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Wrapping Up: Black History Month 2014

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Wrapping Up: Black History Month 2014

Friday – 28 February 2014
The month has flown by, but I didn’t want to let it get away without finishing up Black History Month coverage. Here we go…

Chew on This: Food for Thought – Black History Month

  • Selma Marches Early in 1965, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and a number of other civil rights organizations decided to dramatize the denial of black voting rights in Alabama by marching from Selma to the Ala­bama state capital of Montgomery, a distance of fifty-four miles. Led by Martin Luther King, the first attempt to stage the protest was broken up on March 7 by Alabama state troopers using night-sticks, tear gas and whips. The troopers, it was reported, were merely enforcing Governor George Wallace’s order banning the demonstration. The fact that seventeen marchers were hospitalized and scores of others less seriously injured catapulted Selma into the national headlines. President Lyndon Johnson publicly stated that he deplored “the brutality with which a number of Negro citizens of Alabama were treated when they sought to dramatize their deep and sincere interest in attaining the precious right to vote.”The Selma to Montgomery Freedom March was again scheduled for March 21. President Johnson federalized the Alabama Na­tional Guard to protect the demonstrators, who safely completed the trek to Montgomery on March 25. Three days later, Dr. King appeared on national television to urge Americans to boycott Alabama produced goods and to demand a withdrawal of federal support of activities in that state. King’s speech, together with the Selma incident itself, did much to ensure the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • Tanner, Henry O. – Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1859, Henry Ossawa Tanner was an especially gifted African American artist during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

    Despite the objections of his parents, who wanted him to train for the ministry, Tanner decided early in life to pursue an artistic career. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, studying under the famous painter Thomas Eakins, be­tween 1884-88. Following the completion of his studies, Tanner traveled to Atlanta, where he taught drawing at Clark College, supplementing his salary by opening a photographic studio. Although neither position proved to be financially lucrative and notwithstanding the fact that Tanner was only able to sell a few of his paintings (including his now famous “The Banjo Lesson”) during this period, he was able to save enough to leave the United States for further study in Paris in 1891.

    During the 1890’s, Tanner studied under Benjamin Constant and Jean Paul Laurens at the Academie Julian in Paris. It was during this period that he abandoned his earlier preoccupa­tion with landscapes and “Negro themes,” turning instead to Biblical paintings, the basis of his subsequent fame. In 1896, his oil painting of “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” won an honor­able mention in the Paris Salon, while his best known work, “The Resurrection of Lazarus,” won the third place medal at the Salon a year later. “Resurrection” was subsequently pur­chased by the French government to hang in the Luxembourg Gallery Collection, an exceptional and much coveted mark of distinction among contemporary artists.

    Winning such prizes and honors as silver medals at the Paris Exposition (1900) and St. Louis Exposition (1904), a gold medal at the San Francisco Exposition (1915), and the French Legion of Honor, Tanner’s subsequent works include “Judas” (1899), “Two Disciples at the Tomb” (1906), “The Three Marys” (1912) and “The Wailing Wall” (1915). He lived in France until the end, dying at his country home in Normandy in 1937.

  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin No single work of literary propaganda did more to strengthen the antebellum abolitionist movement and to intensify the acrimonious intersectional feelings which already existed between the North and South than Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Published in 1852, the book became immensely popular, selling more than 300,000 copies in the first year of publication. Translated into at least twenty-three dif­ferent languages, UncleTom’s Cabin was also dramatized in hundreds of theatres throughout the North and in countries all over the world.

    Although not an especially well-written book, Mrs. Stowe filled her pages with heartrending scenes of suffering, sorrow and pain, characteristics she associated with African American slavery. The story itself, of course, was a stirring indictment of slavery and of the abject cruelty associated with overseers, personified by the demoniacal and heartless Simon Legree.

    Touching the hearts of millions, Uncle Tom’s Cabin converted many to abolitionism and many others to at least the realization that there was something inherently evil about the institution of slavery. Southern opinion, on the other hand, was largely defensive in nature. Most reviewers pointed out that Mrs. Stowe’s conception of plantation life was grossly distorted and biased. It was argued that all slaves were not as kindly and docile as Uncle Tom and that all overseers were not Simon Legrees. In reviewing the book for the Southern Literary Messenger (December 1852), for example, George Frederick Holmes called it a “dirty little volume [which struck] a deadly blow to all the interests and duties of humanity, and is utterly impotent to show any inherent vice in the institution of slavery.”

  • Voting Rights Act – The Voting Rights Act of 1965 culmi­nated a century-long struggle on the part of the federal govern­ment to guarantee the right to vote for African Americans as provided for in the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The act created a corps of federal examiners to conduct voter registration and observe voting practices in states or counties where voting discrimination still existed. The examiners were expected to insure that “No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure [literacy tests, poll taxes, etc.] shall be imposed or applied by any state or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”

  • Wheatley, Phyllis was the first American black to have a book published.

    Born in Senegal about 1753, she was brought to colonial Amer­ica as a slave. Purchased in Boston by a prosperous merchant, John Wheatley, the young and frail child assumed the Wheatley surname. Her subsequent interest in writing (she wrote her first poem when she was thirteen) stemmed from her reading of the Bible and the classics under the tutelage of the Wheatley’s daughter, Mary. Twelve years after having arrived in America, Phillis Wheatley had not only mastered the English language but had also published a book of verse, Poems on Various Sub­jects, Religious and Moral (1773). Frail and sickly from birth, Wheatley died in 1784, having been manumitted six years earlier.

  • Young, Whitney M., Jr. – One of the most prominent black leaders of the 1960’s and former Executive Secretary of the Na­tional Urban League (NUL), Whitney Moore Young, Jr. was born in Lincoln Ridge, Kentucky in 1921.

    Educated at Lincoln Institute and Kentucky State College (B. S., 1941), Young studied for a year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before serving with the U. S. Army in Europe during World War II. Following the war, he attended the University of Minnesota and was awarded an M. A. degree in social work in 1947. The topic of his Master’s thesis was the history of the National Urban League’s chapter in St. Paul, Minnesota.

    From 1947 to 1950, Young acted as director of industrial tions and vocational guidance for the Urban League of .St. Paul. He was named executive director of the Omaha Urban League in 1950, a position he held until his appointment as Dean of the Atlanta University School of Social Work in 1954. Remain­ing at Atlanta until 1961, Young managed to double the school’s enrollment and budget, thereby increasing its national prestige. On August 1, 1961, he succeeded Lester Granger as Executive Director of the National Urban League. Although the Urban League traditionally had held aloof from active participation in the Civil Rights Revolution, under Young’s direction it became increasingly involved in the national effort to secure political and socioeconomic equality for American blacks. In 1963, for example, the NUL joined with the NAACP, CORE, SCLC and SNCC to plan and participate in the now-famous March on Washington.

    In addition to his Urban League activities, Young was an es­teemed author. His first book, To Be Equal, was published in 1964, with his Beyond Racism appearing in 1969. He also wrote a nationally-syndicated newspaper column, “To Be Equal,” which appeared in over one hundred papers throughout the United States. One of his most persistent themes was that the American government should provide for a domestic Marshall Plan which would expend upwards of one hundred billion dollars in a crash program to eradicate socioeconomic deprivation and inequity in American society. Young’s premature death in 1971, just three years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, de­prived black America of another strong and influential leader.

  • Zambo – Similar to the racial classification mestizo, which refers to an individual of mixed white and Indian ancestry, zambo denotes an individual of mixed black and Indian ancestry. Al­though zambos make up a significantly large element in the population of Latin America, in the United States their presence is relatively negligible. The term itself should be distinguished from the American word Sambo. The meaning of zambo has no relation, linguistically or otherwise, to Sambo.


And that wraps up Black History Month for another year.


Catching up – Black History Month 2014 (continued)

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Catching up - Black History Month 2014 (continued)

Monday – 24 February 2014
This month’s kind of gotten away from me, but I’m staging a comeback. Of sorts.

Chew on This: Food for Thought – Black History Month

  • Jimi Hendrix – James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix (born Johnny Allen Hendrix; November 27, 1942 – September 18, 1970) was an American musician, singer, and songwriter.

    Despite a brief mainstream career spanning four years, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”
    A fan of blues music, Hendrix taught himself to play guitar. At the age of 14, Hendrix saw Elvis Presley perform. He got his first electric guitar the following year and eventually played with two bands—the Rocking Kings and the Tomcats. In 1959, Hendrix dropped out of high school. He worked odd jobs while continuing to follow his musical aspirations.

    Hendrix enlisted in the United States Army in 1961 and trained at Fort Ord in California to become a paratrooper. Even as a soldier, he found time for music, creating a band named The King Casuals. Hendrix served in the army until 1962 when he was discharged due to an injury.

    In mid-1966, Hendrix met Chas Chandler—a former member of the Animals, a successful rock group—who became his manager. Chandler convinced Hendrix to go to London where he joined forces with musicians Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell to create The Jimi Hendrix Experience. While there, Hendrix built up quite a following among England’s rock royalty.

    Released in 1967, the band’s first single, “Hey Joe” was an instant smash in Britain, and was soon followed by other hits such as “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cried Mary.” On tour to support his first album, Are You Experienced? (1967), Hendrix delighted audiences with his outrageous guitar-playing skills and his innovative, experimental sound.

