from the desk of Annette Walker

from the desk of Annette Walker

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Nina turner: New Voice on the National Political Scene -

Nina Turner                                                                          
                   New Voice on the National Political Scene
                   Addresses Tribute to Black Women's Luncheon - Denver

                                                       by Annette Walker

     "There is a crisis of conscience in this nation," said Nina Turner, keynote speaker at the Colorado Black Women for Political Action's recent luncheon.  "I am here to wake your conscience," she exclaimed as she left the podium to walk among the hundreds of persons present.
     This new voice on the national political scene has her own ideas about communicating with people.  She removes the traditional physical distance between the speaker and the audience.  Therefore, much of her talk was delivered as she moved around the room.    
     Turner is at once an active Democrat as well as a Board member of Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution Movement.  The former Ohio State legislator has been politically engaged with both Bill and Hillary Clinton.  In 2014 Bill Clinton supported her in her unsuccessful run for the position of Ohio Secretary of State.  Last November, however, she decided to endorse Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Presidential nomination.
     In a post-luncheon interview with the Urban Spectrum, Turner outlined her reasons for her preference for Sanders.   
     "Bernie has been consistent in his beliefs for social justice since the 1960s," she said.  "We agree upon some of the most prominent issues facing this country."  She mentioned the following:  1) A wealth gap in which income increases go to the top 1%, making the rich even richer; 2) The wealthy do not pay their fair share of taxes; 3) The electoral campaign system and politics in general are corrupted by big money.  4) Health care should be a right, not a privilege.
     Turner pointed out that there are 29 million persons who still do not have healthcare insurance, and even more remain underinsured.
     She indicated that Sanders worked with CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) when he was a student at the University of Chicago and has been a constant champion of civil rights.
     She agrees with Sanders that a political revolution is needed in the United States.  This concept places them outside mainstream thinking in the Democratic Party.
     "The time is up for establishment politics," she said.  
     Turner has joined with other African-Americans in supporting Sanders.  Among them are Congressman Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota and the first and only Muslim in the U.S. Congress; Ben Jealous, former Executive Director of the NAACP; Dr. Cornel West, scholar and activist; Danny Glover, actor and activist; Spike Lee, film director; Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner who was killed by policemen in 2014 in Staten Island, New York (her mother supported Hillary Clinton); and a variety of state legislators across the country,.
     During her talk at the CBWPA luncheon, Turner referenced other African-Americans who are independent thinkers.  She repeatedly displayed profound admiration for Shirley Chisholm, the U.S. Congressional Representative from Brooklyn who, in 1972, became the first African-American woman to run for President.  Turner pointed out how Chisholm perceived herself.  
     "Chisholm said that her candidacy was not about being a Black person or a woman." Turner emphasized.  "She was neither locked into any special interest groups, nor did she have any big name endorsements.  She said she was the candidate of the people of America, and she considered herself 'Unbought and Unbossed'."     
     After graduating from high school Turner did not immediately enroll in college.  She worked in fast food and retail businesses.  This gave her a close-up view of workers' issues, such as the need for minimum wage increases and workplace fairness.
     Upon graduation from Cleveland State University, she entered the political arena as a legislative aide first in the Cleveland Mayor's office and then in the Ohio Senate.  Turner then held several state and federal positions and eventually won a City Council seat.  In 2008 she was appointed to fill a seat vacated in the Ohio State Senate, and in 2010 ran unopposed.
     While in the Senate Turner sponsored legislation designed to give women more control over regulations about reproductive health.  She also served on the Commerce and Labor, Education, Transportation, and Judiciary Criminal Justice Committees.
     Turner currently teaches history at Ohio's Cuyahoga Community College and is an occasional commentator on MSNBC-TV.
     She is in a unique situation regarding law enforcement.  Both her husband and son are employed in criminal justice.  "My son may be in danger when he's in uniform with a badge, and equally in danger when he's out of uniform because he's a Black man," she said.  Her son accompanied her to Denver for the CBWPA event.
     Although Turner never mentioned Donald Trump's name, she did comment on his current call for law and order.  "There can be no law and order without justice and transparency," she said.
     She pointed out a significant contradiction in U.S. society.  "This is a nation of progress, but it is a nation founded on racism," she said.  "This can be overcome, but first it is necessary to admit that racism exists.  Some people only talk about this at election time or at special events."
     Regarding the current political and social climate, she acknowledged that many people feel unsettled and there are good reasons for this.  Turner also posed a few questions that people need to ponder in order to resolve some issues facing this country.  1)  Who is going to stand up for what's right?  2)  What price are you willing to pay?
     Although she did not lay out a specific plan of action, Turner left much 'food for thought'.  1)  "We are our brother's keeper.  2)  We cannot ask others to do more for us than we can do for ourselves.  3)  Remember to use what her grandmother called 'motherwit', that is common sense.  She said that her grandmother often commented about people that she considered 'educated fools'.  4)  The 3 Bones:  the Wishbone which makes use of hope and prayer; the Jawbone which grants you courage to speak truth-to-power; and Backbone which gives you the strength to proceed.
     Turner has published a 3 Bones Journal ( in which she encourages people to document and write about their experiences and engage in flashbacks in order to take stock of their lives.
     Turner encourages people to remember that "The Struggle is Forever".

