Tag Archive | "Civil Rights"

Booth Balances Social Justice with Social Grace

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By Marissa Maier

As a child, Gini Booth effortlessly tread between two disparate worlds. By day, Booth could be found on the streets of New York City and its environs protesting racial prejudices and socioeconomic injustices with her father, Judge William Henry Booth, an African-American New York City Criminal Court Judge and Chairman of the city’s Commission on Human Rights. In the evening, Booth’s mother, Harriet Walker Booth, whisked her young daughter to debutante balls in the gilded halls of the Waldorf Astoria.

Above: Booth’s father, Judge William Henry Booth, to the right of Martin Luther King, Jr. during a rally.

Booth’s early balance between social justice and social graces served her well later in life as an actress, news producer, literacy advocate and breast cancer survivor. Her early life, and the lessons Booth’s parents taught her at a tender age, will be the subject of a talk at the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center on Thursday, February 25, as part of “Straight Talk: A series of community conversations.”

During her talk, Booth will highlight the convictions of her parents and how these beliefs influenced her upbringing and affected her as an adult. With a father who represented Malcolm X at one point and marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., Booth has one or two stories to tell about fighting for civil rights in New York City at a young age. During one rally, in support of a hospital union in Riverdale, Booth saw a police officer attempt to push her father along to move with the crowd. To the 13-year-old Booth, the cop seemed more like a six-foot giant dressed in blue than an officer of the law keeping order.

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“I went up to him and I tried to beat him up. I said, ‘Don’t you dare hit my father,’” recalled Booth. “No one had told me it was supposed to be a peaceful protest.”

After spending many childhood afternoons in her father’s office, Booth would later follow in his footsteps. As a teenager, William Booth served as President of the NAACP Youth Council in Jamaica, Queens. Years later, Booth was appointed Secretary of the Treasury of the same council.

After years of practicing law and setting up strong roots in the Episcopal faith, William Booth’s calm and forgiving approach to life helped his daughter in her struggles with issues of race and ethnicity. Though Booth’s parents are of African-American descent, she was born with blue eyes and blond hair — characteristics typical of Caucasians. As Booth was maturing into a young woman, she recalls several instances when she would be walking down the street with her father and a passerby would yell some racially derogatory comment.

“Someone started screaming at my father, ‘Who is that little white girl with you?’ The man said, ‘Was she dipped in Clorox?’ It was very hurtful. But my father said to just ignore him and that he doesn’t know any better,” remembered Booth. “And then I thought of something my father’s mother had taught me. She said ‘A garden is beautiful and in the garden are all different types of flowers of all shapes and sizes. But it is all one garden.’ At least I had the strength and the substance every day when I left that house with my parents.”

After growing up in Queens, Booth flew the coop to study acting at the University of California at Los Angeles. She returned to New York and joined the Negro Ensemble Company Actors Workshop, Frank Silvera’s Actors Studio and New Heritage Theater. Later, Booth relocated to Providence, Rhode Island for a career change in news broadcasting and producing. She created a talk show, named SHADES, on the local PBS channel and “Black News,” which was on the CBS radio affiliate for the state. Because Booth was a member of the National Black Programming Consortium, her television work was broadcast throughout the US, in Africa and the Caribbean.

Currently, Booth’s myriad projects include an affiliation with the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Suffolk County Executive’s African American Advisory Board, the Vestry of Christ Episcopal Church, ERASE Racism, the Witness Project LI and EVIDENCE Dance Company.

As a 21-year survivor of stage three breast cancer, Booth’s work has spilled over into cancer advocacy. She is affiliated with CancerCare of the Hamptons and the American Cancer Society. Booth’s work and life has been featured in many television shows and publications, including “Good Morning America,” “Good Day NY,” Town and Country Magazine and Family Circle Magazine.

Though Booth is ringing in her 60th year of life in 2010, she shows no signs of slowing down. She currently serves as the executive director of Literacy Suffolk. Literacy, says Booth, is often seen as a non-issue in the 21st century, but she pointed out that close to one in every seven adults in Suffolk County are functionally illiterate.

