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History > 2012 > USA > African Americans (II)



Gloria Davy,

First African-American

to Sing Aida at the Met,

Dies at 81


December 10, 2012

The New York Times



Gloria Davy, a Brooklyn-born soprano who was the first African-American to sing Aida with the Metropolitan Opera, died on Nov. 28 in Geneva. She was 81.

Her death, after a long illness, was confirmed by the soprano Martina Arroyo, a longtime friend.

A lirico-spinto (the term denotes a high voice that is darker and more forceful than a lyric soprano’s), Ms. Davy performed mainly in Europe from the 1960s onward. She was equally, if not better, known as a recitalist.

In particular, she was an interpreter of 20th-century music, including the work of Richard Strauss, Benjamin Britten and Paul Hindemith.

Though she was praised by critics for the beauty of her voice, the sensitivity of her musicianship and the perfection of her pianissimos — the elusive art of attaining maximum audibility at minimum volume — Ms. Davy sang with the Met just 15 times over four seasons, from her debut in the title role of Verdi’s “Aida,” opposite Leonard Warren, in 1958 to her final performance, as Leonora in Verdi’s “Trovatore,” opposite Giulio Gari, in 1961. She also sang Pamina in Mozart’s “Magic Flute” and Nedda in Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” with the company. In concert, she appeared with the New York Philharmonic and at Carnegie Hall and Town Hall in New York.

The daughter of parents who had come to the United States from St. Vincent, in the Windward Islands, Gloria Davy was born on March 29, 1931. Her father, according to a 1959 article about her in Ebony magazine, worked as a token clerk in the New York City subway system.

She graduated from the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan and in 1951 and 1952 received the Marian Anderson Award. The prize, for young singers, was established in 1943 by Ms. Anderson, the first black singer to appear at the Met.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1953 from the Juilliard School, where she studied with Belle Julie Soudent, Ms. Davy embarked on a career as a concert singer.

In January 1954, as a prize for having won a vocal competition sponsored by the Music Education League, Ms. Davy appeared at Town Hall with the Little Orchestra Society, singing Britten’s song cycle “Les Illuminations,” a rigorous undertaking for even a seasoned singer.

Reviewing the concert in The New York Times, Ross Parmenter wrote: “The ease with which she negotiated it immediately stamped her as a singer of unusual technical skill. And skillful accuracy was only the beginning of her story, for she has a voice of wide range that is soft, fresh, clear and warm.”

That May, Ms. Davy replaced Leontyne Price as Bess in an international tour of “Porgy and Bess,” providing her with her first significant stage experience.

When the tour reached Milan, the conductor Victor de Sabata suggested Ms. Davy learn the role of Aida for a forthcoming production at La Scala. Though she was unable to sing it there — political turbulence in Italy caused the performance to be canceled — she made her debut in the role in Nice, France, in 1957 and later sang it elsewhere in Europe.

When Ms. Davy first sang at the Met, she was only the fourth African-American to appear there, after Ms. Anderson, a contralto, and Robert McFerrin, a baritone, both of whom made their debuts in 1955, and the soprano Mattiwilda Dobbs, who first sang there the next year. (The African-American soprano Camilla Williams, who died this year, had made her debut with the New York City Opera in 1946.)

Before Ms. Davy was cast in the role, Aida, an Ethiopian princess, was perennially sung by white singers in dark makeup.

Ms. Davy’s other opera work includes appearances with the American Opera Society, a midcentury ensemble in New York, with which she sang the title role in Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena.” In Europe, she appeared at the Vienna Staatsoper and at Covent Garden in London.

For decades Ms. Davy had made her home in Geneva, returning to the United States periodically to perform and teach: she was on the faculty of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University from 1984 to 1997.

Ms. Davy was married several times. Survivors include a son, Jean-Marc Penningsfeld.

Among her recordings are albums of music by Paul Bowles and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and an album of spirituals.

Though she had planned to be a concert singer, Ms. Davy took unhesitatingly to the operatic life. “For sheer joy of singing,” she said in an interview with Opera News in 1958, “there’s nothing like opera.”

