King’s Poor People’s Campaign  

“Now, when we come to Washington in this campaign,

we are coming to get our check!” 

Martin Luther King 1968
Dr. Martin Luther King displays the poster to be used during his Poor People’s Campaign, March 4, 1968, one month before he was shot to death by a sniper.
September 4, 2018
(the article first appeared in the
 SCLC National Magazine
Justice Initiative
“Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”
                                   Martin Luther King, April 3, 1968 in Memphis

The day after King made the above profound statement, he was assassinated in Memphis. Also, regarding making America a better nation, at a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) staff retreat in May 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

“I think it is necessary for us to realize that we have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights…[W]hen we see that there must be a radical redistribution of economic and political power, then we see that for the last twelve years we have been in a reform movement…That after Selma and the Voting Rights Bill, we moved into a new era, which must be an era of revolution…In short, we have moved into an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society.” (The Grio)

It was, in fact, in 1967 that King and others in SCLC planned the “Poor People’s Campaign” to signify the move from civil rights to human rights and for its launching to take place in Washington, DC in 1968.

Regarding King’s and others remarkable civil rights work and demands leading to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Dr. King had questioned that while these achievements were significant, still, what good was it to be able to get on a bus or into a hotel room if you couldn’t afford to pay for it. So, in addition to the inequities in civil rights, the human rights demands of economic justice became paramount for him and, as he said, “to raise certain basic questions about the whole society.”

A few years ago, I was informed by Rashid Nuri (a leading black organic urban farmer in Atlanta) of a rare video clip of King speaking in Mississippi in 1968. This speech was given by King just a few weeks before he was assassinated, King spoke of the opportunities for whites that, by comparison, had been denied blacks in America and the hypocrisy surrounding this. Whites say black folks should pick themselves up by their bootstraps? Yet, he notes that around the time of the Civil War, Congress passed the Homestead Act essentially giving millions of free land to whites, as well as developing land grant colleges to teach whites how to farm, and more. Here are his comments at this Mississippi gathering:

“At the very same time that America refused to give the Negro any land, through an act of Congress our government was giving away millions of acres of land in the west and the mid-west which meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor. But not only did they give the land, they built land grant colleges with government money to teach them how to farm. Not only that, they provided county agents to further their expertise in farming. Not only that, they provided low-interest rates in order that they could mechanize their farms. Not only that, today many of these people are receiving millions of dollars in subsidies not to farm and they are the very people telling the black man that he should lift himself up by his own bootstraps. And this is what we are faced with. And this is a reality. Now, when we come to Washington in this campaign, we are coming to get our check!”
Federal Subsidies for White Land)

The Poor People’s Campaign Analysis

While the American elite didn’t like King demanding civil rights, still these demands were accomplished to a large degree and he miraculously lived through that period of his life. But with a shift toward economics and demanding economic equity he was moving into unchartered turf. In his anti-Vietnam speech in New York on April 4, 1967 he spoke of the triple evils in America that, he said, were interrelated and they are racism, poverty/economic inequality, and military imperialism. In fact, it would be appropriate to note that his anti-Vietnam speech laid the ground for the Poor People’s Campaign.

King had essentially noted in his anti-war speech that it was impossible to separate the international policies with the domestic policies and motivations. The inference was that you can’t separate napalmed children in Vietnam with poverty in Mississippi or garbage workers in Memphis. They all suffer and are treated as being less than human. The lack of humane and equitable treatment and policies were stark. And how can you point fingers at black Americans for lack of achievement when you witness the huge inequities of treatment between blacks and whites historically and the huge amounts of money going into the military industrial complex to then kill Vietnamese and increase inequities in America as well. That money going to the military could instead be used to advance the quality of life for all Americans.

Dr. King’s shift of emphasis in the last year of his life demonstrated to the country, and the world, what was significant to the ruling elite in the United States because of the way they immediately reacted after his anti-Vietnam War speech. President Lyndon Johnson immediately distanced himself from King. Many black civil rights leaders, including Ralph Bunch and others, were critical. The day following his speech virtually all the major media criticized King.

But finally, regarding the Poor People’s March and demands for economic equity, it’s also important to note the following: it is the simple profound statement that the reason people are treated differently by those in power is generally for profit. So that would include racism and economic inequities. King was attempting to change that equation by striving to give workers more power. He was about to threaten the profit accumulation by taking a forthright stance on the side of economic equity for the black community overall. This was compounded by his planning to bring the massive civil rights community and activists with him to Washington to make these economic demands. King was stepping on dangerous ground. It is not ironic that he was killed in Memphis while demanding rights for garbage workers.

America is still needing to address the economic inequities that plague the country with it’s 1% versus 99% scenario of huge economic disparities. We are fortunate there is now a revival of the SCLC Poor People’s Campaign thanks to Reverend William Barber who was also inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King. And also that SCLC has, in recent years, been developing an international “Poor People’s Campaign” to address poverty throughout the world. These important efforts are essential for the welfare of is all!

The tens of millions of people who have participated in the Women’s March, the March for Our Lives, and the many other protests of the Trump era are marching in place in every community large or small. They have the potential to provide a vast grassroots network of the Poor People’s Campaign can reach out and inspire them to act together.
(Photo: TwitPic/@Fightfor15)

How Organic Agriculture Can Feed the World

Note: For years I have been interviewing organic urban farmer Rashid Nuri about his work and mission. More recently, I interviewed him about William Engdahl’s book “Seeds of Destruction” (2007). Engdahl’s work was instrumental for Rashid in merging with his vast knowledge and concern about the goals and intent of corporate agribusiness and the likes of GMO seeds. In summary, Engdahl describes how corporate agribusiness wants to control agriculture throughout the world and with its seeds – largely GMO seeds – the intent is to diminish the population of people of color in the world. Here is the interview: Learning from Rashid Nuri About “Seeds of Destruction”

In contrast to corporate agribusiness, is the important growth of organic production virtually everywhere throughout the planet. This offers considerable hope for us all. This growth is also thanks to highly skilled and knowledgeable experts like Rashid Nuri. Along this line I want to share an article Rashid and I wrote in 2010 entitled “How Organic Agriculture Can Feed the world” which is below.

Heather Gray

August 30, 2018
Justice Initiative International

How Organic Agriculture Can Feed the World

By Heather Gray and Rashid Nuri
Recent research indicates that organic farming can feed the world, and is actually making a significant difference everywhere. In the United States and Europe, universities are reporting that organically produced food will address the problems of hunger and poverty facing the world’s growing population. This is not a surprising finding for organic farmers and advocates of organic agricultural production. The American worldview of agriculture is, in fact, making a radical shift.

In 1990 sociologists Curtis Beus and Riley Dunlap wrote a fascinating description of paradigms in agriculture in an article entitled “Conventional versus Alternative Agriculture: The Paradigmatic Roots of the Debate“. The authors define conventional agriculture in the 20th century as: “Capital-intensive, large-scale, highly mechanized agriculture with monocultures of crops and extensive use of artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, with intensive animal husbandry”. They go on to say that the “discussion of conven tional agriculture as presented in this paper will include the agri business suppliers of farm inputs and the marketers of farm output. This is done because of the integral interdependence between the production sector and the supply and marketing sectors of modern agribusiness”. It is often referred to as industrial agriculture.

In describing dominant worldviews, reference has to be made to physicist Thomas Kuhn. In 1970 his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” Kuhn describes how science inquiry changes overtime. When change is eminent he says that those holding the dominant worldview in science will cling to and fight for their dominant position. Kuhn’s analysis has subsequently been adapted to understanding changes in worldviews whether in science or in society overall. In agriculture, the struggle of conventional versus alternative worldviews is right out of Kuhn and the differences have been so acute that even discourse between the various parties has often been impossible.

In general, the American dominant social paradigm, the authors say, is described as the “most fundamental and pervasive worldview”. It is a “belief in progress, growth and prosperity, faith in science and technology, commitment to a laissez faire economy and private property rights, and a view of nature as something that must be subdued and made useful”. All of the above concepts became part of the paradigm of corporate/conventional agriculture described above. It has also been aligned with corporate America, Congress, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the executive branch. All of them have had controlling factions that have held this view and as a result the subsequent farm policies have been devastating in the United States and around the world.

As a result of these conventional practices we’ve witnessed the loss of family farmers throughout the world, degradation of topsoil, pollution of water tables and fresh water generally and ocean dead zones from chemical pollution and run-offs, lack of important diversity in agriculture and intense mono-crop production, less nutritious food, loss of family farmers and rural jobs, poorer health of consumers due to ingestion of chemicals in food, in the water and in the air. The list goes on and on.

In the 1970’s the environmental movement took hold with a new paradigm that challenged the dominant paradigm of conventional agriculture above. Rachel Carson’s influential “Silent Spring” (1963), for one, described the devastation of chemicals and huge agriculture ventures. Her critique began to take hold on the American psyche that set the stage for an intense battle of views in agriculture circles. The core values of the new movement challenged the prevailing views of “economic growth and domination of nature, the free market economy, hierarchical political structure, centralized social organization, large scale technological development, and the legitimacy of scientific knowledge as the basis for social decision making” (Beus and Dunlap). From this an alternative view of agriculture began to take shape.

Beus and Dunlap define alternative agriculture as follows:

“At the heart of any definition of alternative agriculture is an emphasis on organic or near-organic practices. Essentially, all alternative agriculturalists favor significantly reduced use of synthetic farm chem icals. Most alternative agriculturalists, however, see their goals as much broader than merely reducing agricultural chemical use. Additionally, alternative agriculturalists advocate smaller farm units and technology, reduced energy use, greater farm and regional self-suf ficiency, minimally processed foodstuffs, conservation of finite re sources, and more direct sales to consumers. This is not an exhaustive list, nor does it completely define alternative agriculture, but it does illustrate some of the fundamental differences between alternative and conventional agriculture.”

After reviewing the writings and actions of leading proponents of conventional agriculture and alternative agriculture, Beus and Dunlap identify six “dimensions” of the competing paradigms and they are: “1) centralization vs. decentralization, 2) dependence vs. independence, 3) competition vs. community, 4) dom ination of nature vs. harmony with nature, 5) specialization vs. diversity, and 6) exploitation vs. restraint.”

One of the prevailing views not referred to by Beus and Dunlap, however, is the belief among proponents of industrial agriculture that the world needs industrial agriculture if the world’s poor and hungry are to be fed. In fact, former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz under the Nixon administration once said, “We can go back to organic agriculture in this country if we must…. However, before we move in that direction, someone must decide which 50 million of our people will starve” (Beus and Dunlap).

The paradox is that there is already enough food to feed the world but people are still hungry – why is this? One of the many reasons for this is poverty, and industrial agriculture might be the culprit here as well as it focuses on quantity and is known to exacerbate poverty. Antithetical to industrial/conventional agriculture is locally owned sustainable food production, job creation and an independent farming sector which are some of the hallmarks of the alternative agriculture model.

Conventional and alternative models of agriculture have been addressed in the debates and in competing farm policies in America and around the world. In fact, in 2006 and in 2007 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) met in Rome to discuss international food security and the paradoxes of industrial versus organic production and the findings were striking. The findings? The FAO stated “States should integrate organic agriculture objectives within national priorities”.

With the world’s population to reach 9 billion by 2050 the FAO has been trying look at how best to feed the world in an environmentally sound and sustainable way.

The FAO reported that while it dominates in the world’s food production “industrialized food systems have environmental and social costs that threaten food security, e.g., occupational deaths through pesticide poisoning, farmers’ suicides due to debts, and loss of millions of jobs in rural areas.” The FAO also expressed concern about the impact of industrial agriculture on vulnerable populations, the environment and climate change issues.

So what’s best for our communities? The FAO reported that organic production is one of the best routes toward food sovereignty. Through rural development and rural revitalization locally owned and controlled organically focused production creates jobs, is environmentally sound, has a fairer trade system, has fairer wages, it’s locally based emphasis helps people have more control over their own local resources, and is non-exploitive generally. Some of the other benefits of organic production are that because no chemicals are used there is more water security and less erosion as organic production prioritizes healthy and alive soil that helps to retain water. Importantly, organic production also helps to maintain plant diversity for generations to come.

In addition to all of the above, organically produced food can also produce enough food for the world!

In a 2007 report from the University of Michigan, it states:

“Organic farming can feed the world”. The University researched the differences in performance between conventional and organically produced food. The press release begins by stating: “Organic farming can yield up to three times as much food on individual farms in developing countries, as low-intensive methods on the same land-according to new findings which refute the long-standing claim that organic farming methods cannot produce enough food to feed the global population.”

Ivette Perfecto, professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, and one the study’s principal investigators said “the University of Michigan found that in developed countries, yields were almost equal on organic and conventional farms. In developing countries, food production could double or triple using organic methods.” She said further “the idea that people would go hungry if farming went organic is ‘ridiculous'”.

The press release stated further that:

“We were struck by how much food the organic farmers would produce.” The researchers set about compiling data from published literature to investigate the two chief objections to organic farming: low yields and lack of organically acceptable nitrogen sources.

