Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Alabama”

Tribute to Anne Braden Pt. 2

This is the second of two posts. For the first, please read this one first.

Anne Braden, right, and Ann S. Reynolds escorted the Rev. Jesse Jackson when he visited Louisville in 2000. Braden was an early supporter of Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. (Photo: Sam Upshaw Jr., The Courier-Journal)

The next episode for the Bradens, one which spiraled them into the national spotlight occurred in 1954. To help an African-American couple suffering from the Jim Crow laws they bought a house in an all-white neighborhood near Shively for the couple to live in. Neighbors burned a cross in the front yard and shot out the windows. When this didn’t force the family out, they later blew the house up with dynamite.

The investigation, fueled by McCarthy fervor saw the Bradens’ and other so-called Communists charged with “planning the explosion to stir up trouble between the races and to promote communism.” Carl was eventually found guilty and sentenced to 16 years in jail. The conviction was later overturned.

Anne Barden was ostracized from even liberal white circles, but continued until near her death in 2006 to advocate for social justice including issues such as gay rights.

The bravery of a white person to stand up to the ruling white community is a staggering concept, but that  a woman was able to do this and face those in authorities with such conviction is a stunning testimonial and an example to us all.

An activist and example at 80. . (Photo: Bill Luster, The Courier-Journal)

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Tribute to Anne Braden Pt. 1

Anne McCarty Braden was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and grew up in the racially segregated Anniston, Alabama, Her white middle-class family accepted the prevalent southern racial laws.  Ms. Braden was a practicing Episcopalian, and while she didn’t accept racial segregation, she only felt she could openly question it  when she attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia.

Trained as a journalist, she returned to Kentucky to write for the Louisville Times where she met and married fellow newspaperman Carl Braden, a left-wing trade unionist. They both  became active in the civil rights movement at a time when it was unpopular among southern whites and even more so for women.

Anne Braden was arrested for the first time in 1951. Following the sentencing to death of  Willie McGee, an African American man convicted of the rape of a white woman, Willette Hawkins. Ms. Braden led a delegation of southern white women organized by the Civil Rights Congress to Mississippi to protest the execution.

I only heard her story this summer when listening to one of my son’s CD’s on our vacation. Much of Ms. Braden’s  experience is recorded by the Flobots on their 2007 albumFight With Tools in their tribute to her.

More on the amazing bravery of Anne Braden tomorrow.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

A Place For The N Word

Last month I listened to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Two factors were involved in this decision. Firstly, having been educated in the land of Chaucer and Shakespeare, I am woefully ignorant of classical literature in the country I now reside. Secondly, I was about to travel to Louisiana and work a stones’ throw from the banks of the Mississippi.

Just when I began the book, the N-word controversy exploded. NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama, announced it plans to release a new edition in February wherein the word “nigger” is replaced by “slave.”

The word appears 219 times in all, it is hard to miss. I was listening when my 12 year-old got into the car and the word was spoken twice. My son, a proud product of Berkeley tolerance, was shocked. We had a long conversation about literature and artistic license. We have already had a number of discussions as to why I can write swear words and have them published, words that he is not allowed to say.

JULIE BOSMAN in an excellent New York Times article – Publisher Tinkers With Twain – explains that the idea came from Alan Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn University in Montgomery.  The professor has been teaching Mark Twain for decades and talked about always feeling uncomfortable when reading out loud a common racial epithet.

“I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Tom Sawyer,’ ” he said. “And I don’t think I’m alone.”

Mr. Gribben, believes that Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have dropped off of many reading lists and wants to make the books more accessible.

“I’m by no means sanitizing Mark Twain,” Mr. Gribben said. “The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone.” (The book also substitutes “Indian” for “injun.”).

Does he have a point? While my ancestors were enslaved in Egypt a few centuries ago, it is not part of our scarred psyche – there are far too many more recent acts that scar the Jewish  people. So I am unclear whether I should have a say in the debate.

I would love to hear from people of color whose ancestors were slaves in America. Would you share your opinions in the comments?

Either way, the special relationship that develops between Huck and Jim is what makes this novel so special. It is a timeless lesson in companionship, as relevant today as ever before.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com


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