July 16, 1862 six months before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation Ida B. Wells-Barnett was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi to parents James and Elizabeth Wells. Ida’s father was a master carpenter and was involved with the Freedman’s Aid Society; her father’s education and experience would help shape her future. Wells-Barnett attended Shaw University at the age of 16 until tragedy struck her family. Both of her parents and a sibling died because of yellow fever. Wells-Barnett was the sole care taker of her remaining siblings so she began teaching at a black elementary school until she was 18. Wells-Barnett and her siblings moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1882 to live with some of her relatives; this move allowed her to make more money as a teacher in Memphis rather than Holly Springs. She taught school for the Shelby County School system while continuing her education at Fisk University on the side.
In 1884 while sitting in a first class seat on a train to Nashville he was ordered to give up her seat to a white person. When she refused she was hauled off the train and arrested. She would later sue the railroad receiving $500.00 in a settlement case. The Tennessee Supreme Court would later overturn the ruling in favor of the railroad. Wells-Barnett would begin writing frequently under the alias “Lola;” she also would begin gaining attention for her wonderful ability to write about race. She became co-owner and editor of the Free Speech and Headlight newspapers in 1889. Well-Barnett was visiting Mississippi when her friend’s grocery store was mobbed and trashed by whites. The owners of the store were jailed because of the incident; the white mob then attacked them while in jail and killed all the store owners. Wells used the power of her pen to educate blacks about what was going on and encouraged them to leave the city of Memphis. Because of Well’s writings over 6,000 blacks vacated Memphis while others boycotted the white business. Wells-Barnett’s life was threatened after she wrote her articles; but she still dedicated her time to traveling to the south learning as much as she could about the lynching’s of blacks. After gathering information she published several articles which only further enraged the savage minds of the whites who hated her.
Wells moved to New York because her life was in danger in the south. While in New York she wrote an article for the New York Age highlighting the lynchings of blacks in America. In 1893 Wells-Barnett began lecturing worldwide about the inhumane lynching of blacks in America. Wells-Barnett wrote and circulated a pamphlet exposing the ban of African American art exhibitors at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Wells’ efforts were supported by Frederick Douglas and Ferdinand Barnett. 1893 was also the year that Wells published her personal examination of lynching’s in America titled; A Red Record. Wells was invited to the White House in 1898 where she campaigned for anti-lynching policies to help African-Americans. Later that year she would marry Ferdinand Barnett, the couple formed a force together to fight the lynching laws of America. In 1896 Wells formed the National Association for Colored Women, which helped protect the black community from the white lynch mobs.
After a brutal assault on the black community in Springfield, Illinois Wells attended a conference that would later give birth to the NAACP. Wells-Barnett left the NAACP shortly after its inception because of a lack of action towards practical solutions. Wells-Barnett went on to create the first African-American kindergarten for her community.Ida B. Wells-Barnett truly dedicated her life to fighting injustices against her people. She faced jail, threats to her life, and family tragedies but still remained a champion for her people. She took on America and its unjust policies, even taking her case to the White House to advocate for her natural right to live. Throughout history, only the brave and the ones passionate about their people and true freedom stand up for justice; Miss. Wells-Barnett was one of those heroes. Miss Ida B. Wells-Barnett, we stand on your shoulders.
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Jan Matzeliger was born on September 15, 1852, in Surinam, Dutch Guiana, a South American country. His father was a Dutch engineer in Surinam completing Dutch government duties during the time of Jan’s birth. As a child, Jan showed the willingness and the ability to repair broken equipment while visiting his father’s job. At the age of nineteen Jan left home to travel the world. He would work aboard an Indian merchant ship for two years helping to satisfy his urge to see the world. After returning from the Indian ship he moved to Pennsylvania. Jan spoke very little English when we moved to Pennsylvania, but with his mechanical skills, he would remain employed. After finding work with a cobbler, Jan gained an interest in shoemaking. His new interest would take him to Lynn, Pennsylvania the capital of shoemaking at the time. He would earn an apprenticeship in a shoe factory as a sewing machine operator.
Special shoe sewers known as “lasters,” were held in high regard within the shoe factory. Their job was to sew the upper part of the shoe to the sole of the shoe. Because their job was so important they charged a high price to work, thus driving the price of shoes up. Only 50 pairs of shoes were able to be made in a work day which also contributed to the high prices of the shoes. Jan took it upon himself to study the English language in his free time, this allowed him to read English and study the subjects of physics and mechanical science. Jan taking the time to educate himself would help improve his life more than he could imagine. He believed that he could create a machine that would sew the upper portion of a shoe to the sole of the shoe; a dream he would realize later in life.
Jan would create several inventions that were stolen by other so-called “inventors” who profited from his creations. Jan was quietly focused on creating his “Shoe Laster” machine, so his misfortunes were not a burden to him. After carefully studying the hand motions of the shoe lasters Jan slowly learned how to sew the sole of the shoe to the upper portion of the shoe. His goal of creating a shoe laster machine was becoming clear to him. He would slowly build the machine over time despite having no funds and a lack of resources. He relied on any materials he could find to create his machine.
