|A Few Names That Might Not Ring A Bell... But Should!
"I felt like Sojourner Truth had a hand on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman on the other!" That's how Claudette Colvin describes the feeling she had when the police were demanding she vacate her seat on the bus and move to where the other "coloreds" were seated. She refused and was dragged off that bus and thrown in jail. Unlike Rosa Parks, who famously refused to move to the back of the bus and is credited with ending segregation in public transportation, Claudette was scorned by her community for refusing to obey the police. But it was her action, before Rosa famously sat, that resulted in a landmark court case that made bus segregation illegal in America.
Click here to check out a wonderful book by Phillip Hoose on Claudette Colvin and her courageous act of defiance.
Celebrate Dr. King and Those Who Followed Him
January marks Martin Luther King's birthday and Claudette is just one of the people we'd like to celebrate as we remember his legacy. In this newsletter we'll lift up some amazing people who have worked for social, racial, gender, economic, and geo-political justice: Bayard Rustin, Viola Desmond, Kim and Reggie Harris, Linda Loving and Iqbal Masih.
One of our favorite YA (Young Adult) books is The Call to Shakabaz, an adventure novel about the creative use of nonviolence to overcome a tyrant. One of the characters in that book is a parrot named Bayard Rustin. An odd name for a parrot, until you understand that the real Bayard Rustin was a close and trusted adviser to Martin Luther King. He also happened to be gay (Mr. Rustin, not the parrot).
Rustin, raised by Quakers, was a committed pacifist and spent his adult life working for justice for many different groups of people including laborers, Japanese-Americans being interned, war-resisters, people of color, and homosexuals. Rustin died in 1987 from a perforated appendix. The New York Times included this in his obituary: "Looking back at his career, Mr. Rustin, a Quaker, once wrote: 'The principal factors which influenced my life are 1) nonviolent tactics; 2) constitutional means; 3) democratic procedures; 4) respect for human personality; 5) a belief that all people are one.'"
As you listen to Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech this year, imagine a little parrot sitting on his shoulder who championed nonviolence as the best means to achieve freedom. Bayard Rustin was no parrot, though, he was a lion of a man!
Viola Desmond Will Not Be Budged
Like Claudette Colvin, Viola Desmond did her own sitting for social justice. She was also arrested for her action, scorned by her community, but sadly, her case didn't prevail in her homeland of Nova Scotia. She went to a segregated movie theater and insisted on sitting in the whites-only section on the ground floor, instead of the blacks-only balcony. She was arrested, charged, and convicted of...
Yep, seats in the white section cost a penny more in taxes and although she was willing to pay for a seat in the white section, the theater refused to sell her one. So, sitting in the white section deprived the government of one penny in taxes, a crime for which Desmond was convicted. In 2010 she was granted a posthumous pardon.
Kim and Reggie Harris
We got a call one day from Alan Edwards of Appleseed Recordings (Pete Seeger's label) saying "Hey! You guys ought to have some of our records in your store!" He was right. Through that connection we fell in love with Kim and Reggie Harris and their incredible music. Here's how they're described at Appleseed: "Kim and Reggie Harris will never be confused with the legions of navel-gazing singer-songwriters who drift into the category of "contemporary folk." As socially conscious acoustic musicians, the Harrises have been "walking the talk" for over 30 years, performing modern and historical songs that explore societal ills and proffer positive social messages. Whether entrancing festival crowds with their own material or dramatizing the Underground Railroad songs, the duo carry on the folk tradition of preserving important songs from the past and adding meaningful new compositions that reflect the world around them."
We're thrilled to have several of their albums in our shop including a favorite, Let My People Go: A Jewish and African-American Celebration of Freedom. As you listen to songs like We Shall Overcome around Martin Luther King Day, think of Kim and Reggie Harris who will keep on singing songs like that until we do, truly, overcome.
Richard and Mildred Loving
As shown in our CIVIO card game, in 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that banning interracial marriage was unconstitutional. The Lovings had gotten married in the District of Columbia where it was legal, and then went back to their home in Virginia. There, they were arrested and prosecuted, with the trial judge ruling that "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix." The Supreme Court, however, eventually disagreed. You can read a script based on the arguments in this case by clicking here.
The Lovings were not very public people but just before her death in 2007, Mildred spoke about the idea of banning gay marriage, a hot topic in the United States even as Loving v Virginia reached its 40th anniversary. She said "I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about."
Marriage Equality is a big item on the Reach And Teach agenda. In 2011 we'll be publishing a children's picture book called Operation Marriage, written by Cynthia Chin-Lee and illustrated by Lea Lyon. We're hoping it will be the 21st Century sequel to Heather Has Two Mommies. BUT, we need some help to get it completed and printed in North America. Can you help? Click here to make a donation to an organization raising money to get this book into as many hands as possible. Donations are tax-deductible.
The next time you hear the Wedding March at a wedding, think of the Lovings!
Iqbal Masih and Other Kid Heroes and Heroines
The struggle for equality and social justice has many more names that you might not have heard of before. For example, Iqbal Masih, a young boy in Pakistan escaped slavery in a carpet factory and went on to free hundreds of other children. His is one of the many stories chronicled in Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change. The book, The Carpet Boy's Gift, is also based on Iqbal's story. Sadly, Iqbal was killed at the age of 12, but his story inspired another 12 year-old, Canadian Craig Kielburger, who went on to launch one of the largest young people's social justice movements in the world, Free the Children.
The next time you see a child somewhere in the world playing, or going to school, instead of working, think of Iqbal. And, if you're looking at our country, our world, and feeling a bit of despair, we'll wrap up this newsletter with a reminder that there's still plenty of social justice and peacemaking work to do and thank goodness young people (and lots of us older folks) all over the world are picking up the baton and running with it!
With inspiration from Martin Luther King, Claudette Colvin, Bayard Rustin, Kim and Reggie Harris, Linda Loving, Iqbal Masih and Craig Kielburger we can all keep believing in the dream and be the change we wish to see. Together, with a song in our hearts and on our lips, we shall overcome!
Happy Birthday Martin!
Blessings of peace to you and all those you love!
Craig Wiesner and Derrick Kikuchi (and Toby)
Co-Founders and Mascot at Reach And Teach