Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lucy Laney

Lucy Laney was born on April 13, 1854 in Macon, Georgia. She was born to two free parents, Louisa and David Laney. Lucy learned to read and write by the age of four and by the time she turned twelve, she was able to translate some Latin passages including Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War. She attended Lewis High School in Macon and had graduated and started attending Atlanta University at age fifteen. She graduated with a degree in teaching and taught for 10 years in Macon, Savanna, Milledgeville, and Augusta. Then in 183 she opened her own school in the basement of Christ Presbyterian Church in Augusta. Two years after the school opened, the enrollment at her school was over 200. A year after that the school got it’s name, Francine E.H. Haines who donated $10,000 to help establish the institute.
Not only did she found her institution, but also helped found the Augusta branch of the NAACP in 1918. She was also active in the Interracial Commission, National Association of Colored Women, and the Niagara Movement, and helped integrate YMCAs and YWCAs. She was also the first African American to have her portrait displayed in the Georgia state capitol because of her work with education. She has numerous education buildings, museums, and awards named after her. Lucy Laney opened the door for African Americans in education and helped the push for integration.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Congo Square

On November 28, 1817 Congo Square became a registered area of the southern area of Louis Armstrong Memorial Park in New Orleans. Officially named Beauregard Square, the site was a large home for African American music and dancing. Before 1800, Black slaves gathered on Sunday afternoon in the open field for many different reasons. They, also, used the space as a market place. In 1817, the New Orleans City Council passed legislation allowing slaves to meet and have a place to gather on Sunday afternoons, which was informally named Congo Square. The use of this area declined in the 1840s and ended by the beginning of the Civil War.
It had brought about not only jazz music, but also New Orleans jazz music and is a staple to those who play and listen to jazz today. It has since been listed on the National Register of Historical Places. There never is a for sure way of knowing what may have helped or lead jazz music in America, but Congo Square and Louis Armstrong Memorial Park did have an impact on the development of music in the south.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lonnie G. Johnson

Lonnie G. Johnson was born on October 6th 1949 in Mobile, Alabama to a civilian driver father and homemaker mother. His father played a big part in his early inventions by showing him how to repair things and encouraging him and his brothers to create their own toys. A couple of his early inventions included creating a go-cart out of a lawn mower and other household items, and experiment with pyro techniques in his kitchen. By the time he got to high school he took part in a national science competition sponsored by U of Alabama. He showed a robot made form junkyard scraps named “Linex”, and placed first in the competition and entered Tuskeegee University on a mathematics scholarship. During college there he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and went on to receive a Master’s in Nuclear Engineering.
Upon graduating he took a position at the Savannah River National Laboratory, conducting thermal analysis on plutonium spheres. In about 1982 he worked developing a heat pump that would circulate water by taking some tubing found in his basement. He then discovered that the strong stream that came out of the tubing could make a great water gun. After thinking this he set out to develop a pressurized water gun that would be safe enough for children to play with. When he finally made a prototype that he was pleased with, he and his partner, Bruce D’Andrade, began marketing it and securing a patent. After securing the patent, the next task was to see if anyone would manufacture his invention. Larami Corporation in New York took in the invention, and the Super Soaker was put on shelves in 1989. By 1990, his toy was outselling Nintendo as the number one selling toy in America.
Shortly after that, Johnson went on his own and received a contract by NASA to develop a water based cooling system that was 25 percent more efficient than conventional heat pumps and air conditioners.
He has since won numerous awards, and was inducted into the Hasbro Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2000. He made it possible for other inventors to come out to show their product, and have it be more than successful, and also to develop into more than there invention. I would personally like to thank him for making my childhood a bit more interesting and pushing my tomboy limits.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Charlie Sifford

