Substance News editorship returns to Schmidt family

Steinmetz High School teacher Sharon Schmidt, the widow of Substance founder and long-time editor George Schmidt, has returned to edit Substance beginning May 1, 2023. She had previously served as editor from October 2018 through May 2020.

Since 1975, Substance has been advocating for economic justice and professional respect for teachers, democracy within the Chicago Teachers Union and improved public schools. The monthly paper was in print from 1975 until 2012; we've been publishing stories online for nearly 20 years.

In addition to George Schmidt and his Substance co-founder Larry MacDonald, other editors have included Leo Gorenstein and Terry Czernik. Following George's death on Sept. 17, 2018, Sharon Schmidt edited Substance until May 2020. John Kugler edited Substance from June 2020 through April 2023.

The October 2018 Substance News homepage is devoted to stories and comments about George. Stories about his personal life appear on the left column of the homepage; articles about his work life are posted on the right. George Schmidt with his sons Sam, Josh, and Dan and widow Sharon in Chicago on July 15, 2018.


May 5, 2023 at 8:16 AM

By: John S. Whitfield

A triumph for our democracy, a win for First Amendment rights

Illinois lawmakers push back on library book bans

Measure passes vote despite partisan fissure

Claire Savage


CHICAGO – Illinois lawmakers greenlighted a bill Wednesday that says libraries in the state must adopt an anti-book banning policy to receive state funding, in a vote that fissured along party lines.

The measure, spearheaded by Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, represents a counter-movement to growing efforts to restrict books on topics such as race, gender and sexuality in schools and libraries across the United States.

The legislation has passed both chambers and now heads to the desk of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who said he looks forward to signing it.

“This landmark legislation is a triumph for our democracy, a win for First Amendment rights, and most importantly, a great victory for future generations to come,” said Giannoulias in a news conference Wednesday after HB Newly-elected Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias addresses the crowd after taking the Oath of Office on Jan. 9 in Springfield. State lawmakers greenlit a bill on Wednesday that says libraries in the state must adopt an anti-book banning policy to receive state funding in a vote that fissured along party lines.

2789 cleared the Senate in a party-line vote.

In order to be eligible for state funding, the bill requires libraries to adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which holds that “materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation,” and “should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

Libraries may also develop an alternative policy prohibiting the practice of banning to receive the funds.

Chicago-area Sen. Laura Murphy, a Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors, celebrated its passage.

“Our nation’s libraries have been under attack for too long – they are bastions of knowledge and proliferate the spread of ideas,” said Murphy in a news release. “Librarians are trained professionals, and we need to trust that they will stock our libraries with appropriate materials – they were hired for their expertise, and they deserve our respect.”

All 19 Republicans in the Illinois Senate voted against the measure, including Republican Sen. Jason Plummer, who represents Edwardsville, a city northeast of St. Louis.

Plummer said the bill is an effort by Illinois Democrats “to force their extreme ideology on communities across this state” and would wrest control from local libraries.

“The members of locally elected library boards, who work to increase literacy in their communities, don’t need a book-ban agenda foisted on them by Chicago politicians who are just trying to get cheap publicity,” Plummer said in a news release. “It’s offensive to the ideals of good government to threaten to take public funding away from the very communities that generated that funding through their taxes,” he said.

Giannoulias, a Democrat, said he is “blown away that this has become a partisan issue.”

Attempted book bans and restrictions at school and public libraries hit a recordhigh in 2022, according to a March report from the American Library Association.

Giannoulias, who in January was sworn in as the first new secretary of state in a quarter-century, teamed up with Naperville Democratic Rep. Anne Stava-Murray after parents in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove complained to the high school board about “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe last summer.

Savage is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

May 13, 2023 at 8:39 AM

By: Sharon M. Schmidt

Still the Same's comments about Sharon Schmidt's flexibility

While I appreciate the sentiments of "Still the Same's" comments, our policy is not to publish unsigned comments.

May 31, 2023 at 5:39 PM

By: David R. Stone

Thanks & congratulations

Congratulations, Sharon, on taking the helm at Substance News. And thank you to George, John, and all the other volunteer journalists who have fought the good fight and kept Substance News going for all of these years.

-David R. Stone, retired CPS teacher, and former Substance News contributor

June 5, 2023 at 3:11 PM

By: john kugler


running my own page that is not censored by the ruling class or liberal elite.

Its one thing to correct the thought process but to go backwards in time is reactionary.

my grandfather taught to me to go forward.


Dr Kugler

June 19, 2023 at 1:08 AM

By: john stewart whitfield


As the nation celebrates Juneteenth, it’s time to get rid of these three myths about slavery

Story by John Blake

'Temple “Tempie” Cummins stoically stares at the camera with her arms folded in her lap, sitting stiffly in a chair in her dusty, barren backyard with her weather-beaten wooden shack behind her. Her dark, creased face reflects years of poverty and worry.

The faded black and white image of Cummins from 1937 was snapped by a historian who stopped by her home in Jasper, Texas, to ask her about her childhood during slavery. Cummins, who did not know her exact age, shared stories of uninterrupted woe until she recounted how she and her mother discovered that they had been freed.

She said her mother, a cook for their former slave owner’s family, liked to hide in the chimney corner to eavesdrop on dinner conversations. One day in 1865, she overheard her owner say that slavery had ended, but he wasn’t going to let his slaves know until they harvested “another crop or two.”

“When mother heard that she say she slip out the chimney corner and crack her heels together four times and shouts, ‘I’s free, I’s free,’ ” Cummins told the historian, who recorded her story for a New Deal writers’ project that collected the narratives of the formerly enslaved during the Great Depression. “Then she runs to the field, ‘gainst marster’s will and tol’ all the other slaves and they quit work.”

That story is one of the first recorded memoires of an experience that would inspire the creation of Juneteenth, an annual holiday celebrating the end of slavery that the US will commemorate this Monday. It marks the moment in June of 1865 when Union troops arrived in Texas to inform enslaved African Americans that they were free by executive decree. Many people like Cummins in remote areas of Texas and elsewhere did not know that they were free as their White owners hid the news from them.

As the nation celebrates Juneteenth, it’s time to get rid of these three myths about slavery

Tempie Cummins, who was formerly enslaved, shared her story with a historian who recorded it for a New Deal writers' project. - Library of Congress

Juneteenth has since become known as “America’s Second Independence Day.” Now a federal holiday, it will be celebrated by parades, proclamations, and ceremonies throughout the US. Though it commemorates a moment when enslaved African Americans were freed, the US is still held captive by several myths about slavery and people like Cummins.

One of the biggest myths that historians and storytellers have successfully challenged in recent years is that enslaved African Americans were docile, passive victims who had to wait until White abolitionists and “The Great Emancipator” Abraham Lincoln freed them. Black soldiers, for example, played a pivotal role in winning the Civil War. This new understanding of slavery has led to a rhetorical shift: It’s no longer proper to refer to people like Cummins as simply “slaves.”

“There’s been a shift in the historical community attempting to not define the period or the people by what was done to them in the sense that their identity becomes a noun, a slave, but rather that they are that they were in the process of being enslaved,” says Tobin Miller Shearer, a historian and director of African American Studies at the University of Montana.

“There were slavers who did that to them,” he says, “but there’s more to their identity than what was being done to them.”

Yet other myths about slavery persist, in part, because of the sheer enormity and brutality of slavery.

“The enslavement of an estimated ten million Africans over a period of almost four centuries in the Atlantic slave trade was a tragedy of such scope that it is difficult to imagine, much less comprehend,” Albert J. Raboteau wrote in “Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South.”

Here are three other myths about slavery that historians say persist:

Myth No. 1: African Americans were ‘freed’ after the Civil War ended

There is a popular conception that the formerly enslaved were freed after the Civil War ended. But many had to continually fight for their freedom because so many Whites still tried to keep them in captivity and were willing to use deceit and violence to do so.

The author Clint Smith described this dynamic in his New York Times bestselling book, “How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with The History of Slavery Across America.” Smith said the Juneteenth jubilation didn’t last for many formerly enslaved people. Former Confederate soldiers still tried to round up Black “runaways” to return them to their owners though that term no longer had any legal merit. And White vigilantes tracked down and punished formerly enslaved people.

Smith unearthed the narrative of a woman named Susan Merritt of Rusk Country, Texas, who recounted what happened when some people like Cummins in Texas tried to claim their freedom:

“Lots of Negroes were killed after freedom…bushwhacked, shot down while they were trying to get away,” Merritt said. “You could see lots of Negroes hanging from trees in Sabine bottom right after freedom. They would catch them swimming across Sabine River and shoot them.”

As the nation celebrates Juneteenth, it’s time to get rid of these three myths about slavery

As the nation celebrates Juneteenth, it’s time to get rid of these three myths about slavery

A sketch of "Celebration of The Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia by the Colored People, in Washington, April 19, 1866" by Frederick Dielman. The fight for freedom continued after the Civil War ended. - Sepia Times/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

And then there was the practice of taking away Black freedom through other means, like convict-leasing programs and a corrupt justice system throughout the South that the historian Douglas A. Blackmon documented in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Slavery By Another Name.”

The lesson from history: Slavery didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation. Black people still had to literally fight for their freedom long afterward. Smith quotes the historian W. Caleb McDaniel who wrote:

“Slavery did not end cleanly or on a single day. It ended through a violent, uneven process.”

Myth No. 2: Enslaved Africans came to America without any culture or civilization

Mention slavery and it still evokes images of half-naked Africans stumbling onto the American shores, struggling to learn to read and write in a strange and alien land. The focus of many stories about the formerly enslaved is what was taken from them. But they gave plenty to America in ways that are still not appreciated.

Captive Africans who came here didn’t need to be civilized. They came to the US as fully formed individuals, not blank canvases, with their own cultures and specialized knowledge, says Leslie Wilson, a historian at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

The thumbprints of the culture that formerly enslaved people created are now stamped on virtually every facet of American culture, Wilson says. By the Civil War, Black people had already changed American concepts of architecture, burial, music, storytelling and medicine, Wilson says.

“Much of Southern culture is nothing more than blackness,” Wilson says. “It is the blues and jazz of the 19th century and the rock and roll of the 20th. It is the chicken and grits, the way that people rock in church or the cadence of the pastor.”

If that sounds like hyperbole, consider how much of Americans’ contemporary landscape is shaped by the legacy of the formerly enslaved:

The Statue of Liberty was originally created to commemorate freed enslaved people, not the arrival of immigrants.

An enslaved person called Onesimus changed the way Americans treated epidemics, pioneering a technique to prevent the spread of smallpox that he had learned from his native West Africa.

Country music owes much of its musical legacy to the influence of the formerly enslaved. The banjo, for example, is a descendant of an instrument that was brought to America by enslaved West Africans and many of the genre’s earliest hits were adapted from slave spirituals.

Bugs Bunny cartoons and other stories like Brer Rabbit featuring clever, talking animals were originally inspired by African folktales first told by enslaved people.

Brer Rabbit chatting with little rabbit children in an illustration for the book, "Uncle Remus and Friends" by Joel C. Harris (1848-1908.) Such stories were inspired by African folktales originally told by enslaved people. - Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Black and White culture is so intertwined that the cultural critic, Albert Murray, declared in his book, “The Omni-Americans,” that “American culture is “incontestably mulatto.” White and Black people in the US “resemble nobody else in the world so much as they resemble each other.”

“The United States is in actuality not a nation of black people and white people. It is a nation of multicolored people,” Murray wrote. “Any fool can see that the white people are not really white, and that black people are not black. They are all interrelated one way or another.”

Myth No. 3: Enslaved Africans were brainwashed by a White man’s ‘pie-in-the sky’ Christianity

In the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, there is a special exhibit of an artifact that is so rare that there are only a handful now in existence. It is what historians call a “Slave Bible.” It is a copy of a Bible that was used by British missionaries to convert enslaved African Americans. Published in 1807, the Bible deletes any passages that may inspire liberation – about 90% of the Old Testament is missing along with half of the New Testament.

“They literally blacked out, portions of the Bible that had anything to do with freedom, anything to do with equality, anything to do with God delivering folk,” says Leon Harris, a theology professor at Biola University in California.

There is misconception that Christianity was successfully used to create docile slaves who were conditioned to heed New Testament passages such as “slaves obey your earthly masters.” Malcolm X derided Christianity as a White man’s religion used to brainwash Black people to “shout and sing and pray until we die ‘for some dreamy heaven-in-the-hereafter’” while the White man “has his milk and honey in the streets paved with golden dollars right here on this earth!”

But historians like Harris say most slaves disdained the type of Christianity that was taught to them. Many instead discovered those missing passages in the Slave Bible, such as the Old Testament stories of God freeing the Israelites from Egyptian captivity. It’s no accident that many Black leaders who have led freedom struggles, from Nat Turner to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., were Christian ministers.

“Instead of Christianity being a religion of African oppression, many interpreted it as a religion of freedom,” Harris says.

A "Slave Bible" published in 1808, with all references to freedom from slavery removed, is displayed at an exhibition in the Lambeth Palace Library in London. -

The historical record shows that enslaved African Americans revitalized Christianity in other ways, historians say. They injected emotionalism and an emphasis on ecstatic worship into evangelical Christianity that can still be seen in how many White Pentecostal worship today. And Negro spirituals, often called the nation’s first musical form unique to America, continue to be sung throughout churches of all races and ethnicities today.

Former slaves remade Christianity – it didn’t remake them, says Raboteau, author of “Slave Religion.” He wrote that it had a “this-worldly” impact:

“To describe slave religion as merely otherworldly is inaccurate, for the slaves believed that God had acted, was acting, and would continue to act within human history and within their own particular history as a peculiar people just as long ago he had acted on behalf of another chosen people, biblical Israel,” Raboteau wrote.

This year, Juneteenth comes at a time when White educators and politicians are passing laws that ban the teaching of Black history in schools that could make White students or others feel “discomfort.” How many students will be able to learn about the resilience of the formerly enslaved?

That’s a question that no holiday celebration can answer. But one historical debate has been settled:

Even as the stories of the formerly enslaved are forgotten by history, we live in a contemporary America that was profoundly shaped by how they resisted captivity – whether some of us care to know it or not.

John Blake is a Senior Writer at CNN and the author of “More Than I Imagined: What a Black Man Discovered About the White Mother He Never Knew.”

June 19, 2023 at 7:53 AM

By: John Whitfield


Don't whitewash Juneteenth: Black people shouldn't have to lose identity to promote holiday

Opinion by James E. Causey, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Juneteenth is my favorite holiday. It’s the oldest known commemoration of the end of slavery in America and often brings people together who have not seen each other in years.

Blacks celebrate Juneteenth because it symbolizes the end of African Americans being treated as property while being physically and mentally abused by whites for free labor. The first slave ships docked in Jamestown, Virginia, in August of 1619. The last known slave ship arrived in Alabama in 1860. Slavery on U.S. soil spanned more than 240 years.

While Juneteenth is a celebration, it is also a day of paying homage to the ancestors who lost their lives while shackled, chained and stacked on top of one another in slave ships that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Those who did not survive the crossing were discarded into the sea.

As Juneteenth approaches on Monday, a recent controversy in Greenville, South Carolina, shows we're still learning how to fully honor an event that was only made a federal holiday two years ago. Event organizers apologized in May after featuring a white couple on an advertising banner promoting "Juneteenth, An Upstate Celebration of Freedom, Unity, & Love.”

Thousands saw the ill-conceived ad, and some Blacks even called for a boycott. While the ad was surprising, I was more shocked to learn that some African Americans gave the ad the thumbs up.

The white couple never should have been the face of an African American event. Whites, and people of all races and backgrounds, can and should attend Juneteenth Day events. I want them to sample the delicious food created by people of African descent, take in our culture, socialize, but, more important, learn our history.

Many people do not understand what internalized racial oppression looks like. While cultivating diversity is good, Black leaders in Milwaukee said it should not be done at the expense of our own experiences. Juneteenth is a holiday and celebration whose images should only be that of descendants of enslaved people.

“People of color have spent so much energy trying to make people of white feel comfortable that we lose our own identity and value,” said Venice Williams, co-founder/producer at Kujichagulia Producers Cooperative in Milwaukee.

Americans differ on racial equality: Racial justice doesn't have to divide us as Americans. Here's how we can work together.

Apology by Greenville Juneteenth organizers felt whitewashed

Juneteenth GVL founder and Executive Director Rueben Hays, who is Black, apologized – but only after some members of the board defended the banner, saying it was one of 50 ads aimed at reflecting diversity. In the apology, Hays said:

"Juneteenth GVL would like to apologize to the community for the presence of non-black faces on two flags representing Juneteenth. We acknowledge this mistake having been made and will correct the error quickly. This error was an attempt at uniting all of Greenville and, thereby, a slight oversight on one individual’s part that prevented us from fully embracing the rich potential and celebrating the depth of the black culture through the message and meaning of Juneteenth and for that, we apologize to you the entire community."

Hays whitewashed African American culture. It’s still mindboggling how he didn’t understand why placing white people on a banner representing Juneteenth was a problem from the beginning.

The decision is equivalent to hosting a “women’s march” but placing men on the flyers. While men should support women’s rights and causes, we should not be the face of any women’s event and vice versa.

'You should never be the image promoting what is ours'

While it’s always OK for other races and cultures to be lifted, nobody must explain anything to make people feel comfortable. Everyone should do their work to learn about cultures. Williams said African Americans have always had to explain why we are honoring our history and culture, while other races don’t have to.

Milwaukee has celebrated Juneteenth since 1971, and the event has grown over the past five decades. Today it features a vast street festival along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Food vendors offer everything from BBQ and mac and cheese to fried catfish and red velvet cake. You will also find strawberry soda, a staple because red in food represents the blood spilled by those lost during the multiple generations of slavery.

President Joe Biden signed a bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday on June 17, 2021. Slavery was abolished in January 1863, but many enslaved people in the South – Texas particularly – didn’t know they were free until June 19, 1865, two and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

How should we celebrate Juneteenth? More than any other holiday, Juneteenth must be a day of service and remembrance

People still struggle with how to celebrate this day. If you are in this position, here are a few things you can do: Attend the Juneteenth Day celebrations; read books on African American history; learn more about slavery; spend your dollars with Black-owned businesses; have a meal with a Black person; and learn about the horrible truths of slavery.

Avoid cashing in or doing something cringe-worthy. For example, Walmart offered a “Celebration Edition Juneteenth Ice Cream" last year and several other Juneteenth-themed items. The big box chain was criticized for trying to profit from the most important holiday of the year for Black Americans. The backlash from African Americans on social media was swift, forcing the retailer to pull the ice cream.

They were not alone. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis also caught the fury of Black people when it sold Juneteenth watermelon salad. Like Walmart, the museum pulled the prepackaged salads and apologized.

White people play a role in Black history. Some played the role of antagonists, while others played positive roles by challenging the racist systems that discriminated against African Americans – like Father James Groppi, who helped fight against housing and racial discrimination in Milwaukee.

Williams offered these words of advice for white people interested in celebrating Juneteenth: “You are more than welcome to celebrate with us and learn our history, but you should never be the image promoting what is ours.”

James E. Causey has been covering his hometown ever since a high school internship through the Milwaukee Sentinel. This column first published at the Journal Sentinel, where he now writes and edits news stories. Causey was a health fellow at the University of Southern California in 2018 and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2007. Follow him on Twitter: @jecausey

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Don't whitewash Juneteenth: Black people shouldn't have to lose identity to promote holiday

June 19, 2023 at 8:09 AM

By: john stewart whitfield


In what is now known as Juneteenth, on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrive in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War is over and slavery in the United States is abolished.

A mix of June and 19th, Juneteenth has become a day to commemorate the end of slavery in America. Despite the fact that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued more than two years earlier on January 1, 1863, a lack of Union troops in the rebel state of Texas made the order difficult to enforce.

Some historians blame the lapse in time on poor communication in that era, while others believe Texan slave-owners purposely withheld the information.

On that day, 250,000 enslaved people were freed, and despite the message to stay and work for their owners, many left the state immediately and headed north or to nearby states in search of family members who had been taken to other regions during slavery.

For many African Americans, June 19 is considered an independence day. Before 2021, nearly all 50 states recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday. On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed legislation officially declaring it a federal holiday.

Upon arrival and leading the Union soldiers, Major Gen. Gordon Granger announced General Order No. 3: "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

June 22, 2023 at 12:10 PM

By: john kugler

rampant chaos and corruption yet no reporting

i see lots of comments and even write ups yet no action even for Juneteenth ...

ctu/cps/chicago is raising property taxes that brandon said he would not do means he is a liar

tara stamps is now a double dipper appoinitee

51 million was spent on migrants and they are still sleeping on floors of police stations ... and migrant students were allowed into cps schools without vacinations

cps teacher raped grammar school boys arrested

taft hs teacher fugitive who stalked lightfoot caught on a remote island in washington state

teenagers rioting every weekend and the ctu offers no resoures for activities despite having the space and money at the CTU HQ

yet nothing from substance news except to say i talk nasty to a delegete who had me removed from his school for being too agreesive to his principal and some new yorker talking about ctu internal politcs

shame we worked 24/7 to get substance to be relative and back to its muckraking roots and now has become a passive psuedo-left lapdog

lets see if this comment stays up ... HiHo


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