Category: History

In Maywood, a Juneteenth Celebration Prompts an Abiding Question: Are Blacks Really Free?

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Community members during a panel discussion last Saturday about the significance of Juneteenth and its current resonance. | Michael Romain/VFP

Panel 2Thursday, June 22, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

When Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued on June 19, 1865 General Order No. 3, announcing that “in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” President Abraham Lincoln (the executive referenced in the order) was dead and the 13th Amendment “was well on its way to ratification,” according to historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s online essay, “What is Juneteenth?”

A major reason why news of emancipation reached Texas last was because for many slave owners, the Lone Star State offered temporary refuge from the Union Army’s advances.

“Since the capture of New Orleans in 1862, slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana and other points east had been migrating to Texas to escape the Union Army’s reach,” Gates explains. “In a hurried re-enactment of the original Middle Passage, more than 150,000 slaves had made the trek west, according to historian Leon Litwack in his book ‘Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery.’ As one former slave he quotes recalled, ‘It looked like everybody in the world was going to Texas.’”

Since then, Gates notes, Juneteenth has become “the most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States.”

In Maywood last week, the holiday presented former and current residents with an opportunity to reflect not just on a historical event with national resonance but also on the village’s local history with respect to race relations.

On June 13 and 14, Operation Uplift Inc., the organization’s West Town Museum of Cultural History and the village of Maywood sponsored Reflections of the Past tours, during which community members learned about significant historical sites — including a section of Maywood where only African Americans and Jews lived.

Last Saturday, the organizations hosted a proclamation ceremony that included a reenactment of the Union army’s arrival at Galveston, Texas and a reading of Gen. Granger’s order. After the ceremony, community members gathered for a Juneteenth Soul Food Feast and a panel discussion that begged the question of whether or not blacks can be considered free — Gen. Granger’s order from more than 150 years ago notwithstanding.

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, “all slaves are tree.” This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

“I’m not clear we’re not still in slavery,” said Judge Gay F. Chase, who sat on a 9-person panel during a discussion that was moderated by radio personality Al B. Sylk. Around 20 audience members listened intently under a tent pitched beside the West Town Museum of Cultural History, 104 S. 5th Ave. in Maywood.

George Stone, Operation Uplift’s interim executive director, likened the panel discussion to an old-fashioned community gathering designed to resolve local problems and find common ground — even though most of the problems mentioned during the 2-hour panel are pervasive, plaguing largely minority urban centers from sea to shining sea.

While the panelists were unanimous in their discussion about the many problems ailing the African American population, including chronically high unemployment rates, gun violence, drug abuse and high dropout rates, there was a clear break in consensus when it came to plotting a clear path beyond those systemic problems.

“We need to uplift our race and find out what our issues are so we can heal our people,” said Stone. “We’re not looking for outside healing or a handout. We’ll take reparations because they’re owed to us, but we want to heal ourselves.”

In diagnosing what he called “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” Stone laid many of the problems ailing some blacks to “a false sense of priority” and a range of dysfunctional behavioral patterns (“black men wanting to be pimps,” “women being promiscuous,”) that he said is rooted in slavery.

“We never had any counseling after slavery, we just kept persevering,” Stone said. “This trickles down from generation to generation. We have a lot of mental illness — not just in the youth but in the parents who raise them and their parents.”

Michael Burton, an attorney, said that he attributes most of the problems affecting blacks in America to the breakdown of the family structure.

“When you have prisons for profit, they have to be filled up in order for the stakeholders to make money,” Burton said. “For the stakeholders to make money, they’re going to fill them up with black and brown bodies. The men who are taken away from the family weakens the family, therefore youth are exposed to things they ordinarily would not be exposed to had there been a strong male role model in the house.”

Stephen Allan Hall (also known as Ifagbayi Malefi Ayodeji Adéyafa), a community mental health specialist and DePaul University psychology instructor, modified Stone’s diagnose before emphasizing, along with other panelists and an audience member, what he said is the root cause of the present social dysfunction among blacks.

“One of my colleagues said during a conference a couple of weeks ago that she had good and bad news,” Hall said. “The good news is our community isn’t suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The bad news is the reason they’re not suffering from PTSD is because there is no post. We are in a continual state of traumatized lives.”

Hall said he isn’t necessarily convinced that the social conditions in many black communities are due to broken families. He said the deeper cause of blacks’ problems is white supremacy.

“I think it’s important that we not victim blame,” he said. “Black folks in the United States since our beginning in this country have been victims. That is real. We’ve been victims because folks have oppressed us and we need to own that. [One professor] said this: ‘If you don’t understand white supremacy, white racism, everything you do understand will only confuse you.”

Hall described a history of devastation heaped upon successful, self-contained black communities like Chicago, Atlanta and Tulsa.

“Look at communities that, historically, were black and self-contained,” Hall said. “They were punished for that. They were burned to the ground. People were killed.”

