John Lewis: Black History Month Highlight

Throughout the month, Cline, King & King has highlighted Black persons throughout history who have contributed greatly to the United States and beyond. CKK concludes our celebration of Black History Month with John Lewis.
John Robert Lewis was born near Troy, Alabama on February 21, 1940, the third of ten children born to Eddie and Willie Mae Lewis, sharecroppers in rural Pike County. As a child, Lewis dreamed of being a preacher and by age five was sharing the Gospel to his family’s chickens on their farm as his congregation. By age six he had only seen two white people in his life as his county was predominately Black, but as he grew older, he experienced racism such as the public library which was for white people only.
Lewis first heard Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio in 1955 and closely followed King’s Montgomery bus boycott of the same year. Two years later Lewis met Rosa Parks, and a year after that met MLK himself. He wrote to MLK about being denied admission to Troy University, and discussed suing the university for discrimination, but was warned by MLK that doing so could endanger his family. Lewis instead continued his education at a small historically Black college in Tennessee, and was later ordained as a Baptist minister.
As a student Lewis began what would be a long and dedicated journey as a civil rights activist. He organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, organized bus boycotts, and other nonviolent protests to support voting rights and racial equality. He was arrested and jailed numerous times for his efforts, but held to his philosophy that it was important to engage in “good trouble, necessary trouble,” to achieve much-needed change in the world.
In 1961 Lewis became one of the 13 original “Freedom Riders”, a group of seven Black people and six white people who planned to ride on interstate buses from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans to challenge policies of segregated seating by southern states which violated federal policy. The mission of the rides was to test compliance of two Supreme Court rulings. Boynton v. Virginia declaring segregated bathrooms, waiting rooms, and lunch counters unconstitutional. Morgan v. Virginia declaring unconstitutional segregation on interstate buses and trains. At age 21, he was the first of the Riders to be assaulted while in Rock Hill, South Carolina as he tried to enter a whites-only waiting room where two white men attacked him, injuring his face and kicking him in the ribs.
This was the first of many assaults on the Riders, as they were often beaten by angry mobs and arrested themselves. One particularly volatile assault was in Birmingham, where the Riders were beaten by an unrestrained mob with baseball bats, chains, lead pipes and stones. Although the Riders were the victims, they were again arrested and taken across the border to Tennessee. They were again assaulted in Montgomery where Lewis thought he might actually die and was left lying at the Greyhound bus station unconscious. 48 years after these attacks, Lewis received a televised apology from Elwin Wilson, a white southerner and former Klansman.
On May 29, 1961 Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to ban segregation in interstate bus travel. By November 1, 1961 the ICC ordered removal of “Jim Crow” signs from bus stations, waiting rooms and restrooms in bus terminals. The Freedom Riders had obtained success in garnering national attention to demonstrate continued suppression by segregation in the South.
In 1963 Lewis became chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and became one of the “Big Six” leaders organizing the March on Washington for that summer. Lewis had made a name for himself and was respected for his courage and tenacious adherence to the philosophy of reconciliation and nonviolence, even though he had already been arrested 24 times in his pursuits. As the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, Lewis was chosen to speak ahead of the final speaker, MLK himself with his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Lewis had prepared a response to President Kennedy’s 1963 Civil Rights Bill, denouncing its failure to provide protection for African Americans against police brutality or with the right to vote. It was revised to indicate that the group supported the Civil Rights Bill, but “with great reservations.”
On March 7, 1965 Lewis and fellow activist Hosea Williams led over 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in what would become known as “Bloody Sunday.” At the end of the bridge, the Alabama State Troopers ordered the marchers to disperse. When they instead stopped to pray, the police discharged tear gas and mounted troopers charged, beating the marchers with nightsticks; Lewis himself suffered a fractured skull and bore scars on his head for the rest of his life.
Lewis was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986 and was re-elected 16 times. He characterized himself as a strong and adamant liberal, but also fiercely independent. His fight for human rights was not limited to race as he also spoke out in support of LGBTQ rights and national health insurance.
When Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American President of the United States Lewis commented, “If you ask me whether the election…is the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, I say, ‘No, it’s just a down payment.’ There’s still too many people 50 years later…that are being left out and left behind.” Lewis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 by President Obama.
In his personal life, Lewis met Lillian Miles at a New Year’s Eve Party and they married in 1968. They had one son, John-Miles Lewis, and Lillian passed on December 31, 2012. On December 29, 2019 he announced he had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. He stated, “I have been in some kind of fight – for freedom, equality, basic human rights – for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.” He passed after an eight month battle on July 17, 2020, as the final surviving “Big Six” civil rights icon. His casket was carried in a horse-drawn caisson over the same bridge as “Bloody Sunday,” and he eventually lay in state in the United States Capitol Rotunda on July 27-28, 2020.
In 2013 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was unconstitutional requiring Federal approval before local jurisdictions could institute changes to voting procedures such as voter identification laws, drawing new district maps, and restricting early voting. It did so by maintaining key sections of the statute were based upon antiquated data.
In response to the 2013 SCOTUS decision, the House of Representatives passed legislation to update the Voting Advancement Rights Act based upon contemporary data. John Lewis presided over the passage of that bill. However, the Voting Advancement Rights Act stalled in the Senate in 2019. It is anticipated that the Voting Advancement Rights Act will be brought forward in the Senate in 2021. There can be no greater tribute to John Lewis than having a bill passed that protects and affirms the right for which he worked his entire life.
John Lewis once said, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.“
To further quote Lewis, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”Throughout the month, Cline, King and King has highlighted Black persons through history that have contributed greatly to the United States and beyond. CKK concludes our celebration of Black History month with John Lewis.

