Tonight on the Nightfly, we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, and commemorate the anniversary of his assassination (4/4/68). We'll hear from Dr. King in his own voice, as well as soul, jazz, gospel, and hip-hop tributes to Dr. King from Nina Simone, Smokey Robinson, and many more. Stream the show on PRX: http://www.prx.org/pieces/145802-the-nightfly-2015-13-in-memory-of-dr-martin-lu or get the first hour here: http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/79941 and the second hour here: http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/79943
Ms. King was an activist, author, singer, and civil rights leader. She became politically active while a student at Antioch; she later studied at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she met her future husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. Ms. King sacrificed her dream of a career as a classical singer; her life became absorbed by the civil rights movement, and by raising her family while her husband was frequently called away by movement work. She lived with death threats; in 1956, their house was bombed. In 1962, she was a delegate to the Women’s Strike for Peace Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. After her husband’s assassination, she assumed a leadership role in the civil rights movement, expanding her activism to include women's rights, LGBT rights, economic justice, and world peace. She founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, and worked to have his birthday declared a federal holiday. She participated in (and was arrested at) sit-ins in DC that started a nationwide wave of anti-apartheid protests. A longtime peace activist, she co-founded The Committee for A Sane Nuclear Policy (now Peace Action) in 1957, and, in later years, opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Ms. King supported LGBT equality, traveling to Washington, DC to argue that the Civil Rights Act should be amended to include gays and lesbians as a protected class. She saw LGBT rights, including marriage equality, as a civil rights issue. In 2003, Ms. King invited the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to participate in the commemoration of 40th anniversary of the March on Washington, the first time an LGBT advocacy group had been invited to a major event in the Black community.
"Not enough attention has been focused on the roles played by women in the struggle. By and large, men have formed the leadership in the civil rights struggle but...women have been the backbone of the whole civil rights movement." -Coretta Scott King
Dr. Cotton was a leader in the Civil Rights movement, and served as Director of Education for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) from 1960-1968. She became education director of the Citizenship Education Program in 1963, working alongside Septima Clark (see our profile on Day 28 of Women’s History Month). She taught citizenship, literacy, and tactics of nonviolent protest, and traveled throughout the South encouraging Black citizens to register to vote. Dr. Cotton helped James Bevel organize students during the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade. In 1964, she was one of the group of colleagues who traveled to Oslo with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was awarded the Nobel Prize. After her retirement from the SCLC, she became a Head Start director, vice president of field operations at the King Center, and director of student activities at Cornell. In the 1990s, Dr. Cotton began leading workshops and seminars on social change and leadership development. In 2012, she wrote “If Your Back’s Not Bent: The Role of the Citizenship Education Program in the Civil Rights Movement.”
Ms. Clark was an educator and civil rights activist. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called her “The Mother of the Movement.” She began her career as a teacher on John’s Island, one of South Carolina’s sea islands. Later, she studied with W.E.B. DuBois while in graduate school. She joined the NAACP and fought for the right of Black principals to be hired by the Charleston public schools, and for the equalization of pay for Black and white teachers. In 1956, Ms. Clark became vice president of the Charleston NAACP. Also in 1956, South Carolina made it illegal for city or state employees to join civil rights organizations. Ms. Clark refused to resign her membership in the NAACP, and after 40 years of teaching, she lost her job and her pension. She was hired as full-time director of workshops at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, where she taught basic literacy, including how to fill out voter registration forms. She also recruited teachers and students, including Ms. Rosa Parks. Ms. Clark established “Citizenship Schools” for adults throughout the Deep South, teaching literacy, self-pride, cultural pride, and citizenship rights. Her goal was to empower her students, and to develop grassroots leaders for the civil rights movement. After the Citizenship Schools project was transferred to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the project trained over 10,000 teachers who led Citizenship Schools across the South. Due to Ms. Clark’s efforts, 700,000 Black citizens became registered voters before 1969. Ms. Clark became the first woman on the SCLC board, and became SCLC’s director of education. Later in life, she fought to have her back salary and pension reinstated, and won. Ms. Clark wrote two autobiographies, Echo In My Soul and Ready From Within.
