Tag Archives: Black History

Rosa Parks: Civil Rights Activist

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English: Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Mar...

Photographic Rosa Parks (ca. 1955) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though the slaves were freed after the Civil War, it wasn’t until 100 years later when black people were considered equal with white people. Until then, the blacks had to use separate water fountains, separate schools, and separate entrances. Minorities were discriminated against, especially in the South where the Jim Crow laws made “everything separate, but equal” – which actually meant the white citizens were the only first class citizens. And anyone who stood up against the racist laws would mysteriously disappear thanks to the KKK butthat all changed when one woman, Rosa Parks, refused to move to the back of the bus.

Rosa Parks, born Rosa Louise McCauley, was born on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. After her parents divorced, she and her mother moved in with Rosa’s maternal grandparents, two former slaves. On her way to her segregated one-room school, Rosa would watch as the school buses drove by with the white children; after all, black children were not provided school buses of their own to ride. In 11th grade, Rosa dropped out of school to take care of her sick mother and grandmother. In 1932, she met and married Raymond Parks, a barber and member of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People. With her husband’s support, she earned her high school degree in 1933; at that time, only 7% of blacks graduated high school. In 1943, she became involved in civil rights issues by becoming the secretary and youth leader of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP.

To get to work at the department store where she worked as a seamstress, Rosa took the city bus. The Montgomery City Code required that all public transportation be segregated. There was a sign in the middle of the bus that divided the bus: white passengers in the front and black passengers in the back. Though the law did not require black passengers to give up their seats to white passengers, bus drivers would still threaten the black passengers with the police if they refused. On December 1, 1955, Rosa took the seat in the first row of the black section of the bus after work. A few bus stops later, the us driver noticed white passengers standing in the aisle so he stopped the bus, moved the sign, and asked four of the black passengers to move to the back of the bus. Three of the passengers complained, but moved. Rosa repliaed “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” She was arrested.

Word of her arrest quickly spread through town. The president of the local chapter of the NAACP, E.D. Nixon, met with Rosa after she paid her bail and was released. Nixon and other leaders were waiting for the perfect plaintiff to take a trial to the supreme court and Rosa was perfect: she was married, employed, financially stable, mature, and quiet. It was determined that they would take her case to court and that there would be a bus boycott on the day of her trial. The first group to endorse the boycott was the Women’s Political Council. Rosa’s trial was to be on December 5th. On the day of her trial, she was found guilty of violating the local ordinance and fined $10. On that day it rained, yet 40,000 members of the black community walked to work, some walking as far as 20 miles. Due to the boycott’s importance, it was determined that there should be someone in charge of the bus boycott. The leaders of the black community elected Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an unknown minister.

For months the buses remained empty since blacks made up 75% of bus riders. King and Nixon both had their homes destroyed by bombing and many protesters were arrested for boycotting. Rosa and her husband lost their jobs and moved to Detroit, Michigan. In June 1956, the district court declared Jim Crow laws to be unconstitutional. The city of Montgomery appealed, but the U.S. Supreme court upheld the lower court’s ruling on November 13, 1956. The boycott ended on December 20, 1956 after Montgomery lifted its segregation of buses. In the 1960’s, several laws passed to prohibited segregation laws throughout the United States.

As for Rosa, she became a secretary in the U.S. Representative John Conyer’s congressional office. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton and when she died on October 24, 2005, she became the first woman to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda. Millions of blacks were waiting for years for the moment when they would be considered equal. When Rosa Parks, an average woman, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, the local black leaders realized that it was now the time to take a stand against the Jim Crow laws. The boycott was organized and future Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. was put in charge of the boycott. Because of Rosa Parks, white and black children can ride the school bus together.

Sources:

Rosa Parks. biography

Rosa Parks

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Shirley Chisholm: Black Congresswoman

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Shirley Chisholm, future member of the U.S. Ho...

