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Democrats are ahead in the competitive Senate and gubernatorial races in Florida, according to a new NBC News/Marist poll of this key battleground state, although their leads are within the margin of error.
In Florida’s Senate contest — which could help decide which party controls the U.S. Senate after November — the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson, gets support from 48 percent of likely voters, while Republican Rick Scott, the state’s governor, gets 45 percent. Six percent say they’re undecided.
Among the larger pool of registered voters, Nelson leads by 5 points, 48 percent to 43 percent, which is essentially unchanged from his four-point edge in June’s NBC/Marist poll.
And in the gubernatorial race — arguably the nation’s top contest for governor — Democrat Andrew Gillum is ahead of Republican Ron DeSantis by 5 points, 48 percent to 43 percent.
Among registered voters, Gillum’s advantage expands to 8 points, 49 percent to 41 percent.
“The political environment in Florida, overall, is tipping in the Democrats’ favor,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted this survey for NBC News.
In the Senate contest among likely voters, Nelson leads with African-Americans (78 percent to 15 percent), young voters ages 18-29 (65 percent to 30 percent), Latinos (57 percent to 37 percent), independents (53 percent to 37 percent) and women (53 percent to 40 percent).
Scott, meanwhile, is ahead with whites (52 percent to 40 percent), men (50 percent to 42 percent) and likely voters 45 and older (48 percent to 45 percent).
In the gubernatorial race, Gillum is up with African-Americans (86 percent to 9 percent), those ages 18-29 (61 percent to 30 percent), women (54 percent to 37 percent), Latinos (52 percent to 38 percent) and independents (51 percent to 38 percent).
And DeSantis holds the advantage with whites (51 percent to 41 percent), men (50 percent to 42 percent) and those 45 and older (47 percent to 45 percent).
Nelson and Gillum also enjoy higher favorable ratings than their GOP opponents do.
Forty-four percent of likely voters hold a favorable view of Nelson, versus 36 percent who have a negative view (+8). That’s compared with Scott’s 46 percent-to-45 percent rating (+1).
And for Gillum, 46 percent of likely voters give him a thumbs-up, versus 27 percent who give him a thumbs-down (+19). By contrast, DeSantis’ fav/unfav rating is 42 percent-to-37 percent (+5).
Trump’s approval rating in Florida is in the mid-40s
The NBC/Marist poll also finds 46 percent of likely voters in Florida approving of President Donald Trump’s job performance, while 48 percent disapprove.
Among registered voters, it’s 44 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove — essentially unchanged from June, when it was 45 percent approve, 46 percent disapprove.
In addition, the poll shows Democrats leading Republicans by 3 points in congressional preference: Forty-eight percent of likely voters say they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, while 45 percent want Republicans in charge.
Among registered voters, the Democrats’ edge grows to 6 points, 49 percent to 43 percent — up from their 3-point advantage in June.
And by 52 percent-to-40 percent margin, likely voters in Florida say their vote in November will be a message for more Democrats to check and balance Trump, rather than more Republicans who will help Trump pass his agenda.
The top issues in the state: health care and the economy
Finally, the top issues in Florida are health care and the economy, according to the poll.
Twenty-four percent of likely voters list health care as the No. 1 issue that might decide their vote for Congress in November — followed by the economy and jobs at 23 percent, immigration at 17 percent and guns at 10 percent.
Among Democrats, the top issues are health care (35 percent of Democrats say this) and guns (17 percent), while the top issues among likely Republican voters are the economy (29 percent) and immigration (22 percent).
The NBC/Marist poll of Florida was conducted Sept. 16-20 of 829 registered voters, which has a margin of error of plus-minus 4.0 percentage points. And the margin of error for the 600 likely voters is plus-minus 4.7 percentage points.
A bright moon hovered above Westminster, Md., that evening in June 1885, its “still rays lighting up every nook and corner,” The Baltimore Sun reported at the time, when the sounds of “a cavalcade of horses” broke the silence.
Dozens of riders, their faces masked, rode toward the downtown jail.
They overpowered the sheriff on duty and tied him up. They found a key in the jailhouse, yanked open the cell of 21-year-old Townsend Cook, and threw a rope around his neck.
And the mob of about 50 took Cook, a black day laborer accused of assaulting a white woman, to a nearby farm, hanged him from an oak tree, and fired shots into his body as it dangled.
“[The] ghastly corpse, with two bullet wounds in the back of the head, swung with pendulum-like motion in the sweet, morning breeze,” The Sun reported. “Everyone, save the officers of the law, seemed pleased.”
Cruel, harrowing and illegal as it was, the lynching of Townsend Cook was far from unique in Maryland. Mobs in the Old Line State committed dozens of the terror killings in the decades following the Civil War.
While the gruesome practice of lynching is most closely associated with the Southern states of the former Confederacy, hundreds were committed elsewhere in the country — including at least 44 in Maryland.
More than a third of those were perpetrated within what is now a 45-minute drive of Baltimore. Lynchings have been recorded in 18 of the state’s 24 counties.
The most recent such attack — the hanging and mutilation of 22-year-old farm laborer George Armwood in Princess Anne in 1933 — was carried out in front of about 2,000 people, and within the lifespans of tens of thousands of living Marylanders.
“People tend to think something as terrible as lynching must have happened long ago and far away,” says Nicholas Creary, a history professor at Bowie State University who studies the subject. “But it took place right here, in communities we know and drive past every day.
“The fact that we forget about it doesn’t change the fact that it happened.”
Creary is one of a growing group of scholars, activists and private citizens trying to help America recover and remember this chapter of its history in the hope of finally transcending it. A movement is underway to acknowledge and reconcile the country’s lynching past, and it’s gaining momentum in Maryland.
The museum that focuses on lynching and its victims that opened in Montgomery, Ala., in April has drawn thousands of visitors. Books and studies on the phenomenon are emerging. And in Maryland, activists are building databases, planning films and working to organize a conference on the state’s lynching legacy.
Lynching is American history, and for us to recover from that violence and terror, we all have to know that history and we all have to talk about it.
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the nonprofit behind the National Memorial for Peace and Justice
The symposium, the first of its kind here, is set to draw scholars, activists and descendants of victims to Baltimore next month.
Backers say the goal is not to assign blame, inflict guilt or stir up buried animosities. It’s to create opportunities for healing wounds that still afflict American society.
“To understand the problems we’re facing with the legal system — the police shootings of African-Americans we keep seeing, or the disproportionate incarceration rates among black Americans — we need to go back a hundred years, to see how those attitudes developed and in what ways they’re still at work,” Creary says.
Bryan Stevenson, the lawyer, scholar and author who founded the nonprofit behind the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, says it will indeed be difficult to address the forms of racial injustice that plague the culture without first hauling this chapter of our past into the light.
“Lynching is American history, and for us to recover from that violence and terror, we all have to know that history, and we all have to talk about it,” says Stevenson, who founded and leads the Equal Justice Initiative. “I believe that will compel us to think differently about what we need to do to confront the past, to address the past and to make a better future.”
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A ‘message crime’
A month after Cook was lynched, another masked mob used a flagpole to batter down the rear door of the Towson jail.
The 75 men hauled 17-year-old day laborer Howard Cooper from his second-floor cell, marched him onto the lawn and hanged him from a sycamore tree.
A “well known gentleman of the town” — The Sun did not name him — cut the rope into pieces and handed them out as souvenirs.
Four days before Christmas in 1906, a mob seized the semi-disabled farmhand Henry Davis from his jail cell on Calvert Street in Annapolis, paraded him along Clay Street and down Northwest Avenue, shot him and hanged him from a tree along College Creek.
A photographer took pictures of his body, printed them up as postcards and hawked them in town at two for a quarter.
And on the night of Dec. 6, 1931, another group of whites seized Matthew Williams, a lumber yard worker, from his hospital room in Salisbury and threw him out a window. A thousand people dragged him to the county courthouse, hanged him and set his body on fire.
An onlooker cut off his toes and gave them to his friends.
The lynchings of Cook, Cooper and Williams, which spanned nearly half a century, were in many ways typical of the racial killings that terrorized the black community nationwide from the Civil War era through the mid-20th century.
They involved a white crowd overpowering a young African-American and treating him more savagely than even killing him would have required.
The underlying complaints against the victim were often-flimsy allegations, ranging from the “crime” of speaking out of turn to a white person to frequently spurious claims of theft, sexual assault or murder.
And there was a carnival atmosphere, the certainty the victim would never enjoy his right to due process, and the expectation that the justice system would hold no perpetrators to account.
Over time, in Maryland and elsewhere, the understanding took shape that lynchings were more than brutal acts of vigilante justice meted out on a case-by-case basis. They were a form of domestic terrorism aimed at a newly liberated black public.
A lynching is “a powerful and very public message of white supremacy.”
Civil rights attorney Sherrilyn A. Ifill
Civil rights attorney Sherrilyn A. Ifill, the author of the 2007 book “On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-First Century,” was one of the first to explore Maryland’s lynching history.
One misconception around lynchings, she says, is that they were mostly the work of marginalized or disaffected individuals. In fact, widely respected citizens — teachers, ministers, housewives, police officers — regularly took part.
Their participation promoted the impression that the crime bore the backing of the entire white community, including its most powerful members.
“A lynching is more than a murder; it’s a message crime,” Ifill says. “It’s a message to the African-American community about the boundaries of citizenship: ‘This is what you can do and this is what you can’t do. These will be the consequences if you cross these lines. These are the narrow confines of the ways in which you will be permitted to exercise citizenship.’
“It’s a powerful and very public message of white supremacy.”
It was shared most often and most forcefully in the Deep South.
The Equal Justice Initiative, the research and legal foundation behind the Montgomery museum, has documented more than 4,400 lynchings of black Americans by whites in 12 former states of the Confederacy from 1877 to 1950. That was about three-fourths of all lynchings nationwide during those years.
More than 300 of the attacks were committed in border and Midwestern states, including Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois and West Virginia. Maryland’s total — the initiative has verified 29 — places it in the middle of that second-bloodiest tier.
Historians at the Maryland State Archives have documented 38 lynchings in the state between 1865 and 1935.
The disparity in the numbers reflects the many factors that complicate any study of lynching — variations in how the term is defined, differences in the years studied, differences in the standards of proof employed.
The Equal Justice Initiative, for example, focuses on blacks known to have been killed by whites, while the archives list includes the lynching of an African-American by a black mob, the lynching of two white men, four lynchings corroborated by just one source, and a lynching that was reported in two newspapers that later retracted their accounts.
Creary has recently added the lynchings of two more white men to his list.
Together the researchers identify 44 lynchings in the state, all but five of them of black men at the hands of whites.
The figures are modest compared to those of states such as Mississippi, which the Equal Justice Initiative found to be America’s cruelest state, with 654 lynchings, or Georgia, second with 589.
But that means little to descendants of Cook, Cooper, Davis, Williams and Armwood, and Maryland’s African-American communities across the generations. Nor does anyone believe that historians have been able to document every lynching.
Members of the reconciliation movement say acknowledgement of the victims’ lives and sufferings is long overdue.
Christopher Haley is research director of the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland, the state archives program that gathers information on lynching. He’s also a descendant of Kunta Kinte, the Gambian-born man who was brought to Annapolis as a slave in 1767 and memorialized in “Roots,” the 1976 bestseller by Haley’s uncle Alex.
To Haley, the research is a form of restoration.
“These victims were human beings who deserved the same dignity anyone should get, whether it’s the president of the United States or the person who comes to change the tire on your car,” he says. “Learning about them and naming them helps speak to their significance as persons who lived in the U.S.A.”
Problems of definition
As close as it is to us in time and place, lynching remains a hard subject to encompass.
Problems of definition abound. For example, about a fourth of all lynching victims in the United States — more than 1,300, according to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama — were not African-American.
Most of these victims were ethnic Asians, Latinos or Italians who were killed in Southern states or the Western Territories prior to the Civil War.
Meanwhile, no one knows how commonplace lynchings were during the slavery era.
Before the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, researchers say, the killing of enslaved people would have drawn little attention. Slaveholders would have been destroying their own “property.”
And there’s the more contemporary belief that lynching never fully disappeared; it simply morphed into less obvious forms of state-backed violence against minorities.
When it comes to lynching as most define it — the extrajudicial killing of blacks by white mobs in post-Civil War America — we can track certain trends. More occurred from 1880 to 1910 than in any other three decades, for example, in Maryland and nationwide.
The figures fell gradually over the next 30 to 40 years under pressure from the black and international press, progressive groups including the NAACP, and Quaker-led resistance coalitions, among other forces.
Many facts remain elusive.
Among the documents that survive are death certificates and coroner’s reports on the victims. But they’re rife with the sort of obfuscation that surrounded most lynchings: participants who declined to name each other, witnesses who refused to talk, police and newspapers who accepted cover stories at face value, and judges and others who made token efforts, at best, to find the perpetrators.
Time and time again, the documents reached the same conclusion in nearly identical words: The victim died at the hands of persons unknown.
“Members of these communities were there, as observers or participants, taking part in these kinds of public festivals. And when they didn’t tell what they knew, or follow up afterward, that was complicity,” Ifill says. “It’s like what we see today in police departments, where everyone covers up for a few bad apples.”
That leaves newspapers of the era as the go-to source — but the view they offer is also distorted. Haley and others say the bulk of what they know comes from press accounts, but they must read those accounts with a skeptical eye.
“It was just like today,” Haley says. “Media outlets catered to their own audiences, and their accounts were slanted to appease or attract that audience.”
In covering a lynching, the smaller local papers — the Worcester Democrat, the Salisbury Advertiser — often assumed the guilt of the accused rather than presenting both sides. They used incendiary racist language (“the black fiend,” “the ravisher”) and implied or said outright that the victim deserved his fate.
In 1885, the Baltimore County Union, a Towson weekly, quoted a member of the mob that killed Howard Cooper.
Cooper stood accused of sexually assaulting Katie Gray, the 16-year-old daughter of a prominent white family in Towson. An all-white jury took less than a minute to convict him; his lawyers were working on an appeal when he was taken from his cell.
The lyncher, who was allowed to speak anonymously, described the killing as a moral act.
“The men were mostly substantial farmers, and all of them good citizens,” the man said. “There was not a rough character among us. Every man was actuated by the thought that in avenging Miss Gray he was protecting his own wife, sweetheart or children.
“We were very particular not to begin work before midnight, so as to avoid doing the lynching on a Sunday.”
The reporter presented no countervailing viewpoint.
Metro papers such as The Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Washington Evening Star, with their white staffs and readerships, typically decried lynching as a practice, but in many ways did little better in their coverage.
They, too, embraced what Creary calls “the brute Negro narrative.” They quoted lynchers without pressing for names, declined to interview or mention members of the black community, misspelled or omitted the victims’ names, and generally registered little of the outrage the crimes warranted.
The Evening Capital blamed the lynching of Henry Davis on a justice system that acted too slowly — and voiced relief that his accuser would not have to face him in court. The Sun seemed as interested in the feelings and reputation of a powerful white politician as the brutality of the murder.
“Much regret has been expressed that the lynching took place within a quarter of a mile of the home of Governor [Edwin] Warfield, who a few months ago took such great precaution to have a negro [executed by hanging] on Smith’s Island, in Chesapeake bay, to avoid a possible lynching,” the account read.
It wasn’t until the emergence of black-owned newspapers around the turn of the century — the Baltimore Afro-American in 1892, the Pittsburgh Courier in 1907 — that readers were treated to fully rounded accounts that included the reactions of those affected most directly.
In the aftermath of the Matthew Williams lynching, the Afro-American placed a photo of Williams’ distraught sister on the front page. An article quoted one of his co-workers describing Williams as a reliable, well-liked man who never caused a quarrel at the Elliott Box and Crate Factory.
“He had good common sense and [often] advised the young fellows who worked with him to save their money,” Delaware Street told reporter Holland Walters.
The paper’s editors dubbed the issue the “Maryland Shame Edition” and used the dateline “SALISBURY (Lynch-town), Md.” for every story.
Ifill says she relied far more heavily on the black press than on any other source. Creary is one of many who say The Sun and other white-owned outlets only exacerbated the conditions that made lynching possible.
Over time, though, a picture of lynching in Maryland emerged with some clarity. It reflected a state still struggling to reconcile its reputation for racial progressiveness with its continuing embrace of racist traditions.
A haunting history
If anyone can be called the catalyst of the reconciliation movement, it’s Stevenson. His work has driven the conversation about lynching across the country since 2010, culminating in the debut of the $20 million museum in Montgomery, and its effects are taking root in communities across the United States, including in Maryland.
The Harvard-trained attorney wasn’t born here, but it was close. He grew up in the 1960s in southern Delaware, just a modest drive from where Williams and Armwood were lynched three decades earlier.
In his youth, the schools and neighborhoods remained segregated, in fact if not by law. Stevenson, who is African-American, remembers seeing Confederate flags in the former Union state, but little discussion around what they represented.
Stevenson, 59, founded the Equal Justice Initiative in 1994 as a foundation to combat what he has long seen as entrenched bias against minorities and the poor in the criminal justice system. Further study convinced him that lynching was a direct progenitor to an American justice system in which blacks are still incarcerated more frequently for minor crimes and sentenced to death more frequently for major ones than any other group.
When Stevenson and his small staff set forth in 2010 to research the nation’s lynching legacy, they quickly saw how the practice had been used to intimidate the black public. The observation became central to their landmark 2015 study, “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror,” and the museum itself.
But the team was surprised to see how few signs of lynching were visible on a landscape that had been so deeply affected by the practice.
“Many of the communities where lynchings took place have gone to great lengths to erect markers and monuments that memorialize the Civil War, the Confederacy, and historical events in which local power was violently reclaimed by white Southerners,” Stevenson says. “Yet in all of our subject states, we observed that there is an astonishing absence of any effort to acknowledge, discuss, or address lynching.”
That certainly proved true in Maryland, where the first memorial for a lynching victim was a plaque the City of Annapolis dedicated to the memory of Henry Davis — and to nine other men lynched between 1891 and 1906.
The city dedicated the plaque in 2001 in Brewer Hill Cemetery, where Davis lies in an unmarked grave in a section once reserved for smallpox victims, as part of a ceremony of apology.
The Old Carroll Jail, the building from which the mob hauled Cook in 1885, still stands in downtown Westminster, where it houses part of the county sheriff’s office. The precise location of the farm where he died is unknown.
And Baltimore County historian John McGrain says hundreds of cars roar over the Towson hanging site daily. By his reckoning, the lawn in question lies under busy Bosley Avenue. There’s no sign of Cooper, or his horrific death there.
People tend to think something as terrible as lynching must have happened long ago and far away. But it took place right here.
Nicholas Creary, history professor at Bowie State University
Ifill points out that the county courthouses in Salisbury and Princess Anne look much as they did when large crowds lynched Williams and Armwood. Yet few of the citizens who use those buildings know what their forebears did there, and within living memory.
The silence around these atrocities, she says, only drives the lingering sense of shame underground, where it lurks in the collective unconscious like a ghost waiting to be released from this world to the next.
“The mere fact that lynching is not visible in the landscape doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, and it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have power,” Ifill says. “And the fact that it’s not talked about — the silence was always a big part of lynching.
“For me, the point of my book is that I feel very strongly that the residue of these events lives in the local communities where they happened.”
Stevenson says he has made a close study of Maryland’s lynching history. He believes the state’s relatively modest numbers are a poor indication of the significance of the practice here.
Unlike the Southern states, he says, Maryland is close enough to the nation’s capital that one would expect its inhabitants to be on better behavior. In his view, the fact that it happened here at all suggests a level of fanaticism that even Alabama, Louisiana or Texas might not have been able to claim.
Stevenson points out that many Southern blacks probably migrated to Maryland — a state that boasted an unusually large population of free blacks prior to the Civil War — in hopes of finding refuge. He says the expectation likely gave the lynchings that did happen an especially cruel edge.
One theory he floats: Because Lincoln exempted Maryland from the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, as a sop to those who might have supported secession, expectations in the slaveholding precincts were probably high that black Americans would remain under white control.
So when perceived violations occurred, the anger was strong.
Creary unearthed other insights as he led a graduate research project on Maryland lynchings at Bowie State two years ago.
First, where the Equal Justice Initiative found that 25 percent of lynching cases nationwide involved allegations of sexual misconduct, nearly always against a white woman, the percentage in Maryland was three times that high.
Martin J. Pfeifer, a professor of history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York who has written several books on lynching, says that might be a statistical anomaly. But it might be that the number of free blacks in the state, particularly west of the Chesapeake, simply meant more opportunity for interaction across racial lines.
That meant more opportunity for everything from mixed signals between black and white acquaintances to clandestine interracial relationships and criminal sexual conduct, Pfeifer says.
Creary isn’t buying that so many black men “forced themselves” on white women. He subscribes to the theory shared by anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells as early as the 1890s: that charges of rape were white society’s means of dealing with the horror when consensual interracial relationships came to light.
“Read the [newspaper] accounts,” Creary says. “Time after time, the underlying ‘crime’ happened when the accused was visiting the white woman while her husband was ‘in Baltimore on business’ or ‘out working in the fields.’
“We know it’s necessary to read between the lines.”
Creary’s work challenged another widespread perception — that most of the state’s lynchings took place on the Eastern Shore, a region The New York Times described in 1931 as “lamentably backward,” that Sun columnist H.L. Mencken derided as “the Lynching Shore.”
The 15 that happened there is a sizable number for the sparsely populated region. But Creary points out that more than twice that many were perpetrated on this side of the bay.
“There’s this ongoing discussion around whether Maryland is in the South, the North or somewhere in between,” Creary says. “I think this puts that to rest. Maryland is a Southern state.”
Tina Johnson, an African-American arts administrator and mother of three in Princess Anne, was 12 years old on the day in 1998 when word came that a male cousin had been arrested after a public argument with his white girlfriend.
The reaction of her soft-spoken grandmother left her head spinning.
“Our men have to learn to stop messing around with white women,” Mary Armwood told her granddaughter. “It’s a good way to get killed.”
And Mary, then in her 70s, told Tina a story she had never heard — one that would shape the direction of her life.
Mary was about 10 on the day in October 1933 when her own cousin, an excitable and possibly developmentally disabled 22-year-old named George Armwood, came racing into the house.
George “belonged” to a white family across town — a common setup in Southern states long after the end of slavery — and had worked since boyhood in their lumber yard.
He blurted out that he was about to be accused of “having sex” with an elderly white woman, that “those white boys” actually did it — and that a crowd of police and angry whites was on its way.
He raced off and hid in the woods near his white family’s house. But they gave him up under pressure from the baying mob.
“They beat him really bad; they hung him; they killed him,” Armwood told her granddaughter, her eyes wide and voice shaking.
For years, Johnson figured it was just an odd family story. But years later, as an undergraduate design major at Salisbury University, she came across a brief account of the incident in a textbook on Maryland history.
She had two reactions: shock upon realizing this was the incident her late grandmother had told her about, and anger that it had merited only three paragraphs.
“I’m thinking, ‘We have to learn all these things about history, and this book covered a range of white Marylanders, but when it came to black Marylanders it was just a blip,’” she says, still sounding surprised.
“There were a lot of people lynched in the state of Maryland, and the only thing you do is give the last person who was lynched a brief mention, and it’s not even an honorable mention?
“Why is this still being censored?”
The experience inspired Johnson to do what others have done: dive into old newspaper accounts and dredge up the truth.
She’s now an expert on Armwood’s killing, the Maryland case that drew more press coverage than any other, including voluminous and graphically detailed coverage in the Afro-American and other black news outlets.
The coverage sparked so much outrage locally, nationally and around the world that it helped plant the seeds for the end of lynching as it had long been known.
Johnson says she might have been less interested in the details she learned — how the white mob had beaten her relative, stabbed him with ice picks, dragged him through the streets behind a car, hanged him not once but twice in the center of town and set his body on fire — than in the near-total absence of conversation about the incident in her hometown.
Her own grandmother never mentioned it again, she says, but Johnson believes the incident stayed with her — a woman who rarely left the house and seemed “frightened of white people” — for the rest of her life. She died at age 88 in 2010.
Kirkland Hall, 67, can relate.
The longtime physical education professor, coach and community activist, a lifetime resident of Princess Anne, learned as an adult that he’s a distant cousin to George Armwood.
Hall made the Armwood case the subject of his Ph.D. dissertation, a process that included hosting a consortium of authors about the incident at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2011.
Nearly a hundred people attended, he says, but only two or three were from Princess Anne — a reflection, Hall believes, of the attitude the town has always had toward the incident.
He interviewed dozens of local African-American residents as part of his research, including several who were children at the time of the lynching. Some were still afraid to discuss it.
“Their parents said, ‘Don’t talk about it — and whatever you do say, say it in private,’ ” he says. He doesn’t recall hearing anything about the lynching in elementary school, high school or college.
Hall sees the silence around such trauma as a factor in what he calls his home county’s striking lack of cultural and economic progress.
Somerset County, of which Princess Anne is the seat, didn’t integrate its school system until 1969, for instance, making it one of the last in the United States to do so, and didn’t elect its first black county commissioner — Hall’s longtime friend the Rev. Craig Mathies — until 2010.
Hall believes that breaking the logjam will require bringing long-buried wounds into the open for all to see, discuss and understand.
“Better to take an honest look at history, no matter how painful it might be, than suppress it,” he says. “That’s the only way we’ll be able to understand where each other is coming from, feel like a community, and make progress.”
It’s a message Hall hopes to spread to a wider audience after November. He’s running to become the first African-American state delegate from Somerset County.
He believes he has a good chance. History would suggest otherwise.
“We still have a lot of healing to do,” he says.
Seeds of change
Lynching left a deep and lasting imprint on the nation.
It wasn’t just greater economic opportunity that drove the migration of more than 6 million blacks from the South to the industrial cities of the North during the first half of the 20th century. Historians say Jim Crow laws and the continual threat of violence were also powerful motivators.
Many African-American families pass stories of their forebears’ lynchings along to their children and grandchildren, Creary says, and this oral history helps frame their perceptions of modern social challenges such as the treatment of blacks by police and in the criminal justice system.
Haley and others believe whites who live in communities where lynchings took place still suffer from a form of collective guilt — a feeling exacerbated by a lingering resistance, perhaps out of shame, to talking about what their ancestors did.
“If you were someone who took part in a crime like this, or saw it and did nothing to stop it, or if you brought your child to see it, as many people did, what does that do to your sense of yourself?” he asks. “Where does it fit in your memory and your family’s?
“Keeping secrets about something like this degrades one’s own humanity and that of a community.”
Alexander Boulton agrees.
Boulton, who has taught African-American history at Stevenson University near Towson for 25 years, wrote a scholarly article on the Cooper case for the Maryland Historical Magazine.
The experience convinced the professor, who is white, that the nation’s lynching legacy didn’t just terrorize African-Americans and further entrench racial injustice in the United States; it scarred those who seemed to benefit.
“Whites still enjoy better wages and longer life expectancies than African-Americans, but there has also been a psychological [effect],” Boulton says. “Racism encourages us to see whites as superior, and that limits everyone’s vision, our ability to see the world clearly. It’s psychologically destructive.”
Devastating as it was, lynching carried the seeds of its own demise. Many took root and sprouted in Maryland, specifically in Baltimore.
African-Americans gathered in the basements of Sharp Street Baptist, Bethel A.M.E. and other churches to discuss the issue, and the meetings became incubators for the early civil rights movement.
Shortly after Armwood was lynched, Lillie May Carroll Jackson, the longtime president of the local branch of the NAACP, joined forces with her daughter, Juanita Jackson, to establish the City-Wide Young People’s Forum, an activist group that advocated for racial equality and organized anti-lynching demonstrations.
Jackson, who went on to become the first African-American female lawyer in the state, would marry the future civil rights lobbyist Clarence Mitchell Jr.
Mitchell might never have pursued his legendary career had he not seen the aftermath of a lynching firsthand.
Mitchell was 22 and a recent college graduate when he took a job as a reporter for the Afro-American. He was assigned to cover the Armwood lynching.
By the time he completed the long ferry ride to the Eastern Shore, Armwood had been hanged and his body “barbecued,” as one enthusiastic participant put it.
Mitchell’s account spared no details — and writing it changed him.
“The skin of George Armwood was scorched and blackened while his face had suffered many blows from sharp objects and heavy instruments,” he wrote. “A cursory glance revealed that one ear was missing and his tongue, between his clenched teeth, gave evidence of his great agony before death.”
Mitchell’s son, former state Sen. Michael Mitchell, remembers him describing two things from that experience: “the awful smell of burning flesh, and the strange experience of going around and interviewing members of this white crowd who had witnessed this lynching party.”
Michael Mitchell, now 78, says his father told him that many witnesses expressed shame and guilt over what they had just seen and taken part in — and took that to mean there was hope for change.
Clarence Mitchell Jr. became a driving force behind the passage of some of the nation’s most significant civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the patriarch of a family that has been a pillar of African-American political power in Maryland.
He shared the memories with ensuing generations — including his grandson, former Maryland state senator and current radio personality Clarence Mitchell IV, when the younger man was in his teens.
It was during a drive to Washington with his grandfather that he heard the story of Armwood’s lynching, and it changed his life as well.
“In our family, we always felt that regardless of the challenges, you could always appeal to the better angels of people’s nature,” he says. “That was the impact. We gravitated to public service.”
From truth to reconciliation
Students of what newspaper reporters once referred to as “Lynch Law” say the descendants of victims are unlikely to see formal justice done on behalf of their forebears.
No perpetrator is known to have been convicted of murder in America’s more than 5,000 lynching cases. And even though a handful of U.S. senators backed the passage of anti-lynching laws as early as the 1920s, Congress — repeatedly stymied by Democratic senators from the South — never passed such a bill.
In 2005, the Senate passed a resolution apologizing for its “failure to enact anti-lynching legislation” and expressing its “deepest sympathies and most solemn regrets” to victims’ descendants.
This year, the Department of Justice reopened the case of Emmett Till, the African-American 14-year-old who was shot to death, mutilated and thrown in a river in Mississippi in 1955 after he allegedly flirted with a white woman.
The woman’s husband and his half-brother were acquitted by an all-white jury but are said to have confessed their guilt to a reporter years later.
Even so, enough time had passed that witnesses had died, evidence had gone cold and interest in the case had waned. Though murder has no statute of limitations, legal experts say homicide charges are rarely filed if no living person can be shown to have been involved.
That leaves a different kind of justice — the kind for which Will Schwarz and other activists are now fighting.
The mere fact that lynching is not visible in the landscape doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, and it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have power.
Civil rights attorney Sherrilyn A. Ifill
It was three years ago that Schwarz, a white Baltimore County documentary filmmaker, attended a lecture by Stevenson at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
Stevenson was on tour publicizing “Just Mercy,” his critically acclaimed and bestselling memoir about his work on behalf of young African-Americans he believed were being treated unfairly within Alabama’s criminal justice system.
The argument that Stevenson made connecting those issues to the nation’s lynching history mesmerized Schwarz. Even as a college graduate and history buff, he says, he had never heard or read much on the subject.
“I’m ashamed to admit this, but I was honestly unaware of the scale of the problem,” Schwarz says. “I had never heard anyone connect the dots around this American shame so eloquently.”
The evening convinced Schwarz that this dark legacy set in concrete racial disparities the nation is still struggling to resolve.
He followed the Equal Justice Initiative as it built the lynching museum in Montgomery. He learned the National Memorial for Peace and Justice is more than a critically acclaimed collection of modern sculptures, markers and historical accounts — it’s a project meant to reach into communities nationwide.
Schwarz formed a nonprofit, the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, as a clearinghouse for activities around the state. The organization is working to collect soil samples from every known lynching site and hopes to place memorial markers at each of those sites.
Each soil sample is to be collected in a jar bearing the victim’s name and other information, then sent for display in Montgomery.
Equal Justice Initiative staff traveled to Maryland last fall to work with local volunteer groups to collect samples from six lynchings on the Eastern Shore, including Armwood’s.
The samples are now part of the permanent display in Montgomery. The museum also boasts more than 800 steel columns, each bearing the name of a county in the U.S. in which a lynching occurred.
The Equal Justice Initiative created a duplicate for each column and is challenging someone from each of those counties, whether government official or private citizen, to take the duplicate home and put it on permanent display — a move likely to cost several thousand dollars per installation.
The idea is to prompt passersby to think about what happened on the site and why, and to spark conversation at the community level.
Ifill has been to the Alabama museum. She says the site brings many pilgrims to tears as they confront this brutal chapter of their nation’s history for the first time.
She likes the outreach component even more.
“I do think there should be markers in the public space about where these events happened,” Ifill says. “I think it’s important to know that [hundreds of] people assembled on a Friday night in Salisbury to kill Matthew Williams outside the courthouse.
“I think that the kinds of conversations you can then have in the community about where we have come from, about who we really are and who we want to be, can open up so many possibilities.”
Schwarz’s group is just beginning to reach out to the 18 affected counties in Maryland. Its first major public event is to take place in Baltimore next month.
“Lynching in Maryland: The Path From Truth to Reconciliation,” a half-day conference, will feature panels, films and conversations on Maryland’s lynching history, its continuing effects, and what people can do to help bring about healing.
I want to know all my history, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent.
Tina Johnson, a relative of lynching victim George Armwood
Dr. Kaye Whitehead, a filmmaker and radio personality who teaches African and African-American history at Loyola University Maryland, will moderate the event, including a panel discussion on how media outlets, including The Sun, covered lynchings.
Creary and Michael Mitchell are among the scheduled speakers, as are Baltimore attorney and Maryland Lynching Memorial Project board member Billy Murphy, federal public defender Jim Wyda, and representatives of the Equal Justice Initiative, the Maryland State Archives and the Maryland Historical Society.
The conference is scheduled for Oct. 13 — five days before the 85th anniversary of the lynching of Armwood — at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture.
One of Armwood’s descendants says she’s sure it will be more than a day of looking back. It will be an opportunity to take a first step toward a more honest and inclusive future.
“In the United States and in Maryland, they really don’t want us to know or talk about our negative history,” Tina Johnson says. “I want to know all my history, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent.
“I only wish my grandmother were here to see all this.”
Beauty, gender, ethnic identity and stereotypes are among the issues explored in Say It Loud, the latest exhibit from the collection of local curator Hedy Fischer and artist Randy Shull. The mixed-media event will feature paintings, photography, sculptures and video by local, regional, national and internationally recognized African-American artists, including Kehinde Wiley, best known for his official portrait of President Barack Obama.
The show continues Fischer’s and Shull’s interest in producing socially and politically charged exhibits. Last year’s ¡Viva! delved into contemporary issues in Latin America. And, more recently, Fischer organized Trigger Happy, a collection of local works confronting gun violence in America.
“It’s personally important to us because I don’t see much engagement here in Asheville,” she says, noting a racial divide among many of the area’s communities. “So this is our way, hopefully, of providing an opportunity for people to come together.”
Slated to open Saturday, Sept. 29, Say It Loud will debut on the same weekend as the opening of Between Form and Content: Perspectives on Jacob Lawrence and Black Mountain College at Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. The date, notes Fischer, is no coincidence. “To have two major African-American art exhibitions opening on the same weekend in Asheville is a really big deal,” she says.
In total, 19 artists will be featured in Say It Loud. Alicia Henry is among the show’s regionally based talents. Her mixed-media works tend to explore the human figure with a particular focus on individual expressions. “She often depicts the face as a mask or a shield to protect the most vulnerable parts of ourselves,” notes Fischer. The use of textiles within Henry’s designs lend to the subject’s overall sense of concealment, Fischer adds.
Henry, who teaches art at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., says she is pleased to be featured in a show steeped in talent. From Rashid Johnson, the first African-American artist to be a trustee at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, to MacArthur fellow Kerry James Marshall, Henry describes the collection as a group of “fantastic artists with strong opinions and visual clarity.”
The exhibit’s themes, she adds, are particularly relevant in today’s political climate. “I think we need to work on being able to talk about things and not feel our hairs rise up and get defensive and uncomfortable,” she says.
One of the great benefits of shows like this, Henry continues, is that it creates meditative spaces allowing people to contemplate issues without the noise that often disrupts and distracts us. “Sometimes that makes it more approachable for people,” she says, “to be able to first look at an image that deals with something that is going on in society … and then to address it.”
Like Henry’s art, work by local artist Clarissa Sligh also asks viewers to consider what’s beyond the surface. Her piece, Blessing of the Men, features nine silver gelatin prints obscured by a curtain of more than 2,000 origami cranes strung on cotton thread.
“Most of her work deals with transformation and change,” explains Fischer. “In this particular piece, she is showing men in their tender moments.”
Sligh’s interest in breaking stereotypes associated with masculinity dates back to her childhood. “My father felt that men were supposed to be macho … and maintain some distance between themselves and their family,” the artist says.
Blessing of the Men captures nine men of color in various acts. Some are combing their children’s hair, others are sitting contemplatively inside their homes. In one case, a man is tending to a kitten; in another photo, the subject is transferring a bouquet of flowers into a vase.
“These are moments outside of the whole notion of the macho man, patriarch, provider — that kind of thing,” says Sligh.
Meanwhile, the origami cranes work on a variety of levels. In one sense, they function as a metaphorical shield of protection, Sligh explains. At the same time, she notes, the curtain is meant to be parted by viewers. Like many of the other works in Say It Loud, Sligh’s piece invites and encourages the audience to push past the barriers to take a closer look.
WHAT:Say It Loud WHERE: 22 London Road, 22london.org WHEN: Opening reception Saturday, Sept. 29, 6-10 p.m. The exhibit will remain on view by appointment through Sunday, Oct. 28. Free
RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment
Former United States President George W. Bush (L) and dancer Arthur Mitchell (R) speak following a performance in the East Room of the White House honoring the Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mr Mitchell, its Founder and Artistic Director, in Washington, D.C., 06 February 2006. Arthur Mitchell, who was one of the United States’ first black ballet dancers, has died at the age of 84, in New York. EPA-EFE/Ron Sachs
Legendary dancer, choreographer, teacher, barrier breaker Arthur Mitchell changed ballet forever and broke barriers for African-American dancers. His Dance Theatre of Harlem’s unprecedented tour to South Africa became an international news event as well as the first major cultural group to visit South Africa and mark the end of the cultural boycott.
After a lifetime of firsts, Arthur Mitchell passed away on 19 September at the age of 84. He had been a celebrity star dancer for George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, with dances choreographed for him; he had been a global exponent of ballet as a tool for cultural exchange and changing attitudes; he had founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem as a personal response to his anguish after the death of Martin Luther King, and he had led the first major cultural group to visit South Africa as a compelling symbol that the old apartheid order was over – and that a new nation was being born. And, of course, in all this he had been a black man, from distinctly humble origins (his father had been a building maintenance super), who had accomplished all of this.
As a young child, he sang in a Police Athletic League glee club and in the Convent Avenue Baptist Church choir, and he had some rudimentary tap classes at his neighbourhood schools. But his first exposure to formal dance classes had only come after his junior high school guidance counsellor had seen him dancing at a school class party, and then encouraged him to audition for the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan, the school depicted in the film, Fame. He stood out as a student and was soon performing with the school’s modern-dance ensemble and even trying out his own choreography.
He even had chances to perform in Europe, including being cast in the role of an angel in the 1952 revival of the avant-garde Virgil Thomson-Gertrude Stein opera Four Saints in Three Acts in both New York and Paris. (Back at its original composition, the composer and librettist had stipulated that the cast had to be an all-black one whenever that work was performed.) From the Fame School, it was then on to the outrageously selective School of American Ballet. From there it was then a jump to George Balanchine’s globally renowned company, where he eventually rose to become a principal dancer. Along the way, Mitchell worked with Broadway, modern dance projects, and almost every other opportunity that came along.
After Mitchell had become an established lead dancer in the New York City Ballet, Balanchine choreographed works to make best use of Mitchell’s lithe athleticism, as he did with the very abstract-styled pas de deux in Agon.
Watch: Agon Pas de Deux:
Then, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mitchell’s Puck was a legendary triumph in which he almost seemed to defy gravity.
Watch Mitchell’s Puck:
Agon was a cause celebre that transcended the rather rarefied atmosphere of ballet at the time. The angularity of the dancing was one thing, but it also paired a muscular black man with a white female dancer who touched on stage in ways many ballet fans had not expected to see, not even in New York City, back in the early 1960s:
Speaking about George Balanchine’s audacity in casting Mitchell in the lead in Agon, Mitchell had told friends later”
“Can you imagine the audacity to take an African-American and Diana Adams, the essence and purity of Caucasian dance, and to put them together on the stage? Everybody was against him. He [Balachine] knew what he was going against, and he said, ‘You know, my dear, this has got to be perfect.’ ”
And it was.
Five years after Agon, Balanchine then created that role of Puck for Arthur Mitchell, turning him into a high-flying, hard-dancing, naughty spirit in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ballet critic Walter Terry had written of Mitchell’s portrayal that Mitchell had danced “as if he were Mercury subjected to a hotfoot”.
Mitchell became involved in establishing a national ballet in Brazil at the invitation of the US State Department, and in 1968, while he was on the way to board a plane for a visit there, he had heard on the radio of the death of Rev Martin Luther King Jr and the outbreaks of violence and rioting that quickly followed. Right then and there, Mitchell had resolved to do something to reach out to African-American youth in order to find a better course of action for such young people.
Working with his long-time friend and professional dance mentor Karel Shook, Mitchell opened his new school, aimed at young black Americans in New York City. This new ballet school started with a mere handful of curious children, but within a few months, there were hundreds of eager young hopefuls. In that transition period in his professional life, one of the last ballets Mitchell performed with the New York City Ballet, before moving on full time with his own dreams, had been Balanchine’s Requiem Canticles, a tribute to Rev King, created shortly after he had been assassinated in 1968.
Back when Mitchell had first opened his school, and then, thereafter, as he established the professional company known as the Dance Theatre of Harlem, there had been an unwritten but rather obvious code about the correct physiognomy for female ballet dancers. They all had to present the same willowy proportions, they had to be the same height to deliver the right visuals to the audience – and, of course, they had to be white. Male dancers could vary a bit, just as Mitchell had himself done, but that awkward business about skin colour was always in the mix.
Mr Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem changed all of this. Even Dance Theatre of Harlem’s signature works such as Dougla by Geoffrey Holder that depicted a rowdy Trinidadian Afro-South Asian marriage, the Dance Theatre of Harlem could deliver a gutsy, athletic spectacle that left audience members literally gasping for breath, right along with a few of the dancers.
Still, in all of the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s performances, the programmes were always set up in accordance with Arthur Mitchell’s famous maxim that every performance should have an appetiser (a starter), a main course, and a dessert – designed to cater to different tastes and to enhance appreciation for dance. While it was true some of the showier works such as Dougla might be more modern dance than ballet, John Tara’s Firebird to the Igor Stravinsky score, and choreographed specifically for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, was presented by the company for years. The work made a deep bow towards the original choreography, yet was new, fresh, and different, and it became an instant hit with audiences worldwide and was a standard of the company’s repertory for decades.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem grew rapidly in prominence in America as an early symbol of a growing racial integration of “high culture”, and Mitchell’s company and the school became avenues through which a growing roster of black classical ballet dancers could live their hopes that they too could achieve their professional goals.
Moreover, under Arthur Mitchell’s guidance, the company continued to add a growing range of classical ballet works and neo-classical ones, as well as specially commissioned material, sometimes with an American (and African-American) theme, such as John Henry, choreographed by Mitchell on the legendary railroad worker’s life and apotheosis. Classical productions were carefully tailored to suit and show off his black dancers, with costumes designed to flatter the variety of skin tones of those very dancers. In his restaging of Giselle, for example, he repositioned the ballet’s story to 19th-century Louisiana, with Creole characters, and the setting of Firebird became a lush jungle, instead of the forest of the original Fokine plan.
As the company gained international recognition, it began to tour internationally, and, in 1989, the State Department reached out to the company to visit to the Soviet Union as the first American cultural group to travel there since the freeze in cultural ties occasioned by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Their growing global reputation as first tier cultural ambassadors was locked as a result of the success of that trip.
Meanwhile, this writer had just arrived in South Africa for a second official assignment, this time as cultural attaché for the US Embassy. It turned out that 1989 also marked the moment the great freeze of apartheid really began to come undone; first as the initial political prisoners were released towards the end of the year, and then, in early 1990, as the much more general movement began in earnest, with the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of political groups. At that point, in our office we suddenly had to consider just what, exactly, our role would be in dealing with a South African landscape that would be very different from what it had been, just a few months previously. There were now possibilities for the reopening of academic and cultural relations, long dormant. But if that would become possible, what kind of group was the right one to bring to such a nation?
As it happened, I had just seen a cover story in a major US magazine about that trip to the Soviet Union by the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Doing a bit of research, I learned the company had three black South Africans among its dancers – August van Heerden, Felicity de Jager, and Laveen Naidu. More happy coincidences awaited. Van Heerden had studied dance with my wife, a South African, when they were younger; and my wife’s mother had had a hand in training De Jager as well. All three dancers had never had the opportunity to perform professionally in South Africa.
By this time, the political climate had moved sufficiently that we could open a dialogue, initially via Van Heerden, with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and Arthur Mitchell – who was intrigued by the possibilities. But before they would get on the plane and fly to Africa, they required formal support from the ANC, the PAC and Azapo, a buy-in by the UN’s Special Committee on Apartheid, an actual invitation to perform issued by a legitimate local sponsor, and a suitable venue in which they could perform. The Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mitchell had international regard, a special status in the US, and a truly unique position within the African-American community as well, and they were not about to compromise any of that in a trip to South Africa that was guaranteed to be a major news story internationally.
As a first stop, I sought the agreement, in principle, from the Market Theatre, internationally recognised for its place within the cultural universe for its no-holds-barred protest theatre activities. Simultaneously, we made representations to the various liberation movements, now legitimately operating inside the country – which we actually received. And we looked for someone to help financially. Fortunately, a major South African bank agreed to bear some of the costs. But then the city discovered that its newly renovated Civic Theatre (now the Joburg Theatre) had no opening programme for its theatre because of its past ties to apartheid structures and activities. (The offer of the Dance Theatre of Harlem in exchange for a revamping of its management board was requested and carried out with alacrity.) Eventually, Arthur Mitchell’s own magnetism carried the day with the UN and the visit began to come together, despite concerns about who would (or could) come to see the programme and how the company would be engaged with South Africa’s larger society.
Picture: Arthur Mitchell, head of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, on arrival in South Africa at the then-Jan Smuts Airport, September 1992. Left to right: the author, Arthur Mitchell, Augustus van Heerden (dance master of the Dance Theatre of Harlem company), Ruth Jacobs Spector (author’s spouse), and John Kani (representing the Market Theatre Foundation).
By the time the company had finished their month-long trip to South Africa, they had performed to over 10,000 people in the theatre; and some 25,000 people from all over the Witwatersrand – in township halls and dance schools alike – had attended master classes, workshops, lectures, and so much more. After a special invitational evening hosted for the ANC, Nelson Mandela had so praised the evening’s programme that his effusive comments about that night stayed on the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s own publications for years to come.
Following the company’s return to the US, it continued its run of successful tours and performances around the world, although fund-raising eventually ran behind costs, and the company was forced to downsize, regroup and even – for a time – close down its performances and touring. Rebuilding, the school now has some 300 students and the reconstituted company performs again.
A few months ago, when he was asked in an interview with The New York Times what he considered his greatest achievement, Arthur Mitchel had said:
“That I actually bucked society, and an art form that was three, four hundred years old, and brought black people into it.”
And so he did. DM
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LOS ANGELES — As Los Angeles celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, retired African-American history professor Ron Wilkins is on a mission to publicize the little-known history of solidarity between African Americans and Mexicans that he says dates back for centuries.
“Believe it or not, there is a long and shared history of blacks and Latinos struggling together against racism and injustice that is not widely known,” said Wilkins, who has taught cross-cultural courses at Antioch University, Cal State Dominguez Hills and West Los Angeles College.
A former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who actively participated in the civil rights and black power movements, Wilkins has studied black and Mexican solidarity for more than 25 years.
He was the guest lecturer at the Palms-Rancho Park Library Sept. 15 for the branch’s Latino Heritage program. He pointed out that Africans and Mexicans made contact with each other before Christ.
“The Olmec civilization in Mexico had contacts with the Egyptians starting around 800 B.C.,” Wilkins said. “Egyptian soldiers and mariners traveled to Mexico and encountered the Olmec people. Their cultures got along very well. For the first time, you start to see pyramids being erected in Mexico.”
Wilkins, who has traveled to Mexico several times, pointed to a photo he had taken of the statue of an Egyptian soldier.
“You can tell from his broad nose and lips that he is distinctly African, possibly inspired when the Egyptians who traveled to Mexico,” he said.
Wilkins posted photos of historic Mexican figures who had distinct African features and whose complexions were unmistakably dark.
“Artist Diego Rivera and Generals Vicente Guerrero and Emiliano Zapata all had African roots,” Wilkins said, pointing to photos that depicted all three men with dark skin.
Wilkins said that Mexicans abhorred the institution of slavery and that it was not uncommon for Mexicans in Texas to participate in slave insurrections and to actively help slaves escape to freedom in Mexico.
“Spain controlled Mexico. In 1810, Afro-Mexicans played a major role in the fight for Mexican independence from Spain,” he said.
Wilkins said that slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1821 and that Gen. Vicente Guerrero, whose father was African-Mexican, was one of the leading revolutionary generals of the Mexican War of Independence and later served as president of Mexico. He signed a decree banning slavery in the Mexican republic on Sept. 16, 1829.
On Feb. 14, 1831, Guerrero was executed by his enemies for officially abolishing slavery and for bringing about the country’s independence.
“We should celebrate Guerrero rather than celebrating Valentine’s Day,” Wilkins said.
Slave owners were aware that thousands of slaves had found refuge in Mexico. As far back as 1822, the slave owners wanted to expand Texas, which bordered Mexico and was sparsely populated at the time, by using slave labor.
The slave owners pressed for an extradition treaty and regularly traveled to the Mexican border to demand that their runaway slaves be returned, but the Mexican government adamantly refused.
“Rumor has it that five to six thousand slaves had escaped the plantations with the help of the Tejanos, Mexicans in Texas,” Wilkins said.
In 1836, after the defeat of slavery defenders at the Alamo, Texas ordered the capture of Mexican leader Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, one of General Jose de Urrea’s brigadier generals. Urrea and his troops then traveled from plantation to plantation.
“Wherever they saw slaves, they set them free and gave them immediate titles to the land that they had been working,” Wilkins said.
“During the Mexican Revolution, which lasted from 1910 to 1920, black fighters fought shoulder-to-shoulder alongside Gen. Zapata,” Wilkins said.
“In 1857, the Mexican Congress declared that any black person who set forth on Mexican soil was free.”
African-American and Mexican relations extended far beyond fighting for freedom. Wilkins said that in the 1930s and 1940s, black artists such as John Biggers, Charles White and Elizabeth Catlett regularly traveled to Mexico to meet and collaborate with Mexican muralists.
Another little known fact, Wilkins said, is that Jackie Robinson, the first African-American ballplayer to sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers and break the color line in the major leagues, was primarily due to the success of African-American baseball players who had traveled to Mexico to play in the Mexican baseball leagues.
“The Negro League players were shut out of playing in the major league teams in America, so traveling to Mexico to play against Mexican teams was a common practice,” Wilkins said.
Jorge Pascal, who owned baseball teams in Veracruz, Mexico, took notice of the talented players in the Negro Leagues. In 1938, in order to give the Mexican leagues a winning advantage on the ball field, he started hiring black players. He hired pitcher Satchel Paige, considered to be one of the best pitchers in the Negro Leagues — and the Mexican teams continued to win.
“That’s when the United States took notice and started considering signing an African-American ballplayer, and Jackie Robinson was the first one they signed,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins said he had been interested in black-Mexican relations since he was a youth.
“Everywhere I’ve lived, I grew up around Mexican people,” he said, adding that he had many Mexican friends. “I wanted to know the history between Mexican and black people,” recalls the retired professor, who grew up in the Slauson Village area of South Los Angeles and lived in the same neighborhood as many of his Mexican friends.
Wilkins said that the African influence in Mexico is still evident.
“There are 30 villages in Mexico that are still predominately black,” said Wilkins, who has visited several. “They have annual meetings where the black villages come together and discuss how their education can be improved and how to forge better relations with the government.”
Muriel Shabazz said Wilkins’ lecture was insightful and that she had learned many facts about black and Latino relations that she had not read about in the history books.
“I would love for this course to be taught in the prisons and in the schools where they have large African-American and Mexican populations,” Shabazz said.
“Unfortunately, this history is not part of the curriculum in the schools,” Wilkins said. “I would love to see this history depicted in a film. That’s my hope.”
RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment
Passengers wait to board a Metro train Feb. 8, 2018, at the Navy Yard-Ballpark station. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
The next not-so-great ride you take on Metro, you should blame it on the transit agency’s unions. Better yet, blame it on those unions’ “lavish” pensions.
That’s what some politicians and Metro know-it-alls have been saying anyway. But they’re wrong.
It’s not union wages or pensions that have dragged down the capital’s mass transit system, even if the narrative fits a popular notion that big business and its allies have been peddling for years. Saying so will not fix Metro, and carrying out plans to eliminate workers’ pensions would ultimately only deepen the region’s inequalities.
If anything, talk of a pension crisis — which got going again with this month’s U.S. Government Accountability Office report on Metro’s pensions — is overblown, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said. He said that even with a $2.8 billion liability, Metro’s pension system might actually be one of the few things the system has managed well.
“I am not persuaded that we have to radically junk the current pension program, because there is no crisis,” Connolly said in an interview. “This is a manageable problem.”
First, the problem: Metro is facing a $1.1 billion pension liability, which is even larger if you factor in unfunded health benefits for future retirees. Most of the liability belongs to the fund for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, Metro’s largest. The ATU represents more than 15,000 people, or about 83 percent of the workforce, nearly three-quarters of whom are African American. (Disclosure: I’m also in a union and serve as co-chair for The Washington Post’s bargaining unit.)
The Metro pensions are also defined-benefit plans, which means that the plans are designed for employers to set aside a chunk of money and manage those assets in such a way that retirees receive a guaranteed sum for life. That’s different from a 401(k), which is a defined-contribution plan and involves setting aside a chunk of money with the mere hope that it provides enough to sustain a retiree for the rest of his days. More about this in a moment.
An October 2017 report by consultants Aon Hewitt found that the overall percentage of liabilities to assets in Metro’s pension funds stood at 79 percent, up from 77. 7 percent, thanks largely to investment gains. ATU’s was at 79.8 percent.
You don’t hear many people calling for those pensions to be phased out for 401(k)s — a “Republican solution,” as Connolly has called it.
Enter Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), who has been among the most vocal in blaming Metro unions for its ills. Comstock is pushing a bill that would condition federal funding on moving Metro employees into 401(k) plans. Interestingly, however, a search of her bill finds no attempt to do the same for members of Congress — or for the federal workforce, who happen to make up a substantial portion of Metro’s ridership and receive subsidies to ride. Why not ditch their pensions, too, while she’s at it?
Metro board Chairman Jack Evans, who is also a D.C. Council member for Ward 2, has also been critical of Metro’s pensions — but guess what he’s entitled to when he retires?
Comstock and others who blame labor first for every mismanaged enterprise also keep characterizing Metro’s pensions as “outliers.” That’s the word used in former U.S. Transportation secretary Ray LaHood’s comprehensive report about Metro, and it refers to two things: Metro workers contribute less than the national average — 3 percent of their wages, compared to 7 percent for public sector employees — and Metro workers use overtime to inflate the post-retirement payments they ultimately receive. Both these factors can and should be reformed, and Connolly said he supports both changes.
But even taking that into account, Metro’s overall labor costs — salaries, wages, fringe benefits — are, to quote LaHood again, “average.”
“[A]l WMATA has pension problems, there is no evidence these problems are out of character with the similar challenges faced by many other public agencies,” LaHood’s report says.
If anything, LaHood’s report contains implied criticism of Metro management for adding more service — expansion with the new Silver Line and later hours — even while ridership was declining. Let’s not forget, the system also had no form of dedicated funding until recently.
What’s more, the blame-the-pensions crowd also overlooks the fact that Metro ceased contributing to the pension fund for eight years. The agency only resumed making contributions after that hiatus in 2006, two years before the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression. That’s the union’s fault?
In the last round of bargaining talks, Metro wanted to hold down wages, close the pension to new employees and shift new hires into 401(k)s — a kinder, gentler way of killing the pension and shortchanging future employees. The ATU fought back. Last month, Metro announced that an arbitration board decision requires the agency to increase wages by $82 million, or 1.6 percent a year over four years — which sounds like a lot until you consider inflation is running at around 2.2 percent so far this year. The arbitration board also said employees would have to increase their contributions to health-care costs. But the panel stuck with the status quo on pensions — and that’s caused some to howl.
Yet all this talk about phasing out Metro’s pensions comes as millions of older Americans are waking up to find that 401(k) plans have not lived up to their billing. The 401(k) was created to supplement the sort of pensions Metro workers receive, instead of replacing them. Now the evidence is piling up on what a disaster this has been for many people who relied on them. Too many Americans are heading into retirement with a small fraction of the savings they need. Last year, Ted Benna, who is considered the father of the 401(k), told the Wall Street Journal that he regretted what he had wrought.
“For a lot of Americans, they are now retirement poor because of this move from defined benefit to defined contribution,” Connolly said.
Now we want to add Metro workers to that list. That seems odd in progressive Washington, where many political leaders and other observers who want to wipe out Metro’s pensions also decry the forces of “gentrification” and growing income inequality that require taxpayers to boost spending for affordable housing and other social benefits.
If anything, the District should be pushing for new versions of the sort of defined-benefit plans that helped create a middle class, beginning with Metro. The New York Times, for example, pioneered an adjustable pension whose benefit formulas fluctuate in good times and lean times, thereby sharing risks between employers and employees. Instead of pointing at Metro workers and asking, “Why do they still have pensions?” we ought to be asking, “Why don’t we have them too?”
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WASHINGTON — Six weeks before the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats hold a 12-point lead in congressional preference among registered voters, with nearly six-in-10 saying they’d like to see significant change in the direction President Donald Trump has been leading the country, according to a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
The results suggest a political environment where Democrats have the clear advantage in their pursuit to win back control of Congress in November.
“Americans are hitting the brake in a midterm, and trying to send the signal that they’re not satisfied,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollsters at Hart Research Associates.
“The public is clearly saying, once again, they want to shake up the status quo,” added Democratic pollster Fred Yang.
Still, the same poll shows that Republican enthusiasm about the upcoming election has increased, drawing nearly even with Democrats; that GOP attacks on immigration and Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi are potent in individual races; and that nearly 70 percent of voters are satisfied with the economy.
In the survey, which was conducted Sept. 16-19, 52 percent of registered voters say they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, versus 40 percent who want the Republicans in charge.
That 12-point lead for Democrats — their highest of the cycle in the poll — is an increase from August, when they held an 8-point edge, 50 percent to 42 percent, although the change is within the survey’s margin of error.
Among the voters who are most likely to vote — the first time the NBC/WSJ poll has measured these voters for the 2018 elections — the Democrats’ advantage falls to 8 points, 51 percent to 43 percent.
In the larger pool of registered voters, McInturff points to warning signs for Republicans. They trail Democrats among moderates and independents by more than 30 points; they’re losing women ages 50 and older by nearly 20 points; and they’re behind among voters living in competitive congressional districts by 12 points, 53 percent to 41 percent.
Additionally, a combined 59 percent of voters say they’d like to see either “a great deal of change” or “quite a bit of change” in the direction Trump has been leading the country.
That includes 61 percent of independents and even a third of Republican respondents.
And by a 42 percent-to-31 percent margin, voters say their message in November will be for more Democrats to serve as a check and balance to Trump and the congressional Republicans, instead of Republicans who will help Trump and the GOP pass their agenda.
President Trump’s job rating in the poll stands at 44 percent approve, 52 percent disapprove — essentially unchanged from August’s poll.
GOP catches up in enthusiasm
The good news for Republicans in the NBC/WSJ poll is that they’ve caught up to Democrats on enthusiasm about the upcoming midterm elections.
Sixty-five percent of registered Democrats say they’re very interested in the midterms — registering either a “9” or “10” on a 10-point scale — compared with 61 percent of Republicans who say the same thing.
That narrow 4-point advantage for Democrats is down from their leads of 11 points in August (63 percent to 52 percent) and 16 points in July (65 percent to 49 percent).
The groups with the highest level of interest in the election: Seniors (73 percent register either a “9” or “10), Democrats (65 percent), whites (61 percent), Republicans (61 percent) and African Americans (53 percent).
The groups with the lowest level of interest: Independents (37 percent) and those ages 18-34 (35 percent).
The most and least popular issue positions in 2018
The NBC/WSJ poll also asked voters positions on key issues in the 2018 campaign.
The most popular issues:
58 percent said they are more likely to vote for a congressional candidate who favors allowing young adults who were brought into the country illegally by their parents to stay in the U.S. legally to attend college or to work;
55 percent said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports cutting the tax rate for businesses and corporations — and cutting taxes for most Americans;
51 percent said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who favors stricter regulations on assault and military-style firearms;
And 47 percent said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who favors “Medicare For All” — a single-payer health-care system in which all Americans would get their health insurance from one government plan.
The least popular issues:
82 percent said they are less likely to vote for a candidate who favors cutting Social Security and Medicare to help pay for Trump’s tax cuts;
55 percent said they are less likely to vote for a candidate who favors increasing funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border;
53 percent said they are less likely to back a candidate who supports Trump’s issue positions over 90 percent of the time.
52 percent said they are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports weakening or eliminating the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare;
48 percent said they are less likely to vote for a candidate who favors abolishing ICE, the agency in charge of immigration and customs enforcement;
And 44 percent said they are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports Nancy Pelosi as the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives if Democrats take control of Congress.
Sixty-nine percent say they’re satisfied with U.S. economy
Finally, the NBC/WSJ poll finds 69 percent of American voters saying they’re either “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with the state of the U.S. economy — tied for the highest percentage on this question since 2001.
The all-time high, however, was in September 1998, before President Bill Clinton and Democrats picked up seats that midterm cycle, when a whopping 86 percent of all adults said they were satisfied with the economy.
And when asked if Trump’s policies have helped or hurt the economy, 41 percent said helped and 26 percent said hurt. Thirty percent said they haven’t made much of a difference.
The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted September 16-19 of 900 voters — nearly half reached by cellphone — and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.3 percentage points. The margin of error for the 594 likely voters is plus-minus 4.0 percentage points.
Immigrants made their own flags for the installation of Saudade (Our Flags) by Brazilian artist Maril Dardot at Montalvo in Saratoga. Many of them had personal references to their home countries.
Immigrants made their own flags for the installation of Saudade (Our Flags) by Brazilian artist Maril Dardot at Montalvo in Saratoga. Many of them had personal references to their home countries.
Photo: Liz Moughon / The Chronicle
Photo: Liz Moughon / The Chronicle
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Immigrants made their own flags for the installation of Saudade (Our Flags) by Brazilian artist Maril Dardot at Montalvo in Saratoga. Many of them had personal references to their home countries.
Immigrants made their own flags for the installation of Saudade (Our Flags) by Brazilian artist Maril Dardot at Montalvo in Saratoga. Many of them had personal references to their home countries.
Photo: Liz Moughon / The Chronicle
Upcoming political events in the Bay Area.
Medicare for all: Peace Action of San Mateo hosts a strategy session for a nationwide campaign to enact single-payer health care on the federal level. 7 p.m., Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo, 300 East Santa Inez Ave. More information is here.
Christine Blasey Ford rally: Rally to support Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of trying to rape her when they were high school students. 8 p.m., corner of El Camino Real and Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto. More information is here.
S.F. Politics 101: An introduction to the city’s politics. Speakers include state Sen. Scott Wiener, Joel Engardio, Jessica Ho and David Latt. Sponsored by United Democratic Club. Free. 6-8 p.m., Ortega Branch Library, 3223 Ortega St., San Francisco. More information is here.
Berkeley school board candidates: The League of Women Voters holds a forum for Berkeley school board candidates Ka’Dijah Brown, Julie Sinai, Ty Alper, Abdur Sikder, Dru Howard and Norma Harrison. 7:30-8:45 p.m., Berkeley City College, 2050 Center St. More information is here.
Lieutenant governor candidates: Eleni Kounalakis and Ed Hernandez, candidates for lieutenant governor, take part in a forum on higher education issues. The lieutenant governor is a University of California regent and California State University trustee. Free. 4:30-7 p.m., 110 Embarcadero, San Francisco. More information is here.
Oakland D4 candidates: Forum for City Council and school board candidates in Oakland’s District Four. 6:30-8:30 p.m., Allendale Recreation Center, 3711 Suter St. More information is here.
Brisbane development: Brisbane Mayor Pro Tem Madison Davis and City Councilwoman Karen Cunningham take questions on Measure JJ, which would allow development of 2,000 housing units and commercial space and hotels in the Baylands area. 6-7:30 p.m., Madhouse Coffee, 402 Visitacion Ave., Brisbane. More information is here.
Get out the vote: Register to vote, learn about legislation affecting local communities and network with social justice advocates. Sponsored by Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency. 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Oakland City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza. More information is here.
Progressive take on midterms: A look at midterm candidates and state ballot measures from the progressive perspective, with 48 Hills founder Tim Redmond and Bill Honigman, organizer for Progressive Democrats of America. 7-9 p.m., San Francisco Unitarian-Universalist Center chapel, 1187 Franklin St. More information is here.
Truth decay: RAND Corp. CEO Michael Rich discusses “truth decay — the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life,” at the Commonwealth Club. $35 nonmembers, $10 students. 6:30-7:30 p.m., 110 Embarcadero, San Francisco. More information is here.
Berkeley rent board candidates: Candidates for Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board take part in a forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. 7-9 p.m., Berkeley City College, 2050 Center St. More information is here.
D6 supervisor candidates: Matt Haney, Christine Johnson and Sonja Trauss, candidates for San Francisco supervisor in District Six, take part in a forum in “the race to lead the innovation district. Sponsored by sf.citi. 6-8:30 p.m. at Lyft, 185 Berry St. fifth floor. More information is here.
Iran and Trump: Covering Iran in the age of Trump: a conversation with reporter Melissa Etehad of the Los Angeles Times, moderated by San Francisco State journalism Professor Venise Wagner. 12:30-2 p.m., Room 587 of the Humanities Building, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Ave. More information is here.
Speaker training: Non-Profit Housing Association sponsors speakers training for people who want to advocate for state Proposition 1, a $4 billion affordable housing bond measure, and Proposition 2, to increase allowable spending on housing homeless people. 2-4 p.m., San Francisco location to be announced. More information is here.
Federalism issues: Ed DuMont, solicitor general of California, and Lawrence VanDyke, solicitor general of Nevada, discuss cases before the Supreme Court and the federal courts that center on state vs. federal rights. Sponsored by Federalist Society. $15 for nonmembers, free for students. 6-7 p.m., Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher law firm, 555 Mission St., Suite 3000, San Francisco. More information is here.
Tech politics: Candidates for statewide and Bay Area offices invited to discuss issues of importance to Silicon Valley and the technology industry. Sponsored by Royce Law LLC. Noon-4 p.m., Mission Bay Conference Center at UCSF, 1675 Owens St., San Francisco. More information is here.
D6 supervisor candidates: Matt Haney, Christine Johnson and Sonja Trauss, candidates for San Francisco supervisor in District Six, take part in a forum moderated by Chronicle columnist Heather Knight. 9:30-11:30 a.m., Children’s Creativity Museum Theater, 221 Fourth St., San Francisco. More information is here.
Preventing nuclear war: Free forum marking 50th anniversary of Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty features ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern and anti-nuclear activists Jacqueline Cabasso and Marylia Kelley. Sponsored by San Francisco Public Library and Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament. 1 p.m., Main Public Library’s Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St., San Francisco. More information is here.
Assembly candidates forum: Jovanka Beckles and Buffy Wicks, candidates in Assembly District 15 in the East Bay, participate in a League of Women Voters forum. 7-8:30 p.m., Berkeley City College, 2050 Center St. More information is here.
The Browns and California: Journalist Miriam Pawel, author of “The Browns of California: The Family Dynasty That Transformed a State and Shaped a Nation,” discusses Pat Brown, Jerry Brown and the modern history of the state, at the Commonwealth Club. $20 for nonmembers, $7 for students. 6-7:15 p.m., 110 Embarcadero, San Francisco. More information is here.
State ballot measures: League of Women Voters hosts a pros-and-cons session on the measures on California’s November ballot. 6:30-9 p.m., Berkeley City College, 2050 Center St. More information is here.
Francis Fukuyama: Political scientist and author Francis Fukuyama discusses identity politics. Sponsored by the Commonwealth Club. $25 for nonmembers, $10 for students. 6:30-7:30 p.m., 110 Embarcadero, San Francisco. More information is here.
Oakland mayoral forum: Ten candidates for Oakland mayor take part in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. 7-8:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakland. More information is here.
