Newswire: ‘Rustin’ movie shines a long overdue spotlight on the architect of the March on Washington

Actor Colman Domingo who plays Bayard Rustin in movie

By Max Gao, NBC News

Six decades after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in front of an estimated 250,000 people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a new Netflix film is shining a spotlight on one of the architects of the March on Washington who has largely been left out of the history books.
Directed by George C. Wolfe (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) and written by Julian Breece and Academy Award-winner Dustin Lance Black (“Milk”), “Rustin” revisits a crucial chapter in the life of civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (played by Colman Domingo), who is best known for being a key adviser to King and organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Executive produced by Michelle and Barack Obama, who posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, the buzzy biopic dramatizes the weeks leading up to the historic march and explores Rustin’s identity as an openly gay Black man torn between love and duty in the 1960s.
“I love the fact that, even the way the script is written, we don’t leave his sexuality out of it at all. It’s infused with every part of who he is,” Domingo told NBC News in a recent video interview. “He’s messy in many ways, even with his relationship dealings. He’s a real, flawed human being who’s trying to do something extraordinary, but he’s just an ordinary man. He’s trying to figure out the systems in which he lives and trying to move the needle a little bit on our humanity.”
Wolfe, an acclaimed theater director and playwright who won multiple Tony Awards for directing Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” and his own “Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk” in the 1990s, has long been interested in telling stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Wolfe was asked to curate an exhibit more than a decade ago at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, where he had an opportunity to delve into the life and accomplishments of Rustin, who died in 1987.
That treasure trove of research has proven invaluable in the five years that it has taken for “Rustin” to reach the big screen. In 2018, Black, the screenwriter, and film producer Bruce Cohen approached Tonia Davis at the Obamas’ newly launched production company, Higher Ground, about making a feature film centered around Rustin’s role in the March on Washington. Wolfe was attached early on as the director and worked closely with the writers to refine the screenplay and before long, he said, they could not imagine anyone other than Domingo, with whom he had just worked on “Ma Rainey,” to play the titular character in “Rustin.”
Domingo said he likely encountered Rustin’s story for the first time as a footnote in a college textbook but it wasn’t until years later, in the ’90s, that the actor learned about the extent of Rustin’s impact on the civil rights movement. For the better part of the last two decades, Domingo recalled, people would regularly tell him, “Oh, that’s a role that you should definitely play when they do the movie of his life,” perhaps because they shared so much in common. (Like Rustin, Domingo is Black, gay, tall, left-handed and born in Pennsylvania.)
So, when the time came to step into his shoes, Domingo voraciously consumed every piece of media he could find about Rustin — reading biographies, watching documentaries, visiting museums, listening to interviews — but he admitted that he was able to glean the most insight from his personal conversations with those who knew the man behind the movement.
“I think one of the most beautiful things that I love to do, especially with playing a real-life character, is to find out from people who knew and loved him all these personal ticks or things about them that you cannot find in Wikipedia,” Domingo said. For example, the actor — who grew up in Philadelphia, about an hour away from Rustin’s hometown of West Chester, Pennsylvania — could not understand the origin of Rustin’s idiosyncratic, mid-Atlantic accent until Rachelle Horowitz, one of the activist’s comrades, revealed that Rustin simply made it up and used it as a kind of “flourish” in group meetings.
Rustin was always looking for new ways to reinvent himself and challenge the limits that others attempted to place on him, Domingo said. “He created himself in a very joyfully defiant way: being an athlete, playing the lute, singing Elizabethan love songs, actually cutting an album of Elizabethan love songs and hymns, being a conscientious objector, being part of the young communist groups. He was just doing what made sense to him in every single moment. That’s what I thought was fascinating.”
While some filmmakers have chosen to depict civil rights icons with almost the quality of a saint in the past, Wolfe felt strongly about depicting Rustin in all his complexity — a decision that he hopes will make this story as accessible to the masses as possible.
Part of Rustin’s struggle, both in real life and in the film, stemmed from the issue of whether his sexuality could hinder other people’s beliefs in his ability to lead the March on Washington and beyond. The activist, after all, faced resistance not only from the white populace but also from members of the Black community, including NAACP executive Roy Wilkins (Chris Rock) and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (Jeffrey Wright).
That dilemma “was always his internal crisis,” Domingo said. “How can you be exactly who you are and do what you know you are gifted to do, but then there’s parts of yourself that are not wanted in rooms? How can you do it? That’s a dance that I think many of us can understand, whether we’re people of color, whether you’re LGBTQIA. But he was extraordinary, saying, ‘I want to bring all of me into this.’”
Wolfe noted that, given the time period, Rustin was a remarkably “out homosexual” who “claimed and owned all of who he was” in 1963. For this retelling of the leader’s life story, Wolfe and his creative team decided to create the character of Elias Taylor (Johnny Ramey), a fictionalized pastor on the NAACP board, who acts as a kind of foil and closeted love interest to the more free-spirited Rustin.
“Elias becomes a really interesting person in contrast” to Rustin, who was raised by Quaker grandparents in the North, because Elias “is Southern, he’s Baptist, he’s married. He has done all the things that are expected for him to do,” Wolfe explained. “There’s a line in the film which Bayard uses called ‘the suffocating chains of Negro respectability,’ and Bayard has liberated himself largely from those suffocating chains, and Elias is very much so imprisoned by those chains.”
That liberation, however, doesn’t mean Rustin is not haunted by his own past. As the march draws closer, Strom Thurmond, a segregationist senator from South Carolina, exposes Rustin’s arrest in 1953 when he was found having sex with two men in a parked car in Pasadena — a real-life charge that was pardoned by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020.
In that pivotal scene, where Rustin and his team of fellow march organizers are listening to Thurmond speak about Rustin’s arrest record on the radio, Rustin is “trying to hold onto the only thing he knows how to do while they’re trying to destroy him,” Domingo explained. “For me, that’s what I wanted to play — that complexity where he’s completely disintegrating in front of our eyes while he’s trying to stay on task.” 
The film carries a special professional significance for Domingo, one of the most versatile actors of his generation. After more than 30 years of working as a self-described “journeyman” actor and receiving acclaim for playing supporting roles in “Fear the Walking Dead,” “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “Euphoria” (for which he won a guest actor Emmy), “Rustin” is Domingo’s first major leading role.
“I think the chickens have come home to roost in a way where people can see the scope of what I’ve been doing and what I’ve been creating for years, and it’s being met with such loving, celebratory arms that if I sat in or really thought about it, I would never stop crying, because I think it’s really beautiful,” Domingo said, with a glint in his eye. “It feels like people are giving me my flowers — not that I’ve asked for them, but because I’ve always, I guess, like Bayard Rustin, always kept my head down and just went to work.”

