Teen in confrontation with Native American: I didn’t provoke
By JEFF KAROUB and ADAM BEAM
Monday, January 21
DETROIT (AP) — The student who stared and smiled at an elderly Native American protester drumming in his face outside the Lincoln Memorial as his schoolmates chanted and laughed says he did nothing to provoke the man in the videotaped confrontation and was only trying to calm the situation.
The student identified himself in an email statement Sunday evening as junior Nick Sandmann of Covington Catholic High School in a northern Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati. An official working with the family confirmed Sandmann’s identity, speaking on condition of anonymity because the source didn’t want to distract from the statement.
Videos posted of the confrontation drew wide criticism on social media. “I am being called every name in the book, including a racist, and I will not stand for this mob-like character assassination of my family’s name,” wrote Sandmann, who added that he and his parents have received death threats since video of Friday’s confrontation emerged.
Both Sandmann and Nathan Phillips say they were trying to defuse tensions that were rising among three groups on a day Washington hosted both the March for Life and the Indigenous Peoples March. But video of Sandmann standing very close to Phillips, staring and at times smiling at him as Phillips sang and played a drum, gave many who watched it a different impression. Other students appeared to be laughing at the drummer; and at least one could be seen on video doing a tomahawk chop.
The dueling accounts emerged Sunday as the nation picked apart footage from dozens of cellphones that recorded the incident on Friday in Washington amid an increasingly divided political climate fueled by a partial government shutdown over immigration policy.
Phillips had approached Sandmann, but well before that, both his group and Sandmann’s, which had taken part in the anti-abortion rally, were confronted by a third group that appeared to be affiliated with the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.
Videos show members of the religious group yelling disparaging and profane insults at the students, who taunt them in return. Video also shows the Native Americans being insulted by the small religious group.
Sandmann wrote that the students were called “racists,” ”bigots,” ”white crackers” and “incest kids” by the third group. He said a teacher chaperone gave the students permission to begin their school chants “to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group.”
One of those chants, however, is what led Phillips and Marcus Frejo, a member of the Pawnee and Seminole tribes, to approach the youths.
It was a haka — a war dance of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori culture, made famous by the country’s national rugby team. Frejo, who is also known as Chief Quese Imc, told the AP in a phone interview that he felt the students were mocking the dance.
Phillips, an activist described by the Indian Country Today website as an Omaha elder and Vietnam War veteran, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he was trying to keep peace between the high school students and the religious group.
He said he heard people chanting “Build that wall” or yelling, “Go back to the reservation.” At one point, he said, he sought to ascend to the Lincoln statue and “pray for our country.” Some students backed off, but one student wouldn’t let him move, he added.
“They were making remarks to each other … (such as) ‘In my state those Indians are nothing but a bunch of drunks.’ How do I report that?” Phillips said. “These young people were just roughshodding through our space, like what’s been going on for 500 years here — just walking through our territories, feeling like ‘this is ours.’”
Sandmann said he heard no student chant anything beyond school spirit chants, and that he hadn’t even been aware of the Native American group until Phillips approached him.
“The protester everyone has seen in the video began playing his drum as he waded into the crowd, which parted for him. I did not see anyone try to block his path,” Sandmann wrote. “He locked eyes with me and approached me, coming within inches of my face. He played his drum the entire time he was in my face.”
Sandmann said one of the Native American protesters yelled at them that they “stole our land” and they should “go back to Europe,” but that he never spoke to or interacted with Phillips. “To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why he had approached me.”
He wrote that he “believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping defuse the situation.”
“I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand,” he wrote. He said the incident ended when the buses arrived and his teacher told him it was time to leave.
Though many commenting on the internet were taken back by Sandmann staring at Philipps, the teen said he was “not intentionally making faces at the protestor. I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation.” He said he had never encountered any kind of public protest before.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington apologized for the incident on Saturday, saying “this behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.” They promised to take “appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”
Sandmann said he has provided a copy of his statement to the diocese and said: “I stand ready and willing to cooperate with any investigation they are conducting.” A spokeswoman for the diocese did not return an email Sunday night.
Covington Catholic High School, in the northern Kentucky city of Park Hills, was quiet Sunday as the area remained snow-covered with temperatures in the teens. The all-male school, which has more than 580 students, appeared deserted with an empty police car parked in front of the building.
Beam reported from Frankfort, Kentucky. Associated Press writer Lisa Cornwell in Park Hills, Kentucky, contributed.
Howard Thurman – the Baptist minister who had a deep influence on MLK
January 18, 2019
Author: Paul Harvey, Professor of American History, University of Colorado
Disclosure statement: Paul Harvey does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
For most African-Americans who grew up with the legacy of segregation and violence, making space for introspection was difficult. Martin Luther King Jr., however, learned to integrate spiritual growth with social transformation – a practice that sustained him during periods of intense work for the civil rights movement.
As a historian who has studied how figures in American history struggled with similar questions, I believe one significant influence on King’s thought in this area was the African-American minister, theologian and mystic Howard Thurman.
