Although writing can help decipher history, it’s our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Dark Origins of 11 Classic Nursery Rhymes

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In the canon of great horror writing, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker, and Mary Shelley tend to dominate the craft. But Mother Goose isn’t too far behind. Yes, that fictional grande dame of kiddie poems has got a bit of a dark streak, as evidenced by the unexpectedly sinister theories surrounding the origins of these 11 well-known nursery rhymes.

1. BAA, BAA, BLACK SHEEP (1731)

Though most scholars agree that “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” is about the Great Custom, a tax on wool that was introduced in 1275, its use of the color black and the word “master” led some to wonder whether there was a racial message at its center. Its political correctness was called into question yet again in the latter part of the 20th century, with some schools banning it from being repeated in classrooms, and others simply switching out the word “black” for something deemed less offensive. In 2011, news.com.au reported on the proliferation of “Baa, Baa Rainbow Sheep” as an alternative.

2. GOOSEY GOOSEY GANDER (1784)

It’s hard to imagine that any rhyme with the phrase “goosey goosey” in its title could be described as anything but feelgood. But it’s actually a tale of religious persecution, during the days when Catholic priests would hide themselves in order to say their Latin-based prayers, a major no-no at the time—not even in the privacy of one’s own home. In the original version, the narrator comes upon an old man “who wouldn’t say his prayers. So I took him by his left leg. And threw him down the stairs.” Ouch!

3. JACK AND JILL (1765)

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Admit it, you fooled around with the lyrics to “Jack and Jill” a bit yourself when you were younger, turning what you thought was an innocent poem into something a little bit naughty. But its origins aren’t as clean-cut as you probably imagined. One of the most common theories surrounding the story’s origin is that it’s about France’s Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, who were both found guilty of treason and subsequently beheaded. The only problem is that those events occurred nearly 30 years after “Jack and Jill” was first written. The more likely possibility is that it’s an account of King Charles I’s attempt to reform the tax on liquid measures. When Parliament rejected his suggestion, he instead made sure that the volume was reduced on half- and quarter-pints, known as jacks and gills, respectively.

4. LONDON BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN (1744)

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In 2006, Fergie got saucy with some of this classic kid tune’s lyrics. But the original song wasn’t much better. Depending on whom you ask, “London Bridge is Falling Down” could be about a 1014 Viking attack, child sacrifice, or the normal deterioration of an old bridge. But the most popular theory seems to be that first one. More specifically: the alleged destruction of London Bridge at the hands of Olaf II of Norway some time in the early 1000s. (“Alleged” because some historians don’t believe that attack ever took place.) The song’s popularity around the world is often cited as further proof that it was the Vikings who created it, believing that they brought the tune to the many places they traveled. Oh, and that whole child sacrifice thing? That’s an idea that is also often debated (there’s no archaeological evidence to support it), but the theory goes that in order to keep London Bridge upright, its builders believed that it must be built on a foundation of human sacrifice, and that those same humans—mostly children—would help to watch over the bridge and maintain its sturdiness. Which we’re pretty sure isn’t a practice they teach you in architecture school.

5. MARY, MARY, QUITE CONTRARY (1744)

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“Contrary” is one way to describe a murderous psychopath. This popular English nursery rhyme, which reads like a solicitation for gardening advice, is actually a recounting of the homicidal nature of Queen Mary I of England, a.k.a. Bloody Mary. A fierce believer in Catholicism, her reign as queen—from 1553 to 1558—was marked by the execution of hundreds of Protestants. (Silver bells and cockle shells are torture devices, not garden accouterments.)

6. THREE BLIND MICE (1805)

“Three Blind Mice” is supposedly yet another ode to Bloody Mary’s reign, with the trio in question believed to be a group of Protestant bishops—Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Radley, and The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer—who (unsuccessfully) conspired to overthrow the queen and were burned at the stake for their heresy. Critics suggest that the blindness in the title refers to their religious beliefs.

7. EENY, MEENY, MINY, MO

No, there’s nothing particularly inflammatory about the lines “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo, Catch a tiger by his toe.” But there is when you consider that the word “tiger” is a relatively new development in this counting rhyme, as a replacement for the n-word. Even with the lyrical switch-out, any reference to the poem still has the ability to offend. In 2004, two passengers sued Southwest Airlines was for intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress, following an incident where a flight attendant used the rhyme in a humorous fashion during takeoff when she told passengers: "Eeny meeny miny mo, Please sit down it's time to go.” (The court sided with the airline.)

8. HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH (1840)

“Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” is often sung as part of a children’s game. According to historian R. S. Duncan, a former governor of England’s Wakefield Prison, the song originated with that 420-year-old institution’s female prisoners, who were exercised around a mulberry tree. Which is probably not the connotation your six-year-old self had in mind.

9. ROCK-A-BYE BABY (1765)

One interpretation of this famous lullaby is that it is about the son of King James II of England and Mary of Modena. It is widely believed that the boy was not their son at all, but a child who was brought into the birthing room and passed off as their own in order to ensure a Roman Catholic heir to the throne.

10. RING AROUND THE ROSIE (1881)

Considering that some of today’s classic nursery rhymes are more than two centuries old, there are often several theories surrounding their origins—and not a lot of sound proof about which argument is correct. But of all the alleged nursery rhyme backstories, “Ring Around the Rosie” is probably the most infamous. Though its lyrics and even its title have gone through some changes over the years, the most popular contention is that the sing-songy verse refers to the 1665 Great Plague of London.“The rosie” is the rash that covered the afflicted, the smell from which they attempted to cover up with “a pocket full of posies.” The plague killed nearly 15 percent of the country’s population, which makes the final verse—“Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down”—rather self-explanatory.
But Snopes labels this reading false, and quotes folklorist Philip Hiscock with a more likely suggestion: That the nursery rhyme probably has its origins "in the religious ban on dancing among many Protestants in the nineteenth century, in Britain as well as here in North America. Adolescents found a way around the dancing ban with what was called in the United States the 'play-party.' Play-parties consisted of ring games which differed from square dances only in their name and their lack of musical accompaniment. They were hugely popular, and younger children got into the act, too."

11. OLD MOTHER HUBBARD (1805)

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To many, “Old Mother Hubbard” is not a mother at all—nor a woman. The poem is speculated to have been written as a mockery of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, whose refusal to grant an annulment to King Henry VIII, so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, led to his political downfall.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Labor Day

No One Really Knows Who Invented It

As the legend goes, young carpenter Peter McGuire stood before the New York Central Labor Union in May 1882 proclaiming his plan to honor all workers with a parade through the city. But another union worker, the similarly named machinist Matthew Maguire, is also credited with proposing a day off for laborers. A New Jersey newspaper published an opinion article touting Maguire as the Father of Labor Day, but only after the day became a national holiday in 1894.




The Holiday Marks the End of Hot-Dog Season

According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, during "hot dog season," which runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Americans consume roughly 7 billion hot dogs, or about 818 hot dogs every second. That total is thanks in large part to another holiday, Independence Day. 

Union Membership Is at a 60-Year Low

Labor unions aren't what they used to be. In the 1950s, at the height of union participation in the U.S., more than a third of all American workers belonged to unions. Participation has waned for decades, which has weakened many unions across the country. Remember the Wisconsin public employees who fought Republican Governor Scott Walker earlier this year over collective-bargaining rights? Well, they lost most of those rights. 

A Fire Ignited the Labor Movement

The infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 took the lives of 136 people in just 18 minutes. Though the factory owners were indicted on charges of manslaughter, they were later acquitted and actually profited from insurance claims. The tragic blaze — likely caused by a cigarette — did, however, raise awareness of poor working conditions at the factory and other warehouses like it, prompting the start of the labor movement and a call for safer work environments.


President Cleveland Didn't Like Unions

Although President Grover Cleveland signed the 1894 law that made Labor Day a federal holiday, he did so with political motives in mind. The President was concerned only with the fact that the strike had spread to other states, disrupting mail service and interstate commerce. Mindful of his future re-election campaign, made appeasement a top priority, so labor legislation was rushed through Congress and the bill passed just six days after the strike's end.