Their findings refute those key arguments, Perfecto said, and confirm that organic farming is less environmentally harmful yet can potentially produce more than enough food. This is especially good news for developing countries, where it’s sometimes impossible to deliver food from outside, so farmers must supply their own. Yields in developing countries could increase dramatically by switching to organic farming, Perfecto said.”

Other research in Europe and others in the United States have concurred with the University of Michigan findings. (See the Worldwatch Institute’s “Can Organic Farming Feed Us All?“).

Moving toward organic and sustainable agriculture production throughout the world is not really an alternative but is, in fact, a necessity for us all. All the data is now in place showing that there has been a shift toward a natural, organic and sustainable agriculture model in communities throughout the world, including here in the United States, which is also being implemented. It needs to continue. The dominant worldview in agriculture is also changing and what has been referred to as alternative is now becoming the dominant view in most countries. We are also witnessing this worldview shift in agriculture circles here in the United States. On the implementation side, organic production needs to replace industrial/conventional practices everywhere.

Let’s do it.

HEATHER GRAY is the producer of “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She has been involved in agriculture advocacy and communications for 20 years in the United States and internationally. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia and can be reached at

K. RASHID NURI is an organic urban farmer and agricultural educator in Atlanta, Georgia. He brings fifty years of experience to this work. Rashid has lived and worked in over 30 countries around the world. He has managed public, private and community-based food and agriculture businesses. Rashid served four years as a Senior USDA Executive in the Clinton administration. He is a graduate of Harvard College, where he studied Political Science, and has a M.S. in Plant and Soil Science from the University of Massachusetts. He can be reached at His website is

Rashid Nuri’s Extraordinary On-Going Service   

Rashid Nuri


Rashid Nuri’s Extraordinary
On-Going Service   

‘So he’s got an extensive background and he’s always had a love for “feeding the people”. And that’s what’s always inspired him – to do something for the people.’ 
Ernest Dunkley 
‘I think our city itself was made better because of his commitment and because of his passion. And all the people that he touched over the years.’  
Kwamza Hall  
‘What he does best, and that’s growing communities,
growing food
and growing people. ‘  
Mario Cambardella  
‘…the effect that Rashid has on people. He is like a watering hole.
Like the Baba Tree. You’ve got the human Baba Tree. ‘
Ras Kofi
Preface: On August 13,  2018, we on WRFG-Atlanta’s ‘Just Peace’ program interviewed four Atlanta residents who have worked closely with Rashid Nuri during his career as founder and CEO of the Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture (TLW) in Atlanta which was created in 2006. This week, August 31, 2018, Rashid will step down as CEO of TLW.
Rashid’s influence in Atlanta regarding the on-going interest in and practice of organic urban production is both on-going and hugely significant. We could easily state profoundly that he has touched the heart and soul of Atlanta residents regardless of age, culture, religion or so-called racial designation.He has routinely offered, to the community, his wisdom and extensive knowledge that has benefited us all.

Along the line of Rashid’s service to the City of Atlanta, it is important to note that his favorite quote (that he includes on his email ID) is by the great George Washington Carver: “It is simply service that measures success.”

Below please see the transcribed interview. Below is also the YouTube recording of the interview.

August 29, 2018

 “About Rashid Nuri and his Transformative Work”

Transcribed Interview

“It is simply service that measures success.”
 George Washington Carver
Heather Gray: My name is Heather Gray and the program is Just Peace and I’m here in the studio with co-producer Ernest Dunkley. And we also have in the studio Kwanza Hall, Ras Kofi and Mario Cambardella.
Tonight we are talking about the work of Rashid Nuri, the founder of the Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture (TLW), who is stepping down as CEO of Truly Living Well on August 31, 2018.
Here is Ernest Dunkley, who knew Rashid in Nigeria in the 1980s, It was, in fact, in Africa where Rashid decided to come to Atlanta and engage in organic urban production.
Rashid Nuri (lft) – Ernest Dunkley (rgt) at Wheat Street TLW garden

Ernest Dunkley: In Nigeria in the late 1980s when he was working for Cargill – a large agricultural entity – and he was cornering the market on certain produce in that area. That is, in Africa there’s been a problem of not being able to store food. So Rashid was entrusted with the logistics of storing large amounts of grain in northern Nigeria.

Heather: He was ultimately not thrilled about having worked for Cargill, but what I said to Rashid is that, who else would have had the experience like this to understand all of the infrastructure of Cargill and corporate agribusiness altogether, which he then began to teach us about, as well as about the problems with it.

Ernest: Yes, you’re right. That and his work throughout the Far East – Java, India, etc. – so he’s got an extensive background and he’s always had a love for “feeding the people”. And that’s what’s always inspired him – to do something for the people.

Heather: Now Ernest, I think you were one of the first he actually talked with about wanting to start the urban farm here in Atlanta.

Ernest: He was actually given the opportunity to do this when he was working on another operation in Ghana. Three ladies from Atlanta were on vacation in Ghana and they were speaking about their interest in agriculture and he spoke up and they became a quartet…and that’s the powerhouse that brought him into Atlanta.

Heather: It’s an interesting story.

Ernest: Oh, it’s very interesting. That evening that it all happened, was all very miraculous. These people coming together at a very strange time, at a very strange place, and locking together and coming back to America and really making a dream come true.

Heather: Kwanza (Hall) I remember some time after Rashid had started Truly Living Well and, ultimately, when he was moving TLW to the ‘Wheat Street’ site and, when you were a city council member, I have pictures of you at that wonderful ceremony.

Tell us your thinking at that time.

Kwanza Hall at Wheat Street TLW Garden Opening Ceremony

Kwanza Hall: Boy, you’re making me have some fond memories when I think about it. When I met Rashid I was riding on the west side of town where I grew up and – I think it was Harban Road – and I happened to see a farm over here and I pulled over. It was just a small little lot – and Rashid was there and also my first grade teacher was there.

I walked up and said “I’m a city councilman and I would like some urban agriculture on my side of town. Would you consider it?”

And he said, “I don’t really fool with politicians.” You know, Rashid, right? He said, “I’ve had a lot of experience over the years.”

Heather: That’s true.

Kwanza: But then my first grade teacher said, “You know, Kwanza was a good student and good guy now. So you should at least take him up on the offer.” So a couple of days later Rashid and I got in the truck and we rode the Old Fourth Ward and we drove around the neighborhood right immediately within my council district.,,,and we stumbled on a couple of small sites. And he said, “No, that’s too small…too small.”

So then we drove around and we saw the Wheat Street site and he said “Kwanza, that site will work.”

And I said, “I agree. If we could do it. It would be phenomenal.” So after that we started collaborating. We took it a step further – figured out all the necessary pieces, just to make it work. And got him connected with the Wheat Street Charitable Foundation and really we’re really thankful that they were partners in that, and the Borders family.

And, ultimately, we were able to create a facility and it was Truly Living Well (on that site), but really it was in the heart of Rashid that got us to this point. He planted the seeds and we saw them grow and to actually bear fruit in the Old Fourth Ward. All of the citizens and adults were excited.

MSNBC event at Truly Living Well
Slide show of MSNBC at TLW

But I think the real change was when we saw young people at Hope Hill Elementary, at C.W. Hill and the various charter schools, that were there, get engaged and come to summer programs at the farm. And, then to see their parents come and follow behind them. And, then to see people adopting different ways of eating different types of food, and then job opportunities being created.

So, we saw the full life cycle of what was possible there. And I know my council district and the Old Fourth Ward were made better, but I think our city itself was made better because of his commitment and because of his passion. And all the people that he touched over the years.

And, I’m really glad that we’re celebrating him as he steps down, but I’m sure he’ll be stepping up into yet again a better role, if you know Rashid the way I know him.

Heather: You were talking about some of his background. But this is one of the interesting comments he made to me. Rashid never wanted to tell anyone that he went to Harvard. He got his political science degree at Harvard because he wanted to study African revolutionary theory and then he ended up getting his master’s degree in soil science at the University of Massachusetts and Rashid said he had to unlearn everything he was taught at the University of Massachusetts. But he never wanted to tell anyone that he went to Harvard, and then when he came to the South and realized that farmers were put down, he told everybody that “I went to Harvard and I’m a farmer!”

I’ve been interviewing Rashid for some 7 years once a month and the show with him has been so popular and he’s been so instructive.

So, I’ve also thought about the change and the impact he’s had on the Wheat Street community.

Kwanza: Yes, it was very positive. We saw empty buildings and apartments on Auburn Avenue end up housing young employees who were working on the farm. We began to look at buildings as potential grocery stores or farmers markets that could teach people as well as cooking classes. A lot of that ended up happening on the TLW campus, but the idea was for it to occur outside of there but the energy became catalytic…for sure!

Rashid Nuri

A lot of time we’re very ambitious with our development plans in Atlanta and for non-profits to actually go through the process and to build vertical (infratructures) and it takes a lot more energy than it looks.

And, Rashid really wanted to have a permanent site. So there was a little bit of a challenge in the length of the contract for the lease at Wheat Street. And then when the non-profit wanted to become vertical he ended up finding a permanent home for the farm (at Atlanta’s Collegetown area) that ended up being better.

But, I never wanted to see us lose Rashid’s farm in our location. We saw the impact on our neighborhood. With the streetcar on one end, and the farm right there we started seeing different energy between Fort Street and Jackson Street. It became much more positive as opposed to just negative and a place that people don’t want to go, even though Dr. King’s (original) office was just around the corner.

Rashid was a catalyst (in our neighborhood) for sure, to put it modestly.

Heather: So Mario Cambardella, tell us about your role. This is so interesting that the City of Atlanta now has this office of Urban Agriculture. It’s remarkable.

Mario Cambardello

Mario Cambardello: It’s a real pleasure to be here tonight. Atlanta may be the first city in the country to have an urban agriculture director.

I am part of a larger team in the Office of Resilience. And in 2016 Atlanta became the 100th city officially launching the Atlanta Resilient Strategy and, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, that focuses on a strategy to combat the physical, the social, the economic challenges that all cities face. And access to food – food resiliency – is part of that larger resilient Atlanta strategy.

Heather: So when was this urban agriculture office created?

Mario: The office was really born out of the office of sustainability. And the Office of Sustainability was converted to the Office of Resiliency in 2017.

We still maintain the activities of sustainability as an important piece of a larger resiliency umbrella.

Heather: Could you explain some of the actual work you are doing?

Mario: We are a place the folks can come to if they need assistance, as through the city permit process. So this includes, what are the policies around urban agriculture?

What are some of the comprehensive master plans? Or how can we fold urban agriculture into a comprehensive master plans or maybe specific districts or communities?

Also, looking at physical plans when Rashid moved to the College Town garden we worked with his physical plan to understand how water was going to move through the site, the functions of the site. And work through specific issues relating to compost, or water meter. Or just being a point of access to city resources for Rashid for urban agriculture. So they can get to doing what he does best, and that’s growing communities, growing food and growing people.

Ernest: So he’s leaving some kind of footprint, a template, that will be some sort of template that he’ll be leaving of his work?

Ribbon Cutting at the TLW Collegetown opening

Mario: I think that what Rashid’s done at the Collegetown garden has really created a lighthouse for nutrition. His work really reverberates outward through the community but also through the people that interact with that experience, as in being on the farm that they can take back to their communities.

So he started this chain reaction where people really care about local food and what they’re putting in their bodies and what’s really in the soil. It’s not food waste anymore. It’s really access to fresh soil.

So, I think he’s changing the way people are living and their values and how they’re being part of a local food system and understanding what that is. It’s hugely impactful not only in the community that he’s in but the larger Atlanta city.

Heather: So, this is Ras Kofi. Tell us about yourself Ras. You’ve been working with Rashid for a long time.

Ras Kofi at Collegetown TLW site

Ras Kofi: Yes, this is 2018. Actually, our relationship starts from when I was a little boy through his mother. I was teaching at Douglas High School until 2007 and moved up to Philadelphia. And I would come back (to Atlanta) often. I would commute maybe twice a month. And so I don’t know how I found out about farm over in East Point but I remember going there and I would go get compost from Rashid and take to my father-in-law’s house where my children were living as well as to my partners house.

But, long story short, I went to his home one day and I looked up on the wall and I said “That’s Barbara Brown”. And he said, “That’s my, Mama.” I said “I grew up in your Mama’s book store.” His Mom had the Black book store in San Diego, California, which is where I spent the last of my middle school years and high school years. So, that place was like an oasis in the desert. It’s where we could save our life from the street life.

So, that’s where our relationship starts. But I came to Truly Living Well in 2010 as a teacher and then a little bit later he asked me to come and do the management of the farm.

Heather: So, what kind of impact has Rashid had on you?

Ras: In order to properly contextualize his social impact, it would be remiss to leave out his history in the Nation of Islam.

Heather: Yes, he was asked by the Nation of Islam to run its farm in South Georgia.

Ras: In Islam, what’s important is community service and, beyond that, the spirit of doing for oneself.

As we had this whole thing about ‘Black Lives Matter’, and then people started talking about ‘All Lives Matter’…I think there was a Chinese comedian who hit it on the head most poignantly, “Yes, all lives matter but when the house is burning across the street you’re not going to talk about all; houses matter, right?”

