Daughter of the Empire State: The Life of Judge Jane Bolin

Posted in Biography, Books, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, United States, Women on 2014-03-30 14:58Z by Steven

Daughter of the Empire State: The Life of Judge Jane Bolin

University of Illinois Press
December 2011
168 pages
6 x 9 in.
4 black & white photographs
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-252-03657-6
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-252-09361-6

Jacqueline A. McLeod, Associate Professor of History and African & African American Studies
Metropolitan State College of Denver

The trailblazing work of the first African American woman judge

This long overdue biography of the nation’s first African American woman judge elevates Jane Matilda Bolin to her rightful place in American history as an activist, integrationist, jurist, and outspoken public figure in the political and professional milieu of New York City before the onset of the modern Civil Rights movement.

Bolin was appointed to New York City’s domestic relations court in 1939 for the first of four ten-year terms. When she retired in 1978, her career had extended well beyond the courtroom. Drawing on archival materials as well as a meeting with Bolin in 2002, historian Jacqueline A. McLeod reveals how Bolin parlayed her judicial position to impact significant reforms of the legal and social service system in New York.

Beginning with Bolin’s childhood and educational experiences at Wellesley and Yale, Daughter of the Empire State chronicles Bolin’s relatively quick rise through the ranks of a profession that routinely excluded both women and African Americans. Deftly situating Bolin’s experiences within the history of black women lawyers and the historical context of high-achieving black New Englanders, McLeod offers a multi-layered analysis of black women’s professionalization in a segregated America.

Linking Bolin’s activist leanings and integrationist zeal to her involvement in the NAACP, McLeod analyzes Bolin’s involvement at the local level as well as her tenure on the organization’s national board of directors. An outspoken critic of the discriminatory practices of New York City’s probation department and juvenile placement facilities, Bolin also co-founded, with Eleanor Roosevelt, the Wiltwyck School for boys in upstate New York and campaigned to transform the Domestic Relations Court with her judicial colleagues. McLeod’s careful and highly readable account of these accomplishments inscribes Bolin onto the roster of important social reformers and early civil rights trailblazers.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Her Standing in Poughkeepsie: Family Lineage and Legacy
  • 2. On Her Own: The Years at Wellesley and Yale
  • 3. Politics of Preparation: The Making of the Nation’s First African American Woman Judge
  • 4. Politics of Practice: An African American Woman Judge on the Domestic Relations Court
  • 5. Speaking Truth to Power: A View from the Benchof Judge Jane Bolin
  • 6. Persona Non Grata: Jane Bolin and the NAACP, 1931–50
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Index
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Jane Bolin, the Country’s First Black Woman to Become a Judge, Is Dead at 98

Posted in Articles, Biography, Law, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2014-03-26 20:10Z by Steven

Jane Bolin, the Country’s First Black Woman to Become a Judge, Is Dead at 98

The New York Times

Douglas Martin

Jane Bolin, whose appointment as a family court judge by Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia in 1939 made her the first black woman in the United States to become a judge, died on Monday in Queens. She was 98 and lived in Long Island City, Queens.

Her death was announced by her son, Yorke B. Mizelle.

Judge Bolin was the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, the first to join the New York City Bar Association, and the first to work in the office of the New York City corporation counsel, the city’s legal department.

In January 1979, when Judge Bolin had reluctantly retired after 40 years as a judge, Constance Baker Motley, a black woman and a federal judge, called her a role model.

In her speech, Judge Motley said, “When I thereafter met you, I then knew how a lady judge should comport herself.”.

The “lady judge” was frequently in the news at the time of her appointment with accounts of her regal bearing, fashionable hats and pearls. But her achievements transcended being a shining example. As a family court judge, she ended the assignment of probation officers on the basis of race and the placement of children in child-care agencies on the basis of ethnic background.

Jane Matilda Bolin was born on April 11, 1908, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Her father, Gaius C. Bolin, was the son of an American Indian woman and an African-American man. Her mother, the former Matilda Emery, was a white Englishwoman…

Read the entire obituary here.

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A Breezy Chameleon, Blurring Social Borders

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2014-02-17 17:21Z by Steven

A Breezy Chameleon, Blurring Social Borders

The New York Times

Jennifer Schuessler, Staff Editor

When the literary scholar George Hutchinson was in the archives at Howard University one afternoon a decade ago, he thought he knew which story of a neglected African-American woman writer he was chasing.

He was at work on a biography of Nella Larsen, whose classic Harlem Renaissance novel “Passing” was rediscovered in the 1970s. But while poking around, Mr. Hutchinson noticed a listing for the papers of Anita Thompson Dickinson Reynolds, an obscure contemporary of Larsen’s, and decided to take a look.

