Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams

Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams were both Irish Catholic women born and raised in Ulster County in Northern Ireland.  Although they were of different temperaments and markedly distinct in their approaches to living, they both became instrumental in focusing attention upon the seeming endless cycle of violence and retribution that had come to dominate the lives of ordinary citizens in that region.  They were instrumental in the formation of the Community of Peace People and ultimately won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for their efforts.

In regards to problems facing Northern Ireland at that time, it would be of interest to spend some time examining the history of Ireland.  Ever since the landing of King Henry II's Norman host on the shores of Ireland in the twelfth century, the enmity between the Irish and the British had been incessant.  Although Queen Elizabeth I, Oliver Cromwell and King William III all tried to control Ireland and its people, they were essentially unsuccessful.  Numerous attempts were made to introduce colonies of Protestants from Scotland as a way to subdue the native population.  Invariably, these transplants would be absorbed into the local culture with the exception of Ulster County.  Only in this Northern Province did this strategy meet with any success.

Until 1972, the Constitution of Ulster was based on the Irish Government Act of 1920 that provided home rule for the South of Ireland comprised of majority Catholic, while the Protestant Northeast remained with Great Britain.  This resulted in two separate parliaments – one in Dublin and the other in Belfast.  Both had representation in the British Parliament.  In 1922, Southern Ireland rejected this arrangement and formed the Irish Free State that remained with the British Commonwealth and in 1948 became the Republic of Ireland.  In contrast to the situation in Southern Ireland, in June of 1921, the Parliament of Northern met for the first time.  The forty-six Protestant and Unionist members were all present, but the twelve Catholic members of the Sinn Fein (the political wing of the Irish Republican Army – IRA) boycotted the ceremony.  The goal of Sinn Fein was the unification of all of Ireland and the abrogation of all links with what came to be regarded as British imperialism.   This boycott resulted in the formation a government with no political input from the Catholic population, since no Catholic representatives were present. 

In response to the threat posed by the IRA, the Belfast government created the so-called B Special police reservists that came to be hated by the Catholic population.  In addition, in 1922, a Special Powers Act was made into law; this legislation allowed for so-called "administrative internment" – permitting the imprisonment of suspected terrorists without due process.    The Protestants were represented for the most part by the Unionist Party and its associated extremist group – the Orange Order.  Unionists sought to maintain their relationship with Great Britain.  They carried every election between 1921 and 1969. 

For almost fifty years prior to 1969, the one million Protestants of Northern Ireland had exercised excessive authority over the one-half million Catholics of the region giving them only a de-facto voice in provincial government.  This discrimination led to the formation of Catholic and Protestant ghettoes with the Catholics often denied their fair share of community resources.

Inspired by the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the United States, the Catholics of Northern Ireland sought a redress of their grievances.  A commission set up by Lord Cameron from Great Britain ascertained that the Catholic population was, in fact, discriminated against by the Protestant majority resulting in excessive unemployment and a lack of adequate housing.  There were demonstrations and marches sponsored by the North Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) that demanded one vote per person in municipal elections and the abolishment of gerrymandering – the political realigning of electoral boundaries to shift election results - and discrimination.  In October of 1968, the Belfast government prohibited NICRA from organizing and outlawed civil rights marches in Londonderry.  A march took place in spite of the ban and violence erupted.

These events fueled antagonism and hatred between the two groups.  This came to a head in 1969 when there were reports of Protestant incursions into the Catholic sectors with subsequent arsonist attacks.  In response to this violence, the Provisional arm of the Irish Republican Army (Provos) began to recruit new members and to respond with violence.  Any attempts to assuage this regional discord was found unacceptable to the extremists in both camps.   On August 14, 1969, the British sent troops to Northern Ireland to help the local police restore public order in Londonderry and Belfast.  An attempt was made to set up a regional government acceptable to both Catholics and Protestants.  This attempt failed.  For eight years, the region was overwhelmed by bombings, indiscriminate killings and targeted assassinations.  This atmosphere left people terribly frightened and irrational as acts of terror invariably do.

