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BLACK HISTORY FACT SERIES
SIR SIDNEY POITIER was the first Black man to win an Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Actor. Born Feb 20, 1927 in Miami, Florida to Bahamian farmers whom traveled to Miami to sell produce, Sidney was born while his parents were visiting. His birth was 2 months premature and he was not expected to survive, but his parents stayed in Miami 3 months to nurse him to health. Poitier grew up in the Bahamas living in poverty. Because of his birth in the United States, he automatically received American citizenship, so at the age of 15, he was sent to Miami to live with his brother. Two years later he moved to New York City with aspirations of becoming an actor. There he worked as a dishwasher, while sleeping in a bus terminal restroom. He learned to read the newspaper, receiving help from a waiter nightly for several weeks. Poitier briefly served in the US Army during the Korean War. After returning, Poitier further persued acting by auditioning for the American Negro Theatre, but was rejected largely due to his strong accent. Sidney dedicated the next six months to improving his acting skills and overcoming his accent. On his second attempt at the theater, he was noticed and given a leading role in the Broadway production "Lysistrata," receiving good reviews. By the end of 1949, he had to choose between leading roles on stage and an offer to work on films. He chose film and was featured in "No way Out," in the role of a doctor treating a Caucasian bigot. His performance was noticed and led to more roles, each considerably more prominent than those most Black actors of the time were offered. Poitier's breakout role was in "Blackboard Jungle" in 1955 where he played the leading role of a rebellious, yet musically talented student. Poitier was the first Black male actor nominated for an Academy Award in a leading role for "The Defiant Ones," (1958). He acted in the first production of "A Raisin in the Sun" on Broadway in 1959, and later starred in the film version released in 1961. Two years later, he became the first Black to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for "Lilies of the Field" (1963), and second Black person to earn an Oscar (Hattie McDaniel 1940). Sidney was a supporter of the civil rights movement and attended the March on Washington that same year. By 1967, he was the most successful draw at the box office, with three popular films, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "To Sir, with Love" and "In the Heat of the Night," often considered his BEST work. Those films were landmarks in breaking down social barriers between Blacks and whites; and Poitier's talent, integrity and likability placed him on equal footing with the White stars of the day. In the late 1960s, with the fallout from the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, Poitier became the target of criticism from segments of the Black Community - Accused of being typecast as Black characters that were not permitted to have any sexuality or personality fault. Poitier was aware of this pattern himself, and wanted more varied roles; but he also felt obliged to set an example with his characters, by challenging old stereotypes as he was the only major Black actor being cast in leading roles in the American film industry at that time. He turned down an opportunity to play the lead in an NBC production of "Othello" with that spirit in mind. In the 1970s, Sidney took on directing and producing, to control his roles and acting patterns; achieving success in both arenas. Poitier directed a number of films, including "A Piece of the Action," "Uptown Saturday Night & Let's Do It Again," starring Poitier himself with Bill Cosby; "Stir Crazy," starring Richard Pryor & Gene Wilder; and "Ghost Dad," also with Cosby. After more than a decade of not acting, Poitier returned to the screen in the 1997 television docudrama "Mandela and de Klerk," playing the role of Nelson Mandela. From 1995 to 2003, he served as a member of the Board of Directors of The Walt Disney Company. In April 1997, Poitier was appointed ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan, a position he held until 2007. Sidney Poitier passed away January 6, 2022 at the age of 94. For his contributions and efforts, Sidney Poitier has received a Grammy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, AFI Life Achievement Award, British Academy Film Award and two Academy Awards - including the Academy Honorary Award for Lifetime Achievement in film. Poitier has also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Kennedy Center Honors, Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama, and the distinction of honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire
LUSIA HARRIS was a pioneering professional basketball player and the only woman officially drafted by the NBA . Born in 1955 in Minter City, she was the tenth of eleven children. With all her brothers playing basketball, Lusia excelled in the sport at an early age and was a star player on Amanda Elzy High School Girls Basketball team; making the State All-Star team, and leading her school to the State tournament. At 6’3” tall, she went on to Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi; attending school on a combination of academic scholarships and work study funds since this was prior to Title IX. By her sophomore year at Delta State, Harris led Delta State to an undefeated 28-0 record; winning the Women’s College National Championship (1975) and scoring 32 points and 16 rebounds in the Final. The 1975 championship game was the first year that women's basketball games were nationally televised by a major network. Harris repeated the stellar play as a junior and senior, bringing home national championships in 1976 and 1977. Harris finished her college career with 2,981 points and 1,662 rebounds, averaging 25.9 points and 14.5 rebounds per game and a 109–6 record. In 1977, she won the inaugural Honda Sports Award for Basketball, and Broderick Cup Award for outstanding female athletes in college. She was named to the College All-American First team all three championship seasons. Harris was the only Black player on the Delta State team her entire tenure. She graduated with a Bachelor's degree in health and physical education in 1977. In international level, she represented the United States' national team at the 1975 Pan American Games (Gold Medal) and 1976 Olympic Games (Silver medal) in the first women's basketball tournament in the Olympic Games. In the seventh round of the 1977 NBA draft, the New Orleans Jazz selected Harris with the 137th pick overall - selected ahead of 33 male players. Harris became the first and only woman ever officially drafted. However, she never played in the NBA and declined to try out for the Jazz due to pregnancy. In 1978 she was picked as the number one free agent in the Women's Professional Basketball League (WBL) inaugural season, going to the Houston Angels; playing until the 1980 season. She then returned to Delta State as an assistant basketball coach, while earning a Master's degree in Education. She became a head coach for 2 years at Texas Southern University in Houston, and returned to Mississippi as a high school teacher and coach at her alma mater Amanda Elzy High School where she continued to teach and coach in the district. Harris married George E. Stewart and had four children - two sons and twin daughters. Lusia Harris passed away January 18, 2022 at age of 66. For her achievements and contributions, Harris was inducted to the Delta State University Hall of Fame in 1983. In 1992 she became among the first two women inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame; and first Black woman inducted. In 1999, Harris was among the 26 inaugural inductees to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, and she was named to the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
MARY EDMONIA LEWIS was a brilliant sculptor of great talent – first Black and Native American sculptor to achieve national and international prominence. Born in 1884 in Rensselaer County, New York of Black and Indigenous Mississauga Ojibwe heritage, she was raised in Newark, NJ and Niagara Falls. In 1856, Lewis enrolled at New York Central College, a Baptist abolitionist school. There she met many leading activists who would become mentors, patrons, and possible subjects for her artistic work. She went on to Oberlin College, one of the first colleges to admit women and people of differing ethnicities. She studied art for 3 and ½ years, but left due to excessive discrimination. After college, Lewis moved to Boston in 1864, where she began to pursue her career as a sculptor. Successful sculptor Edward Augustus Brackett became her instructor - Under his tutelage, she crafted her own sculpting tools and sold her first piece, a sculpture of a woman's hand, for $8. Inspired by the lives of abolitionists and Civil War heroes, her subjects included some of the most famous abolitionists of her day: John Brown to William Lloyd Garrison and more The success and popularity of these works allowed Lewis to move to Rome in 1866, where she enjoyed more social, spiritual, and artistic freedom that in the United States. She began sculpting in marble, focusing on naturalism themes related to Black and Indigenous people, and influenced by the classical Roman scenary. One of her more famous works, "Forever Free", depicted a powerful image of a Black man and women emerging from the bonds of slavery. Another sculpture called "The Arrow Maker" showed a Indigenous Father teaching his daughter how to make an arrow. Major exhibitions during her rise included: Chicago, in 1870, Rome in 1871 and Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia In 1876; where she created a 3000 pound marble sculpture “The Death of Cleopatra”. She then became a world wide artist and sculptor, the first Black and Indigenous person to do so. From 1896 to 1907 Lewis lived in Paris and then relocated to London. She passed away in 1907. To her legacy, the Edmonia Lewis Center for Women and Transgender People at Oberlin College is named in her honor. A belated obituary was published in The New York Times in 2018 as part of their Overlooked series. Lewis is the subject of 2021 stage play entitled "Edmonia" presented by Beacon Theatre Productions in Philadelphia, PA. She was honored in the U.S. Black Heritage stamp series in 2022. In 2002, the scholar Molefi Kete Asante named Edmonia Lewis on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
LELIA KANSENSIA FOLEY-DAVIS was the first Black woman elected Mayor in the United State. Born in 1941 in the all-black town of Taft, Oklahoma; her father was a sharecropper and her mother a midwife. The youngest of 10 children, Lelia graduated in 1960 from Moton High School. She worked as a teacher’s aide until being laid off in the early 70s. A divorced mother of five, surviving on welfare and unemployment; she ran for a School board seat in January 1973 and was pressured to drop out the night before the election. Reaffirming her ambitions, shortly thereafter, Foley-Davis ran for Mayor of Taft, OK with just $200 raised and facing an incumbent. On April 3, 1973, Lelia Foley Davis was elected Mayor of Taft(with 93 votes), making her the first Black female mayor in the United States. With the Mayor’s salary being only $200 a year, she also took a job as a courthouse law librarian. In 1974, President Gerald Ford invited her to the White House; invited back a second time under President Jimmy Carter. As Mayor, Foley-Davis coordinated making affordable housing available for lower income residents and young mothers. After 16 years in office, Mayor Foley-Davis was defeated in 1989 - but was re-elected in 2000. After an unsuccessful run for Oklahoma House of Representatives, she retired from politics. Still living, her current project is creating a memorial in a field dedicated to orphaned children buried in unmarked graves. To her legacy, the State of Oklahoma named Mayor Foley-Davis the “Outstanding Woman of the Year” in 1974. Lelia Foley Davis Place in Taft, OK is named in her honor.
SAMUEL "SAMMY" DAVIS, JR was a legendary entertainer - singer, dancer, actor, comedian and director. Born in 1925 in New York City to two Afro-Latino parents who were dancers. He started dancing at the age of 3, eventually joining his Father and Uncle in a dance trio - Will Martin Trio. Davis Jr went on to join the US Army, serving in WW II as a soldier and later the Integrated Entertainment Special Services Unit. His dance and singing talent entertained the troops and lessened the prejudice treatment of the times. After his discharge, Davis achieved success on his own, singing title tracks for films and starring in Broadway plays, leading to him joining the performing sensations known as the "Rat Pack" led by Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin. In 1954, Davis lost his eye in a car accident, but never let that deter him. In that same era he converted to the Jewish belief. By the 60s, he was a world famous recording artist, TV and film star, having his own variety TV show, "The Sammy Davis Jr Show" in 1966. Despite the fame, he was a victim of racism throughout his life, and was a large financial supporter of civil rights causes. Davis's popularity and stances helped break the race barrier of the segregated entertainment industry. In the 70’s he became a Las Vegas star, nicknamed “Mister Show Business". His signature comment came on a golf course when asked what his handicap was. He replied "Handicap? Talk about handicap - I'm a one-eyed Negro Jew." In the late 80s, Davis re-united with the "Rat Pack," touring with them until his death. Sammy Davis Jr died in 1990 at the age of 64 from throat cancer. His accolades include the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1960), NAACP Spingarn Medal (1968), Kennedy Center Honors (1987), NAACP image Award (1989), Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2001), International Civil Rights Hall of Fame (2008), Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame (2017). For your viewing pleasure, a clip of Sammy and the legendary Dancing Trio in 1938:
BLACK WALL STREET was the self-sustaining Greenwood Community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, regarded as the most prosperous Black business district in the nation in 1921. Originating in 1906 when O.W. Gurley moved to Tulsa and bought 40 acres of land that he only sold to Black settlers. Gurley was an Arkansas native, the son of former slaves and extremely motivated and self-educated. In the 1890s he went westward to claim land. With Oklahoma’s oil boom bringing newfound wealth to Tulsa in the early 1900s, Gurley moved there and bought a 40-acre plot that he and other Black entrepreneurs named Greenwood. Creating something for Black people by Black people, Gurley loaned money to Black entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses, as they couldn’t borrow money from white-owned banks. Gurley’s business partner, J.B. Stradford, moved to Tulsa from St. Louis, and built the Stradford Hotel – which became the largest Black-owned hotel in nation. Gurley also built a hotel, as well as a rooming house, multiple rental properties, a Masonic Lodge and a grocery store, which he supplied with produce from his nearby 80-acre farm. Other prominent businesses included: Black-owned banks, doctor’s offices, law firms, restaurants, real estate agencies, movie theaters, barber & beauty shops, luxury shopping boutiques, candy stores, churches, funeral homes, newspapers; and even a hospital, public library and flourishing school system that superiorly educated Black children. By 1921, Tulsa’s Greenwood District of 10,000 residents was one of the wealthiest Black communities in the nation and a center of Black wealth. The district’s success inspired Booker T. Washington to coin its nickname: “Negro Wall Street,” later known as “Black Wall Street”. Thriving because residents patronized Black-owned businesses regularly, it’s estimated that every dollar spent circulated within the neighborhood and its businesses at least 36 times; as opposed to circulating an estimated ONE (1) time in Black communities today. Though successful, there were still a number of poorer people living in shacks or shanties. Also, the District was only blocks away from predominantly white neighborhoods that remained unwelcoming of Blacks. From May 31 to June 1, 1921, the Tulsa Massacre erupted with an armed white mob of thousands attacking the Greenwood District for nearly 24 hours. They fired weapons, looted and burned, and even dropped firebombs from airplanes. Though the residents fought back, they were out gunned. In the end, 35 city blocks were in charred ruins, as many as 300 people were killed and hundreds more injured, thousands of Black residents lost their homes and businesses. Over 6,000 of residents were rounded up into internment camps by the local government and forced to live in tents for months after the massacre. Founding entrepreneurs Gurley and Stradford both lost their fortunes and left Tulsa. The Greenwood District was eventually rebuilt by Black residents who refused to leave the city, with hundreds of structures rebuilt by the end of 1921; still many of the surviving Black residents never fully recovered their wealth. It continued as a vital Black Community with over 250 Black businesses until the 1960s. Between desegregation, spending outside of the community and urban renewal plans; the Greenwood District of old gradually faded. An Oklahoma state commission determined that reparations should be made massacre survivors and descendants; however a federal judge ruled against it – no reparations have EVER been paid. To the legacy of “Black Wall Street,” the Greenwood Cultural Center was created as a tribute in 1995. In 2010, Tulsa dedicated the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park in the memory of the Tulsa massacre victims. In 2018, a “Black Wall Street” mural painted in honor of Greenwood. In 2021, the Greenwood Rising History Center opened to educate all and foster sustainable entrepreneurship through heritage tourism within the Greenwood District at the Centennial Remembrance of the Tulsa Massacre. The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce is actively seeking to raise up to $10 million to restore and rebuild the district through a campaign called Restore Black Wall Street.
