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A Tree of Many Seasons (a special Black History note) February 13, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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Peace and ease to all during this “Season of Non-violence” and all other seasons!

This is a special post for February 9th. The word for this date is contemplate and the following post is full of things for you to contemplate with a focus on non-violence.Click here if you are interested in other events I’ve covered on this date.

“[The president of the Tuscaloosa Branch of the NAACP, Lisa Young,] she was ‘angry and part of me feels like we failed our students. We want to see what we can do to assist them, and make their school a safe place.’”

– quoted from the Tuscaloosa News article entitled “Hillcrest High students say they were told to limit Black History Month program” by The Associated Press (pub. Feb. 9, 2023)

This past Wednesday (2/8), about 200 students from Hillcrest High School, part of Tuscaloosa County Schools System in Alabama, staged a walkout. According to some of the students, they were told to focus their special Black History Month program on “recent history.” School officials have denied the allegations. No one, however, is denying that a lot of students were protesting… something.

It’s hard to know if the allegations are true – except for the fact that it passes the sniff test. There are a lot of people, even in education, who might not see the idea as problematic. To  me, it’s problematic, because the idea of focusing on “recent” Black history reminds me a little to much of the recent use of the phrase “make America great again.” The inevitable (and unavoidable) question is: When was America great? No shade, and this isn’t even about my opinions on the matter. It’s more about defining a statement that is very vague and open to interpretation. Everyone has a different idea of when the country was great and/or if it’s ever been great (whatever that word means to you at this moment). It’s a very subjective idea – as is the concept of “recent history.”

In the Tuscaloosa County situation, students were allegedly given very specific parameters: focus on Black history after 1970; so, nothing related to slavery, the Civil War and the end of legal slavery in the United States; and/or anything related to the Civil Rights Movement.

That’s weird, right? I mean, Black History – just like the history of every other group in America – is part of American History. How weird would it be if you attended a celebration of American History and there was no mention of the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolutionary War, and/or the moon landing?

Oh, “Wait,” you say? Summer of 1969 is close enough to 1970 to talk about the moon landing? (Well, it’s OK, unless you don’t believe it happened.) But, how do you explain that Project Apollo was conceived during President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration (in the 1950s) and that President John F. Kennedy mentioned it in a speech to the joint sessions of the United States Congress in 1961? After all, history does not exist in a vacuum.

“Mexican-Americans, Mexican youth who were born in this country, whose heritage is this country, are not accepted. At the City Council of which I am a member at this time, we have not a single Mexican down there in a policy-making position. I am concerned because I think that they should have representation. If taxation without representation was important in the founding of this country, it is important now.

I had a woman say to me one day that, ‘I think these Mexicans should go back to Mexico where they came from.’ Immediately I said to her, ‘This is Mexico – this part of Mexico has been sold to us. These people have a right here, just like every other ethnic group.’ It‘s amazing to me that this country is a melting pot, made up of people from all over the world – of lands all over the world – and yet they would want to deny those of color, they‘re rights and privileges.”

– Mrs. Juanita Jewel Craft, quoted from The Black Women Oral History Project, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (interview conducted by Mrs. Dorothy R. Robinson (01/20/1977)

History, as we experience it, is a linear, one-dimension continuum – even though, we are able to learn about it in a multi-dimensional way. We are simultaneously able to learn about things that happened at the same time, but in different parts of the country or world – just as we are able to comprehend how one event layers over another event… and then another, to bring us to the present moment. In fact, in Yoga Sūtra 3.53, Patanjali wrote that the highest form of discernment comes from applying concentrated awareness on “the moment and its sequence/succession.”

Again, it’s important to remember that nothing happening now is happening in a vacuum. For instance, when we talk about women who influence politics today, we have to acknowledge, on some level, that women in this country have always been influencing politics – even when they couldn’t vote and/or run for office. Women like Stacy Abrams are directly connected to women like Mrs. Phoebe E. Burn, a.k.a.“Miss Feeb” or “Feeb” (not to mention Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton). They are connected through their activism and by way of a lot of unnamed women throughout history. Of course, that comparison may rankle if you know the history of Black women and the suffragist movement so, maybe we don’t go back that far. Maybe we stick to “recent history” and just say that the women of today (regardless of their race and/or ethnicity), are directly connected to Mrs. Juanita Craft of east Texas.

“Mrs. Craft, on behalf of the project, I want to thank you for lending yourself to this interview. Personally, I think it is a tremendous project and that it fills an urgent need in our nation. It isn‘t that Black women have not made history; it is that the history they made has not been extensively recorded and carefully preserved.”

