From Mississippi to Chicago to Belarus, ancestors guide her way

Posted in Articles, Biography, Europe, Media Archive, United States on 2019-10-07 01:56Z by Steven

From Mississippi to Chicago to Belarus, ancestors guide her way

Berkeley News
Berekeley, California

Gretchen Kell, Director of Special Projects and Outreach
Office of Communications and Public Affairs
University of California, Berkeley

Tina Sacks, assistant professor of social welfare
“My ancestors give me a sense of profound empathy and also a sense that humans have dealt with racism, xenophobia, for so long. … It makes me both deeply sad and activated to try and do whatever I can to interrupt that,” says Tina Sacks, assistant professor of social welfare. (Photo by Carlos Javier Ortiz)

During the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans to the English colonies, we’re highlighting members of the campus community whose personal stories, often marked by racism and discrimination, inform their life’s work. We begin with Tina Sacks, UC Berkeley assistant professor of social welfare, who tells of the struggles, self-determination and achievements of her African American and Jewish ancestors.

“Like many young people, when I was growing up I didn’t think much about my mother’s origins. I knew she was from Mississippi, and she had a strong Southern accent, but it washed over me. Most of the black people I knew in Chicago sounded like her, because the vast majority of them were Southerners who were part of the Great Migration.

My mom, Bette Parks Sacks, was born in 1939 and came of age at a difficult time. She was the middle child of 10 kids; one was stillborn, and her brother died when he was only 7 years old. When she was 13, her mother, Lucille, died. My grandfather, J.B. Parks, and his family were sharecroppers in the town of Walnut, about an hour south of the Mississippi/Tennessee border. My mom talked all the time about their deep, deep poverty, the hunger, the cold. She talked all the time about being hungry and cold. She didn’t have shoes — she may have had one pair of shoes a year, but often walked barefoot. By the time she was 6, she was picking cotton and could drag 100 pounds of it behind her. She described having a long burlap bag that she put cotton in. It hooked around her arm and trailed behind her. Sometimes, in the fields, it was so hot that she said she’d literally vomit, and then just keep going…

…The story of my dad, Stanley, is also one of movement. His people were Jewish and came from a different part of the world. They’re less known to me, because my father doesn’t know much about them. But I was very close to my dad’s mother, Dora. She did not read or write in English. Yiddish was her first language. Once I learned to drive, I would take her to the grocery store, and she had her list written in Yiddish. I heard bits and pieces about her life in the Old Country, now probably Belarus, in a shtetl outside of Minsk. As a teenager, she survived many programs [pogroms?]  before World War II that essentially were ethnic cleansing, and she once hid in a barn under hay for a week while soldiers looted and burned. She was 19 when she came to the U.S. on a ship with my paternal grandfather. They had met in Belarus, but got married here. Many of my grandmother’s relatives died in the camps during World War II. She never saw her parents again. But she would never talk about it. Only once she spoke about one of her cousins, whose infant was shot by an SS guard in front of her, and she is said to have died of a heart attack, right there…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

What Makes Me Black? What Makes You White?

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States on 2019-01-04 20:49Z by Steven

What Makes Me Black? What Makes You White?

The Hedgehog Review: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture
Volume 20, Number 2 (Summer 2018)

Mr. Prejudice (detail), 1943, by Horace Pippin (1888–1946); gift of Dr. and Mrs. Matthew T. Moore/ Philadelphia Museum of Art/Art Resource, NY; © estate of Horace Pippin.

W. Ralph Eubanks, Visiting professor of English and Southern Studies
University of Mississippi

The obelisk bearing the chiseled gray-granite face of a Confederate soldier enters my field of vision each morning as I stroll across campus. After forty years away from Mississippi, I returned last year to teach at my alma mater, Ole Miss. Having entered the University of Mississippi in 1974, only twelve years after James Meredith shattered the color barrier, I was one of about fifty black students in a freshman class of more than 800, African Americans then making up less than 5 percent of the entire student body.