Mary McLeod Bethune: Black History Month Highlight

Mary McLeod Bethune was one of the most important Black educators, civil and women’s rights leaders, and government officials of the twentieth century.

Mary McLeod was born on July 10, 1875 in Mayesville, South Carolina, one of the last of seventeen children. After the Civil War, her mother worked for her former owner until they could buy the land they worked. By age nine Mary could pick a staggering 250 pounds of cotton a day.
As a child she would also accompany her mother to deliver “white peoples’” wash. On one such delivery, she was allowed into the white children’s nursery where she picked up a book. It was snatched away by a white child who sneered Mary couldn’t read. Deciding that the only difference separating white and Black people was the ability to read and write, Mary was inspired to learn.
Mary attended Mayesville’s one-room black schoolhouse and was the only child in her family to attend school, walking five miles roundtrip. Each day, she would come home and teach her family what she learned. Her teacher Emma Wilson helped Mary attend Scotia Seminary on a scholarship from 1888-1893. Mary then attended what is now the Moody Bible Institute, hoping to become a missionary to Africa. After being told that Black missionaries were not needed, she planned to teach African Americans at home.
Mary married Albertus Bethune in 1898, ultimately relocating to Florida. While in Florida, she was determined to start a school for girls. In October 1904, she rented a small house for $11 per month. She made benches and desks from discarded crates and acquired other necessary items through charity. The Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls was started by Mary for $1.50. The school bordered Daytona’s dump, so Mary and parents of the students raised money by selling sweet potato pies, ice cream, and fried fish to the crews who worked there.
Initially the school had six students and within a year enrollment grew to 30. Students made ink for their pens from elderberry juice, pencil lead from burned wood, and asked local businesses for furniture. Mary later wrote, “I considered cash money as the smallest part of my resources. I had faith in a loving God, faith in myself, and a desire to serve.”
Mary’s school started bright and early at 5:30 in the morning with a Bible study and did not end until 9 at night. They were taught home economics, science, business, math, English, and foreign languages. A donation of $62,000 by John D. Rockefeller and her friendship with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt helped give her entrée to a progressive network.
Not satisfied with only focusing on education, and learning there was no hospital to help people of color in Daytona Beach, Mary purchased a cabin near her school for $5,000 in 1911. The first black hospital in Daytona was opened with two beds, growing to twenty within a few years. Black and white doctors worked there, along with Mary’s student nurses. Both Black and white people in the community relied on help during various crises, including the 1918 influenza outbreak.
Mary was elected as national president of the National Association of Colored Women in 1924. When the NACW bought property at 13185 Vermont Ave in Washington, D.C., she led it to be the first Black-controlled organization with headquarters in the nation’s capital.
Mary enjoyed a close and loyal friendship with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, with Eleanor requesting a seat next to Mary at the 1938 Southern Conference on Human Welfare held in Birmingham, Alabama, even though Alabama still kept segregation laws on its books at the time. Mary would relay concerns from Black voters to the Roosevelts and advise the voters of the work being done on their behalf. She formed a coalition of Black leaders called the Federal Council of Negro Affairs, which came to be known as the “Black Cabinet.” It was an advisory board to the Roosevelt administration on issues facing Black persons in America.
Mary retired in Florida, where due to state segregation, Blacks were not allowed to visit the beach. Mary and several other business owners purchased properties along a two mile stretch of beach, which were sold to Black families. However, white families were welcomed to visit the waterfront at this beach.
Mary passed in 1955 of a heart attack. Her headstone bears the following inscription from her own Last Will and Testament, “I leave you love. I leave you hope. I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another. I leave you a thirst for education. I leave you a respect for the use of power. I leave you faith. I leave you racial dignity. I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow men. I leave you finally, a responsibility to our young people.”

Charlotte Ray: Black History Month Highlight

Charlotte Ray was the first Black American female attorney in the United States, the first female admitted to the District of Columbia Bar (which had recently removed “male” from its requirements), and the first female admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. She was born January 13, 1850 in New York City to Charlotte Burroughs and Reverend Charles Bennet Ray. Her father Rev. Ray was an important figure in the abolitionist movement, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and edited a newspaper called, “The Colored American.” Charlotte had six siblings, including two sisters. All the girls went to college as education was important to her father.
Left is the only known sketch of Charlotte Ray.
Charlotte graduated from the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington, D.C. in 1869, one of the few places a Black woman could get a proper education. Afterward, Charlotte taught at Howard University where she later registered in the Law Department as “C. E. Ray” to combat discrimination towards women applying to law school. Her admission was used as a precedent in other states for other women who sought admission to law school. She graduated on February 27, 1872 as the first woman to graduate from the Howard University School of Law.
Charlotte began her practice of commercial law in 1872. She was the first woman to practice and argue before the D.C. Supreme Court in the case of Gadley v. Gadley, pleading the case of an illiterate black woman petitioning for divorce from an abusive husband. In addition to “habitual drunkenness” and “cruelty of treatment,” Charlotte’s petition vividly evoked an incident where the husband broke the bed, forcing the wife to lie on the floor where he then ripped up the planks with an ax with the intention of causing the wife to fall through and break her neck. Charlotte and her client were victorious at the Supreme Court in her petition.
Despite Charlotte’s eloquence and authoritative presence, her Howard connections and advertisements, she was unable to maintain a steady client flow to support herself due to the prejudice of people at the time not wanting to trust a black woman with their case. She later gave up her active practice and returned to teaching in the Brooklyn school system. Charlotte married in the late 1880s, though little is known of her husband besides his last name of Fraim, which she took. She was involved in the women’s suffrage movement and joined the National Association of Colored Women. Charlotte passed away on January 4, 1911 of bronchitis at the age of 60.
Charlotte’s legacy lives on in countless ways, not least of which the glass ceilings she shattered both as an African-American and a woman. Since 1989 the Greater Washington Area Chapter of the Women Lawyers Division of the National Bar Association annually recognizes an outstanding local African-American female lawyer with the Charlotte E. Ray award. In 2006, Phi Alpha Delta fraternity at Northeastern University School of Law chose to honor Charlotte by naming their newly chartered chapter after her in recognition of her place in the history of the practice of law.

