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Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

kelleyad1922

advertisement in The Crisis Magazine, 1922

I didn’t know, not until I was combing through the Military Intelligence Division – Negro Subversion files. Documents in these files were collected by the U.S. government from 1917 – 1941. In these pages, I learned about Emmett J. Scott, the previous subject of my “do you know …” series, and his role as Special Assistant to the Secretary of War. Information collected focused on three areas – (1) radical black organizations and their activities, (2) discrimination against blacks and (3) performance by blacks in the military.

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Secretary of War Baker

The files include press accounts, FBI investigative reports, commentary on the mood in black communities and correspondence from soldiers.  Any letter by a soldier of color about mistreatment eventually found its way to Scott’s desk, as did the following letter that caught my attention with its eloquence.

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I am writing you this letter to protest my compulsory induction into the Military Service of the United States. I received my order of induction on July 30th, and when this letter reaches you I will be part of the Army and subject to its laws and discipline. 

“In a letter recently to my local board, I truthfully stated, under oath, what I know to be the cause of my improper classification in the draft but as this was wholly a personal matter is it not the basis of my protest.”

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“Since the United States entered the war, scores of Negro men, women and children have been lynched, burned and mutilated … Since the war began I have on five or six different occasions applied for enlistment in the Army or Navy, and each time I have met the sting of race prejudice and discrimination.  And the same serpent lies in the path of hundreds of others who apply for enlistment daily.  If, as is often argued, that certain provisions of the Constitution of the United States are not upheld because of states’ rights, surely, the Government can prevent discrimination and segregation in the Army and Navy, the Commander-in-Chief of which is the President of the United States.

Therefore, it is with a thousand and one grievances against my country and an ever burning sympathy for the many injustices heaped upon Negroes, even today, in this the supposed land of freedom, champion of democracy and defender of the helpless peoples that I go forth to battle; not as a patriotic soldier eager to defend a flag that defends me and mine but as a prisoner of war, shackled to a gun that shall spit fire in defense of a humanity which does not include me and to uphold the neutrality of the only other country that has outdone my own in the oppression of the black races of the earth. These are the bases of my protest.

If the expression of what one holds to be true, right and just is a crime, I respectfully submit myself to you as a representative of my Government or to your agents to be used or abused in defense of them, as you see fit.”

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My curiosity was sparked!

Who was this William M. Kelley who had dared to write such a letter to the Secretary of War?  He was a writer, that’s for sure. With a bit of online research I learned that he had also been editor, publisher and social activist.

Born in the 1890s in Chattanooga, TN, he would eventually make his way north to Chicago. There he was employed as a social worker by the Chicago League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes (a branch of the organization now known as the Urban League). By the time he signed his draft papers he was living in New York.

As for what happened during the war, especially after he wrote that letter, that I don’t know. He did attain the rank of Sergeant First Class.  By 1920, he was back at work publishing and promoting black writers and artists.

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ad in The Crisis Magazine, 1920

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By 1922 he was hired as editor of the New York Amsterdam News, an important paper in the black community. Prior to that he’d worked as journalist and editor for other publications including the Champion Magazine in Chicago. In New York, he started his own magazine called Kelley’s Magazine. In its pages he published poets including Countee Cullen and Claude McKay as well as his own writing.

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ad in The Crisis Magazine

Based on newspaper articles from the 1920s and 1930s, he was a vocal advocate of building strong black business and encouraged support of those businesses by the local community. “Give your own enterprises the chances the same chance you allow to others. Hasten the time when we shall take our places among the commercial races of the world. Whenever possible walk a block to the nearest colored store and spend your money. It will do you and your children good.

As managing editor of a major black publication based in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance, he clearly knew the movers and shakers of the time.

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greeting card to W. E. B. Du Bois, 1928

He was politically active, as evidenced by his decision in 1929 to manage the campaign of Hubert T. Delaney. In an interview, Kelley said, “It’s about time for the Negro voter to demonstrate to the Republican party that they are serious in their desire to see a Negro elected to Congress from New York.” 

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Hubert T. Delany

When outlining his campaign plan, Kelley used the analogy of a military formation. Delany won the primary but lost the general election.

