On this day in Amrican history, August 15, 1963 — Nine Years After Brown v. Board, Virginia Teenagers Jailed For Protesting Segregated Public Education

On August 15, 1963, thirty-two teenaged protestors who challenged the Prince Edward County School Board’s refusal to integrate their public school system were released from jail. The juveniles had been arrested in two separate demonstrations held in the town of Farmville during the prior three weeks. When released to the custody of their parents, they were ordered to observe a 10:00 p.m. curfew, refrain from disorderly conduct, and “attend school if such be possible.” In fact, the impossibility of attending school was at the heart of their protest.

Five years before, a federal appeals court had ordered Prince Edward County to desegregate its all-white public high school by September 1959 in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Instead, county officials refused to fund the local schools and became the only jurisdiction in the country without a public school system.

Though the county was 40 percent black by 1960, all elected officials were white and political power within the black community was very limited. Economic power was also racially distributed, as black workers earned less than half of their white counterparts, and many black families lived in poverty. As a result, the end of county public education disproportionately harmed black students, as white leaders were quick to establish a segregated private school system for local white students. Black students who were able left town to live with friends and family in other communities and attend school there; hundreds of others remained in Prince Edward County with no means of attending formal school.

Beginning in June 1963, members of the NAACP in Prince Edward County organized a campaign to confront the racial inequality in their education system through direct action. Led by the Revered Francis J. Griffin, teen volunteers from surrounding communities and members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) mobilized to plan peaceful demonstrations focused on the city’s business district. Staging sit-ins, try-ins, and attempts to integrate churches that were often met with violence and arrests, the volunteers in the “Program of Action” campaign labored for months, facing retaliation, threats, and arrest.

On August 14, 1963, the day before the arrested teens were released from detention, Governor Harrison announced the creation of the Prince Edward County Free School Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating an integrated school system in the county. The resulting “free schools” did not accomplish integrated education, but temporarily filled the schooling void by providing instruction to local black students. In May 1964, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Prince Edward County’s discontinuation of public education was unconstitutional, and the public schools reopened that September.

“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.  America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans.  The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood.  EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.

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On this day in American history, August 14, 1908 — Race Riot Erupts in Springfield, Illinois

On August 14, 1908, a mob of white citizens gathered at the local jail in Springfield, Illinois, planning to lynch two black men, George Richardson, who was accused of raping a white woman, and Joe James, accused of raping a white woman and murdering a white man. When the would-be lynch mob learned that the men had been taken from the jail to another city, a violent riot broke out.

Some members of the mob destroyed the business of Henry Loper, a man rumored to have helped transport Richardson and James from the jail. Others, convinced the men were still in the jail, attacked police and militia at the jail. The two groups then rejoined and descended on homes and businesses in Springfield’s black neighborhoods, stealing close to $150,000 worth of property and setting fire to whole blocks.

The violence climaxed early the next morning with the lynching of two black men. After Scott Burton tried to defend himself against the attackers, he was shot four times, dragged through the streets, then hung and mutilated until the militia interceded. William Donegan, an eighty-four-year-old black man married to a white woman, was taken from his home and hung from a tree across the street, where his assailants cut his throat and stabbed him. Mr. Donegan was still alive when militia arrived at the scene but died the next morning.

Amidst the terror of the riot, which left an estimated seven people dead, hundreds of black citizens sought National Guard protection at nearby Camp Lincoln while others fled the city. Police arrested 150 people suspected of participating in the violence and 117 were indicted. Of the three individuals indicted for murder, one committed suicide and two were acquitted.

The following September, Nellie Hallam, the alleged rape victim of George Richardson, signed an affidavit stating that neither George Richardson nor any other black man had attacked her. She said her attacker was a white man whom she refused to identify. Joe James, the other intended victim of the lynch mob, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.  America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans.  The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood.  EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.

