Editorial by Merritt & Beth Clifton
Three nights ago, in advance of Martin Luther King Day, ANIMALS 24-7 posted as our lead feature Black humane history found in great-grandpa’s attic near a town called Ark, profiling the lives and work of John W. Lemon and Seymour Carroll.
This article followed up on, and expanded, Four black leaders who built the humane movement, originally posted in 2019, profiling William Key, Richard Carroll, and Frederick Barnwell Rivers, also introducing John W. Lemon and Seymour Carroll, Richard Carroll’s son.
Those five forgotten African-Americans between 1898 and 1942 probably reached more people in person, as employees of the American Humane Education Society, than any humane educators before or since. That their names are not better remembered in the humane and animal rights movements is a travesty.
Two nights ago, for the sixth consecutive year, ANIMALS 24-7 reposted What animal advocates owe to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
The King family
This article, among our most-read-and-requested offerings ever, examines the enormous influence that Martin Luther King Jr. had on Henry Spira (1927-1998), in particular, who more than anyone else inspired and rallied the rise of the animal rights movement in the late 20th century.
ANIMALS 24-7 appreciated also the contributions of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King; the ongoing contributions to animal advocacy of their son Dexter Scott King; and King’s influence on Cesar Chavez (1927-1993).
Chavez, though better known as a labor leader and civil rights activist, was a longtime vegetarian who spoke out for animals, too.
We unfortunately omitted mention of Bill Moyer (1933-2002), a longtime aide to King at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who went on to co-found the Movement for a New Society and later founded the Social Movement Empowerment Project.
Moyer during his last dozen years tried hard to share his strategic experience and insights with animal advocacy leadership.
Moyer’s influence on the thinking of some of the many animal advocacy leaders he met with is much more evident posthumously than it ever was during his lifetime, but few people in humane work today actually have any idea who he was.
We might also have mentioned Nelson Mandela, another leader profoundly influenced by Martin Luther King Jr., who in 1994 was elected first president of post-apartheid South Africa.
Retiring in 1999, at age 81, Mandela withdrew gradually from public life, gracefully surrendering most of his titles and affiliations before his death in December 2013, at age 95.
To the end, however, Mandela remained patron-in-chief of the National Council of SPCAs, a post he clearly cherished and had held for nearly 20 years.
Was hunter, not veg
Mandela was not deeply involved in animal issues. He reportedly shot both an impala and a blesbok in 1991 as a guest of KaNgwane (Bantustan) conservation officials.
Neither was Mandela a vegetarian, though he had prominent vegetarian friends.
Among them were the chef Bakshi Vemulakonda, formerly director of catering for Air India, and the spiritual leader Chinmoy Kumar Ghose (1931-2007).
But Mandela had a sincere appreciation of animals.
Recognizing that animals do not recognize human political boundaries, and saying so, Mandela in 2001 opened a gate to allow 40 elephants to pass from Kruger National Park in South Africa to an adjoining area in Mozambique.
This was a part of the creation of the 13,510-square-mile Gaza-Kruger-Gonarezhou transborder park, also including Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. It was a project Mandela strongly favored.
Mandela later attended the release of a troupe of baboons who had been kept in a laboratory into the Shambala Game Reserve.
The baboons had been rehabilitated by the late Rita Miljo (1931-2012), founder of the Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education.
Miljo, who unfortunately later died in a fire at her sanctuary, took in and worked with the baboons against the advice of the National Council of SPCAs and South African wildlife officials that they could not be returned to the wild.
“The greatest gift: a more humane society”
“In time,” Mandela said, “we must bestow on South Africa the greatest gift––a more humane society.”
The Cape Town-based Humane Education Trust made extensive use of the quote in support of the South African national humane education program, introduced in 2003.
Unfortunately, the U.S. humane movement today lags as far behind in welcoming, recognizing, and celebrating the contributions of people of African descent as our society as a whole did in Martin Luther King Jr.’s lifetime.
This is why it is necessary to re-introduce the names and accomplishments of William Key, John W. Lemon, Richard and Seymour Carroll, and Frederick Rivers Barnwell.
Their contributions are not only forgotten, but were deliberately expunged from humane history by the next several generations of animal advocacy leadership, as detailed in Black humane history found in great-grandpa’s attic near a town called Ark.
The U.S. humane community does from time to time honor African-American celebrities who help to promote animal adoptions.
Yet this tradition degenerated from singer and actress Eartha Kitt’s promotions for the North Shore Animal League, decades ago, into the use of imagery featuring convicted dogfighter Michael Vick by the Humane Society of the U.S. for several years in ads pushing pit bulls, and then into the near absence of any African-American people in adoption promotion ads, other than stock images of no individual identity at all.
Meanwhile the U.S. humane community remains conspicuously reluctant to hire and advance African-American personnel.
There has been some progress, to be sure.
Dana Brown, 57, on June 24, 2021 became the third African-American to head Los Angeles Animal Services.
Unfortunately, because of retirements elsewhere, this means no net gain over the past year in the total number of African-Americans in leadership positions––and those in leadership positions are almost entirely heading animal care-and-control agencies, such as Los Angeles Animal Services, not donor-funded humane societies.
But why is it even possible, let alone necessary, to count, when representative numbers would mean the participation of hundreds, or even thousands?
Emmogene James, a longtime North Shore Animal League senior staff member, was almost the only African-American to rise into a visible leadership role at a humane society during the preceding 30 years.
Most of the few other African-Americans of any prominence in the U.S. humane community were hired by a single organization, the New York City-based American SPCA, during the decade following the Harlem riots of 1968.
Lloyd Tait, VMD
Reviewing the original edition of Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians & Staff in August 2004, ANIMALS 24-7 noticed immediately and approvingly that it was “dedicated to Lloyd Tait, VMD.”
Tait, who in 1968 became the American SPCA’s first director of shelter medicine, “was everything one could imagine in a friend and mentor,” recalled Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians & Staff editors Lila Miller and Stephen Zawistowski.
“Irascible, supportive, quixotic, and fiercely dedicated to animal welfare,’ Miller and Zawistowski wrote, “he laid the early foundation for the formal practice of veterinary medicine in the ASPCA shelters.”
Tait was later for many years a traveling consultant for the World Society for the Protection of Animals, contributing to humane advances in street dog and feral cat population control from the Caribbean islands to eastern Europe to Sri Lanka.
Tait joined the ASPCA staff soon after the hiring former ASPCA Brooklyn shelter director George Watford.
Watford, long ago retired, was only the second nationally prominent humane worker of African descent since Frederick Rivers Barnwell.
Miller, who on January 1, 2019 announced her retirement, joined the ASPCA staff in 1977. Despite her seniority and title, Miller appears to have never been listed on IRS Form 990 as one of the ASPCA’s ten most highly paid personnel.
At her retirement Miller remained perhaps the youngest African-American in a leadership position with any of the several dozen largest humane societies in the United States.
Some black guests are occasionally visible at national humane and animal rights conferences. Almost all, however, are either employed outside the humane cause, or are visitors from Africa. Those appearing at the podium are most often celebrity athletes or entertainers.
Since Miller was hired, a few other people of African ancestry have become prominent in shelter work, perhaps most notably former National Animal Care & Control Association board member Keith Robinson, also long ago retired.
Most of these African-Americans, however, like Dana Brown of Los Angeles Animal Services today, have worked in the realm of public service, where affirmative action hiring has long been required by law.
A convention of African-American executive directors of humane societies could probably be held at the average lunch counter, and would still have empty chairs.
Neither the first edition of Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians & Staff, nor the second edition, published 10 years later, makes mention of the ethnicity of either Tait or Miller.
Yet it needs to be mentioned.
When two of a tiny handful of people of any particular background make contributions to humane work of the magnitude they have, the rest of the humane community should sit up, take notice, and look for more talent from the same source.
No random accident
It is highly unlikely that Tait and Miller became who they are, doing what they did for decades, by random accident.
It is also tedious and tiresome that until the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the humane conference circuit entirely for two years, speakers at national animal advocacy conferences still suggested, based on long-ago surveys of African-American students enrolled in agricultural veterinary schools, that African-Americans are somehow less emotionally attached to animals than anyone else.
Any survey of agricultural veterinary students would almost certainly find less emotional attachment to animals than among companion animal veterinary students, and would probably find less than among the general public.
This is simply not relevant. It is time to stop looking for differences and excuses, and start looking for African-Americans to hire and train.
Abundant qualified talent
The veterinary profession itself offers abundant qualified talent. Harvard first graduated a African-American veterinarian in 1889; the University of Pennsylvania in 1907. The Tuskegee Institute, a historically black university, has graduated entire classes of veterinarians annually since 1949.
Indeed, the percentage of veterinarians of African-American descent has edged up slowly, from about 2% at Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination to 2.5% today, but––except at the ASPCA––African-American shelter veterinarians barely exist.
Attentive readers may note that this is not the first time ANIMALS 24-7 has said this. The above editorial is adapted from an article originating in January 1993.
Much of it is word-for-word identical to an opinion column published alongside a review of the first edition of Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians & Staff in August 2004, and alongside a review of the second edition in August 2014.
ANIMALS 24-7 posted previous editions of it, as it now stands with only minor updates, in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.
By January 2022 these words should have long since become historical artifacts. The message should no longer have currency.
Instead, it is still time for the humane community to stop looking for differences and excuses, and start looking for African-Americans to hire, train, and promote into positions of influence. It will never be too late.
Please help us continue speaking truth to power: