Celebrating Black History Month with Major Larry Black

Daily Stories - 2021

The daily writing of MAJOR LARRY BLACK on Black men and women's inspirational stories during Black History month of 2021.

Day 1: Dr. Carter G. Woodson

February 1st marks the first day of Black History Month.  Though it’s impossible to limit the accomplishments and achievements of an entire race that spans the globe to a single month, it is important to take a moment and recognize those who have contributed so much to the building of this nation, but have rarely received the due credit for it.  I would be remised if I didn’t begin the acknowledgement with the man known as the father of Black History Month, Dr. Carter G. Woodson.

Carter Godwin Woodson was born on December 19, 1875 in New Canton, Virginia to former slaves.  Despite neither of his parents being able to read or write, they pushed Carter to dedicate himself to education. His early life resembled much of what black Americans experienced during those times.  He was required to take several leaves of absence from school to contribute to farm work with his family. Undeterred, Woodson was able to master the fundamentals of common school subjects largely through self-instruction.  Woodson received his Bachelor of Literature from Berea College in 1900, his Masters from the University Chicago in 1908, and his PH.D in History from Harvard University in 1912.

As an educator and author, Woodson dedicated himself to the study and teaching of achievements of the Negro founding the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) and establishing a black intellectuals publication in 1916 known as The Journal of Negro History.  As early as 1920, Woodson urged black civic organizations to promote the achievements that researchers were uncovering. A graduate member of Omega Psi Phi, he urged his fraternity brothers to take up the work. In 1924, they responded with the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, which they renamed Negro Achievement Week.  In 1925, he decided that the Association had to shoulder the responsibility. Going forward it would both create and popularize knowledge about the black past. He sent out a press release announcing Negro History Week in February, 1926.

Woodson chose February f to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history, namely Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and the 14th, respectively. In 1976, 26 years after Woodson’s death, President Gerald Ford officially designated February as Black History Month.

Woodson’s legacy is captured in his work through ASALH (formerly known as ASNLH), his extensive literary history, and the Black History and Culture celebrations that remain today.


Day 2: Claudette Colvin

Many people are familiar with Rosa Parks’ defiant stand in refusing to give up her front seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, AL in December 1955.  Her demonstration provided the necessary spark for the Civil Rights Movement and she quickly became the face of the movement.  However, most people don’t know that Ms. Parks was not the first to demonstrate in this manner.

On March 2, 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin refused to move from her seat on a Montgomery bound segregated bus at the age of 15.  She had paid the fare and felt it was her constitutional right to board the bus.  Subsequently, she was dragged off the bus, handcuffed and taken to jail.

Her story is not as known and Colvin is not a much-celebrated figure in the Civil Rights Movement.  Many believe this is because she was perceived to be darker toned and was pregnant which didn’t align with the image the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) wanted.

On February 1, 1956, Colvin served as the star witness alongside four other plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle case.  This landmark federal case, chaired by a three-judge panel, ended the history of segregation on public transportation in Alabama and other states in America.  Life after the case was difficult for Colvin.  It was nearly impossible for her to land employment due to her involvement.  She eventually relocated to New York where she became a nurse and served in that capacity until retirement in 2004. 

Colvin’s actions laid the framework for what would eventually become the first significant action of the Civil Rights Movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Her legacy and actions deserve to be celebrated in the same way society celebrates Rosa Parks.  Claudette Colvin still resides in New York and is currently 81 years old.



Day 4: Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr.

Did you know the three-position traffic light and the gas mask were both invented by a black man?

Born on March 4, 1877 in Paris, Kentucky, Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr. was the seventh of 11 children born to Elizabeth Reed and Sydney Morgan.  His father Sydney was a former slave freed in 1863 and the bastard son John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate Colonel. His mother, the daughter of a Baptist preacher, was of Indian and African descent. Garrett Morgan’s mixed-race heritage would play a role in his adult business dealings.

Garrett Morgan’s formal education did not exceed the sixth-grade level, but he possessed an innate mechanical mind that enabled him to solve problems. At the age of 16, Morgan relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio and found work as a handyman for a wealthy landowner. This position did not hold long, as he became infatuated with sewing-machine factories

In 1914, Morgan patented a breathing device, or "safety hood," providing its wearers with a safer breathing experience in the presence of smoke, gases and other pollutants. This would eventually become the device used by military members during World War I. Despite the effectiveness of the invention, Morgan faced significant resistance in sales, especially in the South, due to his African-American heritage. To counter this, Morgan hired a white actor to pose as “the inventor” during presentations and he would pose as his Native American sidekick named “Big Chief Mason”. The tactic worked and sales significantly increased, specifically to firefighters and rescue workers.

The greatest notoriety for Morgan’s invention came in 1916. At that time, the city of Cleveland was drilling a new tunnel under Lake Erie for a fresh water supply. During the tunneling, the workers hit a pocket of natural gas, resulting in a huge explosion and trapping workers underground with toxic fumes and dust. Hearing the explosion, Morgan and his brother donned the breathing masks and entered the tunnel. The brothers were able to save two lives and recover four other bodies before rescue operations were suspended.

Though he risked his life to save others, the publicity of the event hurt his sales.  The public was now fully aware that he was a black man, causing many to refuse purchasing his products. Morgan was nominated for an award, but was not chosen and some media reports went as far as to name others as rescuers.

The traffic light was a later invention for Morgan. As the first black man to own a car in Cleveland, Morgan created a different traffic signal after witnessing a carriage accident at a busy intersection. Morgan identified the need to have a signal that would inform drivers to slow down and prepare to stop. Morgan quickly patented the invention and sold it internationally before selling the rights to General Electric.

It wasn’t until just before his death in 1963 that Morgan received recognition for his contributions to society. He was honored by the U.S. government for the traffic signal and was eventually recognized as the Lake Erie rescue hero.


Day 5: Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson was born on August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. It was clear very early, that Johnson had an affinity for and brilliance with numbers resulting in her being advanced several grades ahead in school. By 13, she was attending the high school on the campus of historically black West Virginia State College and enrolled in the college at age 18. She made quick work of the curriculum, earning a B.S. in Mathematics and French with honors in under two years. After graduation, Johnson began teaching at a black public school in Virginia. 

Johnson’s trailblazing ways began well before her career in NASA. In 1939, West Virginia decided to quietly integrate its graduate schools.  The president of Johnson’s alma mater, Dr. John W. Davis, selected her and two men to be the first black students offered spots at the state’s flagship school, West Virginia University.  She enrolled in the graduate math program but left after the first session to start a family with her husband James Goble. She returned to teaching after her three daughters got older. 

In 1953, Johnson and her husband relocated to Newport News so she could pursue a position within the all-black West Area Computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (now known as NASA). Just two weeks into her tenure in the office, she was assigned to a project in the Maneuver Loads Branch of the Flight Research Division, and Katherine’s temporary position soon became permanent. She spent the next four years analyzing data from flight tests and worked on the investigation of a plane crash caused by wake turbulence. As she was wrapping up this work her husband died of cancer in December 1956. 

In 1957, she provided some of the math for the 1958 document Notes on Space Technology, a compendium of a series of 1958 lectures given by engineers in the Flight Research Division and the Pilotless Aircraft Research Division (PARD). Engineers from those groups formed the core of the Space Task Group, the NACA’s first official foray into space travel. 

The 1960s provided one accomplishment after another for Johnson. In 1960, she and engineer Ted Skopinski coauthored Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position, a report laying out the equations describing an orbital spaceflight in which the landing position of the spacecraft is specified. It was the first time a woman in the Flight Research Division had received credit as an author of a research report. She did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 mission Freedom 7, America’s first human spaceflight. However, 1962 would be the year she would provide the work she is best known for. 

As NASA prepared for the orbital mission of John Glenn, the administration leaned on orbital equations from IBM computers in three different geographical locations. Despite conducting all the calculations, the astronauts were wary of putting their lives in the care of the electronic calculating machines with documented technical issues.  As a part of the preflight checklist, Glenn asked engineers to “get the girl”—Johnson—to run the same numbers through the same equations that had been programmed into the computer, but by hand, on her desktop mechanical calculating machine.  “If she says they’re good,’” Katherine Johnson remembers the astronaut saying, “then I’m ready to go.” Glenn’s flight was a success and marked a turning point in the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in space. 

She retired in 1986, after 33 years at Langley. In 2015, at age 97, Johnson added another extraordinary achievement to her long list: President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. On February 24, 2020, Johnson passed away at 101 years old. 

A trailblazer in the quest for racial equality, contributor to our nation’s first triumphs in human spaceflight and champion of STEM education, Katherine G. Johnson stands among NASA’s most inspirational figures. Her legacy is memorialized in the book Hidden Figures and a movie by the same namesake. 


Day 6: George Junius Stinney Jr.

Many are aware of the Emmett Till, but few are familiar with the story of George Junius Stinney, Jr.

George Junius Stinney Jr. (October 21, 1929 – June 16, 1944), was a 14-year-old African-American boy who was convicted of murdering two white girls, Betty June Binnicker, age 11, and Mary Emma Thames, age 7, in his hometown of Alcolu, South Carolina. He was executed by electric chair in June 1944. Stinney is the youngest American to be sentenced to death and executed since Hannah Ocuish in 1786.

The entire proceeding against Stinney, including jury selection, took one day. Stinney's court-appointed counsel was Charles Plowden, a tax commissioner campaigning for election to local office. Plowden did not challenge the three police officers who testified that Stinney confessed to the two murders, despite this being the only evidence against him. He also did not challenge the prosecution's presentation of two differing versions of Stinney's verbal confession. In one version, Stinney was attacked by the girls after he tried to help one girl who had fallen in the ditch, and he killed them in self-defense. In the other version, he had followed the girls, first attacking Mary Emma and then Betty June. There was no physical evidence linking him to the murders.  There is no written record of Stinney's confession apart from Deputy Newman's statement.

Other than the testimony of the three police officers, at trial prosecutors called three witnesses: Reverend Francis Batson, who discovered the bodies of the two girls, and the two doctors who performed the post-mortem examination. Conflicting confessions were reported to have been offered by the prosecution. The court allowed discussion of the "possibility" of rape although the medical examiner's report had no evidence to support this. Stinney's counsel did not call any witnesses, did not cross-examine witnesses, and offered little or no defense. The trial presentation lasted two and a half hours.

More than 1,000 whites crowded the courtroom, but no black people were allowed.  As was typical at the time, Stinney was tried before an all-white jury (in 1944 most African-Americans in the South were prohibited from voting and therefore ineligible to serve on juries). After deliberating, for less than ten minutes, the jury found Stinney guilty of both murders. Judge Philip H. Stoll sentenced Stinney to death by electrocution. There is no transcript of the trial and no appeal was filed by Stinney's counsel.

Stinney's family, churches, and the NAACP appealed to Governor Olin D. Johnston for clemency, given the age of the boy. Others urged the governor to let the execution proceed, which he did.  Johnston wrote in a response to one appeal for clemency:

"It may be interesting for you to know that Stinney killed the smaller girl to rape the larger one. Then he killed the larger girl and raped her dead body. Twenty minutes later he returned and attempted to rape her again, but her body was too cold. All of this he admitted himself."

Between the time of Stinney's arrest and his execution, his parents were allowed to see him once after the trial, when he was held in the Columbia penitentiary. Under the threat of lynching, they were not allowed to see him any other time.  In a 2014 proceeding, the trial was deemed unfair, and the conviction vacated. This is just one of the many instances of false convictions and executions levied against African Americans dealing with Jim Crow.


Day 7: Ruby Bridges

Born on September 8, 1954, Ruby was the oldest child born to Lucille and Abon Bridges, farmers in Tylertown, Mississippi. When Ruby was four years old, her parents moved their family to New Orleans, Louisiana in search of better work opportunities. Ruby’s birth year coincided with the US Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka Kansas, which ended racial segregation in public schools. Nonetheless, southern states continued to resist integration, and in 1959, Ruby attended a segregated New Orleans kindergarten. A year later, however, a federal court ordered Louisiana to desegregate. The school district created entrance exams for African American students to see whether they could compete academically at the all-white school. Ruby, along with five other students, passed the exam and she was selected for enrollment at the city’s William Frantz Elementary School.  Her father was initially opposed to her attending an all-white school, but Bridges’s mother convinced him to let Bridges enroll.

