Voices - Historical Perspective

Historical Perspective

Thursday, August 6, 2015 - 12:00am

50 Years Later: The Voting Rights Act of 1965

Today is the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Voting Rights Act.  The landmark legislation was signed into law by President Johnson during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, just months after the historic Selma to Montgomery march. The law was designed to enforce the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments, resulting in the mass enfranchisement of minorities throughout the country and the South, where black citizens were denied the right to vote by way of intimidation, literacy tests and other unjust practices.  

The Voting Rights Act was originally set to expire five years after its passing. However, congress would recognize the continued need for legislation that protected voting rights five more times; in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992 and 2006. During those reviews, Congress either amended or added to various provisions in each renewal of the Voting Rights Act.

In 2013, the landmark U.S Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder, the court determined that section 4 (b), which established a formula to determine areas where racial discrimination had been more prevalent, was unconstitutional. The case argued that Congress exceeded its authority by re-authorizing the Voting Rights Act while relying on voting data more than 40 years old. The nation's reaction was one of shock and many voiced that the decision weakened the law's authority. Recently, President Obama called for the restoration of the section in the law, emphasizing the importance of legislation that protects the civil liberties of its citizens.

To commemorate this important anniversary, The Cincinnati Human Relations Commission (CHRC), National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC) and Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency (CAA) are co-sponsoring commemorative march across the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge this Saturday, August 8 at 9 a.m. Leaders from each partnering organization spoke about the event on WVXU Cincinnati Edition

Marchers are invited to complete “I March for _____” response cards to raise awareness about what society is still marching for today. The response cards be turned into action items by local Cincinnati agencies, who will reconvene throughout the year and lead community discussions inspired by the response cards. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will host a program immediately following the march, featuring local activists and veteran activists, including Freedom Rider Betty Daniels Rosemond, addressing the topic: “Cincinnati 50 Years Ago”. Additionally, all are welcome to weigh in via Twitter by using the hashtag #IMarch4Cincy.  Learn more about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in Power of the Vote, now on exhibit at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. 

Assia Johnson

Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator 

Images: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights activists leading thousands of nonviolent marchers on a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery.  Second Image: President Johnson with Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights leaders during the signing of the Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965. 

Related Content: Picture FreedomPower of the Vote.

More authored by Assia: 50 Midwest Museums We LoveMother's Day Gift IdeasFlame FridayJimmie Lee JacksonMLK Day 2015

Thursday, July 23, 2015 - 12:39pm

Kerner Commission Established on this Day, 1967

On July 27, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson established the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (AKA the Kerner Commission), tasked with assessing the causes of widespread urban rioting at the time. President Johnson asked the 11-member commission, “What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again?”

This came about soon after the infamous 12th Street Riots in Detroit, Michigan, which left more than 40 people dead and 1000 injured.

The report, issued on February 29 of the next year, blamed the more than 150 riots between 1965 and 1968 on “white racism” instead of African-American political groups like some believed. Specifically, it identified confrontations between predominately white police forces and the predominately African-American communities they served. It also cautioned against radical responses by the black community, such as the policy of separatism advocated by some.

It concluded that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal” and called for “programs on a scale equal to the dimension of the problems” in response. The authors recommended nation-wide changes to policies that could increase aid to African American communities in order to halt further racial violence and polarization, especially in employment, education, welfare and housing.

A confluence of events and political opinions in the following years, including the assassination of civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led to the recommendations of the Kerner Commission Report being largely ignored; President Johnson accepted the report but not the conclusions. This milestone document did pave the way for progress in future decades on issues of racial inequality, but its findings unfortunately still ring true today.

Elizabeth Cychosz 
Marketing and Communications Intern

Photo: President Johnson poses with the newly appointed Kerner Commission, 1967.

More authored by Elizabeth: Mason man recalls Tiananmen SquareDr. Newsome speaks at international conference in ParisWarren County Underground Railroad station honored with historical markerNHL selects first Chinese player14th Amendment Ratified on this Day, 1868Former Auschwitz guard sentencedHonor Nelson Mandela this Sat with 67 min of service

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 - 2:06pm

#FlameFriday: Toni Stone

On this day, July 17, 1921, batter Toni “tomboy” Stone, was born in Saint Paul Minnesota.  Stone was the first of three women to play professionally in the Negro Baseball Leagues.  As a child, Stone loved to play ball, but her parents did not approve of her behavior. They tried to solve the problem by having the local priest talk her out of liking baseball. However, by the end of their conversation, Father Keith had asked Stone to play on his team in the Catholic Midget League.

By age 15, Stone was working her way to earning a reputation as a very talented female baseball player. She started playing with the Twin City Colored Giants, a traveling men’s baseball club, and played for clubs competing in the men’s meat packing league. During the 1940s, Stone moved to San Francisco and shortly after started playing with an American Legion club. In 1949, she joined the San Francisco Sea Lions, a Minor League Negro Team and then played for the New Orleans Creole’s for a couple years as well. Playing for these teams gave her exposure to high profile managers and team owners.

In 1953, Stone’s talent finally paid off and she signed with the Indianapolis Clowns. She was brought onto the team to bring more fans to the games, but she worked hard to show she was there for more than that. Stone appeared in 50 games that year and got a hit off the legendary pitcher, Satchel Paige. She also had the chance to play with some excellent young players, including Willie Mays and Ernie Banks.

Stone’s time with the Clowns was brief, and playing as a woman was not always easy. She was insulted by fans and sometimes even teammates, who refused to accept that a female was competing in a “men’s” game. Her opponents showed her little respect as well, often coming hard at her on a slide with their spikes pointed up. After the Clowns, Stone was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs, but due to her age she was unable to play much longer. At the end of the year she retired from baseball, leaving behind an unforgettable history.

You can learn more about Toni Stone and many more game changers in baseball at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Diversity in Baseball, open now.


-Katie Johnstone
Marketing and Communications Intern

1. Toni Stone becomes the first female on an all-male baseball team. Credit: Big Head Books
2. Toni Stone shaking hands with legendary boxer Joe Lewis. Credit: Minnesota Historical Society
3. A record of the Indianapolis Clowns roster. Credit: Library of Congress
4. Toni Stone playing ball for the Creoles. Credit: Public Domain

More authored by Katie: Planning your visit Friday, July 10Misty Copland- First African-American woman promoted at the American Ballet Theatre#FlameFriday: Remembering Officer Kim, and Freedmen's Bureau Indexing Campaign



Wednesday, July 15, 2015 - 11:28am

Honor Nelson Mandela this Sat with 67 min of service

This Saturday, July 18, the United Nations and the Nelson Mandela Foundation honor the equal rights activist Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) during Nelson Mandela International Day.

In 1991, Mandela became the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa after working for decades toward an end to the injustices and inequalities perpetuated by apartheid (1948-1991), a set of laws that segregated the majority nonwhite South Africans from their white counterparts.

He is also known for being a human rights lawyer, a prisoner of conscience and an international peacemaker. He helped found the Youth League of the African National Congress in 1944 and in 1994 jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize with former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.”

Mandela’s tireless work and many sacrifices in the pursuit of freedom and equality for all in South Africa have been inspirational to generations of activists. Take the time this Saturday to honor the call of Nelson Mandela International Day to dedicate 67 minutes of time to helping others in the same way Mandela served humanity for 67 years.

Elizabeth Cychosz 
Marketing and Communications Intern

Photo: Nelson Mandela smiles in front of the South African flag. (Source: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/viewers-guide-to-mandelas-funeral-an...)

Related Content:  Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later

More authored by Elizabeth: Mason man recalls Tiananmen SquareDr. Newsome speaks at international conference in ParisWarren County Underground Railroad station honored with historical markerNHL selects first Chinese player14th Amendment Ratified on this Day, 1868

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 - 10:50am

Former Auschwitz guard sentenced

This Wednesday, July 15, former Auschwitz guard Oskar Gröning was sentenced to four years in prison for being an accessory to the deaths of 300,000 people in “what could be one of the last big Holocaust trials.” The 94-year-old German has been on trial in the northern German city of Lüneburg since April.

The death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Nazi-occupied Poland claimed the lives of 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, during its operation from 1942 to 1945. Gröning’s trial focused mostly on the period from May to July 1944, during which 137 trains brought 425,000 people to Auschwitz and at least 300,000 were killed in the gas chambers.

During the trial proceedings, Gröning testified that he sorted through the belongings of arriving Jews after they went through the selection process that ended with many being sent to their deaths in the gas chambers. His task was to find valuables, particularly banknotes, to help fund the Nazi regime.

The trial speaks to a question that courts have grappled with since the end of the Second World War: how much guilt the legal system can place on people who acted as small cogs within massive human rights violations like the Holocaust. In 2011, German courts set a precedent that death camp guards can be charged as an accessory to murders committed there, even if that guard is not linked to any specific death. Gröning said he accepts moral guilt but said early on in the trial that he would leave it up to the court to decide his legal guilt.

Earlier this year, the Freedom Center hosted Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later, which featured the stories of two survivors of the death camp: Werner Coppel and Bella Ouziel. Auschwitz’s history of systemic and organized genocide provides a start warning and call to action for those today to stand up against injustice, inhumanity and genocide.

Elizabeth Cychosz 
Marketing and Communications Intern

Related Content:  Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later

More authored by Elizabeth: Mason man recalls Tiananmen SquareDr. Newsome speaks at international conference in ParisWarren County Underground Railroad station honored with historical markerNHL selects first Chinese player, 14th Amendment Ratified on this Day, 1868


Thursday, July 9, 2015 - 9:47am

14th Amendment Ratified on this Day, 1868

On July 9, 1868, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, granting citizenship and its benefits to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” – a right that was previously denied to formerly enslaved persons.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment ended slavery, at the end of the Civil War people still had a lot of questions about what would happen to those who only recently gained their freedom. Along with the 13th and 15th Amendments – collectively known as the “Reconstruction Amendments” – the 14th Amendment widely expanded the rights of former slaves in the United States.

The authors of the amendment took care to ensure that those civil rights would remain protected, forbidding states from denying anyone “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or the “equal protection of the laws.”

Commonly referenced by that second phrase, the 14th Amendment has played a key role in many important Supreme Court cases that have shaped the past two centuries.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954), for example, struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine – which structured the Jim Crow south – because it violated the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment. Based on cases against segregated schools in Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia and Delaware, Brown challenged the widely enforced Jim Crow laws that, here, limited black children’s access to the same quality education that their white peers experienced. The court ruled that, even if the schools had access to the same tangible factors (like pencils, science lab equipment, or teachers), the act of separation itself was an act of discrimination that violated the 14th Amendment.

The amendment was a milestone in the history of abolition and civil rights in the United States and has continued to protect people from discrimination throughout the decades. Because of the 14th Amendment, our Constitution upholds the idea that “all” – not just white males – “are created equal”. Learn more about the 14th amendment in From Slavery to Freedom, located on the third floor. 

Elizabeth Cychosz
Marketing and Communications Intern

Photo: Freedom Center exhibit From Slavery to Freedom explores the 14th Amendment in its historical context.

Related Content: The Emancipation Proclamation 

More authored by Elizabeth: Mason man recalls Tiananmen SquareDr. Newsome speaks at international conference in ParisWarren County Underground Railroad station honored with historical marker, NHL selects first Chinese player

Monday, June 22, 2015 - 12:00am

Freedmen’s Bureau Indexing Campaign

Last Friday, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center hosted the Freedmen’s Bureau Indexing Campaign announcement. FamilySearch, the largest genealogy organization in the world, announced the digital release of over 4 million Freedmen’s Bureau historical records and the launch a nationwide volunteer indexing effort. The event was held in the Harriet Tubman Theater and a livestream was broadcast from the main press event that took place at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. There were several speakers at the event in Los Angeles, including Todd Christofferson, senior-level leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Sherri Camp, vice president for geneaology of the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society.

Following the live stream, visitors in the Harriet Tubman Theater had the opportunity to discuss their efforts with FamilySearch and hear from:

  • National Underground Railroad Freedom Center vice president and provost, Dr. Michael Battle
  • Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society vice president for history, Gene Stephenson
  • National Underground Railroad Freedom Center John Parker Library director, Darrell Wolff
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cincinnati East Ohio Stake president, Joseph W. Bradley 

It took nearly ten years for the records to be digitized and now the hope is to have all the names indexed in the next six to nine months. If you would like to help with this nationwide indexing campaign or learn more about your family history, you can right here at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center! The John Parker Library offers free family history resources and is located on the fourth floor of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Volunteers working in the library can help you join the indexing campaign and help you learn more about your ancestry.

The John Parker Library is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. -  4 p.m. To learn more about the Freedmen's Bureau Indexing Campaign, visit discoverfreedmen.org.

Katie Johnstone
Marketing & Commuications Intern  

Friday, June 12, 2015 - 7:00am

Warren Co. Underground Railroad station honored with historical marker

Henry Thomas and Nancy Butterworth have been honored with a new Ohio historical marker at the site of their mid-1800s home in southern Warren County.

Their family contributed their land in Hamilton Township as a station on the Underground Railroad and helped hundreds of fugitive slaves fleeing north in the decades before the Civil War. Slaves would find shelter in a saferoom in their home on the banks of the Little Miami River before moving onward to Lebanon or Clinton County.

The Butterworths’ two-story house at 9299 Sibcy Road still stands today, and on Saturday, June 6 a historical marker was unveiled at the site with Butterworth family descendants and Friends of the 20 Mile House present at the ceremony. The marker is near mile marker 39 on the Little Miami Scenic Trail.

"Southern Ohio played a vital role in the success of the Underground Railroad in helping enslaved people reach freedom, and Ohioans did so at great risk to themselves," said the Local History Office at the Ohio History Connection. "Markers are a reminder that history always happens in a place and that, at least in Ohio, there are a lot of those places!  We hope that this marker for Butterworth Station will make the contributions of Ohioans more visible to the public, so that we can be inspired by the actions and sacrifices of those that travelled on and supported the Underground Railroad."

The Butterworths were Quaker abolitionists who moved north to states that outlawed slavery, and the family’s contributions to the Underground Railroad didn’t stop with them. Henry Thomas’s brother William also sheltered slaves in his nearby barn, and Nancy’s cousin Levi Coffin was known as the “President of the Underground Railroad” for his work in Indiana and Cincinnati.

For more information on Underground Railroad sites in Ohio and the Cincinnati area, check out this list.

Elizabeth Cychosz
Marketing & Communications Intern

Monday, June 8, 2015 - 10:00am

Mason man recalls Tiananmen Square

Guiru Zhang of Mason recently wrote in to the Cincinnati Enquirer, recalling his memories of living in Beijing during the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.

He wrote in honor of the 26th anniversary of the massacre, which was part of the Chinese government’s crackdown of the pro-democracy movement of the late 1980s. For weeks in spring 1989, demonstrators, mostly students, protested in the square for freedom of speech, freedom of the press and government accountability, among other democratic concepts. On June 4, 1989, troops advanced on the square and opened fire. Estimates of the death toll range from China’s official count of 246 to 2,600. Click here for more on the history of the massacre.

USA Today reports that roughly 100,000 people participated in a remembrance vigil in Hong Kong last Thursday, June 4.

Zhang remembers studying at home on that morning in 1989, his junior high school having closed in response to the martial law intended to stop the protests at Tiananmen Square. At 10 a.m., he says, he heard gunshots a few blocks away in the direction of his younger brother’s grade school, which was still open. He describes how he crouched on his balcony to avoid stray bullets and watched anxiously for a sign of his brother. Half an hour later, his brother and two friends arrived, panting, at their house.

Zhang says memories of that day and knowledge of what has happened after have inspired him to take a strong stance in favor of human rights. He identifies harassment, imprisonment, torture and organ harvesting in China as unacceptable practices that continue on into the present.

“As long as I still have a voice,” Zhang wrote, “I will keep fighting for human rights that have been long overdue for the Chinese people.”

China does not recognize the massive death toll of the massacre and tightened security in the weeks leading up to the anniversary. The White House issued a statement last week supporting “the basic freedoms the protestors at Tiananmen Square sought” and called for China to account for the violence of the massacre.  Click here to learn more about responses to this year’s anniversary.

Click here to read Zhang’s article at The Cincinnati Enquirer’s website.

Elizabeth Cychosz
Marketing & Communications Intern

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 - 4:13pm

Freedom Center Voices: Meet Gina Armstrong

Now that I've been at the Freedom Center for almost a year, regaling you with exciting behind-the-scenes tales of collections and exhibits, it's time to introduce myself.

 Gina Armstrong in front of David Turnley's photo of Nelson Mandela.I'm Gina Armstrong, one of the IMLS Coca-Cola Museum Studies Apprentices at the Freedom Center. I come to the Freedom Center fresh off a masters of library and information studies (MLIS), with an archival concentration, at the University of Alabama. Your next question is probably "How did you get from Alabama to Cincinnati? How did you even know about the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center?" Excellent questions. I have long been a social justice advocate, and spent my practicum time in graduate school working with the archives at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The longing for freedom is just in my blood, I guess. I also have a longtime friend who has lived in the area for close to 20 years, so I'd been to visit the Freedom Center a couple of times before learning of the apprenticeship and applying.

As an archivist, my primary interest is in the artifacts themselves -- "the stuff," as I like to call it. With my information background, I want to make sure that the artifacts are stored, cataloged, and described in the best way to make them easy to access, both for visitors and staff. I've long been an obsessive list-maker and user of databases, so cataloging and describing material comes naturally to me and makes me happy in the best nerdy way.

Outside of work, I am a voracious reader, a fan of punk and '80s music, and a rabid fan of the New Orleans Saints. It will also come as no shock that New Orleans is my favorite city in the country, if not the world. I am a inveterate traveller, and I've been all over the U.S., to Brazil and Zimbabwe on service trips, Great Britain on study and pleasure trips several times, Germany a few times on visits with friends and pleasure trips, and Italy, Peru, and Paris for pure pleasure. It will perhaps not be very surprising that I'd like to visit the three other continents I've never seen.

I'm excited to continue my apprenticeship at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for the next 12 months, learning more and more about museum work while fulfilling my passion for "the stuff."


-Gina Armstrong, IMLS Coca Cola Museum Studies Apprentice 

Image: Gina Armstrong inside Senzeni Na? Selected Photos from Mandela! Struggle and Triumph