History Historical Badasses

You know Rosa Parks, but you don’t know Elizabeth Jennings and Claudette Colvin

For stories of Black history and excellence, check out our Black History Month series. Celebrate with us by sharing your favorite articles on social media and uplifting the stories, lives, and work of Black people.

We all know Rosa Parks, the American civil rights activist who is known for standing up against racial injustice. Okay, actually, she was seated when she took her stand, but you get what I mean. We learned about the pivotal role she played in the Civil Rights Movement several times in school and we rightfully still celebrate her today.

A picture of Rosa Parks smiling while sitting on a bench with Martin Luther King Jr. sitting in the background behind her.
[Image Description: A picture of Rosa Parks smiling while sitting on a bench with Martin Luther King Jr. sitting in the background behind her.] Via Flicker
















When she refused to give up her seat in the section designated to Black people to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, it led to her arrest. When she was arrested, she was met with support from her community and members of the Black community from across the country. This level of support is what initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted for 381 days.

Rosa Parks continued her work for racial equality and became an influential leader in the Civil Rights Movement.  However, she is not the first or only woman who fought against racial inequality by not getting up from her seat on public transportation. If you are surprised to hear this then I would like to share the stories of two women who also sat in their seats to take a stand.

Are you ready?

In 1854, Elizabeth Jennings, a free Black schoolteacher, was headed to church on a July Sunday morning. To get to church that day, she boarded a horsecar in Manhattan, New York. When she got into the car, she was told to get off and wait for a horsecar that operated for Black passengers. However, during this time, Black New York residents were expected to walk as horsecars designated for Black people were rarely available. In response, Jennings refused and resisted multiple physical attempts to remove her from the car until the police came to force her out of the car.

A black and white photo of Elizabeth Jennings posing in a long dress and standing with her arm resting on a chair.
[Image Description: A black and white photo of Elizabeth Jennings posing in a long dress and standing with her arm resting on a chair.] Via Zinnedproject










The Black community in New York responded just like the Black community in Montgomery would respond about 100 years later.  They held a rally at the church Jennings attended. Jennings sued the driver, conductor, and the Third Avenue Railway. She was represented by the future President Chester A. Arthur and won her case. Judge Rockwell from the Brooklyn Circuit Court ruled, “Colored persons if sober, well behaved and free from disease, had the same rights as others and could neither be excluded by the rules of the company nor by force or violence.”

Additionally, she received a total of $225 in damages.  Her court victory was a catalyst to the ongoing fight for equality in New York public transit. By 1873, the Civil Rights Act was passed in New York.  The act prohibited explicit discrimination on public transportation in New York, right before the New York subway first opened.

We also have Claudette Colvin, who refused to get up from her seat on the bus at the age of 15. Just 15! Colvin was arrested for not giving up her seat 9 months before Rosa Parks on the same bus system in Montgomery, Alabama. Colvin was on her way home from high school and when the bus driver told to get up to give her seat to a white woman. She responded by saying that she had paid to ride the bus and that it was her constitutional right. When she refused, she was put in handcuffs and was arrested.

A black and white head shot of Claudette Colvin. She is wearing a plain shirt, glasses, and has short curly hair.
[Image Description: A black and white head shot of Claudette Colvin. She is wearing a plain shirt, glasses, and has short curly hair.] Via Wikipedia

Colvin was charged with violating segregation laws.  She spent several hours in jail before her minister paid her bail. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People considered using her case to confront segregation laws. However, the association decided not to because of her age and her being pregnant at the time.

Despite the National Association for Advancement of Colored People not using her case, she became a plaintiff in the Browder v. Gayle case. The ruling of this case declared that the segregated bus system in Montgomery was unconstitutional.

We all know the story and the work of Rosa Parks, but few people know the stories of Elizabeth Jennings and Claudette Colvin.  Jennings and Colvin’s stories serve as a reminder that it takes more than one person to institute real change. We should always remember that there are many people that we do not learn about in our history books that made sacrifices and helped influence important changes.

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History It Happened Once

I Googled the Salem Witch Trials so you don’t have to – and they are hella confusing

As a part of our Halloween series this year, since we’ll be mentioning witches a lot, let’s talk about the Salem Witch Trials and how the events that took place do not make any sense.

Honestly, after reading a bunch about the “trials,” I still do not really understand what happened or why it happened. Suggestions about fungus causing illnesses and other analyses on political issues within Salem at the time are speculations that are often used to try to explain the trials. But, you have to admit that there are a bunch of missing pieces in the story. The whole thing sounds like complete chaos to me!

I have so many questions. Like, why did they randomly believe the claims of young girls without any true evidence? Who really thought that allowing spectral evidence was a good idea? How were the accused supposed to prove to a court that they were not actually witches? And lastly, what were the true reasons and motivations behind this tragedy?

So let me explain what all went down in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and 1693.  It all began when the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Parris, the minister of Salem Village, began having violent fits, intense contortions, and uncontrollable outbursts such as screaming. After a local doctor in Salem could not find anything physically wrong with 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris an 11-year-old Abigail Williams, he diagnosed them and other young girls within the community that showed similar behaviors and symptoms with bewitchment. This first diagnosis of witchcraft led to the imprisonment of over 200 people and 20 hangings throughout Massachusetts.

Puritan pioneers first settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. During this time, the Puritan communities established their own theocratic government systems. Theocracy is a form of government largely led and structured by those who believed to be divinely guided. The government and legal system are structured based on religious law.

You still with me?

The Puritans believed that the Devil could give individuals on Earth powers in return for their loyalty. (and that isn’t even the most ridiculous claim) Those who received powers from the Devil were called witches. The principle of witchcraft became prevalent in 14th century Europe, where between the 1300s and 1600s, thousands of people, the majority being women, were executed for accusations of witchcraft. Under the legal structure in Salem, an individual who consorted with the Devil was considered a criminal. The punishment for committing such a crime was hanging, yikes!

During the time of the Salem Witch Trials, the community was stressed and struggling. The King William’s War put a strain on the community’s resources. Additionally, there was a rivalry between wealthy families and the working class that depended on forms of agriculture. There was also an on-going smallpox epidemic and fear of attack from neighboring Native Americans. The stressful and anxiety-fueled climate of the community led to ongoing tensions and suspicions among the Puritan villagers.

After the diagnosis of bewitchment, a few of the “bewitched” young girls blamed three women for bewitching them. The first is Tituba, an enslaved woman from the Caribbean bought by the Reverend Parris. The second woman was Sarah Good, a homeless beggar.  And lastly, an impoverished elderly woman named Sarah Osborne. Of course, all three of the accused women were considered “outsiders” based on race and/or class. (Is anyone shocked?)

It remains unclear if the girls were persuaded or forced to accuse these three women. However, I think that the social statuses and positions of the women in society should be considered when trying to interpret the potential reasons that these three women in particular were actually accused of the crime of witchcraft.

This is where the whole thing launched full speed into a downward spiral to me. The imprisonment of the three women led to further paranoia in a society that already suffered from numerous stresses. Good and Osborne claimed that they were not guilty; while Tituba confessed and named other witches who were working along with her against the Puritans to receive repentance. In response to Tituba claiming other individuals were also practicing witchcraft, the governor of Massachusetts ordered the establishment of the Court of Oyer and Terminer to pass judgment on witchcraft cases.

The accusations of witchcraft continued to spread across the Massachusetts colonies against mostly women and a few men (which I did not know). Similarly to Tituba, those accused confessed and named others who practiced witchcraft. The court allowed testimony based on spectral evidence. This refers to evidence that is based on visions, dreams, and a person’s spirit. The testimony was based on witnesses claiming that they interacted with or saw a person’s spirit, in place of basing testimony on a person’s physical actions. The trails lacked focus on truth and investigation. Under religious practices, the courts preferred that the accused confessed, asked for forgiveness, and vowed to not engage with the Devil again.

After years and the (unlawful) deaths and imprisonment of so many people, the Court of Oyer and Terminer was finally replaced with the Superior Court of Judicature, the testimony of spectral evidence was no longer allowed, and the trials were deemed unlawful. In 1697, the General Court ordered a day of fasting and soul-searching due to the events that had occurred during the trials. Additionally, in 1711, the families affected received reinstitution and the restoration of the names. However, it was not until the 1950s that Massachusetts formally apologized for the event.

The whole story is definitely a lot to digest, but it did give me a lot to think about.

While many aspects of the Salem Witch Trails are perplexing, within this tragedy remains lessons that should be reflected on and questioned today. It remains crucial to have objectivity, to think about the consequences of unjustly punishing individuals, to be cautious of the use of fear within the justice system, and to foresee the damages of groupthink going unquestioned.

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Politics Race The World Policy Inequality

Here’s what to do if ICE agents show up at your door

“The U.S-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds.” -Gloria E. Anzaldúa

This administration is taking extreme measures to terrorize an already highly marginalized community in this country. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) have been conducting raids across the country this past week. Hundreds of undocumented people have been arrested.

There is a lot of psychological pain and distress that comes with being chased down, terrorized, and displaced by the state. The ACLU published a list in both Spanish and English to tutor those who may be targeted by ICE raids in the near future.

There is no need to open the door.

In fact, it is better not to. It is harder for ICE agents to force themselves in if you keep the door closed. They have no legal right to enter without your permission, without a special warrant. However, you must also be aware that they may break this rule and enter anyway.

With the door closed, you should ask if they are ICE agents. You should also ask what they are here for. (You can even ask for an interpreter.)

ICE needs a warrant signed by a judge to enter.

With the door still closed, ask the agents if they have a warrant signed by a judge. If they do not have this document, you have a right to refuse them entry. Even if they have a warrant that is not signed, you can also refuse to open your door. (Again, they may enter anyway.)

If they do have a warrant, you can ask them to slip it under your door.

Once you have the warrant, examine it closely. Examples of warrants that do not grant ICE agents entry into your residence are:

Not issued by a court. The name of the court is usually at the top of the first page.

Not signed by a judge. Check the signature line in the document.

Issued by the Department of Homeland Security or ICE. Again, the warrant must be issued by a court!

Signed by a DHS or ICE agent. In terms of deportation raids, these signatures do not have to same legal authority as a judge’s.

If you find the warrant to be invalid, do not open the door.

ICE agents may force their way in.

As we have seen, police officers, immigration agents, and government officials in general are not above breaking the law. If ICE agents do force their entry into your home, ask to see a lawyer immediately and remain silent. The ACLU suggests you say, “I do not consent to your entry or to your search of these premises. I am exercising my right to remain silent. I wish to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.” 

Art by Alberto Ledesma via Buzzfeed

Being undocumented in this country is an exhausting political act, one that requires enormous resilience. No matter where you are, we are your allies – and will continue fighting for your rights and visibility as the new administration moves backwards with its human rights violations.

The World

Our national obsession with “Law and Order: SVU” comes with good reason

I’m not a fan of typical television, but I am addicted to Law and Order: SVU (Special Victims Unit)I still can’t figure out what it is that I love so much about this show, but I am obsessed. The writing, the acting, and the visceral content that they cover, all makes for a perfect formula that grabs my attention and doesn’t let go.

The show has done a phenomenal job bringing light to the serious holes within the justice system: from the five year statute of limitation on rape cases, to the terrifying backlog issue of untested rape kits sitting in evidence.

SVU departments are rare in the real world, but the fictional characters of SVU remind viewers of how important the job really is. The stark reality of cases such as rape, child abuse, and domestic violence are staggering to behold, and not enough police officers or departments are prepared to handle the cases.

Without proper training or personnel, how can any victim of assault or rape feel comfortable approaching their local police station? How can rapists be held responsible for their actions if no one is bothering to find and prosecute them?

This is why every state and city needs a special victims unit. It could be the answer to preventing future harm for so many men, women, and children.

When I first realized that SVU departments didn’t exist in every city, I was shocked. Even to this day, I am terrified for any victim that has to report their attack at a precinct. Far too often I’ve read stories in my local news where victims recant their attack and are pressured by police who don’t know how to handle the sensitive nature of assaults, and being harassed further by their peers and the public.

Rape and sexual assault victims are treated so horribly in our world due to rape culture that is so rampant in our media, and in the criminal justice system.

Here are the facts about rape convictions: out of every 3 rape cases, only 1 will be reported. Of those that are reported, only 5% are investigated by police.

Even if an assault does extend to court, the victim is slut shamed and painted as a deviant in an attempt to dissuade the jury from believing the attack was “unwanted.” The fact that victims are forced to stand trial in front of their rapist is abhorrent in itself, but the process that unfolds is no doubt a nightmare. Rarely do rapists go to prison – it is estimated that only 3% ever see a jail cell – and even when they do spend time behind bars, it might only be for a couple months.

The reality is upsetting and in need of some serious change; and this is where special victims units can come in.

Sex crime units (another name for SVU) focus on the need to handle assault and rape cases with care, and by a trained professional (both in law enforcement and in social work or psychiatry).

They are aware of the numbers and the presence of rape culture, and they do their best to work with the victim’s best interest in mind or a victim centered approach; as is suggested by the Human Rights Watch’s 2013 report on “Improving Police Response to Sexual Assault.”

Currently, only a handful of the departments exist in United States; including New York City, New Haven, CT, Douglas County, CO, a couple county offices in Florida, and a few others.

The New York City department, the inspiration behind the Law and Order spinoff, was created in 1974 and the first of its kind. The District Attorney who created the program stated in an interview: “When somebody’s burglarized or robbed, they get over it. [But when they’re raped], I don’t think they ever get over it. So they’re entitled to special consideration in the criminal justice system.” The NYC department realized as they grew that they were training themselves on how to prosecute and treat these cases. They were making the model for policing sex crimes as they were working.

Now, with the added advantage of a DNA database and digital cataloguing, SVU departments should be installed everywhere. The trouble is finding the funding and the people to handle these heinous cases, as well as the administration taking the needs of the victims seriously.

Luckily in more rural areas, accredited education that focuses on social work and criminal justice are becoming readily available. Nevada in particular has done a stellar job of extending their educational reach, since many of the major cities are spread out across the state (with an extensive amount of travel between them).

The University of Nevada, Reno, recognized the growing need for social workers in rural areas and opened up their online Master in Social Work program. Schools like UNR are filling the education gap that previously prevented professionals from understanding the needs of victims of severe crises and crimes. Lack of education is now becoming an outdated excuse.

Instead, the behavior and attitude associated with these crimes has become the biggest obstacle to tackle. Which is the also the biggest issue within the police force across many factors – race, investigating internal misconduct, sexism, and rape culture.

E Online
E Online

As actress Mariska Hargitay (portraying Olivia Benson on Law and Order SVU) continued her career on the show, she noticed the reality of victim-blaming and lack of police support as well. In 2004 she began her own organization, the Joyful Heart Foundation, aimed at helping rape survivors and assault victims find joy after trauma.

Joyful Heart also aims to bring education to the masses and was awarded nearly $80 million dollars for their efforts in bringing awareness to the rape-kit backlog issue. That award was then distributed to 40 different law enforcement group across 20 different states to help them process and catalog their backlog.

In a recent interview, Mariska opened up about her continued fight to bring awareness: “Survivors still largely face the same cultural attitudes that contribute to silencing them and preventing them from coming forward as when I started on the show, and despite the prevalence of these crimes — to which statistics attest — these issues remain the most underfunded, under-researched, under-regarded social ills of our day.”

It’s a rare moment when a celebrity can use their platform for spreading knowledge on serious issues. Mariska Hargitay is a blessing to the continued efforts of victim advocates, but it’s important to remember the reality of the situation.

Sex Crimes units should be in every city to help prevent child abuse, exploitation, and sexual assaults, but that reality may be far off in our future unless the current police system makes some serious adjustments. These heinous crimes are all too common, and the televised depiction of how they are handled is far from the truth. Everyone could benefit from trained professional within special victims, but victims rarely see that help they so desperately need.