Posts tagged with "equal justice initiative"

The Killing of a White Civil Rights Champion in America

In early March 1965, a peaceful crowd of 600 people began a protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to show their support for Black voting rights. Police armed with batons, pepper spray, and guns attacked the marchers on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge in a violent assault that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”

After the attack, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other organizers remained determined to complete the march. Dr. King urged clergy to come to Selma and join the march to Montgomery. Hundreds of clergy from across the country heeded the call and traveled to Selma; one of them was the Reverend James Reeb, a 38-year-old white Unitarian minister from Boston.

On March 9th, Dr. King led 2,500 marchers onto the Edmund Pettus Bridge for a short prayer session. That evening, three white ministers–Orloff Miller, Clark Olsen, and James Reeb–were attacked and beaten by a group of white men opposed to their civil rights work. The Rev. Reeb was struck in the head with a club and suffered a severe skull fracture and brain damage.

Fearing that he would not be treated at the “white only” Selma Hospital, doctors at Selma’s Black Burwell Infirmary ordered the Rev. Reeb rushed to the Birmingham hospital. After a series of unfortunate events, including car trouble and confrontations with local police, the Rev. Reeb reached the hospital in Birmingham in critical condition. He died on March 11, 1965, leaving behind his wife and four children. Three white men later indicted for the Rev. Reeb’s murder were ultimately acquitted by an all-white jury.

More widely reported than the death of local Black activist Jimmie Lee Jackson a few weeks earlier, the Rev. Reeb’s death brought national attention to the voting rights struggle. The death also moved President Lyndon B. Johnson to call a special session of Congress, where he urged legislators to pass the Voting Rights Act. Congress did so, and President Johnson signed the act into law in August 1965.

For more on the history of racial injustice in America, follow Equal Justice Initiative, (EJI).

The Lynching of Frazier Baker

Frazier Baker, the first African American to be elected as U.S. postmaster for Lake City, South Carolina, was a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He was born in 1908 in Lake City and attended segregated schools. After graduating from high school, he worked as a farmer and a teacher.

In 1946, Baker was elected as the president of the Lake City branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He also served as the president of the South Carolina NAACP from 1951 to 1955.

During the Civil Rights Movement, Baker was a leading figure in the fight for voting rights for African Americans. He was arrested several times for his activism, but he never gave up.

In 1966, Baker was elected as the U.S. postmaster for Lake City. He was the first African American to hold this position. Baker served as postmaster until his retirement in 1972.

Baker was a dedicated civil rights activist and a respected community leader. And although he left a lasting legacy of fighting for justice and equality in America, he was dealt the cruelty of racism and hate by a white mob.

On February 22, 1898, a white mob lynched Dr. Frazier Baker along with his infant daughter, Julia. The mob also injured Baker’s wife, Lavinia, and two of their remaining children. Lavinia and the five surviving children managed to flee.

Read a detailed report on Frazier Baker by Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), HERE.

A History Of Racial Injustice

On this day — Apr 05, 1880

Black West Point Cadet Brutally Beaten by White Students Days Before Graduation

In the early hours of the morning on April 5, 1880, Cadet Johnson Whittaker, one of the first Black students in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was brutally beaten by white cadets while sleeping in his barracks. Three white cadets ambushed Cadet Whittaker, slashed his head and ears, burned his Bible, threatened his life, and then left him in his underwear, tied to the bed and bleeding profusely.

Born enslaved in South Carolina in 1858, Cadet Whittaker received a congressional appointment to the U.S. Military Academy in 1876. For most of his time at West Point, Cadet Whittaker was the only Black cadet at the institution; he endured social exclusion and racial terrorism perpetrated at the hands of white cadets and faculty alike. Twenty-three Black cadets attended West Point between 1870 and 1890, but due to the violent discrimination that they faced, only three graduated. Cadet Whittaker would later testify that he had “read and heard about the treatment that [Black] cadets received there, and expected to be ostracized.”

After Cadet Whittaker reported to West Point administrators that he had been attacked, the institution opened an investigation into him and declined to hold his white attackers accountable. Administrators instead claimed that Cadet Whittaker had staged the attack to get out of his final exams, and in May, a West Point court of inquiry found Cadet Whittaker guilty of that charge. He was forced to take his final exams while incarcerated and withstand court-martial proceedings in New York City where the army prosecutor repeatedly referred to Black people as an “inferior race” known to “feign and sham.”

In January 1881, Brigadier General N.A. Miles affirmed Cadet Whittaker’s conviction and authorized him to be expelled from West Point, dishonorably discharged from the military, and held for continued imprisonment. Cadet Whittaker’s case was ultimately forwarded to President Chester A. Arthur for approval, and, a year later, President Arthur issued an executive order overturning the conviction based on a finding that military prosecutors had relied on improperly admitted evidence. By the time of President Arthur’s intervention, Cadet Whittaker had been incarcerated for nearly two years; even after his conviction was overturned, West Point reinstated Cadet Whittaker’s expulsion, claiming he had failed an exam.

Johnson Whittaker went on to work in several professional fields and raise a family, including several generations of descendants who served in the U.S. military. In 1995, more than 60 years after his death, Mr. Whittaker’s heirs accepted the commission he would have received upon graduating West Point. At the ceremony, President Bill Clinton remarked: “We cannot undo history. But today, finally, we can pay tribute to a great American and we can acknowledge a great injustice.”

To learn more the racial discrimination and violence Black service members and veterans have faced in the U.S. military, explore EJI’s report, Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans.

Portrait of Cadet Whittaker at the court-martial proceedings. (Library of Congress)