When British forces came to Northern Ireland in an attempt to quell the unrest, they imposed a solution through the Temporary Provisions Act of 1972.  This act abolished the Belfast Parliament, suspended the Belfast Parliament and transferred all executive power to the Secretary of State of Northern Ireland – a position that held a cabinet rank in the British government.  This newly appointed Chief Executive was expected to accomplish the following:

·         Reassure the Protestant majority – Northern Ireland would not to cease to be a part of the United Kingdom without consent of the regional parliament

·         Support the Catholic minority by honoring their concerns and addressing their grievances

·         Maintain a British military presence in Ulster until a resolution of the crisis.

Unfortunately, all attempts at power sharing failed.


This was the social and political environment that surrounded the lives of Corrigan and Williams.  They were living separate lives and did not know of each other's existence; until, a fateful tragedy radically changed their futures and connected them irrevocably to the cause of peace.

On August 10, 1976, a woman, Mrs. Anne Maguire, happened to be walking with her three children next to a busy street.  Suddenly, they were hit by a car carrying Provos that were being chased by British forces.  The driver lost control of the car after he was shot and killed by the pursuing troops.  Her children Andrew and Joanna died instantly and the mother was grievously wounded.  Mrs. Pat O'Connor, the aunt of the Maguire children witnessed the event.  Maguire's son John later died of his injuries.  Mairead Corrigan was also an aunt to the three dead children, and Betty Williams had been near the scene of the accident and saw the tragedy in its entirety.


This singular incident so impacted Corrigan and Williams; they were so utterly outraged by this event that seemed to categorize the state of mind of the people of Northern Ireland that they helped organize a protest for the following day that involved fifty Catholic women pushing baby carriages.  Although the IRA tried to shift the blame regarding the tragedy to the British occupation, it was not convincing.  The residents of this troubled region, especially women, were tired of the violence and they wanted it to end. 

In an interview by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), Corrigan said, "It is not violence that people want."  She went on to condemn all those who encouraged young people to join paramilitary organizations – "Only one percent of the people of this province want this slaughter."

Williams, for her part, helped sponsor a news event in her neighborhood in order to draw attention to public sentiment against violence.  Similar events quickly spread throughout Belfast leading to what was described as a disorganized uprising.  Forty-eight hours following the children's deaths, Williams called for a petition against violence over the local television station; this petition yielded over 6,000 signatures.  This petition demanded that the IRA halt its military campaign.  In addition, a march was announced for the following day and Protestant women were invited to attend.  The group was to march to Hilltown Cemetery where all the Maguire children were to be buried.  Williams received telegrams of support from, labor unions, private organizations and individuals.  On Saturday, the day of the march, 10,000 women came to Andersontown – a Catholic ghetto as a huge demonstration of support.  Although the women were attacked by Republicans during the march, the event was overwhelmingly successful.  Out of this demonstration, the Community of Peace People was born.


Betty Williams was thirty-six years old at the time to the tragedy that struck the Maguire children.  She was living quietly in a two bedroom house.  She was a working housewife and mother.  Williams possesses a forceful personality and is extremely outgoing.    She was born in 1941 and was married in 1963.  She has two children.  Her husband was a maritime engineer and spent as much as eleven months out of the year away from home; therefore, the day-to-day responsibilities for the family fell upoon her.  They lived in Finaghy, a Catholic sector in the Southwest part of Belfast.  When Williams was thirteen, her mother had an incapacitating stroke, and, as a consequence, she took on the role of raising her younger sister.  William's mother was Catholic, her father was Protestant and her maternal grandmother was Jewish; this reality probably influenced her tendency towards open-mindedness as an adult.  Although she was admittedly apathetic before the tragedy that she witnessed, Williams ultimately devoted herself entirely to the peace movement.

   Corrigan was 33 three years of age and was still living with her parents at the time.  She was living in one of the so-called "hot" Catholic sectors in West Belfast.  In spite of the fear that gripped her neighborhood regarding the ever present possibility of acts of terror, Corrigan was active in her community.   She worked as a secretary for Guinness - the well known Irish brewery, and in the evenings worked for the Legion of Mary that helped provide services for those in need. 