Oregon Was the First State to Declare Labor Day a Holiday

Oregon was the first state to pass a law declaring Labor Day a state holiday on Feb. 21, 1887, giving the state's workers a free pass to not come in that day. However, the Beaver State inexplicably placed the holiday on the first Saturday in June. Thankfully, when Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York each made Labor Day an official holiday in 1887, they chose to observe it on a weekday, giving workers the extra-long weekend we still enjoy to this day.

Labor Day's Origins Are Canadian

Following labor disputes in Toronto, the first worker parades occurred in 1872. Soon after, anti–labor union laws were repealed. A decade later, union activist Peter McGuire, whom some call the founder of our American Labor Day, spoke at a Canadian labor festival in 1882 and was so impressed that he proposed the idea of a workers' national holiday to a New York labor union later that same year.



Labor Day Was Almost May 1

In 1884, the American Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions declared that by May 1, 1886, all employers institute an eight-hour workday. When that proclamation failed to come to fruition, workers moved to strike, sparking the brutal Haymarket Riot in Chicago. Years later in 1894, fearing the tainted history of that date would continually lead to radical movements commemorating the riots, President Grover Cleveland decided to follow the lead of several states and make the first Monday in September the official holiday for laborers.

The Rule 'No White After Labor Day' Has Historical Roots

Historians think this maxim stems from class divisions at the turn of the century when lightweight clothes were a symbol of the leisure classes.  While there's a practical reason for the rule — white clothes dirty easily thus making them ill-suited for heavy autumn rains and winter slush — those who carried the rule through the decades had a less than practical reason for doing so. Indeed, as the years went by, traditionalists and nouveau riche alike continued to eschew winter whites throughout the 20th century in order to remain acceptable in high society. 

Time Magazine

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Orphans on the Mayflower: When Morals Go Wrong

The story of the four More children, Ellen, Jasper, Richard, and Mary, is a tragic one.  They were all baptized in the parish of Shipton, Shropshire, England to Samuel and Katherine More, cousins from a wealthy and prominent family that had had their marriage prearranged.  It was not a happy marriage, and Katherine had a longstanding but secret extramarital affair with a neighbor by the name of Jacob Blakeway.  Samuel began working in London as secretary to Lord Edward Zouche, privy councillor, diplomat and courtier. Over the next four years, Katherine bore four children. At some point, Samuel More began to notice a resemblance between "his" children, and Jacob Blakeway whom he had come to suspect was with his wife.  When he realized his four children were not actually "his", but were bastards, he and his wife engaged in a bitter divorce in 1616 and Samuel ended up getting custody of the children he claimed were not his.  By a deed dated 20 April 1616, Samuel cut the entail on the Larden estate to prevent any of the children from inheriting. During the long court battle, Samuel would deny that he was the father of the children borne by his wife, Katherine, and stated them to be children of the adulterous relationship. Katherine did not deny her relationship with Jacob, stating there was a former betrothal contract with him, and therefore he was her true husband. This would have made her marriage to Samuel invalid. Samuel quotes her words in his declaration, "though she could not sufficiently prove by witnesses yet it was all one before god as she sayed".


In 1616, when Samuel More accused his wife of adultery and, at the direction of his father, Richard, they devised a plan to rid himself of Katherine and the children. Samuel went to his employer and a More family friend, Lord Zouche, Lord President of the Council of Wales, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Privy Counselor, to draw up a plan for the disposition of the children. Zouche had been a member of the Virginia Company and in 1617 he invested £100 in an expedition to the Colony of Virginia, which is where the Mayflower was supposed to have landed. It was his actions that were instrumental in putting the More children on the Mayflower. (At that time, children were routinely rounded up from the streets of London or taken from poor families receiving church relief to be used as labourers in the colonies.) Katherine engaged in a struggle to take her children back.  Any legal objections to the involuntary transportation of the children were over-ridden by the Privy Council, namely, Lord Zouche. There were at least twelve actions recorded between December 1619 and 8 July 1620, when it was finally dismissed. Most people thought it a death sentence and, indeed, many did not survive either the voyage or the harsh climate, disease and scarcity of fresh food for which they were ill-prepared.


Samuel promptly paid for the children to be shipped off to America with a band of "honest and religious" Separatists. The four children, aged 4 to 8 years old, were placed into the households of some of the most prominent Pilgrims.  Richard and Mary More were placed with Elder William Brewster. Jasper was placed with Governor John Carver.  And Ellen was placed with Edward Winslow. Within several weeks of the More children’s arrival in London, and without their mother Katherine More’s knowledge or approval, they were placed in the care of others on the Mayflower, bound for New England.


