Monday, February 18, 2019

Claudette Colvin: Rebel With a Cause

Claudette Colvin in 1953
It's Black History Month, and one of my kids told me about a young woman in Alabama in the 1950s who refused to give up her seat on the bus before Rosa Parks. That was news to me, so here's a little about her from Wikipedia:
Claudette Colvin (b. 1939) was a pioneer of the African American Civil Rights Movement. On March 2, 1955, she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in segregated Montgomery, Alabama, nine months prior to Rosa Parks.
Colvin was among the five plaintiffs originally included in the federal court case filed by civil rights attorney Fred Gray on February 1, 1956, as Browder v. Gayle, and she testified before the three-judge panel that heard the case in the United States District Court. On June 13, 1956, the judges determined that the state and local laws requiring bus segregation in Alabama were unconstitutional. The case went to the United States Supreme Court, which upheld their ruling on December 17, 1956. Colvin was the last witness to testify. Three days later, the Supreme Court issued an order to Montgomery and the state of Alabama to end bus segregation, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott was called off.
For many years, Montgomery's black leaders did not publicize Colvin's pioneering effort because she was a teenager who was pregnant by a married man; words like "feisty", "mouthy", and "emotional" were used to describe her, while her older counterpart Rosa Parks was viewed as being calm, well-mannered, and studious. Because of the social norms of the time and her youth, the NAACP leaders worried about using her to symbolize their boycott.
Claudette Colvin said, "Young people think Rosa Parks just sat down on a bus and ended segregation, but that wasn't the case at all."
On the day Colvin was ordered from her seat by the bus driver but refused to move, here's what happened:
When Colvin refused to get up, she was thinking about a school paper she had written that day about the local custom which prevented blacks from using the dressing rooms and trying on clothes in department stores. In a later interview, she said: "We couldn't try on clothes. You had to take a brown paper bag and draw a diagram of your foot [...] and take it to the store”;and "She couldn't sit in the same row as us because that would mean we were as good as her".
"The bus was getting crowded, and I remember the bus driver looking through the rear view mirror asking her to get up for the white woman, which she didn't," said Annie Larkins Price, a classmate of Colvin's. "She had been yelling "It's my constitutional right!". She decided on that day that she wasn't going to move." Colvin was handcuffed, arrested and forcibly removed from the bus. She shouted that her constitutional rights were being violated. Price testified for Colvin in the juvenile court case. Colvin was convicted of disturbing the peace, violating the segregation law, and assault.
To read the complete article click here.
Feisty, mouthy and emotional; sounds like a teenager, and what a teen she was! I had never heard of Claudette Colvin. Had you?
Thanks for visiting and have a great week!
Originally posted: 2/6/17

Monday, February 11, 2019

Frederick Douglass and Interracial Marriage


February marks Black History Month, and one of the most influential individuals in Black history, as well as American history in general, is Frederick Douglass. Douglass, who had no accurate knowledge of his age or birth date, chose to celebrate it on February 14. Also, he estimated the year of his birth to be 1818.

For those unfamiliar with Frederick Douglass, here's a brief summary from Wikipedia:

Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an African-American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders' arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.  

Frederick Douglass is indeed a fascinating and heroic figure in American history. To read more click here

Douglass was married to Anna Murray, a black woman, for forty-four years (1838-1882).  After she died from complications due to second a stroke, Douglass married again--this time however, his wife was white! 

According to Wikipedia:

In 1884, Douglass married again, to Helen Pitts, a white feminist from Honeoye, New York. Pitts was the daughter of Gideon Pitts, Jr., an abolitionist colleague and friend of Douglass. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College (then called Mount Holyoke Female Seminary), she worked on a radical feminist publication named Alpha while living in Washington, D.C. The couple faced a storm of controversy with their marriage, since Pitts was both white and nearly 20 years younger than Douglass. 

... Douglass (a "child of the master") responded to the criticisms by saying that his first marriage had been to someone the color of his mother, and his second to someone the color of his father.
Frederick and Helen Douglass, seated, and
Helen's sister Eva, standing

A commentary from Syracuse.com written by Leigh Fought of Le Moyne College says this regarding the marriage:

...On Jan. 24, 1884, 60-year old Frederick Douglass and 46-year-old Helen Pitts defied the expectations of their families and Washington society by joining in interracial matrimony.

Neither black nor white communities offered many congratulations.

The Washington Grit called the marriage “a national calamity” and “the mistake of his life.” Others considered his choice to be that of a dotty, old man who had rejected his race. The groom’s children never hid their disdain for his new wife, believing the marriage betrayed their late mother, Anna, who was black. His daughter-in-law even sued him. The bride’s sisters and mothers embraced her new husband, but her father and uncle never accepted that a black man they once admired had joined the family. One of her old classmates at Mt. Holyoke simply exclaimed, “How could she?”

True friends, on the other hand, noted that the marriage was not only one of affection but also one that emerged from their principles. Another old classmate insisted that Helen “was true to her convictions to the last,” while a reporter for the IndianapolisLeader pointed out, “Mr. Douglass has simply put into practice the theories of his life.” Douglass himself demanded, “What business has the world with the color of my wife?”

Seems that Frederick Douglass and his new wife received both praise and prejudice, as well!  Although I must add, more of the latter than the former that time around. 

Were you aware of Frederick Douglass' interracial marriage? Thanks for visiting and have a great week! 

Originally posted 2/3/14

Monday, February 4, 2019

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl


While writing my novel Escape, I used Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl to help me in my research. For those unfamiliar with Harriet Jacobs' narrative, it provides a fascinating, heartbreaking and almost unbelievable account of a slave girl's life and her eventual pursuit of freedom for herself and her children.
Harriet Jacobs
According to Wikipedia, Jacobs began writing Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl while living and working at Idlewild, the Hudson River home of writer and publisher Nathaniel Parker Willis, who was fictionalized in the book as Mr. Bruce. Portions of the book were published in serial form in the New-York Tribune, owned and edited by Horace Greeley. Jacobs's reports of sexual abuse were considered too shocking to the average newspaper reader of the day, and publication ceased before the completion of the narrative.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was published as a complete work in 1861. The book was originally written as a way for Jacobs to tell her story and assist in the efforts of the abolitionist movement. It was also hoped that it would appeal to white affluent middle class women.  At that time, they were the ones most likely to read this type of literature. When the book was published, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was still in existence.  This made it a felony for anyone who found a runaway slave not to return the slave to his/her owner. The events in the book displayed the extraordinary impact of the Fugitive Slave Act and its influence on the actions of those in the north as well as the south.

If you enjoy American history, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is well worth reading!  Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Film Noir

I love old movies and the older, the better. I'm particularly fond of the film noir classics of the 1940s.

According to Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia, the term "film noir" was coined by French critics to describe motion pictures characterized by a "dark somber tone and cynical, pessimistic mood." It literally means "dark film."

The film noir Hollywood pictures of the 40s and 50s portrayed the dark, sinister underworld of crime and corruption. And both heroes and villains were cynical loners, insecure and disillusioned by life's circumstances, bound to the past, and unsure of the future.

Several scenes are shot at night, and dingy realism is portrayed through the interior and exterior set designs. There's nothing glamorous about these movies (aside from the leading lady's wardrobe), but the stories are extremely compelling, with intrigue, suspense and lots and lots of plot twists!

Two of my favorite film noir pictures star beautiful Rita Hayworth. Although Lady from Shanghai is hard to follow (you'll have to watch it more than once), it keeps you wondering what's going to happen next. Even if it seems too wierd (or perhaps, thought provoking, since it's Orson Welles), it's worth watching just for the ending. That's when Rita's character is shot in the house of mirrors and then lay dying in broken glass (she deserves it).

My other favorite is Gilda, which, for film noir, has a relatively happy ending. In this film, Rita is glamour personified! As the hot and steamy Gilda, a woman with a questionable past, her dialog to leading man Glen Ford is topnotch. Her words actually had me saying "ouch" a few times for the poor guy!

Do you enjoy old movies too?  If so, what are some of your favorites?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, January 21, 2019

What Inspires You?

"You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?'" George Bernard Shaw

What inspires you in your writing? A spark of imagination, a snatch of conversation, a true story or a real life experience?

I always find it fun to discover what exactly inspires a writer to conceive a story.

Stephenie Meyer had a dream that inspired her to write Twilight. Margaret Mitchell modeled Pansie O'Hara (who later became Scarlett O'Hara) in Gone with the Wind after herself, and her experience of falling in love with the wrong man.

Those Who Save Us, by Jenna Blum, is fiction based on real stories of Germans living in the United Sates during World War II. The Reader. by German judge and law professor Bernard Schlink, focuses on the generation of children born to parents who lived through World War II in Germany. During the 1960's, as adults, this generation (including Schlink) questioned what their parents knew and didn't know, and asks how they could have let the atrocities occur. Schlink's moving story focuses on a young teenage boy who has an affair with an older woman. Only years later, as a law student, does he learn of her direct involvement with the concentration camps.

One of my favorite movies is Finding Neverland. In it, the audience sees how Scottish dramatist J.M. Barrie, through imagination and his real experience of befriending three boys (and their evil Captain Hook like grandmother) came up with the idea for the stage play Peter Pan. "With a wee bit of imagination," Barrie (portrayed by Johnny Depp on film) says, "anything is possible."

Right now a short story is running through my head. I heard Oprah Winfrey say at the conclusion of her show one day, "Our cameras will be at Celine Dion's performance with today's guest at Madison Square Garden next month, but I won't be able to attend." "Hmm," I thought, "what if she had a clone?"

As writers, we allow our imaginations to grow wild with just a seed of inspiration. What fun!

What inspires you?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Originally posted 7/19/10