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SouthCoast civil rights trailblazers honored by local NAACP, Historical Society

SouthCoast civil rights leaders honored

March 21, 2015

Enola G. Aird , lawyer, activist mother and founder and president of Community Healing Network Inc. speaks at the NAACP Breakfast honoring the legacy of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. PHOTO BY DAVID W. OLIVEIRA/STANDARD-TIMES SPECIAL

Enola G. Aird , lawyer, activist mother and founder and president of Community Healing Network Inc. speaks at the NAACP Breakfast honoring the legacy of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. PHOTO BY DAVID W. OLIVEIRA/STANDARD-TIMES SPECIAL

NEW BEDFORD — The Waypoint Conference Center on the waterfront was full to capacity Saturday for a breakfast awards banquet by the local chapter of the NAACP and by the New Bedford Historical Society, with a sense of concern and urgency hanging over the proceedings.

This is the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and the estimated 125 people in attendance heard speakers implore them not to let up on the effort to secure and protect voting rights. They were also reminded that 30 states have taken some measure of legislation to roll back voting rights and civil rights in recent years.

The spate of recent shootings involving blacks and police officers also got frequent mention, usually in combination with other threats to civil rights and voting rights.

Dr. Bruce Rose, the interim president of the local NAACP, cautioned “constant vigilance over the civil rights we’ve gained.” He called the backsliding “regressive elements” that threaten to undo much of the progress of the last half century.

The speeches, prayers and singing of “We Shall Overcome” were accompanied by awards to five residents who have done exemplary work on civil rights in SouthCoast.

Many speakers struck the same themes: First, that it’s critical that people register to vote and then actually vote; and second, that they join or rejoin the NAACP, to reestablish strength in numbers when it comes to getting the attention of elected officials.

The local NAACP chapter is part of the New England Area Conference, whose president, Juan Cofield, said, “If we forfeit our right to vote, we forfeit our right to complain,” which brought loud applause.

The keynote speaker was Enola G. Aird, a lawyer from Connecticut who has established the Community Healing Network, dedicated to teaching individuals to reject centuries of lies about themselves and “sign their own emancipation proclamation.”

She said blacks “have to free themselves of a false sense of inferiority,” and her goal is to have the personal emancipation spread across the country in about five years. Right now, she said, “racism has this country and the world firmly in its grasp.”

Other speakers included Mayor Jon Mitchell, who observed that “the Voting Rights Act didn’t get at the heart of endemic racism.” But on the positive side, he said, many cities have elected black mayors, which is something of a political resurgence.

Bristol District Attorney Thomas Quinn III told the gathering of how he first witnessed racism, and people fighting back against it, at age 8 during the 1968 election year in which Alabama Gov. George Wallace was a candidate making an appearance at Lincoln Park in Dartmouth.

Lee Blake, president of the New Bedford Historical Society, introduced the speakers and announced that a mural will soon be painted downtown to commemorate the famed all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first to be called up in the Civil War.

Follow Steve Urbon on Twitter @SteveUrbonSCT. 

54th Regiment mural takes its place among city’s historical offerings

By Steve Urbon Jul 22, 2015 at 12:19 PM

54th-Regiment

Photo by DAVID W. OLIVEIRA/STANDARD-TIMES SPECIAL

NEW BEDFORD — The famed African-American Massachusetts 54th Regiment is more fully rooted in the narrative of New Bedford’s storied past, thanks to a mural depicting the regiment’s recruiting days in the Civil War. About 200 people turned out Saturday in the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Plaza downtown to celebrate the latest addition to New Bedford’s cultural and historical offerings. The guest of honor and keynote speaker was former National Park Service Director Robert Stanton, the first African-American to head the agency. Stanton gave a shout-out to Jared Bader of Philadelphia, the young artist who was commissioned to create the mural. “It’s evident that you’re filled with the spirit of the 54th,” Stanton said. “I applaud you.”

The mural occupies the entire side of the building that houses Freestone’s Restaurant on William Street. It has transformed a pale beige blank space with an image that’s a riot of color, partly to compensate for fading on the west-facing wall. The mural, which went up in a little over a week, was not painted on the wall. Rather, it was painted in Bader’s studio on cloth panels and hung much like wallpaper, with seams between the 30 panels that are barely visible.

The $20,000 cost of the project was raised through persistent fund-raising — led by Margaret “MarDee” Xifaras, of the Whaling History Alliance, and the president of the New Bedford Historical Society, Lee Blake. The mural project which took three years from concept to implementation was a collaboration between the New Bedford Historical Society, the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, the University of MA CVPA, the Whaling History Alliance and the New Bedford Art Museum. The speakers

Saturday often struck the same themes: that of the need for constant struggle to reach the state of a “United People of America,” as Stanton put it. He asked his audience to ask themselves, “What am I doing to foster justice, equality and dignity?” “It requires work, diligence and consistency,” he said.

Ron Armstead, director of the Veterans Brain Trust within the Congressional Black Caucus, told of the worry he feels when he sees it take a century or more before black war heroes are honored as such by their government. An example is Sgt. William Carney of the 54th, who wasn’t awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor until 1903 for his 1863 valor in the Civil War’s Battle of Fort Wagner, valiantly fought but unfortunately lost by the 54th as depicted in the movie “Glory.”

U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., marveled at how Bader managed to incorporate two windows in the middle of the wall into the mural. He used the window as a metaphor for a portal through which one could climb and pursue the goals of gender and racial equality.

Mayor Jon Mitchell remarked that the mural is “eye-popping” with a serious “wow factor.” But he added that there is “still room for contemplation.”

Joshua Boles, chief of interpretation and education for the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, praised the beauty of the mural and observed that tourists are coming across it and hitting their brakes, almost causing accidents because it is so eye-catching. He and others also stressed how important it is that young people appreciate their heritage and seek to teach and learn about it.

Other speakers included master of ceremonies Carl Cruz, City Councilor Dana Ribeiro, Adrian Tio, dean of the UMass Dartmouth Center for Visual and Performing Arts, Lee Blake, president of the New Bedford Historical Society and manager of the project and Noelle Foye, director of the New Bedford Art Museum.

Follow Steve Urbon on Twitter @SteveUrbonSCT