Black History Month

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Stokely Carmichael

written by Junior Amiyah Shields

Stokely Carmichael was a Trinidadian- American civil rights activist. He is best known for his pivotal role in the original Black Panther Party and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, also known as the SNCC. He worked with many Southern leaders, including Martin Luther King, to set up protests. In 1961, in order to show his lack of respect for segregation, he entered a “whites only bus”; as a consequence, he was arrested and jailed for 49 days.

One of his greatest accomplishments was encouraging the increase in registered black voters in Lowndes County, Alabama. In 1965, African Americans made up about 80% of the population, but 0% of the voters. White supremacists had a history of violence toward blacks who tried to register to vote. When his efforts went unrecognized, Carmichael founded his own party, called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. Despite violence, evictions, and riots, Carmichael and his party helped register many black voters, and even ran African-American candidates for office.

For standing up to segregation and for helping to end racist voting practices, we honor Stokely Carmichael as an important part of Black History.

Phillis Wheatley

written by Sophomore Neildha Blanc

Phillis Wheatley was one of the best-known poets of the 19th century. She was the first African American and the second woman to publish a book of poems, despite living most of her life enslaved. Phillis Wheatley was an example that blacks could be both artistic and intellectual.

Phillis was captured by slave traders in West Africa when she was about seven years old, and was brought to America in 1761. She was sold to the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts. They taught her to read, and within sixteen months of her arrival, 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. She published her first poem in 1767.

In 1773, Wheatley was sent to London to publish her first book, “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral”. Wheatley’s poems reflected the different influences on her life, including well-known poets such as Alexander Pope and Thomas Gray. Wheatley’s pride in her African heritage could also be seen in her writing.

She wrote several letters on liberty and freedom. During the peak of her writing career, Wheatley even wrote a poem to George Washington, praising his appointment as the commander of the Continental Army. Afterwards she was invited to meet George Washington in March 1776.

At the time many people found it hard to believe a black woman could be intelligent and write poetry, so Wheatley had to defend her literary ability in court in 1772. She later mentioned this event in the preface to her book.

Her popularity as a poet both in the United States and England ultimately brought her freedom from slavery on October 18, 1773.

In addition to making an important contribution to American literature, Phillis Wheatley’s talents helped show that African Americans were equally capable, creative, and intelligent human beings who had the right to an education. Wheatley’s work helped the abolitionist movement and promoted educational opportunities for African Americans.

Claudette Colvin

written by Sophomore Maya Samuel

Most people believe Rosa Parks was the first black woman to refuse to give up her seat, but they are mistaken. There were multiple women who did the same act before her, and one of them is Claudette Colvin.

Claudette Colvin was born on September 5, 1939, in Montgomery, Alabama. She grew up in King Hill, Alabama, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Montgomery. She attended Booker T Washington High School, where she studied hard and earned mostly As in all her classes. Colvin even aspired to become president one day.

On March 2, 1955, Colvin was riding home on a city bus after school when a bus driver told her to give up her seat to a white passenger. Colvin refused, saying she had the right to sit because she was a lady who had paid the full bus fare.

The bus drove one block after she refused to get up. A policeman came in and asked her again, and she refused. Colvin was thrown in the city’s adult jail. She was convicted of assault and battery of a police officer and was put on indefinite probation.

After her minister paid her bail, she went home where she and her family stayed up all night out of concern for possible retaliation. While Rosa Parks became an image of resistance, Covin became an outcast and was branded as a troublemaker when she was first arrested. Colvin was only 15 years old at the time of the event.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People briefly considered using Colvin's case to challenge the segregation laws, but they decided against it because of her age. She was abandoned by civil rights leaders when she became pregnant at 16.

Colvin helped end the Montgomery Bus Boycott more than a year later when she, along with co-plaintiffs, served as witnesses in Browder v. Gayle, a case that ended segregation in public transportation all across the United States.

Due to all the drama of her actions (such as the bus incident and dropping out of school due to teen pregnancy), it became impossible for her to get a job in Montgomery. In 1968, Colvin moved to New York City, where she had her second son, Randy, and worked as a nurse's aide at a Manhattan nursing home. She retired in 2004.

Claudette Colvin is now 79 years old. Phillip Hoose’s book, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, reiterates her life during the civil rights movement and paints her picture as one of the unsung heroes of that time.

With all that she has done for the progression of Black Americans, Claudette Colvin has definitely earned her place in history

Angela Davis

written by Sophomore Tai Timmerman

Angela Davis is famous for being a radical educator, activist for civil rights, member of the Black Panther Party, and women’s rights activist.

Angela Yvonne Davis was born on January 26, 1944. Her father, Frank Davis, owned a service station. Her mother, Sayelle Davis, was an elementary school teacher and a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or the NAACP.