Of the six African American students designated to integrate the school, Bridges was the only one to enroll. On November 14, 1960, her first day, she was escorted to school by four federal marshals. Bridges spent the entire day in the principal’s office as irate parents marched into the school to remove their children. On Bridges’s second day, Barbara Henry, a young teacher from Boston, began to teach her. The two worked together in an otherwise vacant classroom for an entire year. Every day as the marshals escorted Bridges to school, they urged her to keep her eyes forward so that—though she could hear the insults and threats of the angry crowd— she would not have to see the racist remarks scrawled across signs or the livid faces of the protesters. Undeterred, she later said she only became frightened when she saw a woman holding a black baby doll in a coffin. Bridges’s main confidants during this period were her teacher and Robert Coles, a renowned child psychologist who studied the reaction of young children toward extreme stress or crisis.

While some families supported her bravery—and some northerners sent money to aid her family—others protested throughout the city. The Bridges family suffered for their courage: Abon lost his job, and grocery stores refused to sell to Lucille. Her share-cropping grandparents were evicted from the farm where they had lived for a quarter-century. Toward the end of the year, the crowds began to thin, and by the following year the school had enrolled several more Black students. Ruby graduated from a desegregated high school, became a travel agent, married and had four sons. She was reunited with her first teacher, Henry, in the mid-1990s, and for a time the pair did speaking engagements together. Bridges’s bravery inspired the Norman Rockwell painting The Problem We All Live With (1963), which depicts the young Bridges walking to school between two sets of marshals, a racial epithet marking the wall behind them. Ruby later wrote about her early experiences in two books and received the Carter G. Woodson Book Award.

A lifelong activist for racial equality, in 1999, Ruby established The Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote tolerance and create change through education. More information on the foundation can be found at Rudy Bridges.


Day 8: The Tuskegee Experiment

Are you familiar with the medical diagnosis “bad blood”? Do you know where it originates or how it gained its popularity?

The Answer is the Tuskegee Experiment.

The Tuskegee experiment began in 1932, at a time when there was no known treatment for syphilis, a contagious venereal disease. After being recruited by the promise of free medical care, 600 African American men in Macon County, Alabama were enrolled in the project, which aimed to study the full progression of the disease. The study took place in Macon County, Alabama, the county seat of Tuskegee referred to as the "Black Belt" because of its rich soil and vast number of black sharecroppers who were the economic backbone of the region. The research itself took place on the campus of Tuskegee Institute.

The study was run by doctors from the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) and the intent was to record the natural history of syphilis in Blacks. The study was called the "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male." When the study was initiated there were no proven treatments for the disease. Researchers told the men participating in the study that they were to be treated for "bad blood." This term was used locally by people to describe a host of diagnosable ailments including but not limited to anemia, fatigue, and syphilis. A total of 600 men were enrolled in the study. Of this group 399, who had syphilis were a part of the experimental group and 201 were control subjects. Most of the men were poor and illiterate sharecroppers from the county.

The men were offered what most Negroes could only dream of in terms of medical care and survivors insurance. They were enticed and enrolled in the study with incentives including: medical exams, rides to and from the clinics, meals on examination days, free treatment for minor ailments and guarantees that provisions would be made after their deaths in terms of burial stipends paid to their survivors. The men were monitored by health workers but only given placebos such as aspirin and mineral supplements, despite the fact that penicillin became the recommended treatment for syphilis in 1947, some 15 years into the study. USPHS researchers convinced local physicians in Macon County not to treat the participants. In order to track the disease’s full progression, researchers provided no effective care as the men died, went blind or insane or experienced other severe health problems due to their untreated syphilis.

In the mid-1960s, a PHS venereal disease investigator in San Francisco named Peter Buxton found out about the Tuskegee study and expressed his concerns to his superiors that it was unethical. In response, PHS officials formed a committee to review the study but ultimately opted to continue it—with the goal of tracking the participants until all had died, autopsies were performed and the project data could be analyzed. Buxton then leaked the story to a reporter friend, who passed it on to a fellow reporter, Jean Heller of the Associated Press. On July 25, 1972, Heller broke the story that appeared simultaneously both in New York and Washington, that there had been a 40-year nontherapeutic experiment called "a study" on the effects of untreated syphilis on Black men in the rural south. This set into motion international public outcry and a series of actions initiated by U.S. federal agencies. The Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs appointed an Ad Hoc Advisory Panel, comprised of nine members from the fields of health administration, medicine, law, religion, education, etc. to review the study.

While the panel concluded that the men participated in the study freely, agreeing to the examinations and treatments, there was evidence that scientific research protocol routinely applied to human subjects was either ignored or deeply flawed to ensure the safety and well-being of the men involved. Specifically, the men were never told about or offered the research procedure called informed consent. Researchers had not informed the men of the actual name of the study, its purpose, or potential consequences of the treatment or non-treatment that they would receive during the study. Reviewing the results of the research the panel concluded that the study was "ethically unjustified." The panel articulated all of the above findings in October of 1972 and then one month later the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs officially declared the end of the Tuskegee Study.

By the end of the study, 28 participants had perished from syphilis, 100 more had passed away from related complications, at least 40 spouses had been diagnosed with it and the disease had been passed to 19 children at birth. In the summer of 1973, Attorney Fred Gray filed a class-action suit on behalf of the men in the study, their wives, children and families. It ended a settlement giving more than $9 million to the study participants. Additionally, the U.S. government promised to provide a range of free services to the survivors of the study, their wives, widows, and children. All living participants became immediately entitled to free medical and burial services. These services were provided by the Tuskegee Health Benefit Program, which was and continues to be administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in their National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention.

As a result of the Tuskegee experiment, many African Americans developed a lingering, deep mistrust of public health officials and vaccines. In part to foster racial healing, President Bill Clinton issued a 1996 apology, stating, “The United States government did something that was wrong—deeply, profoundly, morally wrong… It is not only in remembering that shameful past that we can make amends and repair our nation, but it is in remembering that past that we can build a better present and a better future.”


Day 9: Robert Smalls

Robert Smalls was born into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina on April 5, 1839. His mother, Lydia Polite, was a slave owned by Henry McKee, who may have been Smalls’ father. Robert’s mother had grown up in the fields, and while he now worked in the house with her, she feared Robert would grow up without knowing the plight of the slaves forced to work in the fields on the plantation. She showed him the full horrors of slavery, making him witness the whippings of the field hands which were a frequent occurrence. After seeing the brutality of slavery, Robert grew defiant and frequently found himself in the Beaufort jail. His mother feared for his safety, so she arranged with McKee to send Robert to Charleston where he would work as a laborer. At the age of 12, Smalls made one dollar a week, with the rest of his wage sent back to his master.

Working at a variety of jobs aboard boats, Smalls learned to navigate the waterways of Charleston Harbor. Few knew Charleston harbor better than Robert Smalls. On December 24, 1856, Robert married Hannah Jones, an enslaved hotel maid. With their owner’s permission, they moved in together and had two children, Elizabeth, and Robert Jr.  Smalls saved money and attempted to buy the freedom of his new family, but Hannah’s owner demanded 800 dollars for her freedom. Robert knew as long as he and his family were in chains, they could not be sure of a future together, and it would have taken him years to save enough money. Smalls promised his wife they would one day escape from slavery.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Smalls worked as a pilot aboard the CSS Planter, a steamboat chartered by the Confederate government. Smalls piloted the Planter around Charleston harbor, gaining the confidence and trust of the black crew members and the three white officers. Knowing the crew trusted him, Smalls devised a plan of escape.

On May 12, 1862 he and other enslaved members of the crew were detailed to load some heavy guns onto the Planter to be taken to a Confederate fort. They stretched out the work so that the guns would have to remain aboard overnight. When the white captain, engineer, and mate went into town for the evening, Smalls put on the captain’s straw hat and sailed the vessel to another wharf where his family and friends were waiting. They boarded, and he sailed out of Charleston Harbor, blowing the steam whistle at the appropriate check points for safe passage past Forts Sumter and Moultrie. When the ship was just out of range of their guns, Smalls raised the white flag of surrender and turned over the Planter and all the guns and military supplies aboard to the USS Onward, part of the Union blockade fleet. He also volunteered his knowledge of Charleston’s defenses, leading to the capture of Coles Island a week after his escape. Rear Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont wrote that Robert “is superior to any who have come into our lines — intelligent as many of them have been.”

The people of the North celebrated Smalls and his crew. Congress awarded them half of the value of the Planter as prize money. Smalls traveled to Washington to meet with President Abraham Lincoln, where he helped to persuade Lincoln to permit black men to serve for the Union army. Soon after the meeting, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ordered 5,000 former slaves to fight for the Union. Recognized for his bravery and skill, Smalls became one of the first African American pilots in the United States Navy and went on to become Captain of the Planter, another historic feat.

After the war, Smalls returned to his native Beaufort. With prize money he received for capturing the Planter, Smalls bought the McKee (his former slave owners) house at 511 Prince Street in Beaufort where he and his mother had been enslaved before the war. His family lived in the house for the next 90 years. In 1868, Smalls was elected to the South Carolina House of Representative and later to the South Carolina Senate. In 1874, Smalls was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. As a member of Congress, he fought against the disenfranchisement of black voters across the South. He represented South Carolina’s Fifth Congressional District from 1875 to 1879 and from 1882 to 1883. Smalls served South Carolina’s Seventh Congressional District from 1884 to 1887. In the 1890s, he was offered a U.S. Army colonel’s commission in the Spanish American War and the post of U.S. Minister to Liberia, but he turned down both offers.

Robert Smalls died of malaria and diabetes in 1915. He had witnessed slavery, emancipation, the right of African American men to vote and serve in the ranks of the U.S. government. W.E.B. Dubois said on the history of freedom that, “The slave went free; stood for a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.” Smalls was lucky to live in that moment in the sun.  He died as the South worked to recreate slavery through the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws. Despite this, Smalls refused to engage in pessimism, telling the South Carolina legislature: “My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be the equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”


Day 10: James Baldwin

Born on August 2, 1984, James Baldwin was an American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist. The eldest of nine children, he grew up in poverty in the Black ghetto of Harlem in New York City. From age 14 to 16 he was active during out-of-school hours as a preacher in a small revivalist church. After graduation from high school, he began a restless period of ill-paid jobs, self-study, and literary apprenticeship eventually leaving for Paris in 1948, where he would spend the next eight years of his life.

While in Paris, James became a fervent writer focused on the disparities experienced by marginalized groups. His essays, collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in the Western society of the United States during the mid-Twentieth Century. Some of Baldwin's essays were book-length, including The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), and The Devil Finds Work (1976). An unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, was expanded and adapted for the Academy Award–nominated documentary film, I Am Not Your Negro (2016).

Because he embraced the responsibility to be a voice of his nation James Baldwin knew it was his job to reveal the truth. The truth about his race. The truth about his country. The ugly truths of racism, poverty and inequality that plagued the United States during his lifetime — and that continue even now, 29 years after his death. He confronted American racism with fearless honesty and courageously explored homosexuality through his literature and in his life.

And he did it with style. His brilliant prose combined his own experience with the best — and worst — of that of the black life around him: the joy, the blues, the sermons, the spirituals and the bitter sting of discrimination. As he said in his essay The Creative Process, “a society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven.”

The work of Baldwin, a product of Harlem and a citizen of the world, consistently reflected the experience of a black man in white America. His travels to France and Switzerland only nuanced his understanding of the social conditions of his race and his country. Although written abroad, his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, published in 1953, illuminated the struggle of poor, inner-city residents and drew on the passion of the pulpit. His collection of essays, The Fire Next Time, explosively represented black identity just as the country was coming to terms with just how much white supremacy was in its DNA. Giovanni’s Room dove straight into the taboo that was homosexuality — elevating the notion of identity through sexuality and socioeconomic status without ever mentioning race once.

As an impoverished black gay man, Baldwin was asked if he felt he’d had a bad luck of the draw. Conversely, he believed he had hit the jackpot. His identity informed his artistry, and his artistry strove to represent every individual whose access to American civil liberties was hampered by race, gender, sexuality and socioeconomic status.

