Black History Fun Fact Friday – Mathieu de Costa

Me and Hubby had a wonderful time on our vacation. It’s been a long time since we’ve been out of the country, so it was refreshing to breathe another air. Canada is rich with Black history and many Black Canadians trace their ancestry to the so-called African American in America as the Underground Railroad brought tens of thousands of fugitive slaves to Canada. While many of these returned to the United States after emancipation, a significant population remained, largely in Southern Ontario, widely scattered in the country and the city, including Toronto.

Mathieu Da Costa (Groupe CNW/Postes Canada)

The first recorded (recorded being the key word here…I am sure there were others, but this is the first record. The first known black person to live in Canada is said to have been a slave from Madagascar named Olivier Le Jeune) free Black person in Canada was a Black man named Mathieu de Costa. He was a free man who spoke several languages (among them French, Dutch, Portuguese and a mixture of French-Spanish dialect and First Nations languages) and is remembered as a skilled interpreter and the first man of African heritage to visit and live in Canada. He lived in Port Royal (Nova Scotia) for a short time, and a plaque to honor his life and time spent there has been placed on a monument at the Port-Royal National Historical Site. A school in Toronto, and a street in Montreal and Quebec City have been named after him. Because of his ability to speak several languages, it is said that he helped to bridge the gap between Europeans and Natives living along the Canadian Atlantic Coast to live peacefully.

Hubby and I at an Ethiopian Restaurant in downtown Toronto Canada.

As a group, black people arrived in Canada in several waves. We are planning a return trip this winter to explore Canada’s Black history that we did not have the time to explore this trip such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site and Buxton National Historic Site, in Chatham-Kent, Ontario. (It was about 3 hours from where we were so we didn’t have time to visit this round). If you remember, we touched on Josiah Henson in the truth about Uncle Tom post here. In 1842 former fugitive slave Josiah Henson established the Dawn Settlement, a center for education, training, and community planning. With financial backing from American abolitionists, Dawn became a diverse settlement featuring a school, brickyard, sawmill, farmland, and profitable lumber industry. “At its peak, about 500 people lived at the Dawn Settlement. Henson purchased 200 acres of land adjacent to the community, where his family lived.” (Ontario Heritage Trust) The Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site is an open-air museum and African American history center near Dresden, Ontario, Canada, that includes the home of Josiah Henson. While the development of administrative problems and the school closure in 1868 caused many Blacks to abandon the land (some going back to America when slavery ended and some spreading out throughout Toronto), Josiah and his wife Nancy lived on the land the rest of their lives.

Although we didn’t get to visit these sites, we visited Markham, Woodstock, Orville, and Toronto and got some much-needed rest. My goal for this trip was to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new. On this trip I:

  • Got my locs retwisted before leaving (something I don’t usually do. I like my natural do, but this was about being different sooo)

 

  • Stayed with friends on seven acres of land in a big country house instead of a hotel.

 

  • Ate largely vegetarian (except for the curry chicken and shawarma. Shawarma is a Middle Eastern dish of sliced meat and vegetables wrapped in a cone-shaped bread and roasted. It is basically like one HUGE burrito. Also Jamaican Porridge is delicious. I’ll replace my oatmeal with it any day).

 

  • Showered in well water

 

  • Used Cinnamon, sweet milk and a touch of vanilla in my coffee instead of my usual French Vanilla Creamer

 

  • Drank no alcohol

 

  • Splurged on something cute without worrying over it (because I’m cheap). I just paid really fast before I changed my mind. In fact, before leaving the store I went into the dressing room and changed, wearing the pants and earrings home.

Peace and hair grease!

We had an amazing time but it sure does feels good to be back (nothing like being able to boo-boo in your own toilet and sleep in your own bed). Be sure to check out other fun facts on the Black History Fun Fact Friday page here.

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Black History Fun Fact Friday – The End of Enslavement and Reconstruction

Founded in 1607, America celebrated her 400th anniversary in 2007. Twelve years from 1607 (1619) she brought to her shores the first 20 persons of “African” descent to begin American slavery. (Learn more about that in a previous post here). Tuesday, August 20, 2019, marked the 400th anniversary of this event. In light of the 400th year, I thought this would be an excellent time to revisit some basics. I hope this insight will help us to understand the many disadvantages Blacks have faced since “freedom,” and why the failure of the U.S. to move on its promises to Blacks set a pattern that will define it until this very day.

