Carter G. Woodson

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Monday 28 February 2011 11:00 am

Historian, educator, author, and publisher. Born in 1875 in New Canton, Virginia. The son of freed slaves, Woodson worked as a sharecropper and a miner to help his family. He began high school in his late teens and proved to be an excellent student. Woodson went on to college and earned several degrees. He received a doctorate from Harvard University in 1912‚Äö√Ñ√Æbecoming one of the first African Americans to earn a Ph.D. at the prestigious institution. After finishing his education, he dedicated himself to the field of African American history, working to make sure that this subject was taught in schools and was studied by scholars. For his efforts, Woodson is often known as the “Father of Black History.”

In 1915, Woodson helped found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (which later became the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History). The next year he established the Journal of Negro History, a scholarly publication. Woodson also formed the African-American-owned Associated Publishers Press in 1921, which produced several of his own works, including The Negro in Our History (1922) and Mis-Education of the Negro (1933).

Woodson lobbied schools and organizations to participate in a special program to encourage the study of African American history, which began in February 1926 with Negro History Week and was later expanded and renamed Black History Month. To help teachers with African American studies, he created the Negro History Bulletin in 1937. While Woodson died on April 3, 1950, his work continues on. Every February, students around the United States spend time learning about the subject closest to his heart—African American history.

Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr.

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Sunday 27 February 2011 11:00 am

U.S. Army general, soldier. Born on July 1, 1877, in Washington, D.C. Breaking new ground, Davis became the first African American general in the United States Army. He began his military career as a volunteer during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Receiving his commission in 1901, Davis was made a second lieutenant in the regular army. Despite the widespread prejudice against African Americans, he rose up the ranks, becoming a brigadier general in 1940.

During his decades of military service, Davis spent much of his time teaching others as a professor of military science and tactics at Wilberforce University in Ohio and the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He also served tours of duty around the world, including in the Philippines and Liberia. During World War II, he held many posts, including assistant to the Inspector General. One of his most crucial roles at this time was an adviser on African American issues in Europe. Many black soldiers were upset by the discrimination they encountered from white soldiers and by their exclusion from combat duty. A well-regarded military officer and an important member of the black community, Davis offered his advice and counsel how to improve this tense situation and lobbied for a full integration of U.S. troops. The army agreed a limited integration of the forces in Europe.

Leaving the military in 1948, Davis had spent fifty years serving his country. During his exemplary career, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Distinguished Service Medal. Davis died of leukemia on November 26, 1970. Twice married, he had three children. His son, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., followed his father’s footsteps, also becoming a general in the U.S. Army.

Shirley Chisolm

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Saturday 26 February 2011 11:00 am

US representative and social activist. Born Shirley St. Hill on November 30, 1924 in New York City. Chisholm spent part of her childhood in Barbados with her grandmother and graduated from Brooklyn College in 1946. She began her career as a teacher and earned a Master’s degree in elementary education from Columbia University. She served as director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center from 1953 to 1959 as an educational consultant to New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare from 1959 to 1964.

In 1969, Chisholm became the first black congresswoman and began the first of seven terms. After initially being assigned to the House Forestry Committee, she shocked many by demanding reassignment. She was placed on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, eventually graduating to the Education and Labor Committee. She became one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969.

Chisholm became the first African American woman to make a bid to be President of the United States when she ran for the Democratic nomination in 1972. A champion of minority education and employment opportunities throughout her tenure in Congress, Chisholm was also a vocal opponent of the draft. After leaving Congress in 1983, she taught at Mount Holyoke College and was popular on the lecture circuit.

Chisholm was married to Conrad Chisholm from 1949 to 1977. She wed Arthur Hardwick, Jr. in 1986. She is the author of two books, Unbought and Unbossed (1970) and The Good Fight (1973).

Thurgood Marshall

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Friday 25 February 2011 11:00 am

(born July 2, 1908, Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.—died January 24, 1993, Bethesda) lawyer, civil rights activist, and associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (1967–91), the first African American member of the Supreme Court. As an attorney, he successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), which declared unconstitutional racial segregation in American public schools.

Marshall was the son of William Canfield Marshall, a railroad porter and a steward at an all-white country club, and Norma Williams Marshall, an elementary school teacher. He graduated with honours from Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) in 1930. After being rejected by the University of Maryland Law School because he was not white, Marshall attended Howard University Law School; he received his degree in 1933, ranking first in his class. At Howard he was the protégé of Charles Hamilton Houston, who encouraged Marshall and other law students to view the law as a vehicle for social change.

