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February 5 - February 18, 2015

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Young, Black, & Presumed Guilty:
The Historical Burden of Being Prejudged a Menace to Society

cr gibbs
CR Gibbs

" A Negro boy has been executed at Vicksburg, Mississippi for assaulting his master."

- Daily Exchange, Baltimore, MD, March 7, 1860

From the time of slavery, Black children have been the objects of fear, suspicion, and malice by White society. Denied the right to play, gain an education, or even defend themselves from the horrors of slavery, they have come to represent an early phase of the ultimate existential threat to White supremacy.

African American children became that which must be surveilled, contained, and even eliminated before they could grow into what America considered an even more dangerous adulthood. Whatever internal notions they possessed of freedom, equality, justice, or humanity were criminalized whenever they were acted upon.

"A slave girl of sixteen attempted to run away from the plantation a year since, and was caught. General  (Robert E.) Lee ordered her to be stripped to the waist and this was done in the presence of her mother. After the whipping the girl was taken to Richmond and there forwarded to some cotton plantation."

- Cincinnati (OH) Daily Press, June 15, 1861

To be sure, there are fair, honest police, prosecutors, and judges, but the problems Black youth and America itself faces are significantly institutional and multigenerational and can only be overcome by sustained assault from both outside and inside.

The end of two centuries of slavery brought no respite to the minds and bodies of Black children nor change to an injustice system where, inversely to the rest of America, Black children were and still are adjudged guilty until proven innocent. Some historians have called this period, from the end of Reconstruction until well into the 20th century, the "nadir of American race relations."  Lynchings, beatings, Jim Crow, rapes, poll taxes, literacy tests, rigged trials, and peonage were the hallmarks of that age for people of African descent in America. In this maelstrom of little law and near total disorder, Black youth were targets of convenience.

The Scottsboro Boys 1931 - Alabama:
scottsboro boysNine young Black men between the ages of 13 and 19 were accused of raping two young White girls and fighting with a group of White boys while they were catching an illegal ride on a freight train. All the Black boys, except the youngest, were quickly convicted of rape and sentenced to death. They had committed the ultimate crime.

As news of the trials began to spread outside of the South, several civil rights groups, including the International Labor Defense, associated with the American Communist Party, fought for an appeal. The appeal  cited among other things ineffective counsel, an all-White biased jury, and the recanting of the rape charge by one of the alleged victims.

The boys were again found guilty.  More trials followed, but Alabama injustice was unyielding. The convictions were finally overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court four years later. Nevertheless, the boys remained in jail. Later in a compromise deal, half of the boys went free with the others being sentenced to death or long prison terms. Some of the defendants tried to escape the excessively brutal conditions of the Alabama prison system because they had become marked men. One was killed in prison. Another jumped a hard won parole and fled north. Twenty five years after the last of the Scottsboro Boys had died, the Alabama parole board voted to give them posthumous pardons.

George Stinney 1944 - South Carolina:
george stinneyAt the age of 14, George Stinney became the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century. Charged with the first degree murder of two little White girls, Stinney was killed in the electric chair despite the lack of any physical evidence. His only link to the crime still appears to be that he spoke to the girls on the day of their deaths. Three local policemen claimed the boy had confessed, but they took no notes and were never questioned by his defense counsel who was actually a local tax commissioner stumping for an election. There is also no transcript of the trial.

During Stinney's two and a half months of incarceration, his father lost his job and the family received death threats and was forced to leave town. An all-White jury was put together in a day. They reached a verdict in 10 minutes. Stinney was too small for the electric chair. They put books under him to get a better fit. He was only five feet, one inch tall and just a bit over 90 pounds. He died in less than five minutes. Recent research suggests a local White man may have been the perpetrator. Stinney's conviction was vacated in 2014.