So put that in the context of his work. For me he’s someone that, as you know, is a very loving person. Open. I’ve never seen him just push somebody aside based on any kind of outward appearance or artificial barrier, even though he’s a very no nonsense person.

However, he definitely is someone who has a special love for the African race and in the context of what we’ve been through. And that is something I’ve witnessed first hand.

So, in a way, there’s no need to apologize or to qualify that but it’s good to clarify that to people who are listening to in such a tender time. He does it in a way that is ‘just,’ that doesn’t discriminate against other people. It’s just focusing on what’s the priority at the time – the social priority. So that’s a big part of influence.

Ras Kofi on top of structure made by Atlanta sculptor George Beasley as in “who is watching our food production?” It is obviously Ras Kofi!

And really another part is just his insistence on excellence and that’s where the ‘bump your head’ comes in because we’ve got a lot of different interpretations of what excellence is.

Heather: What do you mean by excellence?

Ras: Oh well – anything. My Mama – may God be pleased with her – she passed about a year ago – she would always say that ‘anything worth doing is worth doing well’.

So as the farm manager he (Rashid) was my supervisor. And he has, first of all, by experience, done things that have proven to be fruitful. And, I must say in the same breath that he’s always open to new ideas as well.

However, if the new ideas are not producing results, he’s going to insist on the way that he knows. And that is, again, the way that produces results.

A funny thing about Rashid is even if you don’t have an agreement of a template…let’s just say I’m doing a lesson plan and he doesn’t give me a template and I produce an excellent lesson plan. He’s always got three thousand steps above that in his head. So, even though I produce a good lesson plan, this time around he’s got 4.0 and I just did 1.0.

And we didn’t agree to that, but he just keeps raising the bar.

So excellence…you never know what you can achieve until you reach beyond what you think you’re capable of.

Heather: Mario, you have said Rashid has been a mentor. What do you mean by that?

Check awarded to TLW – Rashid on right

Mario: So, when we talk, I ask questions and listen, because he has carried the flag for the ‘Urban Ag Movement’ in Atlanta.

Coming into this role I thought of myself as being the “urban agriculture directed”. Which means I needed to take direction from those who really wanted to see this position flourish.

For me to understand what the community really needed, I needed to take direction from the community.

That being said, the many experiences Rashid has had in his career offers a unique perspective as he’s worked for large institutions, large corporations, but then also grassroots level. And that sort of wide experience enables him to see multiple perspectives and he can break them down for me. And that’s just invaluable.

I get the opportunity to have a quarterly luncheon with him and really get to break bread and it really gets to a relationship level that I really get to sponge his knowledge.

And what I really come away with from those experiences is just his love and passion for the people of his community. And his community expands from the adjacent neighbors to people across town that he’s never met.

Heather: Now, one of the things I want to mention is that Rashid used to work for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). My work has been with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives working with Black farmers across the South. And between 1999 and 2013 what I was doing mostly was working on the Black farmer lawsuit against the USDA. I have made the point that Rashid, and also Mike Espy, who was the first Black Secretary of Agriculture, at the USDA, were an historic team. This is because they made sure – and this was mostly Rashid – that a study was done, known as the ‘Miller Report’ that looked at the discrimination Black farmers had experienced. That helped lay the groundwork for the lawsuit against the USDA by Black farmers. The largest class action lawsuit ever filed against the US government. Rashid was instrumental in that! It was historic!

Now Ras, in your agriculture work you’ve seen a lot of changes in the City of Atlanta, as well, as far as urban agriculture is concerned and everybody using compost, compost, compost, as Rashid says?

Youth class at TLW

One of the things I’ve enjoyed is Rashid when he’s watching the young children learning about agriculture. You see the gleam in his eyes when he gets so thrilled watching the children learning and enjoying it.

Ras: One of the things he talks about often, in terms of the standard of measurement of progress, is the ‘gross national domestic happiness’ and that’s profound as in comparison to ‘gross national product.’ When we start looking at progress or looking at our work with those sorts of goals in mind – especially in the business world – because Truly Living Well is a nonprofit business where we are attempting to sustain ourselves and to sustain other people economically.

So, in a capitalist world when you have that bottom line to reach, all you are driven by is money.

Our goal, is a paradigm shift, where we are growing so much food that we don’t have a market. To grow so much food that you no longer have a market and you don’t have anybody to sell to because everybody is growing their own food.

Again, if you’re looking at it in a selfish standpoint ‘well you’re trying to work yourself out of some money.’ But think about the reality of the community. We’ve got so many bigger fish to fry.

Heather: I want to ask Kwanza again about the changes you saw around the Wheat Street area. I remember when Rashid first moved there. There were a lot of homeless folks around and they got involved, as well, which was wonderful

Rashid says, “I’ll make the soil and God will grow the food”.

But another thing that Rashid said to me years ago is that “when most people go to work they are having to deal with their boss, who they might have some conflict with”, but, he said that, “when I go to work I’m communing with God”. And that had to do with the spiritual essence of growing the food.

Mario: Well, I was thinking of Frederick Olmstead who said “I believe in God and I spell it “n a t u r e.” And I think all of us dedicated to this work really find peace.

TLW beautiful produce

Kwanza: Just sitting here listening has created a calm over me… just hearing Ras and Mario and everyone talk about (their experiences)…it makes me reflect and I remember with me and Ras out there and having a conversation. Even hearing the deeper, richer set of circumstances that brought him (Ras) to be in there (at TLW). I didn’t quite know all of that. But I know he comes from some place. And it’s a place that I really appreciate.

And that root is undeniable in all of us and that’s how we connect to one another and that’s what Rashid helped to facilitate. Kind of a re-connection of people who didn’t know they should be connected to each other.

And it really is in the dirt. When you get there, you touch it and you take that moment – morning, night, whatever time of day – you just look around at the farm whether you’re there at Collegetown (or other sites) we’re really doing God’s work here.

You can see that change happening in the community, whether it was a homeless person who happens to take a little chicken that needed a home.

That was the purpose. The purpose was to put yourself out of this so the people who are without could have. Because we have land in abundance, that is fallow, that we’re either cleaning up because it’s been contaminated or its clean and it just needs someone loving it – to make the soil rich and to cultivate it so that families and children don’t go without.

So, I was thinking about the smile you describe when he leans back and just sort of grins sometimes for a whole minute and you wonder what he’s thinking.

It just feels really good to be in the company of you gentlemen and lady and I am just thankful that Rashid touched my life. And I’m going to touch some dirt today and get my hands dirty today because that’s what it’s all about really.

TLW beautiful produce
Ernest: It’s very much about that. Rashid and I connected in Africa. My interest is spiritual anthropology. And, in Africa I realized is that the first church – House of the Spirit – is the garden or the grove. And in the African tradition when you think about being baptized and being lifted up spiritually you go to the grove – the Holy Grove – and that is the natural result of being in nature and that’s why they are recommending it for PTSD sufferers that are stressed out and people having other mental problems because as you step into it you become calm.
Children in the dirt

Heather: And Rashid talks a lot of about that in reference to being grounded. Which means getting your hand in the ground, in the dirt.

Ernest: And your feet in the ground.

Ras: I was listening to Kwanza talking and I think, in tribute to Rashid and the work that he’s done, that this is truly the first politician that I know that genuinely gets his hands in the soil. He would come to Wheat Street and just pick his own food. That’s something to say about the environment that welcomes such activity, as well as the man himself.

And I think that’s what everyone is saying in terms of the effect that Rashid has on people. He is like a watering hole. Like the Baba Tree. You’ve got the human Baba Tree.

Mario: I think along the line of the things that Truly Living Well does – and it’s truly Rashid’s legacy – and that speaks to the point that all of you made, is that it’s really about developing ‘rooted’ citizenry.

So, the people that get to plant a tree, plant a seed, they’re more apt to defend it and protect the earth, and protect their community, and really understand that that tree is their path to abundance.

And the people that have had that experience – the transformative authentic experience – are apt to tell somebody else about it. Show somebody else how to. And then share those (things/acts) that they’ve done.

So to me there could be no better legacy, then to show people and communities and families how to grow food and and grow as individual families and communities.

Heather: Thank you so much for that.

I do want to read something I received from David Sweeney, Rashid’s first chef, who was not able to come here today. Here is his note:

David Sweeney 

Dear Heather,

I visited one of Rashid’s first farming plots on Washington Rd in the Spring of 2007. This is where we met. He felt ethically and spiritually aboveboard to me and I was immediately comfortable being around him. After a brief exchange about our lives, he allowed me to walk through the rows of vegetables he was growing and try anything I wanted. I then bent down and pinched off a leaf of arugula, chewed it, and felt the energy in body shift upwards. It was the most peppery arugula I’d ever tried in the USA (and this is the flavor you want out of arugula). My body then responded to the nutrient density. It’s almost a dizzy feeling. Rashid noticed me enjoying this experience as I stood in his field, and this is when said to me, “I make the soil, and God grows the food”. Those words enhanced my spiritual growth and energized my moral approach to food, making me so grateful to have met him.

There are so many wonderful things I could say about Rashid, but here are some of the things that come to my mind when I think of him:

    • Baba Rashid
    • a customer once said, “I can feel the vibrations in his produce”
    • still the best Mustard Greens & Squash
    • he creates a form of nutrition that is good for body, mind & spirit
David Sweeney
Chef/Independent Consultant
Rashid speaking to crowd at TLW Wheat Street site 

Heather: Now Mario, I would appreciate hearing more of what your goals are as far as urban agriculture is concerned. And the other thing is that Rashid also served as chair of the board of Georgia Organics for a while (and other organization affiliations). I know also that he has had such an important impact on urban organic agriculture growth in the city (as we’ve noted). That impact I think comes into the picture in terms of what you are doing at your office.

Mario: Absolutely. All the courses Ras has at TLW have been a part of that work. Teaching the youth and teaching the older adults how to grow. We want to make sure there is opportunity for land access for all these people and getting great ecological education at Truly Living Well.

So the city has a program called ‘The Grows A Lot Program’. In which with vacant and abandoned properties community groups can enter into a 5-year licensure program to take those properties on and build community gardens as they see fit.

And this is also great opportunities for graduates of Truly Living Well and other programs across the city to exercise their ability to grow.

Heather: We are so blessed to have this office. I know you’ll agree with me because you’re the director…but again it’s such a blessing.

Rashid Nuri

Mario: I feel extremely grateful. I feel extremely blessed to be in this situation but it’s on the backs of so many people who have done so much work such as: Alice Rolls with Georgia Organics, Bill Boling (formerly head of the Atlanta Food Bank), Truly Living Well. There are so many in Atlanta who have rallied behind urban agriculture as a vehicle to provide ecological literacy and cultural relevancy and to showcase the cultural relevancy of the food that urban agriculture grows. So really it’s the work of so many in this movement – the collaborative nature. And it’s just a thrill to be associated with so many great people in this movement because ‘people’ make movements happen. It’s not one person.

But it’s thrilling to be in the Mayor’s office – Keisha Lance Bottoms – and our new Resilience officer – Amol Naik. It’s just a real thrill to be a part of a larger team at the City that care about urban agriculture.

Rashid overlooking the new Collegetown garden 

Heather: Let me ask Kwanza, with your experience and being involved with Rashid and your involvement with his garden at Wheat Street, what are your expectations for the City of Atlanta?

Kwanza: For the City of Atlanta or Rashid?

Heather: Yes for the City of Atlanta and Rashid!

Kwanza: Mario and I have kind of been corroborating at a distance since I stepped into a new role as managing director of the development of a Watershed project. It’s a 10,000-acre area that has the potential to be the breadbasket for our City. And maybe Rashid will spend a little time in his retirement helping us think through at least a framework for how we can build out the right types of plots that really give us accessibility throughout, and maybe we can do a large scale farmers market (as well).

So, I think keeping his wisdom and his thought leadership at the table…he doesn’t have to be working every day – but I know that he’ll keep thinking and sharing and connecting and so we want to keep lifting him up and encourage him to be active and to participate because the City needs him.

Heather: Before we end our program about Rashid please give some kind of final message to Rashid, who I know is listening to this program. Mario, do you want to go first?

Mario: Well, thanks for teaching me to grow as a person that is an indelible mark on my path. And I so appreciate your service to the City. I appreciate your service to your communities and teaching us how to grow.

Ras: You know the name ‘Rashid’ is one of the attributes for the most high in Islam. It means ‘righteous guide’. And I think he exemplifies that to its fullness. And on a side note, but very much related, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that we are actually reflecting on him on today, which is Fidel Castro’s birthday who is someone else who was a paradigm changer. I know when the story is written up in the great book of life, as they say, that the contributions he has made thus far will definitely have a significant place.

Kwanza: Thank you for sharing and inspiring us with an international outlook, which often times is overlooked. But keeping it so rooted in the local – almost the extreme – hyper-local – the place-making that you’ve given to our city. So again, thank you, Rashid, for everything that you’ve done for Atlanta.

Ernest: I don’t know even where to begin because it would take too long to tell Rashid how much Rashid has meant to me in my life; in my goals; and in the satisfaction that I’ve found in life has been through the people that I’ve been associated with and Rashid has played a great role and will continue to play a great role because his work is not yet finished.