Rasaan Booker, an African American audience member with dreadlocks, had been subtly chastised by another audience member to pull his shorts up while walking to the center of the tent to comment.

Ironically, Booker criticized ‘respectability politics,’ or when, according to an essay in Dissent by Columbia political science professor Frederick C. Harris, the “virtues of self-care and self-correction [i.e., dressing appropriately] are framed as strategies to lift the black poor out of their condition by preparing them for the market economy.”

Booker said respectability politics now defines the black church, long the most powerful agent of social uplift that African Americans could leverage.

“The church doesn’t really allow for resistance and only encourages docility,” he said. “It’s difficult when you’re constantly being told to fit into this respectability model and that there’s always something wrong with you.

“[People say], ‘Trayvon Martin wouldn’t have been killed if he hadn’t worn a hoodie or people wouldn’t get stopped if their pants weren’t sagging,’” Booker said. “Respectability has never saved us. When Martin Luther King was marching in his finest suit, he was still stabbed and arrested multiple times.”

Rev. Ronald Beauchamp, the pastor of Bethel New Life Church in Wheaton, agreed with Maywood Park District Commissioner Bill Hampton for the effectiveness, if not for the moral validity, of respectability politics.

“Nobody told me to come out here today and wear my collar and suit coat,” Beauchamp said. “Nobody told me that, but because of my position, because of my understanding of my role, I did what I felt was appropriate. I could’ve come in shorts and a t-shirt, but I knew I wanted to have an image and a presentation. I wanted you to respect the words coming out of my mouth.”

“The way we carry ourselves has a lot to do with how we think,” said Hampton. “Take professional gangsters. You can’t tell they’re gangsters. If you give yourself away with the pants sagging and [profanity] coming out of your mouth, that builds into ignorance … Dr. King said, ‘I want you to be first in moral excellency.’”

“Yeah, but that’s always on black people! You have white kids walking around with their pants sagging and they won’t get shot,” said Brandy Booker, a Moraine Valley Community College professor and Rasaan’s mother.

“[White kids] cuss in front of my grandma, but they don’t get gunned down,” she said. “Why does the brunt of being always above fall on blacks? In 2017? That is ridiculous.” VFP

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Maywood Celebrates Juneteenth By Reading Gen. Granger’s Order No. 3

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Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet, Jr. and Mike Rogers during Juneteenth reenactment last Saturday in Maywood. | Courtesy Mike Rogers

Maywood Juneteenth_4Thursday, June 22, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Former Maywood Trustee Mike Rogers and Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet, Jr. took to the steps of the Home for Soldiers Widows, at the corner of First Avenue and Lake Street, to reenact  the Union army’s arrival at Galveston, Texas and a reading of Gen. Gordon Granger’s famous order No. 3., issued June 19, 1865.

The event was the culmination of a week of Juneteenth activities coordinated by Operation Uplift Inc., the organization’s West Town Museum of Cultural History and the village of Maywood.

Below, the Gen. Granger’s orders as they appeared in the New York Times in 1865.

IMPORTANT ORDERS BY GEN. GRANGER.

THE SLAVES ALL FREE.

HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF TEXAS, GALVESTON, Texas, June 19, 1865.

GENERAL ORDERS, No. 3. — The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, “all slaves are tree.” This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

By command of Maj.-Gen. GRANGER.

F.W. EMERY, Major, and A.A.G.

COTTON TO BE SHIPPED TO NEW-ORLEANS OR NEW- YORK.

HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF TEXAS, GALVESTON, TEXAS, June 19, 1865.

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Norfleet, Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins, Rogers and former Forest Park Commissioner Rory Hoskins, who also hosts an annual Juneteenth event in Forest Park. | Courtesy Mike Rogers

GENERAL ORDERS, No. 5. — Until the arrival of the proper Treasury agents in this district all cotton may be turned into the Quartermaster’s Department for shipment to New-Orleans or New-York, there to be sold to the United States Purchasing Agents. In case of such consignments, bills of lading will be given, and the owner will be permitted to accompany his property for the purpose of effecting its sale to the purchasing agents. No cotton, or other products of insurrectionary States, can be shipped on other conditions.

By order of Major-Gen. GRANGER.

F.W. EMERY, Major and A.A.G.

CIVIL AND MILITARY OFFICERS AND SOLDIERS REQUIRED TO REPORT FOR PAROLE.

HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF TEXAS, GALVESTON, Texas, June 19, 1865.

GENERAL ORDERS, No. 4. — All acts of the Governor and Legislature of Texas, since the Ordinance of Secession, are hereby declared illegitimate.

All civil and military officers and agents of the so-called Confederate States Government, or of the State of Texas, and all persons formerly connected with the Confederate States Army, in Texas, will at once report for parole at one of the following places, or such others an may be designated hereafter, to the proper United States officers to be appointed: Houston, Galveston, Bonham, San Antonio, Marshall and Brownsville.

