The Young Crusaders: The Untold Story Of The Children And Teenagers Who Galvanized The Civil Rights Movement

By B.P. Franklin

Book published by Beacon Press, Boston, MA, Winter 2021

This post is part of our series on the 2021 Hooks National Book Award Finalists.

Some of the most iconic images of the Civil Rights Movement are those of young people engaged in social activism: The Little Rock Nine being escorted into Central High School in 1957 by soldiers—or children and teenagers being attacked in 1963 by police in Birmingham with dogs and water hoses. While the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the NAACP, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee have been well chronicled, the crucial roles of children and teens are now placed at the forefront in The Young Crusaders.

V.P. Franklin delivers a thorough reexamination of the efforts of children and teenagers to challenge legal segregation, employment discrimination, educational inequality, and racialized violence beginning in the 1930s. His groundbreaking narratives draw on examples in nearly fifty cities and fifteen states, from Alabama to Wisconsin. Franklin details the student activism behind the successful civil rights campaigns that brought about the end of Jim Crow practices throughout the nation.

For instance, the largest civil rights demonstration in US history was not the famous “March on Washington” in August 1963, but the system-wide school boycott in New York City on February 3, 1964, when over 360,000 elementary and secondary school students went on strike and thousands attended Freedom Schools.  Multiracial community groups organized the school boycotts in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and other cities, and African American, Puerto Rican, and white students participated, calling for the desegregation of public and private education and public accommodations. In addition, children and teenagers mounted their own walkouts, marches, and civil rights demonstrations demanding “Freedom Now.”

This account of the courageous actions of these unheralded young people fundamentally transforms how we understand the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements and serves as a playbook for youth-oriented protest movements such as The Climate Strike, March For Our Lives, and Black Lives Matter, reigniting in the twenty-first century the next wave of social and political activism.


About the Author
V. P. Franklin is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History and Education at the University of California, Riverside. Between 2001 and 2018 he served as the Editor of the award-winning Journal of African American History and is the author or co-editor of many books including Living Our Stories, Telling Our Truths: Autobiography and the Making of the African American Intellectual Tradition, and Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement.

The Citizenship Education Program and Black Women’s Political Culture | Hooks National Book Award Finalist

This post is part of our series on the 2021 Hooks National Book Award finalists, written by the authors.

By Deanna M. Gillespie

The Citizenship Education Program and Black Women’s Political Culture retells the story of the civil rights movement to foreground southern Black women’s formal and informal networks.  From 1957 to 1972, the CEP empowered thousands of Black women to teach their friends and neighbors to read and write.  This was subversive work in the Jim Crow South.  Literacy skills shifted the balance of power because literate Black people gathered information, registered formal complaints, demanded equal treatment, signed their names, and they stood in front of white county clerks and took the literacy test required for voter registration.  Across the South, Black women organized CEP classes in church halls, community centers, living rooms, and beauty salons. These makeshift classrooms were incubators for collective action.  Gathering twice a week for three months, local people organized to address long-standing inequities in social welfare and community well-being, affordable and accessible health care, equality and justice, education, and criminal justice reform.

Hear from Author Dee Gillespie on Our YouTube

Black women taught CEP classes because it was familiar work.  It was “women’s work.”  In segregated all-Black schools designed to teach racial inferiority, Black teachers told and retold stories of resistance and achievement.  In local communities, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and neighbors guided children safely through Jim Crow’s unforgiving rules.  They taught the Bible on Sunday mornings and carried the message through the week.  Theirs was – and is – a political culture built on family and community, constant struggle, and the unshakable belief in human dignity and a just and better day.

Organized into four case studies, the book traces the CEP’s evolution from its beginnings on the South Carolina Sea Islands, to expansion into Savannah and southeastern Georgia, out to Mississippi, and back to Selma and Alabama’s Black Belt.  In the final chapter, I examine the program’s decline after 1965, a reminder of how quickly pieces can scatter when political winds shift.  By the time the CEP ended in 1972, the program had trained over two thousand local leaders who organized 7280 classes, reaching over 26,000 people. As teachers and students fanned out, they influenced an estimated 95,000 people to register and to vote.

The CEP tapped into a deeply-rooted gendered political culture and recent elections provide evidence of its enduring nature.  In Fall 2020, the United States held a presidential election during a global pandemic.  Across the country, voter participation soared through expanded use of mail-in ballots, drop-boxes, and early voting periods.  Grass-roots organizing and mobilization turned reliably-“red” Georgia “blue” for the first time in a generation.  News coverage shined a bright spotlight on Black women’s clubs, organizations, and local leadership.  Likewise, inDecember 2017, headlines announced Democrat Doug Jones’s victory for Alabama’s contested U.S. Senate seat.  Within hours, #BlackWomen trended on social media.  In post-election interviews, these women cited concerns about the future of social welfare programs, health care, education, and criminal justice reform as motivation for political action – the same issues that enlivened CEP classes a generation before.

The Power of Will – and Its Limits

Moments of crisis force a reexamination of priorities that has the power to open new possibilities. What had seemed a bad idea or not worth the effort in a moment of tranquility can become essential. Crises, such as the Great Depression on World War II, generate a will that had not existed and, when channeled toward common goals, that will can make the impossible possible.

As detailed in this volume, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a crisis that has amplified disparities that have long plagued our society. In health and schools, housing and the workforce, the pandemic further exposed the vulnerabilities keeping so many from reaching their potential or even from finding basic stability. These gaps have existed for years and have been tolerated as merely a cost of a system that delivered national prosperity, however unevenly spread. There had been no will to comprehensively address housing and employment instability, gaps in the infrastructure of technology or the delivery of health care. The pandemic made addressing some of these longstanding problems more imperative.

