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By Elliot Booker — 2 years ago
Betty Shabazz , born Betty Dean Sanders and also known as Betty X, was an American educator and civil rights advocate. She was the wife of Malcolm X.
Betty Dean Sanders was born on May 28, 1934, to the teenaged Ollie Mae Sanders and Shelman Sandlin. While Betty spent most of her childhood in Detroit, she may have been born in Pinehurst, Georgia. At the age of 11, Betty began living with businessman Lorenzo Malloy and his wife Helen, a prominent businessman and his wife. Helen Malloy was a founding member of the Housewives League of Detroit, a group of African-American women who organized campaigns to support black-owned businesses and boycott stores that refused to hire black employees. She was also a member of the National Council of Negro Women and the NAACP.
Despite their lessons on black self-reliance, the Malloys never spoke with Sanders about racism. Looking back in 1995, Shabazz wrote: “Race relations were not discussed and it was hoped that by denying the existence of race problems, the problems would go away. Anyone who openly discussed race relations was quickly viewed as a ‘troublemaker.'” Still, two race riots during her childhood—in 1942 when the Sojourner Truth housing project was desegregated, and one the following year on Belle Isle—made up what Shabazz later called the “psychological background for my formative years”. After she graduated from high school, Sanders left her foster parents’ home in Detroit to study at the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), a historically black college in Alabama that was Lorenzo Malloy’s alma mater. She intended to earn a degree in education and become a teacher.
Nothing had prepared Sanders for Southern racism. So long as she stayed on campus, she could avoid interacting with white people, but weekend trips into Montgomery, the nearest city, would try her patience. Black students had to wait until every white person in a store had been helped before the staff would serve them—if they received any service at all. When she complained to the Malloys, they refused to discuss the issue; in a 1989 interview, Shabazz summarized their attitude as “if you’re just quiet it will go away.”
Sanders’ studies suffered as a result of her growing frustration. She decided to change her field of study from education to nursing. The dean of nursing, Lillian Harvey, encouraged Sanders to consider studying in a Tuskegee-affiliated program at the Brooklyn State College School of Nursing in New York City. Against her foster parents’ wishes, Sanders left Alabama for New York in 1953.
In New York, Sanders encountered a different form of racism. At Montefiore Hospital, where she performed her clinical training, black nurses were given worse assignments than white nurses. White patients sometimes were abusive toward black nurses. While the racial climate in New York was better than the situation in Alabama, Sanders frequently wondered whether she had merely exchanged Jim Crow racism for a more genteel prejudice.
During her second year of nursing school, Sanders was invited by an older nurse’s aide to a Friday-night dinner party at the Nation of Islam temple in Harlem. “The food was delicious,” Shabazz recalled in 1992, “I’d never tasted food like that.” After dinner, the woman asked Sanders to come to the Muslims’ lecture. Sanders agreed. After the speech, the nurse’s aide invited Sanders to join the Nation of Islam; Sanders politely declined. The older woman told Sanders about her minister, who was not at the temple that night: “Just wait until you hear my minister talk. He’s very disciplined, he’s good-looking, and all the sisters want him.”
Sanders enjoyed the food so much, she agreed to come back and meet the woman’s minister. At the second dinner, the nurse’s aide told her the minister was present and Sanders thought to herself, “Big deal.” In 1992 she recalled how her demeanor changed when she caught a glimpse of Malcolm X:
Then, I looked over and saw this man on the extreme right aisle sort of galloping to the podium. He was tall, he was thin, and the way he was galloping it looked as though he was going someplace much more important than the podium. … He got to the podium—and I sat up straight. I was impressed with him.
Sanders met Malcolm X again at a dinner party. The two had a long conversation about Sanders’s life: her childhood in Detroit, the racial hostility she had encountered in Alabama, and her studies in New York. He spoke to her about the condition of African Americans and the causes of racism. Sanders began to see things from a different perspective. “I really had a lot of pent-up anxiety about my experience in the South,” Shabazz recalled in a 1990 interview, “and Malcolm reassured me that it was understandable how I felt.”
Soon Sanders was attending all of Malcolm X’s lectures at Temple Number Seven in Harlem. He always sought her out afterwards, and he would ask her a lot of questions. He also began to pressure her to join the Nation of Islam. In mid 1956, Sanders converted. Like many members of the Nation of Islam, she changed her surname to “X”, which represented the family name of her African ancestors that she could never know.
