On July 20, 1969, the world watched as America walked on the moon. In Black America, something very different was happening. We were in the middle of the Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of music concerts held in Harlem, Manhattan, and New York City during the summer of 1969 to celebrate black music, culture, and black pride.
Also known as Black Woodstock, it is the subject of the Hulu documentary Summer of Soul, appropriately named and highly recommended. Some call it “The Revolution that Could Not Be Televised,” because the footage has been unseen until now.
Why hide film showing a sea of beautiful black people having fun? Nevermind.
Also, in July of this year, Black America mourned the loss of another Civil Rights Activist. Just fifteen months after the death of Dr. King, we saw the death of his baby brother Rev. A.D. King.
In this post, I will occasionally refer to Dr. King as Martin to distinguish him from the other King. This informal approach is in no way intended to be disrespectful to either man.
Who Was A.D. King
Alfred Daniel “A.D.” King, the father of Alveda King, was born on July 30, 1930, in Atlanta, Georgia. On June 17, 1950, he married Naomi Barber, with whom he had five children.
Like his brother, A.D. graduated from Morehouse College, but he was less interested in academics. Although he eventually yielded to the calling of a pastor, he initially strongly resisted that as well. A.D.’s grassroots connections would come in handy later in life when he would help to recruit people for Civil Rights Demonstrations.
While Dr. King knew the boardroom and could maneuver his way around intellectuals, A.D. knew the streets (street smart if you will) and was responsible for organizing and strategizing many of the marches King is famous for, becoming known as a master strategist. He had a gift for leading the youth and had his ear to the ground about what the people wanted, and Martin depended on him heavily.
A.D. faced many of the same struggles as Martin and several other civil rights leaders during the 1950s and 60s, including being arrested in an October 1960 lunch counter sit-in in Atlanta. A.D. and his wife also escaped a bombing to their home.*
*Bombings were so often in the black community during that time that Birmingham had been nicknamed Bombmingham.
Rev. A.D. and Dr. King did not only look alike, but they also sounded alike and were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” by King. Sr.
A.D.’s personality is said to have been relaxing with a sense of humor.
Cause why he got them glasses on? Brother did not want the spotlight.
Although his activism mirrored Martin’s, A.D. did not like the limelight and had no intentions of usurping that authority from his brother. Friends and family say A.D. King was humble and was not worried about walking in his brother’s shadow. Instead, he played his part and let Martin play his. A.D. supported his brother one-hundred-percent and was in the middle of every movement:
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered on April 4, 1968, it hurt A.D. deeply, and he never recovered, as he felt it was his responsibility to protect his brother, A.D.’s widow, Naomi King, once recalled.
On July 21, 1969, at the age of 38, a year and a half after Martin’s death, A.D. mysteriously drowned in the family swimming pool.
It is a mysterious death because A.D. King was a “very good swimmer,” according to his niece, Bernice King, Martin’s daughter. According to Derek King, A.D. King’s son, emergency workers noted there was no water in his lungs. “Ain’t no water in his lungs,” one of them said, “he was dead before he hit the water.”
“The Texas Senate on Friday passed legislation that would end requirements that public schools include writings on women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement in social studies classes. Among the figures whose works would be dropped: Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez, and Martin Luther King Jr., whose “I Have a Dream” speech and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” would no longer make the curriculum cut.”
It used to be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the only name we knew and were taught in history class. Now they are doing away with him, too, it seems.
As more is revealed about the truth of who Dr. King was beyond the “I Have A Dream” speech (including that when he was born, Martin Luther King Jr.’s name was Michael…read more about that here), it is no surprise to me that systems are now trying to limit the already limited information we have on him.
Thus, it is also no surprise little is known of his brother, although he was so prominently involved in everything Dr. King stood for. Their mother, Alberta King, was also killed.
There is definitely something strange about this.
Now that you know A.D. King existed, the next time you see a photo of Dr. Martin King, also look for Rev. A.D. King. Chances are he was right there, hiding in plain sight.
“Beginning in about 1890 and continuing until 1968, white Americans established thousands of towns across the United States for whites only. Many towns drove out their black populations, then posted sundown signs.” – James W. Lowen
When I first published this article in 2017, I got much controversy about it. I didn’t take it personally for two reasons. First, very little literature covers sundown towns, and not much is said about it in the limited topics covered during black history month.
The other reason is, although these towns were known as sundown towns, the people of the town did not call it that. It was only a well-known fact that some blacks were not allowed in some towns, and if they visited, they had better leave before the sun sets or risk lynching. Therefore, when I wrote about it, some people thought I was making it up.