Newswire : John Lewis to be honored on US postage stamp next year

Postage stamp honoring John Lewis

By Shawna Mizelle, CNN

The late civil rights trailblazer and congressman John Lewis will be honored on a new postage stamp in 2023, the US Postal Service announced Tuesday.
The Georgia Democrat, who dedicated his life to activism and spent more than three decades in Congress fighting for civil rights, will be featured on a stamp using a photograph taken for a 2013 issue of Time magazine, USPS said in a statement. The photograph was taken by Marco Grob.
A follower and colleague of Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis participated in lunch counter sit-ins, joined the Freedom Riders in challenging segregated buses and, at 23, was a keynote speaker at the historic 1963 March on Washington.
“Even in the face of hatred and violence, as well as some 45 arrests, Lewis remained resolute in his commitment to what he liked to call ‘good trouble,’” the USPS announcement said.
Lewis was widely seen as a moral conscience of Congress because of his nonviolent fight for civil rights. His death in 2020 after a battle with pancreatic cancer prompted an outpouring of tributes from politicians, world leaders and former presidents.
Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia, a Democrat who introduced and passed a resolution honoring the life of Lewis, has voiced support for commemorating him with a stamp. “Congressman Lewis was an American hero, civil rights icon, and revered citizen of Georgia, fully deserving of this honor,” Ossoff said in a statement last year.
CNN previously reported in October that the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who also died in 2020, will be honored in 2023 as well. The USPS has yet to announce when the stamps will be released next year. 

Newswire : Religious leaders arrested in Capitol while demanding restoration of Voting Rights Act

It’s the second week of the six-week revival of the Poor People’s Campaign.

