January 15th, 1929 Michael King, Jr. was born to parents Michael Sr. and Alberta King in Atlanta, Georgia. Around 1934 Michael King, Sr. changed his name to Martin Luther King, Sr. in honor of the German Martin Luther who championed the Protestant Reformation, soon after young Michael changed his name to Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1939 King was becoming interested in singing after his performance in his church’s choir at the Atlanta premier of Gone with the Wind; he gained some notoriety for his singing and even joined his church’s choir. King would often witness the oppression black Americans faced in the South, he even witnessed his own father take a stand against racism which would help shape him as an opponent of injustice against African-Americans. King attended Booker T. High School and became known as a great public speaker as a member of the schools debate team. He became the assistant manager of a newspaper station for the Atlanta Journal at the age of 13; this made him the youngest person to hold that position. As a junior in high school King traveled to Dublin, Georgia to compete in a public speaking contest, he outshined the competition to take home the first place prize.
As King and his teacher were returning to Atlanta from the public speaking contest they were forced to give up their seats for two white passengers. King stated that the anger he felt during this incident was one of the angriest moments of his life. Despite the constant racism he witnessed he didn’t allow himself to underachieve in his studies. He was brilliant enough to only attend the tenth and eleventh grades at Booker T. Washington High School. Morehouse College was excepting applications from high school juniors across the country that could pass their entrance exam, King being the brilliant student he was passed the exam and entered Morehouse at the age of fifteen. As a student King was heavily influenced by then President of Morehouse Benjamin E. Mays and his professor George Kelsey. They helped him to develop himself spiritually and follow his true calling. King began to view Christianity as a force he could use to help uplift his fellow man. At the age of eighteen King decided to accept his calling and enter the ministry, a year later he began using his voice to fight injustices and became an ordained minister. Being a young activist and wordsmith King would write a letter to the editor of the Atlanta Journal as a response to the violence blacks faced after World War II, he stated in his letter that black’s deserved equal rights as American citizens.
King would graduate from Morehouse College in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and continued progressing with his spiritual studies. He began studying at Crozer Theological Seminary in 1948 where he would further develop his critical thinking skills as he challenged the concepts of God he was taught while examining his own beliefs. He would attend the Seminary for two years before graduating at the top of his class. Next he attended Boston University’s School of Theology to earn his doctoral degree, as well as the heart of a young woman named Coretta Scott. King and Scott were married in 1953 and would begin to build a legacy that would ultimately gain the respect of the world. In 1954 he became the Pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, and by 1955 King would earn his doctoral degree from Boston University. 1955 was also the year the Montgomery Bus Boycott began. Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks refusing to give up their seats to white passengers lead to the planning of the boycott. Jo Ann Robinson, E.D. Nixon and Ralph Abernathy organized the citizens of Montgomery before founding the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The purpose of the organization was to protest the racism black citizens of Montgomery faced using the city’s bus systems. King was appointed the spokesman of the Boycott by the founders of the MIA and under the leadership of the founders and King the Boycott lasted for 385 days. It also lead to the Montgomery bus systems to being desegregated via the United States District Court ruling in the Browder v. Gayle case. During the boycott King’s home was bombed and he was arrested, these events put a national spotlight on the boycott and King as a civil right figure. Under the mentorship of Bayard Rustin, Glenn Smiley and William Stuart Nelson, King was introduced to the non-violent philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi which he incorporated into his strategies for combating racism.
In 1957 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was formed by King, C. K. Steele, Fred Shuttlesworth and T .J. Jemison to organize non-violent protest and bring more attention to the plight of African-Americans. He used his voice to address the issue of racism in front of a national audience for the first time during his “Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom” speech. In 1958 King published his book Stride toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story; his new book and his popular speech helped to push King into the national spotlight as a major civil rights leader. During a book signing in Harlem, New York at the Blumstein’s department store he was stabbed in the chest with a letter opener by a black woman named Izola Curry. In 1958 King became a published author again with the release of his book The Measure of a Man. His activism would lead him to becoming the president of the Gandhi Society for Human Rights. The organization drafted a letter to President John F. Kennedy to issue an executive order to end racism against African-Americans. To the disappointment of the Gandhi Society for Human Rights Kennedy did not execute an executive order to help protect its African-American citizens. The organizations actions caused the FBI to wiretap Kings Phone along with other members; they were accused of housing communist within their organization. J. Edgar Hoover was determined to derail King and the civil rights movement by using the wiretaps and other means. In 1961 King led the SCLC into the Albany Movement which was a mass nonviolent protest against segregation, they organized the citizens of Albany and attempted to patronize white businesses in the city. The Albany Movement garnered national attention which led to the arrest of King and other protestors, the protestors were jailed until the city of Albany decided to release them. In 1962 King returned to Albany and was sentenced to be jailed for forty-five days; three days into his sentence he was released and continued his activism.
King and the SCLC became involved in many more civil rights campaigns to fight racism against his people, they organized, marched, protested and used other political tactics to help further their cause. In 1964 Birmingham, Alabama, St. Augustine, FL, Selma, Alabama and New York City were places where King met racism head on. 1964 was also the year that King became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize since 1901. In 1963 the March on Washington was organized by the “Big Six” who were various leaders of civil rights organizations. The “big Six” consisted of King, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, John Lewis and James L. Farmer, Jr. The March on Washington is where King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. March 7, 1965 in Selma, Alabama is known as “Bloody Sunday” because the local police force attached the peaceful protestors. March 9th another march was attempted but it was denied by a federal court ruling. Despite the ruling King led protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge but turned the people around before they fully violated the ruling. On March 25th King and the SCLC was able to lead a successful march to the state capital in Montgomery, Alabama, there he delivered his “How Long, Not Long” speech at the close of the march. King’s opposition to the Vietnam War was a secret until his public address in 1967 where he gave his “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence” speech. King’s opposition to the war made him a hero to some and an enemy of the state to others. In 1968 King called for a march against the war as an aide to his anti-war efforts. That same year King and the SCLC organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” to help fight against the economic inequalities blacks and other Americans faced. King and his camp were settled in Memphis, Tennessee to support the black sanitary public workers strike, King was lodged at the Lorraine Motel, King was later murdered by James Earl Ray at 6:01 p.m. The death of Martin Luther King, Jr. was not the death of his legacy or the fight for civil rights. King literally dedicated his life to the advancement and freedom of his people from the clutches of racism in America. Coretta Scott King and other civil rights leaders led the charge to make Martin Luther King Day a nationally recognized holiday to honor the bravery and accomplishments of King. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama John and Lucy Ann Hurston gave birth to their fifth child Zora Neal Hurston. John and Lucy Ann were former slaves who went on to create a life for their family; John was a Preacher, carpenter, tenant farmer while Lucy Ann was a school teacher. While Hurston was a very young girl around the age of three her family moved to Eatonville, Florida, one of the first incorporated all-black towns within the United States. Hurston was known for declaring Eatonville as her place of birth because it captured a special place in her heart. This was a town where black excellence was on display at all times; even her father John Hurston even became Mayor of Eatonville around 1897. In 1901 Hurston was introduced to new types of literature as school teachers from the North visited Eatonville; this was the beginning of Zoran Neal Hurston becoming a literary giant. Her mother would die in 1904, shortly after her father remarried a woman named Matte Moge who Hurston was not very fond of. Zora and Moge engaged in a physical altercation, shortly after Hurston was sent to a Baptist boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida.
While attending the boarding school Hurston’s parents could not afford to continue paying her tuition, she eventually left school to become a maid for the lead singer of the Gilbert & Sullivan traveling troupe. By 1917 Hurston was 26 years old and wanted to earn her high school diploma, she reduced her age by ten years and enrolled into the High School of Morgan State University. She earned her diploma within a year then attended Howard University; she was also one of the initial women to become a part of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. As a student at Howard Hurston founded a school newspaper called the Hilltop, studied Greek, Spanish, English and public speaking. She would earn her associates degree in 1920 from Howard University, she then attending Barnard College at Columbia University in 1925 as the only black student. In 1921 Zora would be admitted into the Alaine Locke literary club, The Stylus after writing her short story titled John Redding Goes to Sea. In 1928 at the age of thirty seven Hurston completed her studies and earned a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Barnard College.
During the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s Hurston found herself within the mix mingling with figures such as Langston Hughes, Ethel Waters, Countee Cullen and many more. She was the Southern woman in the big Northern city who attracted the giants of the Harlem Renaissance to her tiny apartment for laughs and friendship. She was also beginning to make a name for herself as a writer; she placed in a play-writing contest for Opportunity Magazine which helped her to gain notoriety. She was also publishing short-stories, articles and novels such as Jonah’s Gourd Vine and Mules and Men. In 1927 Hurston married Jazz musician turned physician Herbert Sheen, the couple divorced in 1931. She would marry a man named Albert Price in 1939 which only lasted seven months. She wrote literary masterpiece’s during the 1930’s and 40’s which included but are not limited to, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, Tell My Horse, Moses, Man of the Mountain, and Dust Tracks on a Road. She lived in Westfield, New Jersey during the 1930’s but her community involvement was not limited to her state. She established School of Dramatic Arts at Bethune-Cookman College; the school was designed to be “based on pure negro expressions.” In 1942, she received critical acclaim for her writings and was profiled in publications such as Who’s Who in America, Current Biography and Twentieth Century Authors. Hurston added an additional masterpiece to her catalog in 1948 by writing the novel Seraph on the Suwanee.
Hurston immersed herself in anthropological studies during college which helped her gain a sponsorship from a well-known anthropologist Charlotte Osgood Mason. Conducting these studies allowed her to travel the globe during the 1930’s, those travels profoundly impacted her writings. She was able to study the cultures of the Caribbean and South America which inspired her to write Jonah’s Gourd Vine in 1934 and Mules and Men in 1935. With funding from the Guggenheim Foundation Hurston traveled to Jamaica and Haiti on an anthropological mission but once again found inspiration for her writings; that inspiration lead to book Tell My Horse in 1938. Hurston spent her time in South America during the 1940’s living in Puerto Cortes, Honduras studying the diversity of the Miskito Zambu and Garifuna cultures; both cultures have their ancestral lineages in Africa. While in Puerto Cortes she would write Seraph on the Suwanee, a book based in the Suwanee regions of Central Florida. Before leaving Honduras Hurston was falsely accused of molesting a 10 year old boy, the accusation was found to be false but her reputation was tainted.
