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Across Black America Week of Aug. 3, 2017



Greene County celebrated its annual Freedom Day Festival on July 29, with Black leaders looking two years down the road when they’ll have something really special to salute, reports the Montgomery Advertiser. That’s when they mark the 50th anniversary of Black political control in a county where the White minority had always ruled. Greene is Alabama’s smallest county with 8,422 residents. Racially, Blacks represent 80.6 percent of the population. “The question was whether Blacks could control themselves politically and that has been answered convincingly,” said activist Wendell Paris who was the guest speaker at the event. He said Black candidates who registered for political office in the late 1960s showed “real courage” at a time when White officials tried their best to maintain minority control. Saturday’s celebration marked the 48th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act that eliminated unfair practices in Alabama elections as well as states across the country. Paris, a dual citizen in Alabama and Mississippi, has been an outspoken activist for many years and has kept tabs on developments in both states.



Latino and Black state lawmakers are calling on gubernatorial candidates to publicly state their opinion about affirmative action, injecting into the 2018 contest a potentially volatile racial issue that previously splintered California Democrats, reports the Los Angeles Times. “Each of our caucuses, as you may know, is driven by a mission to further the interests of all Californians through advocacy for programs and policies that promote diversity and empowerment. To that end, we would appreciate your candid thoughts and official position on affirmative action and related topics,” wrote state Sen. Ben Hueso and state Assemblyman Chris Holden, the chairmen of the Latino and Black legislative caucuses respectively, to the six most prominent gubernatorial candidates. The candidates are being asked to describe their views on affirmative action, their thoughts on the ramifications of the 1996 law that bans its use at publicly funded colleges and universities, their track record on diversity and equity efforts, and specific proposals they would try to enact on such matters in schools, state government, businesses and nonprofits, if elected governor. A 2003 report by the University of California found that implementing race-neutral admissions policies led to a “substantial decline” in the proportion of Black, Latino and American Indian students entering the system’s most selective institutions. The question raises a 2014 effort led by Latino and Black Democratic members of the Legislature to repeal the ban on affirmative action. While polling shows that Democratic voters tend to favor efforts to increase opportunities for underrepresented minorities, schisms emerged on racial lines in the party when state lawmakers tried to repeal the ban.


A Black waitress working a private event in Georgia was infuriated when a guest drew a swastika on a menu and handed it to her during her shift. Shelley Sidney said she was waiting on a private party at Antica Posta last week when the incident occurred. “I get to the last person in the party, and they give me a menu that has a swastika drawn on it,” Sidney told WSB-TV. Immediately after she saw the hateful message, Sidney told her boss and restaurant owner Marco Betti about the drawing and that she wanted him to kick out the guest. However, Betti instead cited freedom of speech and said he could not remove them. “I was hurt and frustrated,” Sidney told WSB. Sidney returned to work the event, where she said she also heard a guest use the n-word and other derogatory comments. “I was really in tears when I was overhearing the conversations, the private conversations of just how horrible Black people are, immigrants are, gay people are,” Sidney told WSB. Sidney went back to Betti and told him she would no longer serve the guests. The restaurant’s attorney, Manny Arora, said Betti acknowledged her request and put someone else on the party. During the event, other staff members said they saw books displayed in the room and researched the author who was hosting the event. As it turns out, the author is known Holocaust denier David Irving.


Officials say a fire at a small predominantly Black church near Mandeville was caused by arson, reports the Associated Press. The fire occurred at the New Life Bible Center in the part of the city known as Old Mandeville about 9 a.m. July 24. The Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s chief deputy, Brant Thompson, says a passer-by noticed smoke engulfing the building and reported the fire. No injuries were reported, but Thompson says three people were sleeping inside. One person was awakened by a noise and alerted the others. Officials say the church has reported the theft of altar money in the last two months. Nothing was stolen in the fire, but investigators found signs of forced entry. Thompson says investigators are reviewing video surveillance footage from nearby to identify a suspect.


