Thoughts and questions about reparations

You have to admire Ta-Nehisi Coates for his persistence is getting the discussion started.  In 2014, Coates wrote a long piece in the Atlantic Magazine titled “The Case for Reparations”.  He generated a lot of buzz back then and we are still talking about it almost two years later.  If you haven’t read it, you probably should if you have any interest in race in America.

My parents were incarcerated into “relocation” camps during World War II because of their race.

In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act to compensate more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in internment camps during World War II. The legislation offered a formal apology and paid out $20,000 in compensation to each surviving victim. The law won congressional approval only after a decade-long campaign by the Japanese-American community.

Reparations were easily determined in this instance.  There was a list of everyone who was in a camp regardless of age.  Those who had died in the meanwhile got nothing and their estates and heirs got nothing.  My parents, uncles, and aunts got checks.  But the money was not enough to cover what had been lost, but was more of a token giving the apology some weight.

Coates has recently taken Vermont Senator and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to task for not supporting reparations.

What candidates name themselves is generally believed to be important. Many Sanders supporters, for instance, correctly point out that Clinton handprints are all over America’s sprawling carceral state. I agree with them and have said so at length. Voters, and black voters particularly, should never forget that Bill Clinton passed arguably the most immoral “anti-crime” bill in American history, and that Hillary Clinton aided its passage through her  invocation of the super-predator myth. A defense of Clinton rooted in the claim that “Jeb Bush held the same position” would not be exculpatory. (“Law and order conservative embraces law and order” would surprise no one.) That is because the anger over the Clintons’ actions isn’t simply based on their having been wrong, but on their craven embrace of law and order Republicanism in the Democratic Party’s name.

One does not find anything as damaging as the carceral state in the Sanders platform, but the dissonance between name and action is the same. Sanders’s basic approach is to ameliorate the effects of racism through broad, mostly class-based policies—doubling the minimum wage, offering single-payer health-care, delivering free higher education. This is the same “A rising tide lifts all boats” thinking that has dominated Democratic anti-racist policy for a generation. Sanders proposes to intensify this approach. But Sanders’s actual approach is really no different than President Obama’s. I have repeatedly stated my problem with the “rising tide” philosophy when embraced by Obama and liberals in general. (See hereherehere, and here.) Again, briefly, treating a racist injury solely with class-based remedies is like treating a gun-shot wound solely with bandages. The bandages help, but they will not suffice.

To a certain extent Coates is correct.  Whether one uses the rising tide image or sticks with trickle down, programs begun in the 1960s like affirmative action and various anti-discrimination laws in employment and housing have helped but have not come close to solving the problem that black Americans are more likely to be poor than white Americans.  No one can deny that slaves, former slaves, and their present day descendents have not suffered every form of economic discriminations one can think of because they have.  The question is are reparations a good solution.

Bernie

Conor Friedersdorf provided some speculative reasons why Bernie Sanders is right in not embracing reparations in his recent piece in the Atlantic.

Perhaps Sanders just thinks reparations are bad policy on the merits. There are many plausible reasons that a principled radical might come to that conclusion (though it isn’t entirely clear to me that Sanders is that radical even on matters of class).

Perhaps he is convinced that the highest incarnation of justice is a government that redistributes resources toward its citizens based wholly on their need, and doesn’t want to shift the Overton Window toward any model that is predicated on dessert beyond need, or that would redistribute wealth from poor to rich in some instances.

That seems consistent with principled socialism.

Perhaps when Sanders says that reparations would be divisive, he doesn’t mean that they would damage his campaign or the Democratic coalition by dividing its supporters––the plausible interpretation that Ta-Nehisi argued against in his critiques––but that it would divide Americans of different races against one another in a manner likely to cause more harm to vulnerable minority groups than good, or necessitate a divisive process of bureaucrats defining who qualifies as black.

The Overton Window referred to above is a media pundit term meaning the range of discourse the public is willing to accept.

