Archive for the 'Civil Rights' Category

Eugene Bullard featured in Washington Post “Flashbacks” comic strip

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

Eugene Bullard: World's First Black Fighter Pilot by Larry GreenlyThe Washington Post “Flashbacks” comic strip, created by Patrick Reynolds, recently featured in a series on World War I aviation hero Eugene Bullard. Strip artist Reynolds cites a new biography published by NewSouth Books — Eugene Bullard: World’s First Black Fighter Pilot by Larry Greenly — as inspiration for his series. The strip tells the story of the boy who ran away from his home in the segregated South and made his way to Europe. Bullard’s varied career, from prize fighter in England through entertainer in France to Legionnaire and then pioneering fighter pilot, is compellingly recounted.

Eugene Bullard: World’s First Black Fighter Pilot is the first biography of the war hero written for young adult readers. Booklist praises the title in a starred review, saying “Greenly crafts a moving, novelistic biography that portrays Bullard’s undying fortitude throughout his life.” Kirkus Reviews calls the book “a worthwhile introduction to a decorated hero of two world wars who overcame obstacles in difficult times.”

Eugene Bullard: World’s First Black Fighter Pilot is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon or your favorite bookstore.

The original artwork and signed prints from the comic strip are available for sale at Red Rose Studio.

Child welfare advocate Denny Abbott tours with new book

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

They Had No Voice by Denny AbbottNationally recognized child welfare advocate Denny Abbott brought his story of creating positive change in the juvenile detention system to the campuses of Troy University recently in a series of lectures sponsored by the Alabama Humanities Foundation. Abbott spoke in Troy, Montgomery, and Dothan about his work on behalf of exploited children, and signed copies of his book They Had No Voice: My Fight for Alabama’s Forgotten Children.

They Had No Voice chronicles Abbott’s journey from chief probation officer of the Montgomery, Alabama County Family Court to leading advocate for children. As a court official, Abbott witnessed brutal conditions. When he could not change things from within, he sued the state and with the help of the U.S. Justice Department won a resounding victory that brought change. His talks at Troy focused on how others can continue to advocate for improvements.

According to the Dothan Eagle, Abbott focused part of his presentation on the continuing need to monitor workers who are in contact with children, saying:

“The more serious issues are those that have been festering for a long time and nobody’s really taken it on or done anything about it, either for political reasons or for personal reasons or business reasons,” he said.

He recognized the ongoing issues in Alabama, and although “hundreds of people knew about it, nobody did anything about it.”

He said employees at facilities need to be held accountable if they don’t do their job of protecting and taking care of children. “We see many, many cases where they are the offenders,” he said.

WSFA News in Montgomery spoke with a a former Juvenile Detention Center resident, who told them:

“I could barely lay down. I couldn’t eat because they wouldn’t feed ya once they beat ya. They punish you, you don’t eat either. It was horrible. It was horrible. Mr. Denny thank you, thank you.”

Through his presentations, Denny Abbott continues to educate citizens about how they can create positive change in their communities to help mistreated children.

Denny Abbott’s They Had No Voice: My Fight for Alabama’s Forgotten Children is available in print and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

On MLK’s Holiday, a Few Words About the Poor

Monday, January 20th, 2014 by Randall Williams

Today is the MLK holiday, although in Alabama the adoption of the holiday passed the legislature only by designating it as also being in honor of the birth of Robert E. Lee, who coincidentally shares the same birth week as King, so that white state workers taking the day off didn’t have to do so in tribute to civil rights.

Setting aside that head-in-the-sand Alabama political posturing, it is MLK Day, which means it’s a good day to remember that though MLK is rightly celebrated as a leader of the movement which broke the back of legalized segregation, toward the end of his life he was mostly campaigning to end economic injustice and war (at the time, in Vietnam). And while the civil rights movement was relatively straightforward — Jim Crow laws were an obvious evil — and gained the support of government, business, and, for the most part, the public, the same support was not forthcoming for anti-poverty and anti-war efforts.

For one thing, poverty and war have complex causes that are not easy to identify, much less target. For another, while changes in the U.S. economy and infrastructure had largely eliminated the economic benefits to white Southerners of first slavery and then segregation, there remained/remain powerful interests who profited from poverty and war.

