Tag Archives: Black History Month 2017

Speaking Truth to Power-Black Women Journalists Who Showed the Way

This post is actually an harmonic convergence — in part necessitated by a technology glitch that curtailed writing, more important inspired by these facts:   1) African American History Month ended before this post got written;  2) we are beginning Women’ History Month, and 3) the demonization of the American press calls for positive resistance, including some real facts about some of the nation’s most powerful journalists.  

The disrespectful treatment of April Ryan actually propelled this quest  to learn more about the role that African American women journalists have played in speaking truth to power.  What I have found is a wealth of strong women whose names are little known and whose stories I am eager to learn and share through Women’s History Month posts.

Great as she was, challenged to face a digital age in which social media are the information source of choice, Gwen Ifill built on the strength of her forebears.  These are but a few of the African American women who have paved a road that Ifill, April Ryan, Charlayne Hunter-Gault,  Joy Reid and countless others are challenged to walk in the digital age.

What I have learned inspires confidence in the strength of journalists supported by the prevailing power of the First Amendment and the essential role of this nation’s free press.  I’ve also learned that women have played an unheralded role as supporters of all Americans’ right to know.

Following are just some of the African American women journalists about whom I’m learning.  They are posted in no particular order — except for the first entry who gets dibs because she’s a Minnesota native.

Marvel Cooke (1903-2000) was born in Mankato!  Her family eventually moved to Prospect Park where they were the first African American neighbors in this Minneapolis community.  She was the first African American woman to work at a mainstream newspaper.  In the 1930’s she helped to create The Newspaper Guild, a labor group that actually conducted a lengthy strike at the Amsterdam News.  Cooke described her experiences working as a domestic in white homes under the title, I was a slave.  There is a helpful entry about Marvel Cooke on MNOpedia http://www.mnopedia.org/person/cooke-marvel-jackson-1901-2000  (note: I don’t understand the inconsistency of dates, but I’m working on it…)

Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893) was a lawyer, suffragist and journalist whose family fled to Canada after passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.  There she edited a Canadian newspaper, the Provincial Freeman for Black refugees who fled to Canada.  As an advocate for suffrage for African American women  Cary founded the Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise Association in DC in 1888 a forebear of the women’s club/sorority movement. As the first woman student at Howard University Law School she was not permitted to graduate because DC did not admit women to the bar; she returned to Howard a decade later to receive her law degree at age 60.

Maria W. Stewart (1803-1879) was a speaker/preacher before she was a journalist.  An ardent supporter of  African-American exceptionalism, always with religious theme, Stewart befriended William Lloyd Garrison, famous leader of the anti-slavery movement.  Garrison published several of her “Meditations” and speeches in The Liberator, the anti-slavery journal to which Stewart became a regular contributor.  One indication of Stewart’s legacy is the fact that the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church USA commemorates her contributions, along with those of William Lloyd Garrison, every year on December 17.

Delilah Leontium Beasley (1871-1934) was a native of Cincinnati, Ohio.  She was a newspaper columnist for the Oakland Tribune.  Beasley was the first African American women to be published regularly in a major metro newspaper.  Beasley told the story of early California’s African American leaders  in The Negro Trail-Blazers of California, published in 1919.

Charlotte Bass (1874-1969) was the first African American women to own and operate a newspaper in the US.  Incidentally Bass was the first African American women to be nominated for Vice President of this country.   She was born on Valentine’s Day in 1874  and died at age 95 in 1969.  It is likely that she was the first African American woman to own and operate a newspaper, the California Eagle, from 1912 until 1951.  In 1952 she was nominated for VP as a candidate of the Progressive Party.

Alice Allison Dunnigan (1906-1983) was the first African American woman correspondent to receive White House credentials and the first Black female member of the Senate and House of Representative galleries.  Her story is told in her autobiography, Alice A. Dunnigan: A Black Woman’s Experience.

Ethel L. Payne,(1911-1991) “combined a passionate concern for the rights of Black people in all parts of the world with a talent for investigative reporting and writing.”  Granddaughter of a Pullman Porter  Payne’s early life in Chicago was fraught with financial concerns and racial discrimination.  In time she began writing for the Chicago Defender, a Black newspaper published as an expose of immoral and illegal practices within the U.S. military.  In time Payne traveled the world, reporting on African American troops, particularly in Vietnam.  She also worked for CBS as both a radio and TV commentator.