Barbara Lee: Forum with Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, celebrating her 20th anniversary in Congress. Sponsored by the Commonwealth Club. $30 for nonmembers, $10 for students. 6:30-7:30 p.m., 110 Embarcadero, San Francisco. More information is here.
Women and Spirit of the New Deal: Authors, scholars, historians and activists gather at UC Berkeley to examine women’s contributions to the New Deal and their growing role in political leadership today. Full conference schedule is here. Registration and more information is here.
Emeryville candidates: League of Women Voters hosts a forum for Emeryville City Council and school board candidates. 7-9 p.m., City Council chambers, 1333 Park Ave. More information is here.
Pussy Riot: Nadya Tolokonnikova, founder of the Russian art collective Pussy Riot, discusses her new book “Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism.” $12.50. 7 p.m., Kanbar Hall, Jewish Community Center, 3200 California St., San Francisco. More information is here.
Danica Roem: Virginia House of Delegates member Danica Roem, the first openly transgender member of a state legislature, discusses her career and life story. Sponsored by Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. $10. 7 p.m., 3200 California St., San Francisco. More information is here.
Left, Right and Center: A “rollicking examination” of national issues, with panelists Ana Marie Cox, host of “With Friends Like These”; Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle; and Business Insider senior editor Josh Barro. Sponsored by Inforum and NPR member station KCRW. $35, $10 for students. 7-8 p.m., 110 Embarcadero, San Francisco. More information is here.
Postcarding: A postcarding event encourage voters to turn out for progressive legislative candidates. 6-8 p.m., Richmond Republic Draught House, 642 Clement St., San Francisco. More information is here.
D4 supervisor forum: Candidates for supervisor in San Francisco District Four take part in a forum sponsored by the Outer Sunset/Parkside Residents Association. 6-8:30 p.m., Lawton Alternative School, Lawton Street between 30th and 31st avenues, San Francisco. More information is here.
D4 supervisor forum: Candidates for San Francisco supervisorial District Four participate in a forum sponsored by the Outer Sunset/Parkside Residents Association. 6-8:30 p.m., Ortega Branch Library, 3223 Ortega St., San Francisco. More information is here.
New radical majority: D.D. Guttenplan, editor at large for the Nation, and Rabbi Michael Lerner lead a discussion on “the rise of a radical new majority” in the U.S. $12 in advance, $15 at the door. 7:30 p.m., St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave., Berkeley. More information is here.
Hacking politics: Keynote address for weekend conference on how the political system is being “hacked.” Sponsored by UC Berkeley Center for New Media, SFMOMA’s Public Knowledge Initiative, the UC Berkeley School of Journalism and Boalt School of Law. Free. 6 p.m., Phyllis Wattis Theater, SFMOMA, 151 Third St., San Francisco. More information is here. Symposium runs from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 19 at 310 Banatao Auditorium, Sutardja Dai Hall, UC Berkeley. More information is here.
Berkeley voter information: UC Berkeley’s Science Policy Group hosts a voter information night, focuses on state ballot initiatives. 5:30-8:30 p.m., Anthony Hall, UC Berkeley. More information is here.
Race and politics: Panel discussion on the impact of race in politics. Sponsored by the African American Community Health Advisory Committee and the African American Library Advisory Committee. 2-4 p.m., San Mateo Public Library, 55 West Third Ave. More information is here.
Women in leadership: Former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and University of California President Janet Napolitano discuss opportunities and challenges for women in leadership. Moderated by Politico California Playbook senior writer Carla Marinucci. Free. 4-5:30 p.m., Banatao Auditorium, UC Berkeley. Registration and more information are here.
Rick Wilson: Republican strategist and Daily Beast columnist discusses dark politics in the age of Trump. Sponsored by the Commonwealth Club. $30 for nonmembers, $10 for students. Noon-1 p.m., 110 Embarcadero, San Francisco. More information is here.
Max Boot: Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow and Washington Post columnist discusses his book “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right” at the Commonwealth Club. $25 for nonmembers, $10 for students. Noon-1 p.m., 110 Embarcadero, San Francisco. More information is here.
Julián Castro: Former Housing and Urban Development secretary and former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, speaks at the Commonwealth Club. $30 for nonmembers, $10 for students. Noon-1 p.m., 110 Embarcadero, San Francisco. More information is here.
Jeffrey Rosen: Scholar and author examines constitutional questions and the post-Anthony Kennedy Supreme Court. Sponsored by Commonwealth Club. $25 for nonmembers, $10 for students. 6:30-7:30 p.m., 110 Embarcadero, San Francisco. More information is here.
Susan Rice: Former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser and U.N. ambassador discusses U.S. foreign policy priorities and national security interests. Sponsored by the World Affairs Council. $40 for nonmembers, $10 for students. 6:30-7:30 p.m., Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter St., San Francisco. More information is here.
To list an event, email Politics Editor Trapper Byrne at tbyrne@sfchronicle
Voting was up for both parties, but Democrats produced a serious turnout advantage. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
The long, eventful 2018 primary election season finally ended on Thursday, September 13, with New York holding its nominating contests for state offices. Some of the proposed narratives we’ve heard over the months for what it all means have faded or morphed, while others remain strong. But here’s a good summary of takeaways:
1) Voters were a lot more engaged than in the last midterm. According to the authoritative election analyst Reid Wilson, total turnout jumped from 29 million in 2014 to 43 million this year (a figure not that far off from the 57 million who participated in the 2016 presidential primaries and caucuses, which featured competitive contests in both parties). That doesn’t necessarily mean voters are “enthusiastic” or “excited,” since some of the uptick involves an increase in competitive races attributable to more open seats and more challengers to incumbents.
2) Democrats had a turnout advantage that may mean a general election advantage. According to Wilson’s estimates, Democratic turnout was up 72 percent from 2014. The Republican increase was 25 percent. The Democratic share of total turnout rose from 47 percent to 53 percent (the same as the GOP’s share in 2014). According to an analysis from the New York Times dating back to 2004, the party with the higher primary vote has won the House in all three midterms (2006, 2010 and 2014). But that’s a small sample, and again, the party with fewer incumbents might naturally have more competitive primaries driving turnout.
Primary turnout obviously varies by state. One tabulation of 2018 primary turnout in 38 states showed Democrats with higher increases in 30 and Republicans with higher increases in just eight. Most of the nation’s competitive House seats are in states where Democratic primary turnout increased disproportionately.
3) The Republican Party truly belongs to Donald Trump. The president endorsed 31 House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates who were in competitive primaries (excluding West Virginia, where he endorsed two candidates). 30 of them won; only Wyoming gubernatorial candidate Foster Friess, whom Trump endorsed on primary day, lost. Yes, most of those candidates were front-runner, but in some cases the Trump imprimatur clearly made a difference, including gubernatorial races in Georgia, Florida, Kansas and South Carolina; Senate primaries in Ohio and Wyoming; and House contests in Alabama and South Carolina.
It’s also notable that the two Republican senators up for reelection this year who were the chilliest towards Trump, Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Tennessee’s Bob Corker, both retired.
4) It really was an extraordinary primary season for Democratic women. 15 women have won Democratic Senate primaries (as compared to seven Republicans); 182 have won Democratic House nominations (as compared to 52 Republicans); and 12 have won gubernatorial nominations (just four Republican women have won primaries). These are all record numbers; the previous high for House nominations by women was just 120.
If as expected women voters tilt Democratic in the midterms (said Ron Brownstein in August: “[F]or months, many public polls have shown that about 60 percent [of women]— sometimes slightly more, sometimes slightly less — prefer Democrats for Congress”), the plethora of women on the ballot could create a self-reinforcing trend in which more women elect more of their peers to congressional and statewide office as Democrats.
5) The “struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party” was oversold. Despite a lot of media talk about ideological clashes between “progressive” and “centrist” primary candidates, there was no clear pattern for who won primaries. Some of the notable “progressive” victories were in safe Democratic House districts (e.g., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s NY-14 and Ayanna Pressley’s MA-07) where district diversity and generational change were at least as important as ideology. Overall, “establishment” candidates did pretty well; an analysis of all Democratic House primaries by the Brookings Foundation showed 27 percent of “progressives” and 35 percent of “establishment” types winning.
6) There is, however, a new template emerging for Democratic success in diverse sunbelt states that should cheer progressives. The ancient formula for Democratic success or survival in southern and western red states with reasonably large minority populations was to run fairly conservative campaigns aimed at white swing voters, counting on minority voters to play along. This year there are several Democrats trying to break the mold in ways that could change the party regionally and nationally, such as African-American gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams of Georgia and Andrew Gillum of Florida–both of whom defeated “moderate” white opponents in their primaries–Latino gubernatorial nominee David Garcia of Arizona, and white progressive Senate nominee Beto O’Rourke of Texas. All these candidates are looking very competitive in their general elections.
7) Even in conservative states, the old cutting-taxes-and-spending agenda is losing steam. One of the more remarkable trends of the primary season, which accompanied and in some states affected primaries in both parties, was renewed public interest in teacher pay, educational investments, and expanded health care services. A wave of strikes and protests around education issues hit West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado. Veteran government-bashing pols like Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker are in serious trouble. Initiatives to force Republican legislatures to expand Medicaid are on the ballot in Idaho, Montana, Nebraska and Utah.
8) A lot could still happen to affect midterm results. Despite a pretty clear pro-Democratic trend that is typical of the losses the White House party usually suffers in midterms (especially when the president’s job approval ratings are as low as Trump’s), there are a lot of close races. The authoritative Cook Political Reportrates 30 House races, eight Senate races, and nine gubernatorial races as toss-ups. Despite signs of Democratic enthusiasm, there are still grounds for doubting that young and Latino voters will shake their habits of skipping midterms. Economic trends, developments in the Mueller investigation, Supreme Court confirmations, and even a possible government shutdown could all create the kind of small but significant mini-trends that tip close races. The primaries were by-and-large encouraging to Democrats. But Republican turnout has been up as well, and November 6 could be a battle of polarized voter “bases” that are roughly equal in intensity. We don’t know yet how well each party has mobilized for early voting, in an environment where Republicans have fought to restrict opportunities for voting before Election Day. The six remaining weeks could be wild.