Protecting the right to vote: Fifty years after Selma

The “Bloody Sunday” beatings of civil rights demonstrators in Selma, Alabama, served as a catalyst for the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Fifty years after Selma, this Election Day reminds us of the struggles— past, present, and future— to ensure equal voting rights.

Our nation was founded as a democracy, yet for centuries many people were denied the right to vote as a matter of law. Even after legal barriers were overcome, disenfranchisement took other forms. African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities were denied access to the polls through violence, intimidation, and many other forms of discrimination. It took years of struggle and bloodshed to enact laws that protect the fundamental right to cast a ballot.

Immense challenges remain today. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, gutted key protections against voting discrimination in the Voting Rights Act. Congress has yet to restore this law to its former vitality.

Across the country, voting rights are under attack. State and local officials are disseminating misinformation about voting requirements and procedures, eliminating early voting, purging voter rolls, and enforcing discriminatory voter identification requirements that disproportionately affect minorities, transgender people and elderly voters. Many polling sites are inaccessible to non-English speakers and voters living with disabilities. Far too many states, including Massachusetts, are ignoring federal laws that are designed to expand access to the polls.

Just this year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and our voting rights allies— in partnership with Ropes & Gray— settled a major case, NAACP v. Galvin, which challenged our state’s failure to comply with its federally-mandated duty to provide voter registration opportunities to public assistance recipients. As a result of our settlement, the state will now automatically distribute voter registration materials to public assistance recipients and provide multi-lingual assistance to those who wish to register.

Each year, the Lawyers’ Committee’s national office operates an Election Protection Hotline to assist voters who need information or assistance (see information below). Through this effort, we know firsthand that significant barriers— from incorrect voter registration records to inaccessible polling places— continue to stand in the way of equal voting opportunity, particularly for people of color, immigrants, non-English speakers, and people living with disabilities.

Looking ahead, we know that vigilance will be key to protecting voting rights. At the Lawyers’ Committee, we are committed to dismantling barriers that stand in the way of equal access to the ballot box.

On Election Day, remember that the right to vote is precious. However you choose to vote, VOTE!

Election Protection Toll Free Hotlines: : 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) administered by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Noted African American historian honored in Baltimore County

Louis S. Diggs has spent nearly a lifetime helping to preserve African-American history in Baltimore County.

At 83, Diggs concedes that age may have slowed him just a bit, but it hasn’t stopped his ongoing research as he continues to dig for more valuable roots.

“Even though age is catching up with me, I can’t stop digging up our history here in Baltimore County. Deep down, I feel God is keeping me here for a reason,” Diggs said. And, his work hasn’t gone unnoticed.

On Thursday, February 18, 2016, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced a new Louis S. Diggs Award to honor notable African-Americans from around the county.

Kamenetz says the award will be presented each year during Black History Month and this year’s recipients are Audrey Simmons and Ray Banks, who together brought to fruition the Hubert V. Simmons Museum for Negro League Baseball, located inside the Owings Mills Library.

“No one has done more to preserve and promote African-American history in Baltimore County than Louis Diggs,” Kamenetz said. “An award such as this is long overdue, and we in Baltimore County are so fortunate to have this notable expert on African-American

history right here in our community.”

Born in Baltimore in 1932, Diggs spent most of his youth in the Sandtown area and attended Douglass High School before quitting in 1950 to join the all-black Maryland National Guard when they were federalized to support the Korean War.

Diggs remained in service with the U.S. Army until 1970, having made several trips to Korea, two tours in Germany and once stationed in Japan. Diggs counts as his most notable assignment his appointment as Sergeant Major of the ROTC Detachment at then Morgan State College where he was assigned from 1957 to 1964.

Earlier, in 1954, Diggs married Catonsville resident Shirley Washington and the couple made the area their home. After retiring from the Army in the fall of 1970, Diggs went to work for the District of Columbia Public Schools as a military instructor at Ballou High School.