My hope is to learn and share more about these and other Black women journalists during Women’s History Month.  I would be grateful for readers’ suggestions of other women whose stories should be must be recorded and shared.


Presidential gaffe inspires a nation to know Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice……Donald J. Trump

To be sure Frederick Douglass is better known now to most Americans, in light of journalists, teachers and the general public’s reaction to the President’s display of ignorance of the history of the nation he purports to “rule.”   And yet we all have more to learn.

Fortunately, resources  about this great American abound. Just last week my email included a link to this lovely video narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass produced by the National Archives. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxZClqEnRwQ

This led me to a corollary video that treats of Douglass as the “conscience of the abolitionist movement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fj-gz3u-1jM

And to this, one of many YouTube adaptations of picture books that tells the story of Frederick Douglass: — https://youtu.be/oN-QqKsgyL4

As well as to this impassioned speech, delivered by Douglass on July 4, 1852. http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/douglass.htm

And to the Frederick Douglass Honor Society, a venture created by residents of his birthplace in Talbot County, Maryland – who knew! http://www.frederickdouglasshonorsociety.org/douglass-history.html

Needless to say, the royal gaffe has fostered a flood of responses in the press. It’s informative to read the words of contemporary writers whose response has been to celebrate Black History Month 2017 by expanding their readers’  appreciation of Frederick Douglass. The problem is that it’s a challenge to focus on the contributions of Douglass rather than on the unfortunate gaps in the leader’s understanding of American history. Here is just one of scores of tributes to this brilliant visionary. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/06/opinion/a-lesson-in-black-history.html

To really learn about the writings, the life and unique contributions of Frederick Douglass there is no better path than to dip into the resources of the Library of Congress which has made vast Douglass-related resources accessible online. Though the wealth of information – books, manuscripts, videos, guides and more — may seem overwhelming, all is meticulously organized – and you may certain that there is something in the collection to pique the interest of every learner, including candidates for public office, who harbor a passion to know the story of this democracy. https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/douglass/




Black Nurses in our history – Some leaders and their stories

The character of a nurse is as important as the knowledge she possesses. Carolyn Javis


Though Black History Month features many tributes to African Americans in medicine it has finally dawned on me – slowly but surely – that there is a serious absence of programming that celebrates the contributions of Black Nurses!   And so the search began….

In short time I found myself immersed in this comprehensive guide to the topic: Black Nurses in History: A Bibliography and Guide to Web Resources: (http://libguides.rowan.edu/blacknurses} The guide is bursting with the stories of African American women who have served with courage the medical profession and the needs of their patients. These women have been powerful in various professional nursing roles – most often as direct care providers who rose to the challenge to serve the needs of their fellow women and men whose health was imperiled by disease, war, childbirth, working conditions, poor nutrition or other threats to their physical or mental wellbeing

The bibliography introduced me to the American Association for the History of Nursing (https://www.aahn.org/feature.html) and to Diane Brownson’s nursing history links:  (http://diannebrownson.tripod.com/history.html)

With time, and a few detours, I made my way to some grand stories of little-known, and a couple of famous, African American nurses.

  • https://travelnursingcentral.com/blog/nursing/6-famous-african-american-nurses/ – Brief stories of Mary Seacole who served in the Crimean War, Mary Elizabeth Mahoney, the first African American licensed RN, Hazel W. Johnson-Brown, the first African American head of the US Army Nurses Corps, Estelle Massey Osborne, the first African American woman to earn a Master’s degree in Nursing, as well as Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, who need no introduction.
  • Some of these women and others are profiled in this introduction to “Ten African American Nurses Who Changed the Course of History.” In addition to the women named in the preceding entry this listing includes the stories of Adah Belle Samuel Thomas, Lillian Holland Harvey, Betty Smith Williams, Mabel Keaton Staupers, and Susie King Taylor – edifying stories of some of history’s finest health care providers!   http://www.associates-degree-in-nursing.org/10-african-american-nurses-who-changed-the-course-of-history/

There are countless stories yet to be recorded. These are just some ready points of access to stories of nursing pioneers who may propel students of the medical profession, African American history or Women’s history to further explore that cries out for exploration.   The hope is that the stories of these committed women will inspire African American women of all ages to pursue careers as nurses and other health care providers.