Harriet Tubman: Black History Month Highlight

Born in 1822 in Maryland and originally named Araminta Ross, Harriet Tubman was nicknamed “Minty” by her parents, later adopting the name Harriet after her first marriage. She was one of nine children. Three of Harriet’s sisters were sold to distant plantations, severing the family’s ties.
Harriet suffered repeated physical violence in her early life causing permanent injuries. She recounted a particular time when she was lashed five times before breakfast, carrying the scars on her skin as a lasting reminder. In another incident, she encountered a slave who left the field without permission and the overseer demanded Harriet help restrain the runaway. When Harriet refused, the overseer threw a 2-lb weight which struck her in the head, causing seizures and severe headaches for the rest of her life.
Harriet escaped to freedom in 1849, arriving in Philadelphia. She returned to Maryland to free her family members. Between 1850 and 1860, Harriet made 19 trips between the American south to the north, following the Underground Railroad network. She guided over 300 enslaved Black persons, including her parents, from slavery to freedom, and was nicknamed “Moses” for her leadership.
During the Civil War, Harriet worked as a nurse, a scout, guerrilla soldier, and a spy for Union forces. Harriet was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the Civil War. She guided the Combahee River Raid which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina. Harriet petitioned the U.S. government to be paid for her heroic efforts like any other soldier, but was denied because she was a woman. She eventually received a military pension, but only as the widow of a Black Union soldier.
Following the Civil War, Harriet became active in the women’s suffrage movement, joining Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. She believed in the equality of all people, black or white, male or female, and so was empathetic to women’s rights movements that emerged after the war. She also worked to establish schools for formerly enslaved persons in South Carolina.
In the late 1890s Harriet underwent brain surgery at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital to try to relieve the pains and buzzing in her head due to earlier injury by the plantation overseer. In Harriet’s words, the doctor “sawed open [her] skull, and raised it up, and now it feels more comfortable.”
True to her grit, Harriet received no anesthesia for the procedure and instead bit down on a bullet as she had seen Civil War soldiers do during amputations.
Harriet passed in 1913 at approximately 90 years of age. In April 2016, efforts were introduced to place Harriet on the front of the $20 bill. The final design of the currency was to be unveiled in 2020 for the centennial of the 19th amendment establishing women’s suffrage, but was delayed in 2019. The efforts have been resumed in 2021.

