Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

May 8, 1958

Guest post by Paige Ross, undergraduate student at Iowa State University.

The California Eagle reported on May 8, 1958, a story similar to one Americans in 2016 would not be surprised to see in today’s papers. Manuel Brule, a married father of two, was brutally beaten by a motorcycle police officer by the name of T. H. Rogers. Rogers charged Brule with speeding and resisting arrest after being pulled over. Rogers said Brule was driving fifty miles an hour in a thirty-five-mile-per-hour zone, but no proof of the speeding existed because Rogers did not clock Brule. Rogers bragged after the incident, “This guy gave me lots of lip. I cooled him down” to a fellow police officer. (Click to view PDF of article’s first page and second page.)

What should a proper punishment be for providing “lots of lip?” Rogers, in the moment, thought that beating Brule so badly he received an injury that required four stitches under the eye, caused lacerations on the inside of his mouth, a potential fractured nose, and burn marks from the handcuffs on his wrists constituted a proper punishment. Brule’s shirt was torn and bloody, and his car floor was covered with blood. However, Brule denies giving Officer Rogers any lip at all. He tells a much different story of trying to deliver a sewing machine to a family friend, not speeding, pulling over when seeing Officer Rogers, showing his license to him, being wrongly accused of speeding, getting his registration card thrown at his face, and getting brutally beaten for not picking the card up off the ground. These stories differ in many ways, yet only one side has actual proof to back up their stories.

Brule was not the only black American who encountered this harsh treatment from police in 1958. Gina Barton of the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, wrote about the fiftieth anniversary of Daniel Bell’s death. Bell, a southern immigrant, was illiterate and traveled with his family north to escape racism. He was pulled over for a broken taillight on this trip. When he fled the scene by foot because he did not have a license, he was shot from close range and the police planted a knife in his left hand.

Both Brule and Bell seemed to fall victim to the same phenomenon—hope. Hope that with migrating from the South, they could leave the ever-so-prevalent racism they encountered. They were not the only black Americans who had this same hope. After the Civil War, many black Americans moved north during the Great Migration to cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland to escape racism. Unfortunately for them, it was not that easy. They had trouble finding jobs, finding places to live, and feeling safe in their surroundings. Many could only afford to live in what became poor inner-city neighborhoods, as many white families vacated the city and moved to the suburbs. The city, as well as many other locations, is where black Americans have fought racism and continue to do so today.

Recent protests in Baltimore and Chicago over the deaths of Freddie Gray and Rekia Boyd show that the fight for equality among all races is not over, neither are all the instances of police brutality. As people look back upon America’s history, it is obvious that we have come a long way from the living conditions and treatment of other races in the past. However, when someone can go back to May 8, 1958, and read an article that could have believably appeared in a paper today, it is obvious America still has a long way to go. 

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