Charlie Sifford was born on June 2, 1922 in Charlotte, North Carolina. His story stood out to me because he was the first African American to play in the Professional Golfers Association. He has since been called the Jackie Robinson of golf. One year after Jackie Robinson’s courageous integration of Major League Baseball in 1946, Charlie said he planned on doing the same thing to golf. He grew up being a caddie earning 60 cents and by age 13 he could shoot par.
He started his career with hardships in 1952 at the Phoenix Open alongside four other black competitors, including Joe Louis (it’s all coming together :-)). Their hardships during this open included excrements in the first hole and having to wait over an hour for them to replace it. He ended up breaking barriers and par in this open. He then won the National Negro open five straight times from 1952-56, but he didn’t earn a PGA player card until 1960. He then won the PGA tour twice in 1967 and 1969; about 5 years after the PGA dropped its “Caucasian only” clause.
He not only broke barriers during his playing years, but in 2004 he became the first black golfer to be inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame, which only had about 100 people in it over all. He broke barriers single handedly and allowed for people like Tiger Woods, and all those little golfers out there, to be able to not only compete but also succeed in the golf world. He currently resides in Houston, Texas with his wife of fifty years. He has since been in periodicals and written an autobiography about his experience. He’s an amazing person who fought obstacles for not only himself, but for a whole culture of people.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Amazing Grace

John Newton created the song “Amazing Grace” in 1779. It has since been known as one of the best-known musicals in the world. Newton wrote it, along with many other hymns, in the attic of his house to go along with his sermons. He also took time to write the hymn for more than just poetic reasons. Newton’s lyrics were personal and showed a conversion experience. It wasn’t until 1835 that music was put to accompany the lyrics, and that is the same tune that is used today. The hymn has been featured and recreated on more than 1,000 albums, in numerous books, and on Pop charts across the world. This song was also a staple for the empowerment of African American slaves that were freed. If it weren’t for Newton and his powerful hymn writing, a song that captured not only a culture, but also the world would have never existed.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ann Plato

Ann Plato was born on August 11, 1820 in Hartford, Connecticut. Like many blacks born at this time there was very little recorded information about her. The way that her life was recorded was what she is known for now.
Plato was the first black woman to publish a book of essays and one of the first black women to publish a book in America. Her introduction to her biography written by Reverend W.C. Pennington seems to have the only known information of her life in it. Plato was said to have a Native American father and a Black mother. In her early career days, she worked as a schoolteacher at the Black Zion Methodist Church School of Hartford.
In 1841, her book of essays was published titled Essays: Including Biographies and Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose and Poetry. The collection of essays was a reflection on her community’s puritan views. Topics for the essays included “Benevolence”, “Education”, “Employment”, and “Religion”. Her work has been critiqued as unoriginal and has been put down for not mentioning the issue of American slavery.
Her time after writing this book, including her death, is unknown. She has since been remembered in a couple different ways. In 1988, Oxford Press as part of a library celebrating black women writers republished her book. Also, that year, Trinity College established the Ann Plato Fellowship in her honor.
Plato opened the door to not only women getting a voice, but African American women being able to develop as writers as well.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

The History of Juneteenth

On June 19th 1865, African American slaves around the United States were freed. Since then, this day is still celebrated around the US as Juneteenth. This day, in 1865, is not the day that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, but the day that the Union Soldiers announced the end of the Civil War.
Juneteenth has continued to be celebrated as an Independence Day for African American people. It’s also been not only celebrated as a holiday, but as a time of reflection and healing. There has been a struggle across the country in getting this day revered as a holiday, though. The only state that observes it as a legal state holiday is Texas, where this day originated.
The celebration has been known to include many different activities. Rodeos, barbecues, and baseball are just some of the things that people join in during the celebration. Mostly, it’s a time of gathering for all types of people and usually takes place in areas with a high population of African American people. It celebrates not only freedom, but also achievement among African American people, as well as respect among all cultures. Fortunately the future of this celebration looks promising. The number of states that have joined in celebration continues to grow and more and more people in political power have supported this.
So take second, the next time you think of June 19th, the struggle, achievements, and hope that the African American people have gone through and the bright future that lies ahead for all cultures.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Nat Love

“Mounted on my favorite horse… my lariat near my hand, and my trusty guns in belt… I felt I could defy the world.” – Nat Love

