IN HONOR OF BLACK HISTORY month, I am counting down 28 — because there are 28 days in February — young African Americans (or groups of African Americans) who played significant roles in breaking racial barriers and/or fighting injustice before and during the Civil Rights Movement.
Below are entries 12 to 9. Tomorrow, it’s numbers 8 to 5. That includes the first African American to graduate from West Point; the first to graduate from a formerly integrated public high school in the South; the first celebrated African American athlete; and a 15-year-old who challenged the Montgomery, Alabama, bus statue nine months before Rosa Parks.
12. A.P. TUREAUD JR., 17, registered for classes at Louisiana State University and became the first African American undergraduate to attend a Deep South state university in 1953. Initially rejected because of his race, Tureaud entered after a lawsuit was filed on his behalf. The student’s brief stay on the Baton Rouge campus was far from pleasant. White students refused to speak to him and many professors ignored him as well — some wouldn’t even touch his homework papers. After six weeks, Tureaud transferred to Xavier University in New Orleans, where he completed his degree.
Fifty-eight years later, Tureaud received an honorary degree. Check out:
11. WALTER GADSDEN, 15, confronted a snarling police dog during a Civil Rights demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. A non-participant in the demonstration, Gadsden nonetheless stirred passions when a photograph of the attack appeared in hundreds of newspapers the following day. When President John F. Kennedy saw the image in The New York Times, he said it made him “sick to my stomach.” Jet magazine called it “a perfect picture of non-violence in action: a tight-lipped, grimacing youth passively submitting to the vicious brutality of a Dixie policeman and his dog.” “Broad white American support for black civil rights can be dated to that innocence-threatening afternoon in Birmingham (Alabama) on May 3, 1963″ wrote Scott Malcomson in One Drop of Blood: The American Misadventure of Race (2000).
A 1963 Jet magazine story chronicles the attack from Gadsden’s perspective. Check out:
10. CHARLOTTE HAWKINS (LATER BROWN), 19, opened a trailblazing North Carolina school for African Americans in 1902. Like most black schools of that era, the Alice Freeman Palmer Institute in Sedalia prepared students for non-academic jobs such as carpentry, printing, and farming — at first. Later, she expanded the curriculum to include drama, music, art, literature, and more. Hawkins was determined to turn out well-rounded future leaders. A fierce opponent of the era’s Jim Crow laws, which treated African Americans as second-class citizens, Hawkins sometimes rented a local theater for a day so her students could watch movies without being relegated to the “colored” sections.
For more, check out: http://www.biography.com/people/charlotte-hawkins-brown-206525
9. BRENDA TRAVIS, 16, joined two others in a 1961 sit-in that one white man called “The greatest act of bravery I’ve ever seen.” Travis, Ike Lewis and Robert Talbert sat in a clearly marked “White Only” area of a Greyhound Bus Station in McComb, Mississippi. For this, Travis was arrested, sentenced to a month in jail, expelled from school, and told — after six months in a reform school — to leave Mississippi for her own safety. Forty-five years later, Randall O’ Brien presented Travis with the Bronze Star for bravery he had received as a soldier in Vietnam. “What I did in Vietnam was nothing compared to what she did,” O’ Brien told WBIR Channel 10 in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The Brenda Travis story from the viewpoint of O’Brien, president of Carson-Newman College. Check out: http://www.cn.edu/news?view=225