The Police Have Been Spying on Black Reporters and Activists for Years :: ProPublica

The police surveillance wasn’t conducted just with wiretaps and long lenses, but with snitches planted within local organizations, including spies planted by then-Mayor Henry Loeb, an anti-union segregationist, among sanitation workers who wanted to join a union.

I Know Because I’m One of Them.

Wendi C. Thomas is a black journalist who has covered police in Memphis. One officer admitted to spying on her. She’s on a long list of prominent black journalists and activists who have been subjected to police surveillance over decades.

by Wendi C. Thomas, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism June 9, 2020, 6 a.m. EDTWendi C. Thomas learned during a police surveillance trial that the Memphis Police Department spied on her and three other journalists. (Andrea Morales)

RACIAL JUSTICE

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This article was produced in partnership with the MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — On Aug. 20, 2018, the first day of a federal police surveillance trial, I discovered that the Memphis Police Department was spying on me.

The ACLU of Tennessee had sued the MPD, alleging that the department was in violation of a 1978 consent decree barring surveillance of residents for political purposes.

I’m pretty sure I wore my pink gingham jacket — it’s my summer go-to when I want to look professional. I know I sat on the right side of the courtroom, not far from a former colleague at the city’s daily newspaper. I’d long suspected that I was on law enforcement’s radar, simply because my work tends to center on the most marginalized communities, not institutions with the most power.

One of the first witnesses called to the stand: Sgt. Timothy Reynolds, who is white. To get intel on activists and organizers, including those in the Black Lives Matter movement, he’d posed on Facebook as a “man of color,” befriending people and trying to infiltrate closed circles.

Projected onto a giant screen in the courtroom was a screenshot of people Reynolds followed on Facebook.

My head was bent as I wrote in my reporter’s notebook. “What does this entry indicate?” ACLU attorney Amanda Strickland Floyd asked.

“I was following Wendi Thomas,” Reynolds replied. “Wendi C. Thomas.”

I sat up.

“And who is Wendi Thomas?” Floyd asked.

She, he replied, used to write for The Commercial Appeal. In 2014, I left the paper after being a columnist for 11 years.

It’s been more than a year since a judge ruled against the city, and I’ve never gotten a clear answer on why the MPD was monitoring me. Law enforcement also was keeping tabs on three other journalists whose names came out during the trial. Reynolds testified he used the fake account to monitor protest activity and follow current events connected to Black Lives Matter.

My sin, as best I can figure, was having good sources who were local organizers and activists, including some of the original plaintiffs in the ACLU’s lawsuit against the city.

In the days since cellphone video captured white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin squeezing the life out of George Floyd, a black man, residents in dozens of cities across the country have exercised their First Amendment rights to protest police brutality.

Here in Memphis, where two-thirds of the population is black and 1 in 4 lives below the poverty line, demonstrators have chanted, “No justice, no peace, no racist police!”

The most recent protests were sparked by the killings of Floyd and of Breonna Taylor, a black woman gunned down in her home by Louisville, Kentucky, police in March. But in Memphis, like elsewhere, the seeds of distrust between activists and police were planted decades ago. And law enforcement has nurtured these seeds ever since.

A Long History of Spying

In the mid-1960s, the MPD launched a domestic intelligence unit to spy not just on activists, but also on teachers’ meetings, a college black student union and labor organizers. That included Martin Luther King Jr., who came to Memphis in the spring of 1968 to stand in solidarity with underpaid and mistreated black city sanitation workers.

The police surveillance wasn’t conducted just with wiretaps and long lenses, but with snitches planted within local organizations, including spies planted by then-Mayor Henry Loeb, an anti-union segregationist, among sanitation workers who wanted to join a union.

In the iconic photo taken just moments after a gunman shot King on the Lorraine Motel balcony, several people are seen pointing in the direction from which the bullet came. Crouched over King’s body is a man holding a towel to the gaping wound on King’s face. The man, rarely identified in photos, is Marrell “Mac” McCollough, a Memphis cop who was assigned to infiltrate a militant activist group hated by Memphis police. There’s no evidence he was involved with King’s assassination.

Some, including members of King’s family, have long speculated that the assassination was not the work of a lone gunman but orchestrated by federal law enforcement agencies (the FBI famously monitored and harassed King). Both a U.S. House committee independent review in 1979 and a Department of Justice review in 2000 found no basis for this. Still, in 2002, the National Civil Rights Museum, which sits where the motel was, added to its permanent exhibits “Lingering Questions,” which contains hundreds of pieces of evidence, including the bullet plucked from King’s body. One of the questions (that the exhibit does not definitively answer): “Was the Memphis Police Department part of the conspiracy?”

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In 1976, the ACLU of Tennessee sued the city, alleging it had violated residents’ First Amendment rights by maintaining records that “contained unverified information and gossip which related exclusively to the exercise of lawful and peaceful activities,” and, according to the complaint, “served no lawful or valid law enforcement purpose.”

A judge agreed and in 1978 signed the Kendrick consent decree, the first such decree in the country, which barred law enforcement from surveilling protesters for political purposes.

Many of today’s protesters know about that ruling, because in 2017 the ACLU of Tennessee sued the city, alleging that police were violating the consent decree by again illegally spying on residents who were exercising their First Amendment rights.

In 2016, protesters had a series of high-profile demonstrations including a May protest at the Memphis Zoo, a spontaneous protest against police brutality in July in which hundreds blocked traffic on the Interstate 40 bridge and a December “die-in” in the mayor’s front yard. After those, according to the lawsuit, the city started a blacklist of residents barred from City Hall without an escort.

It contained the names not just of those who had been arrested at demonstrations, but many who had not, including the mother of Darrius Stewart, a black teen police shot and killed in 2015 following a traffic stop, and a white grandmother who’d made it through a security blockade outside Graceland while black protesters were held back.

Reynolds’ sleuthing made up a good part of the joint intelligence briefings, which were shared with law enforcement agencies and some of the city’s largest corporations, such as FedEx and AutoZone, at the businesses’ request. (Facebook told the MPD it violated the social platform’s terms of service by creating fake accounts and impersonating others.)

