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.
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.
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.
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."
The years between 1700 and 1799 can be considered a transformative period in American History.
For residents of the thirteen colonies--both black and white, freed and enslaved--the desire for autonomy was present in every law and every event that occurred.
In this month's African-American history timeline, we feature this time period--1700 to 1799--and realized that like the previous century, that enslavement "happened one law at a time, one person at a time." And as laws were established to transform enslavement from indentured to lifetime servitude, the abolition movement was slowly yet surely starting to build up steam in places such as New York City and Philadelphia.Quakers such as Anthony Benezet established institutions such as free public schools for African-American children residing in Philadelphia.
And African-American men and women, both freed and enslaved, are making their presence known in society. Benjamin Banneker works with surveyors to build the nations capitol while a young poet named Phillis Wheatley will become the first African-American woman to publish a collection of poetry.
In 1920, scholar and activist W.E.B. DuBois launched The Brownies' Book, a supplement to The Crisis magazine, which highlighted literature for African-American children.
In doing so, DuBois helped to establish African-American children's literature as a genre.
Working with the news publication's literary editor, Jessie Redmon Fauset, DuBois printed a monthly magazine for children whose mission was to "teach Universal Love and Brotherhood for all little folk--black and brown and yellow and white."
Today the mission that DuBois and Fauset developed through The Brownie's Book is coming true as there is a wide selection of children's books featuring African-American characters.
This month's edition of On the Bookshelf is dedicated to African-American children's literature. Written by elementary school educator, Nakita Carson, the article features four books that document American history through memoir, biography and autobiography. Entitled Four African-American Children's Books the list encourages readers to learn about everday people such as Leon Tillage,well-known author Walter Dean Meyers, trailblazing women such as Bessie Coleman and prominent figures such as Booker T. Washington.
When I asked Carson why including African-American children's literature was important in the classroom, she told me, "children miss out so much when they only know part of the story. If we want to live in a world where are known for their character and not their color, we have to give them the whole story and all of its characters. All children need to know that African Americans were not just slaves and they need to see that there is more to being black than what they see in the images portrayed in movies and on television."
I couldn't agree more with Carson. So, please, in the coming months, be on the lookout for more books to be highligthed on our site featuring African-American children and their history. I'm sure it would make DuBois, Fauset and other members of the Harlem Renaissance proud!
On February 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified.
The passing of the 15th Amendment made it possible for all male citizens in the United States would have the right to vote--regardless of race or previous condition of servitude.
As a result of the 15th Amendment being passed, several African-American men were able to serve in the U.S. Congress as well as in local and state offices.
Gaining the right to vote was not an easy task. Immediately after the Civil War ended in 1865, sufrragists such as Elizabeth Cady Staton and Susan B. Anthony began working with Frederick Douglass to gain the right to vote for both African-Americans and white women. As a matter of fact, days after General Lee surrounded at Appomattox in April of 1865, Douglass addressed the Massachusettes Anti-Slavery Society, arguing why African-American men desired suffrage:
It is said that we are ignorant; admit it. But if we know enough to be hung, we know enough to vote. If the Negro knows enough to pay taxes to support government, he knows enough to vote; taxation and representation should go together. If he knows enough to shoulder a musket and fight for the flag for the government, he knows enough to vote ....What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice.
And four years later, as Congress debated the amendments passing, an estimated 150 African-American men met in Washington D.C. for a convention led by Douglass.
When the amendment was finally ratified in 1870, it was not met without controversy. Some white suffragettes were angered--they felt that they should be given the right to vote because African-American men had just achieved freedom and the right to an education.
In addition, southern terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan developed ways of intimidating African-American men who wanted to vote through lynching and destroying communities through fire.
And within the next few years, African-American men in the South would lose their right to vote through local and state legislation.
This month's historical timeline features events taking place between 1980 and 1989.
As a result of various civil rights struggles in previous decades, it became apparent that African-Americans were enjoying their right to fully participate in the voting process. This is noted by the number of African-American politicians who are elected in urban environments.
Highlights from this decade include:
- Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday becomes a national holiday
- Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. runs for president in 1984 and 1988 in the Democratic primary.
- Media mogul, Oprah Winfrey's show goes into national syndication.
Suggested Reading: African-American History Timelines
Why are autobiographies so important to understanding African-American History?
For starters, it allows readers a glimpse into a person's life, their perspective on their lives and the time period in which they lived.
In this month's edition of On the Bookshelf, I'm highlighting six autobiographies written by prominent African-American men and women.
Some of the people include: my favorite author, Zora Neale Hurston; anti-lynching champion Ida B. Wells-Barnett; educator Booker T. Washington; Islamic leader and activist Malcolm X as well as Black Panther, Assata Shakur and novelist Richard Wright.
I chose these men and women because of their varied contributions to American history and society. I've read all of their autobiographies and find them all quite remarkable.
It's my hope that after you've read this content, you'll decide to read these autobiographies as well. In the meantime, what have been some of your favorite autobiographies? Why?
Suggested Reading: On the Bookshelf
We all know that enslaved African-Americans escaped from southern states to the north on the Underground Railroad.
But how many of you have thought of enslaved African-Americans who decided not to stop in the North, but kept traveling to Canada?
For many African-Americans who escaped enslavement, settiling in the North was not an option. In the North, runaways could be captured and brought back to their owner.With the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 enacted and being upheld, Canada became the ultimate destination for enslaved African-Americans searching for freedom.
But since enslavement was abolished in Canada in 1833, locations close to the border became a haven for enslaved African-Americans searching for freedom between the 1830s and 1860s.
In a recent article published in the Times Colonist, the North American Black Historical Museum was featured for its contributions to remembering former slaves who escaped to Canada. The museum's curator, Terran Fader contends that the town of Amherstburg was "the chief crossing point for the Underground Railroad."
In addition to several collections that honor the lives of escaped slaves and also remembers the treacherous history of Canadian slavery, is a log cabin which is considered a historic home by the town. Inside are several artifacts which were donated by descendants of formerly enslaved people.
Also featured is the Nazrey African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was built by former slaves in 1848. In 1999, the church was chosen to be a National Historic Site of Canada.
If you're interested in visiting the North American Black Museum, it's located at 277 King Street, Amherstburg, Ontario. The museum is open from noon to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Friday and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit the museum's website, www.blackhistoricalmuseum.org or call 1-800-713-6336.