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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.

Presidential Contenders Both Declare Victory in Guinean Race

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Two finalists in Guinea’s first national election have both declared victory, complicating the West African country’s first democratic exercise, after 52 years of authoritarian rule.

Veteran opposition leader Alpha Conde was officially declared the winner in a surprise upset as he had received only 18% in an earlier poll. Candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo, who was comfortably ahead in the first round of voting, received several thousand votes less than Conde in the final vote. His supporters immediately cried foul and clashed with riot police.

After the results were declared on Nov. 15, Conde, 72, reached out to Diallo, saying "The time has come to join hands.” Diallo, 58, a former prime minister, said he is planning an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The contestants hail from Guinea's two largest ethnic groups, the Peul and Malinke. Diallo’s Peul community has never held the presidency while the Malinke are heavily represented in the ruling military junta.

A former French colony, Guinea is mineral-rich with as much as half of the world’s reserves of bauxite, and significant deposits of gold and diamonds. Still, it is ranked near the bottom of 182 countries on the U.N.’s Human Development Index.

Meanwhile, a New York-based group that monitored Guinea's historic election via text messages from voters is now monitoring outbreaks of violence between the nation's opposing parties.

Jennifer Swift-Morgan of Alliance Guinea said rioting in the capital city of Conakry prevented verification of the SMS allegations. The main goal now, she said, "is to make sure the world knows this crisis has broken out."

Attorney General Files $168 Million Suit Against Company Over Election Day Robocalls

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By George Barnette, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers (DC) –

An Election Day robocall sent to Democratic voters in the state of Maryland telling them to “relax” and that the election was over—an apparent attempt to get them to stay home and not vote—has been traced back to Universal Elections, a company hired by Republican Robert Ehrlich’s gubernatorial campaign.

Julius Henson, owner of Universal Elections, took responsibility for the calls.

“Universal Elections made the call and it was my decision to make the call,” Henson said. “It’s really nonsensical that [the complaint about the call] is coming from the people who won by 14 points and were leading by 14 points for more than a week.”

The call was placed through the Pennsylvania-based company robodial.org. That company said the call was placed through an account maintained by Rhonda Russell, an employee for Universal Elections.

“I’m calling to let everyone know that Governor O’Malley and President Obama have been successful,” the woman’s voice on the call said. “Our goals have been met. The polls were correct and we took it [the governor’s office] back. We’re ok. Relax, everything is fine. The only thing left is to watch on TV tonight. Congratulations and thank you.”

Word of the call spread as the polls closed on Election Night, outraging many of the state’s prominent Democrats, who saw it as an attempt to curtail late Democratic support and give Republicans an edge. Among those Democrats who denounced the call was Prince George’s County, Md. Executive-elect Rushern Baker.

“I am shocked by the news of a robocall targeting residents of Prince George’s County intended to dissuade voting earlier this evening,” Baker said in an election-night statement. “This isn’t dirty politics, it’s un-American. I hope those behind this call are investigated and exposed for their attempt to suppress everyone’s right to cast a ballot.”

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was quick to denounce the calls in a statement released last week. “I was deeply troubled to hear this misleading robocall targeting Baltimore City residents urging them to relax and stay home as if the election was over and the polls have been closed,” Rawlings-Blake said. “Sadly, this [is the] kind of gutter politics that we have come to expect from Bob Ehrlich and the Republican Party.”

Henson said that the call did not explicitly urge Democrats who hadn’t voted yet to stay home.

“The call was counterintuitive,” he said. “We felt that the people who’d already gone and voted were voting for the opposition and the people who had not voted, and because they hadn’t voted, were mostly likely not going to vote for the incumbent. We were trying to get them [Republicans] to go to the polls and vote.”

“It never said ‘don’t vote’ or anything like that,” Henson continued. “It was an attempt to get to voters who were not going to vote and it was a lot of them because they didn’t like their choice - the incumbent.”

Andy Barth, spokesman for the Ehrlich campaign, did not comment on the issue. Henson did not comment regarding his connection to the Ehrlich campaign.

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, confirmed that an investigation into the call is underway.

“It is deeply troubling that an operative working for Bob Ehrlich's campaign was responsible for this shameful and illegal attempt to deceive Maryland voters,” Maryland Democratic Party Chair Susan Turnbull said in a statement. “We hope the Ehrlich campaign will fully disclose their role in this unfortunate episode and cooperate fully with any ongoing investigations in the matter. The right to vote is precious in a democracy and anyone who attempts to deny that right to citizens should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

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