By Hazel Trice Edney
Trice Edney News Wire
WASHINGTON (TEWire) – The catastrophic earthquake that killed more than 230,000 in Haiti last January, President Obama’s historic health care bill, and the deaths of civil rights stalwarts Dr. Dorothy I. Height, Dr. Benjamin Hooks and Dr. Ron Walters lead the list of top Black Press stories of 2010. All three civil rights warriors left major marks for racial progress and major shoes to fill.
The following is a list of events that made Black Press headlines in 2010 – headlines that heralded contributions to American progress and documented major racial strides and fallbacks throughout the year:
Jan. 12, 2010 – Haiti Earthquake: The magnitude 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince affected an estimated three million people, including the deaths of more than 230,000 and injuries of 300,000. More than a million were left homeless. Thousands of relief, civil rights organizations, and individuals joined to raise funds to save lives and rebuild. The suffering continues as tens of thousands still live in tent cities and an outbreak of cholera has killed at least 140 in surrounding areas.
March 23, 2010: Civil rights Groups applauded President Obama’s signing of historic Health Care Bill: Advocates for the most sweeping social reform in decades applauded the passage and signing of President Obama’s health care bill. Civil rights leaders had been among the most vocal backers of the bill because African-Americans are among the most disparately impacted by lack of insurance, chronic diseases, poor medical care and other health-related setbacks. “Like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Civil Rights laws in the past, today’s vote will forever be a threshold moment for the nation,” said Marc Morial, president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League. “Generations to come will look back to this day as one where the American dream was more fully realized.”
April 15, 2010 – Former NAACP Executive Director Dr. Benjamin Hooks died: Hooks, 85, was memorialized in Memphis on April 21. He was remembered by current NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous as “one of the greatest Americans of the 20th Century.” Hooks was also a Baptist minister, a lawyer, an FCC commissioner, a businessman and a judge. But he was best known as a civil rights leader who resurrected the nation’s oldest civil rights organization as its long-time executive director from 1977 to 1992. Under Hooks’ leadership, the organization led the way of pressuring Congress to pass the extension of such landmark legislation such the civil rights and voting rights bills. Also, NAACP’s membership base reportedly grew by hundreds of thousands during his tenure.
April 20, 2010 – Dr. Dorothy Height, president emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women died at the age of 98: Thousands honored her in three days of memorials, including 3,000 mourners at the Washington National Cathedral. President Barack Obama delivered her eulogy April 30. He described Dr. Height’s life as one that for almost an entire century not only lifted other lives but also changed the course of history for her country. The wheelchair-bound Height, with her trademark hats that “she wore like a crown” remained dedicated to the causes of racial justice and had become a White House regular. Because of her 80 years of civil rights contributions, historian have ranked her alongside the male “big six” civil rights leaders, which are Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Whitney M. Young Jr.
May 9, 2010 – Death of the legendary actress, singer and dancer Lena Horne at the age of 92: The Brooklyn-born entertainer was the first Black performer to be signed to a long-term contract by a major Hollywood studio and who went on to achieve international fame as a singer. She was viewed as a mantle of African-American beauty and consciousness, who as an iconic performer made her name from a variety of entertainment platforms including the big screen, where she was the first African-American actor to sign to a long-term contract by a major Hollywood studio; in music, where she won four Grammy awards, and in night clubs, where she extensively toured despite the racism that plagued her era. Horne’s light skin allowed her to traverse through doors that many other Black entertainers had a hard time walking through. Still, she was loved and highly respected because she refused to let herself, as she described, become ‘’an imitation of a White woman.’’
July 8, 2010 – Oscar Grant killer found guilty of involuntary manslaughter: Former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Officer Johannes Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Oscar Grant in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009 on a train platform. Mehserle shot Grant in the back while he was handcuffed on the ground. He claimed he thought he was holding a Taser. The ruling sparked outrage among many in the Black community and beyond. Mehserle was later sentenced to only two years in the killing, causing more outbreaks of protests.
July 19, 2010 – Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod Fired: Former Department of Agriculture Rural Development Director Shirley Sherrod of South West Georgia suddenly became a national figure after the highly respected civil rights and racial justice worker was forced to resign by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack because of a distorted and edited videotaped version of a March 2010 speech to NAACP. In the speech, she was made to appear as if she had discriminated against a White farmer. Vilsack fired her without first hearing the context of the remarks, which had been doctored by Fox News and Tea Party activist Andrew Breitbart”, who released the edited video out of context.
As the truth was revealed by the release of the full video, Sherrod received public apologies and an offer of a new job from Vilsack, which she declined. She also received an apologetic phone call from President Obama. Her husband, the Rev. Charles Sherrod, is a leading civil rights organizer, who marched and organized alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was arrested five times during the civil rights movement. Breitbart never apologized.
Sept. 10, 2010 – The Death of Dr. Ron Walters, 72: His death shocked many who did not even know that he was ill. The ‘scholarly giant’ was a political analyst, a Howard University and University of Maryland professor, a lecturer, a strategist, a mentor, an author, a commentator, a thought leader, a Black Press columnist, an activist, a husband and a friend who kept right on working until the very end. “Dr. Ron Walters was the pre-eminent activist and scholar of our times,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who visited with Walters in the hospital during his final days and delivered the eulogy. Often referred to as the “most quoted political scientist in the nation, Dr. Walters had served as the chief strategist for both of Rev. Jackson’s political campaigns, 1984 and 1988. In his home town of Wichita, Kan. he led what many historians consider the nation’s first lunch-counter sit-in protest in 1958.
Dec. 8, 2010 – Black farmers finally received justice through the $1.15 billion Claims Resolution Act of 2010: The long-awaited resolution settled long-standing race discrimination suits by Black farmers against the federal government. President Obama’s signature on the landmark discrimination settlement meant checks of approximately $50,000 each to more than 75,000 Black farmers across the country, who were either wrongly denied loans or the right to farm. The settlement ends the case, Pigford v. Glickman, a class-action suit first filed in the 1990s. John Boyd of Baskerville, Va. led the case, which chronicled decades of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Jan. 1 – Dec. 31, 2010 – Black Unemployment Consistently High all year: Black unemployment has remained at record levels since January 2010, when it started at 16.5 percent, the highest for the year. The year closes with 16 percent joblessness in Black communities. This compares to a current national average of 9 percent. For White workers, the rate was 8.7 percent in January 2010 and is now 8.9 percent. The highest White unemployment rate for the year was 9 percent.