Baldwin knew that as an artist he was among “a breed of men and women historically despised while living and acclaimed when safely dead.” So, he unapologetically implored a nation to see its true self through the beauty of its most marginalized. Baldwin passed on December 1, 1987. The truth of his words is not a history lesson of American culture gone by, it is a reflection of the country alive and in the here and now.


Day 11: Rutledge Henry Pearson

Rutledge H. Pearson (September 9, 1929 - May 1967) was an educator, civil rights leader, and human rights activist. He was also a notable baseball player in his early years. He was the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd H. Pearson Sr., and graduated from New Stanton High School in 1947. Following high school, Pearson attended Houston-Tillotson College in Austin, Texas on a baseball scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 1951. He and his future wife, Mary Ann Johnson, were classmates with Medgar Evers at Houston-Tillotson. 

A talented baseball player, Pearson played for the 1952 New York Black Yankees of the Negro League as a first baseman. His skills led to a professional baseball career playing for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League. His performance in the Negro League caught the eyes of the Major League Jacksonville Beach Seabirds and he signed to play professionally with the team.  However, Florida was still firmly under the grasp of Jim Crow and park officials decided they’d rather close the park than allow him play. This event changed his life and from that point, he dedicated his life to the struggle for human dignity and respect.  

Pearson remained in Jacksonville, where he taught history at Isaiah Blocker Junior High School and coached baseball at New Stanton High School. His activism continued to blossom as he served as the local and state president of the NAACP. He devoted his efforts to recruiting members and persuading both black and white members of the Jacksonville community to support the organization. 

On April 20, 1964, Pearson was featured on the cover of JET magazine, with the headline: "Former Baseball Star Leads Jacksonville Civil Rights Struggle." The article highlighted his influence in recruiting members of the NAACP, citing that in just two years he was able to drive membership from a few hundred to over 2,000. He was also noted for his ability to influence the youth of Jacksonville enough to calm some of the violence surrounding the civil rights clashes that took place in the city in the 1960s. 

Pearson remained as president of both the local and state branches of the NAACP throughout the 1960s.  As such, he supported the civil rights efforts in nearby St. Augustine that led to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

In May 1967, he was mysteriously killed in a car accident on the way to organize laundry workers in Memphis, Tennessee.  Rutledge H. Pearson Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida is named in his honor.  In 2016, Mr. Pearson was inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.  In 2018, a post office in Jacksonville was renamed in honor of this influential Civil Rights activist. 


Day 12: Sergeant Isaac Woodard, Jr.

On Feb. 12, 1946, Woodard, a 26-year-old African American World War II veteran, was honorably discharged from the Army and was making his way home to see his family in Winnsboro, S.C. on a Greyhound bus. 

Soon into the ride from Georgia, Woodard asked the bus driver if he could use the restroom. The white bus driver initially refused his request, but later in the trip he begrudgingly stopped in the town of Batesburg so Woodard could use the restroom. 

The bus driver, still furious over having to stop and reportedly not being addressed “sir” by Woodard, told the white police chief of Batesburg, Lynwood Shull, about Woodard’s behavior. Shull and a few other police officers forcibly removed Woodard, who was still in his Army uniform, from the bus. Inside the jail, Shull brutally beat the WWII soldier and gouged his eyes out, permanently blinding him.  

The next day, Woodard was convicted of drunk and disorderly conduct. He did not receive any medical attention for three days after the attack and his family did not find out about the attack until three weeks after it happened. 

The attack on Woodard garnered national attention and outrage from both President Harry Truman and U.S. District Judge J. Waites Waring, who presided over Shull’s federal trial.  In response, Truman formed a Council on Civil Rights and issued Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the military in 1948. 

Waring, the son of a Confederate soldier, presided over Shull’s case where an all-white jury found the Batesburg police chief not guilty of all charges. The jury only deliberated for 30 minutes. Waring believed Shull to be guilty, and soon became a civil rights advocate and a key figure in dismantling school segregation in the South.  

In her song, “Isaac Woodard’s Eyes”, Angela Easterling provided a grim reminder of the treatment of people of color during that time. One lyric read, “He helped defend his nation from a fearful enemy, came home to find that he still wasn’t free.”  

Sergeant Woodard passed away on September 23, 1992. Nearly 27 years later, a statue was erected in Batesburg-Leesville to serve as a memorial and acknowledge the brutality suffered at the hands of those police officers who were sworn to protect. 


Day 13: Gladys Mae West

Dr. Gladys West is a mathematician whose calculations and computer programming helped construct a geoid (a mathematical model of the earth’s shape). West’s modeling directly contributed to the ubiquitous use of the global positioning system (GPS) today. 

Born on October 27, 1930, Gladys Mae Brown resided in Sutherland, Virginia in rural Dinwiddie County. Her parents owned their small farm and West picked corn, cotton, and tobacco from the time she was young. Early on, West’s teachers encouraged her love of mathematics, which she pursued as a path out of agricultural work. As valedictorian of her high school class, she earned a full scholarship to Virginia State College (now Virginia State University). 

After graduating in 1952, West applied for a host of government jobs. In a field dominated by white men in a segregated state, her efforts were initially unsuccessful. Instead, West taught mathematics in Martinsville, Virginia, while pursing graduate work. In 1955, she received a master’s in mathematics from her alma mater. She continued to apply to government jobs and received her first offer from the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory in Dahlgren, Virginia in 1956, where she worked until retirement in 1998. 

At Dahlgren, West was the second Black woman hired and the fourth Black employee. Another Black mathematician on base, Ira V. West, became Gladys Brown’s husband in 1957 and their marriage continues nearly 64 years later. West and her husband raised three children, took part in social life on the base, and attended a local Baptist church. They maintained their jobs, family, and social commitments by employing a full-time housekeeper. 

After some training in computer programming, West’s work at Dahlgren began with the Naval Ordinance Research Calculator (NORC). In 1962 she helped program NORC for Project 29V, which established the motion of the planet Pluto relative to Neptune, through 5 billion arithmetic calculations and 100 hours of computer calculation. In 1964 the Navy recognized Project 29V with a merit award. After that, West focused on calculations for satellite orbits. 

In 1978, West was project manager for SEASAT, the first earth-orbiting satellite designed for remote sensing of the Earth’s oceans; her group used it to measure ocean depths. This project led to the GEOSAT satellite, which used SEASAT and other data to create highly accurate computer simulations of the earth’s surface. In 1986, she published a guide outlining the use of GEOSAT data for calculating geoid heights. West’s work made the accuracy of today’s GPS possible. Colleagues noted her mathematical brilliance particularly with algorithms, which created efficiencies that transformed calculation timetables. 

West continued her education throughout her career at Dahlgren, earning a second master’s degree in public administration in 1973 from the University of Oklahoma. After retirement and at 70 years old, West completed her PhD in public administration through the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. 

On February 26, 2018, the Virginia Senate passed a joint resolution formally commending “Gladys West for her trailblazing career in mathematics and vital contributions to modern technology.” On December 6, 2018, the Air Force inducted West into the Space and Missiles Pioneers Hall of Fame. West continues to speak to elementary students about the importance of studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.


Day 14: Mae C. Jemison

Mae C. Jemison was born on October 17, 1956, in Decatur, Alabama. She is the youngest of three children born to Charlie Jemison, a roofer and carpenter, and Dorothy (Green) Jemison, an elementary school teacher. When she was three, her family moved to Chicago, Illinois to take advantage of better educational opportunities, and it is that city that she calls her hometown.  

Throughout her early school years, Jemison's parents were supportive and encouraging of her talents and abilities, and she spent a considerable amount of time in her school library reading about all aspects of science, especially astronomy. During her time at Morgan Park High School, she became convinced she wanted to pursue a career in biomedical engineering. When she graduated in 1973 as a consistent honor student, she entered Stanford University on a National Achievement Scholarship. 

As she had been in high school, Jemison was very involved in extracurricular activities at Stanford, including dance and theater productions, and served as head of the Black Student Union. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from the university in 1977. Upon graduation, she entered Cornell University Medical College and, during her years there, found time to expand her horizons by studying in Cuba and Kenya and working at a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand. 

After Jemison obtained her M.D. in 1981, she interned at Los Angeles County/University of Southern California Medical Center and later worked as a general practitioner. For the next two and a half years, she was the area Peace Corps medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia where she also taught and did medical research.  

Following her return to the United States in 1985, Jemison made a career change and decided to follow a dream she had nurtured for a long time. In October of 1985, she applied for admission to NASA's astronaut training program. The Challenger disaster of January 1986 delayed the selection process, but when she reapplied a year later, Jemison was one of the 15 candidates chosen from a field of about 2,000. 

On June 4, 1987, Jemison became the first African American woman to be admitted into the NASA astronaut training program. After more than a year of training, she became the first African American woman astronaut, earning the title of science mission specialist — a job that would make her responsible for conducting crew-related scientific experiments on the space shuttle. When Jemison finally flew into space on September 12, 1992, with six other astronauts aboard the Endeavour on mission STS47, she became the first African American woman in space. 

During her eight days in space, Jemison conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness on the crew and herself. In all, she spent more than 190 hours in space before returning to Earth on September 20, 1992. Following her historic flight, Jemison noted that society should recognize how much both women and members of other minority groups can contribute if given the opportunity. 

In recognition of her accomplishments, Jemison received several accolades, including multiple honorary doctorates, the 1988 Essence Science and Technology Award, the Ebony Black Achievement Award in 1992, and a Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College in 1993. She was also named Gamma Sigma Gamma Woman of the Year in 1990. In 1992, the Mae C. Jemison Academy, an alternative public school in Detroit, Michigan, was named after her. 

Jemison has been a member of several prominent organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and she served on the board of directors of the World Sickle Cell Foundation from 1990 to 1992. She has also served as an advisory committee member of the American Express Geography Competition and an honorary board member of the Center for the Prevention of Childhood Malnutrition. 

After leaving the astronaut corps in March 1993, Jemison accepted a teaching fellowship at Dartmouth. She also established the Jemison Group, a company that seeks to research, develop and market advanced technologies. 


Day 15: Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune

Born on a farm near Mayesville, South Carolina in 1875, Mary McLeod Bethune, the 15th child of former slaves, rose from humble beginnings to become a world-renowned educator, civil and human rights leader, champion for women and young people, and an advisor to five U.S. presidents.  

Education was the first step in her remarkable journey. The young Mary McLeod worked in the fields alongside her parents and siblings, until she enrolled at the age of 10 in the one-room Trinity Presbyterian Mission School. There, she learned to read, and, as she later noted, the whole world opened to me. She went on to study at Scotia Seminary in North Carolina and Moody Bible Institute in Chicago with the goal of becoming a missionary. When no missionary openings were available, she became a teacher, first at the Haines Institute in Augusta, Georgia and then at the Kendall Institute in Sumter, South Carolina, where she met and married Albertus Bethune. The dream of opening her own school took Mary McLeod Bethune to Florida first to Palatka and then to Daytona Beach, where she started the school that would become Bethune-Cookman University.  

As she worked to build the school that she founded, she also became a national leader on issues related to civil rights, education, women and young people. As president of the State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, she organized the group to fight against school segregation and inadequate healthcare for black children. She later served as president of the prestigious National Association of Colored Women's Clubs and founded the National Council of Negro Women. She was appointed to numerous national commissions including the Coolidge Administration's Child Welfare Conference, the Hoover Administration's National Commission on Child Welfare and Commission on Home Building and Home Ownership. She eventually became an advisor on minority affairs in the Roosevelt Administration, organizing two national conferences on the problem of black Americans. As a member of the advisory board that in 1942 created the Women’s Army Corps, Bethune ensured it was racially integrated. Following an appointment by President Harry S. Truman, Bethune was the only woman of color at the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945.

While she gave counsel to presidents and made connections with America's elite, Mary McLeod Bethune was readily accessible to average men and women and the college students that she mothered and mentored. Her access to people of power and privilege was never something she used to benefit herself. It was always an opportunity to gain access for those shut out of opportunities in our society. She enlisted leaders of government and industry to support her vision and dreams for her school in Daytona Beach, for social justice and positive change for all.

Wherever Dr. Bethune saw a need, she found a way to meet that need and move society closer to her vision. When a black student was turned away from the hospital in Daytona Beach, she opened a hospital to serve the black community. When the nation mobilized resources for the first and second World Wars, she pressed for the integration of the American Red Cross and Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. She led voter registration drives and anti-lynching campaigns.

Additionally, Bethune was a businesswoman who co-owned a Daytona, Florida resort and co-founded the Central Life Insurance Company of Tampa. 

Through it all Dr. Bethune relied on faith and prayer for guidance and inspiration, saying, “Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible”.  Honored with many awards, Bethune’s life was celebrated with a memorial statue in Washington DC in 1974, and a postage stamp in 1985. Mary McLeod Bethune's vision lives on today at the school that she founded which continues to sustain her legacy of faith, scholarship and service.


Day 16: Colonel Charles D. Young

As a soldier, diplomat, and civil rights leader, Charles Young overcame stifling inequality to become a leading figure in the years after the Civil War when the United States emerged as a world power.

Young was born to enslaved parents, Gabriel & Arminta Young, on March 12th, 1864 in May's Lick, Kentucky. That same year, his father escaped enslavement and, in February 1865, joined the 5th Regiment, U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery. Sometime after Gabriel's enlistment, young Charles and his parents relocated from Kentucky to across the river in Ripley, Ohio, seeking a new life in the river town which just happened to be the center of abolitionism. Charles flourished in Ripley in academics, foreign languages and in music. His public education was supplemented with generous amounts of help from his mother who was educated while she was a slave, a rarity for any slave during those times. At age 17, he graduated with academic honors from the integrated high school in 1881. After high school, Young taught at the African-American elementary school in Ripley for two years. He would continue to chase his thirst for knowledge and education while under the guidance and mentoring of renowned African-American abolitionist John Parker.

In 1883, Charles Young's father encouraged him to take the entrance examination to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Young scored the second highest on the exam and was not selected to the Academy that year. When the candidate ahead of him dropped out of West Point, Young would receive his opportunity the following year. He entered West Point on June 10, 1884 to become only the ninth African American to attend the Academy and only the third to graduate. The other two African-American graduates, Henry Ossian Flipper (1877) & John Hanks Alexander (1887), would earn their commissions but would only see short careers in the Army. Flipper would be drummed out of the Army over controversial and questionable charges of "...conduct unbecoming an officer..." In the mid-1990's, his descendants began a campaign to restore his name and clear his legacy of these charges. On February 19, 1999, President William Jefferson Clinton pardoned Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper of those charges. Lieutenant John Hanks Alexander would be a classmate of Charles Young at West Point and they would serve together at Ft. Duquesne, Utah for a few years before Alexander would leave to become a professor at Wilberforce University in Ohio. Young would be dispatched to Wilberforce shortly after Anderson died of a sudden heart condition in 1894.

As a cadet, Young encountered the same racial insults and social isolation from instructors and other cadets on a daily basis as those before him. Despite these indignities, he would persevere. After a dreadful first academic year, Young was faced with repeating his first year, or Plebe year, in order to continue his education. He would do so and did well over the next four academic years. Faced with a failing grade in an engineering class during his last semester, Young received tutoring from his instructor and was allowed to re-take the exam. This time, Young passed and was awarded his diploma and commission in the summer of 1889.

Because military leaders would not allow an African-American officer to command white troops, the Adjutant General's Office waited three months after Young's West Point graduation in 1889 before assigning the newly-commissioned 2nd Lieutenant to the 9th Cavalry at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. After a year, marked by isolation and hostility, Young transferred to Fort Duchesne, Utah, where the command and fellow officers proved more welcoming. Here, Young mentored Sergeant Major Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. who later became the first African American to attain the rank of General.

Between 1889 and 1907 Young served in the 9th Cavalry at western posts and rose to the rank of captain. He also taught military science, served as a military attaché, and fought with distinction in the Philippine-American War, winning the praise of his commanders for his troops' courage and professionalism in and out of combat.

In the fall of 1894, Charles Young received a detached service assignment that wound up sending him to Wilberforce, Ohio. Young was to take over the planning and eventual teaching of the new Military Sciences & Tactics courses at Wilberforce University. The original choice to fill this teaching position, Lieutenant John Hanks Alexander, died suddenly in Springfield, Ohio on March 26th and Lieutenant Young was dispatched to take up for Alexander. Lieutenants Alexander and Young had roomed together for a few years while at the West Point Military Academy and they also served at Fort Duchesne, Utah together for some time, so Young was no stranger to Alexander. Eventually, Lieutenant Young would build the program to just over 100 cadets by the 1898 class. Additionally, Young also helped establish the Wilberforce University marching band. Music played an integral part of Young's life, so it was no wonder that he enthusiastically helped to create the university marching band since he had helped to teach and direct the band at his previous duty station in Fort Duchesne. Lieutenant Young remained at Wilberforce as a professor until early 1898 when the war with Spain had begun with the infamous sinking of the battleship U.S.S. Maine in Cuba. While Young did not re-join his troopers of the 9th Cavalry, he did wind up being appointed as Major and commander of the Ninth Ohio Battalion, U.S. Volunteers.

Lieutenant Charles Young became one of the distinguished professors at the university around the turn of the century, which included W.E.B. DuBois who would become a close life-long friend of Charles Young. By April of 1898, Young would be on the move away from Wilberforce as he mustered up and trained men for potential combat action in Cuba. However, Young had established himself at the university and in the city of Wilberforce and he frequently returned between his duty stations & assignments to visit and to purchase properties that he would call "home" for the rest of his life.

In the summer of 1903, Captain Charles Young would become the first African-American national park Superintendent when he and his troops were tasked to manage and maintain Sequoia National Park in northern California. Because the U.S. Army was tasked with protecting the national parks in these early years, the Army would send troops to manage, maintain and patrol them. Young and his troopers arrived in Sequoia National Park in the summer of 1903 and proceeded to construct roads and trails that other troops were unable to do in the years before them. As the leader of his troops, Young would inherit the title of Acting Superintendent of Sequoia National Park that year. He incorporated the local townsfolk to assist his troop's efforts and he and his troops' accomplishments from their summer of hard work were lauded by many throughout the area.

In 1904 Captain Young became the first Military Attaché to Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola. Young joined 23 other officers (the only African American among them) serving in these diplomatic posts in the Theodore Roosevelt administration. He won President Roosevelt's praise through an introduction Roosevelt wrote for his monograph on the people and customs of Hispaniola. Young's experiences in foreign service and as a commander in the Philippines formed the basis of his book, The Military Morale of Nations and Races (1911).

From 1912 to 1916, he served as the military attaché to Liberia, helping to train the Liberian Frontier Force. After returning from Liberia, he then served as a squadron commander during the Punitive Expedition in Mexico against Pancho Villa. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Agua Caliente, leading his men to the aid of a cavalry unit that had been ambushed. During the same period, Young won additional promotions, to Major in 1912, and to Lieutenant Colonel in 1916.

In July 1917, Young was medically retired. Young and his supporters, many of whom believed that medical retirement was racially-motivated to prevent him from commanding troops in France during World War I, asked for reconsideration of his retirement. To demonstrate his fitness to serve, Young, then 54, made a historic 500-mile horseback ride from Wilberforce, Ohio, to Washington, D.C. Afterwards, the Secretary of War gave Young an informal hearing, but did not reverse the decision.

Though medically retired, Young was retained on a list of active-duty officers as a Colonel. During World War I, the War Department sent him back to Ohio to help muster and train African-American recruits for the war. Days before the November 11th, 1918 armistice, Young was assigned to Camp Grant (Illinois) to train black servicemen. Shortly thereafter, at the request of the State Department, Colonel Young was sent once more to serve as military attaché to Liberia, arriving in Monrovia, February 1920. While on a visit to Nigeria in late 1921 he became gravely ill and died at the British hospital in Lagos on January 8th, 1922. Due to British law, Young's body was buried in Lagos, Nigeria for one year before it could be repatriated to the United States for final interment.

In the year after his death, Young's wife and many other notable African Americans lobbied the U.S. to repatriate Young's remains from Nigeria so he could receive a proper burial in American soil. One year later, Young's body was exhumed and transported back to the U.S. After arriving back in the U.S. in New York City in late May of 1923, Young's body received a hero's welcome. Thousands upon thousands celebrated Young's life as he made his way to the Washington, D.C. area. On June 1st, 1923, Colonel Charles Young became the fourth soldier honored with a funeral service at Arlington Memorial Amphitheater before burial in Arlington National Cemetery. After the memorial service, he was buried alongside the thousands of other heroes in Arlington National Cemetery.


Day 17: Ella Baker

Proof that visibility is not necessary to make an impact, Ella Baker is one of history’s lesser-known civil rights heroes, yet one of the most important. If Martin Luther King Jr. was the head of the civil rights movement, Ella Baker was its backbone.

Ella Jo Baker was born on December 13, 1903, in Norfolk, Virginia.  Growing up in North Carolina, she developed a sense for social justice early on, due in part to her grandmother’s stories about life under slavery. As a slave, her grandmother had been whipped for refusing to marry a man chosen for her by the slave owner. Her grandmother’s pride and resilience in the face of racism and injustice continued to inspire Ms. Baker throughout her life.

Ella Baker’s maternal grandparents bought, lived on, and cultivated land that was formerly a part of the plantation on which they were enslaved. They bought the land for $250, which they paid off in installments. This purchase was the source of great pride for their family, and they went on to become successful farmers.

Baker studied at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a student she challenged school policies that she thought were unfair. After graduating in 1927 as class valedictorian, she moved to New York City and began joining social activist organizations.

In 1930, she joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League, whose purpose was to develop black economic power through collective planning. She also involved herself with several women’s organizations. She was committed to economic justice for all people and once said, “People cannot be free until there is enough work in this land to give everybody a job.”

Ella Baker began her involvement with the NAACP in 1940. She worked as a field secretary and then served as director of branches from 1943 until 1946. Inspired by the historic bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, Baker co-founded the organization In Friendship to raise money to fight against Jim Crow Laws in the Deep South.

In 1957, Baker moved to Atlanta to help organize Martin Luther King Jr.’s new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), through which she facilitated protests, built campaigns and ran a voter registration campaign called the Crusade for Citizenship. Baker grew frustrated at the lack of gender equality within the SCLC, and came close to quitting in 1960.

Baker found a new calling after a group of black college students from North Carolina A&T University refused to leave a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina where they had been denied service on February 1, 1960. Baker left the SCLC after the Greensboro sit-ins. She wanted to assist the new student activists because she viewed young, emerging activists as a resource and an asset to the movement. Miss Baker organized a meeting at Shaw University for the student leaders of the sit-ins in April 1960. From that meeting, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee — SNCC — was born.

Adopting the Gandhian theory of nonviolent direct action, SNCC members joined with activists from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to organize the 1961 Freedom Rides. In 1964 SNCC helped create Freedom Summer, an effort to focus national attention on Mississippi’s racism and to register black voters. Miss Baker, and many of her contemporaries, believed that voting was one key to freedom.

With Ella Baker’s guidance and encouragement, SNCC became one of the foremost advocates for human rights in the country. Ella Baker once said, “This may only be a dream of mine, but I think it can be made real.” Ella Baker’s influence was reflected in the nickname she acquired: “Fundi,” a Swahili word meaning a person who teaches a craft to the next generation. Baker continued to be a respected and influential leader in the fight for human and civil rights until her death on December 13, 1986, her 83rd birthday.

For more information on Ella Baker and her continuing impact today, visit: Ella Baker Center or National Women's Hall of Fame


Day 18: Current Black Heroes Fighting Against the Odds

Today’s history fact doesn’t focus on a person or event of the past, but of some individuals who are currently making history and are doing so against significant odds. Today, we will honor those Black History makers who continuously overcome disabilities to make an impact in their communities, specifically in the State of Florida.

Robert E. Streater III, MA is a motivational speaker, US Army Veteran, advocate, runner, family coach, and ordained minister. He also happens to be a burn trauma survivor. Mr. Streater’s work revolves around his goal to be a beacon of light for disability issues. As a speaker and ambassador at Team Streater Services and Seminars, he encourages, motivates and inspires people to not give up no matter the circumstances. Streater reflects on Black History Month as a person with a disability, and he shares that all people need understanding and inclusion. He notes that we are all common factors for the good of humanity and play an important role in our families, communities, and nation. He message is: “Stay focused, follow on course until successful, and trust in God.”

Malcom Harris-Gowdie is a board member and announcer for the Special Olympics, CBS12 News Special Correspondent, high school Football Announcer, and individual with Autism and Cerebral Palsy. His talented reporting skills are well known and respected. He’s conducted featured stories with the St. Lucie Mets, New York Mets, The Honda Classic, and the Miami Dolphins Training Camp. He was invited to the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award (ESPYs) in 2015 as a representative of the Special Olympics. He recently virtually interviewed WWE two-time ICW World Heavyweight Champion Drew McIntyre. He will be presenting at the 2021 Family Cafe on behalf of the Stand Up For Independence self-advocacy group he is a part of, and he will be discussing the barriers that the disability community has faced over the past year with COVID-19. As he reflects on Black History Month, he wants to thank his role models, including Loretta Claiborne, who inspire him to advocate for the equality of all people. He employs the following message of positivity: “Love yourself and who you are. I’m amazing with my disability. I’m making a difference. Anyone who has Autism or is African American can make a difference - so believe in yourself and go forward in your dreams.”

Salute to these amazing individuals! For more information, please visit DRF Blog: Highlighting Black Floridians with Disabilities - Disability Rights Florida


Day 19: 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion

The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was a unique U.S. Army unit and it had the distinction of being the only all-African American, all-female unit sent overseas during World War II.  The women kept mail flowing to nearly seven million soldiers in the European Theater of Operations (ETO).

Almost immediately after leaving the United States in early 1945, the women who would eventually make up the 6888th were introduced to the rigors of war.  During the trip across the Atlantic Ocean German U-boats forced the convoy of troop ships to change course.  The event had a chilling effect on the women.  “Darn tootin’ I got scared,” recalled Mary Ragland.  “Especially when you can’t see land all around” she added.  Once the women arrived in England on 14 February 1945, they had another scare.  As they disembarked from their ship, a German V1 rocket, also known as a “Buzz Bomb” for the sound of its engine, dove into the area.  As the noise of the engine filled the air, the women ran for cover.  No one was killed, but the event served as a harsh reminder that even behind the lines, soldiers were at risk at all times.

The 6888th was organized on 4 March 1945 at Birmingham, England, and pitched mail at a facility there until after the end of the war in Europe in May.  With approximately 850 officers and enlisted personnel, this Women’s Army Corps (WAC) unit was organized into four postal directory companies—A, B, C, and D—and a Headquarters company, which handled all administrative and service support duties.

Major Charity Adams commanded the battalion.  She had joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC—the predecessor to the WAC) in 1942 and became the first African American woman to receive an Army commission.  She ended the war as a lieutenant colonel and as the highest ranking black woman in the Army.

The women of the 6888th were discouraged when they discovered warehouses crammed from floor to ceiling with mail and packages that had not been delivered for at least two years.  Rats the size of cats had broken into some of the Christmas care packages for front line soldiers and eaten their contents.  The women went to work, organizing a system that would break the bottleneck of undelivered mail.

The WACs set up a system of Army Postal Office (APO) carts to pitch mail.  Once the carts were full, the mail would be delivered to the APOs for further distribution.  For soldiers with common surnames, like “Smith,” the clerks used special locator cards which contained the soldiers’ names and unit numbers to ensure proper delivery.  The also repackaged damaged goods and sent them out.

Work conditions were less than ideal.  The women pitched mail in damp, poorly-lit warehouses without heat. The windows were all painted over for blackout conditions.  To battle the cold, some women resorted to wearing ski pants, field jackets, fatigues or anything else to keep warm. They worked eight-hour rotating shifts, seven days a week. The job, which was supposed to take them six months, was completed in only three.

The 6888th was self-contained, meaning it was not attached to any male unit. It managed its own mess hall, motor pools and supply rooms.  It had its own military police and a chapel.  The 6888th also had its own public affairs officer and a battalion newsletter, Special Delivery.  It hosted sports teams and even put on dances at Army hospitals around England.  In fact, all the positions of an Army battalion—communications, record keeping, and recreation—were staffed by black women.

As with any minority unit in a segregated army, the 6888th experienced its share of sexism and racism.  When some African American male soldiers thought the women came to Europe to provide them companionship, the ladies quickly set them straight.  When the Red Cross opened a club for black women only, Major Adams asked her soldiers to resist the club.  In a show of unity, no one from the battalion entered its doors.  Several members of the unit’s basketball team were invited to play on an Army all-star team, but when the Army realized the players were black, the invitation was rescinded.  Army policy forbade the mixing of races in units, including sports teams.  The battalion’s team responded by going on to win the ETO Basketball Championship of 1945.

The women easily made friends with the residents of Birmingham. The locals were skeptical at first, as many white American soldiers spread racist misinformation about African Americans.  The women of the 6888th soon put those rumors to rest with their dignity and class.  In many instances, the local populace treated the women better than they were treated back home.

In May 1945, with the war in Europe over, the unit transferred to Rouen, France, via the port of La Havre.  The women stepped onto the docks to discover mountains of rubble that used to be a port town. The greeting in Rouen on 20 May was much better as male African American soldiers were on hand to welcome the ladies.  They carried bags and asked each woman her name, trying to find friends and family.  Small reunions united the women and men who joined the military for a common cause.

The sights may have changed, but the work was the same. In France, the mail had backed up for two to three years. Again, the battalion was ordered to deliver the mail in six months.  Again, they did it in three.

After five months in Rouen, the Battalion transferred to Paris.  The women were housed in two lavish hotels:  Bohy Lafayette for enlisted women and the Hôtel États-Unis for officers. For the first time in their military service—and for some women for the first time ever—the women were treated to maid service and meals prepared by the hotels’ cooks.  While living conditions improved, their work became more difficult as more and more WACs transferred home.  In November 1945, only 558 women out of the original 850 remained with the battalion.  On 27 February 1946, the 6888th boarded the Claymont Victory for its return to the United States.  The battalion was disbanded on 9 March 1946 at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.

For the women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, World War II was truly a war of liberation.  They served their country in trying conditions, accomplished their mission, and showed what African American women could do if given the chance.


Day 20: Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday is considered one of the best jazz vocalists of all time, Holiday had a thriving career as a jazz singer for many years before she lost her battle with substance abuse.

Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Holiday spent much of her childhood in Baltimore, Maryland. Her mother, Sadie, was only a teenager when she had her. Her father is widely believed to be Clarence Holiday, who eventually became a successful jazz musician, playing with the likes of Fletcher Henderson. Unfortunately for Holiday, her father was an infrequent visitor in her life growing up. Sadie married Philip Gough in 1920 and for a few years, Holiday had a somewhat stable home life. But that marriage ended a few years later, leaving Holiday and Sadie to struggle along on their own again. Sometimes Holiday was left in the care of other people.

Holiday started skipping school, and she and her mother went to court over Holiday's truancy. She was then sent to the House of Good Shepherd, a facility for troubled African American girls, in January 1925. Only 9 years old at the time, Holiday was one of the youngest girls there. She was returned to her mother's care in August of that year. According to Donald Clarke's biography, Billie Holiday: Wishing on the Moon, she returned there in 1926 after she had been sexually assaulted.

In her difficult early life, Holiday found solace in music, singing along to the records of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong. She followed her mother, who had moved to New York City in the late 1920s, and worked in a house of prostitution in Harlem for a time. Around 1930, Holiday began singing in local clubs and renamed herself "Billie" after the film star Billie Dove.

At the age of 18, Holiday was discovered by producer John Hammond while she was performing in a Harlem jazz club. Hammond was instrumental in getting Holiday recording work with an up-and-coming clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman. With Goodman, she sang vocals for several tracks, including her first commercial release "Your Mother's Son-In-Law" and the 1934 top 10 hit "Riffin' the Scotch."

Known for her distinctive phrasing and expressive, sometimes melancholy voice, Holiday went on to record with jazz pianist Teddy Wilson and others in 1935. She made several singles, including "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" and "Miss Brown to You." That same year, Holiday appeared with Duke Ellington in the film Symphony in Black.

Around this time, Holiday met and befriended saxophonist Lester Young, who was part of Count Basie's orchestra on and off for years. He even lived with Holiday and her mother Sadie for a while. Young gave Holiday the nickname "Lady Day" in 1937 — the same year she joined Basie's band. In return, she called him "Prez," which was her way of saying that she thought it was the greatest.

Holiday toured with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1937. The following year, she worked with Artie Shaw and his orchestra. Holiday broke new ground with Shaw, becoming one of the first female African American vocalists to work with a white orchestra. Promoters, however, objected to Holiday — for her race and for her unique vocal style — and she ended up leaving the orchestra out of frustration.

Striking out on her own, Holiday performed at New York's Café Society. She developed some of her trademark stage persona there — wearing gardenias in her hair and singing with her head tilted back.

During this engagement, Holiday also debuted two of her most famous songs, "God Bless the Child" and "Strange Fruit." Columbia, her record company at the time, was not interested in "Strange Fruit," which was a powerful story about the lynching of African Americans in the South.  Holiday recorded the song with the Commodore label instead. "Strange Fruit" is considered to be one of her signature ballads, and the controversy that surrounded it — some radio stations banned the record — helped make it a hit.

In 1939, after singing her song “Strange Fruit,” Holiday received a warning from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a government agency which lasted from 1930 to 1968, to never sing the song again. Holiday refused and kept singing the song. FBN commissioner Harry Anslinger believed Holiday to be the symbol of everything that America had to be afraid of.

According to Johann Hari, who wrote the book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, “She had a heroin addiction because she’d been chronically raped as a child and she was trying to deal with the grief and the pain of that. And also, she was resisting white supremacy. And when she insisted on continuing on her right as an American citizen to sing 'Strange Fruit,’ Anslinger resolves to destroy her.”

Anslinger was a widely known racist and made it his mission to take Holiday down for her drug and alcohol addiction and relentlessly pursued her all the way up until her death in 1959.

Despite her personal problems, Holiday remained a major star in the jazz world—and even in popular music as well. She appeared with her idol Louis Armstrong in the 1947 film New Orleans, albeit playing the role of a maid. While her hard living was taking a toll on her voice, Holiday continued to tour and record in the 1950s. She began recording for Norman Granz, the owner of several small jazz labels, in 1952. Two years later, Holiday had a hugely successful tour of Europe.

Holiday gave her final performance in New York City on May 25, 1959. Not long after this event, Holiday was admitted to the hospital for heart and liver problems. On July 17, 1959, Holiday died from alcohol- and drug-related complications.

One of the best jazz vocalists of all time, Holiday has been an influence on many other performers who have followed in her footsteps. Her autobiography was made into the 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues with famed singer Diana Ross playing the part of Holiday, which helped renew interest in Holiday's recordings. In 2000, Holiday was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Ross handling the honors.


Day 21: The Negro Motorist Green Book (“The Green Book”)

“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.”

That was how the authors of the “Negro Motorist Green Book” ended the introduction to their 1948 edition. In the pages that followed, they provided a rundown of hotels, guest houses, service stations, drug stores, taverns, barber shops and restaurants that were known to be safe ports of call for African American travelers. The “Green Book” listed establishments in segregationist strongholds such as Alabama and Mississippi, but its reach also extended from Connecticut to California—any place where its readers might face prejudice or danger because of their skin color. With Jim Crow still looming over much of the country, a motto on the guide’s cover also doubled as a warning: “Carry your Green Book with you—You may need it.”

First published in 1936, the Green Book was the brainchild of a Harlem-based postal carrier named Victor Hugo Green. Like most Africans Americans in the mid-20th century, Green had grown weary of the discrimination blacks faced whenever they ventured outside their neighborhoods. Rates of car ownership had exploded in the years before and after World War II, but the lure of the interstate was also fraught with risk for African Americans. “Whites Only” policies meant that black travelers often couldn’t find safe places to eat and sleep, and so-called “Sundown Towns”—municipalities that banned blacks after dark—were scattered across the country. As the foreword of the 1956 edition of the Green Book noted, “The White traveler has had no difficulty in getting accommodations, but with the Negro it has been different.”

Inspired by earlier books published for Jewish audiences, Green developed a guide to help black Americans indulge in travel without fear. The first edition of his Green Book only covered hotels and restaurants in the New York area, but he soon expanded its scope by gathering field reports from fellow postal carriers and offering cash payments to readers who sent in useful information. By the early 1940s, the Green Book boasted thousands of establishments from across the country, all of them either black-owned or verified to be non-discriminatory. The 1949 guide encouraged hungry motorists passing through Denver to stop for a bite at the Dew Drop Inn. Those looking for a bar in the Atlanta area were told to try the Yeah Man, Sportsman’s Smoke Shop or Butler’s. In Richmond, Virginia, Rest-a-Bit was the go-to spot for a ladies’ beauty parlor.

The Green Book’s listings were organized by state and city, with the vast majority located in major metropolises such as Chicago and Detroit. More remote places had fewer options—Alaska only had a lone entry in the 1960 guide—but even in cities with no black-friendly hotels, the book often listed the addresses of home owners who were willing to rent rooms. In 1954, it suggested that visitors to tiny Roswell, New Mexico, should stay at the home of a Mrs. Mary Collins.

The Green Book wasn’t the only handbook for black travelers—another publication called “Travelguide” was marketed with tagline “Vacation and Recreation Without Humiliation”—but it was by far the most popular. Thanks to a sponsorship deal with Standard Oil, the Green Book was available for purchase at Esso gas stations across the country. Though largely unknown to whites, it eventually sold upwards of 15,000 copies per year and was widely used by black business travelers and vacationers alike. In his memoir “A Colored Man’s Journey Through 20th Century Segregated America,” Earl Hutchinson Sr. described purchasing a copy in preparation for a road trip he and his wife took from Chicago to California. “The ‘Green Book’ was the bible of every Negro highway traveler in the 1950s and early 1960s,” he wrote. “You literally didn’t dare leave home without it.”

As its popularity grew, the Green Book expanded from a motorists’ companion to an international travel guide. Along with suggestions for the United States, later editions included information on airline and cruise ship journeys to places like Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. “We know a number of our race who have a long standing love affair with the tempestuous city of Paris,” the 1962 Green Book noted. The guide also offered travel tips and feature articles on certain cities. The 1949 edition shined the spotlight on Robbins, Illinois, a town “owned and operated by Negroes.” In 1954, readers were encouraged to visit San Francisco, which was described as “fast becoming the focal point of the Negroes’ future.”

In offering advice to its readers, the Green Book adopted a pleasant and encouraging tone. It usually avoided discussing racism in explicit terms—one article simply noted that “the Negro travelers’ inconveniences are many”—but as the years passed it began to champion the achievements of the civil rights movement. In one of its last editions in 1963-64, it included a special “Your Rights, Briefly Speaking” feature that listed state statutes related to discrimination in travel accommodations. “The Negro is only demanding what everyone else wants,” the article stressed, “what is guaranteed all citizens by the Constitution of the United States.”

Victor Hugo Green died in 1960 after more than two decades of publishing his travel guide. His wife Alma took over as editor and continued to release the Green Book in updated editions for a few more years, but just as Green had once hoped, the march of progress eventually helped push it toward obsolescence. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act finally banned racial segregation in restaurants, theaters, hotels, parks and other public places. Just two years later, the Green Book quietly ceased publication after nearly 30 years in print.


Day 22: Ralph Bunche

Ralph Johnson Bunche (1903-1971), an African American scholar, educator, Africanist, and diplomat, achieved national and international prominence in 1949 after negotiating armistice agreements between Israel and 4 Arab states, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. A political scientist, professor and diplomat, Bunche advocated the peaceful resolution of conflict and championed the cause of justice and equality for all people regardless of race or economic status and played a major role in decolonizing much of the colonial world. Bunche was appointed Undersecretary-General for Special Political Affairs at the United Nations, the highest post ever held by an American in the world organization.

Born in modest circumstances and orphaned at an early age, Ralph Bunche grew up under the guidance of his maternal grandmother, Mrs. Lucy Taylor Johnson. Overcoming economic difficulties and racial prejudice to excel in academics, he graduated valedictorian both at high school and at UCLA, winning a scholarship for graduate work at Harvard University. At Harvard he became the first African American to receive a Ph.D in political science in the United States. Extensive field research for a doctoral dissertation on colonialism in Africa and scholarly investigation of international race relations culminated in the classic book A World View of Race (1936). Later, he served as chief researcher and writer for Gunnar Myrdal's pivotal study of American race relations, An American Dilemma (1944).

Bunche's career as a scholar and civil rights activist began at Howard University in 1928. He reorganized and headed the political science department at the university and became one of the leaders of a small cadre of radical Black intellectuals whom W.E.B. Du Bois labeled the "Young Turks". Bunche was the youngest member of this group which included Sterling Brown, E. Franklin Frazier, Abram Harris and Emmet Dorsey. These men represented a new generation of African American intellectuals who approached the "Negro problem" from a perspective that was radically different from that of their predecessors.

Bunche and the other "Young Turks" argued during the '30s and '40s that "focusing on issues of class, not race" was the key to solving the "Negro problem". DuBois and other older Black intellectuals did not share this point of view. Even during the Great Depression, Du Bois favored reform through racial solidarity. In contrast, Bunche's approach to race relations was essentially integrationist -- a perspective that would become the hallmark of Black leaders such as A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King, Jr. Later, during the Civil Rights Movement of the '60s, this position would also set Bunche apart from, and sometimes in opposition to, Black nationalists such as Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael.

Between 1931 and 1943, he and his wife -- Ruth Ethel Harris -- had three children, Joan Harris Bunche, Jane Johnson Bunche Pierce, and Ralph Johnson Bunche, Jr.

In 1941, he moved from Howard University to wartime service at the Office of Strategic Services. From the OSS he was appointed to a senior post at the State Department during World War II. As advisor to the US delegation to the San Francisco Conference, Bunche played a key role in drafting Chapters XI and XII of the United Nations Charter.

Bunche joined the UN Secretariat in 1946 as director of the Trusteeship Division. In this position he was responsible for overseeing the administration of the UN Trust Territories and their progress towards self-government and independence.

Bunche's successful mediation of the Palestine conflict, which resulted in the signing of Armistice Agreements in 1949 between Israel and four Arab states, was a feat of international diplomacy that is unparalleled in the long history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It won him the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize, the first time that a person of color had been so honored.

During the McCarthy era in the 1950's, the search to identify Communist sympathizers in international organizations led to Bunche. His attackers focused on his involvement with the National Negro Congress, an organization he helped found to advance the common interests of Black and white workers. Bunche was eventually cleared of all charges and continued his work at the UN. He played significant peacekeeping and mediation roles in major international conflicts, including the Suez War of 1956; the Congo crisis; conflicts in Yemen, Cyprus and Kashmir and the Six-Day War of 1967. He is considered the "Father of Peacekeeping" because he conceived and implemented many of the techniques and strategies for international peacekeeping operations that are still in use today by the UN.

Bunche spoke out against racism in the US, though his position at the UN did not allow him to publicly criticize US policy, and he was criticized for doing so. In the 1960's, he actively supported Martin Luther King, Jr's non-violent tactics and marched with King in the 1963 March on Washington and again in 1965 in the Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March.

In the decades following his Nobel Peace Prize award, Bunche became one of the most revered public figures in America and the world. President Truman asked him to become Assistant Secretary of State, and President Kennedy approached him about joining the administration as Secretary of State. In each instance, he declined in favor of continuing his work as Undersecretary-General at the UN. He was also offered a full professorship at Harvard University and was awarded 69 honorary doctorates from America's leading universities. His numerous awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award the country can give its citizens.

Successfully fostering decolonization, negotiating conflicts and championing human rights and peace in the world in collaboration with Eleanor Roosevelt, he came to be identified as the "embodiment of the United Nations actively, but pragmatically, pursuing its high ideals."

Beyond UN accomplishments, Bunche was a symbol of racial progress, as the first African American to cross over in a field other than sports and entertainment. Bunche always maintained his modesty and constantly reminded his Black audiences that he was not free as long as they were not free. Yet in many ways he had risen above race.

Today his name is seldom mentioned in American history books, the media, the academic community or the African-American community -- even in the corridors of the UN. But the legacy of his work lives on in the UN and wherever people fight for equality, justice and human dignity. Perhaps the final words of Sir Brian Urquhart's book Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey best summarize the essence of Bunche's contribution:

“In his journey … through the universities and the capitals, the continents and the conflicts, of the world, Bunche left a legacy of principle, fairness, creative innovation, and solid achievement which deeply impressed his contemporaries and inspired his successors. His memory lives on, especially in the long struggle for human dignity and against racial discrimination and bigotry, and the growing effectiveness of the United Nations in resolving conflicts and keeping the peace. As Ralph Johnson Bunche would have wished, that is his living memorial.”


Day 23: Lewis Howard Latimer

Lewis Howard Latimer is considered one of the most important Black inventors for the number of inventions he produced and patents he secured, but also for the importance of his best-known discovery: a longer-lasting filament for the electric light. He also helped Alexander Graham Bell obtain the patent for the first telephone. Latimer was in great demand for his expertise later in his career as electric light spread across the country. Indeed, without Latimer's help and expertise, Thomas Edison may not have even received a patent for his light bulb. Yet, possibly due to the whitewashing of history, Latimer is not well remembered today for his many lasting accomplishments.

Lewis Howard Latimer was born on Sept.4, 1848, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He was the youngest of four children born to George Latimer, a paperhanger, and Rebecca Smith Latimer, who both escaped enslavement. His parents had fled from Virginia in 1842 by hiding beneath the deck of a northbound ship, but his father was recognized in Boston by a former employee of their enslaver. George Latimer was arrested and brought to trial, where he was defended by noted 19th-century North American Black activist Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. Eventually, a group of activists paid $400 for his freedom.

George Latimer disappeared shortly after the Dred Scott decision of 1857, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Scott, an enslaved man, couldn't sue for his freedom. Possibly fearing a return to enslavement, Latimer went underground. It was a great hardship for the rest of the Latimer family.

After his father's departure, Latimer worked to help support his mother and family. In 1864, at the age of 16, Latimer lied about his age in order to enlist in the United States Navy during the Civil War. Returning to Boston after an honorable discharge, he accepted a menial position at the Crosby and Gould patent law office. He taught himself mechanical drawing and drafting by observing the work of draftsmen at the firm. Recognizing Latimer's talent and promise, the firm partners promoted him from office boy to draftsman. In addition to assisting others, Latimer designed a number of his own inventions, including an improved railroad car bathroom and an early air conditioning unit.

Latimer's talents were well-matched to the post-Civil War period, which saw a large number of scientific and engineering breakthroughs. Latimer was directly involved with one of these inventions: the telephone.

In 1874, while at the firm, Latimer co-invented an improvement to the bathroom compartment of trains. Two years later, he was sought out as a drafter by an instructor of children who were hard of hearing; the man wanted drawings for a patent application on a device he had created. The instructor was Alexander Graham Bell, and the device was the telephone. Working late into the evenings, Latimer labored to complete the patent application. It was submitted on Feb. 14, 1876, just hours before another application was made for a similar device. With Latimer's help, Bell won the patent rights to the telephone.

In 1880, after relocating to Bridgeport, Connecticut, Latimer was hired as assistant manager and drafter for the U.S. Electric Lighting Co., which was owned by Hiram Maxim. Maxim was the chief competitor of Edison, who had invented the electric light. Edison’s light consisted of a nearly airless glass bulb surrounding a carbon wire filament, typically made from bamboo, paper, or thread. When electricity ran through the filament, it became so hot that it literally glowed. Maxim hoped to improve on Edison’s light bulb by focusing on its main weakness: its brief life span, typically only a few days. Latimer set out to make a longer-lasting light bulb. He developed a way to encase the filament in a cardboard envelope that prevented the carbon from breaking up, giving the bulbs a much longer life while making them less expensive and more efficient.

Latimer’s expertise had become well known, and he was sought after to continue to improve on incandescent lighting as well as arc lighting. As more major cities began wiring their roadways for electric lighting, Latimer was selected to lead several planning teams. He helped install the first electric plants in Philadelphia, New York City, and Montreal. He also oversaw the installation of lighting in railroad stations, government buildings, and major thoroughfares in Canada, New England, and London.

Latimer was in charge of setting up an incandescent lamp department for the Maxim-Weston Electric Light Company in London. As part of this role, he supervised the production of his own invention of carbon filaments. Yet it was in London that Latimer suffered some of the greatest discrimination he faced during his career because English businessmen there were not used—or receptive—to being directed by a Black man.

Latimer started working for Edison in 1884 and became involved in Edison's infringement lawsuits. He worked in the legal department of the Edison Electric Light Co. as the chief drafter and patent specialist. He drafted sketches and documents related to Edison patents, looked over plants in search of patent infringements, carried out patent searches, and testified in court on Edison’s behalf. More often than not, Latimer's expert testimony helped Edison win his legal patent court fights—in such high esteem did the courts hold Latimer's testimony. Latimer's deep knowledge of both patents and electrical engineering made Latimer an indispensable partner to Edison as he promoted and defended his light bulb design. In 1890, Latimer published a book entitled Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System. He continued to work as a patent consultant until 1922.

Despite racism and discrimination and with unequal access to education and opportunity, Latimer played a major role in the development of two products that greatly impacted the lives of Americans: the light bulb and the telephone. The fact that he was a Black American born in the 19th century made his many successes even more impressive. Latimer died on Dec. 11, 1928, in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York.

On Nov. 9, 1929, Latimer was among the figures honored at the "Light's Golden Jubilee," an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Edison's invention of the light bulb, held in Dearborn, Michigan. Yet in 1954, at an event marking the 75th anniversary of the invention of the light bulb, "no mention was made of the role played by Lewis Latimer," wrote Louis Haber in his book, "Black Pioneers of Science and Invention," who added, "Was the only black member of the Edison Pioneers already forgotten?" No reason has been given for Latimer's exclusion from the 75th-anniversary event, but the occasion did take place during the Jim Crow era, a period when federal, state, and local laws barred Black Americans from being full citizens.

Latimer was honored on May 10, 1968, when a public school in Brooklyn, New York—now known as the PS 56 Lewis Latimer School—was dedicated in his honor.


Day 24: Shirley Chisolm

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was the first African American woman in Congress (1968) and the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major political parties (1972). Her motto and title of her autobiography—Unbossed and Unbought—illustrates her outspoken advocacy for women and minorities during her seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 30, 1924, Chisholm was the oldest of four daughters to immigrant parents Charles St. Hill, a factory worker from Guyana, and Ruby Seale St. Hill, a seamstress from Barbados. She graduated from Brooklyn Girls’ High in 1942 and from Brooklyn College cum laude in 1946, where she won prizes on the debate team. Although professors encouraged her to consider a political career, she replied that she faced a “double handicap” as both Black and female.

Initially, Chisholm worked as a nursery school teacher. In 1949, she married Conrad Q. Chisholm, a private investigator (they divorced in 1977). She earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in early childhood education in 1951. By 1960, she was a consultant to the New York City Division of Day Care. Ever aware of racial and gender inequality, she joined local chapters of the League of Women Voters, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Urban League, as well as the Democratic Party club in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

In 1964, Chisholm ran for and became the second African American in the New York State Legislature. After court-ordered redistricting created a new, heavily Democratic, district in her neighborhood, in 1968 Chisholm sought—and won—a seat in Congress. There, “Fighting Shirley” introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation and championed racial and gender equality, the plight of the poor, and ending the Vietnam War. She was a co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971, and in 1977 became the first Black woman and second woman ever to serve on the powerful House Rules Committee. That year she married Arthur Hardwick Jr., a New York State legislator.

Discrimination followed Chisholm’s quest for the 1972 Democratic Party presidential nomination. She was blocked from participating in televised primary debates, and after taking legal action, was permitted to make just one speech. Still, students, women, and minorities followed the “Chisholm Trail.” She entered 12 primaries and garnered 152 of the delegates’ votes (10% of the total)—despite an under-financed campaign and contentiousness from the predominantly male Congressional Black Caucus.

Chisholm retired from Congress in 1983. She taught at Mount Holyoke College and co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women. In 1991 she moved to Florida, and later declined the nomination to become U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica due to ill health. A proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Chisholm summed up her legacy by saying, “I want to be remembered as a woman … who dared to be a catalyst of change.”


Day 25: Sarah Rector

Born as the daughter of freedmen in 1902, Sarah Rector rose from humble beginnings to reportedly become the wealthiest black girl in the nation at the age of 11. 

Rector and her family where African American members of the Muscogee Creek Nation who lived in a modest cabin in the predominantly black town of Taft, Oklahoma, which, at the time, was considered Indian Territory. Following the Civil War, Rector’s parents, who were formerly enslaved by Creek Tribe members, were entitled to land allotments under the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887. As a result, hundreds of black children, or “Creek Freedmen minors,” were each granted 160 acres of land as Indian Territory integrated with Oklahoma Territory to form the State of Oklahoma in 1907. While lands granted to former slaves were usually rocky and infertile, Rector’s allotment from the Creek Indian Nation was located in the middle of the Glenn Pool oil field and was initially valued at $556.50. Strapped for cash, Rector’s father leased his daughter’s parcel to a major oil company in February 1911 to help him pay the $30 annual property tax. Two years later, Rector’s fortune took a major turn when independent oil driller B.B. Jones produced a “gusher” on her land that brought in 2,500 barrels or 105,000 gallons per day. According to Tonya Bolden, author of Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America (Harry N. Abrams; $21.95), Rector began earning more than $300 a day in 1913. That equates to $7,000 – $8,000 today. She even generated $11,567 in October 1913. 

Rector’s notoriety ballooned just as quickly as her wealth. In September 1913, The Kansas City Star local newspaper published the headline, “Millions to a Negro Girl – Sarah Rector, 10-Year-Old, Has Income of $300 A Day from Oil,” reports Face 2 Face Africa. In January 1914, the newspaper wrote, “Oil Made Pickaninny Rich – Oklahoma Girl With $15,000 A Month gets Many Proposals – Four White Men in Germany Want to Marry the Negro Child That They Might Share Her Fortune.” Meanwhile, the Savannah Tribune wrote, “Oil Well Produces Neat Income – Negro Girl’s $112,000 A Year”. Another newspaper dubbed her “the richest negro in the world.” Her fame became widespread, and she received numerous requests for loans, money gifts, and four marriage proposals. 

Public envy burned toward Sarah, in large part because of her race. “Lease that land and see what’s under it,” a newspaper encouraged its white readers while reporting about Sarah. As white citizens, they were assured they deserved fortunes more than Sarah did. “Are you ‘as good’ as a negro? Think it over.” 

The white establishment had to square two irreconcilable facts. Here was a girl who now had the spending power and associated privileges of some of the country’s wealthiest tycoons; and yet that girl was Black. 

At the time, a law required Native Americans, black adults, and children who were citizens of Indian Territory with significant property and money were to be assigned “well-respected” white guardians. As a result, Rector’s guardianship switched from her parents to a white man named T.J. Porter. Concerned with her wellbeing and her white financial guardian, early NAACP leaders fought to protect her and her fortune. 

The insidious rules instituting this requirement for minors followed a blatantly racist logic that Black parents were inherently incapable of managing their family’s affairs. The greatest dangers to Sarah’s wealth did not come from pushy correspondents or shadowy kidnappers that may have been lurking, but rather from the smiling white men in suits — bankers, lawyers, bureaucrats in their 40s and 50s — shaking her family members’ hands, promising they would take care of everything. 

The white guardian and lawyer for the case declared that Sarah’s accounts were “far in excess of the needs.” They decided to loan her money out to people and businesses, far and wide, at an 8% interest rate — not the money-hungry rate of unscrupulous lenders (which could reach nearly 40%), but enough to make a handsome profit, nonetheless. Before the year was up, funds from Sarah’s accounts had been loaned in amounts adding up to at least $255,000 in today’s terms to five local citizens of the Muskogee area. By the end of the following spring, Sarah’s money had been loaned to 18 more people. 

In 1914, the Chicago Defender published an article claiming that her estate was being mismanaged by grafters and her “ignorant” parents, and that she was uneducated, dressed in rags, and lived in an unsanitary shanty. National African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois became concerned about her welfare. None of the allegations were true. Rector and her siblings went to school in Taft, an all-black town closer than twine, they lived in a modern five-room cottage, and they owned an automobile.  That same year, Rector enrolled in the children’s house, a boarding school for teenagers at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. 

By the time she turned 18, Rector was worth an estimated $1 million, or about $11 million today. She also owned stocks and bonds, a boarding house, a bakery and restaurant in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and 2,000 acres of land. She eventually left Tuskegee with her family and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where she bought a grand home that still stands today. There, the Rectors eventually moved into a home that was a far cry from that weather-whipped two-room cabin in which Sarah began life. This home-place was a stately stone house. It became known as the Rector Mansion. After prolonged legal battles, Sarah Rector was finally able to gain her financial independence from her white guardians through ingenuity and creativity (follow the link below to see how she did it). 

In 1922, she married Kenneth Campbell, the second African American to own an auto dealership. The couple had three sons and were recognized as local royalty, driving expensive cars and entertaining elites like Joe Louis, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie at their home. They divorced in 1930 and Rector remarried in 1934. 

Rector lost most of her wealth during The Great Depression. When she died at age 65 on July 22, 1967, she only had some working oil wells and real estate holdings. 

Source: Medium


Day 26: Daryl Davis

Daryl Davis is a musician – a pianist to be exact. He has jammed with the likes of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King and even Bill Clinton. Loyal to music but not to genre, he plays jazz, blues, rock’n’roll, country, boogie-woogie, swing, big band and beyond. No matter the musical style, Davis will play it, because he believes that music in all its variations is a great equalizer. So when he entered the Silver Dollar Lounge in Frederick, Maryland, for a country gig one fateful night in 1983, being the only black man present did not perturb him at all.

While this was not his first country gig at the Silver Dollar Lounge, it was his most significant. After he and his band finished their set, Davis was approached by a patron who was around 15 years his senior. Not an unusual occurrence for a working musician. However, while praising Davis on his performance, the patron candidly noted that he had never seen a black man who could play like Jerry Lee Lewis.

More curious than offended, Davis used this encounter as an opportunity for friendly discourse rather than outrage. “I explained to this older white guy that Jerry Lee Lewis was influenced by the same black boogie-woogie and blues piano players as I was,” Davis says with a chuckle. “He didn’t believe me. Then I told him that Jerry Lewis is a good friend of mine and well, he didn’t believe that either, but he was fascinated.”

“So he asks me to join him for a drink,” he continues. “I don’t drink so I had a glass of cranberry juice and then he took his glass and cheered me. Then he said, ‘You know, this is the first time I ever sat down and had a drink with a black person.’ I was instantly curious and thought, ‘What’s going on here?’ So I asked him why. He didn’t answer at first but eventually admitted that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.” This marked a catalytic moment in which Davis’s trajectory pivoted from working musician to race relations crusader.

What began as a hobby gradually transformed into a calling. As his music career continued to flourish, Davis also became enmeshed in quite arguably the world’s strangest side hustle – meeting with KKK members of various ranks and attending so-called cross lighting rallies. Some of these Klansmen became close friends of Davis’s – the aforementioned Silver Dollar patron included – their long conversations untangling a knot of hate that had coiled for decades. In many cases, these civil dialogues led them to quitting the organization because they no longer believed in its tenets.

While some say Davis converted these men, he prefers to say that they converted themselves, and that he merely provided the impetus for them to do so. Over the past 30 years, Davis has become well-versed in the organization’s ethos and hierarchy which led to him to become

ng the first black man to write a book about the KKK entitled Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan, which was published in 1998.

The Ku Klux Klan was formed in 1865 by a group of Confederate soldiers at the end of the American civil war in an attempt to keep newly emancipated slaves suppressed. Having seen several iterations, what remains consistent across all chapters of the group is its hate toward people of color, sometimes resulting in assault and murder. In 2018, 153 years later, a record high of more than 1,000 hate groups – including the KKK – were documented as active in the United States by the Southern Poverty Law Center civil rights group. “Our ideology needs to catch up to our technology,” Davis said recently.

So why would a successful musician like Davis willingly meet with high-ranking KKK members in his spare time? The journey to that answer begins long before his Silver Dollar Klan encounter in 1983.

“In 1968, when I was the age of 10, I had a racist incident,” Davis recalls with conviction, his voice sonorous and unwavering. “I was in the Cub Scouts and we were in a parade when people started throwing rocks and things at me. I didn’t understand why people would do that and I formed a question: ‘How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?’”

“The answer was always, ‘there’s some people who are just like that,’” Davis adds. “Well, that wasn’t good enough for me. What does ‘just like that’ mean? Where does that come from? You’re not born ‘just like that. I was curious about racism ever since, but even still, nobody can seem to answer the question.”

One of Davis’s first and most fabled encounters was with Grand Dragon Robert Kelly, who eventually became the Imperial Wizard of Maryland. After having his secretary set up a meeting with Kelly under the pretense of including him in a book about the KKK, Davis knew he was entering new territory. Kelly was unaware that Davis was black, so the grand reveal was a shock. After a few tense hours of conversation, the two parted ways, but their relationship did not end there.

Eventually, Kelly began inviting Davis to his home and then to Klan rallies in which ritualistic chants were intoned, giant crosses were burned, and beer and hot dogs were served. Kelly shared everything with him, including the deeply racial stereotypes that help form the foundation of the Klan’s hatred. All the while, Davis listened, asked questions, took notes, and through his actions, slowly dispelled each stereotype one by one. With each conversation, the gap between them narrowed and they were able to become friends.

Finally, Kelly quit the Klan, shut down his entire chapter and, as a trophy of sorts, gave his robe to Davis. That was not the last Ku Klux Klan robe that Davis would be gifted nor was it the last Klansman he would befriend.

Davis has lived through several eras of hate – from the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr in 1968 to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Though he has convinced hundreds of white supremacists to deradicalize and join the land of the loving, he does not deny that some are beyond saving. However, that acknowledgment does not deter his mission as he continues to focus on those who are open to conversation, open to civil discourse, open to friendship, and ultimately, open to change.

Most recently, Davis partnered with Minds.com, an open source social networking platform that uses blockchain to reward the community with ERC20 tokens. Davis hopes to utilize this platform, founded by Bill Ottman and John Ottman, to educate people on how to conduct civil discourse. Beyond the world of white supremacy, the idea is to help individuals navigate through opposing perspectives – be it at a political protest, in a classroom, on social media, or at the dinner table.

“People must stop focusing on the symptoms of hate, that’s like putting a Band-Aid on cancer,” Davis says. “We’ve got to treat it down to the bone, which is ignorance. The cure for ignorance is education. You fix the ignorance, there’s nothing to fear. If there’s nothing to fear, there’s nothing to hate. If there’s nothing to hate, there’s nothing or no one to destroy.”


Day 27: Cathay Williams

Cathay Williams was born to an enslaved mother and a free father in Independence, Missouri in 1844.  During her adolescence, she worked as a house slave on the Johnson plantation on the outskirts of Jefferson City, Missouri. In 1861, Union forces occupied Jefferson City during the early stages of the Civil War. At this time, captured slaves were officially designated as contraband and were forced to serve in military support roles such as cooks, laundresses, or nurses. Before her voluntary enlistment, at just 17 years old, Williams served as an Army cook and a washerwoman. In this role she accompanied the infantry all over the country. Williams served under the service of General Philip Sheridan and witnessed the Red River Campaign and the Battle of Pea Ridge.

Despite the prohibition against women serving in the military, Williams enlisted in the U.S. Regular Army under the false name of "William Cathay" on November 15, 1866. She enlisted for a three-year engagement, passing herself off as a man. Williams was assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry Regiment after she passed the cursory medical examination. Though this exam should have outed her as a woman, the Army did not require full medical exams at this time.

Shortly after her enlistment, she contracted smallpox and was hospitalized. Williams rejoined her unit in New Mexico. There, possibly due to the effects of smallpox, the heat, or the years of marching, her body began to show signs of strain. Due to her frequent hospitalization, the post surgeon finally discovered she was a woman and informed the post commander. She was honorably discharged by her commanding officer, Captain Charles E. Clarke on October 14, 1868. Though her disability discharge meant the end of her tenure with the Army, her adventure continued. She signed up with an emerging all-black regiment that would eventually become part of the legendary Buffalo Soldiers.

Following her discharge, Williams went on to work as a cook at Fort Union, New Mexico (now Fort Union National Monument) and later moved to Pueblo, Colorado. Though she married, it ended badly after her husband stole her money and a team of horses. Williams had him arrested and then moved to Trinidad, Colorado, where she worked as a seamstress. It was during this time that her story first became public. A reporter from St. Louis heard rumors of a female African-American who had served in the army and came to interview her. Her life and military service narrative was published in the St. Louis Daily Times on January 2, 1876.

Around 1889 or 1890, Williams entered a local hospital and applied for a disability pension based on her military service. Though there was a precedent for granting pension to female soldiers, (Deborah Sampson, Anna Maria Lane and Molly Williams disguised themselves as men in the Revolutionary War), Williams request was denied. In September 1893, a doctor examined Williams. She suffered from neuralgia and diabetes, and had all her toes amputated and walked with a crutch. The doctor decided that she did not qualify for disability payments. The exact date of her death is unknown, but it is believed she died shortly after she was denied.

Though over 400 women served in the Civil War posing as male soldiers, Williams was the first African American woman to enlist and the only documented woman to serve in the United States Army, while disguised as a man, during the Indian Wars. Williams is also the only known female Buffalo Soldier. Williams' determination to serve her country demonstrates the extraordinary feats women have accomplished simply trying to live their lives.


Day 28: Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton was the chairman of the Black Panther Party’s Illinois chapter.

A young, gifted leader with a talent for organizing, Hampton was born in Argo, Illinois, a southwest suburb of Chicago, on Aug. 30, 1948. His neighbor in Argo was Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Black boy murdered in Missouri for allegedly whistling at a white woman.

Hampton grew up mainly in Maywood, a west suburb. He attended Irving Elementary School and Proviso East High School. While in school, Hampton led a boycott of homecoming, forcing the school to allow Black girls to compete for homecoming queen, and became head of the school’s Inter-racial Council, which met when there was racial friction in school.

While in high school, Hampton held several jobs and eventually earned enough to pay his college tuition. During those high school years, he noticed how few Black teenagers had jobs and pushed Maywood to fund a summer jobs program. He also organized community members to push Maywood leaders for an integrated pool and recreational center.

Hampton’s organizing in Maywood caught the attention of Don Williams, the head of the West Suburban Chapter of the NAACP. He liked what Hampton had done, and since there was no youth section of the association in the area, he asked Hampton to start one.

After finishing high school in 1966, Hampton continued his activism, marching several times with Martin Luther King Jr. when he came to Chicago to fight for equal treatment of Black residents in housing, jobs and schools. Many white people, some dressed as Nazis, came to spit and throw rocks at marchers during that time. Seeing the violence directed towards them left Hampton feeling disenchanted with King’s nonviolent approach. He began to turn away from the NAACP and towards Malcolm X’s message of self-defense, and the growing movement of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California.

In November 1968, Bobby Rush, current-U.S. Representative and then-Black Panther, received a mandate from the national party to start a chapter in Chicago. Having met Hampton and heard him speak at marches and protests, Rush recruited him right away, and they opened the office together. Hampton became chairman and Rush deputy minister.

One of 45 chapters in the county, the Black Panther Party chapter of Illinois militantly stood against "racism, capitalism and police brutality," according to the Chicago History Museum’s "Encyclopedia of Chicago." The chapter formed in the fall of 1968 and disbanded in 1973.

The group formed partnerships with Latino and white Chicagoans to create the Rainbow Coalition, which went after structural inequalities in neighborhoods around the city. They organized free breakfasts and offered free legal consultations to help disadvantaged populations.

The Panthers took a militant stance in the party’s imagery, rhetoric and sometimes action, but at times this cost the party some support. Many white people, along with some conservative-leaning Black residents, and the mass media all criticized the Panthers, and law enforcement became especially keen on watching party members.

In Chicago, some Panthers did clash with police, sometimes violently, and Hampton, even before he became a Panther, personally faced harassment and multiple arrests for otherwise harmless or overblown crimes, such as traffic violations.

In 1968, FBI leader J. Edgar Hoover, a known bigot and opponent of the Civil Rights Movement, declared the Black Panthers “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” according to Curt Gentry's “J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets.” He ordered agents to employ a range of tactics, many illegal, including mail openings, phone taps and bugs, burglaries and paid informants to bring the Panthers down. The bureau also used anonymous mailings, sent to Panther headquarters to try and stir up trouble and paranoia among the party members.

Hampton caught the bureau’s attention Nov. 9, 1969, Gentry wrote. The Chicago field office received a tip from a paid informant that Hampton would be named chief of staff to replace David Hillard in the Panthers national party if he went to prison, a move that would have put Hampton in the national party leadership. Hoover and the bureau feared that Hampton, with all his talents of organizing, speaking and leadership, might become the new black “messiah.”

That paid informant turned out to be William O’Neal, who was the chief of security for the Black Panther Party.

After a shootout between the Panthers and Chicago police, which left two officers and one Panther dead, local law enforcement began to focus more intensely on the Panthers, Gentry noted. The bureau then approached Chicago and state attorney’s police with information from their paid informant, and together, they plotted to bring Hampton down.

In addition to tipping off the FBI about Hampton’s upcoming promotion to the national party, O’Neal also provided the feds with a treasure trove of information about Hampton and the layout of his apartment. His information eventually led to Hampton’s murder.

At 5 a.m. on Dec. 4, 1969, Chicago and state’s attorney police raided the headquarters of the Black Panther Party at 2337 W. Monroe St. on the West Side of the city. They entered the apartment and fatally shot Hampton, who had been drugged the night before, as he slept in his bed. Mark Clark, a downstate party leader, was also killed.

Following the shooting, State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan held a press conference where he told Chicago Daily News reporters that a “gun battle broke out as state’s attorney’s policemen tried to enter the apartment to search for illegal weapons.” Hanrahan said the officers leading the raid allegedly announced themselves, only to be met with gunfire from the first-floor apartment, according to a Daily News article that ran the day of the raid. Three times, the state’s attorney claimed, officers ceased fire and demanded the occupants “come out with their hands up,” only to be met with more gunfire. “The immediate, violent criminal reaction of the occupants in shooting at announced police officers emphasizes the extreme viciousness of the Black Panther Party,” Hanrahan said. Police insisted that a gun was found next to Hampton’s hand and that he had shot at them, pointing to a number of “bullet holes” in the wall, the Daily News report said.

Police were uninjured and had fired their guns 90-99 times. Throughout the assault Hampton had remained unconscious due to the drugging. During the assault, Hampton’s pregnant fiancé, Deborah Johnson, attempted to wake him but failed repeatedly.  After police forced Johnson out of the bedroom, two officers entered the room where Hampton still lay unconscious. Johnson heard one officer ask, “Is he still alive?” After two gunshots were fired inside the room, the other officer said, “He’s good and dead now.”

Bobby Rush, current U.S. Representative and then-deputy minister of the Panthers, asserted that Hampton had been sleeping during the raid, the paper said. He then led reporters on a tour of the apartment, showing them bullet holes from police firing into the apartment but no shots fired out. Days after the shooting, Chicago Sun-Times reporter Joe Reilly received a tip that those were nail holes, not bullet holes. The story, which ran Dec. 12, 1969, started unraveling the narrative that police tried to spin. All the while, the FBI remained quiet about its role in Hampton and Clark’s murder. It would be years before the truth of the bureau’s involvement would come out.

Though only 21 when he was murdered by the FBI, Fred Hampton had already accomplished groundbreaking work. In addition to bringing together poor Latinos and Caucasians, Hampton was able to convince many of the street gangs in Chicago to put aside their differences and disputes to help build the community.

Today, Hampton’s only child, Fred Jr. (born 25 days after his father’s assassination), continues the activism of his father. He is currently the President and Chairman of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee and the Black Panther Party Cubs.