Although their long absence from their homes, and the peculiar circumstances of their State, may palliate their desertion from their organizations, this order will be strictly and promptly complied with.

The above-mentioned, and all other persons having in their possession public property of any description whatever, as arms, horses, munitions, &c., formerly belonging to the so-called Confederate States, or State of Texas, will immediately deliver to the proper United States officer at the nearest of above-mentioned places.

When they cannot carry it, and have not the means of transporting it, they will make to the same officer a full report of its character, quantity, location, security, &c.

All persons not complying promptly with this order will be arrested as prisoners of war and sent North for imprisonment, and their property forfeited.

All lawless persons committing acts of violence, such as banditti, guerrillas, jayhawkers, horse thieves, &c., &c., are hereby declared outlaws and enemies of the human race, and will be dealt with accordingly.

By order of Major-Gen. GRANGER.

E.W. EMERY, Major and Ass’t Adjt. General. VFP

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Civil War Living History Set for Saturday, May 13

Civil War reenactment

Gerry Bliss, portraying Capt. Lindsey Carr, shows the crowd a piece of historical ammunition at last year’s living history.| File

Thursday, May 11, 2017 || By Community Editor || @maywoodnews

The Friends of the Maywood Home for Soldiers Widows and the Village of Maywood are gearing up for the annual Civil War Living History, which is set to take place on Saturday, May 13, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. , outside of the Soldiers Widows Home, 224 N. 1st Ave. in Maywood.

Each living history comprises historical interpreters and historians who participate in a demonstration, replete with pitched tents, a smoldering fire, decorated soldiers and an army hospital.

Tom Kus, the chairman of the Maywood Historical Preservation Commission, said at last year’s event that  the demonstration serves to pitch the historical building’s future while celebrating the past.

Kus said the commission wants to see the historical home, which has been derelict since a 2003 fire, renovated and put back to use. In 2012, the building was listed by Landmarks Illinois as one of the state’s 10 most endangered historical places. VFP

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Last Maywood-Born Member of 192nd Tank Batallion, Bataan Death March Survivor, Dies at 96

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Lester Tenney, “the last man from [Company B], and the last Maywood-born member of the 192nd Tank Batallion,” who died last month at 96. | Maywood Bataan Day Organization 

Saturday, March 4, 2017 || By Local News Curator || @maywoodnews

Lester Tenney, “the last man from [Company B], and the last Maywood-born member of the 192nd Tank Batallion,” according to a statement put out by the Maywood Bataan Day Organization last month, has died. The MBDO added that Tenney was also a former president of the American Bataan Clan, MBDO’s predecessor.

Tenney died last month in California after a short hospitalization, according to an article published by the San Diego Union-Tribune at the time. Tenney, among the last living survivors of the Bataan Death March, said that he survived the ordeal “by setting small goals for himself as he walked,” the Union-Tribune wrote.

“Make it to that stand of trees,” reporters John Wilkens and Peter Rowe reported of Tenney’s fight for survival. “Make it to that herd of water buffalo. By the time he and the other survivors staggered into Japanese prison camps, thousands had died.

“It was awful. It was inhumane. It was barbaric,” recalled Tenney, who is survived by Betty, his wife of 57 years; a son; two stepson; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Read more about Tenney’s fight for survival here. Read the MBDO’s release on Tenney’s death here. VFP

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Bill Hampton, Others Reflect on Fred’s Assassination in the Era of Trump

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Bill Hampton, the brother of Fred Hampton, in their childhood home in Maywood, flanked by photos of his mother Iberia’s grandparents, Edmond and Christine White, who were the children of slaves. | William Camarg/Wednesday Journa || Below left, former Black Panther Billy Dunbar, middle, speaks with members of the Maywood-Proviso Rotary Club last Thursday. | Michael Romain/VFP

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

G. Flint Taylor, Fred Hampton’s attorney who has also represented the slain Black Panther leader’s family for the half-century that’s elapsed since Hampton’s death in 1969, was recently cleaning out the basement of his Chicago law office when he stumbled on boxes full of familiar files.

“I found box after box of FBI documents,” Taylor said during remarks delivered during a meeting of the Maywood-Proviso Rotary Club, held at Meal of the Day Cafe, 1701 S. 1st Ave. in Maywood, on Feb. 23.

“In the middle of our trial, the government admitted that they had been hiding all of the FBI files on the Black Panther Party and on Fred,” Taylor recalled. “There were 200 volumes in our basement that they had to turn over — 15 volumes of surveillance and COINTELPRO documents of Fred Hampton alone.”

COINTELPRO is a clumsy portmanteau that’s jumbled from the words Counter Intelligence Program. The Federal Bureau of Investigations utilized the program heavily during the 1950s and 1960s as a covert, largely unconstitutional, method of spying on, discrediting and destroying political organizations considered threats to the United States.