Heather: Thank you so much to all of you. I need to thank Rashid as well. He’s been so instrumental in so many ways in my life. Every time we get into a discussion I know I will have a concrete very interesting answer from Rashid. So thank you, Rashid. Thank you for your service to Atlanta, to the United States, to the world and for offering so much inspiration for all of us.

So thank you Kwanza Hall. Thank you Ras Kofi. Thank you Mario Cambardella. And thank you Ernest.

(Photos by: Heather Gray, Jim Alexander and TLW staff)

Rashid’s email is:

Additional transcribed interviews with Rashid Nuri
Learning from Rashid Nuri
About “Seeds of Destruction”
August 6, 2018 – Link to article
 Learning from Rashid Nuri
About Growing Food Naturally – The Basics 
January 29, 2018 – Link to article
Learning from Rashid Nuri
About George Washington Carver
January 22, 2018 – Link to article
Learning from Rashid Nuri
The History of Industrial Agriculture and its Impact 
January 13, 2018 – Link to article
Learning from Rashid Nuri
Rebellions & Revolutions: Usually It’s about Food
January 7, 2018 – Link to article
Recording of August 13, 2018 “Interview About Rashid Nuri” 


Learning about Rashid Nuri - August 2018



 Recording of August 13, 2018 “Interview About Rashid Nuri” Recording of August 13, 2018 “Interview About Rashid Nuri”

(About Heather Gray:  In the late 1960s and early 1970s while living in Australia, she engaged in sociological research at the Australian National University and later at Emory University and Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. Her focus concentrated on immigration issues, civil/human rights, advocacy of sustainable agriculture initiatives, and health care in the Georgia prison system. In 1994, she observed the first democratic elections in South Africa under the auspices of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She also lived in Singapore and the Philippines with her Australian husband who was in the Australian diplomatic corps. In the 1980s, she directed the non-violent program for Coretta Scott King at the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Most of her career has been as the Director of Communications for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (1992-2013). She holds an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and a graduate degree in Sociology. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia where she is a writer and radio producer.)


Faya Rose Toure in Jail in Selma for Attempting to Protect Election Integrity

Note: There is probably no city in America that symbolizes ‘Voting Rights’ struggles and accomplishments like Selma, Alabama that, in the 1960s, led to the ‘1965 Voting Rights Act’. Of course, I am referring to the renowned and historic ‘Selma to Montgomery March!’ and all the organizing in the South and the country as millions demanded justice and voting rights for all.

Below is an account about one of our country’s leading attorney advocates for justice – Faya Rose Toure – who is now in jail in Selma for attempting to protect election integrity in Selma – her city of residence.  To say this is an outrage instigated by Selma’s authorities is an understatement.

Please read the narrative below by her husband, Alabama Senator Hank Sanders.

And, as they say in southern Africa, “a luta continua,” which in English is, “the struggle continues.” Indeed!

Justice Initiative
July 18, 2018

Faya Rose Toure in Jail in Selma

for Attempting to Protect Election Integrity

Senator Hank Sanders
Facebook Posting
My wife, Faya Rose Toure, has been arrested concerning the election in Dallas County. The City of Selma was taking down the signs of Black candidates but not taking down the signs of White candidates. She went to City Hall and complained and wrote a letter, and they continued to take down Black candidates’ signs while leaving White candidates’ signs on city right of ways.

And the City Police, who cannot solve the many murders that take place here, sent nine or more police officers to arrest one person, Faya Toure, for taking down the political signs they left while removing all Black candidates’ signs.

This is part of the scheme to throw the election, and everybody who sees this needs to tell everyone they know in Dallas County to vote tomorrow and to tell everyone they know to tell everyone THEY know to vote tomorrow. Please share this on your Facebook pages and with your friends. I am at the jail house now as this is being posted. I have not been able to see Faya, but I have talked to some people who were on the scene with her. At this moment they will not allow me – her attorney and husband – to see her or to talk to her. Again, please share this, and I’ll keep you up to date when I know more. Thank you.

UPDATE #1: First, I was at City Hall, and they refused to allow me to see her as her lawyer even though she is my client as well as my wife. Every client is entitled to see their lawyer. And when I got there, I saw this big Switzer sign in the police station. Of course, I don’t know why it was there. The sign in the police station reinforced my perception that this is about the election. I did learn that Faya’s arrest was about a sign that was in front of Tabernacle Baptist Church, the very first church that allowed voting rights mass meetings to be held during the Voting RIghts Movement. Church members came out and thanked Faya for removing that sign from right there in front of the Church.

The police decided it was a crime, although it was on public property. They had her in the city jail, and now they have moved her to the county jail, which is a few miles away. I am arriving there now, and I will update you further in this post as I know more. Police have set a $2,000 cash bond for her removing a sign outside Tabernacle Baptist Church, and Faya decided she was not going bond out. So she is in the county jail now. Thank you for sharing this and for your words, actions, thoughts, and prayers. I will continue to update you in this main post. Thank you.

UPDATE #2: I am now in the Dallas County jail with Faya Rose Toure as her lawyer as well as her husband. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to meet with her and talk to her in private. She has another important legal case set for tomorrow, and I am trying to prepare to handle that case in her stead. They have set her particular case arising out of this sign for sometime in September. I don’t know how long she may stay in jail. She refuses to pay an illegal and unjust bond for an illegal and unjust arrest.

The first step is for everybody in Dallas County to see that everybody votes because this is about trying to stop people from voting. The second step is to make sure she is alright while she is here in jail. Her not coming out of jail is designed to focus attention on the injustice not only of this situation but of the Selma authorities in general. If they will do this to a lawyer, who is the wife of the state Senator, what are they doing to others, especially to poor Black people?

I will have further updates coming. I have never asked anyone to share any of my Facebook posts before, and Faya and I and our family appreciate the hundreds of people who have done so and continue to do so as well as all those who continue to pray, think of her, and take action. Thank you.

UPDATE #3: I want to contrast the reaction of law enforcement about a sign that was illegally on public property with how they reacted on another much more serious case in December of last year. Faya Rose Toure, on December the 12th, the day of Doug Jones’ election victory, was in Orrville, another small town in Dallas County. She was driving my car, which had a “Vote or Die” sign on it. A White man came up and banged on my car, then tore the “Vote or Die” sign off my car, and then said, “Somebody is going to be killed tonight.”

Faya Rose was the only person in the car. She has tried diligently since that time to have the man arrested. No warrant has been issued; no person arrested; no person questioned; no action taken. This involved a death threat in front of multiple people, including a minister. Not one person with law enforcement has taken any action. Just compare this with the nine officers showing up to arrest Faya Rose concerning a sign placed illegally in front of Tabernacle Baptist Church where the first mass meetings were held during the Voting Rights Movement.

UPDATE #4: I just left the Dallas County jail meeting and talking with Faya Rose Toure. I can’t say that she is in good spirits for who could be in good spirits under these circumstances? I can say that she is in a determined spirit to meet this injustice with the full weight of moral force. That is why she will not post this outrageously unjust bond of $2,000 cash.

One of her regrets is that she will not be able to cast a vote in the Dallas County Probate Judge race tomorrow. She has worked so hard on this election with “Vote or Die.” She has, in fact, risked her life. Several White men threatened to kill her a couple of weeks ago just because they were mad and White and she was determined and Black. She knew she was risking her life, but she didn’t know she was risking her freedom. She indeed risked her freedom and lost because she is incarcerated in the Dallas County jail.

All she asks is that people in Dallas County go to the polls and vote tomorrow. Your vote is her freedom. Your vote is her reward for risking her life. Your vote is for justice and for history. I will go back to see her at the jail early tomorrow morning before guest hosting “Faya’s Fire” on Z105.3 FM Radio and online at  Then I will go to court on another case of injustice she has been fighting for years. And then I will go vote. Please vote tomorrow.

VOTE! Thank you.

UPDATE #5 (Tuesday morning): I am just leaving the Dallas County jail, and I was shocked that they have charged Faya Rose with shoplifting a sign from public property in a town that has an ordinance that prohibits any candidates’ signs from being on public property. Again, this sign was in front of the historical Tabernacle Baptist Church.

Normally they let people out on misdemeanors. They sign their own bonds. But this was not the case with Faya Rose Toure. In fact, the $2,000 bond is a cash bond. In other words, they will not allow a bail bondsman to let you out. You have to put up the whole $2,000 in cash. But Faya Rose feels so strongly about this injustice, she would not make a bond even if a bail bondsman could do it.

What disturbs her the most is the actions of the police. Our 11-year-old granddaughter was with her, and as the police were taking Faya Rose away, she asked them if she could call someone to come pick up our 11-year-old granddaughter. They would not allow her to make that call or any call. The 11-year-old granddaughter was left on the street with strangers.

At 8:00 a.m. today, in just a few minutes, I will be on Z105.3 FM Radio and online at Again, thank you for all your thoughts, prayers, actions, and sharing of what is happening. Faya and all of us appreciate you so much. I will be voting today after I leave court handling a case that Faya Rose was representing that is also a case of great injustice. Remember to VOTE, get your friends and family to vote, and get everyone you know to vote. Thank you.

UPDATE #6: I hosted “Faya’s Fire” for Faya Rose Toure. It was a unique and powerful experience. Several people called in to talk about the injustice. My 11-year-old granddaughter came in and shared how she felt witnessing police brutality and how it made her feel when they wouldn’t let her grandmother call to make arrangements for someone to pick her up.

Then Dr. Robert White of Alabama State University called in to talk about how these tactics of law enforcement often backfire. He felt strongly that this was designed to make sure that Faya Rose was in jail on election day so that she could not mobilize voters to come out to the polls. But he said that could backfire and more people may come out to vote as a result of this and other injustices.

I talked about the contrast between law enforcement’s reaction to a campaign sign with Faya Rose with their reaction to when someone tore a “Vote or Die” sign off my car, which she was driving, and issued a death threat. I talked about the three White men who confronted her on the street a few weeks ago and how she stood up to them and their threats but how nothing was done about their threats of violence in spite of complaints. I did not complete the hour because I had to rush to court to handle the case that Faya Rose had been working on for the last couple of years to help fight injustice.

Things did not go well in court, but that is a story for another day. I am going back to the jail to see Faya Rose and then I am going to vote. She wanted very much to be able to vote in this runoff election in Dallas County because she had worked so hard to get others out to vote. But she will not be able to vote. We urge others to make sure you vote for yourselves and for Faya Rose. Vote today in the Dallas County runoff election. Thank you.

UPDATE #7: Faya Rose is in jail because of this run-off election in the Democratic Primary. The candidate whose sign was at issue lost by around 1,700 votes. The other candidate won by around 1,700 votes. The losing candidate is the candidate whom City employees were allowing to place and maintain signs on city right of way in violation of the City’s laws. The winning candidate is the candidate whom City employees were actively removing his signs while intentionally ignoring the other candidate’s signs and leaving them in place.

I do not know how anyone can get a good night’s sleep in jail, but I believe that Faya Rose will sleep a little better tonight. I also believe that their arresting her and putting her in jail under these unjust circumstances helped African American voters and others who supported the winning candidate to come out in greater numbers. Again, I thank everyone for your words, thoughts, prayers, actions, and sharing the information I posted yesterday and today. THANK YOU!

About Jamil Al-Amin, the former H. Rap Brown

H. Rap Brown

Being involved in the civil rights movement in the ‘South’, in the 1960s, means that you would know and/or hear about the great H. Rap Brown (now known as Jamil Al-Amin) in his early organizing work for justice, such as in Alabama. This was prior to his remarkable activism north of the Mason Dixon line. Yes, Brown and others were challenging Alabama’s Governor George Wallace and the prevailing white supremacy that denied Blacks virtually everything in terms of what is referred to as democratic rights. The unjust and racist system was entrenched in the South and in the country as a whole, resulting in H. Rap Brown, along with his Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) colleagues, challenging it all.

The activism in the Brown family is and remains remarkable. H. Rap Brown’s older brother, the late Ed Brown, was also engaged in every conceivable movement for justice across the South. Originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Ed was ultimately living in Atlanta where he served as the head of the Voter Education Project and other leadership roles. Throughout his on-going career, wherever there was an issue of injustice to be addressed, Ed Brown was there on the front lines, that included, of course, the anti-apartheid movement. He was a very dear friend of mine.

H. Rap Brown ultimately took the name of Jamil Al-Amin and, as a Muslim leader, was the influential Imam in Atlanta’s West End where he consistently attempted, among other missions, to end the drug invasion in the West End community. Then, in 2000, an Atlanta policeman was killed and Al-Amin was accused of this crime, yet all the indications are that he was not the killer. In fact, as from the ‘Fact Sheet’ below, “Evidence that an individual, Otis Jackson, confessed to be the shooter on the evening of March 16, 2000, was never introduced at trial by the prosecution or defense-Otis Jackson continues to maintain that he was the assailant.”

When Jamil Al-Amin was first in prison in Atlanta for this alleged crime, I visited him briefly, along with Alabama attorney J.L. Chestnut who had been defending Al-Amin while he was in Alabama just after the killing of the Atlanta policeman.