The influence of Howard Thurman
Born in 1899, Thurman was 30 years older than King: the same age, in fact, as King’s father. Through his sermons and teaching at Howard University and Boston University, he influenced intellectually and spiritually an entire generation that became the leadership of the civil rights movement.
Among his most significant contributions was bringing the ideas of nonviolence to the movement. It was Thurman’s trip to India in 1935, where he met Mahatma Gandhi, that was greatly influential in incorporating the principles of nonviolence in the African-American freedom struggle.
At the close of the meeting, which was long highlighted by Thurman as a central event of his life, Gandhi reportedly told Thurman that “it may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world.” King and others remembered and repeated that phrase during the early years of the civil rights movement in the 1950s.
Thurman and King were both steeped in the black Baptist tradition. Both thought long about how to apply their church experiences and theological training into challenging the white supremacist ideology of segregation. However, initially their encounters were brief.
Thurman had served as dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University from 1953 to 1965. King was a student there when Thurman first assumed his position in Boston and heard the renowned minister deliver some addresses. A few years later, King invited Thurman to speak at his first pulpit at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
Their most serious personal encounter – the one that gave Thurman his opportunity to influence King personally, and help prepare him for struggles to come – came as a result of a tragedy.
A crucial meeting in hospital
On Sept. 20, 1958, a mentally disturbed African-American woman named Izola Ware Curry came to a book signing in upper Manhattan. There, King was signing copies of his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story.”
Curry moved to the front of the signing line, took out a sharp-edged letter opener and stabbed the 29-year-old minister, who had just vaulted to national prominence through his leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott.
King barely survived. Doctors later told King that if he had sneezed, he easily could have died. Of course, King later received a fatal gunshot wound in April 1968. Curry lived her days in a mental institution, to the age of 97.
It was while recuperating in the hospital afterward that King received a visit from Thurman. While there, Thurman gave the same advice he gave to countless others over decades: that King should take the unexpected, if tragic, opportunity to meditate on his life and its purposes, and only then move forward.
Thurman urged King to extend his rest period by two weeks. It would, as he said, give King “time away from the immediate pressure of the movement” and to “rest his body and mind with healing detachment.” Thurman worried that “the movement had become more than an organization; it had become an organism with a life of its own,” which potentially could swallow up King.
King wrote to Thurman to say, “I am following your advice on the question.”
King’s spiritual connection with Thurman
King and Thurman were never personally close. But Thurman left a profound intellectual and spiritual influence on King. King, for example, reportedly carried his own well-thumbed copy of Thurman’s best-known book, “Jesus and the Disinherited,” in his pocket during the long and epic struggle of the Montgomery bus boycott.
In his sermons during the 1950s and 1960s, King quoted and paraphrased Thurman extensively. Drawing from Thurman’s views, King understood Jesus as friend and ally of the dispossessed – to a group of Jewish followers in ancient Palestine, and to African-Americans under slavery and segregation. That was precisely why Jesus was so central to African-American religious history.
Thurman was not an activist, as King was, nor one to take up specific social and political causes to transform a country. He was a private man and an intellectual. He saw spiritual cultivation as a necessary accompaniment to social activism.
As Walter Fluker, editor of the Howard Thurman Papers Project, has explained, the private mystic and the public activist found common ground in understanding that spirituality is necessarily linked to social transformation. Private spiritual cultivation could prepare the way for deeper public commitments for social change.
King himself, according to one biographer, came to feel that the stabbing and enforced convalescence was “part of God’s plan to prepare him for some larger work” in the struggle against southern segregation and American white supremacy.
In a larger sense, the discipline of nonviolence required a spiritual commitment and discipline that came, for many, through self-examination, meditation and prayer. This was the message Thurman transmitted to the larger civil rights movement.
Thurman combined, in the words of historian Martin Marty, the “inner life, the life of passion, the life of fire, with the external life, the life of politics.”
Spiritual retreat and activism
King’s stabbing was a bizarre and tragic event, but in some sense it gave him the period of reflection and inner cultivation needed for the chaotic coming days of the civil rights struggle.
The prison cell in Birmingham, Alabama, where in mid-1963 King penned his classic “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” also accidentally but critically provided much the same spiritual retreat for reflections that helped transform America.
The relationship of Thurman’s mysticism and King’s activism provides a fascinating model for how spiritual and social transformation can work together in a person’s life – and in society more generally.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on Jan. 11, 2018.
Black Americans mostly left behind by progress since Dr. King’s death
February 7, 2018
Author: Sharon Austin, Professor of Political Science and Director of the African American Studies Program, University of Florida
Disclosure statement: Sharon Austin does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Florida provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
On Apr. 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, while assisting striking sanitation workers.
Back then, a half century ago, the wholesale racial integration required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act was just beginning to chip away at discrimination in education, jobs and public facilities. Black voters had only obtained legal protections two years earlier, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act was about to become law.
African-Americans were only beginning to move into neighborhoods, colleges and careers once reserved for whites only.
