Black laboratory technician Vivien Thomas was paid a janitor's wage, never went to college or medical school, and was one of the pioneers of open heart surgery.
Why I Yelled at the Kara Walker Exhibit: "Anger shot up my body like a hot thermometer. Face flushed, I walked to the Mammy sphinx. Couples posed in front of it, smiling as others took their photos. So here it was, an artwork about how Black people’s pain was transformed into money was a tourist attraction for them... Something snapped... I yelled that this was our history and that many of us were angry and sad that it was a site of pornographic jokes." [more inside]
In 2002 Henry Louis Gates jr. published The Bondwoman's Narrative. It was the first publication of a novel written in the 1850s by a former slave who wrote under the name Hannah Crafts. The original manuscript has been digitized by Yale's Beinecke Library. The book caused a splash at the time, sold well and was reviewed widely, including an essay by Hilary Mantel in the London Review of Books. The identity of Hannah Crafts was uncertain, which cast a slight shadow on its provenance, but Prof. Gregg Hecimovich discovered the writer's true identity. Her name was Hannah Bond and after escaping slavery she became a teacher in New Jersey. Journalist Paul Berman further fills in the story of Colonel Wheeler, the slaveowner whose family was depicted in The Bondwoman's Narrative. Wheeler was the US ambassador to Nicaragua in the 1850s and played a major part in the administration of General Walker, the American who became a short-lived dictator of Nicaragua and tried to set it up as a slave state.
"Two women, Edna Knowles and Peaches Stevens, were wed in Liz's Mark III Lounge, a gay bar on Chicago's South Side, before a host of friends and well-wishers."--JET Magazine, October 1970 The Pop-Up Museum of Queer History offers a terrific post on the public rituals queer African American women have used to celebrate their partnerships since the 1920s.
The King Center archive launched a new web interface this year, featuring online access to thousands of historical documents relating to Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement.
On June 15th, 1920 in Duluth, Minnesota, three young, black circus workers, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Issac McGhie, were lynched. The Minnesota Historical Society has a great site devoted to the terrible event, Duluth Lynchings Online Resource. I'd especially like to point out the Oral Histories section, which has short interviews with African-Americans who lived through the event. In 2001 Minnesota Public Radio covered the story, inspired by a campaign to build a memorial to the three men, which was dedicated in October of 2003. The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial has a fine website which is well worth visiting.
In 1865, after the end of the Civil War, Col. P. H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee, wrote to his former slave, Jourdon Anderson, asking him to return to work for him. In reply, Jourdon Anderson told Colonel Anderson exactly where he could stick his offer. This letter was part of The Freedmen's Book (full download in many different formats) which was distributed to those freed after and during the Civil War, so that they would know stories of other freedmen who had done well, including Touissant L'Ouverture, Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass. The book was put together and published by Lydia Maria Child, abolitionist, women's rights activist, Indian rights campaigner and all around awesome person. She became famous in her own time for her cookbook The Frugal Housewife, but today her best known work is Over the River and Through the Woods. The Freedmen's Book was part of an effort by abolitionists after the war to educate freed slaves. The American Antiquarian Society has a great website about that movement, Northern Visions of Race, Region and Reform, which has plenty of primary sources and images galore.
Dr. Mayme Agnew Clayton was a librarian and collector in Los Angeles who left behind a collection of remarkable value. Over the course of more than 40 years, she had collected the largest privately held collection of African-American materials, with over 30,000 rare and out-of-print books, 1,700 films dating back to 1916, as well as more than 75,000 photographs and scores of movie posters, playbills, programs, documents and manuscripts. Her collection, which has been compared to the Schomburg Collection in the New York City Public Library, was opened to the public in 2007. [more inside]
Explorations in Black Leadership is a collection of video interviews with prominent African-Americans, focusing on activists of one sort or another. 34 people are interviewed, including Nikki Giovanni, John Lewis, Barbara Lee, Bobby Rush, Dorothy Height and Amiri Baraka. There are full transcripts of every interview. Here's an excerpt from the Nikki Giovanni interview: "The kids today have to have a voice. I'm amazed that they found it. I remember Sugarhill Gang with Sylvia, you know: "Uptown, Downtown, the Holiday Inn." You know, things like that. Then, of course, I remember the explosion of Tupac Shakur. Losing Tupac was a great loss for this generation. I have a tattoo--it says "Thug Life" --because I wanted to mourn with this generation. I don't see how people can knock the kids…paying so little attention. I had deep regrets--and I know Rosa Parks, you know, we don't hang out but I know her--I so regretted that she lent her name to be used against Outkast, because Rosa Parks is a wonderful--is a wonderful tune. And they were giving her problems. If people don't--if the younger generation doesn't sing the praises of the older generation they get forgotten."
Did anyone else forget that February is supposed to be Black History Month? Would you believe that Black Entertainment Television (BET) did.