In more recent times, there have been a parade of flagrant miscarriages of justice: Emmett Till, seven of the famed Wilmington 10 were teenagers, three were also the Central Park Five, the Jena Six, and so many more Black children unfurl enmeshed in the hostile net of American jurisprudence.  To be sure, there are fair, honest police, prosecutors, and judges, but the problems Black youth and America itself faces are significantly institutional and multigenerational and can only be overcome by sustained assault from both outside and inside.

Moreover, there must be a plan for after the protests. President Obama's observation that that racism is "deeply rooted" and "isn't going to be solved overnight" in our society are truisms that must be firmly faced by all of us before reform and healing can take place. A 2012 Associated Press poll revealed that 51 percent of Americans had "explicit anti-Black attitudes"-up from 48 percent four years earlier.

tamir riceAs the voice of the future, our youth must and should be in the vanguard of calling for just change and it is critical that we listen to their protests. None of us should stand idly by in this era of Ferguson, Staten Island, or the killing of little Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

History reminds us that there are periods of great protests when an inter nation chorus of voices swells around the globe advocating for positive change: 1968 when radicals contested with police at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, young people took to the streets of Paris and Czechs stood shoulder to shoulder to wret their Velvet Revolution from the talons of communism. Scarcely recalled today is 1989 when the Berlin Wall toppled, Russian communism expired, and young people hungry for change faced the troops and tanks of the Chinese military, or 2011, the year that hundreds of youths, Black and White, were arrested in the United States and around the world as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. This was also the year of the luminous beginnings of the Arab Spring.

Perhaps destiny has summoned a new generation of Americans to fight the ongoing demonization of African American youth. Franz Fanon, the great Martinique-born psychiatrist, philosopher, author, and radical, noted many years ago that each generation must fulfill its mission or betray it. Perhaps the direction of the current generation of Black protest is the ultimate question of the hour.

Nigeria Votes - Feb 14

 map of nigerian states
During Nigeria’s 2011 elections, more than 800 people died in 12 northern states.  This month, Nigeria will hold elections February 14 amid continued ethnic and/or regional and religious tensions. 

The All Progressives Congress (APC) is hoping the end  the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) hold on winning every election since Nigeria transitioned from military to democratic rule in 1999.  The APC  was formed last year from a coalition of opposition parties and northerner Muhammadu Buhari is heading their ticket. The PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan is running for a second term. Buhari is a Muslim. Muslim’s tend to be poorer. Jonathan is a Christian. Christians tend to be richer.

Jonathan came to power after the death of President Umaru Yar'Adua.  He evoked controversy by breaking an unwritten deal in the PDP that rotates the presidency between a southerner and northerner.

Like most African countries, Nigeria is a product of colonialism. The artificial creation included the union of the largely Muslim Northern Nigeria Protectorate and Christian Southern Nigeria in 1914.The British forced this unification for economic reasons rather than political — Northern Nigeria Protectorate had a budget deficit, and the colonial administration sought to use the budget surpluses in Southern Nigeria to offset this deficit.

In the current election, Jonathan lacks the support of some Christians.  “The Goodluck in Jonathan has become a bad luck to Nigerians. Whatever brought him in should send him back and let Nigeria be,” says Rev Father Camillus Ejike Mbaka in The Nation.

Adebowale Ibidapo Adefuye, Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States, offered a somewhat different opinion in the Washington Diplomat. He said that despite Jonathan’s popularity among Christians, “some people don’t like him for ethnic reasons,” he added. “But the ethnic and religious factor is a recent phenomenon. Nigeria is equally divided between Muslims and Christians. My father was a priest, and I have cousins who are Muslims.”

Yusuf Marafa, a Nigerian living in New York and POH reader, added, "I like General Muhammadu Buhari to be the next president of Nigeria because he is a reliable leader."

Adefuye also told the Washington Diplomat that balloting will take place in an atmosphere of calm.

“I remind people we are a post-colonial country and people, so to shift ourselves after just 50 years of perceived independence is just like asking what's wrong after 400 years of slavery in Black America,” says another POH reader and New York-based Nigerian-American entrepreneur Atim Annette Oton.  “So pardon us as we slowly evolve, we will get there,” she continued with optimism.

