Black History Fun Fact Friday – Eugenics and The Caged Man

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Welcome back to another episode of Black History Fun Fact Friday. It’s been a long time and we have a lot to cover today.

If you’re new to this blog or this segment be sure to visit the BHFFF page HERE for more EPs.


The Caged Man

Mbuti or Bambuti are one of the several indigenous pygmy groups in the Congo region of Africa. One famous Congolese Mbuti, who was made famous in a horrific way, committed suicide 100 years ago. On May 20, 1916, Ota Benga put a gun to his heart and pulled the trigger. Depression and sadness are modest terms we use to understand the spirits that troubled him. But who was he and why is knowing his story important in our time?

In the early 1900s, a “businessman” (more appropriately speaking a slave trader) named Samuel Verner, tasked with the responsibility of acquiring pygmies for a cultural evolution display at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri, encountered Benga in 1904. Paid by the St. Louis Exposition Company a year earlier to hunt men instead of monkeys, he was to bring African Pygmies to America for the St. Louis World Fair.

Ota’s family were killed by a Belgium militia group who set out to control the natives of that land for the large supply of rubber in the Congo. Ota had a wife and two children who were killed in such raids on villages and survived because he was on a hunting mission. To make a long story short, Ota was kidnapped and taken to America by Samuel along with other pygmies who were kidnapped as well and brought to America.

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Clockwise from top left: Ota Benga at the Bronx Zoo holding a chimpanzee. An article from the New York Times announcing the new exhibit at the zoo. Another photo from the zoo of Ota Benga and the chimpanzee. The Reverend James Gordon who protested Ota being exhibited in the monkey house and who took custody of him after he was released.

Benga’s physical appearance, as is most Mbuti, astonished onlookers who immediately compared him to an animal, specifically for his short stature and razor-sharp teeth. Displays of humans were very common in the early 20th century to prove the theory of the evolution of man. Most specifically, men and women of color from the Eastern part of the world were used as examples of the lower class of humans and often put on display. They were usually those with abnormal features and deformities. It’s no surprise then that Ota and his fellow men became an instant attraction. Ota’s personality was also said to have been lively and the men attracted spectators wherever they went until Ota was eventually caged at a Bronx Zoo in 1906. He eventually became fond, allegedly, of a monkey and so began The Caged Man in the Monkey House.

Identity

Ota’s story is worth telling because Africa is a continent with over fifty countries and comprise many different people and cultures. There are just as many cultures and nationalities of people as there are languages and just as many languages as there are colors. But when you group a people together and call them “Blacks” you deny them their right to heritage and nationhood, because Black does not properly define a people. While I use these terms (Black, African American) for understanding sake, the Bible says nothing about race, nor is the word or concept of different “races” found in the Bible at all (See Gen Ch 10) despite the fact that the term has been used to cause divisions among man. More appropriately, some of the Black “races” of the world are Israelites, some of them Egyptians, Ethiopians, Ghanaians, Senegalese, Congolese, Libyans and so forth. Thus, this story is important to the understanding of identity as well as the medical field and how it fits in with the racial oppression of Blacks in America going back for centuries.

Eugenics

Contrary to popular belief, Eugenics did not start with Margaret Sanger and The American Birth Control League but the concept started much earlier.

Coined by the cousin of Charles Darwin, Francis Galton, Eugenics comes from the Greek word eugenes, meaning “well-born.” It is a racist scientific process that set out to prove, through alleged psychological and medical evidence, the inferiority of Blacks. From 1924 – 1936, thirteen states in the U.S. utilized Eugenics programs that ranged from isolating those deemed “feeble-minded” from the general population to forced sterilization.

“When the infamous German eugenic sterilization initiative began in January 1934, seventeen U.S. states were already performing sterilizations routinely, and that year between two thousand and four thousand Americans were sterilized. Indiana passed legislation requiring the sterilization of the mentally unfit in 1907. By 1911, six states had passed laws providing compulsory sterilization of the mentally unfit. In 1935, twenty-seven states had such laws for the feeble-minded, those on welfare, or those with genetic defects. Forced sterilization was made legal in the infamous 1927 Buck vs Bell.” (Medical Apartheid, Harriet Washington, The Black Stork, pp 202)

Galton, in short, took Darwin’s philosophies and ideas on Evolution and put them into practice in what became known as Eugenics. He proposed that the poor, the sick, the weak and the untalented should be prevented from multiplying. Leonard Darwin, Darwin’s son, was also one of the supporters and proponents of eugenics in Britain. Galton maintained that the principle of the “survival of the fittest” had to be complied with and that only the strongest should be allowed to participate in the world.