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On this day in American history, August 13, 1955 — Voting Rights Activist Lamar Smith Murdered in Mississippi

On the morning of August 13, 1955, Lamar Smith, a 63-year-old African American farmer and veteran of World War I, was shot and killed in front of the Lincoln County Courthouse in Brookhaven, Mississippi, while encouraging African Americans to vote in a local run-off election. Smith, a locally known voting rights advocate affiliated with the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, had been threatened and warned to stop trying to register and organize African American voters in the community. These threats were realized when Smith was murdered on the courthouse lawn in front of dozens of witnesses, including Sheriff Robert E. Case, who permitted one of the alleged assailants to leave the crime scene covered in blood. Days later, that man and two others were arrested in connection with the shooting. All three suspects were white.

In September 1955, a grand jury composed of 20 white men declined to indict the three suspects for murder after witnesses failed to come forward to testify. Following the grand jury’s report, District Attorney E.C. Barlow criticized the lack of witness cooperation and complained about the sheriff’s handling of the case. Despite Barlow’s public promises to proceed with the investigation, the criminal case against the three suspects was dismissed. No one was punished for the crime.

Smith’s death was one of several racially-motivated killings in Mississippi that year, including the May 1955 murder of civil rights leader George Lee in Belzoni; the abduction and murder of Emmett Till in the Mississippi Delta in August 1955; and the fatal shooting of Gus Courts in Belzoni in December 1955. Throughout the next decade and beyond, Mississippi would be known as one of the most violent and deadly environments in the fight for equal rights.

“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.  America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans.  The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood.  EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.

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On this day in American history, August 12, 2013 — Federal Court Rules NYPD “Stop and Frisk” Policy Unconstitutional

Under the New York City Police Department’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy, police routinely stop and patdown individuals on city streets, checking for weapons or evidence of criminality. Between 2004 and 2009, the department conducted 2.8 million such stops. In place for decades, “stop and frisk” has received strong support from the NYPD leadership and many of the city’s elected officials, while activists and civil rights lawyers have decried the practice as racist and unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs sued in federal court, asserting the policy is illegal and unconstitutional, and a two-month-long trial was held in spring 2013. Evidence presented in federal court showed significant racial disparities in the implementation of “stop-and-frisk” and demonstrated a strong likelihood that many stops carried out under the policy violated the Constitution. Though black and Latino people make up 52 percent of New York City’s population, they constituted 85 percent of those stopped under the policy between 2004 and 2009. Data indicated that a neighborhood’s racial composition was a stronger predictor of its rate of “stop and frisk” activity than was its crime rate.

Evidence also indicated that stops rarely led to discovery of criminal activity. Only 12 percent of stops resulted in an arrest or a summons, a rate lower than the rate of arrest or summons from random checkpoints. In order to comply with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, police officers must be able to articulate reasonable suspicion of criminality to justify a stop and frisk of an individual. Such a low rate of arrests and summons suggests that officers were making stops without reasonable suspicion. In addition, a review of police department records indicated that, between 2004 and 2009, approximately 170,000 indisputably illegal stops were performed.

On August 12, 2013, United States District Court Judge Schira Scheindlin ruled against the NYPD and declared the “stop and frisk” program unconstitutional. The court ordered the department to reform its practices. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD leaders expressed their continued support for the program and say they intended to appeal the ruling.

“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.  America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans.  The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood.  EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.

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On this day in American history, August 11, 2017 — White Nationalists Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia

On the evening of Friday, August 11, 2017, an assembly of more than 200 members of white supremacist, alt-right, neo-Nazi, and pro-Confederate groups from throughout the country converged on the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, for a torch-lit march through central campus. The procession, with members’ shouting slogans of “Blood and soil!” “You will not replace us!” “Jews will not replace us!” and “White lives matter!”, was the precursor to a planned “Unite the Right” rally, scheduled to take place the next day to protest the Charlottesville City Council’s recent vote to remove a Confederate monument dedicated to Robert E. Lee. As the marchers paraded through the University’s campus, counter-protests quickly emerged and tensions escalated.

