All posts by MuniCourts

Breaking contracts over coronavirus: Can you argue it’s an ‘act of God’?

by Andrew Schwartz, University of Colorado Boulder

The coronavirus pandemic has prevented countless people from fulfilling their contracts, from basketball players to babysitters.

The NBA suspended its season on March 11, citing the coronavirus risk. A force majeure clause in the NBA contract means players could lose money with each canceled game. 

 

Could all of these people be sued for breach of contract, or are they excused due to this extraordinary event? What about payments made in advance, such as tickets bought for a concert that has now been canceled or a dorm room leased at a college that is now closed?

Wars, floods and other pandemics have undermined innumerable contracts over the years. In response, U.S. courts have established a fairly clear set of legal rules to answer these questions.

As a contracts law professor, I help future lawyers think through how these rules apply in a wide range of situations. That includes what the law says about contracts that are impossible to meet during pandemics.

The rules of impossibility and restitution

A promise given in exchange for money becomes an enforceable contract, and it remains enforceable even if living up to its terms turns out to be more challenging than expected.

If a babysitter promises to look after your children once a week for US$50, she is bound to the contract regardless of car trouble, the kids misbehaving or other hardships. If the babysitter gives up, that is a breach of contract and she is legally liable to you. This is what makes a contract a contract and not an idle promise to give it a try.

But what if the babysitter failed to show up because a coronavirus outbreak made it physically dangerous for her to enter your house or because the government issued an order to remain home to avoid spreading the virus?

Because this type of extraordinary and unanticipated event, often called an “act of God,” is so radically different from the ordinary risks and challenges of babysitting, and because it makes her performance so much more difficult and dangerous than expected, the courts will excuse her from the contract. Through no fault of her own, her performance has become effectively impossible, and so her failure to babysit does not count as a breach of contract.

That is not the end of the story, though. Under the legal doctrine of restitution, which prohibits unjust enrichment at the expense of another, the babysitter would have to return any money you paid her in advance. She has not breached the contract, but neither has she fulfilled it, so it would be unjust for her to keep that money.

When universities closed their dorms during the coronavirus outbreak, it meant breaking contracts with students. Many schools, including Howard University, shown here, have agreed to pay partial refunds. 

This basic framework – impossibility and restitution – applies generally to contracts that have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic and government orders to combat the virus’s spread.

It does not apply to every expense, however.

If you bought a $100 ticket for a Lady Gaga concert and the event has been canceled, there is no breach of contract, although Lady Gaga would have to refund your $100 as a matter of restitution. But if you bought a nonrefundable $50 train ticket to travel to the concert, Lady Gaga is not liable for that loss. Since that money was never paid to Lady Gaga, she can’t be held responsible for it.

Force majeure: The escape clause

In some cases, an escape clause is written into the contract specifically for situations like this. It’s called “force majeure,” which translates to “superior force” and is often referred to as the “act of God” clause.

Force majeure clauses are common in corporate contracts. They dictate which types of unexpected events will excuse performance and how to deal with payments already made or other losses. The precise wording of these clauses is key. Some might expressly mention pandemics or government orders, while others might not. Similarly, some clauses might call for full restitution, while others might provide for 50% refunds or no refund at all. Whatever the force majeure clause says will displace the ordinary rules of impossibility and restitution.

The contract between the NBA and its players, for example, includes a force majeure clause that specifically covers epidemics. It states that basketball teams can withhold part of their players’ salaries for each canceled game, and ESPN reported that the league was considering it.

Pepperdine University students who have been evicted from their dorms are also bound to a force majeure clause that specifies no refunds if the dorms are closed in the event of an emergency. This overrides the general rule of restitution.

All that said, parties to a contract are always free to waive their rights under a force majeure clause and provide refunds anyway. Pepperdine officials have promised to do exactly that.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

New Coronavirus sick leave law – who’s eligible, who’s not and how many weeks do you get

by Elizabeth C. Tippett, University of Oregon

On March 18, President Donald Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act into law.

The legislation is an emergency intervention to provide paid leave and other support to millions of workers sidelined by school closures, quarantines and caregiving.

An obvious question you’re probably wondering is, “How will it affect me?”

The bad news is that the law does not provide blanket coverage for all workers. Instead, it’s a confusing mess – legislative Swiss cheese, full of exceptions and gradations that affect whether you are covered, for how long and how much pay you can expect to receive.

With schools closed, parents such as Jennifer Green, left, and Lisa Spalding, right, must stay at home with their children. Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

 

I study employment law and have combed through the bill to make sense of it. The law also provides emergency funding for unemployment insurance and subsidizes some employer health care premiums, but my focus here is on the core elements pertaining to sick and family leave.

Here’s what I learned.

Small, medium or large

To figure out whether you are covered, the first thing you’ll need to answer is how many people work at your company.

If your employer has 500 or more workers, it is excluded from the new law. Instead, workers at those companies will need to rely on any remaining sick leave benefits available under company policy or state law.

Several states, including New York, California and Washington, are also considering emergency legislation tied to the coronavirus pandemic and may offer some relief for workers at these bigger companies. These workers can also make use of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides for unpaid leave if the employee or a family member falls seriously ill.

In addition, some large employers have made new accommodations for their workers. Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, for example, has extended its sick leave benefits for hourly workers. And coffee chain Starbucks expanded its existing sick leave policy to provide paid leave of up to 26 weeks if an employee contracts COVID-19 and is unable to return to work.

If your company employs fewer than 500 people, you should be covered by the new law. But there’s another exception: Businesses with fewer than 50 employees can make use of a hardship exemption if providing leave might put them out of business.

School closures

Assuming your company is covered, the amount of leave available – and how much workers can expect to get paid – will depend on the reason you aren’t able to report to work or do your job remotely.

Here’s where it gets really complicated.

If you are stuck at home due to the closure of a child’s school or day care, you will be eligible for leave under two separate parts of the new law – paid sick leave and family and medical leave.

Congress seems to have structured the law to allow working parents sidelined by a school closure to use both forms of leave at once. Parents would request up to 12 weeks of leave as family and medical leave for a school closure. But since this part of the law doesn’t offer pay until the third week, parents could use the new sick leave provisions to receive income for the first two weeks.

Whether you’re using sick or family leave, you can expect to receive two-thirds of your usual pay, or up to US$200 per day. The money would come directly from your employer who will be reimbursed by tax credits.

Alternatively, people could use the sick leave for the first two weeks and then take 12 weeks under family leave, for a total of 14 weeks, but that would include two weeks that are unpaid.

If you have any available vacation or sick pay under your company’s policy, you may want to use that first since it typically provides full pay.

What happens if you get sick

Workers who are directly affected by the new coronavirus can expect more generous income replacement – but only briefly.

If you are under government-ordered quarantine or isolation, self-isolating at the instruction of a health care provider or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis, you can make use of the new federal sick leave law for up to two weeks. During this time, you should receive your usual pay, capped at $511 per day.

If you become seriously ill beyond two weeks, the new law does not offer additional paid leave. However, you may be eligible to take another 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. This covers only companies with more than 50 people and workers employed there for longer than 12 months. During this time, your job is protected, but you may be required to use any accrued sick leave or vacation available under company policy.

The rules are similar if you are caring for someone who is under government-ordered quarantine or isolation or has been ordered to self-isolate by a health care provider. The only difference is that your income would be only two-thirds of your usual pay, capped at $200 a day, for two weeks.

And again, if you are caring for a family member who becomes seriously ill, you may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the 1993 act without losing your job.

In normal times, legislation like this would have been considered broad and ambitious, but as the crisis deepens, its exclusions will likely leave vulnerable workers exposed. With another stimulus bill in the works, Congress will have another chance to help Americans whose lives have been turned upside down by this pandemic.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Coronavirus quarantines and your legal rights: 4 questions answered

by Latisha Nixon-Jones, University of Oregon

The unknown is frightening. And with the spread of a deadly and communicable disease – the coronavirus is both – individual liberties may be temporarily sidelined to protect the larger community.

Indeed, history has shown us that whenever the United States has encountered a biological threat, the government invariably weighs individual freedoms against the compelling need to protect the rest of us from a widespread epidemic. More often than not, a clampdown on civil liberties occurs. 

As a disaster law scholar, I study vulnerable populations during various stages of disaster response. In the age of coronavirus, people are asking me questions about their rights. Here are some answers.

1. I had contact with someone who has the coronavirus. Am I required to go into quarantine or isolation?

The answer: It depends. The Constitution gives states the power to police citizens for the health, safety and welfare of those within its borders. This means states have the right to quarantine an individual, community or area to protect the surrounding community. With testing supplies in limited quantity and high demand, citizens are strongly encouraged to self-isolate. However, if you are a citizen who came into contact with a person with the coronavirus in a different country and then flew home, CDC officials at the airport have the right to detain you and force you into quarantine.

That said, quarantine and isolation laws vary widely, as do the consequences of breaking them.

In some states – including California, Florida and Louisiana – breaking an order of quarantine or isolation can result in misdemeanor criminal charges. Jail time could be up to a year, along with penalties ranging from US$50 to $1,000.

Those under quarantine can have visitors, but physical interaction may be limited to prevent the spread of the disease. Limitations, depending on your state or local regulation, can include confining you to a specific physical space and barring physical touching, including hugging and kissing.

Quarantined individuals do have the right to challenge the quarantine order.

You can find a list of state laws about quarantine and isolation on the National Conference of State Legislatures website.

Federal, state and local governments have the power to enforce quarantines. 

2. Who can enforce quarantines?

All three levels of government have the power to quarantine.

States can quarantine citizens who present with symptoms within their borders. Local governments can quarantine smaller communities or areas of individuals that present with the coronavirus symptoms. The federal government too has responsibilities; it has the power to prevent the entry and spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries.

And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the authority to detain and examine anyone arriving in the U.S. suspected of carrying the coronavirus. That includes passengers from airplanes, motor vehicles or ships.

The CDC can also issue a federal isolation or quarantine order, which allows state public health authorities to seek help from local law enforcement to administer and enforce the federal quarantine orders.

3. Under what circumstances can I be tested for coronavirus?

At this time, no legislation has been passed to create a legal right to testing.

You must contact your doctor to get approval to be tested. If you don’t have a doctor, contact your public health authority. Currently not everyone can be tested due to the shortage of tests.

The CDC website bases testing criteria on the following ailments: You have a fever; you develop virus symptoms; you recently traveled to an area with an ongoing spread of the virus; or you have been in contact with someone known to have the coronavirus.

But with the current shortage of tests, you still may not be able to be tested. As testing becomes available, the restrictions on testing may also change.

4. My state has declared a state of emergency; will that affect my rights?

According to the National Governors Association, as of March 17, “State emergency/public health emergency declarations have been issued for each state and territory, as well as the District of Columbia.”

A state of emergency allows a state to activate its emergency or disaster plan, along with the accompanying resources. It also allows states to help with local response efforts, including providing money for personnel and supplies.

The state of emergency can affect your rights because states have used emergency declarations to close or restrict the hours of private businesses, close schools and public buildings, and enforce curfews for citizens.

There are federal-, state- and local-level declarations of emergency.

The power to declare a federal state of emergency is given to the president under the Stafford Act and the National Emergencies Act.

In Oregon, the governor used its state of emergency, according to the Associated Press, to activate “reserves of volunteer emergency health care personnel, especially important in rural areas,” develop guidelines for private businesses and aid employees by defining the coronavirus as a valid cause for sick leave. The addition of the sick leave definition will allow employees to take leave to care for their own sickness or for an immediate family member.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Prosecutors are increasingly – and misleadingly – using rap lyrics as evidence in court

by Erik Nielson, University of Richmond

Rapper Darrell Caldwell, better known to fans as Drakeo the Ruler, was on his way to stardom. Hailed as one of the most original rappers to emerge from Los Angeles in a generation, he had garnered hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, tens of millions of views on YouTube and the attention of media outlets like SPIN, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times.

Now he’s on trial for his life, and prosecutors are planning to do what they’ve done to hundreds of other accused hip-hop artists: Use his own lyrics as evidence against him.

You wouldn’t think Bob Marley ‘shot the sheriff,’ but rappers are held to a double standard.

 

Because my research centers on African American literary and musical traditions – with a particular emphasis on hip-hop culture – I was asked by the defense to testify as an expert witness in Drakeo’s first trial.

This is work I’m called to do quite regularly. My best guess is that I’ve consulted on over 60 cases in which prosecutors have used rap lyrics or videos as evidence of guilt. In addition, my research with University of Georgia law professor Andrea Dennis has uncovered more than 500 instances in which prosecutors have used this strategy, a number we’re certain is just the tip of the iceberg.

As an expert witness, my job is to correct the prosecutors’ characterizations of rap music. They routinely ignore the fact that rap is a form of artistic expression – with stage names, an emphasis on figurative language and hyperbolic rhetoric – and instead present rap as autobiographical.

In effect, they ask jurors to suspend the distinction between author and narrator, reality and fiction, and to read rap lyrics as literal confessions of guilt.

No other art form is exploited like this in court. And yet it’s an effective strategy precisely because it taps into stereotypes about rap music and the young men of color who are its primary creators.

Lyrics on trial

To recap Drakeo’s legal drama: Last year, he was charged and tried in connection with a shooting at a party that resulted in the death of a 24-year-old man named Davion Gregory.

According to prosecutors, the shooting was botched. Drakeo, they claimed, had ordered the shooter to kill a different person – a musical rival who raps as RJ.

Their evidence was flimsy. RJ wasn’t even at the party, and there’s no evidence he and Drakeo ever had violent confrontations. In fact, RJ has repeatedly said that he doesn’t believe he was ever targeted by Drakeo. One of the district attorney’s own witnesses also said Drakeo didn’t know the shooting was going to happen.

So to bolster their case, prosecutors focused on Drakeo’s music. At one point, for example, they cited a line from his song “Flex Freestyle,” in which he raps, “I’m ridin’ round town with a Tommy gun and a Jag / And you can disregard the yelling, RJ tied up in the back.”

The line was fictional; nobody claims that RJ was ever tied up in the back of Drakeo’s car. Nevertheless, prosecutors wanted the jury to believe that the lyrics were actual reflections of Caldwell’s desire to harm an industry rival.

Despite the prosecution’s efforts to use Drakeo’s music against him, it didn’t work: In July 2019, the jury acquitted Drakeo of most counts, including the multiple counts of murder.

Nonetheless, prosecutors are taking the unusual step of retrying Drakeo on a charge on which the jury deadlocked the first time around: criminal gang conspiracy.

If convicted, he faces life in prison.

He didn’t Doo it

For years, police departments across the country have surveilled and harassed rap artists; even today, they routinely deny these artists access to performance venues, arguing they’re a threat to public safety.

Meanwhile, the use of rap lyrics as evidence has exploded.

In 2014, for instance, San Diego prosecutors charged Brandon Duncan, who raps as Tiny Doo, with criminal gang conspiracy in connection with a series of shootings that took place in San Diego in 2013 and 2014. Nobody argued that Duncan participated in or even knew about the shootings. Nor was he in a gang.

But citing the same law now being used against Drakeo, prosecutors said his violent rap lyrics promoted gang violence – and that Duncan benefited from that violence in the form of enhanced “street cred.” So for crimes that everyone agrees Duncan didn’t commit or know about, prosecutors sought to put him away for 25 years to life. He sat in jail for more than seven months before a judge finally threw out the charges against him. Duncan later filed a lawsuit for wrongful arrest in the case, and just last month he settled with the city of San Diego for over US$700,000.

Duncan was far more fortunate than most young men who have their lyrics weaponized against them in court. The vast majority of the cases we’ve found end in conviction, often with lengthy sentences.

To highlight just a few of the recent cases I’ve testified in: There was Victor Hernandez, sentenced to life in prison for murder in Arizona; Christopher Bassett, sentenced to life plus 35 years for murder in Tennessee; and Ronnie Fuston, sentenced to death for murder in Oklahoma.

The question is not whether these young men committed the crimes they were convicted of. The question is whether they received a fair trial from an unbiased jury. When rap lyrics are introduced as evidence, that becomes highly dubious.

There’s a rhyme and a reason

Introducing rap lyrics can be highly effective for prosecutors because it allows them to draw on stereotypes about young black and Latino men as violent, hypersexual and dangerous. In front of a jury, that can foment prejudice.

Not only have I seen this firsthand, but there is also empirical evidence that reveals just how prejudicial rap lyrics can be. For example, in the late 1990s, psychologist Stuart Fischoff conducted a study to measure the effect of explicit rap lyrics on juries.

Participants were given basic biographical information about a hypothetical 18-year-old black male, but only some were shown a set of his violent, sexually explicit rap lyrics. Those who read the lyrics were significantly more likely to believe the man was capable of committing a murder than those who did not.

In a study conducted by social psychologist Carrie Fried, participants were given a set of violent lyrics without any indication of the artist or musical genre. In reality they were from the 1960 song “Bad Man’s Blunder” by the folk group Kingston Trio. Researchers told one group of participants that the lyrics were from a country song, and told the other group that they came from a rap song. In the end, participants who believed the lyrics came from a rap song were significantly more likely to view them as dangerous, offensive and in need of regulation. It’s worth noting that Fried’s study was replicated in 2016, with similar findings.

These studies – and others – highlight the enduring racial stereotypes that inform people’s perceptions of rap music. They also help explain an obvious double standard at work, one that the Supreme Court of New Jersey laid bare in a 2014 opinion that denounced the use of rap lyrics as evidence:

“One would not presume that Bob Marley, who wrote the well-known song ‘I Shot the Sheriff,’ actually shot a sheriff, or that Edgar Allan Poe buried a man beneath his floorboards, as depicted in his short story ‘The Tell–Tale Heart,’ simply because of their respective artistic endeavors on those subjects. Defendant’s lyrics should receive no different treatment.”

Unfortunately, however, they do receive different treatment, even as rap has emerged as one of the world’s most popular and influential genres.

It has also grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry, one that offers a chance at upward mobility, particularly in communities where such opportunities are desperately hard to come by.

Criminalizing it is cruel, unjust and silences some of the people most in need of a voice.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Felons Must Carry a Special ID or Go to Jail

Alabama is the only state where people with multiple felony convictions are required to register with law enforcement and carry special ID cards, legal experts say. When felons are caught without them, they can be arrested and fined or jailed.

by Connor Sheets

When a sheriff’s deputy pulled Emmanuel Pullom over on a suburban street near Birmingham, Alabama, the night of Dec. 1, 2018, he suspected that Pullom had stolen the black Ford pickup he was driving.

The deputy handcuffed Pullom, searched the truck and then took him to the Jefferson County Jail in downtown Birmingham, according to the incident report.

But Pullom wasn’t charged with stealing the truck, which he says he had recently purchased from a friend. Instead, he was charged with failing to possess a piece of laminated paper that identified him as a felon.

“The cop said, ‘Where’s your felon card?’” Pullom recalled in an interview last month. “I said, ‘What kind of card?’ He said, ‘If you’ve got three felonies, you’ve got to get a felon card.’”

More than 300 people in Alabama have been charged since 2014 under a little-known, but long-standing state law requiring people with more than two felony convictions to register with their local sheriff’s offices and carry cards identifying them as repeat felons, according to arrest data analyzed by AL.com and ProPublica.

Violations carry the threat of jail time and fines. A man in north Alabama served a one-year sentence for failing to register as a felon and obtain a felon registration card.

While some other states have felon registration requirements, criminal law professors said they believe Alabama is the only one with a law requiring registration cards.

Legal experts say the law is likely unconstitutional and reminiscent of slavery-era restrictions that required black people in many parts of the South to present identification to white people on demand.

“The card is reminiscent of the cards Jews were forced to carry in the ghettos,” John H. Blume, a criminal law professor at Cornell Law School, said via email.

“It will also give police the ability to stop people they know are felons to see if they have their cards and … to avoid things like reasonable suspicion and probable cause.”

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, which arrested Pullom, did not respond to requests for comment.

Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran, the top law enforcement official in Alabama’s second-largest county, defended the requirement. He said the charge “gives you a good stepping stone” for jailing someone suspected of other crimes, when there otherwise isn’t enough evidence to make an arrest.

“This guy’s a five-time felon or something,” Cochran said in an interview. “And you say, ‘Hey, where’s your convicted felon thing?’ And he says, ‘Well, I don’t have one.’ You say, ‘Well, hey, bud, I [didn’t] have nothing to arrest you on, but now I do.’”

“‘So now I’m gonna arrest you, now I’m gonna inventory your car and tow it in. And if I found 5 pounds of pot in your car, then you’re gonna be arrested for trafficking marijuana.’”

Fullom’s felon ID card, with certain identifying information blurred out.

Repeat felon Derrick Rhodes has a different take. In 2016, he was arrested in Henry County and charged with failing to possess a felon ID card. Rhodes, 41, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 days of suspended confinement and two years of probation and ordered to pay hundreds of dollars of fees, fines and court costs. He has since obtained a felon registration card that he carries everywhere he goes

“What’s the use of having a card on you when you’re a free man?” he said. “I’m not their prisoner no more.”

“It Shall Be the Duty”

Beginning in the 1930s, jurisdictions across the U.S. instituted so-called criminal registration laws in response to rising concerns about organized crime and other illegal activity.

In 1935, Birmingham became an early adopter of such restrictions when it passed a city ordinance requiring that felons register with law enforcement “upon their arrival in the city,” The New York Times reported at the time.

“Police officials hope that the law will give them an accurate check upon the criminal element. … It also is expected that it will result in an exodus of a great many known criminals.”

Many such laws and ordinances have since been invalidated or repealed, but the federal government and individual states have instituted a series of increasingly restrictive sex offender registry laws since the 1980s. And many states and localities across the U.S. have approved narrower registration laws that apply to people convicted of specific crimes, such as arson, serious drug crimes and gun violence.

Florida, Mississippi and Nevada have felon registration requirements, but they do not require felons to have or carry registration cards, sometimes referred to as “ex-felon cards.” In fact, Nevada law specifically bars such requirements: “The sheriff of a county or the chief of police of a city shall not require a convicted person to carry a registration card.”

In 1966, a special session of the Alabama Legislature approved the Alabama Felon Registration Act, which instituted the statewide felon registration requirements that remain in place today.

Lawmakers passed the legislation “to aid the law enforcement agencies in detecting and preventing and reducing recidivistic behavior,” according to an article about the law published in the 1966-67 edition of the Alabama Law Review.

The law requires that anyone who “resides” in Alabama and “has been convicted more than twice of a felony” anywhere in the U.S. must “register within 24 hours after his arrival in the county” and obtain a registration card from the sheriff’s office.

“It shall be the duty of such person to carry the card with him at all times while he is within the county and to exhibit the same to any officer of a municipality, a county or the state upon request.”

The maximum penalty for failing to obey the felon registration law is 30 days in jail and a $50 fine per day spent in violation, which can add up to lengthy and expensive sentences over time.

From 2014 to 2018, there have been 235 arrests in Alabama on state charges of not having a felon ID card and 53 arrests for the separate charge of failure to register with the local sheriff. Police also made nine arrests of felons who failed to notify the local sheriff of a change of address. Individual law enforcement agencies across the state have reported dozens more arrests on the charges in 2019 and this year.

Of those arrested on the charges between 2014 and 2018, about 61% were white and 38% were black, according to the state data. As of July 2019, the U.S. Census estimated that 69% of Alabama residents were white and 27% were black.

Such arrests are made in large urban counties like Jefferson, Montgomery and Baldwin, as well as in more rural counties like Franklin in Alabama’s northwest corner and Henry in the southeast.

Public records show that some local jurisdictions in Alabama have additional requirements. Arrest reports show that people have been charged in recent years in Alabama towns including Gadsden and Dothan with violating local ordinances requiring felon registration and identification.

A limited number of places outside Alabama, such as Zanesville, Ohio, and the Borough of Berlin, New Jersey, also have felon identification laws or ordinances on their books.

One-Year Sentence

Sometimes people serve serious time for failing to carry their felon IDs.

Quincy Tisdale says that at the time of his arrest in August 2014, he was “the only black man living on Sand Mountain,” a low ridge in north Alabama. “So I stuck out like a sore thumb.” He was also dating a white woman, a fact that he says drew the ire of some white residents of the largely rural area, which has a long history of racial tension.

So the 38-year-old father of three says he was regularly pulled over and searched by Marshall County sheriff’s deputies and local police officers, but they never had cause to arrest him.

One morning a Marshall County sheriff’s deputy stopped Tisdale in his silver Kia sedan as he drove through the small town of Grant and informed him that he had found a reason to lock him up.

“When he pulled me over, he said, ‘Didn’t I tell you I was gonna get your black ass one day?’” Tisdale recalled during a January interview in the living room of the friend’s home in Scottsboro, where he is currently staying.

“He said: ‘I know you don’t got your felon ID card. Come on, get out of the car.’ … When they arrested me that day, that’s the first I heard I had to have a felony card or I’d go to jail.”

Tisdale, who had previous felony convictions for crimes including burglary, theft and assault, was arrested and booked into the Marshall County Jail and charged with failure to register with the sheriff’s office and failure to possess an ex-felon card. It is the only time Tisdale has been arrested in the county, according to state court records. His bond was set at $1,500, court records show.

Tisdale pleaded guilty to the charges in October 2014 and was sentenced to 365 days in the Marshall County Community Corrections work release program — a residential jail alternative in which inmates earn money to pay down fines, fees and restitution by working for contracted companies. Tisdale says that while he was at the work release, he worked long hours deboning and loading chickens at a poultry processing plant.

Quincy Tisdale pleaded guilty to not registering with the sheriff’s office and not carrying a felon ID card. He was sentenced to 365 days in the Marshall County Community Corrections work release program.

In February 2015, after breaking the rules of the community corrections facility and getting into an argument with an employee, Tisdale was moved to the Marshall County Jail, where he served out the remainder of his sentence, court records show. He says that the punishment upended his life.

“When you take me away from my family, and I’m supporting my family, you’re pushing them out onto the streets,” he said.

Marshall County Sheriff Phil Sims, who became sheriff in January 2019, said his office does not “actively” seek out people violating the state’s felon registration and identification law.

“It’s not one of those things where we’re going out banging on doors or I’ve got someone assigned to look for people who haven’t registered,” he said. “It would generally be a secondary charge where there’s some other type of law enforcement contact like a domestic violence call or something.”

But he said that the law serves a valuable purpose, “kind of like the sex offender registry,” and that he would enforce it if his office were notified that someone in Marshall County had failed to register as a felon or obtain a registration card. Neither Sims’ predecessor, J. Scott Walls, who was sheriff at the time of Tisdale’s arrest, nor Walls’ attorney responded to requests for comment.

Tisdale says it’s an indignity to be forced to carry a felon ID card for the rest of his life: “It reminds me I’m a criminal, day in and day out.”

Scarlet Letter

Like each of the criminal law professors interviewed for this story, Pullom said he never knew that Alabama required people with more than two felony convictions to carry registration cards.

He said that he only found out about the requirement when he was arrested for violating it, and that he believes the charge was little more than a pretense to apprehend him.

“Did I have drugs on me? Did I do anything wrong? No,” said Pullom, who has been convicted of several felonies including shooting a gun into an occupied building, drug possession and theft. “They were just trying to come up with something to arrest me for.”

In fact, the arresting deputy wrote in the incident report that the felon ID card charge would allow the sheriff’s office to hold Pullom in jail and “follow up with a property crimes detective … on any other charges.” The felon ID charge was dismissed two months after his arrest and no additional charges were filed.

Lynneice Washington, district attorney for Jefferson County’s Bessemer Division, said that “you’re marking a person” by requiring them to carry a felon registration card. She added that she does not recall having ever heard of felon registration or ID charges being brought in her division, which is a subsection of the county that does not include Adamsville, where Pullom was arrested.

“Just to stop a person because you know them and know their history and to ask them if they have a felon identification card and that’s an automatic charge if they don’t have it, I don’t agree with that,” she said.

In the 1957 case Lambert v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the issue of felon registration. A woman named Virginia Lambert had been found guilty of violating a Los Angeles municipal law that made it “unlawful for ‘any convicted person’ to be or remain in Los Angeles for a period of more than five days without registering.” The conviction was upheld on appeal.

But the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the California ruling. The majority wrote that Lambert’s constitutional right to due process had been violated because she most likely had no “actual knowledge” that not registering as a felon was a crime.

“So the question would be whether Alabama has done a better job giving notice to someone that they need to register and/or get the ID card,” Rachel E. Barkow, a law professor and faculty director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University School of Law, said via email.

The piecemeal enforcement of Alabama’s felon registration and identification law also raises concerns, according to Alvin Bragg, a visiting law professor at New York Law School and co-director of the school’s Racial Justice Project.

Two-thirds of the state’s 67 counties saw no such charges brought between 2014 and 2018.

“Ultimately every law has got to be rational and not arbitrary and that’s the standard of review,” Bragg said. “I think this comes perilously close to being irrational and excessively arbitrary.”

Michele Deitch, senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Law and Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, said it would be difficult to argue that a year in jail is not a disproportionately harsh punishment for failing to carry a felon ID card.

“It would be challenged as an 8th Amendment violation,” she said. “It’s disproportionate to the underlying offense. And cruel and unusual — is there another locality that would sentence you to a year for that? Probably not. So that’s pretty unusual.”

Moving Violation

Sometimes simply failing to change an address can land a person behind bars.

That’s what happened to Michael Kelsay, who has been on law enforcement’s radar in Baldwin County for years. The father of three says that he sold his pickup this winter because he was tired of being pulled over nearly every time he left his trailer park.

A self-described former drug addict and petty criminal, he has a rap sheet spanning two decades, during which time he has been convicted of crimes including drug possession, negotiating a worthless instrument and receiving stolen property. The 39-year-old has also been arrested on two separate occasions for crimes related to felon registration.

Michael Kelsay was twice arrested and charged with failing to register a change of address on his felon registration card. At the time of the first arrest, he was temporarily living at his mother’s house, 3 miles away from the address on his card.

The first arrest took place one morning in August 2014, when Baldwin County sheriff’s deputies banged on the door at Kelsay’s mother’s house looking for him. When he came to the door, he says they informed him they had heard he was the last person seen with a criminal suspect they were trying to find.

After searching the area and determining the suspect was not there, Kelsay says one of the deputies ran his name through an electronic system, saw he was a repeat felon and asked him for his felon identification card.

“I show it to him. I’m like, ‘Boom, got it.’ They’re just grasping at straws, I feel like. Like, I’m good now,” Kelsay said during an interview in his kitchen last month.

“And then he hit me with, ‘Well, you don’t live at this address anymore,’ because I told him I was staying at my mom’s. I didn’t see the trap coming.”

Kelsay was arrested and charged with failing “to register, within 24 hours, his/her change of address or place of residence with the sheriff of Baldwin County,” according to court records. He says he was temporarily living at his mother’s house, 3 miles down the same road in Bay Minette from the address listed on his felon ID card.

Kelsay posted $5,000 bond and was released from jail three days after the arrest.

He was arrested a second time a month later and charged with failing to possess a felon registration card — he said the sheriff’s office had seized his card at the time of the first arrest because the address was incorrect and he had not replaced it — and again failing to notify the sheriff’s office that he had changed addresses. He pleaded guilty to the three charges that resulted from the two arrests and was sentenced to concurrent sentences of 30 days in jail and ordered to pay three $50 fines.

Anthony Lowery, chief deputy of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, defended the arrests.

“He was knowingly, willingly violating the law,” he said. “Obviously anytime you have a known convicted felon — like in this case Mr. Kelsay has been convicted multiple times of different crimes — [felon registration] does help. It’s a tool to protect the public.”

Lowery added that the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office pursues people who break the state’s felon registration law:

“If you’re asking if we’re just going out searching for these people, on occasion yes. … We’re charged with enforcing the law and if you’re a felon and you’re required to register and you’re violating the law then we’re going to enforce that.”

What sticks with Kelsay to this day is the idea that he was arrested because the law forever puts him in a separate category.

“I was flabbergasted by it. I couldn’t believe they took me to jail for that,” he said. “That’s what really bothers me about it is I feel like they charged me with that because they wanted me to go to jail.”


Republished with permission under license from Propublica.

 

 

Librarians could be jailed and fined under a proposed Missouri censorship law

Nicole Cooke, University of South Carolina

A bill pending in Missouri’s legislature takes aim at libraries and librarians who are making “age-inappropriate sexual material” available to children.

The measure, championed by Ben Baker, a Republican lawmaker, calls for establishing review boards who would determine whether materials in libraries contain or promote “nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse.” In addition, the boards, which would be comprised of parents, would root out materials lacking “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Librarians who defy the review boards by buying and lending such materials would be subject to misdemeanor charges, fines upward of US$500, and a potential jail sentence up to one year.

As a librarian, and now as an educator who teaches aspiring librarians, I see this bill as the latest chapter in a long history of books being banned from public and school libraries.

A sign of the times. 

Censorship and book banning

Often, efforts to censor and muzzle libraries originate with members of the public rather than public officials or school leaders.

Censoring and banning library materials and programs is nothing new. Many classic books have been challenged and banned, including classroom favorites like “1984” by George Orwell, “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker, and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.

The children’s book “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole, was challenged and banned from libraries around the country for many years after its publication in 2005. The picture book is based on a true story of two male penguins in New York City’s Central Park Zoo who adopt and care for an egg and then keep caring for their daughter, Tango, after she hatched.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is also regularly challenged and banned.

Separately, opponents of the storytime program known as “Drag Queen Story Hour” at libraries and other community venues, have held protests to ban and condemn such events aimed at children. The objections voiced by protesters stem from their belief that drag performers are evil and amoral and that exposure to drag queens will, in their view, cause children to become gay.

The Missouri bill is not the first of its kind. State lawmakers in Colorado and Maine both tried to pass similar legislation in 2019. Both efforts failed.

The drag queens who read to kids in libraries are attracting protesters. 

A profession

American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, the Missouri Library Association, and PEN America – a nonprofit that defends free expression – are among the literary and library groups that have voiced their objections.

Many of the drag queens who read to kids are planning a protest against the measure on March 7. Baker has said his concerns about these readings were a factor in inspiring him to draft the bill.

Librarians are professionals. Librarians working in K-12 school libraries also earn certification as school library media specialists. Librarians have expertise in children’s literature, collection development, child development, psychology, readers’ advisory, reference services and other specialized skills needed to serve children and young adults in a variety of settings.

In short, librarians are more than capable of selecting and purchasing quality books and other materials for people of all ages.

To imply otherwise, as I believe the proposed Missouri measure would, is to insult these skilled educators. If it should be enacted, I would consider it a potential threat to information access, intellectual freedom and the freedom to read.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

7 lessons from ‘Hidden Figures’ NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson’s life and career

Della Dumbaugh, University of Richmond

Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician who made critical contributions to the space program at NASA, died Feb. 24 at the age of 101.

Katherine Johnson spoke at the Oscars about her work depicted in the 2016 film ‘Hidden Figures.’

Johnson became a household name thanks to the celebrated book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians who Helped Win the Space Race,” which later became a movie. Her legacy provides lessons for supporting women and other underrepresented groups in mathematics and science.

As a historian of mathematics, I have studied women in that field and use the book “Hidden Figures” in my classroom. I can point to some contemporary ideas we can all benefit from when examining Johnson’s life.

1. Mentors make a difference

Early in her life, Johnson’s parents fostered her intellectual prowess.

Because there was no high school for African-American children in their hometown of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, the family relocated to Institute, West Virginia, during the school year. Johnson entered West Virginia State College High School as a preteen and enrolled at the age of 14.

While at West Virginia State, Johnson took classes with Angie Turner King. King taught at the laboratory high school while she worked to become one of the first African-American women to earn masters degrees in math and chemistry. She would go on to earn a Ph.D. in math education in 1955.

King taught Johnson geometry and encouraged her mathematical pursuits. Thirteen years older than Johnson, she modeled a life of possibility.

Johnson graduated from West Virginia State College at the age of 18. While there, she had the good fortune to learn from W. W. Schieffelin Claytor, the third African American to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics in America. Claytor encouraged Katherine to become a research mathematician. In the 1930s, a little over 100 American women counted themselves as professional mathematicians.

Barack Obama awarded Katherine Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. 

2. High school mathematics adds up

Once Johnson completed the standard mathematics curriculum at West Virginia State College, Claytor created advanced classes just for her, including a course on analytic geometry.

Mathematics concepts build on one another and the mathematics she learned in this class helped her in her work at NASA many years later. She used these analytical skills to verify the computer calculations for John Glenn’s orbit around the earth and to help determine the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon, among others.

3. Grit matters

Long before psychologist Angela Duckworth called attention to the power of passion and perseverance in the form of grit, Katherine Johnson modeled this stalwart characteristic.

In 1940, she agreed to serve as one of three carefully selected students to desegregate West Virginia University’s graduate program. She also had to be “assertive and aggressive” about receiving credit for her contributions to research at NASA.

In 1960, her efforts helped her become the first African-American and the first woman to have her name on a NASA research report. Currently, the NASA archives contain more than 25 scientific reports on space flight history authored or co-authored by Johnson, the largest number by any African-American or woman.

4. The power of advocating for yourself

Katherine Johnson worked at NASA in 1966. NASA

When NASA was formed in 1958, women were still not allowed to attend the Test Flight briefings.

Initially, Johnson would ask questions about the briefings and “listen and listen.” Eventually, she asked if she could attend. Apparently, the men grew tired of her questions and finally allowed her to attend the briefings.

5. The power of a team

In 1940, Johnson found herself among the 2% of all African-American women who had earned a college degree. At that time, she was among the nearly 60% of those women who had become teachers.

Later, she joined the West Computing Group at Langley Research Center where women “found jobs and each other.” They checked each other’s work and made sure nothing left the office with an error. They worked together to advance each other individually and collectively as they performed calculations for space missions and aviation research.

Katherine Johnson was at the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, Va. in 2016. 

6. The power of women advocating for women

Although Johnson started as a human computer in the West Computing Group, after two weeks she moved to the Maneuver Load Branch of the Flight Research Division under the direction of Henry Pearson.

When it was time to make this position permanent after her six month probationary period, Dorothy Vaughan, then the West Computing department head and Johnson’s former boss, told Pearson to “either give her a raise or send her back to me.” Pearson subsequently offered Johnson the position and the raise.

7. The legacy of possibility

In March of 2014, Donna Gigliotti, producer of Shakespeare in Love and The Reader, received a 55-page nonfiction proposal about African-American women mathematicians at NASA in Hampton, Virginia.

I kind of couldn’t get over the fact that this was a true story and I didn’t know anything about it,” Gigliotti confessed. “I thought well, this is a movie.” Gigliotti’s hunch ultimately led to the movie “Hidden Figures” and an entire generation of young people learning about the possibilities of math and science.

The U.S. State Department showed Hidden Figures throughout the developing world to encourage girls and women to consider the possibilities of careers in math and science. Mattel created a Katherine Johnson Barbie in its “Inspiring Women” series to celebrate “the achievements of a pioneer who broke through the barriers of race and gender.”


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Dr. William “Bill” Key – From Slave to Celebrity Veterinarian Trainer of “Beautiful Jim Key”

Dr. William "Bill" Key, was born a slave in Murfreesboro, TN in 1833. While enslaved, Key became a successful veterinarian who decades after the Civil War trained the famous "Beautiful Jim Key", known as the smartest horse in the world. 

Bill was owned by Captain John Key. When Bill was five years old, the Captain's died and willed Bill to his cousin, John W. Key of Shelbyville, Tennessee. Bill demonstrated a special way with animals as early as six years of age. He also was a great help to the John W. Key family when it was observed that the disabled father of John W. Key was much calmer when Bill was around.

However, the place where Bill really shined was around horses, he demonstrated a remarkable talent for working with horses and mules. He was so effective with horses that he was soon being sent to the pasture alone to train the horses. Additionally, he was given special attention because of his work keeping his master's father company. John Key taught Bill reading, writing, mathematics, and science. As a child he Bill read veterinary texts and experimented with animal remedies until he became a successful veterinarian and horse dentist. Known as Dr. Key, he also practiced dentistry and other healing arts for slaves. 

Martha, John's wife, really appreciated the effect Bill had on John's father as it saved her from having to deal with the recalcitrant old man. She taught Bill such gentlemanly skills like presentation, elocution, and etiquette. These skills would all come to be most valuable to him later when he became an adult and found himself in need of them to succeed as a free man after the Civil War.

Civil War

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Dr. Key accompanied his master's two sons to Fort Donelson. There he constructed his own shelter, a log-covered dugout known as Fort Bill, in which he took refuge and offered protection to his masters during Union bombardment. When Fort Donelson surrendered, Key helped his masters escape to Confederate forces commanded by Nathan Bedford Forrest. After the battle of Stones River, the Sixth Indiana regiment captured Key as he tried to smuggle another black man through Union lines. He was sentenced to hang, but the execution was postponed when it was learned that he was a good cook and poker player. Playing poker with Union officers, Key purchased his release in exchange for their gambling debts. Captured and sentenced to hang on another occasion, Key purchased a delay of execution with one thousand dollars he had sewn between the soles of his shoe. Confederate raiders liberated him the next day.

The relationship between the John W. Key family and Bill continued to grow stronger and after the Civil War when the Key family lost everything, Bill, who by then had accumulated quite a sum of money, stepped in and helped send John W. Key’s two sons to Harvard.

After the war, Dr. Key and his former masters found the family estate in ruins. The elder Key had died, leaving the family lands heavily mortgaged. Key developed and marketed Keystone Liniment for various animal and human ailments. With proceeds from gambling winnings and Keystone Liniment sales, he quickly paid off the mortgage for his former masters and subsequently underwrote their education. When asked about his unusual generosity toward his master's family over the years, he is said to have responded, "I was one of those fortunate men who had a kind master."

William Key's Wives

Though he was eventually married to four notably beautiful, educated women, Dr. Key had no children of his own.

Dr. Key was first married to Lucy Davidson, the daughter of Arabella Davidson. Lucy was born in February of 1832 and died on August 17, 1885. She is buried in Willow Mount Cemetery in Shelbyville.

  – 1832–1885

Dr. Key took for his second wife, the sister of Lucy Davidson. She was Hattie Davidson, but Hattie did not live very long, she died about 1886.

Dr. Key took for his third wife, Lucinda Davis, the daughter of George and Harriett E. Davis. Lucinda was born on February 24, 1859, and died August 21, 1896, with her burial in Willow Mount Cemetery. Lucinda Davis Key, MD, received her medical degree at Howard University, one of the first black women doctors licensed to practice in the state of Tennessee.

  – 1859–1896

Dr. Key took for his fourth and last wife, Maggie Davis, a sister of Lucinda Davis. Maggie was born in 1865 and died in 1935 with her burial in Willow Mount Cemetery.

 – 1865–1935

Business

Dr. Key established a leading veterinary practice and horse hospital in downtown Shelbyville on a lot he purchased on North Main Street. While he had no formal training, his reputation of being able to do wonders for horses caused him to be considered a veterinarian by the townspeople. He also opened a racetrack, a restaurant, a hotel, a wagon shop and operated a successful pharmaceutical business. The liniment business became so profitable, he promoted it across the South. He organized a traveling minstrel and medicine show, at which his animals performed skits to demonstrate the apparent effectiveness of his medications.

Within five years, “Dr.” Key was one of the most prosperous men in Shelbyville. This gave him the resources to turn his attention to the sport of kings, horse racing, and his goal was to breed the world’s fastest racehorse.

Beautiful Jim Key


While in Tupelo, Mississippi, Key bought a badly abused Arabian bay, Lauretta, from a defunct circus. He nursed the mare back to health and bred her to Tennessee Volunteer, a Standardbred stallion. She produced a colt so sickly that Dr. Key considered having it destroyed. Instead, he named it Jim, after the town drunk, who had a similarly wobbly gait. After treating Jim with his own medicines, Dr. Key nursed Jim to good health, he watched as the misfit colt eventually transformed into a gorgeous mahogany bay.

In narrating Jim's unique education, Dr. Key notes that he was already fifty-six years old when the sickly Jim was foaled. When Jim's mother died, the orphaned colt refused to be separated from his owner and trainer, causing such a ruckus in the barn that Dr. Key was forced to take the colt into his home. For the first year of his life, Jim lived as a human, absorbing language and abstract concepts to a staggering degree. When he outgrew the house and moved back to the stables, Dr. Key noticed that the animal let itself out of gates, opened drawers to retrieve apples, and responded with affirmative and negative nods to questions. Dr. Key set up a cot out for himself in the stable to sleep with Jim. The two were inseparable companions and partners from then on.

Key put Jim on a rigorous training routine that lasted for seven years. When finally exhibited, Beautiful Jim Key could read, write on a blackboard, spell, do math, distinguish among coins and make change, identify playing cards, play a hand-organ, tell time, sort mail, cite biblical passages and respond to political inquiries, among other amazing feats.

Although Beautiful Jim Key was clearly gifted his opportunities were limited by Dr. Key’s race. No matter how eloquent he was, or how talented, because Dr. Key was a black man in the 1800s he was only allowed to participate in selected competitions. 

In 1897, Dr. Key was asked to serve on the “Negro Committee” at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in Nashville. "Beautiful Jim Key" made his stage debut in front of none other than President William McKinley. President McKinley offered high praise for both the horse and the training methods. Dr. Key often emphasized that he used only patience and kindness in teaching the horse, and never a whip.

Albert R. Rogers, a wealthy officer of the American Humane Association, witnessed the performance and was especially gratified that Key's training methods consisted entirely of positive rewards for performance. Rogers negotiated the right to exhibit the horse nationally, advanced Key a large sum of money, and promised that Jim would not be separated from Key as long as either lived. Key, Beautiful Jim, and grooms Sam and Stanley Davis of Shelbyville, traveled to the Rogers estate in New Jersey where, for several months, Key prepared Beautiful Jim for his New York City debut. In August 1897 Beautiful Jim amazed viewers and the New York City press and quickly became a celebrity.

Invitation to the St. Louis World's Fair opening performances of Beautiful Jim Key

This horse became one of the most famous celebrities, animal or human, in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Dr. Key and Beautiful Jim Key became the toast of two World's Fairs and even had their own pavilion at the St. Louis fair in 1904. 

Jim Key exhibition hall and show ticket during 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

The Beautiful Jim Key exhibit was one of the first shows to open at the beginning of the St. Louis World's Fair and was a popular top moneymaker. William Key performed in front of then-President Teddy Roosevelt's daughter, Alice. Jim Key spelled Alice's name- “Alice Roosevelt Longworth,” adding the surname of her escort. 
The Beautiful Jim Key exhibit building was called the Golden Horseshoe Building and cost $12,000; Carson-Hudson & Co were the architects. The price of Admission to see the Beautiful Jim Key exhibit was 15 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. The exhibit made a profit of $51,654.28 dollars; the equivalent of nearly $1.5 million in 2020 dollars.

Jim became the number one box office star in the nation and energized the worldwide animal welfare movement, making the phrase "be kind to animals" a household ideal.

Known as the "Marvel of the Twentieth Century" and "The Greatest Crowd Drawer in America," the two were seen by an estimated ten million Americans and written about in every major newspaper. Fans collected his promotional pamphlets, souvenir buttons, postcards, and photos, bought Beautiful Jim Key pennies, danced the "Beautiful Jim Key" two-step, wore Jim Key gold pinbacks in their collars, and competed in Beautiful Jim Key essay contests, while millions signed up to join and support humane groups around the country. Two million children joined the Jim Key Band of Mercy and signed his pledge, "I promise always to be kind to animals."

When Dr. Key traveled along with Beautiful Jim, the horse traveled in private train cars, drank purified water and ate hay that was fit for a star of his caliber. He also had quite an entourage. He traveled with Dr. Key, two grooms, a veterinarian and Monk, a former stray dog that served as the horse’s companion and bodyguard. Monk, the dog liked to stand on the horse’s back.

For nine years, Key, Rogers, and Beautiful Jim toured major cities east of the Rocky Mountains and performed at large venues from Atlantic City to Chicago. 

Universally praised for Service to Humanity, Beautiful Jim Key and Dr. William Key retired after their record-breaking 1906 season when Jim's rheumatism caused the two to return to Shelbyville with the plan to resume after a year's rest. Three years later, Bill passed away at age 76, causing a stir even in death by the large numbers of mourners – black and white – who attended his memorial.

Dr. William Key's family grave site

In 1912, Beautiful Jim Key died on a cool autumn day, "passing out with all ease," as Dr. Key's brother-in-law, Dr. Stanley Davis, wrote to Albert Rogers.

For a century, this astonishing, true story of an American hero who rose to international fame a century ago, spurring a significant shift in human consciousness, has been buried in history.


Citations:

Tennessee Encyclopedia – https://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/william-key/
BlackThen – https://blackthen.com/dr-william-bill-key-slave-renowned-veterinarian/
FindGrave – https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/41646960/william-key
Horse Spirit – https://horsespirit.site/2020/01/28/behind-the-incredible-story-of-jim-key-the-worlds-smartest-horse/

My Vote Don’t Count

Rap-video that every young person thinking about not voting must see

by Denise Oliver Velez

I jumped for joy when I saw the latest video from Tyheir Kindred, a Dayton, Ohio rapper who goes by the name of YelloPain. It’s called, “My Vote Don't Count.”  Check him out, @YelloPain

I’ve spent years trying to teach young folks about why they should vote, which has often been frustrating, because many of them are getting strong messages that tell them why they shouldn’t be bothered. I’ve even dragged out the old Schoolhouse Rock video, “I’m Just a Bill” trying to explain how a bill becomes a law to young people who don’t seem to get civics in school.

I talked about this a while back in Whatever happened to civics? and Rochaun Meadows Fernandez addressed last year in Voter suppression starts with a lack of civics education.

Kindred switches from rapping in the introduction about why people are discouraged and why they think their votes don’t count, to why they have to vote. He breaks down the difference between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government, and makes it clear that elections are not just about the President. 

He has offered non-voters a better education about the power of voting in this short video than most young folks will ever get in school.

In all my years of teaching, I never had a college student who knew the names of their state assembly person or state senator. I rarely had students who could name their DC congressional rep or our two senators. I remember watching long lines of students on my campus, which lasted till the polls closed, voting for Obama in 2008. Two years later, I stood outside the campus polling place, and only about 11 students showed up during the three hours I watched. Midterms were just not important. Congressional elections were not important. YelloPain addresses this in his rap (see full lyrics here)

We gotta focus on the Legislative branch; yeah they the ones that make the Laws
Yeah they the ones that write how much food stamps money you get on the card
But when people that wanted to help us wanted the job
I know they probably lost
Cause we ain’t even know they name, we ain’t know they face, we ain’t know at all
So the Congress or the State House that’s the Legislative, they make Laws
So what we want from the President is what they do, okay y’all?
See they election every two years but we don’t ever even go to those
The Congress they could raise minimum wage                                                              
but we ain’t even really know it though
So you know how back in ’08, when we all voted for Obama
We was all supposed to go back in 2010 and voted for the Congress
Cause they the ones that make child support laws
They the ones choose if your kids at school get to eat steak or corn dogs
The state house makes the courthouse
So if the country fail you can’t say it’s them, it’s your fault
Cause ya ain't know to know to vote for Congress members that was for y’all
And they don’t gotta leave at the four years and we just let ‘em sit
See, they don’t want to tell you this they want you to focus on the President


Republished from DailyKos


Editorial postscript:

by Randall Hill

What I like most about Yellopain's video is the emphasis on the concept that "All politics is local", a common phrase in U.S. politics and how he explained the realities of the executive branch.

My father and I have debated about Trump since he became president. I've always assumed Trump would be re-elected; even during the Mueller era and through the impeachment process. The first time I believed that Trump might not be re-elected was when I saw the first Michael Bloomberg commercial and realized the billionaire class probably doesn't care which billionaire gets elected. Trump and Bloomberg will promote tax and other policy that benefits billionaires. Systems are designed to protect the wealth, power and self-interest of those who create them.

"None Dare Call It Conspiracy" was a book written in 1971 that asserted, modern political and economic systems in most developed nations are the result of a sweeping conspiracy by the power elite. Billionaires control media and contribute the most to candidates and their support determines who can realistically run for high office. The 1939 movie, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" illustrates that point perfectly.

For the first time in nearly 40 years, I don't have a preferred candidate in the Democratic primary, I don't care who wins the nomination, none of them excites me. Bernie Sanders who would have been my preferred candidate out of those still standing disappointed when he originally expressed that he did not support reparations. Ultimately, I believe Bloomberg will capture the nomination. As mentioned a few years ago in "Billionaire Overthrow of Government": billionaires are no longer content with simply influencing or directing the actions of others, they want the actual authority that comes from holding public office.

Each new Presidential administration, whether it be Republican or Democrat continues the same basic policies of the previous administration which it had so thoroughly denounced during the election campaign. The Democrats and Republicans seem to be engaged in good cop/bad cop, but are actually working towards the same agenda because nothing ever changes. 

As Killer Mike so eloquently expressed, we're arguing about which presidential candidate will make the better slave master.

100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues, a look back at what was lost

by Rob Ruck, University of Pittsburgh

During the half century that baseball was divided by a color line, black America created a sporting world of its own.

Josh Gibson slides into home during the 1944 Negro Leagues All-Star Game. 

Black teams played on city sandlots and country fields, with the best barnstorming their way across the country and throughout the Caribbean.

A century ago, on Feb. 13, 1920, teams from eight cities formally created the Negro National League. Three decades of stellar play followed, as the league affirmed black competence and grace on the field, while forging a collective identity that brought together Northern-born blacks and their Southern brethren. And though Major League Baseball was segregated from the 1890s until 1947, these teams played countless interracial games in communities across the nation.

After World War II, Jackie Robinson hurdled baseball’s racial divide. But while integration – baseball’s great experiment – was a resounding success on the field, at the gates and in changing racial attitudes, Negro League teams soon lost all of their stars and struggled to retain fans. The teams hung on for a bit, before eventually folding.

Years ago, when I worked on a documentary about the Negro Leagues, I was struck by how many of the interviewees looked back longingly on the leagues’ heyday. While there was the understanding that integration needed to happen, there was also the recognition that something special was forever lost.

A league of their own

Given the injustices of the 1890s – sharecropping, lynchings, disenfranchisement and the Supreme Court’s sanctioning of segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson – exclusion from Major League Baseball was hardly the most grievous injury African Americans suffered. But it mattered. Their absence denied them the chance to participate in a very visible arena that helped European immigrants integrate into American culture.

While the sons of white immigrants – John McGraw, Honus Wagner, Joe DiMaggio – became major leaguers lionized by their nationalities, blacks didn’t have that opportunity. Most whites assumed that was because they weren’t good enough. Their absence reinforced prevailing beliefs that African Americans were inherently inferior – athletically and intellectually – with weak abdominal muscles, little endurance and prone to cracking under pressure.

The Negro Leagues gave black ballplayers their own platform to prove otherwise. On Feb. 13, 1920, Chicago American Giants owner Rube Foster convened a meeting at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City to organize the Negro National League. A Texas-born pitcher, Foster envisioned a black alternative to the major leagues.

Members of the Chicago American Giants pose for a team portrait in 1914. Rube Foster is seated in the center of the first row wearing a suit.

Northern black communities were exploding in size, and Foster saw the league’s potential. Teams like the American Giants and the Kansas City Monarch regularly competed against white teams, drew large crowds and turned profits. Players enjoyed higher salaries than most black workers, while black newspapers trumpeted their exploits, as did some white papers.

Other leagues cropped up; the Negro National League was soon joined by the Negro American League and the Negro Southern League. Some years, the Negro National and Negro American Leagues played a Negro League World Series. The leagues also sent their best players to the East-West All-Star Classic, an annual exhibition game in Chicago.

But the Negro National League’s ascent was stunted after Foster was exposed to a gas leak, nearly died and suffered permanent brain damage. Absent his leadership and hammered by the Great Depression, the league disbanded in 1931.

Life in the Negro Leagues

A proving ground

Gus Greenlee, who ran the popular lottery known as the numbers game, revived the league in Pittsburgh in 1933 after a sandlot club called the Crawfords, which included the young slugger Josh Gibson, approached him for support. He agreed to pay them salaries and reinforced their roster with the addition of flamethrower Satchel Paige.

Satchel Paige. 

Greenlee went on to build the finest black-owned ballpark in the country, Greenlee Field, while headquartering the Negro National League on the floor above the Crawford Grill, his renowned jazz club in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.

Pittsburgh soon became the mecca of black baseball. Sitting along America’s East-West rail lines, the city was a requisite stop for black entertainers, leaders and ball clubs, which traveled from cities as far away as Kansas City. Its two teams, the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords, won a dozen titles. Seven of the first 11 Negro Leaguers eventually inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame – stars like Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Satchel Paige – played for one or both squads.

The sport, meanwhile, became a major source of black pride.

“The very best,” Pittsburgh-born author John Wideman noted, “not only competed among themselves and put on a good show, but [also] would go out and compete against their white contemporaries and beat the stuffing out of them.”

Satchel Paige and the Crawfords famously defeated St. Louis Cardinals ace Dizzy Dean in an exhibition game in Cleveland – just two weeks after the Cardinals had won the 1934 World Series. Overall, Negro League teams won far more games against white squads than they lost.

“There was so much [negativity] living over [us] which we had no control [over],” Mal Goode, the first black national network correspondent, recalled. “So anything you could hold on to from the standpoint of pride, it was there and it showed.”

Sacrificed on integration’s altar

For Major League Baseball, no moment was more transformative than the arrival of Jackie Robinson, who, in 1947, paved the way for African Americans and darker-skinned Latinos to reshape the game.

But integration destroyed the Negro Leagues, plucking its young stars – Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Roy Campanella and Ernie Banks – who brought their fans with them. The big leagues never considered folding in some of the best black teams, and its owners rejected the Negro National League owners’ proposal to become a high minor league.

Like many black papers, colleges and businesses, the Negro National League paid a price for integration: extinction. The league ceased play after the 1948 season. Black owners, general managers and managers soon disappeared, and it would be decades before a black manager would get a chance to steer a major league ballclub.

Major League Baseball benefited from talent cultivated in the Negro Leagues and on the sandlots that sustained the sport, especially in inner cities. But when those leagues crumbled, prospective black pros were relegated to minor league teams, often in inhospitable, southern cities. Many Negro League regulars simply hung up their cleats or played in the Caribbean.

The playwright August Wilson set his play, “Fences,” which tells the story of an ex-Negro Leaguer who becomes a garbageman in Pittsburgh.

“Baseball gave you a sense of belonging,” Wilson said in a 1991 interview. At those Negro League games, he added, “The umpire ain’t white. It’s a black umpire. The owner ain’t white. Nobody’s white. This is our thing … and we have our everything – until integration, and then we don’t have our nothing.”

The story of African Americans in baseball has long been portrayed as a tale of their shameful segregation and redemptive integration. Segregation was certainly shameful, especially for a sport invested in its own rhetoric of democracy.

But for African Americans, integration was also painful. Although long overdue and an important catalyst for social change, it cost them control over their sporting lives.

It changed the meaning of the sport – what it symbolized and what it meant for their communities – and not necessarily for the better.

Soul of the Game is a 1996 made-for-television movie about Negro league baseball.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.