On August 31st 1936, Marva Collins was born in Monroeville, Alabama, at a time where educational discrimination was blatantly normal. Marva’s father Henry Knight made sure Marva and her sister would receive the best education they could despite discrimination. Blacks living in Monroeville did not have the same resources to earn a suitable education as the white children. With determination and a strong family structure Collins was able to defy the odds and earn admission into Clark College; which is now Clark Atlanta. After graduating from Clark College she taught within the Alabama school system for two years. Her next step was moving to Chicago and becoming a teacher within the school system.
After moving to Chicago she met who would eventually become her husband Mr. Clarence Collins. Mrs. Collins work as an educator within the Chicago school system for 14 years which helped shape her views on the school system. She believed that the system was flawed and did not help to advance the students who attended the schools. Her displeasure with the school system turned out to become a blessing in disguise. Mrs. Collins used $5,000 of her retirement funds to open the Westside Preparatory School in Chicago. She opened the school on the second floor of her home in the Garfield Park area. Mrs. Collins opened her doors to any students who wanted to attend her school.
She was adamant about educating the children that everyone else had given up on. Mrs. Collins was very serious about education and the positive effects it had on a person. She also believed that you should never give up on a child. During an interview with Ebony magazine she stated; “If Abraham Lincoln was enrolled in public schools today, he would probably be in a learning disability program. Lincoln didn’t learn to read until age 14. No one should rule any child out of the educational picture.” She stressed the idea of using education to better the lives of her people. Her dedication to education was showing early. After only a year of opening her school her students test scores were significantly higher that they tested the year prior.
Mrs. Collins used her brilliance to create a method of teaching that would push the students to give their best. Her method was called “The Collins Method;” it was centered on students learning through phonics, math, reading, English and classic literature. She was able to teach the children that were viewed as undesirables anything ranging from Homer to Plato. She stressed reading requiring her students to complete her mandated reading list. Mrs. Collins believed that students didn’t fail subjects teachers fail students. The success of her school gained national attention. She was featured in Time Magazine and Newsweek. She was also profiled on 60 Minutes and Good Morning America. Her love for her students and education was spreading throughout the country.
In 1982 Marva Collins’ life was depicted in a full length film and Cicely Tyson played the role of Marva Collins. As the school grew Mrs. Collins moved the school from her apartment building to its own building on the South Side of Chicago. She was also able to open locations for her school in Ohio and Florida, expanding her message to many more undesired children. The impact of Mrs. Collins’ educational efforts has allowed her to become a public speaker and a trusted advocate for education. She has authored several books, and received numerous honors for her efforts. She has received several awards such as the Humanitarian Award for Excellence and honorary doctorates from Amherst, Dartmouth, and Notre Dame. In 2004 she was honored by President Bush with the National Humanities Medal. In 2008 the Westside Preparatory School closed because of a lack of funds but the impact Mrs. Collins made will never be forgotten. She has taken children that others believed could not learn and turned them into doctors, lawyers, and successful business men and women. Mrs. Collins was dedicated to uplifting the minds of her students and that is exactly what she did. Marva Collins we thank you for your dedication to the children you taught and your dedication to education. Mrs. Marva Collins we stand on your shoulders.
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Medgar Evers was born in Decatur, Mississippi in 1925 to a family of farmers. At the age of 18 Evers was drafted into the U.S. Army. His stint in the army took him to France and Germany fighting in World War II. In 1946 Evers received an honorable discharge from the Army and he returned home to Mississippi. In 1948 he began pursuing higher education at Alcorn College which is now Alcorn State University. As a senior at Alcorn College Evers met and married his wife Myrlie Beasley; he fathered three children during their marriage. Evers graduated from college in 1952 and began working as an insurance salesman. He also became active with the Regional Council of Negro Leadership which was a civil rights organization. While working with the RCNL Evers organized a boycott of a local gas station that refused to let blacks use their restrooms.
Evers also began working with the NAACP helping to enhance local participation and partnerships. In 1954 Evers applied for admission into the University of Mississippi Law School; his admission was rejected which led to a lawsuit against the school. Thurgood Marshall served as the lead attorney in the lawsuit against the Law School. Marshall, Evers and the NAACP lost the lawsuit against the Law School; but it was another blow thrown in the fight against educational discrimination. In May of 1954 the decision in the Brown v. Board of Education law suit came down ending the legal practice of discrimination in schools. Evers also became the first field secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi in 1954. He and his family moved to Jackson, Mississippi as a result of his work with the NAACP; his position required him to travel Mississippi recruiting new members and organizing voter–registration.
Evers put the skills he learned with the RCNL to good use by organizing many boycotts of business that refused its black customers. By 1955 Evers was a well-known well respected civil rights activist in Mississippi. He led the charge against the Mississippi legal system because of the constant discrimination against its black citizens. He challenged the Mississippi police department to reinvestigate the murder of Emmitt Till in 1955 and protested the conviction of Clyde Kennard in 1960. The more Evers worked the more popular he became which made him a target of the local whites who hated him. He and his family faced numerous threats and violent actions by the white who hated him. In 1963 his home was bombed by those who disagreed with his ideas.
On June 12, 1963 Medgar Evers was shot in his back and later died at the hospital. Evers was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Later that year the NAACP awarded him with their Spingarn Award. The attention the Evers murder received helped led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Byron De La Beckwith was named as lead suspect in the Evers murder because all of the evidence supported his guilt. Beckwith was a well- known racist and he received support from other racist whites including Governor Ross Barnett. In 1964 Beckwith was found not guilty and set free of all charges in two different trials. Myrlie Evers moved to California after the trial but she never gave up working to convict Beckwith of his killing of Medgar Evers. Her persistence paid off 31 years later when Beckwith was finally charged with the murder of Medgar Evers in 1994. Medgar Evers left a lasting impression on Mississippi, the Civil Rights movement and blacks in the south. Mr. Evers showed the courage to stand and fight oppression even in the face of death. He dedicated his life to fighting injustices and helping blacks in the south live equal to their white counterparts. Mr. Evers legacy will live forever in southern American lore. Mr. Medgar Evers, we stand on your shoulders.
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Born on November 4th, 1942 in Harlem, New York to Rupert and Gladys Bath, Patricia’s path to greatness was piqued when her mother brought her a chemistry set as a young girl. From early on, Mrs. Bath was a hard worker and chose greatness. At the age of 16, she was picked as one of the few students to attend a cancer research workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation. She impressed the program head so much that he included her findings in a scientific paper presented to the workshop attendees. Due to her efforts, she was awarded the Mademoiselle Magazine’s Merit Award in 1960.
Bath headed to Hunter College after graduating high school in two years. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in 1964, and went on to graduate with honors from Howard University’s School of Medicine in 1968. After an internship at the Harlem Hospital, Bath began a fellowship in Ophthalmology (the branch of medicine that deals with the anatomy, physiology and diseases of the eye) at Columbia University. During her time there, she discovered that African Americans were twice as likely to suffer from blindness and eight times more likely to develop glaucoma than other races. Bath’s research led to a community ophthalmology system, providing increased eye care for those who could not afford treatment. Patricia Bath became the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology and later moved to California to work as an assistant professor of surgery at Charles R. Drew Medical School and the University of California, Los Angeles. Upon taking her new position she became the first female faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute.
In 1976, Bath co-founded the American Institute for the prevention of blindness and by 1983 Bath helped create the ophthalmology Residency Program at UCLA-Drew. Bath chaired the program of which she also became the first woman in the nation to hold such a position. In 1981 Bath began working on her most well-known invention– the Laserphaco Probe, which she created in 1986. She was able to harness laser technology, creating less painful and more precise treatments of cataracts. She received a patent for the device in 1988, becoming the first African American female doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose. She also holds patents in Japan, Canada and Europe for her Laserphaco Probe. Bath retired in 1993 becoming an honorary member of the UCLA medical staff and was also named “Howard University Pioneer in Academic Medicine”. Mrs. Bath was a strong advocate for telemedicine, which uses technology to provide medical services to remote areas. Mrs. Bath is a great inspiration and model of excellence. She is a pioneer, a visionary and a titan within her field. Mrs. Patricia Bath, we stand on your shoulders.
