Before multiculturalism, blackface rampant in US pop culture

Before multiculturalism, blackface rampant in US pop culture

Video Courtesy of CNN


At the time Virginia’s future political leaders put on blackface in college for fun, Dan Aykroyd wore it too — in the hit 1983 comedy “Trading Places.”

Sports announcers of that time often described Boston Celtics player Larry Bird, who is white, as “smart” while describing his black NBA opponents as athletically gifted.

Such racial insensitivities ran rampant in popular culture during the 1980s, the era in which Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, have admitted to wearing blackface as they mimicked pop singer Michael Jackson and rapper Kurtis Blow, respectively.

Meanwhile, Chicago elected its first black mayor, Michael Jackson made music history with his “Thriller” album, U.S. college students protested against South Africa’s racist system of apartheid and the stereotype-smashing sitcom “The Cosby Show” debuted on network television.

It would be another 10 years before the rise of multiculturalism began to change America’s racial sensibilities, in part because intellectuals and journalists of color were better positioned to successfully challenge racist images, and Hollywood began to listen.

“We are in a stronger position to educate the American public about symbols and cultural practices that are harmful today than we were in the 1980s,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University.

During the ’80s, college faculties and student bodies were less diverse, Gates said. Some scholars who entered college during the 1960s had yet to take on roles in which mainstream culture would heed their cultural critiques, he said.

At the time Northam and Herring put on black makeup, Hollywood and popular culture still sent messages that racial stereotypes and racist imagery were comical and harmless, despite pleas from civil rights groups and black newspapers.

Herring was a 19-year-old University of Virginia student when he wore brown makeup and a wig to look like rapper Kurtis Blow at a 1980 party. Three years before that, white actor Gene Wilder darkened his face with shoe polish in the movie “Silver Streak” co-starring Richard Pryor. He used a stereotypical walk to impersonate a black person living in an urban neighborhood.

On television, viewers could see a Tom and Jerry cartoon featuring the character Mammy Two Shoes, an obese black maid who spoke in a stereotypical voice. The 1940s cartoon series was shown across several markets throughout the 1980s. Television stations ignored complaints from civil rights groups.

Elsewhere, Miami erupted into riots following the acquittal of white police officers who killed black salesman and retired Marine Arthur McDuffie in what many called a case of police brutality. President Jimmy Carter visited and pressed for an end to the violence, but a protester threw a bottle at his limousine as he left.

When Northam wore blackface to imitate Michael Jackson and copy his moonwalking skills at a 1984 San Antonio dance contest, television stations still aired Looney Tunes episodes with racially insensitive images using Bugs Bunny and other characters despite some controversial episodes being taken off the air in 1968.

African-Americans, however, had reason to be hopeful amid electoral gains. A year before, in 1983, Chicago became the latest city to elect a black mayor, Harold Washington, after activists registered 100,000 new black voters. That election, Jesse Jackson later said, paved the way for him to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 1984.

“It was out of that context that my own candidacy emerged,” Jackson said in the 1990 “Eyes on the Prize” documentary. Jackson lost the nomination to former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Two years after Northam’s moonwalk performance, the comedy “Soul Man” hit theaters. In the movie, Mark Watson, played by white actor C. Thomas Howell, takes tanning pills in a larger dose to appear African-American so he can obtain a scholarship meant for black students at Harvard Law School. The movie drew a strong reaction from the NAACP and protesters to movie theaters.

Still, “Soul Man” took in around $28 million domestically, equivalent to around $63.5 million today.

Despite those images, new and popular black cultural figures also emerged, including Eddie Murphy, Oprah Winfrey and a young Michael Jordan. Black Entertainment Television, or BET, was founded in 1980 by businessman Robert L. Johnson, giving the country access to black entertainment using 1970s sitcoms and music.

