Antiracist Activism for Teachers and Students/White Activists/Activists
As we struggle to overcome the legacy of institutionalized racism in our society, it is crucial that we educate ourselves and others on the importance of antiracist action, and the many forms that such action can take. As a group, we felt that one of the most important factors to emphasize was while antiracism can be achieved through a variety of active means, there is no such thing as passive anti-racism, a concept which seemed particularly important for children to understand. In Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race, Beverly Tatum (1997) writes about what it means to be antiracist:
"I sometimes visualize the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt… Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. Some of the bystanders may feel the motion of the conveyor belt, see the active racists ahead of them, and choose to turn around…But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt- unless they are actively antiracist- they will find themselves carried along with the others" (12).
What Tatum illustrates is that there is no such thing as passive antiracism; all antiracist behavior is an active push against the system, and while such action may take a variety of forms, the key component is action. In an attempt to help convey this message, we chose to profile six antiracist activists, three White people and three people of color, each of whom has taken a different approach in their struggle to institutionalized racism. Crystal Boateng will be profiling antiracist activists who focus on education as a means to combat racism, spreading anti-racist awareness through literature, workshops and lectures. Dawnell Powell will be discussing individuals who have chosen to become actively antiracist through the justice system, in an attempt to provide restorative justice for people of color who have been systematically disadvantaged. Kelly Kraft will be profiling what we have termed “Empowered Victims,” or people whose lives have been affected by the devastating impacts of racism, and who have responded by turning their pain into power through activism.
When looking at the complex and difficult issues surrounding racism, one can often feel overwhelmed by the massive obstacles we as a society have yet to overcome; it is our hope that by examining these moving accounts of ordinary citizens responding to the need for action in the fight against inequality, we can provide some hope for those who wish to get involved in anti-racist action. It is our hope that in providing information about the various activists we have selected, children and anyone else interested in learning about the anti-racism will have a valuable resource to help illustrate the powerful impact that a single individual can have on the system.
Anti-racist activism is especially needed in the justice system. Many people of color have been wronged by the injustices in the justice system. It is important to stand up against unfair practices towards people of color (i.e. Different sentences for people of color and whites for the same crime). It is also important to reexamine past cases that occurred in our country when overt racism was more prevalent, through restorative justice. According to restorativejustice.org, Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behaviour. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders (Van Ness, 2007). Restorative justice is important so that individuals, institutions and organized groups can answer for their offenses.
Margaret Burnham: Civil Rights Lawyer and Professor
Margaret Burnham was born in 1944 in Mississippi. She attended and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Burnham’s experience working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee led her to become a civil rights lawyer. For two years, 1970–1972, Margaret worked as a staff attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense fund in New York. Her focus was in litigating student rights cases and school desegregation cases in the South. In the 1970s she represented civil rights activists and political activists like Angela Davis. In 1978, Burnham was appointed to the Boston Municipal Court and became the first African-American woman in the Massachusetts Judiciary. In 1982, Burnham became the director of the National Conference of Black Lawyers in New York. However she did not stay in New York, she soon returned to Massachusetts in 1989 and founded the law firm Burnham, Hines and Dilday.
Burnham’s practice focuses on litigating civil rights and employment cases. In 1993, former South African president Nelson Mandela, asked Ms. Burnham to serve on an international human rights commission to investigate alleged human rights violations committed by the African National Congress.
Ms. Burnham currently works as a professor of Law at the Northeastern University School of Law. As a civil rights lawyer, Burnham has helped to document civil rights cases. She continues to be an anti-racist activist in her work with restorative justice. In 2007, she helped to document and to educate others about a reopened case of the murders of two college students in Mississippi during the summer of 1964.