All of a sudden, an evicted family that needed to search for new housing in the midst of the pandemic became a potential spreader of the virus. In a wrecked and uncertain economy, a worker who’d lost their job faced the possibility of months without any income, with impacts felt within the most vulnerable families and in the economy at large. What to do about children who would be attending school virtually, but whose homes did not have reliable access to the internet? Before the pandemic, such lack of connectivity might have seemed merely an inconvenience, a barrier to effective communication or robust research; in the midst of the pandemic, it became a barrier to participating in school at all (Camera, 2020).

In response, many discovered a new will to strengthen the safety net for the most vulnerable in our midst. Policies that had seemed out of reach entered the realm of the possible due to the pandemic. Most notably, the federal government instituted a widespread moratorium on evictions (Ramsey Mason, 2020) and increased financial assistance to the unemployed (Alcala Kovalski & Sheiner, 2020). Other anti-poverty measures that had been fringe ideas, such as direct payments to individuals, families, and businesses (Edmonson, 2020) and forbearance of student loans (Rowan, 2021), became realities. Local governments, too, addressed needs exposed by the pandemic. Here in Memphis, the Shelby County government created relief funds for various categories of affected workers (Dries, 2021) and the Shelby County Schools worked to ensure wi-fi connectivity to students in need (Holguin, 2020). Having redefined the possible in the throes of the pandemic, policymakers have begun to consider how some of these measures can survive into the post-pandemic world, tightening the social safety net.

The power of more focused will was also evident in the response to the murder of George Floyd. The vulnerability of African Americans in encounters with law enforcement was certainly not a new or unknown phenomenon. However, activists protesting the dehumanizing, even lethal, treatment were often stymied in efforts to build support to enact more effective policies to reduce the number of such encounters and increase accountability when they did occur. Floyd’s murder, along with contemporaneous killings of others, such as Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, decreased the tolerance for inaction. Symbolically, there was a move from a world in which Colin Kaepernick was vilified for a solitary and silent protest during the national anthem in 2016 to a world in whicH entire sports leagues were supporting players in declaring Black Lives Matter in 2020. On a policy level, ideas for criminal justice reform that had been moving glacially or had stalled, such as eliminating chokeholds (Kindy et al., 2020), reexamining immunity for police officers (Gipson, 2021), and reconsideration of police involvement in non-violent circumstances (Thompson, 2020), found more favorable reception within many levels of government.

The reforms made possible in the pandemic or in the wake of George Floyd’s murder were neither perfect nor complete, but they revealed a shift in the universe of possible policy change to address the needs of the most vulnerable in our society. Introduced in a moment of crisis, they have revealed that the failure to consider such policies in more stable moments is due to a lack of collective will rather than to some inherent impossibility. The pandemic has revealed a new category of what is possible, if only we can muster the will to pursue it.

However, the pandemic has also revealed challenges to doing so. After all, will can be fleeting. As the focus of crisis dissolves, addressing the vulnerabilities it revealed can seem less imperative. Further, new enthusiasm for once-impossible policies can also have the effect of intensifying enthusiasm for opposition. Both of these limits on the power of will have emerged as the pandemic lingers.

While there has been talk of continuing many of the pandemic-related reforms, particularly those involving strengthening the safety net, those suggestions have been met primarily with concerns about costs. This presents a test as the urgency of the pandemic subsides. Having seen the benefits of a stronger safety net, will policymakers maintain the will to leave them in place? Or, absent a crisis at hand, will they be tempted to make cuts that shift the costs back onto vulnerable individuals and families? Similarly, translating the anger from the summer of 2020 into a sustainable effort to address criminal justice will require maintaining the will generated in a passionate moment through the tedium of policymaking.

Doing so becomes an even greater challenge because as an emergency pushes the bounds of potential policy change, opponents of that change strengthen their resistance. This was evident in the backlash against 2020’s Black Lives Matter movements – in the moment, resistance often took the form of criticism of the protesters, but as the work shifts to policymaking, those pushing for greater law enforcement accountability will do so in the face of fierce opposition. The opposition to extending the pandemic safety net or expanding health benefits is likely to be less emotional, but no less organized. Indeed, the politicization of the pandemic more broadly, seen in resistance to health directives, mask mandates, and vaccines, demonstrates the depth of the challenge ahead. Such resistance presents a true test of will.

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered so much about the way we see the world and it is unlikely that we can ever return to the world that existed before such a formative societal experience. Amidst the trauma, however, we have been pushed to find new solutions to long-existing problems. The pandemic created a space to reimagine what
is possible and revealed that old excuses for not taking action to assist the most vulnerable could be removed so long as there was a will to do so. Having now seen how policies can provide stability within our community, the challenge is ensuring that such policies will continue to do so.

Recommendations

  • Research: Study the effectiveness of pandemic-related responses to persistent social problems, such as housing instability, employment instability, disparate access to technology, and reduction in bail, to demonstrate the impacts of these policies and their value even outside the context of the pandemic. Collect both qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Organize: Build coalitions of individuals, community groups, and institutions to support efforts to pursue extension and expansion of successful pandemic-related policies addressing persistent social problems.
  • Advocate: Identify policymakers at all levels of government willing to lead in extending and expanding successful pandemic-related policies addressing persistent social problems; prepare to respond to criticisms of such extensions or expansions from unsympathetic individuals, groups, institutions, or policymakers.
  • Persist: Prepare for long-term work in preserving successful efforts as immediate urgency wanes, attention

shifts, and work evolves to more tedious efforts to build and implement policies.

REFERENCES

  • Alcala Kovalski, M., & Sheiner, L. (2020, July 20). How does unemployment insurance work? And how is it changing during the coronavirus pandemic?” Brookings Institute. Retrieved from https://www.brookings. edu/blog/up-front/2020/07/20/how-does-unemployment-insurance-work-and-how-is-it-changing-during- the-coronavirus-pandemic/
  • Camera, L. (2020, April 1). Disconnected and disadvantaged: Schools race to give students access. US News. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2020-04-01/schools-rush-to-get- students-internet-access-during-coronavirus-pandemic
  • Dries, B. (2021, Jan. 6). Harris proposes county $2.5million restaurant workers relief fund. The Daily Memphian. Retrieved from https://dailymemphian.com/article/19120/harris-proposes-county-25m-restaurant-workers
  • Edmondson, C. (2020, March 25). 5 things in the $2 trillion Coronavirus stimulus package. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/25/us/politics/whats-in-coronavirus-stimulus-bill.html
  • Gipson, R., Jr. (2021, May 12). Why qualified immunity privilege is bad public policy and must be eliminated.
    The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved from https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/opinion/2021/05/12/ why-qualified-immunity-privilege-should-eliminated/5056753001/
  • Holguin, B. (2020, August 4). SCS provides internet hotspots to 24,000 families. WMC Action News 5. Retrieved from https://www.actionnews5.com/2020/08/04/scs-provides-internet-hotspots-families/
  • Kindy, K., Schaul, K., & Mellnik, T. (2020, September 6). Half of the nation’s largest police departments have banned or limited neck restraints since June. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www. washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/national/police-use-of-force-chokehold-carotid-ban/
  • Ramsey Mason, K. (2020, September 3). What the CDC eviction ban means for renters and landlords: 6 questions answered. Associated Press, Retrieved from https://apnews.com/ article/17b98671a11b95772dc2cdf1d9bcd490
  • Rowan, L. (2021, August 6). Biden Education Department announces one more student loan forbearance extension. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/student-loan- forbearance-additional-extension/
  • Thompson, C. (2020, July 24). This city stopped sending police to every 911 call. The Marshall Project. Retrieved from https://www.themarshallproject.org/2020/07/24/crisisresponders

COVID 19 and Work Employment Disparities Magnified

By Elena Delavega, PhD, MSW (Professor, School of Social Work The University of Memphis) & Gregory M. Blumenthal, PhD (Principal, GMBS Consulting Memphis, Tennessee). From the 2021 Hooks Institute Policy Papers “Race in the Time of COVID-19.”

Introduction

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that emerged at the end of 2019, resulted in the closures of businesses and workplaces, causing enormous disruptions to work and to the economy (Rothan & Byrareddy, 2020; Sorhabi et al., 2020), particularly to the most vulnerable in society including minorities, who often bear the brunt of poverty and exclusionary policies (Reeves & Rothwell, 2020; Weible et al., 2020; Wright & Merritt, 2020). Racial minorities experienced the worst of the pandemic early on (CDC, 2020). COVID-19 was a great game-changer, but in many ways, it was not. Existing disparities were only magnified.

COVID-19 and Employment/Unemployment

The pandemic did not affect everyone equally. Existing problems brought by social policies that advantage certain groups while excluding others were magnified by the pandemic (Long et al., 2020). Income inequality is associated with worse outcomes from the pandemic, but income inequality was not brought on by the pandemic; it is a preexisting condition (Graham, 2021).

Privileged Workers: Working from Home

Those workers who were able to work from home digitally were able to retain their incomes, health insurance, and housing (Long et al., 2020). People who were able to work from home were also impacted a lot less by school closures and lack of childcare, as they were able to stay home and watch their children (Gould & Shierholz, 2020).

Essential Workers

People in the service and hospitality industries were affected in the worst ways (Long et al., 2020). People in the service industry, particularly those in the lowest strata and with low to no power, did not have the opportunity to protect themselves by working from home, by practicing social distancing, or by having the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) (Glover et al., 2020; Miller et al., 2020; Van Drie & Reeves, 2020). These workers were not only not able to avoid work and social distance, but they were additionally burdened by school and childcare center closures (Gould & Shierholz, 2020). African Americans are disproportionately affected by these burdens (Yancy, 2020).

Essential workers such as grocery and warehouse workers and truck drivers were called “essential” because they provided services that allowed people who were able to work from home and isolate to continue to receive what they needed to support life (US. DHS, 2020). However, essential workers were not essential in the sense that they should survive or receive adequate compensation or protections – essential workers are, in fact, expendable workers. These workers have no choice because while the death rate from the virus may be between 2% and 10%, the death rate from starvation is 100%.

Workers Who Lost Their Jobs

Many people lost their jobs, particularly when restaurants closed and people canceled vacations (Long et al., 2020). People in precarious situations suffered the worst job losses, but others were furloughed, which meant they received no salary during the period (Graham, 2021). For a worker who depends on his or her salary for survival, the income loss was devastating. People who lost their jobs or were furloughed lost their healthcare also. (Graham, 2021).

Nationally, job losses between May 2019 and May 2020 were most acute on an absolute basis among restaurant, janitorial, and secretarial workers and on a percentage basis among tourism, entertainment, and hairstyling workers. There were actually strong increases in employment among computer programmers (absolute increase) and telemarketers (percentage increase). (BLS, 2020a, 2021a) Note that the increases were among occupations with high work-from-home potential, while the decreases were among occupations with required physical attendance.

Memphis Poverty and Job Distribution

Minorities in Memphis tend to have the highest poverty rates and to be concentrated in service jobs that were most likely to either disappear due to the drop in demand or to require the worker to continue to expose himself/ herself to the virus with no protection. In Shelby County, roughly 21% of Blacks and 26% of Hispanics work in service jobs, while only 13% of Whites do. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020a, 2020b, 2020c). Roughly 23% of Whites and 23% of Blacks work in office jobs, while only 113% of Hispanics do. Roughly 5% of Whites and 6% of Blacks work in agricultural jobs, while 30% of Hispanics do. Roughly 50% of Whites work in managerial or professional jobs, while only 25% of Blacks and 15% of Hispanics do.

