Friday, March 31, 2017

Maya Angelou

(1928 - 2014)

    Actress, dancer, and writer, was the first black woman to have an original screenplay produced, Georgia, Georgia, which she directed,  Angelou was also the first black woman to have a work on the nonfiction bestseller list. Her autobiographical I know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) evoked images of a black girls childhood in the South, and was nominated for a 1974 National Book Award and aired as a television movie in 1979.  An artist of wide ranging talents, she was nominated for a Tony Award for acting and a Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

check out the video on and more biographical information :

(sources: current biography, 1974, pp. 12-15, Jet (8 February 19930, pp. 4-10; Lanker, I Dream A World, p. 162; Smith, Notable black American Women, pp. 23-27.)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Five Stairsteps

The Five Stairsteps were "The First Family of Soul" -- a title bestowed upon the Chicago-based teenaged group in part because of their astounding five-year run of hits, which included the million-selling "O-o-h Child" and eight other singles that, from 1996 through 1970, reached the Top 20 of Billboard's R&B chart. The Jackson 5 took the title, but the Stairsteps continued to record through 1976, and the group's members continued to be successful as artists, songwriters, and producers long after their reign.
The children of Clarence Sr. and Betty Burke, the Five Stairsteps were formed in 1958 as a five-member brother-and-sister teenaged vocal group. The group got its name when "Momma Stairsteps" -- as Betty Burke was affectionately called -- noticed that her kids looked like stair steps when stood next to each other by age. Clarence Jr., the eldest son, was the group's lead singer, choreographer, principal songwriter, and guitarist. Alohe, a contralto vocalist, also played trumpet in her school's concert orchestra. First tenor James sang lead on the group's Top 40 R&B hit "Oooh Baby, Baby"; he also played guitar and was a skilled line artist who won three scholarships to the Art Institute of Chicago and won an Artist of the Year Award from the Chicago Board of Education. Second tenor Kenneth was a talented bass player. Clarence Sr., a detective for the Chicago Police Department, played bass guitar, oversaw the group's material, and was their manager. He backed the group on bass and co-wrote songs with Clarence Jr. and Gregory Fowler. 
After they won first prize in a talent contest at the legendary Regal Theater, the Five Stairsteps were deluged with recording contract offers. Neighbor and family friend Fred Cash of the Impressions introduced the group to Curtis Mayfield. Signing with Mayfield's Windy C label, distributed by Philadelphia-based Cameo Parkway, their first single was the upbeat "Don't Waste Your Time," a Mayfield song, backed with the Clarence Jr.-written ballad "You Waited Too Long." A double-sided hit in Chicago, the B-side peaked at number 16 on Billboard's R&B chart in the spring of 1966. More hits followed: the soft, lilting "World of Fantasy" b/w "Playgirl's Love," the "blue light in the basement" ballad "Come Back" b/w "You Don't Love Me," and the slinky, exotic "Danger! She's a Stranger" b/w "Behind Curtains." Most of the singles were on the LP The Five Stairsteps, released in 1967. 
Around the end of 1967, Cameo Parkway folded and Windy C switched to Art Kass' New York-based Buddah Records through former Cameo Parkway executive Neil Bogart, who joined the new label as co-president. The group's second album, Our Family Portrait, was recorded and produced in Chicago by Clarence Jr. With the addition of their three-year-old brother, the group temporarily went by the Five Stairsteps & Cubie. Our Family Portrait yielded the singles "Something's Missing," a cover of Jimmy Charles & the Revellettes' 1960 R&B/pop hit "A Million to One," and "The Shadow of Your Love." Switching to Mayfield's Curtom Records, they continued to chart with "Don't Change Your Love," "Baby Make Me Feel So Good," "Madame Mary," and the midtempo groover "We Must Be in Love." The group often toured with the Impressions. 
After signing with Buddah, the group was once again known as the Five Stairsteps. In the spring of 1970, the group released its sole certified million-seller and biggest pop hit, "O-o-h Child" (written by Stan Vincent), which hit number 14 R&B and number eight pop. The flip side, a cover of John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "Dear Prudence," charted number 49 R&B. The following year, the group resurfaced as the Stairsteps with two charting Buddah singles: "Didn't It Look So Easy" and "I Love You-Stop." The group appeared in the 1970 movie Soul to Soul (a documentary of a benefit concert filmed at New York's Yankee Stadium) and on the nationally syndicated show Soul. During the early '70s, sister Alohe married and both she and Cubie left the group. Kenneth played bass on records and tours of Billy Preston, who later introduced the Stairsteps to the Beatles, and the group signed with George Harrison's A&M-distributed Dark Horse label. 2nd Resurrection was issued in February 1976, produced by Billy Preston, Robert Margouleff, and the Stairsteps. "From Us to You," written by Clarence Jr. and Kenneth Burke, was the group's biggest hit since "O-o-h Child," peaking at number ten R&B in early 1976.
Four members of the Stairsteps, along with keyboardist Dean Gant, later formed the Invisible Man's Band. Their Mango single "All Night Thing" hit number nine R&B in the spring of 1980. One of the members was Kenneth, aka Keni, who had become a top session bassist and occasional songwriter, producer, and recording artist. In addition to his role in the Invisible Man's Band, he worked with Mayfield, Bill Withers, the O'Jays, the Jones Girls, and Keith Sweat, among others. Clarence Jr. died in 2013. Cubie, who released a solo single in 1982, died in 2014. ~ Ed Hogan, Rovi


