Starbucks, racist Holly Hylton and magic training

holly hylton starbucks racism

Do you think we’re anywhere near through discussing this racist, Central City Philadelphia Starbucks incident that resulted in the coffee shop’s manager, Holly Hylton, siccing police officers on two African descendants — Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson — for sitting in the café for just two minutes without buying anything?

Hell. Naw. Starbucks could repeat its planned shutdown of their 8,000+ stores and corporate offices for one more day to conduct a second round of magical “be nice to cull’rd folks” training, and get its storybook-we-shall-overcome meeting between Hylton, Nelson and Robinson, and the fact that Starbucks has a systemic business problem will remain standing while naked. And the racism porn of Hylton stands right next to that.

Let’s talk business first — go to Starbucks’ website to read the company’s core values.

The first value says: “Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.”

“Everyone who’s White,” I guess.

My palate has forbidden me from patronizing Starbucks long before the reign of Hylton, but I pass by the stores often enough to see people hanging out there as if it’s their living room as they binge-watch either Netflix or the street.

How is getting two Black men arrested for sitting in a Starbucks for two minutes a “culture of warmth and belonging”?

The company needs to prove their core values are not digital debris disguised as window dressing, and own the bad hiring decision that led to Hylton joining the team. She violated at least one of those values, and the fact that her departure from Starbucks was a “mutual decision” makes me wonder if company CEO Kevin Johnson really gets it.

The best-run organizations connect their hiring, compensation and job appraisal processes to core values.

Which means there shouldn’t be any room for a narrative that says Hilton and Starbucks “mutually parted ways” for her violation of those values.

CEO Johnson should’ve said “Starbucks will only tolerate a culture of warmth and belonging, as our company values indicate. Therefore, we have terminated store manager Holly Hylton’s employment, effective immediately.”

Johnson should then make sure all human resources policies and and leadership behaviors are aligned with those values.

For instance, what were the district manager and regional vice president thinking when they hired Hylton? What assessment did they use to determine if Hylton had a sufficiently-high diversity IQ? Did they assess Hylton’s competencies according to the company’s values?

Christopher Norris gave us reason to believe that Hylton was at least inconsistent, and probably a racist. But former Starbucks employee Ieshaa Cash gave us full-on confirmation that Hylton is a racist who mistreated employees and customers. Did everyone else at Starbucks miss or endorse this behavior?

This intense level of core values review and alignment may not create better human beings, but it can completely change employee behavior — and do so more effectively than any magic workshop ever can.

Instead, we saw Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz talk about how Hylton is “suffering in her own way” and he didn’t think she intended for the police to arrest Nelson and Robinson.

I covered this in an earlier piece that probably sounded like a tutorial for people who ever consider calling the police to deal with a problem concerning a Black person.

But that wasn’t my intention. Shouldn’t everyone in 2018 know what can happen … ?

I’m waiting to hear Hylton say she thought the police were going to take the two men out to see a Phillies game so I can call her a liar …

song currently stuck in my head: “another day” – ray, goodman and brown

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Happy Wrecka Stow Day — this post is probably not what you think

About the title of this piece — we’ll deal with that in a moment.

I own records — and still buy them — but I don’t celebrate Record Store Day.

Record stores — particularly when taking into account what they’ve been through — are only Barney Fife’ng themselves by selling high-priced releases on the day they could invest time explorung other approaches that will encourage more people to support record stores on a more consistent basis.

You won’t hear this often, but there was a time when record stores were the original Starbucks — sans the caffeinated hipster delusions of culture and race.

Friends and strangers would spend hours in a store bonding, listening to music and buying what they heard.

There was also a symbiosis of sorts formed when the record store experience connected with nightclub culture to support established and emerging musicians. Venues, retailers, creatives and consumers benefited from this alchemy.

I don’t see how pushing limited releases at jacked-up prices helps to revive much of anything.

Today also marks two years and a day since beloved Prince left us.

Prince was all about wrecka stows.

And that’s something I can get with.

Therefore, happy Wrecka Stow Day, y’all …

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Something to think about when the sight of two Black guys sitting in Starbucks makes you call the police

starbucks, black

Unless you really dislike Black people, the video shared by author Melissa DePino of two African descendants being arrested by Philadelphia police officers for simply sitting in a Starbucks in advance of a business meeting should be uncomfortable to watch.