“… modern eugenics thought arose in the nineteenth century. The emergence of interest in eugenics during that century had multiple roots. The most important was the theory of evolution, for Francis Galton’s ideas on eugenics – and it was he who created the term “eugenics” – were a direct logical outgrowth of the scientific doctrine elaborated by his cousin, Charles Darwin.” – Ludmerer, Eugenics, In: Encyclopedia of Bioethics, Edited by Mark Lappe, New York: The Free Press, 1978, p. 457

A reviewer of the time said:

“After 1859, the evolutionary schema raised additional questions, particularly whether or not Afro-Americans could survive competition with their white near-relations. The momentous answer was a resounding no…. The African was inferior—he represented the missing link between ape and Teuton.”

John C. Burnham, Science, Vol. 175, February 4, 1972, p. 506.

Nineteenth Century scientists were convinced that the white race (something that doesn’t actually exist) were superior to other races and that this superiority can be found in Darwinian Theory. One key person in the perpetuation of this was Thomas Huxley who said: “No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man.”

And while Darwin claimed to be opposed to slavery and the horrors of the brutality, his own words are questionable. He presumed that man evolved from ape-like creatures and surmised that some races developed more than others:

“I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilization than you seem inclined to admit…. The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.” – Charles Darwin: Life and Letters, I, letter to W. Graham, July 3, 1881, p. 316; cited in Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, by Gertrude Himmelfarb (London, Chatto and Windus, 1959), p. 343.

 And of course, the most debated statement of all:

“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes… will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as the baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla. – Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 2nd ed., New York: A.L. Burt Co., 1874, p. 178

In short, it is a fact that White Supremacists supported Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and used it to further racism. For them, the white race had, in short, moved up the evolutionary ladder and was destined to eliminate the other races in the struggle to survive.

Certain African Americans are not to be excluded. Many prominent Blacks also supported Eugenics. Fisk University’s first Black President and critical contributor to The Harlem Renaissance Charles S. Johnson, said that “Eugenic discrimination was necessary for blacks” and that “the high maternal and infant mortality rates, along with diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid, malaria and venereal infection, made it difficult for large families to adequately sustain themselves.” – Charles S. Johnson, A Question of Negro Health, The Birth Control Review, June 1932, 167-169

He later became an integral part of Margaret Sanger’s Negro Project, but he’s not the only one, many blacks agreed. According to Margaret Sanger’s most infamous quote:

“The most successful approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal….we do not want word to get out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the one who can straighten out that idea if it occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”

Sanger said this in a 1939 letter where she outlined her plan to reach out to black leaders — specifically ministers — to help dispel community suspicions about the family planning clinics she was opening in the South. It must be noted that Sanger was not the progenitor of this idea but reaching out to ministers and black leaders in the community was the idea of another very prominent man.

“The mass of ignorant Negros still breed carelessly and disastrously, so that the increase among Negroes, even more than the increase among whites, is from that portion of the population least intelligent and fit, and least able to rear their children properly.”

– National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Founder, W.E.B. Dubois, The Birth Control Review, 1932, Black Folk and Birth Control, pp 166

Dubois went on to say that the Black community were open to “intelligent propaganda of any sort”, and “the American Birth Control League and other agencies ought to get their speakers before church congregations and their arguments in the Negro newspapers.” It worked. Black pastors invited Sanger to speak to their congregations. Black publications, like The Afro-American and The Chicago Defender, featured her writings and the lines between Eugenics and Birth Control became blurred.

Sanger merged the Southern Clinics, the Clinical Research Bureau and The American Birth Control League, to form the Birth Control Federation of America (BCFA) and recruited black leadership as Dubois and others advised. Soon, BCFA clinics started popping up in poor black neighborhoods. The first clinic was The Bethlehem Center in urban Nashville, Tennessee (where blacks constituted only 25 percent of the population and no one made more  than $15 a week), opened on February 13, 1940, and the second opened in rural Berkeley County, South Carolina. This site was chosen because South Carolina had been the second state to make limitations on the number of children part of its state public health program after a survey revealed 25 percent of infant deaths occurred in mothers deemed unfit for pregnancy. (These terms: Unfit, Feeble-minded, Poor, Poverty Stricken, Urban, Welfare, Disease Stricken, and the like have been used as code words to refer to the so-called African American since the end of Chattel Slavery.)