In 1964, Mississippi had a Freedom Summer event in which college students from the North came to the South in order to educate blacks and register blacks to vote. During Mississippi Freedom Summer, five murders occurred all of which were race-related. The murders of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, three college students and civil rights activists are well known as these murders were the basis of the movie Mississippi Burning. The murders of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Moore are lesser known. Dee and Moore, both 19, were college students killed in Meadville, Mississippi after attempting to hitch a ride on May 2, 1964. James Seale and Charles Edwards, two Klansmen kidnapped the two hitchhikers, mistaking them for civil rights workers. Seale and Edwards posed as law enforcement officers and questioned the teenagers about allegations of gun-running in Franklin County. Dee and Moore were then taken into Homochitto National Forest and tied to a tried and lashed with a bean pole. Seale and Edwards with the help of other Klansmen then weighed down the bodies of Dee and Moore with a Jeep motor block and threw them into the Mississippi River.
The bodies of Dee and Moore were found during a high profile search for the bodies of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. Seale and Edwards were investigated and at one point arrested. However, they were let off when the judge claimed that Seale and Edwards suffered from harassment in jail and defamation of character from the media coverage of the case. With the insistence of Thomas Moore, Moore’s brother and Thelma Collins, Dee’s sister, the case was reopened in 2007. James Seale, 72, was tried and convicted for the two murders and sentenced to 3 terms. He is serving time in a medical facility since he now has cancer.
Terry Davis: Legal Investigator
When the news of injustice in Jena, Louisiana spread across the country, legal investigator Terry Davis went to Jena, Louisiana to investigate the case. Davis, a Smith alumna, is a legal investigator that does work as a mitigation specialist on death penalty cases. After graduating from Smith College, Davis went into the field of education before becoming a union activist and a factory worker. As a union activist, Davis led campaigns in Wisconsin, Illinois, California and Virginia. She still maintains connections to the labor movement and continues to be an activist.
The incidents in Jena, Louisiana began with a simple request from several black students. They asked their vice principal if they were able to sit under an oak tree which only white students normally sat under. After they were told that they may sit wherever they wanted, they sat under the tree only to return the next day to find three nooses hanging from the same tree. This racially-charged incident was said to be a prank and led to the suspension of three white students for three days. Over the next three months racial tension grew in the high school culminating in off campus fights and a fire in the main academic building. Four days after the fire, Barker, a white student, was beaten by several black students. The students claimed that Barker was spouting racial epithets which resulted in the fight. Barker was hospitalized, treated and released in the same day. The students involved in the beating were arrested and charged with attempted murder. These charges were dropped to second-degree aggravated battery. This case caused so much outrage since the white students involved in fights throughout the school year had only been given suspensions and also because Mychal Bell, 16, was being charged as an adult. Bell sat in jail for months facing a possible sentence of up to 22 years in prison.
Since Jena, Louisiana has had "self-imposed" segregation for years, many doubted that Mychal Bell and the rest of the Jena 6 would receive fair cases. Davis took an important role as an anti-racist activist and gave her assistance to the Jena 6 case, working as an investigator on behalf of Mychal Bell. For six weeks, Davis worked pro bono, interviewing witnesses in Jena, Louisiana in 2007. Davis not only gave her time and effort to the case but also continued to tell others what she had learned in Jena, Louisiana through radio broadcasts, newspaper articles and college talks.
In this section, we will look at profiles of two antiracist activists whose lives have been personally affected by the devastating impacts of racism. After surviving horrific acts of racist violence, these individuals have fought to turn their pain into power through activism.
Dr. Marty Nathan: Survivor, Activist
Martha “Marty” Nathan is an anti-racist activist who has dedicated her life and work to promoting equality and fighting racism, sexism and other forms of injustice. Born Martha Arthur, Marty learned about inequality and the importance of activism early on in childhood through the example set by her father, who as a bus driver in Ohio spent his free time advocating for worker’s rights, arguing for fair wages and the admission of black employees into the union (Wheaton, 1987). As quoted in Wheaton’s book Codename GREENKIL: The 1979 Greensboro Killings (1987), Nathan said of her father, “He was a real model for me…Those two issues- the working person as a force in society and antiracism- I can’t remember when they were not a significant portion of my life” (36).