Upon his graduation from Howard, Marshall began the private practice of law in Baltimore. Among his first legal victories was Murray v. Pearson (1935), in which Marshall successfully sued the University of Maryland for denying an African American applicant admission to its law school simply on the basis of race. In 1936 Marshall became a staff lawyer under Houston for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); in 1938 he became the lead chair in the legal office of the NAACP, and two years later he was named chief of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Throughout the 1940s and ’50s Marshall distinguished himself as one of the country’s top lawyers, winning 29 of the 32 cases that he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Among them were cases in which the court declared unconstitutional a Southern state’s exclusion of African American voters from primary elections ( Smith v. Allwright [1944]), state judicial enforcement of racial ‚Äö√Ñ√∫restrictive covenants‚Äö√Ñ√π in housing ( Shelley v. Kraemer [1948]), and ‚Äö√Ñ√∫separate but equal‚Äö√Ñ√π facilities for African American professionals and graduate students in state universities ( Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents [both 1950]). Without a doubt, however, it was his victory before the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that established his reputation as a formidable and creative legal opponent and an advocate of social change. Indeed, students of constitutional law still examine the oral arguments of the case and the ultimate decision of the court from both a legal and a political perspective; legally, Marshall argued that segregation in public education produced unequal schools for African Americans and whites (a key element in the strategy to have the court overrule the ‚Äö√Ñ√∫separate but equal‚Äö√Ñ√π doctrine established in Plessy v. Ferguson [1896]), but it was Marshall’s reliance on psychological, sociological, and historical data that presumably sensitized the court to the deleterious effects of institutionalized segregation on the self-image, social worth, and social progress of African American children.

In September 1961 Marshall was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by President John F. Kennedy, but opposition from Southern senators delayed his confirmation for several months. President Lyndon B. Johnson named Marshall U.S. solicitor general in July 1965 and nominated him to the Supreme Court on June 13, 1967; Marshall’s appointment to the Supreme Court was confirmed (69‚Äö√Ñ√¨11) by the U.S. Senate on August 30, 1967.

During Marshall’s tenure on the Supreme Court, he was a steadfast liberal, stressing the need for equitable and just treatment of the country’s minorities by the state and federal governments. A pragmatic judicial activist, he was committed to making the U.S. Constitution work; most illustrative of his approach was his attempt to fashion a ‚Äö√Ñ√∫sliding scale‚Äö√Ñ√π interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause that would weigh the objectives of the government against the nature and interests of the groups affected by the law. Marshall’s sliding scale was never adopted by the Supreme Court, though in several major civil rights cases of the 1970s the court echoed Marshall’s views. He was also adamantly opposed to capital punishment and generally favoured the rights of the national government over the rights of the states.

Marshall served on the Supreme Court as it underwent a period of major ideological change. In his early years on the bench, he fit comfortably among a liberal majority under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren. As the years passed, however, many of his closest allies, including Warren, either retired or died in office, creating opportunities for Republican presidents to swing the pendulum of activism in a conservative direction. By the time he retired in 1991, he was known as “the Great Dissenter,” one of the last remaining liberal members of a Supreme Court dominated by a conservative majority.

Medgar Evers

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Thursday 24 February 2011 11:00 am

Civil rights activist. Born July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi. After growing up in a Mississippi farming family, Evers enlisted in the United States Army in 1943. He fought in both France and Germany during World War II before receiving an honorable discharge in 1946. In 1948, he entered Alcorn Agricutural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University) in Lorman, Mississippi. During his senior year, Evers married a fellow student, Myrlie Beasley; they later had three children: Darrell, Reena, and James.

Upon graduation from college in 1952, Evers moved to Philadelphia, Mississippi, where he began working as an insurance salesman. He and his older brother, Charles Evers, also worked on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), organizing local affiliates in Philadelphia.

In 1954, the year of the momentous Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which purportedly ended segregation of schools, Medgar quit the insurance business; he subsequently applied and was denied admission to the University of Mississippi Law School. His unsuccessful effort to integrate the state’s oldest public educational institution attracted the attention of the NAACP’s national office. Later that year, Evers moved to the state capital of Jackson and became the first state field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi.