In the Memphis metropolitan area, job losses between May 2019 and May 2020 were most acute on an absolute basis among restaurant, janitorial, and secretarial workers and on a percentage basis among agricultural workers. There were strong increases in employment among nonprofit social service workers and legal service workers. (BLS, 2020b, 2021b). As seen nationally, the increases were among occupations with high work-from-home potential, while the decreases were among occupations with required physical attendance. As seen above, jobs which employ Blacks and Hispanics were disproportionately lost, while jobs that employ Whites were disproportionately gained.

The K-Shaped Recovery

People in low-wage jobs were hit hardest, and many of those jobs may not have recovered because workers moved to different jobs or different regions (Begley et at., 2021). In Tennessee, according to Opportunity Insights (2021), at the height of the pandemic crisis on April 17, 2020, the unemployment rate was for low-income workers minus 29.2%, for middle-income workers minus 15.6%, and for high-income workers minus 7.2%, what these had been in January 2020. The huge drops did not last long, however, and by June 30, 2020, things had stabilized somewhat, with the unemployment rate for low-income workers at minus 10.7%, for middle-income workers minus 4.9%, and for high-income workers plus 0.9% January 2020 levels. The situation has not improved much for low-income workers since then. When compared to January 2020, on May 5, 2021, high-income workers had gained 13.1% in employment, middle-income workers had gained 3.0%, but low-income workers were still 10.1% below where they had been before the crisis, or roughly in the same situation as in June 2020.

The same is true in Shelby County, with the difference that both low-income and middle-income workers have had much difficulty recovering. During the worst moment of the pandemic crisis on April 17, 2020, the unemployment

rate was for low-income workers minus 23.2%, for middle-income workers minus 11.8%, and for high-income workers minus 8.8% what these had been in January 2020 (Opportunity Insights, 2021) The huge drops did not last long, however, and by June 30, 2020 things had stabilized somewhat, with the unemployment rate for low- income workers at minus 9.5%, for middle-income workers minus 7.8%, and for high-income workers plus 0.3% January 2020 levels. (Opportunity Insights, 2021). The situation has not improved much for low-income workers since then. When compared to January 2020, on May 5, 2021, high-income workers had gained 11.5% in employment, but middle-income workers were still 6.4%, and low-income workers were still 10.1% below where they had been before the crisis, or roughly in the same situation as in June 2020 (Opportunity Insights, 2021)

Plantation System: Policy Choices and Implications

Tennessee Cutting Federal Benefits

The state of Tennessee has refused extended unemployment benefits for workers affected due to the pandemic (Tennessee Office of the Governor, 2021). State officials explicitly stated that they feel that these unemployment benefits, none of which exceed or even meet the poverty level, are considered to be larger than the income that workers have any right to expect (Sher & Flessner, 2021). To reiterate, the official position of the state of Tennessee is that workers have no right to be paid enough to avoid starvation for themselves and their families. The line between this and slavery is so thin as to be rendered meaningless.

Exploitive System

No one is exempt from economic shocks and labor market failures. COVID-19 threatened all people equally, but the effects of the pandemic were not felt equally by all. Those who had precarious jobs and no protections suffered the worst. (Graham, 2021). In addition to the exploitation suffered by vulnerable workers, the current system abuses small businesses to the benefit of megacorporations. It provides capital and trained, healthy employees to Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. Small Black businesses get strangled under this abusive system.

Recommendations

Support for Workers

  • Income – To pay a worker less than it costs to feed, clothe, and house the worker is abusive. Unfortunately, it is just one example of the abusonormativity (the normalization of abusive behavior) of American society. This must change. Workers are humans and merit a living wage.[1]
  • Jobless benefits – When a worker, through no fault of their own, cannot obtain work for which they are qualified, they should be sustained and given the skills necessary to obtain work. Our failure to do so is another example of American abusonormativity.
  • Universal healthcare – The difference between humans and animals is that we do not leave our sick behind to die in the wilderness. Our failure to do so is yet another example of American abusonormativity. Universal healthcare is a necessity to maintain a productive society.
  • Childcare – It is often said that the lives of our babies are of primary societal importance until they are born, at which point they become expendable. This is still another example of American abusonormativity. Parents should either be financially supported in raising their children themselves or with outside assistance. Internet – The means of participating in our government and, increasingly, the education of our children are dependent upon access to the internet. Otherwise, we are applying a new poll tax and destroying public education by making these resources available only to those with excess resources. This is more American abusonormativity.

Support for Small Business

Small businesses are the backbone of America, providing almost half of all private jobs, accounting for almost two-thirds (2/3) of all job growth, and representing over 40% of US GDP (U.S. Census, 2018). These businesses have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic (Bartik et al., 2020). Over half of them had less than two weeks of cash on hand when the pandemic hit, and many experienced significant difficulties in obtaining CARES funding.

The answers to rebuild these businesses are obvious:

  • Capital – If banks and other lenders cannot or will not provide capital under relaxed criteria and low-interest rates, the government must step in as the lender of last resort. If the government is the lender, fair employment practices and living wages should be rigorously enforced.
  • Training – Well-trained employees do not appear out of thin air. Small businesses rarely have the resources to train employees from the ground up. Our education system, in particular our community college system, must have the resources to undertake this training on a large scale and at minimal cost to the trainees and small businesses.
  • Universal healthcare – Small businesses often lack the resources to provide quality health insurance to their employees. This results in expensive turnover and places small businesses at a competitive disadvantage against large private and public employers who can afford to negotiate better rates with insurers.

Watch the authors present on this topic on the Hooks Institute YouTube page: https://youtu.be/yCUx1Rl1R-k

REFERENCES

Bartik, A., Bertrand, M., Cullen, Z., Glaeser, E., Luca, M., & Stanton, C. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 on small business outcomes and expectations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(30), 17656–17666.