Marty graduated from Duke University Medical School, where she met and fell in love with Mike Nathan, also a graduate with the same passion for activism and social justice. The two were married in 1978 and had a daughter, Leah, shortly afterwards (Bradford, 2001). At a public hearing for the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Commission, Marty Nathan described their relationship: "I guess every marriage is dedicated to an ethic, and among other young doctors we knew it usually meant making as much money as the couple could… That was not our goal or our ethic. And our love, instead, was based on an admiration and support and a hell of a lot of romance and humor for working with black community leaders to end racism and poverty in our community and overseas" (Transcript, 2005).
As part of this activism, Mike and Marty both joined the Workers Viewpoint Organization (WVO), a group which advocated for workers rights, and later changed its name to the Communist Workers Party, or CWP (Wheaton, 1987). Along with several of their friends who were also part of the WVO, the Nathans went to China Grove, North Carolina in July 1979 as part of a protest against the Ku Klux Klan. The confrontation was successful, and the CWP planned another anti-Klan rally in the town of Greensboro, to take place in November of the same year (Bradford, 2001). The November rally, however, resulted in tragedy.
On November 3, 1979, Marty and Mike traveled to Greensboro with several friends and members of the CWP. The rally quickly turned violent; as the protesters gathered, a caravan approached with more than 30 armed members of the KKK and the Nazi Party, who opened fire on the protesters. In the aftermath of the Greensboro Massacre, five protesters had died, and another ten had been wounded (Bradford, 2001) Those who had died were: James Waller; Cesar Cauce; Sandra Smith; William Sampson; and Michael Nathan, Marty’s husband, who died two days later of gunshot wounds to the head (Transcript, 2005). The remaining protesters, including 3 of the wounded, were arrested while the KKK escaped (Wheaton, 1987). The attack had been devastating; as Nathan said, “I was in a state of shock…The man who I loved had been murdered, and Greensboro was in a state of siege” (as cited in Bradford, 2001).
The Klansmen and Nazi Party members were eventually arrested and tried in two separate trials; they were acquitted both times. None of the widows or surviving protesters were ever asked to testify in the trial, which was held with an all-white jury, many of whom explicitly expressed anti-Communist and pro-KKK sentiments (Nathan, 2005). In addition, as the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission later found, the police had an informant in the KKK, Edward Dawson, who had given them information about potential for Klan violence on the morning of November 3, 1979. Dawson was never called to testify in either trial, and police presence had been cleared from the area before the shooting began (Nathan, 2005). In 1985, after two trials, Marty and the other widows brought a civil suit against the defendants in the previous criminal trials, and on June 8, 1985, the defendants were found liable for the November 3, 1979 Greensboro Massacre. Marty Nathan and her daughter, only 6 months old at the time of the killings, were awarded $350,000 dollars. Nathan and the others split the money, and used a large part of it to establish the Greensboro Justice Fund, an organization which supports “grassroots organizations throughout the South that are working for racial justice, civil rights, and social change” (Bradford, 2001). On the 20th anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre, Marty and the others started the Greensboro Truth & Community Reconciliation Project was formed, with the goal of discovering what had actually happened in Greensboro, looking at the consequences, and finding ways to help the community heal through acknowledging and understanding of the truth behind the events of November 3, 1979 (Borg, 2007). The goal is best expressed by Nathan in her own words: “This is Truth and Reconciliation: coming to grips with the most painful part of our lives” (Nathan, 2005).
Marty Nathan has continued to speak out as an antiracist activist, and remains active in the various Greensboro funds which she helped establish. As of 1995, the Greensboro Justice Fund had given over $500,000 to groups working for racial, economic, and social justice (Nathan cited in transcript, 2005). Nathan’s work illustrates the importance of learning from the past, and using constructive actions to combat racism and other injustices in our society. Speaking at a meeting of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission on September 30, 2005, Nathan addressed the crowd about the importance of activism, and using our pain to mobilize us into action, rather than allowing it to defeat us. “You can’t replace those brilliant young lost lives, but you can tell the world the truth, and tell our society how to prevent this from ever happening again…I think it is time now for change, and I hope and believe that you are the vehicle for that change…There must be an apology to the dead, the living, the wounded, and the terrified” (cited in transcript, 2005).
Dr. James Cameron: Survivor, Founder of the Black Holocaust Museum, and Activist
James Cameron was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1914. At the age of 4, his family left Wisconsin and moved to Birmingham, Alabama before settling in Marion, Indiana when James was 14. It was here that his life would almost end in an act of racist violence (Lamb, 2006). At the age of 16, Cameron and two of his friends, Abe Smith and Tommy Shipp, were arrested for the robbery and murder of Claude Deeter, 23, and the rape of Mr. Deeter’s girlfriend, a woman named Mary Bell. On the night of August 6, the young men had been driving around when Smith suggested that they rob someone. In recalling the events of that night, Cameron remembers that as the young men approached the parked car of Mr. Deeter and Miss Bell, he had a strong change of heart. He got out of the car and ran, unable and unwilling to go through with the robbery (Carr, 2006). As he ran, he heard the sound of gunshots. In an interview with Dr. Robert Franklin, Cameron recalls: “I ran away from the scene of the crime. And after I ran away about 2 or 3 blocks I heard some shots rang out in the stillness of the night, just like that. Well, I was foolish for being out there with them but I wasn’t foolish enough to go back…I kept on running till I got home” (Franklin, n.d).
When he arrived home, Cameron was extremely anxious; he tried to convince himself that this had just been a poor decision, but as he wrote in his memoir years later: “The trouble was this was Marion, Indiana, where there was little room for foolish Black boys” (as cited in Carr, 2006. p16). Cameron was arrested and brought to jail, where Shipp and Smith were already being held. Mr. Deeter had been shot and killed, while his girlfriend claimed to have been raped, though she later recanted (Carr, 2006). Within 24 hours of their arrest, on August 7, 1930, members of the Ku Klux Klan broke into the jail and dragged the three men out, where an angry lynch-mob stood waiting. Abe Smith and Tommy Shipp were hung in front of a crowd of thousands; Cameron was beaten, and had a rope hung around his neck: “He had rope burns around his neck from the noose. He’d been dragged from the jail and beaten bloody and carried to the tree where the other two men were already hanging. In his account of those last moments- when he was certain he was going to die- he had a vision” (Carr, 2006) In Cameron’s vision, he heard a voice commanding the mob to let him go, and they did (Lamb, 2006). He had survived the lynching, a horrific act of violence which had claimed the lives of his two friends. After the lynching, Cameron was arrested and charged as an accessory to murder and robbery. He was sentenced to 2–21 years in jail, and served 4 years before being released. No one was ever charged for the murders of Abe Smith and Tommy Shipp, or for the attempted murder of Cameron (Founder - Dr. James Cameron, updated 2008).
After his release from prison, Cameron went on to become a powerful activist, dedicating his life to combating racism and inequality. After serving as the Indiana State Director of Civil Liberties from 1942-1950 (Founder - Dr. James Cameron, 2008) and starting Indiana’s first chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the 1940s, Cameron and his family moved to Milwaukee in 1953 (Carr, 2006). Despite facing continued adversity in his pursuit of equality, Cameron continued working for fair treatment of people of color and advocating for their rights, marching in Washington in the 1960s alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other well-known civil rights activists (Founder - Dr. James Cameron, 2008). In addition, Cameron began to write, putting together numerous pamphlets promoting civil rights (Carr, 2006), and publishing his memoir in 1983, A Time of Terror, after mortgaging his house to get the money for publishing (Carr, 15).
