All Articles Tagged "African American History"
Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was a woman with sky-high dreams–literally. In 1922, she became the first African American to obtain an international pilot license.
Coleman’s life was far from a dream in the clouds. Born on January 26, 1892 in Atlanta, Texas, Coleman was the tenth of thirteen children to her sharecropper parents George and Susan Coleman. At six, she started school in Waxahachie, Texas where she walked four miles to her small, segregated one-room school every day. But that didn’t deter him from learning. She stood out as one of the best math students and finished all eight grades at the school.
In 1901, Coleman’s family life took a dismal turn when her father, frustrated with the racial constraints in Texas, left to find better opportunities in Indian Territory, Oklahoma, where he found more rights due to his Indian heritage. Coleman’s mother refused to go with him and stayed in Texas, supporting her children through income from cotton picking and laundry services.
Coleman continued her schooling at Missionary Baptist Church and after graduating, enrolled at the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University. She was only able to finish one term before she ran out of funds. In 1915 She moved to Chicago and lived with her brothers. While working as a manicurist in Chicago, she was inspired by stories of French women pilots during World War I. Her applications to flight schools in the U.S. were turned down, but with the encouragement of a Robert S. Abbott, her friend and the publisher of the Chicago Defender, she secured founders and was able to study in France. There she was accepted in a flying school where she received her license in seven months from Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation.
Upon her return to the U.S., Coleman became a celebrated star in the black community, although mostly ignored by mainstream media. She specialized in stunt flying and parachuting, and was able to earn a living by performing aerial tricks. Coleman intended to start a flying school for African Americans, and began recruiting students towards that goal. She later landed a part in a movie, but turned it down when she realized her character would portray the stereotypical “Uncle Tom.” After she turned down the role, she found her supporters in the entertainment industry also turned away from her.
In 1926, Coleman and her mechanic went on a test flight in preparation for the May Day Celebration in Jacksonville, FL. As the two flew around, a loose wrench jammed the controls and Coleman was thrown out of the plane and died. She was 33 years old.
Although Coleman lived a short life, her accomplishments offer a lifetime of inspiration for many. Every April 30, black aviators fly in formation over her grave in the Lincoln Cemetery in southwest Chicago to drop flowers on her grave. In addition, the Bessie Coleman Aero Clubs was founded in 1975 and is open to women pilots of all colors. Coleman is a reminder to live your dreams, no matter how big or small. Always be true to who you are, stand for what you believe in and don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone. While life may be short, pressing past all barriers to find success in what you feel compelled to do ensures a life well lived.
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Since the country’s inception, black women have been working tirelessly to advance the cause of medicine and eradicate sickness and disease. From the first black nurse to the first black female neurosurgeon, African-American women have solidified their place in medical history and left a legacy of firm determination, selfless compassion, and academic excellence.
Dr. Alexa Canady
In 1976, at age 26, Alexa Canady became the first black female neurosurgeon in the United States when she was accepted as a resident at the University of Minnesota. In 1986, after four years at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, Canady became chief of the hospital’s neurosurgery department. In 1993, she received the American Women’s Medical Association President’s Award. Canady’s research in neurosurgical techniques resulted in the invention of a programmable antisiphon shunt, which is used to treat excess fluid in the brain. She shares a U.S. patent for the device with two other neurosurgeons.
If you live in NYC and are a lover of “Soul Train” you may have been on of the thousands of fans that boogied on down Broadway wearing afro wigs and bell bottoms on while recounting your favorite episodes in tribute to Soul Train’s late creator, Don Cornelius.
About 100 dancers descended on Times Square in a “flash mob” organized through the Internet. As startled tourists looked on, they recreated one of the show’s “Soul Train lines” in which people would take turns dancing toward a TV camera while showing off their most outrageous moves.
“Don Cornelius was a big influence in my life, and I just wanted to pay tribute,” said disc jockey Jon Quick, as he held up a speaker blasting disco grooves. “He was playing the music that nobody else wanted to play. He was an amazing man.”
Cornelius, 75, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Wednesday. He had suffered from health problems, a difficult divorce, and had pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor spousal battery charge in 2009.
(Washington Post) — Rosa Parks gave the first installment of her papers to Wayne State University’s Walter Reuther Library in 1976, explaining, “I do hope that my contribution can be made use of.” Thirty-five years later, nobody is making use of the rest of her papers. After her death in 2005, all of her effects and the rights to license her name became the subject of a dispute between Parks’s nieces and nephews and the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, which she co-founded in 1987 with longtime friend Elaine Steele. In 2007, a Michigan probate court awarded custody of Parks’s possessions to Guernsey’s Auctioneers and instructed that the collection be sold in its entirety to a single buyer, with the proceeds from the sale divided, in an undisclosed settlement, between the litigating parties. All of the materials — political documents, letters and photos, along with Parks’s clothes, awards and other personal items — were collected, inventoried and taken to New York for auction. Last month, Steele challenged the court’s actions before the Michigan Supreme Court, landing the auction back in the news.
(Washington Post) — The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial is attracting all the fanfare this week. But just outside the spotlight, in Washington and its surroundings, there are dozens of houses, museums and other sites that reflect the history of African Americans in this capital city and the country. Some places boast a large historical footprint, such as the U.S. Supreme Court on Capitol Hill, where Thurgood Marshall argued 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education . The case ended in the landmark decision that declared segregated schools unconstitutional. Others offer more backstory to the story of race in America, such as the home of Carter G. Woodson, known as the “father of African American history.” Located at 1538 Ninth St. NW and recently acquired by the National Park Service, the house will eventually be restored and opened to the public.)