After the Mayflower sailed, Katherine made another attempt to challenge the decision through the courts. It was this legal action in early 1622 before Chief Justice James Ley which led to the statement from Samuel explaining where he sent the children and why, the historical evidence for Richard More's early history.


The voyage was rough on the young and presumably quite traumatized children.  Only Richard survived the first winter at Plymouth.  Jasper More died in December while the Pilgrims were still exploring Cape Cod trying to find a place to settle, and Ellen and Mary More died sometime likely between January and March 1621.  


Richard More was still living with the Brewsters in 1627.  He married Christian Hunter in 1636 in Plymouth, and moved very shortly thereafter to Salem.  Richard More became a seaman and ship captain, and made trips to England, Nova Scotia, West Indies, Manhattan, and Virginia.  In February and March 1642/3, he joined the church at Salem and baptized his children there.

His wife Christian died on 18 March 1676, at the age of 60.  Richard More then married to Mrs. Jane Crumpton; she died in October 1686 at Salem, aged 55.  In 1688, the Salem Church recorded: "Old Captain More having been for many years under suspicion and common fame of lasciviousness, and some degree at least of inconstancy ... but for want of proof we could go no further.  He was at last left to himself so far as that he was convicted before justices of peace by three witnesses of gross unchastity with another man's wife and was censured by them." Richard More died sometime between 1693 and 1696 at Salem, living just long enough to have witnessed the Salem Witchcraft paranoia of 1692.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Interracial Relationships that Changed History

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Join PBS Black Culture ConnectionPBS Learning Media and Listverse as we revisit groundbreaking relationships, cases and rulings that have made a mark on history!  Browse the profiles of influential couples around the world or visualize some of their stories through an infographic. 
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| Mildred and Richard Loving
On July 11, 1958, newlyweds Richard and Mildred Loving were asleep in bed when three armed police officers burst into the room. The couple were hauled from their house and thrown into jail, where Mildred remained for several days, all for the crime of getting married.  At that time, 24 states across the country had laws strictly prohibiting marriage between people of different races. Five weeks earlier, the longtime couple had learned Mildred was pregnant and decided to wed in defiance of the law. In order to evade Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, the pair had traveled to Washington, D.C. for the ceremony. Upon their return to Virginia, they were arrested and found guilty, with the judge informing Mildred that “as long as you live you will be known as a felon.” The Lovings moved to the relative safety of Washington, but longed to return to their home state.
In 1963, they approached the American Civil Liberties Union to fight their case in court. After an extensive legal battle, the Supreme Court ruled that laws prohibiting interracial marriage were unconstitutional. Although such laws officially remained on the books in several states, the Lovings’ landmark victory rendered them effectively unenforceable, ensuring nobody else would have to endure the same treatment. The last law officially prohibiting interracial marriage was repealed in Alabama in 2000.
Photo © Bettmann/CORBIS
| Ruth Williams Khama and Sir Seretse Khama
While attending law school in England, Ruth met Sir Seretse Khama (then Prince Seretse Khama), the chief of the Bamangwato tribe, who became Botswana's first president in 1966. Under his leadership, the country underwent significant economic and social progress, while Ruth was apolitically active and influential First Lady. But first they had to overcome the wave of bigotry brought about by their controversial marriage. When they announced the news in 1948,Ruth’s father threw her out of the house, while Seretse’s uncle declared “if he brings his white wife here, I will fight him to the death.” Bowing to pressure from apartheid South Africa, the British government attempted to stop the marriage and then prevented the couple from returning to Botswana.
For eight years they lived as exiles in England, until the Bamangwato sent a personal cable to the Queen in protest. Their sons Ian and Tshekedi later became significant political figures as well. The marriage is said to have inspired the film A Marriage of Inconvenience and the book Colour Bar.
Photo © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS
| Arcadio Huang and Marie-Claude Regnier  

In the early years of the 18th century, European scholars made huge advances in their understanding of Chinese language and culture. Much of this work rested on the efforts of a remarkable young man named Arcadio Huang. Born in a small town in China’s Fujian province, Huang’s Catholic parents were set on him becoming a priest. He was adopted by a French priest and later traveled to France with Bishop Artus de Lionne. In France, he soon joined with a number of promising young French scholars to develop a Chinese-French dictionary. 
In 1713, Huang married a middle-class Parisian woman named Marie-Claude Regnier. There are very few records of marriages between Europeans and non-Europeans during this time period and many considered such relationships unthinkable. Nevertheless, Marie-Claude’s parents reportedly gave their blessing for the union, and while the couple soon found themselves in financial difficulties, the marriage seems to have been a happy one. A year later, Marie-Claude died giving birth to their first child and Huang, heartbroken, followed her a year later. Historians have speculated that their unusual marriage was one of the first of its kind.
| Gonzalo Guerrero and Zazil Ha
Some of the first people of Spanish/ Mayan heritage were the product of a truly incredible marriage. As a survivor of a shipwreck off the Yucatan coast, Gonzalo Guerrero found himself  held captive by the Maya. Desperate to avoid being killed, he successfully sought to learn his captors’ language and customs. As he gained acceptance into the culture, he taught Spanish combat tactics to the Maya, which are said to have allowed them to drive out the conquistadors. Guerrero himself became a highly respected figure in Mayan society, marrying a princess named Zazil Ha and being given the temples of Ichpaatún, north of Chetumal.
When Hernan Cortez arrived in the area, an attempt was made to retrieve Guerrero and one other survivor. But Guerrero refused to leave, saying, “I am married and have three children, and they look on me as a cacique [“lord”] here, and captain in time of war. My face is tattooed and my ears are pierced. What would the Spaniards say if they saw me like this? Go, and God's blessing be with you.”
Photo: Statue of Gonzalo Guerrero guarding over his family.
Louisa and Louis Gregory
Both Louis Gregory, an African American man and Louisa Mathews, a British woman were of the Bahá’í faith: a religion centered on unity. The two met in 1911 on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in Egypt. Their love for one another was not received well by the general public, especially in the United States, where racism was still very much the norm. In spite of the Bahá’í faith’s innermost message of “Oneness of Mankind,” many people of the faith living in Washington, D.C. adhered to the attitude of racial segregation that was rampant during the time.
With Bahá’í leader Abdu’l-Bahá declaring his staunch support for interracial marriages, Louis and Louisa were married in 1912 in New York, becoming the first interracial Bahá’í couple. Louis Gregory became a strong advocate for racial unity in both the United States as well as within the Bahá’í community; his most significant expression of the teachings of his faith come from his marriage. Despite countless obstacles, the couple remained married for almost 40 years, until Louis Gregory’s death in 1951.
Photo:Louis and Louisa Gregory
Leonard Kip Rhinelander and Alice Jones
The marriage and divorce trial of Kip Rhinelander and Alice Jones brought the racial tensions of a nation to court, examining how a person is labeled as “colored” and “white” in legal terms. Rhinelander was a white socialite born into a prominent New York family. Jones was the biracial daughter of a working class couple. In 1921, the two met in Stamford, Connecticut at a clinic where Kip was working through his issues of anxiety and stuttering. The couple had a three-year love affair before marrying in 1924. Because of the Rhinelanders’ high position in society, their marriage was listed in the New York Social Register. Alice became the first black woman to appear in its pages, and the media swung into action.
Headlines immediately blared the news of the marriage. Kip’s family quickly followed this with a demand that he divorce his wife, and he eventually succumbed to their will. The divorce trial was centered on Kip’s claim that Jones had passed herself off as a white woman. Under the eyes of an all-white, all-male jury, the focus of the trial became whether Rhinelander must have reasonably known of Jones’s mixed heritage. In a move that can only be described as grossly demeaning, Jones was ordered to strip off her clothes so the jury could determine if she was to be considered “colored.” They ruled in Jones’s favor, and the annulment was denied. Kip's estate was ordered to pay a yearly allowance to Alice for the rest of her life. The two never reunited.

Photo © Bettmann/CORBIS
| James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair un-Nissa
James Kirkpatrick was a high-ranking diplomat from the East India Company who became captivated by Indo-Persian culture after traveling to India with imperialist intentions. He quickly gave up his English habits and wardrobe and replaced them with nautch parties and Mughal-style outfits. As he delved deeper and deeper into the culture, Kirkpatrick converted to Islam and in 1801 married Khair un-Nissa, the teenage granddaughter of the prime minister of Hyderabad. Local officials only allowed the marriage on the condition that he “strive for the best interests of the [Hyderabadi] government.” He accepted the conditions, and the marriage was done.
A public outrage quickly ensued in Calcutta because the marriage was interracial. As imperialism swept across India, the union became even more of a taboo, especially because Kirkpatrick was the highest-ranking official yet to be involved in this type of marriage. Upon hearing of the scandal, newly appointed governor of India Lord Rickard Wessesley summoned Kirkpatrick to Calcutta, where he was reprimanded and dismissed from his position. He went on to have two children with his wife. A few years later, Kirkpatrick decided his children should be sent to England to for schooling and to receive Christian names. They never returned to India. Tragically, James didn’t make it back to town to bid his children goodbye. Immediately after they left, he came down with a fever and died (around 1807). Khair un-Nissa would die of natural causes only a few years later.
Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray
In spite of the increased acceptance of interracial marriage across the United States, Bill de Blasio, elected Mayor of New York in 2013, is the first white official to be elected into a major office with a black spouse by his side. McCray is expected to play a major role in de Blasio's administration.
While polls show that interracial marriages across the United States are increasingly accepted, some disapproval is still overt: A 2013 Cheerios ad featuring a biracial family sparked so many racist remarks on Youtube that comments had to be disabled.
Many celebrate the de Blasio marriage as another significant milestone and hope it will help combat the racism that still exists in a country constantly striving to uphold its cornerstone value of equality.
Photo © Janet Mayer/Splash News/Corbis

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Helen Hunt Jackson: Human Rights Activist

by  • December 8, 2010 • Biographies 
Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885), activist for Native American rights and author of Southern California’s most enduring historical romance novel Ramona, was born and reared in Amherst , Massachusetts , a schoolmate and friend of the woman who would become Amherst’s most celebrated resident, poet Emily Dickinson. (Born Helen Maria Fiske, Jackson would be twice married: first to U.S. Army Capt. Edward B. Hunt who died in a military accident, then to William S. Jackson, a wealthy banker and railroad executive.)
“As soon as I began, it seemed impossible to write fast enough…I wrote faster than I would write a letter…two thousand to three thousand words in a morning, and I cannot help it.”

— Helen Hunt Jackson describing her writing of “Ramona”
Jackson grew up in a literary environment, and was herself a noted poet and writer of children’s stories, novels, and essays (under the pseudonym H.H.H.), before turning her considerable intellect and energy to investigating and publicizing the mistreatment of Native Americans, especially the Mission Indians of Southern California.

Her interest in the subject began in Boston in 1879 at a lecture by Chief Standing Bear who described the forced removal of the Ponca Indians from their Nebraska reservation. Jackson was incensed by what she heard and began to circulate petitions, raised money, and wrote letters to the New York Times on the Poncas’ behalf. As one observer noted, she became a “holy terror.” (Friends and critics have variously described her as “passionate,” “volatile,” “defiant” and “uncompromising.” Historian Antoinette May said she “lived a life that few women of her day had the courage to live.”) Jackson also began work on a book condemning the government’s Indian policy and its record of broken treaties. When A Century of Dishonor was published in 1881, Jackson sent a copy to every member of Congress with the following admonition printed in red on the cover: “Look upon your hands: they are stained with the blood of your relations.” To her disappointment, the book had little impact.

In need of a rest, Jackson traveled to Southern California to study the area’s missions, a subject that had piqued her interest during an earlier visit. While in Los Angeles , she met Don Antonio Coronel, former mayor of Los Angeles (1853-4), city councilman (1854-66) and State Treasurer (1866-70). Coronel was a well-known authority on early Californio life in Southern California , and also a former inspector of missions for the Mexican government. He described to Jackson the plight of Mission Indians after 1833, when secularization policies led to the sale of mission lands and the dispersal of their residents.