Some of those ‘threats,’ like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, are now considered icons today. After King’s 1963 speech delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Hoover dropped the hammer, telling William C. Sullivan, the federal agent at the helm of COINTELPRO, to intensify efforts to discredit King and disarm the potency of his message.

In the wake of King’s “powerful demagogic speech,” Sullivan wrote, “We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.”

If being a charismatic, articulate African American male willing to speak out about constitutional ideals marked one as an enemy of the state, Fred Hampton might as well as have been marked since childhood, said many who reminisced on the Maywood native during last Thursday’s meeting.

Rotarian Delores Robinson, who attended Proviso East High School with Hampton in the mid-1960s, remembers how he would lead her and her fellow African American classmates out of the school’s clock tower entrance down Warren Avenue after classes let out. 

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“There weren’t many blacks at Proviso back then,” Robinson recalled. “When we would leave out of school at the end of the day, the blacks would walk out of that door and Fred would always have this song that went, ‘The more you give, the more God gives to you; you can’t beat God giving.’ We’d all walk down the street singing that.”

Don Williams, another member of Rotary who served as Mayor of Maywood in the 1990s and led the local NAACP at the time of Hampton’s ascendancy, recalled how he helped recruit Hampton to become the leader of the West Suburban NAACP’s Youth Council — a position that would become a launching pad for the young leader’s rise in the world of social activism.

“There was some turbulence at Proviso East and it seemed that the African American students were being short-changed,” Williams recalled. “We didn’t have anyone in the NAACP at that time we could offer who was young. There was a basketball player, Al Nuness, who was very well-known in the community and we thought we would solicit him.”

Williams said that Nuness was too busy with other commitments. The popular basketball player, however, recommended that the NAACP recruit Hampton.

“Nuness said, ‘You want Fred Hampton,’” Williams recalled. “He said he’s very active in the school and very well-known among the young people. You want Fred. So [we] recruited Fred Hampton. The rest is history.”

By the time Billy Dunbar joined the Black Panthers in 1968, the young Hampton’s reputation had circulated across Chicago several times over.

“I didn’t meet Fred until I got to headquarters at 2350 W. Madison St. [in Chicago], but people were telling me that this guy really had charisma and that he was talking about poor people and about how black people got mistreated by Mayor Daley’s regime,” Sullivan said. “He articulated the goals, needs and aspirations of black people at the time.”

When Dunbar and Hampton eventually met, Hampton had ascended to the position of chairman of the Black Panther’s Illinois chapter. Both men were in their early 20s — if they were that old.

“I found out later, through my experiences in the party, about the type of organizer Fred was,” Dunbar said. “He had the ability to analyze and initiate the programs that were told to employ by our leadership on the West Coast. He would identify members he thought had the qualifications or the ability to get the job done and he’d assign the tasks. We then got busy applying many of these things.”

Many times, Dunbar said, Hampton made great personnel choices. In the case of William O’Neal, Dunbar recalled, “he chose poorly.”

The ‘most dangerous group in the U.S.’

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On the night of Dec. 3, 1969, Bill Hampton spoke to his younger brother on the phone, mostly “about family things.”

“The next morning, after I got off work, I saw his picture on the front page of the paper that said, ‘Cops kill Panther leader,’” Bill said, recalling how he learned about the death of his brother the following day.

Fred had been murdered by a 14-man Special Prosecutions Unit, made up of Chicago police officers who entered the Black Panther chairman’s West Side apartment building at around 4 a.m., with a warrant for illegal weapons.

Fred had fallen asleep hours earlier while talking on the phone with his mother, Iberia. On the night of Dec. 3, he had taught a course in political education at a local church. By his side in the would-be deathbed was his fiancee, pregnant with Fred’s unborn son.

The tactical unit sprayed the apartment with automatic gunfire, unleashing a barrage of between 90 to 100 bullets. Another Black Panther, Mark Clark, was fatally shot in the chest. Fred was wounded when Black Panther Harold Bell claimed to have heard officers verbally identify Fred, before noting that he was “barely alive.”

“He’ll make it,” Bell recalled an officer saying. Then, two shots later: “He’s good and dead now.”

An autopsy would reveal that Fred sustained two point-blank bullets to the very head that had made him an Enemy of the State.

Taylor and his colleague, Jeffrey Haas, filed a civil suit in 1970 on behalf of the relatives of Fred and Clark. The young attorneys wanted to prove what many Illinois Black Panthers, namely Bobby Rush, were saying all along — that the FBI helped orchestrate the raid that killed Fred through its COINTELPRO operation.

When the civil case began in federal court, Taylor recalled in an article he wrote last December about Fred’s assassination for truth-out.org, the judge “reluctantly ordered” the FBI to hand over all of the files it had relating to Hampton and the Illinois Black Panthers.

The contents of those boxes that are located in the basement of the People’s Law Office, which Haas and Taylor founded together, reveal that O’Neal had infiltrated the Black Panther Party as an FBI informant.

