September 05, 2013
By RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI
DIRGIN, Texas — Ida Finley smiles wistfully, recalling how she used to cook for an entire East Texas community — nearly all descendants of slaves. The children would grab cornbread, greens and cookies from her kitchen while their parents grew vegetables in a tiny creekside village hidden among pine forests.
“It’s been so long,” she muses, gazing at old photos that dot the walls of her nursing home room some 30 miles from Dirgin.
Now, just weeks from her 102nd birthday, Finley faces the prospect of losing the land worked by her husband and his parents, slaves who toiled for a master.
For three years, Luminant Mining Co. has tried to purchase this 9.1-acre plot, which is currently owned by a bevy of relatives spread across the country. The company owns more than 75 percent of the parcel but can’t mine it because of a complex inheritance arrangement and the refusal of some family members to let go or accept Luminant’s offer.
Luminant says it has negotiated fairly with the owners, offering them more than the land’s appraised value, plus full compensation to Ida Finley and her granddaughter for homes they have on the land, which the company says they do not legally own. For the first time in its history, Luminant has sued some of the heirs, asking a court to equitably divide the land or force a settlement.
And some of the Finleys are gearing up for a fight.
“I don’t want to sell my family’s land. If I were to sell it, they would have to offer me a huge amount of money,” said Kay Moore, a Fairfield, Calif., woman who says Luminant offered her $3,000 for her piece of property, which the company says is 1/20 of the remainder.
“It belongs to me, and I’m not willing to part with that,” she added, recalling horseback riding trips and meals at Aunt Ida’s.
The company has acknowledged the family’s emotional ties to the land and said in a statement that it “strived for consistency from owner to owner to maintain our credibility. Most people found our offers to be more than fair.”
In many ways, the family’s story is about a way of life that disappeared long ago and a town 150 miles east of Dallas that has vanished into modernity.
Brushing the wispy white hairs from Ida Finley's forehead is her granddaughter, Jacquelin Finley — a force behind the battle against Luminant and for preserving something from those long-gone days. Still living on the property in a decaying trailer with patched siding, Jacquelin remembers Dirgin before Luminant’s predecessor built the nearby reservoir. This is where Ida Finley, known to her family simply as Big Momma, raised her children and grandchildren and buried her husband.
In the early 1800s, Dirgin, like much of East Texas, consisted of large cotton plantations worked by slaves. In 1865, when the Civil War ended, Union soldiers entered Texas for the first time. The slaves were freed, and some masters sold or gave them land.
Ida Finley says “Old Man Martin,” the master, gave her husband’s parents more than 100 acres. Luminant says its records show the family bought the land from two Confederate Army veterans. Either way, sometime in the late 1880s, the Finleys came to own land in Dirgin. Living alongside them were other former slave families: the Menefees, Humphreys, Petersons, Barrs and Reeses among them.
When those Finleys — Dick and Puss — died, they left no will, and the parcel was evenly divided among their five children, including Ida’s husband, Adolphus.
Ida and Adolphus lived in a small white house with a front porch and a backyard dotted with fruit trees and a basketball hoop. After the crops were harvested, the children played baseball in the cleared fields. On Sundays, they went to church — either in a wagon or by foot.
“It was the best of times,” said Jacquelin Finley, who went to live with her grandparents in the early 1960s, when she was a baby.
In the 1970s, life changed.
Just as Jacquelin Finley was bused from Mayflower Elementary to a newly desegregated school in nearby Tatum, Luminant’s predecessor moved into the area. It had its eye on a multimillion dollar prize hidden deep beneath the green grass and pine trees: a low grade of coal known as lignite. To profit from it, the company had to uproot trees and build a power plant.
The company bought land. Ida Finley remembers the pressure applied on her husband, who finally sold 9.5 acres for $1,000 — the equivalent today of just over $4,300.
Feeling duped, he spent his final years sitting on his front porch gazing bitterly at the nearby reservoir that had flooded his land. Barely two years later, he died.
“That bothered him all those years until he died,” Jacquelin Finley said. “That’s my anger. Do I have a right to be angry? Yes. I want to see them go down.”
Life went on, though. The power plant was built. People moved away. The church congregations shrunk. Some of the Finleys remained, including Ida and Jacquelin. The crops were gone, but Ida's little white house bustled.
Then, about three years ago, Luminant came knocking. The company needed to expand the mine to meet Texas’ growing energy demands.
The company said that because Ida’s husband died without a will, their children owned the land, and they had sold it to Luminant.
Under Texas law, when a landowner dies without a will, a surviving spouse receives the right to live on part of the land, but ownership passes to blood relatives, usually children.
Ida Finley, Luminant said, owned only the house, its porch now hanging forlornly near overgrown weeds, the steps broken and rotting. The quaint siding is broken and cracked. Looters scattered pictures, stuffed animals, Christmas ornaments, letters, shoes and clothing across the dusty floor, making off with more valuable items, like a refrigerator. Luminant says it offered Ida money for the home, but she declined.
Jacquelin Finley said Sunday that initially the company only offered her a new trailer but in recent days, through her mother, also offered an acre of land. Luminant denies that account, saying she only owns the trailer she lives in and that the company offered her a new trailer and an acre elsewhere toward the beginning of the negotiations. Either way, Jacquelin has declined to accept it, and doesn’t want to move. And for now Luminant can't force her.
Looking recently at the dirt patch and pile of rubble that remains of the Methodist church she attended as a child, Jacquelin said Luminant would have to give her at least $1 million to leave — enough, she estimates, to fix her grandmother’s house and care for her there.
“It’s like I’m going against the world, and they’re the world because they own everything,” she said.
August 29, 2013
By Eric E. Vickers
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American
If Islam is ever to be understood and appreciated by Americans, then Muslims will need to stop trying to convince them that it is a “religion of peace.” Having just completed my 35th Ramadan – the month of fasting – I find it neither representative of nor true to the faith to portray it in any way as passive.
If America is to reap the vitality that Islam can offer a society, then Americans will have to look beyond Muslim terrorists to see a religion that blossomed in a remarkably short span of time from one man’s vision in a cave to the world superpower that conquered the Persian and Byzantine empires and brought enlightenment to Europe. To understand this history as a continuing spiritual phenomenon, Americans will need to understand the religion’s founder, Muhammad, and the text he brought, the Qur’an.
The quote attributed to Jesus in the Book of Matthew provides an apt description of Muhammad’s life: “I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword.” It was 600 years after the time of Christ and during Ramadan – the ninth month in the Islamic (lunar) calendar – that Muhammad, a 40-year-old Arab businessman, while meditating in a cave about the greed and corruption in society, had a revelation that he was called to preach the oneness of God.
This brought him enmity from his fellow Arabs, who were polytheists; from the Christians who taught that Jesus was God; and from the Jews who rejected the prophecy of Jesus.
It also brought him intense enmity from the political and business leaders, who saw him as detrimental to Mecca remaining a hub of world commerce and were insulted by his message that their wealth and power was no match for God.
After 13 years of preaching the Qur’an, which Muhammad maintained was just him reciting the word revealed to him by God like previous prophets, his persecution in Mecca became such that he was forced to flee. He and a companion escaped to a cave just ahead of a group of assassins who had come to kill him, and during his 200- mile desert journey to the City of Medina his pursuers were uncannily thwarted.
In Medina, Muhammad established a community constituted on the Qur’an, whose 114 chapters, called Suras, were recited by him over a 23- year period. The Qur’an, which says throughout, that it is meant for all mankind, touches on every aspect of life, including property, marital, inheritance and contract rights, the manner of prayer, caring for the poor, and even how to argue with adversaries.
Sura VIII describes how two years after Muhammad and his followers had settled in Medina, God called them to go to war. It was Ramadan, and Muhammad’s ill-equipped army numbering 300 decisively and surprisingly defeated a vastly superior army of over a thousand, with the Ethiopian Muslim, Bilal, slaying on the battlefield his former slave master.