This past week, I posted this image to my Instagram, and I was surprised to see how many more people had not heard of this. For this reason, today, we are revisiting our black history fun fact on sundown towns.
“Is it true that ‘Anna’ stands for ‘Ain’t No Niggers Allowed’?” I asked at the convenience store in Anna, Illinois, where I had stopped to buy coffee. “Yes,” the clerk replied. “That’s sad, isn’t it,” she added, distancing herself from the policy. And she went on to assure me, “That all happened a long time ago.” “I understand [racial exclusion] is still going on?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. “That’s sad.”—conversation with clerk, Anna, Illinois, October 2001.
Anna, Illinois, was named after the daughter of the town’s founder but got its more derogatory name after the 1909 lynching of a black man in Cairo, IL, and the mob of angry white citizens who drove out Anna’s 40 or so black families following the lynching. It is at this point that Anna, IL became a sundown town.
A sundown town is a town with an exclusive population of non-whites on purpose. They are towns with overwhelming populations of non-whites and are so deliberately. Sundown towns were also known as “Sunset Towns.”
“A sundown town town is an organized jurisdiction that for decades kept African Americans or other groups from living in it and was thus “all-white” on purpose.”
Side Note: In the black community, black kids are constantly warned to “come in the house when the street lights come on,” so many of us had to be in the house before the sunset. I wonder if Sundown Towns had something to do with this. Not to say black parents are the only ones with this command, but it’s food for thought.
Although signs were posted, forced exclusion was also implemented:
“There were also race riots in which white mobs attacked black neighborhoods, burning, looting, and killing. Across America, at least 50 towns, and probably many more than that, drove out their African American populations violently. At least 16 did so in Illinois alone. In the West, another 50 or more towns drove out their Chinese American populations. Many other sundown towns and suburbs used violence to keep out blacks or, sometimes, other minorities.”
– America’s Black Holocaust Museum, James W. Loewen, PhD; Fran Kaplan, EdD; and Robert Smith, PhD
Sundown towns began after slavery and the Civil War when blacks left the plantations and poured into every city and corner of the country. This was followed by the system we know as Jim Crow.
Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the southern and northern United States to keep blacks in a state of servitude. It included having to look down and step to the side when a white person walked by, drinking from separate water fountains, entering the rear of the bus, sitting in the balcony of the movie theater (which came to be known as “Nigger Heaven,”), attending separate schools, and more.
While Jim Crow and segregation are most notably known as a southern practice (“The Jim Crow South”), it also existed in the north. In fact, many parts of the north were more segregated than the south, and when it comes to Sundown Towns, these communities mainly existed in the north as the Great Migration brought floods of blacks into northern cities. Many suburbs to this day are mostly white because they were either part of redlining -the systematic denial of various services to black residents either explicitly or through the selective raising of prices – or its white residents ran its black residents out of town, and the descendants of those people kept it that way.
I’ll use Chicago as an example, still one of the most segregated cities in America. Yes, I said Chicago. Remember, we started this conversation with Anna (“Ain’t No Negroes Allowed”), Illinois.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Chicago in 1966 due to the high poverty rate in black neighborhoods and rented an apartment on the west side. He was there as part of what he would call The Poor People’s Campaign and the Freedom Movement. On August 5, 1966, King led a march through Cicero, an all-white district, and was hit in the head with a rock by members of the angry mob.
Years later (the early 80s), my brother-in-law and his friends would be chased out of this same area, racial slurs hitting their backs as they rode their bikes out of Cicero.
This statue below is of Orville Hubbard, which sits outside of the City Hall in Dearborn, Michigan, was the cause of much controversy when people started to learn more about his past.
Hubbard was the mayor of the then all-white suburban town outside of Detroit from 1942 to 1978 and, in a 1969 speech acquired by the New York Times, said that “If whites didn’t want to live with N–they sure didn’t have to.” He went on to say this was a free country, and this was America.
“City police cars bore the slogan ‘Keep Dearborn Clean,’ which was a catch phrase meaning ‘Keep Dearborn White,’ ” according to David Good, a lifelong resident of the city who is the author of ‘‘Orvie: The Dictator of Dearborn,” a biography of Mayor Hubbard.
“Out here in Dearborn where some real Ku Klux Klans live. I know Dearborn, you know I’m from Detroit, used to live out there in Easten. And you had to go through Dearborn to get to Easten. Just like riding through Mississippi once you got to Dearborn.” – Malcolm X
Over time the name “Sundown-town” faded, but Sundown Suburbs still exist. A sundown suburb is a discrete way in which Sundown-towns live today when large white populations migrate to the suburban part of the city with the express purpose of separating themselves from the minority population. We can see this in our Cicero example.
