessenden promoted his admission to the Maine ...

Primary Source

The assassination of civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr triggered a wave of rioting and protests in over one hundred American towns and cities The violence in Baltimore dragged on for two weeks as protestors clashed with police and burned down businesses and properties It took thousands of National Guard and regular army troops to finally restore order In the midst of the chaos Governor Spiro T Agnew delivered a speech aimed at the leaders of the city s black community Until then Agnew had a reputation for being more moderate than most governors in the South His administration had repealed the state s antimiscegenation law and had succeeded in passing a fair housing act He took a decidedly different tone in his speech accusing black leaders of not doing enough to stop the violence Agnew even suggested that the leaders held a secret meeting in which they ...

Article

Paula Cochran

On 22–24 September 1906, white mobs killed dozens of blacks, wounded many others, and caused considerable property damage across the city of Atlanta. This race riot was the result of racial tensions, political rage, and dramatized newspaper reports of black men assaulting white women.

By the early twentieth century, Atlanta was a center of regional commerce. The booming economy brought people from the South and other parts of the United States to the Atlanta area. The city's population soared almost 70 percent between 1900 and 1910. The rapid growth and prosperity rekindled racial and class tensions; competition for a limited number of jobs resulted in new tensions between blacks and poor whites. Georgia's 1906 gubernatorial campaign heightened these tensions by promoting the ideas that black prosperity took jobs from white men and that blacks gained social advances at the expense of whites Newspapers ran dramatized reports ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

was a native of South Carolina. Baker was likely born enslaved, but nothing is known of his early life. In 1880, at the age of twenty-two, he was living in Effingham, South Carolina, with his eighteen-year old wife Lavinia and earned a living as a farmer. Nearly two decades later Baker's life, and that of his family, would be turned upside down and end in tragedy as a result of a political appointment following the presidential election of 1896.

By 1897Frazier and Lavinia Baker were living in Lake City, South Carolina, their family having grown to include six children, daughters Cora, Rosa, Sara and newborn Julia, and sons Lincoln and William. In the spring of 1897Frazier Baker received a political appointment from the newly elected president, William McKinley as postmaster of the predominantly white community of Lake City How Baker gained ...

Article

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 ...

Article

David A. Spatz

attorney and journalist. Ferdinand Lee Barnett was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1859. His father, born a slave, purchased his freedom and worked much of his life as a blacksmith. The family moved to Canada soon after Ferdinand was born and then to Chicago in 1869. Barnett was educated in Chicago schools, graduating from high school in 1874 with high honors. After teaching in the South for two years, he returned to Chicago and attended Chicago College of Law, later affiliated with Northwestern Law School.

Barnett graduated from law school and was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1878. Rather than immediately practicing law, he founded the Conservator, Chicago's first African American newspaper. The Conservator was a radical voice for justice and racial solidarity as means to equal rights for African Americans. The Conservator also drew national attention to Barnett He served as Chicago ...

Article

Vivian Njeri Fisher

musician and composer, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Floyd Bartz, a railroad employee and club owner, and Elizabeth E. Bartz, a club owner. Bartz grew up in West Baltimore during an era when the music scene in that city was thriving. The hub of African American entertainment in Baltimore was found on Pennsylvania Avenue, although there were numerous clubs throughout the city owned by African Americans. At the age of six Bartz heard his first Charlie Parker recording at his grandmother s house Bartz recalled this formative moment Not knowing what the music was what the instrument was or who was playing I thought it was the most beautiful thing I ever heard I said right then I want to do whatever that is Ouellette 31 When Bartz was eleven he began to play the alto saxophone influenced to take up the instrument by his love ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

the last person publicly executed in the United States, was born Joseph Rainey Bethea in Roanoke, Virginia, to Rainey Bethea and Ella Louise Huggins. Most press reports of his execution state that Bethea Jr. was twenty‐two at the time of his arrest, though he also claimed at times that he had been born in 1909. Since Bethea Jr.'s father would have been only fifteen years old in 1909, it appears more likely that the 1913 date is correct. The younger Bethea hardly knew his parents. He was still a child when his mother died in 1919 and barely a teenager when his father died seven years later in 1926, leaving Bethea, his sister Ora, and his brother as orphans. Around that time the siblings separated. While his brother remained in Virginia and his sister moved to Nichols, South Carolina, Bethea traveled west to Owensboro, Kentucky.

In ...

Primary Source

Even in defeat, the states of the former Confederacy were not so willing to go gently into the new, post-slavery world. Between 1865 and 1908 so-called Black Codes began to appear in the law books of southern states—these were statutes designed to regulate the freedom, employment, and voting rights of recently freed slaves. Some codes forced blacks to seek the dispensation of a judge in the event they wanted to find work outside the realm of what whites considered proper and fitting (mostly the agricultural and domestic duties that whites commonly associated with black labor); others prevented blacks from entering certain towns without a permission slip from a white employer; still others prevented blacks from sitting on juries or from offering testimony in court against whites.

Besides infantilizing black men and women black codes also subjected them to legal punishment fines imprisonment and even flogging in the case of unemployment ...

Article

Peter Brush

The Black Liberation Army (BLA) defined itself as a politico-military organization engaged in armed struggle against the U.S. government. Operating from about 1971 to 1981, the BLA used tactics including bombings, robberies, and prison breaks. Although not all its members were Marxists, the BLA considered itself the embryonic form of the people's army of the black nation in America. It compared itself to the National Liberation Front, or Vietcong, of Vietnam. The BLA credited Malcolm X for its ideology and claimed to be the inheritor of Malcolm's legacy.

The Black Panther Party (BPP) was the largest, most important revolutionary organization of the black liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s. By 1968 because of government repression some Panther leaders saw the need for a guerrilla army that would serve as a vanguard revolutionary force According to this concept the force would be the Black Liberation Army It would ...

Article

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 ...