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On January 8, 1886 Timothy Drew was born in an unnamed city in North Carolina. It is said that he was born to former slaves before he was adopted by members of the Cherokee tribe. Other stories say that he was born to a Moroccan father and a Cherokee mother; his ethnic background would help shape his future. As a young boy Ali’s mother died leaving him in the care of his aunt who was abusive to him. At the age of 16 Ali would leave his caregivers to travel to world; his travels would change the course of his life. Many stories exist about how he would travel the world the most common is he joined a band of gypsies and traveled the world. Other accounts say that he joined a circus as a stage magician. What we do know is his travels led him to meeting and becoming the student of a high priest of an Egyptian Cult.
The priest saw Ali as the reincarnation of Jesus so he trained him in mysticism and gave him a book; the lost version of the life of Jesus. Ali would use the text to help further his knowledge and his mission. The text was later named the Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America. The text is also known as the Circle Seven Koran. Ali would later become anointed by the priest as noble Drew Ali. He would then move forward to enlighten and awaken his people to the truth of their history by founding the Moorish Science Temple. In 1913 in Newark, New Jersey Ali founded the Canaanite Temple but because of his uncommon religious views he was forced out of New Jersey. Ali would move to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Detroit before settling in Chicago in 1925.
In 1926 he was able to build and officially register Temple No. 9 as a Moorish Science Temple. Ali was spreading Islam and Moorish consciousness throughout the black communities of America. By the late 1920’s there were 15,000 Moorish Science members and 17 temples in the United States. Noble Drew Ali was helping to awaken the sleeping minds of black America. The Moorish Science Temple experienced some division when Claude Green Bey declared himself Grand Sheik and left the Moorish Science Temple taking some of the temples members with him.
Shortly after Green Bey left the temple he was stabbed to death at the Unity Mosque in Chicago. Ali and his fellow members were arrested as instigators in the death of Green Bey; despite Ali not being in Chicago the night of the murder. While in the custody of the Chicago Police Ali and his members were beaten severely by the police before they were released on bond. On July 20, 1929 Noble Drew Ali was pronounced dead at his home. The exact cause of his death is unknown but many believe he died as a result of the injuries he received from the police.
Noble Drew Ali was a beacon of light for black America helping them understand their true origins by seeking knowledge of self. Ali’s Moorish Science Temple helped lay the foundation for the founding of the Nation of Islam. Wallace Fard Muhammad was a member of the Moorish Science Temple and the founder of the Nation of Islam. Noble Drew Ali was a contemporary of Marcus Garvey and like Garvey he dedicated himself to uplifting his people through knowledge and the application of knowledge. He believed that people of African descent in America should claim their Moorish origins and gain classification as a true nation. Ali was inspiring and a true pioneer in restoring consciousness into black America and restoring his people as a Moorish Nation. Noble Drew Ali we stand on your shoulders.
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July 16, 1862 six months before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation Ida B. Wells-Barnett was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi to parents James and Elizabeth Wells. Ida’s father was a master carpenter and was involved with the Freedman’s Aid Society; her father’s education and experience would help shape her future. Wells-Barnett attended Shaw University at the age of 16 until tragedy struck her family. Both of her parents and a sibling died because of yellow fever. Wells-Barnett was the sole care taker of her remaining siblings so she began teaching at a black elementary school until she was 18. Wells-Barnett and her siblings moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1882 to live with some of her relatives; this move allowed her to make more money as a teacher in Memphis rather than Holly Springs. She taught school for the Shelby County School system while continuing her education at Fisk University on the side.
In 1884 while sitting in a first class seat on a train to Nashville he was ordered to give up her seat to a white person. When she refused she was hauled off the train and arrested. She would later sue the railroad receiving $500.00 in a settlement case. The Tennessee Supreme Court would later overturn the ruling in favor of the railroad. Wells-Barnett would begin writing frequently under the alias “Lola;” she also would begin gaining attention for her wonderful ability to write about race. She became co-owner and editor of the Free Speech and Headlight newspapers in 1889. Well-Barnett was visiting Mississippi when her friend’s grocery store was mobbed and trashed by whites. The owners of the store were jailed because of the incident; the white mob then attacked them while in jail and killed all the store owners. Wells used the power of her pen to educate blacks about what was going on and encouraged them to leave the city of Memphis. Because of Well’s writings over 6,000 blacks vacated Memphis while others boycotted the white business. Wells-Barnett’s life was threatened after she wrote her articles; but she still dedicated her time to traveling to the south learning as much as she could about the lynching’s of blacks. After gathering information she published several articles which only further enraged the savage minds of the whites who hated her.
Wells moved to New York because her life was in danger in the south. While in New York she wrote an article for the New York Age highlighting the lynchings of blacks in America. In 1893 Wells-Barnett began lecturing worldwide about the inhumane lynching of blacks in America. Wells-Barnett wrote and circulated a pamphlet exposing the ban of African American art exhibitors at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Wells’ efforts were supported by Frederick Douglas and Ferdinand Barnett. 1893 was also the year that Wells published her personal examination of lynching’s in America titled; A Red Record. Wells was invited to the White House in 1898 where she campaigned for anti-lynching policies to help African-Americans. Later that year she would marry Ferdinand Barnett, the couple formed a force together to fight the lynching laws of America. In 1896 Wells formed the National Association for Colored Women, which helped protect the black community from the white lynch mobs.
After a brutal assault on the black community in Springfield, Illinois Wells attended a conference that would later give birth to the NAACP. Wells-Barnett left the NAACP shortly after its inception because of a lack of action towards practical solutions. Wells-Barnett went on to create the first African-American kindergarten for her community.Ida B. Wells-Barnett truly dedicated her life to fighting injustices against her people. She faced jail, threats to her life, and family tragedies but still remained a champion for her people. She took on America and its unjust policies, even taking her case to the White House to advocate for her natural right to live. Throughout history, only the brave and the ones passionate about their people and true freedom stand up for justice; Miss. Wells-Barnett was one of those heroes. Miss Ida B. Wells-Barnett, we stand on your shoulders.
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Jan Matzeliger was born on September 15, 1852 in Surinam, Dutch Guiana a South American country. His father was a Dutch engineer and was in Surinam completing Dutch government duties during the time of Jan’s birth. As a child he showed the willingness and the ability to repair broken equipment while visiting his father’s job. At the age of nineteen Matzeliger left home to travel the world. He would work aboard an Indian merchant ship for two years helping to satisfy his urge to see the world. After returning from the Indian ship he would move to Pennsylvania. Matzliger spoke very little English when we moved to Pennsylvania, but with his mechanical skills he would remain employed. After finding work with a cobbler Matzliger gained an interest in shoe making. His new interest would take him to Lynn, Pennsylvania the capital of shoemaking at the time. He would earn an apprenticeship in a shoe factory as a sewing machine operator.
Within the factory worked special shoe sewers known as “lasters,” they were held in high regard. Their job was to sew the upper part of the shoe to the sole of the shoe. Because their job was so important they charged a high price to work, thus driving the price of shoes up. Only 50 pairs of shoes were able to be made in a work day which also contributed to the high prices of the shoes. Matzeliger took it upon himself to study the English language in his free time, this allowed him to read English and study the subjects of physics and mechanical science. Matzeliger taking the time to educate himself would help improve his life more than he could imagine. He believed that he could create a machine that would sew the upper portion of a shoe to the sole of the shoe; a dream he would realize later in life.
