State of Alabama took 58 years to correct injustice to Alabama State University students and faculty involved in 1960’s sit-in; Gov. Kay Ivey remains silent

 

By: Dr. Derryn Moten, Chair ASU Department of History

On May 10, 2018, fifty-eight years after Alabama Governor John Patterson and the Alabama State Board of Education expelled nine Alabama State College, ASC, students for “conduct prejudicial to the college,” and after the same state officials terminated ASC faculty member Dr. L. D. Reddick for alleged Communist sympathies, Interim State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Ed. Richardson expunged the records of both calling the actions taken by his predecessor in 1960, “unjustified and unfair.” The paternalism then was summed up in the 1961 appellees’ brief for St. John Dixon, Et Al, v. Alabama State Board of Education, Et Al., the landmark case that overturned the wrongful expulsions, “Alabama State College, Montgomery, Alabama, is a state institution for Negroes. It is under the supervision and control of the Alabama State Board of Education.” L. D. Reddick wrote the first biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while chairing the history department of Alabama State College. Published by Harper & Brothers in 1959, Crusader Without Violence, as the April 30, 1959 MIA (Montgomery Improvement Association) Newsletter noted, “is more than the story of the life up-to-now of our leader; it is the social history of our time.” Now, a 60th Anniversary Edition of Crusader Without Violence: A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. has been reissued in spring 2018 by NewSouth Books. A new introduction explains the helter-skelter Alabama’s segregationist governor and government wrought on Alabama State College. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954 to pastor Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and Dr. Reddick arrived a year later. Both came to the Heart of Dixie for rather mundane reasons and neither imagined that history would conscript them, with others, in a battle royale to achieve full equality for Negroes. Dr. King’s stay in Alabama lasted six years. In that time, the city convicted him of violating the state’s anti-boycott law, originally, an anti-labor law. Alabama enjoined the NAACP from operating in the state.The governor criticized the civil rights organization with orchestrating the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In another case, the governor joined Montgomery’s mayor, and the City’s commissioners in a libel lawsuit against Dr. King, four other ministers, and the New York Times, based on a full-page Times ad that the plaintiffs argued falsely assailed city and state officials for mistreating King and ASC students . And Gov. Patterson signed extradition papers ordering Dr. King’s return to face trial for income tax fraud. The method of the governor’s madness was clear; he wanted to exhaust King and the NAACP, financially, mentally, and physically. On March 27, 1960, the Associated Press reported, “ASC President Trenholm Plans to Purge ‘Disloyal’ Faculty.” Dr. Reddick offered his resignation in March 1960, effective at the end of the summer term. Two other faculty members, Jo Ann Robinson and Mary Fair Burks—both members of the Women’s Political Council—took heed. In March 31, 1960, Burks wrote Dr. King, “Jo Ann, Reddick, and I expect to be fired. We are surprised it hasn’t happened. I believe we will be eased out quietly in May or at least by September. We would prefer being fired outright of course.” The friendship of Burks, Robinson, Reddick, and King went back to the Boycott. Addressing Mrs. Burks as “Frankie,” King replied, “I had hoped that Dr. Trenholm would emerge from this total situation as a national hero. If only he would stand up to the Governor and the Board of Education and say he cannot in good conscience fire … faculty members who committed no crime or act of sedition.” Governor Patterson impugned Reddick accusing him of helping foment the first “sit-down” demonstration in Alabama on February 25, 1960. Carried out by Alabama State College students, on March 2, 1960, ASC President Harper C. Trenholm expelled nine student sit-in participants and placed 20 students on probation “pending good behavior.” No hearing was held, and the students sued the college and state in St. John Dixon v. Alabama State Board of Education. Attorney Fred Gray, a 1951 ASC graduate, represented the students. Thurgood Marshall, Jack