by Alicia W. Stewart, CNN
(CNN) - When Hannah Johnson wrote President Lincoln in the summer of 1863, she expressed the concerns of any mother with a son fighting a war.
But she had a special request: “I am a colored woman and my son was strong and able as any to fight for his country and the colored people have as much to fight for as any…. Will you see that the colored men fighting now, are fairly treated. You ought to do this, and do it at once.”
On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation became the first authorization by an American president to enroll Johnson's son, and other black men, as legal soldiers for the United States military.
Emancipation and the enlistment of black soldiers were not President Lincoln’s initial impulse. He wanted to make a gradual change, as he wrote in this letter explaining his shift to an advisor:
When, in March, and May, and July 1862 I made earnest, and successive appeals to the border states to favor compensated emancipation, I believed the indispensable necessity for military emancipation, and arming the blacks would come, unless averted by that measure. They declined the proposition; and I was, in my best judgment, driven to the alternative of either surrendering the Union, and with it, the Constitution, or of laying strong hand upon the colored element. I chose the latter.
By the end of the Civil War, black soldiers made up 10% of Union troops, and 19,000 served in the Navy.
“Republicans understood that they needed blacks to be agents of change for the process,” said James Oakes, author of "Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery". “The North couldn’t win the war without black soldiers.”
Those soldiers, and the proclamation, became an enduring symbol of freedom.
But on the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, a historical document that symbolizes the beginnings of freedom for individuals once deemed property, historians say myths persist about what the policy did, and did not, do.
“Slavery didn’t die on January 1, 1863, but it was the death knell that slavery would die if the Union won the Civil War,” said Eric Foner, author of "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery".
Here are three myths that persist about the Emancipation Proclamation. FULL POST
By Alicia W. Stewart, CNN
(CNN) - In his first major news conference since March, President Barack Obama expressed confidence in passing immigration reform in his second term.
"You're starting to see a sense of empowerment and civic participation (among Latinos) that I think is going to be powerful and good for the country," he said. "And it is why I'm very confident that we can get immigration reform done."
In response to a question from Telemundo reporter Lori Montenegro, the president spoke about increased Latino voter turnout, the DREAM Act and border security.
Editor's note: This interview is part of In America's occasional series "How I Got Here," which looks at the life journeys of notable Americans.
By Alicia W. Stewart, CNN
(CNN) – Ava DuVernay this year became the first African-American woman to win a best directing award at the Sundance Film Festival. She won for "Middle of Nowhere," a drama about a young black woman named Ruby who puts her life on hold while her husband is in prison. The movie opened in theaters this month.
The former aspiring broadcast journalist-turned-publicist overcame fear and ridicule to become an independent filmmaker. Here's the story of how she got there:
CNN: What does it mean to be a black woman filmmaker in 2012?
Ava DuVernay: The films that I make are, you know, directly related to my gaze, which is specifically through the eyes of a black woman. So the framing of the shots in my films, the choices of music, the cadence and rhythm of the editing, all of that I’m very aware is coming through who I am, and I’m a sister.
In saying I’m a black woman; I include all the legacy of my family and all the people that I love.
CNN: You went from being a publicist in the entertainment industry to an acclaimed filmmaker. What drives you?
DuVernay: I think the only thing that drove me is just this idea of forward movement, like never to stay still. I think there’s something very powerful and something amazing to be said (for) momentum. That one thing leads to another.
I think when we sit too long in one place, we get stagnant, and if we just keep moving, even if we don’t know where we’re going, we’ll get somewhere.
CNN: Did you always want to be a filmmaker?
DuVernay: When I was young, I wanted to be a broadcast journalist. I wanted to be like Connie Chung.
Maybe in some ways, we kind of are truth-telling, trying to tell stories and news in a different way through the films, but after UCLA, I got an internship at CBS News with Dan Rather and Connie Chung. It was a huge, huge deal. I was on the O.J. Simpson unit. And I was so proud. I had my first little suit, showed up and they said: “OK, this is your assignment.” (They) handed me a package and inside the package was the address of one of the jurors. And they wanted me to sit outside that person’s house and look through the trash.
And I was like: You know, no. I’m not going to do this. So I didn’t. I started looking for another side of the news and fell into publicity. It allowed me to be close to journalists and work with the media but also connect journalists to artists and to films.
By Alicia W. Stewart, CNN
(CNN) - In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925, ordering that federally funded projects "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."
Five decades later, a young white woman and a Texas school's admissions policy stand central to a monumental Supreme Court case. The justices began hearing oral arguments Wednesday over the constitutionality of racial preferences in consideration of the students it accepts.
It could change how schools determine whom they let in and whom they keep out.
Affirmative action began as a simple idea to expand equality and has morphed into a charged and divisive topic.
What is affirmative action, and how is it different from when it began?
Here are five things to know. What would you add? Let us know in the comments below.
By Alicia W. Stewart, CNN
(CNN) - Just as Mitt Romney's campaign ramped up outreach to Latino voters at the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, his "off the cuff comments" that it “would be helpful to be Latino" to win the presidency were met with sarcasm and humor.
"Pobre guey! What Mitt doesn't realize is that if he were Mexican, there's a 94.6% chance that he would've already been deported by his opponent,” CNN Contributor Ruben Navarette wrote on his Facebook page.
"It's a terrible joke," said Matt Barreto, author of “Ethnic Cues: The role of shared ethnicity in Latino political participation.” "There is no evidence that Latino candidates have an easier time getting elected. As someone that studies this professionally, this is not true. Minority candidates have a much harder time of winning elections."
In a secretly recorded video obtained by Mother Jones, a liberal magazine, the presidential candidate spoke to donors at a private fund-raiser last May on a variety of topics.
One comment generating response: that had his father been "born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot of winning this," Romney joked. "I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino." FULL POST
Editor's note: Carole Simpson is the leader-in-residence at Emerson College’s School of Communication in Boston, where she teaches journalism and communications classes. She is the first woman or minority to be the sole moderator of a presidential debate, and chronicled her 40 years as a broadcast journalist in her memoir, "Newslady."
By Carole Simpson, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Congratulations Candy Crowley on being the first female in 20 years to be named moderator of a presidential debate!
They could not have chosen a more seasoned journalist for this job.
(I have to acknowledge that I am not totally unbiased: Candy and I first met 30 years ago when we covered President Ronald Reagan.)
I remember when I was chosen to moderate the 1992 presidential debate with President George H.W. Bush, businessman Ross Perot and then-Gov. Bill Clinton. I had been covering politics since 1968, was anchor of weekend news at ABC and had covered Clinton and Bush.
It is with that background, that I share some advice.
Don't forget you will be treated differently because you are a woman
There is still a double standard.
People will be hypercritical of how you handle the debate no matter how professional or fair you are.
Republicans accused me of making Bush look ineffectual, and making Clinton look good.
It was George Bush who replied to a question about the economic recession, “I'm not sure I get it.” I didn’t make him look at his watch during the debate.
I had nothing to do with Bill Clinton working his personal charm on the town hall participants.
Editor's Note: Tiya Miles is chairwoman of the Department of Afro-American and African Studies and professor of history and Native American studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of "Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom" and "The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story." She is also the winner of a 2011 genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation.
By Tiya Miles, Special to CNN
When Gabby Douglas stood on the Olympic podium Thursday, a bright smile on her face and gold medal around her neck, she made history as the first African-American woman to win top honors in the all-around gymnastics competition.
Many African-Americans watching Douglas shared a flush of pride at the accomplishment, noting her joy, her poise, her grace and, apparently, her hairstyle.
I heard about this latter preoccupation from my sister, who swept into town for a weekend visit and opened with, “Have you heard that mess about Gabby’s hair? Type in ‘Gabby Douglas hair’ on Google; you’ll see.” I was dismayed to find a string of posts by African-American women and men debating Douglas’ hairstyle and the perceived imperfection that while her hair was straightened, parts of it had turned visibly kinky during her performance.
Twitter and Facebook commenters and callers on black talk radio shows questioned whether her hair was too straight or too kinky, whether it was over-gelled or under-tamed, and what she should have done with that floppy bun. My sister, who thought this barrage of criticism was a “mess,” threw in the final comment: “All right, I admit if I was her mother, I would have put a headband on the girl, but really, who cares?”
A significant number of people, if the list my Google search returned is any indication. Why were some African-Americans fixated on hair at a moment that should have been set aside to savor a grand achievement? FULL POST
Editor's Note: Ainissa G. Ramirez, Ph.D., is the director of the award-winning science lecture series for children called Science Saturdays at Yale, and hosts a video series, "Material Marvels. "Technology Review named her one of the world’s 100 Top Young Innovators for her contributions in transforming technology. Follow her on @blkgrilphd. This piece was written in association with The Op-Ed Project.
By Ainissa G. Ramirez, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Sally Ride was a fantastic physicist and astronaut, and later a science education reformer.
I was surprised to learn of her passing on Monday. I was even more surprised to learn that she was a lesbian.
She left us with one last gift — she came out publicly.
In just one line, the obituary issued by her company shared her love with the world: “In addition to Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country.”
With that, another dimension has been added to her remarkable life, inspiring those who are different, especially gay children.
By Byron Hurt, Special to CNN
(CNN) – A friend of mine called me Thursday evening and asked, “Did you hear the news about Sylvia?”
I knew right away which Sylvia my friend was referring to. Something must have happened to Ms. Sylvia Woods, the pioneering restaurateur whose soul food gave so many people comfort.
As I thought about the social and historical significance of Sylvia, what struck me is that my friend didn’t refer to Sylvia as "Ms. Woods" or "Sylvia Woods."
She simply said "Sylvia." It was as if she were calling to inform me that a family member or a close personal friend had just passed.
Though Sylvia Woods was not a blood relative, she felt like one to me, and to anyone who frequented her world famous Harlem restaurant. It was a place where you were home. You could let your guard down, relax and dig in. FULL POST