Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy Freedom's Eve & Happy Birthday Odetta

On Dec 31 in Black History...
In 1862, on December 31, Freedom's Eve, black slaves and free blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had become law. At the stroke of midnight, it was January 1, 1863 and all slaves in the Confederate States were declared legally free. When the news was received, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as many people fell to their knees and thanked God.  
Even though the first religious watch night service is believed to have begun with the Moravians in 1770, Blacks have gathered in churches annually on New Year’s Eve ever since Freedom's Eve in 1862, praising God for bringing us safely through another year.

In 1930, on December 31, Odetta, African-American singer, song writer and Civil Rights activist, was born in Birmingham, Alabama. 

“ you reach a fork in the road and you can either lie down and die, or insist upon your life.” 

She earned a music degree from Los Angeles City College. Her training in classical music and musical theater was a nice exercise, but it had nothing to do with my life,” she said.  
Odetta sings at the March on Washington in 1963.

Her fame hit a peak in 1963, when she marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and performed for President John F. Kennedy.

Her acting credits included Tony Richardson's ''Sanctuary'' (1960) with Yves Montand and Lee Remick. On television she appeared with Cicely Tyson in ''The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.'' She also appeared with the Stratford Shakespeare Company in Ontario and at the Neptune Theater in Halifax. In 1999  she was awarded Odetta the National Endowment for the Arts Medal of the Arts and Humanities.

The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta."
Bob Dylan

Here's Odetta on "The Johnny Cash Show," August 30, 1969. The first song she performs is based on a Negro "field blues" song known simply as "Black Woman," then duets with Cash on "Shame And Scandal In The Family"

Odetta Plays Guitar as she sings with Tennessee Ernie Ford, Woody Guthrie and Pastures of Plenty and Merle travis Nine Pound Hammer

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Picketing and Publishing

On December 30 in Black History...

In 1892 - Physician, Dr Miles V Lynk, published the Medical and Surgical Observer, the first Black medical journal on December 30.

In 1929 - The "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" campaign began on December 30 in Chicago with picketing of Chain stores on South Side, fall. The campaign spread to New York, Cleveland, Los Angeles and other cities and continued throughout the Depression.   Here's a video interview with Oliver Hill, a civil rights attorney:

In 1933, Belford Vance Lawson, Jr. . Lawson along with John A. Davis, Sr. and N. Franklin Thorne founded the New Negro Alliance (NNA)in Washington, D.C. to combat white-owned businesses in black neighborhoods that would not hire black employees.  In response, some businesses arranged for an injunction to stop the picketing. Lawson, the lead attorney, with assistance by Thurgood Marshall, fought back – all the way to the United States Supreme Court in New Negro Alliance v. Sanitary Grocery Co. (1938) that safeguarded a right to boycott.   This became a landmark case in the struggle by African Americans against discriminatory hiring practices, and Don't Buy Where You Can't Work groups multiplied throughout the nation. The NNA estimated that by 1940, the group had secured 5,106 jobs for blacks because businesses could not afford to lose sales during the Great Depression. (retrieved Dec 30, 2010),_Jr. (retrieved Dec 30, 2010) (retrieved Dec 30, 2010) (retrieved Dec 31, 2010) (retrieved Dec 31, 2010)
Michele F. Pacifico, “ ‘Don't Buy Where You Can't Work': the New Negro Alliance of Washington,” Washington History 6-1 (spring-summer 1994): 66-88.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Oh my Lord, Lord, Lord, Lord....mmm, hmmmm...

On December 28 in Black History...

In 1954 Actor Denzel Washington was born on December 28 in Mount Vernon, NY. Washington has starred in such films as "Malcolm X", "Glory", "Much Ado about Nothing", and " A Soldier's Story". He started in television in his role on popular show "St. Elsewhere". He won an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role as Private Trip in "Glory" and for best actor for his role in "Training Day."

I remember first "meeting" Denzel in Glory and that one scene where they were singing, "Oh my Lord, Lord, Lord, Lord....mmm, hmmmm..."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy Kwanzaa!!!

Kwanzaa, founded in 1966, was originally meant to be alternative to the commercialism of Christmas.  Even though it was originally intended to be an alternative to Christmas, many African-Americans recognize both holidays focusing on the principles of Kwanzaa as a cultural holiday while still recognizing their faith in Christmas celebrations.  Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles:

Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

African-American Enters The Scene

On December 21 Black History....

In 1988, The term, "African American" was coined as Jesse Jackson urges its use.

Let's look at the history of the term:

Afro-American was first used as an adjective in 1853 in a publication in Windsor, Ontario, Voice of the Fugitive. The OED2 lists examples of Afro-American and Aframerican from 1890, 1898, 1910, 1934, 1939, and 1944, the last being a use of Aframerican from an article by H.L. Mencken.

