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How African-Americans See Their Lives


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. The state of the African-American family is often a topic of discussion of academic study, of public policy debate, even White House initiatives. But too often the voices of African-Americans themselves are not central to those conversations. Now there's a new effort to address that. It's called the Survey of African-American families. The poll is a joint project between Ebony magazine and the W.K. Kellogg foundation. It is featured in the latest issue of Ebony. That's on the newsstands today. Joining us to speak about the results is Ron Lester, who led the survey, and Dr. Gail Christopher. She is the vice president for program strategy at the Kellogg Foundation. And they're both with us now. Welcome to you both. Thank you for joining us.

RON LESTER: Glad to be here.


MARTIN: So, Ron Lester, let's start with you. You say this is sort of a good news, bad news report. Tell us a little bit more, if you would.

LESTER: Well, first of all, we had an opportunity here to really cover the whole gamut of issues affecting family, even going into relationships. It's the first poll that I've seen of African-Americans since the affordable health care has passed. We cover health in a holistic manner, even dental, mental health, drug use. We touch on the issues of homicide and suicide. So it's not just a standard survey of standard measurements, but it's fairly comprehensive.

MARTIN: So tell me more about the findings and what stood out for you.

LESTER: OK, well, basically the mood of African-Americans is kind of lukewarm, as you said starting out. Forty-eight percent say things are going in the right direction, and 37 percent said, wrong track. So that's the mood question. We always start out, in a poll, at the outset to kind of gauge the mood. The mood is good in the West, in the Southwest and in the South where people are migrating towards - the mood - it's net positive.

Like, 60 percent say, right direction, and less than 40 percent say, wrong track. In terms of some key measurements, in terms of where we're making progress and losing ground, there's clearly a recognition that we're making progress in health care, in education reform, in equal opportunities. But we're kind of losing ground on the fundamental economic issues. People believe, by a strong margin, that there's income inequality in America. People believe that they don't make enough. About 33 percent actually indicate some kind of economic issue as their top concern. So things are going fairly well, but folks are not making enough money and having difficulty fitting into the new economy.

MARTIN: OK. So, Gail Christopher, one of the numbers that stuck with you was that 88 percent of those surveyed were satisfied with the quality of their lives, and that number actually disturbed you. And you wrote actually a whole piece about this for Ebony magazine in a column accompanying the poll results. Why did that disturb you?


African American jockey, three-time Kentucky Derby winner celebrated in new bio

If you are shocked to know that African American jockeys existed—much less thrived—in 19th-century America, don’t tell Pellom McDaniels III. He will be shocked that you are shocked. And yet, in the end, he accepts that his job is to ensure that our shared national history is just that.

McDaniels—the faculty curator of African American Collections in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library and assistant professor of African American studies—arrived later in life to a career as a historian and scholar. Earlier incarnations were as a respected defensive player for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons, an inventor (who sold Procter & Gamble a patent for a dental product), an artist, and the owner of an aging Chevy Suburban (more on that later).

Of former NFL players turned academics, there have been relatively few on record. That only makes McDaniels work harder to paint a true picture of what sports have meant to African Americans, a view that dissolves many stereotypes. As McDaniels says in his new biography, "The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy," "To most Americans, athleticism is an inherent feature of blackness, directly linked to the mythology of race promoted by the founding fathers."

His countervailing view, eloquently interwoven in the book, is that sports has exerted a powerful role in allowing African Americans to express their intelligence and drive, to learn collaboration and organizational skills, and to develop that chief ingredient of character: self-discipline.

Early Life and Legacy

Born Isaac Burns in 1861, Murphy spent his life in Kentucky, born to enslaved parents; his father served as a Union soldier, and his mother was one of very few women who owned land in postbellum Lexington.

The young Murphy joined the world of horse racing at the age of fourteen and by the 1880s was making tens of thousands of dollars per racing season. Murphy won the Kentucky Derby three times, the American Derby four of the first five runnings, and had an unmatched winning percentage of forty-four. He was among the inaugural class of jockeys elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1955. His life sounds like a tale of liberation, progress, and prosperity.


African-American reporter didn't just break stories, but barriers

Saturday is one of the year's big nights on the Washington social calendar: the White House Correspondents' Association dinner.

And this year, the correspondents' association is celebrating 100 years of covering America's presidents.

The memory of one reporter is being honored, celebrated for the pioneering work this African-American did in the face of bigotry.