One Night in Miami with
Grasan Kingsberry

grasan kingsberry

Hailing from Charlotte, NC, Grasan Kingsberry is a graduate of The Julliard School and a triple threat, blessed with dance, music, and acting talents.  He is currently appearing at Baltimore’s Center Stage in Kemp Powers’ thought provoking play, “One Night in Miami.” 

Based on a real event, “One Night in Miami”is set in a hotel room in Overtown, a Black section of Miami, FL, on February 25, 1964, the night Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight title.  Instead of partying, Clay decides to spend this historical evening with his friends - -  football superstar Jim Brown, soul singer-songwriter-mogul Sam Cooke, and Nation of Islam activist Malcolm X.

Starring as Cooke, Kingsberry effortlessly transformed onstage giving a believable performance heightened by his silky vocals and engaging persona. When he jumped off the stage and sang to audience members up close and personal, more than a few hearts went aflutter!

Like Cooke, Kingsberry started performing as a child, appearing in musical theater. With his parent’s support, he became engrossed in artistic expression as a musician and dancer  He said, “I’ve had the support and love from my family since a very young age.”

Right out of college, Kingsberry scored a part in “AIDA.” Kingsberry has been blessed with not only a Broadway career, but also with projects in film and television including “Motown the Musical,” “The Color Purple,” “Smash,” and “All My Children.” “I was able to originate a lot of new shows and work with some amazing casts, choreographers, directors, and musicians in New York,” he recalled.

Compared to the other legends depicted in “One Night in Miami,” Kingsberry feels a special kinship to Cooke.  Kingsberry testified, “He was a soul stirrer, truly and literally. He had the ability to tap into people’s souls and their spirits through his God gifted talent, so I have to tap into my own soul and my own spirit, which is what attracted me to this role and [I] hope that connects and crosses over to the audience.”

Once the play wraps up, Kingsberry plans to study his craft and hopefully devote more time to music. “I would love to put more music out, write some original music, and collaborate with other musicians. I do feel like I am already my own CEO in regards to my career and navigating what I want to do creatively and that’s exactly what Sam did in his career. He had control over what he wanted to do, what songs he wanted to put out and what he wanted to record so I feel like he trail blazed a way for artists to have our own autonomy of our careers, both business wise and creatively.”

 “One Night in Miami” has been extended to February 22, 2015, at Center Stage in Baltimore. Stay connected with Kingsberry on Twitter (@grasank) and via Grasan-kingsberry.com.

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Bessie’s Blues

 bessies blues at metro stage
Bessie Smith had an early death at age 43, but her story, songs, and style still lives including in a reprise production at MetroStage.  This is “the grandest production we have produced,” said producing artistic director Carolyn Griffin.

True to Griffin’s words, the word “Blues,” is spelled out on stage with taller than six-foot letters presenting the feeling of a “happening” night club.   Writer Thomas W. Jones III smoothly weaves meaningful dialogue with Smith's often lively music.  “Just because you can sing about pain, doesn’t mean you have an answer for it,” Smith professes.

Bernadine Mitchell, who has played many leading characters at MetroStage including that of Mahalia Jackson, seems more natural as the full-figured, sometimes sassy Smith.  The accomplished cast included TC Carson, better known as Kyle Barker from Fox TV’s Living Single.

Carson will also perform cabaret-style at MetroStage Tuesday, March 3 at 7:30p.

Win Tickets

As written in the previous Port Of Harlem, we have one pair of tickets for a lucky winner to see Bessie’s Blues.  We will select the first person who sends us an e-mail by clicking here.

1 – the first entrant has 24 hours from the time we confirm by e-mail (today) that he or she is the winner to claim the free tickets by e-mail.