I’m too young to remember those days. But hearing my parents talk about the late 1960s, it sounds in some ways like another world. Numerous African-Americans now hold positions of power, from mayor to governor to corporate chief executive – and, yes, once upon a time, president. The U.S. is a very different place than it was in 1968.
Or is it? As a scholar of minority politics, I know that while some things have improved markedly for black Americans in the past 50 years, today we are still fighting many of the same battles as Dr. King did in his day.
That was then
The 1960s were tumultuous years indeed. During the long, hot summers from 1965 to 1968, American cities saw approximately 150 race riots and other uprisings. The protests were a sign of profound citizen anger about a nation that was, according to the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, “moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”
Economically, that was certainly true. In 1968, just 10 percent of whites lived below the poverty level, while nearly 34 percent of African-Americans did. Likewise, just 2.6 percent of white job seekers were unemployed, compared to 6.7 percent of black job seekers.
A year before his death, Dr. King and others began organizing a Poor People’s Campaign to “dramatize the plight of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.”
On May 28, 1968, one month after King’s assassination, the mass anti-poverty march took place. Individuals from across the nation erected a tent city on the National Mall, in Washington, calling it Resurrection City. The aim was to bring attention to the problems associated with poverty.
Ralph Abernathy, an African-American minister, led the way in his fallen friend’s place.
“We come with an appeal to open the doors of America to the almost 50 million Americans who have not been given a fair share of America’s wealth and opportunity,” Abernathy said, “and we will stay until we get it.”
This is now
So, how far have black people progressed since 1968? Have we gotten our fair share yet? Those questions have been on my mind a lot this month.
In some ways, we’ve barely budged as a people. Poverty is still too common in the U.S. In 1968, 25 million Americans — roughly 13 percent of the population — lived below poverty level. In 2016, 43.1 million – or more than 12.7 percent – do.
Today’s black poverty rate of 22 percent is almost three times that of whites. Compared to the 1968 rate of 32 percent, there’s not been a huge improvement.
Financial security, too, still differs dramatically by race. Black households earn $57.30 for every $100 in income earned by white families. And for every $100 in white family wealth, black families hold just $5.04.
Another troubling aspect about black social progress – or should I say the lack thereof – is how many black families are headed by single women. In the 1960s, unmarried women were the main breadwinners for 20 percent of households. In recent years, the percentage has risen as high as 72 percent.
This is important, but not because of some outmoded sexist ideal of the family. In the U.S., as across the Americas, there’s a powerful connection between poverty and female-headed households.
Black Americans today are also more dependent on government aid than they were in 1968. Currently, almost 40 percent of African-Americans are poor enough to qualify for welfare, housing assistance and other government programs that offer modest support to families living under the poverty line.
That’s higher than any other U.S. racial group. Just 21 percent of Latinos, 18 percent Asian-Americans and 17 percent of whites are on welfare.
Finding the bright spots
There are, of course, positive trends. Today, far more African-Americans graduate from college – 38 percent – than they did 50 years ago.
Our incomes are also way up. Black adults experienced a more significant income increase from 1980 to 2016 – from $28,667 to $39,490 – than any other U.S. demographic group. This, in part, is why there’s now a significant black middle class.
Legally, African-Americans may live in any community they want – and from Beverly Hills to the Upper East Side, they can and do.
But why aren’t those gains deeper and more widespread?
Some prominent thinkers – including the award-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and “The New Jim Crow” author Michelle Alexander – put the onus on institutional racism. Coates argues, among other things, that racism has so held back African-Americans throughout history that we deserve reparations, resurfacing a claim with a long history in black activism.
Alexander, for her part, has famously said that racial profiling and the mass incarceration of African-Americans are just modern-day forms of the legal, institutionalized racism that once ruled across the American South.
More conservative thinkers may hold black people solely accountable for their problems. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson is in this “personal responsibility” camp, along with public intellectuals like Thomas Sowell and Larry Elder.
Depending on who you ask, then, black people aren’t much better off than in 1968 because either there’s not enough government help or there’s way too much.
What would MLK do?
I don’t have to wonder what Dr. King would recommend.
In 1968, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Council sought to tackle inequality with the Economic Bill of Rights. This was not a legislative proposal, per se, but a moral vision of a just America where all citizens had educational opportunities, a home, “access to land,” “a meaningful job at a living wage” and “a secure and adequate income.”
To achieve that, King wrote, the U.S. government should create an initiative to “abolish unemployment,” by developing incentives to increase the number of jobs for black Americans. He also recommended “another program to supplement the income of those whose earnings are below the poverty level.”
Those ideas were revolutionary in 1968. Today, they seem prescient. King’s notion that all citizens need a living wage portends the universal basic income concept now gaining traction worldwide.
King’s rhetoric and ideology are also obvious influences on Sen. Bernie Sanders, who in the 2016 presidential primaries advocated equality for all people, economic incentives for working families, improved schools, greater access to higher education and for anti-poverty initiatives.
Progress has been made. Just not as much as many of us would like. To put it in Dr. King’s words, “Lord, we ain’t what we oughta be. We ain’t what we want to be. We ain’t what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we was.”