“Many of the original Mexican grants included clauses protecting the Indians on the lands they occupied,” writes Valerie Mathes, author of Helen Hunt Jackson : Official Agent to the California Mission Indians. “When Americans assumed control,” Mathes continues, “they ignored Indian claims to lands, which led to their mass dispossessions. In 1852, there were an estimated 15,000 Mission Indians in Southern California , but because of the adverse impact of dispossessions by Americans, they numbered less than 4,000 by the time of Helen’s visit.”

Don Coronel’s stories galvanized Jackson into action. Soon her efforts on behalf of dispossessed Indians in Southern California came to the attention of the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Hiram Price, who recommended her appointment as an Interior Department agent. Her assignment was “to visit the Mission Indians in California , and ascertain the location and condition of various bands…and what, if any land, should be purchased for their use.”

With the assistance of Indian agent and entrepreneur Abbot Kinney, Jackson criss-crossed Southern California , documenting the appalling conditions they saw. At one point, she hired a law firm to protect the rights of a family of Saboba Indians facing dispossession of their land at the foot of the San Jacinto Mountains . Her 56-page report, completed in 1883, called for a massive government relief effort, ranging from the purchase of new lands for reservations to the establishment of more Indian schools. A bill largely embodying Jackson’s recommendations passed the U.S. Senate but died in the House.
Undaunted by Congress’ rejection, Jackson decided to write a novel that would depict the Indian experience “in a way to move people’s hearts.” She was particularly drawn to the fate of her Indian friends in the Temecula area of Riverside County . The inspiration for her book, Jackson admitted, was Uncle Tom’s Cabin written years earlier by her friend, Harriet Beecher Stowe. “If I can do one hundredth part for the Indian that Mrs. Stowe did for the Negro, I will be thankful,” she told a friend. The result was Ramona, which Jackson began writing in a New York City hotel room in December 1883. Originally titled, “In The Name of the Law,” the book was completed in slightly over three months and published in November 1884. “Every incident in Ramona…is true,” Jackson said later. “A Cahuilla Indian was shot two years ago exactly as Alessandro is “and his wife’s name was Ramona and I never knew this last fact until Ramona was half written!” Later, a local writer, George Wharton James, would lecture and write books linking Ramona to an actual murder. He even recorded the murderer’s voice on an early Edison cylinder phonograph!

Encouraged by the book’s popularity, Jackson planned to write a children’s story on the Indian issue, but died of cancer on August 12, 1885, less than a year after Ramona was published. Her last letter was written to President Grover Cleveland, urging him to read her early work, “A Century of Dishonor.” Jackson told a friend: “My Century of Dishonor and Ramona are the only things I have done of which I am glad…They will live, and…bear fruit.”
Ramona has indeed borne fruit over the years, but in ways unimagined by the author. Writing in “Los Angeles: A to Z,” Leonard and Dale Pitt note: “Although Jackson’s novel, about a part-Indian orphan raised in Spanish society and her Indian husband, achieved almost instant success, it failed to arouse public concern for the treatment of local Native Americans. Instead, readers accepted the sentimentalized Spanish aristocracy that was portrayed, and the Ramona myth was born. Jackson died a year after her novel was published, never knowing the impact her book made on the Southern California heritage. The novel Ramona has inspired films [the first directed by D.W. Griffith], songs [the 1920s hit “Ramona”], and a long-running pageant in Hemet , California. And the name Ramona can be seen on street signs and commercial establishments throughout Southern California.”

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ida B. Wells: journalist and activist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the US

Synopsis

A daughter of slaves, Ida B. Wells was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16, 1862. A journalist, Wells led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s, and went on to found and become integral in groups striving for African-American justice. She died in 1931 in Chicago, Illinois.