Davis grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, in a middle-class neighborhood nicknamed Dynamite Hilldue to the excessive amount of times that African Americans’ houses were being bombed and obliterated by the Ku Klux Klan. At this point in time, she was already exposed to racial prejudice.

During her teenage years, she became conscientious and defiant. Davis created multiple interracial study groups that were eventually broken up by police. Later on in her life, Davis moved to Massachusetts and attended Brandeis University, where she studied philosophy. In addition, she graduated from the University of California, San Diego, in the late 60’s. From there on, she joined the Black Panther Party.

The Black Panther Party was known for taking drastic measures.They wanted police brutality to be terminated in the African American community and deliberately worked on fixing other social issues. These issues were the focus of one of Angela Davis’ most famous speeches, The Liberation of our People. In the 70’s, the controversial party start to die a bit because of the FBI. Some people claimed that the FBI killed a lot of the Black Panther members in order to stop them from gaining too much power.

In 1981, Davis wrote a book named, Women, Race, and Class, in which she speaks about the oppression of women-- specifically American American women, the economy, poverty, etc. For example, in the book she explains how race, gender, and class shaped inequality in the United States and that we still have work to do.

After years of traveling and lecturing, she taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She taught courses on the history of consciousness and retired in the year 2008. She continues to instill knowledge in the youth of today by speaking at prestigious universities. In 2017, Angela Davis was made honorary co-chair at the Women’s March.

Without Angela Davis’ speeches, books, and consciousness, we would not have progressed as much as we have. This is what makes her such an important part of Black History.

Shirley Chisholm

written by Sophomore Maya Samuel

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to Congress and the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major political parties.

Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 30, 1924. She was the oldest of four daughters born to immigrant parents Charles St. Hill, a factory worker from Guyana, and Ruby Seale St. Hill, a seamstress from Barbados.

When she was three years old, Shirley was sent to live with her grandmother on a farm in Barbados, and returned to the United States during the height of the Great Depression. She graduated from Brooklyn Girls’ High in 1942 and from Brooklyn College with honors in 1946, where she also won prizes from being on the Debate Team.

Her professors encouraged her to enter the political field, but she turned it down, saying she faced a challenge being black and a woman. Many companies she applied to for employment rejected her, but she managed to find a job at the Mount Calvary Child Care Center in Harlem.

From 1946 to 1953, Chisholm worked as a nursery school teacher and then as the director of two daycare centers. Three years later, Shirley Chisholm earned an M.A. in early childhood education from Columbia University. She worked as an educational consultant for New York City's Division of Day Care from 1959 to 1964.

After a successful career as a teacher, Chisholm decided to run for the New York State Assembly. It was the mid-1960s when the civil rights movement was in full swing, and her ideas were perfect for the times. In 1964, Chisholm was elected to the assembly.

During the time that she served in the assembly Chisholm sponsored fifty bills, but only eight of them passed. One of the successful bills she supported provided assistance for poor students to go on to higher education. Another provided employment insurance coverage for personal and domestic employees.

Chisholm served in the state assembly until 1968, when she decided to run for the U.S. Congress. Chisholm won the election and began a long career in the U.S. House of Representatives, lasting from the Ninety-first through the Ninety-seventh Congress.

With the Vietnam War raging overseas, Chisholm opposed the amount of money being spent on the defense budget while social programs suffered. She argued that money should not be spent for war while many Americans were hungry, poorly educated, and without adequate housing.

Chisholm was also a strong supporter of women's rights. In the early years of her career as a congresswoman, she took a stand on the issue of abortion and supported a woman's right to choose. She also spoke against traditional roles for women professionals, arguing that women were capable of entering many other professions. Black women especially had been pushed into stereotypical roles, or conventional professions, such as maids and nannies.

Chisholm supported the idea that they needed to escape, not just by governmental aid, but also by self-effort. Her antiwar and women's liberation views made Chisholm a popular speaker on college campuses.

In 1972 Chisholm ran for President. In addition to her interest in civil rights, she spoke out about the judicial system in the United States, police brutality, prison reform, gun control, drug abuse, and many other topics. Chisholm did not win the Democratic nomination, but she did win 10 percent of the votes within the party. As a result of her candidacy, Chisholm was voted one of the ten most admired women in the world.

After her unsuccessful presidential campaign, Chisholm continued to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives for another decade. As a member of the Black Caucus, she was able to watch black representation in the Congress grow and to welcome other black female congresswomen.

From 1983 to 1987, Chisholm served as Professor at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts, where she taught politics and women's studies. In 1987 she retired from teaching. Chisholm continued to be involved in politics by co-founding the National Political Congress of Black Women in 1984. She also worked for the presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. In 1993 President Bill Clinton nominated Chisholm for the position of Ambassador to Jamaica. She turned down the nomination due to her declining health.

Shirley Chisholm received multiple honorary degrees and awards such as Brooklyn College Alumna of the Year, Key Woman of the Year, Outstanding Work in the Field of Child Welfare, and Woman of Achievement. Chisholm passed away in Daytona Beach, Florida, on January 1, 2005. She was 80 years old.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

written by Junior Neildha Blanc

Desmond Tutu is a South African Anglican cleric and theologian. He is best known for his work against apartheid in South Africa and his work as a human rights activist. He has also been recognized as the “moral conscience of South Africa”.

Desmond Tutu was born in South Africa on October 7th, 1931. He began pursuing a career in education, but later turned to theology.

In 1953, the African government passed the Bantu Education Act, a law that lowered the standards of education for black South Africans. This policy ensured that blacks only learned what was necessary for a life of servitude. Tutu was not willing to participate in an educational system that promoted inequality, so in 1957 he quit teaching in protest. The next year, Tutu enrolled at St. Peter's Theological College in Johannesburg.

Tutu was the first black person to ever be appointed an Anglican archbishop. It was in this position that Tutu was able to speak out and emerge as a strident voice in the South African anti-apartheid movement. He used his position in the church to gain support for many peaceful protests against government policies. In 1978, Desmond Tutu became the first black citizen selected as the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches. He continued using his position in the South African religious hierarchy to advocate for an end to apartheid.

Desmond Tutu was one of the most prominent spiritual leaders and spokespersons for the rights of black South Africans. In 1984, he won the Nobel Peace prize for his efforts in ending apartheid. The Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Tutu stood as a symbol for South Africa's anti-apartheid movement. In 1994, he was even appointed as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by the former South African president, Nelson Mandela. This was an important government committee whose role was to help people face up to the terrible things that happened during the Apartheid era and begin to heal old wounds. Tutu’s work was instrumental in unifying the South African people.

Desmond Tutu serves as an inspiration to many because of his optimism and hope despite overwhelming odds. He preached for peace and kept faith in the ability of human beings to do good. He once said, "Despite all of the ghastliness in the world, human beings are made for goodness."

For helping to end apartheid, heal a divided nation, promote peace and social justice, and inspire millions, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has earned an important place in Black History.

Black Wall Street

written by Sophomore Maya Samuel

The story of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood district, nicknamed Black Wall Street, isn’t very well known, but it should be.

Black Wall Street was a sophisticated area full of black people unapologetically themselves. Unfortunately, it was also the site of one of the most horrendous race riots that has occurred in US history.

The oil booms of the early 1900s had many moving to Tulsa for a shot at fast money and a better life, and African Americans hoped to prosper from the new industry as well. Tulsa, like many cities and towns throughout the US, was hostilely segregated, with African Americans settling into the Greenwood neighborhood in the northern region of the city. Greenwood Avenue was lined with hotels, restaurants, furriers, and even an early taxi service using a Ford Model T. Nearly 200 businesses populated the 35-square-block district in all. There were also many beautiful, large homes, equivalent to the homes in high-class white neighborhoods.

There was a brewing resentment among whites about the rising wealth and confidence of black Americans, not only in Oklahoma but around the United States. After World War I, black soldiers returned home from Europe less willing to accept systematic oppression as their reward for risking their lives. A chain of race riots soon broke out across the country, claiming hundreds of black lives.

On May 30, 1921, Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old black shoe shiner, entered a downtown Tulsa office building elevator operated by Sarah Page, a white attendant. The two teens touched. Page said he assaulted her, but Rowland later said he had put his hand on her arm. The Tulsa Tribune printed a story the following day, claiming that Rowland had tried to tear off Page’s clothes. Accusations of misconduct toward white women were common against black men during the period and often led to executions.

On May 31st, a crowd of hundreds of white men, many of them armed, stood in front of the courthouse. A black World War I veteran and a white man got into a brawl over the veteran’s right to operate a weapon. A gunshot sounded. Within minutes, 20 men on both sides were dead or wounded, and Tulsa was at war.

About 5,000 armed whites attacked Greenwood that night till the following morning. They used a mixture of coercion and violence to reassert the supposed racial hierarchy of Tulsa. Houses were looted for jewelry, and some stole invaluable objects like family Bibles. Buildings were set on fire, and white attackers mounted machine guns on a truck. Approximately 168 people were killed, mostly African Americans. Some blacks were hauled to internment camps at gunpoint. Some residents were imprisoned for as long as two weeks, and even after they were set free, they had to carry around identification cards signed by whites to prove they posed no threat.

Greenwood residents claimed 1.8 million dollars in damages, which would be about 25 million in today’s dollars. Insurance companies and the city of Tulsa denied the claims on a technicality: Riots weren’t covered in the insurance policies.

The charges against Dick Rowland were dropped. Sarah Page gave a statement to police withdrawing her assault claim just hours before the attack started.

White people put the incident behind them. Black people, on the other hand, faced an unsure path forward in Greenwood, living in tents on the plots of their former houses. The glory days of Black Wall Street were over.