– Mrs. Dorothy R. Robinson, quoted from The Black Women Oral History Project, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (Juanita Jewel Craft interview conducted by Mrs. Dorothy R. Robinson (01/20/1977)

Born in Round Rock, Texas on February 9, 1902, Juanita Jewel Craft (née Shanks) was on only child for most of her life. Her grandparents were enslaved people transported directly from Virginia and by way of Tennessee. Her father, David Shanks, was a high school principal. Her mother, Eliza Shanks (née Balfour), was a teacher and seamstress who taught her daughter the skills that she valued. Given that background, it makes sense that, after graduating from high school in Austin, the future Mrs. Craft went to Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University), where she earned a certificate in dressmaking and millinery (in 1921) and then went back to Austin in order to earn a teaching certificate from Samuel Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson College). She taught kindergarten in Columbus (about halfway between Austin and Houston) and then she moved to Galveston, where she got married. Unfortunately, here first marriage ended and moved to Dallas, where she worked as a maid at the Adolphus Hotel, as well as as a dressmaker.

By her own account, she didn’t make a lot of money, but she figured out a way to manage. She wanted, however, to do more than just manage. So, in 1935, she joined the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She married Johnny Edward Craft (on October 2, 1937), but that didn’t stop her activism. in fact, her marriage just allowed her to focus on the activism without having to work and she was appointed the Dallas NAACP membership chairman in 1942. Two years later, when the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944) that Texas laws allowing things like “white primaries” were unconstitutional, Juanita Craft became the first African American* woman in Dallas County to vote in a Democratic Party primary.

Several things happened, in 1946, that started advancing Juanita Craft’s prominence in the state and in the country. In addition to being named the Texas NAACP field organizer, she was also named as Youth Council advisor of the Dallas NAACP, and became the first African American woman deputized by the State of Texas to collect the poll tax. During this same time period, she and Lulu Belle White (of the Houston chapter of the NAACP) began organizing new Texas chapters of the NAACP. Over an eleven year period, they would organize 182 Texas branches.

“In 1961, we started working on the theatres and the lunch counters. At which time, we picketed. We stood-in at the theatres. And you know, it got to be quite interesting. The way we performed. A youth would walk up to the window at the theatre and ask for an admission ticket. And when that youth was denied – without any further conversation – he would walk back to the end of the line, and go right through it again.

There was a complete circle. Students from SMU and other areas around Dallas joined us in our protest.

The thing that would worry me was that a lot of older people could not see our need, or did not join us. I‘ve had friends to say, ‘I came down to see the line.’ I would immediately ask them, ‘Did you bring a bottle of Coke? Or did you bring a sandwich to one of those kids?

And I have seen those kids so dedicated to breaking the chain that was binding them. But they were, would [pause] – They would walk until their shoes became unbearable and they would continue to walk until they‘d worn out the feet of their hose.

– Mrs. Juanita Jewel Craft, quoted from The Black Women Oral History Project, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (interview conducted by Mrs. Dorothy R. Robinson (01/20/1977)

The impact of Juanita Craft’s organizing is most obvious when you look at her work with the Youth Council, work that made the Dallas group a model for other chapters. She fought to get African American students enrolled at North Texas State College (now North Texas State University). Then, as more educational opportunities opened up for African American students, she fought to ensure that the students were physically safe and given what they had been promised. When fraudulent trade schools were promising luxury dorms, meals, and jobs – but providing none of what was promised – she fought for better housing and found jobs for the students. She also fed them. Sometimes you took meals to the students who were facing discrimination at the universities. Other times, the students came to her home for meals. All the while, she was feeding information to officials.

She organized protests at the State Fair of Texas – which, at the time, only admitting Blacks on “Negro Achievement Day” – and organized anti-segregation protests at lunch counters, restaurants, theaters, and public transportation to protest segregation. There were sit-ins, stand-ins, and freedom walks. In one instance, members of the Youth Council would buy something inside of a store and then take their purchase to the store’s lunch counter (where they could not be served), each student would politely ask why they could buy something like poster board in the store, but not be served. After asking the server, they would ask for a manager. Then, after speaking to the manager, they would leave and the next student would enter, also with a purchase of some kind.

The systems the Youth Council used were effective and adopted by adults who continued the fight, but everything the council did was not overt activism. Above and beyond anything else, Juanita Craft mentored the youth of Dallas. She raised money in order to take members of the council, as well as integrated student groups, on field trips to learn about running a business, to visit NAACP chapters in other states, and to visit members of Congress in order to better understand how the state and country were governed. She also took the kids sightseeing to see places like the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, the Pacific Ocean, and the Eastern seaboard. On every trip, she ensured that the students visited colleges and universities in the area. She also ran “Stay in School” and “Anti-Riot” campaigns that featured bumper stickers and placards with catchy slogans in English and Spanish, including: “Learn and Earn; Stay in School.”, “I’m Going Back to School. What About You?”, “Keep It Cool. Don’t Be Fool.”, “Think Before You Act.” and “Don’t.”

