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The Root
Nov. 23 2013



An African Princess Who

Stood Unafraid Among Nazis

Her autobiography is a one-of-a-kind perspective of an educated, empowered, world-traveling daughter of a royal family, which no one wanted to publish until now.


Fatima Massaquoi, Arthur Massaquoi, and Momolu Massaquoi, Hamburg, Germany, ca. 1924. / COLLECTION OF VIVIAN SETON

Fatima Massaquoi, Arthur Massaquoi, and Momolu Massaquoi, Hamburg, Germany, ca. 1924. / COLLECTION OF VIVIAN SETON


Between 1939 and 1946, Fatima Massaquoi penned one of the earliest known autobiographies by an African woman. But few outside of Liberian circles were aware of it until this week, when Palgrave McMillian published The Autobiography of an African Princess, edited by two historians and the author’s daughter.


The book follows Massaquoi, born the daughter of the King of Gallinas of Southern Sierra Leone in 1904, to Liberia, Nazi Germany and the segregated American South, where she wrote her memoirs while enrolled at Tennessee’s Fisk University.

She died in 1978, and her story could have died with her.

For the most part, it did. That is, until Konrad Tuchscherer, St. John’s University specialist in African history and language, stumbled upon it on microfilm while conducting research.

“I just thought it was the most amazing piece I had ever seen. I was very interested in the history of the Massaquoi family because they had such an important role in spreading the Vai script,” he told The Root.

Ultimately, his interest in the tale took on significance beyond the proliferation of that particular ancient West African written language. “It’s evidence that not only was there this thriving literary tradition among African people, but it was one that included women,” he says. “Fatima is a granddaughter of a queen, a literate and empowered woman.”

Determined to share the story, Tuchscherer hunted for contact information for Massaquoi’s only daughter, Vivian Seton, who lives in Maryland. “I told her, ‘I read your mother’s autobiography and I want to be part of having it to be published.’ “

Seton immediately agreed, insisting that her mother had predicted, on her deathbed, that one day “a man would call” and would want to publish her story. She joined Tuchscherer and Virginia State University historian Arthur Abraham, helping to coordinate a transcription and translation of the original text, and to find a publisher, which Tuchscher says was the most difficult part of the process.

“People were reluctant to take it on, because they wanted to rewrite it. Even academic publishers didn’t know the value of this story,” he says.

What emerged when the book was published this week was a one-of-a-kind tale of a life lived on three continents, chronicling everything from insider views of traditional life and societies in Africa, to intense racism in other parts of the world.

In the 252-page volume, Massaqoui attends boarding school, plays violin for royalty and presidents and even finds herself at Nazi rallies. (During this time, she writes that one classmate reassured her: “We are not against Negroes or our friendships towards them as such. How could we when we are striving to have our colonies back?”)

Left to Right: Fatima Massaquoi, Editha Buch, Anne Starke, Ellen Spelling, and Traute Wichman, Hamburg, Germany, ca. 1928. / COLLECTION OF VIVIAN SETON

Left to Right: Fatima Massaquoi, Editha Buch, Anne Starke, Ellen Spelling, and Traute Wichman, Hamburg, Germany, ca. 1928. / COLLECTION OF VIVIAN SETON


In Hamburg, Germany, her family hosted Marcus Garvey and his lieutenants while they attempted to secure visas for Liberia. She recalls entertaining him with her poetry.

“She speaks for herself, and gives a voice to African women and to the incredible experiences she’s had. It defies some accepted ways of thinking,” says Tuchscherer.

At Fisk, Massaqoui assisted Lorenzo Turner with his famous research on African linguistic retentions among the Gullah of South Carolina and Georgia. Later, with the help of the great African-American tenor Roland Hayes, she pursued a Ph.D. at Boston University.

In doing so, this “African princess” developed a unique point of view on the black experience in America.

In her final chapter, Massaquoi, writing in 1946, reflects on her experience in the United States:

“This vast country has everything good and evil. It has sympathetic men and women, who can be as selfish as they can be kind. There is, in the words of Goethe, ‘much light,’ but also ‘much shade.’ But in spite of all this, freedom here is incomparable; no wonder then that the Negro can be lynched, and yet a Negro can stand and sing ‘My Country ’Tis of Thee.’ There is very much to learn from the United States, if we can scratch the varnish off the surface and take the woodwork that is solid and not rotten.”

The book is available here.  

Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root’s senior staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.