During the 2002 trial, that ended in the conviction of Jamil Al-Amin, we consistently held radio shows on WRFG-Atlanta, along with Al-Amin’s brother Ed Brown, regarding updates of the trial and many of us, including myself, were observers in the courtroom.

Al-Amin is now in the United States Prison (USP) in Tucson, Arizona where he is housed in the general population. “He continues to declare his innocence, and supporters are advocating for his return to a Georgia facility where he will be able to assist his legal team in appealing his conviction.”

The following ‘Jamil Al-Amin Series’ will provide updates on his case and his remarkable history.

Heather Gray
Justice Initiative International
June 30, 2018


Part One



Jamil Al-Amin
Imam Jamil Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown, was sentenced to life without parole in the Georgia prison system. He became involved in the civil/human rights movement primarily in the southern part of the United States as early as 1962. As a result of his participation, speech-making, and subsequent election as Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), in May 1967, the United States government targeted him in its illegal surveillance and entrapment programs, specifically COINTELPRO, initiated by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
“We Protest the Violation of Imam Jamil’s Basic Rights”

During his earlier years, the United States government and its state and local branches charged and imprisoned him for counseling to arson, inciting to arson and riot, federal fire arms violations, and bond violations. These charges were fabricated and unfounded. By 1968 while under house arrest, U.S. Congress members, and governors were calling for law enforcement to arrest him, and “slam the doors” of the prisons behind him. On April 11, 1968, the “Rap Brown” Federal Anti-Riot Act passed as an amendment to a fair housing law. This law against dissent made it illegal to travel from one state to another, write a letter, make a telephone call, or speak n radio or televeiion with the  “intent” to encourage any person to participate in a riot. By 1970, Imam Jamil was placed on the FBl’s “10 Most Wanted List,” simply for failing to appear for trial on the fabricated ‘inciting to arson and riot’ charges.

From 1971 until 1976, Imam Jamil was imprisoned in the State of New York on charges related to eradicating drug activity in African American communities. Upon his release, he relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, where he immediately began to establish and organize a Muslim community. He devoted years to traveling throughout the United States, the Sudan, Pakistan, India, the West Indies, and Saudi Arabia. He also served on boards of major Islamic organizations with a national and international agenda. After 24 years, he was arrested on March 20, 2000, and charged with the death of one and the assault of another Fulton County Georgia Sheriff’s deputy.

The Case of Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin
Al-Amin with his son

In January 2002, the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia summoned a jury pool of approximately 1500 residents of the county to be considered to serve as jurors in the case against Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. Charged with 13 counts, including the murder of one Fulton County sheriff’s deputy and the wounding of another deputy on the evening of March 16, 2000, Imam Jamil retained a team of four attorneys to present his defense. The jury of nine African Americans, two Caucasians, and one Hispanic took less than 10 hours to reach its verdict in the three-week trial. The sentencing phase began on March 11, 2002, with relatives of the deputies reading victim impact statements. For three days, Imam Jamil’s defense team called 20  character  witnesses. On March 14, 2002, the same jury that found Imam Jamil guilty of all 13 counts of the indictment, pronounced the sentence of life without the possibility of parole on the murder and felony murder counts. In addition, the presiding judge imposed an additional 30 years to the sentence as punishment on the remaining 11 counts.

The jury declined to pronounce the death penalty. Imam Jamil immediately was moved to Georgia’s maximum security state prison in Reidsville, Georgia. He remained in Reidsville in 23-hour involuntary lock-down until Georgia turned him over to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. On August 1, 2007, with no federal charges or convictions, Imam Jamil was moved to the Supermax ADMAX USP in Florence, Colorado.

As a Georgia state prisoner, Imam Jamil was transferred into federal custody based on a March 1990 Agreement between Georgia and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) to house an inmate for the state, Georgia turned Imam Jamil over to the FBOP after determining that Muslin Georgie inmates wanted him to serve as the Imam for all Georgia state inmates. The Department of Corrections, along with the FBI, maintained that this “solidarity movement” would be a “threat” to the security of the Georgia prison system. With the prompting of the FBI, Georgia conceded to the transfer, although Georgia maintained that it was not recommending any particular prison for Imam Jamil to be held.

Imam Jamil remained at the Florence ADX in solitary confinement for seven years. His status at Florence as a state prisoner prevented him from participating in the institution’s step-down program. As a result, he remained in limbo while other federal inmates had the capability to work their way out of solitary confinement to another federal institution.

Rally in support of Jamil Al-Amin in Atlanta, GA

Imam Jamil continues to challenge his Georgia conviction. There is consensus that Imam Jaml was convicted well before the jury announced its verdict. Contradictions highlighted during the trial and comments made by the prosecution smacked at First Amendment rights. Moreover, Imam Jamil’s history as a civil/human rights leader at the time of the trial spanned nearly 35 years of governmental surveillance and harassment. Additionally, before the trial ended, the trial judge ruled that the Imam’s initial May 31, 1999 stop, search, and arrest by the Cobb County police officer indeed was an illegal and unjustified stop.

Supporters continue to raise the following issues that surfaced during the trial:

* Prosecution almost systematically eliminated older African American women who could have been expected  to have some knowledge of the FBl’s COINTELPRO program, which targeted African American leaders.

* Deputies stated that one or even both deputies had shot the assailant.

* The surviving deputy was emphatic when describing the assailant as having grey eyes – Imam’s eyes are brown.

* The crime scene contained blood on the street and in a neighboring abandoned house, however the blood was discounted.

* The deputies offered conflicting accounts of the description of the assailant and clothing worn – the description did not match the Imam.

* The testimony of 911 tapes confirming reports of a wounded person in the area of the Imam’s store on the night of the shooting was not admitted into evidence.

* The Imam’s fingerprints were not found on any firearm associated with the crime.

* Pieces of evidence relating to the sheriff’s vehicle were either lost or destroyed prior to court proceedings.

*  FBI agent Ron Campbell who admitted to kicking and spitting on the Imam during the White Hall, Alabama arrest, escaped total scrutiny as to his role in the case; and local residents refuted the account of the U.S. Marshals who claimed the lmam shot at them in White Hall.

* Evidence that an individual, Otis Jackson, confessed to be the shooter on the evening of March 16, 2000, was never introduced at trial by the prosecution or defense-Otis Jackson continues to maintain that he was the assailant.

Imam Jamil’s federal habeas addresses discrepancies as well as constitutional errors that occurred during the Georgia trial that resulted in his conviction. His federal appeal will continue, during 2018, before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, asserting among other issues that the prosecutor’s closing argument and actions were not “harmless error,” therefore, the conviction should be overturned.

Free Jamil Al-Amin

In 2013, lmam Jamil became ill with a dental problem that ultimately caused two abscesses that the Florence FBOP ADX medical staff ignored. As a result of a major campaign by family members, human rights activists, organizations, supporters and ultimately Congressional reps, the Imam received tests that indicated the presence of a stage of multiple myeloma, cancer of the plasma cells, which required a bone marrow biopsy. After further public pressure urging the FBOP to stop the “execution by medical neglect” of the Imam, he was moved on July 15, 2014, from the Florence supermax prison to the federal Butner Medical Center, in North Carolina.

On July 23, 2014, at the Butner FMC, Imam Jamil received medical results that he had smoldering myeloma, an intermediate pre-cursor stage of multiple myeloma, which needed to be monitored. He was moved from Butner, in October 2014, to the USP Canaan federal prison, in Waymart, PA, where he was placed in general population after 14 years of being subjected to administrative and solitary confinement.

Supporters continue to urge the FBOP to monitor the Imam’s medical condition and to provide quality treatment at a facility in a warmer climate, Imam Jamil subsequently was moved, in December 2015, from Waymart to the USP, in Tucson, Arizona where he is housed in general population. He continues to declare his innocence, and supporters are advocating for his return to a Georgia facility where he will be able to assist his legal team in appealing his conviction.


Frederick Douglass, 1818-1895


Note: Lloyd Weaver is the great great grandson of Frederick Douglas. I have been fortunate to interview him on occasion on my radio show ( “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM) about his impressive journalistic and activist work in the United States as well as on the African continent and, of course, some about his remarkable family history. Weaver now lives in New York.

Regarding Weaver’s great great grandfather Frederick Douglas (1818-1895), I have posted in the past on the Justice Initiative, Douglas’ excellent commentary on  “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro“.

Below is a beginning biography about Fredrick Douglas while he was in slavery and then freed through his own initiatives. This is from the “Frederick Douglas Family Initiatives” website and will be followed by more history and some of his speeches/writing.

Heather Gray

May 13, 2018



Frederick Douglass, 1818-1895


Use the power of language to effect permanent positive change-
“Through my many speeches about justice, and through my newspaper and other writings,
I discovered that the power of the word is the best means to bring about permanent positive changes, both for myself and others.” (Frederick Douglas)


Frederick Baily was born a slave in February 1818 on Holmes Hill Farm, near the town of Easton on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The farm was part of an estate owned by Aaron Anthony, who also managed the plantations of Edward Lloyd V, one of the wealthiest men in Maryland. The main Lloyd Plantation was near the eastern side of Chesapeake Bay, 12 miles from Holmes Hill Farm, in a home Anthony had built near the Lloyd mansion, was where Frederick’s first master lived.

Frederick’s mother, Harriet Baily, worked the cornfields surrounding Holmes Hill.

He knew little of his father except that the man was white. As a child, he had heard rumors that the master, Aaron Anthony, had sired him. Because Harriet Baily was required to work long hours in the fields, Frederick had been sent to live with his grandmother, Betsey Baily. Betsy Baily lived in a cabin a short distance from Holmes Hill Farm. Her job was to look after Harriet’s children until they were old enough to work. Frederick’s mother visited him when she could, but he had only a hazy memory of her. He spent his childhood playing in the woods near his grandmother’s cabin. He did not think of himself as a slave during these years. Only gradually did Frederick learn about a person his grandmother would refer to as Old Master and when she spoke of Old Master it was with certain fear.

At age 6, Frederick’s grandmother had told him that they were taking a long journey. They set out westward, with Frederick clinging to his grandmother’s skirt with fear and uncertainty. They had approached a large elegant home, the Lloyd Plantation, where several children were playing on the grounds. Betsy Baily had pointed out 3 children which were his brother Perry, and his sisters Sara and Eliza. His grandmother had told him to join his siblings and he did so reluctantly. After a while one of the children yelled out to Frederick that his grandmother was gone. Frederick fell to the ground and wept, he was about to learn the harsh realities of the slave system.

The slave children of Aaron Anthony’s were fed cornmeal mush that was placed in a trough, to which they were called. Frederick later wrote “like so many pigs.” The children made homemade spoons from oyster shells to eat with and competed with each other for every last bite of food. The only clothing that they were provided with was one linen shirt which hung to their knees. The children were provided no beds or warm blankets. On cold winter nights they would huddle together in the kitchen of the Anthony house to keep each other warm.

One night Frederick was awakened by a woman’s screams. He peered through a crack in the wall of the kitchen only to see Aaron Anthony lashing the bare back of a woman, who was his aunt, Hester Baily. Frederick was terrified, but forced himself to watch the entire ordeal. This would not be the first whipping he would see, occasionally he himself would be the victim. He would learn that Aaron Anthony would brutally beat his slaves if they did not obey orders quickly enough.

Frederick’s mother was rarely able to visit her children due to the distance between Holmes Hill Farm and the Lloyd plantation. Frederick last saw his mother when he was seven years old. He remembered his mother giving a severe scolding to the household cook who disliked Frederick and gave him very little food. A few months after this visit, Harriet Baily died, but Frederick did not learn of this until much later.

Because Frederick had a natural charm that many people found engaging, he was chosen to be the companion of Daniel Lloyd, the youngest son of the plantation’s owner.

Frederick’s chief friend and protector was Lucretia Auld, Aaron Anthony’s daughter, who was recently married to a ship’s captain named Thomas Auld. One day in 1826 Lucretia told Frederick that he was being sent to live with her brother-in-law, Hugh Auld, who managed a ship building firm in Baltimore, Maryland. She told him that if he scrubbed himself clean, she would give him a pair of pants to wear to Baltimore. Frederick was elated at this chance to escape the life of a field hand. He cleaned himself up and received his first pair of pants. Within three days he was on his way to Baltimore.

Upon Frederick’s arrival at the Auld Home, his only duties were to run errands and care for the Auld’s infant son, Tommy. Frederick enjoyed the work and grew to love the child. Sophia Auld was a religious woman and frequently read aloud from the Bible. Frederick asked his mistress to teach him to read and she readily consented. He soon learned the alphabet and a few simple words. Sophia Auld was very excited about Frederick’s progress and told her husband what she had done. Hugh Auld became furious at this because it was unlawful to teach a slave to read. Hugh Auld believed that if a slave knew how to read and write that it would make him unfit for a slave. A slave that could read and write would no longer obey his master without question or thought, or even worse could forge papers that said he was free and thus escape to a northern state where slavery was outlawed. Hugh Auld then instructed Sophia to stop the lessons at once!

