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Listen to “The Voices of King” podcast

Thirteen voices. Thirteen people who bore witness to the last days of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reached into its archives to bring you stories from the people who knew him well and their unique witness to a tragic moment in American history.

In 2008, AJC reporters conducted a series of exclusive interviews with some of King’s closest friends and associates. These interviews are now presented in their entirety as The Voices of King. You can listen to the episodes at the links below, or go to the iTunes store to binge listen the entire series.

Follow the AJC’s extensive coverage of the 50th anniversary of King’s death, including:

The March 21 documentary 'The Last Days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.' on Channel 2 kicked off a countdown of remembrance across the combined platforms of Channel 2 and its partners, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB Radio

The three Atlanta news sources will release comprehensive multi-platform content until April 9, the anniversary of King’s funeral. 

On April 4, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, the three properties will devote extensive live coverage to the memorials in Atlanta, Memphis and around the country. 

The project will present a living timeline in real time as it occurred on that day in 1968, right down to the time the fatal shot was fired that ended his life an hour later. 

The project will culminate on April 9 with coverage of the special processional in Atlanta marking the path of Dr. King’s funeral, which was watched by the world.

Boston police apologize for honoring white man in Black History Month tweet

The Boston Police Department is apologizing Monday morning after it faced scathing backlash for honoring Red Auerbach, a white man, in a Black History Month tweet Sunday night.

>> February is Black History Month

The tweet posted to the Boston Police Department's account began by saying, “In honor of #BlackHistoryMonth,” but goes on to celebrate the accomplishments of Auerbach, who was white.

>> On Boston police facing backlash after tweeting Black History Month tribute to a white man

“We pay tribute to @celtics legend #RedAuerbach for being the 1st @NBA coach to draft a black player in 1950, field an all African-American starting five in 1964 and hire the league’s 1st African-American head coach (Bill Russell) in 1966,” the tweet read.

The tweet was deleted about an after it was posted after the backlash.

"Only in #Boston do the @bostonpolice honor Red Auerbach for #blackhistorymonth. So we already have the shortest month and now this," Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson tweeted Sunday night. "Please file this under Hell Nah aka Not Having it aka Not Ok. #bospoli #Boston #mapoli."

>> Read more trending news 

Boston police later tweeted out an acknowledgement of Bill Russell, then apologized for the Auerbach tweet just after midnight Monday.

“BPD realizes that an earlier tweet may have offended some and we apologize for that,” the tweet read. “Our intentions were never to offend. It has been taken down.”

– WFXT has reached out to the Boston Police Department for comment but has not yet head back.

Congressman David Scott’s Video Statement on Black History Month

13th District Congressman David Scott, who champions veterans, the homeless, the unemployed, breast cancer and so much more has a word for us for this Black History Month! Check out the video as Scott recites Langston Hughes' Mother to Son with passion and grace. It reminds us all to keep pushing for excellence in whatever station of life we find ourselves! Don't give up-keep pushin'!

Trump nominates Alveda King for Frederick Douglass commission

Alveda King, a niece of Martin Luther King Jr., and a staunch supporter of Donald Trump, has been nominated by the president to serve on the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission. 

>> Read more trending news

The announcement comes roughly a year after Trump implied that Douglass, a former slave turned social reformer and abolitionist, was still alive. 

“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice,” Trump said at a 2017 Black History Month event. 

A year later, Trump is trying to get Douglass even more recognition, even though in the White House’s announcement of King’s appointment, Douglass’ name was spelled wrong among several editing errors: 

“The following individual to be a Member of the of the (sic) Frederick Douglas (sic)  Bicentennial Commission.” 

For a president who has been accused of racism, King has been one of his few African-American allies and a constant presence and advocate. 

“I do not believe President Donald John Trump is a racist. The economy’s up. Jobs are up in the black community,” she said in a January television interview about her uncle’s birthday. “There is great promise to get a lot of people who have been unfairly incarcerated out.” 

King, a stalwart Christian anti-abortion conservative, was by Trump’s side – along with HUD Secretary Ben Carson – last February when he visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture

She was also on Air Force One last month when Trump signed a measure granting Georgia its first national historic park at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site near downtown Atlanta. 

“I believe Donald John Trump recognized sincerity for truth and justice for everyone and that is the basis of this appointment,” King told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I am honored that I can serve America in this capacity.”

Without being specific, King said the commission will work this year to honor and highlight the work of Douglass, who was born a slave in Maryland on Feb. 20, 1819. 

Douglass escaped slavery in 1838, taught himself to read and became a gifted orator, forcefully speaking out against slavery. He wrote at least three autobiographies, championed the rights of black soldiers to fight in the Civil War, and was a confidante and friend of President Abraham Lincoln. 

Douglass died in 1895.

