Monday, June 19, 2017

Benjamin Banneker

 Benjamin Banneker -- author, scientist, mathematician, farmer, astronomer, publisher and urban planner -- was descended from enslaved Africans, an indentured English servant, and free men and women of color. His grandmother, Molly Welsh, was an English dairy maid who was falsely convicted of theft and indentured to a Maryland tobacco farmer. After working out her indenture, Welsh rented and farmed some land, eventually purchasing two African slaves whom she freed several years later. 

In violation of Maryland law, Welsh wed one of her former slaves, Bannke or Bannaka, said to be the son of a chief. Their daughter Mary also married an African -- a man from Guinea who had been enslaved, baptized as Robert, and freed -- who took Banneker as his surname upon their marriage. In 1731, they named their first child Benjamin.

Young Benjamin grew up in Baltimore County, one of two hundred free blacks among a population of four thousand slaves and thirteen thousand whites. He was taught to read by his grandmother Molly, and briefly attended a one-room interracial school taught by a Quaker. He showed an early interest in mathematics and mechanics, preferring books to play.

At the age of 22, having seen only two timepieces in his lifetime -- a sundial and a pocket watching -- Banneker constructed a striking clock almost entirely out of wood, based on his own drawings and calculations. The clock continued to run until it was destroyed in a fire forty years later.

Banneker became friendly with the Ellicott brothers, who built a complex of gristmills in the 1770s. Like Banneker, George Ellicott was a mathematician and amateur astronomer. In 1788, with tools and books borrowed from Ellicott, Banneker nearly accurately predicted the timing of an eclipse of the sun, discovering later that his minor error was due to a discrepancy in his expert sources rather than a miscalculation on his part.

In 1791, Banneker accompanied Major Andrew Ellicott to the banks of the Potomac to assist him in surveying the new federal city that would become the nation's capital. A notice first printed in the Georgetown Weekly Ledger and later copied in other newspapers stated that Ellicott was "attended by Benjamin Banneker, an Ethiopian, whose abilities, as a surveyor, and an astronomer, clearly prove that Mr. Jefferson's concluding that race of men were void of mental endowments, was without foundation."

In 1792, Banneker published an almanac, based on his own painstakingly calculated ephemeris (table of the position of celestial bodies), that also included commentaries, literature, and fillers that had a political and humanitarian purpose. The previous summer, he had sent a copy of the ephemeris to Thomas Jefferson, along with a letter in which he challenged Jefferson's ideas about the inferiority of blacks.

Between 1792 and 1797, Banneker published six almanacs in twenty-eight editions. He continued to live alone, selling off and renting his land, then giving the rest to the Ellicotts in exchange for a small pension. He died in 1806. On the day of his burial, his house and its contents (including his clock) caught fire and burned to the ground. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mary McLeod Bethune

“Mary McLeod Bethune (July 10, 1875 – May 18, 1955) was the founder of Bethune-Cookman College. She also served as a New Deal government official — she was one of the 20 highest-level offices held by women in the administration, and the highest held by an African American woman. She played a key role in founding FDR’s “black cabinet.” She also served as president of the National Association of Colored Women, and she founded and served as president of the National Council of Negro Women.
She was known for  improving educational opportunities for African Americans; president, National Association of Colored Women; founder, National Council of Negro Women. Her statue in Washington, DC, was the first statue depicting any woman or African American in any park in the nation’s capital. Her home is a National Historic Landmark. “