Greenberg, and Derrick Bell, Jr. of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund assisted as co-counsel. U.S. District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson ruled in favor of the state reasoning that there was no statute necessitating formal charges or a hearing before a student can be expelled by a college or university. The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned Judge Johnson’s decision arguing that students at tax-supported colleges and universities should have a hearing as part of their due process rights before they can be expelled. The February 25, 1960 sit-in demonstration by Alabama State College students was the manifestation of “sit-downs” or sit-ins by black college students across the south who believed the efficacy of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case was that it refuted Jim Crow in totality. Judge Frank Johnson conceded as much in July 1960, writing, “The Court observes that maintenance of segregated publicly owned lunchrooms is in violation of well-settled law.” At the end of the year, the Associated Press would report, “Negro Sit-ins No. 1 Story of 1960s in Dixie.” In their A Statement by the Students of Alabama State College After Nine Students were Expelled on March 2, 1960, student leader Bernard Lee wrote, “We and the world must look upon the expulsion of these students … as punishment for our efforts to bring a little democracy to the Cradle of the Confederacy… We must practice at home what we preach abroad.” MIA President, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, a 1950 ASC graduate, told a city reporter, “The expulsion order was one of the greatest blunders in the history of education in Alabama.” A week later, ASC students marched near campus carrying placards that read, “1960 not 1860,” “9 down, 2,000 to go,” “Who’s President of ASC—Patterson or Trenholm,” Alabama versus The Constitution,” and “Democracy Died on March 4, 1960.” Students also held prayer services at local black churches including Abernathy’s First Baptist. South Carolina Gov. Ernest F. Hollins complained about “Negroes who think they can violate any law, especially, if they have a Bible in their hands.” The American Association of University Professors “condemned the willingness of some government bodies and private groups to sacrifice public education in order to maintain racial segregation.” A June 1960 NAACP memorandum counted fifty-two students expelled from black colleges; namely, Southern University, Alabama State College, Kentucky State College, and Florida A & M University. Praised for his “get tough” methods and his non-accommodation mentality, Gov. Patterson vowed to close Alabama public schools before he would allow them to be integrated. A staunch segregationist, governor-elect Patterson disallowed black marching bands, including the Alabama State College Band, at his inauguration. Like many others, Patterson preached the oxymoron of “separate but equal” emphasizing “separate” and seemingly caring little about “equal.” Dr. King offered a different message. At Holt Street Baptist Church on the eve of the 1955 Boycott, he told those present, “We are determined to apply our citizenship to the fullness of its meaning.” Alabama State College students in 1960 intended the same. Their collective faith in the U. S. Constitution was codified by the same faith held by their elders and ancestors. This faith was sermonized in the black church and elucidated in the black school. Dr. King professed that faith, a faith in a “Democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action.” More than a half century later in Montgomery, Alabama, Interim State Superintendent Dr. Ed. Richardson concurred, noting that those macabre days of 1960 “represent a time in the history of the State Board that must be acknowledge and never repeated. I regret that it has taken fifty-eight years to correct this injustice.” Initially, I had hoped that Gov. Kay Ivey would issue her own contrition in behalf of the governor’s office.  One of the governor’s staff members even offered to write a resolution but subsequently demurred.  Short of this, I would have liked for the governor to co-sign the May 10, 2018 letter by Dr. Ed Richardson since Gov. Ivey is the Ex-Official Chair of the Alabama State Board of Education. Presumably, Dr. Richardson had to have informed the governor of his intentions. But alas, Alabama’s state motto comes to mind, “We Dare Defend Our Rights.”