Begley, J., Brooks, L., McCabe, B.J., Schuetz, J, & Veuger, S. (2021, May 12). What pre-pandemic job trends suggest about the post-pandemic future of the capital region. The Avenue, Brookings Institution. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2021/05/12/what-pre-pandemic-job-trends-suggest-about- the-post-pandemic-future-of-the-capital-region/

Centers for Disease Control [CDC]. (2020a). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): COVID-19 in racial and ethnic minority groups. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/ 2019-ncov/community/health- equity/race-ethnicity.html

Glover, R. E., van Schalkwyk, M. C., Akl, E. A., Kristjannson, E., K., Lofti, T, Petkovic, J., Petticrew, M. P., Pottie,
K., Tugwell, P., Welch, V. (2020). A framework for identifying and mitigating the equity harms of COVID-19 policy interventions. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 128, 35-48. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j/jclinepi.2020.06.004

Gould, E., & Shierholz, H. (2020, March 15). Not everybody can work from home: Black and Hispanic workers are much less likely to be able to telework. Working Economics Blog. Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://www.epi.org/blog/black-and-hispanic-workers-are-much-less-likely-to-be-able-to-work-from-home/

Graham, C. (2021, April 6). Making well-being a policy priority: Lessons from the 2021 World Happiness Report. The Brookings Institution. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future- development/2021/04/06/making-well-being-a-policy-priority-lessons-from-the-2021-world-happiness- report/

Miller, C. C., Kliff, S., & Sanger-Katz, M. (2020, March 1). Avoiding coronavirus may be a luxury some workers can’t afford. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/01/ upshot/coronavirus- sick-days-service-workers.html

Long, H. (2020, August). The recession is over for the rich, but the working class is far from recovered. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/road-to-recovery/2020/08/13/recession-is-over- rich-working-class-is-far-recovered/

Long, H., Van Dam, A., Flowers, Al., & Shapiro, L. (2020, September 30). The COVID-19 recession in the most unequal in modern U.S. history. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/ business/coronavirus-recession-equality/

Opportunity Insights. (2021). Percent change in employment. Retrieved from https://tracktherecovery.org/ Reeves, R. V. & Rothwell, J. (2020). Class and COVID: How the less affluent face double risks. Brookings Institution.

Retrieved from: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/03/27/class-and-covid-how-the-less-

affluent-face-double-risks/
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outbreak. Journal of Autoimmunity, 109. Retrieved from https://doi.org/ 10.1016/j.jaut.2020.102433 Sher, A. & Flessner, D. (June 8, 2021). Tennessee Gov. Lee defends decision to end federal unemployment aid

for jobless residents. Chattanooga Times Free Press. https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/

story/2021/jun/08/tennessee-governor-defends-decisiend-federal/548381/
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gov/cedsci/table?q=c24010&tid=ACSDT1Y2019.C24010B
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cedsci/table?q=c24010&tid=ACSDT1Y2019.C24010I
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U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency. (2020, August 18).

Guidance on the essential critical infrastructure workforce: Ensuring community and national resilience in COVID-19 response (Version 4.0). Retrieved from https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ ECIW_4.0_Guidance_on_Essential_Critical_Infrastructure_Workers_Final3_508_0.pdf

Van Drie, H. & Reeves, R. V. (2020). Many essential workers are in “low-prestige” jobs. Time to change our attitudes – and policies? Retrieved from: https://www. brookings.edu/blog/up-front /2020/05/28/many- essential-workers-are-in-low-prestige-jobs-time-to-change-our-attitudes-and-policies/

Weible, C. M., Nohrstedt, D., Cairney, P., Carter, D. P., Crow, D. A., Durnova, A. P., Heikkila, T., Ingold, K., McConnell, A., Stone, D. (2020). COVID-19 and the policy sciences: Initial reactions and perspectives. Policy Sciences 53, 225–241. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-020-09381-4

Wright, J. E., & Merritt, C. C., (2020). Social equity and COVID-19: The case of African Americans. Public Administration Review. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/puar.13251

Yancy, C. W. (2020). COVID-19 and African Americans. JAMA 323, 1892-1892. 10.1001/jama.2020.6548

[1] “Abusonoramtivity “ is a term coined by the authors to describe the normalization of abusive behavior by institutions and individual actor

“Duty Before Race”: The Life of Colin Powell

Colin Powell. Charles Haynes, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

by Le’Trice Donaldson

Colin Powell, the trailblazing statesman, and beloved American patriot was laid to rest recently. One of the most common statements proclaimed about the late general was that he loved this country. Indeed, Powell, the protégé of Henry “Gunfighter” Emerson and Casper Weinberger, was viewed as loyal, someone who followed orders, and one who always did his duty. These past few weeks, I have been reflecting on the late general’s military career and the one thing that stood out was that Powell always put his America before race.

Growing up in a Black West Indian immigrant household in the Bronx and Harlem exposed Powell to Black people from throughout the Diaspora. Despite being familiar with a sense of Black solidarity, the former commander’s long and distinguished career is laden with moments where he chooses duty over racial obligation. Powell firmly believed his loyalty should always be to the country first. Yet, the reason he is a trailblazer has everything to do with his race.

Powell proclaimed in one of his autobiographies, “The Army has always been good to Blacks.” When Powell joined the Army in 1958, the U.S. Armed forces were still struggling to desegregate and become fully integrated. At Fort Benning, Powell trained in a predominately white world and traveled long distances to eat at Black-owned establishments and worship at a Black church. Despite these inconveniences, Powell enjoyed the structure and clear path to success that the military provided. When his mentor and commander General Emerson put him in charge of rooting out and cracking down on Black militants in the Eighth Army’s First Battalion in 1973 in Seoul, Powell eagerly jumped at the chance to prove his worth.