But as Nelson George argued in his book “Post-Soul Nation: The Explosive, Contradictory, Triumphant and Tragic 1980s as Experienced by African Americans,” BET failed to counter negative images by relying on free music videos and investing little money in original programming. “Through this conservative strategy, BET prospered while offering little new to a community starved for images of itself,” George wrote.

In addition, the new black cultural figures rarely engaged in politics or spoke out against racial injustice.

Sometimes, stereotypes and comments did result in consequences. For example, CBS fired sports commentator Jimmy Snyder, known as Jimmy the Greek, in 1988 after he suggested in a television interview that black athletes were better because of slavery. The Los Angeles Dodgers fired general manager Al Campanis in 1987 for saying on ABC’s “Nightline” that blacks “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager or perhaps a general manager” and they were poor swimmers.

In 1987, black demonstrators marched in all-white Forsyth County, Georgia, to protest the racism that kept blacks out for 75 years. They were promptly attacked by white nationalists hurling rocks and waving Confederate flags. The shocking images sparked national outrage and led Oprah Winfrey to air an episode of her then-5-month-old syndicated talk show from the county.

“What are you afraid that black people are going to do?” Winfrey asked the audience.

“I’m afraid of them coming to Forsyth County,” one white man told her.

Today, Gates said, people can no longer claim ignorance. While it should have been understood that blackface was offensive during the 1980s, one might have had to go to the library to learn exactly why, he said.

“We also have more records digitized,” Gates said. “The access to archives is larger, and we have more diversity in the media so we can say these images are painful … and why we shouldn’t use them.”

Frank Robinson, baseball’s fearsome trailblazer, dies at 83

Frank Robinson, baseball’s fearsome trailblazer, dies at 83

Video Courtesy of ABC News


Crowding the plate, fearsome and fearless, Frank Robinson hammered his way into the Hall of Fame.

His legacy, however, was cemented that day in 1975 when he simply stood in the dugout at old Cleveland Stadium — the first black manager in Major League Baseball.

Robinson, the only player to earn the MVP award in both leagues and a Triple Crown winner, died Thursday at 83. He had been in failing health and in hospice care at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. MLB said he was with family and friends at the time.

“Frank Robinson’s resume in our game is without parallel, a trailblazer in every sense, whose impact spanned generations,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

Robinson hit 586 home runs — he was fourth on the career list behind only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays when he retired and now ranks 10th. An MVP with Cincinnati and Baltimore, he led the Orioles to their first World Series championship in 1966.

“Frank Robinson and I were more than baseball buddies. We were friends. Frank was a hard-nosed baseball player who did things on the field that people said could never be done,” Aaron posted on Twitter.

“Baseball will miss a tremendous human being,” he said.

An All-Star outfielder in 12 seasons and a first-ballot selection to Cooperstown, Robinson also was a Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove outfielder and a bruising runner.

But his place in the sport’s history extended far beyond the batter’s box and basepaths.

Robinson fulfilled his quest to become the first African-American manager in the big leagues when he was hired by the Cleveland Indians. His impact was immediate and memorable.

The Indians opened at home that year and Robinson, still active, batted himself second as the designated hitter. In the first inning, he homered off Doc Medich and the crowd went crazy, cheering the whole April afternoon as Cleveland beat the Yankees.

The Reds, Orioles and Indians have retired his No. 20 and honored him with statues at their stadiums.

Robinson later managed San Francisco, Baltimore and Montreal. He became the first manager of the Washington Nationals after the franchise moved from Montreal for the 2005 season — the Nationals put him in their Ring of Honor.

More than half the major league teams have had black managers since his debut with Cleveland.

Robinson later spent several years working as an executive for MLB and for a time oversaw the annual Civil Rights Game. He advocated for more minorities throughout baseball and worked with former Commissioner Bud Selig to develop the Selig Rule, directing teams to interview at least one minority candidate before hiring a new manager.

For all he did on and off the field, Robinson was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2005.

