Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality Spawns Activism

MooreBackRageHRWith its French, Spanish and Creole influences, New Orleans has the oldest black urban community of any city in the country. It also has a shocking history of police brutality that is told in “Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality and African American Activism from WWII to Katrina,” a new book by Leonard N. Moore, Ph.D., to be released by LSU Press in April.

Moore recounts the history of police brutality in the Crescent City along with the energetic opposition waged by blacks. Drawing on police records, records from civil rights organizations, oral histories, and newspaper accounts, he details the problems with an underpaid, understaffed and undereducated police force that had an unwritten mandate to “keep black folks in line.”

By the 1970s enough black officers had been hired that the Black Organization of Police in New Orleans was formed to begin addressing the aggressive policing tactics and to make sure black officers were treated fairly. “There was little the organization could do,” said Moore. “If officers in the organization were perceived as being radical, their career would stall.”

He explained that corruption was woven into the culture from the top ranks. Often black officers were involved in the corruption and brutalized black residents of New Orleans. “In many ways it was easier for them—they couldn’t be accused of racism,” said Moore.

Leonard N. Moore, author of "Black Rage in New Orleans"

Leonard N. Moore, author of "Black Rage in New Orleans"

What amazed Moore was the number of ordinary citizens who have protested and voiced their outrage throughout the years. From 1945-2000 he estimates that more than 30 organizations were established to deal with police brutality. Rather than remain passive, African Americans in the city formed anti-brutality organizations, staged marches, held sit-ins, waged boycotts, vocalized their concerns at city council meetings, and demanded equitable treatment. Citizen groups such as the Police Brutality Committee, Committee for Accountable Police, the Liberation League and Community Action Now mobilized and managed to hold police anti-brutality meetings where 4,000 or more people would show up.

Corruption and brutality continued unabated until the late 1980s-mid 1990s. In 1994, Washington, D.C. assistant chief of police Richard Pennington was hired to head up the New Orleans Police Department and he began a series of reforms including community policing practices, increased training, better pay and other reforms. During his tenure more than 350 police officers were indicted, fired or disciplined for misconduct. He left for Atlanta in 2002 after running for mayor and losing to Ray Nagin.

The effects of Pennington’s reform effort were not lasting. For example, there were  high profile incidents such as one on Danziger Bridge, when police opened fire, killing a mentally retarded man and one other person, just days after Hurricane Katrina. Even in the past year, the Louisiana Weekly and the Times Picayune reported a coalition of community leaders, civil rights activists and ministers gathered to demand justice and answers after a fatal shooting involving plain- clothes police officers left a 22-year-old New Orleans man dead, shot 12 times.

Moore’s goal for the book: “I’m hoping that when people pick up the book, they will see how brutality has been persistent. It is an everyday fact of life for many American people.”

Moore is an associate professor of history and an assistant vice president for diversity and community engagement at The University of Texas at Austin.

Anita Vangelisti Shares Tips for Better Communication

Vangelisti 2009

This week, “The Handbook of Family Communication,” edited by Anita Vangelisti, the Jesse H. Jones Centennial Professor in Communication, will receive the distinguished book award from Family Communication Division of the National Communication Association (NCA) at its annual conference in Chicago.

“In the Handbook of Family Communication,” researchers examine communication across the life of families, including marital communication. Scholars from different educational specialties, including communication, psychology and sociology, explore topics such as the influence of characteristics of family relationships on specific communication processes.

“Receiving the Distinguished Book Award from the Family Communication Division is an incredible honor,” says Vangelisti. “’The Handbook of Family Communication’ is an edited volume, so the award is a wonderful way to recognize the work of all of the authors who contributed to the project.”

Vangelisti recently discussed the influences that led her to study communication and emotion in personal relationships, especially among family members.

“While I was an undergraduate student at the University of Washington, I taught personal development courses at a local fashion college,” says Vangelisti. “What I found in teaching these classes was that the material on social skills had the most impact on students and, many times, when I discussed social skills and social interaction in class, students would tell stories about their families. It was clear that the students’ family relationships were very important to them; that’s one of the main reasons I became interested in studying family communication.”

Based on her years of research, Vangelisti has some tips for better communication among family members.

“First, pay attention to family communication – watch how you communicate yourself and how other members of your family communicate. Respond to family members—including children—in ways that show respect and caring. Think about what is important to you and to your family: what qualities you want in your family relationships, what activities you want to engage in, and what memories you want to create and then work—together, if possible,—to make those important things happen.

“Studying family relationships and family communication has made me more aware of why I see the world the way I do,” says Vangelisti. “It has helped me change some patterns of behavior and—perhaps more importantly—has helped me create an environment for my own children that I hope will help them become happy, healthy adults.”

Vangelisti currently teaches the Family Communication and Communication and Personal Relationships courses in the College of Communication. Past books that she has edited include “Explaining Family Interactions” (1995) and “Feeling Hurt in Close Relationships” (Cambridge 2009).

Digital Media: Exploration of Social Networking and New Media

Watkins, Craig 2009by Samantha Ruiz

Could today’s youth be the ultimate experts in the digital evolution?

Craig Watkins, associate professor of Radio-Television-Film, answers this question and takes us into the world of new media in his latest project, “The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future” (Beacon 2009). “The Young and the Digital” explores highs and lows of digital media and how it affects lives of today’s youth from tweens, to teens, to 20-somethings.

He examines how the use of social networks, online gaming, and time spent online in general are influencing the way we view evolution of the digital scene and social media platforms.

“Social media has emerged as the dominant media in our lives because it offers something that television cannot offer: the constant opportunity to connect and share our lives with close friends and acquaintances,” Watkins said.

ShelfLife@Texas recently sat down to interview Watkins on his new book and his experience with digital media.

Q: How has media affected your life on a personal level?
A: Digital media has made it much easier for me to keep up with the news and information sources that I prefer. I have to admit that I stopped reading newspapers on a regular basis many years ago, but that does not mean that I have abandoned the news. As a result of the Internet, the reverse has happened. I’m able to follow news in a much more flexible yet detailed way and learn about a wide array of topics or the things that I really care about which include health, technology, politics, and the business and culture of sports.

Q: You have an 8-year-old daughter, what role does new media play in her life?
A: Like most kids her age she is quite comfortable with new media including mobile phones, mobile phone apps, video games, and computers. My daughter usually takes the lead in downloading new apps for my phone and eagerly explores all of its capabilities. She has introduced me to new features on my phone that have actually been useful for me. Research over the years shows that young children, unlike their adult counterparts, are not intimidated by technological innovation. In fact, they seem to be really drawn to new technologies and have typically emerged as the “tech gurus” in their own homes.

Q: What, if anything, do you think we can learn from today’s youth and their knowledge of digital media?
A: Young people’s enthusiastic embrace of technology is about being able to communicate more efficiently with a wide array of friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

Q: What was the most surprising outcome that you found through your research?
A: That the more things change the more they really do seem to stay the same. Here’s what I mean: there is no question that young people’s non-stop use of technology–mobile phones, social media–represents a major shift in behavior. That is, how they use technology at home, in the classroom, and even when they are with each other. It represents new ways of being “social” in the world today. Some, of course, question if young people are social. But the idea of what it means to be social is constantly evolving in the face of technological innovations. This, I discovered, is really a constant theme in modern American life.

Watkins teaches in the Department of Radio-TV-Film and at the Center for African and African American Studies. He is also involved in the MacArthur Foundation Project.

His other books include “Hip Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture and the Struggle for the soul of a Movement” (Beacon Press 2005) and “Representing: Hip Hop Culture and the Production of Black Cinema” (University of Chicago Press 1998).

“The Young and the Digital” was released in October. You can view a trailer by Watkins at YouTube or read more at www.theyounganddigital.com.

What's on Your Nightstand, Juliet Walker?

History Professor Juliet E.K. Walker knows first-hand the power of a book to shape history.

Earlier this year, the site of New Philadelphia, Ill., a town founded in 1836 by her great-great grandfather Frank McWorter, was named a National Historic Landmark, based on research she published in “Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier” (1983, 1995).

In the book, Walker documented the historic significance of McWorter’s life and New Philadelphia, which is the first known town platted and officially registered by an African American before the Civil War.

“The search for the reality of a usable African American historic past, as well as assessments that provide insight on the contemporary black experience often propel my book selection,” Walker says.

“As an historian, a continuous search for understanding the slave experience from the perspective of the slave drives my interest in biographies, which often provide a more incisive analysis and greater insight than general historic assessments.”

Here’s what the scholar had to say about the books currently on her nightstand:

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” (W.W. Norton, 2008) by Annette Gordon-Reed

The distinguished history professor Annette Gordon-Reed’s book, “The Hemingses of Monticello” traces the origins of the Hemings, a slave family from 17th-century Virginia, to their sale after the death of their owner, the nation’s third president Thomas Jefferson. Gordon-Reed also describes the 38-year liaison between Jefferson and the slave Sally Hemings, and her seven children. In part, DNA tests corroborate paternity, previously established by the historical record.

An exciting read and a comprehensive brilliantly researched book that moves the enslaved to the forefront of their lives and experiences, as opposed to being relegated as appendages of history.

The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom” (Atria, 2009) by John Baker

Baker’s expansive and informative “The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation,” reviews the lives of the author’s enslaved ancestors and some 274 other African Americans who were also enslaved over time on the nation’s largest tobacco plantation. Located near Nashville, Tenn., the plantation was established by a distant relative of the first American President.