This article appeared in the November 2016 edition of the Denver Urban Spectrum.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


                                                           By Annette Walker

Arthur Schomburg
Paul Stewart

Clementine Pigford

     For centuries the descendants of African slaves throughout the Americas were deprived of connections to their past.  In addition, new cultural and social practices developed by African people usually were disregarded and not made part of the historical record by white society.
     Nevertheless, African people have engaged continuously in efforts to preserve and document their realities.  Ironically, the first repository of materials in the United States to focus upon African people has roots in the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico.
      In 1884 10-year-old Arturo (Arthur) Schomburg, who lived in Puerto Rico, asked his primary school teacher about the history of Africans.  She told him that Africans had no history, no heroes nor accomplishments.  Skeptical, yet driven by curiosity, young Schomburg began a lifelong process of learning about African people wherever they lived.  His curiosity resulted in the establishment of what became the first public archive of African people in the United States.
      At age 17 Schomburg moved to New York City, residing first on the Lower East Side, home to many Puerto Ricans and Cubans.  Years later, he moved to Harlem which became the intellectual and artistic capital of people of African descent.
     Schomburg helped establish a variety of societies, associations and organizations, all of which engaged in scholarly efforts to capture the missing narrative of African people in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America.  He also contributed articles and essays to many publications that emerged, especially during the Harlem Renaissance.
     Researchers, such as Elinor Des Vernay Sinnette who has written extensively about Schomburg, have concluded that he was self-educated, becoming a bibliophile who was respected by credentialed academics including the renowned W.E.B. DuBois.  He received enough support to travel and engage in research in the Caribbean and Spain, always returning with an abundance of books, artwork and scholarly materials. 
     The importance of his collection of materials came to the attention of the New York City Public Library system, which purchased it in 1925.  He was also appointed curator of what was named the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art.  It was eventually archived at the 135th St. Branch Library in Harlem and consisted of 5,000 books, 3,000 manuscripts, 2000 etchings and paintings and several thousand pamphlets. 
     In 1991 a new building was constructed next door and has been renamed the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.  It is this nation's premier public library focused upon African people.  
     For decades the Schomburg Library was the only municipal library in the United States with that focus.  Today there are 4 additional libraries located in Los Angeles (1978), Atlanta (1994), Fort Lauderdale (Florida -2002), and Denver (Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library - 2003).

                                         Denver's Dual Institutions

     Wellington Webb, Denver's first African-American Mayor, and his wife, former state representative Wilma Webb , were concerned that the legacy of African-Americans in Colorado and the West was scattered and unwritten.
     "So much of it is in boxes, in basements, or in our heads," he said.  While still in office, he proposed the establishment of a research library to preserve, showcase and document that legacy.  The result is the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library which is part of the Denver Public Library system.
     Denver boasts an additional institution focused upon African-Americans:  the Black America West Museum whose origins are similar to the Schomburg.
     The late Paul Stewart grew up in Iowa.  "As a child I played cowboys and Indians, and I always wanted to be a cowboy," he told the Urban Spectrum.  "Bur the white kids would say there are no Black cowboys."  Since young Paul did not see any Black cowboys in the movies or books, he assumed that it was true.
     Like Schomburg, Stewart was skeptical, yet curious and eventually discovered that it was all wrong.  Like Schomburg, he began collecting, but not just material about Black cowboys.  He accepted anything about African-Americans, with an emphasis on the western regions of this country.
     After moving to Denver in 1962, he opened a barber shop where he stored his growing collection.  Each decade Stewart had to move his materials to a larger space, first to a saloon and then to Clayton College.  He also began writing and occasionally lectured in and out-of-Denver.
     By 1987 with the help of a collective of interested people, Stewart's collection had transitioned into the Black America West Museum, located in Five Points.
     Today throughout the United States there are numerous institutions whose primary focus is the history and creativity of people of African descent.

                                         Creating New Materials

     Another monumental task is the creation of materials based on sources in boxes stored in basements, closets and attics.  Denver's Clementine Washington Pigford has risen to the challenge.
A master researcher and curator of the history of Colorado's oldest religious institution, Zion Baptist Church, Pigford's prodigious output was initiated over twenty years ago.
    A retired secondary school English teacher in the Denver Public Schools, Pigford has been a member of Zion since childhood.  In the early 1990s, Zion was organizing some projects that required a church history.  Since Zion was established in 1865, that was going to be a colossal undertaking.  Pigford became part of a committee formed to achieve that goal.
     "I found the church history was literally 'all over the place'", she said.  "I set out to make a collection of information that could be used as a quick reference," she continued.
     Four years later she had assembled hundreds of photos, church documents, and articles from community publications.  Nonetheless, oral history matched concrete materials as a source of information.  "An easy 50 percent of all information came from Zion's members and others in Denver's African-American community," she said.
     The collection consists of 9 volumes totaling over 4,000 pages.  It is entitled "They Came to Colorado with the Dust of Slavery on Their Backs".
     However, for Pigford, the work had just begun.  Navigating a century and a half of history reveals multitudes of events and legions of people.  This piqued her curiosity and motivated her to research their lives and tell their stories.
     The result is a growing number of publications about members of Zion's congregation.  Among the people about whom Pigford has collected biographical information as well as photographs and other relevant material is Reverend John Elijah Ford who she has dubbed "a preacher divine" and "a preacher's preacher".  He was senior pastor at Zion from 1899 to 1906.  
     He was also the first husband of the renowned Dr. Justina Ford, Denver's first female African-American physician.  The Black America West Museum is located in her home.
     Another publication focuses upon Alexander Duncan, a consummate businessman and owner of Duncan's Shoe Repair, Duncan's Beauty Academy and Duncan's Men's Store.  He lived a little past 100 years - a centurion.
     Pigford has completed several additional biographies, documentary publications about local community organizations and a video docudrama, The Arms of Zion.
     "The history continues and people continue," she said.  "The stories don't stop."
     Schomburg, Stewart and Pigford all acted on their desire to tell the stories of their communities and, ultimately, of people of African descent.  
     All three initiated and carried out most of their work without monetary remunerations.  All three reached their pinnacles without academic credentials as historians or social scientists, but have received praise from the scholarly world.
     Their work constitutes a "labor of love" that is grounded in a profound "love of community."

     (Editor's note.  Pigford's work is archived in two Denver Public Library branches:  the Western History Division at the Central Library and the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library)
       (This article first appeared in the April 2016 edition of the Denver Urban Spectrum)