Nat Love was born as a slave in Tennessee on June 14 of 1854. Primarily his sister raised him because his family had so many slave duties. While he was young he taught himself, with the help of his father, how to read and write. Shortly after the slaves were freed Nat’s father rented and worked a small farm from his former master, but unfortunately his father died a few years later. As Nat looked for and did work around other plantations, he found that he had a very good skill in breaking horses.
By the time Nat was fifteen he had left his family and moved west. When he made it to Kansas, he ran into the crew of the Texas Duval Ranch. He decided he would ask the boss for a job, and the job agreed that Nat could join if he could break the wildest horse they had, named Good Eye. He eventually did break the horse, got the job, and worked for the Duval Ranch for $30 a month. Soon he adapted to the cowboy life, excelling in being a ranch hand and even in his shooting skills.
After three years with the Duval Ranch, he moved to Arizona and worked for Gallinger Ranch on the Gila River. During this time he became a master trail and ranger rider, but was also involved in some dangerous work. He was a part of numerous gun battles with cattle rustlers, bandits, and Native Americans. His Gallinger Ranch cowboys and he were sent to bring a herd of three thousand steers to Deadwood, South Dakota. While he was there, he was entered into a cowboy contest with $200 as the grand prize. He not only competed, but also won every competition and was dubbed the name “Deadwood Dick”.
He continued to work as a cowboy for the next fifteen years before he got married in 1889. He then took a job as a Pullman porter on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, which involved his family moving around the west a lot, but finally settling in southern California.
In 1907, he published his autobiography The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as “Deadwood Dick”. The American public greatly accepted the book and has been known as one of the lesser-known great books about the west. Nat remained a huge family and worked up until his death in 1921. He was an amazing cowboy and showed that the less than possible could be easily achieved. By teaching himself how to read and write, work horses, shoot, and defeat the standards during a really difficult time, made Nat a huge asset to struggling African Americans around the US.
If you have any interest in reading his book, or just glancing at his pictures you can look here: http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/natlove/natlove.html


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Nkosi Johnson

A few days ago, would have marked the 22nd birthday of a boy named Nkosi Johnson. Nkosi was born on February 2nd 1989 in South Africa. He was born HIV-positive and was left at care center for HIV positive children by his mother for fear of this news getting back to her community. He was one of the estimated 4.7 million South African with HIV. A director of the center, Gail Johnson, took Nkosi home and became his foster mother. The family he was a part of, though, was not very well off and they couldn’t afford the medicines that could have helped suppress his disease.
By the time he was 8, he had made worldwide headlines when his school had turned their nose up to accepting an HIV-positive student. Gail Johnson didn’t take this information lightly. She fought the school in the courts and in the media until her son was welcomed. At an AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa in 2000, Nkosi spoke about needing improved medical treatment and compassion for AIDS sufferers. He also took time during this speech to criticize the South African government for not helping towards a better outcome. He died in 2001 at only 12 years old because of his complications. He not only inspired his country, but he inspired the world to help fight the epidemic. He was wise beyond his years and has since been called a hero. His story is extremely powerful and shows the way that young people, much younger than myself can try to change the world.

“Do all you can with what you have in the time you have in the place you are”- Nkosi Johnson


Monday, February 7, 2011

Zulu Nation

The Zulu Nation is the largest ethnic group in South Africa. There are approximately 8 million people of this ethnicity. The Zulu’s ancestors are said to have migrated to southern Africa after the 2nd century. They developed their language quite a bit before they had a centralized political structure, or even had a known identity. The name Zulu came from the name of one of the original clan founders and in 1815 Shaka Zulu became chief. He soon organized an army of 40,000 trained soldiers and had invented many of the weapons they were to use, like the short stabbing spear. In about 10 years, Shaka and his followers had built a kingdom.
The now known Natal providence was mostly encompassed of Zulu people. Shaka had his reign over the nation for years until his half brother Dingane assassinated him. By 1883 Zululand was invaded by British troops and colonized. Although their land was taken from them, a nationalistic group was created in 1928 to help support those who wanted to keep in touch with their predecessors. The Zulu nation has since been called the KwaZulu nation and was directed by Inkatha Ya Ka Zulu. Inkatha, in 1990, created his own political party called the Inkatha Freedom Party to oppose democratic parties.
The nationalism and views of the Zulu nation are still around today, but aren’t as violent as they have been in the past. There have been movies and books made about this tribe and about Shaka Zulu, as well as recording artist’s album titles. They have been prominent in the past and don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Joe Louis