During my time as a student at Ole Miss, the culture, heritage, and traditions of the university stood as obdurate barriers to a black person attempting to feel part of the university, much less at home in it. And though Ole Miss and the state of Mississippi more broadly have since made certain commendable strides in reckoning with the past, the statue is a reminder of how the forces of race and history remain in constant collision, and of how the misinterpretation of the past can sometimes overshadow historical reality.

“Most white Americans are obviously and often all too unconsciously committed to White Anglo-Saxon Protestant supremacy,” wrote the essayist and critic Albert Murray more than forty years ago in his enduring reflections on our nation’s “mulatto” culture, The Omni-Americans.1 What we are witnessing today, however, is quite conscious. I don’t mean here simply ugly and even violent displays, such as the now infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last summer, but something more insidious. This new iteration of racialized politics is one that dares not say its name. It even pretends that race-based discrimination and white supremacy are things of the past, issues well behind us. More brazenly—one might even say cynically—this new politics appropriates the language of the civil rights movement, and does so precisely to undercut some of the movement’s signal accomplishments (including voting rights), or at least to prevent some its goals (including equal as well as integrated schools) from being fully achieved…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,

The Life and Death of Davis Knight after State vs. Knight (1948)

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Law, Media Archive, Mississippi, Passing, United States on 2015-02-01 23:40Z by Steven

The Life and Death of Davis Knight after State vs. Knight (1948)

Renegade South: Histories of Unconventional Southerners

Victoria E. Bynum, Emeritus Professor of History
Texas State University, San Marcos

Davis Knight, the great-grandson of the infamous “Free State of Jones” guerrilla, Newt Knight, became the centerpiece of his own drama some 25 years after the death of his notorious ancestor. Although Davis was descended from Newt and his wife, Serena, both of whom were white, he was also the great-grandson of Rachel Knight, a former slave of Newt’s grandfather. And although Davis was white in appearance, because of his descent from Rachel, he was defined as black by his white neighbors. Some of those neighbors did not take kindly to Davis Knight’s marriage in 1946 to Junie Lee Spradley, a local white woman. In 1948, Davis ended up in court, accused of having married across the color line (a crime in several states until 1967). Despite a vigorous defense by Attorney Quitman Ross, a jury pronounced Davis guilty. Convicted of miscegenation, the Ellisville Court sentenced him to five years in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman prison.

Attorney Ross immediately appealed the decision on grounds the court had failed to prove that Davis had 1/8th or more African ancestry, and won his case. The Mississippi State Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision and remanded Davis’s case for retrial–a retrial that never took place. In legal terms, the High Court ruled in this important case, the “one drop rule” did not determine one’s racial identity, regardless of social custom. Davis Knight thus escaped going to prison and, for the rest of his life, lived as a white man…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Biracial cohabitation in Miss. is old news

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Mississippi, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2013-04-02 04:03Z by Steven

Biracial cohabitation in Miss. is old news

Desoto Times Tribune

Bill Minor, Syndicated Columnist (Covering Mississippi politics for more than 50 years.)

Mississippi Republicans dismissed as Democratic hogwash a recent report of a poll showing that nearly half of the state’s GOPers believed interracial marriages should be illegal.

The poll—showing that 46 percent of Mississippi Republicans believed marriages across racial lines, notwithstanding what the U.S. Supreme Court has said, should not be legal—was done by a Democratic-leaning North Carolina group, Public Policy Polling.

On the other hand, state Republicans did not find fault with other parts of the PPP poll, namely that Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant held a solid lead (63 percent) in his bid for the party’s gubernatorial nomination.

Actually, the subject of racial intermarriages was only a side issue in the PPP poll. Importantly, the poll dusted off a subject that has long floated just below the surface in Mississippi. We must remember that Mississippi has the highest percentage African-American population among the nation’s states.

The question of racial intermarriage in Mississippi came up in the poll only a few days after an in-depth story in the New York Times spotlighted a black-white Hattiesburg couple whose 11-year marriage has caused not a ripple in the city’s 50,000 population…

…In his prize-winning “Dark Journey… Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow,” former University of Southern Mississippi historian Neil McMillen relates that biracial cohabitation in Mississippi flourished in the post-Civil War Reconstruction era prior to the state’s 1890 Constitution. Many of those unions led to intermarriage, McMillen writes, because there was no law against it during Reconstruction.

However, the 1890 “redemption” constitutional convention, wrote a specific prohibition against racial intermarriages into Mississippi’s new basic law, banning unions if either person had “one-eighth Negro blood.” It remained there for three-quarters of a century until stricken by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Of note, I (as well as several national reporters) covered the state’s first known biracial wedding in 1967 after the legal ban was lifted. It was conducted by the Rev. Rims Barber, who is white, with a white female bride and a black male husband, in a Methodist church on Farish Street. The fact that the marriage was covered by the media back then indicated how such an event in this race-conscious state was regarded as a major news story…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

Letter documenting the struggle of two children’s attempt to attend school

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Mississippi, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2013-03-11 04:28Z by Steven

Letter documenting the struggle of two children’s attempt to attend school

Special Collections
University of Southern Mississippi Libraries
Item of the Month
March 2010

Jennifer Brannock, Special Collections Librarian

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History: Sovereignty Commission Online

[Note from Steven F. Riley: For more on Newton Knight, Rachel Knight, and the “Free State of Jones,” please read Victoria E. Bynum’s excellent monograph, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War.]

In 1964, 9-year-old Edgar and 8-year-old Randy Williamson had never attended a day of school. The debate over their admittance stems from the fact that they are 1/16 or 1/32 African American. They are the great, great grandchildren of Newt Knight and a slave woman, Rachel. Newt Knight is a well-known historical figure who was the man behind the “Free State of Jones.” Rachel was a slave owned by Knight’s uncle. Even though Knight was married, it is believed that he left his wife and lived with Rachel until her death.

Edgar and Randy Williamson’s great, great grandmother was African American which meant that they were 1/16 African American. According to Mississippi law at the time, a person had to be less than 1/8 African American to be considered white. In the case of the Edgar and Randy, their mother, a direct descendant of Newt and Rachel, was listed as black on her birth certificate (she was 1/8 African American) with Edgar and Randy as white (their father was white). The people in Stringer, a community in Jasper County, considered the children to be African American since their mother was. Due to these beliefs, school officials at the white school in Stringer anticipated strong objections and possible violence if the children were admitted…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Republican primaries: Miscegenation and the South

Posted in Articles, Mississippi, New Media, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2012-03-15 05:51Z by Steven

The Republican primaries: Miscegenation and the South

The Economist

OVER the weekend the Democratic-affiliated polling organisation Public Policy Polling (PPP) came out with a survey showing that 21% of likely Republican voters in Alabama, and 29% of likely Republican voters in Mississippi, think interracial marriage should be illegal. (It also found about half think Barack Obama is Muslim, and that most don’t believe in evolution.) Michelle Cottle of the Daily Beast, who hails from the South herself, thinks PPP is unfairly singling out southerners for these questions.

[T]his PPP report has all the earmarks of a poll taken with the specific, if perhaps unconscious, goal of confirming all of the nation’s very worst biases about the South. So an average of 1 in 4 respondents still can’t get with that whole ebony and ivory thing. Appallingly racist? You betcha. But can someone please explain to me what this has to do with the current Republican presidential race? Discussions of gay marriage I understand. But interracial marriage—since when is this a relevant topic in American politics?

Similarly, why do we need to know respondents’ views on evolution? Last time I checked, not even Santorum was waving the creationism (or intelligent design) banner in this race. Which could explain why, when I went back and looked through the rest of PPP’s polls from this year, I couldn’t find any other states that were asked about evolution. Ditto questions about whether Obama is a Muslim. And in only one other state did I see voters being asked about interracial marriage: South Carolina. (Surprise!)

Ms Cottle isn’t saying that PPP worded its poll in order to bring out the most racist possible answers. (The question they asked is pretty straightforward: “Do you think that interracial marriage should be legal or illegal?”) She’s just saying that these questions wouldn’t have been asked in any other region of the country. And it’s true: we don’t know the national base rate reply for this question. So we should look for other polls that compare attitudes towards interracial marriage in Alabama and Mississippi, or in the South more generally, to those elsewhere in America…

…How about Alabama and Mississippi specifically? Let’s turn to last month’s Pew report on interracial marriage in America, which breaks down actual intermarriage rates by state. From 2008 to 2010, 15% of all American marriages were mixed-race (where the races are white, Hispanic, black, Asian and “other”). The states with the lowest rates of interracial marriage were as follows:

1. Vermont (4.0%)
2. Mississippi (6.2%)
3. Kentucky (7.1%)
4. Alabama (8.1%)
5. Maine (8.2%)

The salient point here, obviously, is that Vermont and Maine are 95% white and 1% black. Mississippi is 59% white and 37% black. Alabama is 69% white and 26% black. (Kentucky, incidentally, is 88% white and 8% black.) The reasons why Alabama and Mississippi combine such racially mixed populations with such low rates of racial intermarriage are obvious and familiar to any American. These are extremely segregated states, residentially, economically, culturally and politically, and that segregation both produces and is produced by high levels of racial prejudice….

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,

The Free State of Jones: Community, Race, and Kinship in Civil War Mississippi

Posted in History, Live Events, Mississippi, Slavery, United States on 2012-02-16 01:17Z by Steven

Littefield Lecture: The Free State of Jones: Community, Race, and Kinship in Civil War Mississippi

Littlefield Lecture
University of Texas, Austin
Applied Computational Engineering & Sciences Building (ACE), Avaya Auditorium 2.302
2012-03-06, 16:00-18:00 CST (Local Time)

Victoria Bynum, Professor Emerita
Texas State University, San Marcos

Dr. Bynum will be delivering this year’s Littlefield Lectures for the History Department of the University of Texas, Austin.  The lectures are based on research from my last two books, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War and The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies.

Tags: , , , , ,

Charles Marsh recounts the formation and activities of The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission.

Posted in History, Media Archive, Mississippi, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2012-02-11 02:37Z by Steven

Charles Marsh recounts the formation and activities of The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission.

The Civil Rights Movement as Theological Drama
The Project on Lived Theology
University of Virginia

Charles Marsh

In 1956, a new organization appeared, predisposed to the same political concerns articulated by the Citizen’s Council, but now underwritten by the state legislature.  The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission was formed to broaden the scope of protecting “the Southern Way of Life.”  The commission expressed purpose was “to do and perform any and all acts and things deemed necessary and proper to protect the sovereignty of the State of Mississippi, and her sister states, from encroachment thereon by the Federal Government”; nevertheless, it operated as “something akin to NKVD among the cotton patches,” as journalist Wilson Minor put it.  With an extensive surveillance network solidly in place, the Sovereignty Commission vigilantly monitored civil rights activists and any Mississippi citizens suspected of heterodoxy–“persons whose utterances or actions indicate they should be watched with suspicion on future racial attitudes.”  The commission pursued its ordained work by dispatching investigators and spies to gather information on civil rights workers, white liberals, and anyone else suspected of racial indiscretion.  By 1967, the commission had amassed an archive of more than ten thousand reports on people who worked for or represented “subversive, militant, or revolutionary groups.”  (By 1974, the files would grow to 87,000 names.)
Although the Sovereignty Commission’s principal motivation was “to prevent encroachment upon the rights of this and other states by the Federal Government” (as the charter stated), its obsession with racial purity could not be entirely explained by state’s rights fervor.  The commission’s agents seemed to spend as much energy tracking down reports of mixed-race babies and children as it did investigating the activities of subversive, militant and revolutionary groups.  Sadly, a reading of the available Sovereignty Commission files regarding rumors of interracial sex show us (in Adam Nossiter’s words) “cool accounts of lives damaged, destroyed, or threatened because black men were suspected of consorting with white women.”