The poverty part of that profit equation is hard for some to swallow, though I believe the case can be made. Consider the hugely profitable low-end loan, check cashing, rent-to-own furniture, etc., businesses that prey on the poor. Consider the prison-industrial complex that has expanded alongside the increased incarceration rates of the poor. Consider the increased numbers of well-paid and well-pensioned judges, prosecutors, police, and support personnel, and all the suppliers and manufacturers of their furnishings and consumables needed to keep a lid clamped on the “criminal” poor.

The military part of the profit equation is more obvious; even President Dwight D. Eisenhower, our last five-star commander in chief, famously warned of this danger, but we just keep spending and spending.

But back to the poor, and the impetus for my taking up your time today …

The NYT has recently been running a good series, “The Great Divide,” about the country’s return to Gilded Age levels of income inequality. Reading the NYT this morning, I was struck by today’s entry about the results of a study by an epidemiologist examining linkage between poverty and mental health. Her conclusions seem to indicate that — surprise — giving poor people money improves their lives and saves the taxpayers money. I suppose this is the academic equivalent of the folk wisdom that money can’t buy happiness, but the absence of money does buy misery. And the societal costs of misery are high.

As Congress dithers on extending benefits for the long-term unemployed, and is likely to pass a Farm Bill that will further cut food stamps even while subsidies continue to agribusiness, it seems a good time to think about policies that might actually help the poor and the country.

Bob Zellner talks to Bill Moyers about North Carolina Moral Mondays

Monday, January 6th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

The Wrong Side of Murder Creek by Bob ZellnerA recent episode of Moyers & Company, hosted by political commentator Bill Moyers, featured the current “state of conflict” in North Carolina. The state has a Republican-controlled legislature that is “steering North Carolina to the right”; liberal groups, lead by the NAACP’s Reverend William Barber, have organized a series of “Moral Mondays” protests against the Republican’s new laws.

Participating in the “Moral Mondays” movement is civil rights activist Bob Zellner, whose memoir The Wrong Side of Murder Creek explores how he left behind a prejudiced upbringing to become the first white Southern field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Many of the “Moral Mondays” protesters have been arrested during the protests, including Zellner, 74.

Legislative changes that the group is protesting against include, according to the Moyers & Company website, “slashing taxes on corporations and the wealthy, providing vouchers to private schools, cutting unemployment benefits, refusing to expand Medicaid and rolling back electoral reforms, including voting rights.”

“Our purpose in life is to work for those who are powerless,” Zellner told Moyers & Company. “What’s happening now in the Moral Monday movement is on the same moral plane as what happened in the civil rights movement.”

Watch “State of Conflict: North Carolina” below or on the Moyers & Company website.

Bob Zellner’s memoir The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement is available in hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Fred Gray talks Rosa Parks, new memoir, with John Seigenthaler, CSPAN2

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013 by Brian Seidman

Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System by Fred GrayA new video and a podcast interview with attorney Fred Gray complement the release of the newly revised edition of Gray’s memoir, Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System. During the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights Movement, Gray served as the lawyer for Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks; he also argued in cases involving school desegregations, and helped bring about a presidential apology for victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

A video of Gray’s September presentation at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum is available online from C-SPAN2; an interview with Gray on John Seigenthaler’s Words on Words program can be downloaded as an MP3.

At the Carter Library, Gray described his book to the audience as “a history of the Civil Rights Movement as it begun in Montgomery, Alabama, in December of 1955, spreading throughout the state, throughout the country.” He continued, “The effects [of the Civil Rights Movement] went around the world. Almost every civil rights event that has occurred since 1955 — to some degree — you can trace a great deal of it back to Montgomery, Alabama.” Gray’s memoir details these integral events in Montgomery, including the arrests of Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Gray’s speech aired on C-SPAN2′s Book TV and is available for viewing online.

On John Seigenthaler’s Words on Words, originally aired on October 27 on Nashville Public Radio, Seigenthaler and Gray look at the revised edition of Bus Ride to Justice‘s new revelations about Rosa Parks’s arrest and the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In the book, Gray reveals that he and Parks, a secretary for the Montgomery branch of the NAACP, spent many weeks discussing how to use an arrest as a way to push for change in Montgomery.

“We really couldn’t completely pre-plan it,” Gray tells Seigenthaler, since they couldn’t predict when buses would be full and when Parks might be asked to give up her seat, “but what we did know and what Ms. Parks understood was that she would be an ideal person if the opportunity [for protest] presented itself.” Gray goes on to say that “Ms. Parks was the key person and she wanted to take her place in history and she did, not by accident. … The whole thing to a degree was planned in the sense that we were prepared.”