“Memos to and from FBI headquarters and the Chicago office,” Taylor wrote, show that O’Neal was paid $300 for his part in the raid, which included slipping a sleeping agent, secobarbital, into the drink Fred had along with his dinner the night before he was killed. The barbiturate was to ensure that Fred would not wake up while officers riddled the apartment with bullets. O’Neal also gave the FBI a detailed layout of Fred’s apartment.

In 1979, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a trial judge’s initial ruling against the plaintiffs, “finding that the FBI and their government lawyers ‘obstructed justice’ by suppressing documents,” Taylor writes.

Those documents, the appeals court added, showed “that there was ‘serious evidence’ to support the conclusion that the FBI, [Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan, who ordered the raid] and his police unit had participated in a ‘conspiracy designed to subvert and eliminate the Black Panther Party and its members.’”

Those suppressed files also provide evidence that the FBI deliberately incited violence and dissension between the Panthers and other black political organizations and street gangs. O’Neal, specifically, was ordered to create conflict among the Panthers and other organizations.

In 1968, Iberia’s phone was tapped and in 1969, “Fred was sent to [prison] for an armed robbery he didn’t do,” Taylor said at the Rotary meeting. Hampton was alleged to have stolen $71 worth of Good Humor Bars during a 1967 theft in Maywood. That’s how Taylor, a young Northwestern law student, first met Fred.

“They sent me and another law student out to Maywood to get affidavits about how great a person Fred was and to raise some bond money,” Taylor recalled. “So, I came out to Maywood and met a lot of people who were in awe of the Panthers.”

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All levels of government, however, would work to upset that positive perception of Fred and the Black Panther Party — lest it spread and morph into real political empowerment among a larger segment of the black population. Hoover was deeply terrified that the Panthers might muster the political and physical power to overthrow the government.

According to an FBI document relating to Fred’s assassination uploaded to the bureau’s digital records ‘vault,’ Hoover is said to have called the Black Panthers “the most dangerous group in the U.S.”

At the time of his death, Fred was in the process of attempting to increase the Black Panther Party’s membership and reach by joining forces with an array of black, white and Latino organizations. According to Stanley Nelson, Jr.’s documentary film, “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” Hoover ordered the FBI to stop the Panthers by “any means necessary.”

The demonization of Fred and Black Panthers went on even after Fred’s assassination, with Hanrahan praising his officer’s “restraint” and “professionalism” against the violent black men.

Rotarian Henderson Yarbrough, a sitting Maywood trustee and the village’s former mayor, said that he never met Fred personally, but he saw him speak at an event on the West Side in the early 1960s.

“I don’t remember what the event was all about, but it was about five Panthers that came through and, at the time, I feared some of them because of what the FBI and Hoover had done to destroy their reputation and to paint them as bad people,” he said at the Rotary meeting. “The [federal government] did a good job at dividing and destroying that group in the end.”

Connie Harvey, a former Black Panther who Fred recruited to help out with the organization’s famous breakfast program, still struggles to dispel the mythology that’s been propagated against the Panthers.

“Fred and I go way back to Argo, Illinois,” Harvey said at the last week’s Rotary meeting. “Our parents were friends with Mamie Till [Emmett Till’s mother]. They were staunch NAACP back in the day. I felt honored when Fred asked me to help cook for children on the West Side.”

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Harvey said that when she would tell people that she was a Panther, she’d often be met with responses rooted in fear and misunderstanding.

“They thought we were some gun-toting hoodlums,” she said. “My sister and I cooked and helped feed those children before they went to school. That was the first breakfast program. I was a teenager when we did that. I didn’t tote a gun.”

Dunbar and Bill characterized Panthers as Black America’s best and brightest — not hoodlums; but, rather, young men and women who put their lives on hold to struggle for justice. Today, Dunbar said, many former Panthers are lawyers, Ph.D.’s, educators and administrators.

“Fred encouraged all of us to get an education,” Harvey said. “I just finished my bachelor’s degree in educational development. We teach our children to get educated. We’re not bad people and anybody who thought we were was deceived.”

Bill said that he often confronts people who believe that the Panthers were wholesale against the police. That wasn’t the case, he explained.

“Nobody ever said that the whole police force was all bad,” Bill said. “For example, the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League worked very closely with the Panthers. The [patrolmen] caught slack. They were harassed because they wanted to be decent policemen.”

But the conspiracy to demonize isn’t particular to the Panthers, Bill added. 

“That’s the conception of black people in general,” he said. “We’ve been conceived in a lot of ways. That’s not by accident.”

The future ‘may well be upon us’

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Longtime Hampton family attorney G. Flint Taylor. | Pat Hickey

Nowadays, Taylor has been speaking against what he considers to be the resurgence of COINTELPRO-like methods and actions by the Donald Trump administration, particularly Trump’s executive order that gives Attorney General Jeff Sessions — the man whose checkered history on race prompted Coretta Scott King to write a letter opposing his nomination to a federal judgeship in 1986 — a broad set of directives.

Among them is the call to “develop a strategy for the Department’s use of existing Federal laws to prosecute individuals who commit or attempt to commit crimes of violence against Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers.”

Taylor stated on truth-out.org earlier this month that the president’s executive order gives Sessions “a carte blanche to bring down the wrath of the federal government on anyone who is unfortunate enough to have a confrontation with a cop, a prison guard, a border patrol officer or who knows who else outfitted with a badge and carrying a gun.”

“At first blush, the order could be seen simply as a wildly unpopular president playing macho man to our nation’s police departments and their reactionary police unions,” Taylor wrote. “The unions have been chafing over being curbed by the previous administration’s Department of Justice […] which, by means of pattern-or-practice investigations and consent decrees, started to put the brakes on racist police violence.”

But on deeper analysis, Taylor added, “the order can be read as an official authorization, from one white supremacist — Steve Bannon — to another — Jeff Sessions — to pursue the most racist and reactionary criminal legal policies in recent memory.”

“Within the rubric of that declaration,” Taylor writes, is a sinister plot that the attorney is all too familiar with. That executive order essentially “takes aim at protesters,” Taylor states — Fred’s ideological descendants if you will.

They include Black Lives Matter protestors, the protestors at Standing Rock, “people protesting against the Muslim ban and many others who practice acts of civil disobedience that bring them into conflict with law enforcement.”

In his article written last year on Fred’s death, Taylor urges readers “not to relegate the Hampton assassination and COINTELPRO to the annals of history,” before referencing a 1964 FBI directive.

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Part of the text of President Donald Trump’s Feb. 9 executive order. 

“Over the years,” the directive states, “our approach to investigative problems in the intelligence field has given rise to a number of new programs, some of which have been most revolutionary, and it can be presumed that with a continued aggressive approach to these programs, new and product ideas will be forthcoming.

“These ideas will not be increased in number or improved upon from the standpoint of accomplishments merely through the institution of a program such as COINTELPRO which is given another name and in fact, only encompasses everything that has been done in the past or will be done in the future.”

For those who would resist — in the vein of Fred Hampton and other black radicals and even non-violent dissenters like King — that future “may well be upon us again,” Taylor writes. “The only answer now, as it was then, is to organize, educate and resist.”

During his Rotary remarks, there was more to Taylor’s story about those boxes he happened upon in his law office basement. They not only included a story of injustice. They also included stories of courage and resistance, particularly by Maywood residents.

“I also found down there a trial transcript,” Taylor said. “One that I thought was missing. It was from a trial that took place right here in Maywood in 1969. An intimidated African-American judge sentenced Fred Hampton to 2 to 5 years in the penitentiary for robbing an ice cream truck out here, which Fred professed not to have done. He even had an alibi, but he was convicted by a predominantly white jury.”

Taylor said that the trial transcript included the names of Maywood residents “who stepped up” to testify on Fred’s behalf when “it wasn’t popular in this community to do so.”

Those names included Delores Smith, Walter Allen, Bernice Brown, Ella Mitchell and James Sykes, Taylor said. Then Don Williams called on his fellow Rotarians to summon the courage of those witnesses to fight today’s battles.

“Mr. Taylor made a point,” Williams said, referencing the attorney’s insistence on considering Fred’s assassination as less a strict history lesson than a guidepost to inform present dissent. “Each one of us has the opportunity to stand up and step up and assert ourselves in some capacity.” VFP

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Check Out This Cool History of Melrose Park’s Kiddieland

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Kiddieland’s Little Dipper. | The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal

Monday, January 30, 2017 || By Local News Curator || @maywoodnews

The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal recently posted a rather exhaustive history of that late, great icon of all things suburban nostalgia — Kiddieland in Melrose Park.

The park was the Depression-era creation of builder/contractor Arthur E. Fritz, who figured he would try his hand at family entertainment in order to make some money and, perhaps, reverse his misfortune.

“Fritz felt that in spite of hard times, parents still would try to save a few dimes for a little family entertainment,” the digital history notes. “His pony rides soon proved to be a popular attraction that allowed parents to forget their troubles temporarily while they watched their children smile and have a little fun.”

The rest, of course, would become local history. Read and see more by clicking here. The photos alone are worth your time. VFP

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50 Years After the ’67 Blizzard Postponed Their Wedding, They’re Still Having Fun

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CAN I (STILL) HAVE THIS DANCE?: Lois and Ernie Baumann have some fun inside of the new Stairway of the Stars dance studio in Maywood. Below, the couple’s wedding photos from 50 years ago. The wedding was postponed because of the Blizzard of 1967, the worst snowstorm ever recorded in Chicago. || Top, William Camargo/Wednesday Journal | Below, photos submitted by the Baumanns

Lois and Ernie wedding photo_Page 4.JPGMonday, January 30, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Around this time 50 years ago, Maywood was digging itself out of the worst snowstorm ever recorded in the Chicago area. And Lois and Ernie Baumann were having the time of their lives.