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Granville T. Woods


When called upon to name one of America’s greatest inventors, most people mention names like Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone or Thomas Alva Edison and his achievements ranging from the electric light to the phonograph. However, a contemporary of those two greats who most people do not know about is a Black man by the name of Granville T. Woods.
A sound argument can be made that Woods’ inventive genius was equal to if not superior to that of both Bell and Edison. During his brief life (he died at 53) Woods with the aid of his brother Lyates registered over 65 patents for electrical, mechanical, and communications devices which today we take for granted with virtually no awareness of their connection to Granville T. Woods. His inventions ranged from the electrified third rail common to most subway systems worldwide to 12 devices which modernized the railroad to an advanced telephone transmitter.
Woods’ “advanced telephone transmitter” was so advanced in fact that Alexander Graham Bell’s company purchased the rights to it from Woods both because it was superior to what Bell had invented and out of fear that Woods might become a major competitor to the Bell company. Woods called his invention “telegraphony” featuring a combination of the best of the telegraph and the telephone.
Selling his invention to the Bell Company gave Woods the money he needed to spend full time as an inventor. He added air brakes and an egg hatching machine to his list of inventions during this period.
In 1887, he patented the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph which for the first time allowed communications between train stations and moving trains. It was this invention that ran him afoul of the powerful Thomas Alva Edison – the man generally considered America’s most prolific inventor. Despite his own genius, Edison was a hard nose capitalist who had a penchant for suing other inventors and claiming their inventions. Edison sued Woods charging that he (Edison) was the first to invent the multiplex telegraph. After a costly court battle, Woods won the case. But even after losing to Woods, Edison remained so impressed with him that he offered the Black genius a partnership in one of his companies. In order to maintain his independence, Woods rejected the offer.
Woods’ success is even more astounding when you factor in from whence he came. Born on April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio, Woods did not receive any formal education beyond age 10. At 10, he began an apprenticeship in a machine shop. Later he worked in a rail yard where he fell in love with trains. Thirty-five of his patents related to improvements in electric railway cars. He eventually moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where he, along with his brother, launched his own company – Woods Railway Telegraph Company.
Besides the tendency of American historians to forget or ignore the achievements of great men and women of color, another reason Woods is not widely known is because he sold most of his inventions to General Electric, Westinghouse, and the Bell Telephone Company.

Nevertheless, his inventive genius was widely known and publicized in the late 1800’s. At his height, the Cincinnati, OhioCatholic Tribune (January 14, 1886) wrote of Woods: “… the greatest colored inventor in the history of the race and equal, if not superior, to any inventor in the country …”

Monday, June 5, 2017

Gwendolyn Brooks

June 7, 1917 - December 3, 2000

Although she was born on 7 June 1917 in Topeka, Kansas--the first child of David and Keziah Brooks--Gwendolyn Brooks is "a Chicagoan." The family moved to Chicago shortly after her birth, and despite her extensive travels and periods in some of the major universities of the country, she has remained associated with the city's South Side. What her strong family unit lacked in material wealth was made bearable by the wealth of human capital that resulted from warm interpersonal relationships. When she writes about families that--despite their daily adversities--are not dysfunctional, Gwendolyn Brooks writes from an intimate knowledge reinforced by her own life.
Brooks attended Hyde Park High School, the leading white high school in the city, but transferred to the all-black Wendell Phillips, then to the integrated Englewood High School. In 1936 she graduated from Wilson Junior College. These four schools gave her a perspective on racial dynamics in the city that continues to influence her work.
Her profound interest in poetry informed much of her early life. "Eventide," her first poem, was published in American Childhood Magazine in 1930. A few years later she met James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes, who urged her to read modern poetry--especially the work of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and e. c. cummings--and who emphasized the need to write as much and as frequently as she possibly could. By 1934 Brooks had become an adjunct member of the staff of the Chicago Defender and had published almost one hundred of her poems in a weekly poetry column.
In 1938 she married Henry Blakely and moved to a kitchenette apartment on Chicago’s South Side. Between the birth of her first child, Henry, Jr., in 1940 and the birth of Nora in 1951, she became associated with the group of writers involved in Harriet Monroe's still-extant Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. From this group she received further encouragement, and by 1943 she had won the Midwestern Writers Conference Poetry Award.
In 1945 her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville (published by Harper and Row), brought her instant critical acclaim. She was selected one of Mademoiselle magazine's "Ten Young Women of the Year," she won her first Guggenheim Fellowship, and she became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her second book of poems, Annie Allen (1949), won Poetry magazine's Eunice Tietjens Prize. In 1950 Gwendolyn Brooks became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize. From that time to the present, she has seen the recipient of a number of awards, fellowships, and honorary degrees usually designated as Doctor of Humane Letters.
President John Kennedy invited her to read at a Library of Congress poetry festival in 1962. In 1985 she was appointed poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. Just as receiving a Pulitzer Prize for poetry marked a milestone in her career, so also did her selection by the National Endowment for the Humanities as the 1994 Jefferson Lecturer, the highest award in the humanities given by the federal government.
Her first teaching job was a poetry workshop at Columbia College (Chicago) in 1963. She went on to teach creative writing at a number of institutions including Northeastern Illinois University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, Clay College of New York, and the University of Wisconsin.
A turning point in her career came in 1967 when she attended the Fisk University Second Black Writers' Conference and decided to become more involved in the Black Arts movement. She became one of the most visible articulators of "the black aesthetic." Her "awakening" led to a shift away from a major publishing house to smaller black ones. While some critics found an angrier tone in her work, elements of protest had always been present in her writing and her awareness of social issues did not result in diatribes at the expense of her clear commitment to aesthetic principles. Consequently, becoming the leader of one phase of the Black Arts movement in Chicago did not drastically alter her poetry, but there were some subtle changes that become more noticeable when one examines her total canon to date.
The ambiguity of her role as a black poet can be illustrated by her participation in two events in Chicago. In 1967 Brooks, who wrote the commemorative ode for the "Chicago Picasso," attended the unveiling ceremony along with social and business dignitaries. The poem was well received even though such lines as "Art hurts. Art urges voyages . . ." made some uncomfortable. Less than two weeks later there was the dedication of the mural known as "The Wall of Respect" at 43rd and Langley streets, in the heart of the black neighborhood. The social and business elites of Chicago were not present, but for this event Gwendolyn Brooks wrote "The Wall." In a measure these two poems illustrate the dichotomy of a divided city, but they also exemplify Brooks's ability both to bridge those divisions and to utilize nonstrident protest.
Gwendolyn Brooks has been a prolific writer. In addition to individual poems, essays, and reviews that have appeared in numerous publications, she has issued a number of books in rapid succession, including Maud Martha (1953), Bronzeville Boys and Girls (1956), and In the Mecca (1968). Her poetry moves from traditional forms including ballads, sonnets, variations of the Chaucerian and Spenserian stanzas as well as the rhythm of the blues to the most unrestricted free verse. In short, the popular forms of English poetry appear in her work; yet there is a strong sense of experimentation as she juxtaposes lyric, narrative, and dramatic poetic forms. In her lyrics there is an affirmation of life that rises above the stench of urban kitchenette buildings. In her narrative poetry the stories are simple but usually transcend the restrictions of place; in her dramatic poetry, the characters are often memorable not because of any heroism on their part but merely because they are trying to survive from day to day.
Brooks's poetry is marked by some unforgettable characters who are drawn from the underclass of the nation's black neighborhoods. Like many urban writers, Brooks has recorded the impact of city life. But unlike the most committed naturalists, she does not hold the city completely responsible for what happens to people. The city is simply an existing force with which people must cope.
While they are generally insignificant in the great urban universe, her characters gain importance--at least to themselves--in their tiny worlds, whether it be Annie Allen trying on a hat in a milliner’s shop or DeWitt Williams "on his way to Lincoln Cemetery" or Satin-Legs Smith trying to decide what outlandish outfit to wear on Sundays. Just as there is not a strong naturalistic sense of victimization, neither are there great plans for an unpromised future nor is there some great divine spirit that will rescue them. Brooks is content to describe a moment in the lives of very ordinary people whose only goal is to exist from day to day and perhaps have a nice funeral when they die. Sometimes these ordinary people seem to have a control that is out of keeping with their own insignificance.
Although her poetic voice is objective, there is a strong sense that she--as an observer--is never far from her action. On one level, of course, Brooks is a protest poet; yet her protest evolves through suggestion rather than through a bludgeon. She sets forth the facts without embellishment or interpretation, but the simplicity of the facts makes it impossible for readers to come away unconvinced--despite whatever discomfort they may feel--whether she is writing about suburban ladies who go into the ghetto to give occasional aid or a black mother who has had an abortion.
Trying to determine clear lines of influence from the work of earlier writers to later ones is always a risky business; however, knowing some identifiable poetic traditions can aid in understanding the work of Gwendolyn Brooks. On one level there is the English metaphysical tradition perhaps best exemplified by John Donne. From nineteenth-century American poetry one can detect elements of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. From twentieth-century American poetry there are many strains, most notably the compact style of T S. Eliot, the frequent use of the lower-case for titles in the manner of e. e. cummings, and the racial consciousness of the Harlem Renaissance, especially as found in the work of Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes; but, of perhaps greater importance, she seems to be a direct descendant of the urban commitment and attitude of the "Chicago School' of writing. For Brooks, setting goes beyond the Midwest with a focus on Chicago and concentrates on a small neglected comer of the city. Consequently, in the final analysis, she is not a carbon copy of any of the Chicago writers.
She was appointed poet laureate of Illinois in 1968 and has been perhaps more active than many laureates. She has done much to bring poetry to the people through accessibility and public readings. In fact, she is one of our most visible American poets. Not only is she extremely active in the poetry workshop movement, but her classes and contests for young people are attempts to help inner-city children see "the poetry" in their lives. She has taught audiences that poetry is not some formal activity closed to all but the most perceptive. Rather, it is an art form within the reach and understanding of everbody--including the lowliest among us.

(source: From The Oxford Companion to African-American Literature. Copyright © 1997 by Oxford University Press.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Stokely Carmichael

Stokely Carmichael was born in the Port of Spain, Trinidad, on 29th June, 1941. Carmichael moved to the United States in 1952 and attended high school in New York City. He entered Howard University in 1960 and soon afterwards joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

In 1961 Carmichael became a member of the Freedom Riders. After training in non-violent techniques, black and white volunteers sat next to each other as they travelled through the Deep South. Local police were unwilling to protect these passengers and in several places they were beaten up by white mobs. In Jackson, Mississippi, Carmichael was arrested and jailed for 49 days in Parchman Penitentiary. Carmichael also worked on the Freedom Summer project and in 1966 became chairman of SNCC.

On 5th June, 1966, James Meredith started a solitary March Against Fear from Memphis to Jackson, to protest against racism. Soon after starting his march he was shot by sniper. When they heard the news, other civil rights campaigners, including Carmichael, Martin Luther King and Floyd McKissick, decided to continue the march in Meredith's name.

When the marchers got to Greenwood, Mississippi, Carmichael and some of the other marchers were arrested by the police. It was the 27th time that Carmichael had been arrested and on his release on 16th June, he made his famous Black Power speech. Carmichael called for "black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, and to build a sense of community". He also advocated that African Americans should form and lead their own organizations and urged a complete rejection of the values of American society.

The following year Carmichael joined with Charles Hamilton to write the book, Black Power (1967). Some leaders of civil rights groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), rejected Carmichael's ideas and accused him of black racism.

Carmichael also adopted the slogan of "Black is Beautiful" and advocated a mood of black pride and a rejection of white values of style and appearance. This included adopting Afro hairstyles and African forms of dress. Carmichael began to criticize Martin Luther King and his ideology of nonviolence. He eventually joined the Black Panther Party where he became "honorary prime minister". 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. 

Black Power Between Heaven and Hell
by Tony Chapelle
During the middle girth of this century, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was the equivalent of the rap group Public Enemy, the protest politician Jesse Jackson, and the Congressional Black Caucus all in one.
Like Public Enemy, Powell "dissed" white America for its racism and hypocrisy, with one of his clearest refrains being akin to "You Can't Trust 'Em." When he demanded changes in society, Powell, as Jackson would years later, commanded so much attention in Washington and with the media that he became known as "Mr. Civil Rights." And as the first African-American congressman from the northeast, and for decades the only militant African American on the Hill, Powell had the guts to push through laws that forced America to stop locking African Americans out of industries and institutions.
He didn't behave like most African-American politicians. "I'm the first bad Negro they've had in Congress," he bragged. He made more enemies on Capitol Hill than perhaps any legislator before or since.
He didn't behave like a typical African-American minister. "I believe only in the teaching of Jesus," he said, "I am not a full-Bible Christian." And he felt this distinction gave him wide moral latitude. He openly drank alcohol, smoked, and had adulterous affairs. When he strode up the aisle of his packed church to preach, women parishioners later admitted to being distracted from thoughts of God by enrapture with the tall playboy- minister.
Powell was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1908. His father, who missed by one month being born into slavery, pastored the most prestigious African-American church in New York City, Abyssinian Baptist.
He stopped and started through a checkered college career, first attending City College of New York. Eventually, he flunked out. After that, Adam went into a serious party mode. These were the Roaring '20s. Harlem, with hundreds of speakeasies, rent parties, and dance halls, was a wild bachelor's paradise. The little money he made as a kitchen helper, he spent on gambling, women, and liquor.
But Adam's father pushed him back into college, this time to almost all-white Colgate University in up-state New York. Young Powell began studies to become a surgeon but, later, with some prodding, realized that one day his father's well-off church could be his for the asking, so he changed his mind about medicine to become a healer of souls.
Upon graduation, his parents gave him a present of a trip to Europe, the Holy Land, and Egypt. When he returned, he enrolled in Union Theological Seminary, then later in Columbia University Teachers' College, where he eventually took a master's degree in religious education.
While he worked on postgraduate studies, Powell helped thousands in his community to eat and find clothes and jobs. The Great Depression had America on the dole and in despair. As assistant pastor under his father at Abyssinian, Powell helped operate a free food pantry, job referral service, and literacy classes. His compassion became legendary when it was rumored that Adam once took the shoes from his own feet and gave them to a poor man for whom the church clothing bin had no proper sizes.
As he matured into adulthood, Powell began speaking out against the institutional racism ingrained in New York. In a short time, he racked up successes in getting jobs back for doctors, forcing bus companies to hire African-American drivers and mechanics, as well as squeezing white store owners with the "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" campaign.
"It's in your hand," he admonished his people. "Just like little David had those smooth stones and killed big Goliath with them. Use what you have right in your hand. That dollar...that ten cents. Use your vote. The Negro race has enough power right in our hands to accomplish anything we want to."
In 1941, he became New York City's first African-American councilman. By 1944, he had won a seat in Congress. It was heady, but lonely as one of the only two African Americans in the U.S. House; particularly since the other, William Dawson of Chicago, was more seen than heard, careful to not upset the status quo.
Adam immediately ripped into Congress for allowing lynching of African-American men to continue. He railed against the unconstitutional Southern practice of charging would-be, African-American voters "poll taxes." Even Democratic presidents Roosevelt and Truman, who owed African Americans for having voted for them, had to be dragged into issuing executive orders ending discrimination in military bases and war factories. If his colleagues ignored him and voted down his proposals; if Truman, or Eisenhower, Kennedy, or Johnson wouldn't grant him a personal session to discuss civil rights or helping the poor, Powell made vicious public statements or sent embarrassing "open" telegrams to the press describing their insensitivity.
Powell perfected a role as agitator. "Whenever a person keeps prodding, keeps them serves a purpose. It may not in contemporary history look so good, but...future historians will say, 'They served a purpose."'
He was African-American pride personified. He swaggered into the congressional dining room and barber shop Knowing full well that African Americans were not served there, and demanded service. He won it. He badgered racist congressmen and stopped their habit of saying the word "nigger" in sessions of Congress.
One of his most dangerous legislative weapons was the "Powell Amendment," a rider he tried to attach to any proposals for federal funds. The beauty of the Amendment was that, if successfully attached to a bill, it would nullify federal grants to state or local governments if the agencies receiving the money discriminated. This meant, for example, that even school districts in the deepest South had to open their doors to African-American teachers and students or I risk losing funds set aside for them.
Voters from Harlem elected Powell as their representative nearly two dozen times. With long service in Congress comes seniority and ultimately the chance to head one of the powerful committees that draft bills that the full House and Senate eventually vote on. After the election of 1960, Powell took over as chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. In that role, he had more concrete power than any African- American man on the planet. His little club, as it were, could initiate proposals worth billions of dollars and decisions affecting millions of Americans, and hundreds of schools, labor unions, and employment practices.
Here was where Powell made his greatest contributions. He oversaw passage of the backbone of President Kennedy's "New Frontier" and President Johnson's "Great Society" social programs: A sweeping anti- poverty bill, an increased minimum wage, a National Defense Education Act that benefitted generations of high school and college students.
Yet in the new book, Adam Clayton Powell Jr.: The Political Biography of an American Dilemma, Columbia University professor Charles V. Hamilton, an African American, courageously addresses old allegations that Powell misused his clout to clean up consequences of his personal excesses.
The extravagant New Yorker suffered more than a decade of court cases over tax fraud, and for taking kickbacks from employees who no longer worked for him. Hamilton presents evidence that Powell supported Republican president Dwight Eisenhower for re-election in 1956 in exchange for a promise that Ike would kill the investigation.
There is no denying, however, that despite his commitment to civil rights for his people, Adam Powell Jr. was no paragon of virtue. He was egocentric, self-indulgent, and often treacherous. To keep Martin Luther King Jr. From picketing at the Republican convention where Eisenhower was to be nominated, Powell threatened to publicly (and surely, falsely) announce that King was having a homosexual relationship with another civil rights activist, Bayard Rustin.
He had no permanent friends, only permanent interests. At some points, he aligned with traditional civil rights groups, then when it suited his purposes he'd accuse them of being made up of Uncle Toms not worthy of African Americans' support.
Ultimately, Powell used up his political currency. Members of the House, happy to find a reason to silence him, expelled him for pocketing congressional employment paychecks to his wife, and for taking junkets abroad with female staffers. The fighter in him took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. He won back his seat. Even then, he was docked $25,000 to repay the illegal kickback. But the people of Harlem grew tired of Powell's unbelievable record of roll call absences and endless litigations. In 1970, they finally voted him out. Two years later, he died of prostate cancer at the age of 63.
Today, he isn't as ubiquitous a symbol of African-American determination as Malcolm X; you seldom find his likeness on t-shirts, or see film clips of his speeches within music videos. Nor is his picture reverently displayed in magazine ads during Black History Month like Martin Luther King, Jr.'s. But African Americans with a knowledge of their history remember Powell as the risk taker who made it possible for later generations of African-American politicians such as Jesse Jackson, Rep. Ron Dellums, and Willie Brown of the California Assembly to stand unbowed in the arena of political horse trading.
And in Harlem, where a state office building and a broad boulevard are named for him, you can occasionally still visit an apartment home where his picture adorns a place of honor.
Tony Chapelle is a freelance writer in New York City.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Malcolm X

Occupation: civil rights leader
Malcolm X was initially known for his controversial stance of racial separatism, but after his pilgrimage to Mecca, while he still advocated Black Nationalism, he also accepted a more orthodox Islam view of the "true brotherhood" of man. He came to believe that there was a potential for cross-racial alliance.
Malcolm X’s Childhood
Named Malcolm Little by his parents, Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. Malcolm’s father, Earl Little, was an outspoken supporter of the Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey. As a result, he received numerous death threats and was forced to move his family several times.
While the family was in Lansing, Michigan, their home was burned down. Two years later, Malcolm’s father was murdered. Malcolm’s mother had an emotional breakdown and was unable to care for Malcolm and his siblings. The children were split up and sent to foster homes.
By the time that Malcolm was a teenager, he had dropped out of high school. At first, he worked odd jobs in Boston, Massachusetts, but he soon moved to Harlem, New York and became involved in criminal activity. Malcolm moved back to Boston and shortly thereafter, he was convicted of burglary in 1946.
Malcolm X’s Conversion to the Nation of Islam
While Malcolm was in prison, he converted to the Muslim religious sect, the Nation of Islam. When he was released in 1952, he changed his last name to X because he considered the name “Little” to have been a slave name. The Nation of Islam’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, made Malcolm a minister and sent him around the country on speaking engagements. Malcolm spoke about black pride and separatism, and rejected the civil rights movement’s focus on integration and equality.
Malcolm was a charismatic speaker, and soon was able to use newspaper columns, television, and radio to spread the Nation of Islam’s message. Membership to the Nation of Islam increased dramatically because of Malcolm's speeches. However, while many blacks were embracing his message, civil rights leaders rejected him. Malcolm also became a concern of the government. The Federal Bureau of Investigation began surveillance of him and infiltrated the Nation of Islam.
Malcolm X’s Disillusionment with Elijah Muhammad
While Malcolm had garnered increasing attention, his relationship with Elijah Muhammad became strained in 1963. Malcolm learned that contrary to Muhammad’s teaching of celibacy until marriage, Muhammad was having sexual relations with six women. Malcolm felt that Muhammad was committing fraud, and he refused to keep it a secret.
Malcolm X’s relationship with Muhammad became even more strained when he made some controversial statements. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Malcolm publicly described it as “the chickens coming home to roost.” Because of this comment, Muhammad silenced him for ninety days.
Malcolm X’s Departure from the Nation of Islam
In March 1964, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam and founded the Muslim Mosque, Inc. A month later, he took a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It was there that his view of separatism changed. He discovered that white and black Muslims could coexist together. While he still advocated Black Nationalism, he also accepted a more orthodox Islam view of the "true brotherhood" of man and believed that there was a potential for cross-racial alliance.
When he returned to the United States, he stopped advocating separatism, and instead relayed the message of integration and world brotherhood. However, he discovered that the Nation of Islam wanted to assassinate him. On February 14, 1965, his home was firebombed, but no one was hurt.
A few days later on February 21, 1965, while Malcolm was on stage at the Manhattan Audubon Ballroom, three gunmen shot him to death. The gunmen were arrested and convicted. It was later discovered that they were members of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm was buried on February 27, 1965 in Hartsdale, New York.
Since his death his popularity has continued, and is partly due to the publication of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Spike Lee’s 1992 movie, Malcolm X.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Bishop Joseph A. Johnson, Jr.

Bishop Joseph A. Johnson Jr. was Vanderbilt University’s first Black student and graduate. The late theologian was admitted to the Nashville, Tenn. school on this day in 1953, and then earned a Ph.D. from the university as well.
Johnson was born on June 19, 1914 in Shreveport, La. The future bishop graduated with honors from Texas College in 1938, and then earned a master’s and doctorate degree from the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colo. Details about why Johnson chose Vanderbilt are sparse, but it appears he applied as a joke. At 38 years of age and with three children, Johnson was far older than even some of the graduate students.
As he had already earned advanced degrees, it’s not known why Vanderbilt had him go through the process of obtaining a bachelor’s degree in divinity from its school. But In 1958, while working as a minister at Nashville’s Capers Memorial Church, he also obtained his Ph.D there.
The clergyman wrote several books about theology, including 1971’s The Soul of The Black Preacher. As a prominent representative of the Christian Methodist Church, Johnson mentioned in passing that his desire to become a minister was to be an asset to Black people and follow in the footsteps of his minister father. Johnson didn’t talk much about his time at Vanderbilt, but he endured some of the school’s racist segregation policies.
Johnson passed from a sudden illness in 1979, but his name lives on in a variety of awards and honors bestowed upon him by Vanderbilt. His granddaughter, Rev. Cynthia Johnson-Oliver, is an elder of the C.M.E. church and is reportedly writing a biography about her grandfather.
PHOTO: Bishop Johnson official website
(Source:  )

Monday, May 8, 2017

From Footnote to Fame in Civil Rights History

Claudette Colvin

click on the link below to read the NYTimes article.

Monday, May 1, 2017

100 Black Men of American Inc

100 Black Men Organization in Nassau, The Bahamas
Image Courtesy of 100 Black Men of America, Inc.

100 Black Men of American Inc. is a civic organization dedicated to the improvement of quality of life in the African American community through fostering the development of young African American men.  In 1963, a group of African American men met in New York to discuss concerns about the cultural and financial obstacles that have limited the achievements of African Americans, particularly young males. Among these founders were David Dinkins, Robert Mangum, Dr. William Hayling, Nathaniel Goldston III, Livingston Wingate, Andrew Hatcher, and Jackie Robinson. These men eventually formed 100 Black Men.  They sought to nurture the intellectual development of black youth and enhance the economic empowerment of the African American community based on the following precepts: respect for family, spirituality, justice, and integrity.  Their programs include leadership development, youth mentoring, educational scholarships, health and wellness, and economic development.  
Originally the group was exclusively a New York City organization. In 1976, however, Dr. William Hayling, a member of the New York 100 Black Men organization, relocated to Newark, New Jersey and established a New Jersey chapter of 100 Black Men.  Soon thereafter chapters were established in Los Angeles (California), Indianapolis (Indiana), St. Louis (Missouri), Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), Atlanta (Georgia), San Francisco/ Oakland Bay Area, the Nassau/ Suffolk area of Long Island, New York, Alton, Illinois, and Sacramento.  In 1986, the Black Men chapters organized nationally at a meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada.  They called the group the National Organization for 100 Black men but later change the name to “100 Black Men of America, Inc.”
By 2008 the organization had grown to over 105 chapters with more than 10,000 members who continue to strive to improve the quality of life in African American communities and enhance the educational and economic opportunities for African Americans.  100 Black Men of America, Inc. has also more than 100,000 youth participants annually in its mentoring and youth development programs.  All members are volunteers and represent various sectors including education, engineeringlawbusiness, health, and politics.
Official website:; Ervin Dyer, “100 Black Men links teens to high tech,” Pittsburgh Post Gazette, August 27, 2001.
University of Washington
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Monday, April 24, 2017

Maxine Waters

Congresswoman Maxine Waters is considered by many to be one of the most powerful women in American politics today. She has gained a reputation as a fearless and outspoken advocate for women, children, people of color and the poor.
Elected in November 2014 to her thirteenth term in the U.S. House of Representatives with more than 70 percent of the vote in the 43rd Congressional District of California, Congresswoman Waters represents a large part of South Central Los Angeles including the communities of Westchester, Playa Del Rey, and Watts and the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County comprised of Lennox, West Athens, West Carson, Harbor Gateway and El Camino Village. The 43rd District also includes the diverse cities of Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, Lomita and Torrance.
Congresswoman Waters serves as the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Financial Services. An integral member of Congressional Democratic Leadership, Congresswoman Waters serves as a member of the Steering & Policy Committee. She is also a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and member and past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Legislative Leadership
Throughout her 37 years of public service, Maxine Waters has been on the cutting edge, tackling difficult and often controversial issues. She has combined her strong legislative and public policy acumen and high visibility in Democratic Party activities with an unusual ability to do grassroots organizing.
Prior to her election to the House of Representatives in 1990, Congresswoman Waters had already attracted national attention for her no-nonsense, no-holds-barred style of politics. During 14 years in the California State Assembly, she rose to the powerful position of Democratic Caucus Chair. She was responsible for some of the boldest legislation California has ever seen: the largest divestment of state pension funds from South Africa; landmark affirmative action legislation; the nation’s first statewide Child Abuse Prevention Training Program; the prohibition of police strip searches for nonviolent misdemeanors; and the introduction of the nation’s first plant closure law.
As a national Democratic Party leader, Congresswoman Waters has long been highly visible in Democratic Party politics and has served on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) since 1980. She was a key leader in five presidential campaigns: Sen. Edward Kennedy (1980), Rev. Jesse Jackson (1984 & 1988), and President Bill Clinton (1992 & 1996). In 2001, she was instrumental in the DNC’s creation of the National Development and Voting Rights Institute and the appointment of Mayor Maynard Jackson as its chair.
Following the Los Angeles civil unrest in 1992, Congresswoman Waters faced the nation’s media and public to interpret the hopelessness and despair in cities across America. Over the years, she has brought many government officials and policy makers to her South Central L.A. district to appeal for more resources. They included President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Secretaries of Housing & Urban Development Henry Cisneros and Andrew Cuomo, and Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve System. Following the unrest, she founded Community Build, the city’s grassroots rebuilding project.
She has used her skill to shape public policy and deliver the goods: $10 billion in Section 108 loan guarantees to cities for economic and infrastructure development, housing and small business expansion; $50 million appropriation for “Youth Fair Chance” program which established an intensive job and life skills training program for unskilled, unemployed youth; expanded U.S. debt relief for Africa and other developing nations; creating a “Center for Women Veterans,” among others.
Rep. Waters continues to be an active leader in a broad coalition of residential communities, environmental activists and elected officials that aggressively advocate for the mitigation of harmful impacts of the expansion plan for Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Furthermore, she continues initiatives to preserve the unique environmental qualities of the Ballona wetlands and bluffs, treasures of her district.
She is a co-founder of Black Women’s Forum, a nonprofit organization of over 1,200 African American women in the Los Angeles area. In the mid-80s, she also founded Project Build, working with young people in Los Angeles housing developments on job training and placement.
As she confronts the issues such as poverty, economic development, equal justice under the law and other issues of concern to people of color, women, children, and poor people, Rep. Waters enjoys a broad cross section of support from diverse communities across the nation.
Throughout her career, Congresswoman Waters has been an advocate for international peace, justice, and human rights. Before her election to Congress, she was a leader in the movement to end Apartheid and establish democracy in South Africa. She opposed the 2004 Haitian coup d’etat, which overthrew the democratically-elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, and defends the rights of political prisoners in Haiti’s prisons. She leads congressional efforts to cancel the debts that poor countries in Africa and Latin America owe to wealthy institutions like the World Bank and free poor countries from the burden of international debts.
Congresswoman Waters is the founding member and former Chair of the ‘Out of Iraq’ Congressional Caucus. Formed in June 2005, the ‘Out of Iraq’ Congressional Caucus was established to bring to the Congress an on-going debate about the war in Iraq and the Administration’s justifications for the decision to go to war, to urge the return of US service members to their families as soon as possible.
Expanding access to health care services is another of Congresswoman Waters’ priorities. She spearheaded the development of the Minority AIDS Initiative in 1998 to address the alarming spread of HIV/AIDS among African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities. Under her continuing leadership, funding for the Minority AIDS Initiative has increased from the initial appropriation of $156 million in fiscal year 1999 to approximately $400 million per year today. She is also the author of legislation to expand health services for patients with diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Congresswoman Waters has led congressional efforts to mitigate foreclosures and keep American families in their homes during the housing and economic crises, notably through her role as Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity in the previous two Congresses. She authored the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which provides grants to states, local governments and nonprofits to fight foreclosures, home abandonment and blight and to restore neighborhoods.  Through two infusions of funds, the Congresswoman was able to secure $6 billion for the program.
She is lauded by African American entrepreneurs for her work to expand contracting and procurement opportunities and to strengthen businesses. Long active in the women’s movement, Rep. Waters has given encouragement and financial support to women seeking public office. Many young people, including those in the hip-hop music community, praise her for her support and understanding of young people and their efforts at self-expression. One testament to her work is the Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center, a multimillion dollar campus providing education and employment opportunities to residents of the Watts area.
Personal Background
Maxine Waters was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the fifth of 13 children reared by a single mother. She began working at age 13 in factories and segregated restaurants. After moving to Los Angeles, she worked in garment factories and at the telephone company. She attended California State University at Los Angeles, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. She began her career in public service as a teacher and a volunteer coordinator in the Head Start program.
She is married to Sidney Williams, the former U.S. Ambassador to the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. She is the mother of two adult children, Edward and Karen, and has two grandchildren.