Betty X and Malcolm X did not have a conventional courtship. One-on-one dates were contrary to the teachings of the Nation of Islam. Instead, the couple shared their “dates” with dozens, or even hundreds of other members. Malcolm X frequently took groups to visit New York’s museums and libraries, and he always invited Betty X.
Although they had never discussed the subject, Betty X suspected that Malcolm X was interested in marriage. One day he called and asked her to marry him, and they were married on January 14, 1958, in Lansing, Michigan. By coincidence, Betty X became a licensed nurse on the same day.
Over time, the family dynamic changed, as Malcolm X made small concessions to Betty X’s demands for more independence. In 1969, Shabazz recalled:
“We would have little family talks. They began at first with Malcolm telling me what he expected of a wife. But the first time I told him what I expected of him as a husband it came as a shock. After dinner one night he said, “Boy, Betty, something you said hit me like a ton of bricks. Here I’ve been going along having our little workshops with me doing all the talking and you doing all the listening.” He concluded our marriage should be a mutual exchange.”
The couple had six daughters. Their names were Attallah, born in 1958 , Qubilah, born in 1960 Ilyasah, born in 1962; Gamilah Lumumba, born in 1964 and twins, Malikah and Malaak, born in 1965 after their father’s assassination and named for him.
On February 21, 1965, in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm X began to speak to a meeting of the Organization of Afro-American Unity when a disturbance broke out in the crowd of 400. As Malcolm X and his bodyguards moved to quiet the disturbance, a man rushed forward and shot Malcolm in the chest with a sawed-off shotgun. Two other men charged the stage and fired handguns, hitting him 16 times.
Shabazz was in the audience near the stage with her daughters. When she heard the gunfire, she grabbed the children and pushed them to the floor beneath the bench, where she shielded them with her body. When the shooting stopped, Shabazz ran toward her husband and tried to perform CPR. Police officers and Malcolm X’s associates carried him to a stretcher, and brought him to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Shabazz had difficulty sleeping for weeks after Malcolm X’s assassination. She suffered from nightmares in which she relived the death of her husband. She also worried about how she would support herself and her family. The publication of The Autobiography of Malcolm X helped, because Shabazz received half of the royalties.(Alex Haley, who assisted Malcolm X in writing the book, got the other half. After the publication of his best-seller Roots, Haley signed over his portion of the royalties to Shabazz.
Actor and activist Ruby Dee and Juanita Poitier (wife of Sidney Poitier) established the Committee of Concerned Mothers, to raise funds to buy a house, and pay educational expenses for the Shabazz family. The Committee held a series of benefit concerts at which they raised $17,000. They bought a large two-family home in Mount Vernon, New York. Also living in Mount Vernon at that time was her close friend, the musician and civil rights activist Nina Simone.
Shabazz never remarried. She raised her six daughters alone, aided by annual royalties from her husband’s book The Autobiography of Malcolm X and other publications. In late 1969, Shabazz completed an undergraduate degree at Jersey City State College, followed by a doctoral degree in higher-education administration at the University of Massachusetts. Shabazz began to accept speaking engagements at colleges and universities. She often spoke about the black nationalist philosophy of Malcolm X, but she also spoke about her role as a wife and mother. She then accepted a position as an associate professor of health sciences at New York’s Medgar Evers College. The student body at Medgar Evers was 90 percent black and predominantly working-class, with an average age of 26. Black women made up most of the faculty, and 75 percent of the students were female, two-thirds of them mothers. These were all qualities that made Medgar Evers College attractive to Shabazz.
By 1980, Shabazz was overseeing the health sciences department, and the college president decided she could be more effective in a purely administrative position than she was in the classroom. She was promoted to Director of Institutional Advancement. In her new position, she became a booster and fund-raiser for the college. A year later, she was given tenure. In 1984, Shabazz was given a new title, Director of Institutional Advancement and Public Affairs; she held that position at the college until her death. On June 1, 1997, young grandson Malcolm set a fire in Shabazz’s apartment. Shabazz suffered burns over 80 percent of her body, and remained in intensive care for three weeks, at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. She underwent five skin-replacement operations as doctors struggled to replace damaged skin and save her life. Shabazz died of her injuries on June 23, 1997.Post Views: 51
Was the white-nationalist march better understood as a departure from America’s traditional values, or viewed in the context of its history?By Elliot Booker — 2 years ago
Making Sense of the Violence in Charlottesville
Was the white-nationalist march better understood as a departure from America’s traditional values, or viewed in the context of its history?
Broad swaths of the American public repudiated the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville and President Trump’s response to them. But even in their condemnations, many officials asserted that the hate-filled demonstration and racist violence was un-American. “This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for,” tweeted Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. “The hate being spewed in Virginia is … deeply disturbing and un-American,” wrote Colorado Senator Cory Gardner. The hashtag #ThisIsNotUs trended on Twitter.
But America is a country in which racially motivated white-on-black violent crime forms a clear, unbroken pattern across every generation. Slaves arrived in America through violent crime, and whites have used violence ever since to maintain the racial hierarchy of white supremacy. And yet many Americans of good will honestly, if erroneously, believe that what happened in Charlottesville is “not us.” How can this be? Answering this question demands a look back at some of the most significant patterns of white-on-black violence in American history to identify the precise ways in which that violence was justified, forgotten, or defined as something other than the racist terror that it was.
American chattel slavery—in which blacks were bought, sold, worked, and bred for profit—was created and maintained through violence that was at once brutal and routine. Presenting himself as a benevolent master, James H. Hammond, a U.S. senator and operator of two plantations, laid out a schedule of offenses for his overseers, recommending that punishments “not exceed a hundred lashes in one day.” Slave-owners concocted racist myths to justify their brutality. Blacks have higher tolerance for pain than whites (so beatings that might seem harsh really weren’t); blacks don’t care about their children (so it wasn’t really all that cruel to steal babies from their mothers and fathers and sell them); blacks are lazy and indolent (so they must be beaten).
As one overseer explained to Frederick Law Olmstead when he travelled through the South as a correspondent for The New York Times, it was not at all excessive to give an enslaved teenage girl dozens of lashes on her bare skin for allegedly skipping out on her work. “If I hadn’t punished her so hard,” the overseer rationalized, “she would have done the same thing again to-morrow, and half the people on the plantation would have followed her example. Oh, you’ve no idea how lazy these niggers are … They’d never do any work at all if they were not afraid of being whipped.” Such justifications had the force of law; the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed a slave-owner’s manslaughter conviction for beating his slave to death, holding that “the master may use just such force as may be requisite to reduce his slave to obedience, even to the death of the slave, if that become [sic] necessary … to maintain his lawful authority.” In justifying this violence, supporters of slavery recast it as a kind of self-defense, and violence committed in self-defense—unlike violence committed out of anger or hatred—says nothing about the character of the perpetrators.
The demise of slavery did not lead to a decline in white-on-black violence—it merely changed forms. Most notoriously, whites lynched blacks; looking just at white-on-black lynchings for the purpose of racial control, the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative documented 4,075 lynchings between 1877, when Reconstruction ended, and 1950. Lynchings were even more savage and sadistic than most people imagine. In 1899, a white mob lynched Sam Hose, torturing him for half an hour before finally killing him. Members of the lynch mob cut off Hose’s ears and fingers one by one before castrating him. Then three men doused him in kerosene and burned him alive. In a 1934 lynching in Birmingham, Alabama, the victim, Claude Neal, was forced to castrate himself and eat his own penis and testicles. The white mob repeatedly stabbed him and burned him with red-hot irons. They hanged him by the neck over a tree limb until he almost choked to death, then let him down at the last minute; this was repeated several times before Neal died.
Such depravity required justification. This time, accusations of black criminality would do the trick. In most lynchings, the victim was accused of rape, murder, or both. Hose was accused of killing his employer, Alfred Cranford, and raping Cranford’s wife, Mattie. Neal was alleged to have raped and murdered nineteen-year-old Lola Cannady. (Whether these accusations are true is beside the point—these men were entitled to due process—but there is good reason to believe, in both cases, that the rape charge was fabricated, perhaps in an attempt to incite the community’s anger.) Here, again, because defenders of lynching portrayed their violence as justified, even as we recognize today that lynching is a thing white people did, we can believe that it implies nothing about what it meant to be white.