On the day the blizzard hit — Thursday, Jan. 26, 1967 — Lois, now 69, was on a Blue Line train traveling into the Forest Park transit station. She was coming from taking classes at Roosevelt University and on her way to pick up her bride’s dress. Her and Ernie’s wedding was in two days.

“It was just an ordinary day,” Lois said during an interview last week. “But on my way home, the train — we called it the Des Plaines ‘L’ back then — came to a fierce halt in the middle of the Eisenhower. The windows on the train kept getting smaller, because the snow was covering them up so quickly. I looked around the car and thought, ‘I’m going to die with this group of people.’ We must have been stuck for two hours.”

According to the National Weather Service, the heaviest snowfall was in the late morning, with flakes accumulating at the rate of two inches an hour. Wind gusts blew up to 53 miles per hour and snowdrifts rose up to six feet high.

By the day’s end, roughly 23 inches of snow had ground city life to a halt, the Baumann’s wedding plans buried, along with everything else, by unprecedented mounds of snow.

“I had this feeling that another train was going to come and not see us,” said Lois. “I was thinking all kinds of things. There was no visibility here. I kind of realized then that the wedding might easily be sunk.”

The wedding, which had been scheduled to take place that Saturday at First Christian Church in Maywood, didn’t happen, of course. Air travel was suspended. Even those who lived in town, within blocks of the church, would find navigating the snowdrifts nearly impossible.

Their life plans interrupted, Lois and Ernie did what they’ve been doing for 50 years without ceasing and regardless of the conditions — whether epic snowstorm or fire or racial turbulence or economic decay — they had fun.

“We just went out in the snow and had a great time,” said Ernie, who had joined Lois during last week’s interview inside of the new dance studio the couple built last year through Maywood Fine Arts — the venerable nonprofit that was born from their wintry marriage 50 years ago.

Old newspaper clippings of Maywood residents handling the Blizzard of 1967, which halted Lois and Ernie Baumann’s wedding plans. | Maywood Herald

The Maywood-based organization serves over 1,000 kids a week from all racial, ethnic and income backgrounds — many of them from the West Side Austin community — with thousands more alumni, seemingly as numerous as flakes of snow in a blizzard, hailing from all over the country.

“My mother was real upset and was amazed at how calm I was,” said Lois, recalling how she handled her disrupted wedding plans. “I think, probably for my mother’s sake, I should’ve been more upset! But, you know, weddings weren’t the sit-down dinner, banquet, band, bore your friends for two hours affair they’ve become in the last 50 years. It was just a simple ceremony in the church and back to the house for sandwiches. That’s what we did.”

The Baumann’s wedding, which eventually took place a week later, on Feb. 4, 1967, is the ultimate emblem of the kind of resilience that’s kept their marriage, and their mission, going for half-a-century.

“The thing that bonded us from the very beginning was our commitment to children, and particularly, at that time, to the children in Maywood,” said Lois, who has lived her whole life in the village. “We saw the disparity in what was happening in the country. This was during the Civil Rights movement.”

‘Love at first sight’

The couple met in 1966, roughly three months before marrying. Lois was a waitress at a restaurant in Maywood and Ernie was the owner of a small shop in town called the Newspaper Store.

“People would go get their newspapers before they caught the train and on their way to work,” said Lois. “It was kind of one of those old-fashioned stores that was like a hangout. It was a lot of fun.”

“A hippie hangout,” is what Ernie calls it. It’s where he and Lois befriended people like the famous singer-songwriter John Prine, a native of Maywood who, along with Lois, attended Proviso East High School.

Ernie had stopped by the restaurant for a cup of coffee one day. Lois took his order — and, immediately, his heart.

“All I had to say was, ‘You want cream in your coffee, honey?’” Lois said. “Those were my first words to him. It was absolutely love at first sight.”

But love doesn’t automatically translate into a great marriage, the two recalled. Ernie, roughly eight years older than his wife, said the age difference may have been the source of some strain. Lois said their strong personalities might have signaled disaster for the union if it hadn’t been for their mutual love of children and their penchants for movement.

Not long after marrying, the couple began coordinating recreational programming for the Maywood Recreation Department. Lois taught dance and Ernie taught tumbling.

“You had two counselors present all day, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and you had set activities that the kids did each day in those parks, so that the children in the neighborhood left their houses,” Lois recalled.

Eventually, Ernie said, their tumbling and dance classes began to grow exponentially, precipitating something of a philosophical standoff with village officials.

“We did everything — bike parades, canoe trips, everything you can of,” he said. “We had the support of the director, but what kind of happened with the dancing was the program got so good and enrolled so many people that they saw this as a cash cow. They wanted to start raising the prices. We said, wait a minute. You’re eliminating people by doing this, which is not the way it should go. So, we left and started our own thing and ran it how we thought it should be run.”

