IN REMEMBRANCE: 1-15-2017

 

JEWEL PLUMMER COBB, LED A CALIFORNIA CAMPUS

Jewel Plummer Cobb at her office at California State University, Fullerton, in 1988. The campus experienced a surge in growth during her tenure there. Credit California State University, Fullerton

Jewel Plummer Cobb, who became the first black woman to lead California State University, Fullerton, after being passed over for the presidency of Hunter College — a decision that led to accusations of racism and sexism against the City University of New York’s trustees — died on Jan. 1 at her home in Maplewood, N.J. She was 92.

Her son, Jonathan, said the cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

When Dr. Cobb was appointed president of Fullerton in 1981, she was widely reported to be the first black woman to head a major university in the western United States.

She had previously been a dean at Rutgers University and at Connecticut College in New London, and before that had taught biology and had studied melanoma and cell physiology at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y.

As president of Fullerton, Dr. Cobb oversaw a period of substantial growth as she aggressively pursued state and private financing. During her tenure, the university branch’s first on-campus housing was built; its schools of communication, computer science and engineering were established; and its enrollment increased. She retired in 1990.

Dr. Cobb arrived in Fullerton after being considered for the presidency of Hunter College, in Manhattan, in 1979 in a contentious atmosphere. She was dean of Douglass College at Rutgers at the time and would have been Hunter’s first black president had she been appointed to succeed Jacqueline G. Wexler, who was retiring after nearly a decade as the college’s president.

Initially, the CUNY trustees were also considering Robert S. Hirschfield, chairman of Hunter’s political science department, for the post.

Robert J. Kibbee, the CUNY chancellor, recommended Dr. Cobb, but faculty members, students and alumni preferred Dr. Hirschfield, a popular figure on campus. Unable to choose between the two, and with classes resuming, the trustees in September appointed an acting president.

They also began to consider other candidates, including Donna E. Shalala, the assistant United States housing secretary, and Clyde H. Wingfield, executive vice president of the University of Miami.

An outcry ensued. Supporters of Dr. Hirschfield said he had been overlooked against the wishes of the Hunter community. Supporters of Dr. Cobb, including black civic groups and a group of female scientists, argued that she had been rejected because of racism and sexism. They organized a protest at the college and circulated a petition to academics around New York City seeking to have her appointed.

The decision rankled Dr. Cobb, and she eventually went to California.

Once at Fullerton, she pushed for greater inclusion of minorities and women in science, technology, engineering and math and helped increase minority enrollment.

Jewel Isadora Plummer was born in Chicago on Jan. 17, 1924. Her paternal grandfather was born into slavery and became a pharmacist after being freed. Her father, Frank V. Plummer, was a doctor, and her mother, the former Caribelle Cole, was a physical education teacher.

Dr. Cobb was taught from a young age not to let her race or gender hinder her ambition.

“I was raised to think that no career was out of bounds,” she once said. “It was always understood that my friends and I would go to college.”

After graduating from high school, she attended the University of Michigan but, because black students were not allowed to live on campus there at the time, soon transferred to historically black Talladega College in Alabama.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, then received a fellowship to New York University, where she was awarded a master’s degree and, in 1950, a doctorate in cell biology. She returned to Chicago, where she taught and headed the tissue culture laboratory at the University of Illinois.

In 1954 she married Roy R. Cobb and moved east, eventually becoming a biology professor at Sarah Lawrence. The marriage ended in divorce.

Dr. Cobb was a dean at Connecticut College from 1969 to 1976, when she accepted the position at Douglass College.

After retiring from Fullerton, she was president emeritus at California State University, Los Angeles, until 2004, when she returned to the East Coast.

In addition to her son, she is survived by a granddaughter.

Dr. Cobb received numerous honorary degrees and other honors, and Douglass and Fullerton both named student housing for her. The Fullerton building that bears her name was the campus’s first student residence.

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WILLIAM PETER BLATTY, AUTHOR OF ‘THE EXORCIST’

Novelist and filmmaker William Peter Blatty, a former Jesuit school valedictorian who conjured a tale of demonic possession and gave millions the fright of their lives with the best-selling novel and Oscar-winning movie “The Exorcist,” has died. He was 89.

Blatty died Thursday at a hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, where he lived, his widow, Julie Alicia Blatty, told The Associated Press. The cause of death was multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, she said.

Inspired by an incident that unfolded in St. Louis and Washington, D.C., that Blatty had read about while in college, “The Exorcist” was published in 1971, followed two years later by the film of the same name. Blatty’s story of a 12-year-old-girl inhabited by a satanic force spent more than a year on The New York Times fiction best-seller list and eventually sold more than 10 million copies. It reached a far wider audience through the movie version, directed by William Friedkin, produced and written by Blatty and starring Linda Blair as the young, bedeviled Regan.