In October 1970, Cameron and his wife took a trip to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum in Israel. Cameron was inspired by this journey, and upon returning home he was determined to create the next part of his legacy, the Black Holocaust Museum: “When I came out and composed myself, I told my wife, ‘Honey, we need a museum like this in America to show what has happened to us black people and the freedom-loving white people who have been trying to help us” (Carr, 2006. p. 23). In 1988, Cameron opened the Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, an institution dedicated to documenting the injustices of African Americans (Founder-Dr. James Cameron, 2008). Among the exhibits on display are the photograph of the lynching which nearly took Cameron’s life (Terry, 1995) and a piece of the rope which had once been tied around Cameron’s neck during the lynching (Lamb, 2006). In 1993, Cameron was officially pardoned by Indiana governor Evan Bayh, and given a key to the city; when presented with the key, Cameron said, “Now that the state of Indiana has forgiven me for my indiscretion … I, in turn, forgive Indiana for their transgressors the law in Marion on the night of August 7, 1930. I forgive those who have harmed me and Abe and Tom, realizing I can never forget the traumatic events that took place that night” (Carr, 2006. p. 25, 26). Cameron passed away on June 11, 2006, at the age of 92.
Cameron’s quote about forgiveness illustrates the most important part of Cameron’s legacy; while we may be able to forgive, we owe it to ourselves never to forget the past. Educating ourselves and others about injustices in the past, and speaking up in when we see racism and inequality in the present are perhaps the most important and powerful ways to do this; as Cameron said when asked why at the age of 85, he had traveled hundreds of miles to participate in an anti-KKK rally: “Silence equals consent” (Carr, 2006. p. 435).
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum
Beverly Tatum grew up in Bridgewater, Massachusetts in the late 1950s and 1960s, where her father was an art professor at the local college; Bridgewater State College. Both her grandparents and her great-grandfather were all professional educators who attended historically black colleges. Due to the landmark decision of Brown vs. Board of Education, Tatum was fortunate to be the first one in her family to attend an integrated college or university of her choice. In 1975, she received her Bachelor’s Degree from Wesleyan University and in 1984, her PhD from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Westfield State College as a psychology professor, and then in 1989, she joined Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. In the thirteen years that Beverly Tatum spent at MHC, she was first a professor of Psychology; then she became the department chair of Psychology and finally, the Dean of the college. She also acted as the president of Mount Holyoke for a semester while President Joanne Creighton was on sabbatical. In 2002, she was elected as the ninth African American female president of Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.
As a professor, she focused her teachings on the psychology of racism. The primary focus of her research is on racial identity and development and with numerous articles and two books published on these topics; Mount Holyoke College President Joanne Creighton praised her in College Street Journal saying, “As a scholar and writer, she has helped shape the national discussion on issues of race” (MHC Vista, 2000). One of her well recognized articles, “Talking about Race, Learning about Racism: An Application of Racial Identity Development Theory in the Classroom” was published in the Harvard Educational Review in 1992. In her 2000 article which was published in Liberal Education, Dr. Tatum introduced one of her new strategies; “The ABC Approach to Creating Climates of Engagement on Diverse Campuses." Her ABCs are: affirming identity, building community, and cultivating leadership. She tested her concept when she began her service as dean of the college at Mount Holyoke, and on October 30, 1999, she presented a paper on her findings at the annual meeting of the American Council on Education” (USA TODAY, 2004).
Dr. Beverly Tatum has been recognized as a leader in her field and has served as a diversity trainer for educational institutes throughout the country. She put her research on the development of racial identity in a real life application at a middle school in Northampton, Massachusetts:
In 1996 she created and directed a model two-year program, funded by the Carnegie Corporation, to teach interracial and intercultural awareness to students at JFK Middle School in Northampton, Massachusetts. The two-year program applied her theories about diversity to a real situation and it amplified her previous success of working with educators and students in racially mixed schools (USA TODAY, 2004).
She has also written two books including, Assimilation Blues: Black Families in a White Community which was published in 1987 and “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria” in 1997. Her last book was named in 1998 as the Multicultural Book of the Year by the National Association of Multicultural Education. The main focus of her book is on racial interactions, particularly among the younger generations- a study on the development of racial identity. In December 1997, she participated in the Summit on Race Relations and America's Public Education System, which was a program created by President Bill Clinton to improve race relations in the United States. Dr. Tatum was also featured by Oprah Winfrey during the Martin Luther King Jr. broadcast in January 2000 focusing on the youth and race in this country. Through her numerous articles, journal publications and books, Dr Beverly Tatum has addressed the issues of self-segregation and racial identity development and has offered ways to talk about racial issues in our schools, our homes and in our communities.