He was diminutive and polite but alarmed white correspondents who covered the president in the 1940s.

Newspaper reporter Harry McAlpin had asked for a membership to the White House Correspondents' Association.

The board said no.

So, in 1944, at the height of World War II, the National Negro Publishers Association urged President Franklin Roosevelt to overrule the board and grant McAlpin a credential.

The president did.

Before McAlpin's first Oval Office news conference, though, the association again tried to stop him, warning the room would be so crowded with him in it, he might cause a riot.

McAlpin calmly replied, "That would be a hell of a news story, and I want to be there for that."

When McAlpin shook Roosevelt's hand after being the first African-American reporter to attend a presidential news conference, the president said, "I'm glad to see you, McAlpin, and very happy to have you here."


An African-American studies professor’s bleak postwar Germany

When he began the research for his new book about Germany in the years directly after World War II, Harvard professor Werner Sollors says he intended to focus on the lighter aspects of Germans’ encounter with Americans in the 1940s and ’50s: genial GIs, children lining up for candy and gum, the “fraternizing” between American men and German women. Born in 1943, Sollors spent his formative childhood years in a village near Frankfurt. His childhood fascination with things American led, indirectly, to his earning a PhD in American studies (in Berlin), writing a dissertation on the poet Amiri Baraka, and eventually moving across the Atlantic to teach in the United States.

But as he worked on the project, he soon realized that was not the kind of book he had on his hands. The diaries, novels, reportage, photographs, and films he was examining were permeated with darkness. Germans at the time didn’t want to look back at the war, not only because of the overwhelming defeat—which involved the leveling of cities and the widespread rape of German women by Soviet troops—but because of the monstrousness of the crimes committed by the Nazi regime. Yet they saw nothing to look forward to either, given the destruction of the institutions necessary for a functioning state and economy. The story of that time, he found, was the story of a people stuck in a kind of bleak limbo.

While the World War II literature is vast and Germany’s post-war democratization and economic “miracle” well-known, the period immediately after the war remains underexplored, Sollors argues in “The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s.” Yet that period also sowed the seeds for Europe’s rebirth as a remarkably peaceful and productive part of the world in the second half of the 20th century.

The book also stakes out new territory for Sollors, who is the longest-tenured member of Harvard’s African and African American studies department—at a low point in its institutional history he was the lone member—and also an English professor. Though deeply informed by his family history, the book is far more scholarly than it is a memoir; in the book, his personal reminiscences occur only within brackets.

Ideas spoke with Sollors by phone from his home in Cambridge. The interview has been edited and condensed.


Murder in Juarez

David Farrington, a U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) service agent, has been vexed by a troubling question for the past several years. He has reason to suspect a colleague deliberately failed to warn an American working at a U.S. consulate in Mexico that she was targeted for assassination by a drug cartel.

Farrington, a former marine and 10-year veteran of the State Department’s security service, was the first agent to get to the scene of the March 13, 2010, Juarez murders—another car carrying a consulate employee was attacked as well—and caught the case, as they say in police lingo. But his revulsion quickly turned to consternation, and then obsession, when he began asking questions about the whereabouts of the consulate’s chief security officer that day. Eventually, he was taken off the case, according to State Department emails obtained by Newsweek, relieved of his badge and gun, and ordered to undergo a psychological fitness review. But he hasn’t given up.

Leslie Enriquez and her husband were gunned down as they drove away from a birthday party in the drug-and-violence-wracked border city of Juarez four years ago last month. Nearly simultaneously, another car leaving the party was sprayed with bullets, killing the husband of a Mexican employee of the U.S. consulate. A senior Mexican police official said later that a drug cartel enforcer who confessed to the murders claimed Enriquez was targeted because she was helping a rival gang with U.S. visas—an allegation denied by U.S. officials.

“I don’t have any reason to believe that they did believe that they did anything bad,” Farrington said of Enriquez and the other victims in a brief interview with Newsweek. “They were good people.” But he soon learned that the top regional security officer (RSO) in Juarez, Gregory V. Houston, had been asking around the consulate for the names of locally hired employees like Enriquez and one of the other victims that day. Farrington wondered why. He became even more suspicious when he learned that Houston got into serious trouble during a previous posting at the American Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria.


Bruins fans doing what they do best:

Boston Bruins fans blew up Twitter Thursday night following the team’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

P.K. Subban ended up scoring the winning goal in the fifth minute of the second overtime.

Fans showing disappointment would have been completely understandable. But many of them took it to a whole other level, seeming following in the footsteps of Donald Sterling.

Because of our corporate policies, we can’t put this type of profane language on our website, so here’s a summary of just some of the tweets we found:


Montana top court overturns teacher's one-month rape sentence

(Reuters) - The Montana Supreme Court overturned on Wednesday a one-month prison sentence given to a former teacher for the rape of a 14-year-old student, a penalty that sparked outrage and drew criticism from women's groups as too lenient.

Montana district Judge G. Todd Baugh drew fierce public criticism last year when he sentenced the teacher, Stacey Rambold, to just a month in prison for the 2007 sexual assault of his student, Cherice Moralez, who later killed herself.

Baugh fueled the public outrage by saying during Rambold's sentencing hearing that the teenager seemed older than her years and was "probably as much in control of the situation" as the Billings high school teacher.

On Wednesday, the high court ordered the case assigned to a different judge for re-sentencing as it ruled the sentence - technically 15 years in prison with all but 31 days suspended and credit for one day served - was too lenient.

"The district court lacked authority to suspend all but 31 days of Rambold's sentence, and its judgment is therefore reversed," Justice Michael Wheat said in the opinion, joined by five other justices.


Nigeria's kidnapped girls sold into marriage for $12

Scores of young girls and women kidnapped from a school in Nigeria are being forced to marry their Boko Haram abductors, a local human rights group has reported.

Halite Aliyu, of the Borno-Yobe People’s Forum, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that more than 200 girls who were kidnapped two weeks ago had been sold to the fighters for $12.

Aliyu said the information given about the mass weddings was coming from villagers in the Sambisa Forest, on Nigeria’s border with Cameroon where Boko Haram was known to have a number of hideouts.

"The latest reports are that they have been taken across the borders, some to Cameroon and Chad,'' Aliyu said.

It was not possible to verify the reports.

Community elder Pogu Bitrus of Chibok town, from where the girls were abducted, told the BBC's Hausa service that some of the kidnapped girls "have been married off to insurgents".


Germany blocks Edward Snowden from testifying in person in NSA inquiry

The German government has blocked Edward Snowden from giving personal evidence in front of a parliamentary inquiry into NSA surveillance, it has emerged hours before Angela Merkel travels to Washington for a meeting with Barack Obama.

In a letter to members of a parliamentary committee obtained by Süddeutsche Zeitung, government officials say a personal invitation for the US whistleblower would "run counter to the political interests of the Federal Republic", and "put a grave and permanent strain" on US-German relations.

Opposition party members in the committee from the Left and Green party had for weeks insisted that the former NSA employee was a key witness and therefore would need to appear in person, not least because of concerns that Russia otherwise could influence his testimony.

However, the ruling Christian Democratic and Social Democratic parties, said that a written questionnaire would suffice. The disagreement led to the resignation of the CDU head of the committee this month.

Last June the German foreign ministry rejected Snowden's application for asylum because it was not submitted in person on German soil. If Snowden had been invited as a witness, he could have met these requirements.


Of course, the truth of the matter is Snowden has nothing of substance to add to the inquiry anyway, since he has a policy about not discussing anything which hasn't already been in the newspapers and even then; he was a very small cog in the grand scheme of things...Naturally, Germany saves face by hinting that the U.S. is twisting their arm, and no one is the wiser...

Mayor Rob Ford 'ready to take a break'

TORONTO - Mayor Rob Ford says he’s “ready to take a break” from the mayoral election campaign to “go get help.”

The decision to immediately step away from the campaign — while staying on the ballot — came after the Toronto Sun exclusively obtained a new raunchy audio recording of Ford ranting and swearing in an Etobicoke bar.

The Globe and Mail also published a report that a new video surfaced of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking what has been described as crack-cocaine early Saturday morning.

Ford told the Sun columnist Joe Warmington that he realizes “it’s time” and that he “wants” to “deal with his issues.” He said he is being urged to not leave the mayoral race by people around him.

The audio recording, covertly taped by a patron of Sullie Gorman’s Monday night, captures the mayor being unruly as he’s ordering booze at the Royal York Rd. bar, complaining about his wife Renata and making lewd comments about mayoral contender Karen Stintz.

“I’d like to f-----g jam her (Stintz), but she doesn’t want ... I can’t talk like this...I’m so sorry,” Ford is heard saying on the recording. “I forgot there’s a woman in the house.”

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