Black History: There Is So Much Information Available
February 18, 2014
The number-one thing Black History teaches everyone is how much history has been left out of History books. There might be logical reasons such as the lack of an information highway because the technology did not exist for all of America to share in the positives or negatives of its citizens. Then there is the problem of transportation; walking, horses, trains, horse and buggies, and wagon trains. Traveling just from one side of town to the other was a challenge for many people. Now take the same thought process and apply it to African-Americans who were kept out of the loop either for control purposes or due to a lack of access.
During slavery, several states made it illegal to teach slaves how to read or write. I guess those pushing such measures figured an education might lead to rebellions and cause economic ruin. Keep them dumb and they won't want to leave or fight for their freedom, really? Thankfully there were enough in the majority who secretly helped slaves gain access to learning. In any time or place, all anyone has to do is give someone a chance for knowledge and it gets passed on to family and friends. The next thing you know it spreads quickly and before you know it becomes a runaway train. It is the only way I can think of to explain how a group of people forced into servitude and kept disadvantaged through every possible means could make so many positive contributions to a country.
African-Americans have accomplished so much in so many areas of our society. All it takes is for one person to see someone who looks like them do something and it can be inspiring. I get sick and tired of hearing how we as a people do not have a chance for this or that reason. It has never been easy yet so many have fought through obstacles and achieved.
I love movies and realize they are a commercial entity with the sole purpose of making a buck, although they have occasionally taught some positive things concerning African-Americans, good deeds don't sell many tickets. Even though The Godfather movies were brilliant, I know they do not depict a typical day in the life of Italian-Americans any more than American Gangster did for African-Americans. Alex Hailey's Roots brilliantly gave an account of slavery as did Steven Spielberg's Shindler's List of the Holocaust. Regardless of the merit of any story, financial backers are not going to back any movie project that will not bring in cash rewards. Therefore, we should use modern day technology to not allow the successes of so many African-Americans to be forgotten.
Sports and entertainment have always been front and center because our society is so focused on any form of the arts. While I applaud the numerous African-American athletes, singers, songwriters, actors, coaches, GMs, TV personalities, newscasters, actresses and politicians, as I pointed out in my previous column for the King holiday -- there are many whose names and memories need to be kept alive. So, here are some more Black History facts you need to know.
Long Before Female Soldiers
Cathay Williams made her way into the record books of military history as the only known and documented female buffalo soldier.
She was born a slave in Jackson County, MO and moved to the state capitol of Jefferson City with her family and master as a small child. In 1862, as the Union soldiers moved through Jefferson City, several slaves, including Williams, were confiscated by the 8th Indiana Infantry and taken to Arkansas. While with the 8th, she worked as a cook and laundress. After the war was over, she worked as a cook at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis.
For reasons unknown, she enlisted in the 38th Infantry as William Cathay, a man. She performed regular duties and no one ever suspected a thing.
After serving almost two years, the post surgeon discovered she was a woman and she was discharged.
Madame Secretary And Much More
Condoleezza Rice was the first African-American woman to be appointed National Security Advisor and U.S. Secretary of State. The journeys for her to get to those positions were not easy.
She was born in Birmingham, AB. The only child of a Presbyterian minister and a teacher, Rice grew up surrounded by racism in the segregated South. She earned her bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Denver in 1974; her master's from the University of Notre Dame in 1975; and her Ph.D. from the University of Denver's Graduate School of International Studies in 1981. That same year, she joined Stanford University as a political science professor -- a position that she held for more than three decades prior to her work at the White House -- and has since returned to.
In 1993 Rice became the first woman and first African-American to serve as provost of Stanford Universit -- a post she held for six years. During that time, she also served as the university's chief budget and academic officer.
Rice also co-founded the Center for a New Generation, an innovative, after-school academic enrichment program for students living in the San Francisco Bay area cities of East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park. She is still actively involved with the program.
Granville T. Woods was born in Columbus, OH in 1856 to free African-American parents. He held various engineering and industrial jobs before establishing a company to develop electrical devices. He registered nearly 60 patents in his lifetime.