But perhaps you don’t like Black people, but feel uncomfortable when presented with visual evidence that the post-racial-America phantom that was somehow activated on November 4, 2008 never actually walked among us after all.

Or who knows — you may be one of those “wait-the-facts-surrounding-the-arrests-are-not-yet-in” people.

I guess your position on the incident doesn’t really matter when you consider these probabilities: when you call the police to address some matter concerning an African descendant, there’s a relatively high likelihood that the subsequent encounter will end in the Black person getting arrested (5.6x more likely than Whites), physically assaulted (3.6x) or even killed (3.5x).

86-year old Black man who had early signs of dementia? Tased by police. He eventually died.

Homeless Black woman begging for money? This:

Black man suspected of driving a stolen car — it was actually his vehicle — and the caller never saw the man steal the car? Beaten and then arrested:

So, when you decide to call the police because you see Black people sitting in a tree talking to birds, or chilling on a park bench while wearing hoodies and enjoying a moment of spring like everyone else, ask yourself how far are you willing to take the outcome.

Do you want to see them dead?

Beat down?

Or simply hauled away to the nearest jail so that your perfectly-monochromed life can feel comfortable again?

Mind you — the outcome you want is never certain …

song currently stuck in my head: “the wad” – vels trio

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“Where are our leaders today?” you ask.

mlk beyond vietnam speech

It’s been 50 years and three days after Dr. Martin Luther king Jr.’s assassination, and people still ask “Where are our leaders today?”

Which makes me think of Americans’ funny attitudes about leaders.

By 1964, a Gallup poll reported that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the fourth most admired person in America, even beating Robert Kennedy and Pope Paul VI. King became Time Magazine’s person of the year.

But by 1966, about two years before a sniper’s bullet ended MLK’s life, nearly two-thirds of Americans surveyed disapproved of him.

Even the majority of Black folks weren’t down with King’s views, according to Gallup.

Perhaps we should rephrase the question: “Where are our POPULAR leaders today?”

Or, “Where are our ACCEPTABLE-BY-THE-MEDIA leaders?”

Because as much as everyone claimed to have loved King, he clearly became unacceptable to much of America during his final days.

You can always tell the difference between acceptable leaders and just leaders.

You won’t hear about leaders.

And when you do, the news about them arrives wrapped in derision — in case you need some coaching to view them as less acceptable.

Before MLK fell off the US admiration pop charts, he was considered President Lyndon Johnson’s inside person on race relations — as long as King worried about integrating lunch counters and boycotting busses, apparently.

King’s expanding view of social justice in 1965 began to make others uncomfortable — it shows in the Gallup poll numbers— but he officially earned mainstream vitriol after April 4, 1967.

That’s when he made a speech (YouTube, transcript) at New York City’s Riverside Church where he spoke out against America’s intervention in the Vietnam War and called the US government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

But King did more than oppose the war.

He talked about the Vietnamese civilians and their homeland ripped apart by American bombs in the name of “liberty.”

He also felt that America should redirect financial resources from Vietnam to eliminate poverty at home.

Suddenly, King became an unacceptable leader.

The New York Times said that King did a disservice to the antiwar cause and the racial injustice he fought against.

The Washington Post and dozens of other newspapers dissed King in a similar way.

So did some Black leaders.

Northern White Liberal support — once a mainstay in the fight against Jim Crow in the South — began to disappear.

But … it took a bullet to rip apart King’s body in order for Liberals and Conservatives alike to love him.

So … while some of you may wonder where the new leaders are, perhaps it’s a good time think of the leaders you may have ignored lately.

LIke Rev. Dr. William Barber, who’s been quietly remixing MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign — one of the latter’s final major initiatives before his assassination.

Attorney and activist Lee Merritt, whose been a warrior in and out of the courtroom as he pursues justice for victims of racial violence, police brutality and predatory incarceration. He’s been leading a campaign to get more social justice-oriented candidates on local District Attorney ballots.

David Hogg, survivor of the Parkland Florida mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. He’s been blowing up Twitter these days.

Truthseekers with a digital bullhorn, like Tanya Free.

The Color of Change team whose online distributed leadership model is influencing grassroots awareness.

Independent journalist Amy Goodman from Democracy Now!

I could list hundreds of leaders. And I still won’t know all of them.

That’s because my lack of awareness is not a glitch, but a feature.

Leaders capable of change are not presented to you on TV as “The people who will lead you out of the wilderness.”

MLK was never presented that way, and neither will anyone after him …

song currently stuck in my head: “everybody’s broke” – herbie hancock

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Trump, Russia and MLK’s Assassination — I don’t see it

mlk assassination donald trump

I perfectly understand that we’ll see more online Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. references as we move closer to the 50th anniversary of his assassination, but folks should stop recklessly making parallels where none should exist.

Consortium News and writer Bob Katz stand guilty at the moment, after they paired the investigation of MLK’s death with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry of President Donald Trump and Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

Allow me to first give mad props Consortium News for their long-standing track record of sharing the uncomfortable truths about certain world events that cable news journalists would never go near.

But I’m specifically not down with Katz’ idea that Capitol Hill’s House Select Committee on Assassinations, which published a 1979 report of MLK’s death and suspected shooter James Earl Ray’s role in it, is the definitive voice for what really happened on April 4, 1968:

[The House Select Committee on Assassinations’ report] is the single most authoritative interpretation of the case, and the closest thing we have to a definitive last word.

Definitive last word?

Not true. At. All.

However … I completely get Katz’ idea about how Mueller’s investigation may not map to the way Americans expect stories to flow:

All available box office evidence suggests that Americans crave political dramas that are sharply plotted, easy to follow and seamlessly resolved. The ambiguous kind? Not so much. The truth, in the long run, may not be an ideal vehicle for maximizing audience share.

Perhaps I’m encroaching on a topic that deserves a separate written piece, but Mueller’s investigation team is loaded with attorneys who’ve earned the skulls on their helmets from smashing money launderers.

And while I’m 100 percent chill with Mueller’s next wave of indictments completely changing my mind, the moves he’s made so far make me think shady financial transactions or obstruction of justiceor both — are his focus points with respect to Team Trump.

But the head water of this investigation — Trump’s supposed collusion with the Russian government to rig the 2016 race — doesn’t appear to be one of those areas of prosecutorial focus at the moment.

Which brings me to another major point Katz made, and requires no MLK analogy:

If in the end Mueller demonstrates only that vile crimes were perpetrated with craven or treasonous intent by despicable actors plausibly though not provably affiliated with the White House, what will be the popular understanding of the Trump-Russia-election saga ten years, twenty years from now? Especially when a far less complicated account – NO COLLUSION! – gets blasted from the loudest megaphone known to humankind.

I sometimes wonder about the same thing.

Money and influence have complicated and longstanding lives in Washington — alchemical conditions for survival well beyond Mueller’s magnifying glass …

song currently stuck in my head: “that house groove” – phil weeks

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As if tasing an 86-year old man is a tonic: a sad update about Albert Chatfield

albert chatfield 86 year old man tazed by police south carolina

Remember that horrifying story about 86-year old Albert Chatfield?

The unarmed dementia sufferer was tased by a Kingstree, South Carolina police officer last October, after a brief car chase and subsequent verbal exchange. Chatfield’s injuries prompted the attending hospital to put him in a medically-induced coma in order to save his life.

Here’s a sad update: Chatfield passed away about 10 days ago.

The news found its way to me after a curiosity-spawned Google search. My heart sank after reading a funeral home’s death notification.

I then received confirmation from Chatfield’s son, through a Facebook post.

albert chatfield tased dead

Do you recall why the older Chatfield was tased?

According to the police’s version of the story, Chatfield was walking backwards into oncoming traffic.

An officer tased Chatfield to stop the octogenarian from getting hit by a car.

Here’s a video of the officers’ diligent efforts to save Chatfield’s life:

I don’t know for certain what caused Chatfield to give up the ghost. No medical assessment was immediately available to me while writing this piece.

But tasing an 86-year old into an intensive care unit with a bleeding brain dang sure ain’t tonic.