“The BCFA members voted unanimously at a special January 29, 1942, meeting to change the organization’s name to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. By then, BCFA had 34 state league affiliates. The state leagues followed suit in changing their name and bylaws. Particularly, the New York State Federation for Planned Parenthood’s old bylaws stipulated that the object was: To develop and organize on sound eugenic, social and medical principles, interest in and knowledge of birth control throughout the State of New York as permitted by law [emphasis added]. The new bylaws replaced birth control with planned parenthood. Eugenics was dropped in 1943 because of its unpopular association with the German government’s race-improving eugenics theories.”

Robert G. Marshall and Charles A. Donovan, Blessed are the Barren: The Social Policy of Planned Parenthood (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 24-25.

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Joice Heth, enslaved African woman whose birthplace was reported to be on the isle of Madagascar, off the coast of Africa. She was boldly advertised as “the 161 year old nursemaid to George Washington when he was an infant, The Father of Our Country to be.” – Bethel Historical Society

This brings us back to Ota Benga and others like him. Physicians and Scientists were dependent on slavery not just for economic reasons but also for clinical material. Even after chattel slavery had ended, persons like Saartjie Baartman, the first video vixen if you will, Henry Moss, whose leprosy prompted him to exhibit himself, Joice Heth, who racists claimed was the 161-year-old “Mammy” of George Washington and many others were put on display, to argue the “inferiority” and “animalistic” behavior of Blacks.

Finally, Ota’s story is important also to the understanding of the Institution of Chattel Slavery beyond the cotton fields, for in knowledge of what the business of slaveholding was like is a deeper understanding of the magnitude of its influence on American Society. The Slave Market and the “business” of owning slaves was about more than Plantation Life but was a very well thought out and strategic system that bled into every fabric of American life.


Yecheilyah (e-see-lee-yah) is an Author, Blogger, and Poet of nine published works including work in progress and short inspirational guide “Keep Yourself Full.” Learn more by exploring Yecheilyah’s writing on this blog and her website at  yecheilyahysrayl.com. Renaissance: The Nora White Story (Book One) is her latest novel and is available now on Amazon.com.

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Black History Fun Fact Friday Returns

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As long as you’re trying to change a system within that system it will never work. If you were never designed to be part of the system, you cannot expect that system to treat you with fairness. If you never intended for a people to be free within your gates there will always be laws in place to ensure that they are never freed. Chattel Slavery, Black Codes, Jim Crow, Convict Leasing, Police Brutality and the like are all examples of America ensuring that a people remain as they were intended to be, slaves.

I am just a week in my new place and still without internet and have been blogging from my phone, but Black History Fun Fact Friday is returning soon.

We’ll be starting a series (because it’ll take multiple posts) on:

The History of Oppression in America

We’ll touch on the hidden message behind the #TakeAKnee protests, The relocation of Japanese-Americans into internment camps during World War II, the stealing of Native American land, the stigmatizing of Mexicans in the 30s (the origin of the name Marijuana for cannabis to make it seem like a “Mexican Drug”) the Drug Enforcement Act of 1914, the War on Drugs that promoted crack as the Black man’s drug and the association of Heroin with Chinese American Immigrants in the late 1800s, early 1900s.

Meanwhile, you can catch up on previous Black History Fun Facts by visiting the page HERE.


Stay tuned and enjoy the weekend.

 

Black History Fun Fact Friday – A Brief History of Race Riots in America

New Orleans Riot, 1886 – On July 30, 1886, white men attacked blacks parading outside the Mechanics Institute in New Orleans, where a reconvened Louisiana Constitutional Convention was being held. Republicans in Louisiana had called for the convention as they were angered by the legislature’s enactment of the Black Codes.