A race riot broke out within a few days of Powell’s arrival. The racial tensions amongst the men ran high because of fights between white and Black soldiers at local bars and symbolic infractions, including the removal of a Black Liberation Flag. General Emerson believed that showing Brian’s Song (1971) would be the best way to achieve racial harmony. Powell, a Lt. Colonel, did not attempt to understand the source of these tensions. He discharged Black soldiers who had organized to have their racial grievances heard and drilled his battalion so hard that they could not fight one another. By viewing the Black soldiers as troublemakers, Powell proved his allegiance to the Army to the detriment of other Black soldiers. Historian Jeffery Matthews in his book Colin Powell: Imperfect Patriot, described Powell as a loyal follower and subordinate. Major General John A. Wickham asserted, “He was very reassuring to those above him.”

Powell moved up the ranks both militarily and politically. He became the senior military assistant and protégé to Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in 1980. In 1983 he helped organize the 1983 invasion of the small Black Caribbean nation of Grenada. The U.S. military began conducting mock invasions of Grenada in 1981. The Reagan Administration took full advantage of the assassination of Maurice Bishop to ensure a pro-American government was installed. The Reagan Administration viewed Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Leftist movement as a Soviet satellite, even though it was not. Powell was the first Afro-Caribbean American to serve in that position. He helped orchestrate the Grenada invasion without considering the long-term consequences for the rest of the Caribbean or his representation as a Black man of Caribbean descent aiding in the invasion of a Black Caribbean nation.

In 2001, a few days before the world-changing events of September 11th, Secretary of State Colin Powell decided to withdraw U.S. participation from the World Conference Against Racism. In a letter to Dr. Dorothy Height, the then chairperson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Powell cites the possibility of the conference focusing on “divisive regional issues, thereby preventing the Conference from addressing the larger issue of racism affecting all societies.” The divisive issue was related to tying Zionism to racism. Powell chose to follow the Bush line rather than participate in a global initiative to fight racism, xenophobia, and intolerance. He chose duty before race.

The legacy of Colin Powell reflects the life of a fallible but loyal patriot; yet, in all the eulogies and reflections on his life, it is important to remember the totality of his legacy including what he did during the Obama years, the Reagan years, and in Korea. He repeatedly chose a path most pleasing to the military community rather than the Black community.

Le’Trice Donaldson is an Assistant Professor of History at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and a Benjamin L. Hooks Academic Research Fellow. She is the author of Duty Beyond the Battlefield: African American Soldiers Fight for Racial Uplift, Citizenship, and Manhood, 1870-1920

The Power of Language for Brain Function

Hooks Academic Research Fellow Dr. Kami Anderson was a recent guest on Brain Power TV hosted by Dr. Hokehe (Eko) Effiong. In the episode, they discussed the brain benefits of learning another language in children and adults. Dr. Anderson is a trained scholar and master teacher of Afrocentric teaching strategies that ensure language retention, not just learning, and speaks directly to the neurological ways in which people of African descent process and embody languages.

Watch the episode below:

The Call to Attend to Race in the Study of Religious Rhetoric

Andre E Johnson

Below is part of a presentation I gave at the Southern States Communication Association on April 8, 2021. It was part of the “Role of Race in Religious Rhetoric and Communication” panel.

In her groundbreaking essay, Lisa Flores argues that “race is foundational to the work of rhetorical criticism and that any criticism void of this consideration is incomplete, partial, if not irresponsible.” About this, she writes

If rhetorical scholars are to attend to all matter of discourse, whether understood as questions of impact, influence, or circulation, or questions of argument and audience, or questions of affect and materiality, we cannot ignore race. Rhetorical meanings, as they circulate on and around bodies, are already raced. Bodies that speak and listen, that exhort and cajole, that desire and hate are already raced.

However, following the lead of other rhetoric scholars who have called our attention to attend more to race in our studies[1] and not to marginalize the scholarship that is already published, I invite scholars of rhetoric and religion to start examining how race functions in our religious discourses. I do this because if as Matthew Houdek notes, “the whiteness of rhetorical studies is outrageous” and the “time has come to confront it,” it is also time to confront the fact that research in rhetoric and religion and indeed, religious communication itself is catastrophically white.

I would like for scholars, especially of rhetoric and religion, to grapple with how one uses rhetoric and how rhetorical approaches to religion can contribute to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of both religion and race. I call on us to understand how one uses rhetoric as a method or how rhetorical approaches to religion can contribute to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of both religion and race.

One way I argue to do this is to examine the African American prophetic tradition. In so doing, scholars will begin not only to unpack how those rhetors spoke against a tradition and system that still devalues them and their contributions but also to have a better and more holistic understanding of how rhetoric and religion function. This is not to negate the good work done by scholars who study rhetoric and religion. Scholars of rhetoric and religion have done a lot to lessen the resistance in our field toward religion. However, an understanding of how race functions at the intersection of rhetoric and religion would be helpful in two primary ways.

First, a study of race at the intersection of rhetoric and religion can expose some differences in how rhetoric is presented and performed. In my study of prophetic rhetoric, I attempt to demonstrate how scholars, in perpetuating the canon of prophetic rhetoric studies, sometimes missed a separate tradition of prophetic rhetoric. It is how scholars can publish books without one figure of color or how someone can publish a survey of the field and leave out the most recent and relevant works of Black scholars that have explicitly published about prophetic rhetoric. It is also how even when scholars examine speeches by Black figure they would deem as prophetic, they still would use the European understanding of the jeremiad instead of seeing how race would lead the speaker to adopt a different type of appeal.

Second, a study of race at the intersection of rhetoric and religion will address Flores’ call for all of us to take race more seriously in our rhetorical analyses. In the field of communication, several scholars have taken on that call and challenge. However, many of them do not study religion. I argue that we who study rhetoric and religion can make a significant impact in our fields of study. We bring to the table an understanding of religion and its importance.

