December 8, 1902 Wifredo Lam was born in Sagua la Grande, Cuba to Liam-Yam his father and Ana Serafina Catilla. His father was born in the Canton Providence of Southern China, and his mother was of Afro-Cuban descent. His family settled in Havana, Cuba in 1916, where he attended the Academia de San Alejandro. Lam attended the Academia until he graduated in 1923, following his graduation he attended an art exhibition at the Salon de Bellas Artes, Lam was inspired by his trip to the exhibition and made his mind up to become a painter. Later in the year Lam was awarded a grant to study art in Spain; he accepted the award and parted for Spain as a virile twenty-one year old. His fourteen year stent in Spain was very rewarding, while in Madrid he learned about modern art, and studied the great painters of Spain such as Diego Velazquez, Francisco Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, and Pieter Brueghel the Elder.
Lam met adversity in 1931, his wife and son died of Tuberculosis, he dealt with grief in his own artistic way. Lam produced a number of paintings titled mother and child in honor of his lost wife and son; he also sought the company of his friends and got involved with political organizations. Lam was able to join the Republican force in their fight against Francisco Franco; he gained admission to the force with the help of a friend and contributed by creating anti-fascist posters and working in the munitions factory. It is said that his painting La Guerra Civil was inspired by the violence of the Cuban Civil War. In 1936 Lam met his second wife Helena Holzer; he would later leave Spain for Paris, where his luck got even better. While living in Paris he would meet and befriend Pablo Picasso, who would introduce him to important poets, painters, and art critics; the most important person at the time he met was Pierre Loeb. In 1939 Lam held his first solo painting exhibition at the Galerie Pierre, Loeb is the owner of the Galerie. In Marseille, France, Lam gathered with contemporaries at the Villa Air Bel where he produced his series of ink drawings that would become his signature style, which are hybrid figures.
From 1941 to 1947, he would perfect his style while living in Cuba. Lam began attending Afro-Cuban rituals with his friends; these rituals would have an influence on his art during this period he would paint his most notable piece La Jungla. 1942 was considered his most productive year; he made over a hundred paintings, and had exhibitions at the Institute of Modern Art of Boston, Museum of Modern Art of New York and the Galerie Pierre Matisse. 1946 Lam and his wife took a trip to Haiti and his time on the Island helped shape his work and style as an artist. He felt that his contact with African culture enhanced his work; he states that he was greatly influenced by African poetry. Lam appeared in publications such as VVV, Instead, Art News and View; he also held exhibitions in the United States, Haiti, Cuba, France, England, Mexico, Moscow and Prague.
Lam moved to Paris after the divorce of his second wife, shortly after he would meet his third wife Lou Laurin and the two married in 1960. Lam would later win the Grand Prix of the Havana Salon; later in 1958 he was named a member of the Graham Foundation for the Advanced Study of fine Art in Chicago, Illinois. In 1964 he was awarded the Guggenheim International Award. Lam’s career was filled with change and influence, he had a chance to meet and gain inspiration from some of the world’s most gifted artist, in 1982 Lam died but left an amazing legacy. He was influenced by his African roots and expressed it within his work; he created paintings to show his disagreement or support of the political events taking place in his native land of Cuba. Wifredo Lam was innovative, daring and a true student of art and life; Mr. Wifredo Lam, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Clara Brown was born enslaved in 1800 in Virginia. One of her earliest childhood memories was being sold on an auction block. Clara and her mother were sold to a tobacco plantation in Virginia. At the age of 18 she married a man named Richard and had four children. Clara’s family was sold again, this time they were all separated in the sale. Clara was brought by plantation owner George Brown and moved to Kentucky. She also made a vow to herself to find her daughter Eliza Jane before she died.
In 1856 George Brown Clara’s master died giving her freedom from slavery. Her mind was set on finding her daughter so she left Kentucky to do so. Upon her journey she started working as a cook for a family traveling to the Leavenworth Kansas Territory. In 1859 she worked for Colonel Benjamin Wadsworth cooking for the Colonel and his crew. Her time with Colonel Wadsworth led her to Colorado making her one of the first African-American women involved in the Colorado Gold Rush. Clara never stopped looking for her daughter Eliza, despite her various successful pursuits.
Clara eventually settled in Aurora, Colorado and became a founding member of the nondenominational Union Sunday school. She would later create her own laundry business in Central City, Colorado, serving the miners and local town’s people. In addition to her laundry business she was a maid, cook and mid-wife. Clara Brown was becoming a very successful entrepreneur as an African-American woman during slavery. Clara was also savvy enough to invest her money into mine claims and land; this earned her $10,000, ownership of 16 different properties in Denver, 7 houses in Central City, as well as property and mines in Boulder, Georgetown, and Idaho Springs.
Clara was given the name “Aunt Clara” because of her generous nature. She was well known for giving to those who were in need. She even used her own home as a hospital and refuge for the needy. Clara personally helped to fund the building of the Catholic Church and the first Protestant Church located in the Rocky Mountains. In 1865 Clara resumed her search for her daughter and her family. She used her savings to help her travel back to Kentucky and Kansas. In 1879 Clara was a part of the building of a community and farm land by former slaves in Kansas.
At the age of 80 Clara’s funds were dwindling but not her spirit; she was still determined to find her daughter. Two years later Clara was told that her daughter Eliza lived in Iowa, she packed up and traveled to Iowa to see her daughter. She eventually did find her daughter and had the pleasure of meeting her granddaughter. Eliza and Clara kept in close contact until Clara’s death in 1885. Clara was later voted into was voted into the Society of Colorado Pioneers. She is the first woman inducted into the Society of Colorado Pioneers. Clara Brown overcame inhumane obstacles, and was able to reach her goals and reunite her family. Mrs. Clara Brown, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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Lewis Latimer was born September 4th, 1848 in Chelsea, Massachusetts to runaway slaves. He served in the United States Navy for the Union and received an Honorable discharge on July 3rd, 1865. While working in Boston as an office boy for a Patent Law Firm, he taught himself mechanical drawing and mastered the art of drawing to scale. As Latimer’s talent was becoming noticed, he was promoted from the position of office boy with a pay of $3.00 a week to head draftsman earning $20.00 a week. In 1873 he became married to Mary Wilson, and a year later, Latimer and W.C. Brown co-invented an improvement on the train water closet. Two years later Alexander Graham Bell needed a design drawn for a patent application for the telephone. With consistent labor and long working hours, Latimer was able to complete the application which was turned in on February 14th, 1876, hours before Elisha Gray could submit his design for a similar device.
After relocating to Bridgeport, Connecticut, Lewis Latimer was employed as the assistant manager and draftsman for the U.S. Electric Lighting Company. It was there that Latimer was set to compete against Thomas Edison’s light bulb by improving on the filament. He encased the filament in cardboard which prevented the carbon from breaking up, therefore extending the life of the bulb. This allowed it to be placed anywhere. Latimer was responsible for installing the first lighting in New York, Philadelphia and Montreal. He also oversaw the lighting of rail stations and government buildings extended from America to Canada and even London.
Latimer became employed by Thomas Edison in 1890 and began working in the legal department of Edison Electric Light Company. He served as a chief draftsman and patent specialist. He later authored the most comprehensive book on electric lighting, “Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System.” Latimer was also designated as one of the charter members of the Edison Pioneers, a group of individuals responsible for the electrical industry.
In 1894 Latimer invented the safety elevator, a great improvement for the elevator of that time. His name also holds the patent for the locking racks of hats, coats and umbrellas. He went on to create a version of the book supporter allowing books to be arranged on shelves followed by the Apparatus for Cooling and Disinfecting, a system for keeping rooms more hygienic and climate controlled. Among his many notables, Latimer was also a civil rights activist, painter and a poet. Lewis Latimer passed away on December 11, 1928, however during his lifetime he exhibited amazing imagination, skill and courage which created a path for others like him to follow. Mr. Latimer, we stand on your shoulders.
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Elijah McCoy was born to George and Emilia McCoy in Colchester, Ontario, Canada on May 2nd, 1844. The son of former slaves, he showed an interest in engineering at an early age, taking apart toys and other items, putting them back together, and studying them. His interest was recognized by his parents early, and he was sent to Edinburg, Scotland, to study mechanical engineering. Upon finishing his studies and becoming a “Master Mechanic and Engineer”, he moved back to the United States and settled in Ypsilanti, Michigan, just at the beginning of the “Emancipation Proclamation”. Despite his master skills Mr. McCoy was unable to find a job, but he never lost his imagination which he later used to change history forever.
Mr. McCoy was forced to take a position that didn’t match his “Master skill set”, but he had to earn a living, so he worked as a fireman/oilman on the Michigan Central Railroad. The Fireman’s duty was to shovel coal into fires to help give off steam and make the train move while the Oilman was required to lubricate the axles and bearings of the train. The trick, however, was that the train had to stop in order to be oiled. Being the genius he that was, McCoy used his imagination and intelligence to boost efficiency which eliminated the need to stop the train for lubrication. In 1872 the “lubricating cup” was invented, and was designed to continuously drip oil on the axles and bearings. McCoy received a patent for the object and was met with great success, receiving requests from railroads all over the country to use his product. His skill was so trusted that others created their version of the cup, but the railroads told them they wanted the “Real McCoy”.
