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Maya Angelou, John Lewis Named as Medal of Freedom Recipients

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers –

Writer Maya Angelou and civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-GA, were among 15 announced recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. It singles out those who have made contributions to the security or national interests of the U.S., to world peace or other significant endeavors.

“These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they’ve excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place,” President Barack Obama said in a statement announcing the recipients. “I look forward to awarding them this honor.”

The award ceremony will take place at the White House in early 2011.

Maya Angelou, a world-renowned poet, author, educator, and civil rights activist is currently the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. This is the third presidential award she’s received, following the Presidential Medal for the Arts in 2000 and the Lincoln Medal in 2008.

Lewis, a longtime congressman, was a seminal figure during the Civil Rights Movement. While chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he helped organize the first lunch-counter sit-in in 1959, and was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963. In 1965, he led the Selma-to-Montgomery march on what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” drawing a violent, turbulent Alabama police response that prompted the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Also honored was basketball legend Bill Russell. One of the most successful performers in professional sports, Russell led his Boston Celtic teams to 11 NBA championships in 13 years while also winning five most valuable player awards. He was the first African-American to become a coach of a major sports team at the professional level in the United States.

Among the other honorees were President George H.W. Bush, billionaire Warren Buffett, civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez and president emeritus of the AFL-CIO, John J. Sweeney.

Tobacco Giants Push to Increase Cigarette Sales to Africans

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Special the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

As anti-smoking campaigns backed by higher taxes take hold in U.S. cities and around the world, “big tobacco” has turned its eye toward Africa.

Tobacco consumption will double in the next 12 to 13 years in sub-Saharan Africa, predicts Evan Blecher, a South African economist with the American Cancer Society, without major policy interventions.

“As income rises, so does tobacco consumption (nearly on a one-to-one basis) and developing countries are growing rapidly, China and India are growing at more than 8% a year and the average economic growth in Africa is 5% a year.”

Still, an anti-smoking movement is pushing back. Kenya and Niger have enforced national smoke-free policies, and South Africa, which has had smoke-free laws on the books since March 2007, “continues to play an important role in the region, demonstrating that smoke-free laws can work in Africa”, notes the report: Global Voices: Rebutting the Tobacco Industry, Winning Smokefree Air.

This week, activists with the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria plan to release a report from the tobacco industry watchdog-Corporate Accountability International - presenting new evidence of persistent efforts by the tobacco industry to obstruct the FCTC on the African continent.

‘Protecting Against Tobacco Industry Interference’ will be released at this week’s World Health Organization's Convention on Tobacco Control in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit is set to go to trial in a Boston court, accusing Lorillard Tobacco Co. of enticing Black children to become smokers by handing out free samples in urban neighborhoods.

The plaintiff, Willie Evans, alleges that the firm used an illegal marketing strategy to get his mother to begin smoking Newport cigarettes at age 9, which led to a lifelong addiction and her death to cancer.

The giveaways in urban neighborhoods were "designed to attract African-American children and teenagers and to place cigarettes in their hands," the lawsuit states. The company admits to the free handouts but denies it ever offered them to children in a playground.

Chicago's Historic JPC Building Goes Up for Sale

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Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Crusader –

News of the sale of the only Black-owned building in the Loop didn’t come as a surprise to some former Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) employees who shared cherished memories of working at the Michigan Avenue edifice. Recently, officials at JPC released news that the 11 story, 110,000 square foot, 40-year-old building has been sold to Columbia College. In the college’s news release, Chairman Allen Turner, said the building will ultimately house the institution’s library.

Monroe Anderson moved to Chicago in 1972 to work at Ebony as an assistant editor. He recalled the building at 820 S. Michigan as “incredible.” He said it was an innovative, highly regimented but fun place to work. Anderson said the JPC conference room had picture phones, adding it was very rare then. “Cubicles were new things, and we had cubicles.” Anderson was quick to add that no eating was allowed in the cubicles. He said employees took their 15-minute morning and afternoon breaks away from the cubicle and in the company cafeteria -- the same cafeteria where employees got all-you-could-eat soul food lunches for a dollar a day.

“Lunch money” was deducted from the employees’ paychecks. Another innovative amenity was an in-house movie theatre. “We got to screen all the “Blaxplotation” movies as they came out,” Anderson said. And because of the importance of JPC, many of the movie stars visited the headquarters.

The first time Billy Dee Williams stopped by was shortly after he made the movie “Brian’s Song: and a second time after starring in “Lady Sings the Blues”. “Women were following him down the hall then, the same women who had ignored him the first time he was here,” Anderson laughed. Anderson said he still remembers having lunch with Lena Horne.

Cheap food, movie star visits and a view of Grant Park didn’t equate to a relaxed work environment. “Mr. John H. Johnson was very strict about time,” Anderson recalled. “We started at 9 a.m. and Mr. Johnson stood in the entry to see what time you came in and if you got there at 9:01, you were late,’ he said. The former Tribune columnist said a scowl and scolding from Johnson was the punishment for being late.

The Michigan Avenue location epitomized architectural innovation as well, Lee Bey, a former Sun Times architect columnist said. Bey, current director of the downtown business group/think tank Chicago Central Area Committee, said “The grid-like exterior, which was a staple of modernism with the recessed windows makes the building resemble a ladder, which is kind of a perfect metaphor for John Johnson's achievement and the achievements of those his publication wrote about. “The building is interesting in more than a few ways.

The penthouse, built for and occupied by Johnson, had a theater. The building was built with heat absorbing glass, making it energy efficient long before that kind of thing came into vogue. The additional distinction to the JPC headquarters is John Moutoussamy the noted African American architect designed it. Bey, former chief of staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley, described the building as “among Moutoussamy’s most notable works and certainly his most famous.”

Jeff Burns, who headed JPC’s New York City office until 2007, said “The building was especially appealing because every floor was color coordinated and Mr. Johnson loved art… He had a treasure of artwork from major artists.” “There were a lot of sculptures throughout the building. All of his awards were behind a glass showcase so everyone could see them,” Burns said.

Anderson and Burns said they were aware of the historical significance of the JPC headquarters because of the traffic it generated. “Even though I was in New York, whenever someone I knew was going to Chicago, they’d call me and ask who do I need to call at Johnson Publishing so I can get a tour.” Burns said a favorite story about JPC headquarters tourists is of an 80-year-old woman who saved to come to Chicago. “When she got to Chicago, she went to the Johnson Building and told the people I’m here to see the maker” Burns added that once word got to JPC Founder John Johnson, he came to the lobby greeted the woman and then took her to lunch.

Anderson chuckled when he talked about Johnson’s fondness for tours. “He was always having tours and you’d be trying to write a story and people would come by, laughing and talking with you. It was quite a distraction,” he said. One of those tours included a surprise visitor, a former neighbor of Anderson’s and friend of his mother’s who had known him since childhood. “She just couldn’t believe I got a job at Ebony, so she took one of the tours to find out if I really worked there. I think now she has more copies of things I’ve written since than my mother has” Anderson added.

Burns said the building is inseparable from the legacy of its first owner. “A lot of people don’t realize that Mr. Johnson underwrote the civil rights movement. When he put that picture of Emmett Till’s body in his magazine, and that magazine went all over the country, it got people’s attention and got them involved.”

It was that involvement that caused United States presidents to reach out to Johnson. According to Burns, every president from Roosevelt to George H.W. Bush sought Johnson’s counsel, and invited him to the White House. Despite the ties to heads of state, Johnson developed and maintained a strong relationship with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Burns said he was instrumental in getting Howard University to name its School of Communications after Johnson. Johnson noted that a number of JPC employees were HBCU grads, with Howard sending the most.

Anderson said the significance of JPC to the Black community was impressed on him when he chose to leave Ebony after a 20-month stint. “My mother couldn’t understand why I would leave Ebony to go to work for the Chicago Tribune,” Anderson said.

Conrad Worrill, the national chairman emeritus of the National Black United Fund, said he wished there had been a different outcome for JPC. “It is unfortunate that the sale is not reversed (i.e. Johnson Publishing buying the Columbia College building). It is a real breakdown in holding on to historical properties that became as a result of blood, sweat and tears of an African-American entrepreneur,” he said.

U.S. Senate Finally Takes Action on Behalf of Black Farmers

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers –

The Senate cleared a $1.15 billion appropriations measure last week to settle a decades-old discrimination suit by Black farmers, paving the way for one of the largest civil rights settlements in history, if the bill clears the House.

The nation’s Black farmers were awarded the money as part of a larger $4.6 billion dollar settlement awarded to them and Native American farmers.

The action stems from the settlement of Pigford v. Glickman, a class-action lawsuit named after Timothy Pigford, a Black farmer from North Carolina. Pigford’s suit claimed that Black farmers received little or no U.S. Department of Agriculture support in the form of loans and grants compared to their White counterparts. The case, which began in 1997, saw a settlement reached in 1999 that stated qualified farmers could receive $50,000 to settle claims of racial bias.

However, many farmers missed the filing deadline to receive payment. A settlement reached last February allowed those farmers to resume pursuit of their claims.

"The passage of this bill is long overdue," said John Boyd, head of the National Black Farmers Association, in a statement.

"Black farmers have already died at the plow waiting for justice," Boyd told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "I hope the ones who are living will see justice. The amount of money will not put farmers back into business”.

The appropriations bill was stalled in the Senate for months while Democrats and Republicans fought over how to pay for the settlement. The stalemate was broken during the first week of the lame duck session of the 111th Congress when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, dropped an objection to the package, after Senate leaders agreed not to finance it through additional deficit spending.

The matter now goes to the House where even more recalcitrance is expected from lawmakers who contend that the settlement adds to what they consider excessive spending at a time of federal budget deficits.

According to the USA Today, the settlement will be paid for from a surplus in nutrition programs for women and children and by extending customs user fees.

President Barack Obama praised the Senate for ending that chamber’s refusal to clear the settlement. In a statement, he expressed hope that the House would follow in the Senate’s footsteps and pass the bill as well.

“I applaud the Senate for passing the Claims Settlement Act of 2010, which will at long last provide funding for the agreements reached in the Pigford II lawsuit, brought by African American farmers, and the Cobell lawsuit, brought by Native Americans over the management of Indian trust accounts and resources,” Obama said.

“I urge the House to move forward with this legislation as they did earlier this year, and I look forward to signing it into law,” he continued.

The legislation also included an extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and settlements for Native American water rights.

Housing Crisis Seen for 8,000 Israel-bound Ethiopians of Jewish Ancestry

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Immigration has been approved for nearly 8,000 Falash Mura, Ethiopians of Jewish descent, who have been waiting in inhumane conditions, some for more than a decade, to come to Israel.

The government recently announced it would bring 7,846 Falashmura Jews to Israel during the next four years. Many have been living in transition camps built in the 1990s in Gondar, Ethiopia, for Russians and Ethiopian migrants.

Israel initially rejected the Ethiopians ties to Judaism, but religious officials later declared them the “seed of Israel.”

Natan Sharansky, chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel, warned that housing for the Ethiopians was urgently needed. “We can't repeat mistakes of the past and permit a situation in which they will have to stay [in absorption centers] for years,” he said.

Knesset Member Shlomo Molla, who supported the immigration decision, said it was long overdue.

He recalled a visit to Gondar a year before. "We saw the distress that people face, and their suffering and the suffering of their families," he said. "The fact that it will take three years to bring them here is ridiculous, and I hope that the government will shorten the unbearable waiting period."

As per the government decision, no further immigration by Falashmura members will be allowed once this project is completed.

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BVN National News Wire