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November 26, 2013


Today in history: November 26, 1883 - Sojourner Truth dies.<br />
Sojourner Truth was born into slavery and became one of the most well known leaders in the abolitionist movement, and was also active in the women&#8217;s rights movement. Truth was born into slavery in New York, but escaped to freedom in 1826. She traveled the country spreading her powerful message for the abolition of slavery. Her book, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, told her story and spread the abolitionist message widely. Even among abolitionists, Truth was considered radical - she fought for political equality for all women, and criticized those in the abolitionist movement who failed to seek equal rights for Black women as well as men. She also took to task women&#8217;s rights activists who failed to include Black women, like in her famous 1851 speech, &#8220;Ain&#8217;t I a Woman?&#8221;<br />
During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit Black troops for the Union Army to fight against the pro-slavery South. After the Civil War, she continued to struggle for freedom and equality. She organized to force the desegregation of streetcars in Washington D.C. by riding in cars designated for whites, and also organized to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves, arguing that land would give African-Americans self-sufficiency and free them from indentured servitude to wealthy landowners.<br />
Via Freedom Road Socialist Organization (Fight Back!)

Today in history:

November 26, 1883

– Sojourner Truth dies.

Sojourner Truth was born into slavery and became one of the most well known leaders in the abolitionist movement, and was also active in the women’s rights movement. Truth was born into slavery in New York, but escaped to freedom in 1826. She traveled the country spreading her powerful message for the abolition of slavery. Her book, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, told her story and spread the abolitionist message widely. Even among abolitionists, Truth was considered radical – she fought for political equality for all women, and criticized those in the abolitionist movement who failed to seek equal rights for Black women as well as men. She also took to task women’s rights activists who failed to include Black women, like in her famous 1851 speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?”

During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit Black troops for the Union Army to fight against the pro-slavery South. After the Civil War, she continued to struggle for freedom and equality. She organized to force the desegregation of streetcars in Washington D.C. by riding in cars designated for whites, and also organized to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves, arguing that land would give African-Americans self-sufficiency and free them from indentured servitude to wealthy landowners.

Via Freedom Road Socialist Organization (Fight Back!)






Modern History Sourcebook: 
Sojourner Truth:
“Ain’t I a Woman?”, December 1851

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): 

Ain’t I A Woman?
Delivered 1851

Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio 

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say. 

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use of the Sourcebook.

(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997








photo by Alex Lear

photo by Alex Lear



i have my mother’s hands


though cancer claimed 

my mother’s body decades ago 

inola’s reincarnation remains within me

a deeply treasured and unerring auditor—

an inquisitive, music loving child

with eyes wide bright and earth brown

whose trusting reach upthrusting 

to clasp a helping man’s hand 

unclenches the maleness of my fist 

and continually causes my essence 

to cup the strength of masculine fingers 

into the soft of a flesh spoon

emulating and saluting the feminine 

gesture of giving unconditionally


—kalamu ya salaam





Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Frank Bruckner – guitar 

Recorded: June 1998 – “ETA Theatre” Munich, Germany




tupelo press

Dorset Prize Guidelines

September 1 — December 31, 2013 
(postmark or online submission-date) 
Panel of Readers 
Final Judge: David Wojahn 
$3,000 Prize

The Dorset Prize includes a cash award of $3,000 in addition to publication by Tupelo Press, 20 copies of the winning title, a book launch, and national distribution with energetic publicity and promotion. Manuscripts are judged anonymously and all finalists will be considered for publication.Please read the complete guidelines before submitting your manuscript.

Who May Submit

The Dorset Prize is open to anyone writing in the English language, whether living in the United States or abroad. Translations are not eligible for this prize, nor are previously self-published books. Employees of Tupelo Press and authors with books previously published by Tupelo Press are not eligible. Poets submitting work for consideration may be published authors or writers without prior book publications.

We continue to be impressed by the quality of work we see and generally receive many, many more worthy manuscripts than we are able to publish. In addition, each of our contests and reading periods has a different team of editors, guest editors, esteemed readers, and final judge. And of course our tastes and needs evolve from year to year with each production schedule. For all of these reasons and more, please know you are welcome to submit your manuscript even if you have already entered it in one or more of our contests or reading periods in the past, and even if you have a manuscript pending in a recent submission opportunity. Thank you for honoring us with your work Ñ we’re excited to see what wonders arrive over the transom.

Manuscript Requirements & Ethical Guidelines

Submit a previously unpublished, full-length poetry manuscript with a table of contents. There is no mandatory page count. We suggest in the area of 48 to 88 pages of poems, but all manuscripts will be read and considered with full respect, regardless of length, and no manuscript will be rejected simply because it’s shorter or longer.

If you are submitting a manuscript online, within the document include a single cover page with the title of the manuscript only, so that your manuscript document remains anonymous. Submittable provides fields to fill in your contact information: name, address, telephone number, and email address.

