10 Must-Have Books and Documentaries To Celebrate Black History Month

For many of us, learning about our history has been a personal endeavor. Generally, American education is largely Eurocentric and the history of people of color in this country centers around slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. As we grow older, however, we realize there is so much more. Here are 10 must-have books and documentaries to kick-off this Black History Month. Use them to teach your children exciting facts about our rich and inspiring history.

For many of us, learning about our history has been a personal endeavor. Generally, American education is largely Eurocentric and the history of people of color in this country centers around slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. As we grow older, however, we realize there is so much more.  Here are 10 must-have books and documentaries to kick-off this Black History Month. Use them to teach your children exciting facts about our rich and inspiring history.

1. African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross

Explore with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the evolution of the African-American people, as well as the multiplicity of cultural institutions, political strategies, and religious and social perspectives they developed forging their own history, culture and society against unimaginable odds. (Amazon Product Review)

2. Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

The grandson of slaves, born into poverty in 1892 in the Deep South, A. G. Gaston died more than a century later with a fortune worth well over $130 million and a business empire spanning communications, real estate, and insurance. Gaston was, by any measure, a heroic figure whose wealth and influence bore comparison to J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. Here, for the first time, is the story of the life of this extraordinary pioneer, told by his niece and grandniece, the award-winning television journalist Carol Jenkins and her daughter Elizabeth Gardner Hines. (Amazon Product Review)

3. The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Wilson

The thesis of Dr. Woodson’s book is that African-Americans of his day were being culturally indoctrinated, rather than taught, in American schools. This conditioning, he claims, causes African-Americans to become dependent and to seek out inferior places in the greater society of which they are a part. He challenges his readers to become autodidacts and to “do for themselves”, regardless of what they were taught:

History shows that it does not matter who is in power… those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they did in the beginning (From Amazon).

4. Vintage Black Glamour

Vintage Black Glamour is a unique, sumptuous and revealing celebration of the lives and indomitable spirit of Black women of a previous era. With its stunning photographs and insightful biographies, this book is a hugely important addition to Black history archives. (Amazon Product Review)

5. When Black Men Ruled The World (Full Video on YouTube)

Hosted by Legrand H. Clegg II, “When Black Men Ruled The World” is a classic documentary of little known facts about the Black people of ancient history. The documentary discusses the migration, origin, and accomplishments of ancient Black people and their obvious impact on the modern world (From Atlantic Black Star).

6. Good Hair feat. Chris Rock

Chris Rock visits beauty salons and hairstyling battles, scientific laboratories and Indian temples to explore the way hairstyles impact the activities, pocketbooks, sexual relationships, and self-esteem of the black community in this expos of comic proportions that only he could pull off. A raucous adventure prompted by Rock’s daughter approaching him and asking, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?, GOOD HAIR shows Chris Rock engaging in frank, funny conversations with hair-care professionals, beauty shop and barbershop patrons, and celebrities including Ice-T, Nia Long, Paul Mooney, Raven Symon, Dr. Maya Angelou, Salt-N-Pepa, Eve and Reverend Al Sharpton all while he struggles with the task of figuring out how to respond to his daughter’s question. (Studio)

7. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

More than 40 years after the Black Panther Party was founded the group and its leadership remain powerful and enduring images in our popular imagination. This will weave together the voices of those who lived this story — police informants journalists white supporters and detractors those who remained loyal to the party and those who left it. (Amazon Product Review)

8. The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told by Alex Haley

With its first great victory in the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the civil rights movement gained the powerful momentum it needed to sweep forward into its crucial decade, the 1960s. As voices of protest and change rose above the din of history and false promises, one voice sounded more urgently, more passionately, than the rest. Malcolm X—once called the most dangerous man in America—challenged the world to listen and learn the truth as he experienced it. And his enduring message is as relevant today as when he first delivered it. (From Amazon)

9. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.  (Amazon Product Review)

10. 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

This unforgettable memoir was the basis for the Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave. This is the true story of Solomon Northup, who was born and raised as a freeman in New York. He lived the American dream, with a house and a loving family – a wife and two kids. Then one day he was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in the deep south. These are the true accounts of his twelve hard years as a slave – many believe this memoir is even more graphic and disturbing than the film. His extraordinary journey proves the resiliency of hope and the human spirit despite the most grueling and formidable of circumstances. (Amazon Product Review)

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.

