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

Black History Month: Jeff Stetson

Jeff Stetson is an American writer best known for such novels and plays as Blood on the Leaves and The Meeting, a 1987 play about an imaginary meeting between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in 1965 in a hotel in Harlem. The play was later televised on American Playhouse in 1989. 

The Meeting

THE STORY: The action takes place in a suite high up in a Harlem hotel, where Malcolm X and his bodyguard, Rashad, rest before Malcolm’s fateful appearance at the Audubon Ballroom. Malcolm has requested a secret meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who is also in New York, and Dr. King has responded by trudging up the back stairs to Malcolm’s suite. 

Cautious at first, the two quickly fall into a spirited debate about their differing approaches to improving the lot of the black man in a predominantly white society—Dr. King (the lamb) hoping to find racial harmony through love and peaceful resistance, while Malcolm (the lion) is reconciled to violence and revenge if blacks are to win out over oppression. But no matter how provocative and persuasive his arguments, Malcolm is unable to shake Dr. King’s commitment and composure—even when he defeats him in a bout of arm wrestling. 

As it happens, Malcolm’s Chicago home had been fire bombed that morning and, as he prepares to leave, Dr. King gives him a present: a much loved doll that his daughter had asked him to give to Malcolm’s. The two men then arm wrestle again, this time to a draw, an act symbolic not only of their clash of wills but also of the conflicting beliefs which both honor in the other but will not accept for themselves, no matter how eloquent and powerful the arguments set forth.

The Reviews: Fascinating and dramatically compelling, this eloquent play depicts the supposed meeting of two of the most important men of modern times: Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Differing in their philosophies, but alike in their mutual respect, the two men debate their varying approaches to the same grave social problems, both prepared to die for their beliefs but neither aware of how soon their assassins’ bullets would await them. “An exciting and provocative play, an unforgettable evening of drama.” —NY Post. 

“Stirring moments of impassioned rhetoric you feel as if you’ve watched a kind of human-scale wrestling with angels.” —San Francisco Examiner. 

“A remarkable, intensely intimate meeting full of undisguised competitiveness, deep passion and potent reasoning THE MEETING is enthralling.” —Chicago Sun Times.

Black History Month: The Meeting 

Malcolm and Martin, Closer Than We Ever Thought 

(CNN) — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was leaving a news conference one afternoon when a tall man with a coppery complexion stepped out of the crowd and blocked his path.

Malcolm X, the African-American Muslim leader who once called King “Rev. Dr. Chicken-wing,” extended his hand and smiled.  “Well, Malcolm, good to see you,” King said after taking Malcolm X’s hand.  “Good to see you,” Malcolm X replied as both men broke into huge grins while a gaggle of photographers snapped pictures of their only meeting.

That encounter on March 26, 1964, lasted only a minute. But a photo of that meeting has tantalized scholars and supporters of both men for more than 45 years.
As the 85th birthday of Malcolm X is marked on Wednesday, history has freeze-framed him as the angry black separatist who saw whites as blue-eyed devils.

Yet near the end of his life, Malcolm X was becoming more like King — and King was becoming more like him.

“In the last years of their lives, they were starting to move toward one another,” says David Howard-Pitney, who recounted the Capitol Hill meeting in his book “Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and the Civil Rights Struggle of the 1950s and 1960s.”

In the last years of their lives, they were starting to move toward one another. –David Howard-Pitney, scholar on Malcolm X and MLK

“While Malcolm is moderating from his earlier position, King is becoming more militant,” Pitney says.

Malcolm X was reaching out to King even before he broke away from the Nation of Islam and embraced Sunni Islam after a pilgrimage to Mecca, says Andrew Young, a member of King’s inner circle at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights group King headed.

“Even before his trip to Mecca, Malcolm used to come by the SCLC’s office,” Young says. “Unfortunately, Dr. King was never there when he came.”

How Malcolm Became A ‘Cultural Revolutionary’

Though the men met only once, they had been portrayed as foes in the minds of the American public for years.

Malcolm X burst onto the national scene in 1959 when he and the Nation of Islam were featured in a documentary, “The Hate That Hate Produced.”

He became the Nation of Islam’s most visible spokesman from his base in New York. While King preached about his dream, Malcolm X said blacks were trapped in a nightmare.

“It was his critique of America from the bottom up that was so shocking,” says Young. “He was a young man with a Ph.D mind, but he was put out of school. He educated himself in jail by reading the dictionary.”

Malcolm X’s harsh rhetoric helped “decolonize” black people’s minds by teaching them to be proud of their African heritage, says James Cone, author of “Martin & Malcolm & America.”

