This summer we lost a great poet

This summer we lost a great poet. A true artist who painted in words. She will not be easily replaced. That poet was Toni Morrison. I would like to share with you the story of her life which speaks to all of those who dedicate themselves to personal achievement and the expression of their social voice. Here is part of the story of Toni Morrison. From Wikipedia: Chloe Anthony Wofford “Toni” Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford; February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019) was an American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher, and professor emeritus at Princeton University. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The critically acclaimed Song of Solomon (1977) brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1988, she won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for Beloved (1987). Born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, Morrison graduated from Howard University in 1953 and went to graduate school at Cornell University. She later taught English at Howard University and also married and had two children before divorcing in 1964. In the late 1960s, she became the first black female editor in fiction at Random House in New York City. In the 1970s and 1980s, she developed her own reputation as an author, and her perhaps most celebrated work, Beloved, was made into a 1998 film. Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. In 1996, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected her for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Also that year, she was honored with the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. On May 29, 2012, President Barack Obama presented Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, she received the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. Early years Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio, to Ramah (née Willis) and George Wofford. She was the second of four children in a working-class, African American family. Her mother was born in Greenville, Alabama, and moved north with her family as a child. Her father grew up in Cartersville, Georgia, and when he was about 15, white people lynched two black businessmen who lived on his street. Morrison said: “He never told us that he’d seen bodies. But he had seen them. And that was too traumatic, I think, for him.” Soon after the lynching, George Wofford moved to the racially integrated town of Lorain, Ohio, in the hope of escaping racism and securing gainful employment in Ohio’s burgeoning industrial economy. He worked odd jobs and as a welder for U.S. Steel. Ramah Wofford was a homemaker and a devout member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Morrison’s parents instilled in her a sense of heritage and language through telling traditional African American folktales and ghost stories and singing songs. Morrison also read frequently as a child; among her favorite authors were Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. She became a Catholic at the age of 12 and took the baptismal name Anthony (after Anthony of Padua), which led to her nickname, Toni. Attending Lorain High School, she was on the debating team, the Diversity—Cindy Goldberg, Co-Chair yearbook staff, and in the drama club. Adulthood and editing career: 1949–1974 In 1949, she enrolled at the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C., seeking the company of fellow black intellectuals. It was while at Howard that she encountered racially segregated restaurants and buses for the first time. She graduated in 1953 with a B.A. in English and went on to earn a Master of Arts from Cornell University in 1955. Her master’s thesis was titled “Virginia Woolf’s and William Faulkner’s treatment of the alienated.” She taught English, first at Texas Southern University in Houston for two years, then at Howard University for seven years. While teaching at Howard, she met Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect, whom she married in 1958. She was pregnant with their second son when she and Harold divorced in 1964. After the breakup of her marriage, Morrison began working as an editor in 1965, for L. W. Singer, a textbook division of publisher Random House, in Syracuse, New York. Two years later she transferred to Random House in New York City, where she became their first black woman senior editor in the fiction department. In that capacity, Morrison played a vital role in bringing black literature into the mainstream. One of the first books she worked on was the groundbreaking Contemporary African Literature (1972), a collection that included work by Nigerian writers Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe and South African playwright Athol Fugard. She fostered a new generation of African American authors, including Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, Black Panther Huey Newton and Gayl Jones, whose writing Morrison discovered, and she brought out the autobiography of boxer Muhammad Ali in The Greatest. She also published and publicized the work of Henry Dumas, a little-known novelist and poet who was shot to death by a transit officer in the New York City Subway in 1968. First writings and teaching, 1970–1986 Morrison had begun writing fiction as part of an informal group of poets and writers at Howard University who met to discuss their work. She attended one meeting with a short story about a black girl who longed to have blue eyes. Morrison later developed the story as her first novel, The Bluest Eye, getting up every morning at 4 am to write, while raising two children alone. The Bluest Eye was published in 1970, when Morrison was aged 39. It was favorably reviewed in The New York Times by John