Shirley Chisholm, future member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-NY), announcing her candidacy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2013, 98 women – 20 in the Senate and 78 in the House – took part in the 113th Congress. Women still only make 18.1% of the 535 seats in the U.S. Congress, but it is a start. The first women elected to Congress was in 1917 and the number of women in congress has been increasing ever since. In 1969, the first black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm, was elected to congress. In 1969, only 2.1% of congress were women. Chisholm dedicated her life trying to make life better for African Americans, women, and children.

Shirley Chisholm was born on November 30, 1924 in New York City to immigrant parents Charles  and Ruby St. Hill. At the age of 3, her parents sent her to live with her grandmother in Barbados where she received early British-style education. She returned to the United States at the age of 10 during the Great Depression. Chisholm graduated from Brooklyn College in 1946 and received her Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from Columbia University in 1952. She married Conrad Chisholm in 1949 (couple divorced in 1977). When she was not teaching at a nursery school, she served as the director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center from 1953 to 1959 and an educational consultant to New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare from 1959 to 1964. In 1964, she ran for New York State Assembly. She sponsored 50 bills, but only 8 of them passed. Her bills focused on education and jobs for the low-income.

In 1969, she ran for congress against Republican civil rights leader James Farmer. When she won, she became the first black congresswoman elected to congress. She was assigned to the House Forestry Committee, but she shocked many by demanding reassignment. She wanted to work on a committee that focused on her voters, and in New York, not many of them were affected by forestry. She was reassigned to the Veteran’s Affairs Committee and then Education and Labor Committee. She became one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus. In 1972, she became the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. She won 10% of the votes within the party.

In 1972, Alabama governor George Wallace was wounded after an assassination attempt. Though Wallace supported segregation, Chisholm visited him in the hospital. Chisholm would receive a lot of criticism for the visit, but she believed it was the right thing to do. She later recalled “He said to me, ‘What are your people going to say?’ I said: ‘I know what they’re going to say. But I wouldn’t want what happened to you happen to anyone.’ He cried and cried and cried.” Years later, Chisholm was working on a bill to give domestic workers minimum wage. Wallace helped gain votes of enough Southern congressmen to push the legislation through the House. In the late 1970’s, Wallace changed his position as a segregationist.

In Congress, Chisholm was a vocal opponent of the draft. The Vietnam War was going on and she was against the large number of money being used for the defense budget while Americans were hungry and poorly educated. Chisholm also supported women’s rights to choose and argued that women are capable of entering other professions, especially black women. She believed black women could better themselves not just by governmental aid, but also with self-effort. Chisholm left congress in 1983 and became a professor at Mount Holyoke College. She married Arthur Hardwick, Jr. in 1986 and retired from teaching in 1987, but remained involved in politics. She was a cofounder of the National Political Congress of Black Women in 1984 and was nominated for the position of Ambassador to Jamaica by President Bill Clinton, which she declined due to poor health. She died on January 1, 2005 in Ormond Beach, Florida.

Shirley Chisholm will always be remembered as being the first black congresswoman and the first black presidential candidate, but she wanted to be remembered for fighting for African Americans, women, and children. Chisholm realized how important education was and spent her life trying to convince others that education is the most important thing.Chisholm knew in the 1960’s that the United States should not cut social programs to finance a war while Americans still didn’t have a quality education or housing. Just as Chisholm did during the Vietnam War, it up to the American people to vote for politicians that care about the welfare of Americans. It is also important for American women to vote for politicians that care about women’s rights. Looking back on her career, Chisholm noticed that she received more trouble not for being black, but for being a woman.

Sources:

Shirley Chisholm. biography

Shirley Chisholm Biography

Shirley Chisholm, “Unbossed’ Pioneer in Congress

Record number of women in Congress

Harriet Tubman: Black Moses

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Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery and never dreamed of running away from her family until her owner died, increasing the possibility of her being sold. After running away to the free state of Pennsylvania, Tubman realized she could not live a life of freedom while her family and friends were still slaves. Tubman made it her mission to lead slaves to freedom until the Civil War erupted. During the war, she helped the Union solders navigate the Southern States, becoming the first woman to lead an armed expedition during war . Even after slaves became free, Tubman continued to help others until she became too ill to do so.