Frederick Douglass: Black History Month Highlight

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born in February 1818, a slave who escaped from Maryland and became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. History knows him better as Frederick Douglass.
Douglass successfully escaped in 1838 by boarding a northbound train of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad, dressed in a sailor’s uniform provided by his future wife, Anna Murray, and carrying identification and protection papers he obtained from a free black seaman. He eventually reached a safe house in New York City. The entire journey took less than 24 hours. Douglass stated in a letter to a friend soon after reaching New York City, that he, “felt as one might feel upon escaping from a den of hungry lions.”
Once he arrived in New York, he sent for Anna and they were married on September 15, 1838, adopting the surname of Johnson to divert attention. Frederick and Anna later settled in Massachusetts. Their more famous surname, Douglass, was inspired by characters of Walter Scott’s poem, “The Lady of the Lake.”
Douglass was an incredible orator and incisive in his writings regarding anti-slavery. One of his best writings was in 1857 wherein he delivered a speech entitled, “West India Emancipation” in Canandaigua, New York. The following are highlights of this speech:
“I know, my friends, that in some quarters the efforts of colored people meet with very little encouragement. We may fight, but we must fight like the Sepoys of India, under white officers. This class of Abolitionists don’t like colored celebrations, they don’t like colored conventions, they don’t like colored antislavery fairs for the support of colored newspapers. They don’t like any demonstrations whatever in which colored men take a leading part. They talk of the proud Anglo-Saxon blood as flippantly as those who profess to believe in the natural inferiority of races…
Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.
The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.”
In 1872 Douglass became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States, on the Equal Rights Party ticket. His running mate, Victoria Woodhull, was an equally progressive selection, the first female nominee for President of the United States.
In 1877 he visited his former owner Thomas Auld on the slaveowner’s deathbed at the behest of Auld’s daughter, a supporter of Douglass. While some criticized this move, it appeared to bring closure to Douglass. The same year he purchased his final home, which he and Anna named Cedar Hill. The home is now preserved as a national historic site.
Anna Douglass passed in 1882. Frederick married his second wife in 1884, Helen Pitts, a white suffragist and abolitionist from New York. The marriage caused controversy among both of their families, but Douglass responded to the criticisms by saying his first wife was the color of his mother and his second, the color of his father.
Through the rest of his life, Douglass continued his work, traveling and making a number of speeches even into his older years. Douglass spoke out against the separatist movement 1892 at a conference in Indianapolis. While speaking in Baltimore in 1894, Douglas stated, “I hope and trust all will come out right in the end, but the immediate future looks dark and troubled. I cannot shut my eyes to the ugly facts before me.”
With that comment, Douglass certainly predicted the future of race and equality issues in the United States.
On February 20, 1895 Douglass attended a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C. where he received a standing ovation. That very evening he died of a massive heart attack at his home at the age of 77. Douglass’s contributions to the abolitionist movement have directly shaped the fabric of our society and the spirit of activism today.

Phillis Wheatley: Black History Month Highlight

All of us are aware of Amanda Gorman and her impressive poetry presentation at President Biden’s inauguration. Amanda’s remarkable talents certainly belie her young age of only 22 years old. Many of us probably do not recognize the similar talent of a young woman from West Africa who came to America on July 11, 1761 as a slave at only seven years of age.
Her true given name is lost to history as she was sold by slave traders in Boston, Massachusetts. She was given the first name of Phillis, after the name of the ship that had transported her from Africa, and the last name Wheatley, after the family who had purchased her. Phillis quickly learned to read and write, and the Wheatley family encouraged her talent in poetry.
By age 12, Phillis Wheatley was reading Greek and Latin classics. At 14, she wrote her first poem to the University of Cambridge (now known as Harvard University, where Amanda Gorman herself attended). Many colonists did not believe that a Black slave could write so well, and so Phillis was required to defend her authorship of her poetry in court in 1772. She was further scrutinized by a group of Boston luminaries of the time which included the governor and lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, and John Hancock. They concluded Phillis had, in fact, written the poems and signed an attestation, which was included in the preface of her first book of collected works.
In 1773, at the age of 20, Phillis traveled to London, England accompanied by Nathaniel Wheatley to present her poetry. Her first book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published on September 1, 1773 and was the first book written by a Black woman in America.
“On Being Brought From Africa to America “
‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.
These words were a gentle but powerful challenge to the racist practices and beliefs in America at the time, indicating that while many discriminated based on skin color, “black as Cain” (an allusion to the belief of many Protestant Christians that Cain’s “mark” was a darkening of his skin), she and other persons of color had the same access to redemption and salvation as white Christians and were equal in the eyes of God.
In November 1773 Phillis was emancipated by the Wheatleys. Susanna Wheatley died soon after in the spring of 1774, and John Wheatley passed in 1778. Phillis married a free black man named John Peters and began a challenging and painful chapter of her life.
By 1784 Phillis had lost two of her three children, her husband was imprisoned for debt, and she was forced to work as a scullery maid to provide for her sickly infant son. Her all-too-brief life ended on December 5, 1784 at the young age of 31, with her son passing soon after.
Her contributions to African-American literary history cannot be ignored and her talent should be celebrated and memorialized.