Remembering Unsung Pioneers – as 2015
Begins –"We'll take a cup o' kindness yet"
Top row (l-r) L. O. P. Perry, MD, Nashville (1923-2009);
Addie Wyatt, Chicago (1924-2012);
Jesse Davidson, Bronx, NY (1924- ? );
Yoshino Hasegawa, California;
Bob Lucas, Chicago (1937-2010);
Major Owens, Brooklyn, NY
Thinking of each of the 200+ interviews with men and women around the country who used their lives to make America kinder and more just, I'm moved to quote these lines from the Robert Burns poem:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
"A cup o' kindness," writes Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, "is a toast to the kindness one met, and a pledge to continue kindness." In keeping with her beautiful, needed explanation, I propose a toast to the pioneers–people of all faiths and skin colors who helped to make America kinder and more just, and I ask that we all pledge to repay their kindness with our own.
It is an honor to begin 2015 by remembering some of the pioneers I interviewed for "The Force of Ethics in Civil Rights" who passed away recently, and to send a good will message to Yoshino Hasegawa, who is in a California nursing home. I am grateful to have known each of them, and to have preserved their narratives, including of history never told before. They are distinguished by the fact that at a certain time, in difficult, dangerous, and sometimes life-threatening situations, they chose to fight for respect in a way that helped change history, made life fairer, better, than it had been. Let's take their lead and continue the work that so desperately still needs to be done.
A victory on the side of respect for humanity took place this year in Washington, DC as the Library of Congress launched its Civil Rights Oral History Project website in The American Folklife Center. This site came to be as a result of a 2009 Act of Congress (Public Law 111-19), directing the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture, to identify and preserve civil rights history. It is a tremendous resource on one of the great democratic movements in American--and world--history. The Alliance is honored that through this LOC website our oral history project will now be accessible as a resource worldwide.
Among the speakers at the launch was Dr. Guha Shankar, Program Director and Folklife Specialist, shown above, who gave an overview of the website's functions and exciting samples of digital interviews. Currently on screen is Alice Bernstein's interview with civil rights activist Bill Saunders.
And the LOC hosted a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer (1964), and its beginnings in Mississippi, where the vicious racism of Jim Crow was endemic and included the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till (left). Revered activists Charles Cobb, Robert "Bob" Moses, Dorie Ladner and Joyce Ladner (sisters) spoke of their experiences in the Mississippi struggle and of many people and events which led to the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Their firsthand accounts of the brutality and terror, and of choices made in behalf of justice by courageous people, were stirring, often very personal, and made for enormous respect. Shown at right are civil rights pioneer Dorie Ladner and educator Ayize Sabatar.
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