    Gloria Davy, First African-American to Sing Aida at the Met, Dies at 81, NYT, 10.12.2012,






Carroll F. Johnson,

Schools Integrator, Dies at 99


October 6, 2012
The New York Times


Carroll F. Johnson, a Southern-born educator who was one of the first superintendents to voluntarily use busing to integrate an urban school district, doing so in White Plains in the 1960s, died on Monday in Sarasota, Fla. He was 99.

He had been weakened by a long battle with blood infections, his son, Walter, said in confirming the death.

Dr. Johnson’s commitment to equal educational opportunities for minorities took root in the Jim Crow South of 1941, his son said. At the time, Dr. Johnson had just received a master’s degree in education from the University of Georgia when he watched as Gov. Eugene Talmadge stacked its board of regents with allies to force the ouster of Walter Cocking, the dean of the education school.

The governor said Dr. Cocking needed to be removed because he planned to create an integrated demonstration school.

The firing drew national attention, and it was not far from his mind, his son said, when he went to Westchester County in 1954 to run the White Plains schools. The Supreme Court had just issued its Brown v. Board of Education decision, ending legal segregation in the public schools.

The White Plains system’s student body was about 20 percent black then, with black students largely concentrated in a few neighborhood schools because of housing patterns. Dr. Johnson saw this as de facto school segregation, and he tried to redress it through a number of remedies, including building schools with special amenities to attract both white and black children.

By 1964, however, he had decided that the effort was too piecemeal and that black and white students remained largely isolated from one another. He put together what he called the White Plains Racial Balance Plan, which essentially called for busing hundreds of children so that no school had less than 10 percent minority enrollment or more than 30 percent. He also closed one school that had been overwhelmingly black.

To ease the way in putting the plan into effect, he built alliances with PTA leaders and the editor of the local newspaper. “He was a Southerner and kept his drawl, and I don’t think people saw him coming,” his son said.

The busing plan fell into place with remarkably little resistance. Four years later, the schools could report a rise in test scores for black students, no decline in white scores and no significant white exodus out of the school system.

Dr. Johnson said the key to the program’s success was that the busing went essentially one way: black children being transferred to white schools.

“Our residents wish, for the most part, to provide equal opportunity for all children — even at some inconvenience to themselves,” Dr. Johnson wrote in 1968 in evaluating the program. “But I do not believe that the majority of white parents would willingly have sent their own youngsters into center city schools.”

Dr. Johnson left White Plains in 1969 for Columbia University to become a professor of education administration and director of the Institute of Field Studies at Teachers College. In announcing his arrival, TC Week, a Teachers College publication, wrote that Dr. Johnson’s racial desegregation plan “became a model for other school systems in their desegregation efforts.”

In 1988, the White Plains system instituted a new way to bring racial balance to its student population, letting parents select among the schools in the district, with busing provided to students who live at a distance from the ones they choose.

Carroll Frye Johnson was born in Atlanta to Paul and Mattie Carroll Johnson on Jan. 16, 1913. His father died 18 months later, leaving Ms. Johnson to raise her son on her parents’ farm in Wildwood, Ga. Mr. Johnson received a partial scholarship to attend the University of Chattanooga (now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga). He graduated in 1935.

Six years later, after he got his master’s degree in Georgia, he joined the Navy with the outbreak of World War II. An able swimmer with educational credentials, he was assigned to train recruits to swim under burning fuel. He was discharged in 1945 and went on to earn his doctorate in education from Columbia in 1950.

While working for Columbia, he was a consultant on roughly 150 searches for superintendents around the country, allowing him to further his commitment to moving more women and minorities into positions of power. “He was a champion for school integration, raising academic standards,” said Charles Fowler, who is executive secretary of Suburban School Superintendents, a national association. And, he added, “for significantly broadening the base of students studying to lead America’s schools.”

In addition to his son, Dr. Johnson is survived by his wife, Susan Kaye Johnson; a daughter, Katherine Sussman; a stepdaughter, Gillian Kaye; four grandchildren; a stepgrandchild; and two great-grandchildren.