Frederick learned from Hugh Auld’s outburst that if learning how to read and write was his pathway to freedom, then gaining this knowledge was to become his goal. Frederick gained command of the alphabet on his own and made friends with poor white children he met on errands and used them as teachers. He paid for his reading lessons with pieces of bread. At home Frederick read parts of books and newspapers when he could, but he had to constantly be on guard against his mistress. Sophia Auld screamed whenever she caught Frederick reading. Sophia Auld’s attitude toward Frederick had changed, she no longer regarded him as any other child, but as a piece of property. However, Frederick gradually learned to read and write. With a little money he had earned doing errands, he bought a copy of The Columbian Orator, a collection of speeches and essays dealing with liberty, democracy, and courage.

Frederick was greatly affected by the speeches on freedom in The Columbian Orator, and so began reading local newspapers and began to learn about abolitionists. Not quite 13 years old but enlightened with new ideas that both tormented and inspired him. Frederick began to detest slavery. His dreams of emancipation were encouraged by the example of other blacks in Baltimore, most of whom were free. But new laws passed by southern state legislators made it increasingly difficult for owners to free their slaves.

During this time, Aaron Anthony died, and his property went to his two sons and his daughter, Lucretia Auld. Frederick remained a part of the Anthony estate and was sent back to the Lloyd plantation to be a part of the division of property. Frederick was chosen by Thomas and Lucretia Auld and was sent back to Hugh and Sophia Auld in Baltimore. Seeing his family being divided up increased his hatred of slavery, however, he was hurt the most that his grandmother, considered too old for any work, was evicted from her cabin and sent into the woods to die. Within a year of Frederick’s return to Baltimore, Lucretia Auld died. The two Auld brothers then got into a dispute, and Thomas wrote to Hugh and demanded the return of his late wife’s property, which included Frederick.

Frederick was sorry to leave Baltimore because he had recently become a teacher to a group of other young blacks. In addition, a black preacher named Charles Lawson had taken Frederick under his wing and adopted him as his spiritual son. In March of 1833, the 15 year old Frederick was sent to live at Thomas Auld’s new farm near the town of Saint Michaels, a few miles from the Lloyd plantation.

Frederick was again put to work as a field hand and was extremely unhappy about his situation. Thomas Auld starved his slaves, and they had to steal food from neighboring farms to survive. Frederick received many beatings and saw worse ones given to others. He then organized a Sunday religious service for the slaves which met in near by Saint Michaels. The services were soon stopped by a mob led by Thomas Auld. Thomas Auld had found Frederick especially difficult to control so he decided to have someone tame his unruly slave.

In January 1834, Frederick was sent to work for Edward Covey, a poor farmer who had gained a reputation around Saint Michaels for being and expert “slave breaker”. Frederick was not too displeased with this arrangement because Covey fed his slaves better than Auld did. The slaves on Covey’s farm worked from dawn until after nightfall, plowing, hoeing, and picking corn. Although the men were given plenty of food, they had very little time allotted to eat before they were sent back to work. Covey hid in bushes and spied on the slaves as they worked, if he caught one of them resting he would beat him with thick branches.

After being on the farm for one week, Frederick was given a serious beating for letting an oxen team run wild. During the months to follow, he was continually whipped until he began to feel that he was “broken”. On one hot August afternoon his strength failed him and he collapsed in the field. Covey kicked and beat Frederick to no avail and finally walked away in disgust. Frederick mustered the strength to get up and walk to the Auld farm, where he pleaded with his master to let him stay. Auld had little sympathy for him and sent him back to Covey. Beaten down as Frederick was, he found the strength to rebel when Covey began tying him to a post in preparation for a whipping. “At that moment – from whence came the spirit I don’t know – I resolved to fight,” Frederick wrote. “I seized Covey hard by the throat, and as I did so, I rose.” Covey and Frederick fought for almost two hours until Covey finally gave up telling Frederick that his beating would have been less severe had he not resisted. “The truth was,” said Frederick, “that he had not whipped me at all.” Frederick had discovered an important truth: “Men are whipped oftenist who are whipped easiest.” He was lucky, legally, a slave could be killed for resisting his master. But Covey had a reputation to protect and did not want it known that he could not control a 16 year old boy.

After working for Covey for a year, Frederick was sent to work for a farmer named William Freeland, who was a relatively kind master. But by now, Frederick did not care about having a kind master. All Frederick wanted was his freedom. He started an illegal school for blacks in the area that secretly met at night and on Sundays, and with five other slaves he began to plan his escape to the North. A year had passed since Frederick began working for William Freeland and his plan of escape had been completed. His group planned to steal a boat, row to the northern tip of Chesapeake Bay, and then flee on foot to the free state of Pennsylvania. The escape was supposed to take place just before the Easter holiday in 1836, but one of Frederick’s associates had exposed the plot and a group of armed white men captured the slaves and put them in jail.

Frederick was in jail for about a week. While imprisoned, he was inspected by slave traders, and he fully expected that he would be sold to “a life of living death” in the Deep South. To his surprise, Thomas Auld came and released him. Then Frederick’s master sent him back to Hugh Auld in Baltimore. The two brothers had finally settled their dispute. Frederick was now 18 years old, 6 feet tall and very strong from his work in the fields.

Hugh Auld decided that Frederick should work as a caulker (a man who forced sealing matter into the seams in a boat’s hull to make it water tight) to earn his keep. He was hired out to a local shipbuilder so that he could learn the trade. While apprenticing at the shipyard, Frederick was harassed by white workers who did not want blacks, slaves or free, competing with them for jobs. One afternoon, a group of white apprentices beat up Frederick and nearly took out one of his eyes. Hugh Auld was angry when he saw what had happened and attempted to press charges against the assailants. However, none of the shipyard’s white employees would step forward to testify about the beating. Free blacks had little hope of obtaining justice through the southern court system, which refused to accept a black person’s testimony against a white person. Therefore, the case had to be dropped.

After Frederick recovered from his injuries, he began apprenticing at the shipyard where Hugh Auld worked. Within a year, he was an experienced caulker and was being paid the highest wages possible for a tradesman at his level. He was allowed to seek his own employment and collect his own pay, and at the end of each week he gave all his earnings to Hugh Auld. Sometimes he was allowed to keep a little money for himself. But as time passed, he became resentful of having to give up his hard earned pay.

In Frederick’s spare time he met with a group of educated free blacks and indulged in the luxury of being a student again. Some of the free blacks formed an educational association called the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society, which Frederick had been admitted to. This is where Frederick learned his debating skills. At one of the society’s meetings, Frederick met a free black woman named Anna Murray. Anna was a few years older than Frederick and was a servant for a wealthy Baltimore family. Although Anna was a plain, uneducated woman, Frederick admired her qualities of thriftiness, industriousness and religiousness. Anna and Frederick were soon in love and in 1838 they were engaged.

Love and courtship increased Frederick’s discontent with his status. After Frederick’s escape attempt, Thomas Auld had promised him that if he worked hard he would be freed when he turned 25. But Frederick did not trust his master, and he resolved to escape. However, escaping would be very difficult due to professional slave catchers patrolling the boarders between slave states and free states, and free blacks traveling by train or steamboat had to carry official papers listing their name, age, height, skin color, and other distinguishing features. In order to escape, Frederick needed money to pay for traveling expenses. Frederick arranged with Hugh Auld to hire out his time, that is, Frederick would take care of his own room and board and pay his master a set amount each week, keeping any extra money for himself. This also gave him the opportunity to see what it was like living on his own.

This arrangement had been working out quite well until Frederick returned home late one night and failed to pay Hugh Auld on time. Auld was furious and revoked his hiring-out privilege. Frederick was so enraged over this that he refused to work for a week. He finally gave in to Auld’s threats, but he also made a resolution that in three weeks, on September 3, 1838, he would be on a northbound train. Escaping was a difficult decision for Frederick. He would be leaving his friends and his fairly comfortable life in Baltimore forever. He did not know when and if he would see Anna Murray again. Furthermore, if he was caught during his escape, he was sure that he would be either killed or sold to slave traders. Taking all of this into consideration, Frederick was resolved to escape to freedom.

With money that he borrowed from Anna, Frederick bought a ticket to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He also had a friend’s “sailor’s protection,” a document that certified that the person named on it was a free seaman. Dressed in a sailor’s red shirt and black cravat, Frederick boarded the train. Frederick reached northern Maryland before the conductor made it to the “Negro car” to collect tickets and examine papers. Frederick became very tense when the conductor approached him to look at his papers because he did not fit the description on them. But with only a quick glance, the conductor walked on, and the relieved Frederick sank back in his seat. On a couple of occasions, he thought that he had been recognized by other passengers from Baltimore, but if so they did not turn him in to the authorities.

Upon arriving in Wilmington, Delaware, Frederick then boarded a steamboat to Philadelphia. Even after stepping on Pennsylvania’s free soil, he knew he was not yet safe from slave catchers. He immediately asked directions to New York City, and that night he took another train north. On September 4, 1838, Frederick arrived in New York City. Frederick could not find the words to express his feelings of leaving behind his life in slavery. He later wrote, “A new world had opened upon me.” “Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted, but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.”

Interview with Alabama Attorney Hank Sanders About the Black Farmer Lawsuit Against the US Government 

Note: In a 2010 article by Ralph Paige, who was Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund at the time, he wrote: “When President Abraham Lincoln created the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1862 he referred to it as the ‘People’s Department.’ The problem is that its services have never been available to ‘all’ the people.” Although, with the Clinton and Obama administrations, efforts had been made to correct discriminatory problems at the USDA. It’s an unfortunate fact, however, that the USDA’s policies and behavior have been marred by rampant discrimination. This is why Black farmers filed a 1997 lawsuit against the USDA that focused on discrimination in the administration of its farm programs in the 1980s and into the 1990s.There were two phases of the lawsuit. One was filed under the Clinton administration and the second phase for late filers was settled under the Obama administration. 
The litigation, referred to as Pigford vs. Glickman (now Pigford vs. Vilsack) was named after Tim Pigford, a Black farmer in North Carolina, and the then Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman. Tom Vilsack, in the second phase, was the Secretary of Agriculture under the Obama administration. It was settled in 1999, and more than 15,000 Black farmers obtained relief for the discrimination they experienced at the hands of the USDA. But the settlement itself triggered such an outpouring of pent-up frustration and demands for justice that more than 11 years later the case was still ongoing.

Attorney Hank Sanders is one of the class counsels in the lawsuit and, at the time of this transcribed interview below, the Pigford lawsuit was in phase two.

The interview took place in 2010 on WRFG-89.3FM in Atlanta, Georgia. The program is “Just Peace” which is produced by Heather Gray.


By Heather Gray
May 2, 2018
Justice Initiative International

HEATHER GRAY – Hank, you were involved the Emergency Land Fund (ELF) that was created in the 1970’s. It worked exclusively on Black land loss issues. 

HANK SANDERS – Absolutely – it was a dynamic organization with a lot of energy and a lot of commitment and a lot of hard work. It eventually became a part of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives in 1985. 

GRAY – One of the things you were involved in the 1980’s, along with your wife Rose, was a study on heir property. Could you tell us about that study? 

SANDERS – Yes. We knew that a lot of heir property was being lost in tax sales, in partition sales, in other kinds of ways, and no one was quite sure how many acres of land Black folks had originally and what was being lost. So a study was done in connection with the ELF and other organizations and supported by the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. The USDA’s Farmer’s Home Administration (FmHA) ended up providing a grant for this purpose. That study documents the loss of land and how many acres we had left and how land was being lost at a very fast rate. Rose took off a year from the law firm in order to concentrate on that study. I helped and a lot of other folks helped with it, as well, but she was the driving force. 

GRAY – What was particularly significant about that study for you Hank? 

SANDERS – I think it was how fast we were actually losing land and how many different ways we were losing land. It’s one way of seeing it from the work you do, and see it on a first hand basis, but it’s another thing when you start seeing from states across the south, and seeing it happen time and time again in state after state after state. Land is such a powerful force in our lives and it means so much when you have land so it’s important to try to keep it. But another thing that was brought forcefully to our attention was that much of the heir property was not being used. And that made it a lot easier to actually be lost and we worked a lot on trying to get people to go ahead and put it into production. If it wasn’t row crops, then put it into tree production – put it into some kind of production because then it was less likely to be lost. 

GRAY – Would you define what heir property is? 

SANDERS – Heir property is property that goes to heirs. When people die and do not have a will, then the state says how the property will descend to the heirs. So the state really makes the decision. So it was important that people makes their own wills so they can determine how their real property goes. If they don’t determine it, then the state determines it. Heir property means that all the heirs of a particular person have an undivided interest in it. So, any one person can sell their interest to somebody. They can’t sell the whole, but they can sell their interest. The person who’s supposed to pay the taxes may not even live on the land, though there might be other family members who are living on the land or using it. So everybody has responsibility which means nobody has responsibility. 

GRAY – Why is land ownership so important? And, I must say, there were many Black farmers who owned land along Highway 80, the route on the ‘Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March’ in 1965, and many of them helped in the movement. Is that right 

SANDERS – Yes, certainly white farmers were not going to let Black folks on their land as they made the 5-day march from Selma to Montgomery. So it was Black farmers who provided the land for folks to stop on and spend the night and cook and eat and do all those kinds of things. Also, whites began to put Blacks, who were living on the white owned land, off the white owned land just because Blacks were trying to register to vote. Or all you had to do was to hear somebody was talking about registering and they would force people off their land. So, it was Black farmers who provided a place and land for people to live on, even when in a modest shack or something like that. So just having your own land is such a powerful thing. 

I’d like to tell a story that happened to my mother. When we were growing up we lived on heir property, but my grandfather on my father’s side was still living so that means that my father had no interest in the land. He wasn’t an heir yet. My grandfather was an heir and a lot of other heirs lived on the land as well. We lived in a 3-room house and my mother had 9 children and so we had 11 people living in this 3-room house. But the long and short of this was that we would stand on the side of the road when she was on her way to work in the morning, and when she was coming back in the evening, the whites would say would say, “Look, you don’t have any right to live on this land, you’re not an heir. We’re going to put you off.” My mother was generally a really fiery woman, but she didn’t know where she would go with the huge houseful of children, so she just kind of took it. But finally she got fed up and told us one summer, “Whenever ya’ll pick cotton this Fall you’re not going to buy school books, you’re not going to buy school clothes, or whatever. I’m going to take the money and I’m going to buy me a piece of land. I’m tired of them threatening me every morning and every evening.” 

So when we got up to $50 she took it and went to another county and put the $50 down on one acre of land that cost $150. So the word must have traveled. When she walked the next morning there was nobody out there to threaten her then or ever again. We never lived on that land but it was an umbrella of freedom for her. That’s the power of owning a piece of land. When you own land you look at yourself differently, but everyone else looks at you differently as well. 

GRAY – The FHMA was created in 1942 and was considered the lending institution of last resort for small farmers. The problem is, however, that Black farmers were never able to access those resources to any degree. 

SANDERS – It was terrible how the FMHA treated African American farmers. Going and coming, they just didn’t want to make loans to them. They tried to find every way to try to not make loans and even if they made a loan it was too little and too late. It was just a real problem and that was the root cause of the first Black farmers lawsuit.

When we were growing up, Black farmers just knew not to go to the Farmers Home office – there wasn’t any sense of you even trying because they simply were not going to make you a loan. You were just wasting your time. People just did the best they could with what they had.

GRAY – I know it was because of all this that farmers filed suit against the USDA in the 1990’s. Also, during the Reagan administration, the Office of Civil Rights at USDA was abolished which made it difficult for farmers to complain to the government about this on-going discrimination. There was no recourse.

SANDERS – As you pointed out, the Reagan administration actually abolished the Office of Civil Rights. So when the lawsuit was filed you could only go back two years because that was the statute of limitations. In order to get the lawsuit to go back to 1981, Congress had to pass something to authorize that and, in order to do that, the attorneys agreed not to accept any attorney fees from the farmers but instead to collect fees from the government. So that means that instead of going back to 1996 you could go back to 1981, which meant that thousands more farmers could be covered in the lawsuit.

Eventually, more than billion dollars was paid the farmers in the lawsuit. But, as we well know, a lot of folks were left out. Still, it was the biggest civil rights lawsuit in the history of this country against the government.

It was a great victory, but it was incomplete because a lot of farmers just didn’t apply. It’s likely that a lot of farmers didn’t think anything would come of the lawsuit. We’ve been disappointed too many times over the years starting out with the promise of 40 acres and a mule. We now have second phase of the lawsuit, that we call Pigford II, which is for those thousands of farmers who filed late petitions but have not yet been able to file a claim in the lawsuit.

Some people think that this is reparations, and that the lawsuit is open for everybody. Now, it’s a form of reparations for Black farmers but it is not open to everybody. You had to have been involved in farming or had been attempting to be involved in farming to be a part of this lawsuit.

GRAY – What is this lawsuit actually accomplishing?

SANDERS – Well, it provides some money for Black farmers who have been wronged. But it doesn’t enjoin the government from stopping discrimination in the future. I do think, under this administration, we will see a lot less wrongdoing but sometime down the road these problems could return. The people who committed discrimination are still in place throughout the south and throughout the chain at USDA, so I don’t want to give the idea that this is a cure-all. We’ll have to continue fighting. This is not something you can relax on and think everything is going to be all right. You have to be prepared to fight and fight and fight.

GRAY – Are you saying there could have been something else in the lawsuit, and as Attorney Chestnut once told me, that he was hoping to take the case of Black farmers to court so that all of America could hear about the plight of Black farmers – and this would be in lieu of a settlement. You were saying, however, that some decisions were made during the Clinton administration that there should be a settlement. That the lawsuit could go on forever. There could be appeals and, chances are, no farmer would get anything.

SANDERS – Let me say that J.L. Chestnut was one of the most brilliant attorneys that ever lived. He was a tremendous person and a tremendous warrior, and a tremendous fighter for all Black folks and all folks who been left out or wronged or misused in some kind of way. But the lower level in the government didn’t want to settle because they thought they would eventually win. Some of the higher-ups in the Clinton administration had to force this to a settlement at that time.

GRAY – I thought there was also a concern that the Congress was becoming more right wing and it was thought that, if the Republicans got in, it might not be possible to achieve anything in the lawsuit.

SANDERS – Actually, the people in the Justice Department who had been there before the Clinton administration did not want to settle it. That, if they could just drag it out, eventually Black farmers wouldn’t get anything.

I think, however, that the present Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack (under the Obama administration), has a genuine desire to correct some of the wrongs of the past in terms of discrimination against farmers. But, you know, sometimes you can be the Secretary of Agriculture and still not have the power that you think you might because the Justice Department is really representing the Secretary of Agriculture, and many of the people who were involved in this lawsuit in the Justice Department are still there.

When we first started on the Pigford lawsuit in the 1990’s, we had 13 attorneys and some 30 staff. The Pigford lawsuit just broke us financially. Now we’re down to 3 lawyers. We paid a high price in fighting for justice for Black farmers.

GRAY – There are a lot of people out there who are saying that attorneys made a lot of money on the Pigford lawsuit.

SANDERS – Some attorneys did make a lot of money but it wasn’t the plaintiff’s attorneys. The monitor made a lot of money. The arbitrators made money because the government paid their bills and they fought with us about our bills.

GRAY – What was the major thing that you learned from this lawsuit Hank?

SANDERS – Well, first, what was reinforced was that when you take on the United States government, that’s one heck of a challenge and it takes a lot of courage and fortitude to do that. The United States government has so much, compared to the limited resources that individual lawyers have. But the thing is, even when you are outnumbered, or with limited resources, if you fight with everything, you then you still can help folks.

A billion dollars that went to Black farmers in the lawsuit is a lot of money. So, it is not all that Black folks deserve, but still it’s a lot and is a victory. Maybe you can’t succeed 100%, but still there are victories.

HEATHER GRAY produces “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. 

Peled: “Israel should be called Palestine”


By Heather Gray
April 7, 2018
Justice Initiative International


I wrote the first version of the article below regarding a Palestinian “sense of place” for

Counterpunch in 2006 and sent it out also in a 2016 Justice Initiative posting. Yet, given the intensity of struggles and the ongoing Israeli violence against the Palestinians, I am sending out an edited version. Land and the struggles for indigenous integrity are hugely important all over the world. Those of us of European descent (which includes many Israelis) have much to atone for over the centuries regarding grabbing land from others as well as grabbing people to enslave them and the struggles and reverberations of it all are on-going. The impact of abusive and arrogant behavior is seemingly endless particularly when the efforts for reconciliation, reparations,  justice and peace are not taken seriously.

Contemporary Israeli/Palestinian Conflict and some solutions by the Peled family

Now the contemporary impact of this is becoming all the more intense in the Middle East given the increased Israeli and American arrogance – as with Trump’s outrageous plans to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and the recent and on-going killings by Israelis of Palestinians and all this is coupled with the huge US military support of Israel.

The Israelis might grab the Palestinian land and claim it as their own but they are wrong in assuming that it will be “their” land. It is not theirs and it never will be. It’s way past time for peace, justice and reconciliation. As Israeli Miko Peled has recently stated – “Israel is an illegitimate state and the area should be called Palestine!” Below is his quote in a recent interview:

The United States is a top supporter of the occupation through funding of the Israeli military and providing cover for Israeli violations of international law in the United Nations. Peled emphasizes that activists in the US have a responsibility to take action to end the occupation of Palestine and outlines many ways to do this, including an aggressive BDS campaign and support for legislation in Congress. Peled says “Israel” is an illegitimate state and the area should be called Palestine.
(Miko Peled – Popular Resistance – March 30, 2018)

Over the years I have been fortunate to interview both the father and son – Matti and Miko Peled.

Once retired from the Israeli military in 1969 as a Major General,  Matti Peled (1923-1995) received his PhD in Arabic literature from the University of California and he then went back to Israel to, in fact, teach Arabic literature.

In 1992, I interviewed the Matti Peled who was visiting the United States to encourage a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. Click here for the PDF of the transcribed interview with him, entitled “Predictions of the Present Day Turmoil in the Middle East.”
Below is a summary of some of Matti Peled’s comments:
  • He describes the corrupting influence of the U.S. government giving huge amounts of aid to Israel.
  • He comments about the Israeli period prior to the 1967 “Six Day War” of which he is proud and how ashamed he is of Israel in its present state.
  • He refers consistently to the oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis.
  • He predicts the circumstances of today in the Middle East of excessive violence and conflict because of the increased arms sales in the area after 1967, primarily from the U.S.
  • He states that there are virtually no concrete peace negotiations and that Israel seems incapable of producing a plan.
  • He stresses that the United Nations is the only vehicle that can effectively resolve the problems and bring peace to the Middle East.
As it can be noted, much of what Matti Peled stated in 1992 is still, unfortunately, relevant to today’s situation in the Middle East.  As mentioned, I was also fortunate to interview Matti Peled’s son, Miko Peled, who was visiting Atlanta in 2014. Click here for the link to his 2014 Atlanta speech.

A Palestinian “Sense of Place”

 Israel’s bombing and reckless destabilization of Palestinian communities is ongoing.

Yet, given the past century and the consistent abuse by Israelis, it has become clear that Israel can attempt to diminish the Palestinian claims on Palestine or weaken their resolve, but it’s highly unlikely it will succeed. No matter the strength of bombs, missiles and Caterpillar bulldozers or whatever the Israelis use, can never destroy the ancestral stories and culture that are rooted in the Palestinians themselves.

Probably no one says this better than Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish:

I Come From There

I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends,
And a prison cell with a cold window.
Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,
And an extra blade of grass.
Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.

I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland…..
The land holds the stories, the history. The land holds the roots. The land embraces the ancestry of thousands of years. The Palestinian people will preserve this no matter what. This is the most powerful weapon of all. You cannot bomb it away. Middle Eastern Jews also have this history, but it’s a shared history with Palestinians.

The Israelis have tried to erase the Palestinian history in any number of ways. Destruction of records is one example. Years ago, in bombings in the city of Nablas, the Israelis decimated an administration building holding thousands of Palestinian documents, some more than 100 years old, of deeds and family histories connected with land. In Gale Courey Toesing’s article “First Destroy the Archives: 9/11 Nablas” (Counterpunch July 27, 2006), she quotes Abed Al Illah Ateereh, the director of the Ministry of the Interior in Nablus:

“There is 100 percent damage,” Ateereh said. “They destroyed the building completely, but that wasn’t enough for the Israelis. They then used their Caterpillar bulldozers to churn up everything and mix all the documents with the soil so that nothing is able to be preserved,” Ateereh said.

The ministry had at least 175,000 individual case files each containing multiple documents. It will be impossible to recover an entire case file, Ateereh said. Some of the newer documents are backed up on a computer, but the old historical records are priceless and irreplaceable.

In David Barsamian’s “Culture and Resistance: Conversations with Edward W. Said” (2003) Barsamian writes that in one of the 1982 incursions into Beirut, Lebanon led by Ariel Sharon the Israelis destroyed offices holding Palestinian archives. Then 20 years later in another Sharon led invasion, the Israelis “ransacked” the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah.

The late Edward Said noted that the Center was named after Khalil Sakakini who was a friend of his family.

“He was famous for a school that he ran (prior to 1948) ­ it was a national school. It was non-sectarian. And it taught young Palestinian men the understanding of their cultural and political heritage. So the Center in Ramallah, which is named for him, is a symbol of Palestinian national, intellectual, and cultural life, and therefore a target for the Israelis.”

Regarding Palestinians, Edward Said says,

“There’s a whole assembly of cultural expression that has become part of the consolidation and persistence of Palestinian identity. There’s a Palestinian cinema, a Palestinian theater, a Palestinian poetry, and literature in general. Culture is a way of fighting against extinction and obliteration. Culture is a form of memory against effacement.” (Edward Said)

And while longing to return to Palestine, the refugees maintain their culture. Said also notes that,

“The inflection of Palestinian colloquial speech are preserved into the third and fourth generation. My son, for example, grew up in New York, subsequently learned Arabic. When you hear him speak, you can hear the accents of his grandfather. He obviously heard it from me and he heard it from other Palestinians when we speak together. So speech itself is the great tablet of memory.” (Edward Said)


A sense of place? What is it? It’s hard to say. Yet, Mahmoud Darwish says it best in his poem above. In most instances it appears that the “place” of a people is associated with history and culture that is usually land-based. Both Palestinians and Middle Eastern Jews have this. And land ownership? It’s a very complex issue. Further, grabbing land unjustly never totally succeeds. There is almost always a backlash. There’s almost always the threat of violence and retribution. People will not allow injustice against their own to continue indefinitely. If anything, this abuse strengthens their resolve.

