William Grant Still

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Friday 14 February 2014 9:00 am

william_grant_stillWilliam Grant Still,(born May 11, 1895, Woodville, Miss., U.S.‚died Dec. 3, 1978, Los Angeles), American composer and conductor, and the first black to conduct a professional symphony orchestra in the United States. Though a prolific composer of operas, ballets, symphonies, and other works, he was best known for his Afro-American Symphony (1931).

Still was brought up by his mother and grandmother in Little Rock, Ark., and studied medicine at Wilberforce University, Ohio, before turning to music. He first studied composition at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio, then under the conservative George W. Chadwick at the New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, and later under Edgard Var‚ during the latter‚ most radical avant-garde period. The diversity of Still‚ musical education was extended when, in the 1920s, he worked as an arranger for the dance-band leader Paul Whiteman and for the blues composer W.C. Handy. In 1939 he married and settled in Los Angeles. Early orchestral works include Darker America (1924) and From the Black Belt (1926) for chamber orchestra.

Still‚ concern with the position of the blacks in U.S. society is reflected in many of his works, notably the Afro-American Symphony; the ballets Sahdji (1930), set in Africa and composed after extensive study of African music, and Lenox Avenue (1937); and the operas The Troubled Island (1938; produced 1949), with a libretto by Langston Hughes, and Highway No. 1, U.S.A. (produced 1963 and 1977).

Still‚ compositions from the mid-1930s show the jazz band as a major influence on his eclectic musical style. He made considerable use of material in the African American style‚ though rarely borrowing actual melodies‚ and preferred simple, commercial harmonies and orchestration, the use of which, however, was characterized by the highest professionalism and seriousness of purpose.

Source: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/566295/William-Grant-Still

Muhammad Ali

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Wednesday 12 February 2014 9:00 am

muhammad_aliMuhammad Ali’s Early Years and Amateur Career

Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., the elder son of Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. (1912-1990) and Odessa Grady Clay (1917-1994), was born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. It was a red-and-white Schwinn that steered the future heavyweight champion to the sport of boxing. When his beloved bicycle was stolen, a tearful 12-year-old Clay reported the theft to Louisville police officer Joe Martin (1916-1996) and vowed to pummel the culprit. Martin, who was also a boxing trainer, suggested that the upset youngster first learn how to fight, and he took Clay under his wing. Six weeks later, Clay won his first bout in a split decision.

By age 18 Clay had captured two national Golden Gloves titles, two Amateur Athletic Union national titles and 100 victories against eight losses. After graduating high school, he traveled to Rome and won the light heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics.

Clay won his professional boxing debut on October 29, 1960, in a six-round decision. From the start of his pro career, the 6-foot-3-inch heavyweight overwhelmed his opponents with a combination of quick, powerful jabs and foot speed, and his constant braggadocio and self-promotion earned him the nickname ‚ Louisville Lip.

Muhammad Ali: Heavyweight Champion of the World

After winning his first 19 fights, including 15 knockouts, Clay received his first title shot on February 25, 1964, against reigning heavyweight champion Sonny Liston (1932-1970). Although he arrived in Miami Beach, Florida, a 7-1 underdog, the 22-year-old Clay relentlessly taunted Liston before the fight, promising to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee and predicting a knockout. When Liston failed to answer the bell at the start of the seventh round, Clay was indeed crowned heavyweight champion of the world. In the ring after the fight, the new champ roared, “I am the greatest!”

At a press conference the next morning, Clay, who had been seen around Miami with controversial Nation of Islam member Malcolm X (1925-1965), confirmed the rumors of his conversion to Islam. On March 6, 1964, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975) bestowed on Clay the name of Muhammad Ali.

Ali solidified his hold on the heavyweight championship by knocking out Liston in the first round of their rematch on May 25, 1965, and he defended his title eight more times. Then, with the Vietnam War raging, Ali showed up for his scheduled induction into the U.S. Armed Forces on April 28, 1967. Citing his religious beliefs, he refused to serve. Ali was arrested, and the New York State Athletic Commission immediately suspended his boxing license and revoked his heavyweight belt.

Convicted of draft evasion, Ali was sentenced to the maximum of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, but he remained free while the conviction was appealed. Many saw Ali as a draft dodger, and his popularity plummeted. Banned from boxing for three years, Ali spoke out against the Vietnam War on college campuses. As public attitudes turned against the war, support for Ali grew. In 1970 the New York State Supreme Court ordered his boxing license reinstated, and the following year the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction in a unanimous decision.

