Exhibit reveals things you might not know about civil rights after MLK
Police arrest protesters at a 1969 hospital workers strike in Charleston, South Carolina.
February 21st, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Exhibit reveals things you might not know about civil rights after MLK

By Moni Basu, CNN

(CNN) - If you look at online histories and timelines of the fabled Southern Christian Leadership Conference, there's not much information listed after the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Up until then, you'll find detailed accounts of civil rights actions. Afterward, you'll see the line of succession to the organization's presidency but not a lot in the way of how it carried on fulfilling its mission of social justice.

That's why, perhaps, an exhibit that opens Friday at Atlanta's Emory University proves eye-opening.

It features material from the 918 boxes of photographs, correspondence, memos, reports, fliers and videos that Emory University's Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library  acquired, at an undisclosed price, from the SCLC archives. FULL POST

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Filed under: Black in America • History • Social justice • Who we are
Emory president apologizes for citing slavery compromise as example of pragmatism
Emory's James Wagner drew outrage after citing a compromise that counted three-fifths of slaves for representational purposes.
February 18th, 2013
04:51 PM ET

Emory president apologizes for citing slavery compromise as example of pragmatism

By Moni Basu, CNN

(CNN) - Published over the weekend, Emory University President James Wagner's winter message reflected on the importance of compromise in politically divided times.

The example he chose to illustrate his point, however, was rather unfortunate.

And before the weekend was over, he was apologizing for citing the so-called three-fifths compromise in which Northern and Southern states agreed to count three-fifths of the slave population for determining representation.

"A number of people have raised questions regarding part of my essay in the most recent issue of Emory Magazine," Wagner wrote in an apology posted above his original column.

"Certainly, I do not consider slavery anything but heinous, repulsive, repugnant, and inhuman," he said. "I should have stated that fact clearly in my essay. I am sorry for the hurt caused by not communicating more clearly my own beliefs. To those hurt or confused by my clumsiness and insensitivity, please forgive me." FULL POST

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Filed under: Black in America • History • Race • Who we are
Bengali Harlem: Author documents a lost history of immigration in America
Bengalis and their Puerto Rican and African-American wives at a 1952 banquet at New York's Pakistan League of America.
February 15th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Bengali Harlem: Author documents a lost history of immigration in America

Editor's note: CNN's Moni Basu, a Bengali immigrant, was born in Kolkata, India.

By Moni Basu, CNN

(CNN) - In the next few weeks, Fatima Shaik, an African-American, Christian woman, will travel “home” from New York to Kolkata, India.

It will be a journey steeped in a history that has remained unknown until the publication last month of a revelatory book by Vivek Bald. And it will be a journey of contemplation as Shaik, 60, meets for the first time ancestors with whom she has little in common.

“I want to go back because I want to find some sort of closure for my family, said Shaik, an author and scholar of the Afro-Creole experience.

Fatima Shaik's grandfather settled in New Orleans. She is going to India to see his home.

That Americans like Shaik, who identify as black, are linked by blood to a people on the Indian subcontinent seems, at first, improbable.

South Asian immigration boomed in this country after the passage of landmark immigration legislation in 1965. But long before that, there were smaller waves of new Americans who hailed from India under the British Empire.

The first group, to which Shaik’s grandfather, Shaik Mohamed Musa, belonged, consisted of peddlers who came to these shores in the 1890s, according to Bald. They sold embroidered silks and cottons and other “exotic” wares from the East on the boardwalks of Asbury Park and Atlantic City, New Jersey. They eventually made their way south to cities like New Orleans and Atlanta and even farther to Central America.

The second wave came in the 1920s and ‘30s. They were seamen, some merchant marines.

Most were Muslim men from what was then the Indian province of Bengal and in many ways, they were the opposite of the stereotype of today’s well-heeled, highly educated South Asians.

South Asian immigration was illegal then – the 1917 Immigration Act barred all idiots, imbeciles, criminals and people from the “Asiatic Barred Zone.”

The Bengalis got off ships with little to their name.

They were mostly illiterate and worked as cooks, dishwashers, merchants, subway laborers. In New York, they gradually formed a small community of sorts in Spanish Harlem. They occupied apartments and tenement housing on streets in the 100s. They worked hard.

And they did all they could do to become American in a nation of segregation and prejudice. FULL POST

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Filed under: Asian in America • Black in America • Culture • Ethnicity • History • Immigration • Latino in America • Race • Who we are
Braves reject 'screaming Indian' logo
Uni Watch posted a new "screaming Indian " Braves cap in December but that design has been shelved.
February 11th, 2013
06:01 PM ET

Braves reject 'screaming Indian' logo

By Moni Basu, CNN

Atlanta (CNN) – In the end, the Braves are keeping with tradition - as in the signature 'A' that is the team's logo.

MLB.com posted a photo of the new navy blue batting practice caps with a red and white scripted 'A.' The team will wear those hats at spring training, which starts Tuesday.

The Braves said a decision on the batting caps had not been made yet when a potential design was leaked several weeks ago. That design drew ire for its "screaming Indian" logo.

"I like the selection we made this year," Braves President John Schuerholz said in a statement Monday. "We had a variety of choices that we looked at, some more thoroughly than others. But at the end, we liked this one."

But writer Paul Lukas of ESPN's Uni Watch blog, who broke the news of the cap design in December, wasn't buying the Braves' statement. He suggested the Braves withdrew the design because of the furor it caused. FULL POST

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Filed under: How we live • Native Americans • Sports • Who we are
Immigrants in America: The second-generation story
February 7th, 2013
03:48 PM ET

Immigrants in America: The second-generation story

By Moni Basu, CNN

(CNN) - Tucked in the Senate bipartisan plan on immigration reform are key requirements for prospective immigrants. Among them, a knowledge of English, civics and history of the United States. Assimilation is clearly an underlying issue in the debate.

A new study shows that second-generation Americans have enjoyed success in becoming a part of America.

Roughly 6 in 10 said they consider themselves to be a "typical American," though they maintain ties to their ancestral roots. That's almost double the number of immigrants who identify that way, according to a new Pew Research Center study released Thursday.

Like Jose Martinez, 29, a son of Dominicans who owns his own graphic design company in New Jersey.

"It's important to try and hold on to your roots, stay Latino," he said. "But you have to be American at the same time." FULL POST

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Filed under: Asian in America • Immigration • Latino in America • Population • Who we are
Activists hail a watershed moment in gay rights movement
A marriage pride flag is waved in front of the Supreme Court November 30, 2012 in Washington, DC.
February 2nd, 2013
12:00 PM ET

Activists hail a watershed moment in gay rights movement

By Moni Basu, CNN

(CNN) - In the next few days, the Boy Scouts of America is expected to announce whether it plans to change its longstanding national policy against openly gay members.

Many parents of Scouts have voiced their concerns, saying homosexuality goes against the teachings of their faith. But many others find the ban on gays out of sync with the ideals of scouting - and of the nation as a whole.

The Boy Scouts controversy perhaps illustrates where America stands on gay rights.

Divided, still. But many more Americans empathize with gay Americans today. Many of those who have been crusading for decades to win more rights now say they have reached a precipice.

Polls show the public has gradually become more accepting of same-sex marriage, for instance. More Americans favor it in 2013 than oppose, according to the Pew Research Center.

Veteran activists feel America has reached a watershed moment in its writing of gay rights history. Defeats now - whether with the Boy Scouts or in upcoming Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage - would break with the momentum that has been steadily building for many months.

"Watershed? No, it's a tidal wave," said Mark Segal, a longtime activist who is often called the dean of gay journalism - he is publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News.

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After nod from Obama, gay activists in Atlanta to tackle much work left to be done
New Yorkers celebrate Gay Pride last summer. LGBT activists are meeting this week in Atlanta.
January 23rd, 2013
09:38 AM ET

After nod from Obama, gay activists in Atlanta to tackle much work left to be done

By Moni Basu, CNN

Atlanta (CNN) - In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama embraced gay rights as part of America's agenda, saying that "our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law."

Last year, he became the first president to endorse same-sex marriage, and polls showed that he was not out of sync with America. They logged a steep rise in public support for gay and lesbian marriages.

Several states approved same-sex marriage ballot measures. Wisconsin voters elected Tammy Baldwin, as their first openly gay U.S. senator.

The progressive blog Truthout wrote that the trends mean that "conservatives will soon no longer be able to use homophobia as a 'wedge' issue in elections."

But gay rights activists such as Michael Shutt say much work is left to be done, especially in more conservative Southern states that lack anti-discrimination policies and laws. FULL POST

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Filed under: Diversity • Immigration • Relationships • Sexual orientation • Who we are
Latino minister fires up Ebenezer on King Day
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is the first Latino to give the keynote address at Atlanta's MLK Jr. commemorative service.
January 21st, 2013
05:55 PM ET

Latino minister fires up Ebenezer on King Day

By Moni Basu, CNN

Atlanta (CNN) - In all the 45 years of a commemorative service on the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., there had never been a Latino delivering the keynote address.

That changed Monday as the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez took the podium and belted out a sermon that would have surely made King proud. His message was sown together with the language of faith and justice:

"Justice is not the purpose of big government. Justice is the passion of a big God," he told the crowd at Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta.

"Justice is not a political term to be exploited but a prophetic term to be lived out."

For Rodriguez, an evangelical minister and the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the invitation to speak in King's church on the day America reserves to honor its greatest civil rights activist is a lifelong dream come true. FULL POST

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January 21st, 2013
04:34 PM ET

A unified voice rises from a divided place: Mr. President, please fix America

By Moni Basu, CNN

Ashburn, Virginia (CNN) - The alternating red and blue yard signs are long gone, and people here have gone back to familiar rhythms of life. Long morning commutes, after school soccer games and maybe a family dinner at Clyde's Willow Creek Farm.

But, as Barack Obama begins his second term, the air is decidedly unchanged in this northern Virginia community of tidy subdivisions and endless rows of townhouses.

After a viciously fought, pavement-pounding political campaign, the people are left divided, the gulf between them wide like the grassy medians that separate left and right sides of the roads that lead to the nation's capital.

There is the reliably Republican old Ashburn. Some of those folks remember lush fields and woods brimming with redbuds and ash. Legend has it the place took its name from an old ash struck by lightning so hard that it smoldered for a week.

There is the new divided Ashburn that looks like America's new normal. An explosion of growth in the last two decades turned this place from a largely white conservative constituency to one that is darker-skinned and comprised of more professional women. They call themselves progressive thinkers and are a big reason that Obama in 2008 became the first Democrat to win here - and in the state of Virginia - since Lyndon B. Johnson's victory in 1964.

This time, the commonwealth again hung in the balance. Loudoun County was a battleground within a battleground. Ashburn was its epicenter.

In the end, Obama took Virginia with 51% of the vote to Mitt Romney's 47%, but Obama won in Ashburn's nine precincts by a mere 212 votes. In the Belmont Ridge precinct, the difference was six votes. That's how close it was here.

The people in Ashburn hold widely differing visions of how to steer America in the next four years, but they are tired of the partisan bickering in the halls of power in Washington. They wonder what happened to the voices of reason, the voices of moderation.

About eight in 10 people see partisan divide as the largest conflict among Americans, according to a Pew Research Center survey released last week.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama entered the room a lot more than I thought they would. We're not feeling confident as a nation that we're doing well. - Mike Oberschneider

As Obama takes the inaugural oath Monday, the wish from divided Ashburn is voiced in unison: Mr. President, they say, "We want you to work with Congress. We want you to fix America."

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Obama embraces key social justice movements in inaugural address
President Barack Obama mentioned gay rights with other civil rights milestones in his inaugural speech Monday.
January 21st, 2013
03:12 PM ET

Obama embraces key social justice movements in inaugural address

By Moni Basu, CNN

(CNN) - Seneca Falls. Selma. Stonewall.

Three places that have come to embody social justice movements in America.

Three places that rolled off the tongue of President Barack Obama as he addressed the nation Monday after his ceremonial oath of office. And with their mention, Obama made a monumental statement.

"We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths - that all of us are created equal - is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth."

Obama equated watershed moments of women's rights and African-American rights to gay rights. No other president has even mentioned gay rights in an inaugural speech, let alone mentioned it alongside other movements that forged a more equal America.

Seneca Falls, New York, was where the first women's rights convention was held in in 1848, giving rise to what Elizabeth Cady Stanton called the "greatest rebellion the world has ever seen." It led to political rights for women, including the right to vote.

In Selma, Alabama, state troopers fired on civil rights marchers in 1965 leading to the Selma to Montgomery march that was considered a pinnacle of that movement and solidified support for passage of the Voting Rights Act.

And Stonewall was a gay bar in New York' s Greenwich Village where in 1969, patrons stood up to harassment in a police raid. The incident became the signature moment of the gay rights movement.

“We were honored that the president included Stonewall among the historic events in American history that have made our union stronger," said Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.

"Its inclusion is testament to the valiant contributions of LGBT Americans past and present who seek nothing more than to be treated equally by the country they love," Griffin said.

Last May, Obama became the first president to endorse same-sex marriage.

Monday, he went on to say: "Our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law - for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."

That line drew some of  the loudest cheers of the day.

Appropriate then, perhaps, that what followed the president's speech was a poem written and recited by Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco, who happens to be gay.

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