Dr. Johnson kept a stack of newspaper clippings and letters from his fraught time in White Plains, according to an article about him published on a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Web site. He treasured one thank-you note in particular, from Dr. Errold D. Collymore, a black dentist.

“When you came to White Plains I was very apprehensive,” Dr. Collymore wrote, as quoted by the Web site. “I openly expressed my doubts and anxiety about a superintendent of schools for White Plains who came from Georgia.”

But, he added: “My early fears were unfounded and unfair. I have been greatly impressed with your fairness, your objectivity, your considerable administrative competence and your dignity and unmistakable humanity.”

    Carroll F. Johnson, Schools Integrator, Dies at 99, NYT, 6.10.2012,






New Novel of Harlem Renaissance Is Found


September 14, 2012
The New York Times


A Columbia graduate student and his adviser have authenticated the student’s discovery of an unknown manuscript of a 1941 novel by Claude McKay, a leading Harlem Renaissance writer and author of the first novel by a black American to become a best seller.

The manuscript, “Amiable With Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem,” was discovered in a previously untouched university archive and offers an unusual window on the ideas and events (like Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia) that animated Harlem on the cusp of World War II. The two scholars have received permission from the McKay estate to publish the novel, a satire set in 1936, with an introduction about how it was found and its provenance verified.

McKay, a Jamaican-born writer and political activist who died in 1948, at 58 (though some biographies say 57), influenced a generation of black writers, including Langston Hughes. His work includes the 1919 protest poem “If We Must Die,” (quoted by Winston Churchill) and “Harlem Shadows,” a 1922 poetry collection that some critics say ushered in the Harlem Renaissance. He also wrote the 1928 best-selling novel “Home to Harlem.” But his last published fiction during his lifetime was the 1933 novel “Banana Bottom.”

“This is a major discovery,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard University scholar, who was one of three experts called upon to examine the novel and supporting research. “It dramatically expands the canon of novels written by Harlem Renaissance writers and, obviously, novels by Claude McKay.

“More important, because it was written in the second half of the Harlem Renaissance, it shows that the renaissance continued to be vibrant and creative and turned its focus to international issues — in this case the tensions between Communists, on the one hand, and black nationalists, on the other, for the hearts and minds of black Americans,” said Mr. Gates, the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard.

This literary detective story began in the summer of 2009, when Jean-Christophe Cloutier, a doctoral candidate in English and comparative literature, was working as an intern in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia. He was going through more than 50 boxes of materials belonging to Samuel Roth, a kind of literary pariah who died in 1974 and is best known for being the appellant in a famous obscenity case in the 1950s.

Mr. Roth is also known for publishing work without permission, including excerpts from James Joyce’s “Ulysses” and editions of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” by D. H. Lawrence. Mr. Roth attended Columbia, and his family donated his collection to the university.

No one knew of a connection between Mr. Roth and McKay, Mr. Cloutier said, as he came upon the roughly 300-page double-spaced manuscript, bound between cardboardlike covers bearing the novel’s title and McKay’s name. He also found two letters from McKay to Mr. Roth about possibly ghostwriting a novel to be called “Descent Into Harlem,” about an Italian immigrant who settles in Harlem.

“Amiable” is a different story, though, rife with political intrigue, romance, seedy nightclubs and scenes of black intellectual and artistic life in Harlem during the Great Depression.

Mr. Cloutier quickly took his discovery to Brent Hayes Edwards, his dissertation adviser and an expert in black literature. Mr. Edwards, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia, knew that McKay had published three novels during his lifetime (including “Banjo,” in 1929.) A novella, “Harlem Glory: A Fragment Of Aframerican Life,” was published posthumously).

But he and Mr. Cloutier immediately found in “Amiable” themes that recurred across McKay’s work, like Communism and labor strikes in Harlem, and characters, like the real-life labor leader Sufi Abdul Hamid. The term “Aframerican,” which McKay used to refer to black people in the Western Hemisphere, also appeared in “Amiable.”