Muhammad Ali’s Return to the Ring

After 43 months in exile, Ali returned to the ring on October 26, 1970, and knocked out Jerry Quarry (1945-1999) in the third round. On March 8, 1971, Ali got his chance to regain his heavyweight crown against reigning champ Joe Frazier (1944-2011) in what was billed as the “Fight of the Century.” The undefeated Frazier floored Ali with a hard left hook in the final round. Ali got up but lost in a unanimous decision, experiencing his first defeat as a pro.

Ali won his next 10 bouts before being defeated by Ken Norton (1943-). He won the rematch six months later in a split decision and gained further revenge in a unanimous decision over Frazier in a non-title rematch. The victory gave the 32-year-old Ali a title shot against 25-year-old champion George Foreman (1949-). The October 30, 1974, fight in Kinshasa, Zaire, was dubbed the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali, the decided underdog, employed his”rope-a-dope‚” strategy, leaning on the ring ropes and absorbing a barrage of blows from Foreman while waiting for his opponent to tire. The strategy worked, and Ali won in an eighth-round knockout to regain the title stripped from him seven years prior.

Ali successfully defended his title in 10 fights, including the memorable “Thrilla in Manila‚” on October 1, 1975, in which his bitter rival Frazier, his eyes swollen shut, was unable to answer the bell for the final round. Ali also defeated Norton in their third meeting in a unanimous 15-round decision.

On February 15, 1978, an aging Ali lost his title to Leon Spinks (1953-) in a 15-round split decision. Seven months later, Ali defeated Spinks in a unanimous 15-round decision to reclaim the heavyweight crown and become the first fighter to win the world heavyweight boxing title three times. After announcing his retirement in 1979, Ali launched a brief, unsuccessful comeback. However, he was overwhelmed in a technical knockout loss to Larry Holmes (1949-) in 1980, and he dropped a unanimous 10-round decision to Trevor Berbick (1954-2006) on December 11, 1981. After the fight, the 39-year-old Ali retired for good with a career record of 56 wins, five losses and 37 knockouts.

Muhammad Ali’s Later Years and Legacy

In 1984 Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson syndrome, possibly connected to the severe head trauma suffered during his boxing career. The former champion motor skills have slowly declined, and his movement and speech are limited. In spite of the Parkinson, Ali remains in the public spotlight, traveling the world to make humanitarian, goodwill and charitable appearances. He met with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (1937-2006) in 1990 to negotiate the release of American hostages, and in 2002 he traveled to Afghanistan as a United Nations Messenger of Peace.

Ali had the honor of lighting the cauldron during the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. In 1999 Ali was voted the BBC‚ “Sporting Personality of the Century,” and Sports Illustrated named him “Sportsman of the Century.” Ali was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a 2005 White House ceremony, and in the same year the $60 million Muhammad Ali Center, a nonprofit museum and cultural center focusing on peace and social responsibility, opened in Louisville.

Ring Magazine named Ali “Fighter of the Year‚” five times, more than any other boxer, and he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Ali has been married four times and has seven daughters and two sons. He married his fourth wife, Yolanda, in 1986.

Source: http://www.history.com/topics/muhammad-ali

Ellen and William Craft

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Tuesday 11 February 2014 9:00 am

ellen_william_craftWilliam and Ellen Craft’s daring escape from slavery in 1848 made them famous throughout antebellum America, heroes in the eyes of abolitionists and criminals in the eyes of slavery supporters. The unusual circumstances of their flight to freedom were a major factor in their celebrity. Ellen, so light-skinned as to be nearly white, disguised herself in men’s clothing and posed as a young white planter to effect her escape. Her husband, William, played the role of her slave. Together, they traveled from Georgia to Philadelphia by train and by boat, often staying in first-class accommodations and always directly under the noses of southern authorities. Americans everywhere were moved by their amazing story of boundary crossing, for the Crafts passed through not only the literal boundary that separated North from South, but also the social boundaries of race, class, and gender that divided the population of the United States.

At an early age, both William and Ellen witnessed the break-up of their families as a result of their enslavement. William’s master sold his mother, father, brother, sister, and eventually William in order to pay off debts. Working for a variety of masters, William learned the craft of carpentry and labored in a cabinetmaker’s shop. Ellen, born in 1826, was the daughter of Major James Smith, a wealthy white plantation owner, and Maria, his mulatto house slave. Major Smith’s white wife, annoyed by the presence in her household of her husband’s natural daughter by a slave, gave Ellen to her own daughter, Eliza, as a wedding present. At the age of eleven, Ellen was thus separated from her mother and sent to live in Macon, Georgia, as the slave of her white half-sister.

