Reconstructing the Past and Present (Black History Month 2022)

Published March 1, 2022

Happy 2022 and Black History Month!

A and L Magazine is back, starting off the new year with our second Black History Month edition. Instead of interviewing people about their lives, we decided to look into the historical aspect of Black History Month, specifically during the Reconstruction Era and 19th century. We conducted two interviews. One was with Mr. Keni Hines, author of A Global History of Blacks in the 19th Century. The other was with Dr. Manisha Sinha, the Draper Chair in US History at the University of Connecticut.

While the theme for this year’s Black History Month is health and wellness, since we just did an issue on the topic: Health and Wellness During COVID-19, we wanted to choose a different one to focus on. However, we still want to thank all the Black medical professionals who keep us safe and healthy, especially during these pandemic times.

Happy Black History Month!

Leeya and Adalia

PS. Thank you to both of our interviewees, Mr. Jones (Adalia’s African American Studies teacher, who helped us reach out to Mr. Hines), and Ms. Stout (Leeya’s Conversation in Diversity teacher).

Reconstructing: Abolition, the Reconstruction Era and Now

The Reconstruction Era is a less familiar, but equally important time in United States history. Directly after the Civil War, but before the Jim Crow era, this time period was filled with more ups than downs, unlike the following era. We talked to an expert on abolition, the Civil War and Reconstruction to learn more about this time period that we knew so little about. 

Dr. Manisha Sinha is the James L. and Shirley A. Draper Chair in US History at the University of Connecticut. She became interested in African American studies after studying US history at graduate school and realizing that Black History is such a large part of our history. Dr. Sinha has written several books, including The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition, The Abolitionist Imagination, and The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina. She told us that she devoted the most work to her book The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition because she was writing about a less understood movement and aiming to explain how the abolition movement expanded the ideas of US democracy. At the end of the book, Dr. Sinha discusses legacies in the US and how the term abolitionism can still be used today when discussing activism.

Origins of the Abolitionist Movement 

To start off, Dr. Sinha told us that the abolitionist movement began with a tiny minority who banded together to oppose slavery. Many of the first abolitionists did not have citizenship or voting rights; however, that didn’t stop them and they still had a large impact. For many in the Movement, there was a dual of goal ending slavery and equal rights. However, everyone had different views on how this could be achieved.

As Dr. Sinha wondered: “to what degree are you willing to compromise, without compromising your principles and goals?” These age-old questions are still being asked during the racial civil rights and social movements of today.

Differing Views

Some people believed that the path to change was best achieved politically while others took a more, what was seen as ‘radical,’ approach. These ‘radicals’ believed in women’s rights and disunion of the Union, in addition, to ending slavery and equal rights for all. They were critical of the established church and the US government. The way they saw it, no political party could be supported until they stopped supporting slavery. Meanwhile, those with a political view hoped to achieve things by influencing the government that was already there and building it better.

These differing views were also the strength of the movement. The diversity coupled with different factions resulted in a movement able to encompass many more people and many more goals, which, in turn, allowed for more to be accomplished.

Unknown Abolitionists

As we discussed the abolitionist movement, Dr. Sinha told us about several abolitionists we had never heard of before, noting how important it is to remember those heroes lost in time. Here are some abolitionists that Dr. Sinha spotlighted:

First, was David Walker. He published the first radical abolitionist pamphlet, called “David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World,” which was a claim to citizenship for people of color. It spoke against colonization, a movement to take control of Africa. Though he died soon after, his works influenced William Loyd Garrison and many others. Dr. Sinha says, “It was an amazing document because it was an indictment to the slaveholding republic.”

Second, was Minister James C. Pennington. Pennington was a fugitive slave, who, at one point, sat in Theology classes at Yale, as their first Black student. He became a well-known pastor and important abolitionist who critiqued the pseudo-science of race. During this time period, there were many racist academic scholars discussing the natural inferiority of races. Pennigton challenged that.

Lydia Maria Child was a white abolitionist, women’s rights and Native American rights activist. After meeting William Loyd Garrison, she committed her life to the abolition movement. She was a prominent writer who was against racism and wrote one of the first pamphlets denouncing racial inequalities in the 1830s. In fact, she wrote one of the earliest novels on a history of US slavery.

Last, Dr. Sinha told us about Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. She was orphaned at a young age and went to live with her uncle, who taught at the Academy for Negro Youth, where she, too, went to school and was a political civil rights activist, which greatly influenced Harper’s views. Harper wrote poetry and gave lectures about equal rights, not only for Black men but also for Black women. She even became friends with Susan B. Anthony at one point.

After the 15th amendment was passed, many of the women in the suffrage movement were enraged as it only gave men the right to vote. However, Harper remained calm and collected. She felt like a step forward in one direction was better than no step at all. After telling us about her, Dr. Sinha quotes Harper about the split between the movements: “You white women speak of rights, I speak of wrong.”

The Success of the Reconstruction Era

There is often emphasis put on the failure of the Reconstruction Era to last when it is taught in school. However, this era was actually a period of a lot of progress. Several state governments were interracial, the public school system was established and Blacks held many elected positions, including the first Black governor of a US state, PBS Pinchback of Louisiana. Even though he was in office only a month before being impeached, several important bills were passed during his time in office.

This era is a perfect example that it is important to remember that history is usually NOT a straight line or a simplistic view.

The Domino Effect of the Reconstruction Era on Constitutional Amendments

The Reconstruction Era began immediately after the Civil War, with the passage of the 13th amendment, which ended legal slavery. However, laws were needed to integrate people of color into society and abolitionists were still fighting for the rights of citizens of color. So, two more amendments were passed: the 14th and 15th amendments.

The 14th amendment helped integrate the newly freed people into society by establishing national citizenship, in addition to equal protection, under the Equal Protection Clause for all people in the US. This amendment grants everyone, not only citizens, the right to equal protection–if you are an immigrant, a visitor or someone else, you still have equal protection because the amendment says: “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This amendment has enormous power not only for events in the past but for things going on today, as well.

The 15th amendment was passed soon afterward giving Black men the right to vote. Like the 14th amendment, it uses the term “citizens” when saying that no one’s right to vote may be denied “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Regardless, because African American men now had the right to vote and women did not (because they weren’t yet considered citizens), the Suffrage Movement would split in two. There is still debate about this amendment today. And, even though this amendment was supposed to give all citizens the right to vote, we still see methods of voter suppression from our national, state and local governments.

Abolition and Suffrage

Ingrained in the abolitionist movement was the Suffrage and Womens’ Rights Movement, a great example of intersectionality: Many people were involved in both movements rather than choosing one over the other—both the issues seemed of equal importance. However, when the 15th amendment was passed, allowing all men the right to vote, many white women in the suffrage movement were enraged. They had been fighting for their rights for just as long but with no success! However, there were still women of all races who continued to fight for equality on both sides, such as Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Many suffragists and abolitionists saw the issues of women and racial equality as entwined: you couldn’t have one person’s equality without the others.

The End of the Reconstruction Era,

Unfortunately, as the saying goes “all good things come to an end.” Despite the efforts and progress of the Reconstruction Era, in the 1890s, when the federal government left the South, the Jim Crow period would begin. Because there was no national guard in the South to prevent groups like the KKK from gathering forces, this was a perfect opportunity for them to get together. The number of lynchings, especially in the South, grew exponentially and Black people and people of color became even more oppressed. The issues surrounding racial equality may have gone two steps forward with Reconstruction, but the Jim Crow era was one giant step back.

Future Reconstruction Eras

Just because the official Reconstruction Era ended over a century ago, doesn’t mean more didn’t/isisn’t happening. Dr. Sinha described to us how the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, fighting against segregation and Jim Crow, and today’s Black Lives Matter Movements, fighting against police brutality, are like a second and third reconstruction.

Jim Crow had dismantled almost everything that had been accomplished in the official Reconstruction Era, but the Civil Rights Movement, and even those fighting for equal rights before the 1960s, helped improve things. However, Dr. Sinha believes that things are unraveling again and the Supreme Court is making bad decisions. “We need a third reconstruction,” Dr. Sinha told us, “And the Black Lives Matter movement may be just what we need.”

Why Study History?

Dr. Sinha told us that “All people should know history because you can’t know the present without knowing the past.” During our conversation with her, a big thing we had discussed was the idea of not letting history repeat itself. We’ve concluded that even if history doesn’t directly repeat itself, issues will certainly come up again and again. This is seen with the Abolitionist movement, Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, Civil Rights and the Black Lives Matter movements.

Furthermore, studying history is the best way for us to not take for granted the people who have fought and died for our rights. It is important to recognize the people who gave so much for the world to be the way it is now. Remembering them is the best encouragement for us to step up for our present, but also the future.

We must realize, history is not a straight line. It may go up, down, backward or in a spiral. As Dr. Sinha concluded, “We think of it as a line with more freedom but if you really look you realize there is no linear progress.”

It Began with a Revolution: A Review-ticle (Book Review–Article) on “A Global History of Blacks in the 19th Century”

“…to reach the glorious heights of the past, history must be faced. Everything that is faced cannot be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it is faced.” -Mr. Keni Hines, “A Global History of Blacks in the 19th Century: Detailed Chronologically from 1800 to 1899”

Mr. Kennith “Keni” Hines was a high school teacher and college professor. He was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and raised in Detroit, Michigan by immigrant parents. Mr. Hines majored in journalism at Wayne State University and got his MBA at the University of Detroit. He has always been interested in Black history but his study groups in Houston, where he now lives, heightened the interest. He told us that he“was in awe about how much these people knew about history.” Even though the study groups have since dispersed, his interest in the topic continued to grow. Over the past decade, he has been writing A Global History of Blacks in the 19th Century: Detailed Chronologically from 1800 to 1899, which he recently self-published via his own company: Armstrong Smith Publishing. In fact, you can buy the book from several places including Go to to learn more!

Compiling the Chronology

For some, writing a book on an entire century’s worth of information might seem like a daunting task. But Mr. Hines still accomplished it! In fact, he was originally going to write about the 15th till 20th century, before realizing that the 19th century alone already encompassed so many key events in Black history. He chose it also because he believes the 19th century really connects to events going on in the present. To begin, Mr. Hines started with a chronology of key events happening every decade. “Usually,” he noted, “a chronology has only one to two sentences of information,” but he wanted to go a different route and write more detailed excerpts so the reader could get a true understanding of everything that went on.

As you can imagine, he had to make it concise, while being interesting. Otherwise, the book might have gone on for thousands of pages. Mr. Hines’s experience as a teacher helped him with this, especially in understanding that many readers don’t have the stamina to read through a bunch of pages at a time. As a result, he broke things up into small chunks that were related and easier to understand.

Understanding the Present Through the Past

In this book, Mr. Hines mainly discusses the 19th century but he also touches on how this time connects to the present day in his introduction. For example, when talking to us he told us about how voter suppression techniques from the late 1800s are similar to those being used today. Now, just like before, “the vote is so precious, people are willing to do almost anything for it,” whether that is in Congress or a different branch, like was the case when Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th US president, was doing all he could to prevent Black voters from voting. Furthermore, Mr. Hines tied the Reconstruction Era between 1865 and 1877 to now, similar to how Dr. Manisha Sinha explained to us.

As he concluded, “if you have a basis for understanding what happened in the past, you can relate it to now and learn from those mistakes” when explaining the importance of learning history.

Diving into the 19th Century: The Haitian Revolution

After our introduction about Mr. Hines and the 19th century, we dove into the historical part of our interview.

One of the first key events to happen in the 19th century was the Haitian Revolution. It began because the free Blacks on Hispaniola wanted to escape French control. Though this Revolution is not often mentioned in history classes it impacted everywhere from Central and South America to the United States, and the rest of the world. After the Revolution, enslaved people everywhere began to react differently to the rules keeping them in slavery. Finally, here was an example of people who had broken free of the shackles keeping them from their natural human rights to freedom and equality.

One reason Haitians were able to win this Revolution was because they were surrounded by people from their same country or family, who spoke their language. Unlike enslaved people in the US, who could be separated from family members, many of the enslaved people in the French colony stayed with their families/communities.

This land the Haitians were fighting for was not cheap. Mr. Hines tells us that the money and resources in Haiti were more valuable than all of the 13 colonies combined! The French would be enormously impacted by the loss of such an important colony.

The Haitian Revolution and the Louisiana Purchase

This is why the Haitian Revolution was the main cause of the Louisiana Purchase. As Mr. Hines put it, “Haiti weakened France to the point that it had to sell the land.” The land he is talking about was the Louisiana Territory, which stretched up the whole middle of what we now call the United States. France needed money and the US wanted to land, so they bought it for about four cents an acre, Mr. Hines tells us. That only accumulates to about $15 million of land!

But, as you get more territory you need more people to clear that territory, which means that the US slave trade grew because of this trade. 

‘The Scramble for Africa’

The other main event we discussed with Mr. Hines was how the colonization and imperialism of the African continent by European countries, leading up to the Berlin Conference altered Black history and helped shape our current world.

As (mainly) Britain and France fought over land control, the Dutch lost control of the Cape Colony in South Africa. Everyone wanted a piece of the African continent, even though this continent was full of people with their own ways of life, cultures, and values.

At the top of the African continent is Egypt, originally explored by the French. However, the British had eventually taken control of the Northeastern region. They wanted to build a railroad from Cairo to South Africa, while the French wanted to build a railroad from East to West. Moving southward, Belgium had taken the Congo, where the rubber resources, elephant tusks, and other resources were plentiful. Though Belgium was small compared to other countries, they had found the gold pot.

Meanwhile, Italy and Germany were late to the party. With nothing to grab, they decided to put together a conference, now known as the Berlin Conference, to set up the rules of the game that is sometimes known now as ‘The Scramble for Africa.’ All in all, there were a number of European nations who participated in the Berlin Conference, in addition to the United States, the only non-European country there.

In fact, the events leading up to and during ‘The Scramble for Africa’ contributed to World War I with Germany and Italy being angry over not getting a foothold in Africa, while Britain officially had enough land that the sun would never be able to set on their empire, at least for some time afterward. In the end, Liberia and Ethiopia were the only African countries not claimed. But even now, Italy is still trying to take Ethiopia, which goes to show that ‘the Scramble for Africa’ may not have really ended.

In Conclusion

Overall, the events of the 19th century were monumental to constructing today’s world and still play into our multicultural society today. As always, we must first remember history to truly understand the events of now. Learning in-depth about the Haitian Revolution and the Scramble for Africa was fascinating because neither of us knew a lot about how the Haitian Revolution influenced the Louisiana Purchase or how the Scramble for Africa had a big impact on the beginnings of World War I.

Oftentimes, school portrays events in history as isolated points on a graph, when instead they are the whole, curving line. We must realize that history is as interconnected as a spider web. Each event is a small silk strand in the web that makes up our world.

If you enjoyed this taste of the 19th century, check out “A Global History of Blacks in the 19th Century” at or buy Mr. Hines’ book at!

Book and Movie Reviews

Kindred by Adalia

Octavia E. Butler was one of the first Black women to write science fiction. Her novels weave together history, sci-fi, and more. Kindred, one of her first novels, originally published in 1979, is a brilliantly put-together book. Though it was written more than 40 years ago, the topics in the novel are still relevant today.

Kindred tells the story of Dana, an African American woman, who quite suddenly and randomly, ends up in a pre-Civil War era in Maryland. She saves a white boy from drowning and ends up back in the present just in time to save herself from being shot. After facing a number of other obstacles relating to that same boy, Dana begins to realize what is happening. Octavia E Butler does an incredible job putting together this novel, which expresses the horrors of the slavery era and connects the history to the present moment.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You

Stamped is not a history book. Instead, it covers the history of racism, slavery in the United States in a conversation-like manner. When did racist ideas emerge? What is a segregationist versus an assimilationist versus an antiracist? How and what actions contributed and still contribute to them? Jason Reynolds has done an amazing job adapting Ibram X Kendi’s original works (Stamped from the Beginning) into an understandable but informative version for young adults. Stamped is a must-read history lesson that focuses on history from a new and different lens.

King in the Wilderness by Leeya

I used to see documentaries as a two-hour lecture on a subject, like a factual narration of a subject rather than a medium able to give the big picture through beautiful and tragic anecdotes. However, when watching King in the Wilderness, I realized documentaries are not always boring or dull. They can be remarkable. They are able to use video footage, interviews, anecdotes, and narration to tell the story of something or someone, the effect of the subject, and what the big picture idea is.

At the beginning of the documentary, a sweet anecdote is shared. Martin Luther King Jr. was leaving to go to another city and fulfill his work but his boys blocked the door, blocked the stairs, and jumped on the hood of the car, pleading with him not to leave. He assured him that he was coming back but inside, he told himself that he had to change his habits when he came back because he couldn’t stand to go through this every time. 

The documentary portrayed him as a workaholic of sorts, who cared deeply for the world. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent his whole life trying to repair the world. He sacrificed his physical health, mental health, family life, and marital life. For what? Just for him to get assassinated? Just to devastate his father, causing him to break down? Just to leave his kids wishing they had more time with their father?

But we must realize that Dr. King’s efforts were not for nothing. This documentary was able to inspire and uplift. It left me with the story of the legacy of Dr. King and encouraged me to think of next steps.

This is a documentary everyone would watch because it gives you a look into a side of Dr. King that we are not often taught about. It shows us that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was human, something we tend to forget because of his monumental accomplishments. As hard as it is to come to terms with, he died like everyone else. He got overwhelmed. His work took a toll on him. He had to make sacrifices. He had regrets. Few could imagine the pressure that he had on him: it was too overwhelming.

A Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement

Who was Ella Baker?

By Adalia

Ella Josephine Baker was an African American Civil Rights Activist born on December 13, 1903, in Norfolk, Virginia. She died on her 83rd birthday in 1986. Ella Baker was a behind-the-scenes organizer for more than five decades, who worked alongside many well-known Civil Rights Leaders. She was part of organizations such as the NAACP, SCLC, and SNCC. Ella Baker has three siblings: Prince Baker, Blake Curtis Baker, and Margaret Odessa Baker. Her parents are Blake Baker and Georgianna Ross Baker and her grandmother, Josephine Elizabeth Ross was a former slave, who told young Ella about the struggles she went through. Ella Baker attended Shaw University and was the valedictorian of 1927.

Ella Baker was part of and the leader of a large number of organizations during her lifetime. She was part of the Young Negroes Cooperative League (YNCL) in the 1930s. They were an organization trying to develop Black economic power. In the 1940s, she got involved in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as a field secretary and director of branches. Her job as a field secretary was to travel between small towns and convince black citizens to join the civil rights movement. She left in 1946 but then rejoined in 1952 as president of the New York chapter. The NAACP worked to end economic, voting, transportation, education, and housing discrimination. One of the key victories of the NAACP was the decision in the Brown v Board of Education court case to end segregation in schools. Inspired by the Montgomery bus boycotts, Ella Baker formed In Friendship to raise money for the civil rights movement. They would continue to help raise money even after the boycotts were over. In 1957, she helped Dr. King organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and helped them run the Crusade for Citizenship, a voter registration campaign. In 1960, at Shaw University in Raleigh, she organized the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) because she wanted to have more youth involvement in the civil rights movement. She also helped them form the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which was an alternative to Mississippi’s democratic party which had segregationist views.

Events in Ella Baker’s Life

  • (rejoined in 1952 as president of the New York branch) – Ella Baker worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to campaign to end school segregation. During this, she publicly confronted the mayor
  • (joined in 1957) – Ella Baker organized events for Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
  • 1958 – Ella Baker ran a voter registration campaign (Crusade for Citizenship), whose goal was to double the number of Black voters by 1960, for SCLC
  • 1961 – Ella Baker organized the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which joined with Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1961 for the Freedom Rides.
  • Freedom Summer (1964) – the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC) helped start Freedom Summer. This was an event organized to register as many Black voters as possible. Ella Baker strongly believed that voting rights were a big step toward freedom

Fun Facts

  • Left the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) after the Greensboro sit-ins
  • Granddaughter of slaves
  • Graduated valedictorian from Shaw University in 1927
  • Helped leaders make and craft ideas for Civil Rights campaigns held against lynching
  • Baker built coalitions with other groups, worked on campaigns to end school segregation, and confronted the mayor publicly after returning to Harlem and being elected the first woman President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1952
  • Ella Baker was a Civil Rights Leader and worked alongside Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall to make the United states more equal
  • Influenced by her grandmother who had been enslaved

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (1922-2011)

by Leeya

There are few people in this world, so dedicated to a movement that they are willing to do anything for it. Even if means paying with beatings, murder attempts, numerous arrests and the bombing of your house. Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth was one of these people. Often known as the Dr. King of Birmingham, Shuttlesworth was 5 feet, 6 inches and 135 pounds of strength and change.

Shuttlesworth was born in Mount Meigs, Alabama on March 18, 1922. He was valedictorian of his high school and studied at Selma and Alabama State University. He became pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1953. After the ruling of Brown v Board of Education, Shuttlesworth got excited and joined the NAACP. However, soon after, the state government said it was a foreign corporation and kicked it out of the state. Shuttlesworth didn’t let this stop him and founded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human rights to continue the NAACP’s work.

However, this work was dangerous and almost cost him his life. It was Christmas night, 1956. His wife and daughter were entertaining and his son was playing with his Christmas present. All of a sudden the Reverend was blasted out of his house. It was discovered that sixteen sticks of dynamite had been placed under Shuttlesworth’s bedroom window. By some miracle, Shuttlesworth and his family survived, though their house was heavily damaged. The police, many of them part of the Klan, had no sympathy. They told him that he had 30 days to fix his house or they would level it themselves. Shuttlesworth replied, “I want to leave it that way so people can see how America is.” In response, another police officer tried to tell Shuttlesworth “If I were you I’d get out of town as quick as I could.” Shuttlesworth remained unmoved and told the police officer, “I wasn’t raised to run.”

For the next five years, guards would stand with shotguns from sunrise to sunset protecting Shuttlesworth. Many of them were members of the church, neighbors, or friends of Shuttlesworth. In fact, these very guards would end up saving Shuttleworth’s life in the future.

One day, Shuttlesworth was walking to his car when he was grabbed by armed guards. Shuttlesworth shouted to the guards to leave him alone, but they grabbed him by the back of his neck and took him from the car, saving his life. It turned out there had been a bomb strapped to the car. If Shuttlesworth had started it, he would have died. After the event, one of the guards told him “We can’t let anything happen to you. If you die, how will we get our freedom?”

There were many more bombs to come. When Bull Connor came back to office, he hired JB Stoner. Stoner was part of the Ku Klux Klan and part of the synagogue bombing. He was good at what he did and charged 2,000 dollars per bombing. All of a sudden, many people in Birmingham were asking him to start bombings. He started giving out discounts for these bombings like you would do for candy at the store. Stoner targeted the Reverend, too. In fact, at one Klan meeting, the FBI reported hearing them talking about how to get the Reverend “out of their hair.” Stoner was responsible for 50-60 bombings in just a 15 year period during this time.

Reverend Shuttlesworth eventually moved to Cincinnati for a better job. Even in Ohio, he continued to help the people of the world by helping the homeless. Eventually, though, he made his way back to Birmingham, Alabama, where he retired and passed away at age 89.

Reverend Shuttlesworth is remembered by the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth airport and a statue in downtown Birmingham. He is a reminder of the tragic events that occurred during the fight for freedom and a representation of the heroes that we must remember today and in the future.

Living Locally: #OberlinVillageRegionalLibrary

As you may know, for the past year, we have been working on a petition, #OberlinVillageRegionalLibrary. The goal: to change Village Regional Library’s name to Oberlin Village Regional Library. On September 13th Leeya talked to the Wake County Commissioners who unanimously agreed with the idea. After many communications with Regency Properties, the decision remains in the County Commissioner’s hands. It has been quite the ride so we wanted to share the experience with you. 

Check out the County Commissioners video at: Leeya’s part starts at 27:50. If you watch you can also see Ms. Cheryl Williams, who helped us enormously with this petition, speak about Oberlin Village.

After our first petitioning session, we realized we would need help to get this project going. So we recruited some friends. However, the topic and petitioning process is complex so we knew we needed a “training” session. Just before school let out in June, we had an hour and a half, 56 slide presentation to share with everyone. This included background on the topic, our advice about petitioning, and much more.

Petitioning was an experience. In some ways like both handing out our magazines but in some ways, very different. For one thing, we talked to many different people. On the other hand, we didn’t know a lot of the people we were talking to. Most people were very kind and we enjoyed meeting new people. Either way, one thing is for sure: we definitely got our steps in!

We’ve wanted this name change for a number of reasons:

The Village Regional Library Name Doesn’t Connect to History

  • The Cameron Village Regional Library was renamed to the Village Regional Library because of the Cameron family’s connection to slavery as one of North Carolina’s largest slaveholding families.
  • However, the current name, Village Regional Library, doesn’t represent any history in this city or state. We believe the name Oberlin would be a better name as it is reflective of the history in our city. 

Oberlin Village Reflects the Academic Aspirations of Oberlin Community

  • Oberlin Village was likely named by James E. Harris, a former apprentice born in Granville County. He is believed to have studied at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, one of the first colleges in the United States to admit Blacks and women. After the Civil War, he returned to Raleigh to further promote freed Black independence, which is likely when he proposed the name.
  • Furthermore, Dr. James Shepard, another resident of Oberlin Village, helped to establish North Carolina Central University.
  • The name “Oberlin” has academic aspirations tied to it, which is extremely fitting for a library. 

The Name “Oberlin Village” Ties the Past to our Future

  • Because of the rich history behind Oberlin Village and the change that we hope to bring for the present and future, we believe the name Oberlin is a way to tie the history of the past to the change of the future.

Thank you to everyone who gave us their signature and/or support! Check out our YouTube channel where we hope to have a video update soon that goes in more detail about our experience!

Virtual Voyages with A and L: The Lorraine Motel

By Leeya

Welcome to the Civil Rights Museum, formerly the Lorraine Motel. The vibrant colors of the sign that read “Lorraine Motel” greeted us. My brother exclaims “Look! That sign looks like the one from the play.” A few months back, we had watched Mountaintop, a play about Martin Luther King’s last night alive. The play was entirely set in the Lorraine Motel, which is why my brother recognized that sign. I had to explain to him that it is not like the one from the play, it is the one from the play.

After we entered the museum, we headed straight to the first exhibit: A Culture of Resistance (Slavery of America 1619-1891) This circular-shaped exhibit examined the multi-country effect of slavery and the Atlantic Slave Trade using statistics, statues and videos. As we viewed the statue of a mother clinging tightly to her baby as she was sold away into slavery, my own mother clung tightly to my brother and me. Later, my mom told me that the worst thing that could happen to her would be if she was ever forcefully ripped apart from us. 

We then visited the exhibits: The Rise of Jim Crow, and Separate is Not Equal. The Rise of Jim Crow reviewed the timeline of when Blacks were given certain rights before the Jim Crow laws that were soon passed, resulting in major obstacles. Separate is Not Equal described the fight for desegregation in public schools throughout the country. This exhibit also talked about Black people’s education rights during and after Reconstruction. Even learning the basics of education was difficult due to accessibility issues like too few schools or little money. However, I liked how this exhibit didn’t just talk about the courtroom aspect of it but delved deeper into what was happening inside the schools. For example, a comic shown in the exhibit illustrated a big fear of desegregation: that there would be more biracial couples leading to biracial babies. 

Along with all these exhibits, they had real artifacts and audio clips which made the history come alive. My favorite audio clip was in “The Year They Walked.” This exhibit featured a replica of the bus where Rosa Parks protested segregation in Montgomery, Alabama. The bus featured audio of a bus driver yelling at you to get off the bus that played when you stepped into the bus. You can sit on the seats of the bus behind Rosa Park who is at the front of the bus to get the immersive experience. 

But my favorite exhibit of all was “We Are Prepared to Die.” The name itself is striking and the topic of the exhibit was the Freedom Riders. It carefully detailed the planning and execution that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) went through to boycott segregated buses.

I also found the exhibit titled “What Do We Want? Black Power” interesting. This exhibit focused on the infamous Black Power Movement but framed it “as a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement rather than a radical new movement.” My favorite part of this exhibit was the interactive records where you could choose to play songs related to Black Power.

But there is nothing like seeing history right in front of you or, in this case, in front of a glass window. In “King’s Last Hours,” you could see the hotel room in which Dr. King was assassinated. The slow line after the exhibit, “I Am A Man,” signaled that we were near. Once we got there, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay there, in front of that glass window, for hours. I wanted to notice every crevice in that room. I wanted that room to not look so normal. It was in that room where the gunshot that shattered our country happened. I wondered how a room that caused that much pain could look so normal. But due to the growing line behind us, we couldn’t stay there forever.

After that memorable moment, we walked across the street to the mounted brick building. This was the Legacy building. It was in this boarding house where James Earl Ray fired the shot that killed Dr. King. The exhibit was multiple floors and began with a timeline that traced the events leading up to the 1968 assassination of Dr. King. The second floor conveyed the investigation of the assassination including conspiracy theories about how Ray planned the murder. But the most striking part of it all was the bathroom. Not the public bathrooms, but the bathroom where that shot that killed Dr. King was fired. It was in this grimy, slimy green bathroom on 422 1/2 South Street, Memphis, Tennessee where the world was changed. 

Unfortunately, the bathroom was boxed in by glass. However, you could look through a large glass window to see what Ray’s sniper view would have looked like. You could see the balcony of Dr. King’s room. I closed my eyes for a moment and could almost see Dr. King pacing the small balcony, thinking about how to change the world. Just like Dr. King’s hotel room, I wanted to look out this window for hours. I walked out of the exhibit bitter, angry about how he was killed. But the first floor’s exhibit reminded me that we have the duty to continue the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement that Dr. King was never able to.

But there is nothing like seeing history right in front of you or, in this case, in front of a glass window. In “King’s Last Hours,” you could see the hotel room in which Dr. King was assassinated. The slow line after the exhibit, “I Am A Man,” signaled that we were near. Once we got there, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay there, in front of that glass window, for hours. I wanted to notice every crevice in that room. I wanted that room to not look so normal. It was in that room where the gunshot that shattered our country happened. I wondered how a room that caused that much pain could look so normal. But due to the growing line behind us, we couldn’t stay there forever.

The Mountaintop

By Leeya

As some of you might remember, we went to see a play, The Mountaintop in June 2021 at Raleigh Little Theatre. We reported about this amazing play in our Bringing Food to Life edition in a Living Locally. I wanted to share my personal perspective on this experience and the feelings that went along with it.

There is something magical about plays. The realness of the actor being right in front of you. The experience of sensory details. The realization that there are no redos for the actors because it is live. The actors rely on endurance. This feeling especially hit home with me when I watched the play: The Mountaintop.

The Mountaintop is a play by American playwright Katori Hall. It is a fictional depiction of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on Earth set entirely in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel on the eve of his assassination in April 1968. In the play, a maid comes to deliver Martin Luther King Jr. coffee, late at night. But, as he soon finds out, this maid is actually an angel, there to deliver the news that he would die the next day. Through a long conversation, Martin Luther King Jr. comes to terms with his death, gives one final speech and dies.

We sat at the outdoor amphitheater at our local theater. The bench was hard and uncomfortable below me until I cushioned it with a pillow and convinced my parents to let me switch seats with them. It was a beautiful summer night with fireflies buzzing all around and the sweet scent that carried over from the rose garden nearby. The taste of South American cuisine was lingering in my mouth from dinner that night and there were people of all different races all around me. The set was beautiful with the iconic Lorraine hotel sign, lighting up the amphitheater and the beds on the set that looked ultra-soft. But the temperature got colder throughout the night. It was almost like the colder it got, the closer Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. got to his death. These sensory details carried other symbolisms like this to me and evoked emotions in me that came from usually ordinary objects and sights. I felt proud looking at the diversity in the play, black sitting with white, brown sitting with black, white sitting with brown. I know that this sight would have made Dr. King happy. The fireflies were little flecks of light, which felt like all the people that Dr. King fought for but didn’t make it in the end, coming to watch this play. The comfortable beds that Martin Luther King, Jr. slept in after his long day of work made me feel that he deserved it after his hard years of work. But the sickeningly sweet scent of roses that wafted over from the rose garden while we watched Dr. King get closer to his death didn’t feel right.

It wasn’t just the sensory details that made it feel magical. It was also the fact that there was a real person in front of you, relying entirely on their own skills and the imagination of the crowd watching them. This idea especially resonated with me during The Mountaintop because the whole place was a two-person monologue. The actor who played Martin Luther King, Jr. did an amazing job of conveying the realness of the play through his booming voice and flawless acting. Later on, he told us that this was a very emotional role to play and carried a large mental burden on him. 

At the end of the play, I went up to the set, which added to the magic of the play. I could smell the cigarette smoke that they were using on set for Martin Luther King’s smoking scenes. It added an eeriness to the scene. Up there, I got to meet the actor who had played Dr. King so well. He was a lot smaller than I imagined and I was in shock talking to him. Even though he was acting right in front of me, he did so well in portraying Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that it didn’t seem real. I didn’t want to believe that he was a normal person, I wanted to believe that he was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., still alive before me.

There were two particular parts in the play that broke me. First, the scene where Dr. King was rushing to call his wife when he found out he was going to die the next day. He pleaded with the phone, begging for his wife to pick up just so he could get one last goodbye to his family. This scene made me anxious. I put myself in his shoes and thought about what I would do if I knew my death date but couldn’t get to say goodbye to my family. It made my heart beat faster just thinking about this.

The second scene was the one where the light flickered off, meant to symbolize the gunshot that killed Martin Luther King Jr. When that light flickered off, he was gone, just like that. If that light switch hit me that hard, I could barely imagine what hearing the actual gunshot felt like. It was that gunshot that broke the entire world and that light flicker that broke me.