Muhammad Assad describes how the permanent psychological effect of this war has profoundly shaped history in his transliteration of the Qur’an:
“The spirit of passive sacrifice, so characteristic of their [Muslims’] earlier days, received its compliment in the idea of sacrifice through action,” Assad writes.
“The doctrine of action as the most fundamental, creative element of life was, perhaps for the first time in the history of man, consciously realized not only by a few select individuals but by a whole community; and the intense activism, which was to distinguish Muslim history in the coming decades and centuries was a direct, immediate consequence of the battle of Badr.”
What Americans need to understand is that since the battle of Badr 14 centuries ago, acting against injustice is dearer to a Muslim than peace.
Eric E. Vickers is a board member of the American Muslim Alliance.
By Xavier Higgs
LAWT Contributing Writer
As the nation paid tribute to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Southern California was able to commemorated iconic event in a unique way.
Using the Online Engagement Experience, PBS viewers were able to converse electronically while watching PBS. The 52-minute online event originated from the KOCE studio in Costa Mesa, CA. It gave online participants the opportunity to ask questions of a panel that included Bobby McDonald, President of the Black Chamber Orange County, Dr. Patricia Adelekan, retired educator, and Rev. Elmer Redding, Assistant Pastor Bryant Temple A.M.E. Church.
“We want to highlight the 50th Anniversary of the March, and remind people of that experience,” says McDonald.
He added that PBS SoCal wanted to use new technology to allow more people to be engaged.
Dr. Adelekan recalled meeting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who would often visit her hometown of Columbus, Ohio at the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church. She said it was during one of his visits in early 1963 he announced the plan for a March on Washington to bring to the attention a need for justice and equality for minorities in this country.
The scripted program seem to flow including the panel discussions, segments about the creation of the MLK Memorial on the Washington Memorial, as well as questions originating from a companion event at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles.
Rev. Redding and Dr. Adelekan attended the March on Washington in 1963. Both remembered how dissatisfied most African Americans were with the state of affairs in America.
Ironically, at that time, neither of them was fully aware of the historical significance of the March.
Rev. Redding was 11 years old, and was taking to the March by his father who insisted they attend.
“We push our way as close to the Lincoln Memorial as we could, says Rev. Redding.” They arrive just in time to hear Mahalia Jackson singing and just before Dr. Martin Luther King speech.
Cloves C. Campbell, Jr., is the Publisher of the Arizona Informant, a family owned and operated newspaper that provides an important voice for the African-American community in Arizona. This year it celebrates 42 years of publishing. Currently, he serves as Board Chair of the National Newspaper Publishers’ Association (NNPA). As a Phoenix native, his personal commitment and knowledge of the community in which he grew up shows throughout his work. Most recently, he served in the State House of Representatives for District 16 from 2007-2010 fulfilling duties on the Appropriations, Banking and Insurance, and House Ethics committees. With an extensive background in marketing communications, media/public relations and advertising sales, Cloves lent his expertise as Vice-Chair of Arizona African-American Democratic Caucus. He is also a board member of the following organizations: The George Washington Carver Museum Board, Roosevelt Foundation for Our Children’s Future, The Black Theatre Troupe, Arizona African American Legislative Days Coalition, Wells Fargo Community Advisory Board, Tanner Chapel A.M.E. Church Renaissance Committee and First Tee of Arizona. A lifetime member of the NAACP, Cloves was educated at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., and University of Virginia Darden School of Business Legislators Program. He and his wife of 22 years, Lanette, have three children: Daivon, Chanette, and Cloves III.
LAWT: Hi Cloves, thanks for the interview. Congratulations on being reelected Chairman of the NNPA!
Cloves Campbell: Thanks, Kam. It is truly an honor to be the Chairman of the premiere news organization in the world for black folks.
LAWT: How are things at the Informant?
CC: Things are going really well. We are celebrating 42 years of publishing.
LAWT: I really admired your dad and your uncle, and I think it’s great that you and Roland have not only built upon their vision, and that you run a photo of them in the paper every week. That touches me every time I see it, since they were such solid gentlemen and reminded me of my father who was from the same generation and also a WWII veteran.
CC: Thank you. I believe that it is important to remember the people that paved the way for you. They are definitely my role models. I think about them every day.
LAWT: How would you describe the primary mission of the Black Press?
CC: I believe that our mission is to deliver the news of and about the Black Community to our respective markets. The most important aspect our mission is that we deliver that news from the black perspective.
LAWT: What’s at the top of your agenda as you start your new term?
CC: My main focus will be, as it was two years ago, to continue to integrate the digital platform to our member papers’ portfolios. However, we still want to maintain our strong print presence, as well as to continue to reach out to younger readers.
LAWT: Do you consider mainstream papers as your competition?
CC: Not at all. Mainstream papers biggest competition is television. They are competing for the instant gratification customer. Black newspapers are a niche market and black consumers are now being targeted by major corporations for their dollars.
LAWT: Do you think the NNPA publications get their fair share of corporate advertising dollars?
CC: Definitely not! We have been making that argument for several decades. As a matter of fact, two years ago we partnered with the Nielsen Ratings Research Company to do a study of African-American consumers and it has been very useful in our advertising sales call and marketing efforts.
LAWT: What did you think of the Zimmerman verdict?
CC: Unfortunately, it was what I expected. Once we knew the makeup of the jury, the verdict was a forgone conclusion. Naturally, I am disappointed, but I honestly believe that this may be the wakeup call that this generation of black folks needs.
LAWT: Does Arizona have a “Stand Your Ground” law in effect right now?
CC: Yes we do. We are currently engaging with our legislature to review the law.
LAWT: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
CC: Well, probably really wanting a pair of cowboy boots. It is likely the reason why I wear them now so much!
LAWT: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
CC: “Uneven Lies” by Pete McDaniel.
LAWT: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
CC: “Jamaican Funk” by Tom Browne.
LAWT: What is your favorite dish to cook?
CC: Angel hair pasta with shrimp.
LAWT: The Mike Pittman question: What was your best career decision?
CC: Getting into the newspaper business, of course!
LAWT: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
CC: I would be able to fly. You saw Big Willy in the film Hancock!
LAWT: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
CC: The ability to listen.
LAWT: The Michael Ealy question: If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be?
CC: Frederick Douglass.
LAWT: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
CC: Treat everyone the same way you would want to be treated.
LAWT: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What is your favorite charity?
CC: The Arizona Informant Foundation. [Chuckles] I'm a little biased.
LAWT: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
CC: As a person who was always willing to help others.
LAWT: Thanks again for the time, Cloves, and best of luck with all your endeavors, brother.
CC: Thank you, Kam. I always look forward to reading your articles.
By Gregory Dale
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper
At the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, a host of dignitaries lined the stage situated at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Under clear blue skies, leaders discussed why they’re still marching a half century later.
Martin Luther King Jr. III took the stage roughly at 12:43 pm. In a tone that eerily mirrored his father’s, he discussed how America needs a new plan to provide jobs in the wake of a struggling economy.
He also called for the end of senseless violence around the country.
“My father [Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.] sought the blood of the community. No more Newtowns, no more Columbines and no more violence in Chicago,” he said. “We need to keep on walking, keep on talking and keep on educating.”
Shortly thereafter, National Action Network (NAN) leader Al Sharpton took the stage and opened by discussing the struggles Black participants in the ’63 march faced just to make it to the Nation’s Capital.
“Fifty years ago, some came to Washington and rode on the back of the bus. Some couldn’t stay in hotel rooms and had to sleep in cars,” he said.
He later urged generations young and old to come together and fight for injustices and social ills around the nation.
After Sharpton’s speech the crowd exploded in applause and cheers.
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