Black History Month
February 3, 2020
In researching people and events to celebrate black history month, I soon realized that a single month is insufficient to capture the depth and diversity of the subject. I could easily present one historically important black person, event, or institution every day for a whole school year and still not do justice to our nation’s black history. In limiting myself to one month, I’m forced to omit some major figures who deserve our attention. I hope you will enjoy this celebration, and take the opportunity to do further research on your own.
A&E Biography: Black History
In the wake of the loss of one of our local heroes, enjoy this video:
Kobe Bryant – Oscar-Winning animated short film “Dear Basketball”
February 4, 2020
Rosa Parks – Today is the 107th birthday of civil rights activist, Rosa Parks. Parks became a prominent face of the civil rights movement after she was arrested and fined for refusing to give up her seat at the front of a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama on Dec. 1, 1955. Her defiance sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott; its success launched nationwide efforts to end racial segregation of public facilities.
The United States Congress has called her "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement". “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired,” wrote Parks in her autobiography, “but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically… No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
February 5, 2020
Jesse Owens - Berlin Olympics
In 1936, Adolf Hitler planned to use the Berlin Olympic games as a showcase for supposed Aryan superiority. But Jesse Owens foiled Hitler’s plan and sealed his place in Olympic history by becoming the most successful athlete of the 1936 Games. Owens became the first American to win four track and field gold medals at a single Olympics (100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump), a record that stood unbroken for 48 years. Reflecting on his victories, Owens said, “The road to the Olympics, leads to no city, no country. It goes far beyond New York or Moscow, ancient Greece or Nazi Germany. The road to the Olympics leads — in the end — to the best within us.”
February 6, 2020
In the 1960s, as the United States raced with The Soviet Union to put a man in space, NASA found untapped talent in a group of African-American, female mathematicians who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in U.S. history. Hidden Figures, the book and film, is based on the true stories of three African-American women, known as "human computers.” Working at NASA, they solved the complex mathematical problems required to launch an astronaut into orbit, and guarantee his safe return to earth. Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson crossed gender, race, and professional lines, cementing themselves in U.S. history as true American heroes.
In 1992, Mae Jemison followed in the footsteps of these pioneers, in a way, when she became the first black woman to travel into space, serving as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor.
Hidden Figures is a Subtle and Powerful Work of Counter-History
February 7, 2020
Robert Johnson and the Blues
Originating on Southern plantations in the 19th Century, blues music was invented by slaves, and their descendants, who sang as they toiled in the cotton and vegetable fields. In the 1920’s, Bessie Smith became the first blues superstar, earning $2,000 a week for her live shows. During the great depression, Robert Johnson took the intense loneliness, terrors and tortuous lifestyle that came with being an African-American in the South, and transformed that experience into music of universal relevance and global reach. From 1937 to 1938 Johnson wrote and recorded 29 songs that still define the genre. Johnson’s influence can still be found in the work of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix, and contributed to the birth of rock and roll.
Go to my web page on the Hale website to see all of the black history month stories from the week, with links to additional material to extend your knowledge.
Robert Johnson: Love In Vain Blues
Blues America: Woke Up This Morning
February 10, 2020
The Collision of Sports and Politics at The 1968 Mexico City Olympics: Tommie Smith and John Carlos
Thirty years after Jesse Owens’ heroics at the Berlin Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos entered the Mexico City games in the midst of civil rights unrest in the US. In 1968, black Americans still suffered from unequal treatment from society. After winning Gold and Bronze medals respectively, during the medal ceremony, Smith and Carlos took advantage of their moment on the world stage to make a statement in protest of racism and injustice. Each man raised a black-gloved fist as a salute to human rights, and kept their fists raised throughout the playing of the US national anthem. Initially, the two athletes faced criticism for their stance, even to the point of death threats towards them and their families. They were stripped of their medals, and banned from the Olympics for life. But over time, they have come to be recognized as heroes who sacrificed their own notoriety to advance the cause of all black Americans. In 2008 Tommie Smith and John Carlos were awarded the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.
February 11, 2020
Ava DuVernay is a writer, producer, director and distributor of independent film and television. She has brought us movies such as Selma about Dr. Martin Luther King, and When They See Us, about The Central Park Five. She won the directing award in the U.S. dramatic competition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere, becoming the first black woman to win the award. I recommend you look for her documentary film 13th on Netflix. This film focuses on language on the 13th amendment and traces the historical connections from slavery to the current system of mass incarceration in the U.S. Ava DuVernay is one of the most important voices in America today. Her work may change the way you think about race forever.
