A Pledge To Honor & Cherish – A Memorial Day Tribute

Annual Flags-In ceremony in advance of Memorial Day - Arlington Cemetery

Honoring America’s Fallen – Baltimore Sun

IMG_1177

Staff Sargent and Son honor a fallen soldier – http://www.riley.army.mil

IMG_1178

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – pbs.org

090524-N-0696M-143

President Obama places wreath at tomb of Unknown Soldier – military.com

Dear Readers,

Today we join our fellow Americans to celebrate Memorial Day.  Many community leaders and organizations have created special, commemorative programs to honor the veterans who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms that we enjoy.

Despite some outward appearances, Memorial Day is meant to be a solemn and reflective time for all Americans.  Of course there are many ways to observe this holiday.  Today’s post is not meant to diminish the family activities that will be held, but simply to serve as a reminder of the heavy price connected with the privileges we frequently take for granted.

As we prepare to pay tribute to the men and women who are no longer with us, I would also like to pay tribute to the veterans who served in recent wars, and now struggle to pick up their lives from where they left off.

For many, the transition has been wrought with many challenges such as: insufficient housing, inadequate health care, dwindling employment and rising costs of furthering their education.  Some of our veterans are now struggling to find their way.   As a nation we should feel embarrassed to learn that many veterans are homeless, while others face health challenges that will leave them wounded – physically, and emotionally – for years to come.

Our veterans were proud to serve our country, but were disillusioned when they try to re-enter society.  I do not claim to have the answer to what is documented as a growing problem, but I firmly believe the impetus to solve this problem starts with an honest dialogue that acknowledges the problem exists.  So tomorrow, when we greet each other with a cheerful “Happy Memorial Day” let’s take a moment to recognize that, for some, this sentiment is not fully recognized.  It is truly up to us to honor and cherish the veterans who are no longer with us and those who are.

To the brave women and men who have given their lives to protect America, we honor and cherish you.  To the brave women and men who return home, to take their rightful place in society, we salute you and cherish you for all that you have done.

Last year, I wrote an article on the origins of Memorial Day and the important role that African-American veterans paid in shaping this holiday.  The article is reprinted below for your convenience.

Happy Memorial Day!

Have a great week.
Monique

___________________________________________

Reflecting on Memorial Day 2013

On Monday, May 29th, Memorial Day was observed in the United States.  I was pleased to read so many tributes where the authors went to great lengths to make the distinction between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

Both observances are equally important.  However, it is my opinion that in the United   States we could do more to recognize the women and men who have died to protect the freedoms we enjoy.  Whenever I see and hear the words “Happy Memorial Day,” connected with a sale or other promotion, I feel a bit awkward and find the positioning to be insensitive; especially given the wars we are still involved with.  With so many other days to shop and save, I would like to see us become more mindful of everything we have to be thankful for.

There are two accounts of the origins of Memorial Day that I would like to share.  The first account comes from the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.  The second account comes from The Root and Black America Web.

Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to adorn the graves of the war dead with flowers.  Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30th of each year.  It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.  The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

photo obama lays wreath

Today, in the United States, Memorial Day is a federal holiday that occurs every year on the final Monday of May.  On this day we recognize the women and men who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.  Many of the rituals that make up Memorial Day were born out of Decoration Day which originated after the American Civil War as mentioned above.  The one major difference is that today we extend this tribute to Americans who have died in all wars.

The Root and Black America Web

According to Black America Web, African-American veterans were the first to celebrate our fallen soldiers.  David Blight, a History Professor at Yale University, credits African-American soldiers in Charleston, South Carolina with launching the first Decoration Day, in honor of the Union’s war dead on May 1, 1865.

After the Civil War ended, these soldiers went to places where they knew hundreds of their fellow service men, who were also prisoners of war, were buried in mass graves.  As a show of humanity these soldiers, many who were recently freed slaves, gave their fellow service men a proper burial.  After the burials were complete, they decorated the graves.  According to legend, this ritual took hold and was the beginning of the Memorial Day tributes we now see across the country.

The objective here is not to debate which account is more accurate but to simply point out the important contributions that people of African descent have made to shape our great nation.

We at Brooklyn Legends take great pride in saluting our fallen soldiers and thank them for all the sacrifices they have made.  It is our honor to pay tribute to them.