Tim Jacob Wise
Tim Wise, a writer and anti-racist activist was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, he attended the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond where he gained his anti-racist training. While Wise was an under graduate student at Tulane University, his work on anti-apartheid activism received recognition and praise from former South African president Nelson Mandela and Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu (Tim Jacob Wise: Full Biography).” Since he began his career as an anti-racist lecturer in 1995, Wise has spoken in forty-eight states and on more than 400 college campuses. Throughout his anti-racist activism and education, Tim Wise focuses mainly on white privilege and institutionalized racism in the United States.
In the early 1990s, Wise began his career as an anti-racist activist by becoming the associate director of the Louisiana Coalition against Racism and Nazism. This organization’s main purpose was to defeat neo-Nazi political candidate David Duke who was running for governor of Louisiana (Tim Wise, Beyond "Diversity"). Tim Wise has worked as both an educator and conducted numerous anti-racist training on several campuses including the Fisk University Race Relations Institute in Nashville, where he served as an advisor. In addition, he co-taught a master’s level class on racism in the summer of 2005 at Smith College in Northampton, Ma. As a major component of his activism in schools, Wise also provides anti-racist training to teachers and professors, in order to help aid them in addressing the issues of white privilege and institutionalized in the classrooms. He has also trained other professionals including, physicians and medical industry professions on ways to fight and eliminate racial inequalities in healthcare and journalists at the Poynter Institute in Florida on different approaches to eradicate racial bias in reporting (Tim Wise, Beyond “Diversity).
Tim Wise uses various forms of education to promote anti-racist awareness and actions. He has written numerous articles and lectured thousands of people on white privilege, affirmative action and institutionalized racism since 1995. White Like Me: Reflections of a privileged son and Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White are both books written by Wise. In these widely renowned books, he discusses the privilege and advantages that white people have over people of color (Tim Wise, Beyond “Diversity”). As a white man and an anti-racist activist, Wise has recognized the privileges that he possess because of his skin color and he fully discussed this topic in his book White Like Me. Due to the work that he does as an activist, Wise has been featured on hundreds of television and radio shows worldwide. He has also received awards and recognition including the British Diversity Award in 2001 for best featured essay on race issues. In October 2007, Mount Holyoke College welcomed Tim Wise in Chapin Auditorium where he lectured an auditorium full of students, faculty, staff and community members on the issues of racism and white privilege. The focal points of his talk were racism, white denial and the cost of inequality in the United States. Tim Wise is now the director of the newly-formed Association for White Anti-Racist Education (AWARE) in Nashville, Tennessee.
These two individuals who are both educators, activists and authors, have spread the awareness of racism and the importance of anti-racist education in this country. Dr. Beverly Tatum has reached out and educated many people about racial identity development and racism through the research that she has conducted and her books on racial identity and development. As an educator and anti-racist, Tim Wise often lectures on white privilege and racism. He also conducts anti-racist workshops with professionals such as law enforcement officers, college professors and journalist in a campaign to fight and eradicate institutionalized racism.
Through the experiences of Burnham, Davis, Nathan, Cameron, Tatum and Wise, we can see that there are many paths you can take in standing up against racism. It is important to look back and see the wrongs committed by some and try to create justice for the victims and their families through restorative justice. We can also work to protest injustices that we see today in our justice system. We can also learn and be inspired by the experiences of those that have survived racist acts. However, before we can work against racism we must confront our own racism and biases and we can learn more about anti-racist methods and promoting cross-racial dialogue through educators like Tatum and Wise. By moving beyond heroes and holidays and we allow children to see that everyday people still are working towards eliminating institutionalized racism, even after the Civil Rights movement. Our hope is that by this introduction to some of the anti-racist activists of today, people will be inspired and get involved in anti-racist activism in their own capacities.
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