Police officers were 12 feet away from a troubled 86-year old man and couldn’t build enough of a human connection with him to prevent exploding his organ tissue with thousands of electricity volts.

The incident once again causes me to wonder about how much respect some law enforcement personnel have for elders, youth, pregnant women and even the whole idea of life.

I also wonder if there’s any discernible awareness of the responsibility connected to instruments that can finalize real-time life and death decisions.

Remember the mentally-disturbed New York man who stood atop a storefront gate’s ledge, and a police lieutenant decided that tasing the man was the solution for bringing the man down?

The officer was mind-blowingly right — the man fell off the awning and died from head injuries.

How much reverence for anything — other than whatever fiat praise officers gave to the taser — do you see in these stories?

By the way, the City of Kingstree settled the taser case with Chatfield for $900,000 back in November …

song currently stuck in my head: “come sunday” – mahalia jackson and duke ellington

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Stephon Clark — Killed for Daring to Be Human

stephon clark shooting sacramento mental unrest

I feared for my safety and the well-being of my fellow officers.”

I feared for my life.”

And in the shooting of Stephon “Zoe” Clark, the officers who shot the unarmed man were “fearing for their safety.”

I’ve repeatedly written about how the killings of unarmed people of color by law enforcement personnel are almost invariably resolved with a stay-out-of-jail-free card called “fear.”

The card is deadly. Reusable. An animated foretoken of moral hazard.

And damn-near indestructible. A fear card was drawn even after a police officer accidentally shot his own partner while attempting to arrest a suspect. Both officers subsequently shot the unarmed man to death in succession at point-blank range, called the deceased a crazed “gang member” who shot a cop, and got away with playing the “fear” hustle while earning hero honors — until an annoying-azzed citizen camera phone video surfaced with the high-definition truth.

It still didn’t matter. The cops saw no jail time. Fear card remains intact and ready for redeployment.

For all this fear dealing that extends well beyond the distribution points of police and news reports, society seems to pretend that the dead counterparties in these transactions have no right to feel fear.

How many of you can think clearly with a loaded gun pointed at you?

Isn’t fear a human, if not primal, emotion?

When someone draws a gun on you — whether or not you lack the means to manage the outcome of such a potentially violent engagement —- fear can quickly take over your decisions and actions.

For many humans, the response moves beyond fear and into the zone of panic.

And whether the response is fear, panic, or a combination of the two, the actions become food for the fear claimed by the armed officer or self-deputized civilian.

The results of these converging fears can be deadly.

I think of the times I’ve been stopped at gunpoint by police officers — or civilians — and wondered how I managed to survive those encounters.

My guess is that — besides God’s grace — I have a very unnatural ability to remain calm, regardless of the circumstances.

“Unnatural” is the most important term here.

Put a different way, I had to become less-than human in order to stay alive.

But at any point, a police officer could have simply claimed fear, a natural human reaction, to justify killing me.

Clark’s price for claiming his humanity — expressed through running for his life — is a funeral.

While the reward for the Sacramento police officers claiming their humanity is life.

Or at worst, should history perform as an accurate gauge here, a few days of paid administrative leave.

And that points to another sad reality: even in the face of death — up to the second before a cop decides whether or not to render an extrajudicial death penalty — people of color have to cancel their right to be human …

song currently stuck in my head: “donna lee” – jaco pastorious & rashied ali

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Bruno Mars and cultural appropriation, part 2: the bake

bruno mars cultural appropriation

The fried-rice-and-chicken-wing-theory of Blackness gets too much shine at times. We’ll dig deeper into that point later.

I want to continue my thoughts from earlier today about Bruno Mars and cultural appropriation by asking a silly question: what is Blackness?

Also, what credentialed person or process gets to determine someone else’s Blackness?

No, this isn’t a Rachel Dolezal-type of question. We all know she’s not a Black woman. Hell, she even knows it.

I’m referring to the people who are quick to be arbiters of Blackness and have severed connections to African history and its diasporic fruits along the way.

I’ll start with a video, and then share a personal story.

Here’s Bruno Mars playing the timbales with his father, Pedrito Hernandez, on congas. Mars’ brother Eric plays drums.

Every bit of that — from the polyrhythmic patterns to the call-and-response — has African roots.