In 1868, McCoy became married to Ann Elizabeth Stewart who unfortunately died four years into their marriage. In 1873, Mr. McCoy married again to Mary Eleanor Delaney, they moved to Detroit where they lived for the next 50 years. With continuous success Mr. McCoy had a tough decision to make, he had to sell some percentages of his patent to finance a workshop which allowed him to make improvements to the “lubricating cup”. He changed the way trains were operated and made the rides shorter and more efficient. The “lubricating cup” was altered to fit other machines such as naval vessels, oil-drilling rigs, mining products, and it could also be used in construction and factories across the country. In 1916 he invented the graphite lubricator which allowed super heater trains and devices to be oiled, and in 1920 McCoy started the “Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company”, through which he upgraded and sold the graphite lubricator and other inventions. Using an idea he got from his wife he created and patented the movable ironing board, and later invented and patented the lawn sprinkler. Mr. McCoy died in 1929, but he left a legacy that will never be forgotten or underestimated. Our American railroad systems, American people and travelers all over owe Mr. McCoy gratitude. He improved the way we travel by train and exist in our everyday lives. Elijah Mr. McCoy, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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April 11, 1908 Jane Bolin was born in Poughkeepsie, New York to parents Matilda Emery and Giaus Bolin. A top student at her high school, Jane graduated early and headed to Wellesley-College. After enrolling into college she maintained her academic excellence and managed to earn a Bachelors of Arts in 1928. After graduating from Wellesley-College she attended Yale Law School, at Yale she managed to graduate within three years despite facing racism from her peers. Her graduation made her the first African-American woman to gain a degree from Yale Law School. With her father being an attorney who was head of the Dutchess County Bar Association and owned his own practice, she was able to work with her father until she married Ralph E. Mizlelle and moved to New York.
As she settled in with her new husband she faced hard times as she pursued at state assembly seat; ten years passed until she finally became the first African-American woman to assist in corporate council work for New York City. In 1939 Bolin appeared before Mayor Fiorello La Guardia at The World’s Fair, the judge swore Bolin in as a judge as a surprise to her. Bolin made history once again; becoming the first African-American female judge in the history of the United States. Bolin used her position and influence to help the people she served; assigned to family court she helped eradicate the plight of the black kids within the juvenile system. She changed policies that segregated the children based on skin color; she also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to support the Wiltwyck School to end crime among young boys.
In 1943 Ralph E. Mizlelle died, leaving Bolin to raise her son on her own; In 1950 Bolin was remarried to Walter P. Offutt, Jr. Bolin remained a judge for 40 years and served on the board of the NAACP and the New York Urban league. At the age of 70 Bolin retired from her bench but not life, she worked as a consultant and School volunteer; she also worked on the New York Board of Regents. Bolin died on January 8, 2007 in New York leaving behind a trailblazing legacy, her legacy is one that cannot be erased from American History. She made it possible for women in the State of New York to work in law and hold positions of influence in the State of New York. She fought for the equality of black children within the New York state juvenile system. She used her intelligence and vigor to make others’ lives better; Judge Jane Bolin we stand on your Shoulders.
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William Patrick Foster was born on August 25, 1919 in Kansas City, Kansas. His family endured poverty even though both of his parents worked. Despite the hard financial conditions Dr. Foster faced, he managed to find a love for music. At the age of twelve he used the money he saved to buy himself a used saxophone; a decision that changed his life forever. He honed his skills and gained an opportunity to train with the Horner Institute of Fine Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. During his high school years Foster begin playing the clarinet which became his primary instrument. Dr. Foster improved his skills so much that he was appointed first chair clarinetist in his school’s orchestra.
Dr. Foster would soon begin learning more and more about music and improving his skills. By the age of seventeen, his improvements were noticed by his band director who named him as a student director of the summer high school orchestra. His next step was to become director of the All-City Band in 1937. In 1941, Dr. Foster received his Bachelor of Music Education Degree from the University of Kansas. In 1950, he received a Master of Arts in Music Degree from Wayne State University. In 1955, he received a Doctor of Education Degree with a major in music from Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Foster’s career as a marching band director started at Fort Valley State University. His next stop was becoming the director of the marching band at Tuskegee Institute. During a football game between Tuskegee and Florida A&M University the sound, style and precision of Tuskegee’s band caught the eye of Florida A&M’s President William Gray.
A meeting was arranged between Dr. Foster and President Gray, which eventually lead to the hiring of Foster as the director of Florida A&M’s marching band. In 1946 Dr. Foster debuted as the leader of a band without a reputation and only sixteen members. But Dr. Foster had vision and the encouragement of a president who wanted him to succeed. He incorporated 30 new marching techniques that would revolutionize marching bands worldwide. By incorporating fast-tempo marching, high-stepping, dancing and showmanship; over time the band gained a new nickname, “Marching 100’s.” The band was also the most talked about and mimicked black college band in the land. By 1960 Dr. Foster’s vision changed the way black college bands performed. He created a culture that still stands to this day.
Because of Dr. Foster “The Marching 100’s” became the most popular marching band in the world. The band has traveled across the world sharing Dr. Foster vision with others. The band has been featured in over 30 nationally televised programs, received features in magazines newspapers and films, performed at halftime at the Super Bowl, and performed at two presidential inaugurations. In 1985 The Marching 100’s” received the John Philip Sousa Foundation’s Sudler Trophy; which is the highest honor a marching band can receive. In 1989 Dr. Foster’s band represented the United States at the French Bastille Day Parade in Paris. This event was the celebration the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.
Dr. Foster was also an author, he wrote the book Band Pageantry, A Guide for the Marching Band; this book is considered the “Bible” for marching bands. He also authored 18 articles for professional journals and published 4 marching band shows. He is also the composer the four pieces, Marche Brillante, National Honors March, March Continental, and Centennial Celebration. Dr. Foster is a true legend. He was named to the National Association for Distinguished Band Conductors hall of fame. He was also inducted into the Florida Music Educators Association and the Afro-American Hall of Fames. He was elected president of the American Bandmasters Association in 1994. In 1996 he was appointment by President Clinton to serve on the National Council on the Arts.
In 2001 Dr. Foster retired from directing the world renowned “Marching 100’s” but his legacy never stopped. He was succeeded by Dr. Julian White who continued to lead the band to prominence. In 2010 Dr. Foster died at the age of 91 having realized his dreams and much more. He had a vision and he trusted his talents enough to change the way bands in America performed at half-time. Dr. Foster made half-time “show-time” and created a culture that many have tried to duplicate. Florida A&M University is known for its academics, athletics, civil rights history, but most of all it is known for the “Marching 100’s.” Dr. William P. Foster we stand on your shoulders.
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According to Hawaiian legend a great king would unite the Islands, when a comet appears in the sky. 1758 Hailey’s comet was visible from the Hawaiian Islands; shortly after was the birth of Paiea (Kamehameha). He was born to parents Keoua his father and Keku’Iapoiwa his mother; his father was ali’i (Chief) of a region of the Island of Hawai’i. Kamehameha was the great grandson of Keaweikekahiali`iokamoku, the ruler of a large portion of the Island, after his death war broke out between his son’s Ke`eaumoku, Kalaninui`amamao, and a rival chief, Alapa`inuiakauaua. After the battle Alapa`inuiakauaua emerged victorious, and seized control of the island. After the birth of Kamehameha, Alapa`inuiakauaua ordered the death of Kamehameha because he was afraid of the legend.
The parents of Kamehameha were prepared for the birth of their son; they gave him to Nae’ole a fellow ali’I so he could live. While living with Nae’ole he developed a reputation for being a loner so he gained the name Kamehameha which means “the lonely one”, this name replaced his birth name of Paiea. After a five year period, Kamehameha was eventually invited back to live with his family by Alapa`inuiakauaua. Years later, Alapa`inuiakauaua died and his crown was given to his son Keaweaopala. There was a problem brewing amongst members in the family, Kalani’opu’u the brother of Alapa`inuiakauaua had his eye on the crown. War once again broke out, this was a battle at Kealakekua Bay where Kalani’opu’u backed by Kamehameha slayed his nephew Keaweaopala and gained control of the island. For his loyalty to his uncle in the battle, Kamehameha was made the aide to Kalani’opu’u.
In 1779 on a trip to Kealakekua Bay with Kalani’opu’u, Kamehameha encountered white men for the first time, they thought they were encountering Lono their God of fertility, but they actually met James Cook Captain of the H.M.S. Discovery. In 1782 Kalani’opu’u died and Kamehameha was given a prominent position within the royal family, he was given an important religious position within the family; the guardian of Kukailimoku the Hawaiian God of war. In addition to becoming the guardian of the God of war, he became the guardian of the district of Wiapo. While Kamehameha was gaining prestige, his cousin Kiwalao became ruler of their region, also he and Kamehameha became rivals. Kamehameha once presented a slain body of an ali’I to the gods as sacrifice, when Kiwalao was supposed to, also he was picked to be the ruler of the island instead of Kiwalao.