Wilmington North Carolina, 1898 – The most popular accusation in history was that Black men raped white women. So much so that most of the lynchings that took place was because of it. And when D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film “Birth of a Nation”, portrayed black men as savages seeking to rape white women contrasted against the positive portrayal of the Klan, it produced a second wave of the organization that began in Atlanta, Georgia, and quickly spread to a peak membership of millions by the 1920s. So, when a prominent black newspaper editor named Alex Manly wrote an editorial suggesting that relations between White women and Black men were consensual, 500 white men burned Manly’s office and fourteen African Americans were killed in the riot.

East St. Louis, 1917 – On July 1, 1917, a Black man was rumored to have killed a white man. A riot thus followed with whites shooting, beating and lynching African Americans. The violence continued for a week and the deaths range from 40 – 200. As a result, some 6,000 Blacks fled St. Louis.

Red Summer, 1919 – As you can ascertain, this year was referred to as Red Summer because of the mass blood spill of race riots this year. Twenty-six cities experienced riots including, but not limited to: Longview TX, Washington, DC, Knoxville, TN, Omaha NE, and Chicago. As I speak of often, the racial tension did not just occur in the South and in 1919 particularly, racial tensions were especially high in the North. Chicago experienced the most violence when on July 27, 1919, seventeen-year-old Eugene Williams was swimming with his friends in Lake Michigan and entered a “Whites Only” area. White men threw rocks at Williams and hitting him in the head, he drowned. After police refused to arrest the murderer, fights between White and Black gangs became the spark that started a race riot that lasted through August 3rd. It escalated so that the state militia had to be called in.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921 – Of course, the renowned Tulsa Race Massacre Riot. A young white woman accused Dick Rowland of grabbing her arm in an elevator. After arresting Rowland, accounts of the assault were exaggerated and a mob gathered outside the courthouse. A mob of Black men went to the courthouse, armed, to protect Rowland and after gunfire exchanged, as they say, it “all hell broke loose.” The Greenwood neighborhood of North Tulsa, the wealthiest Black community in the country, was systematically burned to the ground. Thousands of homes were destroyed, bombs fell from the sky, and The Oklahoma National Guard was called in. Lost forever was over 600 successful businesses.

Rosewood, 1923 – A neighborhood of predominantly Black entrepreneurs, trouble started in Rosewood when a white woman from a nearby town called Sumner said (once again) that she had been raped and also beaten by a Black man. White men from several nearby towns lynched a random black man in Rosewood in response, causing an outcry among blacks who rallied together. A full on riot was the end result with mobs of whites hunting for black people, lynching them and burning Rosewood homes and structures.

The incident was the subject of the 1997 film, “Rosewood”, directed by John Singleton staring Ving Rhames and in 2004, the state designated the site of Rosewood as a Florida Heritage Landmark.

Harlem Race Riot, 1943 – On August 1st and 2nd, a race riot broke out in Harlem, New York when officer James Collins, shot and wounded Robert Bandy, a Black soldier. It was one of six riots that year related to black and white tensions during World War II.

Detroit, 1943 – Considered one of the worst race riots of the WWII era, The Detroit Riot of 1943 started with a fist fight. (Racial tensions were already high due to confrontations between white and blacks when the Sojourner Truth Housing Projects opened (1942) in a white neighborhood and whites tried to stop blacks from moving in.) A White man and a Black man got into a fight at the Belle Isle Amusement Park in the Detroit River. This turned into a fight between a group of whites and blacks and spilled over into the streets. The violence ended when 6,000 federal troops were ordered in the city. Twenty-Five Blacks and nine whites are reported killed with seventeen Blacks killed by the police.

By now I hope that you are starting to see a trend. A race riot ensues and following is usually some kind of military intervention. (…pay attention.)

The Groveland Four, 1949 – On July 16, 1949, a white couple was traveling and their car stopped on a rural road in Groveland, Florida. The next day, 17-year-old Norma Padgett accused four Black men of raping her. Sheriffs arrested Charles Greenlee, Sam Shepherd, and Walter Irvin. The fourth man, Ernest Thomas, fled the county and was hunted down and killed by a mob of over 1,000 armed Sheriffs. When word spread about the arrest of “The Groveland Four”, an angry crowd of white Klansmen surrounded the jail and the men were hidden and transported to Raiford State Prison. The mob was not pleased. They went on to attack the black section of Groveland, a small town in South Lake County where two of the accused men’s families lived. Black residents were urged to leave town and The National Guard was called in. Meanwhile, the accused men were severely beaten, two sentenced to death (Shepherd, Irvin) and one (Greenlee) to life in prison because of his age.

Watts, 1965 – August has had its share of historical events for sure. From Emmet Till (8/28/55) to the Watts Riots. The Watts Riots began August 11th through August 17th after a white patrolman arrested 21-year-old Marquette Frye, a black motorist. A fight broke out involving Frye, his brother, mother, and the police. Both his mother and brother were arrested and the number of people gathered increased. Almost 4,000 National Guardsmen were deployed, in addition to about 1,600 police officers. Martial law was declared and a curfew implemented. More than 30,000 people participated in the riots, fighting with police, looting white-owned homes and businesses, and attacking white residents. The riots left 34 dead, more than 1,000 injured, and about 4,000 arrested.

Newark, 1967 – On July 12th, a Black cab driver, John Smith, was arrested for illegally passing a police car. He was taken to a police station that happened to also be across the street from the projects. These residents reported that the police beat this man and dragged him from the cab into the station. Word got to Civil Rights Leaders who organized a protest but the protest turned violent. Rioting followed for the next several nights, and the National Guard was deployed. Still, even with the Nations Guard present, the rioting continued.

MLK Riots, 1968 – For those of you under thirty, you may not fully understand the extent to the outcry in the Black community over the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It was huge. Riots broke out in 125 cities following the April 4, 1968, assassination. The worst riots occurred in Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Chicago. I remember my Aunt telling us stories about it. I am originally from Chicago and my Aunt (born and raised in Chicago as well) was saying that they had to wear paper bags over their heads going home from school the day the world found out King was dead. Black people were beyond outraged. It was simply dangerous to be on the street. On April 5, looting, arson, and attacks on police increased, and as many as 20,000 people participated in the riots. The National Guard and Marines were dispatched. The riots reached within two blocks of the White House. Twelve people were killed, and more than 1,200 buildings were destroyed.

Crown Heights Race Riots, 1991 – August, this month makes history again. On Aug. 21, 1991, in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn New York, a car driven by Yosef Lifsh hit another car and then crashed into two black children, both age 7. Residents of Crown Heights gathered and began attacking Lifsh and other Hasidic Jews. A city ambulance crew and the Hasidic-run Hatzolah ambulance service arrived on the scene. The Hatzolah service brought injured Jews to the hospital, and the black children were transported by the city crew. Gavin Cato, one of the black children, died. Black residents felt the Jews were given preferential medical treatment and began throwing rocks and bottles at police and at the homes and businesses of Hasidic Jews. The riots raged for three days. More than 150 officers about 40 civilians were injured in the rioting.

Rodney King Riots, 1992 – On March 3, 1991, Rodney King was pulled over for driving recklessly and someone videotaped the encounter with the police from his apartment balcony. The video shows the officers severely beating Rodney King. On April 29, 1992, a jury acquitted three of the officers and predominantly Black areas of Los Angeles erupted in violence, and six days of riots led to 50 deaths, thousands of arrests and an estimated one billion dollars in property damage.

Ferguson, Missouri, 2014 – On Aug. 9th, officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old teenager in Ferguson, Mo. Details of the shooting have been under dispute since the incident. Police said that Brown was shot during an altercation with Wilson. However, a friend who was with Brown at the time said that Wilson shot Brown when he refused to move from the middle of the street and that Brown’s hands were over his head at the moment of the shooting. The following night, protesters filled the streets near the shooting. Police officers arrived on the scene with riot gear, including rifles and shields. The protest turned violent and images from cell phones went viral on social media, including several accounts of looting.

Baltimore, MD, 2015 – After the funeral of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old African American who died of a severe spinal cord injury suffered while in police custody, angry residents took to the streets of northwest Baltimore to protest another death of a black man at the hands of police. Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, called in the National Guard, and set a curfew as rocks were thrown, cinder blocks and buildings and cars set on fire.