Today, since the Superbowl is on I’m going to take a look at a very important African American sports figure, Joe Louis. Joe was born Joe Louis Barrow on May 13, 1914 in Alabama and was seventh of eight siblings. He started boxing at a young age even though his mother didn’t approve, but he boxed under the name Joe Louis so she didn’t find out.
His first professional fight took place on July 4, 1934. He fought Jack Kracken during this fight and kayoed Kracken. By the end of 1935 he had made over $350,000 in professional purses. Later in his career, after winning 27 professional fights, 23 by knockout, he fought a man by the name of Max Schmelling, who had both been trying for heavyweight titles. He ended up losing by knockout in the 12th round, which affected the spirit of many African Americans at the time. They looked up to Louis as a hero and an idol and when he lost that fight, the community was extremely affected. During the time that Louis had been prime in his fighting years, it was at the time of Adolf Hitler’s headline making war threats. In Louis’ attempt to beat Schmelling around this time, his promoter had to work with building hype that wouldn’t be out shadowing the progress before World War II, but still creating hope for the African American people.
Louis finally got to be in a title match against Schmelling again, this time to beat him in the eighth round by knockout. He ended up holding the heavyweight title for 12 years, longer than anyone before or since. By the time the United States entered WWII, Louis had enlisted in the army. Louis retired as the undefeated champion in 1949. He eventually ended up a penniless champion after making many failed investment decisions and helping out people in need. After his retirement from boxing he took a job as a greeter for a Las Vegas casino. He died in 1981 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with military honors.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

James VanDerZee

Keeping with the theme of my blog and how it started originally, I’m going to take a look at the photographer James VanDerZee. James VanDerZee was born in Lenox, Massachusetts on June 29, 1886. He came from a family of six children and his parents earned their living by baking while the sons in the family delivered the goods on foot and horseback. He started with photography when he was young, and decided to sell yellow and pink silk satchels to women with the intent to buy a camera.
His first professional job was in Newark, New Jersey. By the end of World War 1, he opened his first studio in New York. While he was there he primarily photographed the city of Harlem. He photographed all kinds of things, from celebrities to parades. He continued to take pictures of his community and other places, even with the development of home cameras that turned everyone into a photographer. Unfortunately it wasn’t until VanDerZee was in his 80s in 1969 when he got recognized outside of Harlem. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art decided to have an exhibition called “Harlem on My Mind” and gave 100,000 photographs to the museum for use.
He has been honored with many different things for his photographs and is a well-known photographer in the black art field. He opened the door for many more people in not only the photography field but in the arts all together. He helps fuel my passion, and I am so grateful.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Joseph Gomer

For today’s post I’m going to look at a man named Joseph Gomer (pictured in the middle) who was a Tuskegee Airman. You might be asking yourself, what is, or was, a Tuskegee Airmen? To summarize, it was a group of African American pilots who fought in World War II.
Gomer was born on June 20th, 1920 in Iowa Falls, Iowa. He grew up in a community where he was one of three black families in the area and graduated as the only black student in his class. While he attended Ellsworth Community College he took a class in pilot training. Taking this class allowed him, when he enlisted in the army, to be sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s program to train black pilots.
He entered his service as a second lieutenant in the 332nd Fighter Group, which was still segregated at the time. During his time he was part of a bomber group in Italy and Germany. This meant he and his other pilots protected his fellow airmen and soldiers on the ground by bombing the enemy. The planes that these men flew had a red tail, so the pilots and soldiers they protected dubbed them “Red Tailed Angels”. By the end of their run in Italy, these Tuskegee Airmen had taken down 111 enemy aircrafts and sunk one German destroyer. Unfortunately, sixty-six of these men had lost their lives for their country, including three airmen that Gomer had shared a tent with.
Gomer balanced fighting the Germans and racism, and was fortunate enough to still be in service when President Truman desegregated the military. He reached the rank of major before he retired the air force and became employed by the US Forest Service. He worked there for 21 years, and was in the air force for 22. On March 29, 2007 President George Bush gave the Congressional Gold Medal to him and the other Tuskegee Airmen.
Now you can find him volunteering at schools and churches near his home in Duluth, MN, or giving speeches about his time in the Air Force. His fight opened the door to many African American men and women in the military. I personally have him to thank, on behalf of my father, for my father’s clothes (and experience) from his time served as marine.
“We were fighting two battles. I flew for my parents, for my race, for our battle for first-class citizenship and for my country. We were fighting for the millions of black Americans back home. We were there to break down barriers, open a few doors, and do a job." – Joseph Gomer