8 Teachable Facts About Fences Playwright August Wilson

August Wilson was a prolific playwright known for chronicling the 20th Century African American experience. His work resonated with the American public during a time when people were unaccustomed to seeing reflections of African American life in art. On Christmas Day in 2016, his Pulitzer Prize winning play, Fences was released theatrically to rave reviews. Here are 8 amazing facts to teach your children about August Wilson and his contribution to our fabulous history.

August Wilson was a prolific playwright known for chronicling the 20th Century African American experience. His work resonated with the American public during a time when people were unaccustomed to seeing reflections of African American life in art.  On Christmas Day in 2016, his Pulitzer Prize winning play, Fences was released theatrically to rave reviews.  Here are 8 amazing facts to teach your children about August Wilson and his contribution to our fabulous history.

1. He was biracial.

August Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel in 1945 to Daisy Wilson, who was African American, and Frederick Kittel, a German immigrant. His parents divorced when he was a child and his father was reportedly absent from his childhood.  When he was 20 years old, his father died and he adopted the pen name “August Wilson” as a tribute to his mother.

2. He faced racism and adversity at a young age.

When Wilson’s parent’s divorced, Wilson moved out of the Hill District of Pittsburgh to the then-predominately white neighborhood of Hazelwood.  He was the only black student at a Roman Catholic high school.  In 2001, he told The New Yorker, “There was a note on my desk every single day [and] it said, ‘Go home, nigger.'” As a result, he left school at 15 years old and earned his high school diploma by studying on his own at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.  He bought his first typewriter with $20 he earned writing a term paper for one of his sisters.

“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.” – August Wilson

3. He was a poet.

In his twenties, Wilson submitted poems to magazines while working odd jobs.  Invigorated by the Black Power Movement, he and a group of fellow poets started a theater workshop and art gallery.  In 1978, Wilson took a job working at the Science Museum of Minnesota. His job was to adapt Native American folk tales into children’s plays. He wrote his first notable play, Jitney in 1979 and earned a fellowship to the Minneapolis Playwright Center.

4. Coined the “Century Cycle,” ten of his plays chronicle the 20th Century African American experience by decade.

With the exception of Ma Rainey, all of the “Century Cycle” plays take place in the Hill District of Pittsburgh where Wilson was born.  Wilson once said, “I wanted to place this culture onstage in all its richness and fullness and to demonstrate its ability to sustain us in all areas of human life and endeavor and through profound moments of our history in which the larger society has thought less of us than we have thought of ourselves.”

5. He won the Pulitzer Prize twice.

In 1987, Wilson’s popular play Fences premiered on Broadway starring James Earl Jones.  He won a Tony Award and his first Pulitzer Prize.  At the time, Fences set a record for a non-musical Broadway production by grossing $11 million in a single year! In 1990, Wilson took home another Pulitzer for The Piano Lesson following its premiere on Broadway.

“Have a belief in yourself that is bigger than anyone’s disbelief.” – August Wilson

6. Fences almost didn’t get made into a motion picture.

In 2016, a film adaptation of Wilson’s play Fences was released directed by Denzel Washington and starring Washington and Viola Davis.  However, it wasn’t the first time an attempt was made to make the film. In 1990, a major Hollywood studio optioned Fences but Wilson caused controversy by insisting on a black director.  Wilson is quoted as saying, “I am not carrying a banner for black directors. I think they should carry their own. I am not trying to get work for black directors. I am trying to get the film of my play made in the best possible way. I declined a white director not on the basis of race but on the basis of culture. White directors are not qualified for the job. The job requires someone who shares the specifics of the culture of black Americans.” He was a vocal opponent of “colorblind casting,” citing as an example that an all-black “Death of a Salesman” was “irrelevant because the play was ‘conceived for white actors as an investigation of the specifics of white culture.'” Some suggested that Wilson’s viewpoints were a form of self-segregation.

ma rainy.jpg

7. He was influenced by a variety of arts and artists.

In an interview in The Paris Review, Wilson called his major influences the “four B’s”: the blues, Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, writer Amiri Baraka and painter Romare Bearden. He is quoted as saying, “From Borges, those wonderful gaucho stories from which I learned that you can be specific as to a time and place and culture and still have the work resonate with the universal themes of love, honor, duty, betrayal, etc. From Amiri Baraka, I learned that all art is political, although I don’t write political plays. From Romare Bearden I learned that the fullness and richness of everyday life can be rendered without compromise or sentimentality.” He also listed playwright Ed Bullins and activist and author James Baldwin among his influences.