In 1975, he earned his high school diploma and one year later he graduated Catonsville Community College with an Associate’s Degree. Diggs then earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Baltimore and a Masters of Public Administration before doing post-graduate studies at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

He worked as a substitute teacher at Catonsville High School and he credits the students there with encouraging him to research and write about the history of the African-American community of Winters Lane in Catonsville.

“I was surprised by the naming of an award after me,” said Diggs, who has authored several books about black history.

“I only heard that I would be honored during Black History Month and expected another certificate would be given to me, sort of as usual, but upon learning about the annual award named in my honor never crossed my mind,” he said. “For African-Americans who now know about such an honor, they should realize the importance of spending time doing any type of research of the lives and experiences of African-Americans in the past.”

So much of black history is simply not known to many, according to Diggs.

“Here in Baltimore County, where our history has never been documented, this should serve as an eye opener to both our youth and especially our young retirees that spending time researching our history is so needed. I have only scratched the surface on our history in Baltimore County in the ten books I have researched and published, but another ten or twenty books need to be published on this subject,” Diggs said, also adding that he can’t thank Kamenetz enough for recognizing Black History Month and the county government for helping him and his mentor, Lenwood Johnson for assisting in bringing black history to light.

“I’m hoping that African-Americans from Baltimore County are aware of the support that Baltimore County government has totally supported all of my work in the county finding our history end ensuring that this history is published in books for the future because we all know as much as possible about our ancestors,” Diggs said. “We all know that so many African-Americans were slaves, but so few know how we became productive citizens throughout time, and the contributions we made to society. This is why I say more volunteer time is needed in digging out our history.”

Urban teachers keeping black history in curriculum

When deciding on a black history project for her fourth grade class at Calvin M. Rodwell Elementary School, Naadir Billingsley took into account how the students would connect to the project and she used their background knowledge to enhance the learning experience.

When Se’Kayla Harrell spoke to her fifth grade class at George Washington Elementary School, she was surprised that her students knew just the generalities of Black History Month, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

Naadira Billingsley

Naadira Billingsley

“This was very shocking to me but it only showed me how big of an opportunity we had this year to explore and introduce the students to new people and how great their history actually is,” Harrell said.

Both Billingsley and Harrell say they’ve decided to make black history a part of their regular curriculum.

The two educators were trained through Urban Teachers, a teacher prep program in both Baltimore and Washington, D.C., that specifically supports teachers to enter into urban and low-income city schools.

“Urban Teachers helped me to prepare for teaching black history to my students because they emphasize the importance of making connections with students,” Billingsley said.

“When deciding on a Black History Month project … I let the students guide their project and what they wanted to learn about African-American history,” she said. “I thought about the ‘why.’ It wasn’t just a project because it was February and Black History Month. I thought about how the students can use the information they learned from this research project in other classes and for the rest of their lives.”

Incorporating African-American history into the curriculum is extremely important because African-Americans were and remain a large part of America’s history, Harrell said.

“African-Americans also aren’t represented nearly enough as they should be and Black History Month is usually the only time that we would see them,” she said. “I believe that working in urban schools gives us an even greater responsibility of letting our students see a reflection of themselves in what they learn and my students have been extremely receptive to this. They are excited to learn about some of the amazing accomplishments of African-Americans and this unit has pushed then into inquiring and thinking about their history on their own. The enthusiasm in the classroom is always at an all-time high.”

Formerly called Urban Teachers Center, Urban Teachers was founded in 2009 as a means to solve what officials called a critical challenge in urban education, the new teacher quality.

The organization built a break-the-mold teacher preparation program from the ground up to ensure every teacher would get the experiences and support they need to produce results with students.

Urban Teachers started in what was identified as the highest-need districts in the nation, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and, since 2010, they’ve welcomed more than 500 aspiring teachers, preparing them for the classroom and to become top-notched educators.

“I think the most important aspect I learned from Urban Teachers is that no teacher is perfect and teaching is a practice,” Billingsley said.

“Every lesson is not going to go perfectly as planned and that’s okay. You can be a great teacher but there is always room for improvement and collaboration with your colleagues,” she said. “This is the most important because the hard days will come when you feel like nothing went as planned. Those days you may feel defeated, but having this thought in the back of your mind, brings me to work the next day, with a clear mind, and ready to teach the best lesson I can for my students.”

For Harrell, the most important aspect of Urban Teachers is the support she receives and the ability to shadow a veteran teacher while having coaches to observe progress.

“Being able to constantly apply the teaching strategies and skills that we’ve learned in class in actual urban classroom setting is an irreplaceable benefit that has allowed me the most growth as a new teacher,” Harrell said.

Pioneer of National Black Press is subject of book discussion

— The daughter of a Kentucky sharecropper, Alice Dunnigan rose from typist to Washington journalist as the first African-American female reporter acccredited to the White House.

In “Alone Atop the Hill: The Autobiography of Alice Dunnigan, Pioneer of the National Black Press” (University of Georgia Press, 2015), Carol McCabe Booker has condensed Dunnigan’s 1974 self-published autobiography to appeal to a general audience and has added scholarly annotations that provide historical context. Dunnigan’s dynamic story reveals her importance to journalism, women’s history and the civil-rights movement.

Booker will discuss and sign her book on Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at noon at the Library of Congress in its Mary Pickford Theater, on the third floor of the James Madison Building, at 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. This Books & Beyond event is sponsored by the Library’s Center for the Book. It is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.

In addition to her White House reporting position, Dunnigan also was the first black female reporter to travel with a U.S. president; to be credentialed by the House and Senate Press Galleries; to be accredited to the State Department and the Supreme Court; and to be voted into the White House Newswomen’s Association and the Women’s National Press Club.

Carol McCabe Booker is a former journalist and Washington attorney. She is co-author with her husband, journalist Simeon Booker, of the acclaimed history “Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter’s Account of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s first-established federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world. The Library seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs, publications and exhibitions. The Library’s Center for the Book, established by Congress in 1977 to “stimulate public interest in books and reading,” is a national force for reading and literacy promotion. A public-private partnership, it sponsors

educational programs that reach readers of all ages through its affiliated state centers, collaborations with nonprofit reading promotion partners and through the Young Readers Center and the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress. For more information, visit

African American Commission and Maryland Historical Trust award $1 million to assist African American Heritage Preservation

The African American Heritage Preservation Program (AAHPP) provided 13 grants totaling $1 million to Maryland nonprofit groups, local governments and businesses in fiscal year 2016. These AAHPP grants, made available through a partnership of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture (MCAAHC) and the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT), offer assistance to organizations and private citizens in their sponsorship of successful acquisition, construction or improvement of African American heritage projects.

The goal of the AAHPP is to identify and preserve buildings, communities and sites of historical and cultural importance to the African American experience in Maryland. This year’s grant awards ranged from $14,000 to $100,000 (See attached detailed list for all grants awarded).

“I commend the work of these individuals and organizations in their effort to preserve and showcase Maryland’s unique African American heritage and culture,” Gov. Larry Hogan said. “The diversity of these preservation projects and their geographic distribution across our state demonstrates the significant contributions African Americans made in every corner of the state. I applaud the hard work and dedication of the commission and the Trust in identifying these landmarks and ensuring this piece of history will be preserved for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.”

Grant recipients

Baltimore City

Ebenezer Kingdom Builders, Inc.

Ebenezer AME Church and Parish House


Baltimore County

Piney Grove United Methodist Church

Piney Grove United Methodist Church and School House


Calvert County

Calvert Nature Society, Inc.

Kings Landing Park / Camp Mohawk


Caroline County

Community Civic League of Federalsburg, Inc.

Community Civic League of Federalsburg / Laurel Grove Road School


Carroll County

Community Foundation of Carroll County, Incorporated

Sykesville Colored Schoolhouse


Charles County

Pomonkey High School Alumni Association, Inc.

Old Pomonkey High School


Dorchester County

The Friends of Stanley Institute, Inc.

Christ Rock Methodist Episcopal Church



Catoctin Furnace Historical Society, Inc.

Catoctin Furnace African American Cemetery


Prince George’s County

The University of Maryland College Park Foundation, Inc.

Frederick Douglass Square at the University of Maryland


Somerset County

John Wesley Community Association, Inc.

John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church


Talbot County

Historic Easton, Incorporated

Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church


Talbot County

Bethel A.M.E. Church, Inc.

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church


Wicomico County

The Chipman Foundation, Inc.

Charles H. Chipman Cultural Center


The mission of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture (MCAAHC) is to interpret, document, preserve, and promote Maryland’s African American heritage; to provide technical assistance to institutions and groups with similar objectives; and to educate Maryland’s citizens and visitors about the significance of the African American experience in Maryland and the nation. MCAAHC is housed within the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives.

The Maryland Historical Trust is an agency of the Maryland Department of Planning. The Trust was formed in 1961 to assist the people of Maryland in identifying, studying, evaluating, preserving, protecting and interpreting the state’s significant prehistoric and historic districts, sites, structures, cultural landscapes, heritage areas, cultural objects and artifacts, as well as less tangible human and community traditions. Through research, conservation and education, MHT assists the people of Maryland in understanding their historical and cultural heritage.

Online applications for fiscal year 2017 AAHPP funding will be available in early spring 2016 on MHT’s website ( Application deadlines and workshop dates will also be announced on this page.

For more information about the grant program, please contact Anne Raines (MHT) at 410-514-7634 or, or Dr. Joni Floyd (MCAAHC) at 410-216-6180 or For information about organizations receiving grants, please contact the institutions directly.

Newly recovered ship contains rare remnants of slave ship

Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

A Portuguese slave ship that left Mozambique in 1794 bound for Brazil had hardly rounded the treacherous Cape of Good Hope when it broke apart violently on two reefs only 100 yards from shore.

The Portuguese captain, crew and half of the enslaved Africans survived. An estimated 212 Africans did not and perished at sea.

The ship lay undisturbed in its watery grave until a chance discovery by divers searching the wreck found iron ballasts—evidence that slaves had been the cargo.

This week, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, along with the Iziko Museums of South Africa, the Slave Wrecks Project and other partners, will announce in Cape Town that the remnants of the Sao Jose have been found, right where the ship went down, in full view of Lion’s Head Mountain.

It is the first time, researchers involved in the project say, that the wreckage of a slaving ship that went down with slaves aboard has been recovered. For the museum, set to open on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., next year, the find represents the culmination of more than a decade of work searching for the remains of a slave ship that could help tell the story of the 12 million people who were forcibly moved, over some 60,000 voyages, from Africa to North America, the West Indies, South America and Europe.

So far, no skeletons or even partial remains have been found in the wreck.

Tuesday, when Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian’s African-American Museum, will join his counterparts in Cape Town to announce the discovery of the Sao Jose, there will be a memorial service near the site where the ship went down. Divers will place soil from Mozambique Island on the underwater site to memorialize the grave of the 212 drowned slaves.

‘Our Auntie Rosa’ memoir offers personal side of Parks’ life

— A new memoir, “Our Auntie Rosa: The Family of Rosa Parks Remembers Her Life and Lessons” (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015), provides a look at Parks as a model of excellence in daily life, as well as a devoted mother figure to her niece, Sheila McCauley Keys and Keys’ 12 siblings.

Keys and Eddie B. Allen Jr., the memoir’s co-author, will discuss and sign their book on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, at noon in Room LJ 119, located on the first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.

This Books & Beyond program is sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the Library’s Prints and Photographs and Manuscript divisions, and the Daniel A.P. Murray Association of the Library of Congress.

The Rosa Parks Collection is housed in the Manuscript Division, on loan to the Library for 10 years from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

Following her act of bravery on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, Rosa Parks and her husband moved to Detroit in 1957, where Parks largely disappeared from public view. There, Parks reconnected with her only sibling, Sylvester McCauley and her nieces and nephews. They were her only family. The woman whose family called her “Auntie Rosa” was a soft-spoken person whom very few people actually knew.

Sheila McCauley Keys is the seventh niece of Rosa Parks. She was featured in PBS’s live broadcast of the National Day of Courage, celebrating what would have been Parks’ 100th birthday in 2013. Journalist Eddie B. Allen Jr. is the author of “Low Road: The Life and Legacy of Donald Gaines.” His work has appeared in The New York Times and the Detroit Free Press, among other publications.

Maryland senator helps celebrate Harriet Tubman Historic Park

Democratic Maryland Senator Ben Cardin says he embraces the old biblical saying of “Out of the mouth of babes.”

In fact, his then nine-year-old granddaughter inspired him to join in efforts to help establish the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park in Cambridge, Maryland.

“What got me engaged in this project was my granddaughter had been assigned to do a Black History Month project for her school and she chose Harriet Tubman,” Cardin said. “My granddaughter did a lot of homework on Harriet Tubman and it got me to thinking about this.”

Another Maryland Democratic Senator, Barbara Mikulski, had already begun work to establish the Tubman Park and she introduced legislation in 2008.

Eventually, Mikulski and others including New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer secured more than $900,000 in federal funds for infrastructure.

Cardin later helped spearhead efforts that eventually led to the state receiving $11 million in grants from various federal agencies toward the establishment of the park.

“I recognized that this was a real opportunity to make a statement,” Cardin said. “I also found out that there is no other national park dedicated to a woman.”

On February 7, 2015, Senator Cardin joined several lawmakers and other officials, including Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley and officials from the National Park Service, in the celebration of the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park.

Descendants of Harriet Tubman were also present at the dedication, including family spokeswoman Patricia Ross Hawkins, who touted the courage and the inspiration that her family has drawn from the life of Tubman, who was born in Dorchester County, where she spent nearly 30 years as a slave.

Born in Dorchester in March 1822, Tubman escaped slavery in 1849 but returned to the area numerous times over the course of 10 years to lead others to freedom.

The famous former slave led many through the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and refuges protected by those who were against slavery.

The network helped slaves find their way to freedom in Canada and the Northern states before slavery was abolished.

“This is a great day for the Eastern Shore and our country, as we have the occasion to honor an iconic figure in our nation’s history and do so in a deeply beautiful and symbolic place to visit,” Cardin said of the park’s dedication. “There are few greater examples of bravery; valor and sacrifice about which to teach our future generations, so it is fitting that Harriet Tubman will become the first individual woman to have a national historical park named in her honor.”

Already spread across three counties, the Tubman Park has been afforded the ability to acquire seven other noncontiguous properties that were historically significant in Tubman’s life, according to Cardin.

The park will consist of 2,775 acres in Dorchester County, 2,200 in Caroline County and 775 in Talbot County.

The parcel in Dorchester County contains the home site of Jacob Jackson, a free African-American man who communicated with Tubman’s family members and allowed his house to be used as one of the first safe houses on the Underground Railroad leading out of the Eastern Shore.

Along with the park system in Maryland, a park has been established in Auburn, New York, the town where Tubman died in 1913, that includes Tubman’s house, a home for the elderly that has been named for her, a nearby church and Fort Hill Cemetery, where she is buried.

“What’s great too is that the president had already declared this a national monument and it has the historic park designation,” Cardin said.

“For Tubman, the Eastern Shore is home and her remarkable story of liberation speaks of skills born of hardship, her love of family, her strength of spirit, all of which have their roots here,” said Michael Caldwell, Regional Director of the National Park Service.

“The establishment of the National Historical Park raises Tubman’s story to the level of recognition befitting one of our nation’s heroes; a woman who was internationally renowned,” Caldwell said. “The National Park Service is eager to continue our work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Maryland, local officials and partners to make Tubman’s extraordinary story better known and understood throughout the nation.”

“Legend of Lead Belly” film screened at Reginald F. Lewis Museum

— Comcast and Smithsonian Channel have partnered on the first sneak preview screening of a new documentary, “Legend of Lead Belly,” which profiles one of the most influential musicians of the 20th Century. Guests including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes and leaders of Baltimore’s arts community attended the special Black History Month presentation on Thursday, February 5, 2015 at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum.

Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, was born in 1889, into a post-war South plagued by extreme poverty, poor education, racism and a corrupt justice system. With the odds stacked against him, Lead Belly emerged as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

“Baltimore has a rich history of African American contributions to music and the arts,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake. “Thank you to Comcast and Smithsonian Channel for sharing the legacy of such an influential musician as we begin our celebration of Black History Month.”

The screening of the 46-minute film was followed by a panel discussion featuring Jeff Place, archivist with Smithsonian Folkways. Place is one of the chief architects of ‘Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection’— the first in-depth, career-spanning box set of songs, photos, and essays dedicated to one of America’s most treasured 20th-century icons.

In addition to Mayor Rawlings-Blake, Stokes and Rattley Washington, other special guests at the event included David Royle, Smithsonian Channel Executive Vice President and A. Skipp Sanders, executive director of Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture.

Lead Belly has inspired generations of musicians, from The Weavers to the Grateful Dead, The Beach Boys and even Nirvana. And yet few people today know his remarkable story and even fewer know when they are listening to his music. His story is told in the new one-hour Smithsonian Channel special, Legend of Lead Belly, premiering Monday, February 23, 2015 at 8 p.m.

To find out more, visit:

BGE, Exelon’s African-American Resource Alliance Balto. Chapter Celebrate Black History Month

— Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE) and parent company Exelon’s African-American Resource Alliance (EAARA) Baltimore Chapter are celebrating Black History Month by supporting local arts, educational and diversity events in February that honor those who have shaped the past and those who are continuing to shape the future.

This year’s programs and events highlight the contributions of African Americans to the Greater Baltimore, central Maryland and Washington, D.C. regions. This year’s events include:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 – “Corporate America’s Responsibility in Community Engagement” with keynote speaker Roland Martin. Martin is the Host/Managing Editor of TV One’s daily morning show, News One Now, Senior Analyst, Tom Joyner Morning Show, Author, International Speaker and CEO, Nu Vision Media.

Monday, February 23, 2015 – Career Development Insights from Susan L. Taylor: Nurturing Your Passion Along Your Career Path – This event exclusively for BGE, Constellation and Exelon employees will feature Susan L. Taylor, founder and chief executive officer of National CARES Mentoring Movement and Editor in Chief Emerita of Essence Magazine.

In addition, BGE is a sponsor of the Baltimore Concert Opera’s presentation of “This Little Light of Mine,” in honor of Black History Month on Friday, February 27 at 7:30 p.m. and March 1, 2015 at 3:00 p.m.. “This Little Light of Mine” was originally commissioned by Cincinnati Opera and written and performed by soprano Adrienne Danrich. This poignant, multimedia “live documentary” is an inventive one woman musical tribute honoring the groundbreaking careers of two African-American opera legends who overcame many racial barriers from the Jim Crow era through the Civil Rights Movement to become international opera stars. Marian Anderson became the first African-American singer to perform at The Metropolitan Opera House and Leontyne Price would take that torch and carry it to The Metropolitan Opera and the most prestigious opera houses around the world.

BGE proudly celebrates diversity year-round through charitable giving and volunteer support to programs and organizations that support diversity in the communities the company serves. To learn more about BGE’s charitable and volunteer efforts, visit