Virginia Williams: “If I were your daughter, I wouldn’t be here for this”

Younger readers and readers outside the southern United States may not completely grasp my preoccupation with the Jim Crow segregation era “sit-ins” over the last several months. These non-violent acts of civil disobedience in the 1950s and 60s challenged the “separate, but equal” provisions for public facilities that were upheld in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson US Supreme Court decision and continued more than a decade after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Buses, trains, waiting terminals, restrooms, water fountains, and areas of private businesses were kept separate for whites and blacks (usually labeled as “colored” to ensure uniform discrimination against African Americans of mixed ancestry.). This US National Park Service website provides a sampling of such laws from various states.
The 50th anniversary of the most famous of these sit-ins in Greensboro, NC, has given the opportunity for today’s major news outlets to revisit these days and examine what has and hasn’t changed, especially in light of the election of the first black US president (who, incidentally, wrote this letter for the Greensboro News-Record a couple of weeks ago).
Virginia Williams cropped.jpgSo after writing last night’s post about Christine Hardman’s essay on the February 1960 visit to Durham by Martin Luther King, I was delighted to see this morning’s local fishwrapper celebrate Ms. Virginia Williams as “Tar Heel of the Week,” a weekly feature of the News & Observer that acknowledges individuals and their various contributions to the state. Ms. Williams is one of two surviving students from the earlier and increasingly-appreciated 1957 Royal Ice Cream sit-in in Durham, a story I wrote about in November when the sit-in site was dedicated as an historical landmark. (To the right is a photo I was honored to take with her on the day of the dedication.).

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Christine Hardman reflects on 1960 Durham visit by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Among the many things that LungMutiny2010 has taken from me is the chance to take advantage of all the rich cultural offerings in the North Carolina Research Triangle area during Black History Month.
Regular readers will remember that I wrote a few months ago about the segregation era sit-ins, beginning with the 1957 Royal Ice Cream sit-in in Durham and the immortal 1960 Greensboro Woolworth’s sit-ins that garnered national attention.
MLK_Woolworths_021660.jpgThose who came to the ScienceOnline2010 session with me and my colleague, Damond Nollan, will also remember that I spoke at length about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s relationship with Durham. Fifty years ago this week, Dr. King came to Durham in the days after the Greensboro sit-in to commend and energize those involved. A superb photographic history of this February 16, 1960 visit can be found here at Endangered Durham. Above is just one photo from the Herald-Sun archives showing Dr. King with host Rev. Douglas Moore and others in the Durham Woolworth’s whose counter was closed “in the interest of public safety” that day so that a sit-in could not occur during his visit.
Most important about these sit-ins is that they chiefly involved students – young people of bravery and conviction.. For example, the famous Greensboro Four were students at North Carolina A&T University. So I was delighted this week to read in the Durham Herald-Sun an essay entitled, “Fifty years later, are we still drinking from that cup?,” written by Christine Hardman, a Durham Academy graduate from Chapel Hill now studying communications at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: NOT just for scientists

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks 250px.jpgThis past weekend’s international science communication conference, ScienceOnline2010, also saw the first, final hardback copies of Rebecca Skloot’s long-awaited book make it into the hands of the science and journalism consuming public. Moreover, an excerpt of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has just appeared in the new issue of Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine. And already, those online science communicators who left the conference with Skloot’s book are registering their praise via this Twitter feed that was so active it was a trending topic at the science aggregator, SciencePond.
The story of the rural, Virginia woman who descended from slaves and developed cervical cancer in the early 1950s is notable most obviously for her tumors giving rise to HeLa, the first immortalized human cell line continuously maintained in culture. I have noted previously my enthusiasm for this story as both a long-time admirer of Skloot’s writing and the fact that HeLa played a central role in my PhD thesis work and first papers from my independent laboratory.
But as a historically black college professor at a predominantly liberal arts school, I want to make clear that Skloot’s book is of far broader appeal than just the scientific community. So I was delighted to see some page referral hits from Skloot’s site which told me that my pre-press comments in that regard had been posted in academic publicity of the book.
So here is my “blurb” from the page, “What Professors Are Saying About The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”:

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The Reverend and the Rabbi: Martin Luther King, Jr., on science and religion


From “Lesser Known Wise and Prophetic Words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.” by liberal writer and California Democratic Party delegate, Deborah White:

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values.
The two are not rivals. They are complementary.
Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”

When I posted this quote two years ago, Right Wing Professor Gerald Gerard Harbison commented that some of the passage was taken from the writings of Rabbi Hillel Silver as noted at John Lerwell’s Spiritual Unity blog.
Writer and documentary filmmaker Tom Levenson then wrote a superb post, as is his style. Levenson analyzed the two passages, noting that Harbison had cherry-picked 66 or the 724 words for comparison, and dissected how the rabbi and the reverend approached the topic very differently:

More to the point, King actually makes a quite different claim than Silver. Silver’s argument, as represented in the Lerwill excerpt is an early version of the “non-overlapping magisteria” kind — Silver writes, for example, “There was never any real conflict between religion and science as such. There cannot be. Their respective worlds are different, though not in opposition. Their methods are dissimilar and their immediate objectives are not the same.”
King skipped all that part (and this kind of stuff is scattered through the Lerwill version). Instead, he focused on what he presumably felt was the nub of the issue: that science and religion have important points of connection.
That’s arguable too — and certainly, plenty of folks in the science blogging community find the notion anathema. But King did not follow Silver down the road of intellectual apartheid, an agreement to reserve certain matters for the exclusive authority of one side or other.
In music there is an old notion (now legally enshrined, I believe) that a repetition of more than a few notes of a passage is an actual act of imitation. Less than that, and it is presumed that there is a kind of musical language that everyone gets to speak. Maybe the four word phrase “Science investigates; religion interprets” crosses the line. But King had his own mind, and said something quite different than did the source of at least some of his expression.

I’ve looked long and hard to find cases where Dr. King held forth on science. But his values can clearly be applied to the scientific realm, particularly as it relates to recruitment and engagement of underrepresented minority groups in the STEMM disciplines.
Our ScienceOnline2010 session held yesterday sought to bring Dr. King’s spirit of inclusion and education equality into the realm of social media. An issue I raised there but did not develop was that a great many of my science students, particularly of Hispanic/Latino or southern US African-American backgrounds, cite their religious beliefs as a primary motivator in pursuing a health sciences or pharmaceutical research career. Rather than religion being at odds with the scientific method, they feel that their faith fuels their desire to apply the scientific method in the name of relieving human suffering. The duality of religious beliefs and hypothesis-driven inquiry is certainly an intellectual challenge but one that I respect.
I welcome any King scholars in pointing me to any other discussions where the civil rights leader discussed issues of science.
Photo credit: Library of Congress, believed to be in the public domain

President Clinton to speak at John Hope Franklin and Aurelia Whittington Franklin memorial celebration

cs_hope_franklin_01_515px.jpgThe heavy blanket of moisture across the City-That-Tobacco-Built is being broken this morning on the 69th wedding anniversary of the late civil rights scholar, Dr John Hope Franklin, and his late wife, Aurelia Whittington Franklin, with a high-profile memorial and celebration of their lives. Leading the dignitaries in speaking will be former President William Jefferson Clinton and attorney Vernon Jordan, Jr.
The memorial will be held today, 11 am – 1 pm EDT, on the campus of the University-That-Tobacco-Built in the conservatively-named Duke Chapel, more appropriately described as a Gothic cathedral. Ironically, Duke Chapel was designed by an African American architect in Philadelphia who has been reported as never able to visit his creation due to race relations in the South when construction was completed in 1935.

The architect was Julian Abele, chief designer with the Horace Trumbauer firm, of Philadelphia. America’s first black architect of renown, Abele was educated at the University of Pennsylvania and in France. In addition to Duke’s original West Campus, he designed the Georgian buildings on Duke’s East Campus. Abele’s other designs include the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Harvard’s Widener Library, and mansions for James B. Duke.

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Today’s Drum: Positive Black News

Todays Drum.jpgAs of late, I’ve not been particularly good at responding to those of you who’ve been so nice to comment on the blog. So, I spent a little bit of this morning going through your comments and looking at your blogs and websites, especially those of you with whom I was not previously familiar.
Among these was commenter Keith, co-founder and editor of an online zine called Today’s Drum. Keith was kind enough to write a couple of notes on both our Diversity in Science carnival submission on NIGMS’s Dr Geraldine Pittman Woods and the 65th anniversary of the first interracial college basketball game in the South.
So, I went over to learn a little more about Today’s Drum, winner of the Best News Site from

Today’s Drum is the premier news organization dedicated to providing people from all walks of life with a daily dose of the most positive, motivational and inspirational information and news stories affecting Black families and communities across the globe. Positive black news.
Everyday, people from all walks of life logon to to celebrate the wealth of success and accomplishment in Science & Technology, Business, Art, Politics, Education, Sports & Entertainment, Civil Rights, Health & Fitness and Philanthropy empowering people of all backgrounds to make a difference in their lives, and the lives of others.
Today’s Drum is here to serve you. We are social entrepreneurs and agents of change driven to inspire minds, one story at a time. We are the alternative to the negative images and stereotypes that unfortunately dominate most media outlets. We strongly believe that providing our communities with access to useful information and inspirational stories of achievement and success are some of the essential tools necessary in rebuilding the spirit of hope, confidence and ultimately, self-determination and action.
Join our movement today! We need you to be an example of greatness in your home, school, office and community. Today’s Drum will continue to support you and your efforts. You are not alone in this struggle. There are millions of Black people across the globe continuing the legacy of greatness, each and every day. Today’s Drum will provide you with many of those stories as a way to feed your mind and energize your soul. Help us make black history!
Expect the best!
Co-Founders and Editors: K. Foxx & D. Smith

The zine aggregates the best stories from various sources in a manner similar to that of Ode Magazine or the Utne Reader.

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Dr Geraldine Pittman Woods: Minority Scholar Pioneer

geraldine woods.gifDr Geraldine P Woods (1921-1999) was inarguably the most influential scientist in establishing and promoting NIH’s programs in research and research training for underrepresented groups. Therefore, I have chosen her story for my entry to this month’s Diversity in Science blog carnival recognizing Women’s History Month.
My interest in Dr Woods was inspired by a recent post by my friend and colleague, acmegirl, who writes the blog, Thesis – With Children. In her post recognizing the work of Duke University behavioral biologist, Dr Erich Jarvis, acmegirl noted that both she and Dr Jarvis are products of the MARC program – Minority Access to Research Careers – administered by NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). I have had a few friends who have been MARC scholars in their undergraduate and graduate years as well as several colleagues who have received research grants from the Minority-Based Research Support (MBRS) program.
NIGMS was established by an act of the US Congress in 1962. In 1964, Dr Frederick Woods was named as NIGMS director and Dr Geraldine Woods appointed to the National Advisory General Medical Sciences (NAGMS) Council. Among their other charges, the group began to evaluate NIH research support at traditionally minority-serving institutions. Keep in mind that it was the Higher Education Act of 1965 that also provided federal designation of 105 historically-Black colleges and universities (HBCUs; accredited by a national or nationally recognized regional accrediting agency, founded before 1964, and founded for the purpose of educating black students.). Of course, many more institutions today serve these and other underrepresented groups.
Woods and colleagues on the council determined that, at the time (late 1960s) NIH only provided about $2 million in funding to minority institutions with 80% of that going to Howard University in DC and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee (these schools remain among the top research HBCUs). She later visited minority institutions around the US, encouraging investigators to submit research proposals to the NIH and presenting to upper academic administration the need to provide research infrastructure.
Believe it or not, it was President Richard M Nixon who, on 22 February 1971, issued to Congress in a directive on higher education a section entitled, “Special Help to Black Institutions.” According to Susan Athey, the NIGMS writer who prepared Dr Woods’ obituary:

This led to the 1972 launch of the Minority Schools Biomedical Support Program (now known as the Minority Biomedical Research Support Program; the administration of this program was transferred from NCRR to NIGMS in 1989). Also that year, NIGMS established visiting scientist and faculty fellowship awards through the Minority Access to Research Careers Program.
According to Dr. Clifton Poodry, director of the NIGMS Division of Minority Opportunities in Research (MORE), “Dr. Woods’ interest in our programs did not end with her retirement from active involvement. She was always grateful to hear some good news or success stories about MARC or MBRS participants, and she was also interested in knowing that the programs were continually striving to improve and in learning about new initiatives.”
“She fought hard for opportunities for others–we are greatly enriched for her efforts,” Poodry added.
In addition to her involvement with NIH’s minority initiatives, Woods was a prominent leader in other national educational, political, and scientific endeavors. Her activities included serving as the first woman chair of the Board of Trustees of Howard University and two terms as national president of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

A more comprehensive history of these programs can be found at this NIGMS timeline.

“Dr. Woods was a person ahead of her time,” said Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, [then] acting NIH director and director of NIGMS from 1974-1993. “She received a Ph.D. in biology from Radcliffe long before any other African American scientist could so qualify. Yet she never forgot her roots and worked tirelessly to assist in establishing the MARC and MBRS Programs.”

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“What does Jewish look like?” – Vanessa Hidary, The Hebrew Mamita

Even though it’s Saturday morning, drinking coffee while getting ready to take the PharmKid to ballet class, I’m not usually one to throw up YouTube videos as blog posts without any context.
However, my dear friend, frequent commenter, and devoted traffic-driver, anjou, passed this along to me.
I’ve never really gotten into the whole spoken-word / poetry slam movement but maybe it’s because I haven’t been paying attention. We also don’t have HBO so I’ve never seen Def Poetry, where these Vanessa Hidary performances aired.
Even if you aren’t Jewish or a woman, these two are worth every second of the six minutes it’ll take to go through both.

Then, go to Vanessa’s MySpace site and listen to “Brooklyn,” but with earbuds if there are little kids around. (Her personal website is currently being revamped.).
And then, since you’re now hooked on Vanessa Hidary, read this 2003 article in Jewish World Review.
How have I missed this woman?

Historic inaugural slap in the face to LGBT community

Just as I was starting to put together a few posts about my experiences at this weekend’s ScienceOnline’09 soirée, I get a Tweet from Pam Spaulding that openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson didn’t appear on HBO’s inaugural coverage today and, at least for Kenny Yum of Canada’s National Post and others in attendance, could not be heard.
As Pam says:

Remember, this was the supposed salve on the wound to the LGBT community for the upcoming high-profile appearance of Rick Warren at the actual inauguration on Tuesday, which will be seen by millions and will float out there on YouTube in perpetuity. I had no illusions that Robinson’s appearance would reach the same level of exposure as Warren’s, but damn — no broadcast of it at all? That’s just freaking rich.

I’ve long admired Pam and we are grateful for the many people among the LGBT community who we count as friends and have also wonderfully loving influences and intellectual contributors to the upbringing of PharmKid.
As we are now about to inaugurate the nation’s first African American president, this episode reminds me of an old post on a powerful advert from Faith in America about religion-based bigotry.
The full text of Robinson’s prayer, from the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, is below the fold:

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NPR cancels News & Notes, Day to Day; cuts 7% of staff

fchideya.jpgDriving home tonight, I learned that NPR is cutting staff and canceling two shows produced at NPR West: News & Notes with Farai Chideya and Day to Day with Madeleine Brand. (Full memo at HuffPo)
Farai put up a blog post late this afternoon entitled, We Love You! (And, Yes, We Are Cancelled). I don’t know if I’d have the gut and optimism to be so gracious in the face of having my show terminated effective 20 March 2009. The companion blog post at Day to Day certainly lacked this optimism. But Farai has many, many things going in her favor despite this setback:

Chideya, who was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, and graduated with a B.A. from Harvard University magna cum laude in 1990, is also the founder of, an online journal for younger Americans based at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications. Chideya and have won awards including a MOBE IT Innovator award, being named one of Alternet’s New Media Heroes, and ranking in’s worldwide survey of “25 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics.”
Chideya has published three books. Don’t Believe the Hype: Fighting Cultural Misinformation About African Americans (Plume Penguin, 1995), is now in its eighth printing. . .

. . .and so on. Read the rest of her bio here.

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