8. He worked until his death.

Wilson died of liver cancer in October 2005 in Seattle, Washington. His play, Radio Golf, the last of the Century Cycle opened in Los Angeles just a few months earlier.

Sources:

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

The Complicated History of Martin Luther King Day

In 2000, Martin Luther King Day was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time. It was a long and arduous battle to gain national recognition for the life of the civil rights icon. If your kids are anything like mine, that is probably hard for them to believe. The life of Martin Luther King Jr. is practically central to the public school civil rights curriculum. It may seem as though the leader was always universally celebrated and respected. In actuality, it wasn’t easy to get national recognition for the slain leader. Here are seven facts to teach your kids about the history of this important day.

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In 2000, Martin Luther King Day was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time.  It was a long and arduous battle to gain national recognition for the life of the civil rights icon.  If your kids are anything like mine, that is probably hard for them to believe.  The life of Martin Luther King Jr. is practically central to the public school civil rights curriculum. It may seem as though the leader was always universally celebrated and respected.  In actuality, it wasn’t easy to get national recognition for the slain leader.  Here are seven facts to teach your kids about the history of this important day:

1. A bill to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday was first introduced a few months after Dr. King’s death.

In 1968, a few months after Martin Luther King’s assassination, Congressman John Conyers (MI) and Senator Edward Brooke (MA) introduced a bill to make January 15, Dr. King’s birthday, a national holiday.  It didn’t go to the House of Representatives until 1979 and failed to pass by five votes.

2. The petition to support the holiday garnered close to six million signatures.

Shortly after Dr. King’s assassination, the King Memorial Center was founded in Atlanta.  The center launched a campaign to solicit support for a national holiday from the public and along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, garnered millions of signatures in support.  As of 2006, it was considered the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history.

3. Stevie Wonder wrote the song “Happy Birthday” to gain support for the holiday.

In 1980, Stevie Wonder’s released the song “Happy Birthday” to popularize the campaign to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. Lyrics include: “I just never understood/ How a man who died for good/ Could not have a day that would/ Be set aside for his recognition/ Because it should never be/ Just because some cannot see/ The dream as clear as he/ That they should make it become an illusion/ And we all know everything/ That he stood for time will bring/ For in peace our hearts will sing/ Thanks to Martin Luther King…”

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.,  Letter From Birmingham City Jail

4. Senator Jesse Helms led a filibuster against the bill to create MLK Day.

In 1980, the bill passed in Congress but faced opposition in the Senate. Among those opposed to MLK Day were then-House Republican, now Senator John McCain (AZ) and Senators Jesse Helms and John Porter East, Republicans from North Carolina.  Helms and East criticized Martin Luther King for opposing the Vietnam War and accused him of being associated with communists.  In October 1983, when the bill once again came before the senate, Senator Helms led a filibuster against the bill.  He submitted a 300 page document alleging that King had associations with communists. New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously called the document a “packet of filth,” threw it on the Senate floor, and stomped on it.  Although President Ronald Reagan initially opposed the bill, he signed the bill into law in 1983. The first official holiday was observed in 1986 by 27 states and the District of Columbia.

5. The NFL moved Super Bowl XXVII from Arizona to California in protest of Arizona’s decision not to recognize the holiday.

Even after the bill passed, many states refused to recognize the holiday. Arizona was among them.  1n 1992, the NFL moved Super Bowl XXVII from Arizona to California to protest the state’s failure to recognize the holiday. In response to the NFL’s protest and growing opposition, Arizona passed legislation to recognize the holiday.

6. South Carolina was the last state to recognize the holiday.

In 2000, South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges signed a bill into law to make MLK Day an official state holiday. Prior to that, citizens could chose between celebrating MLK Day and other holidays celebrating members of the Confederacy.  Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, and Virginia continue to combine MLK Day with other observances.

7. MLK Day is celebrated around the world.

Japan, Canada, Israel and The Netherlands hold celebrations in honor of Dr. King.

Sources:

http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1872501,00.html

http://www.webcitation.org/5vnLjow8L

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

 

5 Amazing Facts About the NEW Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture

On Saturday, September 24, 2016, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture will open to incredible fanfare in Washington, D.C. This magnificent museum is finally opening after decades of hard work from luminaries who were dedicated to creating a national archive that told the our story of strength and perseverance. Here are five facts about how we got to this glorious day.