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Upon Kelley’s departure from the New York Amsterdam in 1933, he co-founded and edited the Daily Citizen. It operated for less than a year. A 1940 census indicates he was employed by the Works Progress Administration. Then by the early 1940s, he was working as an editor with The Peoples’ Voice, a publication founded by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Eventually that paper folded as well.

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Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

On a family website, it’s noted that Kelley in his later years spent less time on writing and trying to launch newspapers. He worked a series of civil service jobs that provided more stable income to support his family. He died in October 1958. His son, an award-winning novelist and essayist, William Melvin Kelley Jr, passed away earlier this month.

To see actual pictures of William M. Kelley, view his descendants’ tribute here: https://kelleysmagazine.com/2016/02/29/a-portrait-of-pop/

 

Sources & Additional Reading

Interview with William M. Kelley Jr

http://credo.library.umass.edu/view/full/mums312-b044-i126

Hubert Thomas Delaney – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubert_Thomas_Delany

The Pittsburgh Courier, November 17, 1923, page 15.

New York Age, August 8, 1925, page 7.

New York Age, August 31, 1929, page 3 – Wm. E. Kelley to be Campaign Manager for Delany for Congress

Adam Clayton Powell Jr – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Clayton_Powell_Jr.

http://chum338.blogs.wesleyan.edu/a-new-kind-of-newspaper-adam-clayton-powell-jr-and-the-peoples-voice/

http://www.academia.edu/827791/Ready_to_Shoot_and_Do_Shoot_Black_Working-Class_Self – Defense_and_Community_Politics_in_Harlem_New_York_during_the_1920s by Shannon King

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Growing up in Virginia, my parents made clear quite often that “times are tight.”  Many a fellow classmate wore more expensive clothes but mine were just as clean and it didn’t matter that they were purchased via layaway.  And my brothers and I still share stories of how well my mother could stretch a can of Campbells soup.  But it wasn’t until I was accepted into college, completing financial aid forms and trying to figure out how my family’s income fit on various grids … that’s when one day I looked across the table at my parents and said, “Did you know we’re classified as poor?”  That I did not feel poor despite my family having little money says a lot about my parents and the neighborhood in which I walked.

Virginia Dogwood

It is a very different neighborhood in which the little girl Dasani lives.  It is a Brooklyn neighborhood in transition.  Thanks to the New York Times series, Invisible Child, readers can journey with her through that changing world.  You the reader can walk with her, run, kick, and dance.  You can even hear her voice and those of the people around her because it is a multimedia presentation with short videos at the end of each of the five parts.  It is a series provoking a lot of conversation, dialogue, debate … and hopefully, most importantly, some good actions.  It can sometimes be tough to read and to watch but I hope people do.

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Abstract Reflections

This morning I’d put the television on mute as I worked on a paper.  When I finished the paper, I looked up and saw Michele Bachmann being interviewed by Bob Schieffer on CBS’s Face the Nation.  I turned the television off and prepared to walk away.  Then I stopped, sighed and turned the television back on.  I decided I should “walk my talk.”

You see,  I often tell younger friends of mine, especially young relatives, no matter what your political stance, first, be sure you vote, and second, vote responsibly – be informed.  So today, I decided to better inform myself about this candidate instead of only listening to heresay.  Well, without getting too personal, I’ll share a few things that stood out to me.

First, it will be a sad day in journalism when Bob Schieffer is no longer behind the desk.  In clear, concise, respectful language, he asked questions that showed without a doubt that he had done his homework and that he was prepared to ask the hard questions.  He was not to be distracted.

Second, it was sad to see once more that no matter how direct the question, even if repeated, candidates are well-trained in delivering non-answers.  I took public speaking.  It is amazing to see the tools being put to work so well by Ms. Bachmann (and all the other candidates).

Finally …

It may be my imagination but it seems that candidates, male and female, of any party, are so gloriously put together these days that they remind me of watching Entertainment Tonight or any of a half-dozen reality TV shows.  As I watch Bachmann, Perry and all the others on television, I just wonder if people are actually listening to candidates’ words or dazzled by their appearance.  It might make an interesting challenge as candidates share their thoughts on screen, to keep the sound up, but somehow “mute” the image.

 

 

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