W.E.B. Du Bois

W E B DuBois

“The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.”

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, better known as W.E.B. Du Bois, was born on February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. While growing up in a mostly European American town, W.E.B. Du Bois identified himself as “mulatto,” but freely attended school with whites and was enthusiastically supported in his academic studies by his white teachers. In 1885, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend Fisk University. It was there that he first encountered Jim Crow laws. For the first time, he began analyzing the deep troubles of American racism.

After earning his bachelor’s degree at Fisk, Du Bois entered Harvard University. He paid his way with money from summer jobs, scholarships and loans from friends. After completing his master’s degree, he was selected for a study-abroad program at the University of Berlin. While a pupil in Germany, he studied with some of the most prominent social scientists of his day and was exposed to political perspectives that he touted for the remainder of his life. Du Bois became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895.

Not long after, Du Bois published his landmark study—the first case study of an African-American community—The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899). In 1903, Du Bois published his seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of 14 essays. In the years following, he adamantly opposed the idea of biological white superiority and vocally supported women’s rights. In 1909, he co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and served as editor of its monthly magazine, The Crisis.

W.E.B. Du Bois died on August 27, 1963—one day before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington—at the age of 95, in Accra, Ghana, while working on an encyclopedia of the African Diaspora.

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Jack Arthur Johnson

4th July 1910: American boxer Jack Johnson (1878 - 1946), the first African-American World Champion, after he defeated Jim Jeffries in Reno, Nevada. (Photo by Sean Sexton/Getty Images)

4th July 1910: American boxer Jack Johnson (1878 – 1946), the first African-American World Champion, after he defeated Jim Jeffries in Reno, Nevada. (Photo by Sean Sexton/Getty Images)

“The possession of muscular strength…does not necessarily imply a lack of appreciation for the finer and better things of life.”

In 1908, Boxer Jack Johnson, the son of ex-slaves and the third of nine children, became the first African American World Heavyweight Boxing Champion.

Johnson, born in Galveston, Texas, in 1878 and nicknamed “the Galveston Giant,” possessed an air of confidence and drive to exceed beyond the hardscrabble life his parents had known.

After a few years of school, Johnson went to work as a laborer to help support his family. A good deal of his childhood, in fact, was spent working on boats and sculleries in Galveston.

By the age of 16, Johnson was on his own, travelling to New York and later Boston before returning to his hometown. Johnson’s first fight came around this time. His opponent was a fellow longshoreman, and while the purse wasn’t much—just $1.50—Johnson jumped at the chance and won the fight. Not long after he earned $25 for managing to stick out four rounds against professional boxer Bob Thompson.

Eager to get out of Galveston and try and forge a life around boxing, Johnson left his home again in 1899. By the early 1900s, the 6’2″ Johnson, who’d become known as the Galveston Giant, had made a name for himself in the black boxing circuit and had his eyes set on the world heavyweight title, which was held by white boxer Jim Jeffries. But Jeffries refused to fight him. He wasn’t alone. White boxers would not spar with their black counterparts.

But Johnson’s talents and bravado were too hard to ignore. Finally, on December 26, 1908, the flamboyant Johnson, who often taunted his opponents as he beat them soundly, got his chance for the title when champion Tommy Burns who had succeeded Jeffries, fought Johnson outside of Sydney, Australia. The fight, lasted until the 14th round, when police stepped in and ended it. Johnson was named the winner.

On July 4, 1910, he finally got his chance to fight Jim Jeffries. Dubbed the “Fight of the Century,” more than 22,000 eager fans turned out for the bout, held in Reno, Nevada. After 15 rounds, Johnson came away victorious, affirming his domain over boxing and further angering white boxing fans who hated seeing a black man sit atop the sport. For the fight, Johnson earned a purse of $117,000. It would be five years before he relinquished the heavyweight title, when Johnson fell to Jess Willard in a 26-round bout in Havana, Cuba. Johnson continued to fight for another 12 years, hanging up his gloves for good at the age of 50.

Jack Johnson died in an automobile accident in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1946.

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Marian Anderson

marian-anderson-02

Quote: “Everyone has a gift for something, even if it is the gift of being a good friend”

Deemed one of the finest contraltos of her time, Marian Anderson became the first African American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1955. An acclaimed singer whose performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 helped set the stage for the civil rights era, Marian Anderson was born on February 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The oldest of three girls, Anderson was just 6 years old when she became a choir member at the Union Baptist Church, where she earned the nickname “Baby Contralto.” Her father, a coal and ice dealer, supported his daughter’s musical interests and, when Anderson was eight, bought her a piano. With the family unable to afford lessons, the prodigious Anderson taught herself.

By the late 1930s, Anderson’s voice had made her famous on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States she was invited by President Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor to perform at the White House, the first African American ever to receive this honor. Much of Anderson’s life would ultimately see her breaking down barriers for African-American performers. Despite Anderson’s success, not all of America was ready to receive her talent. In 1939 her manager tried to set up a performance for her at Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall. But the owners of the hall, the Daughters of the American Revolution informed Anderson and her manager that no dates were available. That was far from the truth. The real reason for turning Anderson away lay in a policy put in place by the D.A.R. that committed the hall to being a place strictly for white performers.

Her final years were spent in Portland, Oregon, where she’d moved in with her nephew. She died there of natural causes on April 8, 1993.

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Quote: “Everyone has a gift for something, even if it is the gift of being a good friend”

Ida Bell Wells

Ida B Wells

Quote:  “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

Ida B. Wells was an African-American journalist and activist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s. A daughter of slaves, Ida B. Wells was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16, 1862. A journalist, Wells led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s, and went on to found and become integral in groups striving for African-American justice.

On one fateful train ride from Memphis to Nashville, in May 1884, Wells reached a personal turning point. Having bought a first-class train ticket to Nashville, she was outraged when the train crew ordered her to move to the car for African Americans, and refused on principle. As she was forcibly removed from the train, she bit one of the men on the hand. Wells sued the railroad, winning a $500 settlement in a circuit court case. However, the decision was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

This injustice led Ida B. Wells to pick up a pen to write about issues of race and politics in the South. Using the moniker “Iola,” a number of her articles were published in black newspapers and periodicals. Wells eventually became an owner of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight, and, later, of the Free Speech. Ida B. Wells established several civil rights organizations. In 1896, she formed the National Association of Colored Women. After brutal assaults on the African-American community in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908, Wells sought to take action: The following year, she attended a special conference for the organization that would later become known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

She died in 1931 in Chicago, Illinois. She left behind an impressive legacy of social and political heroism. With her writings, speeches and protests, Wells fought against prejudice, no matter what potential dangers she faced.

 

Frederick Douglass

Frederick DouglassThe author of the most influential African American autobiography of his era rebelled against his enslavement in the South and rose through the ranks of the American antislavery movement in the North to become the most electrifying speaker and compelling writer produced by black America in the nineteenth century. With the publication of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself in June 1845, Frederick Douglass (1818895) became an international sensation at the age of twenty-seven. Within five years of its publication, Douglass’s Narrative had become a best-seller, with an estimated thirty thousand copies in print by 1850.

  • Born: 1818 · Talbot County, MD
  • Died: Feb 20, 1895 · Washington, D.C., United States

 

Quote:

For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

Prophets Among Us

a prophet … from among your own people…*  February is Black History Month, one of many opportunities to shine light on the achievements of African Americans – to lift up those whom God has already raised among us, past, present and future. Just this past weekend I learned that an individual had been arrested for the senseless brutal murder of a woman, a dear friend to some, a well respected colleague to others; who died only because she walked with the innate courage to do the right thing. While many are shocked, and or angered (myself included) that the once unknown subject was among her own environment, I can’t stop thinking about how heavy must have been the heart of this beautiful person as she walked knowing what she had to do to someone who was among her own environment. From the remarks of those who knew the confessing individual, there is no way she would have known that her walk that morning would be her last. Prophets are persons regarded as inspired teachers or proclaimers of the Word of God. I was prepared to write about our distant past, but today I celebrate African American History with the newest definition of a prophet in Kim Jones, now in the company of the many saints, who’s life journey included this one short walk and innate gift of courage. Let us remember that it is our journey as well  because the time will always be right to do the right thing.

*Deuteronomy 18:15-20