Kamehameha and Kiwalao finally met in battle at Mokuohai in which Kamehameha emerged the victor and took control of their region. In 1790 Kamehameha went on a military campaign and attacked the district of Puna, which he emerged victorious. While Kamehameha was away, an uprising emerged lead by, Keoua the brother of Kiwalao, as he did before, Keoua escaped the wrath of Kamehameha and fled past an active volcano which erupted and killed a third of his army. In his quest to gain control of the Island of Hawai’i, Kamehameha built a temple to ask the Gods advice; he then invited Kiwalao to meet with him there. Kiwalao being skeptical about the encounter brought a good portion of his army with him. The moment Kiwalao stepped upon the shore he was attacked, he and his bodyguards were cut down by musket fire, with the death of Kiwalao, Kamehameha became the ruler of the Island of Hawai’i.
Kamehameha had his eyes on ruling more than just the Island of Hawai’i and his aide came in the form of the white man. He was sold guns by Isaac Davis and John young, who also taught Kamehameha and his army how to use the guns, these weapons made him feel confident about his campaign. With plans to invade Maui and Molokai, Kamehameha was unaware of his enemy Kalanikupule also armed with guns, plans to attack his army. Kamehameha set sail on his campaign in 1795 with 10,000 soldiers; his army easily took control of Maui and Molokai, Oahu, Waialae and Waikiki. Unaware of a traitor in his mist Kamehameha moved forward, Kaiana decided to abandon Kamehameha and join Kalanikupule. With the help of Kaiana, Kalanikupule was able to prepare an ambush for Kamehameha. However the plan failed, Kaiana’s forces were overtaken and killed by Kamehameha’s army. Now the ruler of all islands except Kaua’i and Ni’ihau, his next step was to overtake the remaining two islands. His first attempt in1796 failed because of rebellion in Hawai’i, his governor Namakeha was leading the rebellion, which was soon suppressed. In 1803 he attempted to conquer the islands again, but he and his army fell ill. Kamehameha used this time to build the largest army the islands have ever seen, Kaumualii the Chief of Kaua’i watching the army grow was forced to negotiate rather than fight against the army.
With Kaumualii succeeding, Kamehameha became sole ruler of the Hawaiian Islands. Kamehameha ensured that the Island of Hawai’i would stay Independent long after his death, he unified the legal system and used taxes to promote trade with Europe and the United states. Non-Hawaiians were not able to own land in Hawai’i and did not until the rule of the Great Mahele, this allowed Hawai’i to remain independent even though other islands lost their independence. Hawai’i would remain independent until 1898, when it was annexed by the United States. Kamehameha established the “law of the splintered paddle”, which ensured the safety of non-combatants during time of war. This law was the first law established in Hawai’i and it still stands today. Kamehameha was the last ruler to uphold the Hawaiian religion not deciding to convert to Christianity, allowing his culture to remain at least until he died. In 1819 Kamehameha died and left a legacy legends are made of. He fulfilled the prophecy of the king born during the coming of the comet to unite the Island of Hawai’i. Kamehameha we stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward.
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In 1474, Queen Anacaona was born in Yaguana, which is now modern day Leogane, Haiti. Yaguana was the capital of Xaragua, a heavily populated kingdom which was also very prosperous. Anacaona means “Golden Flower” in the native Taino language; she was the younger sister of the king of the Xaraguas’, Behechio. In 1494 Christopher Columbus visited the Xaragua kingdom for trade and was met by Anacaona and the king. Anacaona was seen as an equal negotiator with the king. She and her brother were able to successfully and peacefully negotiate trade with the Spaniards. She was held in high regard with her people even before she became queen, her legendary beauty and leadership made her popular and memorable. She would later marry the king of Maguana, Caonabo, which helped expand her influence over the Tiano people of Xaragua and Maguana.
After she married Caonabo he was kidnaped by Christopher Columbus’ troops and deported to Spain, he was accused of leading an attack on La Navidad (a settlement on the northern part of the Island for the Spanish); Caonabo died on the ship sailing to Spain. Meanwhile Queen Anacaona was able to escape death by leaving Maguana and returning to her home in Xaragua. Upon arriving to the Island the Spaniards began to dominate and conquer the Taino people, led by their queen the Tainos stood and fought for their land and their freedom. Xaragua was the only remaining kingdom that the Spanish had not overtaken, but that would soon change. In 1502 Spain shipped a new governor to the Island, Governor Nicholas Ovando. Upon arrival he brought with him 2,500 Spanish troops. In 1502 Governor Ovando requested a meeting with Queen Anacaona, which she kindly accepted.
The meeting evolved into a reception by Anacaona and the noblemen of the Xaragua, during the reception Anacaona and her noblemen were ambushed by the governor and captured. All of the noblemen were killed and Anacaona was taken to Santo Domingo, where she was killed by hanging, at the age of 29. Queen Anacaona was fierce and beautiful, a queen of many talents and a symbol of freedom. She was known for her ballets, poetry, plays and ornaments her royal court often displayed. She was the first known woman to be of significance amongst the Tianos, she stood in solidarity with her people to the death; even after being offered a position as a concubine for the Spanish. Anacaona was amongst the first of the Tianos to fight off the Spanish conquerors when they arrived on the Island of Hispaniola, although she was defeated she will always be remembered as a brave warrior and a champion of freedom. Revered by her people because of her fearless actions, and leadership, she is often thought of as a myth rather than an actual historical person. Queen Anacaona, we proudly, stand on your shoulders.
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On January 2nd, 1814 Oscar Micheaux was born in Metropolis, Illinois to parents Calvin and Belle Micheaux, who were former slaves. One of thirteen children, Oscar went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest surprises. As a seventeen year old, he left his home for the big city of Chicago, Illinois where he got a job as a Pullman porter. At the time this was one of the best jobs for blacks in the days of Jim Crow. By learning the philosophies of Booker T. Washington and Horace Greeley, Micheaux was able to acquire two 160-acres tracts of land in Gregory County, South Dakota, in 1905; despite having no farming experience.
After spending several years in South Dakota as a homesteader, he compiled material to use in his first novel, “The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer”; which was loosely based on his life and published in 1913. Later, in 1917, it was rewritten and became his most famous novel, “The Homesteader”. Oscar self-published and distributed the novel by going door-to-door to small businessmen and fellow homesteaders. In 1915, due to financial troubles, Micheaux lost his homestead, causing him to move to Sioux City, Iowa and establish the Western book and Supply Company, where he continued to write and sell novels.
During this time, African American film pioneers George and Noble Johnson, directors of the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, were looking to make his book, “The Homesteader”, into a movie. Micheaux denied them, however, because he wanted to direct the film himself. He later reorganized the Western Book and Supply Company into the Micheaux Film and Book Company. In 1918 he produced “The Homesteader” into a film, predating Charlie Chaplin who didn’t debut until 1921. In 1920 Micheaux made his next movie, “Within Our Gates”, as a response to “The Birth of a Nation”, a racially charged movie by D.W. Griffith which glorified the Ku Klux Klan. “Within Our Gates” challenged the negative stereotypes set by Griffith’s film that blacks were a vile, unproductive, subhuman species, living in America, and that racism can be challenged. Micheaux showed the African American as an upstanding human rather than a subhuman species; the thought held by the white masses.
Over the next thirty years, Micheaux would go on to make over 30 movies that were radically different from the Hollywood portrayal blacks in films. He is regarded as one of the most successful and prolific black film makers, providing a diverse range of non-stereotyped characters that black actors could play. Micheaux set a foundation for future black film makers to create films showing blacks in a positive light, rather than using film to further denigrate the black race. He showed courage and vision, and for that, Mr. Micheaux, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On October 12, 1932 in St. Louis, Missouri Dick Gregory was born to to parents Presley and Lucille Gregory. His family was poor so Gregory learned to make a way for himself early in life. While in high school Gregory tried out for the track team, he eventually made the team and excelled in track, helping him earn a track scholarship to Southern Illinois University Carbondale. While in college he became a track star and received the school’s outstanding athlete award. In 1954 he was drafted into the U.S. Army, there he got his start as a comic by winning several of the talent shows he entered. He was encouraged by his commanding officer to pursue comedy; he was discharged by the Army in 1956 and returned to Southern Illinois, briefly, before dropping out to change the world.
His next step was moving to Chicago to take comedy seriously. He incorporated relevant social and political issues within his comedy, making him different from Bill Cosby or Nipsey Russell. In 1958 Gregory attempted to open a night club called Apex. The club was a failure and Gregory experienced financial hardships. He would not allow that set back to stop him; in 1959 he became the master of ceremonies at the Roberts Show Club. As an upstart comic, Gregory worked at the United States Post Office as well as all-black comedy clubs to make ends meet. His progress was starting to pay off. He became one of the first black comics to gain acclaim performing for an all-white audience. At that time blacks were not allowed to perform in front of white audiences; Gregory stated, “Blacks could sing and dance in the white night clubs but weren’t allowed to stand flat-footed and talk to white folks, which is what a comic does.” In 1961 while performing at the Roberts Show Bar in Chicago, Illinois, Gregory was spotted by Hugh Hefner who hired him to work at the Chicago Playboy Club to replace the white comedian Professor Irwin Corey.