1952 was the year that Hurston was contacted by a man named Sam Nunn who was the editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, Nunn wanted Hurston to travel to Florida to report about Ruby McCollum who was accused of murdering a white doctor and politician. Ruby McCollum was a black woman who stated that the doctor forced her to have sex with him and bear his child. Hurston was familiar with these stories; she learned about white men forcing themselves on helpless black women under the “paramour rights.” The paramour rights gave the women who were preyed upon the status of a slave which also included sexual violence. Hurston and Nunn were determined to expose these inhumane conditions, but not without being met with resistance.
Hurston next traveled to Live Oak, Florida to gain more evidence from the residence to help her story; little did she know the residents of the town were not willing to speak to her. Some residents were threatened and the others followed the code of silence. She eventually was able to gather information and published her articles but Ruby McCollum was convicted by an all-white jury of only men and sentenced to death. Her relationship with Nunn ended when they disagreed upon Hurston’s payments for her research. She later contacted a journalist named William Bradford Huie, she needed help to cover the appeal and second trail of Ruby McCulum. Huie agreed to help Hurston but Huie covered the story himself. He used the information he collected and the data Hurston collected to write the bestselling book Ruby McCollum: Woman in the Suwannee Jail. One major problem with the success of the book is Hurston was barley acknowledge for the information she provided Huie. Even though Hurston did not receive the credit she deserved she was happy the book helped to end the “paramour rights.”
Hurston was awarded the Bethune- Cookman College Award for Higher Education and Human Relations in 1956. The English department of Bethune-Cookman College used its resources to preserve the legacy of Zora Neal Hurston in honor of her achievements. Later in 1956 she served as a faculty member of the North Carolina College for Negros. In 1957 Hurston was fired from her job at the Pan American World Airways Technical Library at Patrick Air Force Base because she was too educated for a black person. She would move to Fort Pierce, Florida later in life looking for work to sustain herself, she worked as a substitute teacher before turning to public assistance. Despite all of the literary contributions Hurston made she never received the financial compensations she deserved. January 28, 1960 Zora Neal Hurston died of a stroke but helped to lay the groundwork for other African American authors such as Alice Walker to follow her. Hurston was a woman who learned to use her experiences, intelligence and creativity to turn the American literary world on its head. Zora Neal Hurston, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
John Charles Mickle Jr. was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914 to parents John Charles Mickle Sr. and Ethelyn Simmons Mickle. Mr. John Mickle Sr. was a high school principle and Mrs. Ethelyn was an elementary school teacher so education was highly important within the Mickle household. Rev. Mickle graduated from Industrial Parker High School in Birmingham, Alabama before traveling to Normal, Alabama to attend Alabama A&M University where he would earn a junior college diploma. Next he would attend Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama where he would earn a bachelor’s degree in 1936. The Reverend’s academic career was far from over, after earning his bachelor’s degree he pursued his graduate studies at Howard University’s Graduate School of Divinity. In 1939 he earned his Master of Divinity from the Chicago Theological Seminary. Rev Mickle was able to attend the Howard School of Divinity with the help of a scholarship provided by Mr. Benjamin Mays; at the time Mr. Mays was the Dean of Religion.
Following his calling, Rev. Mickle a newly graduated seminary student moved to Cleveland, Ohio to became the new Pastor of Mt. Zion Congregational United Church of Christ. Rev Mickle would succeed Rev. Grant Reynolds and helped the membership of the church increase, payed off the church’s mortgage and improved church programs. Rev. Mickle would be the Pastor of Mt. Zion until he moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1946. Black citizens of Memphis remember Rev. Mickle for his active involvement within the civil rights movement. He was ever encouraging, helped to prepare the protester before they held sit-ins, and often bailed fellow protesters out of jail who were arrested for during the sit-ins. Between 1953 and 1969 Rev. Mickle was the Director of Financial Aid and campus Chaplin at LeMoyne College while living in Memphis, Tennessee.
A strong opponent of segregation Rev. Mickle and other Memphis leaders would meet to create a strategy to end the Jim Crow era in Memphis. He along with Attorney AA Latting and college students from LeMoyne would hold bi-monthly meetings to help further their cause. Rev. Mickle would die in 1996; a nurse from the Memphis hospital called his wife and told her that her husband died. What we have before us is a brief story about a man who made a significant impact on the civil rights movement but is one of our unknown heroes. Rev. Mickle would serve his community all throughout the United States. He was born in the South but made his mark in the North East, the West Coast as well as the South. He built a friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and earned a place in the hearts of everyone he was able to fellowship with. Rev. John Charles Mickle Jr., we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Raiford Chatman Davis was born on December 18th, 1917 in Cogdell, Georgia to parents Kince and Laura Davis. While registering with his mother at the county courthouse Davis’ name would change from R.C. for Raiford Chatman to Ossie, due to the county clerk’s misunderstanding of the pronouncing of Davis’ name. Because the clerk at the county court house was a white man Davis’ mother did not tell him that he spelled her son’s name was wrong. Davis grew up in Waycross, Georgia where he attended Central High School and began his journey as a writer. He was tired of the constant racism blacks in the South faced so he decided to voice his frustrations through his writings. After high school Davis attended Howard University at the request of his parents but dropped out in his junior year to pursue his acting career. He moved to Harlem, New York and began his career with the Rose McClendon Players. Davis also became one of the founding students of the American Negro Theater which was founded in 1940.
From 1942 to 1946 Davis served in the Medical Corps for the United States Army during World War II. While in the Army he would continue to write and produce plays; upon returning to the United States he would land his first Broadway role in 1946. While performing in his first Broadway play Davis would meet actress Rudy Dee who he would marry two years later. In 1950 Davis made his film debut in the movie No Way Out staring Sidney Poitier, that performance was followed up by three Broadway plays No Time for Sergeants, Raisin in the Sun, and Jamaica. Davis was inspired by Poitier and refused to make his career taking roles that constantly demeaned the black race. Despite constant setbacks because of racism Davis found himself being one of the few black actors working regularly on television.
Davis was not only an actor and writer he was also a film director, some of his movies include Gordon’s War, Black Girl and Cotton Comes to Harlem. In 1961 Davis wrote and starred in his play Purlie Victorious along with his wife Ruby Dee. The play Purlie Victorious later became a movie titled Gone Are the Days which he and Ruby Dee also starred in. Later in 1970 play Purile Victorious would become a musical which was coauthored by Ossie Davis. He and Ruby Dee also made a career out of reading poetry and making recordings of literature by notable African Americans. A prominent performance in Davis’ career was his tribute to Malcolm X in 1965 where he referred to Malcolm as “Our Shining Black Prince,” a view of Malcolm that was vastly different from the one portrayed in the media. Later in 1965 Davis would star in the film The Hills with popular white actor Sean Connery followed by roles in the movies The Cardinal and The Scalphunters. Ossie Davis as a writer would always be producing new material, he wrote the play Paul Robeson: All-American, along with essays titled “The Wonderful World of Law and Order,” “The Flight from Broadway,” and “Plays of Insight Are Needed to Make the Stage Vital in Our Lives.” He would also write the play Last Dance for Sybil which was his version of Mark Twain’s work Pudd’nhead Wilson.
In 1976 Davis appeared in a Mohammad Ali production titled The Adventures of Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay. Even though Davis was a busy actor and writer he still used his platform to help fight racism and white supremacy. He would often speak out against racism, donate money, serve his communities and provide opportunities for other black actors and writers. In 1981 Ossie and Ruby Dee created and hosted their television show With Ossie and Ruby Dee on PBS, he also starred in the television series Evening Shade. In 1989 Davis would introduce himself to another generation of black film lovers with his role in the Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing. In 1992 Davis would published his first novel titled Just Like Martin, which was his tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Activism for social justice is something Davis and Ruby Dee never became too old for, in 1999 at the age of 82 Davis and his wife were arrested for protesting the police shooting of an unarmed West African immigrant in New York. In 2001 The Screen Actors Guild honored both Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee with Lifetime Achievement Awards.
Davis and Ruby Dee would form lifelong relationships with Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and other champions for black rights through their continuous work in the fight against systematic racism. A little known fact is that Davis and Ruby Dee were active in the organizing of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the two went as far as serving as emcees for the event. Davis was selected to deliver the eulogy at the funeral for Malcolm X a person Davis considered a friend. In February of 2005 Davis would die due to health complications in Miami, FL and was survived by his children and wife. A great man died that day but the legacy he built with a career that lasted over six decades will never perish. He was able to live his dreams, help to make this world better, fight for the rights of black Americans, fight global injustices, become a trailblazer in the American film industry, and marry the woman of his dreams. Raiford Chatman Davis aka Ossie Davis, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Audley Moore was the daughter of parents Ella and St. Cry Moore who were the children of former slaves. Moore’s Grandmother Nora Henry was born into slavery and was the product of her mother being raped by her enslaver. Moore’s grandfather was lynched leaving her grandmother to raise five children on her own. Audley Moore was born on July 27th, 1898 in New Iberia, Louisiana, where both of her parents would die before she graduated the fourth grade. She would become her family’s primary caretaker; she learned how to become a hairdresser by the age of fifteen to bring home money. By 1918 she was working as a volunteer nurse in mist of an influenza outbreak; during World War I she and her sisters worked in Anniston, Alabama to help create what she called the “Black USO,” it was created to help provide medical care and services for black soldiers. During the early 1920’s while traveling the country she learned that racism was engrained into the culture of the United Sates, it was not just the culture of the southern states.
After returning to Louisiana she would experience a life changing moment, she was able to hear the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey speak about black unity and collective black empowerment. Hearing the words of Garvey would lead to her becoming a member and eventually a leader of the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Moore along with her husband and her sisters would move to Harlem, New York during the early 1920’s, this was around the time she became active in the civil rights movement. Despite being arrested multiple times, she organized and fought for domestic workers in the Bronx and helped black tenants fight against white slum lords. In 1931 she participated in a march to Harlem along with the Communist party to advocate for justice for the Scottsboro Boys. She would later become a member of the Communist Party as well as a member of the International Labor Defense. As a member of the Communist Party Moore became the party’s representative for the New York State assembly in 1938 and Alderman in 1940.
Queen Mother Moore was determined to make a difference for her people, so she became a member of the National Association for Colored women and the National Council of Negro Women. But by the 1950’s she ended her relationship with the Communist Party because it no longer supported self-determination for African-Americans. Her next step was to become a cofounder the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women, which was an anti-lynching group that also fought for the rights of African-Americans on welfare and in prison. In 1957 Moore would present a petition supporting reparations, land and self-determination against genocide, to the United Nations. She would also present a second petition to the UN in 1959. In her petition she asked for a monetary sum of $200 Billion and a returning of any African people who wanted to return to the African continent. In 1963 she would form the Reparations Committee of Descendants of U.S. Slaves to further her demands for reparations. She would publish her analysis of reparations titled Why Reparations? Reparations Is the Battle Cry for the Economic and Social Freedom of More than 25 Million Descendants of American Slaves. Moore created a detailed analysis of why African people deserve reparations and how reparations can be paid out to the descendants of enslaved Africans.