And like I mentioned in my previous piece, Bruno Mars is completely aware of that.

So, you have a Hawaiian-born Puerto Rican Filipino — where much of the Borinquen part of his heritage was permanently shaped by centuries-long exposure to West Africa, knowingly playing rhythms of the Motherland, but someone gets to throw a random judgement call on social media about his connection to Blackness or Black music?

That’s about as silly as removing Joe Bataan, Mongo Santamaria and Candido — all artists who’ve proudly played Afro-Latin forms and even merged them with R&B and Jazz — from the African diaspora and branding them as non-Black appropriators.

By the way, Bataan, Candido and Santamaria have publicly acknowledged the African roots of their culture, music and race.

The discussion of African roots brings me to the story I promised.

I was speaking to a cashier I had previously met several times, who asked me one day what I was up to.

I told her that I’m making cow foot soup at a friend’s request, and will need to buy the ingredients.

She then said “How come you don’t cook Black food?”

“What do you call black food?” was my curious response.

She mentioned fried chicken wings and fried rice from a neighborhood Chinese food joint.

Some of you would’ve walked away at that point, but I gently explained the Afro-Carribean roots of the dish I was cooking. Not sure she became fully convinced.

My point is that we have an alarming number of Black folks who are quick to wield the “Not Black” brand stamp whenever they encounter anything outside of their personal experiences.

I still remember the time when a Black, Harvard-educated lawyer with a White Mom and Kenyan Dad was paired with the insinuation that he’s not “Black enough.” We all know the rest of that story.

But this entire debate is meaningless since arguing about Mars’ blackness doesn’t change how the Black infant mortality rate is twice that of Whites, or Black net worth — with partial thanks to predatory lending and redlining — is criminally low.

Instead of debating skin shades, accents, dress codes and school pedigrees among us, we should invest time helping children understand history and the Black race’s place within it. Providing these children with tools for personal empowerment would also help tremendously.

When I last checked, delegating Black history education to school systems hasn’t worked out well, and many so-called educated adults don’t know much beyond Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Barack Obama.

A real education in Black history and empowerment sure beats investing 26 minutes on this

song currently stuck in my head: “crate diggin’” – fantastikclick and sport g

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Bruno Mars and cultural appropriation, part 1: the shake

bruno mars cultural appropriation

To the folks who continue to drone that performer Bruno Mars is guilty of cultural appropriationleave him Alone.

Yeah, I always thought Bruno Mars played Cruise Ship Funk — the safe stuff that’s deodorized to a sucralose state of Middle-American acceptamce where listens invoke Peoria-grandma-approved happy faces, trying hard to keep a beat.

The alternative — frowns, gas masks, church claps, floor smashes on the downbeat — and soul-digging contemplation — isn’t what many of you, except for people who read me on a regular, would be down with at 9 pm in the middle of a Royal Caribbean dance floor.

We all have our own versions of happy music.

But that’s not the point of this piece — (laughing) leave Bruno Mars alone!

Nope, I’m not in his fan club and I don’t own any of his releases. (Laughing) I’ve had enough of 1980s New Jack Swing tunes to hear 2018 throwback nods … although I’ll give props to Mars for this jawn.

And why would I settle for present-day cleansed Electro Boogie Funk joints with an 80s lean, when more organic modern tunes exist?

But still — leave Bruno Mars alone.

Unlike truly-guilty cultural appropriators who want to make you think their Soul inspiration was some sort of immaculate blossoming from within, Mars always gave props to the creative force that inspired him: Black music.

In his own words to Latina magazine in 2017:

When you say ‘black music,’ understand that you are talking about rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, funk, doo-wop, hip-hop, and Motown. Black people created it all. Being Puerto Rican, even salsa music stems back to the Motherland [Africa]. So, in my world, black music means everything. It’s what gives America its swag.

It’s not appropriation if he respects the source.