African-American was first used as a noun in 1855 and as an adjective in 1858. The OED2 gives cites for one or the other use from 1858, 1885, 1890, 1925, 1962, 1969, 1973, 1979, and later.

In 1987, Dr. Johnny Duncan published a Black History Calender in which he also used the term African-American in which he included the poem he wrote, "I Can."  Dr. Duncan was written in an effort to rename Black people in America.  According to Dr. Duncan, Rev. Jackson became familiar with the term through his calendar and poem that was given to him by Coretta Scott King. (listen to interview with Johnny Duncan here)

MLK gets the Nobel Peace Prize

On December 3 in Black History...

In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Germany for his work toward peace through his leadership in the civil rights movement in America. (scroll to bottom to watch King's acceptance speech) He was the youngest man to have recieved the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 35. Dr. King split the $54,123 associated with the prize among leading civil rights groups, giving $25,000 to the Gandhi Society for Human Rights, $12,000 to SCLC, and splitting the remainder among the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the National Council of Negro Women, the National Urban League, and the Student Nonviolent. 

Telgram from Senator Kennedy
 Although many in the United States and abroad praised the selection, segregationist Eugene ‘‘Bull’’ Connor called it ‘‘scraping the bottom of the barrel’’ (‘‘Cheers and Scorn’’). Presenting the award to King in Oslo, Norway, that December, the chairman of the Nobel Committee praised him for being ‘‘the first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence. He is the first to make the message of brotherly love a reality in the course of his struggle, and he has brought this message to all men, to all nations and races’’ (Jahn, ‘‘Presentation,’’ 332).

I found an example of his non-violence approach in Time Magazine's issue where they named him "Man of the Year" and "America's Ghandi":
"And King, by some quality of that limpid voice or by some secret of cadence, exercises control as can few others over his audiences, black or white. He has proved this ability on countless occasions, ranging from the Negroes' huge summer March on Washington to a little meeting one recent Friday night in Gadsden, Ala. There, the exchange went like this:
King: I hear they are beating you!
Response: Yes, yes.
King: I hear they are cursing you!
Response: Yes, yes.
King: I hear they are going into your homes and doing nasty things and beating you!
Response: Yes, yes.
King: Some of you have knives, and I ask you to put them up. Some of you may have arms, and I ask you to put them up. Get the weapon of nonviolence, the breastplate of righteousness, the armor of truth, and just keep marching.",9171,940759-2,00.html

As I read his acceptance speech, I was immediately struck by the directness of his message. Right after he addresses the dignitaries, he puts it all out there:

"I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment went 22 inmllion Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice...only yeseterday ...our children..were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death...young people...were brutilized and murdered...houses of worship were bombed or burned...I am mindful that debiliitation and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder." 

Read the full text of Dr. King's nobel peace prize acceptance speech here:

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Negro Love Song

"Heart and Soul" by John Holyfield
"Seen my lady home las' night,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hel' huh han' an' sque'z it tight,
 Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hyeahd huh sigh a little sigh,
Seen a light gleam f'om huh eye,
An' a smile go flittin' by -
Jump back, honey, jump back.  

Hyeahd de win' blow thoo de pine,
 Jump back, honey, jump back.
Mockin'-bird was singin' fine,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
An' my hea't was beatin' so,
When I reached my lady's do',
Dat I could n't ba' to go -
Jump back, honey, jump back.

Put my ahm aroun' huh wais',
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Raised huh lips an' took a tase,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Love me, honey, love me true?
 Love me well ez I love you?
An' she answe'd, "'Cose I do"-
Jump back, honey, jump back."
Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar was the first African-American to gain national eminence as a poet. Born in 1872 in Dayton, Ohio, he was the son of ex-slaves and classmate to Orville Wright of aviation fame.

Although he lived to be only 33 years old, Dunbar was prolific, writing short stories, novels, librettos, plays, songs and essays as well as the poetry for which he became well known. He was popular with black and white readers of his day, and his works are celebrated today by scholars and school children alike. 
1975 US Postage Stamp

His style encompasses two distinct voices -- the standard English of the classical poet and the evocative dialect of the turn-of-the-century black community in America. He was gifted in poetry -- the way that Mark Twain was in prose -- in using dialect to convey character.

In Paul's short life, he produced 12 books of poetry, four books of short stories, a play and five novels. 
Read more about Paul Laurence Dunbar at:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Education, Inventions and Freedom

On November 20 in Black History

In 1865 Howard Seminary (later Howard University) founded in Washington, D.C. By 1867, liberal arts and medical programs were added to the university. Famous alumni include Thurgood Marshall, Phylicia Rashaad and Toni Morrison. Famous faculty include Dr. Charles Drew and Carter G. Woodson. The University continues to attract the nation’s top students and produces more on-campus African-American Ph.D.s than any other university in the world.