Moore was able to point to times in recent history where disenfranchised people have been paid reparations for their oppression. She was even able to provide information proving that the United States recently paid reparations to Japanese Americans for the oppression they suffered at the hands of America. Queen Mother Moore became well known for her international fight for reparations for African people. She was also known for her saying; “Reparations. Reparations. Keep on. Keep on. We’ve got to win.” Moore was able to mobilize enough people to gain over 1 Million signatures and present them to President Kennedy on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. During the 1960’s Moore was instrumental in the creation of the Republic of New Africa’s Independent Charter as one of the first signers of the documents. This charter would help create five independent African states which would also help in the process of creating independent African nations. She would travel extensively throughout the African continent during the late 1960’s and the 1970’s. She was often invited to these nations by their leaders because they revered her work. During an Ashanti naming ceremony in Ghana Audley Moore officially became “Queen Mother” Audley Moore. Her first act as Queen Mother was to help found the Eloise Moore College of African Studies, Vocational, and Industrial School in Parksville, New York. Queen Mother Moore would die in May of 1997, but before her death she was present for Nelson Mandela’s visit to the U.S. in 1990, and was one of the five female speakers at the Million Man March in 1995. She was a woman on a mission to free her people and didn’t allow anything to stop her. She spent the remainder of her adult life fighting for reparations and the rights of African people. Queen Mother Audley Moore, we proudly, proudly stand on your shoulders.
Coretta Scott was born in 1927 in Marion, Alabama to parents Obadiah and Bernice McMurray Scott. Coretta Scott attended Lincoln High School in Marion, a private school where she first began developing her skills as a musician. She learned to read music, play several instruments, and she also learned to sing by taking vocal lessons. Her developing skill set allowed her to become the pianist and choir director for her church by the age of fifteen. Scott graduated as the valedictorian from Lincoln High School in 1945, she next attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio on a partial scholarship. Scott’s older sister Edythe was the first African-American to attend Antioch College. Coretta Scott’s concentration in college was music and education which she would graduate with a Bachelor’s of Arts around 1949. After graduation she would attend the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts on a fellowship where she earned an additional degree in voice and violin.
Scott would become an active member of the NAACP, Race Relations and Civil Liberties committees during her time in college. In 1948 Scott would publish an article in Opportunity Magazine titled “Why I Came to College;” she stated that being a college graduate gave her a better chance at freedom of movement, and greater opportunities in life. She would also meet a man by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. who would eventually become her husband. Scott and King were introduced by Scott’s friend Mary Powell in 1952, the couple was married in 1954 forming a union that would help change the world. The King family would produce four children which Scott was able to balance raising, along with supporting her husband, as well as continuing her own work within the civil rights movement. Scott often performed as a singer during civil rights concerts held during the 1950’s and 60’s, the concerts were heled to help raise funds for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Scott would accompany her husband as they traveled the world petitioning for justice for Black Americans. In 1962, she became active in the disarmament efforts which led her to becoming a part of the Women’s Strike for Peace delegate in the 17-Nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Scott was by her husband’s side as Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his unrelenting stance on liberty through non-violence.
April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee following his strong stance against the war in Vietnam and his fight for equality. Scott would display her grief because of the loss of her husband but she never slowed down her fight for civil rights. Not long after the burial of Dr. King Scott led a walk fighting for the rights of sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. Her next step was to carry on her husband’s anti-Vietnam War message at a rally in New York. She would also be instrumental in the launching of the Poor People’s Campaign in May of 1968; her efforts to help make this world a better place never slowed one bit. Scott served as the founding president and one of the original organizers of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Scott was an avid public speaker and columnist who was very instrumental in creating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as an official holiday. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day became an official holiday in January of 1986. She was also instrumental in creating the 20th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which brought half a million people to Washington D.C. Scott was one of the most vocal opponents of South African apartheid, she participated in demonstrations and sit-ins throughout the world to help bring international attention to the issue. She would also develop a lasting friendship with Winnie Mandela the wife of the South African President Nelson Mandela. The two would remain active in working to help fight for women’s rights and safety. Scott would die in January of 2006 in Mexico at the age of 78 as one of America’s brightest heroes. Scott’s legacy would often go overshadowed by her husband’s legacy but her contributions to humanity are second to none. She was much more than the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; she was a leader, a mother, a musician, an orator, and a fearless agent of change. She traveled the world promoting peace, unity and equality during a time where violence against blacks was at an all-time high. She did not allow fear or racism to hinder her from supporting her husband in helping to make this world a better place. Miss. Coretta Scott King, we proudly, proudly stand on your shoulders.
Arminta Harriet Ross was born around 1820 in Dorchester County, Maryland. Her parents, Harriet Green and Ben Ross, were enslaved by Mary Pattison Brodess and Anthony Thompson, who treated their slaves as less than human. Early on in Harriet’s life, she endured countless acts of violence upon her and her family by the Thompson’s. She witnessed her mother stand up against the separation of her family as a child which left a lasting mark on her. One day while shopping for her family at a local store, Tubman encountered a man escaping enslavement. Pursuing the man were his owners, and when they caught up with him they demanded that Tubman help to restrain him. When she resisted she was hit in the head with a two pound weight by one of the men. The incident caused a head injury resulting in Harriet having seizures, severe headaches, and narcolepsy. She also experienced dream like states which she viewed as signs delivered to her from God. These dream like states helped Tubman delve deeper into religion.
In 1844 Tubman married a free black man named John Tubman and changed her name to Harriet Tubman. It is said that the name change was to honor her mother. In 1849 Harriet, along with her brothers Ben and Harry, escaped from slavery fearing that her family would be sold away. They were missing for two weeks before a runaway notice was posted about their escape. Tubman’s brothers suddenly had second thoughts and returned to their plantation forcing Tubman to return with them. Tubman was determined to be free so she escaped again, this time she was alone. She fled to Philadelphia using the Underground Railroad and help from the Quakers as she made the 90 mile trip.
After finding freedom herself, Tubman was compelled to return to her family and later helped grant them freedom. After freeing her immediate family she returned to Maryland to help free other family members and enslaved blacks. As she continued to make trips to free more people, she gained more confidence in her abilities to help free her people. Her legend was growing more and more with each successful trip she made, and she even gained the name “Moses” for her awesome efforts. Tubman lead around 60 people to freedom, but her husband refused to leave with her. He decided to stay in Maryland because he remarried. The Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850 which allowed slavers to capture people escaping slavery in the North and return them to slavery making the northern states of America no longer safe for those escaping slavery. Tubman and her band were able to find freedom in Canada. Tubman and ten other men consulted with Frederick Douglas on several occasions, trading ideas to further help free blacks from slavery.
In 1858, Tubman met John Brown, an abolitionist who viewed violence as a way to end slavery. Brown viewed Tubman as a “general” in the fight against slavery. Tubman was also active in the Civil War as a nurse and a cook. She helped to lead the Combahee River Raid, which freed over 700 enslaved people in South Carolina. Tubman eventually bought land in Auburn, New York for her family to settle on until her death. She passed in 1913, but left a legacy that will live forever. Mrs. Tubman risked her life and freedom to save her people from the inhumane intuition of slavery. She is an American hero in the truest sense. She embodies humanity, leadership and courage. Mrs. Harriet Tubman, we stand on your shoulders.
Born a slave in Natchez, Mississippi between 1817 and 1824, the life of an unlikely star was born. In 1820 Elizabeth moved to Philadelphia with the widow of her slave master, Mrs. Holiday Greenfield. Elizabeth gained her freedom when Holiday Greenfield became a Quaker and freed her slaves. She chose to stay with Mrs. Holiday in America while her parents moved to Liberia. She eventually took Mrs. Holiday’s last name after living with her into adulthood. Elizabeth found her calling as she fell in love with singing and music. She taught herself how to play the harp and the piano. Because of her race she faced constant rejection from vocal trainers. But Elizabeth pressed on and developed a voice that would change music. Her voice was labeled as multi-octave, meaning she could sing soprano, tenor and bass. By 1850 Elizabeth began her singing career and never looked back.
In 1851 she made her concert debut at the Buffalo Musical Association. Her next step was a tour from 1851 to 1853 which gained her much acclaim. She became the first nationally recognized African-American concert singer in both America and Europe. Because of her brilliant performances she was named “Black Swan” by the media. But Elizabeth’s great performances didn’t protect her from racism. She often faced harsh criticism from the press and threats to sabotage her performances. In 1853 her performance at New York’s Metropolitan Hall was threatened by an arsonist. The show went on as scheduled. Following the show she gave a benefit concert to The Home of Aged Colored Persons and the Colored Orphan Asylum. Even in the face of adversity, she showed her will and her love for her community.
Elizabeth arrived in England in 1853 to tour the country. She faced issues with her manager that caused her to sever their relationship. Because of the breakup she had to reach out to Harriet Beecher Stowe for financial help. Stowe helped Elizabeth gain financial backing from the duchesses of Sutherland, Norfolk and Argyle. Because of her new acquaintances, Elizabeth was able to receive professional training from the royal musical adviser George Smart. Her skills became so polished that she was invited to perform for Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in 1854. Elizabeth Greenfield was known as the first black performer to perform for the English elite. Her success and new found fame allowed her to become a highly desired performer. She returned to the United States in the summer of 1954 and continued her career into the 1860’s. She would often have benefit concerts for charities supporting black people. She later became a teacher and helped shape the careers of Thomas J. Bowers and Carrie Thomas. Elizabeth Greenfield died in Philadelphia in 1876 as a legend in the music industry. But because of her race her legacy was kept quiet. To honor the greatness of Elizabeth Greenfield Nathaniel Dett, Fletcher Henderson, Ethel Waters and Trixie Smith, created their record label Black Swan Records. Mrs. Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, we stand on your shoulders.
Roberto Clemente Walker was born August 18th, 1934 in Carolina, Puerto Rico. He was the youngest of seven children to parents Melchor and Luisa Clemente. His father worked as a foreman on a sugarcane plantation and his mother ran a grocery store for plantation workers. Roberto worked as a young boy delivering milk and taking odd jobs to help the family with money. He always made time for his true love which was baseball. He would play on the sand lots with his peers until the age of 18. In 1952 Roberto was spotted playing baseball by a scout for a professional baseball team, the Saunturce Crabbers in Saunturce, Puerto Rico. They offered him a contract to play baseball for them. He signed with the team for $40 a month and received a $500 bonus.