February 12, 2020
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in the early part of the 19th Century. The exact date of his birth is unknown since he was separated from his mother as an infant, and never knew his father, who is presumed to have been a white slave owner. At a young age, he was sold to a family who, against the laws of the time, taught him to read, changing the course of his life. Douglass escaped from slavery in 1838, fleeing to the north. By the time of the Civil War, Douglass had become one of the most famous black men in the country, known for his speeches on human rights. His eloquence drew crowds at every location, where he stood as a living counter-example to arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. He described his experiences as a slave in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became a bestseller, and was influential in promoting the cause of abolition.
February 13, 2020
The Cost of Removal:
Have you been to an art museum? Have you thought about the art that you see? Who created it? Whose story is being told? Titus Kaphar asked himself these questions, and found that the answers were unsatisfying. Kaphar is a painter whose work comments on the representation, and absence, of people of color in Western art. His art deconstructs the literal and visual structure of classic artwork by manipulating the canvas to reveal the hidden narratives and unspoken truths that the original pieces ignored. Kaphar approaches difficult aspects of our American history, not with the intention of removing, or concealing them, but to use them to address injustice. Kaphar’s work has been exhibited in museums across the country and in 2018 he was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant.
February 18, 2020
Jazz Legend Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington was the most important composer in the history of jazz as well as being a bandleader who held his large group together continuously for almost 50 years. The two aspects of his career were related; Ellington used his band as a musical laboratory for his new compositions and shaped his writing specifically to showcase the talents of his band members. His sophisticated compositions elevated the entire genre. Ellington rejected categorization, calling his sound “American Music” rather than jazz. He wrote film scores and stage musicals, composed over 3,000 songs, and played over 20,000 performances around the world. Ellington won 13 Grammy awards, was recognized by presidents, received the Pulitzer Prize, and appears on a US postage stamp.
Duke Ellington- It Don’t Mean a Thing – 1943
For a different side of jazz, try “Freddie Freeloader” by Miles Davis
A Teacher’s Guide to Jazz
Dig deeper by exploring these jazz legends: Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong.
February 19, 2020
Segregation prevented Georgia-born Alice Coachman from competing on sports teams as a teen, but she didn’t let that quash her dreams and love of running. Training on her own, she eventually earned a scholarship at the Tuskegee Institute in 1939. She continued to win races and break records in Amateur Athletic Union competitions. In 1948, she finally got her chance to compete in the Olympics, and her record-breaking high jump made her the first African-American woman to win Olympic gold. She retired from competition, and in 1952 became the first African-American man or woman to receive an endorsement deal when Coca-Cola chose her as a spokesperson.
February 20, 2020
Who Were the Tuskegee Airmen?
In 1938, with Europe on the brink of another great war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced he would expand the civilian pilot training program in the United States.
At the time, racial segregation remained the rule in the U.S. armed forces—as well as much of the country. Much of the military establishment (particularly in the South) believed black soldiers were inferior to whites, and performed relatively poorly in combat.
Roosevelt’s new program produced The Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps (AAC), a precursor of the U.S. Air Force. Trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, they flew more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa during World War II. Their impressive performance earned them more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and helped encourage the eventual integration of the U.S. armed forces.
February 21, 2020
Richard Wright was born on September 4, 1908, in Roxie, Mississippi, the grandson of slaves and the son of a sharecropper.
Schooled in Jackson, Mississippi, Wright only managed to complete a ninth-grade education, but he was a voracious reader who went to great lengths to pursue his literary interests. He forged notes so he could take out books on a white coworker's library card, as blacks were not allowed to use the public libraries in Memphis. The more he read about the world, the more Wright longed to see it and make a permanent break from the Jim Crow South. After some critical acclaim for his writing in the form of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Wright’s life changed in 1940 with the publication of the novel Native Son. The book brought him fame and the freedom to write. Native Son was a regular atop the bestseller lists and became the first book by an African American writer to be selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club. In 1945, Wright published Black Boy, which offered a moving account of the poverty and racial violence so prominent in the lives of blacks living in the Jim Crow South, helping to lay the ground for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Below is a PDF of Richard Wright's short story "Hunger."