Multiple customers of the Spot Bar and Grill in Roseville allege the bar has charged Black people a cover to enter, but not White people. And they say the bar’s staff has discriminated against African-Americans in other ways as well. The issue spread across social media over the weekend after Jonas Grabill posted about his experience at the bar on Facebook. The bar denies that it charges different rates for different customers. “We do not believe it’s true whatsoever that that statement was made,” the Spot owner Robert Buzar told Metro Times. “It’s a zero-tolerance policy for anything like that. We have a very diverse crowd.” But Grabill told the Metro Times that he and his girlfriend went to the bar around 1:30 a.m. to give a birthday gift to a friend. He says a group of four Black people in front of them were charged cover, so Grabill pulled out his wallet. But when they asked the White bouncer about the cover charge, the bouncer replied “It’s free if you’re White,” Grabill alleges. The bouncer added, “Don’t tell anybody.” Grabill says he paused and he and his girlfriend exchanged concerned glances, but entered anyway.

New York

Dozens of residents from Brooklyn’s gentrifying Crown Heights neighborhood greeted a restaurant—whose White owner advertised a bullet hole-strewn decor and 40 oz  rosé bottles in paper bags—with protests and demands for a change in business practices on July 22, reports ColorLinescom. Residents gathered outside the Summerhill restaurant to protest owner Becca Brennan’s marketing, which earned criticism for its tone-deaf use of Black poverty stereotypes. The action reportedly emerged in specific response to a press release that Brennan emailed to media on July 17. The release references the building’s origins as a bodega “with a rumored backroom illegal gun shop,” original “bullet hole-ridden wall” and a variety of craft cocktails and beers. Brennan encountered additional accusations of racism and classism for promotions that featured a picture of a $12 cocktail in front of the aforementioned wall and plans to sell 40 oz rosé bottles—the same size as inexpensive malt liquor bottles marketed to low-income Black communities—in paper bags. Brennan is reportedly a White former corporate tax attorney and transplant from Toronto.

Sag Harbor Hills and the neighboring districts of Ninevah Beach and Azurest are unique among beach communities in the Hamptons, the collection of affluent towns on the eastern end of New York’s Long Island long known for attracting wealthy summer residents. Founded in the village of Sag Harbor after World War II, in an era of deep segregation in the United States, they were home to a robust African American population, reports the Washington Post. Developers offered parcels of land in parched areas of the village for just a few hundred dollars or more. Working-class Black families purchased much of the land, eventually creating several communities linked by dirt roads along Route 114. Though their roots are working class, these neighborhoods of modest ranch houses and bungalows today are a haven for middle-class and upper middle-class Black families, populated by doctors and lawyers, artists and academics. They rank as the oldest African-American developments in the Hamptons and are among a handful of beach communities in the United States with African-American roots. The racial makeup of the districts kept home prices down for decades with many White buyers choosing to live in other parts of the village. Yet that is changing as home prices in the Hamptons continue to rise, says Dianne McMillan Brannen, a broker with Douglas Elliman who has lived in Ninevah for more than 25 years. “Investors are being lured to these areas now and are looking for bargains,” she says. She estimates that about a dozen homes sold to investors last summer, up from four or five the previous year. “We welcome investment, but there is a real concern that these areas will lose the cultural identity that made them distinctive.”



Supporters of the late Sam DuBose say they will not go away and will not be silent, reported USA Today. On a dangerously hot and humid Saturday afternoon last month, about 100 protesters from the Countdown to Conviction Coalition marched from Fountain Square to Freedom Way at the Banks. There, about an hour before a Reds game at Great American Ball Park, they stopped vehicle traffic and clogged sidewalks in front of downtown bars and restaurants. The tactic was the same one protesters employed July 8 in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. The rally unfolded over four days after Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced that he would not try Ray Tensing a third time. The former University of Cincinnati police officer faced murder and voluntary manslaughter charges for the July 2015 shooting death of DuBose, an unarmed Black motorist. Tensing pulled over DuBose in Mount Auburn for a missing front license plate.