Unlike Alex Haley’s path-breaking “Roots,” based on his family’s oral history, Baker’s 30 years of research in the reconstruction of this community of slaves was based not only on oral history interviews from descendants of both the enslaved and the enslaver, but also on documents including private papers and public records. in addition to assessments from DNA tests results.

The Militant South, 1800-1861” (University of Illinois Press, 2002) by John Hope Franklin

While both Gordon-Reed and Baker’s books move us away from the general amorphous reconstruction of slave life, we must be reminded of the historical reality of the institution in John Hope Franklin’s “The Militant South,” in which he describes the extent to which the enslaved were oppressed in a section of the United States which he described as a “virtual armed camp.”

With American army bases located in the South given constitutional sanction to put down slave rebellions, in addition to state militias, county patrols and municipal police, as well as armed white citizens who could suppress slave intransigence with impunity, “The Militant South” underscores the extent to which there were not too many people of African descent who did not offer challenges to their enslavement.

Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching” (Amistad, 2008) by Paula Giddings

The violence of African American oppression did not end with the Civil War as African American Professor Giddings reminds us in her highly acclaimed biography “Ida, a Sword Among Lions.”

Ida B. Wells is an iconic historic figure, whose life weaves in and out of black activism at the turn of the 20th century. One of America’s first woman investigative journalists, Giddings’ brilliant assessment provides another dimension of the diversity of historic responses of African American women in their search for African American freedom and equality.

The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama” (Doubleday, 2009) by Gwen Ifill

By the turn of the 21st century, African American women in journalism had moved into the media mainstream where their assessments now include broad issues in American life, including the recently published “The Breakthrough” by Gwen Ifill, a nationally known newspaper and broadcast journalist. In the book, Ifill’s focus is on a new generation of black political leaders.

While only a 19-page chapter focuses on President Barack Obama, 179 of the book’s 266 pages include information on the new president, as he exemplified various aspects of the new generation of post-Civil Rights era African-American politicians. Based primarily on interviews, the book’s contribution is its synthesis of this new generation and the strategies developed as they skillfully negotiate the nation’s new political arena.

Still, waiting to be read are “A Mercy” (2008), by Toni Morrison, a novel set in the 17th century on the experience of women of various races and class on a Maryland plantation, as well as James Patterson’s novel “Cross County” (2008), where the protagonist is a black psychologist and detective.

Walker is the founder and director of the Center for Black Business History at the university. Her other books include “The History of Black Business in America” and “Encyclopedia of African American Business History.” She currently is writing a book about Oprah Winfrey, forthcoming from Harvard Business School Press.

Symposium Celebrates Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged"

The Department of Philosophy will host the symposium “Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: Celebrating the Best Within Us,” from 4 to 6:30 p.m., March 4. Presenters will offer perspectives on the Russian-born philosopher’s magnum opus, both as philosophy and literature.

Each session will include a question-and-answer period, and a reception with the speakers will be held immediately afterward. The event is free and open to the public.

Speakers and topics include:

4 p.m. “Ayn Rand: Evidence of a Life” by Jeff Britting, associate producer of the Academy Award nominated-documentary film, “Ayn Rand: Evidence of a Life;”

4:15 p.m. “The Benevolent Universe Premise in Atlas Shrugged” by Allan Gotthelf, visiting professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of Pittsburgh;

5 p.m. “John Galt as the Hero of Atlas Shrugged: Leader and Lover” by Shoshana Milgram, associate professor of English at Virginia Tech;

5:45 p.m. “The Appeal of Atlas Shrugged to Young People” by Onkar Ghate, senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute.

A joint survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that “Atlas Shrugged” is the second most influential book for Americans today, after the Bible.

The symposium is sponsored by the BB&T Chair for the Study of Objectivism and Anthem Fellowship for the Study of Objectivism, both held by Professor Tara Smith. Smith is the author of “Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist” (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Learn more about the symposium.

Mayor Picks "The Septembers of Shiraz" for Book Club

Mayor Will Wynn has chosen “The Septembers of Shiraz” (HarperCollins, 2008) by Dalia Sofer for the 2009 Mayor’s Book Club. The club is cosponsored by the Austin Public Library and the Humanities Institute at The University of Texas at Austin.

Sofer’s debut novel is based on her childhood in Iran during the revolution and flight from the country after her father was imprisoned. It was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 2008.

The Humanities Institute invites all of Austin and the campus community to read the book in February and March, and then participate in special events in April, culminating in a reading with the author at 6:30 p.m., April 24 at City Hall.

Stay tuned for more details about book discussions and other special book club events scheduled for April.