    Hendrix died on September 18, 1970, from drug-related complications. While this talented recording artist was only 27 years old at the time of his passing, Hendrix left his mark on the world of rock music and remains popular to this day. As one journalist wrote in the Berkeley Tribe, “Jimi Hendrix could get more out of an electric guitar than anyone else. He was the ultimate guitar player.”

  • Indentured Servitude (or “bonded servitude”) was a form of contract labor most often associated with the labor supply of the English colonies in North America during- the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Generally speak­ing, there were two rather broad categories of indentured servants in colonial America: voluntary servants (often called “redemptioners”) and involuntary servants.

    Redemptioners were those British and western Europeans who literally sold themselves for limited terms of labor service (usual­ly three to seven years) in exchange for ship passage to the colonies.Involuntary servants, on the other hand, included individuals kidnapped by shipmasters in Europe and then sold at the end of the Atlantic voyage, as well as convicts from English prisons whose sentences were commuted into specific lengths of labor service (usually five to fourteen years) in the colonies.

    The twenty Africans who landed at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 were indentured servants, not slaves. Although it is true that black indentured servitude (unlike white inden­tured servitude) ultimately evolved into a system of chattel slavery, it is incorrect to assume that slavery automatically began in the English colonies the moment these twenty blacks stepped ashore. To the contrary, this group of Africans was merely absorbed into the prevailing indentured servitude labor system which existed in early seventeenth century Virginia.

  • Scott Joplin (c. 1867/1868? – April 1, 1917) was an African-American composer and pianist.

    Joplin achieved fame for his ragtime compositions, and was later titled The King of Ragtime. During his brief career, he wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas. One of his first pieces, the Maple Leaf Rag, became ragtime’s first and most influential hit, and has been recognized as the archetypal rag.[2]

    Joplin was born into a musical family of laborers in Northeast Texas, and developed his musical knowledge with the help of local teachers, most notably Julius Weiss. Joplin grew up in Texarkana, where he formed a vocal quartet, and taught mandolin and guitar. During the late 1880s he left his job as a laborer with the railroad, and travelled around the American South as an itinerant musician. He went to Chicago for the World’s Fair of 1893, which played a major part in making ragtime a national craze by 1897.

    Joplin moved to Sedalia, Missouri, in 1894, and earned a living as a piano teacher, continuing to tour the South. In Sedalia, he taught future ragtime composers Arthur Marshall, Scott Hayden and Brun Campbell. Joplin began publishing music in 1895, and publication of his Maple Leaf Rag in 1899 brought him fame. This piece had a profound influence on subsequent writers of ragtime. It also brought the composer a steady income for life, though Joplin did not reach this level of success again and frequently had financial problems.

    Joplin moved to St. Louis in 1901, where he continued to compose and publish music, and regularly performed in the St Louis community. By the time he had moved to St. Louis, he may have been experiencing discoordination of the fingers, tremors, and an inability to speak clearly, as a result of having contracted syphilis. The score to his first opera, A Guest of Honor, was confiscated in 1903 with his belongings, owing to his non-payment of bills, and is considered lost by biographer Edward A. Berlin and others.

    He continued to compose and publish music, and in 1907 moved to New York City, seeking to find a producer for a new opera. He attempted to go beyond the limitations of the musical form that made him famous, without much monetary success. His second opera, Treemonisha, was not received well at its partially staged performance in 1915.

    In 1916, suffering from tertiary syphilis and by consequence rapidly deteriorating health, Joplin descended intodementia. He was admitted to a mental institution in January 1917, and died there three months later at the age of 49.

    Joplin’s death is widely considered to mark the end of ragtime as a mainstream music format, and in the next several years it evolved with other styles into jazz, and eventually big band swing. His music was rediscovered and returned to popularity in the early 1970s with the release of a million-selling album of Joplin’s rags recorded byJoshua Rifkin, followed by the Academy Award–winning movie The Sting, which featured several of his compositions, such as The Entertainer. The opera Treemonisha was finally produced in full to wide acclaim in 1972. In 1976, Joplin was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

  • King Cotton –  The expression “King Cotton” is often used to describe the cotton industry (and its tremendous importance) in the South during the antebellum period of American history. Following the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 by Eli Whitney, the cotton industry became the economic backbone of the south­ern economy and, as the result of the commanding role cotton began to play in foreign trade, stimulated the entire national economy. In 1850, for example, the American cotton crop was valued at more than $100 million annually, representing nearly fifty percent of all American export trade

    Concurrent with the rise of King Cotton to a position of economic dominance in the South, African American slavery was given a new lease on life. Furthermore, as the cotton industry expanded between 1800 and 1860, so too did the institution of slavery. Despite federal laws and notwithstanding individual state regula­tions concerning both the Atlantic and domestic slave trade, the importation and selling of black African slaves increased proportionate to the labor demands of southern cotton planta­tions during- the first half of the nineteenth century. As the result of the importance of cotton to the southern, national and international economies, many southerners assumed that the North would be foolhardy to attempt any disruption of the industry (and concurrently slavery) for fear of economic chaos and foreign intervention. In 1858, for example, Senator James H. Hammond of South Carolina warned his northern colleagues not “to make war on cotton. No power on earth dares to make war upon it. Cotton is King.” See also: COTTON GIN.