For instance, a study of Barack Obama’s rhetoric is not complete without attending to his religious rhetoric and the counter-religious rhetoric against him. As others have demonstrated, Obama used religious rhetoric more than any of the modern-day presidents, yet many who examine his rhetoric and discourse do not see him as a religious orator. Imagine if we would embrace the fact that much of Obama’s rhetorical theology comes from an understanding of Black Liberation Theology—a theology deeply rooted in an understanding of freedom, justice, equality, and race. That would also mean that we would have to reexamine our notions of what gets to be called religion as well.

Finally, A study of race at the intersection of rhetoric and religion will force us to move away from white evangelical definitions of faith and adopt other ways to see and experience faith and religion—and I, for one, would welcome that.

[1] Matthew Houdek, “Racial Sedimentation and the Common Sense of Racialized Violence: The Case of Black Church Burnings.” Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. 104, No. 3, 279–306 (2018); Michelle Kelsey Kearl, “The Stolen Property of Whiteness: A Case Study in Critical Intersectional Rhetorics of Race and Disability.” Rhetoric Review, 37:3, 300-313, (2018); Mollie K. Murphy and Tina M. Harris, “White Innocence and Black Subservience: The Rhetoric of White Heroism in The Help.” Howard Journal of Communications, Vol. 29, No 1, 49-62, (2018); Rishi Chebrolu. The Racial Lens of Dylann Roof: Racial Anxiety and White Nationalist Rhetoric on New Media. Review of Communication. Vol. 20, No. 1, 47–68, (2020)

Andre E. Johnson is the Scholar in Residence at the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change and Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Memphis. 

On Black Womanhood at the Intersection of Black Existentialism and Black Feminism

By: Reina Henderson

The criticism and vitriol swarming around Serena Williams after her  passionate reaction to the umpire of the finals match between her and Naomi Osaka is nothing new for black women. Right or wrong in her assertions and regardless of wherever one may lean on one side of the debate or the other, there nevertheless remains the familiar traces of specifically-worded critiques all too common when it comes to black women. Whether intended or not, the caricature image, a satire of the event for the Australian newspaper The Herald Sun, employs racial stereotypes in order to make fun of her. Exaggerated full lips, the exploitation of her anger (utilizing the image of the ABW or “Angry Black Woman”), even the whitewashing of Naomi, a biracial half-Haitian, half-Japanese woman, into someone blonde and white (emphasizing her complexion’s proximity to whiteness) demonstrates a subtle minstrel in all but name.

Black womanhood resides at the intersection of black existentialism and black feminism, and a key element of struggle that black women contend with is white standards of beauty and image. The experiences of black women in particular bear special note due to the understanding that black women are born with two strikes against them, their race and their gender, if living in much of the Western world. bell hooks and Toni Morrison explore this concept in-depth. bell hooks explores this in her book Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism where she discusses problems of racism, sexism, and the diminishing of black womanhood from white women in the feminist movement, from black men in the racial equality movement, and from Western society respectively.[1] Repudiation from black men and white women toward black women in these spaces exacerbates the fight of black women who already must contend with a white patriarchal world.

Black women, therefore, have also experienced oppression from white women and black men relegating them outside of the movements claiming to challenge the society with which they already contend. Without proper support being in such a unique position, hooks’ solution is to form a sisterhood of black women to take on the mantle of the fight. Not through self-segregation, but to become aware of the struggle and position and seek first fellow black women to relate to and promote each other. If none will wholly, or only marginally, take up the cause of advocating for equality with black women, then it is up to black women themselves to do so even if it must be alone.

Toni Morrison delves even deeper into the issue including when it comes to black female image and beauty. Although her novel The Bluest Eye is fictional, it is based on truths and experiences of black women in conflict with white standards of beauty.[2] Pecola, the main character, is a dark-skinned, full-lipped, and coarse-haired young woman. Throughout the novel, she is often teased and called “ugly” making her wish to have bright blue eyes like the white dolls with which she grew up playing. Eventually in the novel, after giving birth to a premature baby sired by her own father through rape, she develops a psychosis for which people around her take pity on her. However, due to her psychosis, she thinks her newfound attention is because she has finally obtained the blue eyes she always wanted.

Morrison’s fictionalized account exposes black women’s experiences of being constantly told that black womanhood and beauty is inferior to white women.[3] The farther one is from that white female standard of beauty of being blonde, thin, pale, and blue-eyed, the uglier she is considered to be. This affects both the psyche and the appearance as many black women have attempted in various ways to conform to the white female standard of beauty believing themselves inferior in reality. Although not explicitly stated, the implied solution from Morrison is for black women to love and embrace their natural features, and bond with other black women sharing the pain like Claudia and Frieda, Pecola’s friends, do for her. In other words, a black woman is beautiful with all her natural features. [4]

When an image like The Herald Sun’s satire begins to circulate, it is indicative of this underlying perception of black women. Serena is molded into the ABW while Naomi can be stripped of her black features and portrayed as the “proper” white contrast to Serena. This piece is in no way intended to make a statement on the racial beliefs of the artist who has denied, since publication of the image, any racial basis for his cartoon. Nevertheless, intended or not, the image is infused, perhaps absent-mindedly, with these stereotypes and aids in their perpetuation. Thus, it makes an understanding of the consequences of such portrayals all the more necessary.

About Reina Henderson

Reina was born and raised in Chattanooga, TN. She attended high school at Boyd-Buchanan School in Chattanooga, a co-educational private Christian School, from which she graduated in 2012. She studied a year at Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina before transferring to East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, TN. Here, she double majored in History and Philosophy, and graduated in 2017 earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in each major. In 2015, she became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, and while in her undergraduate chapter she served terms as both president and secretary. She currently attends the University of Memphis as a graduate student studying for her Master of Arts in History, and is a graduate assistant at the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change. Upon graduation, she intends to pursue her PhD in History and eventually become a professor.