In court, the city argued that the surveillance — videotaping demonstrations, using social media collators to sweep up posts about police and Black Lives Matters supporters — was necessary to protect public safety.

But while joint intelligence briefings and internal reports were ostensibly to keep track of potential threats, they were littered with unfounded rumors, misidentified photos of activists and surveillance reports of events that posed no clear threat, such as a black food truck festival.

And while it’s true that the pen is mightier than the sword, there’s nothing about me that screams threat, unless critical reporting on public policy and public officials, including Mayor Jim Strickland, counts.

In 2017, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism covered the anniversary of the bridge protest, but when I tried to get an interview with the mayor, I was rebuffed.

“Objectivity dictates if the mayor does one on one interviews,” wrote Ursula Madden, the city’s chief communications officer in an email. “You have demonstrated, particularly on social media, that you are not objective when it comes to Mayor Strickland.”

I replied that I was disappointed and asked her to point me to any errors of fact I’d made in my coverage. She did not respond.

Nagging Suspicions

I’ve worked as a journalist in Memphis for the last 17 years. I’ve never been a victim of police brutality, but few of my interactions with police have inspired confidence.

In 2014, while I was at The Commercial Appeal, a reader threatened by email to rape me after a column I wrote about Confederate Gen. Nathan B. Forrest. I reluctantly reported the threat to police, but the investigation felt lackluster and no suspect was ever identified.

It nagged at me, and years later, when I tried to learn more about what steps the detective assigned to my case had taken, department officials refused to share any information, even the details of their interview with me.

In July 2015, I covered the demonstrations that followed Stewart’s death by police. I interviewed the teen’s father and posted the video on Instagram.

A few days later, a cousin I hadn’t seen in years stopped by. He wanted to take a quick tour through downtown Memphis. It was dark and rainy. He’s black with long locks and a beard.

I wanted to be a good host, but before I left the house, I tweeted my hesitation: “My cousin is in town for work, leaving tomorrow. He wants to see Downtown. My 1st thought: Do I want to risk an encounter w/ police?”

My fear was not without cause: Less than two weeks earlier, Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, had been forced out of her car by an aggressive Texas cop who’d stopped her for failing to signal while changing lanes. A dashboard camera video caught her arrest and three days later, she was found dead in a jail cell. Authorities said she died by suicide.

I was thinking about what happened to Bland and what had happened to Stewart, who had been shot to death by police following a traffic stop the same month.

Just a few miles from home, flashing lights filled my rearview mirror. I pulled over, heart pounding.

I hit record on my cellphone and placed it on the dashboard. You can’t see the officer’s face in the video, which I still have, but you can hear our voices over the windshield wipers. The officer, who was black, asked for my license. I handed it to him and asked why I’d been stopped.

He said my driver’s side headlight was out, but when he leaned over to tap it, he said it was back on.

“I’m not trying to be Sandra Bland tonight,” I told the officer.

The Memphis officer said he was trying to be a nice guy. “You think I want to stand out here in the rain?” he can be heard saying on video.

“Ms. Thomas,” he said, reading my license. “Ms. Wendi Thomas.” I wondered if he recognized my byline. I offered to show him what I had just tweeted but he declined. “Your headlights are working now,” he said. “You be safe, OK?”

“Yeah, but what happens when somebody else pulls me over?” I asked.

“I don’t know what somebody else is gonna do,” he said, “but I know that if you do the right things, if you’re doing the right things, then nothing else can happen but good.”

I now wonder if the police had been following me. The police department did not answer questions for this story.

But at the time, I was paralyzed by fear and wanted to avoid being pulled over again.

I took side streets home.

Why Were You Following Me?

After Reynolds left the stand after naming me as someone he had followed, the judge took a short recess. I headed outside the courtroom and saw Reynolds headed to the elevator.

I followed him. When the doors closed, I stuck out my hand and introduced myself. I asked: Why were you following me on social media?

Although it was chilly in the courtroom, Reynolds was sweating. He said he couldn’t talk about it.

Two days after Reynolds’ testimony, I filed a public records request with the city of Memphis, asking for all joint intelligence briefings, emails or other documents that referenced me or any of the three other journalists that the MPD was following on social media.

Four hundred and thirty three days later, the city produced the records — and I still don’t understand what would make police see me as a threat worthy of surveillance in the name of public safety.

Contained in the documents: A screenshot of a Facebook post that I made on Jan. 28, 2016, while I was on a fellowship at Harvard University. I’d shared a notice about a grassroots coalition meeting to be held that day.

In a joint intelligence briefing was a screenshot of a tweet I’d been tagged in. The original tweet, which at the time police captured it had 11 likes and one retweet, was itself a screenshot of an offensive image a Memphis police officer had allegedly posted on Snapchat.

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In another police email was a February 2017 tweet I sent about an upcoming protest, which had been announced on Facebook. It got two likes.

The city of Memphis is pushing back against the judge’s ruling. Its lawyers have asked the court to modify the consent decree, contending that the city can’t participate in a Trump administration public safety partnership if it isn’t allowed to share intelligence with federal agencies.

My battles with the city of Memphis didn’t end with the lawsuit, unfortunately.

In 2018, I was trying to figure out which corporations had answered the mayor’s call to financially subsidize police operations by funneling $6.1 million to the city through a secretive nonprofit, the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission.

Strickland wouldn’t divulge the companies’ identities, but he realized that public records I’d requested would. So the mayor’s staff, in conjunction with the Crime Commission and another secretive nonprofit, came up with a plan to release the companies’ names to local journalists before releasing the records to me, I learned through emails released in conjunction with a 2018 public records lawsuit against the Crime Commission.

And this year, I was forced to sue the city after it refused to include me on its media email advisory list despite repeated requests.

The city of Memphis did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

My experiences have shaped the way my newsroom has covered more recent protests, including those in Memphis since Floyd’s death.

guide on covering protests from the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy notes, “Understand how police use news coverage to surveil black communities. Don’t allow police to use you, or your coverage, to do their jobs.”

