Category Archives: History

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

On December 22, 1922 a girl was born in Chicago.  The parents, Irish-Catholic and conservative in their views, named their baby Mary Jane. They had no irony in mind, but it would turn out to be exactly that.

Mary Jane Rathburn grew up in Minneapolis and attended a Catholic grammar school. As was the case in many schools during the 30s, teachers physically punished recalcitrant students.  The problem with caning a recalcitrant student is they might fight back.

Mary Jane did. Mary Jane left school. Mary Jane left home. Mary Jane became a waitress, a job that would be her primary one for most of her life. At least the primary one if someone asked her, “So what do you do for a living?”

Mary Jane was far more than a waitress.

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

Early activism

She campaigned for the right of miners to form unions. In the late 1940s, she worked as an activist promoting abortion rights for Minneapolis women.

In between, during World War II and living in San Francisco, she married, had a baby in 1955, and named her Peggy. Divorced, Mary Jane  and Peggy moved to Reno, Nevada. In  1974, a drunk driver hit and killed Peggy.

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

San Francisco again

Mary Jane moved back to San Francisco.

In 1974 she met fellow activist Dennis Peron at Cafe Flore. They shared a joint.

Cafe Flore was in the Castro district, a largely gay area of San Francisco. During the war, the armed services dishonorably discharged soldiers found to be gay and many of those discharges took place at the port of San Francisco. Many stayed.

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

Becoming Brownie Mary

In  the late 1970s Mary Jane began to supplement her income by baking brownies. She decided that adding marijuana to her brownies would make them what she described as “magically delicious.”

Mary Jane was not the first to use cannabis as an ingredient. Humans had been using it for centuries. Most famously in the west was the Alice B Toklas’s fudge recipe that was included in her 1954 cookbook.

In 1981 the law caught up with Mary.  It raided her apartment and hauled away “35 lbs of margarine, 50 lbs of flour and sugar, 22 dozen eggs, 21,000 sq ft of plastic wrap, and 20 lbs of high-grade cannabis.”

Mary was upset they said it was margarine. She said she only used the best butter.

In order to pay for her legal defense, she sold her belongings – including the kitchen table.

A judge sentenced her to 500 hours of community service which she willingly completed by working at a hospital with young men who were dying of the yet-unnamed AIDS.

For the rest of her life she continued to minister to AIDS patients and providing for some relief by bringing her increasingly famous brownies. She bought nearly all the ingredients with her own money. Somehow, the marijuana appeared for free from generous growers.

Two other arrests occurred, but her reputation of assistance led to a lenient sentence. The last charge was dropped.

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

Medical Marijuana

As the AIDS crisis grew and the use of cannabis demonstrated its  obvious and effective analgesic properties, Brownie Mary became increasingly involved in the Proposition P campaign to recommend its legalization for medicinal use in San Francisco in 1991.  She received a standing ovation at its hearings.

The proposition passed overwhelmingly but not until 1996’s passage of Proposition 215 was the recommendation legalized.

In 2008 the medical marijuana group “Americans for Safe Access” estimated that California had more than 200,000 doctor-qualified medical cannabis users.

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

 San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

In 1992 San Francisco declared a ‘Brownie Mary Day’  to honor her work with dying patients in the AIDS ward. 5,000 people rallied in her praise.

That same year, she and Dennis Peron founded the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. The Buyers Club was meant to provide a place for safe distribution of medical cannabis to people with cancer, AIDS,  and other diseases. Akin somewhat to the Prohibition speakeasies of the 1920s, the product was illegal and raids regular.

Just weeks before the Prop 215 vote, police arrested Dennis Peron.

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

Disabilities catch up

By the mid-1990s, arthritic knees forced her to retire but she continued to bake and support positive marijuana legislation.

A Marijuana dot com article said, “Her sympathies were always with the underdog, the poor, the busted and the downtrodden,” John Entwistle Jr., a former legalization advocate and longtime friend of Rathbun, told Marijuana.com. “One could see that she had overcome tremendous difficulties in her own life and that created a natural empathy and sense of compassion for others that was tangible and sincere.”

Brownie Mary  died of a heart attack at age 76 on April 10, 1999.

On April 17, 300 people, including her friend, district attorney Terence Hallinan, attended a candlelight vigil held in her honor in the Castro.

Hallinan told a crowd of several hundred people gathered at her memorial that she was a hero who will “one day be remembered as the Florence Nightingale of the medical marijuana movement.”

Friend and partner activist Dennis Peron said, “I figure right now she’s making a deal with God: If you let me in, I’ll make you a dozen brownies on the house.’ ”

Activist Brownie Mary Jane
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Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

January 2, 1884 – March 25, 1951

Oscar Micheaux, the son of former slaves, was born in Illinois and grew up in Kansas . When he was 17 he became a porter on the railway, but within a few years left the railroad and homesteaded in South Dakota.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Homesteader to Author

He wrote about his farm life and  self-published The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer in  1913.  In 1915 he lost the farm.

In 1917 he again self-published a book, The Homesteader.  After a film deal fell through for the story, Micheaux decided to expand his publishing company. It became Micheaux Film and Book Company in 1919.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Author and Filmmaker

The Homesteader film was the first film made by an African-American. It starred Evelyn Preer.

Unlike the white-controlled film industry which portrayed blacks with stereotypes, Micheaux’s films had black characters in mysteries, gangster films and westerns. His films were written, directed, produced and portrayed by predominately all black cast and crew.

In 1924 he introduced the movie-going world to Paul Robeson in the film, Body and Soul.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Real characters

Given the times, his accomplishments in publishing and film are extraordinary, including being the first African-American to produce a film to be shown in “white” movie theaters. In his motion pictures, he moved away from the “Negro” stereotypes being portrayed in film at the time. Additionally, in his film Within Our Gates, Micheaux attacked the racism depicted in D.W. Griffith’s film, The Birth of a Nation.

The Producers Guild of America called him “The most prolific black – if not most prolific independent – filmmaker in American cinema.”

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Filmography

1919

* The Homesteader
* Within Our Gates

1920

* The Brute
* Symbol of the Unconquered

1922

* Gunaslaus Mystery
* Deceit
* The Dungeon
* The Virgin of the Seminole
* Son of Satan

1923

* Jasper Landry’s Will

1924

* Body and Soul

1926

* The Spider’s Web

1927

* Millionaire

1928

* When Men Betray
* Easy Street

1929

* Wages of Sin

1930

* Darktown Revue

 

1931

* The Exile

1932

* Veiled Aristocrat
* Black Magic
* Ten Minutes to Live

1933

* The Girl From Chicago
* Ten Minutes to Kill

1934

* Harlem After Midnight

1935

* Lem Hawkin’s Confession

1936

* Temptation
* Underworld

1937

* God’s Stepchildren

1938

* Swing

1939

* Birthright
* Lying Lips

1940

* The Notorious Elinor Lee

1948

* Betrayal

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Biography

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

In 2008, Patrick McGilligan published Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker.  McGilligan refers to Micheaux as, “…the Jackie Robinson of American film … a Muhammad Ali decades before his time” who “deserves to be considered in the same breath as the sainted D. W. Griffith.”

In his review of the book, Phillip Lopate is critical of McGilligan’s high praise for Micheaux’s work.  He wrote, “…we do a disservice to the achievements of truly superb black auteurs, like Charles Burnett, Spike Lee and Ousmane Sembène, by pretending Micheaux was a great filmmaker. The man had his own validity, as a pathfinder and as the creator of an intriguing, curious body of work, which reveals much about America’s past social and racial contradictions, and its melodramatic conventions.”

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Within Our Gates

Here is his “Within Our Gates” from 1919. It is the earliest known surviving feature film directed by an African American. The Library of Congress preserved it in 1993 from a single print found in Spain.

The story line is that a man abandons his fiance, an educated black woman.  She dedicates herself to helping a near bankrupt school for impoverished negro youths.

Within Our Gates was created in response to The Birth of a Nation which depicted southern whites in need of the Ku Klux Klan to protect them from blood thirsty blacks.

Micheaux showed the reality of racism, where a black man could be lynched for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Death

Micheaux died in Charlotte, North Carolina while on a business trip. His body was returned to Great Bend, Kansas, where he was interred in the Great Bend cemetery with other members of his family.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux
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Linda Carol Brown

Linda Carol Brown

Linda Carol Brown
Cover for a collection of personal reflections, stories, and poems from ten children’s authors celebrating the hard-earned promise of equality in education.
February 20, 1943 – March 25, 2018

Linda Brown lived in Topeka, Kansas with her parents and two younger sisters. Topeka, like many American school districts, had separate schools for their black children and white children so Linda was not allowed to attend Sumner School, the nearest school, but for whites only.

She later said“We lived in a mixed neighborhood but when school time came I would have to take the school bus and go clear across town and the white children I played with would go to this other school,” 

Oliver Brown, Linda’s dad, decided to enroll his daughter in Sumner.  He walked her there, spoke to the principal who not surprisingly refused to admit Linda, not for any academic or classroom space reasons, but simply because Linda was black.

Oliver and Leola Brown decided to do something.

Linda Carol Brown

Linda Carol Brown

US history of legal apartheid

19th century

The judicial history of US Courts ruling that African-American were not entitled to the same rights and privileges as other Americans is a long one.

In the 1857 decision in Dred Scott, Plaintiff in Error  v.  John  F.  A.  Sanford, the Supreme Court held that Blacks, enslaved or free, could not be citizens of the United States. Chief Justice Taney, arguing from the original intentions of the framers of the 1787 Constitution, stated that at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, Black people were considered a subordinate and inferior class of beings, “with no rights which the White man was bound to respect.”

In 1865, following the Civil War, many state governments passed laws designed to marginalize its blacks using Black Codes.  These laws imposed severe restrictions such as prohibiting the right to vote, forbidding  Black from sitting on juries, and limiting their right to testify against white men. They were also forbidden from carrying weapons in public places and working in certain occupations.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 guaranteed Blacks basic economic rights to contract, sue, and own property, but enforcement was rare.

In 1868, the ratification of the 14th amendment overruled the Dred Scott decision. The amendment’s Section 1 reads: All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

But on April 14, 1873, the US Supreme Court decided in the Slaughterhouse cases  that a citizen’s “privileges and immunities,” as protected by the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment against the states, were limited to those spelled out in the Constitution and did not include many rights given by the individual states.

Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875 which prohibited discrimination in places of public accommodation, but on December 15, 1883, the US Supreme Court ruled that  The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments did not empower Congress to safeguard blacks against the actions of private individuals. To decide otherwise would afford blacks a special status under the law that whites did not enjoy.

The Court continued to uphold the legality of discrimination with its 1896 Plesy v Ferguson decision that  held that separate but equal facilities for White and Black railroad passengers did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

In 1899, in Cumming v. Board of Education of Richmond County, State of Georgia, the Supreme Court upheld a local school board’s decision to close a free public Black school due to fiscal constraints, despite the fact that the district continued to operate two free public white schools.

20th century
Linda Carol Brown

In 1908, in Berea College v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, the Supreme Court upheld a Kentucky state law forbidding interracial instruction at all schools and colleges in the state.

In 1927, in Gond Lum v Rice the Supreme Court held that a Mississippi school district may require a Chinese-American girl to attend a segregated Black school rather than a White school.

Linda Carol Brown

Crumbs of progress

On December 12, 1938, in the State of Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, the Supreme Court decided in favor of Lloyd Gaines, a Black student who had been refused admission to the University of Missouri Law School.  The decision did not mean separate but equal was unconstitutional. It was because there was no Black law school that the Court based its decision for Gaines.

10 years later on January 12, 1948, in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma, a unanimous Supreme Court held that Lois Ada Sipuel could not be denied entrance to a state law school solely because of her race.

On June 5, 1950, in Sweatt v Painter: the Supreme Court held that the University of Texas Law School must admit Herman Sweatt, a Black student. The University of Texas Law School was far superior in its offerings and resources to the separate Black law school, which had been hastily established in a downtown basement.

Linda Carol Brown

Stage set

And so under the auspices of the Topeka NAACP, on February 28, 1951 Brown v. Board of Education was filed in Federal district court, in Kansas. The plaintiffs were thirteen Topeka parents on behalf of their 20 children. The case listed the plaintiffs names alphabetically and Brown came first. Brown was Oliver, Linda’s father.  The ohter 12 plaintiffs were: Darlene Brown, Lena Carper, Sadie Emmanuel, Marguerite Emerson, Shirley Fleming, Zelma Henderson, Shirley Hodison, Maude Lawton, Alma Lewis, Iona Richardson, and Lucinda Todd, each a parent and representing 20 children.

In August, a three-judge panel at the U. S. District Court unanimously held that “no willful, intentional or substantial discrimination” existed in Topeka’s schools. The U. S. District Court found that the physical facilities in White and Black schools were comparable and that the lower court’s decisions in  Sweatt  v. Painter and McLaurin only applied to graduate education.

The NAACP appealed that decision and in June 1952 the Supreme Court announced that it would hear oral arguments in Briggs and Brown during the upcoming October 1952 term. Briggs was a similar case and was “bundled” with Brown. Actually the case of Brown v. Board of Education as heard before the Supreme Court combined five cases: Brown itself, Briggs, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (filed in Virginia), Gebhart v. Belton (filed in Delaware), and Bolling v. Sharpe (filed in Washington, D.C.). All were NAACP-sponsored cases.

The case was argued for the states in early December 1952. Politicking by some justices in an attempt to get a unanimous decision in favor of Brown caused a delay, so it wasn’t until December 1953 that the NAACP’s Thurgood Marshall presented the case for the plaintiffs.

Linda Carol Brown

May 17, 1954

The Court delivered its unanimous decision in favor of the plaintiffs and in its decision said in part:

Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does. …

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The effect is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system.” …

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Linda Carol Brown

Linda later

By May 1954, Linda Brown was in middle school and in Topeka the upper grades had already been integrated.

From Wikipedia: Throughout her life, Brown continued her advocacy in the cause of equal access to education in Kansas.  Brown worked as a Head Start teacher and a program associate in the Brown Foundation. She was a public speaker and an education consultant…

In 1979, with her own children attending Topeka schools, Brown reopened her case against the Kansas Board of Education, arguing that segregation continued. The appeals court ruled in her favor in 1993.

Linda Carol Brown

Death

When she died in 2018, Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer tweeted:  “Sixty-four years ago a young girl from Topeka brought a case that ended segregation in public schools in America. Linda Brown’s life reminds us that sometimes the most unlikely people can have an incredible impact and that by serving our community we can truly change the world.”

2017 video with Linda’s sister, Cheryl Brown Henderson, speaks about modern educational inequality. She is a part of the Brown Foundation. whose “ mission is to build upon the work of those involved in the Brown decision, to ensure equal opportunity for all people. Our cornerstone is to keep the tenets and ideals of Brown relevant for future generations through programs, preservation, advocacy and civic engagement.”

Linda Carol Brown
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