[1] hooks, bell. 1982. Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. London: Pluto.

[2] Morrison, Toni. 1970. The Bluest Eye. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

[3] Morrison, Toni. 1970. The Bluest Eye. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

[4] Henderson, Reina. 2017. To Empower and Uplift the Race: A Historiography of Black Existentialism. Unpublished paper, The University of Memphis.

Photograph 1:Williams S. RG18 (17). 1 June 2018. Author: si.robi. https://flickr.com/photos/16732597@N07/41168711240

Photograph 2: Toni Morrison speaking at “A Tribute to Chinua Achebe – 50 Years Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart'”. The Town Hall, New York City, February 26th, 2008. Date 18 December 2008, 20:44 (UTC) Author Angela Radulescu

Bending the Arc Toward Justice: Including the Excluded

On October 5, 2017, the Hooks Institute released its third edition of its policy papers titled, Bending the Arc Toward Justice: Including the Excluded. This edition focused on the positive impact of immigrants in a small Arkansas town; government policies which create welfare dependency in Oglala Sioux Tribe (South Dakota) and south Memphis, TN; rollback of LGBT gains by the Trump Administration; and the history of Islam and Muslims in America, the distortion of that history, and successful efforts by diverse communities in Memphis, TN to collaborate with the Muslim community. The Hooks Institute hopes that these papers will encourage thoughtful discussion, policy, and action that will sustain and enhance civil and human rights, and social justice for all in our nation. A link to the complete publication is provided at the end of the foreword.

To protect and expand human and civil rights in these perilous times, we must remain vigilant and form alliances with people and organizations across diverse ideological perspectives. On September 5, 2017, as these policy papers were being prepared for publication, the Trump administration ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program created by an executive order from the Obama administration. This program allowed undocumented immigrant children in the United States who had been brought here illegally by others and who had not been convicted of criminal offenses to attend school, work, or serve in the military, and obtain driver licenses without fear of deportation for renewable two-year periods. The reasoning behind DACA was that undocumented immigrant children should not be punished for the actions of others, but rather should be provided opportunities to become contributing members of society.

It is now in the hands of Congress to decide, in what form, if any, DACA continues. While Congress must tackle the complex issue of developing sound and fair immigration legislation for the nation, the manner in which DACA was terminated by the Trump administration evidenced a strong disregard for the welfare of immigrant children who obeyed the laws, pursued educational opportunities, and who have, and are making, significant contributions to the United States.

DACA is only one of many disturbing events in the nation that show racism, if not intolerance, against immigrants, minorities, Jews, and Muslims. This environment has been fueled by the rhetoric and actions of President Trump, white supremacists, and those who know better but remain silent out of fear, or for personal or political gain. We cannot remain silent in the face of these challenges. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wisely counseled that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” However, this arc is not going to bend itself. Each of us must work to ensure that justice prevails through our sustained activism and vigilance.

We cannot remain silent in the face of these challenges. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wisely counseled that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” However, this arc is not going to bend itself. Each of us must work to ensure that justice prevails through our sustained activism and vigilance.

As we navigate these times, we must also reach across the aisle to engage with people of different political, racial, and ideological views to bridge the great divide that is feeding the growing cancer of mistrust, resentment, racism, and hate in our nation and world. We must work to eliminate racial inequality, bigotry, anti-Semitism, discrimination against immigrants, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups, and to uplift the poor, a group that includes whites, African Americans, and many others. Each of us has a respective sphere of influence that we can activate through educational outreach, community engagement, activism, writing, research, and scholarship or political action.

With this third edition of policy papers, the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis (UofM) seeks to expand the net of civil and human equality through overviews of complex issues through scholarly research and policy recommendations.

Michael R. Duke (Department of Anthropology, UofM) looks at the challenges and opportunities of immigrants from diverse countries who have settled in the small city of Springdale, Arkansas. These immigrants work in the poultry industry, in jobs that few whites will take. The poultry industry supports this labor force, a bright spot exists for upward mobility of immigrants, and there is greater integration and cultural exchange between immigrants and whites. Springdale, Arkansas represents, to some extent, a success story of immigration in that community.

Peter A. Kindle (Department of Social Work, University of South Dakota) examines how intergenerational poverty and reliance on welfare by the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota is rooted in historical discrimination and bad government policies. Kindle compares the experiences of these Native Americans with the history of racial, social, and economic oppression of African Americans in the South Memphis. His examination of these two communities shows similarities rooted in historical discrimination and failed government approaches.

Idia B. Thurston (Department of Psychology, UofM) examines both the legal, social, and policy advancements made by the LGBT community, the aggressive challenges underway to undermine these gains, and she proposes initiatives to sustain and support this community.

Finally, Nabil A. Bayakly (Department of World Language and Literature, UofM) provides an in-depth overview of Islam, which embraces peace and love of one’s neighbor. He explores how Islam has been distorted both by terrorist acts and by a lack of understanding in many communities about Islam and the Muslims.

The Hooks Institute hopes that the information provided in these policy papers will encourage community members, activists, individuals, businesses and legislators to examine the issues presented here and to engage in action that is intended to uplift their communities. There is much work to be done, in this nation and abroad, on human and civil rights. As we work to root out injustices, we must, in the words of our namesake, the late Benjamin L. Hooks, “face the future unafraid.”

Daphene R. McFerren, JD
Executive Director Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change

Elena Delavega, PhD
Associate Director, Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change
Associate Professor, Department of Social Work

Click here to access the 2017 Hooks Institute Policy Papers online.

Photograph credit: 2017.03.07 #MuslimBan 2.0 Protest, Washington, DC USA 00805. Photo by Ted Eytan. Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 International(CC BY-SA 4.0). flickr.com/photos/taedc/33164970202/