By Kira Lerner, Think Progress

Barber and Jackson

 Rev. Barber and Rev. Jackson in protest.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Revs. Jesse Jackson, William Barber, and other prominent religious leaders were arrested for demonstrating in the U.S. Capitol on Monday, demanding the restoration of the Voting Rights Act and the end of racial gerrymandering.
Dozens of others were also arrested across the country as part of the second week of protests organized by the revival of the Poor People’s Campaign, a movement that originated in 1968 with Martin Luther King Jr. at the helm. The campaign, a coalition of progressives and faith-based organizations, plans to hold demonstrations and risk arrest every Monday for six weeks.
At a rally ahead of the demonstration in the Capitol Rotunda, Barber drew a connection between systemic racism and policies that suppress voters of color.
“America’s democracy was under attack long before the 2016 election by racist voter suppression and gerrymandering, which are tools of white supremacy designed to perpetuate systemic racism,” he said. “These laws target people of color but hurt Americans of all races by allowing politicians to get elected who block living wages, deny union rights, roll back Medicaid, attack immigrants, and underfund public education.”
Throughout the six weeks, Barber and the other organizers hope to draw attention to the policies and laws that keep 140 million Americans trapped in poverty. On Monday, voting advocates highlighted how racial gerrymandering, voter ID laws, an other suppressive voting measures keep people of color from gaining political power.
Since 2010, 23 states have passed voter suppression laws, the Poor People’s Campaign noted, including redistricting laws and measures that block certain voters from the polls, like cuts to early voting days and opportunities, voter ID laws, and purges of the voter rolls.
Jimmie Hawkins, a pastor with North Carolina’s only African American Presbyterian church, testified in court hearings in 2015 against North Carolina’s voting law that an appeals court later found targeted black voters with “almost surgical precision.” On Monday, he joined the demonstration to argue that lifting Americans out of poverty involves eliminating voting laws like the one overturned in his state.
“Those who have the most to lose when they are not unable to vote should not have barriers placed before them when they try to vote,” he said.
David Goodman, whose brother Andrew was murdered by the KKK 54 years ago next month while he was participating in the Freedom Summer, also spoke at the rally about the voter intimidation and suppression his brother was fighting.
“Here we are, again, dealing with the same issue,” he said, pointing to the Supreme Court which gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. “The struggle for which my brother died for is not over.”
As they marched, two by two, from the Capitol lawn into the rotunda, the demonstrators held signs reading, “Voter Suppression = The True Hacking of Our Democracy” and remained silent because, as Barber and Jackson noted, people in power want them to be silenced.

Newswire : Rev. Frederick D. Reese, one of the Selma ‘Elite Eight’ that invited ML King to Selma, Alabama for voting rights movement passes


Rev. F. D. Reese

Frederick Douglas Reese, or F. D. Reese (November 28, 1929 – April 5, 2018), was an American civil rights activist, educator and minister from Selma, Alabama. Known as a member of Selma’s “Courageous Eight”, Reese was the president of the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) when it invited the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King Jr. to Selma to amplify the city’s local voting rights campaign. This campaign eventually gave birth to the Selma to Montgomery marches, which later led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Reese was also president of the Selma Teachers Association, and in January 1965 he mobilized Selma’s teachers to march as a group for their right to vote.
Reese retired from teaching and from February 2015 and until his death in April 2018, he was active as a minister at Selma’s Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church.
Reese was born in Selma, Alabama. He graduated from Alabama State University, where he majored in math and science where he received a Master’s degree.
Reese spent nine years in Millers Ferry, Alabama, ending in 1960.  This is where he began his teaching career, teaching science and serving as assistant principal.
In 1960, Reese moved home to Selma, started teaching science and math at R. B. Hudson High School, and joined the Dallas County Voters League(DCVL), the major civil rights organization in Selma since the state of Alabama started actively suppressing the NAACP in 1956. Two years after joining the DCVL, he was elected its president.
In 1962, while Reese was a DCVL member, the organization encouraged Bernard Lafayette of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to come to Selma to assist in the voting rights struggle by educating black citizens about their right to vote.
As president of the DCVL, Reese signed and sent the DCVL’s invitation to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to come to Selma to lend their support to the voting rights campaign there.[2] King and the SCLC agreed to come, and they started their public engagement in Selma’s voting rights campaign on January 2, 1965, with a mass meeting in violation of an injunction against large gatherings.
On January 18, about 400 people marched on the county courthouse to register to vote; on January 19, the people marched again, and this time police violence towards DCVL’s Amelia Boynton and the arrest of 67 marchers brought the movement to national headlines.
Teachers’ March
In 1965, Reese held the simultaneous leadership positions of DCVL president and president of the Selma Teachers Association.  The first act he made as the Teachers Association president was to sign a proclamation in the presence of the superintendent and assistant superintendent, declaring that teachers should register to vote.  Reese even asked that the superintendent allow black teachers to use their free period during the school day to register to vote, though he knew it was an “abominable thing to ask” in that political and social climate.  Reese and fellow teacher and DCVL member Margaret Moore challenged their colleagues, “How can we teach American civics if we ourselves cannot vote?”
On January 22, three days after Amelia Boynton’s encounter with police, and three days before another demonstration in front of the county courthouse where Annie Lee Cooper (portrayed by Oprah Winfrey in the 2014 film Selma) had a violent encounter with Sheriff Jim Clark, Reese gathered 105 teachers—almost every black teacher in Selma—to march on the courthouse.[6] The teachers climbed the steps but were barred from entering to register.  They were pushed down the steps twice, the police jabbing them with nightsticks.
Officials reportedly urged against the teachers’ arrest, saying, “Don’t arrest these people because what you going do with the 7,000 students that we have running around here when they go back to school Monday?”  It was the first time in Civil Rights Movement that teachers in the South publicly marched as teachers; they were the largest black professional group in Dallas County, and their actions inspired involvement from their students and others who were unsure about participating in demonstrations.
Selma to Montgomery march
During the time the SCLC spent organizing and protesting in Selma, Reese coordinated meetings and often played the role of mediator when differences of opinion arose.
In photographs from the historic Selma to Montgomery marches, which were initiated and organized by SCLC’s Director of Direct Action James Bevel, Reese is pictured in a dark suit, coat, and hat, most often in the front of the march with Martin Luther King, Jr. and some of his closest associates.

Elizabeth Warren rebuked for quoting Coretta Scott King while debating Jeff Sessions’ nomination

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Coretta Scott King

By: Paul KaneThe Washington Post

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., led a party-line rebuke Tuesday night of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for her speech opposing attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, striking down her words for impugning the Alabama senator’s character.
In an extraordinarily rare move, McConnell interrupted Warren’s speech, in a near-empty chamber as the nomination debate heads toward a Wednesday evening vote, and said that she had breached Senate rules by reading past statements against Sessions from figures such as the late senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and the late Coretta Scott King.
“The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama,” McConnell said, then setting up a series of roll-call votes on Warren’s conduct.
It was the latest clash in the increasingly hostile debate over confirming President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, during which Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to force through nominees without proper vetting. Democrats, unable to stop the confirmations that require simple majorities, have countered by using extreme delay tactics that have dragged out the process longer than any in history for a new president’s Cabinet.
The Democratic moves, including a round-the-clock debate Tuesday night before Wednesday’s confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, reached a boiling point during the debate over Sessions.
McConnell specifically cited portions of a letter that King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to Sessions’ 1986 nomination to be a federal judge.
“Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens,” King wrote, referencing controversial prosecutions at the time that Sessions served as the U.S. attorney for Alabama. Earlier, Warren read from the 1986 statement of Kennedy, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee who led the opposition then against Sessions, including the Massachusetts Democrat’s concluding line: “He is, I believe, a disgrace to the Justice Department and he should withdraw his nomination and resign his position.”
The Senate voted, 49 to 43, strictly on party lines, to uphold the ruling that Warren violated rules of debate. Warren is now forbidden from speaking during the remainder of the debate on the nomination of Sessions.
“I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate,” Warren said after McConnell’s motion.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., a freshman, issued a warning to Warren at that point, singling out Kennedy’s “disgrace” comment, and 25 minutes later McConnell came to the floor and set in motion the battle, citing the comments in the King letter as crossing the line.
Other Democrats later came to her defense, but the liberal firebrand’s speech ended with a simple admonition from Daines: “The senator will take her seat.”
Warren, a liberal firebrand who some activists want to run for president, took to social media to attack McConnell and Republicans for shutting down her speech.

Coretta Scott King wrote 1986 letter opposing federal court nomination of Jeff Sessions, letter not entered in record at that time by Strom Thurmon


By Wesley Lowery , Washington Post


Coretta Scott King

The widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. urged Congress to block the 1986 nomination of Jeff Sessions for federal judge, saying that allowing him to join the federal bench would “irreparably damage the work of my husband,” according to the letter written by King that was previously publicly unavailable and obtained on Tuesday by The Post. The full letter may be read on the Internet.  “Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts,” King wrote in the cover page of her 9-page letter opposing Sessions’s nomination, which failed at the time.

“Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.”

Thirty years later, Sessions, now himself a senator, is again undergoing confirmation hearings as President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, and is facing fierce opposition from civil rights groups.

In the letter, King writes that Sessions’s ascension to the federal bench “simply cannot be allowed to happen,” arguing that as a U.S. attorney, the Alabama lawmaker persused “politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions” and that he “lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge.” She said Sessions’s conduct in prosecuting civil rights leaders in a voting fraud case “raises serious questions about his commitment to the protection of the voting rights of all American citizens.”

“The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods,” she wrote, later adding: “I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made toward fulfilling my husband’s dream.”

During the 1986 hearing, the letter and King’s opposition became a crucial part of the argument against Sessions’s confirmation. Current Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has not previously released the letter, which committee rules grant him the sole authority to reveal.

Buzzfeed News first reported the existence of the letter earlier Tuesday, noting that it was never entered into the congressional record by then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond.