The Cotton Club

This past Sunday we members of  the Phoenix Rising Unitarian. Universalist affiliate (not a congregation) were privileged to be given a presentation by a representative of  the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, which is located at 837 SE 8th Avenue here in Gainesville. The museum is housed in the renovated former home of the Cotton Club, dance and music hall which hosted such African-Artists as Cab Calloway.

The Cotton Club, like its namesake in New York City, was part of a network of African-American performance venues located  throughout the country during the early twentieth century known as the Chitlin Circuit. This group of sites acquired the name because, since the performers did not have a place to stay, each venue had to be located where a lodging was available for African-Americans. Gainesville was included because it had the Dunbar Hotel.

The Dunbar Hotel, located on 732 NW 4th Street, was Gainesville’s only African-American Hotel in the first half of the twentieth century. Musicians who played at the Cotton Club stayed there. It has been renovated on the original site, but is NOT open for tours. It currently exists as Pleasant Place, which is a home for single mothers and their children.

Josiah Thomas Walls

Our Black History Month continues with perhaps the most famous African-American in the history of Gainesville, Florida, Josiah Thomas Walls. Born a slave in Virginia, in 1842, forced to serve in the Confederate Army, liberated in 1862, he enlisted in the Union Army and was discharged in Alachua County after the war. There he went to work as a teacher in a sawmill. In 1867 he was nominated as a delegate to a state constitutional convention.

In the political career that ensued, he was a pioneer. In sources such as Wikipedia and the African-American Registry he is remembered as the first African-American to represent this area in Congress, but here in Potano’s garden he is remembered as the first African-American Mayor of Gainesville. He returned to the sawmill in 1879 and ran it and a farm until his death in 1905.

Today he is honored with a plaque at the site of his house in downtown Gainesville and the Josiah  T. Walls Bar Association, a minority bar association open to lawyers and judges in the third, fifth, and eighth judicial circuits of Florida.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Black History Month is in full swing. The importance of this observance cannot be overstated. Accordingly, this blog will examine important African-Americans. Let us start it off with the remarkable nineteenth-century abolitionist, poet and author Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911).

She was born Frances Ellen Watkins on September 24, 1825 in Baltimore, Maryland, to free parents. They died when she was three years old. Thereafter she was raised by her aunt and uncle. The latter, Rev. William Watkins, was a minister and activist. He ran the Academy for Negro Youth, where his niece did her grade school work.

After working as a seamstress from age 13, Frances Watkins moved to Ohio in 1850, where she became the first woman to teach at the AME-run Union Seminary. In 1853 she started a two-year tour lecturing for the American Anti-Slavery Society. She continued traveling and lecturing until she married Fenton Harper in 1860, and resumed  such activities when he died in 1864.

She was a prolific activist for many other causes. Watkins Harper was for a time superintendent  of the Colored Section of the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania  Women’s Christian Temperance Union, directed the Northern United States Temperance Union, and was the first African-American woman to be recognized on the Red Letter Calendar of the World Temperance Union. In the area of women’s rights she was member of the American Women’s Suffrage Association, was connected to prominent suffragettes, and, in 1866, delivered a noted speech to the National Women’s rights convention in which she advocated equal rights for all regardless of color or gender. After emancipation she became an activist for what would later become known as civil rights. She was director of the American Association of Colored Youth and a co-founder of the National Association of  Colored Women. She also fought for universal educational opportunity and was active in both the AME and Universalist churches.

Watkins Harper also distinguished herself as a writer. She wrote numerous volumes of poetry, beginning with Forest of Leaves (1945). She wrote ” The Two Offers,” the first short story by an African-American, in 1859.  Between 1868 and 1888 she wrote three novels published in serial form and in 1892 wrote Ida Leroy, published in its entirety and one of the first novels written by an African-American. She also wrote many essays.

This post is based material from biographical posts in Wikipedia, the Poetry Foundation web site, and the African-American Registry.

Prison Guard Union Calls on Texas to Curtail Solitary Confinement on Death Row

A prison guard speaks out on necessary change. Great for him. Solitary confinement is cruel and tortuous. Prisons must find ways to protect prisoners without shutting them up in a small, dark room all or most of the time.

Prison Guard Union Calls on Texas to Curtail Solitary Confinement on Death Row

Daniel Lopez, 23, waits in Polunsky Unit's visiting room for guards to escort him back to his cell on death row.
Jen Reel
Daniel Lopez, 23, waits in Polunsky Unit’s visiting room for guards to escort him back to his cell on death row.

Texas’ largest prison guard union is calling for a partial end to the controversial use of solitary confinement on death row.

In a letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) obtained by the Observer, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3807 advocates for TDCJ to house death-row prisoners who pose the lowest security risk in cells with other inmates. The union also calls for the prison system to introduce privileges such as work assignments, streaming television and technology such as computer tablets—all in an effort to reduce the psychological trauma of inmates and the potential confrontations with guards.

It’s a particularly powerful statement given the…

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Trailer for a new documentary on Anita Hill. Her testimony was a huge moment for the fight against sexual harassment. It well that we remember her story, her courage, and her deplorable treatment at the hands of Republican senators and the right wing.

Feminist Philosophers

The trailer for a new documentary about Anita Hill’s testimony during Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearing has been released. (It’s worth remembering that additional witnesses who could have confirmed her testimony, and who made themselves available to testify, were not called to do so.)

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