We applied these principles to our recent coverage of a civil disobedience training that drew more than 350 people. While we know the names of the people we talked to, if participants weren’t comfortable using their whole name or showing their entire face, we protected their identity.

After all, I know how it feels to know that the police are watching you.

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How Stevie Wonder Helped Create Martin Luther King Day

Marcus Baram

Marcus Baram

Medium.com

Jan 18, 2015

How Stevie Wonder Helped Create Martin Luther King Day

Onthe evening of April 4, 1968, teen music sensation Stevie Wonder was dozing off in the back of a car on his way home to Detroit from the Michigan School for the Blind, when the news crackled over the radio: Martin Luther King Jr. had just been assassinated in Memphis. His driver quickly turned off the radio and they drove on in silence and shock, tears streaming down Wonder’s face.

Five days later, Wonder flew to Atlanta for the slain civil rights hero’s funeral, as riots erupted in several cities, the country still reeling. He joined Harry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson, Eartha Kitt, Diana Ross and a long list of politicians and pastors who mourned King, prayed for a nation in which all men are created equal and vowed to continue the fight for freedom.

Wonder was still in shock—he remembered how, when he was five, he first heard about King as he listened to coverage of the Montgomery bus boycott on the radio. “I asked, ‘Why don’t they like colored people? What’s the difference?’ I still can’t see the difference.” As a young teenager, when Wonder was performing with the Motown Revue in Alabama, he experienced first-hand the evils of segregation—he remembers someone shooting at their tour bus, just missing the gas tank. When he was 15, Wonder finally met King, shaking his hand at a freedom rally in Chicago.

Nancy Wilson, Eartha Kitt, Sammy Davis Jr, Sidney Poitier, Berry Gordy Jr, and Marlon Brando arrive at the funeral for Dr. King

At the funeral, Wonder was joined by his local representative, young African-American Congressman John Conyers, who had just introduced a bill to honor King’s legacy by making his birthday a national holiday. Thus began an epic crusade, led by Wonder and some of the biggest names in music—from Bob Marley to Michael Jackson—to create Martin Luther King Day.

To overcome the resistance of conservative politicians, including President Reagan and many of his fellow citizens, Wonder put his career on hold, led rallies from coast to coast and galvanized millions of Americans with his passion and integrity.

But it took 15 years.

Inthe immediate wake of King’s death, the political establishment was more concerned with keeping things calm, tamping down unrest, and arresting rioters and activists. It was a violent year—that summer the Democratic convention in Chicago exploded in chaos and another inspiring leader, Robert F. Kennedy, was killed by an assassin. The country seemed on the verge of civil war.

Conyers’ bill languished in Congress for over a decade, through years of anti-war protests, Watergate and political corruption, stifled by inertia and malaise at the end of the 1970s. The dream was kept alive by labor unions, who viewed King as a working-class hero, with protests that slowly built up steam. At a General Motors plant in New York, a small group of auto workers refused to work on King’s birthday in 1969, and thousands of hospital workers in New York City went on strike until managers agreed to a paid holiday on the birthday. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, led a birthday rally that year in Atlanta, where she was joined by Conyers and union leaders. By 1973, some of the country’s largest unions, including the AFSCME and the United Autoworkers, made the paid holiday a regular demand in their contract negotiations.

Finally in 1979, President Jimmy Carter, who had been elected with the support of the unions, endorsed the bill to create the holiday. Carter made an emotional appearance at King’s old church, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. But Congress refused to budge, led by conservative Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who denounced King as a lawbreaker who had been manipulated by Communists. The situation looked bleak.

By then, Wonder had matured from a young harmonica-playing sensation to a chart-topping music genius lauded for his complex rhythms and socially-conscious lyrics about racism, black liberation, love and unity. He had kept in touch with Coretta Scott King, regularly performing at rallies to push for the holiday. He told a cheering crowd in Atlanta in the summer of 1979, “If we cannot celebrate a man who died for love, then how can we say we believe in it? It is up to me and you.”

Years earlier, Wonder had composed “Happy Birthday,” a song celebrating King’s life, dedicating the song and his next album to the cause. Originally he was going to record himself singing the traditional song to King but Wonder didn’t know the music, so he “wrote the hook for a different ‘Happy Birthday,’” remembers producer Malcolm Cecil. He held onto it until “the movement for the holiday was gaining steam,” and made it the centerpiece of his next album, Hotter Than July. The record’s sleeve design featured a large photograph of King with a passage urging fans to support the holiday bill: “We still have a long road to travel until we reach the world that was his dream. We in the United States must not forget either his supreme sacrifice or that dream.”

That summer, Wonder called Coretta Scott King, telling her, “I had a dream about this song. And I imagined in this dream I was doing this song. We were marching—with petition signs to make for Dr. King’s birthday to become a national holiday.”

King was touched but she didn’t have much hope, telling Wonder, “I wish you luck, you know. We’re in a time where I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Stevie Wonder and Coretta Scott-King in 1984

That August, during a memorable appearance with Barbara Walters on 20/20, Wonder played “Happy Birthday” on the keyboards, announcing that he would soon start a four-month tour with Bob Marley that would lead into a mass rally to push for the holiday. The location was ripe with symbolism—the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where King had given his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. It was just a few months before the election that put Ronald Reagan in the White House, and Wonder was concerned about the “disturbing drift in the country towards war, bigotry, poverty and hatred.”

Stevie performs alongside Bob Marley

Tickets sold out for the concerts, buzz was building, but then disaster struck — Marley checked into a hospital in New York with the cancer that would cause him to perish just six months later. Wonder asked songwriter and poet Gil Scott-Heron, known for his polemic “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” to fill in for the ailing reggae superstar. The tour was the highlight of Scott-Heron’s career, he later wrote in The Last Holiday, his book devoted to King and Wonder for inviting him to join the cause. At the end of every show, he would join Wonder on stage to lead the audience in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

The tour was full of extremes. When they played at Madison Square Garden in November, Wonder delighted the huge audience with a surprise guest—the Prince of Pop. Michael Jackson slid on to stage during the reggae rhythm of “Master Blaster” and the crowd screamed as he twirled “like a boneless ice skater,” remembered Scott-Heron. And when they played in Los Angeles a week later with Carlos Santana, Wonder had to somberly announce John Lennon’s killing that night to a stunned audience that soon started wailing and breaking down in tears. In a moving elegy, Wonder talked about their friendship and praised Lennon’s integrity, connecting him to King, drawing “a circle around the kind of men who stood up for both peace and change” and making the upcoming rally even more significant.

The mood was somber by the time the tour arrived in Washington in early 1981, as the liberal city prepared for Reagan’s inauguration. No one expected much of a turnout for an MLK rally on a chilly snowy day. But 100,000 people from all over the country braved the cold on January 15 to hear Scott-Heron, Diana Ross and Jesse Jackson speak. When Wonder came up to the podium, the audience started chanting, “Happy Birthday!”

He spoke eloquently: “Why Stevie Wonder, as an artist? Why should I be involved in this great cause? …As an artist, my purpose is to communicate the message that can better improve the lives of all of us. I’d like to ask all of you just for one moment, if you will, to be silent and just to think and hear in your mind the voice of our Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Stevie Wonder, Gil Scott Heron, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Gladys Knight and Sam Courtney at a press conference at Rafu Gallery, Washington, DC, January 15, 1981.

Despite the outpouring of support—and millions of signatures gathered by Wonder and his team—Congress continued to debate the issue. President Reagan opposed the holiday, citing the cost of another national day off and suggesting instead a scholarship program for young blacks. Wonder came back the next January for another rally, and finally hearings resumed in 1982 and 1983. Though both Coretta Scott King and Wonder gave moving testimony, conservatives were on fire, led by Jesse Helms. During an intense filibuster, the North Carolina Republican labeled King a “Marxist-Leninist” whose “whole movement included Communists,” and called on the FBI to release its records on King. His language was so hateful that at one point New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan angrily threw a batch of Helms’s documents on the floor, calling it a “packet of filth.”

At that point, the rhetoric had grown so incendiary that even moderates in opposition felt compelled to express their support for the holiday. The bill passed, 78 to 22. Reagan signed the bill into law in November, 1983 but the holiday was not officially observed until the third Monday of January, 1986. For many years to come, certain states refused to honor the holiday until in 2000 South Carolina became the final state to recognize Martin Luther King Day.

Coretta Scott attends the signing of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by President Reagan on November 2, 1983 | President Obama presents the Medal of Freedom to Stevie Wonder in the White House on November 24, 2014. The Medal of Freedom is the country’s highest civilian honor.

Stevie Wonder continues to celebrate King’s birthday with frequent performances. On November 24, 2014, he was honored with the Congressional Medal of Freedom at the White House by President Obama, who told the singer that the first record he ever bought was by Wonder.

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Untouchable : Elie Honig :: Book Overview

“Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away with It”

New from Harper: Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away with It by Elie Honig.

In Untouchable, Elie Honig exposes how the rich and powerful use the system to their own benefit, revealing how notorious figures like Donald Trump, Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, and Bill Cosby successfully eluded justice for decades. He demonstrates how the Trump children dodged a fraud indictment. He makes clear how countless CEOs and titans of Wall Street have been let off the hook, receiving financial penalties without suffering criminal consequences. This doesn’t happen by accident.

Over the four years of his administration, Donald Trump’s corruption seemed plain for all to see. The former president obstructed justice, flouted his responsibility to the Constitution, lied to the American people, and set the United States on a dark path to disunity and violence. Yet he has never been held accountable for any of his misdeeds. Why not?

FULL REIVEW

Democrats respond to GOP calls for debt ceiling negotiations

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Holds Daily Briefing

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at a daily news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on July 11 in Washington, DC.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Democrats respond to GOP calls for debt ceiling negotiations: No

“In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing,” one Democratic senator said. “You don’t get a cookie.”

Jan. 16, 2023, 8:00 AM EST

By Steve Benen

Late last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sent an important letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The cabinet secretary explained that the United States would hit the debt ceiling this Thursday, Jan. 19, and it was time for Congress to begin taking necessary steps to prevent default.

It’s worth emphasizing that hitting the debt ceiling this week does not mean that default is just a few days away. Rather, the Treasury Department will now begin a series of moves — described as taking “certain extraordinary measures“ — to prevent a crisis. But those temporary measures will be exhausted by early June. Before that deadline, lawmakers will have to agree to allow the government to pay its own bills.

“Failure to meet the government’s obligations would cause irreparable harm to the U.S. economy, the livelihoods of all Americans, and global financial stability,” Yellen said, accurately describing reality. She added that even threatening default has “caused real harms, including the only credit rating downgrade in the history of our nation in 2011.”

A day earlier, the new House speaker told reporters that, as far as he’s concerned, there’s no need to wait until the last minute: President Joe Biden, McCarthy said, should begin the process now of negotiating with GOP leaders and making them happy so as to avoid a default.

Democrats are not just rejecting Republicans’ demands, the party that controls the White House and the Senate are also explicitly rejecting the very idea of negotiations. The Washington Post reported:

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Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK Day 2023

For his service to our people and to this nation, be Grateful and Thoughtful on this MLK Day

It is not a day of service, it is a day of reflection, renewal, and re-engineering. A day to tell the story and lift up a most righteous demand for freedom. This man, through the power of our lived history, colored America and its infractions in 3D.

“For the good of America, it is necessary to refute the idea that the dominant ideology in our country, even today, is freedom and equality while racism is just an occasional departure from the norm on the part of a few bigoted extremists. Racism can well be that corrosive evil that will bring down the curtain on western civilization.”

 ‘The Three Evils of Society’ Speech – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – August 31, 1967

I for one, trust my struggle for justice and a reparative future for Black people in this country. Consequently, I do not fall for the “a day of action” distraction about what this day means. Pausing and re-assessment are the ways I spend the hours of this day. How I spend my MLK Day. It is a day that I remind my history recall that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who stepped up in history for a different future was assassinated. It is a day that I remind myself that you cannot serve the people, without loving the people. I am also reminded of my obligation to step out of the shadow and look back on the stenciling of Jim Crow across this country, in the heart of our children, in our government, and in these laws. I have an obligation. On this day, I review them, reprioritize and recognize all the shortcomings that can be found at the intersection of a double-consciousness existence that formed both the fracture and the power in me. I am not the child of some Founding Father. I come up from a place where I have been required to create my own country, voice, and place. MLK, Jr. added a very critical layer to that foundation.

Celebrate and remember the Father, Husband, Leader, Writer, Orator, Justice Interlocutor, Civil, and Human Rights Warrior.

Listen here to our 2022 Broadcast to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume VII: To Save The Soul of America, January 1961 – August 1962

Preserving the legacy of one of the twentieth century’s most influential advocates for peace and justice, The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., was described by one historian as being the “equivalent to a conversation” with King. To Save the Soul of America, the seventh volume of the anticipated fourteen-volume edition, provides an unprecedented glimpse into King’s early relationship with President John F. Kennedy and his efforts to remain relevant in a protest movement growing increasingly massive and militant.

Following Kennedy’s inauguration in January 1961, King’s high expectations for the new administration gave way to disappointment as the president hesitated to commit to comprehensive civil rights legislation. As the initial Freedom Ride catapulted King into the national spotlight in May, tensions with student activists affiliated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were exacerbated after King refused to participate in subsequent freedom rides. These tensions became more evident after King accepted an invitation in December 1961 to help the SNCC-supported Albany Movement in southwest Georgia. King’s arrests in Albany prompted widespread national press coverage for the protests there, but he left with minimal tangible gains.

During 1962 King worked diligently to improve the effectiveness of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) by hiring new staff and initiating grassroots outreach. King also increased his influence by undertaking an overcrowded schedule of appearances, teaching a course at Morehouse College, and participating in an additional round of protests in Albany during July 1962. As King confronted these difficult challenges, he learned valuable lessons that would later influence the campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.

Know James Baldwin?

Who Was James Baldwin?

Writer and playwright James Baldwin published the 1953 novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, receiving acclaim for his insights on race, spirituality and humanity. Other novels included Giovanni’s RoomAnother Country and Just Above My Head, as well as essays like Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time

GettyImages-94671441

Early Life

Writer and playwright James Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924, in Harlem, New York. One of the 20th century’s greatest writers, Baldwin broke new literary ground with the exploration of racial and social issues in his many works. He was especially known for his essays on the Black experience in America.

Baldwin was born to a young single mother, Emma Jones, at Harlem Hospital. She reportedly never told him the name of his biological father. Jones married a Baptist minister named David Baldwin when James was about three years old.

Despite their strained relationship, Baldwin followed in his stepfather’s footsteps — who he always referred to as his father — during his early teen years. He served as a youth minister in a Harlem Pentecostal church from the ages of 14 to 16.

Baldwin developed a passion for reading at an early age and demonstrated a gift for writing during his school years. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he worked on the school’s magazine with future famous photographer Richard Avedon

Baldwin published numerous poems, short stories and plays in the magazine, and his early work showed an understanding for sophisticated literary devices in a writer of such a young age.

After graduating from high school in 1942, he had to put his plans for college on hold to help support his family, which included seven younger children. He took whatever work he could find, including laying railroad tracks for the U.S. Army in New Jersey.

During this time, Baldwin frequently encountered discrimination, being turned away from restaurants, bars and other establishments because he was African American. After being fired from the New Jersey job, Baldwin sought other work and struggled to make ends meet.

Aspiring Writer

On July 29, 1943, Baldwin lost his father — and gained his eighth sibling the same day. He soon moved to Greenwich Village, a New York City neighborhood popular with artists and writers.

Devoting himself to writing a novel, Baldwin took odd jobs to support himself. He befriended writer Richard Wright, and through Wright, he was able to land a fellowship in 1945 to cover his expenses. Baldwin started getting essays and short stories published in such national periodicals as The NationPartisan Review and Commentary.

Three years later, Baldwin made a dramatic change in his life and moved to Paris on another fellowship. The shift in location freed Baldwin to write more about his personal and racial background.

“Once I found myself on the other side of the ocean, I see where I came from very clearly…I am the grandson of a slave, and I am a writer. I must deal with both,” Baldwin once told The New York Times. The move marked the beginning of his life as a “transatlantic commuter,” dividing his time between France and the United States.

‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’

Baldwin had his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, published in 1953. The loosely autobiographical tale focused on the life of a young man growing up in Harlem grappling with father issues and his religion.

Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else. I had to deal with what hurt me most. I had to deal, above all, with my father,” he later said.

Gay Literature

In 1954, Baldwin received a Guggenheim Fellowship. He published his next novel, Giovanni’s Room, the following year. The work told the story of an American living in Paris and broke new ground for its complex depiction of homosexuality, a then-taboo subject.

Love between men was also explored in a later Baldwin novel Just Above My Head (1978). The author would also use his work to explore interracial relationships, another controversial topic for the times, as seen in the 1962 novel Another Country.

Baldwin was open about his homosexuality and relationships with both men and women. Yet he believed that the focus on rigid categories was just a way of limiting freedom and that human sexuality is more fluid and less binary than often expressed in the U.S.

“If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy,” the writer said in a 1969 interview when asked if being gay was an aberration, asserting that such views were an indication of narrowness and stagnation.

‘Nobody Knows My Name’

Baldwin explored writing for the stage a well. He wrote The Amen Corner, which looked at the phenomenon of storefront Pentecostal religion. The play was produced at Howard University in 1955, and later on Broadway in the mid-1960s.

It was his essays, however, that helped establish Baldwin as one of the top writers of the times. Delving into his own life, he provided an unflinching look at the Black experience in America through such works as Notes of a Native Son (1955) and Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (1961).

Nobody Knows My Name hit the bestsellers list, selling more than a million copies. While not a marching or sit-in style activist, Baldwin emerged as one of the leading voices in the Civil Rights Movement for his compelling work on race.

‘The Fire Next Time’

In 1963, there was a noted change in Baldwin’s work with The Fire Next Time. This collection of essays was meant to educate white Americans on what it meant to be Black. It also offered white readers a view of themselves through the eyes of the African American community.

In the work, Baldwin offered a brutally realistic picture of race relations, but he remained hopeful about possible improvements. “If we…do not falter in our duty now, we may be able…to end the racial nightmare.” His words struck a chord with the American people, and The Fire Next Time sold more than a million copies.

That same year, Baldwin was featured on the cover of Time magazine. “There is not another writer — white or Black — who expresses with such poignancy and abrasiveness the dark realities of the racial ferment in North and South,” Time said in the feature.

Baldwin wrote another play, Blues for Mister Charlie, which debuted on Broadway in 1964. The drama was loosely based on the 1955 racially motivated murder of a young African American boy named Emmett Till.

This same year, his book with friend Avedon entitled Nothing Personal, hit bookstore shelves. The work was a tribute to slain civil rights movement leader Medgar Evers. Baldwin also published a collection of short stories, Going to Meet the Man, around this time.

In his 1968 novel Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, Baldwin returned to popular themes — sexuality, family and the Black experience. Some critics panned the novel, calling it a polemic rather than a novel. He was also criticized for using the first-person singular, the “I,” for the book’s narration.

Later Works and Death

By the early 1970s, Baldwin seemed to despair over the racial situation. He had witnessed so much violence in the previous decade — especially the assassinations of Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. — caused by racial hatred.

This disillusionment became apparent in his work, which employed a more strident tone than in earlier works. Many critics point to No Name in the Street, a 1972 collection of essays, as the beginning of the change in Baldwin’s work. He also worked on a screenplay around this time, trying to adapt The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley for the big screen.

While his literary fame faded somewhat in his later years, Baldwin continued to produce new works in a variety of forms. He published a collection of poems, Jimmy’s Blues: Selected Poems, in 1983 as well as the 1987 novel Harlem Quartet.

Baldwin also remained an astute observer of race and American culture. In 1985, he wrote The Evidence of Things Not Seen about the Atlanta child murders. Baldwin also spent years sharing his experiences and views as a college professor. In the years before his death, he taught at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Hampshire College.

Baldwin died on December 1, 1987, at his home in St. Paul de Vence, France. Never wanting to be a spokesperson or a leader, Baldwin saw his personal mission as bearing “witness to the truth.” He accomplished this mission through his extensive, rapturous literary legacy.

How Fannie Lou Hamer Created a Tool To Fight Voter Suppression Today

By Marc Elias

May 25, 2021

A geometric black-and-white collage featuring Fannie Lou Hammer and various scenes from civil rights protests

In 1964, civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer had a bold idea. A Black woman, she would run for Congress in the Democratic primary in Mississippi. Her opponent would be the pro-segregationist, white incumbent Jamie Whitten. At the time, Black citizens comprised 52.4% of the congressional district’s population, but less than 3% of its registered voters.

While she lost the primary 35,218 to 621, she set in motion one of the most consequential House election contests in history. And she may well have set the stage for the use of that process to fight voter suppression today.

After losing the primary, Hamer, along with Annie Devine and Victoria Gray, unsuccessfully sought to qualify for the November 1964 congressional ballot as third-party candidates under the banner of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Then, after the general election, Hammer, Devine, Gray and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party filed an election contest in the U.S. House challenging the seating of the Mississippi congressional delegation on the grounds that their elections were marred by voting discrimination and unconstitutional disenfranchisement of Black voters. 

The election contest was an evidentiary rout. Hamer and her team compiled 10,000 pages of witness testimony from more than 400 people. Depositions were taken in 30 Mississippi counties and hearings were held in 12 states. All of it told the story of disenfranchisement of Black voters in the 1964 elections by means of refusals to register Black voters, physical intimidation and other forms of overt, state-sponsored discrimination. The white congressmen claimed that they had no “personal knowledge” of voting discrimination taking place in Mississippi and complained bitterly of their lack of resources and inability to mount an evidentiary defense.

But what the congressmen lacked in evidence they more than made up for in the composition on the committee considering the challenge. After a 3-hour hearing — closed to the public, press and even other members of Congress — the House Administration Committee, which was dominated by southern Democrats, voted 20-5 to recommend that the House dismiss the contest. 

Among the reasons for dismissal was the fact that Hamer and the others could not show that they would have won the election even if Black citizens had been permitted to register and vote. But this issue had come up before — in the late 19th century. Between 1867 and 1901, the House decided more than 40 contests where violations of the 14th and 15th Amendments were found to be sufficient grounds for a contest to prevail, even without evidence that the election outcome would be different.

As the matter proceeded to the House floor for a vote in September 1965, some members — particularly those from the northeast — were under pressure to support the election contest. The images from Freedom Summer and the brutality of southern states towards Black citizens trying to register to vote were fresh in members’ minds. So too was the recently enacted Voting Rights Act (VRA).

It turns out that the passage of the VRA in August 1965 presented an opportunity for a “compromise” that would allow the Mississippi delegation to retain their seats. Opponents of the election contest made a two-part argument.  

First, they argued that the discriminatory conduct was only rendered illegal in 1965, nine months after the challenged elections. They noted that no court had struck down Mississippi’s voting laws as unconstitutional before the November 1964 election, even though Mississippi’s governor had accepted in 1965 that they did, in fact, violate the 15th Amendment. They further argued that the new VRA would have made illegal the tactics used in the 1964 elections to prevent Black voters from registering and voting. In other words, they argued that the new rules as of August 1965 should not be retroactively applied to 1964 elections and thus the contest should be dismissed.  

The second — and most critical — part of their argument was that, moving forward, violations of the VRA and 15th Amendment would be sufficient grounds to maintain and prevail in an election contest regardless of proof of the number of affected voters or the margin of the election.  

The majority thus sought to essentially block the challenge in 1964 by promising that from then on discriminatory voting laws and practices would be sufficient grounds to overturn an election in the House. 