Early Life

Born a slave in 1862, Ida Bell Wells was the oldest daughter of James and Lizzie Wells. The Wells family, as well as the rest of the slaves of the Confederate states, were decreed free by the Union, about six months after Ida's birth, thanks to the Emancipation Proclamation. However, living in Mississippi as African Americans, they faced racial prejudices and were restricted by discriminatory rules and practices.
Ida B. Wells's  parents were active in the Republican Party during Reconstruction. Her father, James, was involved with the Freedman’s Aid Society and helped start Shaw University, a school for the newly freed slaves (now Rust College) and served on the first board of trustees.  It was there that Ida B.  Wells received her early schooling, but she had to drop out at the age of 16, when tragedy struck her family. Both of her parents and one of her siblings died in a yellow fever outbreak, leaving Wells to care for her other siblings. Ever resourceful, she convinced a nearby country school administrator that she was 18, and landed a job as a teacher.
In 1882, Wells moved with her sisters to Memphis, Tennessee, to live with an aunt. Her brothers found work as carpenter apprentices. For a time, Wells continued her education at Fisk University in Nashville.

Journalist and Activist

On one fateful train ride from Memphis to Nashville, in May 1884, Wells reached a personal turning point. Having bought a first-class train ticket to Nashville, she was outraged when the train crew ordered her to move to the car for African Americans, and refused on principle. As she was forcibly removed from the train, she bit one of the men on the hand. Wells sued the railroad, winning a $500 settlement in a circuit court case. However, the decision was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
This injustice led Ida B. Wells to pick up a pen to write about issues of race and politics in the South. Using the moniker "Iola," a number of her articles were published in black newspapers and periodicals. Wells eventually became an owner of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight, and, later, of the Free Speech.
While working as a journalist and publisher, Wells also held a position as a teacher in a segregated public school in Memphis. She became a vocal critic of the condition of blacks only schools in the city. In 1891, she was fired from her job for these attacks. She championed another cause after the murder of a friend and his two business associates.
In 1892, three African-American men—Tom Moss, Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart—set up a grocery store in Memphis. Their new business drew customers away from a white-owned store in the neighborhood, and the white store owner and his supporters clashed with the three men on a few occasions. One night, Moss and the others guarded their store against attack and ended up shooting several of the white vandals. They were arrested and brought to jail, but they didn't have a chance to defend themselves against the charges—a lynch mob took them from their cells and murdered them.
These brutal killings incensed Wells, leading to her write articles decrying the lynching of her friend and the wrongful deaths of other African Americans. Putting her own life at risk, she spent two months traveling in the South, gathering information on other lynching incidents. One editorial seemed to push some of the city's whites over the edge. A mob stormed the office of her newspaper, destroying all of her equipment. Fortunately, Wells had been traveling to New York City at the time. She was warned that she would be killed if she ever returned to Memphis.
Staying in the North, Wells wrote an in-depth report on lynching in America for the New York Age, an African-American newspaper run by former slave T. Thomas Fortune. She lectured abroad in 1893, looking to drum up support for her cause among reform-minded whites. Upset by the ban on African-American exhibitors at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, Wells penned and circulated a pamphlet entitled "The Reason Why the Colored American Is Represented in the World's Columbian Exposition." This effort was funded and supported by famed abolitionist and freed slave Frederick Douglass, and lawyer and editor Ferdinand Barnett. Also in 1893, Wells published A Red Record, a personal examination of lynchings in America.
In 1898, Wells brought her anti-lynching campaign to the White House, leading a protest in Washington, D.C., and calling for President William McKinley to make reforms. She married Ferdinand Barnett that same year, and was thereafter known as Ida B. Wells-Barnett. While the couple eventually had four children together, Wells remained committed to her social and political activism.

Later Career

Ida B. Wells established several civil rights organizations. In 1896, she formed the National Association of Colored Women. After brutal assaults on the African-American community in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908, Wells sought to take action: The following year, she attended a special conference for the organization that would later become known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Though she is considered a founding member of the NAACP, Wells later cut ties with the organization; she explained her decision thereafter, stating that she felt the organization—in its infacy at the time she left—had lacked action-based initiatives.
Working on behalf of all women, Wells, as part of her work with the National Equal Rights League, called for President Woodrow Wilson to put an end to discriminatory hiring practices for government jobs. She created the first African-American kindergarten in her community and fought for women's suffrage. In 1930, Wells made an unsuccessful bid for the state senate. Health problems plagued her the following year.
Ida B. Wells died of kidney disease on March 25, 1931, at the age of 69, in Chicago, Illinois. She left behind an impressive legacy of social and political heroism. With her writings, speeches and protests, Wells fought against prejudice, no matter what potential dangers she faced. She once said, "I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap."

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Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

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