If you are submitting a paper manuscript, include two cover pages: one with the title of the manuscript only, the other with title of manuscript, name, address, telephone number, and email address. Cover letters or biography notes are optional; if included, these will not be read until the conclusion of the contest.

Individual poems in a contest manuscript may have been previously published in magazines, journals, or anthologies, or chapbooks, but the work as a whole must be unpublished. If applicable, include with your manuscript an acknowledgments page for prior publications.

Simultaneous submissions to other publishers or contests are permitted, as long as you notify Tupelo Press promptly if a manuscript is accepted elsewhere.

Before you submit a manuscript to a Tupelo Press competition, please consider exploring the work of the poets we have published. We’re drawn to technical virtuosity combined with abundant imagination; memorable, vivid imagery and strikingly musical approaches to language; willingness to take risks; and an ability to convey penetrating insights into human experience.

Tupelo Press endorses and abides by the Ethical Guidelines of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP), which can be reviewed here, along with more about Tupelo Press’s ethical considerations for literary contests.

Notification of Receipt

To confirm receipt of your paper manuscript, include a self-addressed stamped postcard.
The online Submittable system automatically confirms receipt.

Beyond these notifications, kindly refrain from requesting an individual response to confirm receipt of your manuscript and/or payment. We receive thousands of manuscripts each year and cannot offer individual acknowledgments. Thank you for your understanding.

Please do not enclose a SASE for return of manuscript. All paper manuscripts will be recycled at the conclusion of the competition, except those under consideration for future publication.

Notification of Results

To receive mailed notification of the winner and finalists, send a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Results will be announced in Spring 2014. We notify all entrants in three ways:

  1. Via postal mail to those who included a SASE with their manuscript.
  2. Via email to those who included an email address with their contact information.
  3. We post the results on our website.



All entries must be postmarked or certified by Submittable by midnight (EST) of December 31, 2013.

Reading Fee

A reading fee of $28 (U.S.) must accompany each submission. Multiple submissions are accepted, so long as each submission is accompanied by a separate reading fee. Why a reading fee? We are an independent, nonprofit literary press. Reading fees help defray, but do not entirely cover, the cost of reviewing manuscripts and publishing the many books we select outside of our competitions.

If you are submitting your manuscript online, you will be prompted to pay via Submittable.

If you are mailing your manuscript to us, please enclose a check or money order for the reading fee, payable to Tupelo Press.

Submit Your Manuscript Now

There are two ways to submit your manuscript:

  1. Via Submittable: Submit Beginning on September 1
    Be sure that your document is complete and formatted correctly before uploading.
  2. Via postal mail. Tupelo Press encourages online submissions to save paper but we still welcome mailed manuscripts.
    Be sure to include your check or money order.

Mail your domestic submission to:
Tupelo Press Dorset Prize, PO Box 1767, North Adams, MA 01247

Mail your international submission to:
Tupelo Press Dorset Prize, 243 Union Street, # 305, North Adams MA 01247 USA


Thank you for your participation and your support of Tupelo Press.
We look forward to reading your work!





odd cow

Speculative Prose Poem/Flash Fiction Contest

Adult division: 18 and over, $10 entry fee per story/poem; multiple entries allowed
Prizes: $500 to first place; OddCon membership + books to top 3

Youth division: under 18 as of Jan. 1, 2014, NO entry fee, but send no more than one entry
Prizes: $50 to first place; OddCon membership + books to top 3

Details: Send 500 words or less of speculative (science-fiction/fantasy/horror) flash fiction or prose poetry (paragraph form). No previously-published work, but simultaneous submissions are allowed, and multiple adult submissions are encouraged. $10 entry fee must be paid for each adult entry submitted. Youth entries are free, but entrant must be under 18 as of January 1, 2014. Please do not enter before October 15. See definitions of “speculative,” “prose poetry,” and “flash fiction.” Read the previouswinning entries!

2014 judge: Laurel Winter,
2013 judge: Louis Jenkins,
2012 judge: Terry Garey
2011 judge: Marion Boyer
2010 judge: John Rezmerski
2009 judge: Joe Haldeman,
2008 judge: Bruce Boston,

Judging process: Blind judging. Preliminary readers who are SF writers and fans will select the top manuscripts in each division to be sent to the final judge. All entries are read by several different readers. We send not only the entries receiving the highest cumulative scores to the final judge, but also those that are the top picks of individual readers. Convention committee members, their close friends and families, and degree-program or professional students of the judge may not enter. Winners to be notified and results posted by March 15. Winning poems/stories will be read at OdysseyCon, published in the program, and posted on the website.