Accusations of black-on-white rape were particularly effective in justifying lynching outside the South; Frederick Douglass described such accusations as “an appeal that not only stops the ears and darkens the minds of Southern men, but it palliates the crime of lawless violence in the eyes of Northern men.” The motifs of black men’s savage, uncontrollable lust and of white women’s chastity and virtue combined in a perfect storm of white fear to justify the practice of lynching generally, even when a particular lynching was not alleged to be in response to rape. Even opponents of lynching seemed to agree that the supposed epidemic of black-on-white rape demanded a violent solution. In the wake of the Hose lynching, Georgia governor William J. Northern, a supporter of anti-lynching legislation, argued in favor of arming white women, declaring that “an occasional negro lying dead in the back yard, shot by a brave woman in defense of her honor,” was a small price to pay for the safety and purity of Southern wives and daughters.
Attempts to justify racial terror have been accompanied by a national commitment to erasing it from our memory. Consider the little-known history of racial cleansing in America. Across the South and Midwest, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Elliot Jaspin has identified hundreds of counties that experienced sharp and abrupt drop-offs of their black populations. Though the historical record, as with lynching, is intentionally spotty, in many cases there is clear evidence that whites systematically and violently drove out entire black populations, dispossessing black families of their property and rendering them refugees. Patrick Phillips recounts one such expulsion in his 2016 book Blood at the Root. In 1912, the white residents of Forsyth County, Georgia, drove out all black residents of the county, who abandoned their land and their belongings as they fled bands of “night riders” carrying torches and shooting into black families’ homes. Some black residents had enough warning that they were able to sell their land, if at a fraction of its value. But many were forced to flee in the middle of the night.
The same whites who had driven them out of the county moved quickly to take over their abandoned homes and farms, paying property taxes on land they did not own to a county clerk who was happy to ignore that there was no record of the land being sold. Whites in Forsyth enforced the racial ban violently for decades; since black refugees could not safely return to retrieve their personal property or to sell their land, the new white “owners” could assert adverse possession after the statutory period of seven years, registering deeds at the county courthouse even though the Georgia statute technically required adverse possession to be “peaceable.” The “expulsion of Forsyth’s black population had made news all over the country,” Phillips points out, “but the thefts that followed were given a legal stamp of approval by the state, and they went unnoticed by anyone but the expelled black property owners themselves.”
Here was a highly publicized pattern of white terrorism for the express purpose of cleansing an entire county of its black population, yet less than a decade later, Phillips writes, the white leaders of Forsyth County were boasting—with a straight face—that “while other north Georgia communities [with mixed populations] continued to suffer episodes of ‘race trouble,’ there were no such embarrassments in Forsyth.” This was possible in part because they had erased evidence of just how Forsyth came to be an all-white county; officially, the transfer of property from the expelled blacks to their white neighbors was on the up and up, formalized through an accepted legal process. They had erased the racialized crime of violence-backed theft from the record books and replaced it with legal ownership.
This literal erasure enabled the ensuing rhetorical erasure of Forsyth’s history. In 1987, civil rights activists staged a protest in Forsyth County, which remained all-white 75 years after its racial cleansing. The white residents of the county seemed genuinely puzzled as to why activists were harassing them. One such resident, Bill Bolton, complained in a letter to the governor of Georgia, “we have not bothered the rest of the world, so why does the rest of the world want to bother us now?” Bolton’s implied narrative of Forsyth County’s history begins after the expulsion of its black residents. Starting with Forsyth’s whiteness as a given, he asserts a right to be left alone, a right against forcible integration by outsiders wanting to stir up trouble. Whether deliberate or not, this neatly covers up the fact that Forsyth’s all-whiteness is not, of course, its natural state—its all-whiteness is artificial, created and maintained through terrorism, and the outside agitators insisting on integration have the more historically accurate claim in that Forsyth was, previously, mixed.
White terrorists cleansed their communities of blacks in Forsyth County in 1912, and in Marshall County, Kentucky in 1908, and in Vermillion County, Indiana in 1923, and in Sharp County, Arkansas on Christmas Eve, 1906, to name just a few. If we recognized these crimes for what they were, it would be difficult to ignore that a pattern of racial terrorism had occurred across decades, and that later incidents of racial violence were part of that pattern. But a crime no one remembers cannot lead us to associate its perpetrators with criminality, so our concept of whiteness remains untouched by any association with violence.