William Peter Blatty

“RIP William Peter Blatty, who wrote the great horror novel of our time,” Stephen King tweeted Friday. “So long, Old Bill.”

Even those who thought they had seen everything had never seen anything like the R-rated “The Exorcist” and its assault of vomit, blood, rotting teeth, ghastly eyes and whirlwind head-spinning — courtesy of makeup and special effects maestro Dick Smith. Fans didn’t care that Vincent Canby of The New York Times found it a “chunk of elegant occultist claptrap,” or that the set burned down during production. They stood for hours in freezing weather for the winter release and kept coming even as the movie, with its omnipresent soundtrack theme, Mike Oldfield’s chilly, tingly “Tubular Bells,” cast its own disturbing spell.

From around the world came reports of fainting, puking, epileptic fits, audience members charging the screen and waving rosary beads, and, in England, a boy committing murder and blaming “The Exorcist.” The Rev. Billy Graham would allege that the film’s very celluloid was evil.

“I was standing in the back of a theater in New York at the first public press screening of the film, too nervous to sit down,” Blatty told IGN.com in 2000. “And along came a woman who got up in about the fifth or sixth row. A young woman, who started walking up the aisle, slowly at first. She had her hand to her head. And then I could see her lips moving. She got close enough, and I could hear her murmuring, ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.’”

Named the scariest movie of all time by Entertainment Weekly, “The Exorcist” topped $400 million worldwide at the box office, among the highest at the time for an R-rated picture. Oscar voters also offered rare respect for a horror film: “The Exorcist” was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and received two, for best sound and Blatty’s screenplay. Imitations, parodies and sequels were inevitable, whether the Leslie Nielsen spoof “Repossessed”; the four subsequent “Exorcist” movies (only one of which, “The Exorcist III,” involved Blatty) or a stage version performed in 2012 at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.

Photo poster of The Exorcist

“When I was writing the novel I thought of it as a super-natural detective story, and to this day I cannot recall having a conscious intention to terrifying anybody, which you may take, I suppose, as an admission of failure on an almost stupefying scale,” Blatty told The Huffington Post in 2011.

Blatty returned to the “Exorcist” setting in “Legion,” which he adapted into “The Exorcist III.” He also revised a novel from the 1960s, “Twinkle, Twinkle, ‘Killer Kane”‘; renamed it “The Ninth Configuration” and wrote and directed a 1980 film version that brought Blatty a Golden Globe for best screenplay. In 2011, he worked in a new scene for a reissue of the 1971 novel, originally acquired by Bantam Books for a reported $250,000. More recently, Fox announced it would revive the story as a TV series, starring Geena Davis.

Blatty was married four times and had eight children.

“He was an absolutely wonderful, kind, generous, faith-filled man, and I was very blessed to be his wife,” Julie Blatty said.

The son of Lebanese immigrants, Blatty was born in New York City and remembered a childhood of unpaid bills and nonstop evasion of rent collectors. He was a scholarship student at the Jesuit high school Brooklyn Preparatory (future Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was a year behind) and graduated as class valedictorian. He received another scholarship to attend Georgetown University and earned a master’s in English literature from George Washington University.

As recounted in his memoir “I’ll Tell Them I Remember You,” he took many detours on his journey to the top. He sold vacuum cleaners, drove a beer truck, served in the Air Force, was stationed in Beirut by the United States Information Agency, tried and failed to get stories published in Collier’s, and auditioned for a role in Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic “The Ten Commandments.” He alleged that he was turned down because his eyes were blue.

For much of the 1960s, he turned out screenplays, including for the Blake Edwards films “A Shot in the Dark” and “What Did You Do In the War, Daddy?” By the end of the decade, he was in a state of “financial desperation” and finally got around to a novel he had been thinking about for years. He had remembered a Washington Post report from the late 1940s: A 14-year-old boy from Maryland was reportedly possessed, his condition defined by a visiting Duke University official as “the most impressive example of poltergeist phenomena I have ever come across.”

“Like so many Catholics, I’ve had so many little battles of wavering faith over the course of my life,” Blatty, who would allege numerous mysterious events while working on the book, told IGN.com.

“And when I heard about this case and read the details, that seemed so compelling. I thought, ‘My God, if someone were to investigate this and authenticate it, what a tremendous boost to faith it would be.’ I thought, ‘Someday I would like to see that happen. You know, I would like to do it.’”

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LAURIE CARLOS, ACTRESS IN ‘FOR COLORED GIRLS’

Laurie Carlos, center, performing with Jessica Hagedorn, left, and Deborah Artman in 1987. Credit Alan Kikuchi.

Laurie Carlos, an actor who appeared in the original production of Ntozake Shange’s acclaimed poetic drama “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf” and a playwright whose work expressed the inner lives of black women in the United States, died on Dec. 29 in St. Paul. She was 67.