Entering: pay Adult entry fee of $10 per story/poem via PayPal to (click button below to pay), or mail a check payable to OddCon to address below (postmark by January 15). E-mail your work (maximum length 500 words, excluding title), pasted into body of e-mail or attached as .doc or .rtf, to Put last name, first name, and CONTEST: Youth or Adult in the subject line. Be sure to include your name, date of birth if Youth entry, mailing address, phone number, and the name/e-mail under which payment was made for Adult entry if not the one used to enter. Receipt will be acknowledged within 3 days. IMPORTANT NOTE! We need your street address AND telephone number. If you win, we mail you books. The information will not be used for anything other than this contest. Also, we send notification of receipt via e-mail; if you do not hear from us within 3 days of sending your entry, please adjust your spam filter accordingly and contact us. Notification does not come from the contest e-mail address.


Postal mail: Please do not send postal entries unless you have absolutely no access to e-mail. All judging is done via electronic media, and the transcription process from hard copy is unreliable at best.

Mailing address:
(for checks)
Odyssey Con
P.O. Box 7114
Madison, WI 53707

Questions? E-mail the contest chair, F.J. Bergmann, at or call 608-566-9087.







poetry society

Poetry Society of America 

Chapbook Fellowships


December 21, 2013 

Entry Fee: 



Four prizes of $1,000 each and publication by the Poetry Society of America are given annually for poetry chapbooks by poets who have not published a full-length collection. Two fellowships are open to poets 30 or younger living in any of the five boroughs of New York City, and two of the fellowships are open to poets of any age living anywhere in the United States. Marilyn Hacker and Jean Valentine will judge the New York City competition, and Elizabeth Alexander and Forrest Gander will judge the national competition. Submit a manuscript of 20 to 30 pages with a $12 entry fee by December 21. Send an SASE or visit the website for complete guidelines.

Poetry Society of America, 15 Gramercy Park South, New York, NY 10003. (212) 254-9628.




NOV 24     honor cece poster Posted by 

“Harmony in Autumn”

There is harmony in Autumn

and a lustre in the sky,

which through the summer

is not heard or seen

as if it could not be,

as if it had not been.

Hi everyone! I wanted to start this off with a poem about my favorite season written by Percy Bysshe Shelly. I can say that even being in an environment that is very callous and unappealing, I can take comfort in this season that is filled with warmth and joy. No matter where I am, I will never take for granted the beauty of life and knowing I am a creation like the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees. I have a newfound respect and adoration for life and all things attributed to it.

I plan to keep this posting short because I want to share an essay with you all: “Love in Action: Noting Similarities between Lynching Then and Anti-LGBT Violence Now.” It was shared with me by the author, a dear friend of mine and a literary genius by the name of Koritha Mitchell–a professor at Ohio State University (check out herother selected works). I love her work and encourage all to check out her pieces.

But I do want to talk about some things that have upset me over the last couple of months. The first thing is that for the movie “The Dallas Buyers Club” they casted a cisgender-presumably-hetero-man to play the role of a transgender woman when there are so many trans people who are talented actors who could have been casted for the roles of trans people who are usually given to cisgender people. I hate that Hollywood feel that stories about trans people are better told by cisgender people who haven’t even had the struggles of day-to-day life as a trans person.

I’m also irritated by the fact that people of color can’t even go shopping without cops pulling them over and harassing them on the legitimacy of one’s earnings to buy a Ferragamo belt or Louis Vuitton satchel. When did “shopping while Black” become an addition to the list of activities a POC couldn’t do without someone assuming it has to be illegal because they’re African-American. It’s even more annoying knowing that these things usually only happen to people of color. The real criminals are the politicians and bankers who lie and steal from the middle-class and the poor. So, when the hell are undercover cops going to stop and question how they got their Louis Vuitton?

And one thing that truly grind my gears is the hypocrisies of Republican politicians who feel that it’s “moral” and “logical” to take away funding from everything that would benefit those who don’t get a nice Senate or Congress check–like food assistance and Head Start–and those very “immoralites” get millions of dollars in subsidies from  the very government they denounce. They say the ACA is evil and to “not let government in your healthcare,” when many of these very politicians have passed laws that intrude on the personal health decisions for women. It’s a shame knowing these are the people elected to run our country. Yes, the racism and sexism isn’t enough so they attack us financially and they say all of it is our faults. Oh, how I hate them so.

Well, I’m about to end this. You’ll be hearing from me soon. And I want to leave you with this:

“Dreams come true. Without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.” –John Updike







Monday, August 5 2013

CeCe McDonald

Writes From Prison

About Trayvon Martin

CeCe McDonald

Incarcerated transgender activist CeCe McDonald is currently serving a 41-month prison term for the stabbing death of a man who attacked her and friends in Minneapolis. Recently, McDonald wrote a moving indictment of racial profiling and the criminal justice system. In it, she references everything from George Zimmerman’s acquittal to the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act as proof that “the injustice system has failed us again.” But perhaps one of the most poignant point in the letter comes when McDonald talks about her own survivor’s guilt as one of many high-profile people of color who have essentially been prosecuted for being targets of racist and/or homophobic attacks:

I know that people have been comparing my case to Zimmerman’s, and yes it’s obvious that laws are biased. But even I can say I came out blessed knowing that (a) the system was against me to begin with, and that (b) looking at other cases similar to mines, I didn’t have to spent extensive time-even decades-in prison. People don’t understand that I actually feel a guilt for that. I know that nothing beyond the incident and getting arrested was in my control, as it is for anyone who is a victim of the system. But for me it hurts-a lot. My heart aches for the Patreese Johnsons, the Marissa Alexanders, and the Chrishaun McDonalds. But no pain can bring back the Trayvon Martins, the Oscar Grants, the Matthew Shepards, the James Birds, the Gwen Araujos, and all of our brothers and sisters who were victims of hate in this world. I can say that survivor’s guilt is real. That I’m still, to this day, dealing with the fear and sadness of my experience with hate and discrimination. How blessed am I to have so much love and support from my family, and I say family which extends to all my friends and supporters around the world.

Further down in the letter, McDonald implores her supporters to think about how they can organize across race, class, and gender boundaries. Again, it’s a moving call to action and you should make your way through theentire letter on her Support CeCe McDonald website.



June 2, 2013

The CeCe McDonald Story:

Was She Fighting Back

or Committing Murder?