Not long after joining the team Clemente caught the eye of another scout, this scout came from the Los Angeles Dodgers of Major League Baseball in America. His next stop was the Brooklyn Dodgers minor league team in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Three years later he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates, and started immediately as there right fielder. Clemente took some time to adjust to the style of play in the major leagues, but by 1960 he was dominating the league. Clemente played so well that year, he earned his first of twelve all-star appearances. Also he helped his team defeat the New York Yankees, to win the World Series.
While playing at an all-star level as a ball player, he experience racism as a black Latino baseball player in a racially divided America. Off the field he was building a legacy that would surpass his legendary baseball career. He was an active force in helping as many poor people as he could, taking philosophies from Dr. Martin Luther King. On the field Clemente was known for his rocket arm and pinpoint accuracy, also his unusual but effective hitting style. In 1961 Clemente was injured in a car accident but his determination to play kept him from missing a game. He played well that year; he won the batting title for the best hitter in the league. In 1961, Clemente lead his team back to the World Series and they won again defeating the Baltimore Orioles. He won the World Series MVP and his popularity grew off the field because of his near perfect talents, as described by one sports writer.
Clemente married the love of his life, Vera Christina Zabala in 1964, they had three sons and he made sure they all were born on the Island of Puerto Rico. Clemente played a total of 18 years in the major leagues. 1972 would be his last baseball season little did he know. During that winter Clemente and his family were in Puerto Rico working on his dream, opening a sports clinic for the youth in San Juan. December 23rd, 1972 an earth quake struck Managua, Nicaragua killing thousands of people. Clemente quickly organized an aid effort to help the people affected. After getting word that the Nicaraguan government was not getting supplies to the people, he rented a small plane to take the supplies. On December 31st 1972, the plane that was carrying Clemente and three other people crashed into the Atlantic Ocean and his body was never found. He died at the age of thirty-eight.
Because of his contribution on and off the field, The Baseball writers Association bypassed the usual five year waiting period and immediately inducted Roberto Clemente into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Roberto was the first Latino baseball player ever elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1973 the Pittsburgh Pirates retired his number 21 jersey and inducted him into their Hall of Fame. Roberto Clement was a true hero, an example of goodness and manhood. Roberto Clemente was an inspiration for black and Latino players home and abroad. Roberto was greatness personified, he quoted; “Anytime you have an opportunity to make things better and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.” Mr. Roberto Clemente, we stand on your shoulders.
On August 9, 1869 Annie Minerva Turnbo was born in Metropolis, Minnesota to parents Robert and Isabella Turnbo. The tenth of eleven children of former slaves, she and her family lived on a farm until her parents died, she was then raised by an older sister in the nearby city of Peoria, Illinois. As a child Annie endured a lot of illnesses causing her to miss many days of school, as a result she did not complete high school. Despite her setbacks, Annie’s spirit was not broken; little did she know she was about to change the world one hair follicle at a time. She became interested in hair care while becoming the stylist for herself and he sisters. She learned that different people can have different textures of hair; particularly she became interested in the different textures of hair that African-American women possessed. She notices that African-American women at the time were interested in straightening their hair in a way that wouldn’t damage their hair. While living in Brooklyn, Illinois Annie used her knowledge of chemistry and natural herbs to create a straightening product for African-Americans that did not damage their hair and scalp. Before she created her product people used various harmful chemicals and animal fats to straighten their hair.
Because of the success of her straightening solution, she was able to open a storefront in Brooklyn, Illinois and continue to build her brand. Her next move was to introduce her new product “The Great Wonderful Hair Grower,” she also developed and introduced the straightening comb to the haircare industry; something she is rarely credited for. Annie would move her business to St. Louis, Missouri in 1902 where she would begin hiring and training assistants to work with her. Because of their race Annie and her assistants did not have access to the traditional distributions systems of the day. That did not deter Ms. Annie, she began selling her products door to door providing demonstrations and educating her clients about her products. Because of her efforts Annie and her products found success and a legend was born. Her “Poro” hair styling method was in demand and becoming a thriving business. She named her products and her enterprise “Poro” after a West African devotional society dedicated to health and spiritual growth through discipline. She would copyright her Poro brand to protect her name as her products become more and more popular amongst African-Americans in St, Louis. Annie was very ambitious and confident in her products so she decided to sell her product nationally.
She traveled throughout the south stopping at black churches and community centers holding demonstrations and gaining customers. She would also hold press conferences and take out ads in black newspapers to promote her Poro brand. A part of her strategy was to recruit and train Poro agents throughout the country to help promote her brand and grow her industry. A little known fact is that Madame C.J. Walker was one of Annie’s recruits who later became very successful in the haircare industry. It is said that Annie was upset at Walker for developing products very similar to hers after learning from her as an agent. Walker’s products led Annie to copyrighting her Poro brand and products. Madame C.J. Walker is often credited with being the pioneer of the black haircare industry and the creator of the pressing comb; but it was Annie Malone who first created the industry and the pressing comb, which gave Walker the knowledge and the platform to create her products. In 1914 Annie married Mr. Aaron Malone a school principle and ex bible salesman who would help her realize her dreams even further. The Malone’s dedicated themselves to empowering the people in their community, in 1918 they opened Poro College at place where African-American’s can gain an education and skills to build an industry for themselves. The college served as a meeting center for the black community, and it also provided a thorough education in the hair care and beauty industry. Both males and females were allowed to learn at the college which was valued to be worth over one million dollars.
Annie was a very generous person; her success meant others would benefit from her blessings. Her college employed 175 people, her industry employed 75,000 women internationally; her net worth was valued at fourteen million dollars in the 1920’s. She was known for living a modest life and giving away large sums of her money. Annie was known for supporting the college fund for two students at every Historically Black College & University in the country. She donated $25,000 to Howard Medical School during the 1920’s and also donated money to Tuskegee Institute. She gave $25,000 to help build a YMCA for black children in St. Louis, Missouri; she would give her employees and family gifts of money and assets to help them buy land and build wealth. She raised money for the reconstruction of an orphanage for black children which was renamed the Annie Malone Home. Despite her generosity, Annie was a victim of financial ruin. The inexperience of her financial team led to a loss of money, assets and a legal fight to retain their Poro enterprise. During the turmoil Aaron Malone filed for divorce and demanded half of the business. Annie received support from her workers, customers, the press and Madame C.J. Walker which helped her to retain her business. Annie moved to Chicago in 1930 but continued to face financial troubles, lawsuits and tax problems.
The Poro enterprise eventually folded and the legend of Annie Malone faded with her business. Annie died at the age of 87 in 1957 having lost the legacy that she built. Madame C.J. Walker would go on to become known as the pioneer to the black haircare industry and first African-American female millionaire. Truth be told, if it were not for Annie Malone the black haircare industry would not exist. Annie Malone used her god given abilities and the skills she acquired from her Aunt and her chemistry background to create a hair straightening product that would literally change her life. Poro College was a training ground for many successful African-Americans who were able to provide the world with their talents. Mrs. Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Alonzo Smith “Jake” Gaither was born in Dayton, Tennessee in 1903 and was raised as the son of a outspoken preacher. As a young man Gaither was intrigued by the powerful speakers in his community, he learned that one could move men with the power of words. He was a member of the debate team and he was interested in studying law at while completing his studies at Knoxville College. He became a member of the football team at Knoxville College until around 1927, the year Gaither would also deal with the death of his father. Because of his father’s death Gaither stopped going to school and started working to support himself and his family. He would move to North Carolina to teach and coach at Henderson Institute until around 1935. His next job was coaching at St. Paul Junior College in Virginia until he became an assistant coach on the football staff at Florida A&M University in 1942.
Jake Gaither moved to Tallahassee, FL and began coaching, three years later he would find himself as the head coach if the Florida A&M University Rattler football team. Little did he know he would become one of the most influential and most quoted coaches of all time. Gaither was also a person of great inner strength being a survivor of two malignant brain tumors during the early 1940’s. Coach Gaither built a reputation for recruiting good players and creating great men. He was very capable of finding the best talent in the south and dominating his competition. Because of segregation the best black plyers of the time had no choice but to play football at historically black colleges. Coach Gaither took advantage of the talent he had access to and created a legacy that rivals the greatest of any white university. “Poppa Gaither” is one of the many nicknames Gaither earned over the years, he was thought of a father figure for his players away from their homes. Gaither was able to recruit and mentor Hall of Fame talented players like Bob Hayes and Ken Riley who became ambassadors for Florida A&M University. Gaither was also a mentor for legendary football coach of Florida State University Bobby Bowden.
Gaither’s influence was not going unnoticed within the football world, at one point between 85 to 95 percent of the black high school football coaches in the State of Florida were mentees of Coach Gaither. During Gaither’s first year as head coach of Florida A&M his team would win its conference championship and the following six conference championships. Gaither would become famous for his often used quote “I like my boys to be agile, mobile, and hostile.” A quote that is still used to this day, but I doubt many know the origins of the quote. During the 1950’s Gaither would hold coaching clinics at Florida A&M where we used coaches like Bear Bryant and Adolph Rupp to staff his clinic. He was also more than a great motivator he was a great strategist as well, he is credited for improving on the Wing T-formation offence by splitting the position of his offensive linemen making the office more difficult to stop. This improvement was so affective other schools black and white would integrate Coach Gaither’s Split Wing T-Formation within their offenses. In 1963 Coach Gaither and his assistant coaches would literally publish the book about the split-t offence titled The Split Line T Offense of Florida A&M.
Gaither used the football field to help shape and mold the next generation of leaders in Black America, it is documented that he referred to the football field as his “laboratory for manhood.” In 1964 he would settle a dispute between Bob Hayes and some of this players; some of the other players was jealous of Hayes because of his Olympic success. Coach Gaither lined his players up and told them if they wanted as much attention as Hayes then they should outrun him. It is safe to say he had no more problems with the continuity of his players. In 1969 Gaither lead his rattler football team into a game which was the first game between black and white colleges in the south. Gaither and his split-t offense gained a victory over the University of Tampa. 1969 was the year that Coach Gaither retired from coaching football; he left the game with a record of 204-36-4 record, a winning percentage over 800, six All-American players, 42 rattlers to become professional football players, 22 conference championships and six Black College National Championships. Coach Gaiter has amassed many awards and accomplishments such as being inducted into the Tennessee and National Football Foundation Halls of Fame. All of the accomplishments Coach Gaither earned in his life, nothing was more satisfying to him than knowing he had a hand in creating men who could change the world. Coach Alonzo Smith “Jake” Gaither, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Born in the late 1500’s, Mathieu Da Costa was a remarkable man. He was a translator who used his skills to become the first person of African descent to reach Canada in recorded history. A Liberian by birth, he was a free African Seaman during the time of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
Little is known about his life, but we do know, in the early 1600’s Da Costa was employed by the French until the Dutch kidnapped him. Da Costa signed a three year contract to work for the Dutch as a translator. He spoke French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Pidgin Basque; a language used in the Americas for trade.
It is still a mystery as to how Da Costa came to learn languages of the Americas, but he used them well to help guide himself, Du Gua de Monts and Samuel de Champlain through Acadia and the St. Lawrence River area. Using the navigation skills he possessed, he was able to lead his employers on expeditions throughout North America during a time when the average African in North America was enslaved. While employed by De Monts, he was able to accumulate some wealth to sustain a decent life until he was imprisoned in December of 1906.
There is no information to show why he was imprisoned, but many suggest that he spoke his mind and was accused of insolence. De Costa was able to use his genius to make a life for himself. He also was a pioneer in reaching the land many enslaved Africans would eventually call home, Canada. Mathieu De Costa, we stand on your shoulders.
Malcolm Little was born on May 19th, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska to parents Earl Little and Louise Norton. His parents were both members of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, Earl Little was known as the outspoken Baptist Preacher who took a strong stance against racism. Because of his father’s stance against racism Malcolm’s family experienced constant death threats from the Ku Klux Klan and other whites who opposed his father. The threats caused his family to move several times eventually settling outside of East Lansing, Michigan in 1929. Two years later Earl Little was murdered by a band of whites who disliked his opposition to their system of supremacy. His death was ruled an accidental suicide but neither his family nor his neighbors believed the official report.
After the loss of his father Malcolm’s family experienced economic hardships which took a toll on their quality of life. The constant threats along with the hardship took a negatively affected Malcom’s mother Louise, she eventually experienced a decline in her mental health, and declared legally insane by the state and committed to a Michigan mental asylum. Malcolm’s early childhood experiences with racism left a bitter taste in his mouth towards whites, despite his adversity his continued to excel academically in all-white school settings. Once Malcolm was told by one of his white male teachers, “it was unrealistic for a nigger to want to be a lawyer.” This experience did not help motivate Malcolm to continue excelling academically. He eventually dropped out of school and was placed in several juvenile delinquent homes until he left Michigan for Boston in 1941.
Malcolm found several different jobs working on the railroads between in New York and Boston he also began engaging in criminal activity. Malcolm Little had transformed into “Detroit Red” and was living a life of crime before he was eventually arrested, convicted of burglary and sentenced to prison in 1946. During his time in prison Malcolm met a man by the name of Brother Reginald who introduced him to a life outside of the prison he existed in physically and mentally. He taught Malcolm about Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, he also taught Malcolm why it was important to love himself and his blackness. This was the beginning of his transformation from Detroit Red to Malcolm X. He delved deeper into the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and eventually became a member of the Nation of Islam as well as a devout follower of the Islamic religion.
In 1952 Malcolm was paroled from prison and began studying directly under Elijah Muhammad, that same year he also changed his name from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X. The surname X represents his name and heritage that was taken from his ancestors by slave masters. Elijah Muhammad realized that Malcolm had a gift for oration and a passion that burned deep; he was building a large following and helping to bring more attention to the Nation of Islam. The membership of the NOI increased from around 400 members to 4,000 members because of Malcolm during the late 50’s and early 60’s. His feat did not go unnoticed; he was appointed the Minister of New York Temple No. 7 in 1954, within three years he was promoted to the national representative of the Nation of Islam, a position that was second to Elijah Muhammad. While ministering at New York Temple No. 7; he further spread the message of Elijah Muhammad by creating the Muhammad Speaks national newspaper. Malcom would meet Betty Sanders who he would eventually marry and have 6 children with. As the popularity of the Nation of Islam grew so did white America’s fear of what they called a Black Muslim militant group. Malcolm was the most recognizable figure in the NOI, he appeared on several radio and television shows debating his critics and spreading Elijah Muhammad’s message.
During the rise of the NOI the Civil Rights Movement was gaining steam and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as the leader of the movement. Like Malcolm, Dr. King was a very recognizable figure and his words were often criticized. The two men shared different viewpoints pertaining to the liberation of black people from white supremacy. Dr. King was in support of the idea to integrate, Malcolm believed blacks should separate from white America and become self-sufficient. While the differences between Dr. King and Malcolm were displayed publically the relationship between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad was becoming unglued and was soon to become public knowledge. Malcolm’s political views began to oppose the views of Elijah Muhammad which began to cause friction in their relationship. Malcolm also learned that Elijah Muhammad’s personal affairs were not consistent with his moral message.
A suspension from the NOI and a 90 day speaking ban was placed on Malcolm when he stated that the assassination of then President John F. Kennedy was, “America’s chickens coming home to roost.” In 1964 Malcolm parted ways with the NOI and created the Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. His next move was taking a trip through North Africa that would change his views about religion and white people He was taught by Elijah Muhammad that all white people were the devil and could not make it into the holy city of Mecca. That ideology was proven wrong when Malcolm visited Mecca and worshiped Allah alongside blond haired blue eyed whites. He then changed his name from Malcolm X to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz; he continued to use Malcolm X as his name to the public. During that same trip he also met with black civil rights leaders and activist from around the globe and these meetings would prove to be the foundation for the creation of the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
Malcolm was attempting to unify with as many African-American leaders as possible to unite and build a strong black nation. The relationship between Dr. King and Malcolm was strengthening and a powerful alliance was beginning to form. Many people opposed Malcolm and his actions he was targeted by the government and the FBI as well as members of the NOI. His home was bombed in February of 1965, seven days later Malcolm was shot and killed. Many stories exist speculating that he was killed by the NOI collaborating with the FBI; we do know that a great man was killed but his legacy and influence only grew stronger. Malcolm was survived by his Wife Betty Shabazz and his six daughters. He believed that black people in America could live together unify and support themselves without the help of the government or White America. He taught his followers that they were a great and powerful people who were in the image of the all-mighty God. He loved his people and gave his life so we could live free in America. EL-Hajj Malik EL-Shabazz aka Malcolm X aka Malcolm Little, we proudly, proudly stand on your shoulders.
Lauretta Mary Aiken was born in Brevard, North Carolina in 1894, she was one of twelve children born to James Aiken and Mary Smith. Her father was an entrepreneur and a volunteer fireman who subsequently died in an accident involving an exploding firetruck. In the year 1910 her mother was hit by a truck and killed on Christmas Day. More tragedy stuck the young life of Mabley, by the age of fifteen she was raped twice and each time became pregnant from her attacker. She was forced to give both of her children away before she left North Carolina for Cleveland, Ohio. Mabley was fourteen when she began her career as a comedian on the “chitlin circuit” under the Theatre Owners Booking Association. Jack Mabley was a fellow performer would become her boyfriend and the man whose last name she used in her stage name. Aiken was given the nickname “Moms” because of her nurturing qualities; it is said that one of her brothers did not agree with her career choice, so she created her stage name “Moms Mabley” and her life was never the same again.
Mabley began working with the comedic duo Butterbeans & Susie which helped her find enough success to earn her comedic debut at Connie’s Inn in New York City. Mabley was a hit and eventually earn her spot in the world famous Cotton Club in Harlem, New York. Her success as a comedian helped propel her career and led her to acting in films and in stage plays. She appeared in the 1931 Broadway show Fast and Furious: A Colored Revue in 37 Scenes which was written by Zora Neal Hurston. She would next appear in the film Emperor Jones starring the late great Paul Robeson. Mabley was the first female comedian to perform at the Apollo Theater, she also made several appearance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late 1960’s. In 1962 she appeared and performed at Carnegie Hall exposing her comedy and musical style to all-white audiences. She would appear in other films such as The Big Timers, Boarding House Blues and the musical Killer Diller which also starred Nat King Cole.
Mabely would record and release over 20 comedy albums in her career, some of her most notable albums were The Funniest Woman Alive, Moms Mabley at the Playboy Club, Moms Mabley at the UN and Young Men, Si – Old Men, No. She would release her satirical song “Abraham, Martin and John” in 1969 and it reached number thirty-five on the Billboard top 100; this achievement made Mabely the oldest person to have a top 100 hit. Later Mabley would make her debut on the Ed Sullivan Show before appearing in the film Amazing Grace in 1974. Unfortunately Mabley suffered a heart attack during the filming of Amazing Grace but she managed to complete the filming. Mabley died in White Plains, New York in 1975, but left a comedic legacy other African-American comedians could build uphold. Actress Clarice Taylor portrayed Moms Mabley in the 1987 play Moms which was held at the Astor Place Theater. Whoopi Goldberg would revitalize Moms Mabley’s name with the documentary Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ to Tell You. The documentary debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, and in 2013 the documentary aired on HBO.
Moms Mabley was a comedic genius that made the best of her opportunities; she was often criticized for her style of comedy that addressed racial and sexual issues amongst African-Americans. She would present herself on stage as an old lady with a thing for young men. Often, she would appear on stage dressed in a man’s suit blurring gender lines. In her personal life she was a beautiful woman who baffled some of her fans; they were used to seeing the image of an aging lady on stage. She was one of the first comedians to use sexual situations within her jokes, she was often heard advocating for older women hooking up with younger men. Moms Mabley was more than a comedian, she was a trailblazer and always ahead of her time with her comedic styles and social commentary. Lauretta Mary Aiken aka Moms Mabley, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Born in the Senegal or Gambia area on the West coast of Africa in 1753 Phillis Wheatley was captured by slave traders at the age of seven, and her life would never be the same. She was brought to America and sold to the Wheatley plantation in Boston, Massachusetts 1761; consequently she was given the name Phillis after the ship that brought her to the U.S. Phillis was the personal servant to Mr. Wheatley’s wife but unlike the ordinary slave she was educated by the Wheatley’s. Specifically Mary Wheatley the daughter of Mr. Wheatley taught Phillis how to read and write in English shortly after she was reading the Bible and writing poetry. She studied the poetry of Alexander Pope and also learned Latin, French, Astronomy and biology. Her academic success was unthinkable for a slave girl and even uncommon for a young white boy. Because she was so eloquent in her words she was used as the Wheatley’s entertainment when they would have guest in their home. She was often isolated from the other slaves on the plantation, she was given some privilege but was always reminded that she was a slave.
Phillis was a young black slave girl living in a white world where she was intellectually superior to her white counterparts but she could never show it. Around the age of thirteen or fourteen Phillis published her first poem which debuted in the Newport Mercury News Paper. With the help of the English Countess of Huntingdon Phillis was able to publish her first book of poems titled, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Her publication made her the first African-American slave and African-American women to publish a book of poems. Phillis’ poetic style was a mixture of elegaic poetry and short epic style, it was also influenced by Alexander Pope and Thomas Gray. In 1775 Phillis Wheatley became a household name in the U.S. ad England when she wrote a poem praising George Washington and his leadership abilities. A year later when Washington was President of the United States Phillis accepted an invitation to visit the President in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Phillis showed her admiration for Washington through her writings, but she still felt that slavery was inhumane and unnecessary.
She would travel to London, England as a way to help promote her poems since she was able to grow a following in England. While working in London Phillis would receive medical treatment for medical issues she battled for a while. Upon returning home in 1778 Phillis would learn that her master John Wheatley died along with his wife and she was no longer a slave. Later in 1778 she would marry John Peters and the couple would fight adversity throughout their marriage. All three of their children died at birth and Phillis found it difficult to find a publisher for her writings. She would work as a maid in a boarding house as she and her husband worked to survive their impoverished conditions. December 5, 1784 Phillis died helping to set the literary foundation future African-American for writers, men and women. Phillis was able to accomplish most of her literary feats as a slave girl, even though she gained her freedom race once again made life difficult for her. She capitalized upon an opportunity to learn and she managed to make history in doing so. During a time where the average black person in America was killed for wanting to learn to read, Phillis Wheatley was breaking literary barriers and making the world take notice. She is an inspiration to black writers around the globe, young and old. Miss. Phillis Wheatley we proudly stand on your shoulders.
In 1785 the tiny nation of Haiti produced one of the world’s greatest swordsmen Jean-Louis Michel. As a young boy Jean-Louis witnessed Toussaint L’Ouverture lead the Haitian army against the French in the Haitian Revolution. Because of the revolution many mulatto Haitian’s migrated to France; at the age of ten Jean-Louis immigrated to France along with a number of others. There we would enroll into Military School which would help change his life. He was not welcomed well by the other students because of his appearance and especially his dark hue. His peers taunted him daily but his will was too strong to be broken, he used the insults as motivation to become as great as he could be. He learned to channel his anger by taking up the sport of fencing.
Jean-Louis spent hours memorizing the fencing techniques the schools Fencing Master taught other students. After classes he would practice each technique until he mastered each move. His skill and determination was eventually noticed by the Fencing Master which would lead to Jean-Louis becoming one of the master’s students. Because of the guidance of the Fencing Master Jean-Louis quickly became the top fencing student in the class. Later he would appear in front of a board of Fencing Masters who would grade him as he took his examination to become a fencing master. He passed his examination with flying colors and became the youngest person ever to gain the title of Fencing Master. The legend of Jean-Louis would grow as he spent time in Napoleon’s Army, he was known for leading the charge against their enemies. Over the course of 30 battles Jean-Louis helped the French army secure victories, because of his efforts he was promoted to “Tambour Major.”
One day Jean-Louis was practicing his fencing with his fellow soldiers a jealous soldiers insulted, undermined and discounted Jean-Louis’ fencing skills. The soldier even went as far as calling Jean-Louis racial slurs in an attempt to provoke a dual. Jean-Louis accepted the challenge but only used his practice sword because he did not want to kill the arrogant soldier. Jean-Louis toyed with the man as he attempted to attack him, the soldier eventually wore himself out then Jean-Louis ended the dual with a quick strike across the soldiers face. News of the dual spread and Jean-Louis’ opponent was forced to enter into the public with the mark of defeat upon his face. The French Army was in Spain on a mission and they continuously battled with the Italian soldiers who they were in aligned with. To settle the battles 15 of the best Fencing Masters were forced to duel to settle the quarrels and to earn bragging rights. Jean-Louis was first up to duel with Giacomo Ferrari an Italian soldier. Jean-Louis quickly ended the duel with a thrust to the shoulder and a thrust to the heart. He then defeated 13 other opponents with only 27 strokes of his sword making him the victor of the tournament. Because of his victory the French and the Italian soldiers stopped their quarrels and began to work together again.
Jean-Louis was only 29 years old but he was regarded as the greatest swordsman in the land. He was awarded the “Medaille de St. Helene,” a medal Napoleon only gave to his best and most loyal soldiers. He would eventually retire from fencing and take up referring fencing matches to help mend broken relationships between combatants. In 1830 he would open one of the most respected and sought after fencing academies in Montpellier, France. Early in 1865 Jaen-Louis became blind because of cataracts and his wife also died. Later in November of 1865 Jean-Louis passed away leaving a tremendous legacy no man could ever match. Fencing is not something we think of when we think about people of African descent, but as we dig further into our past we learn that fencing is just another thing black people have mastered. Jean-Louis Michel, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
On May 7th, 1845 Mary Eliza Mahoney was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts to parents Charles and Mary Jane Stewart Mahoney. Her family lived in Boston, Massachusetts where she would first gain interest in the nursing field as a teenager. Mahoney began working as a private-duty nurse for the New England Hospital for Women and Children; her next move was being admitted into the New England Hospital’s nursing program. As a nursing student Mahoney was challenged to endure and overcome the rigorous schedule on a nurse. She would work 16 hours a day to complete her objectives, while caring for 6 patients at a time. In 1879 Mahoney became the first African-American woman to graduate nursing school in America.
Because racism exists Mahoney had trouble finding nursing jobs so she began private nursing to make a living. She became well known for her skills and her ability to build relationships with her patients. Prominent members of the Boston community sought out Mahoney because of her impeccable reputation. She was a five foot tall, 90 pound force of nature; she looked racism in the eye, laughed and accomplished her goals. In 1909 she was recognized by the newly formed National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN), as a leading pioneer in the field of nursing. She was invited to give the welcome address at the inaugural (NACGN) Convention in 1909, made a lifetime member and elected Chaplain. Mahoney was one of the first women to vote in Boston after the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920.
She briefly lived in Long Island, New York where she became the supervisor of the Howard Orphan Asylum for Black Children. In 1979 she was inducted into the Nursing Hall of Fame, and in 1993 she was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame. She lived until the age of 81 passing away from breast cancer in 1926. Mahoney was a fearless woman willing to challenge the status quo, racism and any other obstacle that stood in her way. Ms. Mary Eliza Mahoney, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Miltona Mirkin Cade was born March 25th, 1939 in New York City where she was raised by her mother in a single parent home. She was a student of the Harlem Renaissance and was encouraged by her mother to become a writer. She excelled in school, with the support of her mother she graduated high school six months ahead of her class. Bambara graduated from Queens College in 1959 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater Arts and English. That same year she published her first short story in Vendome Magazine titled “Sweet Town.” During the 1960’s Bambara lived in Milan, Italy for a year before returning to New York and becoming a social worker. She also became an occupational therapist, director of programs in her neighborhood, directed a theater program, gained her Master’s degree in modern American fiction at New York City College, and published her short stories in Redbook Magazine.
Bambara taught at City College from 1965 to 1969 when she became an Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University. She would find her grand-mother’s sketchbook which was inscribed with the name “Bambara,” she eventually changed her name legally to Toni Cade Bambara in 1970. Later that year she published her first book The Black Woman: An Anthology, which profiled black women and their issues with racism in America. In 1971 she published her second book Tales and Stories for Black Folks. In 1972 she published her collection of short stories titled Gorilla, My Love. Bambara studied women’s organizations in Cuba and Vietnam from for two years. She was interested in how these movements were effective and how she could use the information for her people. Atlanta, Georgia became the home of Bambara and her daughter in 1974 as she began teaching at Spelman College. While at Spellman she created the Pamoja Writer’s Collective, an organization she used to help foster the next generation of black writers. Bambara published her second short story book, The Sea Birds Are Still Alive in 1977; in 1980 she published her award winning book The Salt Eaters.
In 1981 Bambara was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Literature Grant because of her excellent publications. She would write and narrate the script for the documentary The Bombing of Usage Avenue in 1986, later that year she would win the Best Documentary Award from the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters. She also won the Documentary Award from the National Black Programming Consortium in 1986. Bambara moved to Philadelphia with her daughter in 1987, published two Novels and wrote nine screenplays. She was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1993 and eventually succumbed to the cancer in 1995. Bambara used her voice to shed light on the plight and injustices black people were facing in America. She displayed the African-American with dignity, intelligence, honor and creativity. She also believed in empowering the next generation, often using her platforms to cultivate and promote the talents of up and coming writers. She understood that it was her duty to become an example of excellence for her people. Mrs. Toni Cade Bambara, we stand on your shoulders.
Doug Williams was born on August 9, 1955 to parents Robert and Laura Williams in Zachary, Louisiana. Williams the sixth of eight children, they grew up in poor conditions in the integrated south. Around the age of seven Williams began playing football, baseball and basketball, but football became his ticket to fame. In 1973 as a senior at Caneyville High School Williams had an impressive season as the quarterback for his high school team. He passed for 1,180 yards and twenty-two touchdowns which were outstanding statics for a high school quarterback. Despite his excellence he was greatly overlooked when it came to the college recruiting process, he was only recruited by Southern University and Grambling state University; two schools located in Louisiana. Grambling State was coached by the legendary Eddie Robinson at the time; Coach Robinson impressed Doug Williams so much that he chose to attend Grambling State and his life changed for the better. The fall of 1973 Doug Williams became a freshman at Grambling State and faced a challenge right away being asked to red-shirt (sit out) his first year.
The beginning of his sophomore year, Williams was no longer a red-shirt player but he was not earning playing time either. He was listed third out of three quarterbacks on the teams depth chart, and once again he tried to quit the team. Williams was blessed with a lucky break, during the time of his attempt to quit the team the starting quarterback was injured and Williams went from number three to number two. Williams’ movement up the depth chart sparked a fire deep within him to give more effort. During practice Williams started to show his brilliance, he showed why Grambling State made a great choice in recruiting him. Williams worked his way into the starting lineup and never looked back. Over the next three years Williams would prove to be a great quarterback. He led Grambling to a Southwestern Athletic conference championship, won 35 of 40 games, named first-team All-American by the associated press, finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy race, compiled 8,411 passing yards with 93 touchdowns.
He also graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in health and physical education. In 1978 Williams attended the National Football League’s draft and was selected as the 17th overall player by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Williams started training camp late because of contractual issues, but despite his late arrival he was able to win the starting job as the quarterback. Through the first eight games he played of his rookie season he led his team to a 4-4 record, suffered a broken jaw and still was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie team. 1979 his second year, Williams led his team to a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance leading them to the conference championship game. In 1980 his team regressed with a 5-11 record but Williams produced his best statistical season, in 1981 he lead his team back to the playoffs but were defeated by the Dallas Cowboys.
Late in 1982 Williams’ life took a turn for the worst, his initial playing contract was expired and he and the Buccaneers began negations, Williams was expecting a raise in pay because of his brilliant performances. During contract negotiations Williams’ wife began to experience severe headaches, she received a CAT scan and it was revealed that she had a brain tumor. His wife underwent surgery to remove the tumor but died in the hospital a week later. The death of his wife hurt Williams deeply, so much that he moved back to Zachary, Louisiana with his father. While living with his father he faced another challenge, his father’s health started failing him and both of his legs were amputated; also his contract negotiations with the Buccaneers failed and he had no job. After contract negotiations failed he was offered a contract by a startup football league the United States Football League. Williams signed the contract and began playing football again. Williams was the quarterback for the Oklahoma Outlaws and once again showed his brilliance, but looming in his future was more turmoil. The USFL was going bankrupt and eventually folded, Williams wanted desperately to rejoin the NFL and unsure about his future accepted a coaching job at Grambling State. Shortly after beginning as a coach Williams received a call from Coach Joe Gibbs, Head Coach of the Washington Redskins offering him a contract which he signed quickly. He began as a backup quarterback for the team, but received playing time throughout the season after the injury of the team’s starting quarterback. During the final game of the season Williams played exceptionally well and was named the starting quarterback for the playoffs. Williams played like a man possessed and led his team to two victories and a Super Bowl appearance against the Denver Broncos.
Williams became the first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl, but this game he was overshadowed by the legendary John Elway who was considered the prototypical quarterback. Williams already faced adversity when he underwent a root canal for a tooth problem the night before the game. During the first quarter Williams twisted his knee and it seemed as if it was over for him. Williams returned to the game leading his team to a 42-10 rout of the Denver Broncos, and threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns setting Super Bowl records. He also set the record for the longest pass with an 80 yard touchdown pass. Williams threw for 228 yards in one quarter alone. Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to start and win the Super Bowl; he also became the first black quarterback to win Super Bowl MVP.
During the offseason Williams and his fellow Grambling Alumni set up the Doug Williams foundation. The foundation was dedicated to keeping children in school and away from drugs. Also in the off-season, Williams signed a contract worth $3.3 million over three years and named the starting quarterback of the Redskins for the 1988 season. During the beginning of the season he suffered appendicitis and lost his starting job. During the 1989 season, he found out that he had a disc in his back was pressing against his sciatic nerve. He had surgery and lost the strength he initially had, later in the same year his father died from a bout with pneumonia. At the midpoint of the 1989 season Williams was benched and did not start for the rest of the 1989 season, and was later released by the team. In 1998 Williams became the Head Coach of Grambling State University replacing the legendary Eddie Robinson, the very man who taught him how to win. He went on to become a successful football coach and remains an inspiration to young black quarterbacks all over America. Doug Williams help pave the way for the black quarterbacks in the NFL today. Black quarterbacks were thought of as not smart enough to win the “big game”, but because of the dominance of Williams we now have two black quarterbacks to start, win, and dominate the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Doug Williams, we stand on your shoulders.
On August 29th, 1929 Otis F. Boykin was born in Dallas, Texas to working class parents. Boykin graduated from Booker T. Washington High School as Valedictorian. He then traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to attend Fisk University where he would graduate in 1941. After graduation he began working with the Majestic Radio and TV Corporation in Chicago, Illinois, testing automatic aircraft controls. Boykin would eventually leave Majestic after three years and began working as a research engineer with the P.J. Nilsen Research Laboratories. His next move was to create his own company Boykin-Fruth Inc., while pursuing his master’s degree at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Boykin did not complete his graduate studies but still managed to leave his mark in history.
He began creating the electronic resistor, a piece that controls the flow of electricity from its source to its destination. In 1959 Boykin received a patent for his invention the wire precision resistor, two years later he created a more affordable resistor the could withstand extreme temperatures and pressure. Boykins invention was in high demand by electronic manufacturing companies, and the U.S Military. The resistor was used in televisions, radios and other household items, and it outperformed other resistors on the market. Boykin also used his genius to create a control unit for the pacemaker, which uses electrical impulses that stimulate a person’s heartbeat.
In 1964 Boykin moved to Paris and continued to create and improve on his inventions. He created resistors that could be used in guided missiles and computers. He also created the chemical air filter, the bullet-proof cash register, and the electrical resistance capacitor. Boykin held over 28 patents in career and helped changed the way Americans lived their lives. He was not only an innovator but he was a brave man who trusted his abilities and took his life into his own hands. Electrical companies such as IBM were lining up to do business with Boykins because of his electrical resistors. Mr. Otis Boykin, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Absalom Boston was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, in 1785 to parents Seneca Boston and Thankful March. Seneca Boston his father was an ex-slave and his mother Thankful March was of the Wampanoag tribe. His uncle Prince Boston worked as a crew member of a whaling ship in 1770. Prince declined to turn over the money he earned from the voyage to his master. Prince Boston took his case to court and won the case; he also won his freedom and was able to keep his money. His victory was the first for an African-American in a U.S. jury trial.
Absalom Boston followed in his uncle’s footsteps and chose to work in the whaling industry; little did he know his decision would change the course of history. Over the years Boston saved his earnings, by the time he was twenty years old he was able to purchase property in the city of Nantucket. Boston continued to save his money over the years, within ten years able to purchase his license to open and operate a public inn. Boston became the Captain of a whaleship named The Industry and manned an all-black crew. He garnered fame for leading his crew in a six-month mission and returning with 70 barrels and his crew unharmed.
During the mid-1800’s black sailors were able to find work within the industry; it is said that around 700 black sailors were employed. Black men as captains of whaling ships were uncommon; Boston was one of the few black men who were the captain of the ship he sailed upon. Blacks were a small percentage of the population of Nantucket, according to a 1764 census 50 black existed within a population of 3,570. By the year 1820 the black population grew to 274; within ten years Absalom Boston and Stephen Pompey were labeled as heads of their households in the census. Boston and Pompey helped lead the charge against racism and segregation in Nantucket. The men were able to establish a meeting house for Africans, which was one of the first black institutions in the United States.
Boston retired from sailing in 1822 and continued his work to help uplift his community. He was able to open a general store and also became a trustee at the Baptist Church for African people. He became active in the movement to segregate the schools of Nantucket, he filed a lawsuit and won the case, this allowed his daughter to attend the local high school. In 1855 Absalom Boston died but not before amassing wealth in the form of real estate and revenue from various businesses. He was seen as the wealthiest black person in Nantucket and he helped set a standard of excellence for black people. Ironically, even though Boston fought tirelessly to end segregation within Nantucket, he was buried in a segregated cemetery. Even though Boston’s burial in the segregated cemetery was contrary to what he fought for, his impact cannot be diminished. He understood the importance of black empowerment through economics and education. Captain Absalom Boston, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward
Claudette Colvin was born on September 5th 1939 in Montgomery, Alabama, where she was adopted by C. P. Colvin and Mary Anne Colvin. At the age of four Colvin experienced her first taste of racial inequality; she learned that black people could not touch white people and live to talk about it. In 1955 at the age of fifteen Colvin was attending Booker T. Washington High School, she relied to the city bus for transportation to and from school. On March 2nd 1955 Colvin was riding the city bus in the colored only section, home from school as normal. The bus became overcrowded and all of the white only seats were taken; during segregation blacks were seen as inferior and were required to give up their bus seats for whites.
A white man boarded the bus he was standing because all of the seats were taken. The bus driver ordered Colvin and three other black women to stand at the back of the bus. As the seats became vacant a pregnant woman Mrs. Hamilton boarded the bus and sat next to Colvin, the bus driver again ordered Colvin and Mrs. Hamilton to stand at the back of the bus. They both refused even further, the bus driver then called the police to remedy the situation. As the officer arrived he ordered two black passengers to move to the back of the bus so Colvin and Mrs. Hamilton could move. Mrs. Hamilton being pregnant complied with the officer’s request, Colvin however did not move. She was forced from the bus by the officers and arrested. During the drive to the police station it is said the officers continuously berated and harassed Colvin a child, about the size of her breast.
Colvin’s bus incident was eight months before Rosa Park’s historic bus encounter; Colvin stated that her mother ordered her to remain silent about her incident. Colvin was later convicted of disturbing the peace, violating the civil rights laws, and assault on an officer. She later became one of the plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle case, filed by Attorney Fred Gary to fight and end bus segregation. Colvin’s case was appealed by the United States Supreme Court on November 13, 1956; the case was upheld on December 20th around the same time the Supreme Courts ordered the state of Alabama to end bus segregation. Colvin eventually became a mother and moved to New York in 1958. She was forced to live with her sister because she had difficulty finding a job. She garnered a bit of fame because of her bus encounter and employers labeled her a trouble maker. She eventually found a nursing job which she maintained for 35 years.
Colvin is often a forgotten piece in the civil rights movement; she was the initial trigger that helped to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Rosa Parks is often viewed as the only black person to experience racism on the bus. We should not belittle Mrs. Parks’ involvement within the movement, but we should also recognize and never forget the contributions of others. Colvin was a brave teen girl who was tired of facing racism and injustice; her friend stated that before the bus incident, Colvin was passionately stating that her constitutional rights are being violated on the city bus. I am telling this story because it is important that we know and understand all of the pieces of our historical puzzle. Mrs. Claudette Colvin, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Percy Lavon Julian was born on April 11, 1899 in Birmingham, Alabama. His mother was a school teacher and his father was a railroad mailman; education was of the highest importance in their household. Julian attended elementary school in Birmingham, Alabama, and then he attended high school in Montgomery, Alabama. He graduated high school form the State Normal School for Negroes in 1916 after graduation he moved to Greencastle, Indiana where he attended DePauw University. The University placed Julian on a probationary period; he took additional classes at Indiana Asbury Preparatory Academy run by DePauw, the University didn’t feel that Julian was prepared to attend college. Along with his additional course load Julian worked at a fraternity house to help pay his tuition.
Despite having to balance a full schedule of school and work, Julian became an honor student. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and became a member of the Sigma Xi honorary society; he also graduated at the top of his class. Julian was the class Valedictorian but he was denied entry into graduate school because of his race. Even though Julian was brilliant and successful he was still affected by racism. He would become a Chemistry teacher at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee for two years. His next move was to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend Harvard through an Austin Fellowship in Chemistry. Julian took full advantage of his opportunity to shine on a graduate level. He showed his brilliance by graduating at the top of his class and receiving his master’s degree from Harvard in 1923.
Racism reared its ugly head once again in Julian’s life, he was denied teaching positions at the predominantly white colleges, and they claimed the students wouldn’t be able to learn from him. Julian accepted a teaching positon at West Virginia State College for Negros, where he would teach Chemistry until he accepted a position at Howard University as head of the chemistry department. In 1929 Julian accepted a fellowship to travel to Vienna, Austria to earn his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry. He graduated in 1931 then returned to the United States to become the head of the chemistry department at Howard University. He later returned to DePauw University as a chemistry teacher; he would begin working on the synthesis of physostigmine with Dr. Dr. Josef Pikl from Vienna. Physostigmine is a drug that Julian used to treat glaucoma that is made from the Calabar bean. He and Pikl worked together for three years, in that time along with synthesizing the Calabar bean, they published 11 articles in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. As a result of the publications Julian was considered a world-renowned chemist at the age of 36.
Once again racism would confront Julian, after his success in his research with Dr. Pikl he was denied the position as the head of the chemistry department, because he was black. Frustrated with the academic world, Julian took a position with the Glidden Company as the Chief Chemist and director of the Soya Product Division. He was the first black person to be hired as the Chief Chemist and director of the Soya Product Division. The Glidden Company expected Julian to use soybeans to make paint and other products they produced. He developed a flame retardant aero-foam that was widely used by the U.S. Navy in World War II. In 1935 Julian moved to Chicago, Illinois after he married Anna Johnson. He would use his knowledge of plants and chemistry to develop male and female hormones using the soy bean. The hormones were used to help pregnant women from having miscarriages and it was used to fight cancer. He next used the soy bean to create an inexpensive version of cortisone; it was able to help many people around the world find pain relief.
In 1950 the city of Chicago named Julian as the Chicagoan of the year, later that year the new home he brought was set on fire by racist pyromaniac. Within a year Julian’s family survived another terrorist attack, dynamite was thrown outside his young daughter’s window; Julian and his family were not welcome in the new neighborhood they lived in. No matter how many achievements he gained he was still not good enough for the white residents of Chicago. In 1954 he started his own company called Julian Laboratories, to produce synthesized cortisone. He would later discover that yams were more effective for producing cortisone that soy beans. Julian opened a laboratory in Mexico City, Mexico called the Laboratorios Julian de Mexico. They used the Mexican laboratory to cultivate yams and shipped them to his Oak Park laboratory in the U.S. Julian sold his company to Kline and French a pharmaceutical company for $2.3 million dollars. He would later establish the Julian Research Institute where he continued his work until 1975, which is the year Percy Julian died.
Julian received several awards for his amazing achievements; he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1973, he was the first recipient of DePauw’s McNaughton Medal for Public Service. In 1990 he was elected to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and he received 19 honorary doctorate degrees. In 1993 the U.S. Postal Service honored Julian with a stamp in the Black Heritage Commemorative Stamp series. Lastly, a street was named after Julian in the city of Greencastle; they renamed First Street to Percy Julian Drive. Julian was courageous, persistent, brilliant, and innovative and an example of what true success is. He endured open racism that could have negatively affected his career. He decided to take life into his own hands and managed to change the world. Dr. Percy Julian, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
September 9, 1934 Wilsonia Benita Driver was born in Birmingham, Alabama to her parents Wilson and Lena Driver. Lena Driver died when Sonia was around a year old, she and her sister were raised by their paternal grandmother until she passed away. From then on they would live with various relatives before moving to Harlem, New York with their father in 1943. Sanchez would begin to write after her move to Harlem; it is said that she began writing to help cope with the feeling of isolation. Sanchez’s writing would lead her to graduating from Hunter College in 1955 with a Bachelors of Arts. She would continue her postgraduate studies at New York University, where her concentration was poetry.
Sanchez was able to create a writer’s workshop in the Greenwich Village area of New York. The workshop attracted such writers as Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, and Etheridge Knight. She was also able to form the “Broadside Quartet;” a guild of ambitious talented writers with something to say. Sanchez would meet and marry Albert Sanchez a Puerto Rican immigrant, the two remained together for a short time before divorcing. In 1968 Sanchez would marry fellow poet and activist Ethridge Knight and the couple would have three children. It is stated that Sanchez’s poetry in the 1970’s was heavily influenced by her experience as a mother.
During the 1960’s Sanchez believed in and supported the idea of integration for America. She would be a mighty supporter of integration until she heard Malcom X speak about black economic self-sufficiency. She began to speak and write more about African culture, African heritage and black liberation around the world. She was quickly labeled as a separatist and someone who supported a black hate group. Sanchez ignored her critic’s and continued to uplift her people. She is credited as one of the first writers to incorporate “ghetto impressions” or Africa-American linguistic expressions into her work. In 1969 she published a book of poems titled Homecoming, which addressed the racial issues of the day.
Early in Sanchez’s career she taught 5th grade at the Downtown Community School in New York City until 1967. She also became a University Professor, teaching at eight Universities across the country. While working as a professor at the University of Pittsburg, she was instrumental in implementing a course on the study of black American women. This was very controversial and groundbreaking for the University because it did not have a course on the study of women in general. Sanchez would leave the “Broadside Quartet” during the 1970’s and pursued a career as a solo poet. Her style of poetry was becoming very popular and sought after; it would lead to her traveling to Cuba, China, the West Indies, and Europe to recite her poems. She would also become very popular on college campuses across the nation; reading her poetry to students across more than 500 college campuses. She would publish a number of poetry books including her book Homegirls and Handgrenades, which won the American Book award in 1985.
Sanchez would write a number of plays including the following; The Bronx Is Next, sister Sonji, Uh, Huh: But How Do it Free us?, and Malcolm Man/Don’t Live Here No Mo’. She has received many honors and awards over her illustrious career, the Robert Creeley Award, the Frost Medal, the Community Service Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the Lucretia Mott Award, the Outstanding Arts Award from the Pennsylvania Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Peace and Freedom Award from the Women International League for Peace and Freedom, the Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Humanities, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. She was appointed Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate by Mayor Michael Nutter, and served from 2012 to 2014. Ms. Sonia Sanchez, we stand on your shoulders.
Claudia Vera Cumberbatch was born on February 21st, 1915 in Belmont, Port of Spain, Trinidad. In 1924 the Cumberbatch family moved to New York in search of a better life; the coca trade declined in the West Indies leaving families in poverty. The Cumberbatch family settled in Harlem, New York where Jones would attend Wadleigh High School in 1930. Tragedy struck the family as Claudia’s mother Sybil died of spinal meningitis in 1933 at the young age of 37. Two years later Jones would graduate high school despite the adversity her family faced. Though Jones’ family loved her, they were too poor to attend her high school graduation.
Jones and her family were classified as immigrants and lived in poverty; both labels were seen as roadblocks and limited their access to information and career choices. She began working for a laundry service and in retail instead of attending college; little did she know her life would change very soon. While searching for her place in life Jones joined a drama group, she also began writing a column called “Claudia’s Comments” for a local journal in Harlem. In 1936, searching for organizations who were in support of the Scottsboro Boys, she became a member of the Young Communist League America. In 1937 she became a part of the editorial staff of the Daily Worker, until she became the editor of the Weekly Review in 1938. Jones would later become the editor of Spotlight, the journal for the American Youth for Democracy, formally the Young Communist League America. Shortly after World War II she became the secretary for organizations such as the Women’s National Commission, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), and the National Peace Counsel in 1952. While serving as the secretary of the National Peace Counsel Jones became the editor of the editorial Negro Affairs.
The most well-known piece of writing published by Jones was titled, “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!” The piece appeared in the Political Affairs Magazine in 1949; one of Jones’ most famous excerpts stated; “The bourgeoisie is fearful of the militancy of the Negro woman, and for good reason. The capitalists know, far better than many progressives seem to know, that once Negro women begin to take action, the militancy of the whole Negro people, and thus of the anti-imperialist coalition, is greatly enhanced;” because of her views Jones was label a “Marxist” and “intersectional.” Later Jones and the CPUSA began organizing speaking engagements throughout the country, their activities would causes suspicion and eventually lead to her incarceration in 1948. While incarcerated Jones was faced with deportation for violating the McCarran Act. They were suspected of attempting to install a totalitarian dictatorship. Several witness testified against her and she was a self-identified member of the party since 1936, she was found guilty and ordered to serve prison time and face deportation in 1950.
In 1951, at the age of 36 Jones was imprisoned where she suffered her first heart attack. Adding insult to injury Jones was later found guilty along with others for violating the Smith Act, her conviction was labeled was activities against the government. They were refused an appeal by the Supreme Court and Jones served a year and a day long prison sentence in West Virginia. In 1955 she was released from prison but was still facing deportation from the United States. British colonial governor Major General Sir Hubert Elvin Rance refused to allow Jones entry into Trinidad & Tobago; he considered her to be a problem. Jones was ultimately allowed to reside in the United Kingdom on a benevolent basis, as long as she agreed to no longer challenge her deportation.
She arrived in London on December 21st 1955, at this time the British African-Caribbean Community was expanding. She was eager to find individuals in London who shared her political party views; what she learned was black women in London were not treated well by the Communist. Racial discrimination and segregation plagued the streets of London summarily to what Jones experienced in Harlem. She quickly realized that the African-Caribbean communities lacked unity; she took action by becoming active within the African-Caribbean community, helping the members to gain access to resources and human rights. Jones gained the support of many influential people such as Paul Robeson as she fought the structural racism inflicted upon her people. She opposed the Trade Union Congress vigorously; her message took her to countries such as Japan and Russia fighting against inequality. In the 1960’s Jones would lead a campaign against the 1867 Immigration Act; the act places unequal treatment on non-white immigrants entering the United Kingdom.
On December 24th 1964 Claudia Jones died at the age of 49 due to a heart attack. She was buried in London in a burial plot next to Karl Marx who she was very fond of. Jones was named one of Britain’s 100 Great Black Britain’s in 2003. She was more than just a woman; Claudia Jones was a force to be reckoned with. She fought for the freedom and equality of black people on two continents, endured tragedy and setbacks, but still found the will to continue to press on. Claudia Jones, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click Here to join our mailing list