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Matthew Henson

August 8, 1866 – March 9, 1955

Matthew Henson was an American explorer who accompanied Robert Peary, most famously on an expedition intended to reach the Geographic North Pole in 1909. Subsequent research and exploration has revealed that Peary and Henson did not reach the North Pole but their failed attempt is still recognized as an important contribution to scientific knowledge. 
Henson was born on a farm in Nanjemoy, Maryland on August 8, 1866.  His parents were free people of color who worked as sharecroppers. Both parents died when Henson was a child and he was subsequently sent to Washington, D.C. to live with an uncle. At the age of 12, after his uncle's death, Henson moved to Baltimore where he became a cabin boy on a merchant ship, the Katie Hines.  The captain of the vessel taught Henson to read and write.  Henson sailed the world with the Katie Hines for the next few years.  By the age of 20 he had visited ChinaJapanThe PhillippinesFranceAfrica, and Russia.
By November 1887 however, Henson worked at a Washington D.C. clothing store where he met Commander Robert E. Peary.  Impressed by Henson's experience, Peary hired him to go on a surveying expedition to Nicaragua to determine if a canal could be built across the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Impressed with Hanson's skilled Peary called him his "first man" in seven expeditions he led to the Arctic region for the next two decades. Over that time Hensen traded with the Inuit in Canada and Greenland and learned their language.  Eventually he and Peary married Inuit women.
The most important of Peary's expeditons took place in 1908-09 when Peary led his eighth attempt to reach the North Pole. On August 18, 1909 Peary and Henson left Greenland by ship to begin their effort to reach the Pole.  They were accompanied by 22 Inuit men and 17 Inuit women, 10 children, 246 dogs and 70 tons of whale meat from Labrador, Canada. Peary and Henson left their ship at Ellesmere Island in what is now Nunavut Territory, Canada and with a smaller party of four Inuit men, laid a trail of supplies to the Pole.  Peary became ill on the expedition and sent Henson ahead as a scout.  Henson proceeded to place the American flag at what he thought was the North Pole.
In 1912, Henson wrote A Negro Explorer at the North Pole, a book that details his experiences on his journey, and in 1913, he was appointed clerk in the U.S. Customs House in New York City, New York by President Taft. Henson retired in 1936, and in 1944 he was awarded the Congressional Medal given to all of the members of the 1909 expedition. In 1947 Henson collaborated with Bradley Robinson on Dark Companion, Robinson’s biography of Henson. The explorer died in New York City in 1955 at the age of 89 and was buried in the city. 
In 1988 Henson was re-interred in Arlington National Cemetery near Peary's monument. Many members from his American family and his Inuit family (children he produced with Inuit "wife" Anauakaq) were in attendance. In 1996, the U.S. Navy commissioned the U.S.N.S. Henson, a T-AGS 63 class oceanographic explorer ship, in honor of Matthew Henson. In 2000, the National Geographic Society awarded the Hubbard Medal to Matthew A. Henson posthumously.
Matthew Henson, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole (New York: Copper Square Press, 2001); Robinson Bradley, Dark Companion (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Books, 1947); Floyd Miller, Ahdoolo! Ahdoolo! The Bigoraphy of Matthew A. Henson (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1963).
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Saturday, March 25, 2017

William Harvey Carney


William Harvey Carney was born a slave in Norfolk, Virginia in 1840.  His father William, Sr. had escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad and eventually earned enough money to buy the freedom of his wife and son.  After freeing his family, the reunited Carneys moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts. William Carney, Jr. had intended to pursue ecclesiastical training with the intentions of becoming a minister.  Instead of following the call to preach he decided to enlist in the Union Army in 1863, following the Emancipation Proclamation which for the first time in the Civil War officially authorized the recruitment of black soldiers.  Recruited out of New Bedford, Carney joined the soon to be famous all-black 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment commanded by 26 year-old Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the son of a wealthy Boston abolitionist.  Carney soon rose to the rank of sergeant due to his education and strong potential to lead others.

During the summer of 1863 the 54th Massachusetts was sent to James Island, South Carolina, where the unit saw its first combat. After two days of sleep and food deprivation the 54th Regiment was ordered into battle.  Shaw volunteered the 54th to lead the charge on the heavily garrisoned and fortified Fort Wagner. 

During the battle Shaw was pinned down beneath the parapet of the fort and was desperately trying to rally his men forward.  As Shaw and the flag bearer were mortally wounded and began to fall, Carney seized the colors and prevented the flag from touching the ground.  He struggled up the parapet and, though wounded in the legs, chest, and arm, planted the colors at the top of the parapet.  Despite his wounds and the heavy gunfire around him, Carney was able to keep the flag aloft.  Carney and the rest of the 54th Massachusetts remained pinned down.  Only after reinforcements arrived was the beleaguered and decimated unit able to withdraw.  Struggling back to Union lines while still carrying the colors, Carney collapsed saying: “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground.”

After the battle Carney was discharged from the infantry due to his wounds.  For his act of heroism at Fort Wagner, Carney was awarded the highest military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Carney was the first African American to receive this award.  Upon his death in 1908, the flag at the Massachusetts state house was flown half mast in his remembrance, an honor usually given only to honor a deceased governor, senator, congressman or US President.

James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton. Slavery and the Making of America. (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2005); Jessie Carney Smith, editor. Black Firsts: 2,000 Years of Extraordinary Achievement.  (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1994).
University of Washington
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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Charles Wilbert White

On October 3, 1979, powerful African American artist Charles Wilbert White died. White was born in Chicago during the early 1900’s. Charles W. White is noted as being, “one of America’s most renowned and recognized African-American & Social Realist artists. Charles White worked primarily in black & white or sepia & white drawings, paintings, and lithographs. His artwork encompassed an incredibly skilled draftsmanship and artistic sensitivity and power that has reached and moved millions.” Be sure to check out some of Charles W. White amazing artwork below!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Eldridge Cleaver, the son of a nightclub piano player, was born in Wabbaseka, Arkansas, in 1935. The family later moved to Los Angeles. As a teenager he was sent to reform school for stealing a bicycle and selling marijuana.
Soon after his release he was arrested for possession of marijuana. Found guilty he was sentenced to 30 months in Soledad Prison. While in prison Cleaver became interested in politics and read the works of Karl Marx, Tom Paine, William Du Bois and Lenin.
Cleaver was released in 1957 but the following year he was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Found guilty, he was sentenced to a term of two to fourteen years in prison. While in San Quentin he began reading books on black civil rights and was particularly influenced by the writings of Malcolm X.

After leaving prison in 1966 Cleaver joined the
Black Panther Party (BPP). Soon afterwards he was appointed the organization's minister of information. Cleaver was now a committed revolutionary and called for an armed insurrection and the establishment of a black socialist government.
Cleaver married Kathleen Neal on 27th December, 1967. The following year he published his memoirs, Soul on Ice (1968), established him as one of African American's the most important political figures.
The activities of the Black Panthers came to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Hoover described the Panthers as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country" and ordered the FBI to employ "hard-hitting counter-intelligence measures to cripple the Black Panthers".

On 6th April, 1968 eight BPP members, including Cleaver, Bobby Hutton and David Hilliard, were travelling in two cars when they were ambushed by the Oakland police. Cleaver and Hutton ran for cover and found themselves in a basement surrounded by police. The building was fired upon for over an hour. When a tear-gas canister was thrown into the basement the two men decided to surrender. Cleaver was wounded in the leg and so Hutton said he would go first. When he left the building with his hands in the air he was shot twelve times by the police and was killed instantly. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Desmond Tutu - Biographical

Bishop Desmond Tutu was born in 1931 in Klerksdorp, Transvaal. His father was a teacher, and he himself was educated at Johannesburg Bantu High School. After leaving school he trained first as a teacher at Pretoria Bantu Normal College and in 1954 he graduated from the University of South Africa. After three years as a high school teacher he began to study theology, being ordained as a priest in 1960. The years 1962-66 were devoted to further theological study in England leading up to a Master of Theology. From 1967 to 1972 he taught theology in South Africa before returning to England for three years as the assistant director of a theological institute in London. In 1975 he was appointed Dean of St. Mary's Cathedral in Johannesburg, the first black to hold that position. From 1976 to 1978 he was Bishop of Lesotho, and in 1978 became the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches. Tutu is an honorary doctor of a number of leading universities in the USA, Britain and Germany.

Desmond Tutu has formulated his objective as "a democratic and just society without racial divisions", and has set forward the following points as minimum demands:

1. equal civil rights for all
2. the abolition of South Africa's passport laws
3. a common system of education
4. the cessation of forced deportation from South Africa to the so-called "homelands"

The South African Council of Churches is a contact organization for the churches of South Africa and functions as a national committee for the World Council of Churches. The Boer churches have disassociated themselves from the organization as a result of the unambiguous stand it has made against apartheid. Around 80 percent of its members are black, and they now dominate the leading positions.

Selected Bibliography
By Tutu
Crying in the Wilderness. The Struggle for Justice in South Africa. Edited by John Webster. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1982. (Sermons, speeches, articles, press statements, 1978-1980.)
Hope and Suffering: Sermons and Speeches. Edited by John Webster. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1984. (From the period 1976-1982.)
The Rainbow People of God: The Making of a Peaceful Revolution. Edited by John Allen. New York: Doubleday, 1994. (Speeches, letters and sermons from 1976 to 1994, woven together in narrative by his media secretary.)
Other Sources
du Boulay, Shirley. Tutu, Voice of the Voiceless. London: Penguin Books, 1989.
Sparks, Allister. The Mind of South Africa. New York: Knopf, 1990. (Historical interpretation by a distinguished South African journalist.)
From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1981-1990, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1997
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1984

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Jean-Baptiste-Point DuSable


Jean-Baptiste-Point DuSable, a frontier trader, trapper and farmer is generally regarded as the first resident of what is now Chicago, Illinois. There is very little definite information on DuSable’s past. It is believed by some historians that he was born free around 1745 in St. Marc, Saint-Dominique (Haiti). His mother was an African slave, his father a French mariner. DuSable traveled with his father to France, where he received some education. It was through this education and the work that he performed for his father on his ships, that he learned languages including French, Spanish, English, and many Indian dialects.
DuSable arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1765 whereupon he learned the colony had become a Spanish possession. Having lost his identification papers and been injured on the voyage to New Orleans, DuSable was almost enslaved. French Jesuit priests protected him until he was healthy enough to travel. DuSable migrated north, up the Mississippi river, later settling in an area near present-day Peoria, Illinois. He also lived in what is now Michigan and Indiana as well during the 1770s. In 1779 DuSable was arrested at what is now Michigan City, Indiana by British troops who considered him a spy and was imprisoned briefly at Fort Michilimackinac before being released to manage a tract of woodlands claimed by British Lt. Patrick Sinclair on the St. Clair River in Eastern Michigan.??Sometime in the late 1770s DuSable married a Potawatomie Indian woman, Kitihawa who was also called Catherine in a traditional Potawatomie ceremony. The couple had a daughter, Susanne, and a son, Jean. They married again in a Catholic ceremony in Cahokia on the Mississippi River on October 27, 1788.  

Sometime in the early 1780s the DuSables settled on the shore of Lake Michigan in a marshy area the Indians called Eschikagu, “the place of bad smells.” He built a home on the north bank of the Chicago River, claimed about 800 acres of land and established a thriving trading post which included a mill, smokehouse, workshop, barn and other smaller buildings. The post became a major supply station for other traders in the Great Lakes region. The DuSable cabin was filled
with fine furniture and paintings indicating that the family had become prosperous for the time and region and DuSable was described as a large man who was also a wealthy trader. In 1796 their grand-daughter became the first child born in what would become Chicago.??
On May 7, 1800, DuSable sold his trading post for $1,200 to Chicago resident John Kinzie and moved to St. Charles, Missouri which at the time was part of French Louisiana.  He was commissioned by the French governor in Missouri to operate a ferry across the Missouri River. DuSable, however never prospered as he did in what would become Chicago. In 1818 he died almost penniless and was buried in a Catholic cemetery in St. Charles.  Later Chicago would honor its first citizen. A high school, museum, harbor, park and bridge in Chicago have been named or renamed after him and the place where he settled at the mouth of the Chicago River is recognized as a National Historical Landmark.
Shirley Graham, Jean Baptiste Point De Sable, Founder of Chicago (Chicago: Julian Messner, 1953); Thomas A Meehan, “Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the First Chicagoan,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 56:3 (1963); Christopher R. Reed, “In the Shadow of Fort Dearborn: Honoring De Saible at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933-1934,” Journal of Black Studies 21:4 (June 1991); and Dominic A. Pacyga, Chicago: A Biography, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Seattle University
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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dorothy Maynor


In 1964, internationally acclaimed concert soprano Dorothy Maynor, brought a gift to Harlem; her fervent belief that world-class training in the arts stimulates the child, strengthens the family and gives pride of ownership to a community. She opened Harlem School of the Arts in the basement of the St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem at a time when the community suffered severe physical blight, high levels of poverty, and few cultural resources for its young people. From toddlers to adults, the students who came through its doors developed an invaluable sense of purpose and focus, whether or not they pursued profession careers in the arts. The school received rave reviews, and was featured in the May 1966 issue of Ebony Magazine. She became the first black member of the Metropolitan Opera Board.
 (sources: Encylopedia of Black America, p. 548; smith, Notable Black American Women, pp.739-40; Southern, The Music of Black Americans, p. 405; )

Monday, March 6, 2017

John R. Lewis

civil rights leader and U.S. Representative (D.-Ga)
Born: Feb. 21, 1940
Birthplace: Troy, Ala.

Lewis, born into a family of Alabama sharecroppers, became active in the civil rights movement while attending Fisk University, where he received a B.A. in religion and philosophy in 1963. He organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters and took part in the 1961 “freedom rides” through the Deep South. A member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis became its chairman in 1963. He was an organizer of the March on Washington in 1963 as well as one of its keynote speakers. In 1965, on “Bloody Sunday,” he led marchers across the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., where state troopers violently attacked them. In 1981, Lewis was elected to the Atlanta City Council, and in 1986, he was elected to the U.S. Congress, where he continues to serve today.
More information can be found at: ; ;


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Crispus Attucks


March 5, 1770 - Crispus Attucks becomes one of the first casualties of the American Revolution.

The first black casualty in the American Revolution was Crispus Attucks.  He was not enlisted in an Army but instead was part of a Boston group protesting the Townsend acts.  Tensions in Boston were already high when Attucks and his companions, who are said to have come from the Boston docks, approached the British garrison.  While protesting at the garrison housing the British soldiers who were to enforce the acts, Attucks and several others were shot.  This event came to be known as the Boston Massacre and is considered to have triggered the American Revolution.  The details of Attucks early years are not well known.  It is to believed that he wa of African and Native American ancestry, that his father was a slave, and that the family lived in Framingham, Massachusetts. He is also identified as a merchant seaman.  Further speculation, based on a 1750 advertisement in the Boston Gazette, identifies Attucks as a runaway slave.  However, historians are more definite about placing him in Boston in 1770.  The Crispus Attucks Monument, in honor of the victims, was dedicated in the Boston Commons in 1888.
(sources: jet 91 (10 March 1997), p. 19; Jet 95 (8 March 1999), p. 19; smith, Notable Black Americans Men, pp. 40-42.)

On February 13, 1998, the U.S. Mint issued a commemorative silver dollar honoring more than 5,000 blacks who served in and supported the Revolutionary War.  In addition to a design on the front side, the back of the coin features black patriot Crispus Attucks, the first person killed in the Boston Massacre.  The incident figured prominently in beginning the American Revolutionary War.  The Black Patriots Foundation unveiled a design for the coin on October 22, 1997; Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin endorsed the design on October 1.
(source: Washington Post (22 October 1997)

Thomas L. Jennings


Thomas L. Jennings, is believed to be the first black to receive a patent, for a dry cleaning process, on March 3, 1821. He was a tailor and dry cleaner in New York City and a active abolitionists; he was founder and president of the Legal Rights Associationn.

(Sources: Haskins, Jim, Outward Dreams, pp.4-5; James, The Real McCoy,p. 31; Katz, Eyewitness: The Negro in American History, pp. 98, 99, 139.)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Norbert Rillieux


Norbert Rillieux, was the first person to apply a multiple vacuum evaporation system to the production of sugar, and by so doing, revolutionized production. This invention helped change the food consumption patterns of the world and determined the nature of colonial dependency for a substantial part of the Third World.
Born a free black in New Orleans, Rillieux received a thorough education in mechanical engineering at the Ecole Centrale in Paris. After demonstrating the practical effects of his invention in New Orleans and making a good deal of money, Rillieux returned to France in 1854 because of the increasing restrictions on free blacks in Lousiana.

(Sources: Logan and Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography, pp. 582-83; Haskins, Outward Dreams, pp. 26-33; James, The Real McCoy, pp.41-43)