  • Little Rock Crisis – The so-called Little Rock Crisis of 1957 was one of the earliest and certainly most publicized attempts to enforce court-ordered school integration in the South. Early in 1957, the Little Rock, Arkansas school board had agreed to comply with a court-order demanding that the city’s Central High School admit black students. Nine carefully selected black children were chosen to begin classes at Central on September 4. In the meantime, however, Governor Orval Faubus assumed the stance of a diehard segregationist by intervening and defying the court-order. Following a dramatic television appearance, Faubus called out the National Guard to prevent the nine black youngsters from entering the previously all-white school. A federal court then ordered that the students be admitted and, concurrently, ordered that the National Guard be withdrawn

    On September 23, the black children returned to Central only to be met with the curses and stones of an angry white mob. This mob violence prompted President Dwight D. Eisenhower to federalize the Arkansas National Guard and to send in para­troopers to restore order and escort the black students to and from school for the remainder of the year. Faubus reacted by closing the Little Rock schools for the academic year, 1958-59. A federal court subsequently ruled that Faubus’ action was unconstitutional, and thereby paved the way for the reopening of schools on a desegregated basis in the autumn of 1959.

  • Middle Passage –  The actual transatlantic voyage of slavers (slave ships) loaded with human cargo historically has been referred to as the “Middle Passage.” The term is derived from the fact that the transatlantic trip was the second leg or part of the overall slavetrading journey — from home port to Africa, from Africa to the New World, and from the New World to home port.

    At best, the Middle Passage was an incredibly harsh experience for the hapless Africans unfortunate enough to have been sold into slavery in Africa. The voyage itself was time-consuming, ranging from three or four weeks to as long as three months, depending on the winds and currents. The Africans were not considered to be “passengers,” but rather cargo. As such, they were packed into the holds of slavers as if they were little more than black sardines. Sexually separated, chained slaves were forced to lie side-by-side in the hold for at least fifteen hours daily. When the typical hold of a slaver (which averaged about five feet in height) was divided into two “levels” or “floors,” the space allotment for each individual slave was ap­proximately 6′ x 16″ x 21/2′ (essentially the dimensions of a coffin). Slaves were allowed on deck only to eat, to take part in forced physical exercise (“dancing the slaves,” as it was called) and to allow time for the cleaning of the hold. Considering the lack of sanitary facilities aboard, this job (which was rotated among the slaves themselves) was considered to be an especially unattractive feature of the voyage.

    Historians are fortunate that several first-hand accounts written by slaves concerning the nature of the Middle Passage have survived. One account, penned by Olaudah Equiana, is especially illuminating: “I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life: so that with the loathsomeness of the stench, and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was unable to eat, nor had I even the desire to taste anything. I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me. This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains … the filth of the necessary tubs, into which the children often fell, and were almost suffocated, the shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying… rendering the whole scene of horror almost inconceivable.”

    It is not surprising that many slaves procured in Africa did not survive the Atlantic voyage. Smallpox, scurvy and suicide all took their toll. A large proportion of those who did survive the Middle Passage, according to historian John Hope Franklin, were unfit for slave-labor upon arrival in the New World. “Many of those that had not died of disease or committed suicide by jumping overboard,” Franklin maintains, “were per­manently disabled by the ravages of some dread disease or by maiming which often resulted from the struggle against the chains.”

  • National Black Political Convention –  The first Na­tional Black Political Convention was held in Gary, Indiana in March 1972. Attended by over three thousand voting delegates and another five thousand observers, the Convention failed to resolve differences between those blacks content to work within the traditional two-party American political system and those desiring to create an independent black party. Other differences which tended to disrupt the conclave were those over integra­tion and political cooperation with whites. Among resolutions which passed were those calling for radical socioeconomic changes in American society; a condemnation of American pol­icy toward the white regimes of South Africa and Rhodesia; a denunciation of busing as a means of achieving racial balance in the public schools; and a refusal to endorse any candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

    Similarly, the second National Black Political Convention was characterized by continued argumentation about the desirability of a separatist political party. Held in Little Rock, Arkansas in March 1974, a resolution calling for the establishment of a national black political party was defeated; the NAACP and National Urban League were criticized for not sending repre­sentatives to the Convention; a resolution urging the creation of a black “united fund” with the goal of raising $10 million by 1976 was passed; and African liberation movements were given a blanket endorsement.

  • Octoroon – The term octoroon referred to a person with one-eighth African ancestry;[3] that is, someone with family heritage of one biracial grandparent, in other words, one African great-grandparent and seven Caucasian great-grandparents. As with the use of quadroon, this word was applied to a limited extent in Australia for those of one-eighth Aboriginal ancestry, in the putting in place of government assimilation policies.
  • PARTUS SEQUITUR VENTREM – The primary legal principle used to perpetuate African American slavery from one generation to another was that of partus sequitur ventrem, meaning that the child inherits the status or condition of the mother. Running contrary to the English tradition which determined the status of children according to the status of the father, partus sequitur ventrem ensured that African American slavery would continue indefinitely.

    Children of two slave parents, of course, would automatically be classified as slaves. Concurrently, a child born of an inter­racial union between a free white man and a black slave woman would also be classified as a slave. On the other hand, a child born of an interracial union between a free white woman and a black male slave would legally be free, inheriting the status of its mother. Since miscegenation between free white women and black slave males was relatively rare in the antebellum South, the products of such unions were numerically fewer than the children born of free white fathers and black slave mothers.

  • Quock Walker Case – In large part the result of the realiza­tion that African American slavery was ideologically inconsistent with the goals and rhetoric of the American Revolution, northern states took the lead in abolishing slavery or otherwise providing for the gradual emancipation of slaves during the late eight­eenth and early nineteenth centuries. In some states, such as Vermont, constitutions were written or legislation enacted which specifically outlawed slavery and the slave trade. In Massa­chusetts, however, slavery was gradually ended as the result of judicial interpretation and action.

    The most significant of several “freedom cases” leading to the death of slavery in Massachusetts was that of Commomvealth v. Jennison, commonly referred to as the Quock Walker Case of 1783. Quock Walker allegedly was the slave of one Nathaniel Jennison, who had forcibly captured his “slave” following an abortive runaway attempt. Jennison, in turn, was indicted by a local court for committing assault and battery on Walker. The case was subsequently appealed to the supreme court of Massachusetts in 1783. In his charge to the jury, Chief Justice William Gushing rejected Jennison’s argument that his actions constituted legitimate means of apprehending a runaway slave on the basis that Jennison had earlier promised to manumit Walker. More significantly, Gushing held that although slavery indeed had been tolerated in Massachusetts, it was incompatible with the revolutionary spirit “favorable to the natural rights of mankind.” Gushing concluded his charge by asserting that “slavery is inconsistent with our own conduct and Constitution; and there can be no such thing as perpetual servitude of a rational creature, unless his liberty is forfeited by some criminal conduct or given up by personal consent or contract.” The jury concurred with Cushing’s argument, upholding the indictment of Jennison.

  • John B. Russwurm – One of the first blacks to graduate from an American college, John Brown Russwurm (1799-1851) was the son of a Jamaican mother and a white American father.

    Born in Jamaica, Russwurm was taken as a youth to Canada and, later, to Maine, where he was educated. Graduating from Bowdoin College (Maine) in 1826, he soon traveled to New York City where he and Reverend Samuel Cornish founded and edited Freedom’s Journal, the first black newspaper in the United States. Following a dispute with Cornish over editorial policy concerning the merits of African colonization for American blacks (Russwurm was convinced that colonization offered Afro-Americans the best chance for survival), the young college grad­uate dissolved the partnership and migrated to Africa himself in 1829. From 1830 until his death twenty-one years later, Russ­wurm served in a number of official capacities in Liberia, the African colony founded by the American Colonization Society for repatriated African Americans.


Valentine’s Day, Black History Month, and Miscellany

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Valentine's Day, Black History Month, and Miscellany

Friday – 14 February 2014
It’s Valentine’s Day. (Or the so-called “Single Awareness Day.”)

Team DiVa - Valentine's Day 2014 Picture (c)  Erra Bella Photography

Team DiVa – Valentine’s Day 2014
Picture (c) Erra Bella Photography

However you refer to the day, I hope that it finds you well.

Things have been pretty good around the homestead. The girls are, as my mother would say “…getting into everything but a beef stew.”

Fun with dry ice...

Fun with dry ice…

But, they are also quite fun to be around. Listening to them as they are holding imaginary conversations on “telephones” is hilarious. And seeing the things they come up with – rockets, trains, towers, cars with propellers – when playing with their Duplo? Just as entertaining. They even have sets of Valkyrie and Amazon HeroClix that they keep at the dinner table…

The Dinner Guardians

The Dinner Guardians

…although, they are occasionally are “put to bed” under napkins, which is equally amusing.

Chew on This – Food for Thought: Black History Month
I’m farther behind with this than I had hoped to be. But, I’m not going to let that daunt me. So, let’s just jump right in:

  • Blackface – A form of theatrical makeup used by white performers to represent a black person.

    Blackface makeup was either a layer of burnt cork on a layer of coca butter or black grease paint. In the early years exaggerated red lips were painted around their mouths, like those of today’s circus clowns. In later years the lips were usually painted white or unpainted. Costumes were usually gaudy combinations of formal wear; swallowtail coats, striped trousers, and top hats.

    Minstrel show entertainment included imitating black music and dance and speaking in a “plantation” dialect. The shows featured a variety of jokes, songs, dances and skits that were based on the ugliest stereotypes of African American slaves. From 1840 to 1890, minstrel shows were the most popular form of entertainment in America. (Black-face.com)

  • The Children’s Crusade – The name bestowed upon a march by hundreds of school students in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 2, May 3, May 4, and May 5, 1963, during the American Civil Rights Movement’s Birmingham Campaign. Initiated and organized by Rev. James Bevel, the purpose of the march was to walk downtown to talk to the mayor about segregation in their city. Many children left their schools in order to be arrested, set free, and then to get arrested again the next day. The marches were stopped due to the head of police “Bull Connor” who brought fire hoses to ward off the children and set police dogs after the children. (video from Biography.com)
  • Deed of Manumission – Manumission was a popular term used during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in reference to the voluntary act on the part of indi­vidual slave-owners of freeing or liberating their own slaves. As a general rule, slaves so freed were issued a formal document (“manumission deed”) by the slave-owner. This document, of course, became an invaluable possession of the ex-slave and usually the only means of “proving” that he or she was in­deed free.
  • Robert Brown Elliott – An African-American member of the United States House of Representatives from South Carolina, serving from 1871-1874.
    Robert Brown Elliott’s early life is a mystery. He claimed to have been born in Liverpool, England toWest Indian immigrants. But, biographers have been unable to corroborate these facts.
    Elliott arrived in South Carolina in 1867 at the age of 25, where he established a law practice. Elliott helped organize the local Republican Party and served in the state constitutional convention.In 1868 he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives. The next year he was appointed assistant adjutant-general; he was the first African-American commanding general of the South Carolina National Guard. As part of his job, he helped form a state militia to fight the Ku Klux Klan.

    Elliott was elected as a Republican to the Forty-second and Forty-third United States Congress. He “delivered a celebrated speech” in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1875. He resigned on November 1, 1874, to fight political corruption in South Carolina. He served again in the South Carolina House of Representatives, where he was elected as Speaker of the House.

    He ran successfully for South Carolina Attorney General in 1876. In the state elections that year, white Democrats regained dominance of the state legislature. The following year, 1877, when the last of the federal troops were withdrawn from South Carolina, he was forced out of office.

  • Freedmans’ Bureau – Established by Congress on March 3, 1865, the Freedmen’s Bureau was designed to protect the in­terests of former slaves (“freedmen”) and displaced southern whites (“loyal refugees”) following the American Civil War. Intended primarily to act as a safeguard for the freedmen against possible attempts at reenslavement, the Bureau was also empowered to provide freedmen with food, medical and hospital care, educational facilities and homestead land. In addition, the Bureau assisted the freedmen in obtaining employment, settling legal disputes and finding suitable housing facilities. Function­ing under the aegis of the War Department, the Freedmen’s Bureau was headed by General O. O. Howard. Although the official “life” of the Bureau extended until 1872, most of its major objectives had been accomplished by 1869.
  • Charles Sidney Gilpin – One of the most highly regarded actors of the 1920s.

    In 1896 at age 18, Gilpin joined a minstrel show, leaving Richmond and beginning a life on the road that lasted for many years. When between performances on stage, like many performers he worked odd jobs to earn money: as a printer, barber, boxing trainer, and railroad porter. In 1903, Gilpin joined Hamilton, Ontario’s Canadian Jubilee Singers.

    In 1905 he started performing with traveling musical troupes of the Red Cross and the Candy Shop of America. He also played his first dramatic roles and honed his character acting in Chicago.
    In 1916, Gilpin made a memorable appearance in whiteface as Jacob McCloskey, a slave owner and villain of Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon. Though he left Bush’s Company over a salary dispute, his reputation there allowed him to get the role of Rev. William Curtis in the 1919 premier of John Drinkwater’s Abraham Lincoln.

    Gilpin’s Broadway debut gained him casting in the premier of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones. He played the lead role of Brutus Jones to great critical acclaim, including an O’Neill-lauded review by writer Hubert Harrison in Negro World. Gilpin’s achievement resulted in the Drama League of New York‘s naming him as one of the ten people in 1920 who had done the most for American theater. He was the first Black American so honored. Following the Drama League’s refusal to rescind the invitation, Gilpin refused to decline it. When the League invited Gilpin to their presentation dinner, some people found it controversial. At the dinner, he was given a standing ovation of unusual length when he accepted his award.

I was going to throw in a few Stray Toasters, but I think I’ll save those for another post.


“America. It’s Beautiful.”

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"America. It's Beautiful."

Tuesday – 04 February 2014


I was at a bit of a quandary about what to choose for today’s Black History Month entry.

Until yesterday morning.

There are many fine options for choosing an “A” entry for my first post of the month:

  • Abolition
  • Achievements
  • Africa
  • African Americans in the Civil War
  • Art

…to name a few, not to mention the names of the famous and the not-so-famous. But none of those struck the chord in me that today’s topic did. What is it? You already know. Or at least, you know if you were paying attention earlier.

Today’s topic is: America. More specifically, it’s “America. It’s Beautiful,” But, I’ll get back to that in just a moment. First, I’d like you to take a few minutes to enjoy this:

That was the late Ray Charles performing what my brother-in-law, John, has deemed the finest rendition of the song America the Beautiful. I’m inclined to agree with him.

As I said above, my topic for today’s post is “America. It’s Beautiful.” And it is, in many ways – ways that I think that this attempted to demonstrate:

The Coca-Cola Corporation attempted to show that America is more than just a world superpower, it’s a country that is made up of a diverse collection of people. In a sixty-second spot, they showed people living out their lives and dreams. (Many of the images featured a Coca-Cola product or logo in them, but it’s a commercial, after all.)

America is full of many great things. It has been called “The Land of Opportunity” for hundreds of years. One of the first sights that greeted immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries was the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island in the New York Harbor. In the statue’s base is a plate inscribed with the poem The New Colossus, which includes the following lines:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

What better way to welcome people to their new home?

So why is it that nearly 150 years after those words were written, it seems that we are no longer a country that welcomes those yearning for something more or tolerant of those who are different? There was a great uproar on the Internet (I know, I know…) over Coke’s interpretation of America The Beautiful, mostly because it dared to present the song in languages other than English. If you’re curious as to some of the things said, please take a look at Speak English!: Racist Revolt As Coca-Cola Airs Multilingual ‘America the Beautiful’ Super Bowl Ad. There, you can see a handful of examples of the dark undercurrent of what America has to offer.

I asked a few people what their thoughts on the commercial were1.
(NOTE – Some comments include language that some may find offensive)

  • My brother, Adam (African-Amercian male, married to a white woman, with two biracial children), had this to say:

    Oh sweet fucking mercy. Xenophobic cock monkeys who are so insulated in their own little world of white picket fences and car pooling need to get a life. America is – and always will be – a land of many colors and creeds. Lest we forget: the Pilgrims and every other blonde-haired blue-eyed [person] was an illegal alien at one time, just ask the Native Americans they disenfranchised.

    I wear a uniform of a country that practices stop-and-frisk in its major cities and wear it with other men and women that John Q. Sixpack would call a “terrorist,” because they pray to a different God. Don’t be shined when people say we need to return to old-fashioned values, what they mean by that is when whites had their own schools and people of color were subjugated and lived in slums at the expense of the white elite.

    I can’t walk down the street holding my wife’s hand in Fort Collins, CO without some white women grabbing her purse. Women, please, do you know how much I make?! But if she saw me in my flight suit, she would shower me with thanks and praise. Sometimes, I just want to smack people for being so repulsive. What… you can’t be a Jew, Muslim, or any other religion and love this country?

    I hope that answers your question.

  • My brother-in-law, John (Greek-American, married to my sister, with three biracial children) offered up this about the Coke commercial, as well as the Cheerios commercial that preceded it:

    My first thought on the Cheerios commercial was “kid was cute. Commercial was boring.”

    My first thought on the Coke commercial was, no joke: “OK, how many nanoseconds is it going to take for the morons on the Twittersphere to lose their minds with collective grammatically incorrect diarrhea?”

    I liked the commercial. I thought it was sweet, well done, benign, and forgettable. But sadly I knew there would be the usual willfully ignorant vocal minority who use the ‘net as a megaphone for their stupidity.

    So here’s the deal — I’m not sure why folks choose to focus on a friggin’ commercial for bubbly sugar water (or before that, a cereal that nobody eats after the age of 9) as a vehicle for their imagined grievances.

    I like to think the younger generation is more tolerant — or at least, don’t see any of this as more than the side show it is. This thought is probably true…but again, the internet is a grand megaphone for the stupid.

    Ironically, nobody seemed to notice the Coke ad also had a gay couple in it. They were too busy bitching about ‘Murca and how it apparently is going down the tubes because someone had the nerve to sing in another language

    Overall — much ado about nothing. It’s what we do best as a country. But for the record, oh ye willfully ignorant — and yes, I’ll continue to refer to them as willfully ignorant, because that’s exactly what they are — not stupid, not ignorant, but proudly and willfully ignorant — America the Beautiful is NOT our #$(&ing national anthem. Our national anthem is the one about bombs and war. So there’s that.

    And one last thought — you remember the old Chris Rock routine about blacks vs. n****s?He goes off on an epic rant about how n****s love to NOT know. How do you think these same ignorant idiots would react if black folk went off on these similar rants? Pretty sure we’d hear the word “thug” and some blather about race cards, some epithets, etc. Because…well…BLACK people. YOU know.

  • My friend, Chris (White male, married to a Brazilian woman, with one biracial child) had this to say:

    Seriously, I liked it. I like that song more than most of the blind patriotism songs, and I thought it was well done, but not surprising for a professionally made commercial. But didn’t think it was all that memorable. And now I really think the screaming was the point, to MAKE it memorable.

    I saw something today on a friend’s FB feed, that the song was originally called, O Mother dear, Jerusalem, and the songwriter was a lesbian. So the “tradition” card is trumped, right at the start.

    I think that it demonstrates very well just how much racism is still around, and how comfortable the racists are about being very vocal about it. No shame at all.

    It seems to have really overshadowed the screaming over the mixed-race family in the Cheerios commercial, although that’s happening as well, of course.

    I went on to ask him a few related questions and got very candid responses in return:

    Rob: Did you catch any blowback when you announced that you and your wife were getting married?

    Chris: None at all, but mainly because my mom was NOT a raging bigot, and she and my brother were really the only family I had at the time.

    My grandmother was senile and living with relatives in Brigham City (north Utah) who probably would have disapproved, had I said anything to them. But I had cut all ties with the Mormons years earlier.

    Rob: What’s it like being a mixed family in the (top part of) The South? Do you find difficulties in dealing with some/many neighbors?  And how about raising a mixed-raced kid in the south? 

    Chris: I was a bit worried, but no problems that I’ve experienced. My son looks like a little Aryan (genetics are weird), and we’re in a fairly liberal spot anyway, just north of Chapel Hill. Lelia has run into some anti-Hispanic stuff at some of the stores, when she was there alone.

    Neighbors – our neighborhood is really damned diverse. We moved in partially because there was another Brasillian woman living in the neighborhood, and we met a couple who were African-American and African-Panamanian, and they introduced us to all of THEIR friends…

    About raising a mixed-race kid – I think I WOULD be concerned about it if Marcus looked more Brasillian. I’d certainly feel like I had to warn him to be careful. Even in an area this relatively-liberal, there are a lot of Tea Party types. As it is, though, I’m more worried about him looking so typically white-American when he visits Brasil. Huge kidnapping risk, in some ways.

  • And, what was quite possibly the most expressive – and tongue-in-cheek comment – on the commercial came from my friend, Maddox:

    FUCK YOU, COCA-COLA! I want all the singing in my commercials to be done in English while I watch African-Americans play a game that evolved from Rugby on my Japanese TV!

    Those familiar with his website know that Maddox has a keen eye for the goings-on in American culture and is unafraid to challenge them head-on. While his commentary is often acerbic and brusque (and usually humorous), he doesn’t pulls his punches when skewering those things that he finds absurd and ridiculous.

America really is beautiful, despite the thoughts – or possibly the unthinking, knee-jerk reactions – of some of its citizens. Take time to explore it and the documents that were created to make this the country that we call “home.”

Also, take time to reflect on the fact that we’re not just making Black History.
Or White History.
Or Asian-American History.
Or Hispanic-American History.
Or Arabic-American History.

We’re making our collective history; let’s make sure that it’s a story worthy of being told.


1 – Opinions expressed in the comments above were those of the commenters and do not necessarily represent their employers or any other agency.

Black History Month 2014

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Black History Month 2014

Saturday – 01 February 2014
Today marks not only the beginning of February, but also the beginning of Black History Month.


Over the next 28 days, I once again will be taking a look at figures and concepts related to Black History Month.

If you have any questions about or suggestions for people, places or things to explore, please feel free to leave a comment!