Ms. Height was an educator, civil rights activist, and women’s rights activist. Civil rights activist James Farmer listed her as one of the “Big Six” of the civil rights movement. As a young woman, she was accepted to Barnard, but was denied admission because they’d already filled their quota of two Black students that year. She graduated from NYU with a master’s degree in educational psychology. Ms. Height began her career as an activist at 25, when she joined the National Council of Negro Women, of which she was president for 40 years. She later worked for the YWCA at the national level, and served as national president of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. In the 60’s, she organized “Wednesdays in Mississippi,” which opened a dialogue between Black and white women. Beginning in 1965, she wrote a weekly column, “A Woman’s Word,” in the New York Amsterdam News, one of the oldest Black newspapers in the US. She served on a number of presidential and national committees, and was a founding member of the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership. In 1990, Ms. Height helped form the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom.“If the times aren’t ripe,” Ms. Height said, “you have to ripen the times.” She died in 2010 at age 98.
Ms. Bates was a civil rights activist, journalist, and newspaper publisher. She served as the mentor of the Little Rock Nine when they integrated Central High School in 1957. She was president of the Arkansas NAACP, and, with her husband, owned the Arkansas State Press, a weekly newspaper that focused on civil rights. As a result of her support of the Little Rock Nine, she received bomb threats, had rocks thrown through her window, was arrested, and eventually lost her newspaper. Undaunted, she continued her life of service, working on anti-poverty programs in the Johnson administration and founding a self-help program in the rural Black community of Mitchellville, helping them get basic services. Ms. Bates revived her newspaper in 1980. In 1996, Ms. Bates, in a wheelchair, carried the Olympic torch through Atlanta. The third Monday of February has been declared “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, and an elementary school in Little Rock bears her name. I highly recommend reading “Daisy Bates: The Power of One,” by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin.
Viola Liuzzo was a Unitarian Universalist civil rights activist, a mother of five, and the only white woman to be killed while working in the civil rights movement. She grew up poor in segregated Tennessee, and saw firsthand the injustice of racism in the segregated South. Her family moved to Detroit, where she was deeply affected by the racial violence and rioting that broke out in the city in the 1940s. She helped organize protests in Detroit, joined the NAACP, and went to civil rights conferences. After seeing images of “Bloody Sunday,” Ms. Liuzzo heeded Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s call for people of faith to come to Selma to help. She left her children with family and drove to Alabama, where she volunteered with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, greeting, recruiting, and transporting marchers and volunteers in her Oldsmobile. She took part in the third march from Selma to Montgomery. After the march, she and 19-year-old Leroy Moton, who was Black, were shuttling volunteers and marchers back home when they stopped for gas. They were harassed and, back on Route 80, nearly forced off the road. On the way back to Selma, they were overtaken by a car full of four Klansmen, including FBI informant Gary Rowe. Three of the men shot her in the head, killing her instantly. She died March 25, 1965.
Ms. Wyatt was a labor leader and civil rights activist. She was the first Black woman elected international vice president of a major union. In 1975, she and Barbara Jordan became the first Black women named Person of the Year by Time Magazine. Ms. Wyatt applied for a job as a typist for Armour, only to discover that Armour did not hire Black women as typists. She was sent to the canning department instead. In the 1950s, Wyatt joined the United Packinghouse Workers of America, and began her fight for gender and racial equality at work and in daily life. She worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, was labor adviser to the Southern Christian Leadership Council, served on the Action Committee of the Chicago Freedom Movement, and helped feed the poor through Operation Breadbasket. She was a founding member of the National Organization for Women, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women. She became international vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers in 1976.
At 93, Ms. Reid Soskin is the oldest actively working national park ranger. During WWII, she was a clerk in a Jim Crow union hall. She has been a small-business owner, poet, songwriter, activist, and field representative for state assemblywomen; at 86, she became a park ranger. She helped develop the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, where she now works five days a week as a tour guide and intepreter. She is committed to making sure that the Black wartime experience is represented in the park. She wears her uniform at all times, because, as she says, "when I’m on the streets or on an escalator or elevator, I am making every little girl of color aware of a career choice she may not have known she had."
Ms. Hunter-Gault is a journalist and author/co-author of numerous books. In 1961, she and Hamilton Holmes became the first Black students to enroll in the University of Georgia. She worked at the PBS on the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour, then worked as NPR's chief correspondent in Africa. She later worked as CNN's Johannesburg correspondent and bureau chief. Most recently, she authored a book on discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people in South Africa. I recommend her memoir, "In My Place," about her early life and her courageous career at the University of Georgia.
Sanguine Fromage, WERU radio personality since 2005, current host of UpFront Soul, former host of The Nightfly, Off the Wall, Enjoy Yourself, and Sound Travels.
all original content on this site copyright Susan Dickson-Smith 2015-2021