Matzeliger would create several inventions that were stolen by other so called “inventors” who would profit off of his creations. Matzeliger was quietly focused on creating his “Shoe Laster” machine, so his misfortunes were not a burden to him. After carefully studying the hand motions of the shoe lasters Matzeliger slowly learned how to sew the sole of the shoe to the upper portion of the shoe. His goal of creating a shoe laster machine was becoming clear to him. He would slowly build the machine over time despite no funds and a lack of resources. He relied on any materials he could find to create his machine.
The hand lasters working for the shoe factory learned of Matzeliger’s plan to create his machine and begin to bash and discouraged his work. They were in fear of losing their jobs. As more and more people learned about the machine Matzeliger received various offers to buy the machine. He rejected the offers which helped him learn the value of his creation. Because of a lack of resources Matzeliger sold 66% of the interest in the machines. This move allowed him to complete two other models of the machine and apply for a patent.
The patent office could not believe someone was creating such a machine, so they sent an employee to review Matzeliger’s “Laster Machine.” In 1883 Jan Matzeliger received a patent for his “Laster Machine” then improved it to be able to produce 700 pairs of shoes in a work day. Jan Matzliger died in 1889 at the age of 37 due to tuberculosis. Upon his death he revolutionized the shoe industry; his machine improved shoe production and lowered the prices. Because the shoe was now affordable for the average American the shoe industry was able to grow into the Behemoth it is today. Mr. Matzeliger allowed his imagination to improve his life and change the lives of Americans. Jan Matzeliger, we stand on your shoulders.
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Afeni Shakur was born as Alice Faye Williams in Lumberton, North Carolina, on January 22, 1947. As a child she witnessed her mother suffer abuse at the hands of her father. Her mother and father would later split up. Alice her mother and her sister moved to the Bronx, New York in 1958 where she attended the Bronx High School of Science. Looking to cope with the demons from her past, she began using cocaine at the age of15.This was a problem that would affect her later in life. At the age of 19 Alice Williams met Malcolm X and it was said to her spur her towards joining the Black Panther Party. In 1964 Alice Williams joined the Black Panther Party as a writer for the Panther Post. After joining the Black Panther Party Williams became involved with and married Lummumba Shakur. During their relationship Alice Williams changed her name to Afeni Shakur.
During the 1960’s Shakur experienced frequent encounters with law enforcement. In 1969 Shakur and fellow Panthers were charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to bomb police stations and other public places. Shakur was arrested but released on bail, during her time out on bail she conceived her son. Shortly after being released from jail Shakur’s bail was revoked and she returned to jail. Shakur was in jail until her trial date. Once her trial date came she successfully defended herself in court. She was acquitted of all charges and regained her freedom.
After winning her trail she gave birth to her son Lesane Parish better known as Tupac Shakur. Afeni Shakur never returned to the Black Panther Party but she retained all the core values she learned as a member. She began working as a paralegal with Richard Fischbein; during this time she would marry Mutulu Shakur and conceive her daughter. Afeni’s relationship with Mutulu ended in 1982. In 1984 she would move to Baltimore, Maryland with her son and daughter.
While in Baltimore her son Tupac was able to attend the Baltimore School of Performing Arts. During the 1980’s Shakur would once again battle drug addiction; a battle she would eventually win. Afeni would experience another tragedy in the murder of her son Tupac Shakur. In 1997 after the death of her son, Afeni Shakur established Amaru Entertainment. She would later establish the Tupac Amaru Foundation of the Arts. Makaveli Brand Clothing was established in 2003; proceeds from the sales helped establish the Tupac Shakur Center for the Arts located in Stone Mountain, Georgia. A biography was written about Afeni Shakur in 2004 by the actress Jasmine Guy. Afeni Shakur is more than just the mother of the late great Tupac Shakur. Mrs. Shakur is a beacon of light we can look to in our dark times.
She became a political activist, a prominent speaker and a well-known philanthropist. Her life began with troubled times and she often faced more bad days than good. Afeni Shakur showed her strength and determination to overcome hardship and achieve greatness. She learned how to care for and uplift her people as a Black Panther. She also taught her children the valuable principles of the Panthers which helped to enhance their lives. Afeni Shakur was a brave and brilliant woman. Mrs. Afeni Shakur, we stand on your shoulders.
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Born on January 1, 1915 in Union Springs Alabama to sharecroppers, Dr. John Henrik Clarke had always been aware that the history of his people has been omitted from textbooks and the Bible since his childhood. “I saw no African people in the printed and illustrated Sunday school lesson,” said Dr. Clarke, and it was that which started his journey towards gaining new knowledge. Dr. Clarke devoted his life to studying the history of his people and during the process he traveled all over the globe. During his journey, he began to see that the history of African people had been hidden not only in America but all over the world. Hidden in plain sight, Dr. Clarke learned that the history of man started with African people and decided to tell the world to help uplift his people.
As a professor emeritus at Hunter College in New York, he was known for his detailed lesson plans on African history. So much that even the Schomburg Library in Harlem asked him for copies of his work. Despite having only an 8th grade education, Dr. Clarke learned all he could about African history and in the process, created a career for himself. With 6 books, 59 short stories and 17 book edits, Dr. Clarke provided African people with a wealth of knowledge of the greatness of Africa.
A world renowned lecturer, Dr. Clarke studied African history in every country of the rich continent except South Africa. He was a driven man because he was aware that the stories of greatness pertaining to African people had been excluded from the pages of history books. Dr. Clarke died at the age of 83, leaving a legacy for millions of African people to learn from. I am blessed to have come in contact with the works of Dr. Clarke, and I felt compelled to spread this information about a historical titan and a great soul. Thanks to Dr. Clarke, people around the globe now have greater access to African history. I salute Dr. Clarke and encourage you all to study his work and give praise to a champion of African history and consciousness. Dr. John Henrik Clarke, we stand on your shoulders.
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Lucy Gonzalez Parsons is believed to have been born around 1853 in Texas as a slave to parents of Native American, African American and Mexican origins. At the age of 18 she married Albert parsons, following their union they moved from Texas to Chicago, Illinois because of threats to their safety. They were receiving the threats because of their interracial marriage in a racist Texas. Late in the 1800’s Parsons and her husband became active organizers in the labor movement in Chicago. They were anarchist and called dangerous by the Chicago Police Department because of their activism for people of color, women and the homeless. In 1883 Parsons, her husband, and several others founded The Alarm, the journal of the International Working People’s Association. That same year she also wrote for The Socialist.
Albert Parsons was arrested in 1886 on charges of conspiracy to start a riot; he was tried and executed a year later by the State of Illinois. It is believed that the State of Illinois conspired to create the riot to convict Albert Parsons. In 1888 Lucy Parsons began writing for Les Temps Nouveaux a French anarchist journal. In 1892 Parsons published a periodical titled Freedom in the A Revolutionary Anarchist-Communist Monthly. Following the publishing of the periodical, Parsons began getting arrested often while giving public speeches and distributing anarchist information. The arrest was an attempt to discourage Parsons but it did the opposite; she continued to push forward with her ideologies and the anarchist movement. Parsons was involved in the 1905 founding of the Industrial Workers of the World, she also begin editing for the Liberator which was an anarchist newspaper. The newspaper was created to support and spread the anarchist movement in Chicago.
In 1915 she organized the Chicago Hunger Demonstrations; it forced the American Federation of Labor, the socialist party, and the Jane Addams’ Hull House to become active in the demonstration. The demonstration was created to help make changes in the cities dealings with the less fortunate. In 1927 she began work with the National Committee of the International Labor Defense, a communist-led organization who defended labor activist and wrongly accused African Americans. In 1939 Parson officially joined the Communist party. At the age of 80 Parsons continued to give her speeches and fight for equality; her last major appearance was at the International Harvester in early 1941.
In 1942 Lucy Gonzalez Parsons died in a house fire in Chicago, Illinois at the age of 89. During the seizing of her possessions the Police found 1,500 books as well as several writings she accumulated over the years. She was buried in the Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois next to her husband Albert Parsons. In 2004 the city of Chicago honored her by naming a park after her. Parsons was a leader, a rebel, an anarchist, a wife and a lady. She gave her life to help those less fortunate than her. Equality was her main fight and she fought for equality until the day she died. Lucy Gonzalez Parsons, we stand on your shoulders.
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On August 3rd, 1832 Edward Wilmont-Blyden was born in St. Thomas Danish West Indies, what is now known as the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was the son of parents who were free blacks from the Igbo Tribe in Nigeria. As a studious young man Blyden caught the attention of Reverend John P. Knox who was an American Pastor of the St. Thomas Protestant Dutch Reformed Church. Knox became the mentor of Blyden and encouraged him to polish his oral and writing skills. Impressed by Knox, Blyden choose to follow in his footsteps and became a minister. In 1850 Blyden was joined by the wife of Reverend Knox on a trip to Knox’s Alma Mater the Rutgers Theological College. The college refused to admit Blyden as a student because he was black; he also failed to gain admittance in two other colleges because of his race. Knox encouraged Blyden to move to Liberia which was an upstart colony in Africa, he thought Blyden would be able to use his skills better there. Blyden sailed to Liberia in 1850 and became involved in the development of the colony.
Blyden was editor for the Liberia Herald and also wrote his column “A Voice From Bleeding Africa” from 1855 to 1856. He edited for newspapers in Nigeria as well as Sierra Leone, later he edited at The Negro, and The African World. Blyden was acquainted with the American Colonization Society which allowed him to be published in their African Depository and Colonial Journal. In 1861 Blyden became a professor at Liberia College teaching Greek and Latin. In 1880 Blyden was selected as President of Liberia College a position he held until 1884. He also served as Ambassador for Liberia to Britain and France; he also traveled to the U.S. to speak to blacks about what he was doing for Liberia. During his speeches in the U.S., Blyden was offering freedom by way of returning to Africa. His ideas were not received well by African-Americans. Blyden used Ethiopianism a concept inspired by the Zionist movement, built on the belief that if African people returned to Africa our conditions would improve. He would later incorporate the concept of Islam into his ideology, stating that it was a more proper religion for African-Americans and Americo-Liberians.
Because of his heavy involvement in the development of Liberia, Blyden was named the Liberian Secretary of State in 1862, and Minister of Interior in 1880. He ran for president in 1885 but lost the race. Blyden became the director of the education of Muslims in Freetown, Sierra Leone from 1901 to 1906. He encouraged as many Africans as possible to choose Islam during this time. Blyden married Sarah Yates while living in Liberia; they had three children while they were together. He would later meet and engage in a relationship with Anna Erskine and they would have five children together. Blyden became known as “The Father of Pan-Africanism” because of his work in Liberia and Sierra Leone and his writings. His best known piece of writing is titled Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race; which he wrote in 1887. This piece helped to promote his ideas of Islam as a better religion for African people. He believed that Christianity had a debilitating effect on the Psyche of African people. His book caused a stir in Britain because of Blydens race and his content. Edward Blyden died on February 7th, 1912 in Freetown, Sierra Leone and was buried at the Racecourse Cemetery. Blyden is credited as the first to spread ideas of Africans around the globe uniting and moving back to Africa to enrich and empower Africa. Though he was met with resistance and racism, Blyden continued his ideas of Africans freeing themselves. He felt that if we have our own place to exit in the world, why would be beg for a place in someone else’s world. Mr. Edward Wilmont-Blyden, we stand on your shoulders.
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Aprille Ericsson-Jackson was born April 1, 1963, in Brooklyn, New York in the Roosevelt projects, she was the oldest of four and destined for greatness. She was a product of the busing system and attended P.S. 199 in Brooklyn where she excelled in her academics. Ericsson-Jackson found a love for math and science in junior high school. She won second place in a science fair and passed all of her exams with a 90% or better. She excelled in her studies and became an active member of the school band, science club, honors club, and girls’ basketball team. Ericsson-Jackson had to take entrance exams for the top technical high schools in New York; she aced the exams but decided not to attend a school in New York.
Ericsson-Jackson attended the Cambridge School of Weston in Cambridge, Massachusetts and lived with her grandparents. At her new school Ericsson-Jackson excelled in her academics and also joined the girls’ basketball and softball teams for her school and city wide teams. During the summer of her junior year she was accepted into a minority engineering and entrepreneurial program. This was a tough six week program that prepared minority students for the engineering, science and, entrepreneurial fields. Her next step was graduating high school with honors and attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). She graduated from M.I.T. with a bachelor in Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering, and was involved in some very prestigious research projects. Ericsson-Jackson was able to assist in developing a fiber optic laser gyroscope; she helped create a database for EVA neutral buoyancy data that was calculated at the NASA Johnson Space Center. Her senior project was to research Manned Mars Mission crew systems for interplanetary vehicles.
Ericsson-Jackson developed a love for manned space mission’s and applied for NASA’s astronaut program but was placed under medical review because of previous health concerns. Her next step was to attend Howard University where she earned a Master of Engineering and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. She became the first female and first African-American female to receive a Ph.D. in engineering from Howard University. While attending Howard, Ericsson-Jackson researched practical design procedures for future orbiting space structures. She received funding via fellowships and grants from several sources such as the Pacific Telesis Foundation.
Ericsson-Jackson held an internship at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, which helped her land a job with the flight center after receiving her Ph.D. While working at the flight center she worked on several projects such as the X-Ray Time Explorer, the Tropical Rain Forrest Measurement Mission, and the Microwave Anisotropy Probe. She also has become a lecturer to minority women encouraging them to join her field. She also created a pipeline for children who may not have the opportunity to purse engineering. In 1998 Ericsson-Jackson received the Women in Science award for the best female engineer in the federal government. She received recognition at the Black Engineers Award Conference; she also won the Goddard Honor Award for Excellence in Outreach. She was named as one of the 18 women who will change the world by the Women’s Network. Aprille Ericsson-Jackson excelled in a field and time when women were only expected to take care of their homes. She defied social, gender, racial and, cultural barriers to become exactly what she wanted to be. Mrs. Aprille Ericsson-Jackson, we stand on your shoulders.
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Fred Hampton was born on August 30, 1948, in Maywood, the suburb area of Summit, Illinois. Hampton excelled in the classroom and in athletics early in life, and had a dream of becoming the center fielder for the New York Yankees. In 1966 he graduated from high school and went on to attend Triton Junior College where he would major in pre law. He used this knowledge to patrol the local police in River Grove, Illinois. He and others would follow around law enforcement to help protect the citizens against police brutality. He would later go on become the leader of the Youth Counsel of the west suburban branch of the NAACP.
As the leader of the Youth Counsel he was able to build an organization of 500 youth members within River Grove. He also used his position to improve the neighborhoods in which they existed. The counsel focused on improving educational and recreational resources in the black communities.
In 1968 Fred Hampton moved to Chicago, Illinois where he joined the Black Panther Party, after learning about them through their rise to fame. The Black Panther Party with Fred Hampton as a member were making vast improvements within the neighborhoods of Chicago, including the organizing of a nonviolent pact between the most powerful gangs of Chicago. That same year Hampton held a press conference to announce that a truce had been made to stop the violence and would be kept by the gangs. Hampton called the joining of the gangs and organizations the “rainbow coalition,” a term Jessie Jackson would later take and use.
Hampton went on to become the leader of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party where he held rallies weekly, worked with local clinics, taught political education classes, and provided supervision of the Chicago Police. He provided a free breakfast program for the black Chicago community, ensuring community members were able to eat. Hampton left the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers to become the chairman of the Illinois State Black Panther Party, and later obtained the position of Deputy Chairman of the National B.P.P.