BAYARD RUSTIN was an underrated giant of civil rights, and the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. Born in 1912 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, he was raised by civically active grandparents; with leaders like W.E.B. DuBois and James Weldon Johnson frequenting their home. Those influences led Rustin to rally against discrimination at an early age. In 1932, he entered Wilberforce College, active on campus and pledging Omega Psi Phi fraternity. Expelled from Wilberforce for leading protests, he went on to Cheyney State and then City College of New York, moving to Harlem in 1937. Rustin worked with A. Philip Randolph in planning the 1941 March on Washington Movement, which was ultimately cancelled. In 1942, Rustin assisted in forming the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). With CORE, he refused to join the military, and was convicted of violating the Selective Service Act. While imprisoned, Rustin organized protests against segregated dining facilities. After his release in 1946, he was frequently arrested for protesting against colonial rule in both India and Africa. Between 1947 and 1952, Rustin met with leaders of independence movements in Ghana and Nigeria, and traveled to India to learn nonviolent civil resistance techniques directly from the Gandhian movement. In 1951, he formed the Committee to Support South African Resistance. Rustin was an openly gay man and took less public roles, while remaining hugely influential within civil right; as he believed that his known sexual orientation would be used to deter the movement. Rustin organized Freedom Rides, and published "Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence" – one of the most read pacifist essays in the nation. In the mid-1950s Rustin became a close adviser of Rev Martin Luther King, Jr., and was the principal organizer of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) – promoting Gandhian tactics of non-violence. Rustin was the chief architect of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He later worked alongside activist Ella Baker to provide legal assistance to tenant farmers being evicted. After the 1964 Civil Rights Act passage, Rustin advocated closer ties between the civil rights movement and the Democratic Party. He wrote "From Protest to Politics," published in Commentary magazine; it analyzed the changing economy and its implications for Blacks. Rustin worked to strengthen the labor movement – he founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which coordinated the AFL-CIO's (union) work on civil rights and economic justice; and became a regular columnist for the AFL-CIO newspaper. During the 1970s and 1980s, Rustin served on many humanitarian missions, such as aiding refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as stood for gay rights – testifying in favor of New York’s 1986 Gay Rights Bill. Bayard Rustin passed away in 1987 while on a mission trip to Haiti. To his legacy, several buildings have been named in his honor, including: Bayard Rustin Educational Complex in Manhattan; Bayard Rustin High in West Chester, PA; Bayard Rustin Library in Ferndale, Michigan; Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice in Princeton, New Jersey and Conway, Arkansas. In 2007, the Bayard Rustin Coalition (BRC) in San Francisco was formed. In 2012, Rustin was inducted into the LGBTQ Legacy Walk, and in 2013 he was inducted in the U.S. Department of Labor Hall of Honor. Rustin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. Bayard Rustin was one of the inaugural 50 "pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes" inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City in 2019
DR. MARY ELIZABETH CHURCH TERRELL was an activist and one of the first Black women to graduate college in the United States. Born in 1863 in Memphis, Tennessee; her parents were former slaves who matriculated to be successful business owners, with her father Robert Terrell becoming one of the South’s first Black millionaires. Through family connections and social networking, Terrell met many influential Black activists of her day, including Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass Their affluence enabled Mary to attend Oberlin College in Ohio, where she earned both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees - becoming one of the first 2 Black women in the nation to earn a Master’s alongside friend & classmate Anna Julia Cooper. Terrell spent 2 years teaching at Wilberforce College before moving to Washington DC, in 1887 to teach at M Street High School. In 1891 she married fellow Heberton Terrell and had 2 daughters from their union. Mary Terrell was part of the rising black middle and upper class who used their position to fight racial discrimination, joining the likes of Ida B. Wells-Barnett in anti-lynching campaigns and writing for Black Newspapers; using the pen name Euphemia Kirk to publish articles promoting the Black Women's suffrage. In 1896, Terrell founded the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), serving as President for the first 5 years; and lifting the notion that “As one succeeds, the whole race would be elevated”. She advocated for women’s rights, associating with Susan B. Anthony, and partnering on several protests. In 1904, Terrell was invited to speak at the International Congress of Women in Berlin, Germany; the only Black woman at the conference. In 1909, Terrell was among the founders and charter members of the NAACP. In 1913, Terrell became an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc, shortly after their founding; that same year she marched with Delta at the Washington Suffrage March. Following the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920, giving women the Right to Vote, Terrell focused on broader civil rights. In 1940, she published her autobiography, “A Colored Woman in a White World,” outlining her experiences with discrimination. In 1948, she became the first black member of the American Association of University Women, after winning an anti-discrimination lawsuit. In 1950, at age 86, she challenged segregation in public places by suing a Washington, DC restaurant; and after 3 years she WON with court ruling segregated eating places in Washington, DC, were unconstitutional in 1953 – a major breakthrough in civil rights. Mary Terrell died the next year at the age of 90. To her legacy, she received an honorary doctorate from Oberlin college and was recognized among "Top 100 Outstanding Alumni". The Mary Church Terrell house in Washington, DC ’s LeDroit Park neighborhood was named a National Historic Landmark. Mary Church Terrell Elementary Schools in Southeast DC and Gert Town, New Orleans were named in her honor. Scholar Molefi Kete Asante included Terrell on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans. She was honored with a USPS stamp in 2009, and had Oberlin College Main named after he in 2018. In 2020, Terrell was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
CICELY LOUISE TYSON was a pioneering actress with a career spanning over 7 decades. Born in 1924 in Bronx, New York and raised in East Harlem; her parents were natives of Nevis. Singing in a church choir as a youth, she went on to graduate from Charles Evans Hughes High School in Manhattan. At 18 she married and gave birth to a daughter (Joan), while working as a secretary and modeling on the side. Tyson was discovered by an Ebony magazine photographer and blossomed into a successful fashion model, striving to establish herself as an actress Her first acting role was in the 1956 film Carib Gold and she first appeared onstage in a production of Dark of the Moon in 1958. The next year, Tyson had small roles in several films, and in 1961 made her TV debut in “Frontiers of Faith”. The same year she appeared in Broadway play “The Blacks,” the longest running off-Broadway non-musical of the decade running for 1,408 performances; with notable cast members Maya Angelou, James Earl Jones and Louis Gossett Jr. In 1963 she was cast in TV series “East Side/West Side,” covering bold social issues of the era. In 1972, Tyson had a breakthrough starring role in the film “Sounder;” she was nominated for both the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress, and won the NSFC Best Actress and NBR Best Actress Awards. Starring in “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman;” Tyson's portrayal of a Black woman's life from slavery until her death before the Civil rights movement won her a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress and an Emmy Award for Actress of the Year. In the late 70s and 80s she played starring roles in several TV miniseries including: Roots, King, The Marva Collins Story, The Mitch Snyder Story and The Women of Brewster Place. Tyson married Jazz artist Miles Davis in 1981, divorcing in 1989. An iconic award winning actress by the 90s with a reputation for playing strong willed women, she appeared in over 50 films, dramas and plays over the next 3 decades. More recently she guest-starred on TV series “How to Get Away with Murder” and starred in film “A Fall from Grace” in 2020. Cicely Tyson's memoir, Just as I Am, was published January 26, 2021; two days before she passed away at age 96. She received numerous accolades, including an Academy Award, three Emmy Awards, a Tony Award and 5 honorary degrees from HBCUs. She was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and Television Hall of Fame, and was an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Tyson was awarded the 1982 Women in Film Crystal Award and 1988 National Coalition of 100 Black Women’s Distinguished Service Award. In 1997, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2015 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.. In 2020, Tyson received a Career Achievement Peabody Award. One of the soundstages at Tyler Perry Studios was named after Tyson, and the Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange, New Jersey is named in her honor. She was posthumously inducted into the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame in 2022.
RUBY BRIDGES is an activist for equality and the first Black student to integrate an elementary school in the South. Born in September 1954 in Tylertown, Mississippi, she was the oldest of 5 children to parents who were farmers. When Ruby was 2, her parents moved their family to New Orleans for better work opportunities. With schools being desegregated in 1954 Brown vs Board of Education, and a federal court ordering southern Louisiana to comply; Ruby’s family considered enrolling her in an all-white elementary school, after attending an all-Black school for kindergarten. Ruby was among 6 students that passed the entrance exams created to see whether Black students could compete academically. Weighing the chance of Ruby having better educational opportunities and dual fear for safety; her parents ultimately decided to send Ruby to all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. On November 14, 1960 Ruby became the first Black student in the south to integrate an elementary school. Walking past angry crowds making threats and yelling slurs, Ruby was escorted to school by Federal Marshals every day that year. The bulk of parents withdrew their children and some teachers refused to teach. Barbara Henry was the only teacher willing to accept Ruby, teaching her in a class of one. Ruby never missed a day of school that year – eating lunch alone and often playing with her teacher at recess. Her family suffered for their courage, with her Dad losing his job, and grocery stores refusing to sell goods to them. Ruby’s grandparents were evicted from their Mississippi farm they lived on as share-croppers for decades. Concerned supporters from around the nation sent money to aid the Bridges family. Artist Norman Rockwell did a painting of Ruby’s first day in school entitled, “The Problem We All Live With.” The next school year, other Black children enrolled and more students returned. Ruby went on to complete elementary, middle and high school in desegregated schools. She later worked as a travel agent, got married, and had four sons. In the 1990s, Ruby was reunited with her first teacher, Ms. Henry; and began doing speaking engagements with her. In 1999, she established The Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote change in education; still operating it today. To her legacy, Bridges had received Honorary Degrees from Tulane University and Connecticut College. She won the Carter G. Woodson Book Award for her acclaimed biography and was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001. Elementary schools in Alameda, CA and Woodinville are named in her honor. Bridges was recognized as a "Hero Against Racism" by the Anti-Defamation League in 2006 and the next year, the Indianapolis Children's Museum documented her life in "The Power of Children: Making a Difference" exhibit. The Disney film “Ruby Bridges” tells her story. Her Elementary school, William Frantz in #NewOrleans, erected a statue in the courtyard in Ruby’s honor.
BESSIE BEATRICE STRINGFIELD was the first Black woman to ride a motocyle across the United States solo. Born Bessie White in 1911 in Kingston, Jamaica, and migrating to Boston, MA; she lost both her parents at a young age and was adopted by a wealthy Irish woman. On Bessie’s 16th Birthday she was gifted a motorcycle. With no prior knowledge of operating motorcycle controls, she taught herself to ride and mastered it quickly. She soon began making long distance solo drives; tossing a penny over a map and riding to wherever it landed. In 1930, Bessie Stringfield became the first Black woman to ride her motorcycle across the United States solo, covering all 48 states that made up the nation at the time. In the 1930s and 40s, she took 8 long distance cross country solo rides. During this time, she earned money from performing motorcycle stunts in carnival shows. Facing racism of the era, Bessie was often denied accommodations while traveling and was forced to sleep on her motorcycle at gas stations. During World War II, Bessie worked for the US Army as a civilian motorcycle dispatch rider. The only woman in her unit, she carried documents between domestic bases on her own blue Harley-Davidson “61”. In between her travels, she wed and divorced six times and lost 3 babies in labor. Upon divorcing her third husband, Arthur Stringfield, she kept the last name. By the early 1950s, Stringfield ended her motorcycle cross country riding. She bought a house in Miami, Florida, and became a licensed practical nurse. She continued to ride locally, and founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. Talented and theatric in riding, Bessie’ would often ride her Harley while standing in its saddle. Attracting press attention, reporters called her the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami.” Stringfield kept riding for thr rest of her life, passing away in 1993 at the age of 82 in Opa-laka, Florida. To her legacy, in 1990 when the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) opened the first Motorcycle Heritage Museum in Pickerington, Ohio, Stringfield was featured in its inaugural exhibit on “Women in Motorcycling” and "Heroes of Harley-Davidson" exhibition – having owned 27. In 2000 the AMA created the "Bessie Stringfield Memorial Award" to recognize outstanding achievement by a female motorcyclist. Stringfield was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2002. The 2017 short film "Meet Bessie Stringfield, the Black ‘Motorcycle Queen’" is in her honor. The 2020 HBO series Lovecraft Country features a homage to Bessie Stringfield.
WILLIAM WILLIE O’REE is the first Black man to play in the National Hockey League (NHL). Born in 1935, in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, O’Ree was the youngest in a family of 13 children. His grandparents came to Canada from the U.S. through the Underground Railroad to escape slavery; and they were one of only two Black families that lived in Fredericton. With an instance love for hockey, O’Ree started playing at the age of 3 and organized hockey at 5. Learning advanced techniques from his Older Brothers, he was playing in the New Brunswick Amateur Hockey Association by the age of 15. He matriculated to play in the York County Hockey League and in 1953 stepped up to the New Brunswick Senior Hockey League. At age 19, O’Ree moved to Québec and played in the Quebec Junior Hockey League; then on to the Ontario Hockey Association the next season. At age 20, O’Ree was hit in the face by a puck that caused him to lose most of the vision in his right eye, as well as broke his nose and cheek bone. Determined to play hockey, despite advisement by Doctors to stop, O’ree was back on ice 2 months later without disclosing his vision issues. The next season he joined the Quebec Senior Hockey League with the Quebec Aces; playing exceptionally well in 1956-57 season. For the 1957–58 season, the Aces formed a working relationship with the NHL’s Boston Bruins with any Aces players being able to be called up to the Bruins at any time. On January 18, 1958, Willie O’Ree was called up and became the first Black hockey player to play a game in the National Hockey League – playing the eft wing position. Playing only 2 games for the Boston Bruins that season; he returned to the team in the 1960–61 season, playing 43 games. On January 1, 1961, O’Ree became the first Black player to score a goal in the NHL, with 4 goals scored that season. After his time in the NHL, O’Ree went on to play at a high level for 14 more years in multiple hockey leagues, dazzling crowds and breaking cultural barriers, retiring from the sport in 1975. Loving the sport hockey, Willie O’Ree persevered through racial taunts from opposing players and fans his entire career. In 1998 O’Ree became the NHL’s Director of Youth Development and an ambassador for the NHL Diversity program; promoting grassroots hockey programs, with a focus on serving economically disadvantaged children. A hidden figure for decades, in 2003 O’Ree was named the Lester Patrick Trophy winner for outstanding service to hockey in the United States. In 2010 he received the Order of Canada for outstanding service to youth development. O’Ree also received the Order of New Brunswick and was inducted into New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame. In 2018 he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and the NHL instituted the annual Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award in his honor. In 2021 he was installed in the Canada Sports Hall of Fame, and as a celebration of Black History Month, all NHL players wore a commemorative helmet decal honoring him. Willie O’ree’s jersey (22) was retired by the Boston Bruins on January 18, 2022; the same month President Joe Biden signed legislation for O'Ree to receive a Congressional Gold Medal - O'Ree is the only player in NHL history to receive the honor.
FRED HAMPTON was Deputy Chairman of the Black Panther Party - a POWERFUL Brother wrongfully killed at age 21 because of his potential to liberate & educate people. Born in 1948, raised in Chicago suburb of Maywood, Hampton went on to graduate from Proviso East High with honors. He then enrolled at Triton Junior College majoring in pre-law. Hampton also became involved in civil rights movement joining his local branch NAACP. His dynamic leadership and organizational skills in the branch enabled him to rise to Youth Council President. There Hampton built up a membership of 500 people who successfully lobbied city officials to create better academic services and recreational facilities. At the time of Hampton's successful NAACP organizing, the Black Panther Party started rising to national prominence. Fred was quickly attracted to their approach, and joined in 1968. Using his NAACP experience, he soon headed the Panther's Chicago chapter. As President, he organized weekly rallies, worked closely with their Clinic, taught political education classes every morning at 6 am, launched a project for community supervision of the police, and was instrumental in the Panther's Free Breakfast Program. The Panthers also established a truce between Chicago's most powerful street gangs; emphasizing that racial conflict between gangs would only keep its members in poverty. Hampton further strove to forge a multi-racial alliance with other progressive groups of the time. He started a national "Rainbow Coalition" between the Panthers, Young Lords (Puerto Rican nationalist), Students for a Democratic Society, Brown Berets, and Red Guard Party to name a few. Hampton's organizing & oratorical skills allowed him to rise quickly in the Black Panthers, becoming Chairman of the Illinois state Black Panther Party and National Deputy Chair. Shortly thereafter, he was to assume the position of Chief of Staff and major spokesman. While Hampton impressed many as a talented leader, those very qualities marked him as a major threat in the eyes of then, FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover, whom was determined to prevent the formation of a cohesive Black movement. In 1969, Hampton was on the verge of creating a merger between the Black Panthers and a southside street gang with thousands of members, which would have doubled the size of the national Black Panther Party, uniting them with white and Latino organizers. Hoover viewed this as an ultimate threat and ordered an intensified FBI crackdown. Hoover saw Hampton as a frightening steppingstone toward the creation of a revolutionary body that could cause a radical change in the US. To counteract the growth, the FBI sent an informant to infiltrate the Party, whom quickly rose in the organization, becoming Director of Chapter security and Hampton's bodyguard. Determined to prevent any more enhancement of Hampton's effectiveness, the FBI and Chicago Police conspired to set up an armed raid on Hampton's apartment. The informant provided them with detailed information about the layout and room in which Hampton slept. On December 4, 1969 at 4 am, 12 officers raided the apartment and opened fire, killing the 21 year old Hampton and Panther Mark Clark, also seriously wounding 4 other Panthers, including his 8 month pregnant girlfriend. Many in the Chicago Community were outraged over the unnecessary deaths. Over 5,000 people attended Hampton's funeral where Rev Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson eulogized him. The families of Hampton and Clark filed a civil suit in 1970 with the suit finally settled for $1.85 Million in 1982. To his legacy, Maywood's "Fred Hampton Family Aquatic Center" is named in his honor. In 1990 and 2004, the Chicago City Council passed resolutions commemorating December 4 as "Fred Hampton Day". The resolution read in part: "Fred Hampton, who was only 21 years old, made his mark in Chicago history not so much by his death as by the heroic efforts of his life and by his goals of empowering the most oppressed sector of Chicago's Black community, bringing people into political life through participation in their own freedom fighting organization". Fred Hampton is portrayed in the film Judas and the Black Messiah. Hampton's most famous quote, often chanted by others, was "I AM A REVOLUTIONARY". For your viewing and listening pleasure, the late Fred Hampton. Feel the Passion of this man Gone Too Soon:
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ELLA JANE FITZGERALD was the first Black woman to win a Grammy and first major artist to perform at a Super Bowl Halftime show (1972 New Orleans); hailed as “The First Lady of Song” for her unique, flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless voice. Born in April 1917 in Newport News, VA and raised in Yonkers, NY; she enjoyed dancing and singing at an early age, taking the train to Harlem to see acts at the Apollo Theater. After losing both her parents as a teen, she struggled emotionally and academically, quitting school at the age of 15. With a drive for singing and dancing, in 1934 Ella won an opportunity to compete at the Apollo’s Amateur Night. She went there planning to dance, and made a last-minute decision to sing - quieting the audience “Boos” and leaving them demanding an encore. Ella began entering - and winning - every talent show she could find after that - often using her voice to take on the role of another horn in the band. In 1938, at the age of 21, Ella recorded nursery rhyme, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket;" with the album selling 1 million copies, hitting number one, and staying on the pop charts for 17 weeks. Soon after, Ella joined the Philharmonic tour and began producing her songbook series. Elevating to a worldwide appealing artist, she worked with musical greats like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie, and more, and appeared on television shows. In 1958, Ella Fitzgerald became the first Black person to win a Grammy Award, at the first ever awards show. She toured all over the world, sometimes performing 2 shows a day in cities hundreds of miles apart. In 1972 at Super Bowl VI in New Orleans, Louisiana, Ella Fitzgerald and vocalist Carol Channing became the first major artists to perform at a Super Bowl halftime show, making Ella the first Black artist to perform in Super Bowl history. With a theme of a “Salute to Louis Armstrong,” the show paid tribute to the late N.O. jazz legend who passed away a year before. Ella continued to perform at high levels despite battling illness until she was nearly 70 years old. By the 1990s, Ella had recorded over 200 albums and sold over 40 million albums. In 1991, she gave her final concert at New York's Carnegie Hall – 26th time she performed there. In 1996, Ella Fitzgerald died at the age of 79. She won 14 Grammy Awards in her career; including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1967. She was inducted in the second class of Kennedy Honors in 1979. In 1987 she was awarded National Medal of Arts, and in 1992 received Presidential Medal of Freedom. She received honorary Doctorate of Music honors from Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth and several other universities. The Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award is named "Ella" in her honor. In 2007, she was honored with a US Postal Service Black Heritage series stamp. A bronze sculpture of Fitzgerald was erected in her hometown of Yonkers, NY. For your listening entertainment, Ella singing classic “Dream a Little Dream of Me”
JAMES WELDON JOHNSON was a prolific writer and activist, and author of the Black National anthem. Born in 1871 in Jacksonville, Florida, to native Bahamian and Haitian parents, he attended and excelled at Stanton School - the first school in Florida for Black students. Johnson went on to Atlanta University in 1890; where the summer following his freshman year, he had the opportunity to teach the descendants of former slaves - to which he reflected: "In all of my experience there has been no period so brief that has meant so much in my education for life". While attending Atlanta University, Johnson founded and edited the Daily American newspaper, covering both political and racial topics. After graduating in 1894, he returned to Jacksonville and taught at Stanton, while studying law. In 1897, he was the first Black man to take the Florida Bar Exam since Reconstruction era. Over the next 40 years, Johnson worked in education, diplomatic corps, and civil rights activism. In 1901 Johnson moved to New York City with his brother J. Rosamond to work in musical theater. After some successes, the they moved in the upper echelons of Black society in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Johnson's first success as a writer was the poem "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" in 1900 - recited by 500 school children to honor Booker T. Washington who was visiting Stanton School. It was later set to music by his Brother J. Rosamond and adopted as the "Negro National Anthem” in 1905. In 1904, Johnson participated in Theodore Roosevelt's successful presidential campaign and was elected President of the Colored Republican Club the following year. President Roosevelt appointed him as consul of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela and Corinto, Nicaragua. Returning to New York, Johnson married activist Grace Nail. In 1916 he started working as NAACP field secretary. In 1920 Johnson published “Self-Determining Haiti” - describing brutal occupation of Haiti and offering suggestions for economic and social development. That same year, Johnson he became the first Black executive secretary of the NAACP; increasing membership by organizing new chapters in the South. Johnson became a leading voice in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He anonymously published The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and , published his first poetry collection, “Fifty Years and Other Poems”. In 1922, he published a landmark anthology “The Book of American Negro Poetry,” as well as “The Book of American Negro Spirituals” in 1925. Johnson was a prominent member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. In 1930, at the age of 59, he returned to education at Fisk University as Chair of Creative Literature, lecturing on issues related lives and civil rights of Black Americans. In 1934, he became the first Black professor at New York University. James Weldon Johnson died in 1938 with his car being hit by a train. To his legacy, he received the 1925 NAACP Spingarn Medal (10th one awarded). He received Honorary Doctorates from Atlanta University, Talladega College and Howard University. In 2007, Emory University in Atlanta established the James Weldon Johnson Institute for Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies.The James Weldon Johnson building at Coppin State University, James Weldon Johnson Middle School in #Jacksonville and James Weldon Johnson Community Library in St. Petersburg are all named in his honor. Then USPS honored him with a Black Heritage series stamp in 1988. In 2020, the Jacksonville City Council renamed Hemming Park to James Weldon Johnson Park.
LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING is the Black National Anthem. It was first performed as a poem to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln's Birthday in February 1900 by 500 children at the segregated Stanton Grade School in Jacksonville, Florida;.Stanton being the first school designated for Blacks in the state of Florida. Principal James Weldon Johnson wrote the poem to introduce guest speaker for the day, renown Freedom Fighter Booker T Washington. In 1905, James' Brother John thought enough of the poem to set it to music. The song was shared with friends and civic groups across the nation, spreading rapidly. Over the next decade, the song grew to mean unity and hope for Blacks. In 1919 the NAACP adopted Lift every Voice and Sing as the Black National Anthem. By the 1920s, the song could be found in hymnals of Black churches. Today, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" is known across the globe and sang to open functions with a majority Black audience. Below is a clip to an awesome soulful singing rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing, by Clark Atlanta University Philharmonic society:
FREDERICK "FRITZ" POLLARD was the first Black head coach in the NFL (APFA). Born & raised in Chicago,IL in 1894, he was a 3 sport athlete in HS: football, baseball, track.. He briefly played football for Northwestern, Harvard and Dartmouth before receiving a scholarship from the Rockefeller family to attend Brown University in 1915. Pollard majored in chemistry and played running back on the football team, leading Brown to the 1916 Rose Bowl game. He was the first Black man to play in the Rose Bowl, and the second to be named an All-American in college football. After college, Fritz served during World War I and went on to coach football at Lincoln Un iv (PA) from 1918 to 1920. He led Lincoln to two Thanksgiving Classic (the first HBCU Classic) victories over the prestigious Howard Univ. Pollard signed to play for the Akron Pros in the American Professional Football League (APFA) and led Akron to a championship in 1920. He along with Bobby Marshall were the first two Black players in Professional football history. In 1921, Fritz was named head coach of the Pros while continuing to play on the team as well. The APFA was renamed the NFL in 1922, making Pollard the first Black coach in NFL history. He went on to coach & play for NFL teams in Indiana and Milwaukee. In 1926, Fritz Pollard along with all 9 of the Black players in the NFL at the time, were ousted from the NFL in a decision to segregate the League. Continuing his love for the game, in 1928, Pollard organized and coached the Chicago Black Hawks, an all Black professional team that played against white teams around Chicago, and West Coast teams. He also organized the Harlem Brown Bombers in the 1930s. Fritz retired from football in 1937 to pursue a career in business. Despite being the first in many aspects for the Black race, he experienced extreme racism. In the NFL he was called racial slurs on a regular basis, booed by fans, had things thrown at him entering & leaving the field, and frequently changed clothes in his car because of discriminatory locker room treatment. Fritz spent many years urging the NFL to open its doors to Blacks, with the ban of People of Color being lifted in 1946. Fritz Pollard passed away in 1986. To his legacy, "The Fritz Pollard Alliance," a group promoting minority hiring throughout the NFL, was founded and named in his honor. Brown University conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on Pollard, recognizing his achievements as athlete and leader in 1981. In 2005, Fritz Pollard was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame posthumously. In 2015, Pollard was posthumously inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. Brown University and the Black Coaches & Administrators co-sponsor the annual Fritz Pollard Award, which is presented to the college or professional coach chosen by the BCA as coach of the year.
The BLACK HERITAGE STAMP SERIES was created in 1978 by the United States Postal Service (USPS) as a tribute to outstanding Blacks. Harriet Tubman was the first person observed in the series. Although the first official Black Heritage stamp was not issued until 1978, more than 100 Blacks have been on stamps dating back to 1940, with Booker T. Washington being the first Black on a USPS stamp. For the 2022 year, the legendary sculptor Edmonia Lewis is the 45th honoree in the #USPS Black Heritage Series
LORETTA "HENRIETTA LACKS" PLEASANT is the source of the first known human immortal cell line for medical research; HeLa cell line. Born in 1920 as Loretta Pleasant in Roanoke, VA, her mother died at an early age and she was sent to live with her Grandfather Tommy Lacks in a log cabin that had been the slave quarters of her white great-grandfather's plantation. Nicknamed Hennie and obtaining her Grandfathers last name, Loretta Pleasant became known as Henrietta Lacks while still in childhood. Birthing her first child at 14 yrs of age, Henrietta later moved to Maryland and had 4 more children. After her fifth child (in 1950), she was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 30. She got treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital as it was the only one in proximity to them that treated Black patients. During radiation treatments, two samples of Henrietta's cervix were removed (without her permission or knowledge). In significant pain without improvement, the cancer spread through her entire body and Lacks died in 1951 at the age of 31. Her cells however lived on; Doctors discovered that cells in the cervix sample taken could be kept alive and grown. Given the code name "HeLa," for the initial letters of Henrietta Lacks' name, they became the first immortal human cells ever grown in culture. Before this, cells cultured from other cells would only survive for a few days. HeLa cells were essential to developing the polio vaccine in 1954 and in 1955 HeLa cells were the first human cells successfully cloned. HeLa cells also were sent up in the first space missions to see what would happen to cells in zero gravity. Demand for the HeLa cells quickly grew. Put into mass production, they've been mailed to scientists around the globe for research into cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, human sensitivity and countless other scientific pursuits. Scientists have grown some 20 tons of her cells, and there are almost 11,000 patents involving HeLa cells. While HeLa cells were used in medicine, the Doctors never told her family that the cells came from Lack. Sadly, Henrietta's family didn't know of the cells until 25 years after her death. They were only contacted to obtain more samples with hopes that they could use the family's DNA to make a map of Henrietta's genes. Neither Lacks nor her family gave her physician permission to harvest the cells, and permission was neither required nor customarily sought at the time. Confused and angered by this news, the family launched a campaign to get some of what they felt they were owed financially. This issue was brought to the Supreme Court of California case of Moore v. Regents, with the court ruling that a person's discarded tissue and cells are not their property and can be commercialized (family lost suit). After much pressure, an agreement by the family and the National Institutes of Health was reached, giving the family some control over access to the cells' DNA code and a promise of acknowledgement in scientific papers. In 2021, Lack’s family hired renowned Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump to pursue further legal action for compensation from medical and pharmaceutical agencies. A historical marker memorializing Henrietta Lacks is in Clover, Virginia. In 1996, Morehouse School of Medicine, the state of Georgia and the mayor of Atlanta recognized Henrietta Lacks' family for her posthumous contributions to medicine and health research. She is the subject of the 2010 award winning book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks;” which was put to film produced by Oprah Winfrey and HBO in 2017. In 2011, Morgan State University granted Henrietta Lacks a posthumous honorary degree.
HAITI is the world's oldest Black Republic. Called Ayiti by its original inhabitants and renamed Hispaniola after Spanish intrusion (in 1492), it became a haven for pirates during the 1600s with European nations competing for control. France and Spain settled hostilities, dividing Hispaniola between them. France received the western third and named it Saint-Domingue. France imported thousands of slaves from Africa to develop it into sugar cane plantations. By 1789, French in Saint-Domingue were vastly outnumbered by a ten to one ratio of African slaves. Over time, French provided some rights to free Blacks; those mixed-race descendants. More of the free people of color lived in the south region near Port-au-Prince where they worked, owned property and soon petitioned the colonial government to expand their freedoms and civil rights. Inspired by the French Revolution, Revolts broke out in 1791, with the fierce & wise Toussaint L'Ouverture risen from slavery being the rebellion leader. In 1792, the French government sent troops to reestablish control. To build an alliance with slaves, the French abolished slavery in the colony. Freed for the moment, the former slaves agreed to help France defeat their enemies. L'Ouverture and his army drove out Spanish and British invaders who threatened the colony. In 1801 L'Ouverture created a separatist constitution with equal rights for Blacks in the colony and himself as its ruler. New Power Hungry Dictator of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, came after French colonies in a fury for supremacy. He reinstated slavery and in 1802 sent more than 20,000 men to retake total control of Saint-Dominque. The French captured L'Ouverture, transporting and imprisoning him in France until death in 1803.However, the slaves and free Blacks continued their fight for independence. Led by Toussaint's second in command, Jean-Jacques Dessalines they defeated French troops in a deciding battle that led to France totally withdrawing remaining troops from the island and from the Americas. Independence of Saint-Domingue was proclaimed on January 1, 1804 as the "Republic of Haiti;" modifying the spelling of the original name (Ayiti). Haiti was the first Black Republic, first independent nation in the Caribbean, the only nation in the world established as a result of a successful slave revolt, and the second republic in the Americas; and all the first leaders of government were former slaves. Despite their independence, world powers refused to recognize Haiti and boycotted trade with them until 1825. Haiti was forced to pay France 150 million gold francs to lift trade boycotts by France, Britain, and the US. The Debt was not paid in full until 1947 and has affected their economy to present day. Haiti is the only predominantly Francophone independent nation in the Americas. It is one of only two independent nations in the Americas (along with Canada) to designate French as an official language. With 9.7 million people, Haiti is the most populous full member-state of the Caribbean Community
MALINDA RUSSELL was a business owner, esteemed experienced cook and author of the oldest cookbook published by a Black American. Born and raised free in 1812 in Greene County, Tennessee, a center of abolitionist activity in the state, her Mom passed while Malinda was a child. Inspired by activist community members, in 1830 Russell set out with a party destined for Liberia at age 19. In transit to Lynchburg, Virginia to board a boat, her money was stolen and she was stranded. Russell found employment in Lynchburg as a companion, nurse and cook. She learned to cook from Fanny Steward, a former enslaved woman working at the same house. She then adapted her own creativity to dishes, especially baked good. After a brief marriage, Malinda was left widowed with a young son. She returned to Tennessee, where she operated a boarding house on Chuckey Mountain near Cold Spring, TN for 3 years, and managed her own pastry shop for 6 years. In 1864, she was attacked and robbed by a group of men who believed Blacks had no business owning property or earning good money. Malinda immediately left the South, for Paw Paw, Michigan, having read its description as the “Garden of the West”. She worked again as a cook and/or pastry chef. In May 1866, Malinda Russell self-published “A Domestic Cook Book,” the first known cookbook by a Black American. The 39-page book, contains 265 recipes relying on a certain amount of shorthand and the assumption that readers already know their way around the kitchen. Most of the recipes were for elegant deserts, main course dishes and limited Southern cuisine In addition to culinary recipes, Russell offers several recipes for medicinal and personal care products like colognes and treating burns. The preface gives a brief history of her life and states she hoped to earn enough to return home from its proceeds. Between 1866 and 188, the town of Paw Paw was devastated by a series of fires. Sadly, the fires also took any trace of whatever happened to Malinda Russell and her son with them. There are no known photos or drawings of Malinda Russell. Today, the only, copy of “A Domestic cookbook” is held in the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinarily Archive (JBLCA) at the University of Michigan. Malinda Russell’s book precedes Abby Fisher’s 1881 “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking” by 15 years; previously thought to be the oldest Black cookbook. Award-winning food and nutrition journalist, educator and activist Toni Tipton Martin calls Russell’s cookbook “a culinary Emancipation Proclamation for Black cooks”. View the cookbook here:
A Domestic Cook Book