Collaborative policing in Cincinnati that has worked in the past to unite the community and officers who serve it is “in danger” after recent actions by the police union and its president, says the leader of a group of African-American officers, reports Fox 19 News. Officer Eddie Hawkins, president of the Sentinel Police Association, released a statement July 25 saying that he also has become troubled by actions of the union that represents Cincinnati police and its leader, one he says ignores the “plight and feelings of the Black officers he is supposed to serve.” FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) President Sgt. Dan Hils announced Tuesday morning union members passed and instructed Hils to withdraw from participating in an ongoing update to the city’s historic Collaborative Agreement, the cornerstone of police reforms following the 2001 riots. Hils also sparked controversy and received threats via social media over the weekend after posting a message to Black Lives Matter on the police union’s Facebook page. Hils’ listed the number of African Americans killed so far this year, noting that none died in police interventions. He also asked Black Lives Matter to support police trying to solve the slayings. “I am disturbed by recent events involving the FOP. I reject Dan Hils’ inappropriate post referring to Black on Black crime, which amounted to telling the Black community that they cannot be upset about police involved shootings until every single homicide involving a Black victim is resolved,” Hawkins wrote. “The Sentinel Police Association is a proud organization,” he said, “and I fully support their right to express their first Amendment right of freedom of speech.”


For 63 mostly uninterrupted years, the rhythms of Elmore Nickleberry’s life have included the rumbles and roars of Memphis’s sanitation trucks. Even now, at 85 and the longest-tenured employee in the city’s history, Nickleberry, who is Black, still runs a downtown route until 3 a.m, reports the New York Times. And in the darkness, he cannot help but reflect during collections across the street from the National Civil Rights Museum. “Every night I go down there, I see someone taking pictures,” said Nickleberry, one of the hundreds of Black sanitation men who mounted a strike in 1968 to protest working conditions in a Southern city that was deeply split by race. “And that does something to me when I think about what happened.” But he did not have any real certainty about his retirement nest egg until this month, when the city said it intended to award tax-free grants of $50,000 each to Nickleberry and the 13 other surviving strikers—an improvised fix to one of the most bitter legacies of Memphis’s labor history. “They’ve been saying they didn’t have no money, so I didn’t think it was ever going to happen,” Nickleberry said. “I was shocked.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was involved in the strike effort and addressed an estimated 25,000 people in Memphis in March 1968. After an outbreak of violence during a later visit, he nearly chose not to return—but he did and delivered his heralded “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech on April 3. He was assassinated the next evening, shortly after he had been briefed on plans for another mass demonstration. The strike ended soon after the death of Dr. King, who was shot at the site now occupied by the National Civil Rights Museum.



In a viral Twitter video, Houston/Harris County Precinct One constable deputy Shane Cates is seen trying to arrest 20-year-old Marlin Gipson after seeing him go from house to house putting his lawn service business cards in residents’ doors, reports USA Today. Gipson is a student at Blinn College in Houston, majoring in business accounting and running his own lawn service, D&M Lawn Services. He and his brothers, Marcus Gipson and Devontae Williams, were mowing lawns in their neighborhood when they were approached by Cates. In the video, Gipson explains to Deputy Cates that he and his brothers have a lawn service business and were mowing lawns and passing out their business cards. Cates asks for Gipson’s ID. Gipson says he does not have it on him, so Cates takes down his name and date of birth — allegedly, as it later turned out, false information. When Gipson asks for Cates’ name and information in return, Cates pulls out handcuffs in an attempt to arrest him. Gipson immediately backs away. “If I don’t do something about it, he’s going to keep doing this and somebody’s going to get hurt,” Gipson can be heard saying in the video. Gipson was arrested and charged with evading arrest and failure to identify himself. When he was taken into custody and fingerprinted, it was determined there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest for an assault in 2015 and two pending cases of resisting arrest in April 2017, Harris County Precinct One noted. An internal affairs complaint has been filed against the officers involved in the incident.


Marchelle Tigner is on a mission: to train at least 1 million women how to shoot a firearm. She had spent no time around guns before joining the National Guard. Now, as a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, she wants to give other women of color the training she hadn’t had. “It’s important, especially for Black women, to learn how to shoot,” Tigner said, noting that Black women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence. “We need to learn how to defend ourselves.” It’s hard to find definitive statistics on gun ownership, but a study by the Pew Research Center released this month indicated that just 16 percent of “non-White women” identified themselves as gun owners, compared with about 25 percent of White women. Other Pew surveys in recent years have shown a growing acceptance of firearms among African-Americans: In 2012, one found that less than a third of Black households viewed gun ownership as positive; three years later, that number had jumped. By then, 59 percent of Black families saw owning guns as a necessity. A recent study by gun-rights advocate and researcher John Lott showed that Black women outpaced other races and genders in securing concealed carry permits between 2000 and 2016 in Texas, one of the few states that keep detailed demographic information. Philip Smith founded the National African American Gun Association in 2012 during Black History Month to spread the word that gun ownership was not something reserved.  He figured it would ultimately attract about 300 members, a number achieved in its first month. It now boasts 20,000 members in 30 chapters across the country.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) announced last week that it has teamed up with Airbnb, the home-sharing company beleaguered by discrimination complaints, to expand the service to more minority communities, reports the Washington Post. The century-old civil rights organization touted the move as a “landmark partnership” that it hopes will spread the economic benefits of tourism. “For too long, Black people and other communities of color have faced barriers to access new technology and innovations,” said Derrick Johnson, interim president and CEO of the NAACP.  Johnson praised Airbnb’s commitment to bringing jobs and other economic opportunities to Black communities, calling it a “tremendous step in the right direction for Silicon Valley to opens its doors to African Americans and other communities. Our fastest-growing communities across major U.S. cities are in communities of color and we’ve seen how home sharing is an economic lifeline for families.” As part of the partnership, announced at the NAACP’s convention in Baltimore, local NAACP chapters will work with Airbnb to launch a community campaign educating more minorities on the economic benefits of hosting and bringing travelers to their neighborhoods. Airbnb has committed to sharing 20 percent of its earnings from the new community outreach efforts with the NAACP. The company has also committed to increasing the diversity of its U.S. employees from 9.6 percent to 11 percent by the end of the year, with guidance by the NAACP.

Wall Street’s top bosses have pledged for years to boost diversity in their ranks. But the number of Black people at some of the biggest U.S. banks is going in reverse, reports Bloomberg. At JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the percentage of senior Black executives and managers fell over the past five years, according to U.S. workforce data compiled by Bloomberg. They make up no more than 2.6 percent of top positions at the three banks, lower than across corporate America, where the percentage is slightly better and ticking up. Black diversity is also going backward for all U.S. employees at JPMorgan, Citigroup and Bank of America Corp., where the percentage of Black workers slipped to 13.1 percent from 15.2 percent in 2012. All three lag in the active U.S. workforce, which was 14.8 percent Black in 2015, the most recent year for which nationwide data is available. There’s no single explanation for what’s happened or what it will take for the country’s biggest banks to live up to their promises. Current and former Black bankers and academics who study them point to Wall Street’s unwillingness or inability to make changes. They don’t see enough consistency or creativity about hiring new people and helping them thrive in an industry where few Black bankers have made it to the top. “Look, we can call it not caring, we can call it not having the will, we can call it not having incentives, not having accountability,” said Martin Davidson, a professor of leadership at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business who has studied Wall Street’s diversity efforts. “Whatever you want to call it, the bottom line is there’s not enough energy and resources being put into figuring out how to catalyze this Black talent.” Some of the six largest U.S. banks showed improvement in the upper ranks. At Bank of America, Black executives rose to 3.7 percent last year from 3.4 percent in 2012. Morgan Stanley, the only one of the firms that hasn’t released 2016 data, reported a slight improvement to 1.8 percent in 2015, still well below the U.S. level. The biggest jump was at Wells Fargo and Co., where Black executives rose to 8 percent of top managers last year from 2 percent in 2012.

Compiled by Carol Ozemhoya.