William and Ellen met in Macon in the early 1840s and married in 1846 in a slave ceremony that was not recognized as legal or binding in the southern states. Fearing the possibility of sale or separation, they decided not to have children while they were still enslaved. Instead, they formulated their bold escape plan, purchasing clothing for Ellen’s disguise and asking their masters for a couple of days of vacation on the pretense of visiting friends and relatives. Since Ellen could not write (teaching slaves to read or write was a criminal offense in the South), she bound up her arm in a sling to discourage officials from asking her to sign documents. She also took the precaution of wearing a poultice on her face to disguise her femininity and to limit conversations with strangers. In this guise of a sickly white man accompanied by his slave, the couple took just four days to reach the North, where they were hidden by a Quaker family on a farm outside Philadelphia. A few weeks later, they moved on to the safer community of Boston.

In Boston, the Crafts were warmly received by abolitionists and by the free black community. They were invited to tour with noted abolitionist William Wells Brown, giving speeches and lectures on the nature and effects of slavery. Later, Brown would fictionalize their escape in one of the first African American novels, Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter (1853). Eventually, William Craft established himself as a cabinetmaker, and Ellen found work as a seamstress. Their comfortable life in Boston came to an abrupt end, however, with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Mandating that escaped slaves residing in the North had to be returned to their masters in the South, the law jeopardized William and Ellen’s hard-earned freedom. When Ellen’s former owner dispatched two slave-catchers to Boston to capture and return the fugitives, the city rallied to the Crafts’ cause and drove the slave-catchers out of town. The incident left the Crafts feeling vulnerable, however, and they decided to immigrate to England where they could find safety and asylum.

In England, William and Ellen continued their work lecturing and speaking, profoundly influencing British attitudes toward slavery in the process. They also attended the Ockham school, an agricultural academy in Surrey, where they built on the education they had begun to acquire in Philadelphia and in Boston. While in England, the Crafts had four children and established themselves in business. Between 1862 and 1865, William planned and executed a series of journeys to Dahomey, Africa, to teach Christianity and agriculture to the Africans there, as well as to promote trade. The scheme was not entirely successful, leaving the Crafts deeply in debt.

Unemployed and in financial straits, the Crafts decided to return to the United States in 1869, after the conclusion of the Civil War. They purchased Hickory Hill, a plantation in Savannah, Georgia, hoping to run it as a cooperative managed by freed blacks. Reconstruction-era Georgia proved to be a hostile environment for their idealistic project; a band of angry whites burned down the plantation in 1870, entirely destroying the house, barn, and first planted crop. Still committed to their vision, the Crafts refused to give up. In 1871, they took a lease on Woodville, a plantation outside of Savannah in a county where the majority of the population was black, and opened a school and cooperative farm there. Though they never again had to contend with the kind of overt violence they had encountered at Hickory Hill, they were dogged by perpetual hostility, discrimination, and debt for the remainder of their lives.

Today William and Ellen Craft are remembered primarily for their extraordinary escape from slavery and for William’s gripping narrative of that escape. Published in 1860 in England, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom was an immediate hit, going through two editions in two years. The narrative offers important testimony about the harshness of slavery, while also challenging common antebellum notions of race, class, and gender.

Source: http://www.learner.org/amerpass/unit07/authors-3.html

Duke Ellington

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Monday 10 February 2014 9:00 am

duke_ellingtonEdward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was the most prolific composer of the twentieth century in terms of both number of compositions and variety of forms. His development was one of the most spectacular in the history of music, underscored by more than fifty years of sustained achievement as an artist and an entertainer. He is considered by many to be America’s greatest composer, bandleader, and recording artist.

The extent of Ellington’s innovations helped to redefine the various forms in which he worked. He synthesized many of the elements of American music ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ the minstrel song, ragtime, Tin Pan Alley tunes, the blues, and American appropriations of the European music tradition ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ into a consistent style with which, though technically complex, has a directness and a simplicity of expression largely absent from the purported art music of the twentieth century. Ellington’s first great achievements came in the three-minute song form, and he later wrote music for all kinds of settings: the ballroom, the comedy stage, the nightclub, the movie house, the theater, the concert hall, and the cathedral. His blues writing resulted in new conceptions of form, harmony, and melody, and he became the master of the romantic ballad and created numerous works that featured the great soloists in his jazz orchestra.