Corrigan was born on January 27, 1944 in the Catholic ghetto of Falls in West Belfast.  She was born into a large family – five girls and two boys.  Since the Ulster state schools required the teaching of the Protestant religion, she was sent to a Catholic school.   Corrigan quit school at the age of 14 for economic reasons.  At a point in her life she moved to Andersontown and worked with disadvantaged adolescents.  Andersontown was a bleak Catholic community; the city was built quickly after World War II for Catholics and offered little in the way of amenities; there were no playgrounds, community centers, movie theatres and especially nothing for the children.  In spite of all the violence that erupted from 1969, as discussed earlier, Corrigan remained calm and refused to give in to fear.  She remained an avowed pacifist.  She was quoted as saying, "…for violence to cease, must discover the cause and change things." 


As a consequence of their efforts, Corrigan and Williams were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for their extraordinary efforts. 

The following is an excerpt from Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech delivered by Williams – "…But unlocking the desire for peace would never have been enough. All the energy, all the determination to express an overwhelming demand for an end to the sickening cycle of useless violence would have reverberated briefly and despairingly among the people, as had happened so many times before ... if we had not organized ourselves to use that energy and that determination positively, once and for all.

So in that first week Mairead Corrigan, Ciaran McKeown and I founded the Movement of the Peace People, in order to give real leadership and direction to the desire which we were certain was there, deep within the hearts of the vast majority of the people,... and even deep within the hearts of those who felt, perhaps still do, feel obliged, to oppose us in public.

That first week will always be remembered of course for something else besides the birth of the Peace People. For those most closely involved, the most powerful memory of that week was the death of a young republican and the deaths of three children struck by the dead man's car. A deep sense of frustration at the mindless stupidity of the continuing violence was already evident before the tragic events of that sunny afternoon of August 10, 1976. But the deaths of those four young people in one terrible moment of violence caused that frustration to explode, and create the possibility of a real peace movement. Perhaps the fact that one of those children was a baby of six weeks in a pram pushed by his mother made that tragedy especially unbearable. Maybe it was because three children from one family, baby Andrew, little John and eight-year-old Joanne Maguire died in one event which also seriously injured their mother, Anne, Mairead's sister, that the grief was so powerful. Perhaps it was the sheer needlessness of this awful loss of life that motivated people to turn out in protesting thousands that week. And we do not forget the young republican, Danny Lennon who lost his life that day. He may have been involved in trying to shoot soldiers that day and was himself shot dead, and some may argue that he got what he deserved. As far as we are concerned, this was another young life needlessly lost. As far as we are concerned, every single death in the last eight years, and every death in every war that was ever fought represents life needlessly wasted, a mother's labor spurned…"


These two women thrust together by forces out of their immediate control, created a peace movement that was so effective that it has served as a model for social non-violent action to address issues of peace and social justice.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt is, of course, famous for her role as the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) – 32nd president of the United States.  We have seen from our previous discussions that FDR was instrumental in leading the country through two enormous crisis's – one being the Great Depression of 1929-1938 and the other World War II that claimed over fifty million lives worldwide.  Roosevelt made significant contributions to the country in her own rite as we shall see.

Roosevelt spent twelve years in the white house.  She was often a seminal figure for her time.  She was an activist and often took political stands independent of FDR.  She was, in many ways, an idealist and a feminist and she often inspired controversy regarding her public positions.

Roosevelt's parents, Elliott and Anna were married in 1883.  She was born on October 11, 1884 into a well-place family; her uncle was Teddy Roosevelt who assumed the presidency in 1901 following the assassination of President McKinley and remained in that office until 1909.   He was the elder brother of her deceased father, Elliot Roosevelt.  The members of the Roosevelt family were originally Democrats, but they switched over to the Republican Party on account of their support for the abolitionist movement that was staunchly opposed to slavery.  It was not until FDR that the family realigned itself with the Democratic Party.  Although Teddy Roosevelt was a member of the Republican Party, later in his political career he became liberal in his philosophy particularly concerned about the natural environment and the living conditions of those who were in need.

