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George Curry

How Dick Gregory Got his Hollywood Star

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(NNPA) Activist/ SiriusXm satellite radio host Joe Madison was helping on a campaign to get the Four Tops a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame when he noticed another serious omission from the world-famous tribute to entertainers.

“You go to Hollywood and Gene Autry had five (one in each category). Big Bird had a star. When we did our campaign to get the Four Tops a star, I said, ‘My God, Dick Gregory doesn’t have a star.” In 1997, seven years after getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Four Tops, – whose 1960s hits included such songs as “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Ask the Lonely,” “I Can’t Help Myself” and “It’s the Same Old Song” – finally were awarded a star.

But Madison couldn’t get over the fact that Dick Gregory, the first Black comedian to earn more than $1 million a year yet gave up his career to actively support Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), hadn’t been recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“You can walk down there and not see Dick Gregory, but you’ll see Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and Whoppi Goldberg,” Madison said. “ I don’t know of any entertainer from the era who sacrificed more than Dick Gregory.”

About 10 years ago, he set out to change that.

“The first time we tried it, we filled out a very complicated application and the committee – the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce – didn’t award him a star,” Madison remembered. “I tried again and they still didn’t accept it. We let some time go by. This time (in 2013), I said, ‘Look, this is ridiculous.’ That’s when I got Sheila Moses, who helped write Dick’s last book, help word the application. E. Faye Williams, president of the National Congress of Black Women, helped and we put the application together and sent it in. Finally, the committee accepted him in the class of 2015.”

At the age of 85, Gregory joins a class that includes Kool & the Gang, Pharrell Williams, Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler. The induction ceremony was carried live Monday on national and international television.

Before Gregory could receive his honor, $30,000 had to be submitted on his behalf to cover the creation and installation of his star as well as maintenance of the Walk of Fame.

A small group of supporters got together to strategize. The first idea was to reach out to some of the biggest names in Hollywood who could write the $30,000 within the blink of the eye, including fellow comedian Bill Cosby and Hugh Hefner, who lifted Gregory to national stardom in 1961 by regularly booking him at Chicago’s Playboy Club. The second idea was to identify 30 people willing to donate $1,000 each.

But Joe Madison had a better idea.

He recalled, “I got with Sherry [his wife and radio producer] and said, ‘Let’s go on the air and make this very simple – 1,000 people with $30. If I don’t have 1,000 listeners who can afford $30, I need to be off the air.’”

Madison didn’t need to get off the air – the $30,000 goal of the Dick Gregory Hollywood Star Fund was reached in two weeks.

“What it really speaks to is Dick,” he said. And it’s hard to find anyone who has not been touched by Dick Gregory in some way.

As a teenager growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., I remember hearing him speak at First African Baptist Church, the nerve center of our efforts to desegregate my hometown. I was stunned by the way he boldly attacked segregation, keeping us laughing along the way.

He would say, “The last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this White waitress came up to me and said, ‘We don’t served colored people here.’ I said, ‘That’s all right. I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.’”

And there was this one: “Segregation is not all bad. Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?”

There was simply no one else like Dick Gregory. And callers into Joe Madison’s radio show shared their special memories.

Madison remembers the call-ins: “One guy, who’s a doctor in New Orleans, said, ‘Dick Gregory spoke at Xavier University. I was a student and I still have the notes from that speech.’ He was in school in the 70s.

“An executive from Caterpillar in Peoria, Ill. said, ’I am the only Black sitting up here on the 7th floor and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Dick Gregory. I know you asked for $30, but I am sending $1,500.”

Most of the contributors were everyday people who donated $30.

“It had to be done,” Madison said of the campaign to honor Gregory. “People say, ‘Who cares about a star on the Walk of Fame? It’s about marking your territory.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Jimmie Lee Jackson Inspired Selma March

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(NNPA) Although Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis captured the headlines, it was the death of 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson that inspired the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March.

After fighting in the Vietnam War, Jackson had returned home to Marion, Ala., which also happens to be the birthplace of Coretta Scott King, about 30 miles northwest of Selma in the soil-rich Black Belt region of Alabama. Although Blacks made up a majority of Black Belt counties, they were less than 1 percent of the registered voters.

A pulpwood worker, Jackson had attempted five times to register, none successfully. In an effort to expand voter registration in the area, James Orange, a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) field organizer, and George Best of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had moved to Perry County in early 1965. Before long, local residents were trying to register to vote, most of them for the first time.

On Feb. 18, Orange, who included students in the movement, was arrested, allegedly for contributing to delinquency of minors. That set off a round of protests.

Shortly after being released from jail in Selma, C. T. Vivian of SCLC was sent to Marion to address a mass meeting at Zion Chapel Methodist Church. The plan was to hold a night march to the jail, which would cover less than the length of a football field, to demand James Orange’s release. If confronted by police, demonstrators were instructed to kneel in prayer and return to the church.