In 1938 Morgan State University was founded on this date. The school actually began in 1867 as the Centenary Biblical Institute to train young men in ministry. In 1915, Andrew Carnegie gave the school a conditional grant of $50,000 for the central academic building. The university became public in 1939. Morgan is also a founding member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Morgan State experienced record student enrollment this year.

In 1923Garrett Morgan invented and patented the traffic signal. He was successful and had invented the first human-hair straightener. He marketed the product under the name the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Cream. Morgan called it a Safety Hood and patented it as a Breathing Device, but the world came to know it as a Gas Mask. He also started a newspaper called the Cleveland Call.

In 1655Zumbi, Afro-Brazilian abolitionist, soldier and leader in the resistance against the Portugese oppression, was beheaded. Zumbi was the last of the leaders of Quilombo dos Palmares, in the present-day state of Alagoas, Brazil. He was known or his physical prowess and cunning in battle and was a respected military strategist by the time he was in his early twenties. November 20 is celebrated, chiefly in Rio de Janeiro, as a day of national pride. The day has special meaning for Afro-Brazilians, who honor him as a hero, freedom fighter, and a symbol of freedom.

Bust of Zumbi in Brasília. The plaque reads: "Zumbi dos Palmares, the black leader of all races."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gathering Sounds

"I gather up each sound you left behind and stretch them on our bed.
each nite I breathe you and become high."  
Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez
 Renown poet and professor, Sonia Sanchez has been known for her innovative melding of musical formats - like the blues - and traditional poetic formats like haiku and tanka.  Sanchez was the first to create and teach a course based on Black Women and literature in the United States.

Here's Sonia reciting, "Put On the Sleeves of Love" from her upcoming book, Morning Haiku, which will be published January 25, 2011.  Check out her website at

I was first introduced to Sonia Sanchez in the movie, love jones when Nina quoted the poem above to when talking to Darius on a date.  Nina's character said that Sanchez's poems made her want to burn her notebook...and I thought, "now I just HAVE to read those poems."
Stay tuned as we highlight black poets monthly.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Happy Birthday Condoleeza

On November 14 in Black History...

In 1954, Condoleeza Rice professor, diplomat and national security expert, was born in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1974, at the age of 19, Rice earned her Bachelor’s Degree in political science, Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Denver. In 1975 she earnedher master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame. She served as the 66th United States Secretary of State, and was the second person to hold that office in the administration of President George W. Bush.
Rice was the first African-American woman secretary of state, as well as the second African American (after Colin Powell), and the second woman (after Madeleine Albright).
Rice has written numerous articles and several books on international relations and foreign affairs, including Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft, with Philip Zelikow (Harvard University Press, 1995). She has authored and coauthored several books, includingalso Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family (2010), Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft (1995), with Philip Zelikow, The Gorbachev Era (1986), with Alexander Dallin, and Uncertain Allegiance: The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army (1984). 
She's currently a professor at Stanford University.
"Education is your armour for whatever comes against you."
Condoleeza Rice

Watch this video about Rice's stance on education and why her father did not march  with Dr. King. (retrieved on November 14, 2010)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Opera and Sisterhood

Mary Cardwell Dawson
On November 12 in Black History...

In 1941, Mary Cardwell Dawson founded on November 12 the NATIONAL NEGRO OPERA COMPANY.  in 1941. The NNOC grew to include chapters New York, Chicago,Washington, DC, and other cities around the country. Dawson's opera company, her music school and the Cardwell Dawson Choir, opened new doors and launched careers for African-Americans who had little or no access to classical odr opera music training.  First Lady Elanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson were honorary board chairs. 
The house  where the company was housed also has a rich history beyond Mary Cardwell Dawson. Businessman William "Woogie" Harris, brother of famed photographer "Teenie" Harris, bought the house in 1930, hosting and housing prominent black entertainers (Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughn, Cab Calloway) and athletes (Joe Louis, Roberto Clemente) who were denied Pittsburgh hotel accommodations because of their race. Neighbors dubbed the house "Mystery Manor" because of the famous comings and goings.  The Company disbanded in 1962 upon Dawson's death.  Currently there are efforts to restore the house. 
National Negro Operal Company

In 1922 SIGMA GAMMA RHO, INC. was founded on November 12 by seven school teachers: Mary Lou Allison Little, Dorothy Hanley Whiteside, Vivian White Marbury, Nannie Mae Gahn Johnson, Hattie Mae Dulin Redford, Bessie M. Downey Martin, and Cubena McClure.  The sorority was the first African-American sorority founded at a predominantly white college, Butler University in Indianapolis, IN.  The group became an incorporated national collegiate sorority on December 30, 1929, when a charter was granted to Alpha chapter at Butler.

Its first three years were devoted to organizing. Now, Sigma Gamma Rho continues to grow through Sisterhood, Scholarship and Service. The sorority has supported the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), National Council of Negro Women, National Pan-Hellenic Council, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, National Urban League, March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, National Mental Health Association, United Negro College Fund, Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Social Change, Black Women's Agenda, and American Association of University Women.

Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., now has over 400 chapters in the United States, Bermuda, the Virgin Islands, Bahamas, and Germany.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Voting in Mid-term Elections

Blacks, Young Voters Did Turn Out for Mid-Terms

Did  you vote?  If you did not vote, you can't complain.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

180 years after Nat...

On this day in black history...

In 1831, Nat Turner was hanged on November 11 for leading the deadliest slave rebellion in North American history. As a result of the rebellion, 55 whites and 100-200 blacks were killed and legislation was passed forbidding the education of blacks as well as any religious gatherings without white supervision.

180 years later, we can be thankful that we do not have to fight for our least not on the level of physical violence. We are no longer considered as the property of any other person. We have access to the highest levels of education in the world. We worship as we please and in many cases in segregated congregations in all faiths with no "supervision."

Many would argue that we still have to fight for our freedoms; however we no longer need to fight with weapons against individuals. Now our power lies in our ability to live our lives in freedom, build our families with love and strengthen our kids with education and encouragement to validate their potential within.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

And This is for Colored Girls....

"When I die, I will not be guilty of having left a generation of girls behind thinking that anyone can tend to their emotional health better than themselves."
Ntzoke Shange

We have to tell our the telling comes understanding...and with understanding comes healing and power. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide, When the Rainbow is Enuf, shares 20 poems, stories of black women that speak to the fabric of a portion of the African diasporic experience. In 1975, this choreopoem was brought to the stage and 35 years later it was brought to the big screen telling the story of colored girls who have considered suicide.

It has been said that suicide is what happens when the pain excees the resources for coping. Other research has shown that people are most suicidal when they enter a state of psychosis and misinterpret reality perceiving there is no hope. In the poem, "A Night With Beau Willie Brown" it says, "she could only whisper, and he dropped them." In the midst of all the abuse, this colored girl had lost her voice, her power. In the movie we see that this was a woman who had definitely considered suicide at a point when all hope was lost.

What's most hopeful about the movie is that the stories are brought to life in such a way as to highlight the power of the black woman. Each story's tragedy teaches lessons of what could have been done with the power these women possessed. Crystal had the power to protect her kids. Tangie did have the power to protect her sister. Juanita and Jo both had the power to protect themselves.


African-American women also have an amazing gift of that heals, grounds and attracts love from others. Through all 20 of the poems, each black woman realizes that her love is too delicate, too beautiful, too sanctified, too magic, too saturday night, too complicated and too music to be thrown back into her face. Our love is too vital to the fabric that weaves us together to have it wasted. My love is too powerful to allow someone else to "walk off wid alla my stuff." Each black woman needs to speak her own truth:

The author, born as Paulette Williams, changed her name to Ntzoke (she who comes with her own things) Shange (who walks like a lion) in 1971. The stories Shange shares with us in "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide, When the Rainbow is Enuf" shows that each colored girl comes with her own things...the power of love, a voice and the power to protect...and these gifts enable her to walk as a lioness.
"& this is for colored girls who have considered suicide/but are movin to the end of their rainbows"

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Asking No Favors

On this day in 1884, John R. Lynch, former congressman from Mississippi was elected temporary chairman of the Republican convention and became the first black to preside over deliberations of a politcal party.

Born enslaved in Louisiana in 1847, John Roy Lynch was buried with military honors in Arlington National Cemetary in 1939. During his lifetime, this self-educated man was a photographer, veteran, lawyer, congressman and an author. As a representative, he became known this speech arguing his support for the Civil Rights Bill then under debate in Congress.

"They were faithful and true to you then; they are no less so today. And yet they ask no special favors as a class; they ask no special protection as a race. They feel that they purchased their inheritance, when upon the battlefields of this country, they watered the tree of liberty with the precious blood that flowed from their loyal veins. They ask no favors, they desire; and must have; an equal chance in the race of life."Books by John R. Lynch:

The Late Election in Mississippi. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1877.
Colored Americans: John R. Lynch's Appeal To Them. Milwaukee: Allied Printing, [1900?]
The Facts of Reconstruction. New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1913. Reprint, edited by William C. Harris, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1970.
The Facts of Reconstruction (New York, 1913), online[2]
Some Historical Errors of James Ford Rhodes. Boston: The Cornhill Publishing Co., 1922.
Pittsburgh Courier, article, February 22, 1930.

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