Roosevelt lost both her parents before she was ten years old.  Her father, Elliott, committed suicide and she lost her mother soon after that.  She was subsequently raised by her maternal grandmother.   As a consequence of the turmoil surrounding her early life, her grandmother chose to raise Eleanor strictly.  As a consequence, she was sent to an English boarding school, Allenswood, outside of London, for her education.   She was there between the ages of 15 and 18 years old.  There is some suspicion that she may have been sent abroad because of sexual advances made by her uncles.  The school was run by Marie Souvestre, who took an interest in the young Roosevelt.  She helped the young woman gain self-confidence.  Souvestre was an avowed and unabashed atheist who may have opened Roosevelt's mind to unconventional thinking.  Her mentor also helped her become socially conscious.

Upon graduation, Roosevelt became involved in the settlement house movement, as described previously.  She also gravitated towards teaching and taught dancing to immigrant girls at the Irvington Street Settlement in New York's lower East Side.  On one particular occasion, she invited FDR there and introduced him to the slum conditions in New York.  He was so astonished that he was reported to have said, "My God, I didn't know anyone lived like that."  This kind of exposure of the future president to the actual living conditions of the poor probably helped to influence his desire for social reform.

Roosevelt became involved in social causes such as the National Consumers League, an association that greatly influenced Frances Perkins (see above), the League of Women Voters and the Women's Trade Union League.  As she was involved with the National' Consumer's League and its programs, she became acutely aware of the sweatshop conditions that many workers endured.

Roosevelt and FDR were married in March of 1905.  Between the years of 1906-1916, Roosevelt gave birth to six children; one died.  Her married life was not the most congenial, for the family lived with FDR's mother, Sara an imperious and uncompromising woman.  Their living arrangements were such that her mother-in-law could appear unannounced any time she chose and felt free to discipline her grandchildren.  This was very unnerving for Roosevelt, who was, even according to her children, a somewhat erratic parent.

FDR's political ambitions steadily grew as the years went on.  He got his first real break when he was elected to the New York State Senator in 1910.  These were somewhat momentous years for the country and especially for women.  Roosevelt actively supported the women suffrage movement from 1911 and in 1920 a woman's right to vote was added as Amendment nineteen to the U.S. Constitution.  In 1913, FDR was chosen as the Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson.  The family moved to Washington D.C.  Roosevelt was somewhat relieved, for she could finally get out of the shadow of her domineering mother-in-law.   On account of his growing work load, FDR hired a personal secretary, Lucy Page Mercer – a choice that would prove to be extremely momentous.  In 1918, Roosevelt accidentally came across a packet of love letters from Mercer that spanned two years.  This momentous finding permanently changed Roosevelt's relationship with her husband and inadvertently freed her to pursue her own destiny.  They remained married but from that moment on lived separate lives.  In spite of this Roosevelt's help in regards to FDR's political ambitions remained strong and decisive.

During World War I, Roosevelt became involved in the Red Cross.   Increasingly, she became an advocate for those in need.   She became a strong spokesperson for the mentally ill and was shocked by the conditions she witnessed at St. Elizabeth's hospital for the mentally ill.  After the war, she contracted Tuberculosis and did not take the disease as seriously as she should have; it was partly responsible for the death some forty-three years later.

In 1921, Roosevelt joined the League of Women Voters and ultimately became Vice Chairman.  Her main interests were in world peace, a woman's right to serve on juries and equal prosecution for both men and women in prostitution cases.  Roosevelt was an unflinching advocate in the areas of peace and social justice and especially that of women's rights in all areas of social and political life.  She was such an avowed and outspoken proponent of peace that the Federal Bureau of Investigation under J. Edgar Hoover kept a file on her.  Hoover was a rabid anti-communist and feared that Roosevelt might be linked with their efforts. 

In that same year, FDR was stricken by polio.  He had such a severe case that he was never able to walk again without assistance.  Although this reality drove him into a state of depression in which he thought of relinquishing his political ambitions; it was the support of Roosevelt and his good friend and adviser, Louis Howe, that encouraged him to persevere.

The Roosevelts, in many ways, led parallel lives.  She thrust herself into women's issues and allied herself with like-minded women, including Jane Adams, who, as discussed previously founded the Hull House – the famous settlement house in Chicago – and the first president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and Carrie Chapman Catt of the League of Women Voters.  There were two women, in particular, that she became deeply involved with – Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook.  So strong was this bond that FDR built a stone cottage in Hyde Park, the family estate, called Val-Kill for these three women as their retreat.  In 1927, Cook purchased the Todhunter School who purpose was to wage political warfare against what was perceived to be reactionary forces.  These women joined in a concerted effort to encourage social reform in the areas of a minimum wage, an end to child labor and the right of workers to unionize.

In 1928, FDR was elected as governor of New York State a definitive stepping stone to his ultimate aspiration – the presidency of the United States.  During their stay in Albany, Roosevelt divided her time between Albany and the Todhunter School where she functioned as an Associate Principal and a teacher.  In this same period, she became involved in a New York State Joint Legislative Conference that pushed for unemployment compensation, minimum wage and pensions.  Roosevelt and her husband did not always agree.  As governor he was not willing to sponsor child labor legislation and abandoned support for Prohibition as well as the League of Nations and the World Court – causes that Roosevelt adamantly supported.  As a matter of fact, FDR's brain trust considered his wife to be too idealistic and too assertive.

On account of all of her involvements, Roosevelt limited her engagement with FDR's presidential campaign of 1932.  During his presidency, Roosevelt became more deeply involved in her own causes.  Although she discontinued her involvement with the Todhunter School, she pursued writing and public speaking.  As a matter of fact, she earned a considerable amount of money following these interests – a reality that created quite a stir of criticism. 

It was during this period that she met Lorena Hickok – Hick.  They became so involved with each other that they exchanged daily letters.  There has been some suggestion that their relationship was erotic in nature – a suggestion that has never been confirmed.

Eleanor became quite famous for her syndicated column called "My Day."  Although it was dismissed by her critics as being shallow and banal, it helped introduce a common touch in regards to the often mundane reality surrounding the presidency and was widely read.  This column was also a vehicle through which Roosevelt could express her political philosophy and often referred to New Deal policies and programs.

In regards to matters of race and race relations, Roosevelt made her position clear and unambiguous on numerous occasions.  As a profound example of her staunch belief in equal rights for all citizens, she withdrew her membership from the Daughters of the American Revolution (FDR) when they denied the renowned African-American contralto, Marion Anderson, from singing in Constitution Hall on account of the color of her skin.  To put a spotlight on this injustice, Anderson sang outside the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd estimated to be 75,000.  Roosevelt also refused to observe segregated seating at the founding convention of the Southern Conference on Human Welfare held in Birmingham Alabama.

Roosevelt endured the horrendous and destabilizing years during World War II and with infinite grace helped assuage the nation's anxieties as that conflict negatively impacted so many Americans.  Roosevelt's passionate concerns, interests and boundless activism for the causes of peace and social justice placed into the spotlight the liberal approach to public policy that she personified.  She passed away on November 7, 1962.


The following is taken from a speech Roosevelt made entitled, The Struggle for Human Rights on September 28, 1948 in Paris.

"I have come this evening to talk with you on one of the greatest issues of our time -- that is the preservation of human freedom. I have chosen to discuss it here in France, at the Sorbonne, because here in this soil the roots of human freedom have long ago struck deep and here they have been richly nourished. It was here the Declaration of the Rights of Man was proclaimed, and the great slogans of the French Revolution -- liberty, equality, fraternity -- fired the imagination of men. I have chosen to discuss this issue in Europe because this has been the scene of the greatest historic battles between freedom and tyranny. I have chosen to discuss it in the early days of the General Assembly because the issue of human liberty is decisive for the settlement of outstanding political differences and for the future of the United Nations.

The decisive importance of this issue was fully recognized by the founders of the United Nations at San Francisco. Concern for the preservation and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms stands at the heart of the United Nations. Its Charter is distinguished by its preoccupation with the rights and welfare of individual men and women. The United Nations has made it clear that it intends to uphold human rights and to protect the dignity of the human personality. In the preamble to the Charter the keynote is set when it declares: "We the people of the United Nations determined...to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom." This reflects the basic premise of the Charter that the peace and security of mankind are dependent on mutual respect for the rights and freedoms of all."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Winners of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize

The following are brief bios garnered from different sources on the Internet that demonstrate the actions and determination that earned the following three individuals the distinction of winning the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (born 29 October 1938) is the 24th and current President of Liberia. She served as Minister of Finance under President William Tolbertfrom 1979 until the 1980 coup d'├ętat, after which she left Liberia and held senior positions at various financial institutions. She placed a very distant second in the1997 presidential election. Later, she was elected President in the 2005 presidential election and took office on 16 January 2006. Sirleaf is the first and currently the only elected female head of state in Africa.

Sirleaf was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakel Karman of Yemen. The women were recognized "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."[1] However, this has generated controversy in Liberia as it has been interpreted by Sirleaf's political critics as having granted her an "unfair advantage" immediately before the upcoming Liberian Presidential election, which is scheduled to occur on October 11, 2011.

2011 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Leymah Roberta Gbowee is the executive director of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa, based in Accra, Ghana. She is a founding member and former coordinator of the Women in Peacebuilding Program/West African Network for Peacebuilding (WIPNET/WANEP). During her tenure as coordinator for WIPNET/WANEP, Ms. Gbowee organized collaborative peace-building initiatives for hundreds of women peacebuilders from nine of Liberia's 15 counties. She also served as a commissioner-designate for the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Additionally, Ms. Gbowee has presented on several regional and international panels, including UNIFEM's "Women and the Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Repatriation (DDRR) Process." In 2005, she presented at the United Nations Security Council's (UNSC) Arria Formula Meeting on women, peace, and security organized around the 5th anniversary of UNSC Resolution 1325. Ms. Gbowee has received numerous international honors for her peace-building work. In 2007, The Women's Leadership Board at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government recognized Ms. Gbowee with the Blue Ribbon Peace Award. This annual award is given to individuals and organizations that have made a significant contribution to peacebuilding through innovative strategies that promote women's leadership in peace processes on the local, national, or international level. In 2009, Ms. Gbowee and the women of Liberia were given the Profiles in Courage Award by the Kennedy Library Foundation. In October 2011, Ms. Gbowee was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen, a pro-democracy campaigner. The award serves to highlight Ms. Gbowee's work in mobilizing women across ethnic and religious divides to end the decade-long Liberian civil war. Ms. Gbowee is the central character of the award-winning documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" which profiles her role in the peace process. (10.2011)

Tawakul Karman, a Yemeni journalist and activist, is one of three women awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. She becomes the first Arab woman to win the prize.

The 32-year-old mother of three founded Women Journalists Without Chains in 2005.

She has been a prominent activist and advocate of human rights and freedom of expression for the last five years, and led regular protests and sit-ins calling for the release of political prisoners.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee cited Ms Karman and the two other winners for their "non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work".

The Nobel jury specifically lauded Ms Karman for playing, "in the most trying circumstances, both before and during the Arab Spring... a leading part in the struggle for women's rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen."

'So happy'

Ms Karman told the BBC Arabic Service: "I'm so happy with the news of this prize and I dedicate it to all the martyrs and wounded of the Arab Spring… in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria and to all the free people who are fighting for their rights and freedoms.

"Actually I didn't know I was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize until now. I only knew about it through BBC Arabic and al-Jazeera, so thank you very much."

In comments to the AFP news agency she said that the prize was "a recognition by the international community of the Yemeni revolution and its inevitable victory".

Ms Karman has led rallies in the continuing protests against the rule of President Ali-Abdullah Saleh.

Speaking to the BBC in April 2011 in Change Square in Sanaa, the heart of the popular demonstrations against Mr Saleh, Ms Karman said she was astonished at the protests: "I could never imagine this. In Yemen, women are not allowed out of the house after 7pm, now they are sleeping here. This goes beyond the wildest dream I have ever dreamt, I am so proud of our women."

She is a member of Yemen's leading Islamist opposition party, the Islah - a conservative, religious movement that calls for reform in accordance with Islamic principles.

She has campaigned to raise the minimum age at which women can marry in Yemen.

She has been jailed several times for her activism, pilloried in the official media and attacked. Unusually for a woman in Yemen, Ms Kamran wears a headscarf not a full face veil.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall was a famous lawyer and jurist.  Marshall first gained notoriety when he successfully argued and won the very famous landmark case that declared that a separate but equal education to be unconstitutional – Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954.  He was the first African-American to be a Justice in the United States Supreme Court.  His accomplishments are in no small measure due to his hard work and persistence having to overcome many of the obstacles placed in his way due to the color of his skin.

Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore Maryland in a political climate that was permeated with Jim Crow – the body of local and national laws and customs designed to deny African-Americans the full rights entitled to them as citizens.  His parents were Willie and Norma Marshall.  It would be of value to provide a cursory view of race history in the United States. 


Slaves were first brought into the colonies in 1670 and the institution of slavery flourished with the United States for 270 years until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.  

Prior to this historic pronouncement there were many instances of laws and rulings that were designed to deny African-Americans equal rights.  For example, in 1705, the Virginia legislature passed legislation that effectively equated Negro, Mulatto and Indian slaves as real estate with no legal rights or legal identity.  This was in comparison to states like Massachusetts and Vermont that guaranteed the rights of all of its citizens.  In addition, on a number of instances, Supreme Court decisions upheld the widespread belief in the inferiority of Blacks. 

The famous Dred Scott Decision of 1856 validated the belief that slaves were to be treated separately.  Dred Scott was a slave who lived with his owner in the free states of Illinois and Wisconsin.  When his owner died in 1843, Scott sued for his freedom.  The Supreme Court eventually heard the arguments and in 1857 decided that an African-American slave or free had no constitutional rights.

In the words of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, "People of African descent are beings of an inferior order and are altogether unfit to associate with the white race in social or political relations, and are so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and legally be reduced to slavery for his benefit."

To reclaim the inherent rights of all U.S. citizens, the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution were passed beginning in 1868.  They were as follows:


Passed by Congress January 31, 1865. Ratified December 6, 1865.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.


Passed by Congress June 13, 1866. Ratified July 9, 1868.

Section 1.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.


Passed by Congress February 26, 1869. Ratified February 3, 1870.

Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude--

These amendments were passed to protect the rights of the newly freed slaves.  It was Jim Crow that effectively attempted to subvert these newly-held rights.  It was into such a racially charged environment that Marshall was born.  His grandfather was born into slavery.

In spite of these additional guarantees written into the constitution, the Supreme Court once again ruled in favor of segregation.  In 1892, Homer Plessy, one-eighth African-American, purchased a first-class ticket on the East Louisiana Railroad purposefully to challenge state law.   He was ordered into a "black car;" he refused and was subsequently thrown off the train and convicted of violating the law.   The Supreme Court heard the legal arguments in 1895 and during the next year voted 7-1 against his appeal.   In the Court's opinion, as written by Justice Henry B. Brown, "Legislation is powerless to eradicate social instincts or to abolish distinctions based upon physical differences and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the difficulties of the present situation."  In his descent, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote, "…U.S. government laws must protect all citizens."  The nation would endure sixty more years of racial discrimination and segregation.


America at the time of Marshall's birth had a population of eighty-nine million and was composed of forty-six states.  Ten percent of the population was African-American and in Baltimore African-Americans constituted twenty percent of the population.  Jim Crow was everywhere evident.  Additionally, less than half the population of the country enjoyed full legal writes; this was before women's suffrage, and child labor was very common with workers as young as seven or eight years old – making as little as ten cents per day.

The Marshall family valued education.  Willie Marshall taught his children tolerance and pride in their black heritage.  Norma graduated college – an unusual achievement for a woman, especially being African-American.  There were limited expectations for a young black person seeking a college education.  The most that could be hoped for was a professional career such as medicine, dentistry and teaching where the graduate could not hope to serve the white community.  In order to further understand the obstacles felt by African-Americans, especially males, in that era, it should be kept in mind that between 1889 and 1918 there were 2500 lynchings in the United States with 15 of those reported in the state of Maryland.  There were race riots in Atlanta, Georgia in 1906 and Springfield, Illinois in 1908.  This was the daunting environment into which Marshall was born.