Araminta Harriet Ross was born around 1822 in Maryland. Like many other slaves, Harriet was a victim of physical violence. When Tubman was a teen running errands at the market, she encountered a slave who had left the fields without permission. When the slave’s overseer demanded Harriet help him restrain the slave, she refused; the overseer then threw a two-pound weight that struck her in the head. Harriet would have severe headaches and seizures for the rest of her life. Years later,  Harriet married a free black man named John Tubman and changed her name to Harriet Tubman. Though her husband was saving up to buy her freedom, Harriet’s owner died and she feared she would be sold and be separated from her family due to her frequent illnesses. Tubman escaped  in 1849 with her two brothers, but her brothers turned back after seeing their reward notice in the newspaper.Tubman had to continue on her own to Pennsylvania.

After reaching Pennsylvania, Tubman realized she had to save her friends and family from slavery. In December 1850, she heard her niece and niece’s children were going to be sold. Harriet managed to save her niece’s entire family. When she returned to Maryland to see her husband, she found out he was happily remarried. Tubman kept her head up and returned to work, using the Underground Railroad to save over 70 slaves, including her siblings and parents. After the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 made it a crime to help slaves avoid capture, Tubman had to re-route the Underground Railroad to Canada. In December 1851, Tubman led a group of 11 fugitives to Canada; one of her stops was Frederick Douglass’ house. Though locals in Maryland knew someone was responsible for all 70 missing slaves, no one suspected the petite disabled slave who ran away years ago. Years later, Tubman stated “I was conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” Her frequent trips earned her the nickname  Black Moses for leading slaves to freedom.

When the Civil War broke out Tubman acted as a cook and a nurse to the Union Army before being recruited as a spy due to her knowledge of the land. Tubman became the first American woman to lead an armed expedition in the war when she guided the Combahee River Raid. The raid liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina. When she was not helping the Union Army, she returned home to Auburn, New York to take care of her aging parents. After the Civil War ended, Tubman returned home on a train. After refusing to move into the smoking car, the conductor broke her arm while fellow passengers  cursed her. Tubman had risked her life helping the North win the war, yet she was still treated as an inferior being. She did not receive a Civil War pension until 1899.

In 1869, Tubman married Civil War veteran Nelson Davis and the couple adopted a baby girl name Gertie. Though slavery was over, Tubman knew she still had work to do. Tubman began attending women suffrage meetings and traveled to speak out in favor of women’s voting rights. Tubman even met Susan B. Anthony. After years of working for equality, Tubman was admitted to the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged due to her head injuries. Surrounded by friends and family, she died of pneumonia in 1913.

Harriet Tubman risked her life to save her friends, family, and strangers even though she was a black woman with a disability. Tubman  worked without pay cooking and taking care of the Union soldiers because she knew the North needed to win to free all of the slaves. And when she was not taking care of the soldiers, she was back at home taking care of her parents. Though Tubman could have had an easy life in Philadelphia, she spent her whole life helping others even when she didn’t have much  money. Tubman shows how anyone, no matter gender, color, disability, or level of education can become a hero.

 

Sources:

Harriet Tubman. biography

Black History Month: Is it Time for it to Go?

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I remember when I was in seventh grade (year 2002) walking outside the African Studies Club classroom. The Black History Month assignment was to write a short essay about who were the students’ Black role models. On the wall were pictures of Martin Luther King Jr., Oprah, Tiger Woods, and Michael Jordan. All the students in the club managed to pick the same four people – one is the most famous Civil Rights Icon, one is a billionaire talk-show host, and the other two are athletes. I thought the purpose of Black History Month was to show Black children how Blacks have been contributing to the United States’ history for hundreds of years, not the past decade in sports.