‘BlacKkKlansman’ delivers critical and powerful message

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Contributor

Director Spike Lee talks with Denzell Washington, Jr. actor in film.

Even though “BlacKkKlansman” is set in the 1970s, the themes in the film are just as relevant today as they were back then, Anita Bennett, the managing editor and creator of Urban Hollywood 411, told NNPA Newswire. “We have a president who constantly attacks Black athletes, newscasters and politicians, and white nationalists marching in the streets,” she said.

“The racial climate in this country is toxic, [so] if Spike Lee can open just one person’s eyes to the systematic racism that African Americans face every day, then he accomplished what he set out to do,” Bennett said. The longtime entertainment journalist joined a chorus of other experts who noted that Lee’s latest film continues to receive positive reviews, with critics and fans alike celebrating it for sparking a much-needed conversation about the current political climate and the complex relationship between law enforcement and the Black community. Several critics and actors told NNPA Newswire that Lee has deftly used his platform to expose systemic injustice while advocating for African-Americans and other minorities. Bennett said it’s important that the Black Press continues to spotlight films like “BlacKkKlansman,” “Sorry to Bother You,” and “Blindspotting.” “The Black Press champions and helps spread the word about films from African-American directors and writers, as well as movies that focus on issues important to the black community,” Bennett said. “The Black Press – and I’m not talking about gossip websites – but industry-focused outlets like EUR Web, Blackfilm.com, and Urban Hollywood 411, write stories about these films and post interviews with the people behind him. We talk about the movies on social media and encourage Black audiences to go see them,” Bennett said. Actor, director and film producer Shiek Mahmud-Bey said the Black Press enables filmmakers like himself, Tyler Perry and Spike Lee, to remain relevant and provides a platform to tell the untold stories that are meaningful to African-Americans. “It’s a one-hand-washes-the-other thing,” said Mahmud-Bey, the CEO of 25th Frame Films. “Only the Black Press can tell our story the way it needs to be told and only Black filmmakers can put that story in perspective and deliver it to a wide audience on screen,” he said. “BlacKkKlansman” earned about $11 million during its opening weekend, making it Lee’s third best box office debut. Based on a true story, the film tells of undercover Black detective, Ron Stallworth, who manages to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. It has earned positive reviews from audiences and critics with an A-rating on CinemaScore and a 97 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. “Spike Lee has always been socially consciously aware as a filmmaker, going back to ‘Do The Right Thing,’” said actress turned film critic, Carla Renata, who’s known for her website, “The Curvy Film Critic.” “As a filmmaker he uses the art of dialogue, the lens and his actor’s performances to illustrate his point of view on any given subject allowing the film to do the talking for him,” Renata said. “Given that ‘BlacKkKlansman’ is adapted from Ron Stallworth’s novel, Lee amplifies this former detective’s experience and puts his spin on it as only a Spike Lee Joint can do. ‘BlacKkKlansman,’ along with ‘Blindspotting’ and ‘Sorry To Bother You’ are the perfect films for the perfect climate that have infiltrated hate and Neo-Nazi behavior into our daily existence via our current administration,” said Renata, a graduate of the Howard University School of Communications. She added: “It’s no coincidence the film was dedicated and released on the anniversary of the Charlottesville attack and rally where Heather Hoyer was mowed down like a dog and murdered. It’s also no coincidence that the last image you see is the American flag fading to Black and White turned upside down. Perfect image analogy for where we are as a society.” Renata said also that she believes Black Hollywood has a love/hate relationship with Black Press. Most artists, actors, studios, publicists and films reach out to the Black Press at the start in order to get that word of mouth buzz happening, she said. “Once the artist, actor or film has been accepted by mainstream media, their marketing/publicity teams abandon the same Black media that helped them gain acceptance in some of those arenas,” Renata said. “We are almost treated like the ‘black sheep’ of the family that no one likes to talk about or acknowledge.  It’s sad…but true,” she said. Diarah N’Daw-Spech, the co-founder of ArtMattan Productions and the annual African Diaspora International Film Festival, said a number of Black filmmakers have used films to make social commentaries directly tied to serious issues in their communities. She cited Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene whose film, “Molade,” served to denounce the mistreatment of women in his native country, particularly the practice of sexual mutilation, N’Daw-Spech said. “Film is a powerful social media and a powerful source and tool for change. It is important for filmmakers in general and Black filmmakers in particular to realize and use their power through their film making the way Spike Lee and Ousmane Sembene do and did it,” she said. N’Daw-Spech said the Black Press has always been a “natural ally” to Black filmmakers. “Black Hollywood is one of the important platforms available to Black talent. Black Hollywood can use its influence to tell meaningful stories the way Spike Lee does it. When it does, the Black Press should support and celebrate it,” she said. While “BlacKkKlansman” isn’t perfect, it’s insightful, timely and entertaining, Bennett concluded. “The movie raises some important issues about racism, police brutality and stereotypes in classic Hollywood films like D.W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation,’” she said. “Spike Lee touches on a lot of hot-button issues, but he smartly sprinkles the film with humor, so that it’s not too heavy-handed. Can we talk about the ending of the film? It’s powerful, heartbreaking and will make you leave the theater thinking. I’ve encouraged everyone I know to go see this important film,” Bennett said.