John Seigenthaler’s C-SPAN2; an interview with Gray on John Seigenthaler’s Words on Words interview with Fred Gray, including a discussion of the photographs included in the book, is available as an audio podcast.

The revised edition of Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System by Fred Gray, is available as a hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

TIME Magazine “One Dream” project spotlights Bob Zellner, civil rights activist

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 by Brian Seidman

The Wrong Side of Murder Creek by Bob ZellnerTIME Magazine has included author and civil rights activist Bob Zellner as part of their “One Dream” multimedia project, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The son and grandson of Klansmen, Zellner turned away from his heritage while at Huntington College in Alabama, joining the civil rights movement and later becoming the first white secretary of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Zellner chronicled his growing social awareness and his experiences in the movement, including numerous marches and sit-ins, as well as his encounter with many key figures of the Civil Rights era, in his memoir The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement, available in hardcover and ebook.

In a video on the TIME website, Zellner relates the violence he witnessed during his time with SNCC, including violence directed against himself. “In the first thirty-six months of my work with SNCC,” Zellner said, “five of my colleagues were lynched … by racists. I was beaten so severely … that I have suffered some brain damage and also post-traumatic stress.”

On one particular occasion, Zellner marched with some high school students protesting the murder of Herbert Lee, who was killed after helping African Americans register to vote. A mob formed around the group. Zellner recalled, “The violence was so awful. They had hangmans ropes and they stopped us at the city hall … A small group of klansmen surrounded me and began to hit me.” As the mob grew, Zellner had to cling to a railing so as not to be pulled into the crowd and lynched, while one of his attackers tried to gouge out his eye.

“A white southerner was not supposed to step out of line,” Zeller told TIME, “because we were supposed to accept segregation and accept it happily. But if you didn’t, you could lose your sight, you could lose your life.”

Watch Bob Zellner’s “One Dream” video, or visit the TIME Magazine “One Dream” website.

The Wrong Side of Murder Creek by Bob Zellner is available in hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

The Order Katzenbach Was Enforcing . . .

Friday, May 11th, 2012 by Randall Williams

Nicholas Katzenbach, former Attorney General of the United States, died on May 8 at age 90 and was widely memorialized as an important figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. His most famous moment came in 1963 at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa when as a deputy attorney general he was selected to enforce the law at what became known as Alabama Governor George C. Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door,” a grandstanding futile effort to prevent black students Vivian Malone and James Hood from desegregating the school.

George Wallace blocking University of Alabama integration; Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach pictured

George Wallace is confronted by Nicholas Katzenbach while blocking the integration of the University of Alabama, June 11, 1963. (Library of Congress)

Of course, Wallace’s ploy might not have been futile without the determined actions of federal officials like Katzenbach, notes civil rights lawyer Fred Gray, author of Bus Ride to Justice. Gray had more than a passing interest in the events in Tuscaloosa on June 11, 1963, because Katzenbach was there to enforce a court order obtained by Gray and fellow civil rights attorney Arthur Shores of Birmingham.

“The nation has lost a faithful and forceful advocate for civil and constitutional rights with the passing of Nicholas Katzenbach,” Gray said this week. “It was his and other Justice Department officials’ responsibility to enforce the federal laws, not only those enacted by Congress but also the orders of federal courts across the nation. In the Malone/Hood case, Katzenbach had the courage to face the governor and ask him to step aside so the court’s order could be enforced. He was one of many such federal officials who were so important to bring about equality under our Constitution, because those court orders were of no value if they could not be enforced. If Wallace had been able to thwart the federal judges who were applying Constitutional rule, then we would not have gotten anywhere.”

After making a bombastic speech, Wallace finally did step aside, and the federal court order obtained by Fred Gray and his colleagues was enforced, and Malone and Hood did enroll and segregation thus ended at the University of Alabama. Katzenbach went on to become Attorney General under President Lyndon Johnson. Wallace was paralyzed in an assassination attempt in 1972 but was elected governor a record four times and eventually apologized for his segregationist past and crowned a black homecoming queen at the University of Alabama.

