Tag Archives: Activism

What They Fought: Resistance to Integration and the Path to the 1956 Tallahassee Bus Boycott

In the spring of 1956, after students Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson from Florida A&M University, were arrested and jailed for refusing to leave the “whites only” section of a Tallahassee bus, the African-American community of the city rallied together to boycott the city bus service and take a stand for their civil rights and the belief that the color of their skin should not leave them subject to discrimination and fear. Those who participated in the boycott, including Rev. C.K. Steele, Daniel Speed, Jakes and Patterson and many others from the then 10,600 African-American residents of Tallahassee, were met with resistance from bigoted members of the Tallahassee community that felt racial segregation should remain the law of the land. What factors contributed to a mindset that would allow for one group to so poorly treat another?

A new exhibit now open at the Claude Pepper Library seeks to illustrate the kind of resistance that the Bus Boycott participants faced in their endeavors to secure fair and impartial treatment in a city that they too, called home. Guests are invited to visit the Claude Pepper Library and explore the exhibit on the Tallahassee Bus Boycott of 1956 which is open to the public now, through the early fall of 2018. Using primary source documents, ephemera and photographs that provide a deeper context for the events that began to take place in May of 1956, Special Collections & Archives provides a look into the social and political climate in the State of Florida leading during the time of the Bus Boycott. Guests are also able to listen to audio recordings of boycott participants and witnesses, including the Reverend C.K. Steele, Daniel Speed and Governor LeRoy Collins. The Claude Pepper Library and Museum are open Monday through Friday from 9:00AM to 5:00PM, call (850) 644-9217 or email Political Papers Archivist Robert Rubero (rrubero@fsu.edu) with any questions.

Poetic Activism and Ruby Dee

Glowchild, and other Poems, published in 1972, is an anthology of works by black poets on the subjects of “nature, passion, politics, hope, peace, freedom, and other topics, gathered primarily with the inner-city youth in mind” (Catalog Description). The included poems were selected by Ruby Dee, poet, playwright, actress, journalist, and lifelong activist.

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Glowchild, and other Poems

Nature and Poetry

To choose a poem to highlight in this collection is difficult, as they are all worth reading, but following this Year of Poetry month’s theme, Nature and Poetry, we’ll focus on two poems that consider an aspect of nature and use that image to reflect on some of the complexities of human experience. Both poets were high school students. 

I LOVE…

I love, the birds that sing to me in the 
Birth of morning. 
I love, the cold clear water on my skin to wake
My rested face.
I love, walking briskly through the clean 
Crisp noon air. 
I love, to see people being
People together. 
I love, to see love being loved
Don't you?
--- LaVerne Davis, New Rochelle H.S.

“ESCAPE”

Have you ever watched a fly trying to get out a window?
It yearns for the sunshine on its back, and lost freedom. 
It goes back and forth trying to get out. 
Maybe it's trying to tell US something. 
Should WE also try to get out, 
Get back to the outdoors, 
Escape from the prison called civilization?
To where a man is free and doesn't die from 9-5. 
Where he's not boxed in by responsibility. 
Yes, maybe WE also should be looking for the space in the window to Escape.
--- Robert Kaufmann, Albert Leonard Jr. H.S.

In Dee’s introduction to the collection, she stresses the importance of these poems:

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From Dee’s Introduction

American Negro Theater

The anthology is a poetic continuation of Dee’s activist work, and its target audience of “inner-city youth” is near and dear to Dee’s own experience growing up in Harlem in the 30s and 40s. She began her acting career with the American Negro Theater (ANT), a group founded in 1940 when Abram Hill and Frederick O’Neal approached librarians of the Harlem Branch of the New York Public Library system; the librarians offered the group the use of their basement stage and a game-changing theater troupe arose. Eventually, along with Ruby Dee, actors Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte came out of the American Negro Theater. ANT worked to write and produce theater that was thoughtful and radical.

The goals of the American Negro Theater were:

  1. To develop a permanent acting company trained in the arts and crafts of the theatre that also reflected the special gifts, talents, and attributes of African Americans.
  2. To produce plays that honestly and with integrity interpreted, illuminated, and criticized contemporary black life and the concerns of black people.
  3. To maintain an affiliation with, and provide leadership for, other black theatre groups throughout the nation.
  4. To utilize its resources to develop racial pride in the theatre, rather than racial apathy.

(from Wikipedia)

 

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1962 Photo of Dee by Carl Van Vechten, Van Vechten Collection at Library of Congress

Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee is likely best known for her role in the stage and film productions of A Raisin in the Sun, which made its Broadway debut in 1959. Dee played Ruth Younger, the wife and mother of the impoverished Younger family. She became quite famous and popular, but never shied away from participation in political activism, leading her to be blacklisted and harshly criticized at several points in her career.

It is difficult to capture the breadth of Dee’s accomplishments in this space. To learn more about her amazing life and career, you can read a memorial piece, written just after her death, here.

Here is a video of Ruby Dee appearing on the Dick Cavett show in 1970, around the time that she began collecting poems for production in Glowchild, and other Poems.

 Glowchild, and other Poems is a beautiful anthology, filled with poems by young black people writing about their experiences with the harsh realities of life. It’s disappointing to discover that the book was banned in libraries across the states. Dee carefully curated the anthology to incorporate poems that would be useful to young people who identified with the experiences of the writers; to take away access to that experience — and most of these bans took place in public school libraries — is a crime.


Sources:

Rux, Carl Hancock. “Ruby Dee: 1922-2014.” American Theatre, no. 7, 2014, p. 20.

Smith, Jessie Carney and Lean’tin L. Bracks. Black Women of the Harlem Renaissance Era. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014.