Leonard, who praised Morrison’s writing style as being “a prose so precise, so faithful to speech and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry … But The Bluest Eye is also history, sociology, folklore, nightmare and music.” In 1975, Morrison’s second novel Sula (1973), about a friendship between two black women, was nominated for the National Book Award. Her third novel, Song of Solomon (1977), follows the life of Macon “Milkman” Dead III, from birth to adulthood, as he discovers his heritage. In 1983, Morrison left publishing to devote more time to writing, while living in a converted boathouse on the Hudson River in Nyack, New York. She taught English at two branches of the State University of New York (SUNY) and at Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus. In 1984, she was appointed to an Albert Schweitzer chair at the University at Albany, SUNY. The Beloved Trilogy and the Nobel Prize: 1987–1998 Morrison published her most celebrated novel, Beloved. It was inspired by the true story of an enslaved African-American woman, Margaret Garner, whose story Morrison had discovered when compiling The Black Book. Garner had escaped slavery but was pursued by slave hunters. Facing a return to slavery, Garner killed her two-year-old daughter but was captured before she could kill herself. Morrison’s novel imagines the dead baby returning as a ghost, Beloved, to haunt her mother and family. Beloved is the first of three novels about love and African-American history, sometimes called the Beloved Trilogy. Morrison said that they are intended to be read together, explaining, “The conceptual connection is the search for the beloved – the part of the self that is you, and loves you, and is always there for you.” The second novel in the trilogy, Jazz, came out in 1992. Told in language that imitates the rhythms of jazz music, the novel is about a love triangle during the Harlem Renaissance in New York City. The third novel of her Beloved trilogy, Paradise, about citizens of an all-black town, came out in 1997. The next year, Morrison was on the cover of Time magazine, making her only the second female writer of fiction and second black writer of fiction to appear on what was perhaps the most significant US magazine cover of the era. Before Morrison published the third novel of the trilogy, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. Her citation reads that she, “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” She was the first black woman of any nationality to win the prize. In her Nobel acceptance speech, Morrison talked about the power of storytelling. To make her point, she told a story. She spoke about a blind, old, black woman who is approached by a group of young people. They demand of her, “Is there no context for our lives? No song, no literature, no poem full of vitamins, no history connected to experience that you can pass along to help us start strong? … Think of our lives and tell us your particularized world. Make up a story.” Final years: 2010–2019 In May 2010, Morrison appeared at PEN World Voices for a conversation with Marlene van Niekerk and Kwame Anthony Appiah about South African literature, and specifically van Niekerk’s 2004 novel Agaat. Morrison wrote books for children with her younger son, Slade Morrison, who was a painter and a musician. Slade died of pancreatic cancer on December 22, 2010, aged 45. Morrison’s novel Home was half -completed when her son died. In May 2011, Morrison received an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Rutgers University–New Brunswick during the commencement ceremony, where she delivered a speech on the “pursuit of life, liberty, meaningfulness, integrity, and truth.” Morrison debuted another work in 2011: She worked with opera director Peter Sellars and Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré on a new production, Desdemona, taking a fresh look at William Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello. The trio focused on the relationship between Othello’s wife Desdemona and her African nursemaid, Barbary, who is only briefly referenced in Shakespeare. The play, a mix of words, music and song, premiered in Vienna in 2011. Morrison had stopped working on her latest novel when her son died. She said that afterward, “I stopped writing until I began to think, “He would be really put out if he thought that he had caused me to stop. ‘Please, Mom, I’m dead, could you keep going …?'” She completed Home and dedicated it to her son Slade Morrison. Published in 2012, it is the story of a Korean War veteran in the segregated United States of the 1950s, who tries to save his sister from brutal medical experiments at the hands of a white doctor. In August 2012, Oberlin College became the home base of the Toni Morrison Society, an international literary society founded in 1983, dedicated to scholarly research of Morrison’s work. Morrison’s eleventh novel, God Help the Child, was published in 2015. It follows Bride, an executive in the fashion and beauty industry whose mother tormented her as a child for being dark skinned – a childhood trauma that has dogged Bride her whole life. Morrison was a member of the editorial advisory board of The Nation, a magazine started in 1865 by Northern abolitionists. Morrison died at Montefiore Medical Center in The Bronx, New York City, on August 5, 2019, from complications of pneumonia. She was 88 years old. In closing, we can learn a lot from the life of Toni Morrison and from her poetry. Her voice has not been silenced but lives on through her writing to be heard by generation after generation after her passing. Fondly submitted for the diversity committee, Feel free to comment on this article at our Diversity Blog, Biographical material from Wikipedia

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Everyone Into The Pool

It is hard to believe summer is on the way and for some
of us, it’ll mean time spent around the neighborhood or
community pool. For many this brings good memories of
childhood. But for others there is a different story. It is the
story for some of racial discrimination which was reflected
in and today reflects tensions in our society that need to be
recognized so they may be dealt with. For many of us being at the water in
the summer meant going to the beach. Often this was a more egalitarian
environment. Beach blanket space and boardwalks somehow seemed to be
for all. There was often an informal sense of who settled where, but in post desegregation years, no hard and fast rules, at least we thought so. The
pool was a different reality altogether.
The following article casts a light on the issue of racial discrimination at
the pool in the past and today.
By Jeff Wiltse, June 10, 2015 , The Washington Post
America’s swimming pools have a long, sad, racist history
They’ve long been contested spaces where we express prejudices that
otherwise remain unspoken.
Last weekend, a harrowing scene unfolded at a private community
swimming pool in McKinney, TX. Several white adults taunted a group of
black teens, telling them to “go back to your Section 8 homes.” Another
reportedly referred to one of the teens as a “black effer.” The police were
eventually called in, responding with aggressive and unreasonable force.
Americans were shocked by the scene, which was caught by camera
phones. But I wasn’t surprised.
Swimming pools have long been contested spaces where Americans
express social prejudices that otherwise remain publicly unspoken. (Though
the McKinney pool isn’t open to the general public, it was being used by a
resident to host a party with friends from outside the neighborhood, like
someone might do at their own neighborhood pool.) They provide insight
into the state of social relations in America, both past and present.
The earliest public pools were built in large northern cities during the late
19th and early 20th centuries. They served mostly poor and working-class
boys (both black and white), and reveal the class prejudices of the time. In
1910, for example, the proposal to build a large municipal pool in New
York’s Central Park generated intense opposition from the city’s middle and
upper classes, because it would attract large numbers of immigrant and
working-class kids into their oasis of genteel recreation. “I should consider it
disastrous if the only swimming pool belonging to the city was put [in
Central Park],” one critic told the New York Times. “It would attract all sorts
of undesirable people.” The paper agreed and recommended that municipal
pools be located underneath the Manhattan and Queensboro bridges.
These locations would have effectively secluded working-class swimmers,
protecting the city’s class-segregated social geography.
The design of pools and the social composition of swimmers changed
during the 1920s and ’30s, when cities across the country built large, resortlike swimming pools and allowed males and females to use them together
for the first time. In northern cities such as Chicago, New York and
Pittsburgh, gender integration brought about racial segregation. Public
officials and white swimmers now objected to the presence of black
Americans because they did not want black men interacting with white
women at such visually and physically intimate spaces. And so, throughout
the North, public pools became racially segregated during the interwar
In some cases, white swimmers imposed de facto segregation through
violence and intimidation. At Pittsburgh’s Highland Park Pool, for
example, white swimmers attacked black swimmers —
sometimes with rocks and clubs — to prevent them from
entering the pool. Police officers encouraged these attacks and
typically arrested the black victims, charging them with “inciting
to riot.” In attempting to explain why black swimmers were
being attacked at Highland Park Pool but not at other city pools,
the Pittsburgh Courier wrote: “The whole trouble seems to be
due to the way Highland Park Pool is operated. It is the only city
pool where men and women, girls and boys swim together. This
brings the sex question into t he pool and trouble is bound to
arise between the races.
The same type of trouble had no chance to arise at public
swimming pools in the South and Mason-Dixon line cities such as
St. Louis and Baltimore, because public officials mandated racial
segregation, explicitly barring blacks from entering “whites-only”
Across the country, public swimming pools were racially
desegregated after World War II, but that was met with
widespread opposition from whites that again exposed their
social prejudices. Southern cities typically shut down their public
pools rather than allow mixed-race swimming. In the North,
whites generally abandoned pools that became accessible to
blacks and retreated to ones located in thoroughly white
neighborhoods or established private club pools, where racial
discrimination was still legal.
Warren, Ohio, for example, was forced by a pending court
order to desegregate its municipal pool in 1948. The local
newspaper covered the first day of interracial swimming by
printing a front-page photo showing a dozen children waiting to
enter. The last two children in line were black; the caption read:
“Last one in the water is a monkey.” The racial antipathy
expressed in the newspaper was shared by many local whites,
who stopped using the pool when they realized black residents
intended to use it. Similarly, in 1962, several years after
Pittsburgh’s municipal pools were desegregated, a sign posted
outside a city pool still used exclusively by whites read “No dogs
or niggers allowed.” Public pools were racially desegregated, but
that did not mean blacks and whites started swimming together.
Even today, there are examples that things haven’t changed
that much. In 2009, 65 black and Latino campers from the
Creative Steps day camp in North Philadelphia arrived at the
Valley Swim Club in suburban Montgomery County to play for an
hour and a half. Camp director Althea Wright had paid the
private club $1,950 to use the facility Monday afternoons
throughout the summer. As the campers entered the water,
some club members reportedly pulled their children from the
pool and wondered aloud what all these black and Latino kids
were doing there. A few days later, the Valley Swim Club
canceled the lease agreement. When pressed to explain, the club
president stated, “there was concern [among the members] that
a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere
of the club.
We do not see this type of behavior in other public spaces
such as parks. Why do swimming pools bring out the worst in
Part of the answer has to do with the uniqueness of swimming pools as physical spaces. They are visually and socially intimate.
Swimmers gaze upon one another’s nearly naked bodies, lie in the sun next
to one another, navigate through crowded water and flirt. This type of
contact and interaction piques social anxieties and exposes the lack of trust
and understanding between people of different social classes.
Swimming pools have also been intensely contested because they are
places at which people build community and define the social boundaries of
community life. Swimming pools are primary summertime gathering places,
where many people come together (often for several hours), socialize, and
share a common space. Swimming with others in a pool means accepting
them as part of the same community precisely because the interaction is so
intimate and sociable. Conversely, excluding someone or some group from a
pool effectively defines them as social others—as excluded from the
For these reasons, swimming pools serve as useful barometers of social
relations. If we as a nation want to know how we relate to one another
across social lines, how we structure our communities socially, and how we
think about people who are socially different from ourselves, just look at our
swimming pools. The answer will be obvious.
In sum, the lazy hazy days of summer have been and are more
complicated than we may realize. Have a happy and inclusive summer.
Fondly submitted for the Diversity Committee

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What Are Minority Groups?

Diversity and minority status are words in such common use it is easy to lose track of their meaning or at least the meaning we wish to convey. When we speak of groups showing considerable diversity, implicitly, we are saying that there is a considerable mix of people. Here is the technical definition of diversity: “(1) the condition of having or being composed of differing elements; variety, especially the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization. (2) an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities; an instance of being diverse.

When we say an individual represents a minority we often are trying to say they represent a disenfranchised minority. That is not always the case but in discussing diversity issues it often is. Here is the discussion of the issue of minority status. Hopefully it will prove interesting and informative.

“What Are Minority Groups? Sociologist Louis Wirth (1945) defined a minority group as “any group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination.” The term minority connotes discrimination, and in its sociological use, the term subordinate group can be used interchangeably with the term minority, while the term dominant group is often substituted for the group that’s in the majority. These definitions correlate to the concept that the dominant group is that which holds the most power in a given society, while subordinate groups are those who lack power compared to the dominant group.

Note that being a numerical minority is not a characteristic of being a minority group; sometimes larger groups can be considered minority groups due to their lack of power. It is the lack of power that is the predominant characteristic of a minority, or subordinate group. For example, consider apartheid in South Africa, in which a numerical majority (the black inhabitants of the country) were exploited and oppressed by the white minority.

According to Charles Wagley and Marvin Harris (1958), a minority group is distinguished by five characteristics: (1) unequal treatment and less power over their lives, (2) distinguishing physical or cultural traits like skin color or language, (3) involuntary membership in the group, (4) awareness of subordination, and (5) high rate of in-group marriage. Additional examples of minority groups might include the LBGT community, religious practitioners whose faith is not widely practiced where they live, and people with disabilities.

Scapegoat theory, developed initially from Dollard’s (1939) Frustration-Aggression theory, suggests that the dominant group will displace its unfocused aggression onto a subordinate group. History has shown us many examples of the scapegoating of a subordinate group. An example from the last century is the way Adolf Hitler was able to blame the Jewish population for Germany’s social and economic problems. In the United States, recent immigrants have frequently been the scapegoat for the nation’s—or an individual’s—woes. Many states have enacted laws to disenfranchise immigrants; these laws are popular because they let the dominant group scapegoat a subordinate group.”

In closing which seems simple and straightforward in fact but may not be. Other concepts which may complicate our thinking but are important include the idea of insuring diversity and inclusion. Someone might say our group must be diverse. Is that an artificial concept and doesn’t really address the issues of full inclusion? Inclusion is another complex concept. To include suggests there is one who includes and is the subject of the inclusion. Basically we’re saying Group A will let Group B in. The implication is that the dominant social group has the power to let in a subordinate group. This perpetuates the power of the group which acts as gatekeeper. In the area of minority relations this is a very problematic concept. Without in anyway trying to totally elucidate the issue one needs to reflect on these complex issues and not assume that if we have fostered diversity and inclusion we have really addressed the problem of systemic racism at hand.


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African American Women Leaders in Social Work

What do you think of when you think of social work month? Social work month? There is one? Yes, and it’s in March. What do you think of when you think of professional social work? Do you think of a child being forcibly removed from a home? Do you think of well-meaning “dogooders” who just don’t get the life on the streets? Do you have other misconceptions and stereotypes which are rampant in our society?

In a world where we often feel helpless to deal with poverty, crime, and discrimination social workers have been seen as both part of the solution and part of the problem.

The truth is more complex. There are many sorts of social workers, the title is not universally protected. When you say someone is a social worker it may or may not mean they are a trained professional social worker. You have to look into the situation more closely. When you say the social worker and the court are acting in the best interest of the child there are often many legal and social barriers to effective action.

One classic stereotype is that social workers represent the values of the dominant culture acting to influence and control minority populations. In fact social work and social service have a long proud history in minority communities. In the following article we learn about African American leaders in social work whose impact has been positive and far-reaching. This is not a case where the dominant culture controls or judges minority communities. These leaders speak for minority communities with strength, resolve and commitment.

Honoring the African American Women Who Have Changed Social Work—(USC, School of Social Work, 2019)—From women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement to contemporary issues of race, class and beyond, these seven women have dedicated their lives to changing their communities—and the world.

1. Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954)—Mary Church Terrell accomplished many firsts in her lifetime. After graduating from Oberlin in 1884, she became the first African American woman to earn a college degree. She and her husband then moved to Washington, DC, where Terrell worked tirelessly toward women’s suffrage. Terrell was particularly dedicated to combating the exclusion of African American women from the women’s rights movement.

In l896, Terrell co-founded and served as president of the National Association of Colored Women, and then went on to become a charter member of the NAACP. Terrell fought for civil rights all the way to the end of her life. Her 1950 lawsuit against a restaurant that refused a serve her ultimately brought about the desegregation of restaurants in Washington, DC.

2. Thyra J. Edwards (1897-1953)—Thyra J. Edwards began her career as a school teacher in her hometown of Houston, Texas. After moving to Chicago, Illinois she shifted her focus to social work. Edwards held travel seminars around the world, focusing on at-risk populations and women in many cultural contexts. In 1953, she organized the first Jewish child care program to help Holocaust survivors. Edwards was also a skilled journalist, orator and union organizer, and served as the executive director of the Congress of American Women.

3. Dorothy Height (1912-2010)—Dorothy Height, called “the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement” by Barack Obama, was a key figure in some of the most groundbreaking developments of the 20th century. She joined the Harlem YWCA in 1937, where she would direct integration of its centers and establish its Center for Racial Justice in 1965. During her time at the YWCA, she began volunteering for the National Council of Negro Women, and became president of the organization in 1957.