2 – if the first entrant does not claim the free tickets on time, we will select the second entrant who must meet the same conditions.  We will continue the process until we have a winner.

Safer Car Travel in the Cold

melvin lewisAn important component of winter weather preparedness is to keep an updated emergency supply kit in your vehicle to assist you if you become stranded on a rural road or in any inaccessible area. If you are traveling in winter weather, be sure to inform someone of your route, destination, and expected arrival time. These are just the first steps to staying safe while traveling in winter weather. Here are a few more:

  • Keep cash on hand for emergency expenses, since power outages mean ATMs or electronic cash registers won't work.
  • Keep your vital records and information on hand, this includes vehicle registration and insurance information.
  • Have an extra set of keys in case a key is broken in a frozen lock. Keep lock lubrication for frozen locks.
  • Keep on hand a list of important telephone numbers, such as transportation and towing services and motor club memberships.
  • If you want to keep Internet access, have a jet pack for smartphones and tablets.
  • A hand-cranked or battery-powered weather radio is useful.
  • Make sure you always have jumper cables for your car and a jumper pack capable for jumping the car battery and charging electronic items that use 12-volt cables.
  • Keep flags, reflective triangles, and a basic toolkit in your car.
  • Keep your cellphone charged. If you lose power, you won't be able to use a charger.
    Keep a GPS device in your car and a compass as a backup.
  • Keep flashlights with extra batteries inside your car and also in the trunk.
  • Keep extra clothes in your car, especially cold-weather items. Keeping blankets and towels in your car is also a good idea.
Lewis is an emergency management planner in Fayetteville, NC.
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How the Civil War
Changed Washington

The Smithsonian Anacostia Museum opened "How the Civil War Changed Washington" to a full crowd last Sunday.  The exhibit does not hold back on explaining Washington’s past and growth with panels on subjects from health to hookers.

The exhibit is open until September 2015. Admission to the museum at 1901 Fort Street, SE is free.  It’s open daily from 10a to 5p.

From our Archives: Washington, D.C. - Southeast

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choir boy at studio theater

Washington, DC
Choir Boy
Studio Theater
1501 14th Street, NW, $
through Sun, Mar 1

Africa's Gifts To America
CR Gibbs
South Bowie Library
15301 Hall Rd
Thu, Feb 5, 7p, free

The Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic
The Church of the Epiphany
1317 G. Street, NW
Sun, Feb 8, 3p, $20, 18 and under free

African Americans Teens in the
Civil Rights Movement
CR Gibbs
Francis Gregory Library
3660 Alabama Ave, SE
Wed, Feb 11, 7p, free

Blues in the Community
Presenter: David Cole
Alexandria Black History Museum
902 Wythe Street
Alexandria, VA
Sat, Feb 14, 12:30p-2p, free

The Annual African American Men
Sing Songs of Praise
Greater New Hope Baptist Church
816 8th Street, N.W. (8th and H St NW)
Sun, Feb 15, 4p, free

Poet Patricia Smith
Library of Congress
James Madison Bldg
Montpelier Room
101 Independence Ave, S.E
Tue, Feb 17, 7p, free

Atlanta, GA
UniverSoul Circus
Turner Field - Green Lot
through Sun, Mar 1, $

Detroit '67
Southwest Arts Center
915 New Hope Road
through Sun, Mar 8, $

Baltimore, MD
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr.
124 Market Place
Fri, Feb 13, 9p, $35

New York, NY
We The People: The Citizens of NYCHA
in Photos + Words
Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street
Through Sun, Mar 8, $10 adults; $6 teachers & seniors; free to members, students, children 12 years and under

Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma
to Montgomery March by Stephen Somerstein
The New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
Through Sun, Apr 19, free-$19

Conversations in Black Freedom Studies - 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of Malcolm X: Malcolm X and Black Radical Women
Schomburg Center
515 Malcolm X Boulevard
Thu, Feb 5, 6p-8p, free

elizabeth catlett at Hampton U
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