And Fred Gray and Arthur Shores (now deceased) kept on filing civil rights lawsuits and obtaining federal court orders which the Justice Department enforced. Gradually, Gray’s famous pledge to “destroy everything segregated I could find,” as revealed in Bus Ride to Justice, was realized with scores of successful civil rights cases. Gray is now 80 years old, but he still gives speeches around the country explaining how the civil rights movement succeeded, in part because of the roles played by civil rights lawyers like himself, federal judges, and federal officials like Nick Katzenbach, who were all determined that the words of the U.S. Constitution would mean in practice what they said on paper.

Bus Ride to Justice has remained in print since it was first published in 1995. It is being reissued this summer in a revised edition to include the more recent events and developments in Gray’s life and in civil rights.

Robert Taylor architectural biography praised in New York Times, Press-Register

Friday, January 13th, 2012 by Brian Seidman

Dr. Ellen Weiss’s new lushly-illustrated biography of African American architect Robert Taylor is helping bring this figure the recognition he deserves. The January 12 New York Times “Antiques” column called Taylor a “pioneering architect,” and the Mobile Times-Register called Weiss’s book on Taylor, Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington, “long overdue.”

The Times-Register article “Southern Bound: Tuskegee architect finally gets his due,” by John Sledge, calls Weiss a “thorough researcher and a graceful writer who nicely balances Taylor’s personal and professional lives.” Indeed Weiss describes Taylor’s early life and includes both Taylor’s own letters, and writing about Taylor by his contemporaries, along with detailed accounts of the buildings that Taylor designed at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute, later Tuskegee University. Many of those buildings are still in use.

“I feel I know him,” Weiss told New York Times reporter Eve Kahn for the “Antiques” column, given the volume of documents Weiss studied related to Taylor.

Weiss contextualizes Taylor’s accomplishments, examining them against the Jim Crow laws of the 1900s. As the Times-Register notes:

Weiss is also very good on the difficulties that black architects and tradesmen faced in a constricted society. Though extremely careful, Taylor did push for increased opportunities for minority professionals, and on at least one occasion he had to deal with a racist white tradesman. Like [Booker T.] Washington, Taylor remained relentlessly optimistic, though Weiss reveals that after 1919 when whites were viciously assaulting entire black neighborhoods, “he wrote privately that he could no longer assume that white people were fair minded.” It was a rare pessimistic comment from a man focused on work, family and surviving in a hostile world. But in finding that reference, Weiss has given us the whole man, in his glory and his despair.

Ellen Weiss’s Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite book retailer. At 300 pages and including over 100 photographs, including a full catalog of Taylor’s work at Tuskegee University, Weiss’s book will be of interest to social and architectural historians and the general reader alike.

Fred Gray, Constance Curry inducted to Trumpet International Civil Rights Walk of Fame

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 by Brian Seidman

Two NewSouth Books authors, Fred Gray and Constance Curry, will be added to the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame during the 2012 Trumpet Awards on Friday, January 6, at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta.

Attorney Fred D. Gray served as the Montgomery Bus Boycott’s lawyer in 1950 at the age of only 24, defending such civil rights figures as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. He has worked on numerous civil rights cases since that time, including defending the Freedom Riders, the Selma-to-Montgomery marchers, and the victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Gray chronicled his civil right career in his memoir Bus Ride for Justice and the book The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, published by NewSouth Books; an updated edition of Bus Ride will be published in spring 2012.

Constance Curry’s most recent publication from NewSouth Books was co-authoring Bob Zellner’s autobiography, the award-winning The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement, currently in production as a movie with executive producer Spike Lee. During the Civil Rights Movement, Curry worked for a number of organizations including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She is a documentary filmmaker and the author of a number of books; she has twice received the Lillian Smith Book Award, including for Wrong Side of Murder Creek.

2012 marks the ninth year for the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame, sponsored by the Trumpet Awards Foundation. The Foundation states that the purpose of the Walk is “to give recognition to the foot soldiers of justice who sacrificed and struggled to make equality a reality for all.” Learn more at the Foundation website,

Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System by Fred Gray and The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement by Bob Zellner and Constance Curry are both available direct from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth was a giant of the Movement

Thursday, October 6th, 2011 by Randall Williams

That breeze you feel this morning must be one of two things: either it is caused by Bull Connor spinning in his grave over the international expressions of sympathy for the passing and admiration for the life of the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, or it is caused by a lot of angel wings flapping as Shuttlesworth has arrived in heaven. Where he will begin organizing and demonstrating shortly.