Height played an instrumental role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington, and would go on to help found the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. Height was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.

4. Darlyne Bailey—Darlyne Bailey is a professor, dean emeritus, and director of the social justice initiative at Bryn Mawr College. She was one of the first women to attend Lafayette College, and went on to receive her master’s degree at Columbia University. Bailey helped start a community mental health center at Case Western Reserve University, where she later earned her doctorate. In 1994, she was appointed Dean of the Mandel School for Applied Social Sciences at Case Western.

Bailey was recently honored by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) as a Social Worker Pioneer. Her work emphasizes a multidisciplinary, multicultural approach to health and human services, as well as leadership development and organizational behavior.

5. Ruby Gourdine—Now a professor at Howard University, Ruby Gourdine began her career as a probation officer in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of Richmond, Virginia, where she became interested in issues of race and child welfare. After receiving her master’s degree at the University of Atlanta, she became the first professional social worker hired by the Roxbury Children’s Center, where she would develop their adoption program.

Gourdine was then recruited by the Spaulding Group to develop special needs adoption programs in Washington, DC. Her work on behalf of children with disabilities led her to become the State Supervisor for Social Work Services in the DC public school system.

6. Mildred Joyner—Mildred Joyner has been a community activist and a pioneer in teaching, writing and researching gerontology and multicultural issues for 30 years. She began her career as a child welfare worker in the Chester County Children, Youth and Families Agency in Pennsylvania. She went on to establish the first Master of Social Work program in the Pennsylvania state system of higher education.

Joyner has served as a leading member of every social work professional organization, and was named a Social Work Pioneer by the NASW. In 2005, the Mit Joyner Gerontology Leadership Award was created in her honor.

7. Ruth McRoy—Following 25 years of teaching at the University of Texas at Austin, Ruth McRoy now directs the RISE (Research and Innovations in Social, Economic, & Environmental Equity) Program at Boston College. Her research focuses on the history and philosophy of American social welfare, as well as issues surrounding adoption and foster case. McRoy also contributes to the AdoptUSKids project, studying barriers to special needs adoptions.

McRoy has published over 100 articles and 12 books, and has received many honors in her lifetime, including being selected as a fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare in 2010.

In closing, let us celebrate not only February as Black History Month but March as Social Work Month and Women’s History Month, remembering that social work leadership has come from minority and non-minority communities with a great commitment to the welfare of all.

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In Honor of Black History Month: Sojourner Truth speaking for the freedom of African Americans, African American women and all women