The leadership of the B.P.P was under attack by the FBI and was beginning to fall apart. As the leadership of the B.P.P. declined, Hampton was becoming more of a target for the FBI. He quickly became an enemy of J. Edgar Hoover, who saw Hampton and the B.P.P as a threat to the U.S. Government. Hampton’s mother’s phone was tapped by the FBI and a document of over 4000 pages was created about him. The FBI worked overtime to dismantle the B.P.P and used every tactic they could, In the end, they managed to separate the B.P.P from its community alliances.
Hampton was close to creating a merger between the B.P.P. and the south side street gang, but tragedy struck first. With Hampton being considered an enemy by the FBI, a raid of his apartment was organized by Edward Allen, who was the State Attorney for the Office of Cook County. On December 3, 1969 Fred Hampton’s apartment was raided by the Chicago Police Department. Hampton was drugged by FBI informant William O’Neal and then shot while asleep and under the influence. Hampton left behind his pregnant wife, who gave birth to their son Fred Hampton, Jr. four weeks later.
Fred Hampton was unlawfully killed in the midst of helping to create a better community for black people in America. He worked hard to ensure that black America lived better, and even though Fred Hampton was killed by the FBI and the Chicago Police Department, his legacy and his work will never be forgotten. We will work hard today to make sure we follow in the footsteps of Fred Hampton in improving our communities. Mr. Fred Hampton, Sr. we stand on your shoulders.
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Alice Ball was born on July 24th, 1892, in Seattle Washington to parents James Presley and Laura Ball. The Ball family was a middle class American family; her father was a newspaper editor, photographer and lawyer, while her grandfather was also a famous photographer. Ball moved to Hawaii with her family in 1903, in 1904 she suffered the loss of her grandfather James Ball Sr. After the passing of her grandfather her family moved back to Seattle in 1905 to be closer to their immediately family. In 1910 Ball graduated from a Seattle High School and began attending the University of Washington to study chemistry. She earned two degrees from the University of Washington, one in pharmaceutical chemistry and one in pharmacy. Ball used her college time to publish a 10-page article in the Journal of the American Chemical Society; her article was titled “Benzoylations in Ether Solution.”
After graduating from the University of Washington, she was offered scholarships to attend the University of California Berkley and the University of Hawaii. Ball decided to return to Hawaii to earn her master’s degree in chemistry, which she earned in 1915. Ball earning her master’s made her the first woman and first African-American to graduate from the University of Hawaii with a master’s degree. During her time at Hawaii Ball investigated the chemical makeup, and active ingredient of Piper methysticum for her master’s thesis. During the development of her thesis, Ball was pursued by Dr. Harry T. Hollmann an assistant surgeon at Kalihi Hospital in Hawaii. Dr. Hollmann was seeking Ball’s assistance in developing a method to isolate the active chemical compound in chaulmoogra oil. Chaulmoogra oil was not popular because of its taste and it caused people to have an upset stomach.
Ball was able to isolate the ethyl esters of the fatty acids in the oil so it can be injected into someone. On December 31st, 1916 Alice Ball died at the age of 24 before she could publish her research results. Author L. Dean a fellow chemist at the University of Hawaii continued Ball’s research, he produced large amounts of the injectable oil extract and used it on patients. In 1918 a report was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association stating that 78 patients were treated and were able to leave the hospital and resume their normal lives. Alice Ball developed a treatment for Hansen’s disease which was used from 1918 to 1940. In the year 2000 the University of Hawaii honored Ball by dedicating a plaque in her honor and placing it on the only Chaulmoogra tree on the campus. That same day the Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii declared February 29th “Alice Ball Day.” In 2007 Ball was honored by the University of Hawaii with a medal of distinction. Though her life was short it was extraordinary because of the great accomplishments she gained in her life. She used her time on earth wisely and gave life her all. Alice Ball is an example of success and greatness for us all to follow. Mrs. Alice Augusta Ball, we stand on your shoulders.
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Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller was born June 9th, 1877, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to a family of black elites within an affluent and influential community. As a young girl she was trained in art, music, dance, and horseback riding; her family stressed education and cultural enrichment. She was selected as one of the few students to attend J. Liberty Tadd’s art school, instead of attending a Philadelphia public school. In 1893 as a high-school student one of her art projects was chosen to be displayed in the World’s Columbian Exposition. She was later awarded a scholarship to attend the Pennsylvania Museum & School of Industrial Art in 1894. While attending the Pennsylvania Museum & School of Industrial Art, she learned and mastered the skill of sculpting. Fuller would start to show her artistically rebellious spirit, she broke out of the traditional themes of feminine art which was expected of female artist. She began to create pieces which would reflect frightening imagery; she was showing independence which was rarely shown by female artist. In 1898 Fuller graduated from the Pennsylvania Museum & School of Industrial Art, she also earned a teaching certificate.
In 1899 she left home and traveled to Paris, France, to study with Raphael Collin at the Academie Colarossi and the Ecole des Deaux-Arts. While in Paris Fuller was confronted with racism, she was refused lodging at a hotel where she had already made reservations. She would find help from a family friend, the Painter Henry Ossawa Tanner who found lodging for her and acquainted her with his colleagues. Fuller was flourishing as a sculptor; she was finding inspiration from the art of Augustine Rodin. Her art was beginning to resemble the images of human suffering; she gained the name “the delicate sculptor of horrors.” Fuller earned the privilege of becoming the protégé of Augustine Rodin, and also gained the friendship of W.E.B. Dubois. Rodin helped mold a genius of a sculptor, while Dubois encouraged her to incorporate more African concepts into her art. Fuller’s art was being displayed in galleries all over Paris; she even earned herself a one-woman exhibition sponsored by Samuel Bing. The Salon de l’Art Nouveau exhibited two of Fullers works, The Wretched, and The Impenitent Thief, in 1903 before her return to the United States.
As Fuller returned to Philadelphia, she was met with racism once again, she was not welcomed within the local art scene because she was black. Despite the racism, she was commissioned to create dioramas of African-American historical events for the James Town Tercentennial Exposition and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts In 1906. She was the first African-American woman to receive a U.S. Commission. Fuller earned more art exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1908 and 1920. The Boston Library hosted one of Fullers exhibitions in 1922; she also exhibited at the Tanner League at Dunbar High School in Washington D.C. She would later face financial troubles in life along with enduring a fire which almost destroyed all of her work for the last 16 years. She did not receive the same artistic nurturing in Philadelphia that she received in Paris. She had begun to lose her passion for her art. March 13, 1968 Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller died in Framingham, Massachusetts at the age of 80. Fuller is regarded as the first artist to celebrate afrocentricity within her art; she was one of the forerunners of the Black Renaissance. Because of Fuller and several contemporaries positive art depicting Africa and African-Americans were beginning to flourish. Mrs. Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, we stand on your shoulders.
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Born September 17, 1879, in Calvert, Texas, to parents Sarah and Andrew Foster, he is known as the “father of black baseball” because of his pioneering spirit. In 1897 Foster began his baseball career at the age of 18 with the Waco Yellow Jackets, which was an independently owned black baseball team. Over the next three years, Foster showed brilliance and skills as he marveled the crowds. His performances earned him a reputation as a great baseball player, and also a spot on one of the top black baseball teams the Chicago Union Giants in 1902. As Foster began playing with Chicago he got off to a rough start and was released by the team. He would later sign with a semipro baseball team located in Ostego, Michigan; Bardeen’s Ostego Independents in 1902. During Fosters time with the Independents, he played twelve games and earned a record of eight wins and four loses and eighty-two strikeouts. Five of the games foster played in his strikeouts were not recorded, but it is stated that he totaled over one hundred strikeouts in the twelve games.
After the 1902 season Foster joined the best black baseball team around, the Cuban X-Giants based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His reputation as a great pitcher was growing more with every game played; he is noted for his performance in a black eastern championship game against the Philadelphia Giants. Foster was responsible for four of the teams five victories to win the series. Andrew Foster would become “Rube” Foster after defeating Rube Waddell in an exhibition game against the Philadelphia Athletics. Rube Waddell was a well-known left handed pitcher who was considered the best until he faced Foster. In 1904 Foster joined the Philadelphia Giants winning twenty games against black and white teams and only suffered six defeats. His two no-hitters and a .400 batting average helped him lead his team to the championship over his old team the Cuban X-Giants. The following seasons Foster lead his team to another championship compiling a fantastic 51-4 record as a starting pitcher. In 1906 Foster and the Philadelphia Giants would lead the charge in forming the International League of Independent Baseball Players, a league of both black and white players.
In 1907 Sol White the manager of the Philadelphia Giants, published his Official Baseball Guide: History of Colored Baseball. Foster contributed to the guide by writing an article titled “How to Pitch”; following the publication Foster and other players left Philadelphia and joined the Chicago Leland Giants. Foster would be named playing manager of the team, under his management the team won one hundred eleven games and only lost ten. The next season Fosters team tied with the Philadelphia Giants in the championship series, he was off to a great start as a manager. In 1916 Foster, I.C. Taylor, and team owners attempted to form an all-black baseball league but they could not agree to terms. At this time in fosters career he was more of a manager than a player, he would eventually became a full-time manager.
Many of fosters former players went on to become managers themselves. In 1919 Foster had a hand in financing the Detroit Stars; with the Stars he developed more players into managers. Most historians believe Foster was preparing these managers so he could create an all-black baseball league. 1920 was a year to be remembered, this was the year of the formation of the Negro National League. Foster, Taylor, and six other team owners met and came to terms for the formation of the league. Foster was named president of the NNL and managed his team the American Giants. As time passed the Hilldale Club and the Bacharach Giants, left the NNL and formed their own league, the Eastern Colored League. The NNL would lose players to the ECL but the two leagues agreed to respect the player’s contracts and play a World Series.
Foster would suffer a tragic accident in 1926 and almost lost his life. Along with the accident, Foster was suffering from a mental illness and was institutionalized in Kankakee, Illinois. The league would start to collapse with the absence of foster; at the same time fosters health began to decline. Foster would die in 1930, leaving behind a proud legacy. Unfortunately the NNL would collapse in 1931 under new management. In 1981 Foster was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as the first representative of the Negro Leagues. Every September the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum hosts its annual Andrew “Rube” Foster lecture, highlighting his life and legacy. Rube Foster was an innovator and an example of true entrepreneurship; he was a person to be celebrated. He created a means for black baseball players to have a league of their own to thrive as baseball players. The formation of the Negro National League shows Fosters proactive spirit; he was not waiting on white teams to give him a chance. Andrew “Rube” Foster, we stand on your shoulders.
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Born May 3, 1898 in Charleston, South Carolina during the reconstruction era, her parents were Peter and Victoria Poinsette. Clark grew up in a very strict household her mother was determined to make her and her sisters ladies. Clark however would rebel against her mother’s wishes, but a bright future was still ahead of her. Her educational career started in 1904 at the Mary Street School, which was a challenging start to her educational career. Clark was not learning anything attending that school, so her mother quickly took her out of the school so she could learn. There was not a high school available for black students before 1914 when a school opened up for 6th, 7th and 8th grades. After the eighth grade Clark attended Avery High School which was an all-white school with white female teachers until 1914. In 1916 Clark graduated from high school but could not attend college right away because of financial problems.
As an eighteen year old she became a teacher on John’s Island at the Promise Land School from 1916 to 1919, she then taught at Avery High School from 1919 to 1920. Clark kept her eye on her own educational pursuits and finally attended Benedict College in 1942 and received her B.A. Her next step in life was to gain her M.A. from Hampton University in 1944. Because she was a black women she was not allowed to teach in the South Carolina public school district, but she was able to teach within the rural school district on John’s Island. Clark would teach children during the day and would teach adults at night, her teaching experience helped her create quicker ways to teach adults the art of reading and writing. Clark began to notice the unequal terms in which black schools operated compared to white schools. The unequal treatment of the school systems lead Clark directly into the civil rights movement, fighting for equal rights for blacks within the school systems.
In 1919 Clark was introduced to the NAACP while attending a meeting on John’s Island, she would later join the Charleston chapter of the NAACP while teaching at the Avery Normal Institute a private black school. Clark took her activism to another level when she led her students around Charleston to collect 10, 000 signatures to allow black principles at Avery. She was able to gather 10,000 signatures in one day and black principles were admitted. In 1920 she met her future husband Nerie Clark; they courted for three years before getting married in 1923. Clark returned to college and earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and in 1947 Clark began teaching in the Charleston, South Carolina school system. She was an active member of the Charleston YMCA, and she was the chairperson of the Charleston NAACP. In 1956 she became the vice president of the Charleston NAACP, later that year the South Carolina legislature passed a law banning state employees from joining any civil rights organizations. Clark was not afraid to lose her job, so she did not relinquish her NAACP membership. She was later fired and black balled from the Charleston school system. Clark would later find work with the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, as a full-time director of literacy workshops.
In 1959 Clark was arrested for allegedly possessing whiskey, but the charges were later dropped because of a lack of evidence. Clark took the concept of the workshops and spread the program teaching blacks how to fill out driver’s licenses exams, voter registration forms, sears mail-order forms, and how to fill out and sign checks. Later Clark served as a recruiter for Highlander, recruiting such talents as Rosa Parks, and other members of the bus boycott. Clark created “citizenship schools,” which were used to teach literacy to adults in the south. The success of the “citizenship schools” came because of the brilliance of Septima Clark; she combined relevant issues with the needs of the students. Her methods allowed her to empower the communities she taught in, thus making the community members an asset to their communities. The schools began to spread to other southern states, but they faced financial troubles because its principle funder Highlander faced financial troubles. Clark’s program would later gain financing from the SCLC who had a bigger budget. Under the SCLC the program was able to train over 10,000 school teachers, who taught over 25,000 students. As a result of the first session of classes 37 new voters were able to register to vote in 1958. By 1969, 700,000 blacks became registered to vote because of the program.
Clark would eventually earn the position of director of educating and teaching in the SCLC, becoming the first woman to hold a position on the board of the SCLC. Clark worked with the Tuberculosis Association and the Charleston Health Department, and was an active member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She retired from the SCLC in 1970; she later sought reinstatement of pension and back salary from her firing from the Charleston County school board in 1956. She won her reinstatement and later served two years on the Charleston County School Board. Septima Clark died in 1987 but her legacy will live forever. She was awarded a Living Legacy Award in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, and was awarded the SCLC’s highest award the Drum Major for justice award. Clark wrote two autobiographies, Echo in My Soul in 1962, and Ready From within in 1979. Clark was dynamic, fearless and brilliant. She found a productive way empower her people through education to help them have a political voice. She stood up against injustices from childhood to her death. Mrs. Septima Poinsettia Clark, we are honored to stand on your shoulders.
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Rev. Charles Kenzie Steele was born on February 17, 1914, in Gary, West Virginia; his parents were Lyde Bailor and Henry L. Steele. As a young promising leader Rev. Steel began preaching at the age of 15, by the age of 21 he became an ordained minister. He put forth the effort to earn a BA degree from Morehouse College three years after he became an ordained minister. He began serving as minister at Friendship Baptist Church in Northeast Georgia, after a year his services was requested at Hall Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1939. In 1941 Rev. Steele had the privilege of meeting the love of his life Lois Brock, who he would later make his wife. After 9 years of service in Montgomery, he was called to serve at Springfield Baptist church in Augusta, Georgia. Four years later he moved again to Tallahassee, Florida to serve at Bethel Baptist Church in 1952.