On Saturday, September 24, 2016, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture will open to incredible fanfare in Washington, D.C.  This magnificent museum is finally opening after decades of hard work from luminaries who were dedicated to creating a national archive that told our story of strength and perseverance.  Here are five facts about how we got to this glorious day.

1. For Founding Director, Lonnie G. Bunch III, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture has been almost 40 years in the making.

Lonnie Bunch has wide-ranging experience in making history come alive.  In the 1980s, he served as the curator of history and program manager for the California Afro-American Museum.  In this role he organized successful exhibitions like, “Black Angelenos: The Afro-American in Los Angeles, 1850-1950” which was an award-winning feature that explored the Black contribution to Los Angeles history and culture.  He also produced historical documentaries that aired on public television.

His work with the Smithsonian began in 1989 when he worked as a supervising curator for the National Museum of American History.  During his tenure, he managed curatorial staff, worked on educational projects, and helped create the “Smithsonian’s America” for the American Festival Japan 1994.  This was an exhibit presented in Japan, which revealed the history, culture and diversity of the United States of America.

He has taught at his alma mater, American University, and the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, and George Washington University.  He is a prolific author and has either written, co-written, or contributed to over thirty books.  He has traveled internationally and given lectures on education and museum curation to professionals throughout the globe.  He was appointed the Founding Director for the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in 2005.

2. Over 75% of donations from individuals came from the African American community!

The Museum’s final price tag was $540 million.  In 2003, Congress passed the legislation establishing the Museum and pledged to fund $270 million or half of the Museum’s expense.  Interestingly, previous Smithsonian museums had received all or most of their funds from the government.  The shortfall was made up by donations from major corporate sponsors and our community.  Churches, fraternities, sororities, celebrities and civic organizations were galvanized for the fundraising effort.  Over 75% of donations from individuals came from the African American community.  Over $4 million in funds came from people donating in amounts less than $1,000.  Oprah Winfrey has been the largest donor at $21 million.  As of this writing, the Museum has raised over $315 million in private funds which far exceeded the congressional requirement.

3. The museum’s collection was built from scratch.

Museum Director Lonnie Bunch and the other organizers of the museum had the monumental task of building the collection from scratch.  Unlike any of the Smithsonian’s eighteen previous museums, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture was created without any artifacts on hand.  To grow a collection, the organizers came up with the unique idea of “Saving African-American Treasures,” which was a 15 city tour launched in 2009.  During this effort, they encouraged Americans to donate family heirlooms to the museum.  The result was amazing.  Precious artifacts were found hidden in the community.  One woman from Virginia Beach, Virginia donated Nat Turner’s Bible which had been kept safe in her closet for decades!  It is estimated that over half of the Museum’s 37,000 artifacts came from donations.

4. The building’s architecture is an ode to African and African-American roots.

The principle architect for the building, David Adjaye, wanted the building to be unique and speak to the creativity of Africans throughout the Diaspora.  The building is inspired by a Yoruban caryatid, which is a column popular in West Africa with a corona at its peak.  The building’s patterns also allude to architecture found in Georgia and South Carolina that was built by enslaved and freed Blacks.  This metalwork inspired Mr. Adjaye and the bronze color and shape of the building is an additional aspect similar to that Southern style of architecture.

5. The fight to create a museum to honor our history initially began in the 1800’s.

The idea to create a museum that honored African-American history started from a desire to create a museum that honored Black Civil War veterans.  After different permutations of honoring African Americans with a national museum festered, the strongest push came in the 1980s.  In 1988, Mickey Leland who was a Representative in the United States House of Representatives from the state of Texas, co-sponsored legislation with fellow Representative and Civil Rights legend John Lewis of Georgia to establish a museum honoring African-American history.  Mr. Leland died in a plane crash the next year, so Mr. Lewis took up the cause himself.  Each year for the next fifteen years, Mr. Lewis proposed his legislation but it was defeated.  In 1994, it passed the House of Representatives but staunch segregationist Jesse Helms of North Carolina filibustered against the bill and it died in the Senate.

It was not until the early 2000s when Republicans like Representative J.C. Watts of Oklahoma and Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas showed their support that the bill was passed.  On December 16, 2003, George W. Bush signed H.R. 3491 into law which authorized a Smithsonian Institution museum created to honor the legacy of African Americans in America.

Information attained from:

Michael Kimmelman, “David Adjaye on Designing a Museum that Speaks a Different Language”, New York Times, published September 21, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/arts/design/david-adjaye-museum-of-african-american-history-and-culture.html?action=click&contentCollection=Art%20%26%20Design&module=RelatedCoverage&region=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article

Graham Bowley, “How the Fight for a National African American Museum was Won”, New York Times, published September 4,2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/05/arts/design/how-the-fight-for-a-national-african-american-museum-was-won.html

Lonnae O’Neal, “Our place in America: New Smithsonian museum portrays the furious flowering of black history and culture”, The Undefeated/ESPN.com, published September 22, 2016, http://theundefeated.com/features/smithsonian-museum-of-african-american-history-our-place-in-america/

African American Registry, “H.R. 3491 Signed to create African American museum in Washington,”http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/hr3491-signed-create-african-american-museum-washington

Newsdesk, “Staff Biographies: Lonnie G. Bunch III,” Smithsonian, http://newsdesk.si.edu/about/bios/lonnie-g-bunch

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.

 

 

 

 

 

Living History: Meet Betty Soskin, America’s Oldest Park Ranger

At 94 years old, Betty Reid Soskin is the oldest living ranger for the National Park Service. She serves as Interpretive Ranger at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California. Today, she works up to five days a week and five hours per day. Her work entails giving two or three presentations in the park theater. She answers emails and requests from her office. She also conducts wildly popular bus tours through the areas that make up the park. She speaks honestly in her presentations about both discrimination and efforts for integration that occurred during WWII. Remarkably, she doesn’t use notes or a guide. Instead, she speaks from her lived experience and personal history. Her pace would be incredibly impressive for someone half her age. Here are eight facts you need to know about this American Shero.

At 94 years old, Betty Reid Soskin is the oldest living ranger for the National Park Service.  She serves as Interpretive Ranger at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California. Today, she works up to five days a week and five hours per day.  Her work entails giving two or three presentations in the park theater.  She answers emails and requests from her office.  She also conducts wildly popular bus tours through the areas that make up the park.  She speaks honestly in her presentations about both discrimination and efforts for integration that occurred during WWII. Remarkably, she doesn’t use notes or a guide.  Instead, she speaks from her lived experience and personal history.  Her pace would be incredibly impressive for someone half her age.  Here are eight facts you need to know about this American Shero:

betty-reid-soskin

1. She was the great-granddaughter of enslaved Americans.

Soskin was born in Detroit, MI and lived part of her childhood in New Orleans before settling in Oakland, California.  Her parents were of Creole and Cajun descent and her great-grandmother was born into slavery in 1846.

2. She was an activist and artist.

In the 1950s, she and her husband were subject to death threats after they built a home in Walnut Creek, California, all-white suburb.  She became active in her local Unitarian Universalist Congregation and the Black Caucus of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  In the 1960s, she became a well-known songwriter in the Civil Rights Movement. Check out a song she wrote reposted on her blog here.

3. She was a part of the American Labor Movement.

During World War II, Soskin served as a file clerk for Boilermakers Union A-36, which was an all African American union derivative that formed because segregationist policies allowed the White union to refuse their entry into the ranks.

4. She was a witness to the Port Chicago Disaster.

In 1944, 320 Americans, mostly African American sailors were killed when two ships being loaded with ammunition and bombs suddenly blew up. Soskin’s family hosted sailors who served in the U.S. Navy during that time.  Notably, the Port Chicago Disaster led to the Port Chicago Mutiny where  258 African American enlisted personnel refused to return to the disaster site and load ammunition until Navy officials changed load procedures to enhance safety.

5. She helped establish the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park where she currently serves.

Soskin served as a field representative for California Assemblywomen Dion Aroner and Loni Hancock.  During this time, she became active in the early planning and development of the park set to memorialize women during World War II.   As someone who “lived it”, she became a fierce advocate for preserving the history of African American women during World War II.  She called attention to the often left out group who played a pivotal role in aiding the war effort while being denied basic rights and continuing to be treated as second class citizens within the country.

6. She is an active blogger.

Soskin is an active blogger and maintains updates that are reflections on her life and work. You can read her blog, which she regularly updates here.

7. She was honored by President Obama.

She has several interview requests and has received several honors from luminaries.  In 2015, President Barack Obama gave Soskin a commemorative coin to honor her as the oldest living park ranger.