During the Civil War (when the Southern States wanted to pull away or secede from the U.S. and create its own Country, The Confederate States of America), the U.S. government realized that it had to destroy anything that could be used by the South to support the Confederacy. Being slave labor was a big part of the South’s economy, Lincoln eventually realized that it had to be abolished, a massive blow to the Confederacy. But he didn’t realize this right away.

The 10% Plan

First, Lincoln decided on what is called the 10% plan or Lincoln’s Plan. The 10% plan meant that a southern state could be readmitted into the Union once ten percent of its voters (from the voter rolls for the election of 1860) swore an oath of allegiance to the Union. In other words, when ten percent of the voting population swears an oath of loyalty to the U.S. (no support of the Confederacy). The problem with this plan:

  • The plan did not plan for African Americans
  • The Plan did not even mention African Americans

Wade Davis Bill

Next, was the Wade-Davis Bill offered by Congress. The Wade-Davis Bill (named after Senator Benjamin F. Wade and Representative Henry Winter Davis), required that 50 percent of a state’s white males take a loyalty oath to be readmitted to the Union, also known as the Iron-Clad Oath. These men had to promise no support of the Confederacy. It also required States to give blacks the right to vote and ensure citizenship rights for African Americans.

What was Lincolns response to this?

Nothing.

Pocket Veto

Lincoln did nothing, also known as a Pocket Veto. He did not sign or veto the bill. He simply did nothing. Webster’s Online Dictionary defines Pocket Veto as:

  1. an indirect veto of a legislative bill by the president or a governor by retaining the bill unsigned until it is too late for it to be dealt with during the legislative session.

Eventually, Lincoln had to save the Union. He said if he could save the Union by not freeing any slaves he would do it but obviously, he couldn’t. Ending slavery was the best way to strike the Confederacy and save the Union.

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.”

– Abraham Lincoln, Letter addressed to Horace Greeley, Washington, August 22, 1862. Source: The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler

The Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, by Lincoln to end slavery in the States that were in Rebellion. This means not all enslaved people were freed. (Looks like Lincoln was going for the “free some and leave others” tactic. It didn’t work though.) On the passing of the 13th Amendment in January of 1865, slavery was officially deemed illegal in America, freeing all people enslaved.

However, many men, women, and children in Texas were still being held bondage and did not know that slavery was over:

“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. In a hurried re-enactment of the original Middle Passage, more than 150,000 slaves had made the trek west, according to historian Leon Litwack in his book Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of SlaveryAs one former slave he quotes recalled, ” ‘It looked like everybody in the world was going to Texas.’”

These men, women, and children were still enslaved until June 1865 when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free, two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Known as Juneteenth, it is the reason many Black Americans celebrate Juneteenth instead of July 4th as their National Independence Day.

“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.” – https://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm

But economic and cultural forces caused a decline in Juneteenth activities and participation as well as ongoing slavery. Before we go on, let’s continue on with Lincoln for full context.

A Change of Heart?

It is believed that Lincoln may have had a change of heart toward the end of his life after returning from a visit to Richmond, VA in 1865. He received opposition from Richmond’s white citizens but it’s Black freedmen welcomed Lincoln with open arms. They saw him as the man who had “emancipated” them and pushed through the 13th Amendment. When Lincoln got back to D.C. he gave the last speech of his life and this is when it gets murky.

Some suggest this is the speech that showcases his change of heart, where he suggests that now that the war was over the Government needed to think about giving African Americans rights, specifically giving Black men the right to vote. Some 200,000 Black men fought in the War and at the very least they should be given the right to vote. (Lincoln did own slaves so did he free the slaves under him during this “change of heart?”) The speech is said to show he was leaning toward Congress’ idea of Reconstruction. And it is believed this speech is the speech that got him killed by well-known stage actor John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, while attending the play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.

The Problem

The only problem is that even if Lincoln had a change of heart, his death brought in Andrew Johnson as President and Andrew Johnson decided to go with Lincoln’s original 10% Plan and to do so quickly. By December of 1865, he offered pardons to former white slave-owners which authorized them to create new state governments. Now leading Johnson’s reconstruction are the same people who had led the Confederacy, also former slave-owners, and they set out to create laws that would recreate slavery.