“I am wondering what I am going to be doing in 20 years,” exclaimed Booth. “I can only imagine. I can’t wait.”

Struggling Together: Exhibit Looks at Blacks and Whites Fighting for Civil Rights

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By Marianna Levine

 

In honor of Black History month, the Eastville Heritage House on Hampton Road in Sag Harbor will feature an exhibition called “Partners in Progress” open every weekend in February. The exhibit highlights the cooperation between blacks and whites in the abolitionists and civil rights movements.  In light of the recent election and inauguration of America’s first African-American President, the exhibition’s curators, Beryl Banks and Kathy Tucker, wanted to acknowledge and celebrate the interracial collaborations that made Barack Obama’s Presidency possible.

Ms. Tucker explained, “Every year we put up an exhibit for Black History month and this year we wanted to show blacks and whites working together.  We wanted to show whites supporting our efforts, or struggle. We actually called it a struggle. So much of this is what we’ve lived through, we’re seniors, we remember the civil rights movement. We wanted to share this (information) with the community.”

The exhibit itself is rather humble although its message of personal struggle and sacrifice is not. The Eastville Historical Society is housed in what was a Sears & Roebuck mail order house, and therefore the exhibit has a cozy quality as one wanders from one small room to another while listening to songs from the civil rights movement playing over the house’s sound system. In a back room, one can hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech while looking at pictures of Barack Obama’s recent inauguration. There are pictures and newspaper articles displayed on black cloth boards of and about individuals who took a stand against racial oppression, sometimes losing their life in the pursuit of equality.


 

Of course there are recognizable names such as Rosa Parks that are featured, but there are also less well-known people honored, such as Viola Gregg Liuggo. She drove down to Selma to help with the Civil Rights Movement after being moved by news of the struggle on TV, only to be shot and killed by the KKK for her good intensions. Joanne Carter, a founding member of the historical society, specifies, “The purpose of most exhibits we do here is to bring to the public something that wasn’t necessarily known before.”

It is quite appropriate that Sag Harbor, and specifically the Eastville community Historical Society host such an exhibit since, according to Ms. Carter, it was, “one of the first fully integrated neighborhoods in the country.”

Ms Carter believes African-Americans arrived in the area either to work as freemen on the whaling ships or to escape on them to Canada as part of the Underground Railway.

There isn’t much historical documentation of Sag Harbor’s connection with the Underground Railway, however lack of documentation is a common challenge when studying the histories of minorities, the underprivileged, and women. Yet there are a few things that point to the plausibility of this commonly held belief within the Eastville community. For example, Sag Harbor and Shelter Island were home to a large Quaker population, and the Quakers started the Abolitionist movement in the 1830s. Ms Carter also points to the discovery of trap doors and hiding spaces underneath the altar and back pews of St. David’s church, Sag Harbor’s oldest church in its original site and a historically African-American church. 

In support of this exhibit, Civil Rights Activist, Bob Zellner will give a talk focusing on Obama’s politics of non-violence, and his mobilization of a new youth movement at Christ Episcopal Church on Sunday, February 22 at 2 p.m. Mr. Zellner, a Southampton resident, was a white southern college student in Montgomery, Alabama when the Civil Rights Movement started up around him. He was so moved and inspired by the young black students who were willing to take a stand and get beaten up for their belief in equality that he ended up becoming one of the founding staff members of SNCC. That was quite a departure for the son and grandson of KKK members.

Mr. Zellner recalls, “The leadership of SNCC was mostly young African American men and women from the south, but blacks and whites from the North and South worked together. I was unusual since I was a white southern. However all us southern had more in common than we had differences. We were culturally the same (regardless of race).”

Mr. Zellner comments, “What we did in the civil rights movement is now bearing fruit with the election of President Obama.”

And he noted that during the inauguration President Obama asked John Lewis, an early comrade of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to stand up and be honored during his inaugural speech. 

Despite all the progress that has been made in terms of racial equality, Mr. Zellner stresses that younger generations still need to be taught the importance of critical thinking. Exhibits such as this one may help younger generations to remember the struggles of the past and continue to uphold interracial respect and equality for the future.