Rev. Steele became the head of the Tallahassee chapter of the NAACP; he also was elected president of the Inter Civic Council in 1956. Under Rev. Steele’s leadership the Inter Civic Council was created to help direct a bus boycott, which was started by students at Florida A&M University. The Inter Civic Council gathered leaders from the community to organize a car pool as they demanded full integration of the bus system. As the bus boycott began the members of the carpool began experiencing harassment by the police department, 22 members were charged by city officials for operating a transportation system without a franchise. The Inter Civic Council was levied an $11,000 fine by city officials in an attempt to disband the boycott. The members of the boycott would not allow their efforts to be stopped; they began walking where they needed to go.
In 1956 Rev. Steele joined Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr as one of the speakers at nonviolence workshops hosted by Tuskegee Institute. Steele spoke at the annual meeting of the National Baptist Convention, and the Montgomery Improvement Association’s Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change. In 1957 Steele attended the founding meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; during the meeting Steele would be elected vice president of the SCLC. In 1962 Steele led the SCLC in a demonstration in Albany, Georgia as vice president while Dr. King was incarcerated. Steele became an active contributor with the Poor Peoples Campaign, he also led a “Vigil for Poverty” in Tallahassee, FL to recognize and help persons who lacked basic needs. After the death of Dr. King, Steel remained an active force in the fight for equality and justice in Tallahassee.
On August 19th 1980, Rev. Steele give way to his battle with cancer but his legacy never died. When a bus terminal was created in Tallahassee, FL it was named after Rev. Steele and a statue of him was erected. At that time a statue of a black man was the only statues of a person’s likeness, in the capital city of the State of Florida. In 1980 Florida State University bestowed upon Rev. Steele an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree, Rev. Steele was the first black to have an honorary degree bestowed upon him by Florida State University, and he was the first black to have that particular degree honored to him. Before his death he established a charter school in Tallahassee, FL the Steele-Collins Charter School, which was also named after former governor Leroy Collins. Rev. Steel was a pastor for 28 years at Bethel Baptist Church, in his time he fought hard for social change in Tallahassee, FL as well as the south. Rev. Steel faced death and many incarcerations to help blacks receive humane treatment by their white counterparts. Rev. Steele made Tallahassee, FL and every other city he lived in a better place for blacks to live because of his actions and relentlessness. Rev. Charles Kenzie Steele, we stand on your shoulders.
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Born c. 1686 in Ghana as a member of the Ashanti tribe, her village was raided during inter-tribal conflict and she was captured and sold as a slave and shipped to Jamaica. Nanny was sold to the Saint Thomas Parish plantation, that particular plantation grew sugarcane and Nanny and the other slaves were harvesting sugarcane under inhumane conditions. Nanny was heavily influenced by the community leaders and Maroons as a child, she and her four brothers escaped from their plantation and hid within the Blue Mountains of northern Saint Thomas Parish. The five of them devised a plan to create more Maroon communities; they split up and created communities in different cities across the Island. Around 1720 Nanny and her brother Quao created Nanny Town in the area of Blue Mountain where they were settled. This area was about 500 acres of land. They strategically chose that piece of land because it gave her a view overlooking the Stony River at 900 feet. That position eliminated any chance the British had of a surprise attack; she also placed look-outs around their area and kept warriors able to be summoned by the sound of the Abeng (Horn). The British often attacked Nanny Town, but were not able to defeat the Maroons because of their location. The Maroons created self-sustaining communities; they traded food for weapons with local markets, raised animals and grew crops. They would often raid plantations for weapons and food, burn the plantations down, and lead the newly free people to their community.
Nanny was praised heavily for her leadership skills. It is said that she gained her skills from her practice of Obeah, an African religion still practiced to this day. It is also believed she received her excellent leadership skills from her culture, the Ashanti are known for possessing such skills. Nanny also used her knowledge of herbs and healing methods, she was known as a healer in her community for both the physical and spiritual ailments. In 1733 Nanny and her rebels were defeated in battle, and Nanny lost her life that day. They were defeated by a person who was considered a “loyal slave” William Cuffee, he was the leader of hired soldiers called the “Black Shots.” Slave owners often rewarded slaves for working on their behalf. In 1739 the British government promised the descendants of Nanny and the Maroons the land they inhabited via a peace treaty. Nanny’s remains are buried at “Bump Grave” in Moore Town, a community established by the Windward Maroons. The Maroons are descendants of West Africans imported by slavery, who intermarried with the native Jamaican Islanders the Arawak. The Maroons were known as fierce fighters and helped free slaves for over 150 years. Queen Nanny was a force to be reckoned with; she showed leadership and moxie better than any man could. She was brilliant and possessed the charisma to lead a well-oiled fighting machine. Nanny is someone we all should know and celebrate, she gave her life for the freedom of her people. Queen mother Nanny, we stand on your shoulders.
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William Still was born in 1821 in Burlington County, New Jersey, to parents Levin and Sidney Still. Levin Still was a former slave that settled in the state of New Jersey after purchasing his freedom. Sidney was able to escape slavery and join Levin in New Jersey; Levin changed his last name from Steel to Still. William Still did not complete formal school but managed to learn grammar on his own. As a boy he helped his first person escape slavery, this would set in motion a great future. He moved to Philadelphia in 1844 where he found work as a handyman, in 1847 he began working as a janitor and a clerk in the Office of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery. Still soon moved his way up to becoming involved with helping blacks escape to freedom. Blacks running away from slavery sought refuge with Still, as they made their way to Canada; he even managed to harbor his long lost brother who was sold from his family forty years earlier. Still began documenting accounts of his interactions with former slaves seeking freedom. His accounts became a book that was important in detailing the history of the Underground Railroad; the book gave humanity to persons seeking freedom. Blacks enslaved were depicted as property, but Still gave the people life. His book The Underground Railroad was published in 1872, and is a rich source of the history of the Underground Railroad. Also in 1847, Still married Letitia George and they had four children.
After the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Philadelphia abolitionist organized the Vigilance Committee to aide blacks escaping from slavery. Still was eventually named chairman of the committee. In 1855 Still visited communities of former Slaves in Canada, he was able to gather information proving the progress of freed blacks to help advocate for the emancipation of all slaves. Still was a participant in the rescuing of Jane Johnson, the committee helped Jane gain her freedom. In 1859 Still participated in the push for integration of the Philadelphia public transit system, their persistence paid off when the transit system was integrated in 1865 across the state of Pennsylvania. During the Civil War Still owned a stove store, he also operated a postal exchange at Camp William Penn. That camp was the training grounds for the black troops north of Philadelphia. After the Civil War he owned a coal delivery business. Still is regarded as the “Father of the Underground Railroad,” he helped over 800 people escape slavery. He also kept records of his interviews of each person he helped gain freedom. He used his detailed records to help unite displaced families as they gained freedom. Still was a part of an intricate group of persons known as “agents,” these people were stationed in different areas from Southern Philadelphia to New England. The agents were key components for communication in moving people from state to state. Still and Harriet Tubman encountered each other many time as they both worked to free as many people as possible. Being a man of great character Still established an orphanage for young black boys, and also opened the first YMCA for black boys in Philadelphia. In 1859 Still gave refuge to the wife of John Brown, as Brown and his companions failed to raid Harper’s Ferry. In 1861 Still finished his work with the antislavery office, but remained as the vice-president from 1896 to 1901. In 1902 Still died from kidney disease, but left a legacy worth ten life times. William Still dedicated his life to helping countless numbers of people gain their freedom from slavery. He risked his life and the life of his family for a noble cause, and is an example of a true humanitarian. Mr. William Still we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Below is the video version of the William Still biography.
Nina Simone was born on February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina; her birth name was Eunice Kathleen Waymon. By the age of four Simone was learning to play the piano and singing in her church choir. Simone and her family grew up in poor conditions, and despite being the sixth of seven children she had a dream of making music. Simone’s music teacher started a special fund to help pay for her musical education. That education paid off, after high school she was awarded a scholarship to attend Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Her scholarship led her to train as a classical pianist. While attending Julliard Simone taught others to play piano, as well as accompanied other performers as they performed. Simone’s families financial troubles, started catching up with her, she eventually had to leave Julliard because she ran out of funds. She then moved to Philadelphia to live with family members to help save money and pay for school. Simone applied to attend the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, but was denied admittance. Simone believed she was denied simply because of her race. After being denied by the institute, her passion for music was still burning strong, so her next step was to start playing the local clubs. In 1950, Simone began learning and playing American standards, jazz and blues while in the clubs to make a living. By request of the owner of the bar, Simone started singing along with the music she was playing. Her next step was to give herself a catchy stage name, “Nina Simone” is what she came up with. “Nina” was a nickname meaning “little one” and “Simone” came from the actress Simone Signoret. Nina Simone was created and a bright future was a head of this young star. She began to catch the attention of popular writers from the Harlem Renaissance such as, Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry, and James Baldwin.
By the late 1950’s Simone had begun recording music under the Bethlehem Record Label; in 1958 she released her first album Little Girl Blue which featured the songs “Plain Gold Ring” and “Little Girl Blue”. That album also included her only top 40 hit “I Loves you Porgy;” her version of the song from the musical Porgy and Bess. Simone’s music was different and it defied industry standards, she drew from her classical training as well as her gospel, pop, and folk musical backgrounds. Because of her presence, talent and influence, she was named the “High Priestess of Soul,” even though she was not fond of the name. Simone explained that she would rather be classified as a folk singer than a jazz or soul singer; “If I had to be called something, it should have been a folk singer because there was more folk and blues than jazz in my playing,” Simone stated. Around 1965, Simone was becoming the voice of the civil rights movement. In response to the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the Birmingham church killing four little black girls, she wrote “Mississippi Goddam.” In 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King she wrote, “Why (The King of Love is Dead),” and “Young Gifted and Black.” “Young Gifted and Black” was a title borrowed from a play written by Lorraine Hansberry, that song became a theme for the time period in black America.
As racial tensions grew in America it affected the music industry, Simone was not happy with America and its politics and moved out of the country. She began living in other countries including Liberia, Switzerland, England, Barbados and South France. During this time, she struggled with finances, the rigors of the music industry and the IRS. Despite her troubles she continued to create music, she began covering popular music and adding her own flavor to the songs. She covered Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin” and “Here Comes the Sun,” by the Beatles. She would later record “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” before taking a musical break. In 1978 she returned to the music scene and released the album Baltimore, which was received well by critics but did not sell well commercially.
In the late 1980’s a perfume commercial in the UK used Simone’s song “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” this commercial caused her song to become a number ten hit in Brititan. In 1992 she wrote her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You. In 1993 she recorded and released A Single Woman, then returned to the United States to perform her songs to promote her art. Simone toured regularly which helped maintain and continue building an ever growing fan base. In 1998 she performed in New York City for the first time in five years, that performance received critical acclaim. Later in the year Simone attended the 80th birthday party of beloved South African President Nelson Mandela. In 1999 Simone performed in Dublin, Ireland at the Guinness Blues Festival. Simone died in 2003 due to complications with her health. Simone left a rich proud ever-growing legacy that will stand the test of time. She stood for freedom and equality, and set a standard that black women in American can follow and be proud of. With prominent Negroid features, she shattered the American standard of beauty, while igniting the souls of anyone who listened to her music. Her music influenced a whole generation of music lovers and creators, from rap artist to folk singers. She also set political and cultural standards that showed future generations how to use music to influence and uplift its listeners. Mrs. Nina Simone, we stand on your shoulders.
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Melvin Tolson was born in Moberley, Missouri in 1898, to parents Reverend Alonzo Tolson and Lera Tolson. Lera Tolson was a seamstress and Reverend Tolson served at several Churches in the Missouri, Iowa and Kansas City areas; Tolson’s parent stressed the importance of education with their four children. In 1912 he published his first poem, “The Wreck of the Titanic,” in the Oskaloosa, Iowa newspaper. He also became the senior class poet at Lincoln High School. In 1918 Tolson graduated from Lincoln High School in Kansas City, Missouri, and then attended Fisk University before transferring to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania as a freshman. Tolson received his Bachelors of Arts with honors from Lincoln University in 1923. During his time at Lincoln University he met Ruth Southall; they married in 1922 and had four children. In 1924 after graduating from Lincoln University, Tolson became an instructor of English and Speech at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. He not only taught at Wiley College, he coached the junior varsity football team, directed the theater club, cofounded the black intercollegiate Southern Association of Dramatic Speech and Arts, and organized the Wiley Forensic Society, which was the Wiley College debating club.
The debating club earned national acclaim by winning and breaking the color barrier very successfully. They maintained a ten year winning streak, from 1929 to 1939, Tolson wrote all of the speeches and the team memorized the speeches and used them. Tolson became such a master debater, that he would write the rebuttals for his opponents opposing arguments before the debate. In 1931 he began pursuing his master degree in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. There he became acquainted with artist from the Harlem Renaissance and was inspired to make his place within the history of black American art. Using that inspiration, Tolson named his Master’s thesis “The Harlem Writers.” Tolson also began working on another collection of poetry, which was later published in 1979 as A Gallery of Harlem Portraits. That same year he began working with V.F. Calverton, the editor of Modern Quarterly; Tolson began writing “Cabbages and Caviar”, a column for the Washington Tribune which ran from 1937 to 1944. Tolson also taught English and drama at Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma, as well as organized the sharecroppers when he lived in South Texas. In 1935 Tolson led his Wiley College debate team to a National Championship over the University of Southern California. Tolson was working to support his family, but he always found time for his art. In 1939 he published his first significant poem Dark Symphony; the poem won a national poetry contest sponsored by the American Negro Exposition. The poem was later published in Atlantic Monthly; the poem also got the attention of an editor who published his first collection of verse, Rendezvous with America, in 1944.
Tolson wrote plays and novels, all of which were not published; despite a great portion of his work being unpublished he was appointed the poet laureate of Liberia in 1947 by President V.S. Tubman. In 1953 he published Libretto for the Republic of Liberia, this piece gained Tolson more acclaim for his work. Tolson was compared to T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound, despite the comparisons Tolson decided to embrace the richness of African history and heritage within his poems. Tolson began constructing a project of five books which were a collection of poems that were intended to capture black life in America. Each book was designed to represent a stage in the African American Diaspora. Tolson died in 1966 and only completed the first of five books, it was titled Harlem Gallery: Book 1, The Curator; which was published in 1965. Before Tolson died, he was named to the Avalon Chair in humanities at Tuskegee Institute. He also received grants from the National Institute and American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1954, he was appointed permanent fellow in poetry and drama at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. In 1964, he was elected to the New York Herald Tribune book-review board and the District of Columbia presented him with a citation and Award for Cultural Achievement in the Fine Arts. In 1966, he received the annual poetry award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1970, Langston University founded the Melvin B. Tolson Black Heritage Center in his honor, to collect material of Africans, African Americans, and the African diaspora. In 2004, Tolson was inducted posthumously into Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame. In 2007, the biographical film, The Great Debaters, was released depicting Tolson’s time leading the Wiley College Debate Team to ten years of excellence and a National Championship. Melvin Tolson was a literary genius and a dedicated man to his heritage his family, and his community. Langston Hughes wrote, “Melvin Tolson is the most famous Negro professor in the Southwest. Students all over that part of the world speak of him, revere him, remember him and love him”; after a visit to Wiley College. Tolson left a legacy that persons of African descent can be proud of, he proved that one can become successful and not turn their back on their heritage. As the grandson son of a slave, he was taught to become great by his family. Mr. Melvin B. Tolson, we stand on your shoulders.
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