Her Name was Cynthia Diane Morris

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Back in August of 2013, I spoke with my friend Erich McMillan-McCall whose theatre organization Project1Voice was preparing to do a live streaming of a staged reading of the Christina Ham play “Four Little Girls” from the Kennedy Center.  September 15, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of that tragic day in 1963 when a bomb planted by White racist terrorists killed four young Black girls at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  One of them was a young girl recorded in most articles, essays, and books as “Cynthia Wesley.”  Yet, she was born Cynthia Diane Morris.

After recognizing Cynthia’s academic talents, Cynthia’s mother, Mrs. Estelle Morris, allowed her young daughter to live with a childless and affluent Black couple named Claude and Gertrude Wesley in order to give her daughter access to a better school and, perhaps, a more financially stable future.  The Wesley family was well-known throughout Birmingham’s Black community for their generosity, warmth, and a deep love of children.  Yet, the generous and kind-hearted Wesley family, who could not have biological children, never legally adopted Cynthia.  For more information about this, please revisit my previous blog titled “Thoughts on the Eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Church Bombing.”  This blog discussed the wonderful tradition in Black communities where people took in and cared for children when they needed assistance. This particular blog also contains a hyperlink to a copy of Cynthia Diane Morris’ amended death record.

Cynthia’s brother Fate Morris wants to set the historical record straight.  The commemorative statues and the U. S. Congressional Gold Medal of Honor awarded in May 2013 posthumously to the four girls who lost their lives in that church bombing all read with the names: Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, and Cynthia Wesley.  Federal, state and city officials in Birmingham and elsewhere have tepidly acknowledged Fate Morris as Cynthia Morris’ brother, yet they have done so with little regard for his feelings about how her name appears in public records.  I need not pontificate about this matter.  However, if you will take the time to review my previous blogs from late August to September 2013 you will know that this is a sensitive subject.  I also encourage you to listen (when you have time to sit at length) to the lengthy Blog Talk conversation I had with host Preston Washington on Lesley Gist’s Radio Show “Gist of Freedom” program back in September.  Once you hear our long conversation, along with the testimony of Fate Morris, you will know why getting the historical record straight is important.  (“Related Material – a Blog Talk Radio Interview and an important new CNN article 9-14-2013”)

The state of Alabama amended his sister’s death records to reflect her real birth name.  Yet, there seems to be a genuine reluctance in some quarters to even acknowledge Mr. Fate Morris and other members of his family as the family members of Cynthia Diane Morris (aka Cynthia Wesley).  Fate Morris was a young boy when he lost his sister.  His present mission does not appear to be an attempt to deny what the Wesley family did for his sister or how much they loved her, but rather to get some peace by making sure that historians, scholars, journalists and the general public know his late sister’s real birth name.  What he needs most is closure and a genuine acknowledgement of his feelings and those of his family members.  Yet, it is hard to get closure or peace when the written records barely acknowledge that Cynthia Morris was your sister.

So, please take a moment to read and sign Mr. Fate Morris’ petition at the hyperlink below: Cynthia Morris – NOT Cynthia Wesley – Issue Proclamation.

Peace.

Leslye Joy Allen is a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author.

Ten Rules You Cannot Change…

…No Matter Who or Where You Are

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Weary Self-Portrait 2

Weary Self-Portrait 2
(Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013)

1.  Never deliberately hurt anyone unless you are also prepared to hurt yourself in the process.

2.  Never expect to change anyone but yourself.  Try changing someone and see how many times you bash your head against a wall.

3.  Never believe that there is a substitution for hard and dedicated work.

4.  Never make anyone your sole reason for living.  All attempts at centering your life on the wishes, whims, potential, and/or approval of an offspring, spouse, parent, friend, or anyone else will fail—always.

5.  Never believe that your racial and/or ethnic identity does not matter.  It is imperative to the psychological and social well-being of all humans that we belong to some group of people, no matter what changes occur in the socio-political landscape.  Embrace your people and then maybe others will truly embrace you.

6.  Never assume that if you are dishonest with yourself, that no one else knows it—everyone knows it; and worse, your inability to be honest with yourself also renders you incapable of accurately judging the character of others.

7.  There is no substitute for spending quality time with your child (children); if you do not spend quality time with your child (children) on a regular basis, you will regret it and all of us will pay for your negligence.

8.  Never believe that you can “have your cake and eat it to.”  Ask anyone who has ever cheated on a mate (or been cheated on) or anyone deluded into believing that there are no real limitations (and real hurts) in so-called “open relationships.”

9.  Believe you are important, but not essential. The work you were supposed to do might not get done anytime soon, but the sun will rise tomorrow and the world will keep turning even if you decide to not get out of bed.

10. You will not grow—spiritually, professionally, intellectually, financially, and otherwise—if you refuse to GROW UP.

Peace.

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

Mama’s Garden

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

cherry-tomatoes-plant

Cherry Tomatoes Plant (available from: Public-Domain-Image.com)

 

“If you plant it in the earth, give it just enough sunlight, just enough water, and just enough nurturing, it will yield something.” – Syble Allen Williams (1921 -2013)

Now, when I think of teaching, I think about my Mama’s gardens and the first time I read the quote by author Gail Godwin who said that, “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre.”  A while back, I did not exactly understand the connection between teaching and theatre or any connection to my Mama’s conceptualization of gardening.  After all, was it not possible to be a gardener or agriculturalist without being an artist?  Even further, when I thought of theatre or any performance art, I thought and continue to think of people trained to act, sing, dance (or all of the above), and who are on stage for the sole purpose of entertaining and enlightening a receptive audience.  The idea that a teacher and students were engaged in any kind of performance art escaped me until I stood in front of a classroom and gave a lecture without reading from any notes.  My Mama, Syble Allen Williams, understood the performance element in teaching the first time she set foot in a classroom to teach.  Only after she died, however, did I begin to understand some other things about the “pure theatre” or the creativity of teaching that was not readily apparent to me when she was alive.

I remember how she would begin to count to ten in order to get her kindergarteners to take their seats.  “One…Two…Three…” she would say slowly and deliberately.  The objective was to have all of her students seated BEFORE she reached the number ten.  They would scramble to their chairs, each one determined not to be the last child to make it to his or her seat.  Then there were Mama’s famous gold stars that she posted next to the names of those kids who ate all of their lunch—they were the fabulous members of the “Clean Plate Club.” Many children decided to sample a vegetable that they really did not want to eat in order to earn that gold star.  Yet, she was at her most creative with her classroom gardens and her trips to the farm.

After Mama’s funeral service, our cousin James—who served as one of her pallbearers—told me that before her funeral began, four of her pallbearers were discussing their trips to farms and the gardens they helped to plant and tend when they were mere kindergarteners in her class.  Four of Mama’s pallbearers were her former students.  I remember when she made the switch from teaching third grade to kindergarten.  I also recall her comments about children who grew up in the city.  While she loved city life, she noted that children in cities rarely got much, if any, exposure to farm life.

Mama was born on a working farm in a tiny Georgia hamlet about forty minutes away by car from Atlanta.  She lived there until she was about nine years old.  Around her ninth birthday, her family migrated to Atlanta, as did so many Black rural families during and after the Great Depression.  The beauty is that Mama’s appreciation for her agricultural roots ultimately became a wonderful lesson for her students.

Back in the 1970s when she started teaching kindergarten, she told me one day that too many of her students really did not know anything about where their food came from or the teamwork required to run a farm.  Eventually she located a nice man—whose name escapes me now—who had a small working farm in McDonough, Georgia complete with crops, chickens, pigs, and cows.  I only remember him as a middle aged, brown-skinned man who seemed tickled to death that the work he did as a farmer had some intrinsic value to Mama and her young students.

Every year she taught kindergarten she included a trip to that farm in McDonough, Georgia so that “her children” could witness the interaction of farmer and crop and cows and chickens.  The cows’ manure fertilized the soil that yielded the crops.  It was all organic and interactive.  Every year, she would have her five-year-olds plant a garden in their classroom.  She would gleefully remark how they would become mesmerized when they would see something that they had planted in the soil begin to grow.  “Their eyes just light up at the first sight of the smallest bud,” she would say.  For me, the strongest memory was her garden at our house and her household plants.

Each year she grew tomatoes, cabbage, collards, and squash on a strip of land in our backyard.  I also recall one year she grew the hottest jalapeño peppers ever grown in the history of humankind—I remember it well; I ate one of those peppers and needed a couple of pitchers of ice water to cool the heat.  Then there was her endless sea of green plants that lined our porch and windowsills.  She often noted that the tomatoes might not grow as big as you wished, but if you nurtured those seeds, you would still get tomatoes.  This was her lesson to her kindergarteners and to me: you always get something back if you plant something and nurture it.

Mama’s gardens and farming adventures were lessons in sheer creativity.  In these activities were a science lesson, another lesson that taught respect for animals’ contributions to our welfare and an appreciation for our natural environment, a lesson in how any one of us who had patience could nurture a plant from a seed or seedling to full bloom.  Even further, when I think of how many people never want to revisit their childhoods, I am comforted.  Mama found beauty, resilience, and lifelong lessons in her own childhood, a childhood that she spent helping her parents and grandparents tend to plants and animals on the old family farm.  Her students got a chance to share in a part of her upbringing.

On a nearly cloudless, sunny day in February of 2013, Mama had six pallbearers: one was a dear cousin, another was a family friend, and four were her former kindergarteners.  These six dignified, hardworking, respectable, responsible, and well-educated Black men—all now over the age of forty—donned white gloves, and hoisted Mama’s coffin and took her to her final place of rest in the soil—soil she respected.   Proudly, I watched them, as I am sure she did.  And then I thought, “If you plant it in the earth, give it just enough sunlight, just enough water, and just enough nurturing, it will yield something.”

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.