Then there are reports that are stranger than fiction.  In , the director of the commission himself, Erle Johnston, Jr., wrote an eight page, single spaced report in December of 1963 explorinthe case of the woman Louvenia K. and her two sons, Edgar and Randy Edg the racial composition of the boys and their mother…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Profile: Sheena Gardner

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Campus Life, Identity Development/Psychology, Mississippi, New Media, Social Science, United States on 2012-01-02 23:10Z by Steven

Profile: Sheena Gardner

Our People
Mississippi State University

With a Japanese mother and an African-American father, Gardner has lived in Japan and Mississippi, experiencing a world of two cultures. Her dark skin complemented by her long, thick and curly hair distinguishes her from most other people almost everywhere she goes. Her background of growing up in a military family exposed her to many mixed-race families.

Through the years, Sheena Gardner has become comfortable answering the question, “What are you?”

While awkwardly phrased, she understands what they mean, and the Ocean Springs native loves talking about it. However, many people still feel uncomfortable having serious discussions on race…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , ,

Bynum: The Long Shadow of the Civil War (2010)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Mississippi, Slavery, Texas, United States on 2011-10-23 04:17Z by Steven

Bynum: The Long Shadow of the Civil War (2010)

The Civil War Monitor: A New Look at America’s Greatest Conflict

Laura Hepp Bradshaw
Carnegie Mellon University

The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies by Victoria E. Bynum. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. Cloth, ISBN: 0807833819.

“Few histories,” Victoria Bynum laments, “are buried faster or deeper than those of political or social dissenters” (148). By resurrecting the histories of three anti-secessionist communities in the South, Bynum’s latest book about the Civil War home front and post-war aftermath brings previously ignored strains of political and social dissent back to life through an intricate examination of the period rooted in race, gender, and class politics. Ultimately guided by three central questions designed to probe the prevalence of Unionism among southerners during the war, the effects of Union victory on freedpeople and southern Unionists, and the Civil War’s broader legacies, Bynum finds answers in the Piedmont of North Carolina, the Piney Woods of Mississippi, and the Big Thicket of Hardin County, Texas. These regions, though miles apart, are united in Bynum’s analysis by kinship and the political alliances of non-slaveholding, yeoman farming families…

…These home front battles, Bynum tells us, had a lasting effect on the political and social clime of the Reconstruction era, and beyond.  When Republican Reconstruction ended and Jim Crow Reconstruction segregated the South, former southern Unionists like Jasper and Warren Collins of the Big Thicket region rejected the two-party political system in favor of alternative platforms such the Populists or Socialists, in addition to the predominant southern religions.  Newt Knight and his descendants struggled against the rising tide of white supremacy that sought to divide white, black, and Native American demographics by living openly as a multi-racial community.  Furthermore, Bynum highlights the challenges faced by women in the Reconstruction period, as Jim Crow also regulated sexual mores and relations between both the sexes and races.

Thematically, the book harnesses examples of gender, class, and race on the wartime home front and in the post-war period. Yet, even though a vast portion of the book is devoted to discussing the anti-secessionist personalities of Newt Knight, Jasper and Warren Collins, and to a lesser extent, Bill Owens, an explicit examination their gender is curiously overlooked. Bynum mentions that “southern Unionists, Populists, and Socialists” were portrayed as “cowards and traitors,” but she fails to examine the implications of those labels within the broader context of southern masculinity (114). That said, Bynum’s sophisticated, multi-layered analysis of class relations, especially during the Civil War, more than make up for this shortcoming. She thoroughly illustrates a web of complex, inter-community class tensions that linked the conscripted poor, men fortunate to wave Confederate service, and the home guard. Bynum successfully explicates the repercussions of a segregated South on people of mixed race descent who were forced to either claim their black identity, like Anna Knight, a descendant of Newt Knight, or to “pass” as white by relocating away from the communities of their birth and obscuring their ancestry, as many other Knight Company descendants were forced to do…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,