“The only thing that I could say, in defense of my being on the [City] Council, is an old stupid woman who wasn‘t satisfied with those persons that were running to fill the unexpired term left on the Council in this district. I think that that‘s a slogan that I‘ve carried with me – If I don’t like what the other fellow‘s doing, I get up and do it myself.”

– Mrs. Juanita Jewel Craft, quoted from The Black Women Oral History Project, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (interview conducted by Mrs. Dorothy R. Robinson (01/20/1977)

Her civic engagement continued even after her husband died in 1950. Juanita Craft served as Democratic precinct chairman (1952 – 1975) and served two terms on the Dallas City Council for District 6 (1975 – 1979). While on the City Council, she focused on a major drug and alcohol reduction program, subsidized housing, historic preservation, strengthening code enforcement and environmental ordinances, and animal control. Additional , she was an active member of the Munger Avenue Baptist Church, the Democratic Women’s Club, the YWCA, the League of Women Voters, and the National Council of Negro Women, as well as local, state, and national boards of the Urban League of Greater Dallas, Goals for Dallas, Dallas United Nations, and the Governor’s Human Relations Committee. Her took her from Dallas to San Francisco to St. Paul, Minnesota, to Washington, D. C. to Arlington, Virginia, and then back down to the South. Through it all, she continued to work with the NAACP.

Much of Juanita Craft’s activism led to litigation that led to new legislation on the local, state, and federal level – like aforementioned investigation into fraudulent trade-schools in Dallas – and that kind of legal activism meant students were not the only people congregating around her dining room table. People like future SCOTUS Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall (then-lead council for the NAACP’s national office) and Martin Luther King Jr. were frequent visitors. They were not, however, the only political luminaries that graced her presence. By the end of her life, she would meet Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter, and she would be invited to the White House on multiple occasions.

Mrs. Juanita Jewel Craft received a lot praise and accolades in her day. However, when she was asked to name one of the awards that was most significant, she couldn’t do it; saying instead that “all of them are precious to me because all of them have had… a little something that was indeed outstanding. It would be hard for me to say which one was most important or which activity had been most important.” Then, she related a story about a horrible incident in Dallas that led to activism that resulted in people being able to vote. She didn’t care about the awards; she cared about the rewards of people having the Constitutional rights.

“I was really disturbed when they told me there that there wasn‘t a law in the State of Texas that would protect them. Well, I said, ‘If we don‘t have a law, we‘re going to get some laws, because this is ridiculous.”

– Mrs. Juanita Jewel Craft, quoted from The Black Women Oral History Project, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (interview conducted by Mrs. Dorothy R. Robinson (01/20/1977)

Practice Notes: My maternal grandmother was passionate about a lot of things, including registering people to vote. I never thought to ask her if she knew Juanita Craft, because the fact that they ran in the same Texas circles was not on my radar. That said, if I led a class dedicated to Mrs. Craft, I might think about what kind of practice my grandmother would have appreciated and what kind of practice might be appropriate for those students standing in the picket lines. So, it would be something “restorative” in nature, maybe with supported backbends, “Humble Warriors,” something for the hips, and something for the feet (like a little ball rolling). I would encourage props – especially for some prone heart-releasing – and there would definitely be “Legs-Up-the-Wall/Chair” (variations of Viparita Karani).

Remember, activism takes it’s toll and you can not be of use to anyone if you burn out.

“My life does not belong to me. I have no particular family, some cousins, but I have nobody that I‘m particularly responsible to. Therefore, I have adopted everybody. and I feel that if I can make any contribution to the lives of any person I want to be about that.

– Mrs. Juanita Jewel Craft, quoted from The Black Women Oral History Project, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (interview conducted by Mrs. Dorothy R. Robinson (01/20/1977)

*NOTE: Regarding nomenclature, I have spoken before about the different names legally applied to people of color in the United States, as well as how those legal terms are adopted and/or rejected by the people to whom they are applied. The names, just like the idea of race, are social constructed and have changed over time. Most biographies about Juanita Craft use the word “Black,” but she was very clear that she did not appreciate the term and, therefore, I have not used it here in the way I have in other notes.

### “I wish I could share all the love that’s in my heart / Remove all the bars that keep us apart / I wish you could know what it means to be me / Then you’d see and agree /
That every man should be free” ~ Nina Simone ###


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