Today these organizations continue to serve the specific needs of African American nurses:

  • The National Black Nurses Association, organized in 1971 under the leadership of Dr. Lauranane Sams, former Dean and Professor of Nursing, School of Nursing, Tuskegee University. The NBNA services 150,000 African American nurses with 92 chartered chapters in 35 states.
  • The Minnesota chapter of NBNA is the Minnesota Black Nurses Association 2400 Park Avenue South, Suite 181, Minneapolis, MN 55404 – Email: shirlynn7@gmail.com – Telephone #: 612-353-5136

African American History Month -So much to read, view and learn

As we enter the second week of Black History Month many of us are overwhelmed by the issues, digital options and live events that are happening in communities, sponsored by a host of nonprofits, educational and advocacy groups. An abundance of riches, to be sure. Still, the opportunities to learn are so robust that we don’t know where to start! In an effort to focus, not limit, here are some thoughts:

Some time back I posted a listing of sources of Black History Month public events and activities. It’s not the most recent but it’s a starting point: https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/black-history-month-2017-theme/

Still, events are not the only way to learn the history of African Americans and their contributions to Minnesota and the world. David V. Taylor produced a significant guide to historical resources published as the Minnesota Historical Guide in 1976.

Though dated, it offers a firm foundation to the topic. Dr. Taylor also produced a readily accessible e-book exploring resources on African Americans in Minnesota – it’s available commercially through most e-book vendors. http://www.mnhs.org/mnhspress/books/african-americans-minnesota-0

Sometimes biographies or autobiographies tell the story best. Though there are hundreds of African Americans who have shaped Minnesota history it took the intrepid staff of the St Paul Pioneer Press to suggest just a few historic icons in this 2016 article: http://www.twincities.com/2016/02/09/15-trailblazing-black-minnesotans-you-should-know-more-about/

In 2004 TPT produced North Star: Minnesota’s Black Pioneers, the story of twelve early Minnesotans who helped to shape the state. Happily, it’s still accessible online at http://video.tpt.org/video/2365018705/

Another approach is to focus on a specific era or issue. Again, to narrow the universe, the reader might want to start with a significant book written by William D. Green, former Superintendent of Minneapolis Schools, now on the Augsburg College faculty. Dr. Green’s informative and readable history. Degrees of Freedom, covers the story of civil rights in Minnesota 1865-1912. Get to know Dr. Green and his significant study by listening to these interviews with the author:

Last, but definitely not least, you might want to check out this recent publication from the University of Minnesota Press. https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/who-writes-for-black-children, edited by Katharine Capshaw and Anna Mae Duane. Here’s the publisher’s description of this unique resource:

Who Writes for Black Children? unlocks a rich archive of largely overlooked literature read by black children. From poetry written by a slave for a plantation school to joyful “death biographies” of African Americans in the antebellum North to literature penned by African American children themselves, this volume presents compelling new definitions of both African American literature and children’s literature.

So much to learn, so little time – especially when African American History Month gets short shrift by being celebrated during the shortest month of the year!













Remembering Langston Hughes, the “O.Henry of Harlem”

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed – 
Let it be that great strong land of love 
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme 
That any man be crushed by one above.   Langston Hughes

The words of hope were written by African American poet Langston Hughes, born this day in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902. His early years were difficult, many moves and the loss of parents and his caregiving grandmother. Hughes found solace in reading, reflecting later, “then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world of books – where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language not in monosyllables, as in Kansas.”

Restless and apparently weary of traveling the world, Hughes settled in Harlem where he was active in the Harlem Renaissance, a utopian environment for creative African Americans. His writing reflecting the world around him; when asked, Hughes shared this description of the topics he explored and reflected in his prolific writing. His words ring true for many in these times:

People up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten, buying furniture on the installment plan, filling the house with rooms to help pay the rent, hoping to get a new suit for Easter – and pawning that suit before the Fourth of July.

When Hughes died of cancer in 1967 the New York Times reported: “Mr. Hughes was sometimes characterized as the ‘O. Henry of Harlem.’ He was an extremely versatile and productive author who was particularly well known for his folksy humor.'”