***

I’ll stop here as there is no time for the countless historical accounts of race wars and riots in this (U.S.) country. What is happening is very much American and there is nothing new about it. In fact, it has been going on nearly 400 years. What is happening is what has been happening for a long time and the fact that people are outraged is just proof that we have not been paying attention, and have thus bought into the hype that “those days” were over. (There’s been Lynchings as late as 2010, such as 26 year old Frederick Jermaine Carter, a Black man found hanging in a Mississippi tree in a white suburb on Friday, December 3, 2010.) What has been done, is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Don’t marvel, just pay attention.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Historic Rivals: W.E.B. Dubois vs. Booker T. Washington

Today, I thought I’ll do something fun. I would like to do a few of these so let’s call this part one. Let’s see who was at war and why. Of course, we have to start with the famous rivalry of all time:

W.E.B. Dubois vs. Booker T. Washington

Yecheilyah sits in a chair with papers as W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington step into the ring. Dubois adjusts his tie, shaking hands with members of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People….am I the only one who finds it odd this organization still refers to us as Colored people?? Deuteronomy 28:37…anyway, as usual, I digress lol).

Washington sits in a chair. Surrounded by students, he crosses his legs and flips through a book.

“Ya know,” Washington looks up, “I’ve read The Souls of Black Folk. I must say I am not very impressed.”

Dubois brushes lint from his jacket, “I didn’t think you would be.”

EC: *Clears throat*. Alright gentlemen. We’re about to start.

NAACP members and students step down from the ring and sits in the audience with those reading this blog.

Washington puts his book to the side. “Noted”, he said staring at Dubois. “Besides, I must say Yecheilyah, I love what you’re doing with your work. It is my belief that we should be accountable for ourselves in every way.

EC: “Than…”

“Booker, your proposal”, interrupted Dubois, “that we should take accountability for ourselves is not only unfounded but also paradoxical. It would be difficult for Negros to gain any real power, for instance, if they are denied the right to vote.”

Washington put up a hand, “IF, Negros had real power, it would be in education in the crafts, industrial and farming skills and ownership of their own businesses.”

“And how, Mr. Washington, do you suppose Negros could operate these businesses sufficiently without an education?”

Washington sighs, “I do not care to venture here an opinion about the nature of knowledge. It is clear to anyone who reflects on the matter that the only kind of knowledge that has any sort of value for a race is knowledge that has some definite relation to the daily lives of the men and women who are seeking it.”

Dubois throws his hands into the air, “You’re promoting submissiveness by asking the Negro to relinquish fundamental privileges. First, you ask him to relinquish his political rights and then his civil rights. This only speeds up the process to which Negros have regressed.”

Washington stands, pointing his finger at Dubois “You’re taking my words out of context. I am simply stating that it is my aim to teach students to live a life and make a living by which after they graduate they can return to their homes and find profit and satisfaction in building up the communities from which they’ve come.”

EC: Gentlemen, please. We don’t have time for this. I respectfully ask for you to both be silent so that we can give the people a little bit of a background on you. Is that alright?

NAACP member runs up to ring, hands Dubois a drink of water as he loosens his collar and takes a drink. Member returns to his seat among the bloggers, “I concur. Let’s move on”, said Dubois.

Washington returns to his seat, crosses his legs, “Indeed.”

As you can see, these two were not besties. Tensions always existed among Black intellectuals and Blacks who were more grassroots and this separation exists today. W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington are great examples of this.

William Edward Burghardt DuBois was born free in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in an integrated community. He attended local schools and excelled in his studies. When Dubois finally encountered racism, the experience changed him and he decided to further his education with a focus on equal rights for Black Americans. Dubois was the first Black man to earn his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1895.

Cheers erupt from members of the NAACP. Dubois takes a bow.

Booker T. Washington was born into slavery in 1856 in Virginia. After the Civil War, he worked in a salt mine and as a domestic for a white family and eventually attended Hampton Institute, one of the first all-black schools in America. After completing his education, Washington began teaching and in 1881 was selected to head The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama. The school’s purpose was to give African Americans practical, hands-on skills and would later be known as Tuskegee University.

Whistles come from Washington’s students. He waves.

Dubois wanted to focus on creating an educated black intellectual class he called The Talented Tenth, in which ten percent of the intelligent of the race would lead and guide the direction of the other ninety percent.

Dubois: That is right. Political power and sovereignty should remain important.

*Washington rolls eyes*

Washington on the other hand, born into slavery, thought former slaves and their descendants should be financially independent and that black communities could prosper only by way of owning their own businesses.

