Celebrating Black History Month with Major Larry Black

Celebrating Black History Month with Major Larry Black

U.S. Marine Corps Major Larry S. Black, Jr. and USF ROTC Instructor honors Black History Month by writing daily stories of Black men and women's inspirational stories. Each day in February, Major Black highlights a Black individual to tell their story.

2022 Daily Stories

Day 1: James Armistead Lafayette

James Armistead Lafayette (circa 1748 – 1832)

Though the actual year of his birth is debated (1748 vs 1760), James Armistead lived most of his life on a plantation in New Kent, Virginia. During the American Revolution, however, James received permission from his master, William Armistead, to enlist in the Marquis de Lafayette’s French Allied units. Here, the army dispatched Armistead as a spy, playing the role of a runaway slave to gain access to General Cornwallis’s headquarters. Because Armistead was a native Virginian with extensive knowledge of the terrain, the British received him without suspicion. As a result, Armistead accomplished what few spies could: direct access to the center of the British War Department. 

After successfully infiltrating British intelligence, Armistead floated freely between the British and American camps. As a double agent, he relayed critical information to Lafayette and misleading intel to the enemy. Oblivious to his true intentions, the British assigned Armistead to work under the notorious turncoat, Benedict Arnold. By helping Arnold maneuver his troops through Virginia, Armistead gained significant insight into the Redcoats’ movements. 

Several of Armistead’s finest acts occurred in 1781, during a critical moment in the Revolution—the Battle of Yorktown. The spy informed Lafayette and Washington about approaching British reinforcements, which allowed the generals to devise a blockade impeding enemy advancements. This success resulted in the final major victory for the colonists when Lord Cornwallis surrendered on October 17, 1781.

Though Americans celebrated freedom throughout the United States at the end of the war, James Armistead returned to life as a slave. His status as a spy meant that he did not benefit from the Act of 1783, which emancipated any slave-soldiers that fought for the Revolution. 

As a result, Armistead began the process of petitioning Congress to fight for his freedom. After several years without success, Armistead received help from an old comrade in arms, the Marquis de Lafayette. Upon learning that Armistead remained enslaved, Lafayette wrote a letter to Congress on his behalf. Armistead received his manumission in 1787.

Living off his annual pension fee, Armistead moved to his own 40-acre farm in Virginia, where he married, raised a family, and lived out the rest of his life as a freeman. Armistead added Lafayette to his name as a token of gratitude and a testament to the bond the former slave and French general shared.

The two crossed paths again during Lafayette’s grand tour of the United States in 1824, where the general picked James out of a crowd and cordially embraced him. James Armistead Lafayette died in 1832.


Day 2: Marcelite J. Harris

Marcelite J. Harris (January 16, 1943 – September 7, 2018)

Marcelite J. Harris was born Marcelite Jordan to Cecil O’Neal Jordan and Marcelite Terrill Jordan, in Houston, Texas on January 16, 1943. She graduated from Spelman College, earning her B.A. in Speech and Drama. She originally wanted to be an actress but when she couldn’t find a job she signed up for the Air Force. In 1965 she completed Officer Training School, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas and held a variety of assignments in the Air Force.

Harris’s career included many “firsts”, including being the first female aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first two female air officers commanding at the United States Air Force Academy, and the Air Force’s first female Director of Maintenance. She served as a White House social aide during the Carter administration. Her service medals and decorations include the Bronze Star, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Vietnam Service Medal.

Harris retired as a Major General in 1997, the highest ranking female officer in the Air Force and the Nation’s highest ranking African-American woman in the Department of Defense. Upon retirement from the Air Force, she served NASA as the Florida Site Director and Logistics Process Owner for United Space Alliance, the company managing the nation’s shuttle program. Besides her Spelman B.A., she holds a B.S. in Business Management from the University of Maryland University College. In 1999, Harris was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Spelman College. She was a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

Harris was a Treasurer of the Atlanta Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and served as a Director on the Board of Peachtree Hope Charter School. On September 15th, 2010, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as a member of the Board of Visitors for the United States Air Force Academy. The Board looks into the morale, discipline, curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs, academic methods and other matters relating to the Academy which the Board decides to consider.

Harris was married to Lt. Col. Maurice Harris. They had two children.

She passed on September 7, 2018 and was buried with full military honors on February 7, 2019, alongside her husband in Arlington National Cemetery.


Day 3: Marshall “Major” Taylor

Marshall “Major” Taylor (November 26, 1878 - June 21, 1932)

Marshall Walter "Major" Taylor was an American cyclist who won the world one-mile track cycling championship in 1899 after setting numerous world records and overcoming racial discrimination. Taylor was the first African-American athlete to achieve the level of world champion and only the second black man to win a world championship-after Canadian boxer George Dixon. 

Taylor was the son of Gilbert Taylor and Saphronia Kelter, who had migrated from Louisville, Kentucky with their large family to a farm in rural Indiana. Taylor's father was employed in the household of a wealthy Indianapolis family as a coachman, where Taylor was also raised and educated. At an early age, Taylor received a bicycle. He began working as an entertainer at the age of 13. Taylor was hired to perform cycling stunts outside a bicycle shop while wearing a soldier's uniform, hence the nickname "Major”.

As an African-American, Taylor was banned from bicycle racing in Indiana once he started winning and made a reputation as "The Black Cyclone". In 1896, he moved from Indianapolis to Worcester, Mass., then a center of the United States bicycle industry with half a dozen factories and 30 bicycle shops, to work as a bicycle mechanic in the Worcester Cycle Manufacturing Company factory, owned by Birdie Munger, who was to become his lifelong friend and mentor, and racer for Munger's team. His first east coast race was in a League of American Wheelmen one mile race in New Haven, where he started in last place but won.

In late 1896, Taylor entered his first professional race in Madison Square Garden, where he lapped the entire field during the half-mile race. Although he is listed in the Middletown town directory in 1896, it is not known how long he still resided there after he became a professional racer. He eventually settled in Worcester, Massachusetts (where the newspapers called him "The Worcester Whirlwind"), marrying there and having a daughter, although his career required him to spend a large amount of time traveling, in America, Australia, and Europe.

Although he was greatly celebrated abroad, particularly in France, Taylor's career was still held back by racism, particularly in the Southern states where he was not permitted to compete against Caucasians. The League of American Wheelmen for a time excluded blacks from membership. During his career he had ice water thrown at him during races and nail scattered in front of his wheels, and was often boxed in by other riders, preventing the sprints to the front of the pack at which he was so successful. In his autobiography, he reports actually being tackled on the race track by another rider, who choked him into unconsciousness but received only a $50 fine as punishment. Nevertheless, he does not dwell on such events in the book; rather it is evident that he means it to serve as an inspiration to other African-Americans trying to overcome similar treatment. Taylor retired at age 32 in 1910, saying he was tired of the racism. His advice to African-American youths wishing to emulate him was that while bicycle racing was the appropriate route to success for him, he would not recommend it in general; and that individuals must find their own best talent.

After suffering through many hardships which depleted much of his earnings, Taylor died at age 53 on June 21, 1932 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1948 a group of former pro bike racers, with money donated by Schwinn Bicycle Co. (then) owner Frank W. Schwinn, organized the exhumation and relocation of Taylor's remains to a more prominent part of Mount Glenwood Cemetery in Glenwood, Illinois, near Chicago. A monument to his memory stands in Worcester, and Indianapolis named the city's bicycle track after Taylor.

Source credit: www.majortaylorclub.com


Day 4: Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (February 8, 1831 – March 9, 1895) 

Rebecca Lee Crumpler challenged the prejudice that prevented African Americans from pursuing careers in medicine to become the first African American woman in the United States to earn an M.D. degree, a distinction formerly credited to Rebecca Cole. Although little has survived to tell the story of Crumpler's life, she has secured her place in the historical record with her book of medical advice for women and children, published in 1883. 

Crumpler was born in 1831 in Delaware, to Absolum Davis and Matilda Webber. An aunt in Pennsylvania, who spent much of her time caring for sick neighbors and may have influenced her career choice, raised her. By 1852 she had moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she worked as a nurse for the next eight years (because the first formal school for nursing only opened in 1873, she was able to perform such work without any formal training). In 1860, she was admitted to the New England Female Medical College. When she graduated in 1864, Crumpler was the first African American woman in the United States to earn an M.D. degree, and the only African American woman to graduate from the New England Female Medical College, which merged with Boston University School of Medicine in 1873. 

Dr. Crumpler practiced in Boston for a short while before moving to Richmond, Virginia, after the Civil War ended in 1865. Richmond, she felt, would be "a proper field for real missionary work, and one that would present ample opportunities to become acquainted with the diseases of women and children. During my stay there, nearly every hour was improved in that sphere of labor. The last quarter of the year 1866, I was enabled . . . to have access each day to a very large number of the indigent, and others of different classes, in a population of over 30,000 colored." She joined other black physicians caring for freed slaves who would otherwise have had no access to medical care, working with the Freedmen's Bureau, and missionary and community groups, even though black physicians experienced intense racism working in the postwar South. 

In 1869, the Crumplers returned to Boston, and they settled in a predominantly African American neighborhood on Beacon Hill. She practiced medicine there, as well. In 1880, she and her husband moved, once again, this time to Hyde Park, New York. Although there exists little evidence that she practiced much medicine after this point, she did write a fine book, “A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts,” which was published by Cashman, Keating, and Co., of Boston, in 1883. 

Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler died on March 9, 1895, in Hyde Park. 

Source(s): https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_73.html 


Day 5: Bass Reeves

Bass Reeves (July 1838 – January 12, 1910) 

Bass Reeves was born a slave in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas. Bass Reeves was named after his grandfather, Basse Washington, and Arkansas state legislator William Steele Reeves owned Bass Reeves and his family.  In 1846, his master moved to Grayson County, Texas where young Reeves was a servant to Colonel George R. Reeves, the son of his master. George Reeves was also a legislator, in Texas, Speaker of the House in the Texas legislature. During the American Civil War, Bass Reeves fled north into the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and lived with the Cherokee, Seminole, and Creek Native Americans until the end of the war.

After American Emancipation, Reeves moved to Arkansas and farmed near Van Buren.  He married Nellie Jennie from Texas, with whom he had ten children, five boys, and five girls.  Reeves and his family farmed until 1875 when Isaac Parker was appointed federal judge for the “Indian Territory”. Parker appointed James F. Fagan as U.S. Marshal, directing him to hire 200 U.S. Marshal Deputies. Fagan had heard about Reeves, who knew the territory and could speak several Native American languages.

Reeves was recruited and became one of the first Black deputies west of the Mississippi River. He was initially assigned as a Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas, which also had responsibility for the “Indian Territory”.  Reeves served in that district until 1893, when he transferred to the Eastern District of Texas in Paris, Texas.  In 1897 he was transferred to the Muskogee Federal Court. Reeves worked for thirty-two years as a Federal peace officer in the Indian Territory. He was one of Judge Parker's most valued deputies.

Reeves brought in some of the most dangerous criminals of the time and once he had to arrest his own son for murder.  In addition to being a marksman with a rifle and pistol, Reeves developed superior detective skills. Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Reeves, then 68, became an officer of the Muskogee, Oklahoma police department. He served for two years before he became ill and had to retire. When he retired, he is said to have had to shoot and kill fourteen outlaws to defend his own life.

Often referenced as the character that the legend the Lone Ranger was based on, Bass Reeves died on January 12, 1910.  In 2007, the U.S. Route 62 Bridge at the Arkansas River between Muskogee and Fort Gibson, Oklahoma was named the Bass Reeves Memorial Bridge in his honor. In 2012, a bronze statue of Reeves by sculptor Harold Holden, of Enid, Oklahoma, was cast at a foundry in Norman, Oklahoma. It was then moved to its permanent location at Pendergraft Park in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Arkansas; AAREG.org; legendsofamerica.com


Day 6: Charlotte E. Ray

Charlotte E. Ray (January 13, 1850 – January 4, 1911)

Charlotte E. Ray was the first black woman lawyer in the United States and the first woman to practice law in Washington, D.C. Ray was born in New York City to her mother Charlotte Augusta Burroughs Ray and her father, a prominent abolitionist, Charles Bennett Ray, who worked as a pastor of the Bethesda Congregational Church and as editor of one of the first newspapers published by and for African Americans, The Colored American.

Ray attended one of the few schools in the country that educated African American girls: Myrtilla Miner’s Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington, D.C., subsequently known as the Miner Normal School. She graduated in 1869.

That same year Ray began teaching at Howard University, just two years after the school was established. The same year she began teaching, she was accepted to the Howard School of Law where she attended classes in the evenings. She graduated with her Howard Law degree on February 27, 1872, as its first woman graduate.

Although women were not members of the bar of the District of Columbia, Ray apparently took her bar exams and applied as “C.E. Ray” securing her admission to the bar without disclosing that she was a woman thereby becoming the first female member of the District of Columbia bar. 

In 1872 Ray opened her own law practice specializing in commercial law in Washington D.C. One of her most recognized cases was her representation of Martha Gadley, an African American woman who petitioned for divorce from an abusive husband. Gadley’s petition was denied in 1875, but Ray agreed to take the case on appeal to the District of Columbia’s Supreme Court. She successfully overturned the lower court’s ruling by arguing that the husband’s habitual drunkenness and extreme violence endangered his wife’s life and entitled her to a divorce. 

Despite her success, Ray was apparently unable to obtain sufficient cases for representation, so she subsequently closed her practice in 1879 and returned to New York City to work as a teacher in the Brooklyn public school system. She was an active advocate for social justice. She attended the National Woman Suffrage Association’s (NWSA) annual convention in New York City in 1876 and she joined the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1895. In 1897 she relocated to Woodside in Queens, where she lived until her death four years later at the age of 60. 

Ray’s contributions to the practice of law continue well after her death. There are at least two annual awards made in her name: The Annual Charlotte E. Ray Award from the Greater Washington Area Chapter of the Women Lawyers Division of the National Bar Association and the MCCA Charlotte E. Ray Award, presented to a woman lawyer for her exceptional achievements in the legal profession and extraordinary contribution to the advancement of women in the profession. 

Source: blackpast.org; Britannica.com; history.com


Day 7: Anne Raven Wilkinson

Anne Raven Wilkinson (February 2, 1935 - December 17, 2018) 

In August 1955 at the age of 20, Raven Wilkinson became the first African American woman to receive a contract to dance full time with a major ballet company, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo of New York City. She was promoted to soloist during her second season with the troupe, and remained with the company for six years. 

Anne Raven Wilkinson was born in New York City on February 2, 1935 to Anne James Wilkinson and Dr. Frost Bernie Wilkinson, a dentist. Her family, which also included younger brother Frost Bernie Wilkinson, Jr., lived in a middle-class neighborhood in Harlem. 

Wilkinson had been a fan of ballet since the age of five. On her ninth birthday an uncle gave her the gift of ballet lessons to the Swoboda School (later known as the Ballet Russe School) where she studied under the direction of well-known dancers from Russia’s Bolshoi Theatre. She later transferred to the Professional Children’s School in the Bronx where she continued her training, remaining there through her last two years of high school. Madame Ludmilla Shollar, formerly associated with the St. Petersburg Imperial Russian Ballet, also gave Wilkinson private classes in technique. 

Seeking to become a professional dancer, Wilkinson first auditioned for a position with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1954. Twice she was rejected but Wilkinson persevered. On her third try, Sergei Denham, the company’s director, informed her that she would be accepted into the Company. 

Performing with the company also meant, as Wilkerson soon discovered, touring throughout the U.S., including the still racially-segregated South. Wilkinson had pale skin, and in order to perform with the Company in the South, she was asked not to publicize her race. Additionally Wilkinson often had to wear white makeup onstage to conceal her racial identity. In 1957, the owner of a hotel in Atlanta asked Wilkinson if she was black. When she refused to lie, she was barred from staying at the hotel with the rest of the company. During the same tour, two members of the Ku Klux Klan bolted on stage, interrupting a performance in Montgomery, Alabama, asking “Where’s the nigra?” When none of the Company members responded to them, the men left. Nonetheless, as word of Wilkinson’s racial identity became generally known, she was not allowed to participate in performances in southern cities partly to ensure her own safety. 

In 1961, Wilkinson left the Ballet Russe Company and was never hired by another American ballet company again. 

For seven months in 1963 Wilkinson, a devout Catholic, joined a convent in Font de Lac, Wisconsin. In 1966, Wilkinson got a soloist contract with the Dutch National Ballet, where she stayed for seven years. In 1973, Wilkinson returned to the United States where, between 1974 and 1985, she performed with the New York City Opera as an extra dancer. 

Anne Raven Wilkinson died on December 17, 2018 at her home in Manhattan, New York. She was 83.

Source: blackpast.org; shemadehistory.com; aaregistry.org


Day 8: Alice Ball

Alice Ball (July 24, 1892 - December 31, 1916)

Alice Ball was an African American chemist who developed the first successful treatment for those suffering from Hansen’s disease (leprosy). Ball was also the very first African American and the first woman to graduate with a M.S. degree in chemistry from the College of Hawaii (now known as the University of Hawaii). Tragically, Ball died at the young age of 24. During her brief lifetime, she did not get to see the full impact of her discovery. It was not until years after her death that Ball got the proper credit she deserved.

Alice Augusta Ball was born on July 24, 1892 in Seattle, Washington to Laura, a photographer, and James P. Ball, Jr., a lawyer. She was the middle child with two older brothers, Robert and William, and a younger sister, Addie. Her grandfather, James P. Ball Sr., was a well-known photographer and was amongst the first to practice daguerreotype photography, a process of printing photographs onto metal plates. The family enjoyed a middle-class lifestyle. In 1903, they moved from chilly Seattle to the warm weather of Honolulu in hopes that James Ball Sr.'s, arthritis pains would be alleviated. Sadly, James Ball Sr. died shortly after their move and the family relocated back to Seattle. Ball excelled at Seattle High School, graduated in 1910, and went onto obtain multiple graduate degrees from the University of Washington and the College of Hawaii.

After earning undergraduate degrees in pharmaceutical chemistry (1912) and pharmacy (1914) from the University of Washington, Alice Ball transferred to the College of Hawaii (now known as the University of Hawaii) and became the very first African American and the very first woman to graduate with a M.S. degree in chemistry in 1915. She was offered a teaching and research position there and became the institution’s very first woman chemistry instructor. She was only 23 years old. 

