Archive for the ‘Black History’ Category

Dorothy Irene Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010)

Pioneering civil rights activist, Dorothy Irene Height, died at the age of 98 at Howard University Hospital, where she had been in serious condition for many weeks.

Height, who marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and led the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years, was known for her determination and grace. She remained active and outspoken well into her 90s and often received rousing ovations at events around Washington, where she was easily recognizable in the bright, colorful hats she almost always wore.

Dorothy Height was recognized by President Obama as “the godmother of the civil rights movement” and a hero to Americans.  More importantly, she was also a hero to Black-Americans

Some of Height’s notable accomplishments include:

  • Received two of the nation’s highest honors: the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004
  • In 1957, Height was named president of the National Council of Negro Women, a position she held until 1997
  • In 2004, Height was recognized by Barnard for her achievements as an honorary alumna during its commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision
  • Pledged and served as National President of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority
  • Listed on Molefi Kete Asante’s list of 100 Greatest African=Americans

Just four days after I buried my maternal grandmother, the world loses yet another civil rights icon.  The question begs whether or not we will ever experience the kind of significant Black leadership that stapled the 60’s. 

On April 20, 2010, the world lost a notable African-American Administrator, Educator, and Civil Rights Activist.  It literally took Dorothy almost 100 years to witness the first African-American to be elected to the office of President of the United States.  It is without question that her diligence past efforts helped to paved the way for a White House with two little Black girls.

Reaching higher Heights,

Recently, I heard someone refer to another brother as an Uncle Tom.  Although the remark was intended to degrade the target of the remarks, it only demonstrated the users lack of historical and literary acuteness associated with the terminology.

Not unlike most that use the term; to grossly mislabel another while attempting to belittle that person often backfires in a way that demonstrates one’s own lacking of Black history and ultimately the knowledge of self.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an anti-slavery novel by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Published in 1852, the novel had a profound effect on attitudes toward African Americans and slavery in the United States, so much in the latter case that the novel intensified the sectional conflict leading to the American Civil War.

The author Harriet Stowe, a Connecticut-born preacher at the Hartford Female Academy and an active abolitionist, focused the novel on the character of Uncle Tom, a long-suffering black slave around whom the stories of other characters—both fellow slaves and slave owners—revolve. The sentimental novel depicts the reality of slavery while also asserting that Christian love can overcome something as destructive as enslavement of fellow human beings.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century, and the second best-selling book of that century, following the Bible.  It is credited with helping fuel the abolitionist cause in the 1850s.  In the first year after it was published, 300,000 copies of the book were sold in the United States alone. The book’s impact was so great that when Abraham Lincoln met Stowe at the start of the Civil War, Lincoln is often quoted as having declared, “So this is the little lady who made this big war.”

The book, and even more the plays it inspired, also helped create a number of stereotypes about Black people, many of which endure to this day. These include the affectionate, dark-skinned “mammy”; the “pickaninny” stereotype of black children; and the Uncle Tom, or dutiful, long-suffering servant faithful to his white master or mistress. In recent years, the negative associations with Uncle Tom’s Cabin have, to an extent, overshadowed the historical impact of the book as a “vital antislavery tool.” wiki

How many of us have done whatever we had to do in order to survive in the midst of an oppressive situation.  Anybody remember when racist cops and discriminatory lunch counters were the order of the day?  Although we life to romanticize the vigilant 60’s, bear in mind that many of us tolerated untold oppression at the hand of the oppressor.

So I ask the question: “Was Uncle Tom really an Uncle Tom?”  Or was he simply a symbiotic depiction of the innate ability for survival?  I dare to say most of us (and our grandparents) silently accepted the frequency of dehumanization in order to preserve the race in hopes of a brighter tomorrow.  A tomorrow where our children’s children are so comfortable that they fail to realize the significance of the suffering that predates their ipods, x-boxes and their cell phones.

Truth be told, the spirit of Stowe’s fictitious character Tom resides in many of us today.  Don’t be ashamed of it.  Recognize it. Embrace it.  Appreciate what it represented and never forget it.

D’s deux ¢

Copyright © 2010

If you follow this blog you recall a series we did on the Harlem Renaissance, featuring Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and others.  On the last day of Black History Month it’s only fitting that we pay homage to the World Famous Harlem Globetrotters.

If by some chance you are totally oblivous; Harlem Globetrotters are an exhibition basketball team known for its athleticism, theater, comedy and high scoring games.

Those who know me are familiar with my opinionated quips (better known as D’s 2¢) know that I have a certain disdain for buffoonery.  Before we dismiss their antics as cooning, we must first be mindfully aware of the environment during which the G-Trotters were birthed.

Initially, the G-Trotters were a serious competitive team, and despite a flair for entertainment, they would only clown (or coon; depending on how you see it) for the audience after establishing a safe and sizable lead in any given game.  In 1939, they accepted an invitation to participate in the World Professional Basketball Tournament, where they met the New York Rens in the semi-finals in the first big clash of the two greatest all-Black professional basketball teams. The Rens defeated the G-Trotters and went on to win the Tournament, but in 1940 the G-Trotters avenged their loss by defeating the Rens in the quarterfinals and advancing to the championship game, where they beat the Chicago Bruins in overtime by a score of 37–36.

The G-Trotters gradually worked comic routines into their act until they became known more for entertainment than sports.  The G-Trotters’ acts often feature incredible coordination and skillful handling of one or more basketballs, such as passing or juggling balls between players, balancing or spinning balls on their fingertips, and making unusual, difficult shots.

It is not uncommon for Blacks to create an industry with their gifts.  Basketball, a game originate by Dr. James Naismith was not created with Black in mind.  However, having evolved into a sport where extreme coordination, jumping, ball-handling and the combination of strength and grace are paramount; it was only a matter of time before game transcended from its origin.

Predating modern day millionaires like MJ, Kobe and Lebron; pioneers like Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neale, Marques Haynes and Wilt Chamberlain were all instrumental in transforming the game into what we see it today: Entertaining spectator competitive sports.  And let’s not forget that they are the only professional sports team (to my knowledge) to have a cartoon series and a comic book.

Although the G-Trotters are not what they once were (which is largely due to the high flying acts of the NBA in physical play and mass media marketing), but they will always be considered a significant part of our history and the history of the game we consider FANTASTIC.

D’s 2¢

Benjamin Banneker (Nov. 9, 1731 – Oct. 9, 1806)

Profession: Mathematician, Astronomer, Surveyor

Birthplace: Ellicott’s Mills, Md.

Black History Month is a time when African Americans reflect, recall and recount the significance of their contribution to the world.  One of the culture’s largest contributors’ is a man named Benjamin Banneker.

Benjamin Banneker has been called by many the first African American intellectual. Self-taught, after studying the inner workings of a friend’s watch, he made one of wood that accurately kept time for more than 40 years. Banneker also taught himself astronomy well enough to correctly predict a solar eclipse in 1789. From 1791 to 1802 he published the Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanac and Ephemeris, which contained tide tables, future eclipses, and medicinal formulas.

It is believed to be the first scientific book published by an African American.  Also a surveyor and mathematician, Banneker was appointed by President George Washington to the District of Columbia Commission, which was responsible for the survey work that established the city’s original boundaries. When the chairman of the committee, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, suddenly resigned and left, taking the plans with him, Banneker reproduced the plans from memory.  

An avid opponent of slavery, Banneker sent a copy of his first almanac to then-Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to counter Jefferson’s belief in the intellectual inferiority of Blacks.

Banneker never married.  He died on Oct. 9, 1806, and was buried in the family burial ground near his house.  Among the memorabilia preserved were his book and the manuscript journal where he’d entered astronomical calculations and personal notations.

On February 15, 1980, the United States Postal Service issued in Annapolis, Maryland, a 15 cent stamp that illustrated a portrait of Banneker.  An image of Banneker standing behind a short telescope mounted on a tripod is superimposed upon the portrait.  The device shown in the stamp resembles Andrew Ellicott’s transit and equal altitude instrument, which is presently in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.  The stamp is part of the Postal Service’s Black Heritage stamp series.

Until next time,

Many of you who follow this blog know that February is our favorite time of year.  While you may be knowledgeable of Black History Month, your astuteness may fall short on the origin of the same.

What is presently known as Black History Month was originated in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson as Negro History Week.  The month of February was selected in deference to Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln who were both born in that month.

Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 to train Black historians and to collect, preserve, and publish documents on Black life and Black people (not all that dissimilar from FathersFootprints.com). He also founded the Journal of Negro History (1916), Associated Publishers (1922), and the Negro Bulletin (1937). Woodson spent his life working to educate all people about the significant and vast contributions made by Black men and women throughout history.  Mr. Woodson died on April 3, 1950 and left Black History Month as his legacy.

While we appreciate the birthing of Black History Month, let’s not lose sight of several other significant occurrences within our history that took place during the month of February:

February 23, 1868: W. E. B. DuBois, important civil rights leader and co-founder of the NAACP, was born.

February 3, 1870: The 15th Amendment was passed, granting blacks the right to vote.

February 25, 1870: The first black U.S. senator, Hiram R. Revels (1822-1901), took his oath of office.

February 12, 1909: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded by a group of concerned black and white citizens in New York City.

February 1, 1960: In what would become a civil-rights movement milestone, a group of black Greensboro, N.C., college students began a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter.

February 21, 1965: Malcolm X, the militant leader who promoted Black Nationalism, was shot to death by three Black Muslims.

Carter G. opened the door and blazed a trail.  It is up to present day Blacks to continue to educate our youth on the significance and importance of our history – even if they are resistant.

D’s 2¢

I am convinced that many of us go through life without ever really considering how we’ve benefited from the activism and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Although it’s difficult to truly know all the bi-products of Dr. King’s work, nothing precludes us from heightening out awareness through some good old-fashioned due-diligence.

To make life a little simpler for my readers I have constructed a timeline of key milestones in the life of Dr. King.

1929 – Born at noon on January 15, 1929 to the Reverend and Mrs. Martin Luther King, Sr. at 501 Auburn Avenue, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia.

1944 – Graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and was admitted to Morehouse College at age 15.

1948 – Graduates from Morehouse College and enters Crozer Theological Seminary. Ordained to the Baptist ministry, February 25, 1948, at age 19.

1953 – Marries Coretta Scott and settles in Montgomery, Alabama.

1955 – Received Doctorate of Philosophy in Systematic Theology from Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts on June 5. Joins the bus boycott after Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1. On December 5, he is elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, making him the official spokesman for the boycott.

1956 – On November 13, the Supreme Court rules that bus segregation is illegal, ensuring victory for the boycott.

1957 – King forms the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to fight segregation and achieve civil rights. On May 17, Dr. King speaks to a crowd of 15,000 in Washington, D.C.

1958 – The U.S. Congress passed the first Civil Rights Act since reconstruction. King’s first book, Stride Toward Freedom, is published.  On a speaking tour, Martin Luther King, Jr. is nearly killed when stabbed by an assailant in Harlem.  Met with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, along with Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, and Lester Grange on problems affecting black Americans.

1959 – Visited India to study Mohandas Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence.  Resigns from pastoring the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to concentrate on civil rights full time. He moved to Atlanta to direct the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

1960 – Becomes co-pastor with his father at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.  Lunch counter sit-ins began in Greensboro, North Carolina. In Atlanta, King is arrested during a sit-in waiting to be served at a restaurant. He is sentenced to four months in jail, but after intervention by John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, he is released.  Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee founded to coordinate protests at Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina.

1963 – On Good Friday, April 12, King is arrested with Ralph Abernathy by Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor for demonstrating without a permit.  On April 13, the Birmingham campaign is launched. This would prove to be the turning point in the war to end segregation in the South. During the eleven days he spent in jail, MLK writes his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.  On May 10, the Birmingham agreement is announced. The stores, restaurants, and schools will be desegregated, hiring of blacks implemented, and charges dropped.  On June 23, MLK leads 125,000 people on a Freedom Walk in Detroit. The March on Washington held August 28 is the largest civil rights demonstration in history with nearly 250,000 people in attendance.  At the march, King makes his famous I Have a Dream speech.  On November 22, President Kennedy is assassinated.

1964 – On January 3, King appears on the cover of Time magazine as its Man of the Year.  King attends the signing ceremony of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the White House on July 2.  During the summer, King experiences his first hurtful rejection by black people when he is stoned by Black Muslims in Harlem.  King is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10. Dr. King is the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for Peace at age 35.

1965 – On February 2, King is arrested in Selma, Alabama during a voting rights demonstration.  After President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law, Martin Luther King, Jr. turns to socioeconomic problems.

1966 – On January 22, King moves into a Chicago slum tenement to attract attention to the living conditions of the poor.  In June, King and others begin the March Against Fear through the South.  On July 10, King initiates a campaign to end discrimination in housing, employment, and schools in Chicago.

1967 – The Supreme Court upholds a conviction of MLK by a Birmingham court for demonstrating without a permit. King spends four days in Birmingham jail.  On November 27, King announces the inception of the Poor People’s Campaign focusing on jobs and freedom for the poor of all races.

1968 – Dr. King marches in support of sanitation workers on strike in Memphis, Tennessee.  On March 28, King lead a march that turns violent. This was the first time one of his events had turned violent.  Delivered I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speech.   At sunset on April 4, Martin Luther King, Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. There are riots and disturbances in 130 American cities. There were twenty thousand arrests.  King’s funeral on April 9 is an international event.  Within a week of the assassination, the Open Housing Act is passed by Congress.

Because Dr. King had the courage to dream, we don’ have to experience nightmares.  Do something to ensure the sacrifice of his life was not for naught.  Thank you Dr. King, we are at last free!

Until next time,

If you follow FathersFootprints you already know that our content targets a specific ethnicity; and we don’t wait until February to partake.  Our features in 2010 will be no different.  As a matter of fact, we plan to step up our commitment to Blackademics.

As a Detroit youth I was never interested in history.  My parochial education did not lend itself to Black History other than the usual suspects that include Martin Luther King, Jr, Frederick Douglas, and possibly Harriett Tubman.  I’m not suggesting that the aforementioned were not key figures in our society; I am simply suggesting that they barely scratch the surface.

My rapid descent on middle age has caused me to realize the significance of the accomplishments of Blacks while in America.  My quest for a deeper understanding of who I am has led me to the likes of Claude McKay, Ernest Just, Garett Morgan, Cecil Partee, Robert Elliot, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Emmett Chappelle, George Washington Carver, Mary McCloud Bethune, Alexander Crummell, E. Franklin Frazier, Charles Drew, Margaret Walker, Lorraine Hansberry, Benjamin Banneker, Percy Julian, Mark Dean, George Washington Bush, Jean Baptiste du Sable, Daniel Halle Williams, Lloyd Quarterman, Shirley Chisholm and countless others.

If some of the famous Blacks mentioned in the prior paragraph don’t ring a bell, I implore you to take a few moments to better acquaint yourself with them.  If you don’t plan to do your part to become a part of Black history, at least pass some knowledge of self on to future generations.

I close this post with one of my favorite poetic works by the late Anne Spencer.

Black Man o’ Mine

Black Man o’ Mine,
If the world were your lover,
It could not give what I give to you,
Or the ocean would yield and you could discover
Its ages of treasure to hold and to view;
Could it fill half the measure of my heart’s portion. . .
Just for you living, just for you giving all this devotion,
Black man o’ mine.

Black man o’ mine,
As I hush and caress you, close to my heart,
All your loving is just your needing what is true;
Then with your passing dark comes my darkest part,
For living without your love is only rue.
Black man o’ mine, if the world were your lover
It could not give what I give to you.

Until next time,

Copyright © 2010