Who is Louis Farrakhan? 11 things to know about the Nation of Islam leader, black activist

Louis Farrakhan, a prominent African-American religious leader and black activist has drawn both scorn for his anti-Semitic comments and praise for his advocacy for the black community throughout his life

>> Read more trending news

Here are 10 things to know about Louis Farrakhan:

1. He is the leader of the Nation of Islam.

In 1955, Farrakhan joined the Nation of Islam, an African-American movement and organization rooted in elements of traditional Islam and black nationalism.

In 1964, Farrakhan condemned his rival Malcolm X, a prominent figure in the Nation of Islam at the time. But when Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam over political and personal differences with then leader Elijah Muhammad, Farrakhan took his place as minister of Harlem’s Temple No. 7.

When Malcolm X was assassinated, Farrakhan replaced him as the organization's national spokesman. In 2000, Farrakhan appeared on "60 Minutes" with Malcolm X's daughter, Qubilah Bahiyah Shabazz, and said he regretted that his writings may have influenced others to assassinate him, CNN reported.

Farrakhan was disappointed when he was not named Muhammad’s successor following his death. He instead led a breakaway group in 1978, which he also called the Nation of Islam. Farrakhan’s group preserved the original teachings of Muhammad, unlike his successor, the fifth of Muhammad’s six sons.

2. He was born in New York.

The 84-year-old religious figure was born Louis Eugene Walcott on May 11, 1933, in the Bronx borough of New York City. He and his family eventually moved from the Bronx to the Roxbury neighborhood in Boston.

>> On Louis Farrakhan: Nation of Islam security force will protect Beyoncé

3. He studied music as a youth, and eventually became a playwright and film producer.

According to Brittanica, Farrakhan studied music while attending Winston-Salem Teachers College, but dropped out after three years to pursue a career in music.

He went on to perform on the Boston nightclub circuit and was known as “The Charmer.” Farrakhan was a violinist, guitarist and singer. He often sang political lyrics to Caribbean music.

According to CNN, Farrakhan wrote two plays, "The Trial" and "Orgena,” which is “a Negro" spelled backward.

>> Related: Louis Farrakhan: 'We need to put the American flag down'

4. He married his wife Khadijah in 1953, and they have nine children.

Farrakhan (then Walcott) married Betsy Ross in 1953. She’s since changed her name to Khadijah. The pair has four sons and five daughters together.

>> Related: Muslims in America, by the numbers

5. He’s known for his controversial anti-Semitic, anti-white and anti-homosexual comments.

Farrakhan came into the American public light when he began supporting Rev. Jesse Jackson’s bid for the presidency. However, when he praised Adolf Hitler, calling him “a very great man,” Farrakhan set off conflict with American-Jewish voters. He would eventually withdraw his support. He’s denied being anti-Semitic.

6. He was also active in the fight against drugs and crime, advocating for clean living and black self-help.

Farrakhan often blamed the American government for conspiring to destroy black people with AIDS and addictive drugs, according to Brittanica.

Under his leadership, the Nation of Islam created a clinic for AIDS patients in Washington, D.C., forcing drug dealers out of public housing projects and private apartment buildings. The Farrakhan-led movement also worked with gang members in Los Angeles to do the same.

He continued to advocate for African-American economic independence.

>> Related: Muslim Americans are more accepting of homosexuality than white evangelicals, Pew research says 

7. He came into the political realm when supporting Jackson's bid for the presidency.

Farrakhan also later filed a lawsuit against President Ronald Reagan, claiming his administration’s sanctions against Libya and travel ban violate freedom to worship and freedom of speech.

He’s been criticized for his early association with anti-American leaders like Libya's Moammar Gadhafi and Cuba's Fidel Castro, but has dialed back his rhetoric in recent years.

>> Related: Rev. Jesse Jackson diagnosed with Parkinson's disease

8. In 1991, Farrakhan was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

After his diagnosis, Farrakhan toned down on the racial rhetoric. He suffered a reoccurrence in 2007, but after a long surgery, the prostate and cancerous tissue were removed.

9. He co-organized the Million Man March in 1995.

One of largest demonstrations in Washington, D.C., history, the Million Man March (or the Day of Atonement) involved 12 hours of speeches directed at black men to promote self-improvement and encourage them to take responsibility for their families and communities.

>> Related: The Million Man March's understated inclusivity

10. He gave what was known as a farewell speech in 2007.

An aging and ailing 73-year-old Farrakhan delivered a “last public address” on the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviors’ Day in February 2007, calling for Christian-Muslim unity.

He said Jesus and Mohammad "are brothers who come from the same eternal God."

"How dare us try to split up the prophets and make them enemies of each other to justify our being enemies ... If Jesus and Mohammad were on this stage, they would embrace each other with love. If Moses and the prophets and Abraham the father would be on this podium with all the prophets, they would embrace each other,” he said.

Farrakhan later spoke at the Justice or Else rally in Washington, D.C., in 2015 and at a Tehran, Iran, rally marking the 37th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution, CNN reported.

In 2017, Farrakhan strongly criticized President Donald Trump’s foreign policy agenda involving the Middle East and North Korea. 

>> Related: Trump isn't the anti-Israel candidate Louis Farrakhan is looking for

11. In 2018, Farrakhan made headlines, again.

According to the Daily Caller, a new photo of Farrakhan and former President Barack Obama at a Congressional Black Caucus meeting in 2005 emerged last week.

“The journalist who took the photo said he suppressed its publication to protect Obama’s presidential aspirations,” the Caller reported.

And on Monday, Democratic Illinois Rep. Danny Davis defended him for being an "outstanding human being," inviting harsh criticism.

Adorable kids star in CNN parody for Black History Month

Black History Month is officially underway, and one organization created an adorable news parody starring mini reporters to kick off the celebration. 

>> Read more trending news 

Because Of Them We Can, a group dedicated to sharing the richness of black history through photography campaigns and apparel, uploaded a video titled “Breaking News: Black Excellence Is At An All Time High” to the group’s social media pages Thursday.

The clip features children playing renowned CNN journalists and correspondents, including Don Lemon, Angela Rye, Symone Sanders, April Ryan and Bakari Sellers.

During the segment, the fun-sized influencers raved about inspirational black figures from Serena Williams and Ava DuVernay to Shea Moisture founder Richelieu Dennis and fashion trailblazer Dapper Dan.

“Black excellence is at an all-time high,” the child playing Lemon said.

They also highlighted the successes of black cinema, including “Black Panther,” out Feb. 16, “A Wrinkle In Time,” out in March; “Hidden Figures;” “Girls Trip;” and “Get Out.”

To end the skit, the children declared that “black folks have always been dope and always will be dope.”

Sellers, Rye, Lemon and others reacted to the video on Twitter. 

The post has since gone viral, garnering hundreds of thousands of likes and views after being reposted across Instagram.

Related video: Meet Some Amazing African American Inventors

Who was Carter G. Woodson? 7 things to know about the 'Father of Black History'

To kick off Black History Month this year, Google debuted on its homepage an illustration of Carter G. Woodson, who is often touted as the “Father of Black History.”

>> Read more trending news

The doodle was created by artist Shannon Wright in collaboration with the Black Googlers Network. 

“As a black woman from an underserved, underperforming public school in Richmond, California, many in my community didn’t expect me to achieve much beyond the four corners of my neighborhood,” Sherice Torres, director of brand marketing at Google and Black Googlers Network member, wrote in the Google Doodle blog. “When I voiced my ambition to go to Harvard, I was told by teachers, guidance counselors, and even some family members that ‘people like me’ didn’t go to schools like that. Fortunately, my parents believed in me and supported ambitions beyond their vision and experience. That support, along with the inspiration of great American leaders like Woodson, gave me the confidence to follow my dreams and achieve more than I’ve ever imagined.”

Here are seven things to know about Carter G. Woodson: 

He was born to former slaves.

Woodson was born on Dec. 19, 1875, in New Canton, Virginia, to Anna Eliza Riddle Woodson and James Woodson.

He was the fourth of seven children.

He started high school at age 20.

According to, Woodson worked as a miner and sharecropper to help his family out as a young kid, but when he made it to high school, he finished the four-year study in less than two years.

He was the second African-American to earn a doctorate from Harvard.

In 1912, Woodson became only the second black person to earn the prestigious degree, following in the footsteps of W.E.B. DuBois. He studied history at the university. 

Before Harvard, Woodson attended Berea College in Kentucky and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Chicago.

He’s known to have started the lasting celebration and remembrance of black history during February.

In 1926, Woodson first turned to his former fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, which created Negro History and Literature Week in 1924, to get the message out. But according to, Woodson wanted “a wider celebration” and decided the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which he helped found in Chicago, should “take on the task itself.”

Woodson chose February to honor the birth months of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. The program would later expand to become Black History Month.

He wrote multiple books on African-American history.

Woodson felt African-American history had been neglected and misrepresented in academia and wrote several books on African-American subjects throughout his career. “The Education of the Negro prior to 1861,” written by Woodson and his colleague Alexander L. Jackson, was one pivotal work.He believed racism could be overcome through education.

In his famous 1933 book titled “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” Woodson wrote, "The 'educated Negroes' have the attitude of contempt toward their own people because in their own, as well as in their mixed schools, Negroes are taught to admire the Hebrew, the Greek, the Latin and the Teuton and to despise the African.”"Race prejudice," he concluded, "is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind. Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history." 

He died in 1950.

Woodson died of a heart attack on April 3, 1950, at age 75. 

February is Black History Month

Black historian and journalist Carter G. Woodson helped found Negro History Week in 1926. 