For today’s post, I’m not going to write about a person, but about an instrument. Searching through different less known people an accomplishments, I found a little bit of information about an instrument made in Africa. That instrument is a banjo. It originated in Africa and was brought to America in the 1700s. They originally were small drums with strings stretched over them and played with a bow or plucked. They then developed to being made from gourds, wood, stretched Hyde, and hemp for strings. A document dated back to 1678 seems to have the first reference of the instrument calling it a banza. Other names for the banjo include banjar, banjer, and bangie. Now a days banjos are constructed a little bit more advanced. Usually having five strings, with metal necks and a metal body.
The banjo was used as a representation of black people through white people, as a mockery. It gained in popularity after the Civil War and World War I. Now it is commonly used in folk music, and commercial bluegrass bands. It’s crazy to think that something that ranges in price from 200 to over 13,000 dollars was made by items out in nature. We have a lot to thank the Africans for in the music field, but you may be surprised that the banjo was created and upheld through all of the movement and hardship of the African people. They kept that part of their culture alive so that everyone could experience it.

This one is for you Norm : )


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dr. Bernard Harris

As you’re walking around today, or tonight, you should maybe take a look up at the sky. Cloudy or not, there’s a whole universe above your head. It’s larger than anything you can imagine. Today, February 2nd marks the sixth year anniversary of the first African-American walking in space.
Dr. Bernard Harris Junior was born on June 26th, 1956 in Temple, Texas. After graduating high school in 1974, he attended the University of Houston and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree with a focus on Biology. He then went on to Texas Tech School of Medicine, where he graduated with his doctorate in medicine. After working primarily at the Mayo Clinic, he trained as a flight surgeon at the Aerospace School of Medicine.
But enough with the boring stuff ;). Harris became an astronaut in July of 1991 and by February of 1995 he had taken off for an amazing feat. He spent from the second till the eleventh as the Payload Commander of the module. During this flight he logged over 198 hours in space and traveled almost 3 million miles. The NASA site has put his achievement into the best possible phrasing I found, saying, “his space walk made him the first African America to perform an extravehicular activity”.
Harris has, since his amazing adventure, been a member of many prestigious counsels, including the National Medical Association; been honored numerous times, by NASA and various science societies; and even founded his own foundation that supports math and science education and crime prevention programs for youth in America.
Dr. Bernard Harris strived to continue with his education, and his goals, to open the door for younger generations of African Americans to shuttle off into the unknown. Maybe one day I’ll look up and wonder how one of my little brothers is doing in space.
Here’s to dreaming! :)


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Charles Drew

My blog has always been a way for me to share my photographs and my stories, but since I haven’t posted photos lately, I thought I might try something different. Recently I decided that every day in the month of February I would take a look at some influential African- Americans throughout history; learning about their hardships and successes. Some may be known, some may not, but that’s what this adventure is about! I hope you leave this page learning something new and valuable!

For my first entry, I’m delving into the great life of a man named Charles Drew (I would like to thank Lee Parker for introducing me to this man). Charles Drew was born on June 3rd 1904 in Washington D.C. He attended and graduated from Amherst College where he received a Bachelors of Art, McGill University where he graduated as a Medical Doctor and Master of Surgery, and Columbia University where he graduated as a Doctor of Science and Medicine.
During his time in school, Drew had interned and studied blood transfusions, even though at the time the technology used was extremely limited. When he became a resident at Columbia University’s Presbyterian Hospital, he focused the majority of his research around blood transfusions. He discovered that if he separated the liquid part of the blood, plasma, from the red blood cells and the two were refrigerated in separate containers they would stay usable for transfusions for as long as a week. He also discovered that - even though people have different blood types, which are mostly non-transferable in a transfusion – plasma could be transfused because everyone’s is the same.
Charles Drew worked with his passion by not only working for hospitals, but during World War II as a project director in charge of use of blood for the American Red Cross. Unfortunately, while he was working for the Red Cross he had been in the heart of strong racial desegregation stereotypes, mainly that white and black people had different blood that could not be mixed. He published articles, books, and papers, received numerous awards for his work, spoke to people across the US, and became a chairman of the National Medical Association. His life and his accomplishments were cut short, though, in 1950 from an automobile accident. Although his death did stem ultimately from the accident, there are many differing ideas about how he actually died. Most say that when the accident happened he was brought first to a hospital that denied him help because of his race and then brought to another, but the distance and time had made him loose so much blood that he couldn’t have been saved.
Charles Drew was a man that opened a door to a world of medical miracles that might not have existed today. He overcame oppression and fought for what he knew was right. He explored an unknown and made something life saving from that.