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.”

Newswire : Martin Luther King, Jr. was a champion for equity in education

By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, at march in Selma, with children of Rev. Ralph Abernathy
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s influence on the Civil Rights Movement is indisputable, but his fight for equity in education remains a mystery to some. That fight began with his own education.
“He clearly had an advanced, refined educational foundation from Booker T. Washington High School, Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, and Boston University,” said Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., the founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. “His education in his speeches and sermons and writings were apparent and he wanted us all to have that type of education.”
King completed high school at 15, college at 19, seminary school at 22 and earned a doctorate at 26.
“Dr. King laid down the case for affordable education for all Americans, including Polish children—from the ghetto and the barrios, to the Appalachian mountains and the reservations—he was a proponent for education for all and he believed that strong minds break strong chains and once you learn your lesson well, the oppressor could not unlearn you.”
Rev. Al Sharpton, the founder and president of the National Action Network (NAN), said that NAN works with Education for a Better America to partner with school districts, universities, community colleges, churches, and community organizations around the country to conduct educational programming for students and parents.
“The mission of the organization has been to build bridges between policymakers and the classrooms by supporting innovations in education and creating a dialogue between policymakers, community leaders, educators, parents, and students,” Sharpton said. “We’re promoting student health, financial literacy, and college readiness in our communities, just like Dr. King did.”
King was a figure to look up to in both civil rights and academia, Sharpton told the NNPA Newswire.
“Then, when you look at his values, he always saw education, especially in the Black community, as a tool to uplift and inspire to action,” Sharpton said. “It’s definitely no coincidence that a number of prominent civil rights groups that emerged during Dr. King’s time, were based on college campuses.”
Sharpton added that King routinely pushed for equality to access to education.
“Just as importantly, he always made a point to refer education back to character—that we shouldn’t sacrifice efficiency and speed for morals,” Sharpton said. “A great student not only has the reason and education, but a moral compass to do what’s right with his or her gifts. It’s not just important to be smart, you have to know what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Dr. Wornie Reed, the director of Race and Social Policy Research Center at Virginia Tech who marched with King, said when he thinks of King and education, he immediately considers the late civil rights leader’s advocating that “we should be the best that we could be.”
“King certainly prepared himself educationally…early on he saw that education played a crucial role in society, but perceived it as often being misused,” Reed said. “In a famous essay that he wrote for the student newspaper at Morehouse in 1947, he argued against a strictly utilitarian approach to education, one that advanced the individual and not society.”
Maryland Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, who remembers running home from church on Sundays to listen to King’s speeches on radio, said King had a tremendous impact on education in the Black community.
“Dr. King worked tirelessly to ensure that African Americans would gain the rights they had long been denied, including the right to a quality education,” said Cummings. “His fight for equality in educational opportunities helped to tear down walls of segregation in our nation’s schools.”
Cummings continued: “He instilled hope in us that we can achieve our dreams no matter the color of our skin. He instilled in us the notion that everyone can be great, because everyone can serve and there are so many great advocates, who embody this lesson.”
In support of education equality, civil rights leaders across the country are still working to ensure all students, regardless of color, receive access to experienced teachers, equitable classroom resources and quality education, Cummings noted further.
For example, the NAACP has done a tremendous amount, across the country, to increase retention rates, ensure students have the resources they need, and prepare students for success after graduation—whether it be for college or a specific career path, Cummings said.
During his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway, King said: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
The need for high quality education in the Black community is universal and the route to get there may be different, but education does matter, Jackson said.
“Dr. King told me he read a fiction and a non-fiction book once a week. He was an avid reader and, in the spirit of Dr. King, today we fight for equal, high-quality education,” said Jackson. “We fight for skilled trade training, affordable college education and beyond.”