As a laboratory researcher, Ball worked extensively to develop a successful treatment for those suffering from Hansen’s disease (leprosy). Her research led her to create the first injectable leprosy treatment using oil from the chaulmoogra tree, which up until then, was only a moderately successful topical agent that was used in Chinese and Indian medicine. Ball successfully isolated the oil into fatty acid components of different molecular weights allowing her to manipulate the oil into a water soluble injectable form. Ball’s scientific rigor resulted in a highly successful method to alleviate leprosy symptoms, later known as the “Ball Method,” that was used on thousands of infected individuals for over thirty years until sulfone drugs were introduced.

The “Ball Method” was so successful, leprosy patients were discharged from hospitals and facilities across the globe including from Kalaupapa, an isolation facility on the north shore of Molokai, Hawaii where thousands of people suffering from leprosy died in years prior. Thanks to Alice Ball, these banished individuals could now return to their families, free from the symptoms of leprosy.

Tragically, Ball died on December 31, 1916, at the young age of 24 after complications resulting from inhaling chlorine gas in a lab teaching accident. During her brief lifetime, she did not get to see the full impact of her discovery. What’s more, following her death, the president of the College of Hawaii, Dr. Arthur Dean, continued Ball’s research without giving her credit for the discovery. Dean even claimed her discovery for himself, calling it the “Dean Method.” Unfortunately, it was commonplace for men to take the credit of women’s discoveries and Ball fell victim to this practice.

In 1922, six years after her death, Dr. Harry T. Hollmann, the assistant surgeon at Kalihi Hospital who originally encouraged Ball to explore chaulmoogra oil, published a paper giving Ball the proper credit she deserved. Even so, Ball remained largely forgotten from scientific history until recently.

In 2000, the University of Hawaii-Mānoa placed a bronze plaque in front of a chaulmoogra tree on campus to honor Ball’s life and her important discovery. Former Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii, Mazie Hirono, also declared February 29 “Alice Ball Day.” In 2007, the University of Hawaii posthumously awarded her with the Regents’ Medal of Distinction.

In 2017, Paul Wermager, a scholar who has been researching, publishing and lecturing about Ball for years at the University of Hawaii-Mānoa, established The Alice Augusta Ball endowed scholarship to support students in the College of Natural Sciences pursuing a degree in chemistry, biology or microbiology. Acknowledging the importance of Ball’s work through this scholarship, Wermager stated: 

“Not only did she overcome the racial and gender barriers of her time to become one of the very few African American women to earn a master’s degree in chemistry, [but she] also developed the first useful treatment for Hansen’s disease. Her amazing life was cut too short at the age of 24. Who knows what other marvelous work she could have accomplished had she lived.” 

Source: biography.com; nationalgeographic.com


Day 9: Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson (April 8, 1898 – January 23, 1976)

Paul Leroy Robeson was born on April 9, 1898, in Princeton, New Jersey, to Anna Louisa and William Drew Robeson, an escaped enslaved person. Robeson's mother died from a fire when he was six and his clergyman father moved the family to Somerville, where the youngster excelled in academics and sang in church.

When he was 17, Robeson earned a scholarship to attend Rutgers University, the third African American to do so, and became one of the institution's most decorated students. He received top honors for his debate and oratory skills, won 15 letters in four varsity sports, was elected Phi Beta Kappa and became his class valedictorian.

From 1920 to 1923, Robeson attended Columbia University's Law School, teaching Latin and playing pro football on the weekends to pay tuition. In 1921, he wed fellow Columbia student, journalist Eslanda Goode. The two would be married for more than 40 years and have a son together in 1927, Paul Robeson Jr.

Robeson briefly worked as a lawyer in 1923 but left after encountering severe racism at his firm. With the encouragement of Eslanda, who would become his manager, he turned fully to the stage.

Robeson made a splash in the theater world as the lead in the controversial 1924 production of All God's Chillun Got Wings in New York City, and the following year, he starred in the London staging of The Emperor Jones — both by playwright Eugene O'Neill. Robeson also entered film when he starred in African American director Oscar Micheaux's 1925 work, Body and Soul.

In the late 1920s, Robeson and his family relocated to Europe, where he continued to establish himself as an international star through big-screen.

A beloved international figure with a huge following in Europe, Robeson regularly spoke out against racial injustice and was involved in world politics. He supported Pan-Africanism, sang for Loyalist soldiers during Spain's civil war, took part in anti-Nazi demonstrations and performed for Allied forces during World War II. He also visited the Soviet Union several times during the mid-1930s, where he developed a fondness for Russian folk culture. He studied Russian, as did his son, who came to reside in the capital city of Moscow with his grandmother.

Yet Robeson's relationship with the U.S.S.R. became a highly controversial one, his humanitarian beliefs seemingly contrasting with the state-sanctioned terror and mass killings imposed by Joseph Stalin. In the United States, with McCarthyism and Cold War paranoia looming large, Robeson found himself contending with government officials looking to silence a voice who spoke out eloquently against racism and had political ties that could be vilified. 

Fueled by the misrepresentation of a speech the actor made at the U.S.S.R-backed Paris Peace Conference in the late 1940s, Robeson was labeled a communist and was staunchly criticized by government officials as well as some African American leaders. He was ultimately barred by the State Department from renewing his passport in 1950 to travel abroad for engagements. Despite his immense popularity, he was blacklisted from domestic concert venues, recording labels and film studios and suffered financially.

Robeson published his autobiography, Here I Stand, in 1958, the same year that he won the right to have his passport reinstated. He again traveled internationally and received a number of accolades for his work, but damage had been done, as he experienced debilitating depression and related health problems. 

Robeson and his family returned to the United States in 1963. After Eslanda's death in 1965, the artist lived with his sister. He died from a stroke on January 23, 1976, at the age of 77, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Source(s): archives.gov; biography.com; history.com


Day 10: Plessy vs Ferguson

Plessy vs Ferguson – The Rise of Jim Crow (1896) 

Plessy v. Ferguson was a landmark 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine. The case stemmed from an 1892 incident in which African American train passenger Homer Plessy refused to sit in a car for Black people. Rejecting Plessy’s argument that his constitutional rights were violated, the Supreme Court ruled that a law that “implies merely a legal distinction” between white people and Black people was not unconstitutional. As a result, restrictive Jim Crow legislation and separate public accommodations based on race became commonplace. 

After the Compromise of 1877 led to the withdrawal of federal troops from the South, Democrats consolidated control of state legislatures throughout the region, effectively marking the end of Reconstruction. Southern Black people saw the promise of equality under the law embodied by the 13th Amendment, 14th Amendment and 15th Amendment to the Constitution receding quickly, and a return to disenfranchisement and other disadvantages as white supremacy reasserted itself across the South. 

As historian C. Vann Woodward pointed out in a 1964 article about Plessy v. Ferguson, white and Black Southerners mixed relatively freely until the 1880s, when state legislatures passed the first laws requiring railroads to provide separate cars for “Negro” or “colored” passengers. Florida became the first state to mandate segregated railroad cars in 1887, followed in quick succession by Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana and other states by the end of the century. 

As Southern Black people witnessed with horror the dawn of the Jim Crow era, members of the Black community in New Orleans decided to mount a resistance. 

At the heart of the case that became Plessy v. Ferguson was a law passed in Louisiana in 1890 “providing for separate railway carriages for the white and colored races.” It stipulated that all passenger railways had to provide these separate cars, which should be equal in facilities.

Homer Adolph Plessy, who agreed to be the plaintiff in the case aimed at testing the law’s constitutionality, was of mixed race; he described himself as “seven-eighths Caucasian and one-eighth African blood.” 

On June 7, 1892, Plessy bought a ticket on a train from New Orleans bound for Covington, Louisiana, and took a vacant seat in a whites-only car. After refusing to leave the car at the conductor’s insistence, he was arrested and jailed. Convicted by a New Orleans court of violating the 1890 law, Plessy filed a petition against the presiding judge, Hon. John H. Ferguson, claiming that the law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. 

Over the next few years, segregation and Black disenfranchisement picked up pace in the South, and was more than tolerated by the North. Congress defeated a bill that would have given federal protection to elections in 1892, and nullified a number of Reconstruction laws on the books.

Then, on May 18, 1896, the Supreme Court delivered its verdict in Plessy v. Ferguson. In declaring separate-but-equal facilities constitutional on intrastate railroads, the Court ruled that the protections of 14th Amendment applied only to political and civil rights (like voting and jury service), not “social rights” (sitting in the railroad car of your choice). 

In its ruling, the Court denied that segregated railroad cars for Black people were necessarily inferior. “We consider the underlying fallacy of [Plessy’s] argument,” Justice Henry Brown wrote, “to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” 

Alone in the minority was Justice John Marshall Harlan, a former slaveholder from Kentucky. Harlan had opposed emancipation and civil rights for freed slaves during the Reconstruction era – but changed his position due to his outrage over the actions of white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. 

Harlan argued in his dissent that segregation ran counter to the constitutional principle of equality under the law: “The arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race while they are on a public highway is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution,” he wrote. “It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds.”

The Plessy v. Ferguson verdict enshrined the doctrine of “separate but equal” as a constitutional justification for segregation, ensuring the survival of the Jim Crow South for the next half-century. 

Source(s): history.com; Reconstruction and the Rise of Jim Crow 1864-1896; Library of Congress 


Day 11: Mary Jane Patterson

Mary Jane Patterson (September 12, 1840 – September 24, 1894)

Born into slavery, Mary Jane Patterson is thought to be the first black woman to graduate from an established four-year college in the United States. She spent her career creating new educational opportunities for nineteenth-century black Americans.

Born in Raleigh, NC, Patterson was the oldest of Henry and Emeline Patterson's seven children. In 1856, she and her family moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where they joined a growing community of free Black families who worked to send their children to college.  Her father worked as a master mason, and for many years the family boarded large numbers of Black students in their home.

In 1862, she graduated from Oberlin College, becoming the first Black woman to receive a B. A. degree from an established American college.  Eventually, four Patterson children graduated from Oberlin College, and all became teachers.

Mary Jane Patterson's first known teaching appointment was in 1865 when she became an assistant to Fanny Jackson in the Female Department of the Institute for Colored Youth, later Cheyney University in Philadelphia. In 1869, Patterson accepted a teaching position in Washington, D. C., at the newly organized Preparatory High School for Colored Youth, later known as Dunbar High School. She served as the school's first Black principal, from 1871 to 1874. During her administration, the name "Preparatory High School" was dropped, high school commencements were initiated, and a teacher-training department was added.

Patterson's commitment to thoroughness as well as her personality helped her establish the school's strong intellectual standards. Patterson also devoted time and money to other Black institutions in Washington, D. C., especially to industrial schools for young Black women, as well as to the Home for Aged and Infirmed Colored People.  She never married, nor did her two Oberlin-educated sisters (Chanie and Emeline), who later joined her and taught in district schools.

Patterson died in Washington, D. C., September 24, 1894, at the age of 54. Her pioneering educational attainments and her achievements as a leading Black educator influenced generations of Black students.

Source: biography.jrank.org; aaregistry.org; Oberlin.edu; Notable Black American Women, Book 1


Day 12: Jeremiah G. Hamilton

Jeremiah G. Hamilton (August 21, 1806 – May 19, 1875)

“Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire”

Sometimes called Jerry Hamilton, Jeremiah G. Hamilton was born in Haiti.   His death certificate stated he was born in the West Indies and listed Port-au-Prince as the birthplace of his parents.

Hamilton first came to prominence in 1828 after hiding out in a fishing boat in the Port-au-Prince harbor and escaping the Haitian authorities. They had discovered he was transporting counterfeit coins to Haiti for a group of New York merchants; he was sentenced to be shot.  The ship he had chartered, the Ann Eliza Jane, was confiscated by the port officials; Hamilton claimed he had escaped with $5000 of the counterfeit coin.  

After the 1835 Great Fire of New York destroyed many buildings on the southeast tip of Manhattan, Hamilton amassed about $5 million in 2013 dollars by "taking heartless advantage of several of the fire victims' misfortunes".  His business practices were divisive; where most Black entrepreneurs sold their goods to other Blacks, "Hamilton cut a swath through the lily-white New York business world of the mid-1830s, a domain where his attacks soon earned him the nickname of "The Prince of Darkness". Others, with even less affection, simply called him Hamilton.  

 Soon thereafter, he used about $7 million to buy up a substantial land and property in modern-day Astoria and Poughkeepsie. Hamilton would go on to struggle with white-industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt over control of the Accessory Transit Company. James McCune Smith noted him as "the only Black millionaire in New York" before the American Civil War.  Although he circulated among the financial elite and was himself very wealthy (he amassed a 2018 equivalent fortune of around $250 million).

Hamilton was also a victim of racism against Blacks during his life. During the New York City Draft Riots in 1863, white men seeking to lynch Hamilton broke into his house, but were turned away with only liquor, cigars, and an old suit. His wife Eliza who was white said her husband was not home.  Hamilton was a shrewd financial agent. He massing a fortune of $2 million ($250,000,000 in 2018 dollars) by the time of his death on May 19, 1875.   Hamilton's obituaries said he was the richest Black man in America. He is buried in his family lot in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.  

Despite the image of this article, there is said to be no known surviving image of Jeremiah Hamilton. As biographer Shane White has reasoned, Hamilton "almost certainly did have photographs taken, and quite likely commissioned a painting, but if any likenesses have survived, they are probably cataloged under ‘miscellaneous’ or as ‘subject unknown'." The 2015 biography "Prince of Darkness" by Shane White chronicles the life of Jeremiah G. Hamilton. 

Source: aaregistry.org; blackpast.org


Day 13: William “Count” Basie

William “Count” Basie (August 21, 1904 – April 26, 1984) 

Born William Basie in Red Bank, NJ, Count Basie became an American jazz musician noted for his spare, economical piano style and for his leadership of influential and widely heralded big bands.

Basie studied music with his mother and was later influenced by the Harlem pianists James P. Johnson and Fats Waller, receiving informal tutelage on the organ from the latter. He began his professional career as an accompanist on the vaudeville circuit. Stranded in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1927, Basie remained there and eventually (in 1935) assumed the leadership of a nine-piece band composed of former members of the Walter Page and Bennie Moten orchestras. One night, while the band was broadcasting on a shortwave radio station in Kansas City, he was dubbed “Count” Basie by a radio announcer who wanted to indicate his standing in a class with aristocrats of jazz such as Duke Ellington. Jazz critic and record producer John Hammond heard the broadcasts and promptly launched the band on its career. Though rooted in the riff style of the 1930s swing-era big bands, the Basie orchestra played with the forceful drive and carefree swing of a small combo. They were considered a model for ensemble rhythmic conception and tonal balance—this despite the fact that most of Basie’s sidemen in the 1930s were poor sight readers; mostly, the band relied on “head” arrangements (so called because the band had collectively composed and memorized them, rather than using sheet music).

The Basie orchestra had several hit recordings during the late 1930s and early ’40s, among them “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” “Every Tub,” “Lester Leaps In,” “Super Chief,” “Taxi War Dance,” “Miss Thing,” “Shorty George,” and “One O’Clock Jump,” the band’s biggest hit and theme song. It had continued success throughout the war years, but, like all big bands, it had declined in popularity by the end of the 1940s. During 1950 and ’51, economy forced Basie to front an octet, the only period in his career in which he did not lead a big band. In 1952 increased demand for personal appearances allowed Basie to form a new orchestra that in many ways was as highly praised as his bands of the 1930s and ’40s.

The 1950s band showcased the sound and style Basie was to employ for the remainder of his career, although there were to be occasional—and successful—experiments such as Afrique (1970), an album of African rhythms and avant-garde compositions that still managed to remain faithful to the overall Basie sound. Throughout the 1960s, Basie’s recordings were often uninspired and marred by poor choice of material, but he remained an exceptional concert performer and made fine records with singers Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Frank Sinatra. 

Many of Basie’s albums of the ’70s were Grammy Award winners or nominees.

Suffering from diabetes and chronic arthritis during his later years, Basie continued to front his big band until a month before his death in 1984. Along with Duke Ellington, Count Basie is regarded as one of the two most important and influential bandleaders in the history of jazz. 

Source: Britannica.com; thebasie.org 


Day 14: Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman (January 26, 1892 – April 30, 1926)

Bessie Coleman soared across the sky as the first African American, and the first Native American, woman pilot. Known for performing flying tricks, Coleman’s nicknames were; “Brave Bessie,” “Queen Bess,” and “The Only Race Aviatrix in the World.” Her goal was to encourage women and African Americans to reach their dreams. Unfortunately, her career ended with a tragic plane crash, but her life continues to inspire people around the world.

Born in Atlanta, Texas on January 26, 1892, Bessie Coleman had twelve brothers and sisters. Her mother, Susan Coleman, was an African American maid, and her father George Coleman was a sharecroppper of mixed Native American and African American descent. In 1901, her father decided to move back to Oklahoma to try to escape discrimination. Bessie’s mother decided not to go with him. Instead, the rest of the family stayed in Waxahachie, Texas. Bessie grew up helping her mother pick cotton and wash laundry to earn extra money. By the time she was eighteen, she saved enough money to attend the Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now Langston University) in Langston, Oklahoma. She dropped out of college after only one semester because she could not afford to attend.

At age 23, Coleman went to live with her brothers in Chicago. She went to the Burnham School of Beauty Culture in 1915 and became a manicurist in a local barbershop. Meanwhile, her brothers served in the military during World War I and came home with stories from their time in France. Her brother John teased her because French women were allowed to learn how to fly airplanes and Bessie could not. This made Bessie want to become a pilot. She applied to many flight schools across the country, but no school would take her because she was both African American and a woman. Famous African American newspaper publisher, Robert Abbott told her to move to France where she could learn how to fly. She began taking French classes at night because her application to flight schools needed to be written in French.

Finally, Coleman was accepted at the Caudron Brothers' School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France. She received her international pilot’s license on June 15, 1921 from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Coleman’s dream was to own a plane and to open her own flight school. She gave speeches and showed films of her air tricks in churches, theaters, and schools to earn money. She refused to speak anywhere that was segregated or discriminated against African Americans. In 1922, she performed the first public flight by an African American woman. She was famous for doing “loop-the-loops” and making the shape of an “8” in an airplane. People were fascinated by her performances and she became more popular both in the United States and in Europe. She toured the country giving flight lessons, performing in flight shows, and she encouraged African Americans and women to learn how to fly.

Only two years into her flight career, Coleman survived her first major airplane accident. In February of 1923, her airplane engine suddenly stopped working and she crashed. She was badly hurt in the accident and suffered a broken leg, a few cracked ribs, and cuts on her face. Thankfully, Coleman was able to fully heal from her injuries. This accident did not stop her from flying. She went back to performing dangerous air tricks in 1925. Her hard work helped her to save up enough money to purchase her own plane, a Jenny – JN-4 with an OX-5 engine. Soon she returned to her hometown in Texas to perform for a large crowd. Because Texas was still segregated, the managers planned to create two separate entrances for African Americans and white people to get into the stadium. Coleman refused to perform unless there was only one gate for everyone to use. After many meetings, the managers agreed to have one gate, but people would still have to sit in segregated sections of the stadium. She agreed to perform and became famous for standing up for her beliefs. 

