REV. T.J. JEMISON, CIVIL RIGHTS PIONEER
By PAUL VITELLO
Published: November 22, 2013
- The Rev. T. J. Jemison, a civil rights pioneer who organized a 1953 bus boycott in Baton Rouge, La., that foreshadowed the one set off by Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Ala., and who went on to lead the nation’s largest black Baptist organization into liberal political activism, died on Nov. 15 in Baton Rouge. He was 95.
Rev. T. J. Jemison, center, was known for his political skills in the early days of the civil rights struggle.
His son, Theodore J. Jemison Jr., confirmed the death.
Mr. Jemison was one of a handful of black clergymen recognized as a leader of the first generation of the civil rights movement. He was a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, along with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Rev. Ralph Abernathy and the Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth.
As president of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A. from 1982 to 1994, Mr. Jemison ushered into being the World Baptist Center in Nashville, the first national headquarters of a predominantly black church in the United States. But in 1991 he lost much of his church-based support by speaking out in defense of the boxer Mike Tyson after he was charged with rape.
Mr. Jemison was known for his political skills in the early days of the civil rights struggle, displaying a mix of charm and toughness that served him well in leading what historians say was apparently the movement’s first large-scale bus boycott.
Appointed pastor of the Mount Zion First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge in 1949, Mr. Jemison led voter registration efforts, beginning in 1950, that resulted in improved municipal services and the construction of a dozen new schools for black citizens.
In 1953 he persuaded the Baton Rouge City Council to abolish a public transportation rule barring blacks from sitting in the first 10 rows of public buses. When bus drivers went on strike to protest the change, Mr. Jemison led an eight-day boycott, starting on June 20.
Blacks accounted for 80 percent of the city’s bus ridership, and they were tired of having to stand up while some or even all of the first 10 rows went empty, Mr. Jemison said. “We were not necessarily interested at that time in ending segregation,” he said in an interview in 1993. “We were after seats.”
The dispute ended in a compromise: Only the first two rows would be reserved for whites.
Dr. King, the young pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, contacted Mr. Jemison in late 1954 for advice on managing a citywide bus boycott.
“Knowing that Jemison and his associates had set up an effective private car pool, I put in a long-distance telephone call to ask him for suggestions for a similar pool in Montgomery,” Dr. King wrote in a 1958 memoir, “Stride Toward Freedom.” Mr. Jemison’s tutorial was “invaluable” in winning that fight, Dr. King added.
The yearlong Montgomery bus boycott, set off by Ms. Parks’s refusal to give up her seat to a white person, was the beginning of the end of separate-but-equal accommodations in the South.
The National Baptist Convention, with 26,000 member congregations and seven million congregants, had been a nonpolitical organization when Mr. Jemison was elected president in 1982 (his father, the Rev. David Jemison, had been president from 1940 to 1953). But Mr. Jemison quickly began staking out firm, liberal positions on race-related issues, accusing President Ronald Reagan of giving “respectability to racism,” supporting the presidential candidacies of the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 and, in 1991, opposing the Persian Gulf war, which he called “a fight over oil.”
When Desiree Washington, an 18-year-old Miss Black America contestant, accused Mr. Tyson of rape in 1991, Mr. Jemison described him as a victim of racial stereotyping, prompting other church leaders and women’s groups to criticize his support as insensitive to Ms. Washington. They also accused of him of being prejudiced by Mr. Tyson’s offer (never received) of $5 million toward the building of the convention’s $12 million headquarters in Nashville.
Mr. Tyson was convicted and served three years of a six-year prison sentence.
Mr. Jemison was later indicted, though never tried, on federal perjury charges in connection with an alleged attempt to bribe Ms. Washington to drop the charges.
After stepping down as president of the Baptist convention in 1994, he told interviewers that he was especially proud of his role in building the group’s headquarters because it fulfilled a dream of his father’s.
Theodore Judson Jemison was born on Aug. 1, 1918, in Selma, Ala., the youngest of the six children of Henrietta and David Jemison. His father was also the pastor of Selma’s Tabernacle Baptist Church. The younger Mr. Jemison attended segregated public schools and graduated from the historically black Alabama State University in Montgomery before earning a divinity degree at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Va.
He remained the pastor of the Mount Zion First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge for 54 years. He retired in 2003.
Besides his son, Mr. Jemison is survived by two daughters, Dianne Jemison Pollard and Betty Jane Wagner, and nine grandchildren. His wife, Celestine Catlett Jemison, died in 2006.
Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religion and African studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Jemison’s contributions to the civil rights cause were never widely known primarily as a result of a decision he made in 1961 as secretary of the Baptist convention.
That year, the group’s president, the Rev. Joseph H. Jackson, and Dr. King were bitterly divided over the organization’s role in the civil rights struggle; Mr. Jackson opposed involving the church in it, and Mr. Jemison sided with him.
His decision secured his place in the church hierarchy — he remained secretary for the next two decades — but forced him to reduce his role in the movement, though he said he disagreed with Mr. Jackson’s views and would eventually change the organization’s policies after succeeding Mr. Jackson in 1982.
“It’s felt that he had a sense of loyalty to the organization because of his father’s association with it,” Professor Butler said.
MAVIS BATEY, ALLIED CODE BREAKER IN WORLD WAR II
Published: November 22, 2013
- After Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, Mavis Lever, an 18-year-old British university student, volunteered to be an army nurse. Instead, because of her expertise in the German language, she was referred to the intelligence services.
Mavis Batey with a German Enigma code-scrambling machine. She was assigned to one of the war’s most secret operations.
“This is going to be an interesting job,” she recalled thinking, “Mata Hari seducing Prussian officers.”
But playing the role of temptress was not what the military had in mind for her. She was assigned to one of World War II’s most secret and important operations, an ambitious Allied effort to decipher secret codes used by the Axis powers — chiefly Nazi Germany’s mind-boggling one, aptly given the name Enigma. She was ordered to report to the unit’s headquarters, at Bletchley Park, a Victorian estate in southeastern England.
There, Miss Lever — one of the few women in the operation — was critical to at least two major successes in the war effort, including a British victory at sea in the Battle of Cape Matapan, off the coast of Greece, in March 1941, when an Italian convoy was ambushed and three heavy cruisers and two destroyers carrying 3,000 sailors were sunk.
When asked years later, after she had married and became Mavis Batey, she could hardly say why she, while still a teenager, was chosen for such a top-secret enterprise. But she did know that Dillwyn Knox, known as Dilly, a top code breaker at Bletchley Park, selected her for his team. In a largely masculine environment, Mr. Knox, an eccentric classicist by training, liked to hire women, especially pretty ones, and give them considerable responsibility.
Whatever the case, Mrs. Batey, who died on Nov. 12 at 92, more than justified her selection. The evening of the Cape Matapan success, John Godfrey, director of naval intelligence, called Mr. Knox at home and left a message: “Tell Dilly that we have won a great victory in the Mediterranean, and it is entirely due to him and his girls.”
The team at Bletchley Park — 12,000 people, including Americans, worked there at one time or another during the war — was composed, among others, of mathematicians, linguists, crossword mavens and an assortment of acknowledged eccentrics. Its existence was kept secret until the mid-1970s. Sir Francis Harry Hinsley, official historian of British intelligence during World War II, has said that the operation’s code-cracking work shortened the war by two or more years.
One of its chief challenges was decoding messages scrambled by what the Allies called Enigma machines. The device, used by the Germans and other Axis powers and resembling an oversize typewriter, used a series of electrical rotors to scramble messages in an astronomical number of ways; each letter could appear in more than 150 million million million permutations.
The messages, sent by radio using Morse code, were intercepted by spies and sent to Bletchley Park, where code breakers had access to their own Enigma machines, originally obtained by Poles and given to the British. A principal tool they used was a computerlike device, made by the genius mathematician Alan Turing, connecting a series of Enigma machines.
But Mr. Knox preferred to work through linguistic cues, which required thinking in sometimes counterintuitive ways. In his book “Enigma: The Battle for the Code” (2000), Hugh Sebag-Montefiore wrote that a question Mr. Knox asked potential recruits was which way the hands of a clock go around. Everyone, of course, said clockwise. A delighted Mr. Knox would reply, “Not if you’re inside the clock.”
One of Mrs. Batey’s hunches that proved accurate in deciphering code allowed the British to read a long, detailed message on Italian naval plans in the Mediterranean, paving the way for the Cape Matapan victory. The plans, she recalled, revealed “how many cruisers there were, and how many submarines were to be there, and where they were to be at such and such a time.”
“Absolutely incredible that they should spell it all out,” she said.
In December 1941, Mrs. Batey collaborated with her colleague Margaret Rock to decipher a small segment of a message by the German secret service. Not until years later did they know the effect: It helped British spies to learn that German generals believed that Allied forces would invade at Calais, France, not Normandy, on D-Day in June 1944.
Making a play on the names of his code breakers, Mr. Knox said, “Give me a Lever and a Rock and I will move the universe.”
Mavis Lilian Lever was born on May 5, 1921, in South London to a postal worker and a seamstress. Inspired by a vacation to Germany with her parents, she went on to study German Romanticism at University College, London.
But when the war broke out and she was assigned to intelligence duty, any thoughts of working as a spy were quickly dispelled. “I don’t think my legs or my German were good enough,” she told the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph in 2001, “because they sent me to the Government Code and Cipher School,” the official name for the Bletchley Park operation. It was also called Ultra and Station X.
At Bletchley Park, she fell in love with another code breaker, Keith Batey. They married in 1942. Mr. Batey, who died in 2010, went on to be the chief financial officer at Oxford.
And Mrs. Batey went on to write books about Mr. Knox and the experience of Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, as a code breaker at Bletchley Park. A longtime president of Britain’s Garden History Society, she also wrote books on the landscapes of Jane Austen and the gardens of Oxford.
Her survivors include her daughters, Elizabeth and Deborah; her son, Christopher; and several grandchildren. The children knew nothing of their mother’s wartime exploits until files about the Bletchley Park operation were declassified.
In the 2001 movie “Enigma,” Kate Winslet at least partly molded her portrayal of the code breaker Heather Wallace on Mrs. Batey, with whom she had tea before shooting the film. Like Mrs. Batey, the Heather character falls in love with another code breaker and marries him.
Some Bletchley Park veterans criticized the film as inauthentic. Mrs. Batey’s criticism was that its women appeared “scruffy” compared with the originals. As she told another British newspaper, The Daily Record, in 2008, “We borrowed each other’s pearls, so we always looked nice.”
THOMAS REES, PLASTIC SURGEON WHO TREATED AFRICA
Published: November 22, 2013
- Dr. Thomas D. Rees, an innovative New York plastic surgeon who helped found the Flying Doctors Service of East Africa, a charity that employs a fleet of small planes to provide medical care and save lives deep in the African bush, died on Nov. 14 at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 86.
Dr. Thomas D. Rees, a New York plastic surgeon, on an outreach mission with his neediest patients, in Africa in an undated photo.
His daughter, S. Elizabeth Rees, said the cause was liver cancer.
New York magazine once referred to Dr. Rees as “one of the fathers of aesthetic surgery in New York,” and he is credited with helping to elevate cosmetic surgery from something one did not really discuss to almost a status symbol. “Teenagers were given a ‘Rees nose’ for Christmas,” he wrote in 1993.
But it was in Africa that he found his neediest patients, an endeavor inspired by a trip he took there in 1956 while on a fellowship in London. A colleague with a farm in Tanzania had invited him down for the warm sun and the chance to see African wildlife.
But while there, as he related in a memoir, he found himself treating a warrior holding his intestines in place with an old blanket after being gored by a charging rhino. Dr. Rees had few instruments with him and no general anesthetic, no antibiotics and no blood plasma. He also had no choice but to operate on the man immediately; there was to be no plane service for a medical evacuation until the next day. The man survived.
“I wasn’t sure why, but I knew my life’s direction had been permanently altered” by the experience, Dr. Rees wrote in the memoir, “Daktari: A Surgeon’s Adventures With the Flying Doctors of East Africa,” published in 2002.
He went on to join Dr. Michael Wood and Dr. Archibald McIndoe in 1957 to found the Flying Doctors. It now operates in 11 countries, offering, among other services, emergency care, vaccinations, surgery to repair congenital deformities and airlift evacuations of critically ill patients.
The Flying Doctors’ founders also set up an umbrella organization called the African Medical and Research Foundation, which has become one of Africa’s largest public health initiatives. In 2005, it was awarded the Gates Award for Global Health.
Dr. Rees wrote 140 medical articles and six medical texts, including “Aesthetic Plastic Surgery,” a two-volume standard. In an interview on Tuesday, Dr. Sherrell Aston, the chairman of the plastic surgery department of Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, called Dr. Rees “one of the true giants in the specialty.”
Dr. Aston said that Dr. Rees, himself a former chairman of the hospital’s plastic surgery department, was one of the first to “openly teach plastic surgery to other plastic surgeons” in the late 1960s and ’70s. To polish his profession’s image, he also seized opportunities to speak to the news media, an activity more conservative physicians disdained.
“There was a time when cosmetic surgery was looked at as being rather frivolous,” Dr. Aston said.
Thomas Dee Rees was born in Nephi, Utah, on Feb. 3, 1927. His father, Don, was head of the biology and zoology departments at the University of Utah, which Thomas entered at 16. He graduated in an accelerated course when he was 19 and earned his medical degree two years later. He served two stints as a Navy officer, one in 1945 and the other in 1957-58.
Dr. Rees trained in general and plastic surgery at the Genesee Hospital in Rochester and New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan. He was then chosen for a prestigious fellowship in London with Dr. McIndoe, who had advanced plastic surgery with ingenious treatments for injured British airmen during World War II. Dr. McIndoe worked with his cousin Dr. Harold Gillies, considered the father of plastic surgery.
It was during Dr. Rees’s fellowship in 1956 that Dr. McIndoe said he was planning his annual visit to Africa, where he had a farm near Mount Kilimanjaro. He asked Dr. Rees to come along, and maybe see some animals.
“Archie said it was time to escape the beastly English winter and feel the warmth of the African sun,” Dr. Rees wrote.
There, they met up with Dr. Wood, a colleague from London, who was just starting a plastic surgery practice covering a huge section of East Africa by air. Within five years, the organization they founded had drawn support from Albert Schweitzer, the Aga Khan, Edward R. Murrow and Arthur Godfrey, the radio and television personality, who donated its first plane.
For many years, Dr. Rees spent a month in Africa every year, his daughter said.
Dr. Rees was a professor at the New York University School of Medicine and a former president of the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. He organized an annual symposium that attracts more than 1,000 plastic surgeons from around the world. This year’s event is scheduled for the first week of December.
Dr. Rees’s wife of 63 years, the former Natalie Bowes, an early fashion model with the Ford agency known as Nan Rees, died last year. His son David died in 1990. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his son Thomas Jr. and his brother, J. Richard.
Dr. Rees retired to Santa Fe in the mid-1980s because of osteoarthritis. He became a sculptor, finding inspiration in African people and animals.