How one elderly woman took on Jim Crow in Washington – and Won


Happy New Year everyone!  I wish you all  the happiest  and the most prosperous of new years. 2017 has arrived!

Namaste,

Barbara

How One Elderly Woman Took on Jim Crow in Washington—And Woman

Portrait Of Mary Church Terrell
Library of Congress / Getty ImagesPortrait of a young Mary Church Terrell circa 1890

She launched her case almost six years before Rosa Parks helped start the Montgomery bus boycott and a decade before sit-ins rocked lunch counters across the South

In a city known for iconic buildings, Thompson’s Restaurant was unremarkable. Located a few blocks from the White House, it sat on a commercial corridor: banks, storefronts, streetcar tracks. Inside, it was the kind of place where customers stood in line with their trays, grabbed a slice of cake, and sat down at a table. If they were white, that is.

Mary Church Terrell, an 86-year-old charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was not white. Born in 1863, the year of the Emancipation Proclamation, she was the daughter of former slaves. She was also an 1884 graduate of Oberlin College, a suffragist, and a veteran activist for civil rights. On January 27, 1950, she had lived in Washington, D.C. for sixty years.

At roughly 2:45 p.m., Terrell walked through Thompson’s double glass doors. With her were three hand-picked compatriots: Geneva Brown and the Rev. William H. Jernagin, who were African American activists, and David H. Scull, a white Quaker. Collectively, none of them made it to the dining area. The manager, Levin Ange, stepped in front of Jernagin and refused to serve him because he was “colored.”

Elsewhere in Washington, President Harry S. Truman was leading a worldwide crusade for democracy. The manager of Thompson’s, however, was invoking the decades-old logic of Jim Crow, with its architecture of racial inferiority. That outlook, Terrell knew, was a liability in foreign affairs, especially when Washington restaurants refused to serve dark-skinned diplomatic envoys, treating them as if they were American blacks. She had no intention of backing down.

“Do you mean to tell me that you are not going to serve me?”

The manager apologized, saying it was not his fault; it was his company’s policy not to serve Negroes. Terrell, who had once considered training as an attorney, flipped into cross-examination. Was Washington in the United States? she asked the manager. Did the Constitution apply there?

“We don’t vote here,” replied Ange.

Though refused entry, Terrell had gotten what she came for. Thompson’s had violated Reconstruction-era ordinances barring Washington restaurants from discriminating by race. Now she could go to court. And by challenging Thompson’s in the capital, she could upend the edifice of separate-but-equal. That’s because the Supreme Court’s 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld Louisiana’s segregated railway cars, used as a rationale congressional mandates requiring segregated Washington schools: if Congress, which had jurisdiction over Washington, could require segregated schools in the capital, Louisiana could segregate train passengers. Terrell had her cause and her fight.

It was no coincidence, however, that Thompson unfolded in the nation’s capital, with its tangled history on race, or that the Court used Thompson to relay a signal about the demise of separate-but-equal. Carved from the slaveholding states of Maryland and Virginia, Washington coexisted with the slave trade until 1850. Only on April 16, 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln emancipated Washington’s 3,100 slaves (nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation liberated them in the Confederacy) did the capital rid itself of slavery. Racial prejudice was another matter.

Still, Washington was not always a Jim Crow town. During Reconstruction, black men in Washington enjoyed full citizenship and voting rights, like white men. Beginning in 1869, the capital’s lawmakers enacted antidiscrimination laws, banning restaurants from discrimination based on race or color, ordinances that were still on the books when Terrell had tried to eat at Thompson’s. By 1878, though, as Reconstruction ended, Congress had dismantled Washington’s local representative government and stripped all residents – black and white – of voting rights. Washington became the equivalent of a federal possession, ruled by presidentially appointed commissioners.

Over time, the Reconstruction-era ordinances fell out of fashion and into disuse, especially after 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson’s administration segregated the federal workforce. In 1950, black and white Washingtonians had long gone to separate playgrounds, restaurants and movie theaters. With the NAACP mainly focused on school desegregation, the capital might have stayed that way.

But it didn’t, because of Mary Church Terrell. What she started inside Thompson’s on January 27, 1950 was a conflict more than a century in the making. It was a challenge to the central hypocrisy in American democracy: the clash between the nation’s professed belief in equality and its practice of subjugating blacks. As postwar activists like Terrell knew, that tension resonated in the nation’s capital, the symbolic headquarters of American democracy.

Terrell’s battle would engage the nation’s attention in the years ahead, when legal proceedings in the Supreme Court would alter the country profoundly. It was both a local affair—a particular cafeteria on a downtown Washington street refusing to serve an elderly black woman—and a national one, with repercussions outside the capital, across the South, and beyond. After World War II, Washington was not just another southern town; it had become the focus of the world.

Mary Church Terrell’s story had roots in slavery and spanned civil rights from the Emancipation Proclamation to Brown. Her case against Thompson’s helped usher in Brown and school integration, impelling a fractured Court to confront segregation at its threshold. An almost ninety-year-old African American woman had brought change to the nation’s capital, and it was irreversible.

Oxford University Press

Adapted from Just Another Southern Town: Mary Church Terrell and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Nation’s Capital by Joan Quigley with permission from Oxford University Press USA. Copyright © Oxford University Press, 2016 and published by Oxford University Press USA. All rights reserved.