Slavery Continued After Juneteenth

Juneteenth didn’t have much meaning for Black people at the time any more than the Emancipation Proclamation for a few reasons:

  1. Technically, the 250,000 Blacks in Texas were already “Free” they just didn’t know it. The document issued on June 19, 1865 was an announcement to those enslaved in Texas of the Emancipation Proclamation. Not an amendment or law.

 

  1. The announcement urged slaves to stay with their former owners: “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 quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

 

  1. Not all slaves were freed instantly. Many Blacks were still being enslaved both directly (working on plantations) and indirectly (recreated/renamed slave laws). When legally freed slaves tried to leave they were lynched, beaten or murdered.

“When Texas fell and Granger dispatched his now famous order No. 3, it wasn’t exactly instant magic for most of the Lone Star State’s 250,000 slaves. On plantations, masters had to decide when and how to announce the news — or wait for a government agent to arrive — and it was not uncommon for them to delay until after the harvest. Even in Galveston city, the ex-Confederate mayor flouted the Army by forcing the freed people back to work, as historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner details in her comprehensive essay, “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory,” in Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas.”

“Those who acted on the news did so at their peril. As quoted in Litwack’s book, former slave Susan Merritt recalled, ” ‘You could see lots of niggers hangin’ to trees in Sabine bottom right after freedom, ’cause they cotch ’em swimmin’ ‘cross Sabine River and shoot ’em.’ ” In one extreme case, according to Hayes Turner, a former slave named Katie Darling continued working for her mistress another six years (She ” ‘whip me after the war jist like she did ‘fore,’ ” Darling said).”

“In July 1867 there were two separate reports of slaves being freed, and one report of a Texas horse thief named Alex Simpson whose slaves were only freed after his hanging in 1868.” – Blacks in East Texas History: Selections from the East Texas Historical Journal By Alwyn Barr

 

Convict Leasing

Immediately after the Blacks in Texas were freed from chattel slavery in June of 1865, they were required (under the new governmental system) to have Labor Contracts. Many Blacks returned to their former slave-owners for this so that they were back to working under their former slave-owners.

There is also a well-known loophole in the 13th Amendment that states:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

This allowance of slavery for crimes opened the door for Blacks to be put back into an institution of slavery while imprisoned, giving rise to a system of Convict Leasing.

“After the Civil War, slavery persisted in the form of convict leasing, a system in which Southern states leased prisoners to private railways, mines, and large plantations. While states profited, prisoners earned no pay and faced inhumane, dangerous, and often deadly work conditions. Thousands of black people were forced into what authors have termed “slavery by another name” until the 1930s.”

https://eji.org/history-racial-injustice-convict-leasing

Slave Codes

Black Codes is another system of slavery created by the new government. Black Codes were laws specifically created for African Americans, subjecting them to criminal prosecution for “offenses” such as loitering, breaking curfew, vagrancy, having weapons, and not carrying proof of employment. If you remember, these weren’t new laws.

These were the same “offenses” that would get the enslaved whipped or sold during slavery. For instance, the enslaved couldn’t travel from place to place without a pass signed by their owner. “Those without such a pass could be arrested, jailed, and detained as a runaway. Some owners wrote general passes allowing their slaves to “pass” and “repass.” (http://www.inmotionaame.org/gallery) Under Black Codes, Blacks had to carry proof of employment when very few Blacks were employed. Failure to do so will get them jailed.

Although physically freed, Blacks were held economically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually captive in the U.S. for over four hundred years. Captive to almost one hundred years of Jim Crow Laws, over eighty years of lynchings, fourteen years of fighting for Civil Rights (if we count from 1954-1968), and the continued Police Brutality of unarmed Blacks that persists to this day.

The era of Reconstruction was to reconstruct or restore the South’s political relationship with the Federal Government; to reconstruct the Southern States’ representation in the National Government. The promises made to freedmen at the abolition of slavery were never realized because perhaps, as Lincoln put it, the purpose was never to free them in the first place but to save the union. Once they reestablished the union America set out to recreate slavery. Promises such as owning land (“40 Acres and a Mule”) were broken when Johnson ordered nearly all land in the hands of the government to be returned to its prewar owners—slave/plantation owners.

The truth is the Emancipation Proclamation, Reconstruction and Juneteenth did nothing to restore land or citizenship rights to the 40 million newly freed Blacks. Instead, they remained psychologically and economically disadvantaged, forced into a mental and spiritual form of enslavement that lasted for centuries.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – The Truth About Uncle Tom

 

Uncle Tom has a legacy rich in racism and is a derogatory term applied to blacks who “sellout.” Sambo is also rich in racism and is a derogatory term. Historically, these two have been used interchangeably although they are not the same. These two are so intertwined in modern society and so incorporated into our language I am not sure they can ever be separated. It will be difficult to view them as anything other than names used to describe black people who betray other black people. (Think Tom Dubois on the social and political television comedy Boondocks.)

In this post, I will give some background on the Coon, the Sambo, and the Uncle Tom and reveal the truth on how Tom was not the sellout we have made him out to be.

Let’s start with the Coon caricature. The name is an abbreviation of the word Racoon so that the name alone is dehumanizing. The prototype for the coon caricature was Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, known by his stage name as Stepin Fetchit. His signature was that he was the world’s laziest man. He was always sleepy, his eyes low and his speech slow. He took minutes just to complete simple sentences. A scene of him laying in bed in pajamas taking three whole minutes to answer the phone and then another whole minute to say “hello” is what could be expected of his stage performances. The idea behind the coon was that he acted like a child although he was an adult. Stepin Fetchit also tap danced (hence “step it”) so that “Perry epitomized the mumbling, shuffling, buck-eyed buffoon who acted like he didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.” (BlackThen)

Stepin Fetchit manifested what racists whites thought of blacks and became one of the top paid black entertainers of his time.

The Sambo was portrayed as lazy, easily frightened, and chronically idle, an inarticulate buffoon. While the Coon was considered an adult who acted like a child, the Sambo was not considered an adult but was depicted as a perpetual child incapable of living as an Independent adult. What is important to note about the Sambo and the Coon was that they were born from names applied to the characteristics of real people. This is important to remember when we get to Uncle Tom. A stereotype is created when a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular person or thing applies to an entire group of people. Perry was certainly a buffoon, the real-life version of the coon but to refer to all so-called African Americans as coon is what created the stereotype.

I’m just going to sit this here…

The Sambo caricature was born from enslaved blacks who were so loyal and dedicated to the slave owner they would betray their own people. The characteristics of the Sambo really did (and does) exist. “Stereotypes are “cognitive structures that contain the perceiver’s knowledge, beliefs, and expectations about human groups” (Peffley et al., 1997, p. 31). These cognitive constructs are often created out of a kernel of truth and then distorted beyond reality (Hoffmann, 1986). Racial stereotypes are constructed beliefs that all members of the same race share given characteristics. These attributed characteristics are usually negative (Jewell, 1993).” The Coon and Sambo stereotypes contain kernels of truth. There really were blacks who were happy and willing to betray, and completely aid in the destruction of their own people.

(Notice that “Acting white” is not part of the characteristic of the Sambo or Coon. The thing that made the Sambo and Coon an embarrassment and disgrace to the race was their loyalty to those who oppressed them, their betrayal of their brethren and their willingness to make a fool of both themselves and their people. Being intellectual, prompt, professional, and well spoken are not traits that “belong” to “white” people and certainly had nothing to do with these stereotypes. It’s actually the opposite. Racists at that time did not want blacks to read, write, display characteristics of dignity and esteem and professionalism. They wanted to portray them as ignorant, foolish, and childish.)

Uncle Tom

While the Sambo and Coon caricatures fit this description, Uncle Tom was not the same and it would take an entirely different post to look into how he became associated with these caricatures. For now, let’s see who he really was.

Again, stereotypes come from kernels of truth. Just as Lincoln Perry was the epitome of the Coon, and sellout blacks were the real-life Sambos, the fictionalized story of the Uncle Tom was inspired by a man named Josiah Henson.

Josiah Henson

Josiah was an author, abolitionist, minister, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s inspiration for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Henson’s father was whipped, got his ear cut off, and was sold south after hitting a white man who tried to rape his wife. Henson never saw his father again, but this gives us insight into Josiah’s character. He became a preacher through memorizing verses although he couldn’t, at the time, read and write. In 1830, Henson ran away with his wife and two youngest children, walking over 600 miles to Canada but he didn’t stop there.

“Henson helped start in 1841 a freeman settlement called the British American Institute, in an area called Dawn, which became known as one of the final stops on the Underground Railroad. Henson repeatedly returned to the U.S. to guide 118 other slaves to freedom. It was a massively dangerous undertaking, but Henson saw a greater purpose than simply living out his life in Ontario, Canada. In addition to his service to the school, Henson ran a farm, started a gristmill, bred horses, and built a sawmill for high-quality black lumber— so good, in fact, that it won him a medal at the first World’s Fair in London ten years later.”


Henson’s life inspired the work of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Tom displayed the following characteristics:

  • He refused to beat black women
  • He refused to force other black people to pick cotton
  • He took the cotton out of his own bag and put it in other’s bags so those slaves wouldn’t get whipped for not having the proper weight (as you know, the enslaved had to pick a certain amount of cotton or they would be punished.)
  • And he refused to tell where attempted escaping slaves were hiding

Josiah Henson is Uncle Tom. He was not a Coon, and he was not a Sambo. “Uncle Tom,” helped hundreds of enslaved men, women, and children escape North years before the Underground Railroad. He was a good man and a great leader. The truth about Uncle Tom is this:

To refer to blacks who portray characteristics of coons and sell outs as Uncle Toms is a disrespect to Henson’s legacy. To refer to intelligent and well spoken blacks as Uncle Tom’s is actually a compliment.

Henson was no sell out and neither was Tom.


Be sure to check out other Black History Fun Facts on the page here.

Sources

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, paperback edition

Black Then: How Being Ghetto Fabulous Caused Stepin Fetchit to Lose It All
https://blackthen.com/how-being-ghetto-fabulous-caused-stepin-fetchit-to-loses-it-all/

Negative Racial Stereotypes and Their Effect on Attitudes Toward African-Americans

https://www.ferris.edu/htmls/news/jimcrow/links/essays/vcu.htm

The Story of Josiah Henson, the Real Inspiration for ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/story-josiah-henson-real-inspiration-uncle-toms-cabin-180969094/

The Coon Caricature

https://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/coon/

Black History Fun Fact Friday – 3 Little Known Fun Facts About Dr. King

The best way to extend the legacy of those who came before us is not to talk but to do the work as 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

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., displays the poster to be used during his Poor People’s Campaign  spring and summer, March 4, 1968. King said the campaign would begin April 22 but he was murdered April 4th (AP Photo/Horace Cort)

King founded a program for the poor he called The Poor People‘s Campaign that he was just 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. His program was set to begin on April 22, 1968 but he was assassinated on April 4th.

2. Fought for Better Schools for Children in the Cabrini Green Projects

Civil Rights Museum, Lorraine Motel, 2018.

In 1966, King moved into an apartment on Chicago’s West Side as part of the Freedom Movement. At this point, 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 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 once offended that blacks were being treated as whites. Newspapers and Ads boasted Blacks and Italians living side by side, happy and positive. The public wasn’t having 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 that 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 the 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 the significant contributions of contemporary business leaders. 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!

Watch Boss: The Black Experience in Business

Be sure to check out other Black History Fun Facts on the page here.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Esther Georgia Irving Cooper

Welcome to another Black History Fun Fact Friday. Today, we meet a woman you may not have heard about but who has done tremendous community work for the betterment of education for African Americans.

Esther Georgia Irving Cooper was born on November 28, 1881, in Cleveland, Ohio. While she’s the daughter of former slaves, her mother’s side of the family gained their freedom sometime before the Civil War and came to Ohio from North Carolina in the 1850s. Esther worked for Harry Clay Smith, a black man of the Ohio legislature and editor of the Cleveland Gazette. Esther later moved to Washington D.C. in 1913 as a stenographer in the Forrest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was here that she met her husband, George Posea Cooper, a Tennessee native and veteran of the Philippine Insurrection then serving as a technical sergeant in the Quartermaster Corps at Fort Myer in Alexandria County (after 1920 Arlington County). The couple married on September 10, 1913, and had three daughters. The Cooper‘s valued education and Esther worked part-time as a teacher of English, shorthand, and typing at the National Training School for Women and Girls. She also managed business classes in the adult program of the Arlington County Public Schools as part of the Federal Education Rehabilitation Act.

Esther is best known for her Civil Rights Activism in Arlington County. She became an advocate for the improvement of African American education after deciding not to send her children to Arlington’s black schools because of the poor upkeep. She also took part in many community improvement organizations, lobbied on behalf of the Citizens Committee for School Improvement, and helped organize the Jennie Dean Community Center Association, a women’s group that raised money to purchase land for a recreation center open to African Americans.

Esther also served as president of the Kemper School Parent-Teacher Association, fought to establish an accredited junior high school, and organized and led the Arlington County branch of the NAACP. Under her leadership, the Arlington NAACP launched a court case challenging inequalities in the county’s high school facilities. The group’s efforts culminated in Carter v. School Board of Arlington County (1950), in which the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the county’s separate high schools constituted unlawful racial discrimination.

I love shedding light on the Esther’s of the world because they are not the same ten black leaders we’ve heard about and we hear about repeatedly. These unfamiliar faces help us understand just how powerful our contributions have been to the world as there are so many who are unknown and unrecognized, their names left out of the history books, school curricula, and Google searches. The best way to honor those who have put in great work on behalf of bettering our communities is to act. To pick up the mantle and do what we can from our corners of the world. To use whatever skill, whatever talent, whatever gifts we’ve been given to do our part. The best way to honor anyone we feel has contributed anything significant to this world is to do the work needed to move forward and to take the time to appreciate and to honor those individuals who are still alive and who are working. Let’s not wait until their deaths to support fully. Let us do that now, today, while they live, and let us help them in their endeavors in whatever way we can according to the gifts we have been given. Let us give people their flowers now who deserve them. The next day is not promised. Let us not wait.

Esther did the work. May we do the same, in whatever capacity to which we are able.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Research Links and Book Recommendations

 

I’ve been swamped in schoolwork which is stopping me from living my best life on these black history posts. Today, I compiled a list of links I found throughout the week and books I recommend since I did not get to complete a full post on one topic. The books are what I really encourage you to look into. Unlike the internet, they provide more detailed and in-depth research and citations from scholars and others useful for deep research.

Descendants of Last Slave Ship Still Live in Alabama Community

The story of the Clotilda and the people who built Africatown.

I spoke about “Africa Town” once before on this blog (See post here). This article shares some insightful information on the descendants of that town. (You may also remember the book recently released on behalf of Zora Neale Hurston of the Clotilda).

https://www.history.com/news/slaves-clotilda-ship-built-africatown

Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South, by Barbara Krauthamer (2013)

This is important. Europeans were not the only people to sell Blacks into slavery but so did the Natives, so did Jews and so did Islam.

https://notevenpast.org/black-slaves-indian-masters-slavery-emancipation-and-citizenship-in-the-native-american-south-by-barbara-krauthamer-2013/

The Little-Known Underground Railroad That Ran South to Mexico

Unlike the northern free states, Mexico didn’t agree to return fugitive slaves.
I found this story interesting and would like to do more research for an entire post. For now, check it out at the link below.

South African paramilitary unit plotted to infect black population with Aids, former member claims

Group said to have ‘spread the virus’ at the behest of Keith Maxwell, eccentric leader of the shadowy South African Institute of Maritime Research, who wanted a white majority country where ‘the excesses of the 1960s, 70s and 80s have no place in the post-Aids world’.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/south-africa-apartheid-aids-saimr-plot-infect-hiv-virus-black-cold-case-hammarskj-ld-documentary-a8749176.html?fbclid=IwAR024DMZjTNgRWorLKuN1Y6FyNn2vifEkDelnnxJSPs0AP0eDDd1f1YGcEs

Don’t let February be the only time you are interested in your history. From the shelf, here are some of my favorites. I recommend them all:

  • They Came Before Columbus, Ivan Van Sertima
  • Jews Selling Blacks: Slave Sale Advertising by American Jews
  • The Miseducation of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson
  • The Valley of Dry Bones: The Conditions that Face Black People in America, Rudolph Windsor
  • From Babylon to Timbuktu: A History of the Ancient Black-Races including the Black Hebrews also by Rudolph Windsor
  • Negro Slave Songs in the U.S. Miles, Mark, Fisher
  • Israel on the Appomattox: A southern experiment in black freedom from the 1790s through the Civil War, Melvin Patrick Ely
  • Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, Harriet A. Washington
  • Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps
  • The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther
  • Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, James H. Jones
  • Understanding the Assault on the Black Man, Black Manhood, and Black Masculinity, Wesley Muhammad
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander

There are so many others but this should be enough to get your started! Be sure to check out the other Black History Fun Facts on the Black History Fun Fact Friday page.

Have a great weekend!

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Phillip  L. Downing and the First Mailbox

 

Every day, we use our mailbox, checking it for packages and letters and bills. You look at it every single day but did you know a black man invented it? Thanks to Phillip L. Downing (some sources and memes say Paul but so far I have only been able to verify that his name was Phillip), you don‘t have to travel to the post office every day. You can just walk a few steps from your home. But Downing didn’t call it a mailbox. He called it a Street Letter Box.

Downing was born in Providence, Rhode Island on March 22, 1857. His father, George T. Downing was an abolitionist and business owner. His grandfather, Thomas Downing, was born to emancipated parents in Virginia and also had a successful business in the financial district of Manhattan in 1825. Thomas Downing also helped to found the United Anti-Slavery Societies of New York City.

Coming from a family of business owners, it‘s no surprise that Phillip would become an inventor. During the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century, Downing successfully filed five patents with the United States Patent Office. Among his most significant inventions were a street letterbox (U.S. Patent numbers 462,092 and 462,093) and a mechanical device for operating a street railway switches (U.S. Patent number 430,118), which he invented before the predecessor of today‘s mailbox. On June 17, 1890, the U.S. Patent Office approved Downing’s application for “new and useful Improvements in Street-Railway Switches.” His invention allowed the switches to be opened or closed by using a brass arm next to the brake handle on the platform of the car. Then, on October 27, 1891, his two patents for a street letter box also gained approval.

Downing’s design resembled old school mailboxes (see image). A tall metal box with a secure, hinged door to drop letters. Until this point, people wanting to send mail had to travel to the nearest post office. This is how the enslaved “heard it through the grapevine,“ communication started on slave plantations where information passed from person-to-person, by word of mouth. The Black person who was sent to the post office to get the mail would linger long enough to get a drift of the conversation from the group of white people who congregated there. The mail carrier on his way back to the master‘s house would retell the news he heard so that the other slaves knew what was going on in the world. While many records accredit this to the news that came through the telegraph, it actually began before then. The “grape-vine telegraph” (Washington, p. 9) was unofficially invented first as mouth-to-mouth rumors, gossip, and worldly conversations and news of the war from Southern blacks on the plantation.

Knowing this, it is not surprising that a Black man would make these “conversations” easier by inventing a mailbox. To this day the term, “I heard it through the grapevine,” is still a common saying for someone who has heard gossip. The phrase has even been recorded as a song by Gladys Knight & the Pips in 1967 and by Marvin Gaye in 1968.

Before, those wishing to send mail usually had to travel to the post office but Downing’s invention changed that. Instead, the street letter box would allow for drop off near one’s home and easy pickup by a letter carrier. His idea for the hinged opening prevented rain or snow from entering the box and damaging the mail.


Misty Brown, “Ever Wonder,” Afro-American February 6, 1988; Eyvaine Walker, Keeping a Family Legacy Alive: Unforgotten African Americans (Atlanta, GA: Twins Pub, 2011), 316 – 317. “Philip Downing, Boston, Retires After 31 Years Service in Custom House,” The New York Age, April 9, 1927.

Mahoney, E. (2017, October 31) Philip B. Downing (1857-1934). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/downing-philip-b-1857-1934/

Washington, B. (1995). UP From Slavery. Dover Publications Inc. Edition. Original Publisher, Doubleday, Page, circa 1901, NY. Chapter 1: A Slave Among Slaves, p.9