The stories, history and culture associated with land are profound. They are always there, always in the hearts and minds, regardless of attempts to destroy them. In fact, they are far stronger than any bomb. For the safety of us all, the Israelis and Americans should attempt to learn this and give up their reliance on bombs, aggression and desire for empire and instead work toward peace, justice and reconciliation.

And, for one, as Peled says, calling the area Palestine instead of Israel seems like an excellent idea. Hopefully this would include more reconciliation initiatives, as well, with both Arabs and Jews perhaps even living together in peace….finally! And, if so, it could possibly serve as a significant way to begin other reconciliation processes throughout the world. Palestinians – now both Arabs and Jews – could take the lead in world reconciliation efforts. Wouldn’t that be nice!

HEATHER GRAY produces “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. This is an update of the original article posted on Countepunch in 2006. She can be reached at

King Assassination: “Wiping away the tears” 

A Day of Infamy, 50 Years Ago Today
Atlanta and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King
Sisters Chapel, Spelman Campus
April 7, 1968
by Heather Gray (1996)
The line moved in unison up the stairs and through
the chapel door.
No one spoke.
I could barely lift my feet.
It was April, the onset of Spring.
I was shivering.
His body was still.
His eyes were closed.
He was peaceful.
His compassionate voice was no more.
I wanted to run.
Yet, so desperately did not want to leave.
What now? I thought. What now?


April 4, 2018 

Justice Initiative International  

Thousands of people follow the casket as the body of Martin Luther King is brought to the memorial service. Atlanta, Georgia April 9, 1968
In 1968, the tragic events in the first week of April turned the world upside down. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis on Thursday, April 4. He was there to support the sanitation workers who were on strike and later to launch the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, DC. Harry Belafonte described the sequence of events that day. He was in Atlanta when Coretta Scott King received the news of her husband’s death. The grieving Mrs. King asked him to help select the clothes for her deceased husband’s showing and funeral. She expressed her concern, like millions of us across America and the world, about the aftermath of his assassination and what she could or should do. Belafonte recommended that she continue in the support of the Memphis sanitation workers. She did exactly that.
Coretta Scott King, next to Ralph Abernathy, and her children lead memorial march in Memphis,
April 8, 1968

On Monday, April 8, the day before her husband’s funeral, Mrs. King was in Memphis marching with the sanitation workers. This remarkably brave and determined woman, along with her three of her children, marched in silence in the company of 15,000 supporters from all over the country. Mrs. King told the crowd, “His work must go on. We are concerned about not only the Negro poor but the poor all over America and all over the world. Every man deserves a right to a job and an income so that he can pursue liberty, life and happiness.”

I was in Atlanta at that time as well. Earlier in the week a Chinese friend, who taught at Spelman College in Atlanta, had asked me to attend an event at Spelman on the weekend and then spend the night in the campus dorms. That was my plan. Little did my friend or I know how events that week would dramatically affect us all. Dr. King was assassinated on Thursday, April 4 and by the weekend his body was in state at Sister’s Chapel on the Spelman campus.

In the introduction to his excellent book “Undaunted by the Fight: Spelman College and the Civil Rights Movement 1957-1967” (2005) Harry Lefever provides a brief history of Spelman. It is “the nation’s oldest and best-known black liberal arts college for women, founded in 1881. In 1929, Spelman signed an Agreement of Affiliation with Morehouse College and Atlanta University, two black institutions located directly across the street from Spelman.” Ultimately other black schools of higher learning in the adjoining location joined the agreement. “….known as the Atlanta University Center (AUC), (it) represents the largest affiliation of predominantly black institutions in the United States.” Dr. King received his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College in 1948.

That weekend, a long line of mourners stood outside Sister’s Chapel to honor the fallen leader. The silence was deafening. It was April, the onset of Spring, and I stood there in line and shivering. All you could hear was the sound of feet slowly walking toward the chapel and people crying. I was the only “white” person in line at that time. As we walked into the Chapel and down the aisle toward the coffin, there were pastors on either side of the coffin “wiping away the tears” that fell on the glass over Martin King’s body. Only later did I learn that because so many people were crying, resulting in tears cascading into the coffin and over Dr. King, that a decision was made to cover the open coffin with glass. Once by the coffin, I observed this physically small, yet great man of peace, and found it virtually impossible to believe that his resounding, powerful voice was no more. It was an incredibly sad moment for me to witness his still body and to even think of the contemptible violence that killed him. But I was also angry. I kept thinking “What now? What on earth is now in store for America?

By Monday, April 8, people started arriving into Atlanta for the King funeral. I drove for the Student Non-Violent Committee (SNCC) to greet people arriving at the airport. My parents and hundreds of others were doing the same in their own cars.

Along with two  students from Atlanta University, the first person I drove from the airport was Ralph Bunche. Dr. Bunche was the first black Nobel Peace Prize recipient. He had received the award in 1950 for his negotiations in the creation of the State of Israel after World War II. In 1968 he was an Undersecretary of the United Nations and was representing the UN at the King funeral. The City of Atlanta had sent its Vice Mayor, Sam Massell, to accompany Dr. Bunche, but Bunche insisted on coming with us SNCC folks instead. Arrangements had been made for him at Atlanta’s Regency Hyatt, but he insisted on staying at Paschals, Atlanta’s renowned Black owned hotel and restaurant on Hunter Street, now Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. So here I was, driving Dr. Bunche, who sat in the passenger seat of my little car and he was asking me questions. His son was squeezed into the back with two Atlanta University students. Bunche’s son had brought his tennis racket. Life goes on, I realized!

Lyndon Johnson was the U.S. President at the time. Johnson had decided to send his Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, to the funeral. We were told that this decision was made because of Humphrey’s advocacy for civil rights. That being the case, protocol called for U Thant, the UN General Secretary, to send someone under him of rank at the UN, such as Ralph Bunche, so as not to up-stage Johnson.

Interestingly, Bunche had been one of prominent Black leaders in 1967 encouraging the NAACP to write a statement criticizing King’s opposition to the Vietnam War. Bunche said King should not be both a civil rights leader and an anti-war advocate and that he needed to be one or the other. He later called King to apologize for his public statement and that he agreed with King’s position on the war. King complained that Bunche did not have the courage to state his views in public.

The next person I picked up at the airport was Allard Lowenstein, an attorney in the movement, along with one of his colleagues Dennis Sweeney (see note below). He first wanted to pay his respects to Mrs. King. I drove them to her house that was surrounded by at least a hundred or more people. While I waited outside, along with these throngs of people, first I saw Harry Belafonte walk out of the house and then Sammy Davis, Jr.

Mrs. King was serving fried chicken to her guests. There were so many guests and therefore empty boxes of chicken that the boxes were being burned in her back yard. I said to the young man next to me, “I love the smell of these burning boxes.” He said, along with a smile, “Oh, do you?” We both knew this was in reference to “burn, baby, burn” as the riots in the US in response to the King assassination had already begun.

Next, Lowenstein wanted to greet Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, known as King’s right-hand man, who was to take over the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), now vacated by King, of course. Lowenstein said that this time he was taking me into the house with him.

As we drove toward Abernathy’s house down Hunter Street (now “Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive”) in southwest Atlanta, my car stalled. Here we were, three whites in the predominantly Black part of the town and five days after King had been killed. Suddenly about three black youth started aggressively shaking my car. Lowenstein said, “Heather, you need to get your car going and out of here!”  It was of course what I was trying to do. Then suddenly and rather miraculously, my car started again and we were off. We then drove to Reverend Abernathy’s house and what a dramatic experience this was.

To set the stage again, King had just been assassinated. No one knew what this meant exactly. No one knew what other violence could be expected. It was not known how white and black communities across the country would respond or what challenges and threats where ahead in the movement. It was assumed, of course, that the work was to be increasingly more dangerous.

In this March 28, 1968 file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Ralph Abernathy, right, lead a march on behalf of striking Memphis, Tenn.,
sanitation workers.

         (AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Sam Melhorn, File)

As we walked into the Abernathy house there were four men sitting in silence in the living room. The Reverend was resting at the time. Then we walked into the kitchen where Mrs. Juanita Abernathy was on the phone. Lowenstein knew Mrs. Abernathy, but suddenly, here I was, a young white student who had never met her. Once off the phone she grabs my hand, holds on to it and recounts the events of the past few days. For some five minutes or so, she described her husband’s frightening experience of being at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis where King had been killed just five days ago, and how nervous and concerned she was about her husband taking over the leadership of SCLC. I stood there in awe while listening and silently sympathizing. This became one of the most profound experiences of my entire life.

Then Reverend Abernathy appeared. He seemed rested and congenial. I was amazed at his composure but then thought what else could he do? Everyone knew the work had to continue and he was clearly prepared to do precisely that. We all shook hands, spoke briefly, and I then drove Lowenstein and his friend to a hotel in downtown Atlanta.

The funeral was on Tuesday, April 9 at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta-affectionately known as the King family church. I joined the funeral march through the City of Atlanta. The Reverend James Orange, of Birmingham protest fame, had organized the mule drawn funeral cart to take Dr. King to his resting place. Thousands of us of all races followed the cart while holding hands and singing an abundance of chants. It was a movement funeral to be sure.

A mule-drawn cart carried MLK’s coffin through the streets of his hometown in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 9, 1968. People lined the streets for a chance to glimpse at the funeral procession as it walked by the crowds. James Orange is standing in the center directly behind the coffin.

One of the most memorable experiences that day was walking in front of the Georgia State Capitol. A wire fence barricade, along with the ominous presence of military sentries, surrounded it. As was intended, the whole area seemed bleak and foreboding.

The arch segregationist and erratic Lester Maddox was Georgia’s governor at the time. I fully expected him to run out of the building at any moment, stand on the Capitol steps, and shout all kinds of curses at us. And now, I might add, as of last year, thankfully – yet close to 50 years after his King’s death – a statue of Dr. King resides on those very Georgia capitol grounds.
King statue unveiled on Georgia’s Capitol grounds, August 28, 2017
(Photo: Heather Gray)

There has been and will continue to be speculation as to why J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, under the Johnson administration, intensified its surveillance and propaganda against King. It was known, for one, that Johnson was furious about King’s outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, but it is also clear that King was shifting his emphasis to economic justice. While economic justice had always been a part of his message, the primary focus of civil rights and voting rights took precedence in the early movement work. By 1964 the Civil Rights Bill had passed in Congress and in 1965 the Voting Rights Act was also a reality. All of this took enormous energy and a death toll as well. But King and others acknowledged that if there was the right to stay in a hotel, what was the point if you couldn’t pay the bill? Challenging civil rights was one thing but going after America’s economic infrastructure was quite another threat to America’s corporate world and western capitalist leaders overall. Clearly the white powers that be were determined not to let King’s leadership empower America’s workers and ultimately spread the wealth.

Ralph Abernathy (right) applauds Martin Luther King, Jr. as he delivers the “Mountaintop” speech at Memphis’s Mason Temple. (Creator:
Withers, Ernest C., 1922-2007; Date: 1968-04-03)

At the end of his life, King was advocating for the economic rights of sanitation workers in Memphis and this was just the beginning. SCLC was in the planning stages of the national Poor People’s Campaign march to be held in Washington, DC on April 22. On April 3 in Memphis, in his last speech – known as the “Mountaintop Speech” – King called for boycotts against Wonder Bread, Hart’s Bread, Sealtest Milk and, importantly, Coca Cola, for their appalling and unfair hiring practices. He encouraged everyone to follow through on this and to put pressure where it hurts. He said “if something isn’t done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed.

In relation to the loss of Dr. King, years later I have often thought about the insightful and powerful song by “Sweet Honey and the Rock” about Stephen Biko, the black leader who was killed by South African authorities in 1977. They sang, “You can kill one human body, I see ten thousand Bikos!” This message rings true. You can kill the messenger, but not the message. As Lefever states in his book on Spelman College activism, that while he focused on individuals in the movement “it is clear” he said, “that their successes were much more than ‘individual’ successes. The study reveals the significance of the ‘group’ context in their actions.” This has been true in our human history overall. A Filipino organizer once told me, “You can’t organize yourself, you have to organize yourselves.

But it is also rather sobering to realize that when the economic or civil status quo of western “white” dominance is seriously challenged, countless young leaders of color all over the world have either been killed directly by those of us of European descent or by our proxies. Harry Belafonte describes King once telling him that given the outrageously violent and unjust behavior of white America that they were attempting to “integrate” into a burning house. Belafonte asked what should be done. King said, “we all need to become firemen” and ‘firewomen’ I might add.

(Note regarding Dennis Sweeney: Sweeney, who was with Lowenstein in Atlanta for the King funeral, in an odd twist of fate, shot and killed Lowenstein in 1980 in New York. Go here for more information about this tragic occurrence.)