>> Read more trending news

The celebration coincided with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass during the second week of February. 

Honoring the contributions of black Americans expanded from black communities in the 1950s and ‘60s to schools and city halls across the country, as teachers and mayors took part, too. The celebration was expanded to the entire month in 1976.

“Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” President Gerald R. Ford said at the time.

Since 1996, the president has issued a proclamation setting the theme for the month. This year’s is “African-Americans in Times of War,” calling attention to the contributions during military conflicts from the Revolutionary War to current military operations.

Black History Month resources:

African-American History Month

Smithsonian Education – Black History Month

National Park Service – African-American Heritage

National Archives – African-American History Portal

National Endowment for the Humanities – Black History Month

National Park Service – Telling All Americans’ Stories: African-American Heritage

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – Black History Month

Library of Congress - African-American History Month

Rare video shows MLK predict African-American president

Decades before Barack Obama became president, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. predicted that one day the United States would see an African-American in the White House. In a rare clip pulled from the WSB-TV archives, King talked to reporters about the power of the black vote and said that an African-American president could be elected in the "not-too-distant future."

>> Read more trending news 

King famously fought for African-Americans' right to vote, which were formally protected by the Voting Rights Act in 1965. In the clip of a press conference on April 25, 1967 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King talked to reporters about the 1968 presidential race. Some newspapers and activists had advocated for King to run for president, which, earlier in the clip, he announced he would not do. 

In later remarks, King insists that he believes African-Americans are capable of leading the country:

I do not want to give the impression that I feel that a Negro is not capable of being president. There are many Negroes who were capable this day and yesterday and day before yesterday and many days in the past. But because of prejudices and narrow-mindedness, Negroes have been held out of the political arena and certainly held out of the presidency. But I do think that the day will come in the not-too-distant future when the Negro vote itself will be powerful enough to be a coalition with liberals and the white community and thereby elect a Negro president of the United States.

King was assassinated a year later on April 4, 1968. It would be four decades after his death until the country elected its first African-American president. 

Congressman John Lewis

John Robert Lewis (born February 21, 1940) is an American politician and was a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement. He was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and played a key role in the struggle to end segregation. Lewis, a member of the Democratic Party, has represented Georgia's 5th congressional district (map) in the United States House of Representatives since 1987. The district encompasses almost all of Atlanta.  Lewis became nationally known during his prominent role in the Selma to Montgomery marches. During the first march police attacked the peaceful demonstrators and beat Lewis mercilessly in public, leaving head wounds that are still visible today. At the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom of 1963, Lewis, a representative of [SNCC], the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was the youngest speaker. Lewis first ran for elective office in 1977, when a vacancy occurred in Georgia’s 5th District. A special election was called after President Jimmy Carter appointed incumbent Congressman Andrew Young to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Lewis lost the race to Atlanta City Councilman and future Senator Wyche Fowler. In 1986, when Fowler ran for the United States Senate, Lewis defeated fellow civil rights leader Julian Bond in the Democratic primary to succeed Fowler in the 5th District. This win was tantamount to election in the heavily Democratic, majority-black 5th District. Lewis was the second African-American to represent Georgia in Congress since Reconstruction. Young was the first. Lewis has been re-elected ten times without serious opposition, often with over 70 percent of the vote. Lewis was present on the stage during the inauguration of Barack Obama, as the only living speaker from the rally at the March on Washington. Obama signed a commemorative photograph for Lewis with the words, “Because of you, John. Barack Obama."

Colin Powell

Colin Luther Powell was born in 1937.He obtained his B.S. from a New York City College in 1958 and Masters from George Washington Univ. in 1969. The son of Jamaican immigrants, Powell was the first African American and the youngest person to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first African American to serve as secretary of state. He entered the U.S. army as a commissioned officer and served two tours of duty (1962–63, 1968–69) during the Vietnam War. In the 1970s he worked in several staff positions in the White House, including in the Office of Management and Budget, and also served in military command positions. In 1979 he was made a major general and the military assistant to the deputy secretary of defense, a position he held until 1981, when he assumed command of the 4th Infantry Division. From 1983 to 1986 Powell was military assistant to the secretary of defense, and in 1986 he served as commander of the V Corps in Western Europe. The next year he was named assistant to the president for national security affairs.

In 1989, Powell was promoted to four-star general, becoming the first African American to hold that rank, and was named chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He had an important role in planning the American invasion of Panama in late 1989, and prior to the Persian Gulf War (1991) he played a crucial role in planning and coordinating the victory of U.S. and allied forces. He declined to run for the U.S. presidency in 1995, despite widespread encouragement to do so, and in 1997 became chairman of America's Promise–the Alliance for Youth, a charitable organization formed to help needy and at-risk U.S. children. Powell was appointed secretary of state by President George W. Bush in 2001. He advocated the so-called Powell doctrine: “U.S. military power only be used in overwhelming strength to achieve well-defined strategic national interests”.

Halle Berry

Oscar-winning actress who as a high school cheerleader and beauty queen was the first African American to represent the United States in the Miss World pageant in 1986. After a stint on Knot's Landing (1991–92), she moved on to films, starring in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever (1991) and Alex Haley's Queen (1993) before going opposite Kurt Russell in Executive Decision (1996) and Warren Beatty in Bullworth (1998). She has appeared in critically acclaimed roles (The Wedding, 1998) and critically panned roles (B*A*P*S, 1997). Berry won wide praise—and Emmy and Golden Globe awards—for her title role in the television biopic Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999). Her most notable films include Bullworth (1998), X-Men (2000) and sequels X2 (2003) and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), the James Bond movie Die Another Day (2002), and Monster's Ball (2001), for which she won a Best Actress Oscar and a reputation as a talented, versatile actress.

Delta makes history with two black female pilots flying together

For the first time in Delta Air Lines history, two black female pilots, including the company’s first black female captain, flew a mainline flight in the cockpit together.

>> Read more trending stories 

When Atlanta-based First Officer Dawn Cook learned that Detroit-based Capt. Stephanie Johnson was planning to fly out of Detroit on Sunday, Feb. 26, she reached out to Johnson to plan the historic flight, according to the Delta News Hub.

Cook shared a photo collage of the two women to Facebook afterwards.

My brilliant and amazing sister-in-law (Cerina's sister) First Officer Dawn Cook just made history!  She joined Captain...Posted by Justin Fairfax on Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The historic flight marked a sweet end to “Delta’s Very Own Heroes” series, a company campaign during Black History Month highlighting employees who have made their mark as African-American pioneers.

The first spotlight in the Atlanta-based company series was on Johnson as Delta’s first black female captain.

“For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with airplanes and would think, ‘What a great thing it would be...Posted by Delta on Sunday, February 19, 2017

In an interview with Delta News Hub, Johnson said: 

“There were no pilots in my life growing up, and I think I’m the first person in my family to graduate from college. But for as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with airplanes and would think, “What a great thing it would be to know how to fly.”


Behind-the-wings: In honor of Women's History Month, we want to introduce you to one of many amazing Delta people who...Posted by Delta on Friday, March 23, 2012

Black History Month: Phillis Wheatley, America’s first black published poet

In a 1774 letter to the Rev. Samson Occom, Phillis Wheatley wrote that civil and religious liberty are "so inseparably united, that there is little or no Enjoyment of one without the other."

No one can say for sure when she was born, but this much we know: Wheatley was a pioneering poet wiser than her years and before her time.

Her words to Occom prove that much.

>> Read more trending stories

Born in Senegal around 1753, Wheatley was kidnapped at age 7, taken to Boston on a slave ship and then purchased by John Wheatley to be a servant to his wife, Susanna.

Susanna, who was in ill health, took young Wheatley under her wing and, with her two children, taught her to read and encouraged her literary pursuits.

At a time when African Americans were discouraged and intimidated from learning how to read and write, Wheatley was encouraged to study theology, English, Latin, Greek, ancient history and literature.

Related: Black History Month: Henry Allen, Selma's first African-American fire chief

Related: Black History Month: Singer, Oscar-nominated actress Ethel Waters broke barriers

She was just 13 when she wrote her first published poem about two men who nearly drowned at sea. That work was followed by several other published poems, increasing Wheatley’s fame.

By 1773, Wheatley had gained considerable stature. That year, her first and only book of verse, "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral," was published. The volume included a preface in which 18 Boston men, including John Hancock, offered proof she was indeed the writer.

In publishing "Poems on Various Subjects," Wheatley became the first African American, the first U.S. slave and the third American woman to publish a book of poetry.

Related: Black History Month: Willie O’Ree breaks the color line in hockey

By 1778, the year John Wheatley died, she was legally free. She married a fellow free African-American from Boston named John Peters. The couple had three children, but all died young.

Facing debt and constant poverty, Wheatley found work as a maid in a boarding house and lived in squalid, horrifying conditions, said Barbara Bair, historian and curator at The Library of Congress.

Although she continued to write, she lost patronage for her poems.

"The growing tensions with the British — with whom her poems had gained popularity — and, ultimately, the economic turmoil of the Revolutionary War weakened the sales potential for her work," Bair said.

Wheatley died in her early 30s on Dec. 5, 1784, in Boston, with a second collection of poems left unpublished.

Black History Month: Henry Allen, Selma's first African-American fire chief

When Selma, Alabama, comes to mind, one of the first images that comes up is Bloody Sunday: peaceful protesters marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, on March 7, 1965; Georgia Rep. John Lewis at age 25 with a bloodied face and a fractured skull; Alabama state troopers charging demonstrators and releasing tear gas on peaceful marchers.