Source: http://www.pbs.org/jazz/biography/artist_id_ellington_duke.htm

Crispus Attucks

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Sunday 9 February 2014 9:00 am

crispus_attucksIn 1770, Crispus Attucks, a black man, became the first casualty of the American Revolution when he was shot and killed in what became known as the Boston Massacre. Although Attucks was credited as the leader and instigator of the event, debate raged for over as century as to whether he was a hero and a patriot, or a rabble-rousing villain.

In the murder trial of the soldiers who fired the fatal shots, John Adams, serving as a lawyer for the crown, reviled the “mad behavior” of Attucks, “whose very looks was enough to terrify any person.”

Twenty years earlier, an advertisement placed by William Brown in the Boston Gazette and Weekly Journal provided a more detailed description of Attucks, a runaway: “A Mulatto fellow, about 27 Years of Age, named Crispus, 6 feet 2 inches high, short cur’l hair, his knees nearer together than common.”

Attucks father was said to be an African and his mother a Natick or Nantucket Indian; in colonial America, the offspring of black and Indian parents were considered black or mulatto. As a slave in Framingham, he had been known for his skill in buying and selling cattle.

Brown offered a reward for the man’s return, and ended with the following admonition: “And all Matters of Vessels and others, are hereby cautioned against concealing or carrying off said Servant on Penalty of Law. ” Despite Brown’s warning, Attucks was carried off on a vessel many times over the next twenty years; he became a sailor, working on a whaling crew that sailed out of Boston harbor. At other times he worked as a ropemaker in Boston.

Attucks’ occupation made him particularly vulnerable to the presence of the British. As a seaman, he felt the ever-present danger of impressment into the British navy. As a laborer, he felt the competition from British troops, who often took part-time jobs during their off-duty hours and worked for lower wages. A fight between Boston ropemakers and three British soldiers on Friday, March 2, 1770 set the stage for a later confrontation. That following Monday night, tensions escalated when a soldier entered a pub to look for work, and instead found a group of angry seamen that included Attucks.

That evening a group of about thirty, described by John Adams as “a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs,” began taunting the guard at the custom house with snowballs, sticks and insults. Seven other redcoats came to the lone soldier’s rescue, and Attucks was one of five men killed when they opened fire.

Patriots, pamphleteers and propagandists immediately dubbed the event the “Boston Massacre,” and its victims became instant martyrs and symbols of liberty. Despite laws and customs regulating the burial of blacks, Attucks was buried in the Park Street cemetery along with the other honored dead.

Adams, who became the second American president, defended the soldiers in court against the charge of murder. Building on eyewitness testimony that Attucks had struck the first blow, Adams described him as the self-appointed leader of “the dreadful carnage.” In Adams’ closing argument, Attucks became larger than life, with “hardiness enough to fall in upon them, and with one hand took hold of a bayonet, and with the other knocked the man down.” The officer in charge and five of his men were acquitted, which further inflamed the public.

The citizens of Boston observed the anniversary of the Boston Massacre in each of the following years leading up to the war. In ceremonies designed to stir revolutionary fervor, they summoned the “discontented ghosts” of the victims.”

A “Crispus Attucks Day” was inaugurated by black abolitionists in 1858, and in 1888, the Crispus Attucks Monument was erected on the Boston Common, despite the opposition of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the New England Historic Genealogical Society, which regarded Attucks as a villain.

The debate notwithstanding, Attucks, immortalized as “the first to defy, the first to die,” has been lauded as a true martyr, “the first to pour out his blood as a precious libation on the altar of a people’s rights.”

Bessie Coleman

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Saturday 8 February 2014 9:00 am

bessie_colemanBessie Coleman, the first African American female pilot, grew up in a cruel world of poverty and discrimination. The year after her birth in Atlanta, Texas, an African American man was tortured and then burned to death in nearby Paris for allegedly raping a five-year-old girl. The incident was not unusual; lynchings were endemic throughout the South. African Americans were essentially barred from voting by literacy tests. They couldn’t ride in railway cars with white people, or use a wide range of public facilities set aside for whites. When young Bessie first went to school at the age of six, it was to a one-room wooden shack, a four-mile walk from her home. Often there wasn’t paper to write on or pencils to write with.

When Coleman turned 23 she headed to Chicago to live with two of her older brothers, hoping to make something of herself. But the Windy City offered little more to an African American woman than did Texas. When Coleman decided she wanted to learn to fly, the double stigma of her race and gender meant that she would have to travel to France to realize her dreams.

It was soldiers returning from World War I with wild tales of flying exploits who first interested Coleman in aviation. She was also spurred on by her brother, who taunted her with claims that French women were superior to African American women because they could fly. In fact, very few American women of any race had pilot’s licenses in 1918. Those who did were predominantly white and wealthy. Every flying school that Coleman approached refused to admit her because she was both black and a woman. On the advice of Robert Abbott, the owner of the “Chicago Defender” and one of the first African American millionaires, Coleman decided to learn to fly in France.

Coleman learned French at a Berlitz school in the Chicago loop, withdrew the savings she had accumulated from her work as a manicurist and the manager of a chili parlor, and with the additional financial support of Abbott and another African American entrepreneur, she set off for Paris from New York on November 20, 1920. It took Coleman seven months to learn how to fly. The only non-Caucasian student in her class, she was taught in a 27-foot biplane that was known to fail frequently, sometimes in the air. During her training Coleman witnessed a fellow student die in a plane crash, which she described as a “terrible shock” to her nerves. But the accident didn’t deter her: In June 1921, the F‚àö¬©d‚àö¬©ration A‚àö¬©ronautique Internationale awarded her an international pilot’s license.

When Coleman returned to the U.S. in September 1921, scores of reporters turned out to meet her. The “Air Service News” noted that Coleman had become “a full-fledged aviatrix, the first of her race.” She was invited as a guest of honor to attend the all-black musical “Shuffle Along.” The entire audience, including the several hundred whites in the orchestra seats, rose to give the first African American female pilot a standing ovation.

Over the next five years Coleman performed at countless air shows. The first took place on September 3, 1922, in Garden City, Long Island. The “Chicago Defender” publicized the event saying the “wonderful little woman” Bessie Coleman would do “heart thrilling stunts.” According to a reporter from Kansas, as many as 3,000 people, including local dignitaries, attended the event. Over the following years, Coleman used her position of prominence to encourage other African Americans to fly. She also made a point of refusing to perform at locations that wouldn’t admit members of her race.

Coleman took her tragic last flight on April 30, 1926, in Jacksonville, Florida. Together with a young Texan mechanic called William Wills, Coleman was preparing for an air show that was to have taken place the following day. At 3,500 feet with Wills at the controls, an unsecured wrench somehow got caught in the control gears and the plane unexpectedly plummeted toward earth. Coleman, who wasn’t wearing a seat-belt, fell to her death.

About 10,000 mourners paid their last respects to the first African American woman aviator, filing past her coffin in Chicago South’s Side. Her funeral was attended by several prominent African Americans and it was presided over by Ida B. Wells, an outspoken advocate of equal rights. But despite the massive turnout and the tributes paid to Coleman during the service, several black reporters believed that the scope of Coleman’s accomplishments had never truly been recognized during her lifetime. An editorial in the “Dallas Express” stated, “There is reason to believe that the general public did not completely sense the size of her contribution to the achievements of the race as such.”

Coleman has not been forgotten in the decades since her death. For a number of years starting in 1931, black pilots from Chicago instituted an annual fly over of her grave. In 1977 a group of African American women pilots established the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club. And in 1992 a Chicago City council resolution requested that the U.S. Postal Service issue a Bessie Coleman stamp. The resolution noted that “Bessie Coleman continues to inspire untold thousands even millions of young persons with her sense of adventure, her positive attitude, and her determination to succeed.”


Paul Robeson

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Friday 7 February 2014 9:00 am

paul_robesonPaul Robeson was a famous African-American athlete, singer, actor, and advocate for the civil rights of people around the world. He rose to prominence in a time when segregation was legal in the United States, and Black people were being lynched by racist mobs, especially in the South.

Born on April 9, 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey, Paul Robeson was the youngest of five children. His father was a runaway slave who went on to graduate from Lincoln University, and his mother came from an abolitionist Quaker family. Robeson’s family knew both hardship and the determination to rise above it. His own life was no less challenging.

In 1915, Paul Robeson won a four-year academic scholarship to Rutgers University. Despite violence and racism from teammates, he won 15 varsity letters in sports (baseball, basketball, track) and was twice named to the All-American Football Team. He received the Phi Beta Kappa key in his junior year, belonged to the Cap & Skull Honor Society, and graduated as Valedictorian. However, it wasn’t until 1995, 19 years after his death, that Paul Robeson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

At Columbia Law School (1919-1923), Robeson met and married Eslanda Cordoza Goode, who was to become the first Black woman to head a pathology laboratory. He took a job with a law firm, but left when a white secretary refused to take dictation from him. He left the practice of law to use his artistic talents in theater and music to promote African and African-American history and culture.

In London, Robeson earned international acclaim for his lead role in¬¨‚ĆOthello,¬¨‚Ćfor which he won the Donaldson Award for Best Acting Performance (1944), and performed in Eugene O’Neill’s¬¨‚ĆEmperor Jones¬¨‚Ćand¬¨‚ĆAll God’s Chillun Got Wings.¬¨‚ĆHe is known for changing the lines of the¬¨‚ĆShowboat¬¨‚Ćsong “Old Man River” from the meek “…I’m tired of livin’ and ‘feared of dyin’….,” to a declaration of resistance, “… I must keep fightin’ until I’m dying….”. His 11 films included¬¨‚ĆBody and Soul¬¨‚Ć(1924),¬¨‚ĆJericho¬¨‚Ć(1937), and¬¨‚ĆProud Valley¬¨‚Ć(1939). Robeson’s travels taught him that racism was not as virulent in Europe as in the U.S. At home, it was difficult to find restaurants that would serve him, theaters in New York would only seat Blacks in the upper balconies, and his performances were often surrounded with threats or outright harassment. In London, on the other hand, Robeson’s opening night performance of¬¨‚ĆEmperor Jones¬¨‚Ćbrought the audience to its feet with cheers for twelve encores.

Paul Robeson used his deep baritone voice to promote Black spirituals, to share the cultures of other countries, and to benefit the labor and social movements of his time. He sang for peace and justice in 25 languages throughout the U.S., Europe, the Soviet Union, and Africa. Robeson became known as a citizen of the world, equally comfortable with the people of Moscow, Nairobi, and Harlem. Among his friends were future African leader Jomo Kenyatta, India’s Nehru, historian Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, anarchist Emma Goldman, and writers James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. In 1933, Robeson donated the proceeds of¬¨‚ĆAll God’s Chillun¬¨‚Ćto Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s Germany. At a 1937 rally for the anti-fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War, he declared, “The artist must elect to fight for Freedom or for Slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.” In New York in 1939, he premiered in Earl Robinson’s¬¨‚ĆBallad for Americans,¬¨‚Ća cantata celebrating the multi-ethnic, multi-racial face of America. It was greeted with the largest audience response since Orson Welles’ famous “War of the Worlds.”

During the 1940s, Robeson continued to perform and to speak out against racism, in support of labor, and for peace. He was a champion of working people and organized labor. He spoke and performed at strike rallies, conferences, and labor festivals worldwide. As a passionate believer in international cooperation, Robeson protested the growing Cold War and worked tirelessly for friendship and respect between the U.S. and the USSR. In 1945, he headed an organization that challenged President Truman to support an anti-lynching law. In the late 1940s, when dissent was scarcely tolerated in the U.S., Robeson openly questioned why African Americans should fight in the army of a government that tolerated racism. Because of his outspokenness, he was accused by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) of being a Communist. Robeson saw this as an attack on the democratic rights of everyone who worked for international friendship and for equality. The accusation nearly ended his career. Eighty of his concerts were canceled, and in 1949 two interracial outdoor concerts in Peekskill, N.Y. were attacked by racist mobs while state police stood by. Robeson responded, “I’m going to sing wherever the people want me to sing…and I won’t be frightened by crosses burning in Peekskill or anywhere else.”

In 1950, the U.S. revoked Robeson’s passport, leading to an eight-year battle to resecure it and to travel again. During those years, Robeson studied Chinese, met with Albert Einstein to discuss the prospects for world peace, published his autobiography,¬¨‚ĆHere I Stand,¬¨‚Ćand sang at Carnegie Hall. Two major labor-related events took place during this time. In 1952 and 1953, he held two concerts at Peace Arch Park on the U.S.-Canadian border, singing to 30-40,000 people in both countries. In 1957, he made a transatlantic radiophone broadcast from New York to coal miners in Wales. In 1960, Robeson made his last concert tour to New Zealand and Australia. In ill health, Paul Robeson retired from public life in 1963. He died on January 23, 1976, at age 77, in Philadelphia.

Source: http://www.cpsr.cs.uchicago.edu/robeson/bio.html

Assata Shakur

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Thursday 6 February 2014 9:00 am

assata_shakurOn May 2, 2013, the FBI placed Assata Shakur, now living in Cuba, on its Most Wanted Terrorists list, which has included the likes of Osama Bin Laden and other Al Quaeda figures, some of whom were executed by drones. This was the day after the State Department was due to release its list of terrorist countries from which Cuba was¬¨‚Ćwidely expected to be removed, as even the Miami Herald reported.¬¨‚ĆRelease of that list has been postponed and the State Department has asserted Cuba will remain on it, handing a victory to the exiled Cuban plantocracy and the half century campaign to restore their rule over Cuba. This has also been experienced as an assault on African Americans — see the trending use of the Twitter tag¬¨‚Ć#HandsOffAssata, with many links that people are putting up.

Assata Shakur has been living in Cuba since 1986, after escaping from prison where she was serving a life sentence imposed in a highly disputed trial. Assata was a Black Panther then a Black Liberation Army (BLA) leader in the early ’70s, so she was a target of the FBI’s COINTELPRO. Assata was captured in a shoot-out resulting from resistance to yet another “driving while black” police action in 1973 on the New Jersey State Turnpike. This time a State Trooper was killed. Zayd Shakur, traveling in the car with Assata, was also killed.

The third person in the car,¬¨‚ĆSundiata Acoli, is still serving time over 30 years later and has recently been denied parole for another 20 years. According to one of Sundiata’ attorney, Joan P. Gibbs, “Assata, at the time of her arrest, was ‘wanted’ on federal and state charges in New York, all of which juries subsequently found her not guilty of or were dismissed.”¬¨‚Ć As was later proved through medical forensics, Assata was wounded at the time of her capture by a cowardly shot from the rear, while she had her hands up. This fact is frequently the subject of lies by law enforcement as is the fact that she was given a paraffin test, which failed to reveal any gunpowder residue, meaning it would have been hard for her to have fired a gun. While recovering from her wounds, she was tortured at the hands of the State Police Nazis (no hyperbole here, they were¬¨‚ĆWWII Nazis brought to America). She was convicted by an all white jury in 1977 and sentenced to life in prison. Before her daring escape from prison in 1979, Assata Shakur served a total of six years behind bars where she would also give birth to her daughter Kakuya.

The following passage is excerpted from Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur and was originally delivered by Assata Shakur as part of her opening statement while acting as co-counsel in her own defense for charges stemming from  the New Jersey Turnpike incident:

“The idea of the Black Liberation Army emerged from conditions in Black communities: conditions of poverty, indecent housing, massive unemployment, poor medical care, and inferior education. The idea came about because Black people are not free or equal in this country. Because ninety percent of the men and women in this country’s prisons are Black and Third World. Because ten-year-old children are shot down in our streets. Because dope has saturated our communities, preying on the disillusionment and frustrations of our children. The concept of the BLA arose because of the political, social, and economic oppression of Black people in this country. And where there is oppression, there will be resistance. The BLA is part of that resistance movement. The Black Liberation Army stands for freedom and justice for all people. “

Assata was the subject of a 1997 documentary, “Eyes of the Rainbow,” by AfroCuban film maker¬¨‚ĆGloria Rolando.

Source: http://www.afrocubaweb.com/assata.htm

Lewis Latimer

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Wednesday 5 February 2014 9:00 am

lewis_latimer1848-1928  Lewis H. Latimer was a leading engineer in the formative years of the electric power industry at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. He was a key member of the legendary group of inventors led by Thomas Edison.

Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on September 4, 1848, to George Latimer and Rebecca Smith. Latimer’s father was well known as the central figure in a cause célèbre in Boston in 1842 when he was arrested as an escaped slave and ordered returned to his owner in Virginia. Thousands of Bostonians, with Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison leading the way, took up his cause. Latimer’s father was able to keep his freedom—and Latimer himself escaped being born into slavery—when a black Baptist minister named Samuel Caldwell raised the substantial sum of $400 from his congregation to pay off the owner.

As a child, Latimer excelled in school whenever he was allowed to attend, but for the most part, he was forced to assist in his father’s barbershop. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1857 that a slave named Dred Scott could not sue for his freedom, Latimer’s father, who had become a prominent activist for African American rights, went into hiding. As a result, Latimer and his two brothers were sent to a state school where residents were treated more like captives than children. As their parents had done before them, they gained their freedom by escaping. In 1864, at age 16, Latimer joined the Navy. His tour of duty lasted less than a year as the Civil War came to an end, and the Union discharged soldiers and sailors no longer needed. Latimer returned to Boston, and was able to secure modest work with a patent attorney.

He began as an office assistant, but when the firm discovered he had exceptional talent for drawing, Latimer was elevated to the position of draftsman, a key role in the preparation of patent applications because of the U.S. Patent Office’s strict requirements for illustrations. Later, promoted to chief draftsman, he prepared drawings for Alexander Graham Bell’s historic patent for the telephone. Meanwhile, immersed in this arcane world, Latimer began to focus on the inventions themselves, and he became increasingly preoccupied with dreaming up some of his own.

Latimer married Mary Wilson Lewis in 1873, the year before he was granted (as co-inventor) his first patent. The invention now seems humble—an improved toilet for railroad cars—but railroads in the 1870s represented the acme of technology and Latimer, as an inventor, felt that new technology would be the core of his success. In an effort to become well versed in machines and engineering, Latimer left the patent firm and moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he found work as a draftsman in a machine shop. Here, his talents caught the attention of Hiram Stevens Maxim, a prestigious inventor of many devices from mousetraps to machine guns, and founder of the United States Electric Lighting Company in New York. Maxim hired Latimer away from the machine shop and gave him the job of producing drawings for electrical installations.

Latimer was quick to comprehend the technologies common to the nascent industry, and he rapidly became knowledgeable in the field. Noticing his de facto graduation from draftsman to electrical engineer, Maxim put him in charge of equipment production and installation, and then followed by recruiting Latimer to be a key member of a team developing a new, longer-lasting light bulb filament. Maxim’s good judgment was affirmed in 1882 when Latimer was awarded a patent on an innovative process he devised to manufacture the new bulb. This invention is now considered to represent a critical technical achievement in the evolution of electric light.

Maxim and the famous inventor Thomas Edison were rivals, and Edison took advantage of Latimer’s departure from United States Electric Lighting to lure him, in 1884, to his own company. As usual, Latimer was hired as a draftsman, but Edison was well aware of his other talents, and named him to a team set up to refine the use of patents in protecting the company’s inventions. His unique qualifications as an engineer, patent expert, and active member of the industry allowed him to play a leading role in the group and more generally during his tenure with Edison. When disputes rose to the level of litigation, he proved a frequent and effective witness on behalf of the company. In 1892, Latimer was asked by Edison to help smooth the company’s merger with another corporation to form General Electric. In 1896, he was named to the Board of Patent Control, a joint venture formed by General Electric and its rival Westinghouse for cross-licensing patents. Edison had so much confidence in Latimer as an engineer that he commissioned him to write Incandescent Electrical Lighting, a Practical Description of the Edison System, which would become a standard reference.

In 1911, Latimer left General Electric to become a private consultant. His greatest honor came in 1918, when he was included in the formation of an elite group of inventors known as the Edison Pioneers. He continued to work on inventions and patents until the early 1920s, when he was slowed by failing eyesight and a stroke. Though he had dedicated his life to engineering and invention, Latimer also was a musician, a painter, and a poet of considerable accomplishments. In retirement, he spent much of his time teaching English, engineering, and drafting to immigrants. He died in New York on December 11, 1928, at the age of 80. His Flushing home is designated as a New York City landmark.

Jan Matzeliger

Posted by The Zodiac | Black History | Tuesday 4 February 2014 9:00 am

jan_matzeligerJan Ernst Matzeliger was born on September 15, 1852 in Surinam (South America), the child of a biracial marriage. His father was a white engineer from Holland and his mother was a black woman in the Dutch colony.  By his third birthday Matzeliger was sent to live with his father’s sister.  By the time he turned 10 years old, Matzeliger became a worker in the machine shop that his father owned. It was at this time that he quickly became aware of his talent for working with machinery.

Although he was skilled in this area, Matzeliger did not initially pursue a career in engineering or inventing.  In 1871 at the age of 19 he left Surinam and worked as a sailor for two years.  By 1873 he settled in Philadelphia where he worked in a variety of trades.  In 1876 he moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, the emerging center of the American shoe manufacturing industry.   Matzeliger arrived in Lynn barely able to speak English.  Nonetheless he began working in a shoe factory.  Despite his language difficulties,

Matzeliger began working on various innovations that would improve shoe manufacturing productivity.  On March 20, 1883, Matzeliger received patent no. 274, 207 for a “Lasting Machine” that rapidly stitched the leather and sole of a shoe.  Matzeliger’s invention quickly made Lynn the “shoe capital of the world.”  Matzeliger became one of the founders of the Consolidated Lasting Machine Company which was formed around his invention.

Matzeliger’s work habits and his neglect of his health, however, soon took a toll.  In the summer of 1887, he caught a cold then developed tuberculosis.  Jan Ernst Matzeliger died on August 24 of that year at the age of 39.


Source: http://www.blackpast.org/aah/matzeliger-jan-e-1852-1887

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