The third king of Dahomey, King Houegbadja ruled from 1645 to 1685, and is created with creating the legendary all-woman Fon of Dahomey. The original purpose of this all female regime was to become ‘gbeto’, or elephant hunters for the king. Around the early 1700’s during the reign of King Agadja, the women were trained to become a unit of guards for the king. They were also called The Mino, which means ‘Our Mothers’ in the native Fon language of Benin. The legend of the Mino began to grow during the battle at Savi in 1727. The women showed their impressive skills which helped the Fon people gain a victory over their opponents. Their presence increased the size and the intimidation factor of the kings Army.
Great emphasis was placed on developing the Mino warriors during the reign of King Ghezo from 1818 to 1858. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade posed a great threat to the Dahomian way of life; the king was set on protecting his people. King Ghezo increased the military budget to develop a well-trained and equipped army. By the mid 1900’s the size of the Mino army grew to 6,000 women who were both free women and prisoners of war. The women had to sacrifice marriage and parent-hood while serving in the army; ironically they were considered the wives of the king. Their training regimen was rigorous and designed to hone any aggressive behavior the women held. They learned survival skills, discipline, pain tolerance and proper execution of their enemies. Much prestige was given to the women because of their service and their bravery. They can be compared to our modern day celebrities.
The Mino were more than warriors they were also involved in the Grand Council of the Dahomey people. They were involved in talking peace with neighboring nations and the trade of palm oil with England. As the threat of the slave trade moved closer to Dahomey, war broke out between Dahomey and France in 1890. Despite the size and fierceness of the Mino women and the Dahomian Army, they were defeated by the French and their superior weaponry. This resulted in Dahomey becoming a French colony, drastically changing the life of the people. This defeat was also the point of dismemberment of the legendary Mino warriors. The last surviving Mino warrior named Mawi died in 1979.
The Mino of Dahomey was considered the women Spartans of Benin. Their skill, size, and intimidation factor gained them victories before they stepped on the battle field. They crushed the idea of women being the weaker sex. They took roles that were traditionally held for men and became legends. The Mino were more intimidating than their male counterparts. These women were the special forces of the Dahomian army. Often compared to the mythical Amazonian women, The Mino were actual historical figures. The legendary Mino Warriors of Dahomey, we stand your shoulders.
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On October 27, 1922 Ruby Ann Wallace was born to parents Gladys Hightower and Marshall Edward Nathaniel Wallace. Ruby’s family lived in Cleveland, Ohio until her parents divorced moving her to Harlem, New York. While attending Hunter College High School she began studying acting at the American Negro Theater. Ruby Ann Wallace became Ruby Dee during her years with the American Negro Theater. She also submitted poetry to a black newspaper called the Amsterdam News. After high school she attended Hunter College where she earned her degree in romance languages. She took a radio training class offered by the American Theater Wing. Her training helped her earn a part in the radio serial Nora Drake.
After graduation Ruby worked as a French and Spanish translator until 1946. Her first on screen role was in the movie The Man of Mine. That same year she earned the title role in ANT’s Broadway production of Anna Lucasta. She also met her future husband Mr. Ozzie Davis performing in the play titled Jeb. In 1948 Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis were married and the couple gave birth to three children. In 1950 Ruby Dee played the role of Jackie Robinson’s wife in The Jackie Robinson Story. That same year she also appeared in the movie No Way Out. In 1957 she appeared in the movie Edge of the City.
1959 was the year that Ruby Dee stared in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, which brought her national acclaim as an actress.In both Edge of the City and A Raisin in the Sun Ruby Dee stared opposite of Sidney Poitier. Next she would join her husband to star in the play Purlie Victorious; which was written by Ozzie Davis. In 1963 both Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis teamed up again for the on screen adaptation of Purlie Victorious. The two would team up several more times in their career to produce movies and social change. In 1965 Ruby Dee became the first African-American actress to appear in major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival. She also became the first African American actress to be featured on Peyton Place in 1968. She then starred in the critically acclaimed play Boesman and Lena in 1970. In 1979 her musical satire Take it from the Top opened in New York City.
Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis were are forced to be reckoned with in the Civil Rights Movement. They spoke out openly against racism and Jim Crow. The projects they designed together were meant to uplift the black population. In 1974 they both produced the Ruby Dee/Ozzie Davis Story Hour on the National Black Network. In 1981 the couple produced With Ozzie and Ruby for PBS. This television series allowed Ruby Dee to connect with black authors around the country. She felt that the authors helped put the black experience into perspective. Ruby and Ozzie both supported their friend Dr. Martin Luther King and his march on Washington. Ruby denounced the government’s decision to execute Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953. Ruby and Ozzie were once again honored for their efforts; they received the Frederick Douglas Award for leadership towards equality in 1970.
In 1989 both Ozzie and Ruby starred in Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee. Ruby later received an Emmy for her role in Decoration Day in 1991. 1998 Ruby and Ozzie published their book With Ozzie and Ruby: In This Life Together. The couple was married for 50 years until Ozzie Davis’ transition in 2005. Later that year the couple won a Grammy Award for the audio version of their book With Ozzie and Ruby. June 11, 2014 marked the transition of Ruby Dee. This remarkable woman kicked down doors of adversity and racism, and left a trail of greatness for generations of black women to follow. Miss Ruby Dee, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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Born October 2, 1800 in Southampton County, Virginia, Nat was the son of slaves who belonged to the slave owner Benjamin Turner. He was sold many times but never left Southampton County. He did however; often lose the ones closest to him because of the frequent separations. Nat was raised by his mother and grandmother after his father reportedly ran to freedom. In 1809 Benjamin Turner loaned Nat and his mother to his son Samuel Turner to work his land. After Benjamin died, Samuel inherited both Nat and his mother as his property. At the age of 12 Nat was working as a field hand. In 1822 he married a woman named Cherry, but was later separated from his wife and mother when Samuel Turner died. After the death of Samuel, Nat was sold to Thomas Moore, after the death of Moore he was the property of a 9 year old boy named Putnam Moore whose mother married Joseph Travis, who then gained control of Nat in 1829.
Even as a young man Nat was recognized for his exceptional brilliance, it was stated that; “Nat would never be of any service to any one as a slave,” that–as his parents had drummed into him–he was “intended for some great purpose” (Turner, Confessions). Nat was one of the few slave children who were taught to read; as he got older he began to preach to the other slaves at the clandestine religious meetings. In 1827, he was picked to baptize a white overseer named Etheldred T. Brantley. As his teen years passed he continued to lose those closest to him by separation. He also continued to work as a field hand.
May 12, 1828 Nat had a vision; this vision led him to believe that God chose him to lead an uprising against the white slave masters. Nat recruited fellow field hands, free blacks, and church members to stand beside him. In 1831 they planned a rebellion that was forced to be rescheduled to a later date. August 22, 1831 in the early hours of the morning marked the beginning of the rebellion. They began with the Travis plantation and killed Putnam Moore, his father, his mother Sally, and more than 50 other whites that night. Nat’s men were later captured by a coalition of local patrol men, vigilantes, and members of the Army and Navy. His men were tried, convicted and executed or transported out of Virginia.
Sunday October 30, 1831 Nat was caught hiding in the woods less than two miles from the Travis Plantation. On November 5, 1931 he was tried and convicted of “conspiring to rebel and making insurrection.” Six days after the trial he was hanged to death in Jerusalem, Virginia. Nat Turner is often depicted as a terrorist and a violent killer, but I say he was a freedom fighter, a man fighting for his rights as a human being. He was a brave leader who was willing to stare oppression in the face and conquer it. I say we should celebrate Nat Turner, and view him as an example of courage and freedom. Mr. Nat Turner, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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Benjamin Banneker was born on November 9th, 1731 in Ellicott’s Mill, Maryland. His parents were Robert and Marry Banneky. His father was from Guinea and his mother was the daughter of Molly Welsh, an English indentured servant. Banneker’s parents were free so he didn’t experience slavery, this would help set the course for his brilliant future. He was taught how to read by his grandmother Molly as well as attended a Quaker school early in his learning. Banneker no longer attended school once he began working on his family’s farm. With the exception of what he learned from his grandmother and the Quaker school, Banneker was self-educated. He was known as an avid reader, learning as much as he could as often as he could. He also began mastering mathematics and developing problem solving skills.
By the time Banneker was 22 he built a string wall clock which he modeled after a pocket watch. The most brilliant thing about the wall clock is he had never seen one before he created his. He used wood and his pocket knife to create the clock; it is stated that the clock still worked even after Banneker’s death. He even taught himself astronomy and it would pay off for him later in life. In 1771 the Ellicott family moved near the Banneker family farm, their union with Banneker’s would help change America. Andrew Ellicott was appointed by George Washington to survey selected pieces of land on which to build the new nation’s capital. Ellicott need the help of someone with extensive knowledge in astronomy and surveying. Banneker was recommended for the job by George Ellicott and later hired. In 1791 both Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker traveled to what is now known as Washington D. C. They worked diligently to map out the boundaries that would make up the land for the nation’s capital.
While working with the Ellicott’s Banneker was able to gather a significant amount of information on astronomy. The information was used to complete the ephemeris he was creating. The ephemeris was a series of calculated solar and lune eclipse predictions, which helped Banneker complete his almanac. In 1792 Banneker sent a hand written letter to Thomas Jefferson criticizing him about his slave owning practices and inhumane views towards blacks. Jefferson acknowledged the letter and later responded; both Banneker and Jefferson’s letters were later published. Banneker also gained acclaim when he published his almanac in 1792.
His almanac’s were printed and sold as a series for six years, in six cities, and four states. Banneker received support for his almanacs by the Ellicott’s as well as the Society for the Promotion of the Abolition of Slavery of Maryland and of Pennsylvania. The first two of the series gained some commercial success and praise from William Wilberforce and the House of Commons of Great Britain. On October 9th 1806, Banneker died at the age of 76 but left a legacy to be remembered. He revolutionized the clock, used astronomy to create Washington D.C., mastered mathematics, and created his almanac’s that still fascinate the world. Banneker accomplished all of these feats even though we would be considered limited in his education. He learned that true education comes from a strong will, passion and persistence. Mr. Benjamin Banneker, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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Born July 10 1875, in Mayesville, South Carolina, her parents were former slaves and her family lived in poverty, but Mary did not let her situation define the rest of her life. As one of seventeen children they all were responsible for contributing to their household duties; they toiled fields and picked cotton on a regular basis. Mary was the only member of her family to attend school, the missionaries who were in her area opened a school for African-American children. Mary was determined to succeed even as a child. She walked miles to and from school every day to receive her education. She was also tasked with sharing the information she learned in school with her siblings. Mary was awarded a scholarship to attend the Scotia Seminary, an all-girls school in Concord, North Carolina.
In 1893 she graduated then advanced to the Dwight Moody Institute for Home and Foreign Missions. Mary completed her studies within two years then returned to the south to become a school teacher. Nearly ten years passed as Mary’s career as an educator was taking off. In 19898 she would met and marry Albertus Bethune, they had one son Albert McLeod Bethune before the couple divorced in 1907. Mary McLeod Bethune strongly believed that education was the key to the advancement of the black race. In 1904 Mary founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls in Daytona, Florida. The school started with only five students but grew into an Institution educating more than 250 students in a few short years.
Mary McLeod Bethune was the institute’s first president even after the school combined with the Cookman Institute for men in 1923. The combining of the two schools produced Bethune-Cookman College. This college was one of the few places blacks go attend to receive higher education at the time. Mary remained the president of the College until 1942. She was also an activist within her community in her free time. She became president of the Florida chapter of the National Association for colored Women in 1924. She also served with the government for a few Presidents. She attended a conference on child welfare with Calvin Coolidge, served on the commission for Home Building and Home Ownership, and was appointed to the committee on child health under Herbert Hoover.
She is widely recognized for her role in public service under the President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1935 she became an adviser to Roosevelt on minority affairs. Also in 1935, Mary was able to create the National Council of Negro Women. In 1936 she became the director of the Divisions of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration; Mary was charged with helping young black people find job opportunities. After serving as President of Bethune-Cookman College she became an early member of the NAACP and represented the group along with W.E.B. Dubois at a national conference in 1945. In 1950 President Harry Truman appointed her to serve as the official delegate to a presidential delegation in Liberia.
In 1955 Mary McLeod Bethune died, but her legacy still lives on to this day. Mrs. Bethune quoted; “I leave you a thirst for education. Knowledge is the prime need of the hour.” Also; “If I have a legacy to leave my people, it is my philosophy of living and serving.” In 1973 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, a postal stamp was created in her likeness in 1985, and in 1994 the U.S. Park Service brought the former headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women, and renamed it the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site. Creating an Institution that blacks can earn an education from hundreds of years after her death, makes Mary McLeod Bethune a giant among us all. Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune, we stand on your shoulders.
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