***

 

 

Commemorating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Letters of Support

Dr. King in his study, Atlanta GA

Dr. King in his study at home in Atlanta, GA

Dear Readers,

Brooklyn Legends is proud to commemorate the life and accomplishments of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929 at his family home in Atlanta, Georgia.  This year he would celebrate his 87th birthday.

From December 1955 until April 4, 1968, Dr. King was the leader of America’s Civil Rights Movement. By all accounts this was among the most tumultuous periods in our history. Yet despite the many acts of hatred and violence,  Dr. King remained steadfast in his commitment to lead a non-violent campaign. He received support from men and women worldwide.

Here in the United States, there were many who stood with Dr. King and the architects of the Civil Rights Movement. These men and women gave their time, legal and professional services and money. They would join thousands of African-Americans in this fight for equal rights. While today many challenges persist, we cannot deny the progress that was achieved. These life-changing events have shaped my life and my ancestors.

As I was preparing for this post, I spent some time looking through the archives on The King Center’s website. In addition to extensive historical information, there are many photos, letters and telegrams for visitors to see. All information has been digitally preserved through the generosity of JP Morgan Chase. Today I would like to share few letters sent to Dr. King from children thought the world. I have also included a few condolence letters sent to Mrs. King shortly after Dr. King was assassinated.  When you have a moment, I encourage you to visit the site which can be found by following this link.

Fondly,
Monique

A student sends greetings on Mahatma Ghandi's birthday

A student in India sends greetings on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday

Students in France requesting an interview of Dr. King

Students in France requesting an interview of Dr. King

A student in Chicago requests information about Dr. King's Church

A student in Chicago requests information about Dr. King’s Church

A student who wants to be a Pediatrician references Dr. King's book "Strength to Love"

A student who wants to be a Pediatrician references Dr. King’s book “Strength to Love”

Via Bauman Rare Books

Via Bauman Rare Books – referenced in Gregory William’s letter to Dr. King.

Letter sent to Mrs. King after Dr. King was killed.

Letter sent to Mrs. King after Dr. King was killed.

Sent to Mrs. King from a student in NYC after Dr. King was killed.

Sent to Mrs. King from a student in NYC after Dr. King was killed.

Sent to Mrs. King from PS 32 in NYC after Dr. King was killed

Sent to Mrs. King from PS 32 in NYC after Dr. King was killed

Sent to the SCLC in Dr. King's honor with a donation from a high school in Beverly Hills, CA.

Sent to the SCLC in Dr. King’s honor with a donation from a high school in Beverly Hills, CA.

Credits:
All information obtained from The King Center’s website – Thekingcenter.org.

Commemorating A New Year’s Tradition – Watch Night Service

Dear Readers,

Watch Night, Dec. 31, 1862 - the Clayton Museum

Watch Night, Dec. 31, 1862 – the Clayton Museum

Soon we will bid adieu to 2015 and welcome 2016.  This year has been filled with many highs, but there have been some sad days too. Dear friends who started this journey with me have since made their transitions. I firmly believe they will always be with us as long as we love and honor them.

Each year on New Year’s Eve, I share this post commemorating Watch Night, a tradition that is deeply rooted in the history of people of African descent throughout the United States, in memory of my grandparents and the many elders who helped raise me.

As a child growing up in Savannah, Georgia, I remember my grandparents would make their way to church every New Year’s Eve.  This was a solemn time for them.  Looking back on those days, I also remember how their voice would change as they recounted the painful stories their parents and grandparents shared.  I would also grow to appreciate how they were able to quiet their spirits whenever they heard the song “How I Got Over”.  When I look at my life, I have so much to be thankful for.  There has never been a day when I have not said I’m grateful!

The summary below is reprinted from the African-American Registry.  This site is a wonderful resource for African-American history and culture.  I am including the link to the site for your reference.

Date: Wed, 1862-12-31*
* On this date in 1862 the first Watch Night Services were celebrated in Black communities in America.

The Watch Night service can be traced back to gatherings also known as “Freedom’s Eve.”  On that night, Black slaves and free Blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had become law.  At the stroke of midnight, it was January 1, 1863; all slaves in the Confederate States were declared legally free.  When the news was received, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as many people fell to their knees and thanked God.

The article goes on to explain that Blacks have gathered in churches annually on New Year’s Eve ever since, praising God for bringing us safely through another year.  It’s been over a century since the first Freedom’s Eve and tradition still brings us together at this time every year to celebrate “how we got over.”  This celebration takes many African-American descendants of slaves into a New Year with praise and worship.  The service usually begins anywhere from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and ends at midnight with the entrance of the New Year.  Some people come to church first, before going out to celebrate, for others, church is the only New Year’s Eve event.

There have been instances where clergy in mainline denominations questioned the propriety of linking religious services with a secular holiday like New Year’s Eve. However, there is a reason for the importance of New Year’s Eve services in the black experience in America.

Wishing you peace and joy in 2016!

________________________________

Reference:
The African-American Desk Reference, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Copyright 1999 The Stonesong Press Inc The New York Public Library John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Publishing

With Gratitude – A Memorial Day Salute

Dear Readers,

On Monday, May 25th we will proudly celebrate another Memorial Day. There will be special programs honoring the women and men who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

As we honor our fallen heroes, I would like to salute the women and men who are presently in the armed services. Soon they will return home eager to pick up their lives from the point where they left off. While this will be a seamless transition for some, others will be forced to navigate challenges their fellow Americans now face — unaffordable housing, inadequate heath care and low wages. Sadly many veterans may not be able to make ends meet and could end up homeless. They could also face serious physical and emotional health challenges that will impact them for years to come.

I do not claim to have the answer for these problems, but I firmly believe our unwillingness to acknowledge them is a major impediment. Annual celebrations are wonderful for they allow us to connect with each other, but they are not the answer. What happens once the music stops? How many veterans will be able to say, I must now go home and prepare for work tomorrow?

On Monday, when we greet each other with a cheerful “Happy Memorial Day” let’s keep in mind this sentiment will have a different meaning for many of our veterans. We must honor and cherish our heroes who are no longer with us and those who are after long after Memorial Day is over.

To the women and men who have given their lives to protect America, we cherish you. To the brave women and men who return home, to take their rightful place in society, we salute you and we thank you for your service.

Fondly,

Monique

We Celebrate Women’s History Month and Empower Young Women & Girls

Video

Dear Readers,

As we continue to applaud the achievements of women around the globe, we must embrace young women and girls as they make their way in the world.

Despite our “busyness” we must advocate for needs of our younger sisters as often, and as loudly, as we can.  Our commitment to empowering the next generation is truly a collaborative effort — one that will require great resources if we are to succeed.  This endeavor is not without its challenges, but I am confident that we can do this.

Leymah Gbowee - via Mic.com

Leymah Gbowee – via Mic.com

I opened today’s post with a video by Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian activist and 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate, who shares the story of her personal transformation and implores us to find ways to unlock the untapped potential of girls.  If you are reading this post on your smart phone or table, and cannot see the video, please follow this link to the Ted Talks website. Once there, type Leymah Gbowee into the site’s search engine.

Here is a brief overview of Ms. Gbowee’s amazing achievements from Mic.com.

Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee was sick of enduring the civil war that had been ravaging her country since 1999. Using her education in peace studies and in collaboration with the organization Women in Peacebuilding Network, Gbowee led a mass women’s movement of peaceful protests and strikes. The group also enacted a now-infamous sex strike, in which many Liberian women refused to sleep with their partners until peace was achieved.

The movement culminated in Gbowee and her comrades daringly holding the delegates responsible for peace talks hostage until they reached an agreement. Harnessing the power of women banning together and the tactic of peace, Gbowee successfully helped bring the Second Liberian Civil War to an end in 2003. “It’s time for women to stop being politely angry,” Gbowee once said.  Thankfully, Gbowee continues to lead by example and loudly continues to demand justice, through writing, speaking and her work with the Gbowee Peace Foundation.

Brooklyn Legends is pleased to join with the Gbowee Peace Foundation, and organizations world-wide, in advancing the cause of women and girls. We hope that you will join us in this endeavor.  There is plenty of work to do.

Fondly,
Monique

—————————————————

Credits:
50 Years From Now, Here Are the Trailblazing Women We’ll Be Celebrating as Poineers – via Mic.com
Leymah Gordon’s speech – Unlock the Intelligence of Women and Girls – via Ted.com

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Lasting Legacy

Dear Readers,

On Monday, January 19, 2015, America will commemorate the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader, beloved husband and father, who is regarded by many to be one of America’s favorite sons.  If he were alive Dr. King, who was born on January 15, 1929, would be 86 years old.

Many public tributes have been planned in Dr. King’s honor, especially in Brooklyn.  If you are still contemplating what to do on this day, we have a few recommendations for you.

Have you considered spending the day at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)?  There is always tremendous buzz around BAM’s tribute to Dr. King, which is one of the largest tributes in New York.  Brooklynites are always excited to be a part of this annual celebration which is co-sponsored by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Medgar Evers College.  

This year’s keynote address will be given by Dr. Cornel West, noted author professor and activist.  What would a celebration be without music?  In addition to Dr. West, guests will be treated to performances by Sandra St. Victor & Oya’s Daughter, former lead singer of The Family Stand, and the New York Fellowship Mass Choir led by Rev. David Wright, son of Rev. Timothy Wright, who is also known as Brooklyn’s Godfather of Gospel who died in 2009.  After his address, Dr. West will sign copies of The Radical King, his new collection of Dr. King’s writings.  Sound interesting?  For additional information, please be sure to visit BAM’s website.

Brooklyn is New York City’s largest borough and celebrations in honor of Dr. King will take place in several neighborhoods.  When making your plans, please remember to look for events that are scheduled for Saturday, January 17th and Sunday, January 18th.  For a complete guide please click here.  We encourage you to celebrate with your fellow neighbors from Bedford Stuyvesant, Sheepshead Bay, Central Brooklyn and downtown.

Nationalservice.gov

Nationalservice.gov

Each year President Obama and the First Family join Americans throughout the country in recognizing Dr. King’s birthday as a National Day of Service.  If there is a favorite cause you would like to take consider, this weekend will provide a perfect chance for you to get involved.  Lastly, if you are out and about, and love to take pictures, may we ask you to share them with us?  We would love to see how the day unfolded through your eyes.

We at Brooklyn Legends are proud to join the world in this year’s celebration of Dr. King’s birth.  We celebrate his legacy.

Have a great day.

Monique

A New Year’s Eve Tradition – Watch Night Service

Dear Readers,

Recently I shared with you some popular New Year‘s Eve celebrations that many will observe.  For this post, I will focus on Watch Night, a tradition that is deeply rooted in the history of people of African descent throughout the United States.

As a child growing up in Savannah, Georgia, I remember my grandparents would make their way to church every New Year’s Eve.  This was a solemn time for them.  Looking back on those days, I also remember how their voice would change as they recounted the painful stories their parents and grandparents shared.  I would also grow to appreciate how they were able to quiet their spirits whenever they heard the song “How I Got Over”.  When I look at my life, I have so much to be thankful for.  There has never been a day when I have not said I’m grateful!

The summary below is reprinted from the African-American Registry.  This site is a wonderful resource for African-American history and culture.  I am including the link to the site for your reference.

Date: Wed, 1862-12-31*
* On this date in 1862 the first Watch Night Services were celebrated in Black communities in America.

The Watch Night service can be traced back to gatherings also known as “Freedom’s Eve.”  On that night, Black slaves and free Blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had become law.  At the stroke of midnight, it was January 1, 1863; all slaves in the Confederate States were declared legally free.  When the news was received, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as many people fell to their knees and thanked God.

The article goes on to explain that Blacks have gathered in churches annually on New Year’s Eve ever since, praising God for bringing us safely through another year.  It’s been over a century since the first Freedom’s Eve and tradition still brings us together at this time every year to celebrate “how we got over.”  This celebration takes many African-American descendants of slaves into a New Year with praise and worship.  The service usually begins anywhere from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and ends at midnight with the entrance of the New Year.  Some people come to church first, before going out to celebrate, for others, church is the only New Year’s Eve event.

There have been instances where clergy in mainline denominations questioned the propriety of linking religious services with a secular holiday like New Year’s Eve. However, there is a reason for the importance of New Year’s Eve services in the black experience in America.

Wishing you peace and joy in 2015!

Monique

________________________________

Reference:
The African-American Desk Reference, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Copyright 1999 The Stonesong Press Inc The New York Public Library John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Publishing

Reflections – As We Approach the Holidays

Square headingDear Readers:

I hope that you enjoyed Thanksgiving with your family, friends and loved ones.  In a few weeks we will celebrate Christmas throughout the world and I am truly excited.

I find Christmas to be one of the most magical times of the year.  Perhaps it is my overall disposition, but I sense that most people are gentler and kinder.  While tragic, recent events have taken their toll, I do feel that people are trying their best to welcome the holidays.  I am not suggesting that “all is calm,” but I would prefer that you take this as my prayer for peace and my hope for reconciliation.

As you might have noticed, it is very easy for me to get caught up in the joy of Christmas.  I am looking forward to the holiday decorations I have selected; exchanging gifts with my husband, friends and family; attending several of the holiday concerts I have been invited to and watching Disney’s A Christmas Carol – which is one of my favorite holiday rituals.

At the same time, I cannot forget those for whom the holidays are filled with reminders of what they currently do not have.  If you walk the streets of New York City, or take public transportation, you will encounter those who are in need in everyday.  However, in addition to those I encounter daily, there are hundreds of individuals that I would never see or know about if it were not for the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.

A Brief History of The Neediest Cases Fund

IMG_0129On December 25, 1911, New York Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs went for a walk after dinner.  He met a shabbily dressed man who received Christmas dinner at the Y.M.C.A., but he had no place to sleep.  Ochs gave him a few dollars and his business card.  He told the stranger, “If you’re looking for a job, come see me tomorrow.”

This chance encounter left Ochs feeling charitable and curious as to whether or not this feeling could be the basis for a city’s goodwill.  The next year he sent a reporter to several of New York City’s private welfare agencies to collect stories about the poor.  His objective was to publish articles about the Hundred Neediest Cases in New York.  The appeal would be made not with a direct request for donations, but with the facts of their lives.  As it turned out, these stories sounded a powerful call.  The campaign, which began on December 12, 1912, was soon adopted by other publishers in the United States and abroad.  The idea was brilliant in its simplicity – a newspaper would make a general appeal for the needy and help the City’s welfare agencies solicit funds.

How You Can Help

After reading the profiles of Emie Payen, a 55-year-old woman who has defied a short life expectancy for decades; Roderick Bradshaw, a father who found a path to success while raising his 5-year old son; Ana Miguel, a woman who overcame surges of addiction and instability, and is now encouraging others to do the same; Anna Reifman, a woman who for many years was trapped within her own anxieties before learning she was not alone; Natasha Mohammed, a mother who is praised for stoking her children’s creative tendencies while struggling to say warm and Linda Malloy, a grandmother who is savoring sobriety and working to rebuild her life, it is clear that New Yorkers need help year-round.

If you are looking for a cause to adopt this season, I encourage you to consider the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.  Since its inception more than 100 years ago, the fund has worked closely with several New York City charities and has raised more than $275 million.  The present campaign began on November 2, 2014 and runs through January 23, 2015.  Here is a list of the participating organizations. 

Brooklyn Community Services
285 Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn, New York

Catholic Charities of New York
1011 First Avenue, New York, New York

Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens
191 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn, New York 11201

The Children’s Aid Society
105 East 22nd Street, New York, New York 10010

Community Service Society of New York
105 East 22nd Street, New York, New York 10010

Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
281 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10010

UJA Federation of New York
Church Street Station, PO Box 4100, New York, New York 10261

It is in this spirit of reflection that I write today’s post.  I know that there are thousands of organizations, not featured on this list, that are making a difference in the lives of New Yorkers everyday.  We at Brooklyn Legends salute these organizations and extend our best wishes to the people they serve.

Happy Holidays.

Monique

The People’s Champion and The Fight to Save Brooklyn’s LICH

LICH - Archpaper.com

LICH – Archpaper.com

Dear Readers:

Last month, I introduced to some (and re-introduced to others) New York City’s Public Advocate Letitia James. At that time I provided a broad overview of the important items on her agenda: good work for fair pay, access to healthcare, a common sense public education policy, universal school lunch and a constituent services plan.

Brooklyneagle.com

Brooklyneagle.com

Today I will focus on Public Advocate James’ determination to preserve one of Brooklyn’s venerable health care institutions – Long Island College Hospital (LICH). This has been a public fight and some New Yorkers have been critical of her stance around this issue. The plea was to keep the hospital running as a full service medical center – a noble aspiration but one without any real takers.

LICH was a financially troubled institution for many years.  In 2011 when SUNY raised its hand, and agreed to partner with the medical center, there was a collective sigh of relief and another health care crisis seemed to be adverted.

IMG_0084All of this changed in 2013 when SUNY decided to sell LICH, which was losing anywhere from $6 million to $10 million per month. On October 9, 2014, after a lengthy RFP process and many setbacks – including a labor dispute with the New York State Nursing Association (NYSNA) – Fortis Property Group would be successful.

What does this all mean?  Fortis has been given the green light to redevelop the site to include condominiums and a state of the art medical center to be operated by NYU Langone Medical Center.  In 2018, if all goes according to plan, a new housing development will be on the market and the residents of south Brooklyn will have a free-standing emergency room department. This is not the deal community residents and public advocates originally lobbied for, but sometimes success comes in small steps. Here is what the structured settlement will call for:

  • $5 million to upgrade the interim emergency department that NYU Langone Medical Center will operate until the new facility is complete.
  • $175 million to build a new facility with 125,000 square feet of space.
  • A medical treatment plan that will employ 70 doctors.
  • A total staff of 400.

I must admit there were times when I felt this would be a hopeless fight, and the residents would end up with little or no hope for quality health care.  In the early stages it was easier to call for an all or nothing proposition, but as we all know life is rarely this simple.  There are always challenges seen, and unseen, that further complicate financial deals of this magnitude. Not to minimize the daunting challenge of operating LICH, but my sense of why this fight was so important for James, and former Public Advocate now Mayor Bill DeBlasio, comes down to one word – ACCESS.  This was their way of ensuring an open dialogue around access to health care, during a time when the need is so great.  Perhaps, one day plans for a full-service hospital will show up in another form.

Outlining her agenda - wn.com

Outlining her agenda – article.wn.com

For me, this does not mean that Public Advocate James’ fight was lost or not needed.  I’m glad to know that we have elected officials who want to win for the people they represent.

While standing in opposition to a huge business deal such as this was may not always be practical, it is indeed admirable. This was not an easy process for Public Advocate James but she stood by the community and saw the debate through to the end.

To me, she still a champion and, from time to time, everybody needs one.

Have a great week!

Monique

_____________________________

Credits:
SUNY, Fortis reach agreement on LICH – Crainsnewyork.com
The End for Long Island College Hospital – New York Time – nytimes.com
LICH Deal Collapses After Hiring Dispute – Crainsnewyork.com
University Hospital of Brooklyn at Long Island College Hospital – wikipedia.org
LICH History – Dr. Hugh Gilgoff, LICH Pediatrics, Brooklyn, New York

In Loving Memory – Celebrating Brooklyn Centenarian Susannah Mushatt Jones

Dear Readers:

The article featured here was originally posted in 2014 in honor of Ms. Susannah Mushatt Jones. Earlier today Ms. Jones made her transition just a few months shy of her 117th birthday. Here is a link to coverage from the BBC news outlet informing the world of the  Passing of Susannah Mushatt Jones. We are so thrilled to be able to claim her as one of Brooklyn’s most cherished daughters!

Original article:

On July 6, 2014, Brooklyn super-centenarian Susannah Mushatt Jones celebrated her 115th birthday.  A few days later there was a celebration for her at the Vandalia Senior Center in Brooklyn, New York Ms. Mushatt Jones is the oldest resident of New York State, the second-oldest American and the third-oldest person in the world.

Susannah Mushatt Jones Celebrates 115 years

Susannah Mushatt Jones Celebrates 115 years

Susannah Mushatt Jones was born on July 6, 1899 in Lowndes County, Alabama. This was one of the toughest times to be a person of African or Caribbean descent living in the rural south.  I imagine she witnessed the cruel indignities that were designed to strip African and Caribbean Americans of all hope of ever achieving the basic civil rights enjoyed by their white counterparts. Despite these challenges, she would also witness some amazing “firsts” in Civil Rights history.

Ms. Mushatt Jones - NY Times

The Lovely Ms. Mushatt Jones

Ms. Mushatt Jones migrated to New York City in 1923, at the age of 24. Like those who made the journey before her, she dreamed of creating a new life filled with hope and promise.  For many southerners moving “up north” this was a time filled great expectation, despite the harsh realities they would experience.  This was a period when segregation was woven into every facet of life in America.

Opportunities for economic and educational advancements were non-existent.  Often times, the only jobs available to African-Americans were as domestics or field workers.  If exceptions were made, they were given the most laborious tasks. When using public transportation, they had to sit in the back of the bus. The same rule was in effect when traveling on the interstate.

The legal system was equally as cruel. For many, punishment for the slightest infractions could range from life in prison, to a life of hard labor. There was no hope of a fair jury trial. We also know that, during these times, lynching was the order of the day. This was truly “the worst of time.”

Thankfully, Ms. Mushatt Jones made it safely through these atrocities and settled into life in Harlem. She must have been so excited! This was the time of the Harlem Renaissance and the beginning of a whole new world on so many levels – intellectually, financially, socially and economically. She worked as a child-care provider for 42 years, until she retired in 1965. As she made her way in the world, America’s history was going through a transformation. She had a front row seat.  Here are some of the wonders that she was able to see.

On the Road to Civil Rights – the mid 1950s through the 1960s.

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On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark decision, Brown v. Board of Education, that segregation in public schools was illegal. I am not sure if I could articulate how Ms. Mushatt Jones felt when Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court delivered the court’s decision.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

Surely she rejoiced on November 13, 1956 when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in the case of Browder v. Gayle that segregated bus laws in Alabama were unconstitutional.  This case was presented after Rosa Park’s arrest on December 1, 1955, when she refused to give up her seat on a public bus to make room for a white passenger.  Ms. Parks’ defiance sparked the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for 381 days, until the local ordinance segregating African-Americans and whites on public buses was repealed.

On August 28, 1963, she would see thousands of Americans participate in the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I wonder if she was there?  This past August, we commemorated the 51st anniversary of this historic day.

Rev. Dr. King, President Johnson and civil rights leaders

Rev. Dr. King, President Johnson and civil rights leaders

One year later, on July 2, 1964, I envision Ms. Mushatt Jones rejoicing when President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. I can almost see her listening to the radio as the provisions were read. Title VI prohibited public access discrimination and would lead to school desegregation. Title VII prohibited employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Title VIII was the original “federal fair housing law,” that was later amended in 1988.

On March 25, 1965, all eyes would focus on her home state of Alabama for the Selma to Montgomery MarchRev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, in the campaign for voting rights. Residents in Harlem led their own demonstrations to show their support. Perhaps she was among them.

Justice Thurgood Marshall

Justice Thurgood Marshall

I would be remiss if I did not mention two additional milestones that took place in 1967.  The first occurred when President Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall to be the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. The second occurred when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Loving v. Virginia that laws prohibiting interracial marriage were unconstitutional.

As we know, the fight for Civil Rights culminated in the 1960s but is far from over. The decades that followed would be marked with notable firsts in education, housing, criminal justice and employment.

I would love to know what her reaction was when, in January 2009 and January 2013, Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States of America. His beautiful wife Michelle would take her place as America’s First Lady. When Ms. Jones was growing up the word “lady” was not given to African-American women. What a celebration this was for her on so many levels. She lived through a century of firsts with years to spare.

This list is by no means finite. I have presented it in this manner to provide a glimpse of what she lived through. I also imagine that she played an important role in securing many of the freedoms that we now enjoy.

As we help Ms. Jones celebrate another milestone, in addition to serenading her with the traditional “Happy Birthday” another song that was popular during the civil rights movement also comes to mind, “Someday We’ll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway.

Please join Brooklyn Legends in wishing Ms. Mushatt Jones a very Happy Birthday!

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Credits:
Photos of Ms. Mushatt Jones – The New York Times
Photos of The Little Rock Nine – images via Yahoo.com
Photo of James Meredith – Wikipedia.org
Photo of Richard and Mildred Loving – Time.com
Photo of Jackie Robinson – via Pinterest, Mary Kay Ward
Photo of Justice Thurgood Marshall – images via Yahoo.com
Photo of The March on Washington – via Googleimages.com
Photo of Rev. Dr. King and President Johnson – via img.dooyoo.co.uk
Background information – Wikipedia and Google.com
Rosa Parks on the bus in Alabama – via Pinterest, Linda Wallace