“King was a political revolutionary. Malcolm was a cultural revolutionary,” Cone says. “Malcolm changed how black people thought about themselves. Before Malcolm came along, we were all Negroes. After Malcolm, he helped us become black.”

Despite their differences, both King and Malcolm X’s political activism flowed from the same source, says Pitney, the civil rights scholar.  “They were fundamentally spiritual men,” Pitney says. “While we remember them for their social and political activism, they were religious and spiritual at their core.”

Malcolm Moves Toward Martin

Malcolm X, though, wanted to be more than a cultural revolutionary. He broke with the Nation of Islam in March 1964 and announced plans to start a black political organization.

He reached out to King and other civil rights leaders. In 1965, Malcolm X traveled to Selma, Alabama, where King was leading a campaign, to offer support.

“Brother Malcolm was definitely making an outreach to some civil rights leaders,” says A. Peter Bailey, an original member of the group Malcolm X founded, The Organization of Afro-American Unity, and a friend of Malcolm X. “He believed that the one who would be most responsive would be Dr. King.”

The Muslim leader had developed an appreciation for King, Bailey says.  “He had come to believe that King believed in what he was doing,” Bailey says. “He believed in nonviolence; it just wasn’t a show. He developed respect for him. I heard him say you have to give respect to men who put their lives on the line.  “Malcolm X may have been willing to join the civil rights cause. But he never subscribed to nonviolence or abandoned his Muslim faith, Bailey says.

“The whole idea that he had become a token integrationist at the end of his life — that’s a bunch of jive,” Bailey says.

Martin Moves Toward Malcolm

King’s movement toward Malcolm began as he shifted the civil rights movement to the North, friends and scholars say.

During the last three years of his life, King became more radical. He talked about eliminating poverty and providing a guaranteed annual income for all U.S. citizens. He came out against the Vietnam War, and said American society would have to be restructured.  He also veered into Malcolm X’s rhetorical territory when he started preaching black self-pride, says Pitney.

“King is photographed a number of times in 1967 and ’68 wearing a ‘Black is Beautiful’ button,’ ” Pitney says.

A year before King died, the journalist David Halberstam even told him he “sounded like a nonviolent Malcolm X,” Pitney says.

He had come to believe that King believed in what he was doing. –A. Peter Bailey, friend of Malcolm X

In the epic PBS civil rights series, Coretta Scott King, the civil rights leader’s widow, said King never took Malcolm X’s biting criticisms of his nonviolence stance personally.

“I know Martin had the greatest respect for Malcolm …,” she said. “I think that if Malcolm had lived, at some point the two would have come closer together and would have been a very strong force.”

Young, King’s close aide, says King had become more militant near the end of his life.

“It was more radical to deal with poverty than to deal with segregation so, in that sense, it’s true,” Young says. “But Dr. King never wavered in his commitment to nonviolence. In fact, he was getting stronger in his commitment to nonviolence. It was a more militant nonviolence.”

Why They Endure

Malcolm X and King never had the chance, though, to explore an alliance.

Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem in 1965. King was murdered three years later.

Both were 39 at the time of their death. Both had been abandoned by former supporters. And both left virtually no money to their wives and young children because they refused to profit from their activism.

The photo of their meeting endures. It was taken because both men happened to be in the Capitol building that day to listen to politicians debate the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which would later pass.

Author Cone says the picture endures because both men embody the ” ‘yin and yang’ deep in the soul of black America.”

Even as King was changing America, he also realized that Malcolm X was changing him.

Cone says with a chuckle: “Martin Luther King once said that when he listened to Malcolm speak, even he got angry.”

Source: John Blake, CNN, May 19, 2010

Black History Month: Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson was born in Harlem, New York City, where she was raised by her devoutly religious parents, from the Caribbean island of Nevis. Her mother, Theodosia, was a domestic, and her father, William Tyson, was a carpenter and painter. 

She was discovered by a fashion editor at Ebony magazine and, with her stunning looks, she quickly rose to the top of the modeling industry. In 1957, she began acting in Off-Broadway productions. She had small roles in feature films before she was cast as Portia in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968). Four years later, Cicely was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her sensational performance in the critically acclaimed film Sounder (1972). In 1974, she went on to portray a 110-year-old former slave in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), which earned her two Emmy Awards. She also appeared in the television miniseries Roots (1977), King (1978) and A Woman Called Moses (1978). While Cicely has not appeared steadily onscreen because of her loyalty to only portray strong, positive images of Black women, she is without a doubt one of the most talented, beautiful actresses to have ever graced the stage and screen.  Source: IMDb