As state field secretary, Evers recruited members throughout Mississippi and organized voter-registration efforts, demonstrations, and economic boycotts of white-owned companies that practiced discrimination. He also worked to investigate crimes perpetrated against blacks, most notably the lynching of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy who had allegedly been killed for talking to a white woman.

As early as 1955, Evers’ activism made him the most visible civil rights leader in the state of Missisippi. As a result, he and his family were subjected to numerous threats and violent actions over the years, including a firebombing of their house in May 1963. At 12:40 a.m. on June 12, 1963, Evers was shot in the back in the driveway of his home in Jackson. He died less than a hour later at a nearby hospital.

Evers was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery, and the NAACP posthumously awarded him their 1963 Spingarn Medal. The national outrage over Evers’ murder increased support for legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Immediately after Evers’ death, the NAACP appointed his brother Charles to his position. Charles Evers went on to become a major political figure in the state; in 1969, he was elected the mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, becoming the first African-American mayor of a racially mixed Southern town since the Reconstruction.

A police and FBI investigation of the murder quickly unearthed a prime suspect–Byron De La Beckwith, a white segregationist and founding member of Mississippi’s White Citizens Council. Despite mounting evidence against him, a rifle found near the crime scene was registered to Beckwith and had his fingerprints on the scope, and several witnesses placed him in the area‚Äö√Ñ√ÆBeckwith denied shooting Evers. He maintained that the gun had been stolen, and produced several witnesses to testify that he was elsewhere on the night of the murder.

The bitter conflict over segregation surrounded the two trials that followed. Beckwith received the support of some of Mississippi’s most prominent citizens, including then-Governor Ross Barnett, who appeared at Beckwith’s first trial to shake hands with the defendant in full view of the jury. In 1964, Beckwith was set free after two all-white juries deadlocked.

After Beckwith’s second trial, Myrlie Evers moved with her children to California, where she earned a degree from Pomona College and was later named to the Los Angeles Commission of Public Works. Convinced that her husband’s killer had not been brought to justice, she continued to search for new evidence in the case.

In 1989, the question of Beckwith’s guilt was again raised when a Jackson newspaper published accounts of the files of the now-defunct Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, an organization that existed during the 1950s to help raise popular support for the maintenance of segregation. The accounts showed that the commission had helped lawyers for Beckwith screen potential jurors during the first two trials. A review by the Hinds County District Attorney’s office found no evidence of such jury tampering, but it did locate a number of new witnesses, including several individuals who would eventually testify that Beckwith had bragged to them about the murder.

In December 1990, Beckwith was again indicted for the murder of Medgar Evers. After a number of appeals, the Mississippi Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of a third trial in April 1993. Ten months later, testimony began before a racially mixed jury of eight blacks and four whites. In February 1994, nearly 31 years after Evers’ death, Beckwith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He died in January 2001 at the age of 80.

In 1995, Myrlie Evers-Williams (she is now remarried and lives in Oregon) was elected chairwoman of the board of directors of the NAACP. She is currently a member of the board’s executive committee.

Jesse Owens

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Wednesday 23 February 2011 11:00 am

(born September 12, 1913, Oakville, Alabama, U.S.‚Äö√Ñ√Ædied March 31, 1980, Phoenix, Arizona) American track-and-field athlete, who set a world record in the running broad jump (also called long jump) that stood for 25 years and who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. His four Olympic victories were a blow to Adolf Hitler‘s intention to use the Games to demonstrate Aryan superiority.

As a student in a Cleveland, Ohio, high school, Owens won three events at the 1933 National Interscholastic Championships in Chicago. In one day, May 25, 1935, while competing for Ohio State University (Columbus) in a Western (later Big Ten) Conference track-and-field meet at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), Owens equaled the world record for the 100-yard dash (9.4 sec) and broke the world records for the 220-yard dash (20.3 sec), the 220-yard low hurdles (22.6 sec), and the long jump (8.13 metres [26.67 feet]).

Owens’s performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics has become legend, both for his brilliant gold-medal efforts in the 100-metre run (10.3 sec, an Olympic record), the 200-metre run (20.7 sec, a world record), the long jump (8.06 metres [26.4 feet]), and the 4 100-metre relay (39.8 sec) and for events away from the track. One popular tale that arose from Owens’s victories was that of the ‚Äö√Ñ√∫snub,‚Äö√Ñ√π the notion that Hitler refused to shake hands with Owens because he was an African American. In truth, by the second day of competition, when Owens won the 100-metre final, Hitler had decided to no longer publicly congratulate any of the athletes. The previous day the International Olympic Committee president, angry that Hitler had publicly congratulated only a few German and Finnish winners before leaving the stadium after the German competitors were eliminated from the day’s final event, insisted that the German chancellor congratulate all or none of the victors. Unaware of the situation, American papers reported the ‚Äö√Ñ√∫snub,‚Äö√Ñ√π and the myth grew over the years.