We have erased the history of lynching in much the same way. The overwhelming majority of lynching sites remain unmarked and un-memorialized. The failure to mark these sites allows Americans (especially whites) to forget the atrocities. When law professor Sherrilyn Ifill (now president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund) interviewed white residents of Maryland’s Eastern Shore for her book On the Courthouse Lawn, she found that they knew very little about the lynchings that had taken place there as late as 1933. On the other hand, black residents had a vivid collective memory of such events, passed down orally, and could often point to a particular family member who had been present. This erasure of history from public spaces contributes to a kind of gaslighting dynamic in discussions of race in America: whites are able to minimize blacks’ claims of historical and ongoing oppression because they have successfully forgotten much of the history that blacks still remember.
Justifying and erasing hundreds of years of white-on-black violence has left many Americans ill-equipped to make sense of the racist violence that we live with today. As a result, whites often lack the vocabulary to contextualize even the most obviously racist events. After Dylann Roof murdered nine black Bible study participants at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, media outlets tended to use vague language like “evil” or “monster” to describe Roof. That kind of equivocal terminology implied that Roof had an inherent, inevitable propensity for violence, a propensity that sprang up organically rather than being nurtured by extremist influences, and that his motivation was inscrutable because evil is incomprehensible and mysterious. Many politicians sounded like then South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who wrote, “We’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”
But Roof’s motive could not have been clearer. He wrote a manifesto about the threat black criminality poses to Western civilization. He confessed to police that he planned and carried out the shooting with the intention of starting a “race war.” Roof was desperate to make sure everyone understood that he had acted to promote white supremacy, but many Americans stubbornly refused to take him at his own word, insisting that it would be premature to interpret the shooting as racial terrorism. By failing to connect Roof’s racism with his obvious criminality, many allowed themselves to think of the Charleston tragedy as an isolated and senseless act, instead of seeing it as a seamless continuation of the racial terrorism that is America’s heritage.
In every generation, Americans have consistently spoken about racist violence committed by white people as justified, erased it from memory, or simply called it something else. So when self-identified white nationalists seeking to turn America into a whites-only homeland held a torchlight protest, many observers failed to make the clear connection to bands of night riders, armed and carrying torches, driving blacks out of their homes to cleanse the region of anyone not white. When gun-toting white men at a neo-Nazi rally brutally beat a black man with metal poles, Americans failed to see the connection to the violence of slavery, to whites whipping blacks into submission. When a white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of anti-racist counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring nineteen others, Americans condemned it thoroughly, but failed to recognize it as a lynching, as the kind of terrorist act whites in this country have long used to maintain racial control.
This state of affairs is not inevitable; America’s relationship with its history is a collective choice. Other countries have made other choices in the wake of systematic racist violence. After the Holocaust, Germany made financial reparations to the victims, and began a decades-long project of building monuments and museums to commemorate the horrors of Nazism and the bravery of those who resisted it. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission sought to develop a shared national narrative of human rights abuses under apartheid by telling the stories of both victims and perpetrators.
Neither response is perfect in theory or in execution; defensiveness and denial remain. But the effort is underway to face up to the full horror of racist terror, not justify it; to name racially motivated violence as such, not hide it; to mark down in disgrace the names of the perpetrators, not celebrate them; and to memorialize the victims, not erase their suffering. America, tragically, is over a century behind on its obligation to undertake the same reckoning. The horrific events of August provide an opportunity to get started.Post Views: 46
By Elliot Booker — 1 year ago
Following recommendations from the commitee appointed to conduct a 90-day review of the city’s monuments and markers that could be deemed “symbols of hate,” Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered the removal of a statue of Doctor J. Marion Sims, credited by many as the father of modern gynecology.
For years, East Harlem residents and local officials have advocated for the removal of the statue, located in Central Park near Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street near the Museum of the City of New York, but it wasn’t until last year as the city prepped to remove Confederate monuments and other markers, that renewed calls surfaced for the statue of Sims.
The statue, which acknowledges Sims’s medical achievements, overlooks the fact that between the years 1845 and 1849, he performed gynecological exams on 12 enslaved women without anesthesia.
The statue of Dr. James Marion Sims will be removed on Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. and relocated to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where Sims is buried. Per the city’s Park Department, plans are being developed to commission a new monument at the sitePost Views: 68