A Clean Slate


 

White butterflies, with single

black fingerpaint eyes on their wings,

dart and settle, eddy and mate

over the green tangle of vines

in Labor Day morning stream.

 

The year grinds into ripeness

and rot, grapes darkening,

pears yellowing, the first

Virginia creeper twining crimson,

the grasses, dry straw to burn.

 

The New Year rises, beckoning

across the umbrellas on the sand.

I begin to reconsider my life.

What is the yield of my impatience?

What is the fruit of my resolve?

 

I turn from my frantic white dance

over the jungle of productivity

and slowly niggun slides,

cold water down my throat.

I rest on a leaf spotted red.

 

Now is the time to let the mind

search backwards like the raven loosed

to see what can feed us. Now,

the time to cast the mind forward

to chart an aerial map of the months.

 

The New Year is a great door

that stands across the evening and Yom

Kippur is the second door. Between them

are song and silence, stone and clay pot

to be filled from within myself.

 

I will find there both ripeness and rot,

what I have done and undone,

what I must let go with the waning days

and what I must take in. With the last

tomatoes, we harvest the fruit of our lives.

 

—Marge Piercy, feminist poet and author, from The Art of Blessing the Day

 

 

“God does not predetermine whether a person shall be righteous or wicked that God leaves to us.”

—Midrash Tanchuma, Pekdei 3

 

Give me peace


 

 

 

 

 

 

Achieve peace with understanding.

Achieve peace with understanding.

 

 

“Grant us peace. Your most precious gift,O Eternal Source of Peace, and give us the will to proclaim its message to all the peoples of the earth. Bless our country. that it may always be a stronghold of peace, and its advocate among the nations. May contentment reign between its borders, health and happiness within its homes. Strengthen the bonds of friendship among the inhabitants of all lands, and may the love of your name hallow every home and every heart. Teach us O God, to labor for righteousness, and inscribe us in the book of Life, blessing, and peace. Blessed is the Eternal God, the Source of peace. ”

 

 

“May we lie down this night in peace, and rise up to life renewed. May night spread over us a shelter of peace, of quiet and calm, the blessing of rest.

There will come a time when morning will bring no word of war or famine or anguish; there will come a day of happiness, of contentment  and peace.

Praised be the Source of joy within us, for the night and its rest, for the promise of peace.”

 

 

A time of renewal

A time of renewal

 

Tonight is the first night of the Jewish New Year. Jews around the world are asking for a sweet new year and for health, joy and peace. They go to Temple tonight to ask for a world in attunement, food for the hungry, calmness in our stricken world. They ask for all of the things that when blended together will bring an end to wars and strife.

May  all of you find contentment and peace in you lives. And to every Jew, Rosh Hashanah, a happy new year.

 

bjwordpressdivider

 

 

 

Days of Awe


We are at the time of the year called The Days of Awe. The Jewish nation celebrates their highest holy days. Rosh Hashanah Is the celebration of the new year. According to the Jewish calendar it is now the year 5773. These holy days continue for ten days and end with Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement and ends the new year celebration. What is so amazing about the Day of Atonement is that sins are personal but also communal.

The Yom Kippur eve service begins with Kol Nidre prayer. It is known as a formula to release Jews from foolish vows. Historically, it has released Jews from vows to worship in another way than how they have worshiped G-d for millenia. The Spanish Inquisition is one of these times.

In Judiasm, sins are more than the Ten Commandments and encompass a lack of compassion, good works, community involvement.

“O G-d, forgive our rich nation where small babies die of cold quite legally,
O G-d, forgive our rich nation where small children suffer from hunger quite legally,
O G-d, forgive our rich nation where toddlers and school children die from guns sold quite legally,
O G-d, forgive our rich nation that lets children be the poorest group of citizens quite legally,
O G-d, forgive our rich nation that lets the rich continue to get more at the expense of the poor quite legally,
O G-d, forgive our rich nation which thinks security rests in missiles rather than in mothers, and in bombs rather than in babies,
O G-d,forgive our rich nation for not giving You sufficient thanks by giving to others their daily bread.
O G-d, help us never to confuse what is quite legal with what is just and right in your sight.
—-Marian Wright Edelman

Sim Shalom—A Prayer for Peace

Let us live in peace, G-d,
Let children live in peace, in homes free from brutality and abuse.
Let them go to school in peace, free from violence and fear.
Let them play in peace, G-d, in safe parks and safe neighborhoods; watch over them.
Let husbands and wives love in peace, in marriages free from cruelty.
Let men and women go to work in peace, with no fears of terror or bloodshed.
Let us travel in peace; protect us, G-d, in the air, on the seas, along whatever road we take.
Let nations dwell together in peace, without the threat of war hovering over them.
Help us, G-d. Teach all people of all races and faiths, in all the countries all over the world to believe that the peace that seems so far off is in fact within our reach.
Let us all live in peace, O G-d. And let us say, Amen

—–Rabbi Naomi Levy

As the day progresses, names are asked to be added to the Book of Life for another year. There is a feeling of the closing of the Gates of Heaven. The last blast of the Shofar is heard.

” The sun goes down, the shadows rise,
The day of G-d is near its close.
.Lord, crown our work before the night:
At eventide let there be light.”

May the New Year be sweet for all Jews everywhere in the world. Shalom to all people in the world.

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