“Frank Robinson’s wife, Barbara Ann Cole, once said, “He believes in rules and he respects the game. He reveres the game,'” Bush said in a statement. “When I presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, I noted that ‘Baseball fans across America will tell you the feeling is returned. In the game we love, few names will ever command as much respect and esteem as the name of Frank Robinson.'”

Brooks Robinson, a fellow first-ballot Hall of Famer, said he spoke to his Baltimore teammate and longtime friend a few days ago.

“He was the best player I ever played with,” he said.

Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre played against and worked with Frank Robinson for years.

“He was a tough nut,” Torre recalled at the owners’ meetings in Orlando, Florida. “He never lost that feistiness, which puts a smile on your face … He was always that guy that commanded a lot of respect and he had a presence about him.”

Born Aug. 21, 1935, in Beaumont, Texas, Robinson attended McClymonds High School in Oakland, California, and was a basketball teammate of future NBA great Bill Russell. But it was on the diamond, rather than court, where fame awaited Robinson.

“We all know we lost one of the Greats,” Russell tweeted.

Starting out in an era when Mays, Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams were the big hitters, Robinson more than held his own over 21 seasons — if anything, many who watched Robinson felt he never got his full due as an all-time great. He finished with 1,812 RBIs and hit .294 — he played in the World Series five times, and homered in each of them.

Robinson was the only player to hit a ball completely out of old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and once connected for grand slams in consecutive innings of a game. But he didn’t just slug away, as evidenced by a .389 on-base average boosted by 1,420 walks against 1,532 strikeouts. Extremely alert on the bases, he had 204 steals.

Robinson played the game with grace, yet was known as fierce competitor who combined hard work with natural talent. He planted himself near the plate, yielding to no pitcher, and didn’t seem to care about being brushed back or getting hit by a pitch 198 times.

“Pitchers did me a favor when they knocked me down,” Robinson said. “It made me more determined. I wouldn’t let that pitcher get me out.”

And opposing pitchers noticed.

“Frank Robinson might have been the best I ever saw at turning his anger into runs. He challenged you physically as soon as he stepped into the batter’s box, with half his body hanging over the plate,” Hall ace Bob Gibson once wrote.

“As a rule, I’m reluctant to express admiration for hitters, but I make an exception for Frank Robinson,” Gibson wrote.

Robinson carried a similar philosophy as a baserunner, unapologetically sliding spikes high whenever necessary.

“The baselines belong to the runner, and whenever I was running the bases, I always slid hard,” Robinson declared.

Robinson broke in with a bang as a 20-year-old big leaguer. He tied the first-year record with 38 home runs for Cincinnati in 1956, scored a league-high 122 times and was voted NL Rookie of the Year.

Robinson was the 1961 NL MVP after batting .323 with 37 homers and 124 RBIs for the pennant-winning Reds, and reached career highs in runs (134) and RBIs (136) in 1962.

All-time hits leader Pete Rose joined the Reds the next year.

“He had a huge influence on me when I first came up in ’63,” Rose told The Associated Press by phone. “Frank was a really aggressive, hard-nosed player, and it rubbed off on everybody. Frank was the one who took me under his wings, so to speak. … Frank consistently talked to me about playing the game the right way,” he said.

Robinson was an All-Star, too, in 1965, but Reds owner Bill DeWitt decided Robinson was an old-ish 30 and time to make a move.

That December, Robinson was the centerpiece in what would ultimately be one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, going to Baltimore for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson.

Robinson became an instant hit with the Orioles in 1966 as the unanimous AL MVP and a Triple Crown winner.

On May 8, he became the only player ever to hit a home run completely out of Baltimore’s home park, Memorial Stadium. The drive came against Cleveland ace Luis Tiant and the spot where the ball sailed over the left-field wall was marked by a flag that read “HERE” that remained in place until the Orioles left for Camden Yards in 1991.

Robinson batted .316 with 49 home runs and 122 RBIs during his first season in Birdland. He then homered in the first inning of the 1966 World Series opener at Dodger Stadium and capped off the four-game sweep of Los Angeles with another homer off Don Drysdale in a 1-0 win in Game 4.

Robinson hit two home runs against Rose and the Reds to help win another crown for the Orioles in 1970.

All told, Robinson was an All-Star in five of his six seasons with Baltimore, reaching the World Series four times and batting .300 with 179 home runs. The cap on his Cooperstown plaque carries on O’s logo.

Pappas went 30-29 over two-plus seasons with the Reds, Baldschun won one game in 51 appearances over two years with Cincinnati and Simpson hit five home runs as a part-time outfielder for the Reds during two mediocre seasons.

Robinson was traded to the Dodgers before the 1972 season. He played for the California Angels in 1973 and was dealt to Cleveland late in the 1974 season.

His managerial debut came 28 years after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier as a player.

“Every time I put on this uniform, I think of Jackie Robinson,” Frank Robinson said as he began his new role.

Jackie Robinson’s widow, Rachel, and daughter Sharon paid tribute.

“Frank Robinson was a dear friend and realized one of Jack’s great hopes, becoming baseball’s first African-American manager. He was remarkable and made us all feel proud for his many contributions to baseball and to society,” they said together in a statement.

Robinson had coached for the Orioles and worked in their front office when he became their manager in 1988 after the team opened at 0-6. Things didn’t get much better right away as Baltimore went on to lose its first 21 games and finished 54-107. The next season, the O’s went 87-75 and Robinson was voted AL Manager of the Year.

Tough and demanding, he went 1,065-1,176 overall as a big league manager.

A no-nonsense guy, Robinson also had a sharp wit. That served him well in Baltimore where, in addition to being a star right fielder, he was the judge for the team’s Kangaroo Court, assessing playful fines for missing signs, uniform mishaps and other things he deemed as infractions.

At the time, the Orioles had a batboy named Jay Mazzone, whose hands were amputated when he was 2 after a burning accident. Mazzone capably did his job for years with metal hooks and became good friends with Robinson.

Some players, though, initially weren’t sure how to treat the teen.

“Frank Robinson broke the ice,” Mazzone said. “He was running his Kangaroo Court and calling a vote among the players, whether to fine somebody or not.”

“It was either thumbs up or thumbs down,” he recalled. “After the vote, he said, ‘Jay, you’re fined for not voting.’ Everybody laughed. After that, I was treated just like everybody else.”

Survivors include his wife, Barbara, and daughter Nichelle.

There was no immediate word on funeral arrangements. The family said in lieu of flowers, contributions in his Robinson’s memory could be made to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, or the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C.

___

AP Sports Writer Joe Kay and AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.

Congo on brink of first peaceful transfer with Tshisekeid win

Congo on brink of first peaceful transfer with Tshisekeid win

Supporters of opposition presidential candidate Felix Tshisekedi celebrate at his headquarters in Kinshasa, Thursday Jan. 10, 2019. Supporters of Tshisekedi took to the streets of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, Thursday morning to celebrate his win in the presidential election, that was announced by the electoral commission. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Congo is on the brink of its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960 after the Constitutional Court on Sunday confirmed the presidential election victory of Felix Tshisekedi, although questions remain about the result.

Tshisekedi, son of the late, charismatic opposition leader Etienne, is to be inaugurated on Tuesday.

Congo’s 80 million people did not appear to heed runner-up Martin Fayulu’s call for non-violent protests, and African neighbors began offering congratulations.

Shortly after the pre-dawn court declaration, opposition leader Tshisekedi said the court’s decision to reject claims of electoral fraud and declare him president was a victory for the entire country.

“It is Congo that won,” Tshisekedi said, speaking to supporters. “The Congo that we are going to form will not be a Congo of division, hatred or tribalism. It will be a reconciled Congo, a strong Congo that will be focused on development, peace and security.”