8. She survived a vicious attack in July 2016.

On July 1, 2016, Mrs. Reid Soskin awoke to a masked man standing over her bed.  The assailant attacked her, ransacked her apartment and stole several things from her including the commemorative coin given to her by President Obama.  She survived the attack by escaping to a bathroom and barricading the door until the assailant retreated.  After the attack, she received hundreds of letters and emails.  A Go Fund Me page was set up for her through the National Park Service that helped her replace some things that were stolen.  She was sent a replacement coin with the Presidential Seal from the White House.  She was able to come out of the incident with only bruises, but her quick thinking and indomitable spirit kept her alive through the ordeal.

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Information attained from:

Betty Reid Soskin, CBreaux Speaks, http://cbreaux.blogspot.com/

Rachel Gillett, “Meet the 94-year-old park ranger who works full-time and never wants to retire”, http://www.businessinsider.com/94-year-old-park-ranger-betty-reid-soskin-interview-2016-8

Richmond Pulse, “Q&A: Nation’s Oldest Park Ranger Cites Outpouring of Support in Healing After Robbery”, http://newamericamedia.org/2016/08/qa-nations-oldest-park-ranger-cites-outpouring-of-support-in-healing-after-robbery.php

 

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.

 

 

 

 

Colin Kaepernick Wasn’t The First To Challenge Blind Patriotism

Given the level of media coverage of his actions, you would think Colin Kaepernick was the first person to challenge blind patriotism. However, here are six other public figures that refused to honor their countries because of moral or political reasons.

Featured Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty

On August 26, 2016, before a preseason game, Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers chose to sit instead of stand during the playing of the United States National Anthem.  During a post-game interview, Kaepernick stated, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media.

“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Although both the 49ers and the National Football League have declined to take disciplinary action, public reaction has been mixed.  Some are calling him unpatriotic while others are calling his civil act of disobedience heroic.  Given the level of media coverage of his actions, you would think Kaepernick was the first person to challenge blind patriotism.  However, here are six other public figures that refused to honor their countries because of moral/political reasons:

1. Frederick Douglass 

frederick-douglass-1847-52

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass was invited to give a speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, held at Corinthian Hall in Rochester, NY. The audience got more than they bargained for when instead he told them,”This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” He went on to ask, “Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?”

In his speech, which became one of his most famous, he said:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?  I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim… There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”

Frederick Douglass was arguably the most famous orator of the 19th century and was the most photographed person of the 19th century.  He sat for several pictures because he wanted to show the dignity of Black people during a time when minstrel shows were prominent.

2. Muhammad Ali 

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On April 28, 1967, boxing champion Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted into the United States Army and his heavyweight boxing title was subsequently taken away. Ali, who converted to Islam and changed his name in 1964, cited religious reasons for his decision to forgo military service. However, in March 1967, Ali explained:

“I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality… If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.”

On June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. He stayed out of prison as his case was appealed and returned to the ring on October 26, 1970.  On June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned his conviction for refusing the draft.Muhammad Ali would go on to be an international symbol of strength and perserverance despite incredible odds.  His public battle with Parkinson’s disease while maintaining a very active lifestyle inspired millions.  

3. Tommie Smith and John Carlos

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On October 16, 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, winners of the gold and bronze medals in the 200 meter sprint, bowed their heads and each raised one fist in protest during the playing of the national anthem.  The men wore black socks with no shoes to symbolize poverty in many African American communities, and black gloves to represent our strength. Smith also wore a scarf and Carlos wore beads in memory of lynching victims.   Both men were banished by the International Olympic Committee and suspended from the United States team.  They both suffered ostracism from the track and field community and Olympic community for years afterward. Tommie Smith is quoted as saying:

“It was only done to bring attention to the atrocities of which we were experiencing in a country that was supposed to represent us.”

Prior to the Olympics, both men were involved with the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) where they had originally called for a boycott of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games unless four conditions were met: 1) South Africa and Rhodesia were uninvited from the Olympics because they were nations that practiced apartheid, 2) the restoration of Muhammad Ali’s world heavyweight boxing title, 3) Avery Brundage to step down as president of the IOC, who they believe supported racist regimes, and 4) the hiring of more African American assistant coaches. Although the boycott failed to materialize, the men still made history.

4. Jackie Robinson

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In his 1972 autobiography, I Never Had It Made, American Baseball League Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, described the moment when he confronted his own hesitation to stand during the National Anthem at a major league baseball game.