For the uninitiated, chitlins (chitterlings) are the innards—the intestines—of pigs; distinguishable from tripe, which is the stomach lining of pigs or cows. During the ante-bellum period the leftovers of slaughtered pigs, including the intestines, were given to enslaved Africans on plantations throughout the American South. It was, in part, a survival mechanism and pure improvisational genius, that centuries later chitlins are the epitome of Soul Food, appearing on the menus of highbrow gastro-pubs and available in grocery stores, cleaned and de-odorized.
Yet as a symbol of the color line (and class line) in pre-Civil Rights America, the term has become a pejorative, and no where more so, than in reference to the Chitlin Circuit, the network of clubs, theaters, dancehalls and barns that Black performers were relegated to during the era of legal segregation. For many, the Chitlin Circuit is a literal reference to America’s underbelly; dirty, funky and filthy. Ironically, as both a Black reality and part Afro-mythology, the Chitlin Circuit was, perhaps, the most critical site for the incubation of modern Black culture.
The Chitlin Circuit is the subject of Preston Lauterbach’s new book, The Chitlin Circuit and the Road to Rock ’N’ Roll, centering on musicians and promoters like bandleader Jimmie Lunceford, Denver Ferguson, Walter Barnes, Sax Kari and the great Louis Jordan. The aforementioned figures navigated above-ground and underground spaces, and within legal and illicit economies, to create rich networks of independent Black businesses, largely within the realms of entertainment. In its most shadowy forms, the Chitlin Circuit found numbers-runners, bootleggers and racketeers managing artists and promoting shows—relationships that were echoed generations later during the early days of Hip-hop. In its most respectable form, the spirit of the Chitlin’ Circuit could be witnessed in Negro League baseball.
The earliest strains of the Chitlin’ Circuit could be found in the traveling tent shows of the late 19th century, supporting Black Vaudeville acts, who often performed in blackface. Early Black performance legends such as Bert Williams, George Walker and Ava Overton Walker started their careers on the Chitlin Circuit. The circuit became more formalized in the early 1900s with the development of the Theater Owners Booking Agency (TOBA), a collective of White theater owners who arranged tours of Black artists throughout the country for segregated audiences. Artists who worked for TOBA often joked that it stood for “tough on Black asses.”
The history that Lauterbach tells in Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock’N’ Roll begins, in the 1930s during the Great Depression, which Black promoters began to exhibit more influence on the Chitlin’ Circuit. In terms of both a business model for performers and venue owners and performances themselves, the Chitlin Circuit was a site of innovation. Part of that innovation came from the close proximity that audiences had with performers, as the latter often had the chance to work out new material receiving immediate feedback from audiences. Historian Mel Watkins notes that “audiences were outspoken and inhospitable to acts that were either lackluster or strayed too far from preferred black performance style.”
(Entertainment Weekly) — The Association of Black Women Historians released astatement today, urging fans of both the best-selling novel and the new movie The Help to reconsider the popular tale of African American maids in 1960s Jackson, Miss., who risk sharing their experiences with a young white journalist. “Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers,” the statement read.The group of scholars took issue with novelist Kathryn Stockett’s use of “black” dialect, her nearly uniform portrayal of black men as cruel or absent, and the lack of attention paid to the sexual harassment that many black women endured in their white employers’ homes. “The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.”
(Washington Post) — Archaeologists at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg have uncovered the brick foundations of a Colonial-era structure that may have housed slaves who cooked and cleaned for students and faculty. The remnants sit next to the Wren Building, the core of the historic campus. Scholars believe that they are the traces of an outbuilding — sleeping quarters, perhaps, or a kitchen or a laundry — built in the 18th century for slaves who lived and worked at the college.
(Washington Post) — Retired Lt. Col. Leo R. Gray, one of the Tuskegee Airmen, stands next to “The Spirit of Tuskegee,” a World War II-era plane at end of a cross-country flight to its new home at the Smithsonian, at Andrews Air Force Base. The PT-13 Stearman open-cockpit biplane was used as a trainer plane for the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Decommissioned in 1946, used for decades as a crop duster and damaged in a crash, it was purchased at public auction and restored over the course of three years by Capt. Matthew Quy, a former B-52 bomber pilot who deploys to Afghanistan later this month, and his wife, Tina. It is one of the few surviving planes with ties to Moton Field and Tuskegee Institute, a segregated facility in Tuskegee, Ala., where nearly 1,000 black pilots were trained to fly escort for bombing missions over North Africa and Italy.
(New York Times) — For more than a decade, anthropologists and historians pieced together the history of a short-lived African-American community that was snuffed out in the 1850s by the creation of Central Park. They combed vital records and tax documents, scanned parkland using radar and studied soil borings. But because the vestiges of the community were buried beneath the park, the leaders of the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History — a consortium of three professors from City College, Barnard College and New York University — were kept from doing the one thing that would open a window onto the daily existence of the some 260 residents: digging. That all changed eight weeks ago, after they won permission from the city to excavate in an area of the park near 85th Street and Central Park West.