Reverend Shuttlesworth died Wednesday in Birmingham, where he had returned to live for medical treatment after becoming frail over the past few years. He was 89. There are many good tributes to him being published and broadcast today; here’s one from the New York Times.

I met Shuttlesworth several times over the years, beginning in the 1970s in Birmingham, where he had stayed active even after taking a pulpit in Cinncinati, and continuing through the 1980s when he would appear occasionally at anti-Klan demonstrations and into the 1990s and 2000s when he was beginning to be honored and celebrated for his remarkable role in civil rights history.

A lot of people — on both sides of the movement — were almost afraid of Shuttlesworth because of his manner, which was direct to the point of fierceness. That quality served him and the movement well when he confronted Bull Connor in Birmingham and other racists in other places. Yet Shuttlesworth always struck me as a compassionate, fundamentally decent man who just happened to be incapable of dodging an issue or saying less than what he believed to be the truth about whatever the situation was.

In his later years, he could be just as critical of what he saw as corrupt uselessness within the movement as he had been of Jim Crow segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, and the world. That prickly nature often caused him trouble, but it gained him respect and it made him effective. There can be no doubt that without Shuttlesworth, the police state repression in Birmingham would have continued for many more years, and Martin Luther King Jr. would never have been in a position to write a letter from the Birmingham jail nor probably to win a Nobel peace prize.

Shuttlesworth is the subject of an excellent biography by Andrew Manis, and he shows up prominently in many of the civil rights histories, biographies, and memoirs that I have edited and that Suzanne La Rosa and I have published over the years at NewSouth Books. Just about everybody who was active in the movement has Shuttlesworth stories to tell.

In Bus Ride to Justice, for instance, Fred Gray describes how Shuttlesworth was arrested in Montgomery for trying to eat at a white lunch counter. Bob Zellner describes in The Other Side of Murder Creek how Shuttlesworth waded fearlessly through the white mob outside the First Baptist Church on the night after the Freedom Riders were beaten in Montgomery, and then, with King and Ralph Abernathy, helped keep up the spirits of those trapped in the church during that long, frightening night while the mob raged outside. In The Judge, the biography of Frank M. Johnson Jr., Frank Sikora tells some of what Shuttlesworth faced as he confronted segregation in Birmingham’s schools in 1957:

“On September 11, 1957, Ruby Shuttlesworth, twelve, her sister, Patricia, fourteen, and two other black children went to all-white Phillips High School in Birmingham. They were driven by the girls’ father, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, and his wife, Ruby, plus another minister, J.S. Phifer. As they pulled up in front they were met by a group of about thirty white men, some of them wearing brass knuckles, others carrying chains and clubs. They advanced, shouting threats and cursing. Then they broke out the car windshield.

“Shuttlesworth got out of the car, knowing what awaited him. He was set upon and knocked repeatedly to the ground. His wife and the girls attempted to get out and run to the school, but were forced back inside. Birmingham police, meanwhile–and there were only a few of them on hand–attempted to radio for reinforcements. The call was held up, they said, because the radio was airing a routine stolen car report. Later, the report was found to be false; the car reported ‘stolen’ actually was the property of Police Commissioner Eugene (Bull) Connor.

“Bleeding and bruised, Shuttlesworth managed to get back into his car and was driven by Phifer to University Hospital. While most of the news media centered its attention on Central High in Little Rock, the attempt by the audacious Shuttlesworth to implement the Brown order in Birmingham and Alabama ended in one day.

“Ruby and Patricia Shuttlesworth returned to the all-black schools they had been attending.

“Sizing up the racial situation of the day, President Eisdenhower uttered a statement that was less than profound when he said, ‘Patience is the key to integration.’

“To the average black person living in the South then — ninety-four years after Abraham Lincoln put his signature on the Emancipation Proclamation — it was hardly an encouraging word.

“The angry resistance Shuttlesworth encountered ended the integration drive in the education arena for six years.”

Significantly, Shuttlesworth didn’t quit. He may not have had the patience President Eisenhower spoke of, but he was incapable of quitting. He kept working and kept organizing and kept resisting. And then when the time was right, he helped move the movement into a higher gear.

Rest in peace, Fred. You’ve earned it.