When I commented on a friends Facebook page during a discussion of reparations that I thought it would be difficult if not impossible to figure out who was owed, another friend commented that maybe that was what Coates was trying to do – get us to talk about the issue.  If that was his aim, to move or enlarge the Overton Window, then he has succeeded.

I have a question for Sanders.  Why not take up Coates’ call to support a study?

…For the past 25 years, Congressman John Conyers Jr., who represents the Detroit area, has marked every session of Congress by introducing a bill calling for a congressional study of slavery and its lingering effects as well as recommendations for “appropriate remedies.”

A country curious about how reparations might actually work has an easy solution in Conyers’s bill, now called HR 40, the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. We would support this bill, submit the question to study, and then assess the possible solutions. But we are not interested.

Perhaps rather than demand reparations now we, Coates included, should push Congress – and all of the Democratic Presidential candidates to support HR 40.   Let’s keep talking about this.

Photograph:  huffingtonpost.com

 

 

Policing is a tricky business

Most of us want to be safe.  Maybe that should be all of us.  But how to feel safe and to be safe are questions with many answers.  If we were to listen to the NRA and other gun rights supporters we can best get to safe with each of us carrying a loaded weapon all the time.  Most of us, however, depend on the police.

We recruit young men and women, give them some training, arm them, and send them out to face dangerous situations.  I can’t imagine doing a traffic stop at night, alone.  I’ve heard stories from my State Trooper stepson that are really frightening.  And we also expect them to act within the boundaries society has established:  no excessive force and no stops without cause.  I think that most black men know that “cause” is a slippery thing.  Driving while black is a common reason to be stopped.  I remember my mother telling me about an African American minister who always drove at least once to any place he had to go in a white neighborhood during daylight.  He did this so when he went to a meeting at night, he would know where he was going and wouldn’t be wandering around lost.  He feared being stopped.  Then there is the story of my husband who was stopped while driving four black churchwomen back from a class.  The excuse?  His rear license plate was crooked.  The real reason?  I think they suspected he was a white pimp driving his “girls” someplace.  I guess the trooper realized after he stopped them and looked at the women that they were all middle aged or older and not at all what he had thought.  Was this profiling?  You bet.

So cause can sometimes be difficult to determine.  If see someone driving very fast and weaving in and out of traffic, you have cause for a stop.  If someone is speeding on a two lane road in the rain, you have cause for a stop.  And if you get a report of shots fired in a neighborhood known for gang activity, most of us would think that is cause for a stop.  That seems to be what happened last Friday night in Boston.  According to the story in the Boston Globe

Friday’s incident began at 6:40 p.m. when gang unit officers investigating a report of shots fired stopped a vehicle on Humboldt Avenue near Crawford Street to interview its three male occupants, authorities said Friday night.

The suspect stepped out and began to flee while firing his gun, said David Procopio, a spokesman for the State Police, which works alongside Boston police to address gang violence.

The suspect wounded Moynihan [a police officer] under the right eye, Evans said.

A law enforcement official also said the suspect, who was not identified, had several previous gun-related charges.

Evans [Boston Police Commissioner William] said that the stop was initially routine and that the suspect had fired at police “before they had time to react,” but the officers quickly returned fire, killing the suspect.

Gunfire also struck “a middle-aged woman” who suffered a flesh wound, possibly in her right arm, Evans said.

“I think she got caught up in the crossfire,” he said.

Officer John Moynihan is a veteran Boston policeman who is expected to survive.

So what exactly are we to make of this incident?  Was this a stop with cause?  The report was of shots fired.  Kevin Cullen wrote about the incident and the immediate aftermath for the Globe.

Angelo West wasn’t going back to prison.

That’s what this was about. Pure and simple.

When members of the Boston police gang unit stopped the car he was driving on Humboldt Avenue on Friday evening, he knew that the .357 Magnum he was carrying was a ticket back to Cedar Junction in Walpole, and he wasn’t going out like that.

So he came out of the car, without a word, put his gun to the face of John Moynihan, and pulled the trigger. Then he ran off, turning back to fire at Moynihan’s colleagues.