Gregory’s next step was an appearance on The Tonight Show starring Jack Paar. The show was known for helping to propel young talent into the lime light. The Tonight Show offered Gregory an invitation to the show several times, but he refused because blacks were allowed to be on the show, but could not sit and be interviewed by Jack Paar. Gregory informed the show that he would not perform unless he could be interviewed like his white counterparts. The producers of the show finally agreed to allow Gregory to perform and be interviewed. This was the first time a black person was interviewed by Jack Parr on The Tonight Show. Gregory’s interview was one of the first times white America had a chance to see a black person in a humanizing manner on television. After the show Gregory’s career took off and he was on the road to becoming a legend.
In 1959 Gregory married Lillian Smith and they produced ten children, as well as a happy productive marriage. Gregory was often labeled as an absent father. In typical Gregory fashion he replied candidly; “People ask me about being a father and not being there. I say, `Jack the Ripper had a father. Hitler had a father. Don’t talk to me about family.” Mr. Gregory was also a political activist; in 1963 he spoke in Selma, Alabama to help the voting drive for African-Americans known as “Freedom Day.” That same year Gregory published his first book Nigger: An Autobiography. In 1967 Gregory ran against Richard J. Dailey for Mayor of Chicago, he did not win but this was the beginning of his persistence towards political reform. In 1968 Gregory ran for the Presidency of the United States of America. He was a write in candidate of the Freedom and Peace party; he did not win but he was the first African-American to run for president. His campaign garnered over 47,097 votes; it also landed him on the master list of Nixon’s political opponents. In 1968 Gregory wrote his second book Write me In, which gave insight into his presidential campaign.
In 1975 Gregory and assassination researcher Robert Gordon appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s Goodnight America. This television event would prove to be historical, for the first time the film of JFK’s assassination was aired on public television. The showing sparked outrage which led to the forming of the Hart-Schweiker Investigation. This eventually led to the House Select Committee on Assassinations investigation. In 1979 Gregory and Mark Lane conducted research into the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. This caused the U.S. House Select Assassinations Committee to investigate Dr. King’s and JFK’s murder. Gregory and Lane coauthored the book Code Name Zorro, which gave the conclusion that James Earl Ray did not work alone in the killing of Dr. King. In 1999 Gregory was diagnosed with lymphoma, which he began treating with herbs, vitamins and exercise, the experience changed the way Gregory viewed his health. He became an advocate for a raw fruit and vegetable diet after becoming a vegetarian in the 1960’s. He became a model for healthy living by changing his lifestyle and helping others change their lives as well. He developed a health drink called “Bahamian Diet Nutritional Drink”; which is commonly called “Dick Gregory” within the black community. He founded Health Enterprises, Inc. in 1984 as a means to help improve the life expectancy of African-American males.
Mr. Gregory was a jack of all trades but a master of self, he believed in freedom, justice, equality, health, and success. He released several audio works such as; In Living Black and White (1961), East & West (1961), Dick Gregory Talks Turkey (1962), The Two Sides of Dick Gregory (1963), and more. Mr. Gregory has a career that covers five decades of work helping to improve conditions within the African-American community as well as within American society. Mr. Gregory has shown his courage and tenacity many times on countless issues. The dedication and love he shows for African-Americans is unparalleled by any other comedian in history. He is a living legend and a great influence on African people. Mr. Richard “Dick” Gregory, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On October 27, 1922 Ruby Ann Wallace was born to parents Gladys Hightower and Marshall Edward Nathaniel Wallace. Ruby’s family lived in Cleveland, Ohio until her parents divorced moving her to Harlem, New York. While attending Hunter College High School she began studying acting at the American Negro Theater. Ruby Ann Wallace became Ruby Dee during her years with the American Negro Theater. She also submitted poetry to a black newspaper called the Amsterdam News. After high school she attended Hunter College where she earned her degree in romance languages. She took a radio training class offered by the American Theater Wing. Her training helped her earn a part in the radio serial Nora Drake.
After graduation Ruby worked as a French and Spanish translator until 1946. Her first on screen role was in the movie The Man of Mine. That same year she earned the title role in ANT’s Broadway production of Anna Lucasta. She also met her future husband Mr. Ozzie Davis performing in the play titled Jeb. In 1948 Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis were married and the couple gave birth to three children. In 1950 Ruby Dee played the role of Jackie Robinson’s wife in The Jackie Robinson Story. That same year she also appeared in the movie No Way Out. In 1957 she appeared in the movie Edge of the City.
1959 was the year that Ruby Dee stared in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, which brought her national acclaim as an actress.In both Edge of the City and A Raisin in the Sun Ruby Dee stared opposite of Sidney Poitier. Next she would join her husband to star in the play Purlie Victorious; which was written by Ozzie Davis. In 1963 both Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis teamed up again for the on screen adaptation of Purlie Victorious. The two would team up several more times in their career to produce movies and social change. In 1965 Ruby Dee became the first African-American actress to appear in major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival. She also became the first African American actress to be featured on Peyton Place in 1968. She then starred in the critically acclaimed play Boesman and Lena in 1970. In 1979 her musical satire Take it from the Top opened in New York City.
Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis were are forced to be reckoned with in the Civil Rights Movement. They spoke out openly against racism and Jim Crow. The projects they designed together were meant to uplift the black population. In 1974 they both produced the Ruby Dee/Ozzie Davis Story Hour on the National Black Network. In 1981 the couple produced With Ozzie and Ruby for PBS. This television series allowed Ruby Dee to connect with black authors around the country. She felt that the authors helped put the black experience into perspective. Ruby and Ozzie both supported their friend Dr. Martin Luther King and his march on Washington. Ruby denounced the government’s decision to execute Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953. Ruby and Ozzie were once again honored for their efforts; they received the Frederick Douglas Award for leadership towards equality in 1970.
In 1989 both Ozzie and Ruby starred in Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee. Ruby later received an Emmy for her role in Decoration Day in 1991. 1998 Ruby and Ozzie published their book With Ozzie and Ruby: In This Life Together. The couple was married for 50 years until Ozzie Davis’ transition in 2005. Later that year the couple won a Grammy Award for the audio version of their book With Ozzie and Ruby. June 11, 2014 marked the transition of Ruby Dee. This remarkable woman kicked down doors of adversity and racism, and left a trail of greatness for generations of black women to follow. Miss Ruby Dee, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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Born October 2, 1800 in Southampton County, Virginia, Nat was the son of slaves who belonged to the slave owner Benjamin Turner. He was sold many times but never left Southampton County. He did however; often lose the ones closest to him because of the frequent separations. Nat was raised by his mother and grandmother after his father reportedly ran to freedom. In 1809 Benjamin Turner loaned Nat and his mother to his son Samuel Turner to work his land. After Benjamin died, Samuel inherited both Nat and his mother as his property. At the age of 12 Nat was working as a field hand. In 1822 he married a woman named Cherry, but was later separated from his wife and mother when Samuel Turner died. After the death of Samuel, Nat was sold to Thomas Moore, after the death of Moore he was the property of a 9 year old boy named Putnam Moore whose mother married Joseph Travis, who then gained control of Nat in 1829.
Even as a young man Nat was recognized for his exceptional brilliance, it was stated that; “Nat would never be of any service to any one as a slave,” that–as his parents had drummed into him–he was “intended for some great purpose” (Turner, Confessions). Nat was one of the few slave children who were taught to read; as he got older he began to preach to the other slaves at the clandestine religious meetings. In 1827, he was picked to baptize a white overseer named Etheldred T. Brantley. As his teen years passed he continued to lose those closest to him by separation. He also continued to work as a field hand.
May 12, 1828 Nat had a vision; this vision led him to believe that God chose him to lead an uprising against the white slave masters. Nat recruited fellow field hands, free blacks, and church members to stand beside him. In 1831 they planned a rebellion that was forced to be rescheduled to a later date. August 22, 1831 in the early hours of the morning marked the beginning of the rebellion. They began with the Travis plantation and killed Putnam Moore, his father, his mother Sally, and more than 50 other whites that night. Nat’s men were later captured by a coalition of local patrol men, vigilantes, and members of the Army and Navy. His men were tried, convicted and executed or transported out of Virginia.
Sunday October 30, 1831 Nat was caught hiding in the woods less than two miles from the Travis Plantation. On November 5, 1931 he was tried and convicted of “conspiring to rebel and making insurrection.” Six days after the trial he was hanged to death in Jerusalem, Virginia. Nat Turner is often depicted as a terrorist and a violent killer, but I say he was a freedom fighter, a man fighting for his rights as a human being. He was a brave leader who was willing to stare oppression in the face and conquer it. I say we should celebrate Nat Turner, and view him as an example of courage and freedom. Mr. Nat Turner, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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Benjamin Banneker was born on November 9th, 1731 in Ellicott’s Mill, Maryland. His parents were Robert and Marry Banneky. His father was from Guinea and his mother was the daughter of Molly Welsh, an English indentured servant. Banneker’s parents were free so he didn’t experience slavery, this would help set the course for his brilliant future. He was taught how to read by his grandmother Molly as well as attended a Quaker school early in his learning. Banneker no longer attended school once he began working on his family’s farm. With the exception of what he learned from his grandmother and the Quaker school, Banneker was self-educated. He was known as an avid reader, learning as much as he could as often as he could. He also began mastering mathematics and developing problem solving skills.