Mars discussed the music of his childhood during the same interview:

I’m a child raised in the ‘90s. Pop music was heavily rooted in R&B from Whitney, Diddy, Dr. Dre, Boyz II Men, Aaliyah, TLC, Babyface, New Edition, Michael, and so much more. As kids this is what was playing on MTV and the radio. This is what we were dancing to at school functions and BBQs. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for these artists who inspired me. They have brought me so much joy and created the soundtrack to my life filled with memories that I’ll never forget. Most importantly, they were the superstars that set the bar for me and showed me what it takes to sing a song that can get the whole world dancing, or give a performance that people will talk about forever. Watching them made me feel like I had to be as great as they were in order to even stand a chance in this music business. You gotta sing as if Jodeci is performing after you and dance as if Bobby Brown is coming up next.

While I don’t buy his music, I give Mars and his team props for their skill in selling his internalized vision of Black Music to Peoria. But that’s not appropriation.

Meanwhile, I can list plenty of performers who are so caught up in their appropriation game that they wouldn’t even be caught on a TMZ camera while eating chocolate bars.

Digital pal and guitarist Adrian Romero offered a beautiful example of how the cultural appropriation brand becomes confusing to its zealously dogmatic users when he shouted out bassist Charles Mingus’ solo piano album. Give it a listen and tell me you don’t hear Ravel in it. Mingus made no secret of how White Classical composers influenced him.

In fact, fellow Jazz artists Bill Evans (the piano-playing one, if you’re wondering), Herbie Hancock, Duke Ellington, Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett and many others cite Classical music as an influence on how they conceptualize and play Jazz — a music genre that was created by Black folks.

Carlos Santana, a Mexican-born American known for his innovative compositional and guitar-playing skills, was so moved by African Diasporic music (“The rhythms of Africa help us on a molecular level.”) that you hear forms like Jazz, Blues and Salsa in nearly all his songs — and a predominantly African-American band called the Black Rock Coalition Orchestra has been known to channel Santana’s style in live performances.

Who is guilty of appropriating when late Jazz Drummer Steve Reid teamed up with Techno music producer Kieran Hebden? This is a layered trick question, but my answer is “no one.

Who would you call the appropriating party when living saxophone legend Anthony Braxton collaborated with experimental Rock band Wolf Eyes to create Black Vomit?

What about the Rolling Stones being influenced by old, Black Blues masters like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf?

What do you call the more recent collaboration between Jazz trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and Indie Rock band Deerhoof?

All of the creatives I mentioned have a documented high level of respect for the source that inspired them.

Respect is not appropriation.

Even if it can sometimes sound like Cruise Ship Funk.

But don’t you think this Bruno Mars hoo-ha either focuses on the wrong side of the what-is-blackness debate, or is a poorly spent stretch of time altogether?

More thoughts to come …

song currently stuck in my head: “bad habit (full-length version)” – atfc presents onephatdiva

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Remembering Mabel Williams

robert f. williams mabel williams naacp

So that’s when the police came up and they jumped out of the car. And they were saying they were going to take him to jail. And I said, “Do you have a warrant?” And they said — they backed up and they saw me with the shotgun. And, so, I said, “If you don’t have a warrant, you’re not taking him anywhere.”

NAACP member Mabel Williams recalling a 1961 incident where Monroe, NC police officers attempted to arrest her husband Robert for driving with a broken headlight.

I’m having coincidental Women’s History Month thoughts about what bothers me more — the way mainstream accounts of women in the the so-called Civil Rights Movement seem to focus only on the near-mandatory hagiographies of Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks while ignoring the leadership and bravery of other African-American liberty seekers like the late Mabel Williams, or how mentions of Williams seem to always stop at “Oh, she’s the wife of Robert F. Williams.”

And since I’ve been in the Williamses’ orbit lately, let’s dig deeper …

I pulled the Mabel Williams quote you see at the top of this piece from the brilliant oral history she provided to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, through a conversation she had with David Cecelski. Reading her account of life as Black prey in 1950s Monroe, North Carolina gives you a deeper sense of why the town couldn’t become any more of a haven for White terrorist activities toward African descendants.

The local branch of the Ku Klux Klan respectively used Monroe’s city hall lawn and police station back then as a public petition site to run Robert Williams out of town and a source for new white-hood recruits.

Segregation ran so deep — literally — that admitting and treating Black patients, including babies and pregnant mothers, were restricted to a filthy hospital basement.