The hand lasters working for the shoe factory learned of Jan’s plan to create his machine and began to bash and discouraged his work. They were in fear of losing their jobs. As more and more people learned about the shoe laster machine, Jan received various offers to buy the machine. He rejected the offers which helped him learn the value of his creation. Because of a lack of resources, Jan sold 66% of the interest in the machines. This move allowed him to complete two other models of the machine and apply for a patent.
The patent office could not believe someone was creating such a machine, so they sent an employee to review Jan’s “Laster Machine.” In 1883, Jan Matzeliger received a patent for his “Laster Machine” and then improved it to be able to produce 700 pairs of shoes in a workday. Jan died in 1889 at the age of 37 due to tuberculosis. Before his death, he revolutionized the shoe industry by improving shoe production and lowering prices. Because the shoe was now affordable for the average American the shoe industry was able to grow into the Behemoth it is today. Mr. Matzeliger allowed his imagination to improve his life and change the lives of people around the world. Jan Matzeliger, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Afeni Shakur was born as Alice Faye Williams in Lumberton, North Carolina, on January 22, 1947. As a child she witnessed her mother suffer abuse at the hands of her father. Her mother and father would later split up. Alice her mother and her sister moved to the Bronx, New York in 1958 where she attended the Bronx High School of Science. Looking to cope with the demons from her past, she began using cocaine at the age of15.This was a problem that would affect her later in life. At the age of 19 Alice Williams met Malcolm X and it was said to her spur her towards joining the Black Panther Party. In 1964 Alice Williams joined the Black Panther Party as a writer for the Panther Post. After joining the Black Panther Party Williams became involved with and married Lummumba Shakur. During their relationship Alice Williams changed her name to Afeni Shakur.
During the 1960’s Shakur experienced frequent encounters with law enforcement. In 1969 Shakur and fellow Panthers were charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to bomb police stations and other public places. Shakur was arrested but released on bail, during her time out on bail she conceived her son. Shortly after being released from jail Shakur’s bail was revoked and she returned to jail. Shakur was in jail until her trial date. Once her trial date came she successfully defended herself in court. She was acquitted of all charges and regained her freedom.
After winning her trail she gave birth to her son Lesane Parish better known as Tupac Shakur. Afeni Shakur never returned to the Black Panther Party but she retained all the core values she learned as a member. She began working as a paralegal with Richard Fischbein; during this time she would marry Mutulu Shakur and conceive her daughter. Afeni’s relationship with Mutulu ended in 1982. In 1984 she would move to Baltimore, Maryland with her son and daughter.
While in Baltimore her son Tupac was able to attend the Baltimore School of Performing Arts. During the 1980’s Shakur would once again battle drug addiction; a battle she would eventually win. Afeni would experience another tragedy in the murder of her son Tupac Shakur. In 1997 after the death of her son, Afeni Shakur established Amaru Entertainment. She would later establish the Tupac Amaru Foundation of the Arts. Makaveli Brand Clothing was established in 2003; proceeds from the sales helped establish the Tupac Shakur Center for the Arts located in Stone Mountain, Georgia. A biography was written about Afeni Shakur in 2004 by the actress Jasmine Guy. Afeni Shakur is more than just the mother of the late great Tupac Shakur. Mrs. Shakur is a beacon of light we can look to in our dark times.
She became a political activist, a prominent speaker and a well-known philanthropist. Her life began with troubled times and she often faced more bad days than good. Afeni Shakur showed her strength and determination to overcome hardship and achieve greatness. She learned how to care for and uplift her people as a Black Panther. She also taught her children the valuable principles of the Panthers which helped to enhance their lives. Afeni Shakur was a brave and brilliant woman. Mrs. Afeni Shakur, we stand on your shoulders.
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Born on January 1, 1915 in Union Springs Alabama to sharecroppers, Dr. John Henrik Clarke had always been aware that the history of his people has been omitted from textbooks and the Bible since his childhood. “I saw no African people in the printed and illustrated Sunday school lesson,” said Dr. Clarke, and it was that which started his journey towards gaining new knowledge. Dr. Clarke devoted his life to studying the history of his people and during the process he traveled all over the globe. During his journey, he began to see that the history of African people had been hidden not only in America but all over the world. Hidden in plain sight, Dr. Clarke learned that the history of man started with African people and decided to tell the world to help uplift his people.
As a professor emeritus at Hunter College in New York, he was known for his detailed lesson plans on African history. So much that even the Schomburg Library in Harlem asked him for copies of his work. Despite having only an 8th grade education, Dr. Clarke learned all he could about African history and in the process, created a career for himself. With 6 books, 59 short stories and 17 book edits, Dr. Clarke provided African people with a wealth of knowledge of the greatness of Africa.
A world renowned lecturer, Dr. Clarke studied African history in every country of the rich continent except South Africa. He was a driven man because he was aware that the stories of greatness pertaining to African people had been excluded from the pages of history books. Dr. Clarke died at the age of 83, leaving a legacy for millions of African people to learn from. I am blessed to have come in contact with the works of Dr. Clarke, and I felt compelled to spread this information about a historical titan and a great soul. Thanks to Dr. Clarke, people around the globe now have greater access to African history. I salute Dr. Clarke and encourage you all to study his work and give praise to a champion of African history and consciousness. Dr. John Henrik Clarke, we stand on your shoulders.
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