The cause was colon cancer, her daughter, Ambersunshower Smith, said.

Ms. Carlos joined the cast of “Colored Girls” in 1975 when it was gestating at bars on the Lower East Side. She followed it on its journey from the New Federal Theater to the Public Theater to the Booth Theater on Broadway, and onward to a television adaptation seen on the PBS series “American Playhouse” in 1982.

As the Lady in Blue, she was one of seven characters telling stories of love, loss and the patriarchy in a fusion of dance and declamation that Ms. Shange called a “choreopoem.” Ms. Carlos enacted the poetic monologues “Abortion Cycle #1,” “I Used to Live in the World” and “No More Love Poems #3” and appeared in ensemble pieces throughout the play.

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In 1977 The Village Voice gave an Obie Award to Ms. Carlos and the rest of the cast, as well as to Ms. Shange and the play’s director, Oz Scott.

After appearing in Ms. Shange’s “Spell #7” and Edgar White’s “Les Femmes Noir” at the Public Theater, Ms. Carlos branched out into writing, directing and performance art. Her plays “Nonsectarian Conversations With the Dead” (1985), “Organdy Falsetto” (1987) and “White Chocolate for My Father” (1990) were abstract, associative dramas that fused politics and poetry as they delineated the predicaments of black women.

She was born Laurie Dorothea Smith on Jan. 25, 1949, in Manhattan, and grew up in public housing on Avenue D on the Lower East Side. Her father, Walter, was a drummer. Her mother, the former Mildred Randall, was a postal worker.

In Ms. Smith’s early teens she began acting with Mobilization for Youth, a social-services agency on the Lower East Side. After graduating from the High School for the Performing Arts, she studied with Lloyd Richards at the Negro Ensemble Company, where she worked as an usher.

Harry Belafonte noticed her work and hired her to train as a casting agent at his production company, Belafonte Enterprises.

She took the name Carlos from a man with whom she had a short romantic relationship. His full name is unknown. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by three sisters, Donna, Riki and Neveley Smith; a half sister, Tanya Foster; three half brothers, Warren and Walter Smith and Iya Mariano Malango; and three grandchildren.

In the late 1980s Ms. Carlos joined Robbie McCauley and Jessica Hagedorn to form Thought Music, a performance-art group that created the updated minstrel show “Teenytown” at Franklin Furnace in 1988.

Ms. Carlos won two New York Dance and Performance Awards, also known as the Bessies. The first came in 1989 for her performance in the two-part multimedia production “Heat,” which she directed with Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, the founder of the dance company Urban Bush Women. In 1993 she was given a Bessie as creator and choreographer of “White Chocolate for My Father,” presented at Performance Space 122.

In 1998, Ms. Carlos moved to St. Paul to become an artistic fellow with the Penumbra Theater Company. She played an important role in encouraging new playwrights and performers through Naked Stages, a fellowship program based at the Pillsbury House Theater, and through the theater’s Late Nite Series, which featured new work by artists from New York and Minnesota.

She gave her final performance this past fall at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater in St. Paul, narrating “Queen,” a play about gun violence and the Black Lives Matter movement.

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ROY INNIS, BLACK ACTIVIST WITH A RIGHT-WING BENT

Roy Innis, a go-it-alone activist, disdained desegregation efforts. In 1972, he discussed his opposition to busing at a news conference. Credit Bettmann

Roy Innis, the autocratic national leader of the Congress of Racial Equality since 1968, whose right-wing views on affirmative action, law enforcement, desegregation and other issues put him at odds with many black Americans and other civil rights leaders, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 82.

The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, a statement from CORE said.

In a stormy career marked by radical rhetoric, shifting ideologies, legal and financial troubles and quixotic runs for office, Mr. Innis led CORE through changes that mirrored his own evolution from black-power militancy in the 1960s to staunch conservatism resembling a modern Republican political platform.

He came to prominence after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young and James Farmer had taken command of the civil rights movement and did not share their commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience. Nor did he embrace CORE’s pioneering roles in desegregation — school boycotts, sit-ins, Freedom Rides through the South and voter registration drives that led to the murders of the activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Mississippi in 1964.

Though court decisions and new laws banned discrimination in education, employment and public accommodations, Mr. Innis was disillusioned by that progress, saying integration robbed black people of their heritage and dignity. He pronounced it “dead as a doornail,” proclaimed CORE “once and for all a black nationalist organization” and declared “all-out war” on desegregation.

Under his black-power banner, which Mr. Innis called “pragmatic nationalism,” he purged whites from CORE’s staff and allowed the organization’s white membership to wither. He espoused segregated schools to encourage black achievement, black self-help groups, black business enterprises and community control of the police, fire, hospital, sanitation and other services in poor black neighborhoods.

But most black Americans regarded black power as too radical, and the creation of separate black institutions in America too remote.

In 1968, Mr. Innis, second from right, was chosen as national director of the Congress of Racial Equality. Credit Bettmann

In the early 1970s, Mr. Innis toured Africa, visiting Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, Julius Nyerere in Tanzania and Idi Amin in Uganda. He made Amin a life member of CORE and predicted that he would lead a “liberation army to free those parts of Africa still under the rule of white imperialists.” He later urged black Vietnam veterans to assist anti-Communist forces fighting in Angola.

As his black nationalism converged with his increasingly conservative politics, Mr. Innis supported Richard M. Nixon for president in 1968 and 1972, and Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s. Blacks voted overwhelmingly against both men, but Mr. Innis sided with them in clashes with civil rights leaders who criticized their records. Mr. Innis urged both presidents to reach out to blacks directly and urged blacks to join the Republican Party.

In 1981, after New York State accused him of illegal fund-raising and of misusing $500,000 of CORE’s money, Mr. Innis admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to repay $35,000 and accept tighter financial controls. In 1986, the Internal Revenue Service accused him of failing to report $116,000 in income. He did not contest the accusations and was assessed $56,000 in back taxes and $28,000 in civil penalties.

Mr. Innis survived lawsuits and efforts by CORE members to depose him. But as its membership declined, CORE increasingly aligned itself with corporations, including Monsanto and Exxon Mobil. Their donations became a primary source of funds, while CORE lent its support to their causes.

Mr. Innis acknowledged that his loss of two sons to gun violence in New York — Roy Jr., 13, in 1968, and Alexander, 26, in 1982 — influenced his decision to oppose gun control and defend citizens’ rights to carry arms in self-defense. He became a life member and a director of the National Rifle Association.

In 1984, Mr. Innis ardently supported Bernard H. Goetz, the white gunman who shot four black youths in a subway confrontation that he called an attempted mugging and that they called panhandling. The episode, with Mr. Goetz cast as a vigilante, came to symbolize New Yorkers’ frustration with soaring crime rates. A jury found him guilty only of carrying an unlicensed firearm.

Mr. Innis supported Robert H. Bork’s Supreme Court nomination by President Reagan in the late ’80s and Clarence Thomas’s nomination by President George Bush in the early ’90s. Both were Federal Appeals Court jurists for the District of Columbia who said they favored interpreting the Constitution in light of its framers’ intentions. The Senate rejected Judge Bork but approved Judge Thomas.

Mr. Innis tended to make his alliances with the political right. In 2005, he threw his support behind Samuel A. Alito Jr., who had been nominated to the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush.Credit Lauren Victoria Burke/Associated Press

A favorite of conservative talk shows, Mr. Innis twice engaged in televised scuffles in 1988. On “The Morton Downey Jr. Show,” he erupted at challenges to his leadership and shoved the Rev. Al Sharpton to the floor. On “Geraldo,” he choked John Metzger of the White Aryan Resistance, who had called him an “Uncle Tom,” and the host, Geraldo Rivera, suffered a broken nose in the ensuing brawl.

In 1993, Mr. Innis challenged David N. Dinkins, New York’s first black mayor, in the Democratic mayoral primary. Mr. Innis pledged to fight homelessness by separating “the indolent from the indigent,” and to “give a voice to the silent majority in both the white and black communities.” Mr. Dinkins trounced him and narrowly lost the general election to Rudolph W. Giuliani, who ran on both the Republican and Liberal lines, and whom Mr. Innis supported.

In recent years, CORE’s membership declined, and while the organization continued to fight discrimination in jobs and housing and to provide training for single parents on welfare, critics said it no longer played a major role in civil rights and had become an ally of corporations and interests alien to its original charter.

Roy Emile Alfredo Innis was born on June 6, 1934, in St. Croix, the United States Virgin Islands, to Alexander and Georgianna Thomas Innis. His father, a police officer, died when Roy was 6. He moved to New York with his mother in 1946.

He attended Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan but dropped out at 16 to join the Army. When it was discovered that he was underage, he was sent home. He graduated from Stuyvesant in 1952, studied chemistry at City College of New York until 1958, then worked as a research chemist for Vicks Chemical Company and Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx.

Mr. Innis rarely spoke of his family, about which little is known. He lived in Harlem and was married several times, and the statement from CORE listed 10 children — Cedric, Winston, Kwame, Niger, Kimathi, Mugabe, Arenza, Lydia, Patricia and Corinne — and “a host of grandchildren.”

“In America today,” Mr. Innis told a national CORE convention, “there are two kinds of black people: the field-hand blacks and the house niggers. We of CORE — the nationalists — are the field-hand blacks. The integrationists of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are house niggers.”

The reaction was explosive, and it set the tone for decades of strife.

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