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Category: civil rights

One year ago: Roger 'Bill' Terry

Roger-terryOne year ago today, a man who prominently fought for racial integration in the military died. Roger "Bill" Terry was an officer in an all-black group of World War II pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, which became famous for staging what came to be called the Freeman Field Mutiny.

In April 5, 1945, Terry helped 2nd Lt. Coleman A. Young, who later became mayor of Detroit, send black airmen over to an exclusively-white officers' club, three at a time, at Freeman Field in Indiana.

In all, 162 black officers were arrested, but only Terry and two others received a general courts-martial. He was fined $150, reduced in rank and dishonorably discharged in November 1945 without ever having traveled overseas.

Terry helped found Tuskegee Airmen Inc. in 1972 to draw attention to their history, and on Aug. 2, 1995, the Army pardoned him, restored his rank and refunded his $150 fine. In 2007, Terry and several other airmen collectively received a Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush.

Terry's son Jeff told this to The Times about his father:

"He was really quite gratified that he and his colleagues were honored in his lifetime.... With him, it really was the right thing to do, and he accepted the consequences of his actions. He knew if people didn't take a stand, things were not going to change, and they had to change."

Read more in Roger Terry's obituary from The Times.

Photo: Roger Terry. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times

Charles Moore and the high school speech that led to a documentary about the civil rights photographer

Dan Love was a high school senior when Charles Moore, known for his photographs of the civil rights movement, spoke at his Pittsburgh school.

Normally flippant students suddenly paid attention, Love later recalled.

“At the end of the presentation, probably the worst-behaved kids went up and all asked for his autograph,” Love told the Durham, N.C., Herald-Sun in 2006.

Love, the son of a professional filmmaker, had already made two documentaries and decided on the spot to make Moore the subject of his third.

During the fall of Love’s freshman year at Duke University, father and son traveled to Alabama to shoot the film.

“Some fathers and sons have baseball games, and our kind of thing has been through film,” Love said in the 2006 interview.

“Charles Moore: I Fight With My Camera” was released in 2005.

The movie’s title is based on a phrase Moore once said when asked why he gave up boxing: “I just said, ‘I don’t fight with my fists anymore. I fight with my camera.’ It just came out of me.”

Moore died Thursday at 79. To read his obituary, click here.

-- Valerie J. Nelson

Poet Lucille Clifton's sly humor

Lucille Clifton, the widely anthologized poet who died Feb. 13 at age 73, was descended from slaves and wrote many poems that addressed indignities and injustices in African Americans' lives. But the mother of six also was noted for her humor, which she directed at subjects not usually considered inspirational, including hot flashes and menstruation.


Her earthy wit powers her "wishes for sons":

i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town
and the last tampon.
i wish them no 7-11.

i wish them one week early
and wearing a white skirt.
i wish them one week late.

later i wish them hot flashes
and clots like you
wouldn't believe. let the
flashes come when they
meet someone special.
let the clots come
when they want to.

let them think they have accepted
arrogance in the universe,
then bring them to gynecologists
not unlike themselves.

Read the news obituary here and more of Clifton's work here.

-- Elaine Woo

Photo: Lucille Clifton in 2000. Credit: Associated Press

Joseph M. Wilcots experiences the impact of 'Roots'

Roots Joseph M. Wilcots, a trailblazing African-American cinematographer who died Dec. 30 at age 70, earned an Emmy nomination for his work on part seven of the landmark 1977 TV mini-series.

He was in his car, he said in a 2007 interview with the Archive of American Television, when he first realized the impact "Roots" would have on millions of Americans.

"I was racing home to see the first night's show, and I stopped at the stoplight and another guy stopped at the stoplight," Wilcots recalled. "I looked over at him, and he looked at me, and he said, "Roots'?" And I said, 'Yeah', and we both took off."

You can find Wilcots' obiturary here.

--Dennis McLellan

Photo: "Roots" star LeVar Burton said of Wilcots' work: "What stands out immediately is that the look and feel of 'Roots' holds up today, in 2010; it does not feel dated at all.  Credit: Los Angeles Times

Lester Rodney helps break baseball's color barrier


Lester Rodney, the sports editor and columnist for the American Communist Party newspaper the Daily Worker, gained late-in-life recognitionfor his crusade in the 1930s and `40s to end segregation in major league baseball.

Rodney, who died Dec. 20 at age 98, was shunned by some fellow sportswriters because he was a Communist. But as a sports writer, he was known for having good relationships with many baseball players -- as well as with Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher.

In an interview for Irwin Silber's 2003 biography of him, "Press Box Red," Rodney recalled that while discussing strategy with Durocher after a game, "Leo leans over to me, grabs my arm, and says, 'You know, Rodney, for a . . . Communist, you sure know your baseball.' "

-- Dennis McLellan 

Photo: In a 2004 photo, Lester Rodney holds a handful of press credentials he kept from past World Series games he covered. Credit: Kim Kulish / For The Times

Jack Nelson, 80, former L.A. Times investigative reporter and Washington bureau chief

Jacknelsonpic Jack Nelson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newsman who led The Times' Washington bureau for two decades, was known for scooping the Washington Post on a crucial Watergate story. But for "sheer drama and witnessing history in the making," he wrote some years ago, nothing equaled the five years he spent covering the civil rights movement in his native South.

One of his greatest achievements was uncovering the real story behind the violent 1968 clash at predominantly black South Carolina State College in Orangeburg that left three students dead and 27 injured. Nelson was suspicious of the initial news reports that said the police had acted in self-defense after the students attacked them with rocks and other crude weapons.

How Nelson, who died Wednesday, disproved the official accounts became journalism legend.

With utter confidence — "He had what the military calls command presence," said Gene Roberts Jr., a longtime friend and former top editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times — Nelson walked into the hospital where the injured students were being treated and told the medical personnel, "My name is Nelson. I'm with the bureau out of Atlanta and I've come to see the charts."

His statements were technically correct: He was with The Times' Atlanta bureau. But in his dark suit and crew-cut, he easily passed for an agent of the bureau, as in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The hospital staff handed over the students' medical charts.

Those records showed Nelson that most of the students had been shot in the back or the soles of their feet — proof that they had been retreating or lying on the ground to escape the gunfire when the lawmen shot them. "The truth emerging about the shooting was entirely dependent on Jack," Roberts said recently. Thanks to Nelson's reporting, the incident went down in civil rights history as the Orangeburg Massacre, which also was the title of a book Nelson and colleague Jack Bass wrote on it.

For more on Nelson's adventures in the South, see "The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation" by Roberts and Hank Klibanoff.

-- Elaine Woo

Photo: Jack Nelson, longtime Washington bureau chief of The Times, in an undated photo. Credit: Los Angeles Times


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