"If Your Back is Not Bent" By Dorothy F. Cotton

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The experience of African Americans over the centuries makes for a tragic retelling: the history begins with slavery and the attempts to escape it, through the various Fugitive Slave Acts, a Civil War and then Reconstruction and segregation.  Despite the prevalence of policies meant to hold them back — and regardless of the inferior status forced on black people — some African Americans were able to rise to prominence in their fields of endeavor.  But through strict segregation in the South and de facto discrimination in the North the United States relegated some 15% of its citizens to second-class status and resistance to that condition became an ongoing conflict within American society. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-1028265.mp3
The Underground Railroad, the manumission societies and the Abolitionist movement were all precursors of such organizations as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League.  Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would find an echo in President Truman’s Executive Order 9981, integrating the U.S. armed forces.  The black population was getting organized and calling on America’s conscience. At the midpoint of the 20th century — a time when a sense of acceleration could be felt in many scientific, communication and social trends — the drive for racial equality moved to the forefront of the public agenda.  The times also brought forth leaders whose actions and personal qualities were as important as the policies they sought to advance.  Among those whose work had far-reaching influence was Dorothy F. Cotton, whose autobiography can also serve as a chronicle of the civil rights era.   She tells her story in a new book entitled, “If Your Back’s Not Bent: the Role of the Citizenship Education Program in the Civil Rights Movement.”  Dorothy Foreman was born in Goldsboro, NC and raised by her father after his wife died when Dorothy was three years old.  They lived in a “shotgun house” on an unpaved street in the otherwise attractive (and properly-paved) city.  Her father was a Navy veteran and tobacco worker who was often overwhelmed by his family duties.  She writes, “I can’t recall him being anything other than deeply burdened.”  The book is dedicated to his memory. Dorothy was a good student in the segregated schools of Goldsboro and went on to study at Shaw University in Raleigh, where she also worked as a housekeeper for the university president, Dr. Robert Daniel, and his wife.  Dorothy sometimes found the work of “live-in help” demeaning, but she accompanied the Daniels to Virginia State College in Petersburg when he became president there in 1952.  She later earned a master’s degree in special education at Boston University and returned to work as a school speech therapist in Petersburg.  It was at her church in Petersburg that she first met a visiting preacher, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  She would become the Director of Education of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the guiding force behind the SCLC’s Citizenship Education Program (CEP) that began in 1961.  Though not as dramatic as the marches, sit-ins and other non-violent action, the deliberately low-key CEP became a motive force in the drive for equality, and an experience that bolstered the self-esteem of those who experienced the vision of first-class citizenship. A strong focus would be on basic things like how to run a meeting, how to successfully negotiate, the importance and nature of politics, how governing decisions are made, hiow laws are made, and how to assess whether a law was just and understand the basic documents on which the country was founded.  These were regular themes in CEP workshops.  Student development of self-awareness, self-empowerment, and techniques in breaking down the walls of segregation and exclusion were always in the mix.  These adult civic learners brought their specific problems to the classroom…

"Bat, Ball and Bible" By Charles Demotte

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It’s been said that no one can understand the USA and the American people unless they appreciate baseball.  A new book tells of the developments in political and social policy and even religious practices as played out in the century-long controversy over scheduling Sunday baseball games in New York State.  Baseball historian Charles DeMotte, an adjunct professor of sociology at SUNY-Cortland, reveals a little-known chapter in the history of baseball and of American life in his new book “Bat, Ball & Bible: Baseball and Sunday Observance in New York.” http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-1027989.mp3
“If you build it he will come.”  That mysterious but sage advice from the baseball movie “Field of Dreams” (adapted from the novel by W.P. Kinsella) could have had a different meaning had the action of that story taken place a century earlier.  The “it” might still be a baseball field but on Sunday afternoons from the 1850s till the 1920s “he will come” could have referred to a police officer, sheriff, social reformer or clergyman seeking to stop a baseball game on the Biblical day of rest.  Dr. DeMotte takes us back to the years when baseball was still evolving as a game and as a public spectacle.  He makes it clear that state and local laws upholding the cessation of commercial and recreational activity on the Christian Sabbath did not necessarily outlaw the game as an unwholesome activity, even as the question of Sunday baseball was intertwined with prohibition and other social issues of the time. A careful reading of the statutes also indicates a clear distinction between public and private activities.  Thus a baseball game, or any other form of recreation, on private grounds would appear to be legal under the statutes, whereas similar activities on a municipal lot would be in violation of the law.  However, any such game, private or public, would seem to contravene certain sections of the penal code if it disturbed the repose of the community or the sensibilities of any one individual. The first half of the 19th century was a time of religious ferment in the United States, and especially in the “burned-over district” of upstate New York.  It was also a time of rapid industrial progress and, of course, an era when the states lurched toward Civil War and the end of slavery.  Professional baseball clubs began to appear, although their success and durability was never assured.  Objections about desecration of the Sabbath seem to be balanced by secular sympathies for the working man.  In the era before the 40-hour week, people who labored in sweat shops or on farms could benefit from a day out of doors. “Bat, Ball & Bible” has a wonderful cast of characters including Dave Dishler and Tom Wheeler, respectively the Democratic and Republican leaders in Utica, who teamed up to bankroll a local ball team through proceeds from their joint gambling operation; William McAdoo, the New York City Police Commissioner who was content to allow Sunday baseball in outlying sections of Brooklyn; T. Stanley Day, the ChemungCounty Sheriff who in 1910 was himself hauled into court for refusing to arrest the players in a Sunday Elmira-Binghamton game and major figures in baseball history like Albert Spalding and American League founder Ban Johnson.  Some “blue laws” are still on the books, but once it became possible for professional baseball to become part of a pleasant Sunday in New York State, remaining restrictions seem to also be rejected or wither away.  American involvement in World War I may have been the final out.  Baseball games became patriotic exercises, gate receipts were shared with organizations aiding military personnel as a brass band on the field played patriotic songs.