“There I was,” he wrote. “The black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor.” He continued:

“As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”

Throughout his historic career, Robinson was the target of racial epithets, baseball field violence, hate letters, and death threats.

4. Charles Roach

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Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press

 

Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Charles Roach immigrated to Canada in 1955.  He attended the University of Toronto Law School and became an important civil rights attorney and activist in Toronto.

Roach sought Canadian citizenship; however, it never materialized because he refused to swear loyalty to a colonialist sovereign.  To become a Canadian citizen, one must pledge the following: “I… do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors. So help me God.” As a result of refusing to pledge, Roach gave up the right to vote, run for public office, and attain a Canadian passport.  However, non-citizens bear the burden of still paying the same taxes as regular citizens and the risk of deportation for committing certain crimes.  Roach also reportedly declined an opportunity to become a judge over his principled stance against taking the oath.

Throughout his career, he fought to change Canada’s citizenship requirements to allow people to swear an oath to Canada instead of the throne, which he said represented a legacy of oppression, imperialism and racism.  For the majority of his adult life, he fought several court cases where he argued that an oath of allegiance to a sovereign is unconstitutional.  The cases proved unsuccessful, but his fight gained much attention and support.  As he stated in 2011:

“I don’t believe that anyone should have a political status just because of your birth and I feel strongly about that.  For that reason, I wouldn’t take an oath to any such institution, which is based on race and religion.”

Roach had several high profile cases where he aided members of the Black Panthers from the United States who were seeking political asylum in Canada.  He also helped form the Black Action Defence Committee, which pushed for the creation of Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, a civilian-led unit, which investigates cases where officers seriously injure or kill people.

Despite efforts of long time colleagues, when Roach passed away in 2012, Canada refused to grant Roach citizenship posthumously.

5. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf 

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In 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was a starting point guard for the Denver Nugggets.  During the national anthem, he would stretch or stay inside the locker room instead of taking the floor.  When a reporter finally asked about it, Abdul-Rauf said he viewed the American flag as a symbol of oppression and racism. Abdul-Rauf also said standing for the anthem would conflict with his Muslim faith.

“You can’t be for God and for oppression…” he said at the time. “I don’t criticize those who stand, so don’t criticize me for sitting.”

Abdul-Rauf was suspended for one game on March 12, 1996.  The NBA cited a rule that players must line up in a “dignified posture” for the anthem. Although the player’s union supported him, he lost $32,000 in salary.  For the remainder of the season, Abdul-Rauf agreed to stand but to pray for the oppressed with his head down during the national anthem. At the end of the season, the Nuggets traded Abdul-Rauf to the Sacramento Kings.  At the time, he was leading the team in points (19.2) and averaged 6.2 assists.  After his contract expired in 1998, he played overseas and had a brief stint back in the league with the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 2000-2001 season.

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Information attained from:

  • “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2927.html
  • Muhammad Ali refuses Army induction, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/muhammad-ali-refuses-army-induction
  • “Muhammad Ali Refuses to Fight in Vietnam (1967) http://alphahistory.com/vietnamwar/muhammad-ali-refuses-to-fight-1967/
  • David Davis, Olympic Athletes Who Took a Stand, SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/olympic-athletes-who-took-a-stand-593920/?no-ist
  • Andy Blatchford, After decades fighting monarchy oath in citizenship requirements, Toronto activist dies without becoming Canadian, The Canadian Press  http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/charles-roach-dies-before-court-rules-on-oath-to-queen-for-citizenship
  • Jesse Washington, Still no anthem, still no regrets for Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, http://theundefeated.com/features/abdul-rauf-doesnt-regret-sitting-out-national-anthem/
  • Kirsten West Savali, Jackie Robinson in 1972: ‘I Cannot Stand and Sing the Anthem; I Cannot Salute the Flag’ http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2016/08/jackie-robinson-colin-kaepernick-star-bangled-banner/

 

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.

Why We Must Teach Our Children To Celebrate Labor Day

Since well before the Civil War, our people have participated in the fight for equal rights in the labor force. There is documentation of a strike by black caulkers at the Washington Navy Yard as early as 1835. Our ancestors fight was uniquely brutal since labor unions were segregated well into the 20th Century. The fight for equal rights in the workforce necessarily became intrinsic to the Civil Rights Movement. Here are 5 historic events everyone should know as we remember our ancestors this Labor Day.