Many Black Americans are replacing their fourth of July celebrations with Juneteenth. I don’t celebrate holidays, and as much as I love my people, this includes Kwanzaa and Juneteenth. But I think it’s important to talk about Juneteenth, and why it is celebrated. For some, this day is a celebration of freedom, but even after Juneteenth, many blacks were still enslaved and suffering.
According to the Emancipation Proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, the proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
By rebellious states, it was referring to those states that had seceded or withdrawn from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also exempted parts of the Confederacy (the Southern secessionist states) that had already come under Northern control. The freedom it promised also depended upon United States military victory. In brief, emancipation only applied to those slaves who lived near Union lines.
Sound like a bunch of excuses to me.
News of the supposed emancipation did not spread as quickly as the movies would have us to believe. Many slave-owners packed up their belongings and their slaves and moved to Texas in mass.
“Since the capture of New Orleans in 1862, slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana and other points east had been migrating to Texas to escape the Union Army’s reach.” (Henry Louis Gates Jr.)
In a hurried re-enactment of the original Middle Passage, more than 150,000 enslaved people had made the trek west, according to historian Leon Litwack in his book Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery. As one former slave recalled, “it looked like everybody in the world was going to Texas.” For the next two years, the enslaved would live removed from the updates of the war, and slavery would go on, business as usual.
And so, when General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas, on June 19th to lead the Union occupation force, he had to deal with ongoing slavery in defiance of the Emancipation Proclamation. To fix this, he issued the following order:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
“The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and they will not be supported in idlenesseither there or elsewhere.”
Long story short, this proclamation, specifying “all slaves were free,” is the foundation for Juneteenth’s celebration, combining June and the nineteenth when they issued the order, commemorating the freedom of the enslaved and allegedly ending slavery in the US.
But, this order did not free all enslaved persons.
“There is much evidence to suggest that southern whites—especially Confederate parolees—perpetrated more acts of violence against newly freed bondspeople in Texas than in other states,” writes historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner in an essay titled “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory.”
“Between the Neches and Sabine rivers and north to Henderson,” she continues, “reports showed that blacks continued in a form of slavery, intimidated by former Confederate soldiers still in uniform and bearing arms.” Murder, lynching, and harassment were common. “You could see lots of Negroes hanging from trees in Sabine bottom right after freedom,” reported one freed slave, “They would catch them swimming across Sabine River and shoot them.”
Blacks celebrated their freedom with the first official Juneteenth event in 1866, where they read the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and, oddly, praised Abraham Lincoln as the great liberator.
The celebrations continued until coming to a halt with the institution of Black Codes and, eventually, Jim Crow. These laws essentially put Blacks back into a form of slavery where they were fully disenfranchised. After the Civil War and the end of slavery, Southern states, which had amassed great wealth from slavery, found their economy in shambles. They had to figure out how to keep a slave-like system going.
So that’s what they meant by “they will not be supported in idleness.”
These laws could be imposed on Black men easily, sending them to jail, and thus, former slave owners turned “entrepreneurs” could lease them to various companies that would work them to death and treat them like they were slaves. This made the states tons of money.
In 1883, about ten percent of Alabama’s total revenue was derived from convict leasing. In 1898, nearly 73 percent of total revenue came from this same source. Death rates among leased convicts were approximately ten times higher than the death rates of prisoners in non-lease states. In 1873, for example, 25 percent of all black leased convicts died.
The laws passed in Texas were similar to those passed in every other Confederate state. Modern-day politicians often make comparisons to Jim Crow as one of the worst periods in African American life. Jim Crow didn’t have shit on the Black Codes, which was the South’s attempt to recreate enslavement and go back to business as usual. Mass incarceration isn’t a recent invention; during the Black Codes, Black people could do little without running afoul of the law with the penalty being sent back to the fields if they weren’t already there.
Juneteenth didn’t make a full resurgence until The Civil Rights Movement, when Blacks began to celebrate it in full again. And while many Blacks have celebrated it for centuries, it still did not become an official Holiday until 1980, when it was made a Texas State Holiday. Still, it wasn’t until 1997 that Congress recognized June 19 as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” after pressure from a collection of groups like the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage and the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation.
This post was originally published three years ago, in June of 2018. As of today, June of 2021, Juneteenth is now being turned into a National Federal Holiday.
But the question remains, what exactly did Juneteenth accomplish for the black man, woman, and child? What freedom did it bring about? Some sum it up this way:
“Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long over due. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.” – https://juneteenth.com/
But, Spivey brings out another good point worth considering:
Slavery still existed in Delaware and Kentucky, which resisted all Union attempts to end slavery and refused to ratify the 13th Amendment. In California, slavery was sort of outlawed in 1850 as a condition for statehood. The exception was slaves who had been brought to California and where the possibility they might return one day to their original home existed, even if that state had voted to ratify the 13th Amendment.
New Jersey had as many as 400 people remain slaves long after Juneteenth. Oregon’s provisional government banned slavery in 1844 but forbade free black people from settling in the territory. Settlers continued to bring slaves with them. General Joseph Lane, a former territorial governor, kept at least one slave on his farm until 1878, 13 years after the passage of the 13th Amendment.”
It is true Blacks were not free on July 4, 1776. But it is also true many Blacks were not free on June 19, 1865, either.
As many African Americans celebrate and reflect this weekend on what this day means to them, there is certainly much to think about.
Speaking of Freedom, this is a great time to dive into The Stella Trilogy if you have not already! Below is the link to book one. Enjoy!
In book one, Cynthia McNair and her boyfriend, Alex, express some racists’ feelings toward blacks. They visit Cynthia’s Grandmother Sidney McNair, who recounts the story of her ancestor, a slave named Stella Mae. Cynthia has no idea of her African ancestry or how deep this rabbit hole goes.
An Instagram video inspired today’s post, where a group of young black people engaged in a debate about whether light skin blacks are treated better than dark skin blacks. This debate spun out of control and eventually led to a full-blown argument that made it difficult for the viewer to comprehend what each party said. In the young people’s voice was a lot of hurt and pain. The caption on the video read: “Does Light-Skin Privilege Exist in America?”
Not to bestow to Willie Lynch any gift of prophecy, but when he said to “pitch the light-skin slave against the dark-skin slave and the dark-skin slave against the light skin-slave,” it was as if he c-sectioned the calendar and saw color bias in black people’s future.
Even if one does not wholly believe The Willie Lynch Letter is entirely accurate, one cannot ignore the Black community’s divisions based on skin color in a way that is strangely accurate to William’s letter. To add to this, Willie Lynch did not say these divisions will help for a few days, weeks, and months. In 1712, William Lynch said that if implemented “properly,” slave owners could expect these divisions to keep the blacks mentally enslaved and divided for generations.
It is 2021, but skin-tone is still an important physical characteristic among some black people that sometimes cause divisions in the black community. Historically, people immediately noticed a black person’s skin-tone and recognized it as a critical component in joining churches, fraternities and sororities, and other social interactions. Throughout history, variations in skin tone have reflected social status and hierarchies. The most notable social experiment was the paper bag test, used widely among African Americans to determine inclusion in certain activities and groups.
The Brown Paper Bag Test
The Brown Paper Bag Test, known widely as “The Paper bag Test,” was a form of racial discrimination practiced within the African-American community in the 20th century by comparing an individual’s skin tone to a brown color paper bag.
If a person’s skin tone matched or was lighter than the brown bag, they would be more likely to be accepted than a person whose skin tone was darker than the paper bag.
Many famous black clubs and social organizations used this test to determine membership, including churches and employers.
The Lighter the Skin, the Better the Chances
In Spike Lee’s movie, School Daze, two groups of black sorority women are at odds over which group’s hair and skin color are best. In the film, the Gamma Rays had to be “paper bag light.”
The Alpha Kappa Alpha Brown Paper Bag Test
A letter from 1928, written by sophomore Edward H. Taylor, at Howard University discusses the Alpha Kappa Alpha brown paper bag test and colorism. Watch the Yard details the statements made in the student newspaper “The Hilltop.” Watch the Yard said the article:
“accused fraternities of “splitting the various classes into groups of different shades — yellow, brown, and black.” According to Taylor, “The light-skinned students are sought after by the fraternities and sororities, particularly the latter, as members and the dark ones passed by. The darker brown students then form their own cliques while the blacks are left in the cold.”
Jack and Jill Brown Paper Bag Test
Jack and Jill of America was established in 1938 with a mission of “nurturing future African American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving, and civic duty.”
But an article from the Pittsburg Courier says Jack and Jill has seen its share of negative press from the Black community over the last 81 years. Similar to African-American sororities and fraternities, in the early years, Jack and Jill had a reputation of only being for elite “light-skinned Blacks”. The article says:
“some Blacks saw it as open only to those who had ‘good hair’ and were able to pass ‘the paper-bag test.’”
Resumes Used to Emphasize “Light Colored”
Nadra Kareen Little from ThoughtCo. discussed colorism in her article about skin tone discrimination. The article said:
“Colorism didn’t disappear after the institution of slavery ended in the U.S. In black America, those with light skin received employment opportunities off-limits to darker-skinned blacks. This is why upper-class families in black society were largely light-skinned.”
Her article mentions a writer Brent Staples who discovered this while searching newspaper archives near the Pennsylvania town where he grew up. She said:
“In the 1940s, he noticed, Black job seekers often identified themselves as light-skinned. Cooks, chauffeurs, and waitresses sometimes listed ‘light colored’ as the primary qualification—ahead of experience, references, and the other important data. They did it to improve their chances and to reassure white employers who…found dark skin unpleasant or believed that their customers would.”
Article from the NY Times that gave an example of a job ad from the 1950s that specifically requested applicants with light-colored skin.
“The owner of Chock full o’ Nuts, a white man named William Black, advertised in the tabloids for ‘light colored counter help.’
Advertising jobs for people with lighter skin or “Eurocentric” features is no longer legal or acceptable when doing business, but research shows that these preferences still play a role in our society. The same NY Times article reported that:
“Researchers tell us that it affects how people vote; who appears in Hollywood movies and television news shows; who gets hired and promoted in corporate America; and even who gets executed for murder.”
“Passing is a deception that enables a person to adopt certain roles or identities from which prevailing social standards would bar him in the absence of his misleading conduct. The classic racial passer in the United States has been the “white Negro:” the individual whose physical appearance allows him to present himself as “white” but whose “black” lineage makes him a Negro according to dominant racial rules.”
– Randall Kennedy, Racial Passing
Racial passing was a common practice among lighter-skinned African Americans and is the focal point of book two of The Stella Trilogy, where Stella changes her name to Sidney McNair, marries a white man, and has biracial children whom she raises as white. This narrative is taken directly from historical accounts of light-skin blacks (mixed or not) passing and living their lives as Europeans.
As a child of a white mother and a light-skinned black man, Gregory Howard Williams was a person who assumed that he was white because his parents pretended to be white. Not until he was ten years old, when his parents divorced, did Williams and his brother learn that they were black.
Many lighter-skinned blacks pretended or classified themselves as white in the US, which gave them access to the rights and opportunities that other blacks could not enjoy. In the image we see here, Dr. Albert Johnston passed to practice medicine. After living as leading citizens in Keene, N.H., the Johnstons revealed their true racial identity and became national news.
For Stanford historian Allyson Hobbs, a similar situation occurred where she discovered a cousin she had never met. This cousin lived in California as a white woman from her mother’s instruction, who sent her away from Chicago many years ago. The mother thought her daughter would have the best chance of success living as a white woman.
“She was black, but she looked white,” Hobbs said. “And her mother decided it was in her best interest to move far away from Chicago, to Los Angeles, and to assume the life of a white woman.”
This came around and bit the mother when her husband died and her daughter, now fully immersed in her life, said that she would not attend the funeral, saying, “I can’t. I’m a white woman now.”
The most famous instance is probably art imitating life in the 1934 film “Imitation of Life,” starring Fredi Washington playing a black woman who passes as white. They made this movie at a time where passing was a widespread practice for fair-skinned blacks. They remade this film in 1959.
Colorism is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group, where lighter-skin is treated more favorably than darker skin. The brown paper bag test was used to determine who was acceptable and not based on colorism or color bias. When darker-skinned blacks bleach their skins or attempt to look lighter for the special treatment given to lighter skin (such as to join an organization), it is like passing.
While this is fading as dark skin is becoming more and more appreciated, that video of those young people arguing is proof there is still some work to do.
In the latest Mixed-Ish episode, Johan (pronounced Yohan) allowed his peers to think he was Mexican, thus passing for Mexican. Alicia’s sister Denise’s remark that Rainbow’s parents had indirectly caused this by living in a community where race, specifically blackness, was not discussed or considered has some truth to it. People think that by saying, “I don’t see race,” this is a compliment, but it is not. The one who does not see race also does not see racism.
“You all taught that poor boy of being ashamed of being black. You took him to that commune where…nobody talked about race, and that taught him not to be proud of his blackness.”
Why is there truth to this? Because one cannot be proud of what one does not know exists. If Johan does not know what it means to be black and all his people’s rich experiences, how can he see the shame in not telling his peers who he really is? Johan allowed his peers to think he was Mexican because he does not fully understand who he is as a black boy.
[Side Note: Can someone explain to me why they chose The Color Purple as the movie to help a black boy understand blackness? I can think of tons of movies from the 80s that are better suited to teach blackness to black children. The Color Purple ain’t one of them. They could have put on Cornbread, Earl, and Me.]
It turned out the kid who called Johan the racist Mexican slur was also black. This is another example of color bias within the African American community. Now, whether the child understood Johan to be black reflects the school system and the lack of representation of black people and black history. Contrary to the popular myth, not all light-skinned black people are mixed. Blacks produce a variety of skin-tones within the race, but that is a topic for a different day.
All Black is Beautiful
Today, “Blackness” (black skin) is promoted in pop culture. I hate to say it this way, but “dark-skin is in.”
With actresses like Daniel Kaluuya and Lupita Amondi Nyong’o, people once looked down on for being “ugly” for their dark skin tone (“too dark”) are now looked upon as being sexy, beautiful, and exotic. Dark skin is now socially acceptable, highly praised, and elevated, among many now seeing the beauty of brown skin.
While this is not a bad thing, the hope is that it has not become some fad in which dark-skin is fetishized. We would not want a reversal of the paper bag test in which light-skinned blacks are looked down on in the way dark-skinned blacks have always been. Blackness is not a trend that goes in and out of style and should not be treated as such.
The message here should be that all black is beautiful, no matter the shade.
I love entrepreneurship. I talk about it. I live it. I stand behind it. I encourage all people, especially black people, to go on and do it if it is within their means to do so. If you’ve ever had a desire to own your own business, I say to go for it.
Here are some black-owned communities that prospered to get your blood pumping.
Free Blacks of Israel Hill
This community was the inspiration for the backstory of Renaissance: The Nora White Story. Nora is a descendent of the free blacks of Israel Hill. It is how her father Gideon inherited five acres of land and why, although Nora’s not very impressed, they’re doing well financially compared to those around them. It was during my trip to New Mexico in 2016 while reading Melvin Patrick Ely’s book Israel on The Appomattox, winner of THE BANCROFT PRIZE, A New York Times Book Review, and Atlantic Monthly Editors’ Choice that the first inklings of the back story emerged.
The community was settled in Prince Edward County, Virginia, in 1810-1811 by ninety formerly enslaved persons. These slaves (now freedmen) received freedom and 350 acres from Judith Randolph under the will of her husband, Richard Randolph. These Israelites and other free Blacks worked as farmers, craftspeople, and Appomattox River boatmen. Some labored alongside whites for equal wages, and the family of early settler Hercules White bought and sold real estate in Farmville. Israel Hill remained a vibrant black community into the twentieth century.
The Rosewood community came back into people’s consciousness when John Singleton made a movie for it starring Ving Rhames in 1997. The quiet town prospered in 1870 when a railway depot was set up to transport the abundant red cedar, from which the town got its name, from Rosewood to a pencil factory in cedar key. By 1900 it was predominantly Black with a school, turpentine mill, baseball team, general store, and sugarcane mill. The community had two dozen plank two-story homes, some other small houses, and several small unoccupied plank structures.
There was much revelation during my New Mexico trip. During that time, I learned of Blackdom, another little-known Black community about 18 miles southwest of Roswell, New Mexico, and was founded by Frank and Ella Boyer. Walking 2,000 miles on foot from Georgia to New Mexico, Boyer left his wife and children behind to cultivate land in the West’s free territory before sending his family some three years later. At this time in history, Blacks had begun migrating from the south in significant numbers in a movement called “The Great Exodus” following the Homestead Act of 1862, particularly in Kansas. Henry was a wagoner in the American-Mexican war when he first set eyes on the New Mexico land. The Artesian Water sprang in abundance as more and more blacks were invited and nourished on the land. Blackdom had its own school and post office.
Mound Bayou, MS
The first all-black town in Mississippi, Mound Bayou was founded by two former slaves, Isaiah Montgomery and his cousin, Benjamin Green. In December of 1886, according to a Cleveland Mississippi article of July 1887, Montgomery and Green bought 840 acres of land from the Louisville-New Orleans & Texas Railroad for $7 an acre. That acreage would serve as the site of Mound Bayou.
The men were successful, reaching a population of 4,000 people (99.6 percent black) by 1907. The community had a train depot, a bank, a post office, numerous thriving industries, various stores and eateries, a newspaper, a telephone exchange, and, eventually, a hospital. Mound Bayou was a flourishing community.
Nicodemus Township in Graham County, Kansas
This town was founded in 1877 by seven members, six of whom were Black along the south fork of the Solomon River. Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, a former slave and Underground Railroad conductor, helped produce the “Kansas Fever” of the late 1870s. Tens of thousands of African Americans left their homes headed for Singleton’s Cherokee County colony or Nicodemus, in Graham County, Kansas.
Promoted as the “Promised Land” throughout the south, founders hosted visits by potential settlers. By 1879 the town’s population stood at about 700.
The All-Black Community of Boley, Oklahoma
The all-black community of Boley, OK, was founded in 1904. With Railroad access and land that helped, Boley became one of at least 20 Black towns in Oklahoma to thrive. By 1907, it had at least 1,000 residents, and twice that many farmers settled outside of town. There were several businesses and an industrial school.
Fort, Mose, Florida
Located just north of St. Augustine, Fort Mose was the first free black settlement in what is now the United States. King Charles II of Spain issued what would become one of the first proclamations that any male slave on an English Plantation who escaped to Spanish Florida would be granted freedom if he joined the Militia and converted to catholicism. We see this a lot throughout history. Whether we are talking Catholicism, Islam, or Christianity, none of these religions had anything to do with the black man, woman, and child’s natural Israelite way of life (Muhammad converted blacks to Islam a thousand years before the Europeans came with Christianity.)
In any event, by 1738, there were hundreds of blacks, mostly runaways from the Carolinas, living in what became Fort Mose. They were skilled workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cattlemen, boatmen, and farmers. They created a colony of freed people with accompanying women and children that ultimately attracted other fugitive slaves.
There were over twenty black communities in Oklahoma.
Greenwood, a neighborhood in North Tulsa, Oklahoma, was one of the most successful and wealthiest black communities in the United States during the early 20th Century. It was popularly known as America’s “Black Wall Street” due to its financial success that mirrored Wall Street. During the oil boom of the 1910s, which gained the town such titles as “Oil Capital of the World”, the area of northeast Oklahoma around Tulsa flourished, including the Greenwood neighborhood. Home to several prominent Black business people, the community held many multimillionaires.
Greenwood had grocery stores, clothing stores, barbershops, banks, hotels, cafes, movie theaters, two newspapers, and many contemporary homes. The dollar circulated thirty-six to one-hundred times, which means that sometimes it took up to a year before the dollar left the community. To put this in perspective: today, the black dollar leave the black community in fifteen minutes.
The best way to extend the legacy of those who came before us is not to talk but to do the work they have done. That said, what did King do that we may not already know about? Here are the facts.
1. The Poor People’s Campaign
King founded a poor program called The Poor People’s Campaign that he was getting off the ground before his death. In December 1967, King wanted to bring together poor people from across the country to demand better jobs, better homes, better education, and better lives. The purpose behind the campaign was to “dramatize the plight of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.” (Dr. Ralph Abernathy) King said, “If you are, let’s say, from rural Mississippi, and have never had medical attention, and your children are undernourished and unhealthy, you can take those little children into the Washington hospitals and stay with them there until the medical workers cope with their needs. And in showing it your children, you will have shown this country a sight that will make it stop in its busy tracks and think hard about what it has done.” Ultimately, King put together a plan that he thought would help solve poverty so that every American had a guaranteed income. King set his program to begin on April 22, 1968, but he was assassinated on April 4.
2. Fought for Better Schools for Children in the Cabrini Green Projects
In 1966, King moved into an apartment on Chicago’s West Side as part of the Freedom Movement. He was less interested in Civil Rights and more interested in Human Rights, which included fair housing in Northern cities. Chicago has always been a segregated city and was even more so in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. A system of redlining was implemented that prevented blacks from purchasing a property in their own communities. Not only was the rent high, but run-down apartments were divided into what was called Kitchenettes. Kitchenette’s split six-family apartments in half, so they became one-room apartments.
“The Kitchenette is our prison, our death sentence without a trial, the new form of mob violence that assaults not only the lone individual but all of us in its ceaseless attacks.” – Richard Wright
The Projects were the answer to the slums but did not fare much better. People eventually abandoned public housing for the suburbs, offended that blacks were “being treated as whites.” Newspapers and Ads boasted Blacks and Italians living side by side, happy and positive. The public didn’t have it. Riots broke out as whites pulled blacks out of their cars, beating them. Middle-class blacks were forced out as the screening process got more and more relaxed. Eventually, Gates were put up, which made residents feel imprisoned.
The once “promised land,” that was the newly established projects, became just another ghetto. Black schools also suffered. One elementary school was overcrowded, and King fought with residents to get a racist teacher fired. “The people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate,” he said after being stoned by angry white residents in the then all-white Marquette Park on the city‘s Southwest Side. When parents were in their third day of a planned strike, King met with them, saying, “Should you in any way be persecuted or prosecuted for attempting to seek the best education possible for your children, I can assure you that thousands of parents from all over the city will come to your aid and together we will join you in jail if necessary.”
3. Campaigned for Black Sanitation Workers in Memphis
King helped black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, in March and April 1968. He compared their struggle with the poor people‘s campaign, saying, “a fight by capable, hard workers against dehumanization, discrimination and poverty wages in the richest country in the world.” He was in Memphis for a sanitation strike when he was murdered at the Lorraine Motel. The deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker brought the issue of sanitation workers into the public eye. On February 1, 1968, in Memphis, TN, these men were crushed to death by a trash compensation mechanism on a garbage truck that malfunctioned.
Their deaths highlighted the dangerous conditions, and the strike that resulted from these men’s deaths brought it to the attention of Civil Rights leaders like Dr. King. However, at this time, King was less interested in Civil Rights and saw this not as another opportunity to march but a chance to further the Poor People’s Campaign. “He saw the Memphis strike and the workers’ demand for union rights as embodying the goals and values of his fledgling Poor People’s Campaign, a movement that sought to bring a multiracial coalition of religious leaders, workers, and the poor together to fight poverty in a way that intentionally centered the voices of the marginalized. “(P.R. Lockhart, 4, April 2018). Sadly, he would be shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, later dying at St. Joseph’s Hospital, leaving his campaign unfinished.
King did the work. He didn’t talk about it or stand on the sidelines. MLK was more than an “I Have a Dream,” speech. He was actually on the ground doing the work. Read his books and listen to his other speeches, the ones that aren’t being promoted by the media (The Three Evils of Society is a good one).
PBS aired an excellent documentary this week on black business ownership. Boss: The Black Experience in Business explores the inspiring stories of trailblazing Black entrepreneurs and contemporary business leaders’ significant contributions. From the collapse of the Freedman’s Bank, the lynching of black grocery store owner of The Peoples Grocery, Thomas Moss, to Booker T. Washington’s National Negro Business League, a network of black entrepreneurs. By 1900 there were about 20,000 black-owned businesses in the U.S., and I’ve got tons of ideas for future fun facts!
This week, I spoke briefly on Dr. George Cleveland Hall, for whom the Hall Public Library in Chicago is named. I talked about the Hall Branch as the place I got my first library card and all the historical things I didn’t know that happened there. To read this post, click here.
Today, we are digging a little deeper into this man’s background, Dr. George Cleveland Hall.
As I dug into his story, I found Hall was a pretty big deal, and I am surprised there isn’t more information on him because this man was phenomenal and a significant influence on Chicago.
Dr. George Cleveland Hall was born on February 22, 1864. Not only was Cleveland a doctor, but he was also head of the Urban League and “one of the five founding members and the first president of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), currently known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).” (William Smither)
In 1886, Hall graduated from Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University and studied medicine at Bennett Medical College and in 1896 graduated from Harvey Medical College.
Cleveland was a surgeon at Provident Hospital, the first private hospital in the state of Illinois to provide internship opportunities for black physicians, the first to establish a school of nursing to train black women, one of the first black hospitals to offer postgraduate courses and residences for black physicians, and the first black hospital approved by the American College of Surgeons for full graduate training in surgery.
In 1911 Cleveland founded the Cook County Physicians’ Association of Chicago, the organization of black doctors in the city.
But Dr. Hall’s significant influence on Chicago was not just about his expertise in the medical field. He is actually most known for his civic duty and grassroots work. In 1915, he joined Carter G. Woodson and others in the founding of the ASALH at the Wabash YMCA in historical Bronzeville.
I cannot believe I have not heard of Dr. Hall before. His contribution to black history and medicine is groundbreaking. He is right up there with Carter G. Woodson and then some. Hall also had a close relationship with Booker T. Washington.
Cleveland received two honorary degrees, one from Lincoln University for Doctors of Laws and another from Howard for Doctor of Science. He became the first black Chicagoan appointed to the board of directors for the Chicago Public Library.
Dr. George Cleveland Hall died at sixty-six in 1930.
On January 18, 1932, Chicago city officials dedicated the George Cleveland Hall Library to Dr. Hall, the first full-service library on the city’s Southside.
This is the same library where I received my first library card.