Did he really think he would get away?

There was an extraordinary scene as police officers combed the area for spent shell casings and other evidence as Moynihan underwent surgery at Boston Medical Center. Some people got in their faces, calling them pigs, screaming about another black man shot to death by police.

I wonder.  Did any of them know the victim?  Did they understand that he shot first and that he was a three time loser facing life?

The Boston Police and the Suffolk County District Attorney then made an extraordinary decision.  Dante Ramos explains

The Rev. Jeffrey Brown finds the surveillance video persuasive, so much so that he gets up from where we’re sitting and pantomimes what happens in it: Boston Police Officer John T. Moynihan approaches a stopped vehicle last Friday, stands by the driver’s door, and taps on the edge of the roof to tell him to come out. As the driver, Angelo West, emerges, Moynihan shifts on his feet — and suddenly rears back as West shoots him in the face. Then, in Brown’s rendition, West leans over the fallen officer, as if to shoot him again. Another officer interrupts by firing at West, who flees while discharging his weapon.

The confrontation on Humboldt Street in Roxbury ended with West dead and Moynihan badly injured. People who’ve seen the video, taken by cameras mounted at a nearby business, say it makes West’s culpability plain.

The footage from Roxbury bears a time stamp of 6:46 p.m. Friday, and interactions between police and spectators on the scene soon became edgy. Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has protested the deaths of African-American men under dubious circumstances in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere, raised the possibility that West’s death was part of that pattern.

In past cases involving so-called officer-involved deaths in Boston, video evidence came out only at the end of a long investigation. Authorities waited a year after the 2013 shooting of Darryl Dookhran by Boston police to release footage that supported officers’ account of the event. Yet by around noon Saturday, police were showing the video from Humboldt Avenue to a group that included Brown, the Rev. Miniard Culpepper, state Representative Russell Holmes, civil rights attorney Rahsaan Hall, and others.

Releasing the video sets a precedent that may be difficult to live up to in the future.  In other cases, there may be witnesses visible that need protection or the video may be more ambiguous and need to have a jury interpret it.  But in this case it was the right thing to do and a good decision by Commissioner Evans and DA Conley.  People may still question whether the stop itself was justified, but clearly the shooting of Angelo West was the only thing that police could have done.

Yes, black lives matter – all lives matter.  But we need to ask if they all matter equally.  Don’t people like Angelo West terrorize the very community in which many of the protesters live?  Don’t get me wrong.  I would rather see West in prison for life than dead, but in the end Angelo West is dead.  John Moynihan will survive.  I think justice was served.

 

 

Dean Smith and Carolina basketball

My mother, Marii Hasegawa, loved Atlantic Coast Basketball, but she really loved the Tar Heels the best.  Even after my sister got her Masters degree from Duke, my mother refused to root for them when they played North Carolina.  I have only been to one Final Four, but it was in 1982 and I got to see North Carolina win it all.

Dean Smith, the North Carolina basketball coach, after the Tar Heels defeated Georgetown for the N.C.A.A. championship in 1982

Dean Smith, the North Carolina basketball coach, after the Tar Heels defeated Georgetown for the N.C.A.A. championship in 1982

My mother was happy; my aunt who favored Georgetown, was not.

Richard Goldstein writing the obituary in the New York Times points out that while Dean Smith was a legendary basketball coach he should be remembered for a great deal more.

Smith’s 879 victories rank him No. 4 among major college men’s basketball coaches, and his teams won two national championships. He turned out a host of all-Americans, most notably Michael Jordan, perhaps basketball’s greatest player, but he emphasized unselfish team play. He was a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and a four-time national coach of the year.

Like most successful coaches, Smith was adept at diagraming plays on a blackboard. But unlike many, he ran a program that was never accused of N.C.A.A. violations, and some 97 percent of his players graduated.

President Obama awarded Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, in November 2013, presenting it to his wife, Linnea, who represented him at a White House ceremony.

In addition to citing Smith’s achievements on the court, Mr. Obama praised his “courage in helping to change our country” through his progressive views on race relations.

