Thoughts on the Eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Church Bombing

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

"Weary - Self Portrait" by Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All rights reserved.

“Weary – Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All rights reserved.

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

This blog is short and bittersweet.  It is the evening of Saturday, September 14, 2013, as I write this.  It is the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four little girls.  If they had lived, all of them would be over the age of sixty right now.

I learned today that the ex-husband of an old friend is a member of the Wesley family, the same family that Cynthia D. Morris bka Cynthia D. Wesley lived with.  My friend informed me that Mrs. Gertrude Turner Wesley suffered a nervous breakdown after “Cynthia Diane Morris bka Cynthia Diane Wesley” was killed in this explosion.  It seems that both her biological family and her host (or adoptive) family loved this little girl.  Her host or adoptive family did not have any biological children, which is why she appeared as the “only daughter” of the Wesleys in so many news reports in 1963.  Yet, Fate Morris, the brother of “Cynthia Diane Morris aka Cynthia Wesley” remembers his sister and is a man that needs some answers and some acknowledgement.

With her Death Records amended by the state of Alabama in 2002 which legally changed her name back to her original birth name of “Cynthia Diane Morris,” it must be acknowledged that this problem with her death and who or what she should be called has highlighted an important and beautiful legacy among us Black folks:  We Black folks have always had a tradition of taking in children if they needed to go to another school or if their parents were struggling financially or if they just simply needed a home.

Yet, in many instances—particularly before the late 20th century—we never signed any legal agreements or signed any adoption or guardian papers, we just opened our homes and our hearts.  With that said, it does not matter so much that Cynthia is/was claimed, legally or otherwise, by the now-deceased Wesleys; after all, they loved her.  Yet, what Fate Morris, who remembers his sister’s visits on weekends, needs most of all is to hear someone say that she was “Cynthia Diane Morris,” his sister.  What he and indeed, Birmingham, Alabama desperately needs is all of the truth and some real closure.

On the evening of September 12, 2013, I cried when I listened to Fate Morris describe that day when his sister was killed.  He was eleven years old.  I wept again today when I learned that Mrs. Wesley suffered a nervous breakdown after young Cynthia’s death.  Right now, I weep for them all.  To be continued…:  “Related Material – a BlogTalk Radio Interview and an important new CNN article 9-14-2013”

Leslye Joy Allen is also 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 stated as the author.
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Ralph McGill Would Never Defend “Stand Your Ground”

Photographer: Jon Sullivan.  Copyright: Public domain image, not copyrighted, no rights reserved, royalty free stock photo.

“Scales of Justice” by Jon Sullivan, photographer. Copyright: Public domain image, not copyrighted, no rights reserved, royalty free stock photo. Available from Public-Domain-Image.com

By Leslye Joy Allen

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

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the late Ralph McGill (1898-1969), he was a White journalist and publisher of the old Atlanta Constitution (now the Atlanta Journal Constitution).  He was also a well-known liberal who wrote about racial discrimination in society at large and within the criminal justice system.  He did this long before the Civil Rights Movement reached its apogee in the 1960s.  Martin Luther King, Jr. mentioned McGill in his eloquent “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”  King wrote that McGill and some other White journalists, “have written about our struggle in eloquent, prophetic and understanding terms.”  Indeed, McGill was a man who watched, learned, and evolved into one of the most progressive voices in the American South and the nation when it came to race relations, civil rights, and the penal system.  With that said, it is important for you to understand that I did not learn about Ralph McGill from a newspaper or a book, but rather from my schoolteacher mother.

Mama remembered that he emphasized that when a Black person killed another Black person they typically received very light jail or prison sentences—that is, if they received any jail time at all.  It was just the opposite if they had killed a White person.  He noted that because of this failure to properly punish Black people who killed other Black people, the judicial system literally encouraged those individuals to carry out their anger to its fullest possible extreme.  He accused the judicial system of encouraging Black folks to kill each other.  Mama said that there was an unsettling joke going around in Atlanta during the 1940s that said: if you were a Black man that killed another Black man you would be out of jail in time to go to your victim’s funeral.  Indeed, in his column in the Atlanta Constitution on September 17, 1941, McGill wrote:

“In the first place our courts, to our shame and, although no one seems to see it, to our very great financial cost, never take Negro crime seriously.  A Negro murderer, killing another Negro, rarely receives any severe punishment.  Juries and prosecutors have, for years, viewed them lightly as just another Negro killing, and therefore, of not much importance.”  (Ralph McGill – Crime, Standards, Methods 9-17-1941)

He remained one of a handful of White journalists that understood that any law or process or social practice that devalued Black life also made Black people the more likely targets of violence by killers of all races.  He also noted that many members of Atlanta’s then all-White police department had poor training and were “quick-on-the-trigger.”

I thought about Ralph McGill after the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in February of 2012.  When Jordan Davis of Atlanta, Georgia was killed in Jacksonville, Florida later in November, I again thought about McGill, arguably one of the most vocal writers who paid serious attention to Black-on-Black and White-on-Black violence and the institutionalized racism in the criminal justice systems of Georgia and the nation.  I will not recount how Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin died needless and preventable deaths.  I will leave it to you to read the details of Davis’ death on your own.  (Take a minute and read Madison Gray’s very brief Time Magazine report “With Echoes of Trayvon Martin, Florida Man Claims Self Defense in Shooting Death of Teen.”)  Yet, I wonder what McGill might have said about the horrible killings of these two unarmed Black teenagers by two men—One of Peruvian and Jewish extraction and the other a White man.  I am sure he would have had much to say about the racial dynamics surrounding these two killings and the law known as “Stand Your Ground.”

Nearly half the states in this country have “Stand Your Ground” laws.  At minimum, these laws allow an individual the right to use deadly force if that individual has a reasonable belief that their lives are threatened.  Importantly, the law typically states that it is not necessary for a threatened individual to retreat from the perceived danger.  The jury is still out on whether this kind of law has reduced crime rates anywhere.  It is important to note, however, that there is nothing in these laws that give citizens the right to provoke and/or create a potentially volatile scenario where they place themselves in danger and then use deadly force in response to the dangerous scenario they created.

The fact that George Zimmerman, charged with second degree murder of Trayvon Martin, was told by a 911 operator not to follow Martin, has forced Zimmerman’s attorneys to drop the use of “Stand Your Ground” as a part of his defense is cause for all of us to pause.  The fact that Michael Dunn, charged with the murder of Jordan Davis (and also charged with attempted murder of the other teens in the SUV), told these kids to turn their music down at a gas station is also problematic.  Most people do not stay at a gas station for very long.  Is it safe or even logical to tell total strangers what to do or what not to do while they are seated in their own vehicles at a public place like a gas station at 7:30 in the evening?  Think about it.  Will Florida lawmakers ever understand that the state’s “Stand Your Ground” laws are not always working in the best interests of its citizens?  McGill would have recognized the counterproductive and dangerous potential for abuse in “Stand Your Ground” legislation.

When I finally got the opportunity to read some of the newspaper columns written by McGill, I noticed some important qualities:  He spoke his mind about what was going on in the city and the world at that moment.  Yet, he did so with an eye on the future.  Like many of Atlanta’s early boosters, he always prescribed the course of action that he believed was best for the city of Atlanta—the entire city of Atlanta.  He knew that crime, racial discrimination, racial virulence, and the like, were bad for the city.  He was as practical and he was ethical.

I do not know exactly what McGill might have said or asked about the killings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.  Yet, I have little doubt that he would understand and endorse the necessity of raising the following questions about how citizens interpret their rights as defined in “Stand Your Ground” law:  How does the “Stand Your Ground” law define “feeling threatened”?  If you look menacing or say something that makes me feel afraid, will the law allow me the right to use deadly force against you based solely on my assumption of what I think you might do?  Do citizens need more than the basic right of self-defense?  What might an angry person do if they are armed and know that they might be able to get away with killing someone because, by law, they do not have to retreat from danger?  Much like Atlanta in 1941, does not this law encourage people to choose to kill one another?  Don’t these kind of laws eventually breed a flagrant disregard for the law?  McGill wrote that, “Anything that breeds contempt for the law is costly.”  He was right.

When I asked my Mama why she liked Ralph McGill, she simply said,

“He made sense and he was always, always fair.  He always asked for justice and the fair treatment of all citizens.  Justice and fair treatment were the only things Black people wanted.”

Justice and fair treatment are still all we want.

 

Copyright © 2012 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.

A Stranger in the Neighborhood – The Worse Case Scenario

by Leslye Joy Allen

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

*

(Update 6-24-2013: When I wrote this blog last year the public only saw a photo of George Zimmerman in an orange prison suit where he clearly weighed roughly 250 pounds.  When he finally appeared in public, I, like everyone else was shocked to see that he had lost weight. (Of course he appears in 2013 to have gained much of it back.  I mentioned Zimmerman’s size in this blog and have left it as it is because I think it is important to note that our impressions are based on the kind of information we have access to.  My opinions have not changed and neither has the blog below.

*Update 3-29-2012:  When I wrote and published the piece below on March 25, 2012, news reports stated that there had been a physical altercation between Martin and Zimmerman in which Zimmerman had a bloody nose and blood on the back of his head.  A new video obtained by ABC news showed Zimmerman being brought into police custody, also showed that he had no signs of physical injury or blood anywhere on his person.  Then in a couple of days there were new accusations that the video had been doctored–a new video showed Zimmerman with gashes on the back of his head.  I am, however, leaving the contents of this blog “as is” because there are some questions that need to be answered that have little to do with how badly Zimmerman was allegedly injured by Martin.  A hyperlink to the “first” ABC video is provided at end of this blog.*)

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I will not bore you by retelling what has already been reported about the fatal and tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.  If you have been anywhere near a television or the internet, you know several stories about this already.  I would like to share my take on what questions need to be asked about this case and to share my own personal experiences with fear.

I remember the first time I called the police because I saw a person walking around my neighborhood who I had never seen before.  The person stopped at every house, looked in a few neighbors’ windows, and they did not seem to be selling anything.  I called the police, looked out my window at the person and wrote down everything from what they were wearing to how old I thought they were.  I have done this a couple of times, once when the person was Black like me and another time when the person was White.  As a police officer once told me, “You ladies should not be taking chances.  Call the police when you see anything out of the ordinary.”  In each instance the person had a legitimate reason for being in the neighborhood, but I let the police question these individuals and then waited for the police to stop by my house to let me know what they discovered and to assure me that I had nothing to worry about.

Right now George Zimmerman is under fire for his fatal shooting of Black,17-year-old,140 pound Trayvon Martin whom Zimmerman claims attacked him from behind.  Most people are reasonably having a hard time understanding how Zimmerman, who weighs 250 pounds, was over powered by what is obviously a slender teenage boy.  That Zimmerman had a bloody nose when police arrived on the scene does raise the possibility that Trayvon might have, at some point, hit the man in the face.

Friends of Zimmerman have come forward to paint him as someone who was certainly not racist; someone who mentored a young Black boy; and a man who has been crying and feels very bad about what has transpired.  He should feel bad, because if the police had properly conducted their investigation, Zimmerman might be in a jail cell where he would probably feel much safer than he feels right now.  He and his defenders understand his suspicions about Trayvon Martin, but there has been no statement from Zimmerman or anyone in his camp that suggests he has the faintest understanding that his actions probably frightened the hell out of Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman and all other parties also need to understand that even if he is not a racist as he and some of his defenders have claimed, that many people who are not Black and who bear no particular ill-will against the Black community often harbor some dangerous and downright stupid stereotypes about Black people.  You do not need to be a virulent racist to harbor stereotypes about any group of people.  I have met many White and allegedly non-racist liberals who have assumed certain things about ALL Black people, only to embarrass themselves when they discover their mistake.

There are some questions that should plague everyone about this fatal shooting.  First, let us suppose a HYPOTHETICAL scenario where Trayvon Martin jumps George Zimmerman from behind and actually physically gets the best of him.  If this scenario is true then the next question is what motivated Trayvon Martin to attack in this way?  What would you do if someone continued to follow you and you were not near your house?  If Zimmerman was safely driving in his SUV with a loaded gun, following Trayvon Martin, then why did Zimmerman not just crack his car window, say, “Hello” to Trayvon and then calmly ask the boy what he was doing in the neighborhood or if he lived in the neighborhood.  And if the person walking in your neighborhood seemed so threatening, why not follow from a safe distance and wait for the police.

I remember driving one night, with a car following me; the experience was unbelievably frightening.  I drove until I found a well-lit parking lot, populated with several people.  The car followed me into the parking lot, made a U-Turn and then quickly sped away.  My heart raced with fear, but I hurried home glad that nothing happened.  I do not know what I might have done (or might do) if I were out walking and suddenly discovered someone was following me in a car.  If you are walking, you cannot outrun the vehicle.  Then, what would you think if the driver exited the car?  Certainly, I might be convinced that the person was trying to harm me in some way.  Being followed also provokes feelings of vulnerability and anger.

George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin when he did not have to do so.  WHY SHOULD ANYONE EXPECT A BOY WALKING DOWN A STREET TO STOP FOR A COMPLETE STRANGER  THAT THE  BOY BELIEVES IS FOLLOWING HIM?  If Zimmerman’s account of what happened is correct: that Trayvon Martin jumped him from behind, then Zimmerman should be prepared to explain why he thought Trayvon Martin did this, and how such a small framed boy managed to over power a 250 pound man.  I must admit that when you think your life is threatened, fear will make you much stronger than you ever knew you were.  If Zimmerman’s account is correct then he needs to explain his role in provoking such a response from a boy who was a good student and who had no criminal record.  The key word here is “boy.”

We probably will never know exactly what was said by Zimmerman or Martin.  It is always possible that a nasty verbal exchange took place between them; this would not come as a surprise.  However, that Trayvon Martin told his girlfriend over his cell phone that he was being followed is frightening.  She too is an adolescent who told him to run.  He said he would just walk fast.  Black boys who “walk fast” are not always doing so because they have done something wrong or fleeing the scene of a crime.  But anyone who is afraid will walk fast or possibly run.

Even in the worst of all possible–not actual–scenarios, no matter how mature or responsible Trayvon Martin might have been in his too short life, his ability to reason like a mature adult was still a year or two away.  Some maturity comes with time and experience.  Some mistakes in judgment are expected when you are a teenager; and no one expects a 17-year-old boy to never make the wrong decision.  At the risk of invoking a stereotype about all adolescent males, can someone tell me whether they have ever met a young teenage boy who has not had at least one fisticuff over something silly or even something serious?  Yet, it was completely rational to try to walk or run away from someone Trayvon believed was following him.  For Zimmerman to assume that his following someone walking down the street would not be frightening to that person is about as absurd and irrational as anyone can get.

The public may never know the exact details of what transpired on that tragic night in February.  I freely admit my anger over this boy’s death.  Yet, no matter what happens next or whose story becomes the narrative of this tragedy, there is still one clear fact that no one can escape or ignore, and that fact is that George Zimmerman was not/is not a teenager, but A GROWN MAN who should have known better.  Trayvon Martin left this world, his family, and his friends while he was just a boy.

(*This is a hyperlink to the surveillance video of George Zimmerman being taken into custody by the Sanford, Florida police on the night he killed Trayvon Martin: http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/trayvon-martin-case-exclusive-surveillance-video-george-zimmerman/story?id=16022897)

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!

Copyright © 2012 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 stated as the author.