Black History Lessons From Ole Mister Johns

Although Black History Month has ended, The Lessons of Ole Mister Johns celebrates Black History through “the lessons” that Ole Mister Johns tells his great-grandson.  Periodically, we will share some of “the lessons” that Ole Mister Johns might tell to his great-grandson, Lil John on this blog and on our Facebook Page.

You can explore The Lessons of Ole Mister Johns in print-> Click Here For Print Version or the digital version-> Click Here For Digital Version

The Lessons of Ole Mister Johns


Source: The Lessons of Ole Mister Johns: An Excerpt on Vimeo.

The Lessons of Ole Mister Johns is about the special relationship between a great-grandfather and his great-grandson.  They spend their weekends together.

During their visit to the Capitol Mall, Ole Mister Johns tells Lil John about Benjamin Banneker, “One of the greatest architects of all times helped design and build what you see in front of you.”


You can explore The Lessons of Ole Mister Johns in print by clicking HERE.  A digital version is available HERE.

Black History Month: A Reason To Celebrate and Share Our History

We Americans have become one of the most diverse countries on the planet, as well as one of the most envied. We continue to set the trend for the modern world for all others to follow. The question that continues to linger in the minds of many people during February is why do we continue to celebrate Black History month given all of these positive changes?
This one month of the year has been set aside so that all Americans can honor the past of a people who were brought to this country in political bondage. This month allows each and every American to celebrate the rich traditions of African Americans while at the same time celebrating those aspects of their own culture around their own positive contributions to society.

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Black History Month is a time when people of African ancestry can come together in memory of our rich past, a past that has largely been hidden from us. It is a time when we are given the opportunity to learn about many of our contributions and accomplishments, which have historically been taken for granted.

img_0345Black History Month is a period when the younger generation can take time to sit and listen to their elders share heartfelt moments of their own experiences and struggles when they were young. It is a time when all can cry together over all those souls that died during the passage to this country on slave ships. It is a time when we can cry about many of the laws and societal rules that this country has adopted that continue to hold us in bondage even without the chains.

It is also an opportunity to correct many of the misrepresentations, misunderstandings and fallacies of African American culture. Black History month promotes opportunities for open dialogue and personal interactions between many cultures. These conversations and interactions can lead to a better understanding and appreciation for what experiences and daily dilemmas each of us goes through as we all try to make contributions to our families and our larger society.
Eventually, Black History Month will be recognized as one of the first real frontal attacks of this social construct known as “race.” Perhaps then people will come to understand that there is only one race in this world and that is the human race.

And finally, Black History Month is also the one month of the year that we all come together in celebration of what “Can Be” if we as a society are open and willing to embrace the past, just as we embrace the future. This month will go down in history as the one true month in America where sharing and caring is the main theme for all peoples, and hopefully the rest of the world will follow.  Source: University of the Pacific, A Reason To Celebrate and Share Our History by  Cris T. Clay

Cris Clay is executive director of the Psychology Department’s Community Re-Entry Program and a member of the University’s Black History Month planning committee.

We made it!! A new post for every day in February in recognition of Black History Month. This is our last post for Black History Month 2017.  Thanks for your support!

Black History Month: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula 

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a largely rural area of the state not immediately known for its connection to African Americans. However, the region boasts of a link to the Black community that stretches back to slavery.

The U.P., as it is commonly referred to, is the northern end of the two peninsulas that make up Michigan. Just across Lake Superior to the north is Ontario, Canada and to the west, the state of Minnesota. While the U.P. wasn’t an official part of the Underground Railroad in many respects, the area was a preferred destination for Blacks escaping the clutches of slavery. Because trains didn’t travel to the region, slavers looking to recapture fugitive slaves were not often successful.

In the 1860s, over 150 Black people lived across the U.P. and put down roots. One of the area’s most notable destinations is Gaines Rock. The location is a rocky plot of land that juts out to Lake Superior. William Washington Gaines, a former slave, and his wife moved to the town of Marquette after leaving Virginia. At the turn of the century and beyond, Gaines Rock served as a haven for vagabonds and others with no place to go.

Like the Gaines, many of the U.P. Black families came from Virginia, Georgia and other parts south looking for new opportunities. According to reports, the first hotel to open on the tourist location Mackinaw Island was owned by a Black family.

Charlotte Preston, a daughter of a Jamaican man who emigrated to U.P., was one of the first students to attend what is now known as Northern Michigan University. Charlotte’s sister, Bessie, graduated from the school after her sister died. Bessie Preston went on to teach for a year at Tuskegee Institute in 1903, just ahead of her death.

Several Black families of the U.P., including the Gaines, Kenny and Jeffrey clans, all found success in small businesses such as barber shops, farm lands and other endeavors. Because of the extreme weather conditions of hot summers and brutal winters, many of the descendants of these families went on to establish themselves in the North as segregation and integration became more of a reality.

Blacks weren’t enslaved in the areas as the colonists and invaders, most especially the French, enslaved Native Americans instead.
Several books and research papers have been released about the U.P.’s history in this regard over the years.  Source: Black America Web

Black History Month: Sidney Poitier

Legendary filmmaker, activist and human-rights trailblazer Sidney Poitier can now add “nonagenarian” to his list of accomplishments.

The two-time Academy Award winner turned 90 on Monday, and celebrated the milestone with friends and family, including his wife, Joanna Shimkus, whom he married in 1976, as well as six daughters, Beverly, Pamela, Sherri, Gina, Anika and Sydney. He also has eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.  