Despite the politically charged atmosphere of the Berlin Games, Owens was adored by the German public, and it was German long jumper Carl Ludwig (‚Äö√Ñ√∫Luz‚Äö√Ñ√π) Long who aided Owens through a bad start in the long jump competition. Owens was flustered to learn that what he had thought was a practice jump had been counted as his first attempt. Unsettled, he foot-faulted the second attempt. Before Owens’s last jump, Long suggested that the American place a towel in front of the take-off board. Leaping from that point, Owens qualified for the finals, eventually beating Long (later his close friend) for the gold.

For a time, Owens held alone or shared the world records for all sprint distances recognized by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF; later International Association of Athletics Federations). After retiring from competitive track, Owens engaged in boys’ guidance activities, made goodwill visits to India and East Asia for the U.S. Department of State, served as secretary of the Illinois State Athletic Commission, and worked in public relations. In 1976 Owens received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 1990 he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Marian Anderson

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Tuesday 22 February 2011 11:00 am

(born February 27, 1897, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.—died April 8, 1993, Portland, Ore.) American singer, one of the finest contraltos of her time.

Anderson displayed vocal talent as a child, but her family could not afford to pay for formal training. From the age of six, she was tutored in the choir of the Union Baptist Church, where she sang parts written for bass, alto, tenor, and soprano voices. Members of the congregation raised funds for her to attend a music school for a year. At 19 she became a pupil of Giuseppe Boghetti, who was so impressed by her talent that he gave her free lessons for a year. In 1925 she entered a contest with 300 competitors and won first prize, a recital at Lewisohn Stadium in New York City with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Her appearance in August 1925 was a great success.

Although many concert opportunities were closed to her because of her race, Anderson appeared with the Philadelphia Symphony and toured African American Southern college campuses. She made her European debut in Berlin in 1930 and made highly successful European tours in 1930‚Äö√Ñ√¨32, 1933‚Äö√Ñ√¨34, and 1934‚Äö√Ñ√¨35. Still relatively unknown in the United States, she received scholarships to study abroad and appeared before the monarchs of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and England. Her pure vocal quality, richness of tone, and tremendous range made her, in the opinion of many, the world’s greatest contralto.

Anderson’s New York concert debut at Town Hall in December 1935 was a personal triumph. She subsequently toured South America and in 1938‚Äö√Ñ√¨39 once again toured Europe. In 1939, however, she attempted to rent concert facilities in Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall, owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, and was refused because of her race. This sparked widespread protest from many people, including Eleanor Roosevelt, who, along with many other prominent women, resigned from the DAR. Arrangements were made for Anderson to appear instead at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, and she drew an audience of 75,000. On January 7, 1955, she became the first African American singer to perform as a member of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Before she began to sing her role of Ulrica in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, she was given a standing ovation by the audience.

In 1957 Anderson’s autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning, was published. The same year, she made a 12-nation, 35,000-mile (56,000-km) tour sponsored by the Department of State, the American National Theatre and Academy, and Edward R. Murrow’s television series See It Now. Her role as a goodwill ambassador for the United States was formalized in September 1958 when she was made a delegate to the United Nations. Anderson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and she was the recipient of numerous honorary degrees. She made farewell tours of the world and the United States in 1964‚Äö√Ñ√¨65. In 1977 her 75th birthday (see Researcher’s Note) was marked by a gala concert at Carnegie Hall. Among her myriad honours and awards were the National Medal of Arts in 1986 and the U.S. music industry’s Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1991.