In spite of these fierce and uncompromising racist attitudes, there were African-Americans courageous enough to stand their ground in opposition.  One of these was W.E.B. DuBois who founded the Niagara Movement for the purpose of opposing segregation and the oppression of black people.  This organization ultimately failed, but he went on to merge with like organizations to found the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The Marshall family moved to New York's Harlem in 1910.  Marshall remembered vividly a banner that read, "This part of 135th Street guaranteed against Negro invasion."  He started working when he was only seven years old.  The family eventually returned to Baltimore where the racial tension was exceedingly high and the city was highly segregated.  At that time, there were no toilet facilities of any kind available to African-Americans.  Marshall had an horrific personal experience as a child in this regard.  He also remembered as a child a story out of Washington D.C. in which two African-American males accosted a white woman and grabbed her umbrella. As a consequence, the woman's husband and his friends decided to lynch the two men.  The mob of white vigilantes roamed the streets indiscriminately attacking any blacks they found.  The harsh reality of life that Marshall had to endure as a child made him a "tough kid" by his own admission.

In response to these aspects of daily life, his parents emphasized black heritage and his mother especially inculcated the idea of standing up against racism.  Marshall did not apply himself in school and often got into trouble.  On one of these occasions, his punishment was to memorize the U.S. Constitution.  By the time he left school he knew it by heart.  Ironically, this punishment inadvertently exposed him to the egalitarian nature of the document and its potential to reform society.  He ultimately became its undying advocate.

Marshall entered Lincoln University in 1925 in Oxford, Pennsylvania.  He was enamored of his social life and at one point was threatened with suspension.  The famed poet Langston Hughes was a senior at the University at that time and intervened on Marshall's behalf.  He decided to apply himself enough to pass.

On September 4, 1929, Marshall married Vivian Buster Burey.  It was her influence that helped Marshall begin to apply himself.  It was at this point that he developed an interest in the law and finally decided to enter law school.  According to him, "My father never told me to become a lawyer.  But, he turned me into one by teaching me to argue, to prove every statement I made and by challenging my logic in every point." 

He applied the University of Maryland and was denied acceptance on account of race.  He entered Howard University in Washington D.C.  There, he was greatly influenced by Charles Hamilton Houston who brought to his class such notable figures as Clarence Darrow and Felix Frankfurter.  The class also took field trips to police stations, courtrooms, and mental asylums.   Houston emphasized that a lawyer wages battle in court and needs to be a social engineer.   According to his mentor, "We've got to turn this whole thing around.  And the black man has got to do it; nobody's going to do it for you."  Marshall was convinced.

In 1933, he became a licensed attorney.  His attempt at starting his own business; however, was daunting since the nation was in the grips of a Depression in which one out of three workers was unemployed.  He did not even have access to the local Bar Association; he was denied membership on account of his race.  He was forced to use the court library to gain access to the legal books so essential in a lawyer's career.  Finally, in 1934, he was hired by the NAACP.

It was in this role that Marshall, as lead attorney, presented the evidence to Earl Warren's Supreme Court to support the argument that a separate but "equal" education was unconstitutional in the renowned case of Brown et al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954.  He was, of course, successful in his endeavor.  Marshall and his team of lawyers had worked for four years to perfect their case.

On account of his illustrious career at the Bar and as an avid supporter of civil rights, Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 2, 1967.  Marshall resigned from the Supreme Court on October 1, 1991 having resided on the court through six different presidential administrations.  Ironically, his position was filled by Clarence Thomas appointed by President George Bush.  Thomas views on matter of social equality and justice are counter to those of Marshall.  Marshall was not terribly happy regarding this choice.  He died on January 24, 1993.


As a demonstration of Marshall's commitment to the Constitution, in a speech made as a commencement address at the University of Virginia on May 21, 1978, he said the following.

"The democratizing aspects of the Constitution cannot be overstated.  For me, its cardinal principle is that all persons stand in a position of equality before the law.  The Constitution gives to each and every one of you an equal right to your own opinions and to participate in the process of your own governance.  These are precious rights that we must continually strive to preserve, and whose promise we must seek to attain.  There are still far too many persons in this country who cannot participate as equals in the processes of Government – persons too poor, too ignorant, persons discriminated against by other people for no good reason.  But our ideal, the ideal of our Constitution, is to eliminate these barriers to the aspirations of all Americans to participate fully in our government and society.  We have realized it far better than most countries, but we still have a long way to travel and we must continue to strive in that direction."