There, amid a jumble of letters and cassette tapes, lay an unpublished memoir breezily recounting the Zelig-like adventures of a woman who had starred in some of the first black films made in Hollywood, mingled with the Harlem Renaissance elite, been drawn by Man Ray and Matisse in Paris and touched down in Spain during its Civil War, before packing up her Chanel dresses and heading home to a more conventional life as a psychologist.

It was a story of passing stranger than anything Larsen had imagined, recounted with uncommon sexual frankness and blithe disregard for racial barriers. “I was fascinated by the way she threaded together all these different worlds, with this total nonchalance,” Mr. Hutchinson said in a recent interview. “I had never read anything like it.”

Previously, Reynolds’s name had survived mainly in a few scattered footnotes. But now, Harvard University Press is publishing her memoir, as “American Cocktail: A ‘Colored Girl’ in the World.”…

Read the entire book review here.

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Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe

Posted in Biography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Women on 2014-02-15 03:52Z by Steven

Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe

Harvard University Press
April 2014
288 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
30 halftones
Hardcover ISBN: 9780674047556

Matthew Pratt Guterl, Professor of Africana studies and American studies
Brown University

Creating a sensation with her risqué nightclub act and strolls down the Champs Elysées, pet cheetah in tow, Josephine Baker lives on in popular memory as the banana-skirted siren of Jazz Age Paris. In Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe, Matthew Pratt Guterl brings out a little known side of the celebrated personality, showing how her ambitions of later years were even more daring and subversive than the youthful exploits that made her the first African American superstar.

Her performing days numbered, Baker settled down in a sixteenth-century chateau she named Les Milandes, in the south of France. Then, in 1953, she did something completely unexpected and, in the context of racially sensitive times, outrageous. Adopting twelve children from around the globe, she transformed her estate into a theme park, complete with rides, hotels, a collective farm, and singing and dancing. The main attraction was her Rainbow Tribe, the family of the future, which showcased children of all skin colors, nations, and religions living together in harmony. Les Milandes attracted an adoring public eager to spend money on a utopian vision, and to worship at the feet of Josephine, mother of the world.

Alerting readers to some of the contradictions at the heart of the Rainbow Tribe project—its undertow of child exploitation and megalomania in particular—Guterl concludes that Baker was a serious and determined activist who believed she could make a positive difference by creating a family out of the troublesome material of race.

Table of Contents

  • Prologue
  • 1. Too Busy to Die
  • 2. No More Bananas
  • 3. Citizen of the World
  • 4. Southern Muse
  • 5. Ambitious Assemblages
  • 6. French Disney
  • 7. Mother of a Wounded World
  • 8. Unraveling Plots
  • 9. Rainbow’s End
  • Epilogue
  • Abbreviations
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index

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American Cocktail: A “Colored Girl” in the World

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Monographs, Women on 2014-02-12 07:59Z by Steven

American Cocktail: A “Colored Girl” in the World

Harvard University Press
352 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
20 halftones
Hardcover ISBN 9780674073050

Anita Reynolds (1901-1980), actress, dancer, model, and psychologist


Howard Miller, Professor of Education and Chair in the Department of Secondary Education
Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, New York

Edited by:

George Hutchinson, Professor of English and Newton C. Farr Professor of American Culture
Cornell University

Foreword by:

Patricia J. Williams, James L. Dohr Professor of Law
Columbia Law School

This is the rollicking, never-before-published memoir of a fascinating woman with an uncanny knack for being in the right place in the most interesting times. Of racially mixed heritage, Anita Reynolds was proudly African American but often passed for Indian, Mexican, or Creole. Actress, dancer, model, literary critic, psychologist, but above all free-spirited provocateur, she was, as her Parisian friends nicknamed her, an “American cocktail.”

One of the first black stars of the silent era, she appeared in Hollywood movies with Rudolph Valentino, attended Charlie Chaplin’s anarchist meetings, and studied dance with Ruth St. Denis. She moved to New York in the 1920s and made a splash with both Harlem Renaissance elites and Greenwich Village bohemians. An émigré in Paris, she fell in with the Left Bank avant garde, befriending Antonin Artaud, Man Ray, and Pablo Picasso. Next, she took up residence as a journalist in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War and witnessed firsthand the growing menace of fascism. In 1940, as the Nazi panzers closed in on Paris, Reynolds spent the final days before the French capitulation as a Red Cross nurse, afterward making a mad dash for Lisbon to escape on the last ship departing Europe.

In prose that perfectly captures the globetrotting nonchalance of its author, American Cocktail presents a stimulating, unforgettable self-portrait of a truly extraordinary woman.