Woods' most important invention was the multiplex telegraph, also known as the "induction telegraph" or block system, in 1887. The device allowed men to communicate by voiceover telegraph wires, ultimately helping to speed up important communications, therefore preventing crucial errors such as train accidents. Woods defeated Thomas Edison's lawsuit which challenged his patent, and turned down Edison's offer to make him a partner. Thereafter, Woods was often referred to as "Black Edison."
A Scholar, Athlete and Academic
Paul Robeson was looked upon as a Renaissance man with an incredible bass-baritone voice. Although known as an actor on Broadway and the London stages, he is also remembered for singing "Old Man River" in the movie, Showboat.
Robeson was a gifted human being. After winning a scholarship to Rutgers University, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and went on to Columbia Law School. He was an All-American football player lettering in three other sports, and a popular recording artist who spoke 20 languages. His friends would include many of the century's luminaries, such as W.E.B. DuBois and Noel Coward. Who would have dreamed the son of an escaped slave would have accomplished so much?
Always Fighting Good Fight
Ida B. Wells was born in Holly Springs, MS to parents very active politically during Reconstruction. Wells attended Rust College and became a teacher in Memphis, TN. Shortly after she arrived, Wells was involved in an altercation with a white conductor while riding the railroad. She had purchased a first-class ticket, and was seated in the ladies car when the conductor ordered her to sit in the Jim Crow (i.e. black) section, which didn't offer first-class accommodations. She refused and bit the conductor's hand when he tried to physically remove her. Wells was forced to leave the train. She sued and won her case in a lower court, but the decision was reversed in an appeals court.
While living in Memphis, Wells became a co-owner and editor of a local Black newspaper called The Free Speech and Headlight. Writing editorials under the pseudonym "Iola," she condemned violence against blacks, disfranchisement, poor schools, and the failure of black people to fight for their rights. She was fired from her teaching job and became a full-time journalist.
She continued to fight the white establishment over lynching and a variety of atrocities committed against the African-American citizens in Memphis. Eventually she was threatened and run out of town.
Among her many accomplishments -- organizing the National Association of Colored Women and being one of the founders of the NAACP.
Smart and Fun
African-American engineer and inventor Lonnie G. Johnson was born in Alabama in 1949. After graduating from Tuskegee University with a Master's degree, Johnson joined the U.S. Air Force and was assigned to the Strategic Air Command, where he helped develop the stealth bomber program. His other assignments included working as a systems engineer for the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn. However, it is a lesser-known fact that he also created the Super Soaker squirt gun, still one of the most popular toys in the world.
Making It Possible to Own Property Anywhere
Margaret Bush Wilson was a prominent civil rights attorney in the 1960s and the first woman of color to chair the Board of Directors for the NAACP.
Wilson was instrumental in obtaining the ruling in Shelly vs. Kramer which invalidated racial restrictive agreements keeping property ownership confined to certain areas. Because of her work, people of color could live in a house and area of their choice, a luxury that did not exist prior to the 1948 Supreme Court ruling. The housing covenants had kept Blacks, Jews and various other minorities from buying homes in certain areas.
During the Lyndon Johnson administration, she served as Deputy Director of the Model Cities Program.
Black History The Year Around
Year around, bookstores and libraries now have sections devoted to contributions of African-Americans on every level of our society. The same is becoming true for other people of color as well, particularly for Latinos. Use your Internet search engines and you'll find all sorts of information once unavailable. It's important for you to read and cross reference to verify sourced materials. Some of the books I recommend reading:
100 African Americans Who Shaped American History by Chrisanne Beckner
Black Pioneers of Science and Invention by Louis Habner
Stolen Into Slavery by Judith Bloom Fraudin and Dennis Brindell Fraudin
Malcom X A Revolutionary Voice by Beatrice Gormley
Buck O'Neil "I Was Right On Time" with Steve Wolf and David Conrads