He drew on a moral code implanted by his parents in Depression-era Kansas to break racial barriers in a changing South. He challenged segregation and recruited Charlie Scott, who became the first starring black basketball player in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“My father said, ‘Value each human being,’ ” Smith recalled in “A Coach’s Life” (1999), written with John Kilgo and Sally Jenkins. “Racial justice wasn’t preached around the house, but there was a fundamental understanding that you treated each person with dignity.”

Smith’s parents instilled a sense of racial tolerance in him, in a highly segregated state, long before the modern civil rights movement. His father [a high school basketball coach] put a black player named Paul Terry on his 1933-34 team, which won the state championship, though Terry was barred from playing in the state tournament by Kansas sports officials.

I remember hearing a lot of players say they made decisions well into adulthood only after consulting with Coach Smith.  I remember when Michael Jordan wanted to leave UNC early some of the announcers saying that Jordan was leaving only after promising his mother and Coach Smith he would get his degree.  He did.

The Charlotte Observer has this anecdote.

Smith the innovator also was Smith the motivator. But he didn’t give rah-rah pep talks. He typically explained what they needed to do to win and the significance of the moment.

Once at Maryland, however, he did promise to sing “Amen” – the Terps’ late-game theme song – if the Tar Heels beat Lefty Driesell’s club. Carolina won and Smith fulfilled his vocal promise, but according to reports, he would not have won the “American Idol” title.

“He was not much as a singer,’’ recalled guard Ged Doughton.

Many will write about Dean Smith’s contributions to the game of basketball.  For example, his “Four Corners” offense made the shot clock necessary.  But I want to remember him for his views off the court also.  In an article from 2013, Barry Jacobs wrote

Smith was periodically approached about running for the U.S. Senate from North Carolina as a Democrat. But the publicity-shy coach disdained the glad-handing involved in soliciting votes and raising money. Besides, he said, “I’d never get elected if people in North Carolina realized how liberal I am.”

He was probably right. Over the years Smith spoke in favor of a nuclear freeze and for gay rights. He opposed capital punishment. He joined a Chapel Hill street protest against the war in Vietnam. When President George H.W. Bush sent American troops into Iraq in 1991, Smith asked: “Why can’t the United States band together for some other good thing like (fighting) poverty? If you want to kill somebody, then everybody’s for it.”

 My mother loved Carolina basketball and she admired Dean Smith.  If they had ever met I think they would have had a lot to say to each other.

Photograph:  Pete Leabo/Associated Press

 

Police departments and racial diversity

Back in the dark ages, that is the early to mid-1980s, I worked on a study for then Virginia Governor Charles Robb.  He wanted to know several things including how we could recruit more African-Americans and women to the State Police and how, once we hired them, they could be retained.  I can’t recall that we came up with anything one wouldn’t have expected including things like more training for command in diversity issues.  I do remember one black trooper I interviewed had an idea on how to recruit people.  He suggested that he be made part of the Governor’s security detail which would provide lots of visibility.  I told the Governor and the next thing I knew, the trooper was thanking me when we ran into each other on the Capitol grounds.  I have no idea if his presence helped recruit more blacks to the ranks or not but it did provide some visibility and I remember that the Capitol Police then hired several black officers.

So my little story took place in 1983.  This morning’s New York Times has some very interesting charts on large Metropolitan police departments and the differences between their racial compositions and those of the towns they serve.

In hundreds of police departments across the country, the percentage of whites on the force is more than 30 percentage points higher than in the communities they serve, according to an analysis of a government survey of police departments. Minorities make up a quarter of police forces, according to the 2007 survey, the most recent comprehensive data available. Experts say that diversity in the police force increases a department’s credibility with its community. “Even if police officers of whatever race enforce the law in relatively the same way, there is a huge image problem with a department that is so out of sync with the racial composition of the local population,” said Ronald Weitzer, a sociologist at George Washington University. Listed below are local police departments from 15 metropolitan areas, sorted so that departments with the largest percentage-point differences of white officers to white residents are at the top.

