New Orleans– One of the great civil rights lawsuits in American history took center stage last week in a special event at Tulane University Law School (TLS) in New Orleans: “The People of Clarendon County”—A Play by Ossie Davis, & the Answer to Racism! The 1955 play by revered actor/activist, Ossie Davis, enacted by law students, dramatized the lives of the brave black parents who risked everything for an “equal” school bus.
Their lawsuit, Briggs v. Elliott, was the first legal challenge to unequal education, paving the way to the US Supreme Court’s historic ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in public schools. This event, a project of the not-for profit Alliance of Ethics & Art (AEA), is based on the book by journalist, Alice Bernstein, and features speakers–black, white, Latino, Christian and Jewish–who tell what they learned from Aesthetic Realism, the education founded in 1941 by the great American philosopher, Eli Siegel, enabling prejudice in themselves to change!
That understanding is in principles stated by Eli Siegel, which explain the cause of racism and every injustice: contempt, the “disposition in every person to think we will be for ourselves by making less of the outside world.” —And the answer: learning to criticize contempt, and to see another person’s feelings as real and as deep as our own. Aesthetic Realism states: “All beauty is a making one of opposites and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”
In his welcome, Dean David Meyer, said TLS was privileged to host this event, and he thanked the Black Law Students Association and Alternative Dispute Resolution Law Society for sponsoring it. Law Professor Edward Sherman, introduced the speakers by saying: this is a “very important event, presenting the interconnection between politics, ethics, art, and law, based on Aesthetic Realism,” with the focus on racism and “what we can do in terms of our own thought processes and education within our society to deal with it.”
A rapt audience heard Alice Bernstein tell of the research in 2004 leading her to “unearth” Ossie Davis’s almost forgotten 1955 manuscript, “The People of Clarendon County.” Astonished and delighted, Ossie Davis wanted his play to impact the fight against racism today, and urged her to bring it to print with essays on what Aesthetic Realism explains is the cause and solution to all prejudice.
The play was stirringly performed by Tulane and Loyola students: Erin Sanders, Victor Jones, Erica Zacharie, and W.B. Whitted, with musical accompaniment by soloist, Ebonee Davis.
Speaking with Ms. Bernstein on the answer to racism, were Dr. Jaime R. Torres, founder of Latinos for National Health Insurance; Allan Michael, the first African American maritime captain in New York harbor; and Dr. Arnold Perey, anthropologist and teacher educator on the faculty of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation. Elementary school educator, Monique Michael (born in Haiti), gave an interactive first grade science lesson on diversity in birds and humans, illustrating the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method’s power to bring out every child’s true intelligence and kindness.
Award-winning actor, Ruby Dee, wife of Ossie Davis, wrote:
“It moved my husband to think that…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 racism in the classroom.”
The Clarendon County/Answer to Racism event, now in its fourth year, has traveled across the country to schools, libraries, universities, and museums—free to the public—including in the U.S. Congressional Auditorium in Washington, DC. In each city, unsung heroes of civil rights in the community are introduced, showing history as alive!
The Tulane audience gratefully acknowledged the important work of : Nolan Rollins, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans; Lorenzo DuFau, World War II veteran and sailor on the USS Mason, the first naval ship manned by African Americans, whose courage inspired the film Proud, in which Ossie Davis himself played Mr. DuFau; Eddie Ponds, of Ponchatoula, publisher of The Drum newspaper, now celebrating 25 years of preserving history and current contributions of African Americans.
From Baton Rouge: Keith Beauchamp, filmmaker of The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, whose TV series, The Injustice Files, is opening opportunities for justice in 100 civil rights murder cases; Dr. Roberta Tyson who, with her late husband, Dr. Bertrand Tyson, were civil rights leaders, working closely with Dr. Martin Luther King and James Farmer of CORE. Bertrand Tyson was jailed 3 times. In the 1950s, Mrs. Tyson’s mother, Camille Shade, organized the integration of the Louisiana Library Association and worked to integrate the YWCA—bringing the matter to court—and won!
Mrs. Inez Anderson, with her late husband, Dupuy Anderson, worked in the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, which inspired Dr. King to take up the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Andersons survived the bombing of their home and cross burning on their lawn, and never gave up the fight.
And the little known civil rights activism of TLS Professor Edward Sherman was brought to light, including his role in the 1964 legal action which integrated restaurants in Juarez overnight!; how in 1965, he and his wife, Alice Sherman, joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s school integration efforts, teaching in a Freedom School in Crawfordsville, Georgia; and how, as a Teaching Fellow at Harvard Law School, Ed published an article arguing the case for northern attorneys having to be allowed temporary admission to represent blacks in civil rights cases in the South where black defendants couldn’t otherwise get a lawyer.
What audiences nationwide have expressed in comments following these events was confirmed at Tulane: the message of Aesthetic Realism resonates with people of all ages, and makes for new, wide, more just thinking about people different from oneself.
This event ended with a celebratory reception. “My gratitude is immeasurable,” Alice Bernstein said, “as all humanity’s will be, to Eli Siegel, founder of Aesthetic Realism, for the knowledge that can finally defeat the filth and poison of racism and replace them with true respect and kindness!”
To learn more, you may visit the website or call toll-free 888-262-5310.