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New Rabbi at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue ‘a Pioneer’

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Media Archive, Religion, United States, Women on 2014-01-28 18:44Z by Steven

New Rabbi at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue ‘a Pioneer’

The Wall Street Journal

Sophia Hollander

Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl Is Daughter of a Korean Buddhist Immigrant and an American Jew

Growing up as the daughter of a Korean Buddhist immigrant and an American Jew in Tacoma, Wash., Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl said some family members always wondered: Could she ever be fully accepted as a Jew?

Any lingering doubts were eliminated last week when the congregation of Midtown’s historic Central Synagogue voted her to succeed Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, 71, when he retires later this year. Her appointment will take effect July 1.

Rabbi Buchdahl, who is 41, will become one of only a few women—and likely the only Asian-American—leading a major U.S. synagogue. Central Synagogue boasts 100 full-time employees and an endowment that exceeds $30 million.

“She really is a pioneer,” said Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson, president of the Wexner Foundation, which develops Jewish leaders in North America and Israel. “She represents a new generation of women.” According to the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the largest rabbinical organization in North America, about 30% of Reform-movement rabbis are women.

Her appointment comes at a critical moment for American Judaism. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that the number of U.S. adults identifying as Jewish has dropped by half since the late 1950s. Fewer than a third of Jewish adults said they belonged to a synagogue, temple or other congregation…

…In addition to her unusual cultural heritage, Rabbi Buchdahl has been quick to blur other lines. According to the Central Conference of American Rabbis, she is one of only about a dozen people in the U.S. and Canada ordained as both a rabbi and a cantor

Read the entire article here.

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Undoing Racial Identification and Redoing Ethical Cultivation: Passing as a Performance of Identity and an Ethics of Self-Making

Posted in Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2014-01-26 09:59Z by Steven

Undoing Racial Identification and Redoing Ethical Cultivation: Passing as a Performance of Identity and an Ethics of Self-Making

Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York
Honors Thesis
Fall 2013
42 pages

Paige Meserve

Submitted to the Department of Religion

Paige Meserve uses contemporary affect theory and queer theory to explore how racial identities are performed (and taken apart) in novels from the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.  Drawing on Foucault’s notion of ethics as a practice of self-cultivation, Paige reads racial passing as one way that African-American women negotiate a world that refuses to sustain and feed them but which they cannot simply leave. Paige shows how such strangely performed identities constitute an ethics of dis-identification. By its means, these women hope to create cross-temporal communities that go beyond fixed racial identities of white and black, and therefore also go beyond existing moral codes of right and wrong – all in favor of imagining new styles of living that are not complicit with a racist world.

The Black Woman’s very life depends on her being able to decipher the various sounds in the larger world, to hold in check the nightmare figures of terror, to fight for basic freedoms against the sadistic law enforcement agencies in her community, to resist the temptation to capitulate the demands of the status quo, to find meaning in the most despotic circumstances and to create something where nothing was before. Katie Cannon, Black Womanist Ethics


In The Female Complaint, Lauren Berlant defines normativity as a “felt condition of general belonging and an aspirational site of rest and recognition in and by a social world”(5). Her work raises intriguing questions regarding how subjects outside of the mainstream culture can negotiate their existence and find happiness in a cultural landscape that doesn’t offer them the terms for it. How do these minority subjects manage such an ambivalent, but necessary, attachment to a social world simply incapable of providing them the means to thrive?

Berlant in Cruel Optimism uses the phrase cruel optimism to discuss this compromising bind. Cruel optimism is “a relation of attachment to compromised conditions of possibility whose realization is discovered to be impossible, sheer fantasy, or too possible, and toxic”(24). The subjects under consideration here are attached to creating a life for themselves in a terrain that makes it impossible. “Cruel optimism is the condition of maintaining an attachment to a significantly problematic object”(24). The optimistic attachment must be maintained to preserve the desire to keep on living; its cruelty, however, resides in the fact that the possibility of thriving in their cultural climate is severely limited.

José Muñoz describes a process he names disidentification as a way that a minority subject can work within the dominant culture while simultaneously critiquing it. In his work, Disidentifications, he refers to disidentification as “a hermeneutic, a process of production, a mode of performance”(25). To further outline what this process is, he writes: “Disidentification is, at its core, an ambivalent modality that cannot be conceptualized as a restrictive or “masterfully” fixed mode of identification”(28). In spaces where bodies and identifications are ungrounded and become scripts, the possibility emerges of discovering new ways of working with, inhabiting, or potentially abandoning the stunted cultural climate where identities serve more as a prison than a means to provide an affirming space for the self. Disidentification is “descriptive of the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship”(4). In reading his work, I want to further explore the potential of performance spaces as ways a minority subject can work with the broken pieces society offers them as terms of existence. It is crucial to find these spaces that can perhaps provide an alternative way to negotiate and interact with a social system that tends to foreclose possibility.

A way that people of color have historically attempted to manage a society that brutally represses them and eliminates all possible avenues for a palatable existence, is racial passing, the process in which a person of one race adopts the mask of another race. As I will demonstrate throughout this analysis, racial passing is one of these potential performance spaces that enables these subjects to work with the dominant culture that suppresses them in new and different ways. In her introduction of Passing and the Fictions of Identity, Elaine K. Ginsberg writes: “passing is about identities: their creation or imposition, their adoption or rejection, their accompanying rewards or penalties. Passing is also about the boundaries established between identity categories and about the individual and cultural anxieties induced by boundary crossing.” She posits that the act of passing “interrogates the ontology of identity categories and their construction”(4). If passing treats race as a performance, then categories of race are destabilized and become an insufficient way to signify identity. Ginsberg questions: “when “race is no longer visible, it is no longer intelligible: if “white” can be “black”, what is white?”(8) These instances that destabilize identity demand different ways of understanding the category. I see passing as a site rich with possibilities that calls for further examination of its complexity and of its new potentialities…

Read the entire paper here.

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The Life And Times Of Adella Hunt Logan: Educator, Mother, Wife, And Suffragist, 1863-1915

Posted in Biography, Dissertations, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2014-01-23 21:34Z by Steven

The Life And Times Of Adella Hunt Logan: Educator, Mother, Wife, And Suffragist, 1863-1915

Florida State University
November 2012

Daria Willis

Adella Hunt Logan was a woman trapped between two worlds. She was a mulatto who suffered from the pressures and injustices of Jim Crow America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The impact of Adella Logan’s life is seen beginning in 1883 in Tuskegee, Alabama. She maintained a large family while making a lasting impact on the Tuskegee community, as well as the women’s suffrage movement. Adella often led a life full of contradictions that can be attributed to her social status as well as her mixed racial heritage. Nonetheless, her efforts at advancing the cause of lower-class blacks and the students and teachers at Tuskegee Institute cannot be denied. This study discusses Adella Logan in terms of race, class, and gender. It is the story of an African American woman, an unusual American family, and the world she lived in.

Read the entire dissertation here on of after 2020-01-14.

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Imagining Brazil: Seduction, Samba

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Women on 2014-01-05 01:22Z by Steven

Imagining Brazil: Seduction, Samba

Canadian Woman Studies / Les Caheiers de la Femme
Volume 20, Number 2 (2000)
pages 48-56

Natasha Pravaz, Associate Professor
Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

En utilisant des paroles de chants rythmés sur la samba et d‘autre matériel ethnographique, l‘auteure detecte la presence du mulâtre et de propos racistes dans la construction du nationalisme brézilien et discute sur l‘évidente ambivalence dans le discours ethnique local entre le désir et la rejection envers ce personage.

Using the words of songs and rhythmic samba on other ethnographic material, the author detects the presence the mulatto and racism in the construction of Brazilian nationalism and discusses the obvious ambivalence in the local ethnic discourse between desire and rejection to this personage.

A polysemic category, mulata in the Brazilian context can refer to “a woman of mixed racial descent,” but it also connotes voluptuosity, sensuality, and ability for dancing the samba. In its restricted sense, however, it names an occupation. That is, only women who engage in dancing the samba in a commodified spectacle and receive some form of remuneration for it can be called mulatas. Under this specific signification, the concept of the mulata can be contrasted to that of the passita, a solo dancer in the Carnival parades who performs, not for money, but out of love for samba and for her Samba School of choice. However, regardless of the subtleties of this and other distinctions, mulata and passista are perhaps merely privileged signifiers in a larger paradigmatic chain associating multiple cultural terms such as cabrocha, morena, criouh, brasileira, nega, pretinha, baiana, to name just a few. These multiple signifiers denoting “black woman” in Brazil may be seen as lexicological crystallisations of what has been described by Marvin Harris as a fluid “system of racial classification.” In Brazil, “race talk” has a dermal character, where slight gradations in skin colour are constructed as distinctions begging specific denomination. Depending on the context of utterance, most of the above mentioned racialized and gendered terms carry with them a certain fetishistic quality. In Brazil, the mulata is commonly portrayed as a woman always ready to deploy her tricks of sorcery and bewitching, embodying sensuality, voluptuosity, and dexterity in dancing the samba. She has become a figure of desire in the Brazilian imaginary. It is due to this semantic proliferation that I have decided to use the Brazilian lexicon, rather than to reduce its meaning by making reference to a “mulatto woman.”

Using a series of samba lyrics as my ethnographic material, I will address the figuration of the mulata as the embodiment of sensuality in the Brazilian imaginary; explore the use of racialized tropes and the figure of the mulata in the constitution of Brazilian discourses of national identity; and briefly discuss the conspicuous ambivalence between desire and abjection toward the mulata in local discourses of race…

Read the entire article here.

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Defying Categorization: The Work of Suzette Mayr

Posted in Articles, Canada, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2013-12-28 03:06Z by Steven

Defying Categorization: The Work of Suzette Mayr

Canadian Woman Studies / Les Caheiers de la Femme
Volume 23, Number 2 (2004)
pages 71-75

Katie Petersen

Le corpus littéraire de Suzette Mayr examine les croisements raciaux, la sexualité marginalisée et la formation de l’identité personnelle dans des espaces indéfinis. Ses recueils de poemès et ses nouvelles ont tous remis en question la situation et le classement des populations. L’auteure a exploré et validé les espaces non explorés et non compartimentés qui sont présents dans les réalités traditionelles.

The literary corpus of Suzette Mayr examines racial mixing, marginalized sexuality and the formation of personal identity in undefined spaces. Her collections of poems and novels have questioned the status and the classification of the groups concerned. The author has explored and validated the unexplored spaces and those spaces not compartmentalized that are present in traditional realities.

In the afterword to her Master’s thesis “Chimaera Lips” (1992), the Calgary poet and novelist Suzette Mayr states that

a positive approach to categorization would not rely on having to distinguish oneself through comparison to another group, but would emphasize the whole or merged self, rather than the categorized self. (59)

In this work, Mayr explores “existence between ‘realities.’” She investigates and attempts to undermine the binary constructions surrounding race, sexuality and gender, by writing about, and presumably from within, what she terms “middle spaces;” spaces which exist between the starkly delineated realities commonly associated with various racial, sexual and gender categories (61). Mayr posits an absorption of “realities” by these in-between spaces, leading to an integrated system in which neither reality nor intermediate space dominates. The novels Mayr wrote following “Chimaera Lips,” Moon Honey (1995) and The Widows (1998), and her chapbook of poems, Zebra Talk (1991), all serve to challenge the ways in which people are necessarily located or categorized and to explore, expose, and validate uncharted, uncompartmentalized middle spaces…

Mayr’s chapbook, Zebra Talk, is a collection of poems of a relatively personal nature which describe Mayr’s own perceptions as a lesbian and a Canadian of mixed, Black-Caucasian, race. She explores issues of race and sexuality, identity and family, describing middle and hybrid spaces. Mayr treats her poetic subjects in much the same way as she does the characters in her novels; their appearances, actions and significances are described in unique, creative and at times ambiguous ways which emphasize the difficulty, if not impossibility, of categorizing individuals without that action being destructive and/or reductive.

Zebra Talk contains poems which discuss the idea of being a “zebra,” a person of mixed race. Mayr details the process of coming to terms with racial hybridity and of understand ing how a person of mixed race locates herself within a multiracial family setting and within the larger setting of a multiracial community or nation. Clearly, racial and cultural hybridity create new spaces. People of in-between colors and in-between cultures have to forge in-between identities and locations for themselves. However, what stands in the middle cannot be identified simply in relation to the poles it stands between.

Mayr’s use of the repetitive imagery of skin, invertebrates, volcanic insides, and people made of earth turns ordered family and romantic structures into a tempestuous and vividly multicolored mixture. In the first poem, the speaker describes her family:

The skin on a drum
The skin stretched over a moving rib cage
The skin stretched and bitten by two other heads on this
three-headed body
2 brothers 1 sister 3 heads and 1 body
plus 1 and 1 parents. (2)

The children, each different versions of the same mixture, form a three-headed being, sharing a body. The parents, “1 and 1,” remain separate. The skin to which Mayr refers appears thin but strong, stretched and fitted over skeleton and roiling core: “(Zebra pelt stretched over a hot and bloody centre)” (2). This particular mixture of heat and blood and guts is never given a clear meaning. It could be a reference, as George Elliott Clarke suggests in “Canadian Biraciality and Its ‘Zebra’ Poetics,” to “a volcanic core—a history of violence and death … O the same seething hurt,” an internal upheaval particular to people of mixed race (233). Or, Mayr could be pointing out that everyone, regardless of race, is, at the core, composed of the same unstable material, which cannot be classified or associated in any way with outside appearance…

Read the entire article here.

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