One of the greatest historic figures in America is clearly
Sojourner Truth. She spoke not only for the freedom of
African Americans and African American women, but she also spoke for the
freedom of all women. The issues she raised which certainly impacted the
African American community most directly, were really universal issues of
freedom and control of oneself and one’s body and one’s life.
Here is a brief excerpt from the Wikipedia article detailing her life and
legacy. We can see that her work is not yet done. All of
humankind still deals with the indignities of racism, subjugation
of women and the inequities which the history of slavery in
America so clearly demonstrates.
Sojourner Truth (born Isabella [Belle] Baumfree; c. 1797–
November 26, 1883) was an African American abolitionist and
women’s rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in
Swartekill, Ulster County, New York, but escaped with her infant
daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son in
1828, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white
She gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 after she became
convinced that God had called her to leave the city and go into the
countryside “testifying the hope that was in her”. Her best-known speech
was delivered extemporaneously, in 1851, at the Ohio Women’s Rights
Convention in Akron, Ohio. The speech became widely known during the
Civil War by the title “Ain’t I a Woman?,” a variation of the original speech
re-written by someone else using a stereotypical Southern dialect; whereas
Sojourner Truth was from New York and grew up speaking Dutch as her first
language. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit black troops for the
Union Army; after the war, she tried unsuccessfully to secure land grants
from the federal government for former slaves (summarized as the promise
of Forty acres and a mule).
In 2014, Truth was included in Smithsonian magazine’s list of the “100
Most Significant Americans of All Time”.
Truth was one of the 10 or 12 children born to James and Elizabeth
Baumfree (or Bomefree). Colonel Hardenbergh bought James and Elizabeth
Baumfree from slave traders and kept their family at his estate in a big hilly
area called by the Dutch name Swartekill (just north of present-day Rifton),
in the town of Esopus, New York, 95 miles (153 km) north of New York City.
Charles Hardenbergh inherited his father’s estate and continued to enslave
people as a part of that estate’s property.
When Charles Hardenbergh died in 1806, nine-year-old Truth (known as
Belle), was sold at an auction with a flock of sheep for $100 to John Neely,
near Kingston, New York. Until that time, Truth spoke only Dutch. She later
described Neely as cruel and harsh, relating how he beat her daily and once
even with a bundle of rods. Neely sold her in 1808, for $105, to Martinus
Schryver of Port Ewen, a tavern keeper, who owned her for 18 months.
Schryver sold her in 1810 to John Dumont of West Park, New York. Although
this fourth owner was kindly disposed toward her, considerable tension
existed between Truth and Dumont’s wife, Elizabeth Waring Dumont, who
harassed her and made her life more difficult.
In around 1815, Truth met and fell in love with an enslaved man named
Robert from a neighboring farm. Robert’s owner (Charles Catton, Jr., a
Diversity—Cindy Goldberg, Co-Chair landscape painter) forbade their relationship; he did not want the people he enslaved to have children with people he was not
enslaving, because he would not own the children. One day
Robert sneaked over to see Truth. When Catton and his son found
him, they savagely beat Robert until Dumont finally intervened.
Truth never saw Robert again after that day and he died a few
years later. The experience haunted Truth throughout her life.
Truth eventually married an older enslaved man named Thomas.
She bore five children: James, her firstborn, who died in
childhood, Diana (1815), the result of a rape by either Robert or
John Dumont, and Peter (1821), Elizabeth (1825), and Sophia (ca.
1826), all born after she and Thomas united.
In 1799, the state of New York began to legislate the abolition
of slavery, although the process of emancipating those people
enslaved in New York was not complete until July 4, 1827. Dumont
had promised to grant Truth her freedom a year before the state
emancipation, “if she would do well and be faithful.” However, he
changed his mind, claiming a hand injury had made her less
productive. She was infuriated but continued working, spinning
100 pounds of wool, to satisfy her sense of obligation to him.
Late in 1826, Truth escaped to freedom with her infant
daughter, Sophia. She had to leave her other children behind
because they were not legally freed in the emancipation order
until they had served as bound servants into their twenties. She
later said “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked
off, believing that to be all right.”
She found her way to the home of Isaac and Maria Van
Wagenen in New Paltz, who took her and her baby in. Isaac
offered to buy her services for the remainder of the year (until the
state’s emancipation took effect), which Dumont accepted for
$20. She lived there until the New York State Emancipation Act
was approved a year later.
Truth learned that her son Peter, then five years old, had been
sold illegally by Dumont to an owner in Alabama. With the help of
the Van Wagenens, she took the issue to court and in 1828, after
months of legal proceedings, she got back her son, who had been
abused by those who were enslaving him. Truth became one of
the first black women to go to court against a white man and win
the case.
Truth had a life-changing religious experience during her stay
with the Van Wagenens, and became a devout Christian. In 1829
she moved with her son Peter to New York City, where she
worked as a housekeeper for Elijah Pierson, a Christian evangelist.
While in New York, she befriended Mary Simpson, a grocer on
John Street who claimed she had once been enslaved by George
Washington. They shared an interest in charity for the poor and
became intimate friends. In 1832, she met Robert Matthews, also
known as Prophet Matthias, and went to work for him as a
housekeeper at the Matthias Kingdom communal colony. Elijah
Pierson died, and Robert Matthews and Truth were accused of
stealing from and poisoning him. Both were acquitted of the
murder, though Matthews was convicted of lesser crimes, served
time, and moved west.
In 1839, Truth’s son Peter took a job on a whaling ship called
the Zone of Nantucket. From 1840 to 1841, she received three
letters from him, though in his third letter he told her he had sent
five. Peter said he also never received any of her letters. When the
ship returned to port in 1842, Peter was not on board and Truth
never heard from him again.

The year 1843 was a turning point for Truth. She became a
Methodist, and on June 1, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth.
She told her friends: “The Spirit calls me, and I must go” and left to
make her way travelling and preaching about the abolition of slavery.
At that time, Truth began attending Millerite Adventist camp meetings.
However, that did not last since Jesus failed to appear in 1843 and
then again in 1844. Like many others disappointed, Truth distanced
herself from her Millerite friends for a while.
In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and
Industry in Northampton, Massachusetts. Founded by abolitionists, the
organization supported women’s rights and religious tolerance as well
as pacifism. There were, in its four-and-a-half year history, a total of
240 members, though no more than 120 at any one time. They lived
on 470 acres (1.9 km2) raising livestock, running a sawmill, a gristmill,
and a silk factory. While there, Truth met William Lloyd Garrison,
Frederick Douglass, and David Ruggles. In 1846, the group disbanded,
unable to support itself. In 1845, she joined the household of George
Benson, the brother-in-law of William Lloyd Garrison. In 1849, she
visited John Dumont before he moved west.
Truth started dictating her memoirs to her friend Olive Gilbert, and
in 1850 William Lloyd Garrison privately published her book, The
Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. That same year, she
purchased a home in what would become the village of Florence in
Northampton for $300, and spoke at the first National Women’s Rights
Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1854, with proceeds from
sales of the Narrative and cartes-de-visite titled “I sell the shadow to
support the substance,” she paid off the mortgage held by her friend
from the Community, Samuel L. Hill.
Fondly submitted for the Diversity Committee

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When We Say Happy Holidays

Now and again when I wish someone Happy Holidays
they reply in return wishing me happiness during their
special celebration. This is much appreciated but we can
also remember the holiday season is a complex time full of
many ways of experiencing the joy of the winter season. I
have enjoyed learning about Kwanzaa and now share parts of this piece
from the History Channel online to enrich our knowledge of yet another way
to experience the joy of family and community.
Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at
California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966.
After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga searched for ways
to bring African Americans together as a community. He founded US,
a cultural organization, and started to research African “first
fruit” (harvest) celebrations. Karenga combined aspects of several
different harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and
those of the Zulu, to form the basis of Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa History
The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya
kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Each family celebrates
Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and
dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large
traditional meal. On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and
a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder), then
one of the seven principles is discussed. The principles, called the
Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili) are values of African culture
which contribute to building and reinforcing community among
African Americans. Kwanzaa also has seven basic symbols which
represent values and concepts reflective of African culture. An
African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31.
Did you know? The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba are a set of
ideals created by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Each day of Kwanzaa
emphasizes a different principle. The candle-lighting ceremony each
evening provides the opportunity to gather and discuss the meaning
of Kwanzaa. The first night, the black candle in the center is lit (and
the principle of umoja/unity is discussed). One candle is lit each
evening and the appropriate principle is discussed.
Seven Principles
The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba are a set of ideals created by
Dr. Maulana Karenga. Each day of Kwanzaa emphasizes a different
Unity:Umoja (oo–MO–jah)—To strive for and maintain unity in
the family, community, nation, and race.
Self-determination: Kujichagulia (koo–gee–cha–goo–LEE–yah)—
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak
for ourselves.
Collective Work and Responsibility: Ujima (oo–GEE–mah)—To
build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s
and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
Cooperative Economics: Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah)—To build and
maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit
from them together.
Purpose: Nia (nee–YAH)—To make our collective vocation the
building and developing of our community in order to restore our
Diversity—Cindy Goldberg, Co-Chair people to their traditional greatness.
Creativity: Kuumba (koo–OOM–bah)—To do always as
much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our
community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited
Faith: Imani (ee–MAH–nee)—To believe with all our
heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders,
and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Seven Symbols
The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba are a set of ideals
created by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Each day of Kwanzaa
emphasizes a different principle.
Mazao, the crops (fruits, nuts, and vegetables)—
Symbolizes work and the basis of the holiday. It represents
the historical foundation for Kwanzaa, the gathering of the
people that is patterned after African harvest festivals in
which joy, sharing, unity, and thanksgiving are the fruits of
collective planning and work. Since the family is the basic
social and economic center of every civilization, the
celebration bonded family members, reaffirming their
commitment and responsibility to each other.
Mkeka: Place Mat—The mkeka, made from straw or
cloth, comes directly from Africa and expresses history,
culture, and tradition. It symbolizes the historical and
traditional foundation for us to stand on and build our lives
because today stands on our yesterdays, just as the other
symbols stand on the mkeka.
Vibunzi: Ear of Corn—The stalk of corn represents
fertility and symbolizes that through the reproduction of
children, the future hopes of the family are brought to life.
One ear is called vibunzi, and two or more ears are called
mihindi. Each ear symbolizes a child in the family, and thus
one ear is placed on the mkeka for each child in the family.
Mishumaa Saba: The Seven Candles—Candles are
ceremonial objects with two primary purposes: to re-create
symbolically the sun’s power and to provide light. The
celebration of fire through candle burning is not limited to
one particular group or country; it occurs everywhere.
Mishumaa saba are the seven candles: three red, three
green, and one black. The back candle symbolizes Umoja
(unity), the basis of success, and is lit on December 26. The
three green candles, representing Nia, Ujima, and Imani, are
placed to the right of the Umoja candle, while the three red
candles, representing Kujichagulia, Ujamaa, and Kuumba,
are placed to the left of it. During Kwanzaa, one candle,
representing one principle, is lit each day. Then the other
candles are relit to give off more light and vision.
Kinara: The Candleholder—The kinara is the center of
the Kwanzaa setting and represents the original stalk from
which we came: our ancestry. The kinara can be any shape–
straight lines, semicircles, or spirals–as long as the seven
candles are separate and distinct, like a candelabra. Kinaras
are made from all kinds of materials, and many celebrants
create their own from fallen branches, wood, or other
natural materials. The kinara symbolizes the ancestors, who
were once earth bound; understand the problems of human
life; and are willing to protect their progeny from danger,
evil, and mistakes.
Kikombe Cha Umoja: The Unity Cup—The kikombe cha
umoja is a special cup that is used to perform the libation
(tambiko) ritual during the Karamu feast on the sixth day of
Kwanzaa. In many African societies libations are poured for the
living dead whose souls stay with the earth they tilled. The Ibo
of Nigeria believe that to drink the last portion of a libation is to
invite the wrath of the spirits and the ancestors; consequently,
the last part of the libation belongs to the ancestors. During the
Karamu feast, the kikombe cha umoja is passed to family
members and guests, who drink from it to promote unity. Then,
the eldest person present pours the libation (tambiko), usually
water, juice, or wine, in the direction of the four winds – north,
south, east, and west–to honor the ancestors. The eldest asks
the gods and ancestors to share in the festivities and, in return,
to bless all the people who are not at the gathering.
Zawadi: Gifts—When we celebrate Imani on the seventh day
of Kwanzaa, we give meaningful zawadi (gifts) to encourage
growth, self-determination, achievement, and success. We
exchange the gifts with members of our immediate family,
especially the children, to promote or reward accomplishments
and commitments kept, as well as with our guests. Handmade
gifts are encouraged to promote self-determination, purpose,
and creativity and to avoid the chaos of shopping and
conspicuous consumption during the December holiday season.
Excerpted from the book: The Complete Kwanzaa Celebrating
Our Cultural Harvest. Copyright 1995 by Dorothy Winbush Riley.
Fondly submitted for the Diversity Committee

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Looking forward to Thanksgiving and remembering Christmas will soon be on the way.

We have written about the winter holidays which
often focus on bringing families and friends together
to share food and caring in December and January. Thanksgiving is
easy to overlook in today’s world. Already we see Halloween
decorations, a sparse number of Thanksgiving decorations and yes,
the Christmas decorations are in at the stores. Our diversity article
therefore will focus on Thanksgiving before it fades into obscurity. It
is a complex holiday with images of warmth, love and sharing. The
traditional image of a Norman Rockwell painting, is a loving family
gathered around the presentation of the Thanksgiving feast.
There is a debate as to how much of the history of Thanksgiving is
fanciful and romanticized. Below from the History Channel is a brief
history which brings up some of the more complex issues including
the settlers’ relationships with the native people of The Americas. It
is interesting to read and wonder how much we have made
palatable the history of Thanksgiving not just the Thanksgiving
From the History Channel online:

“Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States, and
Thanksgiving 2018 occurs on Thursday, November 22. In 1621, the
Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn
harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first
Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two
centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual
colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil
War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national
Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left
Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers—an assortment of
religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely
practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of
prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous
and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped
anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended
destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the
Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they
are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village
at Plymouth.
Did you know? Lobster, seal and swans were on the Pilgrims’ menu.
Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained
on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and
outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the Mayflower’s
original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England
spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they
received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Indian who greeted
them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native
American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been
kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before
escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory
expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition
and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple
trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He
also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the
Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more
than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole
examples of harmony between European colonists and
Native Americans.
In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest
proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a
celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling
colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag
chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “first
Thanksgiving”—although the Pilgrims themselves may not
have used the term at the time—the festival lasted for three
days. While no record exists of the historic banquet’s exact
menu, the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow wrote in his
journal that Governor Bradford sent four men on a
“fowling” mission in preparation for the event, and that the
Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer. Historians
have suggested that many of the dishes were likely prepared
using traditional Native American spices and cooking
methods. Because the Pilgrims had no oven and the
Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621,
the meal did not feature pies, cakes or other desserts, which
have become a hallmark of contemporary celebrations.
Thanksgiving Becomes an
Official Holiday–
Pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving celebration in
1623 to mark the end of a long drought that had threatened
the year’s harvest and prompted Governor Bradford to call
for a religious fast. Days of fasting and thanksgiving on an
annual or occasional basis became common practice in other
New England settlements as well. During the American
Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or
more days of thanksgiving a year, and in 1789 George
Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by
the national government of the United States; in it, he
called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the
happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence and
the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His
successors John Adams and James Madison also designated
days of thanks during their presidencies.
In 1817, New York became the first of several states to officially
adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday; each celebrated it on a
different day, however, and the American South remained largely
unfamiliar with the tradition. In 1827, the noted magazine editor
and prolific writer Sarah Josepha Hale—author, among countless
other things, of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”—
launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national
holiday. For 36 years, she published numerous editorials and sent
scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents and other
politicians. Abraham Lincoln finally heeded her request in 1863, at
the height of the Civil War, in a proclamation entreating all
Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those
who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the
lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” He
scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day every year until 1939, when Franklin D.
Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail
sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s plan, known derisively
as Franksgiving, was met with passionate opposition, and in 1941 the
president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth
Thursday in November.
In many American households, the Thanksgiving celebration has lost
much of its original religious significance; instead, it now centers on
cooking and sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends. Turkey, a
Thanksgiving staple so ubiquitous it has become all but synonymous
with the holiday, may or may not have been on offer when the Pilgrims
hosted the inaugural feast in 1621. Today, however, nearly 90 percent
of Americans eat the bird—whether roasted, baked or deep-fried—on
Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation. Other
traditional foods include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce
and pumpkin pie. Volunteering is a common Thanksgiving Day activity,
and communities often hold food drives and host free dinners for the
less fortunate.
Parades have also become an integral part of the holiday in cities
and towns across the United States. Presented by Macy’s department
store since 1924, New York City’s Thanksgiving Day parade is the
largest and most famous, attracting some 2 to 3 million spectators
along its 2.5-mile route and drawing an enormous television audience.
It typically features marching bands, performers, elaborate floats
conveying various celebrities and giant balloons shaped like cartoon
Beginning in the mid-20th century and perhaps even earlier, the
president of the United States has “pardoned” one or two
Thanksgiving turkeys each year, sparing the birds from slaughter and
sending them to a farm for retirement. A number of U.S. governors
also perform the annual turkey pardoning ritual. ” And so, perhaps, we are dealing with a bit of our national guilt.
Fondly for The Diversity Committee who wishes you all a joyous and meaningful holiday season!


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