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Stairway of the Stars dancers rehearse on a recent Saturday. | William Camargo/Wednesday Journal

Their affordable array of artistic programming, many of their patrons say, has been a beacon of light for communities like Maywood and Austin, where, over the last 50 years, recreational options and park district programming have declined markedly.

Between 1970 and 1980, according to U.S. Census data, the population of Maywood changed from 60 percent white to 75 percent black. In addition, the suburb lost more than 2,000 residents, along with thousands of manufacturing jobs and a plethora of small businesses.

“We thought we could really impact things,” said Ernie. “We were right in the middle of ‘White Flight’ and people would come to our doors and say, ’Look we can buy your house. You’re leaving aren’t you?’ We go, ‘Huh? We ain’t going anywhere.’”

During the same 10-year period, Austin, where many of MFA’s patrons live, went from 90 percent white to over 90 percent African American.

As those areas underwent swift racial change and dramatic economic decline, the Baumann’s philosophy of offering affordable programming despite the growing numbers remained unchanged.

In 1979, having decided to strike out on their own, Lois and Ernie bought a three-story building located at 20 N. Fifth Ave. (the former Maywood Opera House), which would anchor their newly formed artistic enterprise, and its flagship programs — Mr. Ernie’s Flip, Flop and Fly tumbling school and Stairway of the Stars, which offers a range of dancing instruction (from classical ballet to tap and jazz).

In 1996, Maywood Fine Arts was incorporated as a nonprofit and the Baumanns purchased a historically significant, boarded up bank property on the corner of Fifth Ave. and Lake St. The additional square footage would allow the organization to provide a wide array of program offerings, including music, visual arts, drama and karate classes.

The Baumann’s son, Spooner, who handles communications for MFA and sits on the nonprofit’s board of directors, was a year old when his family opened the first Stairway of the Stars dance studio — so-named for the 44 stairs that led to the building’s top floor.

“I have a picture of me as a one-year-old in my uncle’s arms in front of the building,” said Spooner, one of the Baumann’s six children — all of whom were born into their parents’ world of dance.

“I started dancing as young as I can remember. I grew up in that studio. There was no daycare, so I would go to work with [Lois], walking around the dance floors all day in my walker. As a teenager, I mopped the stairs.”

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Dancers rehearse inside of Stairway of the Stars earlier this month. | VFP File

When the old Stairway of the Stars burned down in March 2010, Lois and her Stairway stars promptly moved rehearsals down the street to the First Congregational Church of Maywood. In no time, they were dancing again.

“We land on our feet,” Lois told a Chicago Tribune reporter at the time. “That’s what I teach [our] children, and it’s something we have to remember right now. We always land on our feet.”

Over the years, Stairway of the Stars and Ernie’s Flip, Flop and Fly have cultivated a network of professional dancers and artists that spans generations and time zones and encompasses people like Craig Hall.

Last May, Hall retired as a soloist with the New York City Ballet. He was the first African American dancer at NYCB to perform as Apollo during the company’s prestigious season-ending program “Dancer’s Choice.”

“The whole family was in Maywood Fine Arts,” said Hall’s mother, Dorothy, who added that her son started dancing with Lois when he was three years old.

At one point, Dorothy said, her son’s talents nearly overwhelmed her family’s finances. Help from the Baumanns kept young Hall pirouetting toward the bright lights.

“Lois would say, ‘He needs a costume for this and for that.’ I had five kids! But she always worked with us and always kept us going,” Dorothy recalled.

Craig, who has grown to become best friends with the Baumann’s daughter, Purdie, a Radio City Rockette, was at the grand opening of MFA’s new dance studio last August, the facility that replaced the old studio that burned down in 2010.

“When the old studio burned down, it was like a little piece of all of us was broken, but it’s nice to know that there’s finally a place where the kids can come back to and have fun,” said Hall, 37. “It’s a dream come true.”

The new studio features modernized shock-absorbent floors and wall-to-wall windows that offer views of a liquor store, a barber shop, a vacant lot and a boarded-up building. The studio’s Main Street-facing entrance resembles a train depot and is located less than a block away from railroad tracks.

“This building costs $2.1 million to build,” said Ernie as he sat in one of the facility’s airy, light-filled dance studios. “People in the banking community told us that if we built property here, it would be worth $1 million less. So, the property is worth about $1 million. But we don’t care. It can be valued at a dollar. It doesn’t make a difference. We’re having fun.”

“We believe in making a difference in children’s lives,” said Lois. “We don’t believe in doing it at a distance. It’s a hands on thing. We wouldn’t ever leave. It was never a question in our mind.”

And then, after contemplating the very strong possibility that MFA could be the catalyst that this corner of her hometown needs, Lois shared her most recent ambition.

“Boy, where did the 50 years go? I need 50 more, because I’ve got a lot of stuff I want to do.” VFP

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