Toward a Racial Justice Institute at UMass Amherst

Governor disapproved of the following item, for message see House, No. 4505
The Legislature overrode the Governor’s action | 1599-7114 | $500,000
For a reserve for the costs associated with the UMass Center at Springfield; provided, that not less than $250,000 shall be provided for the establishment of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Center for the Study of Racial Justice & Urban Affairs, in Springfield

Notes on Racial Justice

We envision a professorship of racial justice that could unite several disciplines, interdisciplinary professional fields of study, and allied interdisciplinary studies departments and programs. Race, in particular, has public health, legal, public policy, organizational, educational, economic, environmental, psychological, and heritage dimensions that are studied and taught at UMass, especially in community engaged ways. This work, however, largely remains disintegrated and is carried out in our academic silos. The University needs to follow best practices in higher education and begin to develop an integrated strategy. For many reasons UMass is uniquely situated to be a leader in a more integrated approach. As one of the earliest research universities to massively invest in creating a premier Africana studies department with the power to confer degrees and award tenure to a faculty that at one time had more than twenty full time tenure system professorships we have a great legacy in pioneering the systematic and engaged study of race and its attendant problems and power dynamics. What can we learn from that legacy that can be applied to today’s higher educational realities?

First, when Eurocentric, logocentric, managerial, and neoliberal agendas dominated the concerns and attention of other departments and the study and teaching of race on its own academic turf or academic ghetto, as it were, was generally regarded as a more or less harmless use/waste of resources to help lift up (or manage) the unfortunate dark student presence that affirmative action policies and autonomous struggles had begun to increase their numbers on the campus in dramatic ways in the late 1960s and 1970s. The UMass music department, for example, had little to no serious interest in jazz and other contributions of African Americans and dark humanity to the development of music theory and practice until Bezanson, with the help of Randolph Bromery, recruited Fred Tillis here in 1970.

Straight Talk on the Crisis of Police Violence

Izielen Agbon, my brother, comrade and fellow student of political economy in the University of Texas’ Economics Department, introduced me in the latter part of 1979, to a woman who would have a profound impact on my life. Dorothy Turner was the president of the Black Citizens Task Force in Austin, Texas, and she was organizing daily demonstrations in response to a crisis in the community that arose from two yt police officers murdering a black man named Gril Couch in cold blood. They were in plainclothes and got into it with the brother and put him in a chokehold whereby they strangled the life out of him. That is how I got down with the black community in East Austin in the fight to say #BlackLivesMatter
Spark4_1987

Sources

Demetria C. Howard-Watkins, “The Austin, Texas African-American Quality of Life Initiative as a Community of Inquiry: An Exploratory Study.” MPA thesis. Spring 2006.
https://digital.library.txstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10877/3479/fulltext.pdf?sequence=1

Jordan Smith, “Dorothy T. Goes Home Fiery, feisty queen of Austin civil rights activists is recognized, remembered.” The Austin Chronicle, April 22, 2005.
http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2005-04-22/267663/

Black Citizens Task Force Records: An Inventory to the Collection
http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/aushc/00391/ahc-00391.html

Dorothy Charles Banks, “Velma Roberts: East Austin civil rights activist and all-around hell raiser.” Poet With An Opinion blog, October 27, 2012.
http://dcbanks.blogspot.com/2012/10/velma-carter-roberts-east-austin-civil.html

The struggle at Colony Park continues
http://www.thedailyphalanx.net/2016/04/dorothy-turner-august-1980-we-want.html

ACAC Historical Footage with clips of Ms. Turner (look at 4:07 minutes into video)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ah_0W0MGf38

“After the Convention: Analysis & Commentary.” Liberation, Summer 1988.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yq8SkkbLS0A

Message from the Grassroots

Recreation Center named in honor of Roberts and Turner
https://www.austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/Parks/Recreation_Centers/turnerroberts_factsheet.pdf

Public art tribute http://www.publicartarchive.org/work/overtonturnerroberts-memorial

“BCTF Pays Tribute to Turner, Roberts.” The Villager, 2015.
http://www.theaustinvillager.com/current/page8_Feb27.pdf

Black Liberation Matters as Movement and Moment

One senses that black people are having a moment. Around the world, the wretched of the earth are saying “Look, a Black Life” — does it matter? does anybody care? A Negro, death, young and old, but especially the young, the trans, the LGBTQ, women, children, the incarcerated, the communities more vulnerable to environmental racism, to the proliferation of guns and drugs, to for-profit institutionalized white supremacy. Yes, out of relative obscurity at any moment in time movements spring and for their time accomplish goals, or not, that contribution in net positive or negative ways to the struggle of oppressed people. We are living in a time where a movement is in the making from the might river of the black freedom struggle.

Many date the current movement moment from the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of his murderer, George Zimmerman. I think we should look a few years before to the Jena 6 case. In the aftermath of Katrina, the young, digital generation began formulating a capacity to flash respond to critical instances injustice. That internetworked capacity tweeted out in a massive way the call for a Jena 6 National Walk-Out Day on 10/1/2007.

The execution of Troy Davis in Georgia on September 21, 2011, was another day when the emergence of a movement was evident. Twitter recorded 7671 tweets per second in the moments before word of Davis’s execution, making his death the second most active Twitter event in 2011. Rallies were held all over the country protesting his being put to death. “I am Troy Davis” was the battle cry.