On Saturday, August 12, the rally began to culminate in recently renamed Emancipation Park, location of the Lee statue. White nationalist rally-goers, many heavily armed, filed into the park amid the outcry of a diverse gathering of counter-protesters. Those opposing the white nationalists included members of anti-fascist groups, Black Lives Matter supporters, local residents, church congregations, and civil rights leaders. In the absence of police intervention, clashes between rally-goers and counter-protesters became more volatile, and eventually led law enforcement to declare the rally an unlawful assembly.

As rally-goers and counter-protesters dispersed, sporadic clashes continued. Approximately two hours after the City of Charlottesville declared a local state of emergency, a neo-Nazi named James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car directly into a crowd of counter-protesters, wounding at least 18 people and killing a 32-year-old white woman named Heather Heyer.

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia, sparked national press coverage and debate regarding race, white supremacy, and Confederate iconography.

“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.  America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans.  The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood.  EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.

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On this day in American history, August 9, 1961 — James B. Parsons Nominated First Black Federal Judge in Continental United States

On August 9, 1961, President John F. Kennedy nominated James Benton Parsons as United States District Court Judge for Northern Illinois. At the time, Judge Parsons, a native of Missouri and the great-grandson of enslaved people, was serving as a judge on the Superior Court of Cook County, Illinois. The Senate confirmed Judge Parson’s nomination on August 30, 1961, making him the first African American federal judge in the continental United States and the first African American federal judge with life tenure. Prior to his appointment, African Americans had been appointed solely to fixed judicial terms on the United States District Court for the Virgin Islands.

Judge Parsons went on to accomplish other significant firsts within his position as a district court judge. On April 17, 1975, he became the first African American Chief Judge of a District Court; one month later, he was elected the first African American representative to the United States Judicial Conference. In 1992, after 30 years of service, Judge Parsons retired from active trial duty. He died in Chicago, Illinois, the following year, at 81.

(Judge James Parsons in 1961. The Decaturian.)

“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.  America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans.  The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood.  EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.

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On this day in American history, August 8, 2016 — Ahmed Mahmoud Sues After Arrest for Bringing Clock to School

On August 8, 2016, Ahmed Mahmoud and his family filed a lawsuit against the city of Irvin, Texas, and its school district for an ordeal that had begun nearly a year before. On September 14, 2015, 14-year-old Ahmed, a Sudanese-American boy, was arrested at school for showing his teacher a clock he had made at home.

Instead of receiving praise and encouragement, Ahmed was severely punished. His teacher, along with other school officials, claimed they thought the clock was a bomb, but no evacuation was ordered and no bomb squad was called in. Instead, standard police officers were called to the school to arrest the student, take him to the police station for fingerprinting and a mug shoot, and subject him to questioning.

After five police officers interrogated Mohamed for over two hours without his parents’ permission, they arrested him on charges of bringing a hoax bomb to school. Though those charges were subsequently dropped, school officials suspended Ahmed for three days. When the incident was reported in local and national press, Ahmed received an outpouring of support from near and far, and the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed soon went viral on social media. President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and thousands of others expressed support for Mohamed, and he was even invited to the White House.

In the meantime, local officials refused to admit that they had handled the situation improperly, or that Ahmed’s identity as a brown, Muslim boy, led him to be profiled and targeted in this way. On November 23, 2015, The Mohamed family requested damages and a public apology from City of Irving and its school district for civil rights violations and physical and mental anguish. The city did not meet those demands and, in late 2015 – due to ongoing threats and harassment from conspiracy theorists who claimed Ahmed truly was a dangerous terrorist – the Mohamed family moved to Qatar to accept a government education scholarship for Ahmed.

In December 2015, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into the incident to determine whether or not Mohamed’s civil rights were violated. In February 2016, the Texas attorney general ordered the Irving school district to provide a copy of a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice outlining allegations of “discipline of students on the basis of race, religion, and natural origin” to The Dallas Morning News. Instead of handing over a copy of the letter, the school district filed a lawsuit against the Texas attorney general to prevent releasing documents in the investigation. The federal investigation and the Mohamed family’s lawsuit are ongoing.

“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.  America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans.  The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood.  EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.

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