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Everyday people just as much a part of black history as Martin Luther King.
ASU professor's yearlong project looks at everyday lives of blacks in America.
February 23, 2017

'Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers' helps create more complete picture of U.S. history

We’ve all heard of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Malcolm X.

But what about Juanita Blocker, Bayard Rustin, Chrystal Tulli, Ralph Bunche, Francois Andre, Connie Morgan, Toni Stone, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, Eddie O'Jay, Arna Bontemps, Marsha P. Johnson, Victoria DeLee, Henry Armstrong, Sam Hose, Shirley Chisolm, Audre Lorde, Hazel Scott, Lorraine Hansberry, Marian Anderson, Benny Mason, Claudia Jones, Darwin Turner, Welford Wilson, Dollree Map, Pat Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Claudette Colvin, Irvin C. Miller, Marcus Garvey, Amy Ashwood Garvey, Ken Pressley, Ora Washington, Blanche Thompson, George Wilson Becton, Robert S. Pious, Clara Luper, Satchel Paige, Melba Moore, Josh Gibson and Phillis Wheatley?

These lesser-known — and in some cases even ordinary — people are just as much a part of black history, and each played a role in shaping the narrative of black life in America.

“Absolutely you should know about Rosa Parks, absolutely you should know about Martin Luther King,” but the fact is that there are and were amazing black people and communities everywhere, Arizona State University history professor Matthew DelmontMatthew Delmont was recently named the director of ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. said. Making an effort to learn more about what that looks like on an everyday basis, he added, “can help you re-envision what American history looks like.”

That was the impetus behind Delmont’s yearlong digital history project, Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers. Each day for a year, beginning on Martin Luther King Day in 2016, he posted a historical article from a black newspaper on the project website, sometimes tweeting them out as well. The articles featured everyday stories of black people in America.

The idea was to treat black history as a yearly subject — as Delmont put it, “black history 365.” One of his goals with Black Quotidian was to address how relegating black history to a single month makes it difficult to change the mainstream narrative of black life in America.

“You can only do so much in a month, but if you treat this as something that we should be approaching daily, it allows you to talk about everyday stories of black history and everyday stories of African-American life,” he said.

ASU Foundation Professor of English Neal Lester agrees. In his American literature course, Lester teaches black writers, including Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, as part of American canon, instead of separating them into their own category. To do that, Lester said, would suggest to him “that people don’t quite see this as a necessary part to be integrated into the fabric of the everyday. That somehow, it still needs to be teased out and separated.”

Before there was Black History Month, there was Negro History Week, established in 1926 at the behest of historian Carter G. Woodson. It was a “groundswell” movement, Delmont said, with black newspapers encouraging readers to write to Woodson for pamphlets on black history.

The reason behind Woodson’s and other historians’ and intellectuals’ push for the holiday was two-fold: First, at the time, there was almost total exclusion and distortion of black history being taught in schools — exclusion in that there was no mention of black people with any agency, like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas, and distortion in that slavery was presented as having been beneficial for black people.

Second, Delmont (shown below) explained, “There was a sense that history brings power. That if you have a more fully-formed sense of pioneers of black history – in terms of sciences, in terms of agriculture, in terms of business — that that can empower young people, and can empower any community member to envision different possibilities for their own future.”

ASU professor Matt Delmont
Each day for a year, beginning on Martin Luther King Day in 2016, ASU history professor Matthew Delmont (pictured in May) posted a historical article from a black newspaper on the Black Quotidian project website — stories that featured everyday people in America in an effort to help change the mainstream narrative of black life. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

From there, it spread through communities and across the country as teachers, religious leaders and parents took it upon themselves to share black history with their students, congregations and children. Fifty years later, in 1976, it became a month-long celebration following the civil rights movement, and schools began incorporating it into their curriculum.

Today, Delmont said, “We’ve come a long way in terms of presenting black history more accurately in mainstream textbooks — almost everyone who’s been through the American high school system knows Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks — but beyond that, there’s not really a deeper sense of what African American history has been about.

“It isn’t just about civil rights; it isn’t just about wonderful leaders or horrible things happening. It was very ordinary.” That was another thing Delmont hoped to do with Black Quotidian: “I wanted to reclaim the ability of black people to be ordinary.”

One story he came across through the project was that of Juanita Blocker, the first professional African-American bowler. “She’s not someone who’s going to get attention in most Black History Month retrospectives,” Delmont said, but her story is still one of the many threads that make up the fabric of American history.

“Any textbook you take, you should be able to thread through some aspect of African-American history,” he added. “And you could say the same thing about women’s history, and Latino history, etc. There’s no one single version of American history. It’s a story of different threads that you’re trying to pull together.”

Some of those other threads include the stories of Welford Wilson, a young boy from Harlem who took home the championship at the New York City Junior High School’s Oratory competition in 1929; Chrystal Tulli, a teacher at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tennessee, who made the paper for directing a school play in 1932; and Francois Andre, who directed fashion shows and theater performances in L.A. during the 1950s.

“Exposing people to these histories can open up different perspectives,” Delmont said. A lack of exposure, however, can lead to the perpetuation of misunderstanding and stereotypes. “If you don’t have these sort of inter-personal relationships to understand people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, it’s hard to get a sense of what life might look like, what America might look like through their eyes.”


Top photo: Newspaper articles and headlines from ASU professor Matthew Delmont's digital history project "Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers."

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ASU Law establishes endowment for trailblazing black judge

Retired Judge Cecil Patterson will be honored in ceremony at ASU Law.
February 24, 2017

Cecil Patterson, ASU Law Class of '71, was first black appeals court judge in Arizona

Cecil Patterson is used to being a trailblazer: He was the first black judge appointed to the Maricopa County Superior Court, the first black lawyer in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the state’s first black appeals court judge.

What the 1971 ASU Law grad isn’t used to is tooting his own horn. So he’s got a bit of a learning curve ahead.

“There are a lot of things that a judge can’t do, like raise funds, act politically, make speeches on others’ behalf, things of that nature,” said Patterson, who retired in 2011. “This is going to be a new endeavor for me.”

Patterson is raising money for an endowment established in his name as part of Campaign ASU 2020, a comprehensive effort to raise at least $1.5 billion to accelerate the university’s mission. If he raises $500,000, it will establish a scholarship for outstanding minority law students.

The Honorable Cecil B. Patterson Scholarship Endowment will be announced at a celebration and scholarship reception Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the Beus Center for Law & Society in downtown Phoenix, home of Arizona State University's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

The event, which runs from 5 to 7 p.m., is free and open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to RSVP to

“His passion for community engagement is legendary; he once stated that his greatest reward comes from mentoring young lawyers to be the next generation of leaders in the bar,” said Douglas Sylvester, dean of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. He called Patterson a true leader and advocate and added “we are honored to establish this scholarship in his name.”

Organizers want the first Patterson scholarship to be awarded in fall 2017 and every year thereafter. 

In addition to the scholarship, Patterson will be recognized with a room named after him in the Beus Center. The room will serve as a meeting place for students, faculty and visitors and will spark conversations about Patterson’s career.

The scholarship and room dedication is an opportunity for ASU Law to “make a statement,” said Peter Kiewit Foundation Professor of Law Myles Lynk. 

“It’s a way to mark Cecil’s passage through the law school, and his impact on the community,” Lynk said. “He’s always been such a positive force for good, always wanting to bring everybody up. He’s continually a man in motion.”

The 76-year-old’s first thoughts of becoming a lawyer date back to his childhood in Newport News, Virginia.

“My dad used to sit and talk about having wanted to go to law school at the table when we’d eat breakfast or dinner,” Patterson said. “He didn’t have the money.”

Patterson graduated from Hampton University in 1963, majoring in history, but couldn’t afford law school. He joined the Air Force instead.

His five-year military stint involved tracking and intercepting Soviet warplanes. His final assignment was Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, where he established his family and planted new roots.

People posing for picture
Cecil Patterson was the only African-American in his law class when he enrolled at ASU in the fall of 1968.

Using the G.I. Bill, Patterson could finally attend law school. He enrolled at ASU in 1968 and graduated three years later. At the time, he was one of only a handful of black lawyers in the state.

Patterson discovered there were inequities in poverty, housing, youth programs and the criminal justice system for people of all color in Maricopa County. He particularly disliked seeing young people go to jail.

“I used to say to kids the system is like a meat grinder and will take a filet mignon and turn it into a hamburger,” said Patterson, who served as a presiding judge of the Maricopa County Criminal Department as well as a juvenile court judge.

Patterson saw prevention as a solution, and he maintained a presence on various community boards that could help, including the YMCA, United Way, Samaritan Health Services and the Red Cross.

“He brought hope, skill and knowledge to the board in hopes that things could be better for family and children,” said Nadine Basha, who served with Patterson on an early childhood initiative in Chandler from 2007 to 2013. “Because of his mind, he always asked the best questions and helped us to focus. Having his perspective was important.”

Education, family values, childhood development and afterschool programs, he could publicly advocate for. Other causes, like promoting minorities within the legal system, he had to approach strategically.

“I was a quiet advocate publicly, but visible and pushy within the organization,” Patterson said. “I found myself a community leader because of my position and role within the African-American community.”

In that role he served the community well, said the Rev. Warren Stewart, pastor of the First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix, who has known Patterson for several decades.

“I’ve known judges before, and most live in this silo where it’s hard to interact with them but that’s never been the case with Cecil,” Stewart said. He added that Patterson was reachable, never stopped relating to people and never “stopped advancing the community forward.”

Patterson did so by encouraging bailiffs, court clerks and government workers of all ethnicities to study law, take the bar exam and become lawyers and judges.

“The horizon is far higher and much further than what you can see,” Patterson said. “You just got to get out there and look for it.”

Reaching that horizon almost describes Patterson’s reaction to the endowment that will bear his name in perpetuity.  

“I’m delighted and overjoyed,” Patterson said. “It is something beyond words for me, which is very rare by the way.”  


Top photo: ASU Law Class of '71 alumnus Cecil Patterson (shown in his Chandler home on Feb. 14) was the first black judge appointed to the Maricopa County Superior Court, the first black lawyer in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the state’s first black appeals court judge. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now