So it was on the shoulders of these various campaigns that the killing of Trayvon Benjamin Martin  on February 26, 2012, sparked a massive response. The network began to look at ways to organize a campaign that would demand justice for 17-year-old African American youth. As case after case of homicide of young New Afrikans at the hands of white police as well as armed white civilians the movement for black lives has formally organized itself with its own agenda, principles of unity, campaigns, and rules of engagement.

http://movementforblacklives.org/category/news/

Active Journals Publishing in Africana Studies

African American Review
http://aar.slu.edu/index.html
Black Renaissance
http://www.nyubrn.org/
Black Scholar: Journal of Black Studies and Research
http://www.theblackscholar.org/
Callaloo
http://callaloo.tamu.edu/
Journal of African American History (Originally The Journal of Negro History)
http://www.jaah.org/
Journal of African American Studies
http://link.springer.com/journal/12111
Journal of Black Studies
http://jbs.sagepub.com/
Journal of Pan-African Studies
http://www.jpanafrican.org
NCBS’s International Journal of Africana Studies
http://www.ncbsonline.org/international_journal
Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society
http://www.columbia.edu/cu/ccbh/souls/about.html
Transition
http://www.jstor.org/page/journal/transition/about.html
Western Journal of Black Studies
http://public.wsu.edu/~wjbs/current.html

eBlack Studies has a list of over 80 journal titles at the link below:
http://eblackstudies.org/journals.html
WARNING: The page above is badly in need of being updated! Many of the links for the journals are not working or go nowhere. Some of the journals listed no longer exist. The ones I’ve listed above are very respected, have been consistently coming out through the years (except for the IJAS–but we’re coming back!), and not so bound to a [euro]traditional disciplinary perspective.

Fighting the KKK [Satire mode]

EricinKlanland

EricinKlanland is an editorial I published in The Spectator, the student newspaper of Monsignor Kelly High School in Beaumont, Texas, forty years ago. I was one of the student editor’s of the paper and my reading at the time Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland influenced how I wrote this piece. The image of me holding a pipe and the cartoon of Kluxers preparing to put me on a cross, was drawn by my friend and graphic artist for the paper, Mark Whitney.

The column’s title is a play on my paternal surname and Rhett Butler’s infamous response to Scarlett O’Hara, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” I sought to express my views on issues without giving a damn what authorities they might upset. As in Ephesians 6, I put on the full armor of god (Love), “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.”

One of my first columns landed me on the hot seat in the office of Sister Jane Meyer, the then principal of Kelly H.S., in 1976 when I was 15 years old. It questioned why my Catholic high school was admitting so many white non-Catholics whose only reason to attend Kelly was the fact that racial integration of the city’s public schools was beginning to be enforced. I linked my moral concern with white resistance to racial integration to Pope Paul VI’s Christmas 1975 enactment of the rite of closing the Holy Door. 

The Holy Father closed the two sides of an ancient Vatican door while reciting the words: “Christus heri et hodie, principium et finis; Ipse aperit et nemo claudit; claudit et nemo aperit. Ipsi gloria et imperium per infinita sæcula sæculorum” (Christ the same yesterday, and to day, the beginning and the end; He opens and no one shuts; shuts and no one opens. To him be glory and dominion throughout all the endless ages of the ages). For me this ritual and Il Papa’s words, called upon Catholics to follow the way of the Christ/Cross. It said don’t sell out and associate with Protestants on the grounds of white unity (racial supremacist false consciousness). Instead, live up to the ideas in  POPULORUM PROGRESSIO (The Encyclical of Pope Paul VI “ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF PEOPLES” of MARCH 26, 1967).

Pope Paul VI and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

I cannot not find the banned article that inspired Sister Jane to ask me if I did not like the high school and wanted to be expelled? Alas, I withdrew it and published “Eric in Klanland.” Overall my journalistic efforts received more positive feedback than negative, and I salute Dr. Mary Gagné who taught me and supported me and did so much to help me be a better writer. She is today is director of The Texas Academy for Leadership in the Humanities on the Lamar University campus, founded in 1994 as a co-educational, residential, public institution for gifted Texas high school juniors and seniors.

Dr. Gagné (and Sister Jane) both signed my Outstanding Achievement in Journalism certificate when I graduated in 1977. She encouraged me to submit my work to the 6th Annual Texas Catholic Interscholastic League Rally for Non-Athletic Events held at the University of Dallas, March 11-12, 1977, for which I received the “Best Editorial” Award in the Newspaper area. Before that I won a medal for my piece “Twilight Zone” at the Interscholastic League Press Conference in competition with over 600 student writers from across the sate of Texas. She also nominated me to be one of ten high school students  from Southeast Texas to attend the 4th annual summer journalism workshop at Lamar University in 1975.

Also, through Dr. Gagné’s recommendation,  I wrote a features column for the daily newspaper The Beaumont Enterprise and worked (for pay!) as an assistant in the paper’s Sports Department to Joe Heiling. I knew very little about sports, but Heiling was a nice man and I later learned, as president of the Baseball Writers of America, he successfully lobbied to induct Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente into the Hall of Fame in 1973, bypassing a mandatory five-year waiting period.

My loving journalism and writing had its foundation not in high school, however, but with my schoolteacher mother, who wrote beautifully and prodigiously. Also, my teachers at my all-black, segregated elementary and junior high schools instilled in me a love of well written stories, poems, letters, essays, and books. In the early 1970s, at John P. Odom Jr. High School, I contributed to our mimeographed paper, “What’s Happening.”

Such was the path that led me in 2009, being named a member of the Texas Institute of Letters for distinctive literary achievement, as well as my book Advancing Democracy, receiving The T. R. Fehrenbach Book Award, the History of Education Society Outstanding Book Honorable Mention, and being listed as an Essence Magazine Top-Ten Recommended Book, among other accolades.

The writing life continues despite the call that I received threatening my life four decades ago when I published this “Eric In Klanland.”

# # #