Since well before the Civil War, our people have participated in the fight for equal rights in the labor force. There is documentation of a strike by caulkers at the Washington Navy Yard as early as 1835. Our ancestors fight was uniquely brutal since labor unions were segregated well into the 20th Century.  The fight for equal rights in the workforce necessarily became intrinsic to the Civil Rights Movement.  Here are 5 historic events everyone should know as we remember our ancestors this Labor Day.

1. Creation of the Colored National Labor Union

In December 1869, 214 delegates attended the Colored National Labor Union convention in Washington, D.C. This union was in response to the National Labor Union which excluded African American workers. The assembly sent a petition to Congress requesting direct intervention in the alleviation of the “condition of the colored workers of the southern States” by subdividing the public lands of the South into forty-acre farms and providing low-interest loans to African American farmers. A few years later, in 1871, the group followed up, sending a “Memorial of the Committee of the National Labor Convention for Appointment of a Commission to Inquire into Conditions of Affairs in the Southern States.” Congress did not respond to either petition. In 1896, when the Supreme Court handed down the Plessy v. Ferguson decision which gave official recognition to the “separate but equal” doctrine, government mandated “relegation of [African Americans] to second-class status was complete.”

2. Great Migration

According to the National Archives, “during the Great Migration of 1916-1930, over one million African Americans moved from the south to the north in search of better lives.”  Many found work due to the labor shortage created in the wake of the First World War.  African American representation grew in industrial employment, particularly in the steel, automobile, shipbuilding, and meatpacking industries. The U.S. government, under pressure from African American leaders who demanded representation in the policymaking and administrative councils of government, established special offices such as the Office of the Director of Negro Economics to help mobilize the African American work force for the war effort. The division was the first agency of its kind in the nation.

3. Elaine Massacre of 1919

The Progressive Farmers and Householders Union was started by sharecropper Robert Lee Hill to protect agricultural workers against exploitation and “advanc[e] the intellectual, material, moral, spiritual, and financial interests of the Negro race.” Following a meeting on September 30, 1919 in Elaine, Arkansas, white law enforcement officials and vigilantes from neighboring counties and states attacked union officials and members, killing hundreds of African Americans. Whites formed militias against what they believed to be an insurrection and the Governor of Arkansas, Charles Hillman Brough deployed federal troops arresting hundreds of our people.  Due to government mandated repression and mass murder, the union was largely destroyed following the massacre. The massacre has been called one of the worst in American history.

4. A. Philip Randolph and The First March On Washington

In 1925, A. Philip Randolph, noted civil rights leader and labor organizer, began his fight for equal protection of our workers by gaining recognition of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters by the Pullman Car Company, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), and the U.S. government. Early in 1941, A. Philip Randolph announced the creation of the March on Washington Committee, compelling President Roosevelt to issue an executive order ending racial discrimination in hiring by unions and employers and eliminating segregation in the armed forces. If President Roosevelt refused, Randolph promised that 100,000 Americans would march in Washington to end segregation. In response, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 which established the Committee on Fair Employment Practice (FEPC). According to the National Archives, “after asserting that national unity was being impaired by discrimination, the executive order declared it to be the duty of employers and of labor organizations to provide for the full and equitable participation of all workers in defense industries, without discrimination because of race, creed, color, or national origin.” All federal agencies concerned with defense production were ordered to administer such programs without discrimination, and all defense contracts were to include a provision “obligating the contractor not to discriminate against any worker because of race, creed, color, or national origin.”

5. The Second March on Washington

Unfortunately, the Committee on Fair Employment Practice (FEPC) ended in 1946.  Randolph’s group, however, continued to meet annually to reiterate demands for economic equality. In 1963, leaders began to plan a new March on Washington. According to the Reader’s Companion to American History (see below), the new March for Jobs and Freedom, led by A. Philip Randolph and organized by his longtime associate, Bayard Rustin, was expected to attract 100,000 participants; however, more than 200,000 Americans attended.  The March for Jobs and Freedom became known for Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and spurred historic civil rights legislation and “redress through a number of court cases under Title VII, Equal Employment Opportunity, of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

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Information attained from:

James Gilbert Cassedy, African Americans and the American Labor Movement, Federal Records and African American History, Prologue Magazine, Summer 1997, Vol. 29, No. 2, http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1997/summer/american-labor-movement.html.

Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, The Reader’s Companion to American History, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/march-on-washington.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising.