All posts by Elwood Watson

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a Professor of history, African American Studies and Gender Studies. He is also an author and public speaker. His latest book, Keepin' It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America is published by the University of Chicago Press. He is also the author of Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown V. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2008).

RIP John Lewis – By Elwood Watson

A Tribute to the ‘Conscience of Congress’

As he’s laid to rest, there are no shortage of salutes to Congressman John Lewis, the formidable civil rights activist and legislator from Georgia who departed this earth on July 17, 2020, at the age of 80.

Mr. Lewis was a larger than life figure, a fierce, fiery presence packaged in a medium-sized man’s body. He was a person who lived an extraordinary life.

Mr. Lewis, there have already been numerous, bountiful tributes to you; you were more than deserving of such recognition.

The commentary (save for a few right-wing websites) has been overwhelmingly positive and rightly so. Indeed, even when you were alive, there were a considerable number of articles written about you and your life experiences. You were a living legend.

To hear network commentators, radio hosts, prominent and lesser-known podcasters and people from all walks of life pay their respects to you was and is nothing short of deliriously satisfying.

    For a Black man who was born in 1940 in Troy, Alabama, a child of the deep, segregated south, life was a challenge from the very beginning.

Bold Social Activism

From childhood on, you readily witnessed glaring unjust impositions that were routinely perpetrated upon Black men and women who often had no recourse, legal or otherwise, to challenge such indignities. Witnessing and experiencing such injustices made you determined to combat such untoward mistreatment.

While your parents, who were deeply indoctrinated in the mores and customs of the segregated south, were steadfastly opposed to you becoming actively involved in civil rights activities (their concerns and reservations were well-founded), you nonetheless decided to follow your own heart, forge your own path, trust your own instincts, and pursue a life of social activism.

Trust me, more than a few of us, of my generation, thank the Lord that you and others of your cohort did!

    It was largely due to those of your generation that monumental change was able to take place in our nation.

For much of your life, you were engaged in confrontations or challenges of some sort, from disagreeing with your parents about how to behave and live your life as a Black man who was living in the legally segregated south, to challenging and confronting vicious southern mobs who attacked you for daring to ride segregated buses or sit at segregated lunch counters, to enduring violent police officers and brutal beatings (your skull was cracked and you almost died).

     For demanding the right to vote as an American citizen, you were often at the forefront of challenging injustice wherever it reared its tormenting and sadistic head. You will always be remembered for your courageous leadership in the face of racial oppression, such as:

     Your 1960s activism in organizing the Nashville sit-ins in 1960. Your courage in becoming one of the 13 original freedom riders in 1961. Your involvement as director of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1963.

Your assistance to Martin Luther King Jr, A. Philip Randolph, and other political and religious leaders of the movement — by adhering to their concerns and wishes that you and some of your fellow comrades modify the language of your eventually delivered speech, and restrain behavior that was viewed as aggressive by some— made that iconic event proceed much more smoothly than it otherwise might have.

In fact, you were often on the front line with Dr. King and other leaders, who you viewed as mentors.

Public Service

During the 1970s, after a few unsuccessful runs for public office, you worked in a variety of government agency positions, first in Atlanta, for the Voter Education Project, for several years, and then working for the Carter administration as a leader of ACTION, VISTA, and similar agencies until you returned to Atlanta.

Unlike the 1970s, your 1980s runs for public office were successful. First you became a part of the Atlanta city council in 1981, and then you pulled off an upset by defeating fellow civil rights activist Julian Bond in 1986 and becoming a member of the House of Representatives.

The campaign temporarily damaged your decades’ longtime friendship with Bond, but over time both of you managed to mend the wounds. You went on to be reelected more than 16 times!

While in Congress you were known and widely respected by your colleagues as, “The Conscience of Congress.”

You, along with several other veterans of the modern civil rights movement were overcome with unbridled emotion at the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Memorial in 2003 as his widow, Coretta King and others consoled you.

Who can forget when you stood on the house floor with a picture of yourself drenched in blood shouting “this was my blood” as you passionately demanded that Congress support the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Fellow congressional members stood up and applauded you for your bravery then and on “Bloody Sunday” in Selma.

Congress went to extend provisions of the Voting Rights Act in 2006. Although, it is ironic that such legislation is now under attack as you have passed on.