By the time Banneker was 22 he built a string wall clock which he modeled after a pocket watch. The most brilliant thing about the wall clock is he had never seen one before he created his. He used wood and his pocket knife to create the clock; it is stated that the clock still worked even after Banneker’s death. He even taught himself astronomy and it would pay off for him later in life. In 1771 the Ellicott family moved near the Banneker family farm, their union with Banneker’s would help change America. Andrew Ellicott was appointed by George Washington to survey selected pieces of land on which to build the new nation’s capital. Ellicott need the help of someone with extensive knowledge in astronomy and surveying. Banneker was recommended for the job by George Ellicott and later hired. In 1791 both Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker traveled to what is now known as Washington D. C. They worked diligently to map out the boundaries that would make up the land for the nation’s capital.
While working with the Ellicott’s Banneker was able to gather a significant amount of information on astronomy. The information was used to complete the ephemeris he was creating. The ephemeris was a series of calculated solar and lune eclipse predictions, which helped Banneker complete his almanac. In 1792 Banneker sent a hand written letter to Thomas Jefferson criticizing him about his slave owning practices and inhumane views towards blacks. Jefferson acknowledged the letter and later responded; both Banneker and Jefferson’s letters were later published. Banneker also gained acclaim when he published his almanac in 1792.
His almanac’s were printed and sold as a series for six years, in six cities, and four states. Banneker received support for his almanacs by the Ellicott’s as well as the Society for the Promotion of the Abolition of Slavery of Maryland and of Pennsylvania. The first two of the series gained some commercial success and praise from William Wilberforce and the House of Commons of Great Britain. On October 9th 1806, Banneker died at the age of 76 but left a legacy to be remembered. He revolutionized the clock, used astronomy to create Washington D.C., mastered mathematics, and created his almanac’s that still fascinate the world. Banneker accomplished all of these feats even though we would be considered limited in his education. He learned that true education comes from a strong will, passion and persistence. Mr. Benjamin Banneker, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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Born July 10 1875, in Mayesville, South Carolina, her parents were former slaves and her family lived in poverty, but Mary did not let her situation define the rest of her life. As one of seventeen children they all were responsible for contributing to their household duties; they toiled fields and picked cotton on a regular basis. Mary was the only member of her family to attend school, the missionaries who were in her area opened a school for African-American children. Mary was determined to succeed even as a child. She walked miles to and from school every day to receive her education. She was also tasked with sharing the information she learned in school with her siblings. Mary was awarded a scholarship to attend the Scotia Seminary, an all-girls school in Concord, North Carolina.
In 1893 she graduated then advanced to the Dwight Moody Institute for Home and Foreign Missions. Mary completed her studies within two years then returned to the south to become a school teacher. Nearly ten years passed as Mary’s career as an educator was taking off. In 19898 she would met and marry Albertus Bethune, they had one son Albert McLeod Bethune before the couple divorced in 1907. Mary McLeod Bethune strongly believed that education was the key to the advancement of the black race. In 1904 Mary founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls in Daytona, Florida. The school started with only five students but grew into an Institution educating more than 250 students in a few short years.
Mary McLeod Bethune was the institute’s first president even after the school combined with the Cookman Institute for men in 1923. The combining of the two schools produced Bethune-Cookman College. This college was one of the few places blacks go attend to receive higher education at the time. Mary remained the president of the College until 1942. She was also an activist within her community in her free time. She became president of the Florida chapter of the National Association for colored Women in 1924. She also served with the government for a few Presidents. She attended a conference on child welfare with Calvin Coolidge, served on the commission for Home Building and Home Ownership, and was appointed to the committee on child health under Herbert Hoover.
She is widely recognized for her role in public service under the President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1935 she became an adviser to Roosevelt on minority affairs. Also in 1935, Mary was able to create the National Council of Negro Women. In 1936 she became the director of the Divisions of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration; Mary was charged with helping young black people find job opportunities. After serving as President of Bethune-Cookman College she became an early member of the NAACP and represented the group along with W.E.B. Dubois at a national conference in 1945. In 1950 President Harry Truman appointed her to serve as the official delegate to a presidential delegation in Liberia.
In 1955 Mary McLeod Bethune died, but her legacy still lives on to this day. Mrs. Bethune quoted; “I leave you a thirst for education. Knowledge is the prime need of the hour.” Also; “If I have a legacy to leave my people, it is my philosophy of living and serving.” In 1973 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, a postal stamp was created in her likeness in 1985, and in 1994 the U.S. Park Service brought the former headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women, and renamed it the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site. Creating an Institution that blacks can earn an education from hundreds of years after her death, makes Mary McLeod Bethune a giant among us all. Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune, we stand on your shoulders.
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Fannie Lou Hamer was born on October 6th, 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi. The daughter of sharecroppers; her attention went to helping her family earn money to survive at the age of six. At the age of twelve she dropped out of school to work full-time with her family. In 1944 Miss. Hamer would marry Mr. Perry “Pap” Hamer, and the couple worked as sharecroppers on a cotton plantation in Ruleville, Mississippi. They never had children because Miss. Hamer was having surgery to remove a tumor and the doctor gave her a hysterectomy as well. This act was against her will and a violation of her human rights.
The summer of 1962 would change her life forever. She attended a meeting where blacks were protesting the poll tax used to keep them from voting. After attending the meeting she decided to dedicate herself to helping end the oppression. In 1962 she traveled with 17 others to Indianola, Mississippi to the courthouse to oppose the poll tax. They were met with resistance by the local law enforcement officers. As a result of fighting against the poll tax, Miss. Hamer was fired from her job and kicked off the plantation where she lived for 20 years. Those actions did not deter her one bit, she spoke about the incident stating; “They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people.”
The rest of Miss. Hamer’s life was dedicated to the Civil Rights movement. Her next step was working with The Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). They often joined together to fight racial segregation against the local whites of the towns they were working. During her fight for justice, she was beaten, arrested, threatened and shot at; but Ms. Hamer pressed on. In 1963 she was severely injured while in custody in a Winona County, Jail. Fannie and others were beaten while in police custody. She suffered kidney damage as a result of the brutality. Despite the constant violence Miss. Hamer still pushed on. She helped to fund the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964, which opposed an all-white delegation. During a televised convention session, Miss. Hamer brought national attention to the plight of the blacks in Mississippi. In 1954 she would run for congress but was unsuccessful in her efforts.
Miss. Hamer and other black organizations worked to create business opportunities and child care for the black families in Mississippi. In 1971 she helped create the National Women’s Political Caucus to help organize her people politically. In 1976 she was diagnosed with breast cancer but never stopped fighting for her rights. Miss. Hamer died in 1977 leaving behind a legacy as a hero, a champion and an inspiration to us all. She stood toe to toe with oppression and cancer but never backed down. She refused to live and think like a slave; she was a proud free black woman. She stood for our rights then, so we can stand for our rights now. Miss. Fannie Lou Hamer, we stand on your shoulders.
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On June 29, 1941, Stokley Carmichael was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. His parents migrated to the United States when he was just an infant. He would live with his grandparent’s until the age of 11 when he joined his parents in the United States. His mother worked as a stewardess on a steamship, and his father was a carpenter and a cab driver. Carmichael believed his father worked himself to death chasing the American dream. His father was a hard-working man who died in his 40’s. In 1954 Carmichael gained his American citizenship at the age of 13; around that same time his family moved to the Morris Park neighborhood in the Bronx, New York.
1956 was the year he begin attending the all-white, liberal, elite, Bronx High School of Science. Attending this high school was the first time Carmichael found himself surrounded by an all-white elite. As an adult he realized that those white kids did not fully accept him because he was black. That statement was a wake-up call for him; he was a popular figure amongst his peers. Even though he befriended a mostly white crowd he still was conscious about the racial struggles in America. As a high school senior Carmichael witnessed a sit-in on television which compelled him to join the civil rights movement. “When I first heard about the Negroes sitting in at lunch counters down South,” he later recalled, “I thought they were just a bunch of publicity hounds. But one night when I saw those young kids on TV, getting back up on the lunch counter stools after being knocked off them, sugar in their eyes, ketchup in their hair—well, something happened to me. Suddenly I was burning.”
His next step was to join the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). They were picketing stores in New York and joining sit-ins in Virginia and South Carolina. In 1960 he graduated high school and attended Howard University where he majored in philosophy. He studied the works of Camus and Santayana, and used their philosophies to help face civil rights issues. Carmichael participated in a freedom ride in 1961 through the south challenging the segregation of interstate travel. He was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for entering the “whites only” section of the bus, and jailed for 49 days. Despite his jailing he continued his fight against oppression in America. He participated in another freedom ride in Maryland, a demonstration in Georgia, and a hospital worker’s strike in New York. Carmichael accomplished these feats all before he graduated from Howard University in 1964.
After graduation Carmichael joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the “summer of freedom”, of 1964. They were focused on raising the number of black registered voters in the south. In Lowndes County, Alabama Carmichael was able to use his brilliance to help raise the number of black registered voters from 70 to 2,600. Because of the negative backlash he received from the political parties for his voter registration efforts he started his own party, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. The logo he used for his political party was a Black Panther, which was the inspiration behind the Black Panther Party’s logo. Carmichael agreed with Dr. King’s idea of non-violence at this time; but those ideas would soon begin to change. Many of the young activists grew tired of the constant brutality by the police and white hate groups.
In 1966 Carmichael became the national chairman of SNCC and he would change the direction of the organization. White members were no longer welcome into the organization and Carmichael was becoming focused more on change. James Meredith embarked on the “Walk of Fear” from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. When Meredith was shot 20 miles into Mississippi, Carmichael decided SNCC would continue the walk in place of Meredith. On June 16th, 1966 Carmichael spoke passionately in Greenwood, Mississippi where he was forever remembered for saying; “We been saying ‘freedom’ for six years, what we are going to start saying now is ‘Black Power.’ The term “black power” became the slogan for empowerment for Africans around the globe. Carmichael explained that black power is a call for black people to unite and build a sense of community. The black power movement was also Carmichael’s way of saying the non-violent movement and integration into white America was over. The ideas of the movement were not well received by whites or blacks who supported Dr. King.
In 1967 Carmichael became prime minister of the Black Panther Party. He would use this time to help spread the idea of Pan-Africanism which he would spend the rest of his life pursuing. In 1969 Carmichael would leave the Black Panthers and move to Guinea where he changed his name to Kwame Ture. His name change was in honor of Kwame Nkrumah and Sékou Touré. In 1985 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer which he would later succumb to in 1998. He was a brilliant orator, author, leader and human being. He was a visionary with no fear. He was brave enough to challenge Dr. King’s ideas of non-violence because he wanted to see his people safe. Mr. Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Ture, we stand proudly stand on your shoulders. And one more thing, black power.
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Dr. George Carruthers was born October 1,, 1939 in Cincinnati, Ohio to a father who was a civil engineer and a mother who was a homemaker. The family lived in Milford, Ohio, where Carruthers developed his love for science as an avid science fiction reader and developing model rockets. With a growing interest in Astronomy, he built his first telescope out of cardboard at the age of ten. Suddenly Carruthers’ father passed away, forcing his family to move to Chicago where he was able to spend time at libraries and museums. He joined various clubs associated with the Adler Planetarium and became a member of the Chicago Rocket Society. He was also able to satisfy his growing interest in space by reading books at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. In 1957 he graduated from Englewood High School then enrolled into the University of Illinois.
During his seven year stint at the University of Illinois, Carruthers graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1961, a master’s degree in Nuclear Engineering in 1962, and Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronomical Engineering 1964. During his graduate studies, Carruthers was as a research and teaching assistant, working with plasma and gasses. After earning his Ph.D. Carruthers accepted a position with the Naval Research Laboratory in 1964, as a research physicist, having received a fellowship in Rocket Astronomy from the National Science Foundation. After joining the Naval Research Laboratory, Carruthers focused on far ultra violet astronomy, observing the earth’s upper atmosphere and astronomical phenomena. In 1966 Carruthers became a research assistant at the Naval Research Laboratory’s E.O. Hubert center for Space Research, where he researched ways to create visual images as a means of understanding the physical elements of deep space. His main focus was to create a device to illuminate and analyze ultraviolet radiation.
In 1969, Carruthers received a patent for his invention the “Image Converter for Detecting Electromagnetic Radiation Especially in short wave lengths”, which detected electromagnetic radiation in short wave lengths. Carruthers was the principle inventor of the Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph, which was used in the Apollo 16 mission to the moon. The camera allowed views of stars and celestial bodies and looked into the solar system thousands of miles away. A second version of the camera was sent on the Skylab space flight to study Comets in 1974. The camera actually allowed a user to see the amount of pollution in the Earth’s atmosphere. For the first time in history scientist were able to detect hydrogen in space, which gave an indication that plants were not the only source of oxygen for the Earth which lead to a debate about the origin of the stars.
George Carruthers was a force in the areas of astronomy and physics and was active in outreach programs seeking to bring science to the youth around the Nation. He was named Black Engineer of the Year in 1987, awarded the Arthur Fleming award in 1971, the Exceptional Achievement Scientific Award from NASA in 1972, the Warner prize in 1973 and inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2003. He was a leader who had the courage to take the road less travelled, and excelled within his fields. Carruthers was an inspiration and a prime example of hard work, imagination and greatness. Dr. George Carruthers, we stand on your shoulders.
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On July 25th, 1963 Lisa Williamson aka Sister Souljah was born in the Bronx, New York. She grew up in poverty stricken housing projects until her family moved to Englewood, New Jersey at the age of ten. Her new home was in a wealthy black community, far different from her home in the Bronx. While attending Dwight Morrow High School she noticed that African history was purposely left out of the curriculum. She felt that it was important for black and white students to understand the contributions African people gave the world. However, she used her free time to educate herself on Africa’s people, history and contributions to the world.
As a high school student Sister Souljah had the privileged of serving as a legislative intern in the House of Representatives. She also won the American Legion’s Constitutional Oratory Contest, scholarship to attend Cornell University’s Advanced Summer Program. She attended college at Rutgers University where she traveled abroad quite frequently. She visited Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Finland, Russia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, and Mozambique. In 1985 Sister Souljah graduated from Rutgers University with a dual major in American History and African Studies. She also gained a reputation on campus for speaking out about injustices against blacks and others. One of her efforts as a student activist was bringing Jessie Jackson to Rutgers to speak against the university’s unsettling investments in an apartheid stricken South Africa.
One of her most memorable accomplishments was successfully organizing an effort to get Rutgers University to divest more than $1 billion of its dollars into apartheid-era South Africa. After college, sister Souljah accepted a job offer by Reverend Benjamin Chavis working with the United Church of Christ Commission for Radical Justice. For the next three years she worked developing programs for a six week summer sleepaway camp. Creating these programs helped her build the skills to create, organize and finance programs for her people. Her next step was becoming the organizer of the National African Youth-Student Alliance. Sister Souljah used her organization and her voice to bring attention to the injustices and violence against blacks.
During the 1990’s Sister Souljah became a public figure because of her speaking out against racism. She frequently appeared on television and radio shows which gave her a platform to uplift and empower others. She became the face of racial controversy due to her enlightening others about racism. But the criticism did not stop Sister Souljah from leaving her mark on the African-American and Hip-Hop communities. As a Hip-Hop artist she was able to give her message to a wider range of black youth around the world. She appeared on several songs with Public Enemy, and eventually became a part of the group after Professor Griff left. In 1992, her debut Album titled 360 Degrees of Power was released but her album received little attention after her first two music videos were banned by MTV.
Sister Souljah became infamous amongst the American press because of the “Sister Souljah moment.” Her statement “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?”; made her a rogue in the eyes of her opposition. Sister Souljah along with Jessie Jackson was criticized by then President Bill Clinton about her remarks as a member of the Rainbow Coalition. She would later become an avid author of such books as No Disrespect, The Coldest Winter Ever, Midnight: A Gangster Love Story, Midnight: and the Meaning of Love, and A Deeper Love Inside: the Porsche Santiago Story. She often writes articles for Essence Magazine and has also written for the New York Times. Sister Souljah is dynamic, brilliant, resilient and explosive when it comes to uplifting her people. She uses her time to continuously educate and empower the youth she comes in touch with. Sister Souljah, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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On May 13, 1945, Kathleen Cleaver was born in Memphis, Texas to college educated parents who helped set a foundation for a successful life. Her father was a professor of sociology at Wiley College, her mother held a master’s degree in mathematics. Kathleen’s father accepted a job as the director of the Rural Life Counsel of Tuskegee University moving the family to Alabama. Soon after their move her father began working with the Foreign Service. During this time the family lived in India, the Philippines and Sierra Leone. Kathleen Cleaver would eventually return the United States where she would go on to graduate high school with honors in 1963. After graduation she would attend Oberlin College and later transferred to Bernard College before dropping out in 1966. Her next step was to work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
While attending Fisk University Kathleen organized a student conference, there she would meet her soon to be husband, Eldridge Cleaver. In 1967 she moved to San Francisco and joined the Black Panther Party. Kathleen and Eldridge would become husband and wife in December of 1967. Kathleen would begin to rise in the ranks of the black panthers. She became the communications secretary and the first female of the Panther’s decision making body. She would also serve as the spokesperson and press secretary for the Party. Kathleen was the initial organizer of the national campaign to free Huey Newton from jail. In 1968 she ran for the 18th state assembly district, she received 4% of the votes finishing third out of four candidates. The Cleavers became a target of police investigations which led to a raid of their house in 1968.
