Code Switch

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins may be only 30 years old, but he's already compiled an impressive resume. His theatrical works, which look at race and identity in America, have been performed in New York and around the country. Last year, Jacobs-Jenkins won the best new American play Obie Award for two of his works, Appropriate and An Octoroon.

An Octoroon is currently playing at Theater for a New Audience in New York.

Rare glimpses of black soldiers from the Civil War come into view, their presence asking nothing more than to be remembered, if not celebrated. The documentary film Through A Lens Darkly draws audiences deep into a world of black photography, and will broadcast Monday on the PBS program Independent Lens.

This year, Black History Month carries a special significance, because America is marking not just the 150th anniversary of Emancipation, but also the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. It was propelled into reality through the heroic witness of non-violent demonstrations in Selma, Alabama and across the nation.

Illustrator and historian Joel Christian Gill is full of stories.

There's the one about Box Brown, a slave who escaped to freedom by mailing himself in a box, then became an abolitionist speaker.

And then there's the story of the first American stage magician, a black man from New Hampshire named Richard Potter.

And of course there's Spottswood Rice, a slave who escaped and then wrote two impassioned letters: a heartfelt message to his children still in slavery, and a threat to his former slavemaster.

A Haitian man was lynched at a public plaza in the Dominican Republic this week. Authorities there say it was the result of a personal dispute, but activists claim it's part of rising racial animus and anti-Haitian attitudes in the Caribbean nation.

Here's an astonishing speech by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who in 2010 became the second African-American appointed as federal judge in Mississippi. He read it to three young white men before sentencing them for the death of a 48-year-old black man named James Craig Anderson in a parking lot in Jackson, Miss., one night in 2011. They were part of a group that beat Anderson and then killed him by running over his body with a truck, yelling "white power" as they drove off.

News surrounding a confrontation in a Baltimore school is raising new questions about the role race plays in discipline for black girls. Baltimore television station WBAL has been reporting on an October incident that led to three students at the city's Vanguard Middle School being injured, and later arrested and suspended, after an altercation with a school security officer.

There's a reason why new agents are required to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial during their training, says FBI Director James Comey. It's the same reason he keeps on his desk a copy of Attorney General Robert Kennedy's one-page approval of a request to wiretap King: "To ensure that we remember our mistakes and that we learn from them."

The long-running debate over what's driving the country's staggering (and ongoing) drop in crime just got more complicated. With a major new report, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU has effectively squashed one popular theory: throwing massive amounts of people in prison did not bring down crime.

There's more good news in Asian-American TV land.

ABC recently greenlighted a pilot starring Ken Jeong, best known as quirky Spanish language teacher Señor Chang in Community, also The Hangover villain Mr. Chow. Jeong, who worked as a doctor for seven years before turning to acting, will play a frustrated MD who's struggling to keep the rest of his life afloat.

Voice of San Diego has a head-spinning story of a policing debacle involving a late-night cop patrol, two Peruvian-American brothers and a break-in that wasn't.

Late one night in July, Luis and Diego Lobaton were ambushed by San Diego police; Luis was beaten up and arrested. Their crime: walking into their family's store, to which they had keys, after a cigarette break. H.G. Reza reports:

On Tuesday night, three young Muslims were shot dead near the University of North Carolina's Chapel Hill campus.

From member station WUNC:

"46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks has been charged with 3 counts of 1st Degree Murder for the murders of Deah Barakat, a second-year student [at UNC] in the School of Dentistry and his wife, Yusor, who had planned to begin her dental studies here in the fall. Her sister, Razan, a student at NC State University, was also killed."

Jennifer Teege is a German-born black woman who — during her quest to learn more about her birth family — uncovered a surprising connection to the Holocaust and Amon Goeth, the Nazi commander famously portrayed in Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. The following article appeared on the website of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which has made the story available to NPR readers as a courtesy.

Nearly 4,000 blacks were lynched in the American South between the end of the Civil War and World War II, according to a new report by the Equal Justice Initiative.

The report, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, says that the number of victims in the 12 Southern states was more than 20 percent higher than previously reported.

Lynchings were part of a system of racial terror designed to subjugate a people, says the Alabama-based nonprofit's executive director, Bryan Stevenson.

Last week, at a New York state Senate hearing on protests against police brutality, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton asked lawmakers to raise the penalty for resisting arrest from a misdemeanor to a felony.

"We need to get around this idea that you can resist arrest," he later told reporters. "It results in potential injuries to the officer, to the suspect. And we need to change that, and the way to change that is to start penalties for it."

Note: This post contains language that some people may find offensive.

Brooklyn-based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh recently went to Mexico City to talk with women who've gotten unwanted "piropos," as catcalling is known in Mexico. Here are some of the things they recalled hearing:

Part Asian-American, All Jewish?

Feb 10, 2015

I was five years old when my mother threatened to give me away to journalist Connie Chung.

On a night last week when the temperature dropped to 17 degrees, Edward Brown, who's 62 and homeless, slept at the bus stop in front of the Jennings, Mo., city hall in St. Louis County.

"It was cold, very cold," he says. "It's so cold I can't really move so I kept playing with my feet — rubbing 'em, twisting 'em, trying to keep warm."

Brown's troubles started when he tried to fight the city of Jennings, and his story shows how court fines and fees can grow, turning an impoverished person's life upside down.

An investigation into a possible hate crime is underway in Rapid City, S.D., after a group of men allegedly assaulted Native American kids at a minor league hockey game. The incident angered many in the community, and racial tensions in Rapid City are running high.

On Friday, I explained what's "cringeworthy" about Sixteen Candles' Long Duk Dong, whose broken English and social ineptitude left a painful stamp on many Asian-American children of the '80s.

In a new challenge to police practices in Ferguson, Mo., a group of civil rights lawyers is suing the city over the way people are jailed when they fail to pay fines for traffic tickets and other minor offenses.

The lawsuit, filed Sunday night on the eve of the six-month anniversary of the police shooting of Michael Brown, alleges that the city violates the Constitution by jailing people without adequately considering whether they were indigent and, as a result, unable to pay.

When Randall Park realized just how big a deal Fresh Off The Boat was going to be, he got cold feet. The stakes were high for the first network sitcom in 20 years to feature an Asian-American family.

But he'd already filmed the pilot, in which he starred as family patriarch Louis Huang, a Taiwanese immigrant and firm believer in the American Dream. (The sitcom, which centers on Louis' son Eddie, begins as Louis uproots his young family from Washington, D.C., to suburban Orlando to open a steakhouse.)

One hundred years ago Sunday, the nascent film industry premiered what would go on to be its first blockbuster: The Birth of a Nation.

As the house lights dimmed and the orchestra struck up the score, a message from director D.W. Griffith flickered on the screen: "This is an historical presentation of the Civil War and Reconstruction Period, and is not meant to reflect on any race or people of today."

But its effects on race relations were devastating, and reverberations are still felt to this day.

Epic Film, Embedded Bigotry

Archivists at the Library of Congress are hard at work cataloging the papers of Rosa Parks, received on loan recently after a legal battle kept them under lock and key for the past decade.

Among the collection are a receipt for a voting booth's poll tax, postcards from Martin Luther King Jr., a datebook with the names of volunteer carpool drivers who would help blacks get to work during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and thousands of other historic documents.

Technology is always blamed for the loss of this or that traditional activity or cultural artifact. In February we take time to bemoan the waning art of letter writing, a tradition eroded away by social networks, email, typewriters, or non-quill pens — depending on the era the lamenter hails from.

In Thursday's post about failed Asian-American TV shows, I called actor Gedde Watanabe's notorious performance as Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles "cringeworthy." Some of you piped up to ask, Hey, what's wrong with Long Duk Dong?

Illinois girls lag behind other states in the number that enroll in science, technology, engineering and math classes, according to a recent University of Illinois report commissioned by the Illinois State Board of Education.

In STEM courses, Illinois females represent 15 percent of the enrollments as opposed to 31 percent nationwide.

On a recent winter evening in the Bronx, a group of men and women in red-checkered shirts and dresses encircled Dr. Julie Hoffman during a ceremony. They pounded wooden drums crisscrossed with thick rope and shook maracas as they danced and sang.

The event took on a somber tone when Hoffman talked about the crisis that had brought them all together.

"Too many members of this community continue dying," she said in Spanish. "That's why I'm here. I want to work with you."

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