February 7, 1926, DR. CARTER G. WOODSON established Negro History Week to share the historical journeys and accomplishments of persons of African decent, in a time when NO Blacks were mentioned in America's school history books. He chose the second week of February because it marked the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The week gained popularity by Woodson creating & distributing educational kits for children. In 1976 it evolved into Black History Month. It was his vision that persons of African decent would celebrate, appreciate and obtain knowledge about their history and share it with the world. In his own words, Dr. Woodson believed "Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history". He further philosophized that "If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated". Further about his life, DR. CARTER GOODWIN WOODSON was a historian, author, journalist and educator. Born in Buckingham County, Virginia in 1875, the son of former slaves, through self-instruction Woodson mastered the fundamentals of common school subjects by age 17. Wanting more education, Carter went to earn a living as a miner in the coal fields. He was able to devote only a few months each year to his schooling. In 1895, at the age of 20, Woodson entered Douglass High School, where he received his diploma in less than two years. From 1897 to 1900, Woodson taught school and in 1900 he was selected as the principal of Douglass High School. He went on to earn his Bachelor of Literature degree from Berea College in Kentucky in 1903 by taking classes part-time between 1901 and 1903. From 1903 to 1907, Woodson was a school supervisor in the Philippines. Later, he attended the University of Chicago, where he was earned A.B. and A.M. in 1908. He was a member of the first Black professional fraternity "Sigma Pi Phi" and a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.He completed his PhD in history at Harvard University in 1912, where he was the second Black man (after W.E.B. Du Bois) to earn a Doctorate. He continued teaching in public schools, later joining the faculty at Howard University as a professor, and Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. Convinced that the role of Black history and the history of other cultures was being ignored or misrepresented among scholars, Woodson saw a need for research into the neglected past and published "The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861" in 1915. The same year, through frequent visits and experiences in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood, he was inspired to create the "Association for the Study of Negro Life and History" (ASAALH). The Association worked to preserve the history of Blacks and accumulated a collection of thousands of artifacts and publications. Woodson noted that Black contributions "were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them ... the inevitable outcome of the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind." In 1926, Woodson pioneered "Negro History Week" to combat this; the week of recognition is now known as BLACK HISTORY MONTH. A literary genius, he went on to write "The History of the Negro Church" and "The Mis-Education of the Negro". Woodson was placed at the center of a circle of Black intellectuals and activists from the 1920s to 1940s. He corresponded with W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and others; becoming a regular columnist for Garvey's weekly Negro World. Woodson saluted efforts by West Indians to include materials related to Black history and culture into their school curriculum. At the time, educators in America felt that it was wrong to teach or understand Black history. According to these educators, "Negroes" were simply Americans, darker skinned, but with no history apart from that of any other. Thus Woodson's efforts to get Black culture and history into the curricula of institutions were often unsuccessful. In the late 1940s, Dr. Woodson worked on an ever completed six-volume Encyclopedia Africana until his death in 1950, at the age of 74. More than a decade after his death, schools started teaching Black History. Today African Heritage studies have become specialized fields in history, music, culture, literature and other areas. To his legacy, the Carter G. Woodson Book Award was established in 1974, for the most distinguished social science books for young readers that depict ethnicity in the United States; his Washington, DC home has been preserved and designated the Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site; and the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in his honor in 1984, seventh in the Black Heritage stamp collection. One of Dr. Woodson's most profound quotes: "If you can control a man's thinking, you don't have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have to worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don't have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don't have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one"
HORACE JULIAN BOND was a prolific activist, civil rights leader, politician and professor. Born in 1940 in Nashville, Tennessee, his father Horace was President of Fort Valley State College; his mother a Librarian at Clark Atlanta University. Their house on the Fort Valley State campus was a frequent stop for renowned intellects activists, and celebrities in travels down south, ranging from Paul Robeson to W.E.B. Dubois. In 1945, his father became the first Black President of Lincoln University, and the family moved North. In Spring 1957, Julian graduated from George School (private HS) in Bucks County, PA. That Fall he entered Morehouse College, excelling his first 3 years and taking a leave of absence his senior year to work on civil rights and start a family. In 1961, Bond married Spelman College student Alice Clopton; divorcing in 1989 and having five children to their Union. On April 17, 1960, Bond helped co-found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and served as Communications Director until 1966. In that period, he spearheaded student protests against Jim Crow laws and segregated facilities, and organized voter registration drives all over the south. In 1965, he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, one of 11 Black elected after national passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. In January 1966, Georgia representatives voted not to seat Bond after the election, because he had publicly endorsed SNCC's policies. Bond’s case reached the Supreme Court of the United States in 1966, which ruled 9–0 in the case of Bond v. Floyd (385 U.S. 116) that the Georgia House of Representatives had denied Bond his freedom of speech and was required to seat him. From 1967 to 1975, Bond was elected to four terms in the Georgia House, where he organized the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. During the 1968 presidential election, Bond led an alternate delegation from Georgia to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. There he was the first Black person to be nominated as a major-party candidate for VP of the United States; to which he declined. In 1971 at age 31, Bond returned to Morehouse to complete a Bachelor Degree in English. That same year, he co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, Alabama; serving as its president from 1971 until 1979 and remaining a board member and president emeritus for the rest of his life. In 1974, he was elected for the first of six terms in the Georgia Senate, serving until 1987. Bond took strong stances for civil rights, redistricting for equitable representation, advocacy for Africans in Europe and LBGTQ rights. After leaving politics, Bond taught civil rights history at several universities: American , Drexel, Harvard and Univ of Virginia. In 1998, Julian Bond was selected as Chairman of the NAACP, serving until 2009, succeeded by Roslyn Brock in 2010. Bond have several stints as a tv/radio professional - From 1980 to 1997, he hosted America's Black Forum; he served as a commentator for Byline radio program and NBC’s Today Show; authored the newspaper column Viewpoint; and narrated PBS series Eyes on the Prize. In 1977, Bond became the first Black political figure to host Saturday Night Live. In 2012, he was featured in document “Julian Bond: Reflections from the Frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement”. Julian Bond died in 2015 at age 75. To his legacy, he received National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award (2002), National LGBTQ Task Force Leadership Award (2006), NAACP Spingarn Medal (2009); and has been awarded 25 honorary degrees from various universities. His son Michael Julian Bond currently serves as an Atlanta
DR. KATHERINE JOHNSON was a mathematician, scientist and NASA Computing Genius. Born Creola Katherine Coleman in August 1918, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, she attended high school at 10 years old and graduated at 14. She went on to attend on West Virginia State College (WVSC) taking every math course offered. Mentored by Professors W. W. Schieffelin Claytor, the third Black person in the U,S, to receive a PhD in math, Katherine graduated summa cum laude at age 18 (1937), with degrees in mathematics and French, and also joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. In 1939, she was the first Black woman to attend graduate school at West Virginia University. She decided on a career as a research mathematician. Katherine initially worked as a teacher and in 1953 was hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as computer, analyzing topics such as gust alleviation for aircrafts, reading data from black boxes of planes and carrying out precise mathematical tasks. In 1958, NACA became a part of NASA and adopted digital computers.The next year, Katherine married James Johnson, and remained married for 60 years (until his 2019 passing). During her 35-year career at NASA and its predecessor, Johnson earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks. Her work included calculating trajectories, launch windows and emergency return paths for Project Mercury spaceflights, including those for astronauts Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first American in orbit, and rendezvous paths for the Apollo Lunar Module and command module on flights to the Moon. Her calculations were also essential to the beginning of the Space Shuttle program, and she worked on plans for a mission to Mars. In 1970, Johnson worked on the Apollo 13 Moon mission. When the mission was aborted, her work on backup procedures and charts helped set a safe path for the crew's return to Earth. Johnson co-authored 26 scientific papers in her career, and was the first Black woman to have a NASA paper published with her name on it. To her legacy, Johnson was named West Virginia State College Outstanding Alumnus of the Year in 1999. President Barack Obama presented Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. In 2016, Johnson was included in BBC's list of 100 influential women worldwide. The highly acclaimed film Hidden Figures, released in December 2016 follows Johnson and other female African-American mathematicians (Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan) who worked at NASA. Taraji P. Henson plays Johnson in the film. In 2018, Johnson was awarded an honorary doctorate by the College of William & Mary. The same year, West Virginia State University established a STEM scholarship in her honor and erected a life-size statue of her on campus. In 2018, Mattel produced a Barbie doll in the likeness of Johnson. In 2019, Dr. Johnson was announced as one of the members of the inaugural class of Government Executive's "Government Hall of Fame". Two NASA facilities have been named in honor of Dr. Johnson: Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility in Hampton, Virginia and the Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility. In 2019, Dr. Johnson was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Katherine Johnson died at a retirement home in Newport News on February 24, 2020, at age 101
DOROTHY JOHNSON VAUGHAN was a gifted mathematician, human computer and NASA’s first Black Supervisor. Born September 1910 in Kansas City, Missouri as Dorothy Jean Johnson, her family later moved to Morgantown, West Virginia where she graduated from high school as class valedictorian. Vaughan went on to attend Wilberforce University graduating Cum Laude in 1929 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and joining Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. In 1932, she married Howard Vaughan, and relocated to Newport News, Virginia, where they had 6 children; there Dorothy worked as a mathematics teacher for 14 years. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 Executive Orders to end discrimination in hiring among federal agencies and defense contractors; Vaughan began a career as a mathematician and programmer at National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1943. NACA had established a section of women mathematicians, who performed complex calculations. Vaughan was assigned to the West Area Computing, a segregated unit consisting of Black women who made complex mathematical calculations by hand. The West Computers made contributions to every area of research with their work expanding in the postwar years to support research and design for the United States' space program. In 1949, Vaughan was assigned as the Supervisor of the West Area Computers, becoming the first Black Supervisor at NACA and one of few female supervisors. Seeing that machine computers were going to be the future, Vaughan became proficient in computer programming, teaching herself FORTRAN and teaching it to her coworkers to prepare them for the transition. She contributed to the space program through her work on the Scout Launch Vehicle Program. In 1958 NACA transitioned to become NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and Dorothy Vaughn became Head of the Programming Section of the Analysis and Computation Division (ACD). Vaughan retired from NASA in 1971 after a 28 year career. She continued to live a life of service mentoring women in math & science and working with the AME Church until her passing in 2008 at age of 98. Dorothy Vaughan is one of the women featured in Margot Lee Shetterly's 2016 non-fiction book Hidden Figures, and the feature film of the same name - portrayed by Academy Award winning actress Octavia Spencer. In 2019, Vaughan was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. A crater on the far side of the Moon was named in her honor - “Vaughan Crater”. In November 2020, a satellite named after her (ÑuSat 12 or "Dorothy", COSPAR 2020-079D) was launched into space
MARY JACKSON was NASA's first Black Female engineer. Born Mary Winston in 1921 in Hampton, Virginia, she finished high school with highest honors and went on to the Hampton Institute; earning Bachelor's Degrees in mathematics and physics in 1942, and joining Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. After graduation, Mary taught at a high school and worked as a clerk at the Hampton Institute's Health Department. In 1944 she married Levi Jackson and had two children in their union. In 1951, Jackson was recruited by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as a research mathematician/ computer at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA. She worked under Dorothy Vaughan in the segregated West Area Computing Section. In 1953, she accepted an offer to work in the NACA Supersonic Pressure Tunnel – a wind tunnel used to study forces on a model by generating winds at almost twice the speed of sound. She analyzed data from wind tunnel experiments and real-world aircraft flight experiments. Her goal was to understand air flow, including thrust and drag forces, in order to improve United States planes. IN 1958, NACA transitioned to become NASA and set standards for graduate-level courses to qualify to be a NASA Engineer. Mary Jackson petitioned the City of Hampton to allow her to attend classes at the then segregated University of Virginia as it was the only University that offered graduate level engineer courses. Winning her petition and completing night courses at UVA, she was promoted to Aerospace Engineer in 1958, becoming NASA's first Black Female Engineer. Jackson worked as an engineer in several NASA divisions: the Compressibility Research Division, Full-Scale Research Division, High-Speed Aerodynamics Division, and the Subsonic-Transonic Aerodynamics Division. She ultimately authored or co-authored 12 technical papers for NACA and NASA. She later served as both NASA’s Federal Women's Program Manager in the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs and as the Affirmative Action Program Manager, and worked to influence the career paths of women in science, engineering, and mathematics positions at NASA until her retirement in 1985. She further helped Black children in her community create a miniature wind tunnel for testing airplanes and served for more than 30 years as a Girl Scout leader. Mary Jackson died in 2005 at age of 83. To her legacy, Salt Lake City, Utah’s Mary Jackson Elementary School is named in her honor. In 2019, Jackson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2020 NASA’s Washington, DC headquarters was renamed the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters. Mary Jackson is one of the women featured in Margot Lee Shetterly's 2016 non-fiction book Hidden Figures, and the feature film of the same name. She was portrayed by actress and singer Janelle Monáe. In November 2020, a satellite named after her (ÑuSat 17 or "Mary", COSPAR 2020-079J) was launched into space.
HARRY TYSON MOORE was the first martyr in the civil rights movement, killed 70 years ago (1951), and a pioneering leader in the South. Born in Houston, FL in 1905 and excelling in studies, he went on to graduate from Bethune Cookman College. He went on to become the Principal of the Titusville Colored School in Brevard County, FL, where he met his wife Harriette Vyda Simms, marrying her on December 25, 1926. The Moores founded the Brevard County chapter of the NAACP in 1934. Soon after, Harry helped organize the Statewide NAACP Organization and in 1941 was named President of Florida's NAACP. He pursued a variety of efforts for civil rights, including equal pay, investigation of lynching and voter registration discriminatory state laws. After 1943, he became involved in reviewing every lynching case in Florida. Moore also led the Progressive Voters League in voter registration drives that succeeded in registering 116,000 Black people, 31% of those eligible to vote in Florida; 51% higher than the proportion of blacks registered to vote in any other southern state. In 1946, the public school system fired the Moores and blacklisted them because of Harry's political activism. Moore then became a full-time NAACP activist, increasing the membership in the state to a peak of 10,000 in the next two years. On Christmas night, 1951, Harry and Harriette Moore (age 46 and 49) were killed at home by a bomb that went off beneath their house. It was the Moores' 25th Wedding Anniversary. Harry Moore was the first NAACP official murdered in the civil rights struggle and has been called the first martyr in the Civil Rights Movement. The murders caused a national and international outcry. The NAACP held a huge rally in New York, where the renowned poet Langston Hughes read a poem written in memory of Moore In 1952, Harry Moore was posthumously awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. In 1999, the Moores' homesite was labeled a Florida Historical Heritage Landmark. In 2004 #BrevardCounty created the Harry T. and Harriette Moore Memorial Park and Interpretive Center at the homesite in Mims. The Brevard County Justice Center is named in honor of the Moores and includes material there about their lives and work. Harry T Moore Ave in Mims, FL is named in his honor as well. The Book "Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America's First Civil Rights Martyr" tells Moore's story
EARTHA KITT was an iconic singer, actress, dancer, activist and author. Born as Eartha Mae Keith in 1927 in North, South Carolina to a Mom of Cherokee and African descent.; she was sent to live with relative Mamie Kitt in Harlem, New York attending high school there and getting into performing arts. At the age of 16, she started her career as a member of the renowned Katherine Dunham Company as a singer and dancer. Kitt first appeared on Broadway at the age of 18 in the 1945 original “Carib Song”. In 1950 she stared role as Helen of Troy, and 2 years later was cast in the revue New Faces of 1952. Known for her distinctive singing style she had 6 Top 30 hit recordings, including "C'est si bon" and "Santa Baby", both reaching Billboard Top 10. Deemed the "most exciting woman in the world," in the early 1960s, she recorded & toured; worked in film, television, and nightclubs; and returned to Broadway stage. In 1967, Kitt starred as Catwoman in the Batman TV series. In the 1960s Kitt became active in numerous social causes. She established the Kittsville Youth Foundation and supported Washington, DC’s "Rebels with a Cause" movement, helping them garner much needed funding to clean up communities. Kitt was also a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom criticizing war and its connection to poverty and racial unrest – part of a larger commitment to peace activism. In 1968, Kitt made anti-war statements during a White House luncheon that caused her to blackballed temporarily. She in turn took her talents abroad to Europe and Asia before returning to Broadway in the 1978 original production of the musical Timbuktu, for which she received a Tony Award nomination. Kitt wrote three autobiographies, and later became a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights and publicly supported same-sex marriage, which she considered a civil right. Through the 80s and 90s, she recorded music again hit with disco song "Where Is My Man" becoming the first certified gold record of her career; as well as acted in TV and movies including film “Boomerang” and national touring of The Wizard of Oz. In the 2000s her vocal roles in Disney films The Emperor's New Groove and sequels, brought a new generation of fans. Ertha Kitt passed away on Christmas Day 2008. Her work earned multiple Daytime Emmy awards and Annie awards, and nominations for multiple Tony and Grammy awards. Kitt was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame