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Literary Timeline of the Harlem Renaissance

April is National Poetry Month. From Phillis Wheatley to Paul Laurence Dunbar to Claude McKay, African-American poets have used the power of the pen to express frustrations with American society. 

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African-American History Spotlight10

Jackie Robinson Integrates Baseball

Tuesday April 15, 2014

As a lover of history, I am always amazed by people who are fearless. People who are able to take a deep breath and accept a challenge. People who are able to bear brutality and harsh treatment. People who can see the bigger picture.

Today, I'm thinking about Jackie Robinson , who signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 14, 1947. But his decision to become a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers team was not a mere contract signing. Robinson, who had previously played with the Kansas City Monarchs, an African-American baseball team, had integrated Major League Baseball and in effect, blazed a trail for African-American baseball players for years to come.

Yet Robinson's decision to integrate Major League Baseball was not easy. Robinson's membership to the Brooklyn Dodgers was met with mixed reception from the public, players on the team, and other baseball teams as well. However, Dodger manager Leo Durocher told the team, "I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a f*ckin' zebra. I'm the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What's more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded." When the St. Louis Cardinals threatened to strike if Robinson played, the National League officials warned players that they could be suspended for participating in a strike.

Enduring resentment of white baseball fans as well as baseball players payed off. Robinson completed the 1947 season by playing 151 games for the Dodgers. His batting average was .297, he scored 125 runs, 12 homeruns. As a result of Robinson's performance, he earned the Rookie of the Year award.

In 1956 Robinson retired from baseball. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin argues that Robinson's ability to desegregate the Major League Baseball was a "monumental step in the civil-rights revolution in America...[His] accomplishments allowed black and white Americans to be more respectful and open to one another and more appreciative of everyone's abilities." That's an idea that is easy to agree with--everytime Robinson was on the baseball field, he reminded all Americans to be fearless and accept challenges.

Five Blues Singing Women of the 1920s

Monday March 31, 2014
mamie smith

In 1920, Mamie Smith made musical history when she stepped into a recording booth and sang Crazy Blues. The song would be considered the first recording of a blues song. And throughout the 1920s, several other women such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith (no relation to Mamie), Alberta Hunter and Ida Cox would also record blues songs, appealing to women and men with lyrics that were sometimes raunchy, sometimes liberating but always truthful and provocative.

Marchers Attacked on Edmund Pettus Bridge

Friday March 7, 2014
policeonedmundpettusbridge

When I think of the Civil Rights Movement, I can't help but think of the everyday people who endured great pain for the greater good of a nation.

Today I'm thinking about Jimmie Lee Jackson, a deacon at a church in Marion, Ala. who tried unsuccessfully to register to vote for four years. Inspired by the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackson launched a campaign against voting restrictions in Alabama. Holding meetings at Zion's Chapel Methodist Church several nights a week, Jackson was helping other African-Americans build the courage to fight against voting restrictions. Yet, it was Jackson's work as a grassroots organizer that would lead ultimately lead to his death. On February 26, 1965, Jackson died after being shot by an Alabama State Trooper named James Bernard Fowler.

While Jackson's death might have created temporary fear in others fighting for voting rights, it didn't stop them.

On March 7, 1965, civil rights leaders Hosea Williams of the Souther Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) along with John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organized and began leading an estimated 600 African-American marchers from Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma on a 50-mile march to Montgomery. The purpose was simple: to meet on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery and protest against voting restrictions and violence in their communities. However, as the marchers reached the Edmund PEttus Bridge, an estimated 100 State Troopers blocked the other side of the bridge. Although Williams and Lewis tried to speak with the troopers, they were told, "There is no word to be had...you have two minutes to turn around and go back to your church." Within moments, Williams, Lewis and the marchers were attached with tear gas and troopers on horses. By the end of the attack, 16 marchers were injured and another 50 received treatment for wounds.

Yet the attack was not a defeat. It was a minor setback--those marchers who willing to endure great pain for the greater good for the nation.

Two days later, King led a march to the Pettus bridge. Although he too was turned around, it did not stop the movement.

On March 21, an estimated 3,000 marchers walked from Selma to Montgomery with no opposition from state troopers. And four days later, 25,000 people joined the original marchers from Selma to Montgomery.

Within five months, Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, making it illegal to employ discriminatory voting requirements such as literacy tests before allowing someone to register to vote.

Who is Septima Clark?

Friday February 28, 2014
septima poinsette clark

Known as the "Queen Mother" or "Grandmother of the American Civil Rights Movement" Septima Poinsette Clark was an educator and civil rights activist who believed that "knowledge could empower marginalized groups in ways that formal legal equality couldn't."

As director of more than 800 citizenship schools throughout the South, Clark was instrumental in helping thousands of African-Americans gain the literacy skills necessary to participate in the fight for voting rights.

One of her students, a seamstress from Montgomery named Rosa Parks, was so inspired by the concepts learned at the citizenship workshops that she returned home and refused to give up her seat on a segregated public bus. Parks' actions started the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Yet Parks always acknowledge Clark and the citizenship schools for her courage, saying, "I only hope that there is a possible chance that some of Septima's great courage and dignity and wisdom has rubbed off on me."

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