Supporters of his UDPS party celebrated in the streets of Kinshasa.

The largely untested Tshisekedi faces a government dominated by Kabila’s ruling party, which won a majority in legislative and provincial elections. The new National Assembly will be installed on Jan. 26.

However, Tshisekedi’s victory was rejected by rival opposition candidate Fayulu, who declared that he is Congo’s “only legitimate president” and called for the Congolese people to peacefully protest against a “constitutional coup d’etat.” If Fayulu succeeds in launching widespread protests it could keep the country in a political crisis that has simmered since the Dec. 30 elections.

The court turned away Fayulu’s request for a recount, affirming Tshisekedi won with more than 7 million votes, or 38 percent, and Fayulu received 34 percent.

The court said Fayulu offered no proof to back his assertions that he had won easily based on leaked data attributed the electoral commission. It also called unfounded another challenge that objected to the commission’s last-minute decision to bar some 1 million voters over a deadly Ebola virus outbreak.

Outside the court, Fayulu and his supporters have alleged an extraordinary backroom deal by outgoing President Joseph Kabila to rig the vote in favor of Tshisekedi when the ruling party’s candidate did poorly.

“It’s a secret for no one inside or outside of our country that you have elected me president,” with 60 percent of the votes, Fayulu said. He urged the Congolese people and the international community to not recognize Tshisekedi as president.

Congo’s government called Fayulu’s statements “a shame.”

“We consider it an irresponsible statement that is highly politically immature,” spokesman Lambert Mende told The Associated Press.

Many worried that the court’s rejection of Fayulu’s appeal could lead to more instability in a nation that already suffers from rebels, communal violence and the Ebola outbreak.

“It might produce some demonstrations, but it won’t be as intense as it was in 2017 and 2018,” when Congolese pushed for Kabila to step aside during two years of election delays, said Andrew Edward Tchie, research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The African Union said it had “postponed” its urgent mission to Congo planned for Monday after it noted “serious doubts” about the vote and made an unprecedented request for Congo to delay the final results.

Some neighbors, notably Rwanda, worried about violence spilling across borders from Congo, a country rich in the minerals key to smartphones around the world.

The AU statement notably did not name or congratulate Tshisekedi, merely taking note of the court’s decision. It called “all concerned to work for the preservation of peace and stability and the promotion of national harmony.”

A number of African leaders congratulated Tshisekedi, including the presidents of South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi. The 16-nation Southern African Development Community, after wavering in recent days with support for a recount, called on all Congolese to accept the vote’s outcome.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli, in a post on Twitter, said that “I beseech you to maintain peace.”

‘A personal legacy’: Quilts seek to honor lynching victims

‘A personal legacy’: Quilts seek to honor lynching victims

Video Courtesy of Facing History and Ourselves


Willie Perkins. Zachariah Graham. Cornelius Robinson and Will Thompson.

Names are the only heirlooms still left from the four, who were all lynched at various times in Alabama’s history, and they are four of the thousands of people lynched nationwide who Lynda Tredway hopes to memorialize with her quilting project.

Since she began in 2013, Tredway has completed 24 quilts for nine states, including Alabama, and she estimates she has 41 quilts and three years left to completion.

Sewn into the front of each quilt is that state’s official tree or flower. Each leaf represents one of the names scrawled on the back.

There are scores of pine needles representing the hundreds lynched in Alabama, and it took three quilts to record them all.

“I’m a history teacher but not a historian, so I’d say I’m not trying to be as accurate as the Tolnay and Beck lynching database is,” Tredway said, referring to work done by Stewart Tolnay and E.M. Beck documenting lynchings. “The number isn’t as important to me as representing that, at one point, someone thought it was OK to commit an act of terror against another human being.”

As a history instructor who first began teaching in predominantly minority schools in Washington, D.C., in 1969, Tredway said it became “imperative” to become familiar with African-American history.

