02-19-2017  1:12 pm      •     

Black History  Month has produced an indispensible gift: Charles E. Cobb Jr.'s guided tour of civil rights landmarks. His new book, "On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail" (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, N.C.), brings the Movement back to life for both young and old. No collection of civil rights books is complete without Charlie Cobbs' new masterpiece.
Our journey begins in Washington, D.C., the author's hometown. Cobbs fittingly opens this chapter with a 1906 quote from Mary Church Terrell: "…Nowhere in the world do oppression and persecution based solely on the color of the skin appear more hateful and hideous than in the capital of the United States, because the chasm between the principles upon which this Government was founded, in which it still professes to believe, and those which are daily practiced under the protection of the flag, yawns so wide and deep."
One can never look at Constitution Hall the same after realizing that the Daughters of the American Revolution, owners of the facility, refused to let singer Marian Anderson perform there in 1939 because of her race. Led by outraged First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the event was switched to the Lincoln Memorial, where 75,000 people saw Anderson perform.
Taking us along the corridors of the U.S. Capitol, our tour guide writes, "…Enslaved black people formed over half the labor force that built it.  These slaves worked Virginia quarries, digging and transporting the stone for the Capitol. They baked bricks, dug ditches, hauled logs, and performed every task requiring strenuous manual labor, but their 'owners' were paid for their work."
A few blocks away, the old Charles Hotel on the northeast corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 3rd Street, now John Marshall Square, "quickly became a favorite of buyers in town to purchase slaves," Cobbs writes. "Its basement contained six, 30-foot-long arched holding cells that extended underneath Pennsylvania Avenue. Iron grates at street level provided air and a bit of sunlight. The hotel advertised the iron rings embedded in its walls and promised to reimburse guests the 'full value' of slaves who managed to escape." He noted, "Except for the government, slave trading was the city's largest industry."
Later this year, the first national museum dedicated to slavery, is scheduled to open in  Fredericksburg, Va. The 290,000-square-foot museum will contain a replica of a Portuguese slave ship.
The Rosa Parks Library and Museum and Dr. King's old church are covered in the Montgomery, Ala. tours. But Cobbs makes sure we don't miss the Civil Rights Memorial and Visitors Center at 400 Washington Avenue. While not part of the 1950s bus boycott movement, the memorial contains the names of 40 civil rights martyrs that died between 1954 and 1968.
"In Lowndes County [Ala.], one of the most creative campaigns for black political power took hold," Cobbs writes. "Comic books were designed and distributed explaining the duties of all county officers. One comic book tracks the growing political awareness of a 'Mr. Blackman,' who, in the end, registers to vote and becomes sheriff. It is here that we see the roots of [Stokely' Carmichael's call for Black Power."
The major battlefields in Birmingham, the Mississippi Delta and Memphis are all covered in great detail. But it is the intimate exchanges, some never previously reported, that makes this book so rich.
Cobbs recalls, "Lawrence Guyot, who later became chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party – challenged me when I explained that I was just passing through on the way to a civil rights workshop in Texas.
"'Civil rights workshop in Texas!' Guyot sneered, giving me a hard look. 'Tell me just what's the point of going to Texas for a workshop on civil rights when you're standing right here in Mississippi?'"
Cobbs never made it to Texas. And because he chose to remain active in the movement, there is no person better qualified to serve as our civil rights tour guide.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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