Kathleen would move to Algeria following a confrontation between Eldridge and the Oakland Police. Eldridge Cleaver fled the United States and went to Cuba before he would reunite with Kathleen in Algeria. In 1975 Kathleen returned to the United States and continued her education. She would receive her B.A. in history from Yale in 1984, and earned a Phi Beta Kappa election. In 1989 Kathleen would receive a law degree from Yale Law School, as well as became an associate at the Law firm of Cravath, Swain and Moore. She would later become a clerk for Judge A. Leon Higginbotham of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. She served on the Georgia Supreme Court Commission for Racial and Ethnic bias and served as a board member of the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights. Kathleen has used her time to help former Black Panther Party leader Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt gain his freedom after a 27 year prison sentence for a crime he did not commit.
Kathleen Cleaver is a Senior Research Associate at Yale Law School and she is the executive producer of the Black Panther Party Film Festival. She has won numerous fellowships for her writing from institutions such as the Bunting Institute of Radcliff College and the W.E.B. Dubois Institute of Harvard University. Kathleen Cleaver is beautiful, brilliant, relentless, and a true agent of freedom and change. Mrs. Kathleen Cleaver, we stand on your shoulders.
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In 1896 Lola Shirley Graham Dubois was born in Indianapolis, Indiana to Rev. David A. Graham and Elizabeth Etta Graham. As a young girl Dubois was taught the importance of opposing personal and social injustices within her community. She showed her brilliance as a 13 year old when she wrote an editorial for the Indianapolis newspaper protesting the discrimination she experienced. She was fueled to write the editorial because she was denied access to a public pool at her local YMCA. Early in her life Dubois and her family lived in five different cities before settling in Spokane, Washington. While living in Spokane Dubois graduated from Lewis and Clarke high school then moved to Seattle, Washington. While in Seattle she met and married her first husband Shadrach McCants. The couple had two sons before divorcing in 1927.
By 1931 Dubois sought the help of her parents to help raise her children while she attended graduate school. She was able to earn her master’s degree in fine arts and music history at Oberlin College. Dubois also attended Columbia University, Howard University, and Morgan State University briefly before earning her master’s. In 1932 as a student at Oberlin College Dubois’ three-act, sixteen seen Opera, Tom-Toms: An Epic of Music and the Negro debuted at Cleveland Stadium drawing a crowd of ten thousand people. Her second showing of her opera drew a crowd of fifteen thousand people, one of which was the Governor of Ohio Newton Baker. Dubois’ opera Tom-Toms made her the first African-American woman to write and produce and all-black cast opera.
Shirley Dubois never forgot her passion for helping to end racism in her communities. Her political activism found her being fired as the director of the YWCA-USO in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Because Dubois stood up for the protestors of the death of three black solders she lost her job. But because of her versatile skill set she was hired quickly by the NAACP as a field secretary. As a field secretary she was responsible for organizing new NAACP branches across the U.S. In 1944 Dubois released her first biography titled Dr. George Washington Carver, Scientist. She would then release two more biographies, a biography of Paul Robeson followed by a biography of Frederick Douglas. Later Dubois would become one of the founders of the Progressive Party. Dubois and the Progressive Party would become consultants to former Vice President Henry Wallace. Wallace would later run for president under the banner of the Progressive Party.
By the late 1940’s Shirley Dubois would become reacquainted with a childhood friend W.E.B. Dubois. Shirley and W.E.B. would date for a while before getting married in 1951 in New York City. The couples love and loyalty for each other was tested as they continuously fought legal battles because of an alleged connection to the Communist Party. In 1961 Shirley and W.E.B. gave up their American citizenship and moved to Ghana. W.E.B. Dubois would die in Ghana in 1963 in the city of Accra. Shirley Dubois remained in Accra until her friend Kwame Nkrumah’s regime was overthrown in 1966. Her next move was to Cairo, Egypt where she lived until moving to Beijing, China. Before she moved to Beijing she traveled throughout Africa, Asia and Europe fighting imperialism and colonialism. Shirley Dubois chose to counter racism by becoming an example of an active activist. She was not one to only complain about injustice, she chose to combat injustices to blacks and others around the world. Ms. Lola Shirley Graham Dubois, we stand on your shoulders.
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January 22, 1931 Samuel Cooke was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi to Rev. Charles Cooke and Annie Mae Cooke. Music was something that dwelled in the soul of the Cooke family. Sam’s older brother L.C. was a member of the band Johnny Keys and the Magnificent’s. Sam joined a singing group at the age of 9 called The Singing Children. In 1933 the Cooke family moved from Mississippi to Chicago, Illinois. While in Chicago, Sam would attend Wendell Phillips Academy High School, which was the same high school that the legendary Nat “King” Cole attended. At the age of 14 Cooke begin to make a name for himself as a singer while performing with the Highway QC’s. This was also around the time when Sam Cooke and Lou Rawls started their friendship. By 1950 Cooke had gained more acclaim and was now the new lead singer for The Soul Stirrers. This was the group that helped Cooke gain his first record deal.
The Soul Stirrers signed with Specialty Records and produced their first recorded song “Jesus Gave Me Water” in 1951. The Soul Stirrers also recorded “Peace in the Valley”, “How far am I from Canaan”, “Jesus Paid the Debt”, and “One More River”. It is widely stated that Cooke was the writer of most of the song the group recorded. Sam Cooke gave gospel music flair and he made it appeal to the teens and young adults of the day. Cooke would continue to pursue his music career which eventually led to his solo career. He recorded a song as a solo artist called “Loveable” under the alias Dale Cooke. He used an alias so he would not estrange his loyal gospel fans. The heads of Specialty Records found out that Cooke was recording secular music under an alias but did not have a problem with it initially. Cooke and his producer Bumps Blackwell would eventually leave specialty records because they wanted him to sound like Little Richard.
Cooke kept moving forward and ultimately landed a spot on The Guy Mitchell Show in 1957. This appearance would help him land a record deal with Keen Records. Under Keen Records he would release his single “You Send Me”, which spent six weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B charts. The song also spent three weeks at number one on the Billboard pop charts. In 1961 Sam Cooke along with J.W. Alexander and Roy Crain created SAR Records. It was very uncommon for a black artist to start their own record label at this time in history. Cooke also created his own publishing imprint and management firm. He was also smart enough to negotiate a deal giving him ownership of his master recordings. He used his label to help start the careers of The Simms Twins, The Valentinos, Bobby Womack and Johnnie Taylor.
As a business man Cooke’s SAR Records was tied into RCA Victor. Under RCA Victor he released hits such as “Chain Gang”, “Sad Mood”, “Cupid”, “Bring it on Home to me”, “Another Saturday Night”, and “Twistin the Night Away”. Cooke was known for producing singles rather than albums. In total he had 29 top 40 hits on the pop charts. Cooke became well known for displaying his song writing skills and his genius in song arrangement. Despite his knack for making chart topping singles he released two critically acclaimed albums Night Beat in 1963 and Ain’t that Good News in 1964.
On December 11th, 1964 Sam Cooke was found dead from a gunshot wound to the chest. He was shot by Bertha Franklin the attendant working at the hotel Cooke was residing in. Franklin states that she shot in him in self-defense. Cooke’s family and many others question the validity of the self-defense claim made by Franklin. We do know that Cooke was very valuable as a singer and composer. The same year Cooke was laid to rest two singles and an album of his were released. Both songs Shake and A Change Is Gonna Come reached the top ten of the Billboard pop charts helping cement Cooke’s legacy as a titan within the music industry. In 1968 Cooke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1987 he was inducted into the Writers Hall of Fame. In 2008 Cooke was ranked as the fourth greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone. Mr. Cooke was an innovator, he thought outside of the box and gave the black musician reason to become more than just a singer. Sam Cooke’s music and legacy inspired black people to become the change they wanted to see. Mr. Samuel Cooke, we stand on your shoulders.
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On June 7, 1917 in Topeka, Kansas the great Gwendolyn Brooks was born. She was the first child of David and Keziah Brooks. At just six weeks old, during the great migration, her family moved to Chicago, Illinois. During her grade school career Gwendolyn attended three different high schools Hyde Park a top white high school, Wendell Phillips an all-black school, and Englewood High School. She also began her career as writer and published her first poem “Eventide”, which was published in American Childhood Magazine. This feat was accomplished by the age of 13. Gwendolyn was highly influenced by James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes, after meeting them she was encouraged to read modern poetry and write every day. Within the next three years she published at least 100 poems as an adjunct member of the Chicago Defender.
After graduating high school she attended Wilson Junior College, which she graduated in 1936. Her early school experiences helped mold her into a great writer. In 1938 Gwendolyn became involved with a group of writers who wrote for Harriet Monroe’s still-extant Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, she also married Henry Blakely and by 1951 they had two children, Henry, Jr. and Nora. In 1943 she won the Midwestern Writers Conference Poetry Award. In 1945 she became an award winning author with her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, which immediately brought her critical acclaim and she was later selected as one of Mademoiselle Magazine’s “Ten Young Women of the Year”. She also won her first Guggenheim Fellowship, and became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1949 she published her second book of poems, Annie Allen, which won Poetry Magazine’s Eunice Tietjens Prize. In 1950 she received the Pulitzer Prize and became the first African America to win the award. Gwendolyn continued to pile up awards until she died; she even managed to receive an honorary degree as Doctor of Humane Letters.