Poitier, who made a career out of defying expectations, began his life beating the odds. The actor was born two months premature in Miami in 1927 to a pair of poor immigrant farmers from the Bahamas, and the likelihood of his surviving was so remote, his father returned home with a shoebox in which to bury the tiny baby.

But young Poitier survived, and within months, his parents returned home to their farm on Cat Island in the Bahamas. There was no electricity, running water or paved roads, but the island became a tropical playground for the actor as a boy. After a stint in Nassau, Poitier moved to Florida to live with his brother when he was 15. He eventually made his way to Harlem, washing dishes to earn a living.

After serving in the Army, Poitier joined the American Negro Theater, trading janitorial services for drama training. He eventually got enough notice to make it to Broadway, kicking off his stage career with a role in Lysistrata.

His film career was slower to start. Poitier gained popularity playing Walter Lee Younger in the 1961 film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, but it wasn’t until two years later, when he starred as Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field, that Poitier was recognized as a pre-eminent actor. The role earned him an Oscar for Best Actor, making him the first African-American man to win the award.

Poitier starred in a trio of iconic and politically pertinent films in 1967: To Sir With Love, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. In Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Poitier starred opposite Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as a black man in love with a white woman. Remarkably, the film debuted the same year the Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage in the landmark case Loving v. Virginia. 

Poitier insisted on playing his characters with dignity, even changing a critical sequence in his film In the Heat of the Night (seen below) to meet his standards. In the original script, Poitier’s character, Det. Virgil Tibbs, fails to react when a white suspect slaps him in the face. The actor insisted on slapping the suspect back. “I go in front of a camera with a responsibility to be at least respectful of certain values,” Poitier told the Museum of Living History about the film. “My values are not disconnected from the values of the black community.”

Poitier stuck to his principles offscreen as well, becoming an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement. He welcomed well-known activists to his home, traveled with fellow activist Harry Belafonte to the south for Freedom Summer and stood alongside protestors for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington. He would also attend Dr. King’s funeral five years later.

Craving more artistic freedom, Poitier joined with Barbra Streisand, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman to form the First Artists Production Company in 1969. Working for his own production company allowed Poitier to experiment with directing, leading to his work with Bill Cosby in the comedy classics Uptown Saturday Night (1974) and Let’s Do It Again (1975). But his most famous directorial role came with 1980’s Stir Crazy, in which Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor play wrongly convicted men trying to escape from prison.

After establishing himself both in front of and behind the camera, Poitier collected a bevy of honors ranging from lifetime achievement awards – including a 2002 honorary Oscar — to becoming a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1974. Scaling back his film commitments allowed Poitier to publish three autobiographies and a novel, Montaro Caine (2013). He also served as the Ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan from 1997 to 2007.

Poitier, who has not appeared onscreen since 2011, received the lifetime achievement award at the 2016 BAFTA Awards, but was unable to travel to London to accept the award due to health concerns. Instead of crossing the pond, Jamie Foxx and Poitier’s daughter Sydney Tamiia Poitier presented the actor his award at his Los Angeles home.

“Today my cup runneth over because I am here with my daughter and the future filmmakers of the world in celebration of this wonderful art form,” Poitier told the BAFTA audience via video. “To my family, my life force, I am nothing without you. And all of you, thank you for your warm embrace and this extraordinary moment and memory I shall cherish.”  Source: People Celebrity, February 20, 2017

Black History Month: Katherine G. Johnson

The Girl Who Loved To Count

“I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.” So said Katherine Johnson, recipient of the 2015 National Medal of Freedom. 

Born in 1918 in the little town of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Johnson was a research mathematician, who by her own admission, was simply fascinated by numbers. Fascinated by numbers and smart to boot, for by the time she was 10 years old, she was a high school freshman–a truly amazing feat in an era when school for African Americans normally stopped at eighth grade for those could indulge in that luxury.

Her father, Joshua, was determined that his bright little girl would have a chance to meet her potential. He drove his family 120 miles to Institute, West Virginia, where she could continue her education through high school. Johnson’s academic performance proved her father’s decision was the right one: Katherine skipped though grades to graduate from high school at 14, from college at 18.

In 1953, after years as a teacher and later as a stay-at-home mom, she began working for NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA. The NACA had taken the unusual step of hiring women for the tedious and precise work of measuring and calculating the results of wind tunnel tests in 1935. In a time before the electronic computers we know today, these women had the job title of “computer.” During World War II, the NACA expanded this effort to include African-American women. The NACA was so pleased with the results that, unlike many organizations, they kept the women computers at work after the war. By 1953 the growing demands of early space research meant there were openings for African-American computers at Langley Research Center’s Guidance and Navigation Department – and Katherine Johnson found the perfect place to put her extraordinary mathematical skills to work.

As a computer, she calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space. Even after NASA began using electronic computers, John Glenn requested that she personally recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers before his flight aboard Friendship 7 – the mission on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth. She continued to work at NASA until 1986 combining her math talent with electronic computer skills. Her calculations proved as critical to the success of the Apollo Moon landing program and the start of the Space Shuttle program, as they did to those first steps on the country’s journey into space.

From honorary doctorates to the 1967 NASA Lunar Orbiter Spacecraft and Operations team award (for pioneering work in the field of navigation problems supporting the five spacecraft that orbited and mapped the moon in preparation for the Apollo program) Katherine Johnson has led a life positively littered with honors. But on Tuesday, November 24, 2015, she will receive the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Barack H. Obama.

Not bad, for a little girl from West Virginia, who coincidentally (or maybe not) was born on August 26: Women’s Equality Day.  Source: NASA