In your later years, you were as fiery as ever, demanding that the needs of the marginalized and voiceless be addressed.

    Even in your 70s, you were getting arrested for standing up to and challenging injustice. You eventually came to support Barack Obama for president after initially supporting Hillary Clinton.

While you marched with a few Presidents, it was the image of you with President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters — the first Black family to live in the White House — marching over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where you almost lost your life more than half a century earlier, which was nothing short of tearful for many of us.

    It was an electrifying moment for many of us. Your emotional embrace of the former president was touching as well.

You argued that all Americans, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or other specific factors be treated as equal and human beings. It was due to brave, heroic individuals like you and others that Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.

Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and many others now follow in the pathway you opened up. Witnessing President Obama award you the Medal of Freedom in 2012 was nothing short of spectacular.

Fighting pancreatic cancer undoubtedly was one of your heaviest battles to wage. Even then, you did so with sophistication, strength, and dignity.

     You were a shining example of courage.

Final Thoughts

God called you home on July 17th.

There is no doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, Frederick Douglas, Juanita Abernathy, A. Philip Randolph, C.T. Vivian (who passed away on the same day as you) and, of course, your longtime friend and short-term nemesis, Julian Bond, and many other forebears have welcomed you with heavenly arms.

Once again, thank you for all you did. You lived and endured an extraordinary life from the womb to the tomb.

May you rest in peace.

Juneteenth Message – by Elwood Watson

Remember Rashard Brooks and Other
Black Victims of Police Brutality

In 1964, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to sweep the country, the arc of justice needs to bend more quickly in the case of Rayshard Brooks and other African Americans who have been killed by police. This is especially important as the country commemorates Juneteenth.

The justice system must send a clear message that overzealous police cannot get away with targeting and treating Black men and women as second class citizens. Every American must fully comprehend that all Black lives matter.
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Women’s History Month Tribute to the Queen of Soul – by Elwood Watson

of soul
Aretha Franklin

During Women’s History Month we pause to remember and celebrate the achievements of iconic women who positively contributed to shaping the social fabric of America.

One such woman is the spectacular singer, Aretha Franklin. She is still affectionately known as the “Queen of Soul” to her countless millions of fans and others worldwide who span generations of every race, color, gender, age and ethnicity.

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Hate Stories Entering 2020 – by Dr. Elwood Watson

Advisor Dr. Elwood WatsonThe names Grafton E. Thomas , Nicole Marie Poole Franklin, and Keith Thomas Kinnunens are among a few of the many that should, hopefully and highly likely, will live on in infamy. During this past holiday season, these three obviously deeply disturbed individuals engaged in shocking behavior committing , vile, horrific, sadistic, abominable crimes. In the case of Thomas and Kinnunens, murder was the end result.

For the few (probably very few) of you who are unaware of went down, Thomas wielded a machete and stabbed five people at a Hanukkah party in a New York City suburb critically wounding three of the victims. The following day, December 28th, Kinnunens donning a fake beard, wig and long coat, opened fire at the Church of Christ in White Settlement , Texas killing two worshipers before being shot and killed himself. Several days earlier, in Polk County, Iowa , Poole was charged with attempted murder for hate crimes – specifically attempting to murder two young children in two separate instances. Her first victim was a 12 year old Black youth in a Des Moines apartment complex. Franklin hit him with her vehicle and sped off. The young man suffered minor injuries to his leg.

Continue reading Hate Stories Entering 2020 – by Dr. Elwood Watson

Hug seen around the world – by Elwood Watson

Advisor Dr. Elwood Watson
ADR Advisor: Dr. Elwood Watson

It was the hug  felt and seen around the world. Depending upon their outlook on the situation at hand, different individuals responded differently to the gesture. I am referring to the hug that was delivered to murderer Amber Guyger by Brandt Jean, the brother of slain victim, Botham Jean. As most people who closely followed the case were aware of, Guyger, a Dallas police officer was found guilty by a multi-racial jury and sentenced to a decade in prison.

The fact that she even found guilt sent shock waves throughout much of the Black community and likely the larger society as well, if we are being honest about it. Generally speaking, police, in particular White police officers who shoot and murder Black people, even those Black men and women that are unarmed and pose no direct threat to the officer in question , are often given the benefit of the doubt and exonerated by many juries and the legal system at large. Thus, surprisingly and justifiably, there was a kernel of justice in the verdict that was rendered. The reason I state that some small degree of fairness occurred is due to the fact that in spite of being convicted Guyger’s sentence was considerably lenient given the crime. Moreover, she will be eligible for parole in 2024. A minute modicum of justice indeed.

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Cheer Not Sneer: Black Gen Z Success – by Elwood Watson

Anyone familiar with the rituals of college life knows that we are in the midst of college acceptance and rejection season. Recently, Lamar High School student Micheal Brown of Houston, Texas made national headlines when he gained acceptance to all 20 colleges and universities he applied to, including four Ivy League institutions: Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania. Stanford, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins and 13 other top-notch colleges and universities said “welcome,” as well.

The story doesn’t stop there. Each institution awarded him a full scholarship – a remarkable accomplishment, indeed! Videos of the young Brown yelling ecstatically as he was surrounded by equally ecstatic friends upon learning the wonderful news made headlines across the globe.

Continue reading Cheer Not Sneer: Black Gen Z Success – by Elwood Watson

Dr. Elwood Watson: Talking about Race, Diversity and Inclusion in the Classroom

Inclusion in the ClassroomDr. Elwood Watson is an expert on Race, Diversity and Inclusion in the classroom. He is a Professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. His areas of specialty are in 20th Century Post World War II U.S. History, African American History, African American Studies, Gender Studies, Popular Culture, and ethnographic studies. He is one of the editors of Mentoring Faculty of Color: Essays on Professional Development and Advancement in Colleges and Universities. He is the recipient of the Faculty Teaching Award and Faculty Distinguished Research Award from the College of Arts & Science.

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‘Violence Against Black Bodies’ is About More Than Black Deaths – Book Review by Elwood Watson

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, not now at least. America is firmly within the twenty first century, yet we are struggling to deal with the problem that W.E.B. Dubois so aptly identified in 1903 as the problem of the twentieth century. That problem was the color line, which refers to institutional racism, discrimination and segregation. Looking ahead over a century later, it seems little has changed. While that assertion is unfair to a point—after all, we had a black president and legal segregation is prohibited –certainly the dynamics of racism are still as vibrant, conspicuous and ubiquitous in American life as ever—there is a problem throughout U.S. history that never subsides, and, as if to operate in cyclical fashion, sometimes gains momentum.

Continue reading ‘Violence Against Black Bodies’ is About More Than Black Deaths – Book Review by Elwood Watson

Bill Maher and the N-Word Debate – Elwood Watson

Bill Maher, host of the quasi political/entertainment program HBO Real Time with Bill Maher, recently had renowned Black intellectual and ordained Baptist minister Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and rapper Ice Cube as guests. They discussed the n-word controversy that erupted on the May 31 edition of the program when Maher flippantly referred to himself as a “house nigger” in an interview with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska). The senator had been invited to the program to discuss his book on what he sees as the increasing problem on prolonged adolescence occurring in American society. Sasse and Maher agreed on the issue and provided examples and suggestions on how to rectify the problem. Things seemed to be going well up until this exchange transpired between both men:

Maher: Adults dress up for Halloween. They don’t do that in Nebraska?

Sasse: It’s frowned upon. We don’t do that quite as much.

Maher: I gotta get to Nebraska more.

Sasse: You’re welcome. We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.

Maher: Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house nigger.

Continue reading Bill Maher and the N-Word Debate – Elwood Watson

The Current Racial Climate Necessitates the Importance of Black History Month – by Elwood Watson, Ph.D

Earlier this month, President Trump convened a press conference where he surrounded himself with an assorted group of Black celebrities, Black athletes, a few Black conservative policy makers and other relatively well known Black individuals who lean politically right. This, in and of itself, was nothing out of the ordinary. After all, February is Black History Month. Moreover, one would fully expect Donald Trump, (like his more recent predecessors), to demonstrate some degree of acknowledgment to the significant accomplishments of Black Americans. OK, so far, so good.

Continue reading The Current Racial Climate Necessitates the Importance of Black History Month – by Elwood Watson, Ph.D