Garrett A Morgan

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Monday 21 February 2011 11:00 am

Inventor, born in Paris, Kentucky, USA. Born into poverty and with only a fifth-grade education, he moved to Cleveland, OH and worked as a sewing-machine mechanic. By 1907 he had a patent for an improved sewing machine and began his own sewing machine business. In 1909 he discovered a substance that straightened hair (temporarily) and by selling it to African-Americans through his own G A Morgan Hair Refining Co, he achieved the financial security to allow him to pursue his other interests. He patented a ‘breathing device’ (1914), a hood that allowed the wearer to breathe safely in the presence of smoke, gases, and other pollutants. He worked hard to market this device, especially to fire departments, and often himself demonstrated its reliability in fires. In the South, where there was resistance to buying such a device made by an African-American, he demonstrated as an Indian, Big Chief Mason, and in a famous tunnel accident in Cleveland (1916), where he rescued several men, he was denied a medal from the Carnegie Hero Fund. In World War 1 his hood was adopted and then adapted to serve as a gas mask. He patented his automatic traffic signal (1923) and sold it to the General Electric Co. In the 1920s he collaborated in starting a newspaper for African-Americans, the Cleveland Call (later the Call and Post). He was also active in the Cleveland Association of Colored Men and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Benjamin Banneker

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Sunday 20 February 2011 11:00 am

(born Nov. 9, 1731, Ellicott’s Mills, Md.‚Äö√Ñ√Ædied Oct. 25, 1806, Baltimore, Md., U.S.) mathematician, astronomer, compiler of almanacs, inventor, and writer, one of the first important black American intellectuals.

A free black who owned a farm near Baltimore, Banneker was largely self-educated in astronomy by watching the stars and in mathematics by reading borrowed textbooks. In 1761 he attracted attention by building a wooden clock that kept precise time. Encouraged in his studies by a Maryland industrialist, Joseph Ellicott, he began astronomical calculations about 1773, accurately predicted a solar eclipse in 1789, and published annually from 1791 to 1802 the Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanac and Ephemeris. Appointed to the District of Columbia Commission by President George Washington in 1790, he worked with Andrew Ellicott and others in surveying Washington, D.C.

As an essayist and pamphleteer, Banneker opposed slavery and war. He sent a copy of his first almanac to Thomas Jefferson, then U.S. secretary of state, along with a letter asking Jefferson’s aid in bringing about better conditions for American blacks. Banneker’s almanacs were acclaimed by European scientists to whom Jefferson made them known.

Sophia B. Packard

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Saturday 19 February 2011 11:00 am

(born Jan. 3, 1824, New Salem, Mass., U.S.—died June 21, 1891, Washington, D.C.) American educator, cofounder in Atlanta, Georgia, of a school for African American women that would eventually become Spelman College.

Packard attended local district school and from the age of 14 alternated periods of study with periods of teaching in rural schools. In 1850 she graduated from the Female Seminary of Charlestown, Massachusetts, and after teaching for several years she became preceptor and a teacher at the New Salem Academy in 1855. After a short-lived attempt to operate her own school in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, in partnership with her longtime companion, Harriet E. Giles, Packard taught at the Connecticut Literary Institution in Suffield (1859‚Äö√Ñ√¨64). From 1864 to 1867 she was coprincipal of the Oread Collegiate Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. She then moved to Boston, where she secured in 1870 the unusual position of pastor’s assistant under the Reverend George C. Lorimer of the Shawmut Avenue Baptist Church and later of the Tremont Temple. In 1877 she presided over the organizing meeting of the Woman’s American Baptist Home Mission Society, of which she was chosen treasurer that year and corresponding secretary the next.

In 1880 Packard toured the South and decided to open a school for African American women and girls in Georgia. After persuading the Woman’s American Baptist Home Mission Society to provide support, she moved to Atlanta in 1881 and, with Giles, opened a school in a church basement. Enrollment at the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary increased rapidly. In addition to teaching in the school, the two women also held prayer meetings, conducted Sunday schools, and taught sewing classes. The American Baptist Home Mission Society (parent of the women’s society) made a down payment on a permanent site for the school in 1882, and early in 1883 the school moved to its new home. The balance due was paid in 1884 by John D. Rockefeller, who had been impressed by Packard’s vision, and the school was named Spelman Seminary in honour of Rockefeller’s wife and her parents. Rockefeller Hall, with offices, a chapel, and dormitory rooms, was built in 1886, and Packard Hall was erected in 1888. With the granting of a state charter in the latter year, Packard became treasurer of the board of trustees. She continued in that post and as president of the school until her death, at which time Spelman Seminary had 464 students and a faculty of 34. Spelman Seminary became Spelman College in 1924, and in 1929 it became affiliated, along with Morehouse College, with Atlanta University.

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