There’s much to learn about this renowned poet, essayist, novelist, playwright and prolific letter writer:

  • Learn about the Langston Hughes Center at the University of Kansas, a repository of Hughes’ work and a center for research and teaching about his life and literary contributions. https://langstonhughes.ku.edu

UPDATE:  Read more Langston Hughes quotes here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/91742/20-inspiring-quotes-langston-hughes



Black History Month opens links to learning

I don’t want you to praise me…Some praise me because I am a colored girl, and I don’t want that kind of praise. I had rather you would point out my defects, for that will teach me something. — Edmonia Lewis

Though I have seen her sculptures in galleries and in print, it was not until today that I knew or appreciated the life and work of sculptor Edmonia Lewis. As I started my research/writing routine this morning I instinctively clicked on Google’s doodle du jour. I was delighted and, even more, captivated by a visual introduction to the elegant sculpture of this brilliant African American artist. https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/exhibit/gQJi3NKm3VagLg?utm_campaign=bhm17_edmonia_lewis&utm_source=google&utm_medium=hppromo

Fortunately, my morning meeting was shifted – so my fingers and my mind heeded the lure to learn more….

Intrigued by the subject I googled again to learn about the life and work of a woman I had not known. The search led me to Michael Cavna’s piece in Washington Post where I learned more about Edmonia Lewis. I am awed, eager to learn more.   https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2017/02/01/edmonia-lewis-google-doodle-salutes-pioneering-sculptor-to-kick-off-black-history-month/?utm_term=.65ed8b5ba9f4.

Another click led me to Time’s take on the Google doodle where I paused to track the process of how a doodle comes to be. http://time.com/4656108/google-doodle-sculptor-edmonia-lewis/

Happily, my search continued as I followed the links to learn about Akilah Johnson, the Eastern High School (Washington DC) student who actually designed the Google Black Lives Matter doodle. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2016/03/21/d-c-student-wins-national-google-doodle-contest-with-art-that-invokes-black-lives-matter/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.7548d215327f

At this point, the time has come to face the work routine of the day. Still, it has been a beautiful way to celebrate the first day of Black History Month 2017!







Black History Month 2017 – Ideas, resources, events

Through first-class education, a generation marches down the long uncertain road of the future with confidence. Wynton Marsalis

“The crisis in Black education” is the theme – and challenge – of Black History Month 2017. Perhaps more than ever resources and learning opportunities abound. And, more than even, the challenge is well nigh overwhelming – for families, or schools, or this democracy. At the national, state and local levels concerned individuals and organizations are struggling to stem the tide of fake news, alternative facts, pull-back on funding for arts and humanities, and potential disruption of the very premise of public education.

Fortunately, the concern is nonpartisan and ubiquitous – and the resources expand by the hour!


Carter G. Woodson, (1875-1950) noted Black scholar and historian and son of former slaves, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, which was later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). He initiated Black History Week, February 12, 1926. For many years the second week of February (chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln) was celebrated by Black people in the United States. In 1976, as part of the nation’s Bicentennial, it was expanded and became established as Black History Month, and is now celebrated throughout North America.

Here are just a few of the opportunities to learn, to gather, to focus on how best we can individually and as communities fully understand then meet the challenge. We won’t find answers in one short month – but we won’t seek answers until we come to grip with the questions. Not all but some, or even one, may speak to you as a parent, grandparent, student, teacher, voter, employer and citizen aware that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”



http://www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov – brief background on the history of the month, resources of national agencies – many of which are accessible online.

http://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2017/cb17-ff01.html – relevant statistics from the Census Bureau

http://www.naapidatnight.com – Help planning African American Parents Involvement Day/Night – many local schools will sponsor related events

http://www.educationworld.com/a_special/black_history.shtml – Lesson plans – various

Things to do:

http://www.si.edu/events/heritagemonth – Smithsonian resources

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/national-museum-of-african-american-history-and-culture – Resources of the National Museum of African American History and Culture 

Local calendars – a few of the many:




Other local events – very incomplete list!



http://oshag.stkate.edu/all-events – Threads Dance Project–The Secrets of Slave Songs

http://www.mnhs.org/event/2193 – music by African American composers

http://www.sowahmensah.com/calendar/February 11, 2017 – Macalester Ensemble Black History Month Concert, Mairs Concert Hal, Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, Macalester College, 8:00 pm – Free


https://civilrightsminneapolis.wordpress.com/black-history-month/ – check the blogs

Good reads

http://www.hclib.org/about/news/2017/january/black-history-month -Includes a good list of related readings