On April 30, 1926, Bessie Coleman took a test flight with a mechanic named William Wills. Wills was piloting the plane, as Coleman sat in the passenger seat. At about 3,000 feet in the air, a loose wrench got stuck in the engine of the aircraft. Wills was no longer able to control the steering wheel and the plane flipped over. Unfortunately, Coleman was not wearing a seatbelt. Airplanes at the time did not have a roof or any protection. Coleman immediately fell out of the open plane and died. Wills crashed the aircraft a few feet away from Coleman’s body and also died. Her death was heartbreaking for thousands of people. Famous activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett performed the funeral service to honor Coleman in Chicago. In 1931, the Challenger Pilots’ Association of Chicago started a tradition of flying over Coleman’s grave every year. By 1977, African American women pilots formed the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club. In 1995, the “Bessie Coleman Stamp” was made to remember all of her accomplishments 

Source: womenshistory.org


Day 15: Annie Graham

Annie Graham (1929 – 2002)

On September 9, 1949, Annie Graham made history when she became the first African-American woman to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. In October of 1942, the Secretary of the Navy authorized the Marine Corps to create a Women’s Reserve and accept applicants for enlistment and commission.

Unlike the Army and Navy, the Marine Corps barred blacks from its war time Women Reserves. In adopting this ban, it could cite the expense of building segregated quarters and the fact that enough white applicants were available to maintain the organization at authorized strength. Therefore, enlistment to black women did not open until September 1949; four years after Japan’s formal surrender.

After completing recruit training, Graham was assigned to USMC Headquarters (now known as Headquarters Marine Corps) in Washington D.C. where she held billets in the Personnel, Publications, and Special Orders sections. Graham served until 1952 and achieved the rank of Sergeant.

Graham’s legacy endures to this day in the form of the thousands of African-American women, both enlisted and officer, who have earned the coveted title, United States Marine.

Source: imef.marines.mil; nara.getarchive.net


Day 16: Huey P. Newton

Huey P. Newton (February 17, 1942 – August 22, 1989)

Huey Percy Newton was born on February 17, 1942, in Monroe, Louisiana. Newton helped establish the African American political organization the Black Panther Party, and became a leading figure in the Black Power movement of the 1960s. The youngest of seven siblings, he and his family moved to Oakland, California when Newton was a toddler. Though later stating he was close to his family, the youngster had a difficult time early in life, which was reflected in highly erratic behavior at school and on the streets.

Despite having multiple suspensions and run-ins with the law as a teen, Newton began to take his education seriously, finding inspiration when his older brother Melvin earned a masters in social work. Although Newton graduated high school in 1959, he was considered barely literate. He nonetheless became his own teacher, learning to read by himself.

In the mid-1960s, Newton decided to pursue his education at Merritt College, during which time he received a months-long prison term for a knife assault, and later attended the University of San Francisco School of Law . It was at Merritt where he met Seale. The two were briefly involved with political groups at the school before they set out to create one of their own. Founded in 1966, they called their group the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Unlike many of the other social and political organizers of the time, they took a more militant stance to the plight of Black communities in America.

The group set forth its political goals in a document entitled the Ten-Point Program, which called for better housing, jobs and education for African Americans. It also called for an end to economic exploitation of Black communities, along with military exemption. The organization itself was not afraid to punctuate its message with dramatic appearances. For example, to protest a gun bill in 1967, members of the Panthers entered the California Legislature armed. (Newton actually wasn't present at the demonstration.) The action was a shocking one that made news across the country, and Newton emerged as a leading figure in the Black militant movement.

The Black Panthers wanted to improve life in Black communities and took a stance against police brutality in urban neighborhoods by mostly white cops. Members of the group would go to arrests in progress and watch for abuse. Panther members ultimately clashed with police several times. The party's treasurer, Bobby Hutton, was killed while still a teenager during one of these conflicts in 1968. 

Newton himself was arrested the previous year for allegedly killing an Oakland police officer during a traffic stop. He was later convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to two to 15 years in prison. But public pressure — "Free Huey" became a popular slogan of the day — helped Newton's cause. He was freed in 1970 after an appeals process deemed that incorrect deliberation procedures had been implemented during the trial.

In the 1970s, Newton aimed to take the Panthers in a new direction that emphasized democratic socialism, community interconnectedness and services for the poor, including items like free lunch programs and urban clinics. But the Panthers began to fall apart due to factionalism, with later allegations surfacing that the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, was clandestinely involved in the organization's unraveling. Key members left while Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, the party's minister of information, split ways.

By mid-decade, Newton faced more criminal charges to include murder and assault. To avoid prosecution, he fled to Cuba in 1974, but returned to the U.S. three years later. The cases were eventually dismissed after two trials ended with deadlocked juries. Even with his legal troubles, Newton returned to school, earning a Ph.D. in social philosophy from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1980.

In 1989, Newton was fatally shot in West Oakland by a member of the Black Guerilla Family and drug dealer named Tyrone Robinson. Relations between the Black Panther Party and the Black Guerilla Family had been strained for nearly twenty years prior to this incident. The murder occurred after Newton left a drug den in a neighborhood where Newton had once organized social programs. Newton’s last words were, “You can kill my body, and you can take my life but you can never kill my soul. My soul will live forever!” Robinson then shot Newton twice in the face. Newton is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland. Robinson was convicted of murder in 1991 and was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison. 

Source: biography.com; archives.gov; Britannica.com


Day 17: The Black National Anthem

The Black National Anthem (1900)

Often referred to as "The Black National Anthem," Lift Every Voice and Sing was a hymn written as a poem by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900. His brother, John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954), composed the music for the lyrics. A choir of 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson was principal, first performed the song in public in Jacksonville, Florida to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln's birthday.

At the turn of the 20th century, Johnson's lyrics eloquently captured the solemn yet hopeful appeal for the liberty of Black Americans. Set against the religious invocation of God and the promise of freedom, the song was later adopted by NAACP and prominently used as a rallying cry during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

The anthem, which has always been popular in the Black community, has gained traction in recent years as debates over protesting the Star-Spangled Banner were sparked by former NFL star, Colin Kaepernick.

Lift Every Voice and Sing can be heard during Black heritage celebrations such as Juneteenth, and at other gatherings and ceremonies that highlight the heritage and accomplishments of American people of African descent. The lyrics, as they were in the 20th Century, still rings as a rallying cry as “high as the skies” today.

The link below provides a rendition of the anthem.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9VtlIZctn0 **I do not own the rights to this song.**

Lift Every Voice and Sing with Lyrics (Black National Anthem)
Share4Christ #blacklivesmatter #blacknationalanthem Lift Every Voice and Sing with Lyrics (Black National Anthem) Lift Every Voice and Sing By James Weldon Johnson, J. Rosamond Johnson Lift ev'ry voice and sing 'Til earth and heaven ring Ring with the harmonies of Liberty Let our rejoicing rise High as the list'ning skies Let it resound loud as ...

Source: naacp.org


Day 18: Ralph D. Abernathy 

Ralph D. Abernathy (March 11, 1926 – April 17, 1990) 

As Martin Luther King’s closest friend and advisor, Ralph Abernathy became a central figure in the civil rights struggle during the Montgomery bus boycott. “Abernathy infused his audiences with new life and ardor. The people loved and respected him as a symbol of courage and strength,” King wrote in Stride Toward Freedom.

Abernathy was born on 11 March 1926 to William L. and Louivery Bell Abernathy of Linden, Alabama. His father, the son of a slave, supported his family of 12 as a farmer while serving as deacon of the local Baptist church. 

Abernathy graduated from Linden Academy and then served overseas with the United States Army toward the end of World War II. He was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1948, and two years later he received a BS in mathematics at Alabama State College in Montgomery. He later earned an MA in sociology from Atlanta University (1958). 

While a graduate student at Atlanta University, Abernathy heard King preach at Ebenezer Baptist Church. In his autobiography, Abernathy recalled “burning with envy” at King’s “learning and confidence,” and he immediately saw King as a “man with a special gift from God” (Abernathy, 89). Abernathy introduced himself to King that day and their friendship began.

In 1952 Abernathy became pastor of Montgomery’s First Baptist Church. He was active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and chaired the State Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress’ committee on the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. He issued a report urging ministers to fight against segregation, writing, “Our business as Christians is to get rid of a system that creates bad men”. 

Shortly after the arrest of Rosa Parks on 1 December 1955, E. D. Nixon contacted Abernathy to discuss the idea of a bus boycott. Abernathy, King, and other community leaders met to create a new organization to guide the protest movement. At Abernathy’s suggestion, the new organization was called the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). 

The different styles of Abernathy and King combined to create an effective and inspiring message at the boycott’s weekly mass meetings. While King emphasized the philosophical implications of nonviolence and the movement, Abernathy helped energize the people into positive action. “Now,” he would tell the audience following King’s address, “Let me tell you what that means for tomorrow morning”. 

In January 1957, shortly after Abernathy’s home and church were bombed, Abernathy joined with King and African American leaders to form the organization that was eventually called the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The organization was designed to support the movement to peacefully implement the Supreme Court’s decision outlawing bus segregation by coordinating the action of local protest groups throughout the South. King was elected president of SCLC, and Abernathy became financial secretary-treasurer. 

In November 1959, King announced to his Dexter Avenue Baptist Church congregation that he would be moving to Atlanta to be closer to SCLC headquarters. In January 1960, King officially announced Abernathy as the new president of the MIA: “[Abernathy] has already proven his ability as a leader.… and I predict that under his leadership, Montgomery will grow to higher heights and new and creative things will be done”. 

Abernathy struggled with meeting the commitments of the MIA and his ministry in Montgomery and SCLC in Atlanta. King helped remedy the problem by recommending that West Hunter Baptist Church in Atlanta hire Abernathy in late 1960. 

King and Abernathy provided a great deal of support to one another. The two were jailed together 17 times. Abernathy recalled that their time in jail together allowed them to “make plans and draw strength from one another”. At King’s request, Abernathy became vice-president of SCLC, because King knew that should he die, Abernathy would be able to lead the organization. 

After King’s assassination in 1968, Abernathy became SCLC’s president. Abernathy followed through with the march that King had planned to lead in support of the Memphis sanitation workers. He also continued efforts to organize the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C., the last major movement of SCLC. 

Despite Abernathy’s commitment to SCLC, the organization never found the same kind of success it had under King’s leadership. After resigning his position in SCLC in 1977, Abernathy made an unsuccessful bid for Congress. He remained pastor of West Hunter Baptist Church and formed the Foundation for Economic Enterprises Development, an organization designed to improve black economic opportunities. 

Source: kinginstitute.stanford.edu; Strive Toward Freedom (Dr. King, 1958)  


Day 19: Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte (March 1, 1927 - present)

Harold George Belafonte Jr. was born on March 1, 1927, in New York City, to Caribbean immigrants. His mother worked as a dressmaker and a house cleaner, and his father served as a cook on merchant ships, before leaving the family when Belafonte was a young boy. Belafonte also spent much of his early years in Jamaica, his mother's native country. There, he saw firsthand the oppression of Black people by the English authorities, which left a lasting impression on him. 

Belafonte returned to New York City's Harlem neighborhood in 1940 to live with his mother. They struggled in poverty, and Belafonte was often cared for by others while his mother worked. "The most difficult time in my life was when I was a kid," he later told People magazine. "My mother gave me affection, but, because I was left on my own, also a lot of anguish."

Dropping out of high school, Belafonte enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944. He returned to New York City after his discharge and was working as a janitor's assistant when he first attended a production at the American Negro Theater (AMT). Mesmerized by the performance, the young Navy vet volunteered to work for the AMT as a stagehand, eventually deciding to become an actor.

Along with appearing in AMT productions, he caught the eye of music agent Monte Kay, who offered Belafonte the opportunity to perform at a jazz club called the Royal Roost. Backed by such talented musicians as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, Belafonte became a popular act at the club. In 1949 he landed his first recording deal. By the early 1950s, Belafonte had dropped popular music from his repertoire in favor of folk. He became an avid student of traditional folk songs from around the world and performed in such New York City clubs as the Village Vanguard. Around this same time, Belafonte began experiencing success in his acting career that spanned more than five decades.

Always outspoken, Belafonte found inspiration for his activism from such figures as singer Paul Robeson and writer and activist W.E.B. Du Bois. After meeting civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s, the two became good friends, and Belafonte emerged as a strong voice for the movement. He provided financial backing for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and participated in numerous rallies and protests. Belafonte helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, in which King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech and met with the civil rights leader shortly before he was assassinated in 1968.

In the 1980s, Belafonte led an effort to help people in Africa. He came up with the idea of recording a song with other celebrities, which would be sold to raise funds to provide famine relief in Ethiopia. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, "We Are the World" featured vocals by such music greats as Ray Charles, Diana Ross and Bruce Springsteen. The song was released in 1985, raising millions of dollars and becoming an international hit.

Over the years, Belafonte has supported many other causes as well. In addition to his role as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, he campaigned to end the practice of apartheid in South Africa.

Belafonte has achieved some of the highest honors possible over more than a half-century in the public eye. He was a recipient of Kennedy Center Honors in 1989, the National Medal of Arts in 1994 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. Additionally, in 2014 he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Governors Awards.

Belafonte lives in New York City with his third wife, photographer Pamela Frank. The couple wed in 2008. Belafonte had two children with second wife, dancer Julie Robinson, as well as two other children from his first marriage, to Marguerite Byrd.

Source: biography.com; Britannica.com


Day 20: Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer (October 6, 1917 – March 14, 1977)

Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer rose from humble beginnings in the Mississippi Delta to become one of the most important, passionate, and powerful voices of the civil and voting rights movements and a leader in the efforts for greater economic opportunities for African Americans.

Hamer was born on October 6, 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi, the 20th and last child of sharecroppers Lou Ella and James Townsend. She grew up in poverty, and at age six Hamer joined her family picking cotton. By age 12, she left school to work. In 1944, she married Perry Hamer and the couple toiled on the Mississippi plantation owned by B.D. Marlowe until 1962. Because Hamer was the only worker who could read and write, she also served as plantation timekeeper.

In 1961, Hamer received a hysterectomy by a white doctor without her consent while undergoing surgery to remove a uterine tumor. Such forced sterilization of Black women, as a way to reduce the Black population, was so widespread it was dubbed a “Mississippi appendectomy.” Unable to have children of their own, the Hamers adopted two daughters.

That summer, Hamer attended a meeting led by civil rights activists James Forman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and James Bevel of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Hamer was incensed by efforts to deny Blacks the right to vote. She became a SNCC organizer and on August 31, 1962 led 17 volunteers to register to vote at the Indianola, Mississippi Courthouse. Denied the right to vote due to an unfair literacy test, the group was harassed on their way home, when police stopped their bus and fined them $100 for the trumped-up charge that the bus was too yellow. That night, Marlow fired Hamer for her attempt to vote; her husband was required to stay until the harvest. Marlow confiscated much of their property. The Hamers moved to Ruleville, Mississippi in Sunflower County with very little.

In June 1963, after successfully completing a voter registration program in Charleston, South Carolina, Hamer and several other Black women were arrested for sitting in a “whites-only” bus station restaurant in Winona, Mississippi. At the Winona jailhouse, she and several of the women were brutally beaten, leaving Hamer with lifelong injuries from a blood clot in her eye, kidney damage, and leg damage.

In 1964, Hamer’s national reputation soared as she co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which challenged the local Democratic Party’s efforts to block Black participation. Hamer and other MFDP members went to the Democratic National Convention that year, arguing to be recognized as the official delegation. When Hamer spoke before the Credentials Committee, calling for mandatory integrated state delegations, President Lyndon Johnson held a televised press conference so she would not get any television airtime. But her speech, with its poignant descriptions of racial prejudice in the South, was televised later. By 1968, Hamer’s vision for racial parity in delegations had become a reality and Hamer was a member of Mississippi’s first integrated delegation.

In 1964 Hamer helped organize Freedom Summer, which brought hundreds of college students, Black and white, to help with African American voter registration in the segregated South. In 1964, she announced her candidacy for the Mississippi House of Representatives but was barred from the ballot. A year later, Hamer, Victoria Gray, and Annie Devine became the first Black women to stand in the U.S. Congress when they unsuccessfully protested the Mississippi House election of 1964. She also traveled extensively, giving powerful speeches on behalf of civil rights. In 1971, Hamer helped to found the National Women’s Political Caucus.

Frustrated by the political process, Hamer turned to economics as a strategy for greater racial equality. In 1968, she began a “pig bank” to provide free pigs for Black farmers to breed, raise, and slaughter. A year later she launched the Freedom Farm Cooperative (FFC), buying up land that Blacks could own and farm collectively. With the assistance of donors (including famed singer Harry Belafonte), she purchased 640 acres and launched a coop store, boutique, and sewing enterprise. She single-handedly ensured that 200 units of low-income housing were built—many still exist in Ruleville today. The FFC lasted until the mid-1970s; at its heyday, it was among the largest employers in Sunflower County. Extensive travel and fundraising took Hamer away from the day-to-day operations, as did her failing health, and the FFC hobbled along until folding. Not long after, in 1977, Hamer died of breast cancer at age 59.

Source: womenshistory.org


Day 21: Phyllis Wheatley

Phyllis Wheatley (May 8, 1753 – December 5, 1784) 

Despite spending much of her life enslaved, Phillis Wheatley was the first African American and second woman (after Anne Bradstreet) to publish a book of poems. 

Born around 1753 in Gambia, Africa, Wheatley was captured by slave traders and brought to America in 1761. Upon arrival, she was sold to the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts. Her first name Phillis was derived from the ship that brought her to America, “the Phillis.” 

The Wheatley family educated her and within sixteen months of her arrival in America she could read the Bible, Greek and Latin classics, and British literature. She also studied astronomy and geography. At age fourteen, Wheatley began to write poetry, publishing her first poem in 1767. Publication of “An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of the Celebrated Divine George Whitefield” in 1770 brought her great notoriety. In 1773, with financial support from the English Countess of Huntingdon, Wheatley traveled to London with the Wheatley's son to publish her first collection of poems, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral—the first book written by a black woman in America. It included a forward, signed by John Hancock and other Boston notables—as well as a portrait of Wheatley—all designed to prove that the work was indeed written by a black woman. She was emancipated her shortly thereafter. 

Wheatley’s poems reflected several influences on her life, among them the well-known poets she studied, such as Alexander Pope and Thomas Gray. Pride in her African heritage was also evident. Her writing style embraced the elegy, likely from her African roots, where it was the role of girls to sing and perform funeral dirges. Religion was also a key influence, and it led Protestants in America and England to enjoy her work. Enslavers and abolitionists both read her work; the former to convince the enslaved population to convert, the latter as proof of the intellectual abilities of people of color.  

Although she supported the patriots during the American Revolution, Wheatley’s opposition to slavery heightened. She wrote several letters to ministers and others on liberty and freedom. During the peak of her writing career, she wrote a well-received poem praising the appointment of George Washington as the commander of the Continental Army. However, she believed that slavery was the issue that prevented the colonists from achieving true heroism. 

In 1778, Wheatley married John Peters, a free black man from Boston with whom she had three children, though none survived. Efforts to publish a second book of poems failed. To support her family, she worked as a scrubwoman in a boardinghouse while continuing to write poetry. Wheatley died in December 1784, due to complications from childbirth. In addition to making an important contribution to American literature, Wheatley’s literary and artistic talents helped show that African Americans were equally capable, creative, intelligent human beings who benefited from an education. In part, this helped the cause of the abolition movement. 

Source: womeshistory.org 


Day 22: Sergeant William J. Carney 

Sergeant William J. Carney 

First African American Medal of Honor Recipient 

Carney was born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1840. His family was eventually granted freedom and moved to Massachusetts, where Carney was eager to learn and secretly got involved in academics, despite laws and restrictions that banned blacks from learning to read and write.

Carney had wanted to pursue a career in the church, but when the Civil War broke out, he decided the best way he could serve God was by serving in the military to help free the oppressed.

In March 1863, Carney joined the Union Army and was attached to Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment, the first official black unit recruited for the Union in the north. Forty other black men served with him, including two of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass' sons.

Within a few months, Carney's training would be put to the ultimate test during the unit's first major combat mission in Charleston, South Carolina. 

On July 18, 1863, the soldiers of Carney's regiment led the charge on Fort Wagner. During the battle, the unit's color guard was shot. Carney, who was just a few feet away, saw the dying man stumble, and he scrambled to catch the falling flag.

Despite suffering several serious gunshot wounds himself, Carney kept the symbol of the Union held high as he crawled up the hill to the walls of Fort Wagner, urging his fellow troops to follow him. He planted the flag in the sand at the base of the fort and held it upright until his near-lifeless body was rescued.

Even then, though, he didn't give it up. Many witnesses said Carney refused to give the flag to his rescuers, holding onto it tighter until, with assistance, he made it to the Union's temporary barracks. 

Carney lost a lot of blood and nearly lost his life, but not once did he allow the flag to touch the ground. Carney was promoted to the rank of sergeant for his actions. For his bravery, Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 23, 1900.

His legacy serves as a shining example of the patriotism that Americans felt at that time, despite the color of their skin. A monument to Carney stands in his birth city of Norfolk, a life-sized bronze statue standing atop a tall pedestal. 

Source: defense.gov; army.mil 


Day 23: Lieutenant General Frank E. Peterson, Jr.

Lieutenant General Frank E. Peterson, Jr. (March 2, 1932 – August 25, 2015) 

Lieutenant General Frank E. Petersen Jr., the first black general in the U.S. Marine Corps, was born in 1932 in Topeka, Kansas. He earned his Bachelor of Science in 1967. He received a Master’s in International Affairs in 1973. Both degrees came from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He also attended the Amphibious Warfare School in Quantico, Virginia and the National War College in Washington, D.C. 

Frank Petersen joined the Navy as an electronics technician in 1952. Motivated by the story of Jesse Brown, the first African American naval aviator who was shot down and killed over North Korea, Petersen applied for and was accepted into the Naval Aviation Cadet Corps. In 1952 Petersen completed his training with the Corps and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.  He became the first black pilot in the Marine Corps. 

Petersen served as a fighter pilot in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In 1953 he flew sixty-four combat missions in Korea and earned six air medals as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1968, while serving in Vietnam, he became the first African American in the Marines or the Navy to command a tactical air squadron. He flew nearly 300 missions during the Vietnam War. In 1968, General Petersen earned the Purple Heart for his actions while flying a mission in North Vietnam. 

In 1979 Frank Petersen became the first black general in the Marine Corps. In 1986 he was named the first black commander of Quantico Marine Base in Virginia. 

Gen. Petersen served thirty-eight years in the Navy, including thirty-six as a Marine. He retired as a lieutenant general in 1988. At the time of his retirement, Gen. Petersen had earned twenty medals for bravery in combat. He was also the senior ranking pilot in the Marine Corps and Navy from 1985 to 1988. General Petersen worked with several education and research organizations during and after his time in the military. These include the Tuskegee Airmen headquarters and the National Aviation Research and Education Foundation. He was also vice president of Dupont Aviation. 

Gen. Frank E. Petersen died on August 25, 2015 at his home in Stevensville, Maryland of complications from lung cancer.  He was 83.

Source: usmcu.edu; blackpast.org 


Day 24: Dorothy Vaughan

Dorothy Vaughan (September 20, 1910 – November 10, 2008) 

In an era when NASA is led by an African American man (Administrator Charles Bolden) and a woman (Deputy Administrator Dava Newman), and when recent NASA Center Directors come from a variety of backgrounds, it's easy to overlook the people who paved the way for the agency's current robust and diverse workforce and leadership. Those who speak of NASA's pioneers rarely mention the name Dorothy Vaughan, but as the head of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) segregated West Area Computing Unit from 1949 until 1958, Vaughan was both a respected mathematician and NASA's first African-American manager. 

Dorothy Vaughan came to the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1943, during the height of World War II, leaving her position as the math teacher at Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, VA to take what she believed would be a temporary war job. Two years after President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 into law, prohibiting racial, religious and ethnic discrimination in the country's defense industry, the Laboratory began hiring black women to meet the skyrocketing demand for processing aeronautical research data. Urgency and twenty-four hour shifts prevailed-- as did Jim Crow laws which required newly-hired "colored" mathematicians to work separately from their white female counterparts. Dorothy Vaughan was assigned to the segregated "West Area Computing" unit, an all-black group of female mathematicians, who were originally required to use separate dining and bathroom facilities. Over time, both individually and as a group, the West Computers distinguished themselves with contributions to virtually every area of research at Langley. 

The group's original section heads (first Margery Hannah, then Blanche Sponsler) were white. In 1949, Dorothy Vaughan was promoted to lead the group, making her the NACA's first black supervisor, and one of the NACA's few female supervisors. The Section Head title gave Dorothy rare Laboratory-wide visibility, and she collaborated with other well-known (white) computers like Vera Huckel and Sara Bullock on projects such as compiling a handbook for algebraic methods for calculating machines. Vaughan was a steadfast advocate for the women of West Computing, and even intervened on behalf of white computers in other groups who deserved promotions or pay raises. Engineers valued her recommendations as to the best "girls" for a particular project, and for challenging assignments they often requested that she personally handle the work. 

Dorothy Vaughan helmed West Computing for nearly a decade. In 1958, when the NACA made the transition to NASA, segregated facilities, including the West Computing office, were abolished. Dorothy Vaughan and many of the former West Computers joined the new Analysis and Computation Division (ACD), a racially and gender-integrated group on the frontier of electronic computing. Dorothy Vaughan became an expert FORTRAN programmer, and she also contributed to the Scout Launch Vehicle Program. 

Dorothy Vaughan retired from NASA in 1971. She sought, but never received, another management position at Langley. Her legacy lives on in the successful careers of notable West Computing alumni, including Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Eunice Smith and Kathryn Peddrew, and the achievements of second-generation mathematicians and engineers such as Dr. Christine Darden. 

Source: nasa.gov 


Day 25: Frederick Lee Shuttlesworth

Frederick Lee Shuttlesworth (March 18, 1922 – October 5, 2011) 

One of the founding members of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Fred Shuttlesworth brought a militant voice to the struggle for black equality. In 1963 he drew Martin Luther King and SCLC to Birmingham for a historic confrontation with the forces of segregation. The scale of protest and police brutality of the Birmingham Campaign created a new level of visibility for the civil rights movement and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Born in Mount Meigs, Alabama, Shuttlesworth was licensed and ordained as a preacher in 1948. He earned an AB (1951) from Selma University and a BS (1953) from Alabama State College. Shuttlesworth served as minister at First Baptist Church in Selma until 1952, and the following year he was called to Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham. 

Shuttlesworth became involved in the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1955. When Circuit Judge Walter B. Jones banned the NAACP from activity in the state in 1956, at the urging of Alabama Attorney General John Patterson, Shuttlesworth presided over a 4 June planning meeting for a new organization that became the ACMHR. Shuttlesworth led a mass meeting at Sardis Church the next evening, and was declared president by acclamation, a post he held until 1969. 

In November 1956, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation in Montgomery was unconstitutional, Shuttlesworth and the ACMHR made plans to challenge segregation on Birmingham’s buses. The night before their campaign was to begin, a bomb exploded under Shuttlesworth’s parsonage at Bethel Baptist. The house was destroyed, but Shuttlesworth escaped unharmed. The following day, several hundred protesters sat in the sections reserved for whites on Birmingham buses. Twenty-one of the participants were arrested and convicted, and the ACMHR filed suit in federal court to strike down the local law mandating segregation. 

Shuttlesworth joined King and C. K. Steele in issuing a call for a conference of southern black leaders in January 1957, “in an effort to coordinate and spur the campaign for integrated transportation in the South”. Held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the meeting laid the foundation for the group that would become SCLC. At a later meeting in August of that year, Shuttlesworth became SCLC’s first secretary. 

As SCLC struggled through its early years, Shuttlesworth urged the organization to aggressively confront segregation. “I feel that the leadership in Alabama among Negroes is, at this time, much less dynamic and imaginative than it ought to be,” he wrote to King in April 1959. “Even in our Southern Christian Leadership Conference, I believe we must move now, or else [be] hard put in the not too distant future, to [justify] our existence”. 

In 1963 SCLC joined forces with the ACMHR to protest segregation in Birmingham. SCLC leaders met secretly in January of that year to draw up initial plans for the Birmingham Campaign, known as “Project C”—C for confrontation. Shuttlesworth issued the “Birmingham Manifesto,” which explained the black community’s decision to act. “We act today in full concert with our Hebraic-Christian tradition, the laws of morality and the Constitution of our nation,” Shuttlesworth proclaimed. “We appeal to the citizenry of Birmingham, Negro and white, to join us in this witness for decency, morality, self-respect, and human dignity” (Shuttlesworth, 3 April 1963).  On 6 April Shuttlesworth led the campaign’s first march on city hall. 

As the campaign continued, tensions between King and Shuttlesworth increased. As a result of injuries from a march, Shuttlesworth was in the hospital during negotiations that produced a one-day halt to demonstrations. In addition to his opposition to the halt, Shuttlesworth resented being left out of the decision. King, however, was able to convince him to publicly support the decision. The Birmingham Campaign ended two days later, with an agreement between the city’s business community and local black leaders that included a commitment to the desegregation of public accommodations, a committee to ensure nondiscriminatory hiring practices in Birmingham, and cooperation in releasing jailed protesters. 

Shuttleworth’s confrontational style provided a counterbalance to King’s more measured approach and served to inspire people to action. In his memoir of the Birmingham Campaign, King praised “the fiery words and determined zeal of Fred Shuttlesworth, who had proved to his people that he would not ask anyone to go where he was not willing to lead”. 

In an effort to provide a source of low-income housing, he established the Shuttlesworth Housing Foundation in Cincinnati in the 1980s. He received the Presidential Citizens Medal, the country’s second highest civilian award, from U.S. Pres. Bill Clinton in 2001. Five years later Shuttlesworth retired from the ministry. 

In 2007, Fred Shuttlesworth moved back to Birmingham, where died on October 5, 2011, at 89 years old. 

Source: britannica.com; kinginstitute.stanford.edubiography.coms


Day 26: Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde (February 18, 1934 – November 17, 1992)

Audre Geraldine Lorde was born on February 18, 1934, in New York City, and went on to become a leading African American poet and essayist who gave voice to issues of race, gender and sexuality. Lorde's love of poetry started at a young age, and she began writing as a teenager. She attended Hunter College, working to support herself through school. After graduating in 1959, she went on to get a master’s degree in library science from Columbia University in 1961.

For most of the 1960s, Lorde worked as a librarian in Mount Vernon, New York, and in New York City. She married attorney Edwin Rollins in 1962. The couple had two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan, and later divorced.

Lorde's life changed dramatically in 1968. Her first volume of poetry, First Cities, was published, and, that same year, she left her job as a head librarian at Town School Library in New York City. Also in 1968, Lorde taught a poetry workshop at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, witnessing first-hand the deep racial tensions in the South. There she would publish her second volume of poetry entitled Cables to Rage (1970), which took on themes of love, deceit and family, and which also addressed her own sexuality in the poem, "Martha." She would later teach at John Jay College and Hunter College in New York.

Lorde's third volume of poetry, From a Land Where Other People Live (1973), earned a lot of praise and was nominated for a National Book Award. In this volume she explored issues of identity as well as concerns about global issues. Her next work, New York Head Shop and Museum (1975), was more overtly political than her earlier poem collections.

With the publication of Coal by a major book company in 1976, Lorde began to reach a larger audience. The Black Unicorn (1978) soon followed. In this volume, Lorde explored her African heritage. It is considered one of her greatest works by many critics. Throughout her poetry and other writings she tackled topics that were important to her as a woman of color, lesbian, mother and feminist.

In addition to poetry, Lorde was a powerful essayist and writer. In terms of her nonfiction work, she is best remembered for The Cancer Journals (1980), in which she documents her own struggle with breast cancer. Having undergone a mastectomy, Lorde refused to be victimized by the disease. Instead, she considered herself—and other women like her — to be warriors. The cancer later spread to her liver and this latest battle with the disease informs the essay collection, A Burst of Light (1989). This time, she chose to pursue alternative treatments rather than to opt for more surgery.

Audre Lorde battled cancer for more than a decade and spent her last few years living in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Around this time, she took an African name, Gamba Adisa, meaning "she who makes her meaning clear." 

Lorde died on November 17, 1992, on the island of St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Over her long career, Lorde received numerous accolades, including an American Book Award for A Burst of Light in 1989. She is remembered today for being a great warrior poet who valiantly fought many personal and political battles with her words.

Source: biography.com 


Day 27: Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison (February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019)

Toni Morrison, original name Chloe Anthony Wofford, (born February 18, 1931, Lorain, Ohio, U.S.—died August 5, 2019, Bronx, New York), American writer noted for her examination of Black experience (particularly Black female experience) within the Black community. She received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

Morrison grew up in the American Midwest in a family that possessed an intense love of and appreciation for Black culture. Storytelling, songs, and folktales were a deeply formative part of her childhood. She attended Howard University (B.A., 1953) and Cornell University (M.A., 1955). After teaching at Texas Southern University for two years, she taught at Howard from 1957 to 1964. In 1965 Morrison became a fiction editor at Random House, where she worked for a number of years. In 1984 she began teaching writing at the State University of New York at Albany, which she left in 1989 to join the faculty of Princeton University; she retired in 2006.

Morrison’s first book, The Bluest Eye (1970), is a novel of initiation concerning a victimized adolescent Black girl who is obsessed by white standards of beauty and longs to have blue eyes. In 1973 a second novel, Sula, was published; it examines (among other issues) the dynamics of friendship and the expectations for conformity within the community.

The critically acclaimed Beloved (1987), which won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is based on the true story of a runaway slave who, at the point of recapture, kills her infant daughter in order to spare her a life of slavery. A film adaptation of the novel was released in 1998 and starred Oprah Winfrey. In addition, Morrison wrote the libretto for Margaret Garner (2005), an opera about the same story that inspired Beloved.

The central theme of Morrison’s novels is the Black American experience; in an unjust society, her characters struggle to find themselves and their cultural identity. Her use of fantasy, her sinuous poetic style, and her rich interweaving of the mythic gave her stories great strength and texture. In 2010 Morrison was made an officer of the French Legion of Honour. Two years later she was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (2019) is a documentary about her life and career.

Source: britannica.com


Day 28: Major James Capers Jr. 

Major James Capers Jr. (August 25, 1937 - present) 

Capers was born on August 25, 1937 in South Carolina to a family of sharecroppers during the Jim Crow era. He later moved to Baltimore where he would meet the love of his life and future wife Dottie and decide to enlist in the Marines.  This would be the start of a legendary career that overcame obstacles and broke barriers on and off the battlefield as one of the greatest Marines to ever serve. 

While serving, he would be selected to join the elite Force Recon Marine unit where he excelled, breaking training records, participating in 64 long range reconnaissance patrols and five major campaigns in Vietnam. He was a natural leader and father figure to Team Broadminded, a specialized group of Force Recon Marines.  Capers & Team Broadminded were routinely selected to go on the most dangerous and clandestine missions in Vietnam.  

Missions included a POW rescue ordered by President Johnson, amphibious assaults in the DMZ, recovery of a B-57 rumored to have a nuclear bomb, and search and destroy patrols in Phu Loc.

A soft-spoken man, his commendations offer an inspiring view of his heroism and self-sacrifice.  Nominated for the Medal of Honor, he has been awarded the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and Combat V, three Purple Hearts, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, a Joint Service Commendation Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, three Good Conduct Ribbons, Battle Stars, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal, CG Certificate of Merit, multiple letters of Merit, Appreciation, and Commendation.    

As an African American his achievements included being the first African American to command a Marine Recon company and the first enlisted African American Marine Officer to receive a battlefield commission.

In the fall of 1967, still recovering from combat injuries, Major James Capers was selected to represent the U.S. Marines in a national recruiting campaign.  With full integration completed only in 1960, Capers’ image became the Marine Corps most popular recruitment campaign. 

Following Vietnam, Capers participated in many Cold War covert operations as a field agent in Eastern Europe and Africa. Details of these operations remain classified today.  

His wife Dottie and son Gary passed away in 2003 and were buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  Capers celebrated his 50th anniversary with Dottie one week before her passing. 

In 2010, Major James Capers Jr. was one of only 14 members inducted into the inaugural class of U.S. Special Operations Command's Commando Hall of Honor at a ceremony in front of USSOCOM headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base.  Major Capers Jr. is recognized as a pioneer in Recon training tactics which are still used by Special Operations forces around the world. 

The citation for Major Capers’ Silver Star can be read here: https://valor.militarytimes.com/hero/204901

Source: https://www.capersthedoc.com/biography