Local NAACP membership was reduced to a metaphysical argument since the Black professional class — the NAACP’s typical source of core strength — was scared away from joining the group out of fear of being either branded as communists, isolated from economic opportunities (i.e., jobs) or targeted for physical violence.

Black women were sexually assaulted by White predators while justice offered no respectable pursuit whatsoever.

Black Monroe children were brutally beaten by White adult mobs.

So if you asked why would Mabel Williams roll up to the front of her house with a shotgun in a town whose White supremacy was lacquered in place by government officials, law enforcement, White terrorist organizations and town citizens who had no problems with supporting domestic terrorism …

By the way, the cops avoided a gunfight and didn’t arrest Mabel’s husband that day. The busted headlight came from an earlier incident where KKK sympathizers tried to ram Robert Williams’ car off the road — an incident that was passively observed by Monroe police officers. Mabel Williams was likely correct in her fear that drove her to draw the shotgun: an arrest would have meant a lynching that evening. Literally.

Before her marriage, Mabel Williams was a student/athlete who excelled in both areas, and was supported by a community with a sufficient sense of Blackness that enabled her to endure life in Monroe.

And she became much more than a spouse and long gun handler.

She — in collaboration with Robert — co-founded a Black Progressive newsletter called The Crusader as a way to counter the dominating White supremacist messaging of the time. She was one of the journal’s writers and gathered news clippings from around the world to select for inclusion.

Mabel helped to coordinate the local NAACP’s unofficial intelligence-gathering apparatus, given that a number of the organization’s members were domestic workers for Monroe’s rich and powerful White families. She shared an instance with Cecelski:

I remember one particular incident where Robert was going on trial for something the maid for the judge said that the judge came in that morning at breakfast and said, “Oh honey — ” to his wife. “Oh honey, I’m going to be a big man today.” And she said, “Why? What’s going to happen?” He said, “I’m going to send that nigger Robert Williams to prison.”

Mabel helped Robert write the book Negroes with Guns and launch the brilliantly-titled Radio Free Dixie — a show broadcasted from Cuba that featured Jazz and political conversation — while living as exiles.

One of the most important things Mabel did subsequent to her return to the United States was to counter the false narratives about herself, Robert and the Civil Rights Movement by documenting her account of the struggle in Monroe.

For example, she demystified how the National Rifle Association initially supported Robert and other Black Monroe gun club members with a local charter:

… when Robert sent off for the charter he had himself as an author. He had Dr. Perry as a doctor. He had some of the — oh, he had one of our officers McDowell, as a businessman. He had, I think, the women he put down housewives. And he put construction, contractor for the construction workers. And we got our first charter like that.

In other words, Williams never indicated that he was affiliated with the NAACP, and it doesn’t appear that the NRA knew who Robert Williams was at the time.

mabel williams naacp

Mabel had her own ideas about how she and her husband received a charter to power their armed struggle against the Klan:

I’m sure when we joined and the years after then, had they known we were a black group, they would have revoked our charter.

Mabel’s words also made clear that neither she, Robert nor their Monroe crew were random gun nuts:

But the ironic part that I want people to know is that although we had an association with guns, we knew how to use guns. We trained other people how to use guns, our children included. We never had the occasion to have to shoot anybody. And that if, you know. That’s remarkable because a lot of people, when they think about having guns, they think about killing folks. And Robert always—. He was the ultimate teacher, always. He always taught the other people and us that a gun is a weapon that can do terrible damage to people. And the only reason you would ever pick up a gun is for self-defense and not for anything aggressive or not to scare off anybody, and not to play with anybody. But it was serious business when you really had to pick up a gun.

Mabel Williams remained woke and active in later years.

In addition to continuing her social activism and finishing Robert’s memoirs, Mabel was engaged in community economic development projects like the restoration of Idlewild, Michigan — a Black Shangri-La that materialized in the 1920s, and became the hottest resort town for Black families and celebrities alike during the 1940s and ’50s.

The statutory death of Jim Crow resulted in the disintegration of Idlewild in the first place, but I won’t go there today …

Mabel transitioned in 2014. May she continue to Rest in Love.

Read her entire UNC-Chapel Hill interview here.

song currently stuck in my head: “it runs through me” – tom misch feat. de la soul

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