But White law enforcement officials had another plan.

In his excellent book, Selma 1965: The March That Changed the South, Charles E. Fager recounted:

“But when the preachers at the head of the line came out of the door, the sidewalk was lined with helmeted state troopers, long, black billy clubs at the ready, and they were stopped less than a half block down. ‘This is an unlawful assembly,’ the police chief announced over a public address system. ‘You are hereby ordered to disperse. Go home or go back to the church.’

“Just then all of the street lights around the square went out, and troopers began clubbing the Rev. James Dobynes, a black minister at the front of the line.”

NBC News correspondent Richard Valeriani was knocked to the ground, bleeding from a head wound, and another journalist, UPI photographer Pete Fisher, was also beaten and his camera was smashed into tiny pieces.

“The panicked crowd tried to get back into the church, but the doors were jammed full and the people spilled around it down a side street, taking cover wherever they could,” Fager wrote. “The troopers came after them, clubs swinging, splitting scalps and smashing ribs as they advanced. Two or three dozen people rushed through the doors of Mack’s Café, a few doors down, seeking refuge in its crowded, dark interior. Among them were Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young man of twenty-six years old, his mother, Viola and his grandfather Cager Lee, eighty-two. The old man had already been caught and beaten behind the church, and was bleeding.

“His grandson was helping him out of the door to get medical attention when a squad of troopers came toward them, chasing and beating people before them, and forced the two men back into the café. The troopers came inside, smashed all the lights within reach and began clubbing people indiscriminately. When one hit Viola and knocked her screaming to the floor, Jimmie Lee lunged at him. The trooper struck him across the face, and the young Jackson went careening into the floor himself. Then a trooper picked him up and slammed him against a cigarette machine while another trooper, a man named Fowler, drew his pistol and calmly shot Jackson point blank in the stomach.”

The author noted, “Jackson didn’t realize he had been shot until a few moments later, because the troopers continued beating him and the others unmercifully.”

Someone took Jackson to the Perry County Hospital. He was transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma, where he died a week later.

The state trooper, James Bonard Fowler, was not charged until May 10, 2007 as a result of a cold case investigation. He pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to only six months in jail.

According to Taylor Branch’s Pulitzer Prize-winning At Canaan’s Edge, although Dr.. King had preached many funerals by then, a reporter noticed “a tear glistened from the corner of his eye as he rose to speak.”

King deplored “the cowardice of every Negro” who “stands on the sidelines in the struggle for justice.” King said, “Jimmie Lee Jackson is speaking to us from the casket and he is saying to us that we must substitute courage for caution…We must not be bitter, and we must not harbor ideas of retaliation with violence. We must not lose faith in our white brothers.”

Whatever its purported shortcomings, the movie “Selma,” allows Jimmie Lee Jackson to continue speaking to us from the grave.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Is Obama Trying to Kill Black Colleges? (Part II)

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(NNPA) Few things irk me more than hearing someone say or imply that now that we have a Black president, perhaps the time has come to abolish Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). I have zero tolerance for such ignorance.

HBCUs are being held to a different standard than other universities that target certain communities. Because Jews and Catholics were refused admission or subjected to quotas at major universities, they established their own institutions. That’s why we have the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., the College of the Holly Cross in Worcester, Mass. and the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. for Catholics.

Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. says on its website that it was “founded in 1948 by members of the American Jewish community.” Like HBCUS, these schools did not restrict enrollment to Catholics or Jews. HBCUs have always welcomed White students and faculty members on campus. The belief that we should pay our respect, have a proper funeral and send our Black colleges off to a graveyard for relics simply because Barack Obama is president is preposterous. In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected president amid questions of whether America was ready to elect its first Catholic president.

JFK won but no one declared that it ushered in an era of post-religious bigotry. No one said, “Now that we have elected a Catholic as president, Notre Dame and Holly Cross have outlived their usefulness.” If universities established because of religious bigotry have not outlived their usefulness, why should HBCUs be put out to pasture?

There are 106 accredited HBCUs, 47 of them public. According the White House Initiative on HBCUs, Black colleges award more than 35,000 degrees each year. In Mississippi, HBCUs handed out 37 percent of the degrees awarded to African Americans in the state, followed by Louisiana (36 percent), North Carolina (34 percent), Arkansas (31 percent), Maryland (25 percent) Alabama and South Carolina (23 percent each), Tennessee (19 percent), Georgia (18 percent), Texas (13 percent) and Florida (9 percent).

As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a speech last September, “Too many Americans are unfamiliar with the staggering accomplishments of HBCUs. Most of America’s civil rights giants were educated at HBCUs – Dr. King, W.E.B. DuBois, Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, and Thurgood Marshall. “In our time, Jesse Jackson, Andy Young, Barbara Jordan, Congressman John Lewis, Marian Wright Edelman, and Doug Wilder all earned their degrees at HBCUs. Legendary artists and authors came out of HBCUs – Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Toni Morrison.

“Yet what is most impressive about the HBCU record is not just your famous alumni. It is that HBCUs, working with meager resources, almost single-handedly created an African-American professional class in the face of decades of Jim Crow discrimination.”

Duncan continued, “Even, more than a half-century after the demise of Jim Crow laws, HBCUs continue to have an outsized impact in educating Black professionals. We have over 7,000 institutions of higher education across the country, 106 of which are HBCUs. But in 2010, HBCUs still awarded a sixth of all bachelor degrees and professional degrees earned by African Americans in the U.S.”

At a time, when its projected that we won’t have enough college graduates to meet our future needs, it would be foolhardy to diminish a pool of institutions that have proven their value over the years.

While the Obama administration is saying the right things, HBCUs are approaching death by a thousand cuts.

Pell grants were reduced by Congress in 2011, making students eligible for 12 semesters instead of 18. That will hurt Black students who, on average, take longer to complete their undergraduate education.

Without consulting HBCUs, the Obama administration made changes in the Parent PLUS loans three years ago that made it more difficult for parents with less than stellar credit to obtain a loan. By some estimates, that change, which has since been modified, caused up to 20 percent drop in enrollment at HBCUs.

And now the proposal for the federal government to pay for the first two years of community college, a move that is certain to harm HBCUs. It would have been better to offer to pick up the tab for the first two years at any public university.

Some Black college presidents are reluctant to criticize the proposal publicly for fear of falling in disfavor with the White House. The head of some higher ed organization are carefully picking their words because they represent community colleges as well as HBCUs. And some people are hiding behind the time-worn excuse, “the devil is in the details.” In this case, the community college proposal represents the devil for the continued existence of HBCUs. And because we have our first Black president or have other conflict of interests, not too many people have the temerity to say it.

As one educator told me privately, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. must be rolling over in his grave.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Is Obama Trying to Kill Black Colleges?

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(NNPA) Is Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president, trying to kill Historically Black Colleges and Universities?

If he’s not, he’s going to have a difficult time convincing HBCU presidents, trustees and alumni. Surprisingly, Obama has become their worst nightmare.

Neither Obama, the First Lady, the Secretary of Education or the president’s closest advisers attended an HBCU and, consequently, are tone death in recognizing what is broadly viewed as sound policy can inadvertently harm our nation’s HBCUs.

President Obama’s proposal that the federal government pick up the tab for a worthy student’s first two years of community college is a case in point. Without a doubt, a move toward free, universal higher education is an excellent decision.

But if the president had consulted the major organizations representing HBCUs, he would have heard suggestions on how to tweak his proposal so that it would not needlessly harm Black colleges, which it is certain to do.

The amended Higher Education Act of 1965 defines an HBCU as: “…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation.”

HBCUs enroll only 3 percent of college students yet are responsible for nearly 20 percent of all bachelor degrees awarded to African Americans. In some fields, the figures are significantly higher.

President Obama noted, “America thrived in the 20th century in large part because we had the most educated workforce in the world. But other nations have matched or exceeded the secret to our success.” And the U.S. can’t afford to lose the valuable contributions of HBCUs.

HBCUs compete directly with community colleges. Both enroll students who may need some additional tutoring or training before they are college ready. More importantly, students who enroll in community colleges and HBCUs are in dire need of financial assistance. If you make the first two years of college free to community college students – and not to HBCUs – you don’t have to be a rocket or social scientist to see that Black colleges will come out the losers.

And the bleeding doesn’t stop there.

If and when community college students decide to continue their education, they may be more inclined to transfer to a state-supported public university, where costs are cheaper than those of a private or public HBCU. In many instances, that state-supported university might accept all of the student’s credits whereas the Black institution might accept some of them.

Public HBCUs are likely to suffer under this scenario as well. If a Black student has attended a community college in Alabama, for example, he or she may be more prone to enroll in the University of Alabama or Auburn than they would if they had initially enrolled in Alabama A&M University or Alabama State. And given the costs, those students might totally bypass Tuskegee University, Talladega College or Stillman College, all private institutions.

Colleges such as Spelman and Morehouse, though harmed, can probably sustain the drop in enrollment. But without any adjustments, it could be the death knell for many others, including Miles College, Tougaloo, Paine and my alma mater, Knoxville College, which already has a foot in the grave.

With Republicans now in control of the House and Senate, it would have been far wiser for Obama to huddle with Republicans – whose presidents have been strong supporters of HBCUs over the years – to come up with a proposal that both sides could support. Going it alone, especially in this environment, virtually guarantees that the America’s College Promise program will go nowhere.

What should be done?

As one educator told me, it would have been better if Obama had said the federal government would pick up the first two years at a two- or four-year college. That would be better for most HBCUs. Because public tax dollars probably would not be designated for private colleges, the private and religious-affiliated institutions would still be in a bind.

As for the Republican majority accustomed to saying “no” to everything when they were out of power, education would be a good thing to say “yes” to. And correcting the blunders made by the White House may even help in reaching out to a broader political base, a goal the GOP claims it wants to achieve.

In the meantime, this new community college proposal, coming on the heels of the administration dropping the ball on Parent PLUS student loans that caused some HBCUs to lose as much as 20 percent of their student body and a proposed federal rating system that could also disadvantage some HCBUs, has some of Obama’s ardent supporters wondering if this is part of a plan to kill Black colleges. If it’s not, it may have the same sad effect.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Ed Brooke Doesn't Get his Due

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(NNPA) Sandwiched between the deaths of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and popular ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott, the passing of former Massachusetts Senator Edward W. Brooke III at the age of 95 did not get nearly the attention it deserved.

Though two African Americans were elected to the U.S. Senate during the Reconstruction Era by the Mississippi legislature – Hiram R. Revels and Blanche K. Bruce, both Republicans – Brooke was the first Black elected to the upper chamber by popular vote, beginning his term in 1967. What made his election remarkable at the time was that a Black Republican Episcopalian could be elected statewide in Massachusetts, a predominantly Democratic and Catholic state with a Black population of less than 3 percent. It would be another 25 years before another African American – Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois – would win a U.S. Senate seat (1992).

Prior to his election to the Senate, Brooke served two terms as attorney general of Massachusetts. When he came to Washington, he declined to join the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and told Time magazine: “I do not intend to be a national leader of the Negro people. I intend to do my job as a senator from Massachusetts.”

While doing his job, Brooke showed that – as did several Black Republicans who would later follow him in public service, including Assistant Secretary of Labor Arthur Fletcher in the Nixon administration and William T. Coleman, Jr., Secretary of Transportation under Gerald Ford – he could be a Black Republican without selling out his principles or abandoning the fight for civil rights.

When Barry Goldwater won the party’s 1964 presidential nomination, for example, Brooke, the state attorney general, refused to be photographed with Goldwater or endorse the Arizona ultraconservative.

In the 1966 book titled, The Challenge of Change: Crisis in Our Two-Party System, he asked, rhetorically: “Where are our plans for a New Deal or a Great Society?”

Though fellow Republican Richard Nixon was in the White House, Brooke opposed Nixon’s attempts to abolish the Office of Economic Opportunity and the Job Corps and weaken the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

And when Nixon nominated Clement Haynsworth and Harrold Carswell to the U.S. Supreme Court, Brooke was part of a bipartisan coalition that blocked the appointment of the two nominees who were considered hostile to civil rights.

On Nov. 4, 1973, Brooke became the first Republican to call for Richard Nixon’s resignation after the famous “Saturday night massacre” that took place when Nixon ordered the firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox after Cox issued a subpoena for copies of Nixon’s taped conversations recorded in the Oval Office.

Brooke assumed an offensive posture as well, particularly on housing issues. He co-sponsored the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion or ethnicity. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson a week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

He continued to work on strengthening the law and in 1969, Congress passed the “Brooke Amendment” limiting public housing tenants’ out-of-pocket rent expenditure to 25 percent of the resident’s income, a percentage that has since increased to 30 percent.

With the Voting Rights Act up for renewal in 1975, Brooke engaged in an “extended debate” with John Stennis (R-Miss.) on the Senate floor that resulted in the landmark measure being extended and expanded. He was also part of the team of legislators who retained Title IX that guarantees equal education to females and the Equal Credit Act, a measure that gave married women the right to have credit in their own name.

In 1967, Brooke served on the 11-member President’s Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission, which was established by President Johnson to investigate the causes of the 1967 race riots and to provide recommendations for the future.

At various points during his career, Brooke was at odds with civil rights leaders and liberals. As attorney general, he opposed the NAACP’s call for a boycott of Boston’s public schools to protest the city’s de facto segregation, saying the law required students to stay in school. In the Senate, he opposed a program to recruit teachers to work in disadvantaged communities and opposed amending Senate rules to make filibusters against civil rights legislation easier to terminate.

Brooke also faced personal health challenges, including being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. He underwent a double mastectomy and was declared cancer free. Brooke spoke publicly about the illness, which strikes about 1,500 men each year, a disproportionate number of them Black.
In his 2006 autobiography, Bridging The Divide: My Life (Rutgers University Press), Brooke said, “My fervent expectation is that sooner rather than later, the United States Senate will more closely reflect the rich diversity of this great country.”

Throughout his life, Brooke did that exceptionally well.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook

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