>> Read more trending stories

So many figures have worked to demand civil rights for black people and people of color in the United States that giving each of them their proper due can be a challenge.

One such figure also marched in Selma on that day in 1965. He was 20 years old and went on to become the first African-American fire chief in his hometown.

Beginnings in east Selma

Chief Henry E. Allen was born in Selma, Alabama, on Dec. 30, 1944,to Ethel Lee Allen, a cook at a downtown restaurant, and Henry E. Allen, a construction worker.

Allen attended R.B. Hudson High School -- now a middle school -- in 1963.

Time reported that R.B. Hudson was the only black public high school for teens in the '60s. It was the predecessor to an integrated Selma High School, which once was the building of the all-white A.G. Parrish High School in the '60s.

Working with SNCC

Having met Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader Bernard Lafayette in 1963 at a church meeting, Allen was challenged to question the norms of segregation and voter restrictions. He said being challenged on those norms didn't make him see a stigma because his neighborhood was diverse.

"As a matter of fact, my mentor was a white family (Mr. Luther Pepper and Mrs. Mary Pepper) who mentored me from 9 years old up until throughout high school," Allen, 72, told the Cox Media Group National Content Desk.

When word got around that Allen was involved in protests, the family worried that he would get hurt.

"But they never did say no," he said. "And I never stopped participating."

Allen took what he learned and brought it back to school, working with classmates to recruit participants for peaceful demonstrations.

"What was the most important part was character. We were not a bunch of bullies," he said. We were not a bunch of thugs."

Allen said he and others were taught by Lafayette and SNCC how to respond to violence from white people who were upset at their protests, including how to fall when they were hit with billy clubs and how to protect their faces and bodies from blows.

They also distributed voter registration forms and worked to help African-Americans prepare for voter literacy tests.

Civil rights foot soldiers

Allen and so many of his classmates participated in demonstrations and marches that by the time he was in the 12th grade, his school was cleared out.

"At one point, they looked it up. We had 21,000 kids who had been absent from school for marching when they calculated all the time and days," he said.

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Selma in January 1965 and drew the news media to cover demonstrations, Allen said marching intensified and the schools were nearly empty every day.

"The superintendent came and told our principal, 'You can't control these (racial slur) over here,'" he said.

Allen said he and other classmates were in the hall listening to the conversation. They decided to march any way.

"The superintendent got in one door and blocked one set of doors and so we just went on around him and went out the door."

But over the next few days, the superintendent used a different tactic: He threatened to keep seniors who missed school by participating in marches from graduating. So Allen and his peers were advised by Hudson High teachers that they could participate in marches and gatherings during the after school hours.

History of firsts

Once he was out of high school, Allen was drafted in the Army, serving as a combat soldier in Vietnam in (year). Allen said his time there conflicted with his training with SNCC.

"The troubling thing with me with the Vietnam War was, here I am being told (to be) nonviolent and all of a sudden, you take me and train me to be a high killer," he said. "You didn't train me just to warn people, you trained me to kill people. And then, you didn't give me an M16 rifle. You gave me a M60 machine gun -- (that) fires 550 rounds per minute. That was my weapon."

Allen returned from Vietnam having lost 75 comrades in an ambush at one point, going months without washing clothes or showering and having faced discrimination in the Army. He said he refused three Purple Hearts knowing two that white comrades received a Distinguished Service Cross and a Silver Star, respectively, while "I got zero." He moved to multiple places in the United States, working different jobs "to see if I could try and find myself when God had a plan for me." 

Once he moved back to Alabama, more historical firsts followed. 

Allen said he was the first African-American to enlist in the Alabama National Guard. He used his time there to advocate for and recruit other black men and women, opening the door for more opportunities for all women there, but only after he said he demanded respect and equal treatment from the Guard compared to his white peers. He retired from the Alabama National Guard after serving 27 years

In 1972, Allen was hired as the first African-American firefighter in Selma. He became a lieutenant in 1977 and a captain in 1992. By 1995, Allen became the first African-American fire chief in the city. He was unanimously hired by the Selma City Council.

"They didn't just give a title," Allen said. "I knew that I had to have as much skill and knowledge as I could possibly have. My military training that I had gone through, all the leadership school and all the various schools that I had gone through -- that really aligned me up to where I needed to be." 

Allen retired from the department in 2009 after serving Selma for 37 years performing rescues and fighting fires.

Continuing to serve Selma

Allen's work didn't end with his time in the fire department.

In 2013, Allen began the work to have his high school alma mater, now Selma City School Systems' R.B. Hudson Middle School, listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. It was listed in 2014. The process for a national historic landmark plaque is  currently underway. It was important to him to have the students there and in surrounding areas who participated in marches recognized for their role in change that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Although the role of young people in the movement in Alabama is mentioned by some and in some books, Allen said, "it's not even in the (school) curriculum."

"Nobody has been bold enough to say, if it hadn't been for the youth of Selma, Alabama, we would've never made it to that bridge," Allen said. "We took them to the bridge and took them across the bridge and brought them back on the other side of the bridge. We were a chosen generation -- a royal priesthood. It's just that simple."

The role of young people made a large impact in the demonstrations and marches that led to civil rights legislation being passed. Many older people could not participate because they had steady jobs they stood to lose for being involved.

"God used the youth of Selma, Alabama, -- (and) spearheaded from the students at R.B. Hudson School, from 1963 to 1965," Allen said.

That same line of thinking led Allen to write a book. In 2016, he released "Marching Through the Flame: The Children of Selma Marched and Did Not Burn," a book of memoirs that he wrote over the course of several years that reflected on his role in the history of Selma and the city itself.

"I got a little disturbed about the fact that we as the youth were left out (of civil rights history in Selma)," Allen said.

"We want the world to know the entire truth -- that it was a youth movement," he said, adding that his late brother and sister, D.C. and Mary, were also involved in the movement as "civil rights foot soldiers." All three were in the infamous Bloody Sunday march.

Allen, who has worked for over 30 years as Parent Teacher Organization president at Sophia P. Kingston Elementary in Selma, hopes to keep working to change and improve things in his town among its leadership and in its education system, as well as in the prison system.

"We're spending more money in the prison system than in the education system ... We've got to keep our kids out of the prison system," he said.

"Hopefully we can have an economic boom in Selma where there can be jobs." According to the Alabama Department of Labor, the city had a 9.12 percent unemployment rate in December.

As PTO president, he works to mentor young children to show that "they can be something they want to be."

After everything Allen has been through, his faith in God has been the consistent thing keeping him moving forward.

"My plan (from God) was to be in Selma, Alabama, to be the first (African-American) member of the Alabama National Guard, be the first (African-American) fire chief," he said. "Those things that were planned for my life. I look back and say, 'I could have gotten around that. I couldn't have gotten around that if I wanted to.'"

Black History Month: Willie O’Ree breaks the color line in hockey

We all know about Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 broke the Major League Baseball color line when he stepped onto the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

We know less about a Canadian named Willie O’Ree, who on Jan. 18, 1958, made his debut with the Boston Bruins, becoming the first black person to play in the National Hockey League.

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The youngest of 13 children, O’Ree was born in 1935 in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Before he was called up, he had been playing on the Canadian minor league hockey circuit since 1950.

Related: Black History Month: Ida B. Wells, journalism giant

Related: Black History Month: Faye Wattleton champions for women’s rights and health care

While it was obvious that O’Ree was black, what was less obvious was the fact that he was 95 percent blind in his right eye, having been struck by a puck in the eye. O’Ree managed to keep it secret throughout his career.

He played in only two games in 1958 before being sent back down.

He returned to the league in 1961 and scored four goals with 10 assists in 43 games for the Bruins. But that would be the last season he would play in the NHL. Unlike Robinson, O’Ree didn’t usher in a generation of black hockey players.

It would be 13 years after O’Ree left the league that another black player would follow him. And according to the NHL, there have only been a total of about 75 black players in the league.

Today, despite stars such as P.K. Subban, Jarome Iginla and Dustin Byfuglien — and the legacy of hall of famers such as Grant Fuhr and pioneers like O’Ree — blacks make up only about 5 percent of the players in the National Hockey League.

Black History Month: Singer, Oscar-nominated actress Ethel Waters broke barriers

Ethel Waters was a popular blues, jazz and gospel singer and Oscar-nominated actress often credited with helping open the doors for other African-Americans in entertainment.

She was also the first African-American actress to star in a television series, "The Beulah Show," a comedy series about a maid, which ran in the early 1950s. She received a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her role in the 1949 movie "Pinky" and she also was a well-respected Broadway performer.

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Waters was born Oct. 31, 1896, in Chester, Pennsylvania, to a teenage mother, Louise Anderson, the result of a rape. She was raised by her grandmother and aunts and had a rough childhood. She wrote in her autobiography, "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," that as a child, she was never coddled, liked or understood by her family.

Related: Black History Month: Ida B. Wells, journalism giant

Related: Black History Month: Faye Wattleton champions for women’s rights and health care

Her mother married Norman Howard, and Waters went by that name — and others — before deciding to use her biological father's surname. She worked as a maid at a young age, dropped out of high school as a teenager, according to, and started singing professionally at age 17, billing herself as "Sweet Mama Stringbean."

Waters always loved singing and for years toured on the vaudeville circuit and later began recording on the Cardinal and Black Swan labels.

She appeared in theater and became known for her renditions of songs such as 1933's "Stormy Weather." Over the years, she performed with greats like Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.

Waters toured with the Billy Graham Crusade and talked about rededicating her life to God in 1957 at the old Madison Square Garden, saying: "I, Ethel Waters, a 380-pound decrepit old lady, rededicated her life to Jesus Christ." During a 1975 performance — before launching into "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" — she said: "Boy, because he lives, just look at me now. I'm telling you, I'm modeling for him. I look good and I know it."

She died Sept. 1, 1977, in California.

Mother says child kicked out of school after questioning black history display

A local parent is upset over a display outside of her child's pre-K classroom. It celebrates American history.

The mother believes her child's teacher should be focused on Black History Month. She posted about it on Facebook -- and then her child was kicked out of school.

Kendra Molden, of Lithia Springs, said her 4-year-old son was kicked out of his day care after she questioned the Black History Month display.

"It really is a slap in the face. It didn't sit well with me," Molden said.

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The display reads: "Celebrating American history."

And while it shows black history icons like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman, it also features several white historical figures, including George Washington, Jimmy Carter and Walt Disney.

"They just put it up for this month," Molden told Willis. "We learn about everyone else's history 11 months out of the year. We have one month."

Molden said the teacher who put up the display is also black. She questioned the message Thursday morning.

By Thursday afternoon, Molden said she got a call from the Neighborhood Learning Center telling her it would be her son's last day.

She recorded video as she and her child were escorted out of the school.

Willis called the school Thursday to get an explanation and spoke with the director's daughter.

She declined to comment, telling Willis the police would handle the matter.

But Molden said the teacher herself jumped into the conversation on Facebook, writing in part: "Go study your history... We are in a diverse learning institution and we do not discriminate..."    She follows up with what could be seen as a threat.

“It really hurts me because my son loves school. He's smart, he's really smart,” Molden said. “He deserves better than that.”

School staff called the sheriff's office to report a disturbance.

While the Neighborhood Learning Center is privately owned, it's also a state-funded lottery pre-K, which accepts subsidies from the state's childcare and parent services program.

Molden said the display is an insult and the decision to remove her son from the school was unwarranted.

"They never gave me a reason, and I asked several times," Molden told Willis.

Black History Month: Ida B. Wells, journalism giant

You cannot talk about resistance without discussing Ida B. Wells.

Wells' unwavering fight against black disenfranchisement displayed the necessity of black voices in activism.

For Wells -- who was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, in 1909 -- resistance was mightiest in her pen.

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In 1884, after the Holly Springs, Mississsippi-born teacher-turned-journalist was dragged off a train to Memphis for refusing to give up her seat for white person, Wells wrote an article for her local newspaper "The Living Way," exposing the injustices of the Jim Crow South and sparking a boycott of all white goods and services by blacks.

It was her coverage of lynchings, about which Wells wrote under the pen name Iola, that unearthed a tortured history of black Americans. The first one she wrote about was that of  a friend in 1889 who owned a frequented black-owned store.

It's in Wells' scathing dialogue that we uncover the staggering number of blacks slain for simply daring to exist.

Wells' impact is not forgotten.

The National Association of Black Journalists and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University jointly awards the Ida B. Wells Award to journalists who have worked to increase access and opportunities to people of color in journalism.

The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting and the Investigative Fund's Ida B. Wells Fellowship were started in 2015 and 2016, respectively, to cultivate the next crop of black investigative journalists, proving Iola's pen is -- and always will be -- mightier than the sword.

Black History Month: Faye Wattleton champions for women’s rights and health care

Faye Wattleton set the bar high in the fight to improve women’s lives and access to health care.

From 1978 to 1992, Wattleton served as president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a major provider of medical and education services for millions of women.

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By the time she left the organization, it had grown to become the nation’s seventh-largest nonprofit organization, with an aggregate budget of $500 million and 170 affiliates in the United States.

“Many things happened while I was at Planned Parenthood,” she said in an interview. “It expanded its services and laid the groundwork for political activism. We defeated (Robert) Bork and we defeated congressional attempts to reverse Roe v. Wade.”

Bork, a former federal judge and conservative, was nominated for a spot on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987, but it was successfully opposed.

In the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a state’s interpretation of when a woman could have an abortion, and made abortion legal.

Wattleton was born on July 8, 1943, in St. Louis. Her mother was a minister and seamstress, and her father was a factory worker.

At 16, she enrolled at Ohio State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She later attended Columbia University, where she pursued a master’s degree in maternal and infant care, according to

Wattleton currently serves as managing director with Alvarez & Marsal in New York and leads the board governance advisory practice for the global business consulting firm.

Prior to joining Alvarez & Marsal, Wattleton served as co-founder and president of the Center for the Advancement of Women, an independent, nonpartisan think-tank that conducted women-focused national research for public education and policy advocacy, according to the company’s website.

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