From the Director . . .
Our production team: David Bernstein, Steve Weiner, Zvia Ratz, and I, have just returned from Buffalo, New York where I inter
An aim of the oral history project is given clarity and beautiful form by these musical lines from the poem "Meant To Be" by Eli Siegel:
And use the past
To be refreshed,
As it was meant to be –
How can we use the past to be refreshed? One way is to learn about people who used injustice that they themselves endured not to hate the world, but to fight for justice to others!
There are men and women in the Buffalo area whose courageous work for civil rights is hardly known. We want to change that. For example, Rev. Eugene L. Pierce, originally from Mississippi. His parents were activists and friends of Medgar Evers, and their work was pivotal in fighting racist brutality and segregation. Rev. Pierce himself came to Buffalo as a teenager, served in the U.S. military, and went on to challenge racial inequality in both the North and South, as to employment, government representation, and the criminal justice system.
Also interviewed was Buffalo native Terrence L. Melvin, Secretary-Treasurer of the 2.5 million member New York State AFL-CIO. His labor career began as a member of Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) Local 427 at the Western New York Developmental Center, and he later became president of the Local. CSEA represents over 250,000 state, county, municipal and private sector workers throughout New York state. Mr. Melvin, a long-time labor and community activist, was elected in 1996 as Director of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) Region One, representing unionists in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Ontario, Canada. Last May he was elected president of CBTU president, succeeding William (Bill) Lucy, who had held that position since he co-founded CBTU in 1972.
My colleagues and I were proud to dedicate the Buffalo trip to the memory of the late Dr. Monroe Fordham (Oct. 11, 1939 - June 13, 2012), historian, professor at Buffalo State College, and founding member of the Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier. I came to know Dr. Fordham as editor of the scholarly journal, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History. He published my articles, "Remembering the Civil Rights Struggle in Brooklyn, New York," and "A Broadway Journey against Racism," my interview with Philip Rose, producer of Lorraine Hansberry's"A Raisin in the Sun," the first Broadway play written by an African American woman. (story continues in column 2)
From the director . . .
Thank you for all the messages celebrating our 5th anniversary of presenting "The People of Clarendon County"--A Play by Ossie Davis, & the Answer to Racism! based on the book published by Third World Press in Chicago.
It's been an honor--and immense pleasure--to tell audiences around the country about little known events in the struggle for civil rights, and how this fight is illuminated by the education that explains and can end racism: Aesthetic Realism, founded by the great philosopher Eli Siegel.
Last week we gave our 33rd! presentation, in the Somerset Run Clubhouse in Somerset, NJ to a diverse audience of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, black and white. We're grateful to Somerset's Charitable & Cultural Club (C&C) for the invitation to present Ossie Davis's 1955 play about the brave black parents in Clarendon County, SC who risked their jobs, homes, and very lives, to fight for decent education for all children. Their actions led to the landmark Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education, outlawing segregation in public schools. Click here for the complete program.
Dr. Jaime R. Torres, Onilaja Waters, Dr. Arnold Perey, and I were proud to speak about what each of us has learned from Aesthetic Realism: that racism comes from contempt--"the addition to self through the lessening of something else." And the answer to racism is in learning that our true importance comes from seeing, not lessening, the full reality of other human beings. Seeing that the feelings of people different from ourselves are as real and as deep as our own, is the education that will enable there to be sanity and kindness in America about race!
In her welcome, Sheila Aronoff told how C&C had heard from her husband Robert about "the very exciting work that Alice and her colleagues are doing to fight racism." He'd seen their program at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn last year and said 'This is a must for C&C'!"
(l-r) Dr. Jaime Torres, Barbara Klausner, Onilaja Waters, Dr. Arnold Perey
A gripping performance of Ossie Davis's "The People of Clarendon County" was enacted by Marty Honig from Somerset, as the Narrator; Jeffrey Williams played Rev. Joseph DeLaine, the NAACP leader from Clarendon County; and Allan Michael and Mugga gave powerful portrayals of Mary and William Ragin, parents whose son attended the inferior black school. As an overture, Barbara Klausner of Somerset sang two spirituals evoking the struggle for freedom.
Above: Civil Rights pioneers were introduced, (l-r): Telissa Dowling, Diana Jeffery, Cherre Ogden, Erma Greene, Nathaniel Briggs, Rev. Dr. Henry Davis, Jr., Jeanette Lane, Alice Bernstein, Jimmy Richardson, Rabbi Israel Dresner, Gail Huland El.
Left to right, front row: Rev. Jimmie Miller (CDR, USN, Retired), Rev. Melanie Miller (at microphone), Rev. George Maize III with Choir, Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, Hackensack, NJ All photographs are by Allan Michael
First Watch Night & Envisioning
The night of December 31, 1862 was the First Watch Night--a New Year's Eve like no other. The next day, President Lincoln would sign the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing enslaved men, women, and children. Many spent the night "watching" for the dawn and the cherished promise of emancipation. That watch continues right up to today, in churches across America. Just a few days ago I was stirred to receive a play written by Sandra McNeill, which gives dramatic form and humanity to slaves on a Charleston, South Carolina plantation, imagining their feelings at the First Watch Night Service. I'd like to encourage everyone to do the same--imagine their feelings. It will bring us closer to knowing what all people hope for.
On January 6th, at the invitation of civil rights activist Nathaniel Briggs, my colleagues Allan Michael, Onilaja Waters, Jeffrey Wiliams, David Bernstein, and I attended the 150th Jubilee Celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation at a program sponsored by the Bergen County NAACP and held at the historic Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Various speakers told of milestones in the 150 years since emancipation on the long road paved by people of all races in the continuing fight for justice.
Anthony Cureton, president of Bergen County NAACP (above, left), and branch members Nathaniel Briggs, Jeanette Lane, historian Arnold E. Brown, among others, were joined by the president of the NJ Conference NAACP James E. Harris (above, right).
(left to right) David and Alice Bernstein, Jeanette Lane, and Onilaja Waters at the historic Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Hackensack, NJ.
Lodi High School student Constance Rochester (above, left) spoke about the history of recent movements from 1960-2013.
Others who represent change in a big way were Dr. Vernon C. Walton (above, right), the first African-American to serve as a Freeholder in Bergen County, and Rev. Dr. Melanie Miller, the first female pastor at Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in that church's history, who addressed the congregation in her new role.