We clearly have a long way to go.  I wonder if part of the recruitment problem is the sheer number of young black and Hispanic men who have conviction records.  Perhaps we should look into that.

th

I was interested to see that Boston (+18) and Somerville (+15) were doing pretty well.  Those are two of the police departments I’ve worked with in the recent past.  Other departments should take a look at this chart and talk to some of the successful agencies – and I don’t mean towns that have a small gap because the population of the town itself is mostly white – and learn from what they have done.

Incidents like the shooting in Ferguson don’t happen in a vacuum.  Look up a town near you and ask questions if you don’t like what you see.

 

 

As a footnote:  While I was looking to a picture to add, I was surprised at the number of stock photographs showing police in riot gear and/or arresting someone, often a black male.  Just another part of the problem.

Photograph:  how2becomeanfbiagent.com

Some random thoughts about Cliven Bundy

I’m with Jon Stewart:  I just don’t get it.  Here is a man who doesn’t recognize the United States government, but runs around with an American flag.  He thinks slavery was a fine institution, much better I guess than getting welfare, but Mr. Bundy doesn’t seem to realize that by grazing his cattle for free, he has been getting welfare for years.  Talk about welfare cheats!

And ya gotta love all those national political figures now in retreat.  I guess they were initially moved by the pictures of all those armed men prepared to put the women up front so they would die first.  But then came the comments about “Negroes”.   Dana Milbank had a great list of retreaters and their comments in his recent Washington Post column. 

Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy knows how to start a stampede.

After Bundy, who became a right-wing hero for his refusal to acknowledge the authority of the federal government, wondered aloud about whether “Negro” people were “better off as slaves,” conservative figures who had celebrated his cause rushed to distance themselves from him.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who had condemned the federal government’s attempt to enforce court orders against Bundy: “Offensive.”

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who had declared Bundy’s followers “patriots”: “Appalling and racist.”

And Sean Hannity, who had led a Fox News campaign that made a hero of Bundy: “Beyond repugnant.”

But Bundy’s daughter is still defending him.  According to Mother Jones

Bundy defended his initial comments on Thursday saying, “If they think I’m racist, they’re totally wrong…Again, I’m wondering are they better off under the old system of slavery or are they better off under the welfare slavery that they’re under now. You know, I’m not saying one way or the other.” And on Friday morning, he told CNN that he didn’t see a problem with using terms like “Negro” or “boy” for black people. “If those people cannot take those kind of words and not be (offended), then Martin Luther King hasn’t got his job done yet,” he told anchor Chris Cuomo.

Meanwhile, Bundy’s daughter, Shiree Bundy Cox, is striking back at conservatives who have turned tail on Bundy, especially Hannity. In a Facebook post Thursday night, she accused Hannity of abandoning her father and pandering to ratings. Here’s a snippet:

I’m sure most of you have heard the news about my dad being called a racist. Wow! The media loves to take things out of context don’t they? First off I’d just like to say that my dad has never been the most eloquent speaking person. Like someone said, he’s a Moses who needs an Aaron to speak for him. This is true. Second, however, is that the media has turned this into a circus side show. It’s like their trying to throw us off the real subject. Why was this ever even brought up? What does this have to do with land rights issues? Sean Hannity was all for reporting the happenings at the Bundy Ranch until this popped up. I wonder if someone hoped it would be that way…By the way, I think Mr. Hannity is more worried about his ratings than he really is about what my dad said. If he supports a supposed racist, what will that do to his ratings? He’s already lost his #1 spot on Fox.

If Shiree wants to understand the connection between land rights, race and taxes, Dana Milbank can explain it to her.

In general terms, Bundy’s notion of state supremacy — “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing” — is a variant of states’-rights claims that go back to the Civil War and were revived in the segregationists’ opposition to civil rights laws. Because the federal government has been the protector of minority rights, states’ rights have long been used to justify discrimination.

Specifically, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks anti-government and hate groups, says that Bundy’s sentiments align closely with those of the “Posse Comitatus” movement, founded by William Potter Gale in the 1970s. That movement based its anti-tax position — and its belief in the primacy of county and state authority over the federal government — on a belief that the levers of national power were controlled by Jewish bankers. “Most of the ideas that bolster positions like Cliven’s that the federal government doesn’t exist come from Posse Comitatus ideology,” the SPLC’s Ryan Lenz argues. And that ideology is rooted in bigotry.

I’m not sure how this will get resolved without violence, but if no action is taken I’m afraid that the discussion will pivot again into a questioning President Obama’s “manhood” for not fighting.  This will really obscure the issues.  In the meanwhile, we have Tom Tomorrow.

TT and Bundy

 

 

Death of an angry, unhappy man

I know that many were happy with the news of Fred Phelps’ death but when I first heard, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt.  On one hand, a man who protested at the funerals of men and women who died in combat would no longer be able to do so.  On the other, one could feel sorry for a man who could never get over his anger.  He was once a noted civil rights lawyer in Kansas  and won an award from the local NAACP, but even back then there were signs he was troubled.  The obituary in the New York Times notes

He earned a law degree in 1964 from Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, but his legal career was troubled from the start. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which describes Westboro Baptist as “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America,” Mr. Phelps struggled to find people to attest to his good character when he wanted to be admitted to the bar, was temporarily suspended for professional misconduct, and was even sued for failing to pay for candy his children sold door to door.

He succeeded in winning settlements in discrimination cases he filed as a civil rights lawyer.

“Most blacks — that’s who they went to,” the Rev. Ben Scott, president of the N.A.A.C.P.’s Topeka branch, said in an interview with CNN in 2010. “I don’t know if he was cheaper or if he had that stick-to-it-ness, but Fred didn’t lose many back then.”

Mr. Phelps, with his wife, Margie M. Phelps, left, and daughter Margie J. Phelps, at a demonstration in Baltimore in 2007.

Mr. Phelps, with his wife, Margie M. Phelps, left, and daughter Margie J. Phelps, at a demonstration in Baltimore in 2007.

Phelps was disbarred in 1979.  While he has said that his anti gay crusade began because a grandson was propositioned he showed a predilection for child abuse.  Amy Davidson writes in the New Yorker piece titled “The Two Freds” about Fred Rogers and Fred Phelps

One unpleasant thing about Fred Phelps was the way in which he and his church members brought children to their protests and had them hold placards like the ones that Roberts quoted, and repeat slogans slurring gay people and praising divine killings. They tended to be Phelps’s own children or grandchildren—how else would you find an eight-year-old to damn Mr. Rogers?—and the bulk of his parishioners were his relatives. The obituaries refer to complicated loyalties and estrangements, but then, those of some very good people do, too. But one can see, in the hanging of hateful signs on children, the very opposite of Fred Rogers’s life’s project, which was to treat young people both morally and as serious moral actors. Mr. Rogers spoke of the intense drama of one’s earliest years, Supreme Court cases or no, and the way that friendship, above all, was orienting. Of the two Freds, he’s the one who endures. Phelps, and all his vitriol, will spin away.

Phelps and his congregation at Westboro Baptist Church (composed primarily, if not entirely of family) demonstrated everywhere.  They spread Phelps angry message at thousands of funerals of the well known and of ordinary people as well as at many events.  Phelps represented an angry God.  The New York Time obituary again

In 1998, he explained his view of a wrathful God in an interview with The Houston Chronicle.

“You can’t believe the Bible without believing that God hates people,” he said. “It’s pure nonsense to say that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. He hates the sin, and he hates the sinner. He sends them to hell. Do you think he loves the people in hell?”

So in the end, I feel sorry for a man filled with so much hate and anger.  I hope he can find peace in another life.

Photograph:  Jed Kirschbaum/Baltimore Sun, via Associated Press

Kittie Knox: Bicycle Racer

Never heard of her?  Me either until this morning when the Boston Globe carried a front page story by Dan Adams about the ceremony putting a headstone on her long forgotten grave at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

Kittie Knox

Kittie Knox

Knox, a seamstress born in 1874 to a free black father and a white mother, became a prominent and accomplished cyclist by the 1890s in Boston. But her mixed racial heritage raised eyebrows, as did her insistence on riding a man’s bike and wearing pantaloons of her own design instead of the long, heavy skirts prescribed by Hopkins and her ilk.

And if that weren’t enough, she excelled at the sport: Knox completed multiple 100-mile rides and placed 12th out of 50 male and female cyclists in a major national race, “far ahead of her lighter-hued sisters,” one magazine reported.

Knox had seemed doomed to obscurity. But six years ago, author Lorenz Finison stumbled across her name while researching a forthcoming book on Boston’s cycling history. Passing references to Knox in cycling books prompted Finison to search local newspaper archives for more information.

“I found an article saying she won a cycling costume contest in Waltham,” said Finison, a teacher at the Boston University School of Public Health and a cofounder of Cycling Through History, which develops bike routes between African-American heritage sites. “I thought, that’s really amazing. Why, given the racial climate of the time, would she have won a contest out there? I thought I should look into it more.”

Kittie Knox faced not only sexism but also racism.

Finison eventually unearthed a trove of stories about Knox. While many articles were preoccupied with her race and appearance — “a beautiful and buxom black bloomerite” was one reference in Referee Magazine — he learned that Knox had been a member of Boston’s only black cycling group, the Riverside Cycle Club, before joining the Boston-based National League of American Wheelman in 1893.

Knox soon found herself at the epicenter of a fight over whether blacks could join the league, he said. After a Southern faction of league leaders successfully politicked in 1894 to make the group for whites only, Knox’s appearance at the league’s 1895 national meet in Asbury Park, N.J., caused an uproar. Trouble began upon her arrival, when, rather than appease critics, “Miss Knox did a few fancy cuts in front of the clubhouse and was requested to desist,” The New York Times reported.

Then, when Knox went to register for the meet and presented her membership card, the credentials were rejected.

“[Knox’s] entrance today, in the parlor of the Asbury Park wheelmen, caused wild consternation among the ladies gathered there,” wrote a San Francisco paper, according to Finison’s manuscript. “She was politely told that she was in the wrong house. To their utter surprise she produced a league membership card and declared that no exception had ever been taken to her color by wheelmen or wheelwomen. After asserting herself to that extent, Miss Knox walked defiantly out with her wheel.”

Even after members of the Massachusetts delegation intervened to ensure her participation, successfully arguing she had been admitted before the color bar, Finison writes that anger persisted: A group of white women cyclists threatened to quit in protest; dozens walked out of a League dance when Knox partnered with a white man; a Southern paper slammed League leaders for permitting “this murky goddess of Beanville” to ride.

Don’t you love it?  “[M]urky goddess of Beanville”.  A dig at Knox’s race and at Boston.   Good for the Massachusetts delegation for standing up for her.

Much of the Globe’s coverage of early Boston cycling clubs, as cited by Finison, betrays blatantly racist and sexist attitudes common in that era. But one Globe report from  the event in 1895 at Asbury Park trumpeted Knox’s abilities, perhaps to point a finger at Southern papers that had decried her participation.

“The leaders tried to lose Knox during the eighteen mile run but she was game, and when the big crowd entered the town on the return trip she was up with the leaders, sailing with the best of them,” the Globe wrote. “She was not to be consigned to the tribe of ‘also rans,’ and today all the League members are anxious to see her. And when she appears in the street she receives more attention than a half dozen star racing men.”

Kittie Knox died in 1900 at the age of 26, but through Finison’s efforts, her family was found and she was honored on Sunday,

Three generations of Kittie Knox’s relatives attended a ceremony dedicating a new headstone at Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Three generations of Kittie Knox’s relatives attended a ceremony dedicating a new headstone at Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Another remarkable woman has been rediscovered.
Photograph:  Jim Davis/Boston Globe