Mr. Cloutier and Mr. Edwards gathered additional evidence by rummaging through archives at libraries around the country, including at Yale, Indiana University, Emory University and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, part of the New York Public Library (which manages the McKay estate).

They ended up amassing a mountain of archival and circumstantial evidence pointing to McKay’s authorship. But it was the extensive correspondence between McKay and his friend Max Eastman, the writer, political activist and avid supporter of the Harlem Renaissance, that ultimately convinced them that “Amiable” was indeed McKay’s, they said.

“The irrefutable archival evidence we have is when Eastman directly quotes from the novel,” Mr. Cloutier said. “McKay sent him pages, all from the summer of 1941 and a bit later.” (They also found letters referring to a contract between McKay and E. P. Dutton to write the novel.)

The authentication of the novel is “scholarly gold,” said William J. Maxwell, the editor of “Complete Poems: Claude McKay.” Its mocking portraits of Communists show McKay’s decisive break with Communism and his effort to turn his political evolution into art, said Mr. Maxwell, a professor of English and African-American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

Moreover, while the flowering of arts known as the Harlem Renaissance obsessively documented black life in the 1920s, he said, far less is known about the period of the 1930s, focused on in “Amiable.”

Many scholars believe that the Harlem Renaissance’s creative energy had pretty much run out by the late 1930s. But Mr. Edwards said he believed that “Amiable” would eventually be recognized “as the key political novel of the black intellectual life in New York in the late 1930s.”

McKay represents the Communists as amiable with big teeth, he said, but they end up being a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

“I cannot think of another novel that gives us such a rich and multilayered portrayal of black life,” Mr. Edwards continued. “There are scenes with artists in salons, in nightclubs, in queer nightclubs. It has almost a documentary aspect.”

Despite his moment in the spotlight, Mr. Cloutier is still in the middle of his dissertation, which he expects to complete in 2013 or 2014. Its title? “Archival Vagabonds: 20th Century American Fiction and the Archives in Novelistic Practice.” And the McKay manuscript remains where Mr. Cloutier found it, now archived in Box 29, Folders 7 and 8, of the Samuel Roth papers.

    New Novel of Harlem Renaissance Is Found, NYT, 14.9.2012,






Police Beating Victim Who Asked

‘Can We All Get Along?’


June 17, 2012
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — Rodney G. King, whose 1991 videotaped beating by the Los Angeles police became a symbol of the nation’s continuing racial tensions and subsequently led to a week of deadly race riots after the officers were acquitted, was found dead Sunday in a swimming pool at the home he shared with his fiancée in Rialto, Calif. He was 47.

There was no evidence of foul play, the Rialto police said.

Mr. King, whose life was a roller coaster of drug and alcohol abuse, multiple arrests and unwanted celebrity, pleaded for calm during the 1992 riots. More than 55 people were killed and 600 buildings destroyed in the violence.

In a phrase that became part of American culture, he asked at a news conference, “Can we all get along?”

“People look at me like I should have been like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks,” he told The Los Angeles Times in April. “I should have seen life like that and stay out of trouble, and don’t do this and don’t do that. But it’s hard to live up to some people’s expectations.”

Mr. King published a memoir in April detailing his struggles, saying in several interviews that he had not been able to find steady work.

He said he had once blamed politicians and lawyers “for taking a battered and confused addict and trying to make him into a symbol for civil rights.” But he was unable to escape that role. On Sunday, the Rev. Al Sharpton, said in a statement, “History will record that it was Rodney King’s beating and his actions that made America deal with the excessive misconduct of law enforcement.”

And more recently, Mr. King seemed to embrace the role himself, saying that his beating enabled others to succeed and “made the world a better place.”

“Obama, he wouldn’t have been in office without what happened to me and a lot of black people before me,” he told The Los Angeles Times. “He would never have been in that situation, no doubt in my mind. He would get there eventually, but it would have been a lot longer. So I am glad for what I went through. It opened the doors for a lot of people.”

Though Mr. King wrote in his memoir that he still drank and used drugs occasionally, he insisted that, with his fiancée, Cynthia Kelley, who had been a juror in a civil suit he brought against the City of Los Angeles, he was on the road to reclaiming his life.

“I realize I will always be the poster child for police brutality,” he said, “but I can try to use that as a positive force for healing and restraint.”

Mr. King said he was essentially broke, though he said he received an advance for his book, “The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption,” published to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the riots.

He still walked with a limp and several of his scars were visible. His best outlets for relaxation, he said, were fishing and swimming.

The police in Rialto, 50 miles east of Los Angeles, said they received a 911 call at 5:25 a.m. Sunday from Ms. Kelley, who reported finding him in the pool that Mr. King had built himself, inscribing the date of his beating and the start of the riots in two tiles. Emergency personnel tried to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced dead at the hospital at 6:11 a.m.

Capt. Randy De Anda said that Mr. King had been at the pool throughout the early morning and had been talking to Ms. Kelley, who was in the house at the time. Neighbors reported hearing music, talking and crying before hearing a splash.

A pair of sandals was still sitting next to the pool, visible from a neighbor’s backyard. Mr. King had apparently started to build a new fence to keep neighbors from looking in, but never completed it. One neighbor said that Mr. King mowed her family’s lawn weekly and that she often saw him swimming late at night.

On the night when the police beating occurred, March 3, 1991, Mr. King had been out on parole on a 1989 robbery conviction.

He was driving about 100 miles per hour when he and two passengers were pulled over by the Los Angeles police. After he attempted to escape on foot — afraid, he would later say, that he would be in violation of his parole — he was caught by officers. The 6-foot-3 Mr. King was struck with batons and kicked dozens of times, and hit with Tasers.

“It felt like I was an inch from death,” he said in recent interviews.

Video of the beating, recorded by George Holliday, a resident of a nearby apartment building, was repeatedly broadcast on television, inflaming anger over what was seen as a pattern of aggression and abuse by the Los Angeles police toward blacks and Hispanics. After intense public outcry, four officers were brought to trial.

Many people thought the video alone would lead to the conviction of the officers. But on April 29, 1992, a jury in Simi Valley, Calif., which included no black jurors, acquitted three of the officers, and a mistrial was declared for the fourth.

It touched off riots in South Los Angeles, among the worst in the nation’s history, resulting in damage estimated at $1 billion.

The four white officers charged with beating Mr. King — Stacey Koon, Theodore Briseno, Timothy Wind and Laurence Powell — were indicted in the summer of 1992 on federal civil rights charges. Officers Koon and Powell were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, and Mr. King was awarded $3.8 million in damages.

The Los Angeles police chief, Daryl Gates, resigned under pressure amid criticism that officers were slow to respond to the riots. He died of cancer in 2010.

Mr. King spent much of the money he received on legal fees. He also bought cars and houses, including the modest house in which he lived, and invested in a rap music label called Straight Alta-Pazz, which failed.

But much of his life was consumed by tabloid drama. He spent the subsequent years in and out of jail and rehabilitation centers, mostly for drug and alcohol abuse. He was arrested multiple times for driving under the influence, and spent short periods in prison in the late 1990s for assaulting his former wife and his daughter. In recent years he had appeared on the television shows “Celebrity Rehab” and “Sober House” on VH1.

Rodney Glen King was born on April 2, 1965, in Sacramento, the youngest of five children. He grew up in Altadena, near Pasadena, raised by his mother, Odessa King, and an alcoholic father, Ronald King, who died at 42.

Mr. King was married twice. Survivors include his daughters, Lora and Candice King, and a third daughter whose name was not immediately available.

In an interview in April, Mr. King said he understood how posterity would view him.

“It’s taken years to get used to the situation I’m in in life and the weight it holds. One of the cops in the jail said: ‘You know what? People are going to know who you are when you’re dead and gone. A hundred years from now, people still going to be talking about you.’ It’s scary, but at the same time it’s a blessing.”

Ian Lovett contributed reporting from Rialto, Calif.,

and Whitney Boyd and Michael Schwirtz from New York.

    Police Beating Victim Who Asked ‘Can We All Get Along?’, NYT, 17.6.2012,






Southern Baptists Set for a Notable First


June 17, 2012
The New York Times


NEW ORLEANS — The Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination born in 1845 in defense of slavery and a spiritual home to white supremacists for much of the 20th century, is poised to elect its first African-American president.

The Rev. Fred Luter Jr., 55, a New Orleans pastor who got his start preaching on the streets of the Lower Ninth Ward, is expected to be the only candidate for office on Tuesday when Southern Baptists gather here for their annual meeting.

“That I can be president of the largest Protestant denomination in the country is unbelievable,” Mr. Luter said in an interview last week after one of his trademark cadenced sermons that drew “amens” from the predominantly black congregation.

His anticipated victory is being hailed as a milestone by white and black pastors alike in the convention, a grouping of 51,000 congregations with 16 million members, about a million of them black. Acutely aware of the nation’s changing demographics, the fiercely evangelical Southern Baptists have been working to draw in more black, Hispanic and Asian members, often by starting new churches in ethnically diverse urban areas in the country.

If, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said of the nation’s churches, Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America, the Southern Baptists have carried a special burden, giving added resonance to this week’s election.

“Given the history of the convention, this is absolutely stunning,” said Michael O. Emerson, an expert on race and religion at Rice University.

Mr. Luter shares the Baptists’ firm rejection of abortion and same-sex marriage, but he preaches more about personal salvation than politics. Though he never completed seminary training, he is renowned for his rapid-fire sermons filled with wordplay and hypnotic repetition.

He has also impressed convention leaders by building what had been a dying congregation, that of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, into one of the state’s largest churches — and then rebuilding it after 2005, when Hurricane Katrina flooded the church in the low-income St. Roch neighborhood and sent most of its 8,000 members fleeing to other states.

By example and through his ability to help shape the convention’s powerful missionary, policy and governing boards, Mr. Luter hopes he can give the minority recruitment goals a boost during his two-year term.

“I want to carry that torch,” he said. “When I go to evangelical conferences, I’ll be Exhibit A.”

But he is well aware that many black evangelicals remain skeptical of the Southern Baptists, preferring to remain in separate associations like the largely black National Baptist Convention U.S.A., which has 7.5 million members.

Southern Baptist leaders acknowledge having a lot to answer for. “We were a segregated, virtually all-white denomination as late as the 1960s,” said Richard Land, president of the convention’s policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Mr. Land is the convention’s most prominent public face, often speaking out pungently on conservative causes like opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and big government.

Mr. Land has been known for seeking racial reconciliation and was one of the authors of a resolution, adopted by the convention in 1995, that apologized for “historic acts of evil such as slavery” and for condoning “racism in our lifetime” and asked forgiveness “from our African-American brothers and sisters.”

But an episode this spring showed the lurking potential for racial misunderstandings. Many blacks were outraged when Mr. Land accused President Obama of trying to capitalize politically on the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida, called the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton “race hustlers,” and suggested that racial profiling was justified.

A few pastors in the convention called for Mr. Land’s punishment or removal, and in the end he apologized and was sharply reprimanded by the church. Mr. Luter, who worked with Mr. Land on the convention’s 1995 apology, called the comments an unfortunate aberration but said he hoped Mr. Land would stay on.

Dwight McKissic Sr., pastor at the predominantly black Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Tex., is one of those who reacted sharply to Mr. Land’s remarks, although he is a harsh critic of Mr. Obama himself on social issues. Mr. McKissic is both elated by the prospect of Mr. Luter’s ascension and guarded about its ultimate meaning. “The fact that his color is not a hindrance to his election is a wonderful thing,” he said. But he added that the presidency was largely ceremonial and that he longed “for the day when a person of color is named to head” one of the powerful boards or a major seminary.

Mr. Luter became a Southern Baptist almost by accident.

He grew up poor in a largely African-American world in the Lower Ninth, raised by his mother, a seamstress.

In 1977, at the age of 21, he almost died in a motorcycle crash and was born again, promising his life to God. He spent years preaching with a megaphone in the streets, where, he said, he developed his fast-talking style as he tried to catch the attention of annoyed passers-by.

In 1986, the Franklin Avenue church had dwindled to 50 members, mostly women and children. Noah Lewis, 62, who was on the selection committee for a new pastor, said its members were not satisfied with the seminary graduates they met. Then they saw Mr. Luter preaching at a revival.

“We wanted someone with the human touch, and Fred seemed to be the one,” Mr. Lewis said. “He didn’t talk above people’s heads or tell them what to do.” Hiring him was a risk because he had no seminary training, and Southern Baptist officials took some persuading, but Mr. Luter quickly built a following and was unusually successful at attracting men to church.

The rebuilt Franklin Avenue church now has 5,000 members, and virtually all of its $6 million budget comes from member tithes and offerings, said Mr. Lewis, who is chairman of the church board.

Mr. Luter, who sees himself as a bridge builder, often delivers guest sermons at Baptist churches around the country, including those with predominantly white congregations.

His first priorities as president, Mr. Luter said, will be the traditional Baptist goals of evangelizing, serving believers and providing disaster relief. But he also pledged to use his power of appointments to get more minorities on the governing boards.

Fearing a decline if they do not broaden their appeal, the Southern Baptists have worked to attract new members from all regions and from the minority groups that make up a growing share of the population. One in five of the convention’s congregations is mainly black, Hispanic or Asian, but these include many newer, smaller churches.

The selection of Mr. Luter is a marker in a historic transition for the convention, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “It’s a shift from institutionalized racism and resistance to the civil rights movement among the vast majority of its members,” he said, “to the eager embrace of America as it is becoming.”

    Southern Baptists Set for a Notable First, NYT, 17.6.2012,






Black Leaders and Gay Advocates March in Step


June 9, 2012
The New York Times


For years, gay rights organizations and major civil rights organizations viewed each other warily. African-American leaders often saw the gay rights groups as insensitive to racial concerns, and some resented the movement’s use of civil rights language to make the case for same-sex marriage. Advocates for gay rights, in turn, sometimes blamed socially conservative African-Americans for their defeat in crucial electoral battles.

But since the relationship reached something of a crisis with the passage of Proposition 8, California’s ballot initiative against same-sex marriage, in 2008, leaders in both movements have made an effort to bring their groups closer together.

Now, conversations among leaders in the gay, black and Latino communities have borne significant fruit: On May 19, the board of the N.A.A.C.P. voted to endorse same-sex marriage.

And then, last Tuesday, representatives of several national gay rights organizations gathered at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, often described as the birthplace of their movement, to announce that they would march to protest the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practice, under which the police each year have been stopping hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, most of them black or Latino, in an effort to prevent crime.

Some of the gay rights leaders specifically cited support from the N.A.A.C.P. for same-sex marriage as a reason they decided to oppose the stop-and-frisk policy.

“We need to find ways to strengthen our alliances and really strengthen our commitment to one another,” said Jeffrey Campagna, a national gay rights organizer who is coordinating the involvement of gay rights groups in the march on June 17 against the stop-and-frisk practice.

Julian Bond, a former chairman of the N.A.A.C.P. and a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, said he saw the association’s support for same-sex marriage as a way to acknowledge the contributions of gay rights advocates — most had not come out publicly at the time — in the civil rights movement.

“I knew these people, whom I just assumed to be gay, and I knew what they were doing on my behalf — and I hoped on their behalf, too,” he said. “I was grateful for it, and when the chance came, I wanted to pay them back.”

The same-sex-marriage and stop-and-frisk issues are only the most visible signs of closer collaboration.

Around the country, gay rights groups have joined minority advocacy organizations in political battles on behalf of voting rights and affirmative action. And in California, Oregon and Colorado, gay rights organizations have formed partnerships with immigrant rights groups to fight aggressive immigration laws.

And even before the national board of the N.A.A.C.P. voted to support same-sex marriage, that organization and other civil rights groups got involved in marriage battles on the state level. In North Carolina, the N.A.A.C.P. paid for radio and print advertisements, direct mail and “robocalls” urging black voters to oppose an amendment banning same-sex marriage; the amendment passed in May. In Maryland, where the State Legislature voted to legalize same-sex marriage in February, the Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network and Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights were prominent supporters.

“You must be for the civil rights of everyone, or you’re not for the civil rights of anyone,” Mr. Sharpton said last week.

One indication of the new rapport: Chad Griffin, who is taking over on Monday as president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading gay rights group, plans to have lunch on one of his first days in Washington with the president of the N.A.A.C.P., Benjamin Todd Jealous.

Mr. Jealous explained the newfound collaboration with a reference to Bayard Rustin, the pacifist and civil rights advocate who was black and gay.

“In the last four years, with the increase in hate crimes across the country, with states attempting to encode discrimination into their state laws and constitutions,” Mr. Jealous said, “it’s become clear that, just as Bayard Rustin admonished us all, that we would either stand together or die apart.”

The distance that has long existed between the gay rights and civil rights movements has complex roots. In addition to the strain of social conservatism that pervades many black Protestant churches, gay rights advocates’ use of the phrase “civil rights” and comparisons of the two movements have sometimes offended African-Americans, according to Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University.

“When gay and lesbian people say, ‘Hey, we understand, because we’ve been oppressed, too’ and ‘Like black people, we...,’ that’s a nonstarter for many black people,” he said.

Keith Boykin, an author who has written about homosexuality in the black community, said that “when people hear civil rights and gay rights, they think that people are trying to equate the two movements.” As a result, he said, “we sometimes get caught up in these hierarchies of oppression.”

For its part, the gay rights movement has sometimes struggled to be racially inclusive.

“Fifteen years ago, the leadership of the gay community, certainly in terms of organizations, was overwhelmingly white gay men,” said Marjorie J. Hill, the chief executive of GMHC, an H.I.V./AIDS organization.

Dr. Hill, who is black, said the more diverse gay rights organizations became, the more natural it was for gay rights and civil rights groups to form alliances.

The communication between the two communities has picked up since the disclosure in March of a memorandum by the National Organization for Marriage, the leading group opposing same-sex marriage in the country, that described a goal to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks” over same-sex marriage.

Leaders in both movements had already perceived a need to create relationships after gay rights advocates and minorities found themselves pitted against each other in fights over same-sex marriage.

“In the aftermath of Proposition 8, it was all about ‘the blacks and the Latinos, they didn’t vote for us,’ ” said Andrea Guerrero, the executive director of Equality Alliance San Diego, a group that works with immigrants and minority communities.

“Similarly, in the immigrant community, there’s been a sense of ‘they only call on us when they need us for their issue — they never come and help us on our issues,’ ” she said.

To address that divide, she and Delores A. Jacobs, the chief executive officer of the San Diego LGBT Community Center, decided to test political messaging about nontraditional families and the need to keep families together that they hope could be used in future campaigns to advocate both immigrants’ rights and same-sex marriage.

After Oregon voters in 2004 approved an amendment banning same-sex marriage, with the major group supporting the amendment using an African-American talk show host as its spokeswoman, a gay rights organization called Basic Rights Oregon decided to review its own lack of diversity and its failure to form close relationships with minority communities, according to its executive director, Jeana Frazzini.

It deepened a relationship with a Latino immigrant rights group, Causa. Since then, Basic Rights Oregon has fought local anti-immigrant ballot measures and pushed at the state level for illegal immigrants to be able to get driver’s licenses and, for those who came to this country as children, to pay in-state tuition at public universities. Causa and Basic Rights Oregon have also joined forces to run an ad on Spanish-language radio to promote legalizing same-sex marriage.

In the ad, a woman describes how she and her husband struggled to accept their gay son, then says that she does not want him to face discrimination when he finds someone to marry.

“As a Latina, I believe in loving my neighbor, in treating others as we would like to be treated, and in never turning our backs on family,” the woman says. “Marriage has brought so much happiness to my life, and I wouldn’t want any member of anyone’s family — gay or straight — to be denied that chance at happiness.”

    Black Leaders and Gay Advocates March in Step, NYT, 9.6.2012,




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