By Kristal Hawkins
CeCe McDonald. Personal photo.    Originally published 08/21/2013. Sometimes things go terribly wrong. Let’s say you’re walking with friends through your neighborhood late at night, on your way to pick up a few things from the store. You pass a handful of people smoking outside a rowdy bar. They do not like you. They do not like the way you look. They do not like your body or what you do with it. They say things, things you have heard before, things that question whether you should be on this street or even on this earth. You could ignore them and keep walking. You could, like you have done on so many nights, just let them say these things. You could silently agree that this street belongs to these people and you do not belong here and move on. You could stick up for yourself and for your friends and for people like you. And then the people saying these things could get angrier. You could get angrier too. Someone could get hurt, someone could get killed—you, or maybe someone else, and either way your life would change forever. Everything might go wrong and when it’s over your cheek might be sliced all the way through by a beer glass and a man might bleed to death on the sidewalk before paramedics can save him. And if he died at your hands and the court doesn’t believes it was self-defense you could go to prison for a very long time. On a June night in 2011, a group outside South Minneapolis’s Schooner Tavern reportedly accosted CeCe McDonald and her friends with a barrage of racist, anti-gay and transphobic abuse. McDonald, a young African-American transgender woman, objected. Their argument escalated into a brawl. When it was over, McDonald needed eleven stitches. And a middle-aged, straight white man named Dean Schmitz lie dead. Hennepin County charged CeCe McDonald with homicide in the death of Dean Schmitz. She claimed it had been self-defense—and a legion of transgender activists and other supporters stood by her even after she took a plea deal. Two Lives Converge CeCe McDonald was born in Chicago in 1989, with a male body and the name Chrishaun Reed McDonald. At 14, with her family’s support, she started doing something that felt more comfortable to her: She began regularly dressing and living as a woman. By the time she was arrested for the alleged murder of Dean Schmitz in Minneapolis, at 23, McDonald was undergoing hormone treatments to continue her transformation. McDonald had been supporting herself by working in a café while she studied fashion design at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. And she was helping out others: McDonald lived with and helped support four other gay or transgender African-American youth. A young leader in Minneapolis’s transgender community, McDonald—nicknamed “Honey Bea” by friends—had plenty of experience with bullying and with street harassment. She’d developed both courage and poise and seemed to know how to deal with the big-mouths who gave her trouble for being black or queer. She spoke out for herself and people like her on her blog. Cece McDonald didn’t have much in common with Dean Schmitz, a heterosexual white man more than 20 years her senior. Initial reports painted Schmitz, a 47-year-old Richfield resident, as a beloved family man murdered by a then-unnamed assailant. His four sons told reporters that he was a generous man, always trying to help others. His ex-wife, Tammy Williams, mourned his violent death. Once details came out that suggested Dean Schmitz was among a group of middle-aged whites who verbally attacked a group of black and transgendered youth that fateful night, the sympathetic reports dried up. There isn’t much on the public record about Schmitz’s life or personality, but he had a long record of trouble (as did Chrishaun McDonald— the Minnesota Judicial Branch website lists the records for both,) including convictions for fifth-degree assault and domestic assault. And it would become known that he had methamphetamine, opiates, and Benzoylecgognine (a by-product of mixing alcohol and cocaine) in his system the night of his death, substances that may have increased a tendency toward combative behavior. Later reports on Schmitz quote his brother, Charles Pelfrey, who suggested that Schmitz was a moody, angry man who, in the wrong mood, might very well have let loose a barrage of slurs against minorities. Even more damningly, word got out that the Hennepin county medical examiner had noticed that Schmitz’s corpse bore not just a tattoo of the word “outlaw” on his back—but a swastika tattoo on his chest. Pelfrey excuses his brother’s tattoo as just a relic of his prison-time strategic alliance with a white supremacist group. But McDonald’s allies would cite this as evidence of Schmitz’s hostility toward people like her, something that would prompt her to feel she needed to act in self-defense. Authorities disagreed. Some Words, a Street Fight, a Death CeCe McDonald’s injury. Personal photo.   Just after midnight Sunday morning, June 5, 2011, CeCe McDonald was walking toward Lake Street to pick up some things at a 24-hour branch of Minnesota grocery chain Cub Foods. With her were her roommate Latavia Taylor, Larry Tyaries Thomas, Zavawn Smith and Roneal Harris. As they walked the half-mile to the store, a police car pulled up alongside them, and an officer demanded to know what these young black people were up to. The cops then followed them a few blocks before turning away. Two women and a man, each white and middle-aged, were smoking in front of the Schooner Tavern, a divey neighborhood bar at 29th Street East and 27th Avenue South. As McDonald and her friends got closer, the older group began harassing them One of the women, Dean Schmitz’s girlfriend, Jenny Thoreson, would later say that “something about their walk”  prompted her group to say something “derogatory” about McDonald and her friends.  Schmitz’s ex-girlfriend, Molly Flaherty, would tell City Pages about the “booty shorts and tank top” worn by one of the young people, bizarrely adding,  ”He looked like he was ready to go to a recital.” Latavia Taylor later told the Star Tribune that Dean Schmitz had asked, “Did you think you were going to rape somebody in those girl clothes?” And McDonald reported that they referred to those in her group as “faggots,”  ”chicks with dicks” and other racial epithets. As the group got closer, things got more heated. According to Thoreson’s interview with City Pages, Flaherty shouted, “I’ll take you on, bitch.” Then one of the women allegedly swung a beer glass into McDonald’s face. A full-on brawl apparently ensued as other patrons joined the fray, including Flaherty’s boyfriend, David Crandell. When it was over, Dean Schmitz was bleeding through a short but deep chest wound. Gary Gilbert, working security for the Schooner Tavern that night, called 911 to report that Schmitz was injured.  Paramedics were unable to save him; Dean Schmitz died at the scene. Taylor, Smith and Harris had already fled, boarding a bus. McDonald and Thomas left the scene too, continuing in the direction of the grocery store.  Gilbert followed them, still on his cell phone and describing McDonald to the 911 disptacher. McDonald flagged down cops in the Cub Foods parking lot. CeCe McDonald was bleeding heavily from her face. The woman’s beer glass had cut through her cheek and into the roof of her mouth, neatly slicing a salivary gland. She was brought to Hennepin County Medical Center, where she needed 11 stitches. The 40-year-old white woman involved in the fracas was treated at the same hospital as McDonald. Press accounts don’t indicate which woman, or whether she was the one who hit McDonald with the glass. McDonald was the only one charged in the fight. Hennepin County decided that, to avoid any conflict of interest on its part, their colleagues in Washington County (a largely white suburban and exurban area that, incidentally, includes Michele Bachman’s congressional district) would handle any case against the woman wielding the glass. In May, 2012, the Washington County Attorney’s Office filed two felony charges against Molly Flaherty: second-degree assault with a deadly weapon and third-degree assault causing substantial bodily harm. Her case is ongoing. There would be some initial confusion over exactly what happened that night, but police immediately focused on McDonald as the suspect in Schmitz’s death. Self-Defense, a Cover-Up, of Homicide? Once the deep laceration on her face was stitched up, CeCe McDonald met briefly with Sgt. John Holthusen and Sgt. Christopher Gaiters of the Minneapolis Police Department’s homicide unit. Three hours later, they saw her again for questioning; meanwhile, she says, she was not given the opportunity to make any calls. Sgt. Gaiters confirmed that McDonald was neither drunk nor in too much pain to undergo the interrogation. The 18-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department says that McDonald understood the reading of her Miranda rights, that she waived her right to remain silent, and that she did not request an attorney. During later pretrial hearings, McDonald’s attorney, Hersch Izek, asserted that McDonald was in no condition to be questioned that night; Gaiters countered that McDonald had seemed competent and articulate, though her facial injuries made it hard for her to talk. Gaiters recalled that McDonald alternately laughed and cried during the interrogation, and that she acted out the alleged crime for the sergeants. During her initial questioning, McDonald told cops that she’d pulled a pair of fabric scissors out of her purse to scare off Schmitz when he came at her after the fight had seemed to have cooled down; when he rushed her, he ran into the scissors, she said. According to this first scenario, McDonald did kill Schmitz, but accidentally, and in self-defense. Later, though, McDonald would write to the Star Tribune and tell the newspaper that this confession was a panicked mistake, made as she loyally tried  to cover up for the unnamed friend who she says actually stabbed Schmitz. One of those present that night, McDonald’s boyfriend Larry Tyaries Thomas, would back her up on that theory. Thomas said that he tried to pull McDonald away from the argument when he saw that she was bleeding—and that, when he looked back, one of their friends was running from the scene. Thomas claimed that the friend later told them that he’d accidentally stabbed Schmitz when Schmitz fell on the blade he was carrying (the murder weapon has never been found). Another friend, Zavawn Smith, claimed to have recorded a video of this unidentified accidental killer’s confession on his cell phone. But McDonald later reverted to the self-defense claim. Police, though, already had the theory that prosecutors would push. A witness told them that Schmitz had grabbed McDonald to pull her away from a woman during the fight, then backed away, saying “You stabbed me.” The witness alleged that McDonald replied, “Yes, I did.” Prosecutors didn’t think this scenario sounded like self-defense; they mounted a case against McDonald. Solitary Confinement Cece McDonald was charged with second-degree murder put in solitary confinement  after her interrogation.  Solitary is often used as punishment, and it can be psychologically harrowing; but authorities, insisting that it was for her own protection, overruled McDonald’s repeated requests to be returned to the general population. After a month, she was transferred to a male psychiatric unit. She spent another week in solitary in September. Authorities never acceded to her request to be housed with female prisoners. McDonald and her supporters say that, despite complaining of headaches and ear and eye pain, she was refused medical treatment for an extended period. After two months, she saw a doctor for follow-up on the lacerated salivary gland; by then she reportedly had a golf-ball-sized swelling in her cheek. The Legal Rights Center took her case. The nonprofit organization has offered free legal help to low-income clients since 1970. According to executive director Michael Friedman, the LRC strives to help change its clients lives, not just get them off their charges. They’ll only take on homicide cases like McDonald’s if the full staff agrees to support the potential client. Legal Rights Center unanimously agreed to take McDonald on, and Hersch Izek became her lawyer. In September, Judge Daniel Moreno lowered McDonald’s bail from $150,000 to $75,000, and by October 4, 2011, McDonald’s supporters had raised the $7500 bond that released her to house arrest. But things quickly went downhill. Prosecutors offered her McDonald a deal: Rather than face trial for second-degree murder, she could plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter and serve just seven years in prison. She refused the plea bargain. And on October 6, days after her release to house arrest, prosecutors added a second charge of second-degree murder, this one “second-degree intentional murder.”  Each of these two charges could damn her to as much as 40 years in prison if she were found guilty in court. Friedman and the Legal Rights Center claimed that prosecutors were retaliating for McDonald’s refusal to take a plea. Then, McDonald’s parole officer suspected her of tampering with her electronic monitoring bracelet (supporters contend that this may have been a mechanical error)—and she failed one of her drug screenings, testing positive for marijuana on December 29th. With a bench warrant issued for her arrest, she turned herself in on January 4, 2012. Judge Moreno set a dauntingly steep bail: $500,000. McDonald’s trial was almost four months off, and she’d be in jail until then. But media interest and public support were mounting. Community Support CeCe support flyer. Source:    Interest in the homicide case against CeCe McDonald made a slow start. Local papers initially focused on the victim, Dean Schmitz , and when the accused first came into view, the transgender woman confused the press. For example, a June 7, 2011 City Pages article referred to Chrishaun McDonald as a 23-year-old man. (Many sources would continue to refer to McDonald as “Chrishaun” rather than “CeCe”. While “CeCe” was the name she used, “Chrishaun” was her birthname and remained her legal name.) By June 14, City Pages was just clear enough in its grasp of the situation to describe McDonald with this confusing sentence: “Although 23-year-old McDonald is being charged as a man, he’s transgender.” Early Star Tribune articles carefully avoided choosing a pronoun and making a gender decision,  instead repeatedly referring to McDonald as “a person in transition from a man to a woman”; a later Star Tribune article specifically noting that McDonald undergoes female hormone treatments still used the pronoun “he.” The Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition and the Minneapolis-based Trans Youth Support Network came to McDonald’s defense. The organizations’ representatives—most visibly, Trans Youth Support Network’s Katie Burgess—made themselves available in interviews with both the mainstream and gay- or –transgender-oriented press, clarifying McDonald’s situation and frequently citing the high rates of assault on transgender youth, both on the streets and in jail. And they galvanized support for McDonald around the US. Meanwhile, McDonald’s family and friends reported that they were being harassed by people connected with Dean Schmitz. They recounted threatening phone calls, and said that people they recognized from the Schooner Tavern had thrown bottles at them from a car, yelling at them to “go back to Africa.” On April 19, 2012, McDonald’s supporters delivered a 15,000-signature petition to Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman, asking that he recognize that McDonald acted in self-defense and drop the charges. Among McDonald’s supporters were Leslie Feinberg (author of seminal transgender memoir Stone Butch Blues), Kate Bornstein (Gender Outlaw and Queer and Pleasant Danger), Minnie Bruce Pratt (S/he), and Dean Spade (of Seattle University Law School and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project), Minneapolis City Council member Cam Gordon and Minnesota State Representatives Susan Allen and Karen Clark. McDonald’s supporters in the Trans Youth Support Network also planned a dance party in front of Freeman’s office on April 26. But Freeman wasn’t changing his mind; as he saw it, McDonald had simply killed a man, and her trial was set for April 30, 2012. Freeman continued to maintain that it wasn’t self defense. Schmitz wasn’t the one who’d hit McDonald with the glass, he pointed out. And nothing stopped McDonald from running away from the scene at any time. A Decision CeCe McDonald prison photo. Source:    Pretrial hearings in April 2012 culminated in some rulings that crippled CeCe McDonald’s defense. Judge Moreno ruled that the defense couldn’t present Dean Schmitz’s swastika tattoo in the proceedings—McDonald couldn’t see it, he said, so it wasn’t relevant to that night’s events. Moreno also indicated that he’d permit an academic as an expert witness but not an activist—the defense had to drop their plan to have Rebecca Wagner testify, and they settled instead on the University of Minnesota’s Cesar Gonzalez. Even then, Judge Moreno ruled, the expert witness could testify only regarding the definition of the word “transgender”, but not about, for example, the high incidence of hate crimes against transgendered persons—something that  defense claimed contributed to an atmosphere that led McDonald to fear for her life. Furthermore, Judge Moreno banned any reference to Dean Schmitz’s record of violence against even people in his own family. The prosecution, however, was free to cite an old bounced check of McDonald’s as evidence of her unreliability that could negate her own testimony. In the end it didn’t matter. Prosecutors presented a second, more generous plea deal, and the Legal Rights Center team encouraged McDonald to accept a second-degree manslaughter plea. She had a choice: Do you keep fighting, insist you acted in self-defense, put your family through a trial, and risk 40 years in prison? Or do you step back, give in, and accept an expected 41 months? CeCe McDonald took the plea (the transcript can be read here.) To do so she had to concede that she’d acted unreasonably in using scissors as a dangerous weapon against an unarmed man, and give up claims of self-defense or accidental harm. Dean Spade of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project has estimated that, with time served and good behavior, CeCe McDonald may have as little as 20 months left to serve. But the second-degree homicide will follow her the rest of her life On June 4, 2012, Judge Moreno handed down the expected 41-month sentence. McDonald received credit for the 275 days she spent in jail, but not the three months she spent under home monitoring. She is currently inmate 238072 at Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud, a men’s prison.   +++++++++++++++ 1 Dead, 1 Arrested after Stabbing in Minneapolis (2011, June 6). WCCO,, retrieved 4/23/12. Anderson-Minshall, Diane (2012, April 20). Fighting for Her Life: Transgender Woman Charged with Murder. The Advocate,, retrieved 4/23/12. Annabelle, Jessica (2012, February 23). Commentary: Free CeCe. Lavender Magazine,, retrieved 4/23/12. Broverman, Neil (2012, May 2). After Horrific Fight Leaves Man Dead, Trans Woman CeCe McDonald Accepts Guilty Plea. Advocate,, retrieved 5/2/12. CeCe McDonald: Black, Transgender Woman Faces Murder Trial for What Supporters Call Self-Defense. Democracy Now!,, retrieved 4/27/12. CeCe McDonald, Minnesota Transgender Woman, Please Guilty in Manslaughter Case Despite Supporters’ Defense (2012, May 2). 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