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Ossie Davis, Civil Rights, and
the Education That Can End Racism

By Alice Bernstein

I recently visited Chicago for the first public announcement by Third World Press of my new book, The People of Clarendon County—A Play by Ossie Davis, with Photographs and Historical Documents, and Essays on the Education That Can End Racism. I'm very grateful to Dr. Haki Madhubuti, the distinguished educator, author, and founding publisher of Third World Press, for enabling this book to reach a wide audience. When we spoke last year about the manuscript, he told me that Ossie Davis was a major influence on his own life and career; and he described Mr. Davis as “a mighty laborer in the field of the arts, a majestic voice for integrity.”  

Third World Press issued this release announcing the book's publication:

"The People of Clarendon County" is a short play by Ossie Davis—never before published! Through the art of drama, he gives life to a pivotal, little known chapter of civil rights history. We meet the Reverend Joseph DeLaine and other courageous African American parents in South Carolina, in their fight in the 1950s against racial inequality in education. They risked their lives to file the first legal challenge to segregation in the public schools—which was later combined with other cases as Brown v. Board of Education. The play was written in celebration of the Supreme Court's momentous decision outlawing school segregation. It was performed just once, in 1955, for an enthusiastic audience of union brothers and sisters at Local 1199's Bread and Roses Cultural Project in New York City. The young actors were Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and Sidney Poitier.  

     In her Introduction, journalist and Aesthetic Realism Associate Alice Bernstein tells of conversations with Ossie Davis in 2004 which led to her discovery of “The People of Clarendon County” and her idea for this book. With Mr. Davis's encouragement, she gathered documents and photographs by and about these unsung heroes, which make history come alive, and essays by authorities on the education that can end racism: Aesthetic Realism, founded by philosopher and poet, Eli Siegel.

     Ruby Dee writes: “It moved my husband to think that fifty years later, school children might learn about history by reading or acting in his play. In addition, Alice 's book will also inform people about the success of the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method in enabling children to learn every subject, and ending prejudice in the classroom.”

Ossie Davis was an award-winning actor, director, producer, and a civil rights activist who worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. He wrote and starred in the Broadway hit Purlie Victorious, and is the author of numerous teleplays and books, including a posthumous collection of speeches and essays, Life Lit by Some Large Vision.

Alice Bernstein's articles appear nationwide and in Aesthetic Realism and the Answer to Racism. She is a contributing writer for African American National Biography, and is working on an oral history project and documentary of interviews with unsung heroes, “The Force of Ethics in Civil Rights.”

To learn more about this book, you may contact Third World Press, 7822 S. Dobson Avenue, Chicago, IL 60619, (773) 651-0700, or via e-mail at twpress3@aol.com

Bronzeville and “The Force of Ethics” in Chicago

Bronzeville is an African American neighborhood on Chicago's South side, whose population grew steadily in the early part of the 20th century, as black people fled racism and economic hardship in the South. This area became known as the Black Metropolis, and continues to be seen as the cultural heart of the African American community. During my trip to Chicago, I had a chance to see the largeness and vibrancy of that heart in events that took place there.   

Third World Press first announced the publication of The People of Clarendon County during the Bronzeville Film Festival in June 2007, which they produced in partnership with major media, cultural, community, and business organizations. The festival showcased films of the past and present which illuminate the African American experience, and brought together dramatic artists of film, theatre, and television, notably Stan Shaw (Roots, Harlem Nights), Sam Greenlee (The Spook Who Sat by the Door), Tim Reid (Sister, Sister and Amen) and Daphne Maxwell Reid (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air).
(l-r) Haki Madhubuti, Stan Shaw, Nate Grant, Daphne Maxwell
Reid, Tim Reid At ShoreBank reception. Photo: David M. Bernstein

The audiences were people young and old, black and white, from all walks of life—students, educators, business men and women, and civil rights activists—including Clarence B. Jones, former counsel for Dr. Martin Luther King, who helped deliver the famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

It was a wonderful opportunity to see and learn from the contributions and achievements of African Americans to world culture and social justice. The venues were the Illinois Institute of Technology and Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern University— with receptions sponsored by minority-owned Shore-Bank, Highland Community Bank, and Gallery Guichard (whose mission is to exhibit artists from the African diaspora and to insure the place of fine art in the rebirth of Bronzeville).

During this trip I also had the opportunity to conduct videotaped interviews for my oral history project and documentary, "The Force of Ethics in Civil Rights," which honors unknown Americans who worked hard, often against vicious opposition, to have America more just. The heart of this project is the principle identified by Eli Siegel: “There is a force of ethics working in people throughout history.” He defined ethics as “the art of enjoying justice.” It is thrilling and a privilege to document the power of ethics in people around the country, as they participated in the great revolutionary movement known as Civil Rights. And I am immensely grateful to speak about what I learned about the cause of racism and every injustice, contempt, "the addition to self through the lessening of something else," and the practical, scientific solution: seeing that the feelings of other people are as real as one's one, and criticizing contempt wherever it may be, including in oneself!

Bob Lucas and Rosie Simpson. Photo Credit: David M. Bernstein

I traveled to Chicago with photographer and cameraman David Bernstein, who is my husband, and Steve Weiner, Aesthetic Realism associate and union official, who provided invaluable assistance on the documentary project. And I am grateful to have had the opportunity to interview the legendary Bob Lucas, head of Chicago CORE in the 1960s and a community activist right up to today; and Rosie Simpson, a beloved organizer for the Packing House Workers Union who also spearheaded actions to desegregate Chicago's public schools. Like the courageous men and women in Ossie Davis's play about the people of Clarendon County, their lives embody the enjoyment and courage of going after justice, even in the face of brutality and personal sacrifice.

Third World Press

Dr. Haki Madhubuti began Third World Press 40 years ago, as he likes to tell, in the basement of a friend's home with $400, a mimeograph machine—and a vision. That vision was and is “to publish books that encourage creativity, inspire intellect, engender pride and spur engaged and informed critical debate over issues of race, culture, politics, and social health.” Dr. Madhubuti has been true to that vision, as the catalog of published titles through the years makes clear. The success of Third World Press—now a multi-million dollar corporation and one of the most respected publishers in America—is further evidence of “ethics as a force.”

(l-r) Dr. Carol Lee (Safisha Madhubuti), Dr. Haki Madhubuti, Alice Bernstein
at reception in Gallery Guichard. Photo: David M. Bernstein

David, Steve, and I were surprised and stirred to visit the gorgeous, unconventional corporate headquarters of Third World Press on S. Dobson Avenue. The offices are in the former rectory building of a modern Gothic church, in the midst of a bustling residential community. The interior is a unique combination of museum, art gallery, library, architectural treasure, and publishing business—with a passionate commitment to literature and education. The walls are covered with paintings, prints, posters, and sculptures by artists whose works celebrate Africa and the African American experience—the history, culture, sorrows, and triumphs.

While there, it made me very happy to meet some of the people whose work in relation to The People of Clarendon County I'm thankful for: Bennett Johnson, Catherine Compton, Gwendolyn Mitchell, and Solomohn Ennis.

During September 2007, I'll be returning to Chicago to participate in the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Third World Press. Ms. Ruby Dee will be there as an honored guest at the gala dinner. I feel privileged to have new opportunities to talk with people about the play by Ossie Davis and the new book which he so much wanted, with essays on the education that can have racism a thing of the past: Aesthetic Realism. It is moving and right that the legacy of Ossie Davis continues in this way.

To visit the website of Third World Press, go to: http://www.thirdworldpressinc.com .

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© 2005-2015 by Alice Bernstein. For permission to reprint please contact me by
email: ajoybern@gmail.com