As one member from New Jersey said while announcing his support to dismiss the contest: “The record of this debate…will constitute a clear precedent that the House of Representatives will no longer tolerate electoral practices in any State or district which violate the legal or constitutional rights of citizens to register, vote, or to become candidates for office.” The House will “use the power to unseat in the future, if there is corroborative evidence of the violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” 

Ultimately the House voted in favor of permanently seating the Mississippi congressmen and against Fannie Lou Hamer and her effort by a vote of 228 to 143. The concession on future violations of the VRA and the Constitution worked.

That should not be an empty promise. 

As Republican legislatures enact new voter suppression laws, Congress should reaffirm the House’s promise in 1965 to refuse to seat, or to unseat, members who benefit from discriminatory voting laws.  It is beyond question that the House has the absolute right to adopt such a rule — since it alone is the “Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members.” So, the only barrier to this approach is the House itself and its reticence to invoke its constitutional power. 

If ever there was a need for it to do so, it is now.

Republicans in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Montana should be on notice now that members’ elections are subject to House contest if either a court or the House determines that the member benefitted from discriminatory voting laws. And before they pass their own discriminatory laws, states like Texas, Ohio and New Hampshire should consider that the result could be the unseating of their Republican congressional delegations.

The right to vote is under attack. The House should be reminded of Fannie Lou Hamer’s courage in 1964. She may have lost that election contest, but she won a valuable tool for fighting voter suppression that is still relevant today.

SUBSCRIBE and SUPPORT Democracy Docket and the amazing legal war he is waging against voter disenfranchisement and suppression.

Remembering Zora Neal Hurston

Born on this day in 1891, Zoe’s Neale Hurston. On this 132nd anniversary of her birth, check out this incredible resource from the Library of Congress , audio recordings of Hurston talking about her research. Just amazing stuff:

Library of Congress Audion Collections

ABOUT ZORA NEALE HURSTON

VISIT THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE

About Zora Neale Hurston

“I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.”

     – Letter from Zora Neale Hurston to Countee Cullen


© Carl Van Vechten
© Carl Van Vechten

Zora Neale Hurston knew how to make an entrance. On May 1, 1925, at a literary awards dinner sponsored by Opportunity magazine, the earthy Harlem newcomer turned heads and raised eyebrows as she claimed four awards: a second-place fiction prize for her short story “Spunk,” a second-place award in drama for her play Color Struck, and two honorable mentions.

The names of the writers who beat out Hurston for first place that night would soon be forgotten. But the name of the second-place winner buzzed on tongues all night, and for days and years to come. Lest anyone forget her, Hurston made a wholly memorable entrance at a party following the awards dinner. She strode into the room–jammed with writers and arts patrons, black and white–and flung a long, richly colored scarf around her neck with a dramatic flourish as she bellowed a reminder of the title of her winning play: “Colooooooor Struuckkkk!” Her exultant entrance literally stopped the party for a moment, just as she had intended. In this way, Hurston made it known that a bright and powerful presence had arrived. By all accounts, Zora Neale Hurston could walk into a roomful of strangers and, a few minutes and a few stories later, leave them so completely charmed that they often found themselves offering to help her in any way they could.

© Barbara Hurston Lewis, Faye Hurston, and Lois Gaston
© Barbara Hurston Lewis, Faye Hurston, and Lois Gaston

Gamely accepting such offers–and employing her own talent and scrappiness–Hurston became the most successful and most significant black woman writer of the first half of the 20th century. Over a career that spanned more than 30 years, she published four novels, two books of folklore, an autobiography, numerous short stories, and several essays, articles and plays.

Born on Jan. 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, Hurston moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida, when she was still a toddler. Her writings reveal no recollection of her Alabama beginnings. For Hurston, Eatonville was always home.

Established in 1887, the rural community near Orlando was the nation’s first incorporated black township. It was, as Hurston described it, “a city of five lakes, three croquet courts, three hundred brown skins, three hundred good swimmers, plenty guavas, two schools, and no jailhouse.”

© Estate of Zora Neale Hurston
© Estate of Zora Neale Hurston

In Eatonville, Zora was never indoctrinated in inferiority, and she could see the evidence of black achievement all around her. She could look to town hall and see black men, including her father, John Hurston, formulating the laws that governed Eatonville. She could look to the Sunday Schools of the town’s two churches and see black women, including her mother, Lucy Potts Hurston, directing the Christian curricula. She could look to the porch of the village store and see black men and women passing worlds through their mouths in the form of colorful, engaging stories.

Growing up in this culturally affirming setting in an eight-room house on five acres of land, Zora had a relatively happy childhood, despite frequent clashes with her preacher-father, who sometimes sought to “squinch” her rambunctious spirit, she recalled. Her mother, on the other hand, urged young Zora and her seven siblings to “jump at de sun.” Hurston explained, “We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”

Hurston’s idyllic childhood came to an abrupt end, though, when her mother died in 1904. Zora was only 13 years old. “That hour began my wanderings,” she later wrote. “Not so much in geography, but in time. Then not so much in time as in spirit.”

After Lucy Hurston’s death, Zora’s father remarried quickly–to a young woman whom the hotheaded Zora almost killed in a fistfight–and seemed to have little time or money for his children. “Bare and bony of comfort and love,” Zora worked a series of menial jobs over the ensuing years, struggled to finish her schooling, and eventually joined a Gilbert & Sullivan traveling troupe as a maid to the lead singer. In 1917, she turned up in Baltimore; by then, she was 26 years old and still hadn’t finished high school. Needing to present herself as a teenager to qualify for free public schooling, she lopped 10 years off her life–giving her age as 16 and the year of her birth as 1901. Once gone, those years were never restored: From that moment forward, Hurston would always present herself as at least 10 years younger than she actually was. Apparently, she had the looks to pull it off. Photographs reveal that she was a handsome, big-boned woman with playful yet penetrating eyes, high cheekbones, and a full, graceful mouth that was never without expression.

Zora also had a fiery intellect, an infectious sense of humor, and “the gift,” as one friend put it, “of walking into hearts.” Zora used these talents–and dozens more–to elbow her way into the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, befriending such luminaries as poet Langston Hughes and popular singer/actress Ethel Waters. Though Hurston rarely drank, fellow writer Sterling Brown recalled, “When Zora was there, she was the party.” Another friend remembered Hurston’s apartment–furnished by donations she solicited from friends–as a spirited “open house” for artists. All this socializing didn’t keep Hurston from her work, though. She would sometimes write in her bedroom while the party went on in the living room.

By 1935, Hurston–who’d graduated from Barnard College in 1928–had published several short stories and articles, as well as a novel (Jonah’s Gourd Vine) and a well-received collection of black Southern folklore (Mules and Men). But the late 1930s and early ’40s marked the real zenith of her career. She published her masterwork, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in 1937; Tell My Horse, her study of Caribbean Voodoo practices, in 1938; and another masterful novel, Moses, Man of the Mountain, in 1939. When her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, was published in 1942, Hurston finally received the well-earned acclaim that had long eluded her. That year, she was profiled in Who’s Who in AmericaCurrent Biography and Twentieth Century Authors. She went on to publish another novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, in 1948.

Still, Hurston never received the financial rewards she deserved. (The largest royalty she ever earned from any of her books was $943.75.) So when she died on Jan. 28, 1960–at age 69, after suffering a stroke–her neighbors in Fort Pierce, Florida, had to take up a collection for her February 7 funeral. The collection didn’t yield enough to pay for a headstone, however, so Hurston was buried in a grave that remained unmarked until 1973.

That summer, a young writer named Alice Walker traveled to Fort Pierce to place a marker on the grave of the author who had so inspired her own work. Walker found the Garden of Heavenly Rest, a segregated cemetery at the dead end of North 17th Street, abandoned and overgrown with yellow-flowered weeds.

Back in 1945, Hurston had foreseen the possibility of dying without money–and she’d proposed a solution that would have benefited her and countless others. Writing to W.E.B. Du Bois, whom she called the “Dean of American Negro Artists,” Hurston suggested “a cemetery for the illustrious Negro dead” on 100 acres of land in Florida. Citing practical complications, Du Bois wrote a curt reply discounting Hurston’s persuasive argument. “Let no Negro celebrity, no matter what financial condition they might be in at death, lie in inconspicuous forgetfulness,” she’d urged. “We must assume the responsibility of their graves being known and honored.”

As if impelled by those words, Walker bravely entered the snake-infested cemetery where Hurston’s remains had been laid to rest. Wading through waist-high weeds, she soon stumbled upon a sunken rectangular patch of ground that she determined to be Hurston’s grave. Unable to afford the marker she wanted–a tall, majestic black stone called “Ebony Mist”–Walker chose a plain gray headstone instead. Borrowing from a Jean Toomer poem, she dressed the marker up with a fitting epitaph: “Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South.”

— By Valerie Boyd

Remembering the Rosewood, FL Massacre

January 7, 2023

100 years ago, a white mob completely destroyed the primarily Black town of Rosewood, Florida. The death toll is unknown and the story was erased from history for 70 years. No one was ever prosecuted for the crimes.

We cannot continue to allow the erasure of Black history. The Governor of FL is waging a war against the knowledge of Black history and of Black people. Banning books and restricting scholastic offerings related to Black studies and history. If he can, he will continue.

ABOUT THE ROSEWOOD, FL MASSACRE

Bruce’s Beach: Los Angeles to pay $20m for land seized from Black family

California’s reparations task force acts.

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The monument and plaque at Bruce's Beach, photographed in 2021
A commemorative monument at the beach is often adorned with tributes – and a wedding photo of the pioneering Bruces

By Max Matza

BBC News

Los Angeles has agreed to pay $20m (£16.7m) for a beach that was seized from a black family in the 1920s and returned to their heirs this summer.

Bruce’s Beach was purchased in 1912 to create a resort for black people at a time of widespread racial segregation.

Located in the desirable city of Manhattan Beach, it was forcibly taken by the local council in 1924.

The Bruce descendants would be rich already if their land was never taken, said a LA official announcing the sale.

“The seizure of Bruce’s Beach nearly a century ago was an injustice inflicted upon not just Willa and Charles Bruce but generations of their descendants who almost certainly would have been millionaires,” said Janice Hahn, chairwoman of the LA County Board of Supervisors.

“This fight has always been about what is best for the Bruce family, and they feel what is best for them is selling this property back to the county for nearly $20m and finally rebuilding the generational wealth they were denied for nearly a century,” she continued in her Tuesday statement.

“This is what reparations look like and it is a model that I hope governments across the country will follow.”

Reparations are restitution for slavery – an apology and repayment to black citizens whose ancestors were forced into the slave trade. But whether the government should make payments, and how they should be doled out, is politically controversial.

Willa and Charles Bruce bought the two lots of land for $1,225 in 1912, telling a reporter at the time: “Wherever we have tried to buy land for a beach resort, we have been refused, but I own this land and I am going to keep it.”

But the local police department put up signs limiting parking to 10 minutes, and another local landowner put up no trespassing signs, forcing people to walk half a mile to reach the water. They even faced threats from the racist Ku Klux Klan terror group.

The beach, seen from above
The beach, seen from above

When those measures failed to deter visitors, the local authorities seized the land under eminent domain laws – designed to let the government forcibly buy land needed for roads, and other public buildings.

Officials claimed they planned to build a park. That did not happen until the 1960s, and the area remained vacant in the interim.

In June, the county returned the land to the family, and agreed to keep leasing it from them for $413,000 a year in order to continue operating a county lifeguard training centre located on the beach.

Anthony Bruce, a great-great-grandson of Willa and Charles, told an audience who attended the beachside transfer ceremony that the seizure had “destroyed” his ancestors.

“It destroyed their chance at the American Dream. I wish they could see what has happened today,” he said.

Anthony Bruce, the great-great grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce, speaks at a press conference
Anthony Bruce, the great-great grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce, spoke at a press conference

Earlier this year, California’s first-in-the-nation reparations taskforce announced the controversial decision to limit payments to the descendants of black slaves only.

The nine-member government panel must deliver a report to the governor by next year, with a plan for how the payments will be made.