English: Portrait of African-American historia...

Carter Godwin Woodson.  (Wikipedia)

Black History Month began in 1926 when Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced that the second week of February was to be Negro History Week because it marked the birthday of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson’s purpose was to show the Black youth that they should be proud of their skin color and to show White society that Black people have contributed to American History. Woodson hoped that one day Negro History Week would be eliminated when Black History became fundamental to American History. Instead, Black History week became a whole month; meanwhile Hispanics were granted September/October, Native Americans received November, Asian and Pacific Islanders attained May, Gays and Lesbians acquired June, and Women obtained March. Instead of making sure that minority groups’ History was incorporated into American History in schools, the American government awarded each minority group one whole month to educate society about why its group is important. As a woman, I can say it takes more than one month to celebrate all the women throughout history. I am not the only critic of minority months, each February Black People criticize the month dedicated to them and their history. “Like college honorary degrees conferred on blacks and renaming streets in inner city neighborhoods for African-American heroes, Black History Month, in the opinion of many, is simply a guilt-driven public relations scam to pacify blacks,” says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, President of the National Alliance for Positive Action. “You’re going to relegate my history to a month. I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history,” says actor Morgan Freeman. Instead of creating months for every heritage/gender/sexual orientation in the world, the government should make sure that the public school teachers are teaching all of America’s history.

Growing up, Black History Month to me meant that television channels would show 30-second clip on a famous Black person. Luckily, February was not the only time I learned about famous Black people; I learned about Black History throughout the whole school year. In elementary school I was taught about Civil Rights Heroes Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, and inventor George Washington Carver. In Middle School I was taught about the slave trade, slavery in the South, the Civil War, and Harriet Tubman’s role in the Underground Railroad. In High School English I read literature from W.E.B. Du Bois, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Alex Haley, and Maya Angelou. In High School History, I was taught about the slave Dred Scott vs. Sandford. Today I am still learning about Black History: I saw Maya Angelou speak at my college, I recently read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and last month while visiting Thomas Edison’s Winter Home, I learned about Edison’s Black assistant, Lewis Latimer, who helped him create a better light bulb, later becoming a patent consultant to law firms. Due to my experiences in the public school system, I believe Woodson’s goal of intertwining Black History with American History was successful, a reason why Black History Month is no longer needed.

The four girls killed in the bombing (Clockwis...

The four girls killed in the Church bombing (Clockwise from top left, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair) (Wikipedia)

I learned about History not from a month but from my teachers, my books, my travels, my experiences – by my wanting to learn about it. I went to the same school as the African Studies Club members did, yet I could list more Black role models than their whole club could. The teachers are teaching the students about Black History, but do the students realize how important it is? Children need to realize how important it is to know where they came from, as Marcus Garvey said “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Instead of showing 30 second clips on famous Black people on television every February, society should be talking about how to get the younger generation interested in Black History throughout the whole year. It could be as simple as just suggesting that they read “Roots” or “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings” to learn about Black History. Maybe they need to read old newspaper articles online about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing to see how bad it was in South in the 1960s (victims are shown to the right). Maybe parents just need to sit down and talk to their children about important Black Historical Figures, such as athletes Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson, whom led the way for all the current Black athletes.

Though I was taught about Black History throughout the school year, there are schools out there that do not stress the importance of Blacks in American History. Instead of society letting Black History month teach the students, parents should be contacting the schools about why Black History is not being taught throughout the year or the parents should teach their children themselves. In fact, all parents should be keeping an eye on their children’s school curriculum since there are schools across the country cutting all history classes since several politicians and educators don’t believe history is useful in a math/science world. This means children are not learning about Black History, Native American History, Women History, and even White Men History. At the pace America is heading, even America is going to need its own month to teach children why its history is important…one measly month.

Sources:

“Black History Month: Education or Tokenism?” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 3 (1994): 30-31. Print.