In 1962 Gwendolyn Brooks was invited to read at a Library of Congress poetry festival by President John F. Kennedy. Later in 1985 she was appointed poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. In 1994 Gwendolyn was selected by National Endowment for the Humanities as the Jefferson Lecturer; this award is the highest award given by the Federal Government in humanities. She began teaching in 1963 at a poetry workshop at Columbia College in Chicago, Illinois. She also taught creative writing at a plethora of schools such as; Northeastern Illinois University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, Clay College of New York, and the University of Wisconsin. In 1967 Brooks awakened the activist in her business life and in her personal life; she attended the Second Black Writers’ Conference and was inspired to become a part of the Black Arts Movement. She became a visible and powerful ally for the Black Arts Movement; she also broke loose from major publishing companies to black owned publishing companies. Critics say her writing also took on a different tone as she became more of a leader in the movement. Gwendolyn died December 3, 2000 of cancer in Chicago, Illinois. She was a dedicated Chicagoan, writer and champion for African equality in the Arts. Gwendolyn was a success from her first piece of writing until her death. Miss Gwendolyn Brooks, we stand on your shoulders.
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On April 17, 1957 Kevin Donovan was born in the South Bronx, New York, to a family of socially conscious people. His mother and his uncle were active within the black liberation movement of the 1960’s. Donovan was exposed to ideas and tactics used to obtain freedom for the people of the African diaspora. Donovan was also exposed to the South Bronx gang culture. He was a member of the Black Spades, a gang in which he was a leader. Under his leadership the gang flourished throughout the city displaying his natural abilities. As a teen Donovan earned a trip to Africa by winning an essay contest. This trip to Africa would change this young man’s life forever.
Donovan was inspired by the Zulu of South Africa. He was most impressed with the Chief of the Zulu Bhambatha. He marveled at the unity and the community Chief Bhambatha built with his leadership. Soon after his trip to Africa, Donovan changed his name to Afrika Bambaataa Aasim. He also became a part of the change within his neighborhood. He created an organization called The “Bronx River Organization.” This organization was designed to build up the neighborhoods instead of tearing them down. Bambaataa also begin hosting parties in 1977 which were designed to spread love and unity through the neighborhoods. These parties were some of the early scenes where the Hip-Hop music grew out of the culture of the South Bronx.
DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash were some of the early pioneers credited with creating the music of Hip-Hop. Afrika Bambaataa is credited with naming and defining the culture of Hip-Hop. In 1982 Bambaataa and his band of performers traveled outside of the United States on a Hip-Hop tour. This tour was just what Bambaataa needed to help him spread Hip-Hop and its messages around the world. He would later create two new Hip-Hop groups the Jazzy 5 and the Soulsonic Force. As a member of The Soulsonic Force Bambaataa and his crew released a groundbreaking song “Planet Rock” which helped change Hip-Hop forever.
Bambaataa would later change the name of The Soulsonic Force to the Universal Zulu Nation as he continued to spread Hip-Hop across the world. Hip-Hop was used to unite the neighborhoods of the South Bronx helping them build their community. Bambaataa was also using the music to unite the world. He used his influence and resources to help within the Anti-apartheid movement of South Africa and the Stop the Violence movement in America. He released 22 albums and appeared on various soundtracks and song features. Afrika Bambaataa found a way to change his negative energy and outlook into a positive one. Because of the efforts of Bambaataa and other Hip-Hop pioneers the music and culture of Hip-Hop has spread worldwide. Bambaataa’s song “Planet Rock” is considered one of the greatest songs of all time. “Planet Rock” proved that one could have fun, dance, and shut the party down all while uplifting their community. Africa Bambaataa Aasim, we stand on your shoulders.
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On April 15, 1928 Norma Merrick Sklarek was born in Harlem, New York to parents who were raised in the West Indies. As a child she was labeled as a bright and creative person. Her father instilled the idea of greatness no matter what her field of choice was. Her brilliance as a child would lead her to attending and graduating from Hunter High. This was an all-girls magnet school for the smartest girls in New York City. Early in Life she developed a love for art, science and math; these subjects are the foundation of architecture. After graduating high school she attended Barnard College for a year; she would then enroll in Columbia University’s School of Architecture. Sklarek was able to beat the odds because Columbia University’s Architect School only accepts a small number of women each year.
While earning her degree in Architecture, Sklarek continuously amazed her peers and professors by displaying her brilliance and skill. She was one of the few students to pass the Architecture exit exam in one try, in the history of Columbia University. After Graduation she faced some roadblocks looking to start her career as an architect. Sklarek found it difficult to land a job working for a private architecture firm, so she began working for The Department of Works in New York City. Though Sklarek was happy to have a job, working for the City of New York was not her dream. Her dream was to become an architect so she stuck to her dream and quit her job. Her next step was looking for a job within the architecture field which took time but she eventually found a job. She gained employment with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, which is a well renowned architecture firm in New York.
Sklarek worked with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill for four years before she left New York for Los Angles. After moving to Los Angles Sklarek was able to find employment with Gruen Associates. Working for Gruen Associates was a dream that came true for Sklarek. She was able to find success within the field of architecture as well as build a name for herself. In 1966 Sklarek was named director of Gruen Associates and the company was able to flourish under her direction. She would later leave Gruen and become the vice president of the Weldon Becket Firm. As the vice president of Weldon Becket she was able to spearhead the building of several projects. She was able to lead the building of the American Embassy in Tokyo, Japan, The California Mart, The Fox Plaza in San Francisco, California, and the Terminal One in Los Angeles International Airport.
In 1980 Sklarek became the first African-American women to be honored with a fellowship by the American Institute of Architects. In 1985 Sklarek along with her colleges Margot Seigal and Katherine Diamond created their own architectural firm; Seigal, Sklarek and Diamond. Their firm became one of the largest female-owned firms in the United States. Sklarek became the first African-American woman to create and manage her own architectural firm. Sklarek is known as the “Rosa Parks” of architecture because of her efforts there are over 100,000 black architects in America now.
She also became a professor at UCLA, Columbia and Arizona State Universities. She authored “Women in Architecture” for the Encyclopedia of Architecture & Construction. She then became the chair of the AIA National Ethics Council. An architecture scholarship was honored in the name of Norma Sklarek at Howard University, and Sklarek was honored with the Whitney Young Jr. award at the AIA National Convention in 2008. On February 12, 2012 Norma Merrick Sklarek died at the age of 84 but she literally left her mark on the world. She used her imagination and passion to help her forge a future for herself and others. She was a groundbreaking hero that we should never forget. Mrs. Norma Merrick Sklarek, we stand on your shoulders.
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Dr. Ivan Van Sertima was born January 26, 1935 in Karina Village, Guyana, South America. At the time of his birth Guyana was a British colony this made him a citizen of Britain which he maintained throughout his life. He spent his early educational years learning at schools in Guyana. After completing his primary and secondary education he began attending the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London in 1959. As a young student Dr. Van Sertima developed a love for writing by writing poetry. Those writing skills would help him as he studied creative writing in college. In 1969 Dr. Van Sertima would earn an undergraduate degree with honors in African Languages and Literature from the University of London.
Between 1957and 1959 he learned to speak Swahili and Hungarian. He also worked as a Press and Broadcasting Officer with the Guyana Information Services. Dr. Van Sertima would later become a Broadcast Journalist in London during the 1960’s, broadcasting to Africa and the Caribbean. He also completed and published a dictionary of Swahili legal terms in 1967. Dr. Van Sertima immigrated to the United States in 1970 and enrolled into the University of Rutgers to complete his graduate studies. While completing his graduate studies Dr. Van Sertima published his book They Came Before Columbus in 1976. This book gives information about the African origins of ancient American culture. In 1977 he earned his master’s degree from Rutgers University. He also became an associate professor of African Studies.
In 1979 he founded the Journal of African Civilizations which he managed to maintain for at least a decade. Dr. Van Sertima published his article “The Lost Sciences of Africa: An Overview” in 1983 which discussed early evidence of high culture and civilization in ancient Africa. In 1999 he published his essay for the volume African Renaissance covering the scientific contributions of Africa. July of 1987 Dr. Van Sertima testified before a United States Congressional committee opposing Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of America. As Dr. Van Sertima’s popularity grew so did his critics. During the late 1990’s he as openly criticized by academics and researchers who disagreed with his information.
They discredited his book and his work clamming he promoted false information. Clarence Weiant an assistant archeologist wrote a letter to the New York Times in support of Dr. Van Sertima’s work. In 1981 his book They Came Before Columbus earned the Clarence L. Holte Literary Prize. In 2004 Dr. Van Sertima was inducted into the Rutgers African-American Alumni Hall of Fame. In 2009 at the age of 79 Dr. Van Sertima died but he will always live through his rich legacy.
He used his time and resources to educate the African world about their rich history in the Americas. He wanted black people to know that their history in this hemisphere started thousands of years before Columbus was born. He wanted people to know that according to his findings the first Native Americans were African people; he understood the value of knowledge of self. Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, we stand on your shoulders.
J. A. Ward.
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