Her passion for telling the stories of lynching victims first blossomed as she studied the anti-lynching campaigns of Ida B. Wells Barnett. Tredway’s foray into quilting as a medium for “redemptive art” was inspired by the photography of Ken Gonzales-Day, who photoshopped lynching victims out of pictures to show mobs staring thirstily at naked trees.

“That said to me, ‘Why aren’t you representing this in what you do? You’re a fabric artist and quiltmaker. What would it be like to take on this large project to represent the people who were lynched in America?'” Tredway said.

So far, Tredway has completed Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. Next is Virginia, and its difficult-to-stitch dogwood.

The white mother of a black daughter, Tredway said the project is a personal, spiritual practice.

She says aloud the name of each lynching victim before writing it on the back of the quilt. In so many cases, Tredway may be the first person in decades to utter these names. She preserves them in the hope she won’t be the last.

“I feel like a memory keeper. . . . It feels like a personal legacy piece to me,” Tredway said.

This past April, Tredway’s journey led her to Montgomery where the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative unveiled the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the nation’s first memorial to more than 4,000 known black lynching victims, and the Legacy Museum, which traces the history of slavery through lynching to present day mass incarceration.

At the time, Tredway called it a “holy experience.” She recognized so many of the names.

The visit also solidified the purpose of Tredway’s mission. She marveled at EJI’s steel pillars emblazoned with the names of those killed for the color of their skin under the guise of justice. Here was a horrible truth that, through art, allowed people more time to spend with it and understand it.

“The thing people say to me the most (about the quilts) is, ‘How can something this beautiful be about something so horrible?’ The second thing is, ‘I can look at this longer than a lynching photo and take in the history,'” Tredway said.

Quilting has long been a traditional medium for African-American art. In Gee’s Bend, Alabama — a long-segregated, river-bound peninsula inhabited mostly by descendants of slaves — quilting remains an honored tradition passed on through the generations.

Tredway visited Gee’s Bend and spoke with those quiltmakers. It was just another reminder that her project is larger than 65 quilts.

“It does feel like I’m doing this for more than me, like I’m doing this for a larger understanding. The honor really goes to the people who had to endure this horror,” Tredway said. “If I can represent that in any way that commemorates them and honors the incredible sacrifices they have made, then I feel like I might have contributed a small part to us reconciling.”

Tuskegee Airman John Lyle dead at 98

Tuskegee Airman John Lyle dead at 98

Video Courtesy of Hampton City Schools Media


World War II fighter pilot John Lyle, a Tuskegee Airman, has died at the age of 98.

Lyle died Saturday at his home on Chicago’s South Side, his wife, Eunice, said Monday. She added that Lyle had been battling prostate cancer.

The members of the nation’s first black fighter squadron won acclaim for their aerial prowess and bravery, despite a military that imposed segregation on its African-American recruits while respecting the rights of German prisoners.

Lyle, who named his plane “Natalie” after his first wife, was credited with shooting down a German Messerschmitt.

“We flew 500 feet above the bombers to keep enemy fighters from hitting our guys,” he recalled in a 2012 interview with Jet magazine. “I loved flying, being up in the clouds, the scenery. I flew 26 combat missions, from southern Italy to Austria and southern Germany, over the Austrian Alps.”

Lyle told Jet he was fired upon several times.

“I watched bombers being torn apart, but they were performing the mission they signed up to do,” Lyle said. “And when I had to shoot the guy who was shooting at the planes I was protecting, I did not feel bad because that was my assignment.”

“He had no fear,” Eunice Lyle told the Chicago Sun-Times . “None at all.”

In 2007, President George W. Bush and Congress bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal on Lyle and other members of the squadron.

After the war, Lyle served as a police officer with the Chicago Park District and founded a tree-trimming company. He later took up sailing.

“He was an amazing sailor,” said Janet Hansen of the Jackson Park Yacht Club. “He could sail his boat in any weather.”

In addition to his wife, Lyle is survived by three step-children.