Washington: Indeed. Blacks should elevate themselves through hard work and material prosperity.

*Dubois coughs*

Both sought to advance the plight of African Americans and by the early 20th century both Washington and Dubois were two of the most influential Black men in the country. However, their ideologies were very different. Dubois was more focused on education and civil rights as the only way to achieve equality. Washington was more grassroots and focused on fundraising for the Institute and teaching young people how to work with their hands, farm, and entrepreneurship. Dubois and Washington’s differences came to a head in 1903…

Washington: How do you young people say it now? ‘Bring that up.’

Dubois: Let’s hear the entirety of the matter first.

EC: Umm. If I can just finish this real quick. I’m almost done.

Washington: May I ask a question?

EC: Sure, of course.

Washington: What is a Bestie?

EC: Its just short for like Best Friends.

Washington: I see. And I assume one would have to be friends first before they are best friends. Am I correct in this assumption?

Dubois: You are taking up all the time.

EC: We do need to move on but I’d love to explain it to you later.

Washington: I would like that.

*Dubois shakes his head*

The men go silent. Smiles and waves at readers.

Dubois and Washington’s differences came to a head in 1903 when Dubois published The Souls of Black Folk where he directly criticized Washington and his approach.

EC: That’s a little below the belt, don’t you think?

Dubois: Well, Negros should stand up against Washington’s contentions.

EC: Dang.

Washington: I am not going to justify that with a response.

Dubois: Then don’t respond.

Washington: Do not tempt me, Mr. Dubois.

EC: Well, that’s our time. Gentlemen, thank you, both for taking the time out of your super busy schedules to have this discussion. I know you have lives to save. Literally. I do hope you can find some common ground.

Washington: I doubt it.


In the end, Dubois and Washington did agree on something. Though they had two different ways of going about it, they each thought education was important to advancing ones life.

Stay tuned for our next rivals!

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Nora Holt

Did you know there was a woman writer during the Harlem Renaissance named Nora? Yup.

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One of the things I wanted to do with The Nora White Story project is to make everything make as much sense as possible. I know how important it is that everything fits the era to include names. Thus, I used names that were familiar with the time. Some of the names, like Nora, jumped out at me from the start. However, some of them were not so easy. To make sure everyone’s name (even minor characters) fit the time, I Googled the census data for popular names of the 1920s and scrolled through male and female names. So, who was Nora Holt?

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Nora Holt

Nora was a singer, composer and music critic. Born Lena Douglas in Kansas City, Kansas; Nora graduated from Western University of Quindaro, Kansas and later earned a Bachelor’s degree in music in 1917. In 1918, she earned her Master’s Degree in music at Chicago Musical College, becoming one of the first African-American women to complete a Master’s program in the United States. Her thesis composition was an orchestral work called Rhapsody on Negro Themes.

Nora was married quite a few times. On the fourth time, she changed her name from Lena to Nora when she married George Holt in 1916.

From 1917-1921 Nora contributed music criticism pieces to the Chicago Defender, a black daily newspaper. In 1919, she co-founded the National Association of Negro Musicians and then spent 12 years abroad in Europe and Asia singing at night clubs and private parties. Although composing over 200 works of orchestral music, one of the reasons Nora Holt is not well known is because her work was stolen. Upon leaving for Europe in 1926, she placed her manuscripts in storage when she returned they were gone. Only one piece survived because it was published prior to the theft and is called Negro Dance, (ragtime-based piano piece).

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Nora

Holt moved to Harlem in the early 1920s, where she became an important part of the Harlem Renaissance. She became good friends with novelist and critic Carl Van Vechten.

(You can meet some of these historical figures when they make special guest appearances in my new novel, Renaissance: The Nora White Story which releases tomorrow. Today (7/14) is the last day to get it at the reduced price of $1.99)

Nora was also a teacher. She studied music at the University of Southern California in the 1930s and went on to teach music in Los Angeles for several years. Nora was well rounded. Not only was she a writer and musician but she also ran a beauty shop. Apparently Nora knew how important it was to stay fly :-).

In 1943, Holt took a position as an editor and music critic with a black-oriented publication Amsterdam News and went on to live a full life. During the early 1950s and early 1960s, she hosted a radio concert series called “Nora Holt’s Concert Showcase”. It ran to 1964 and in 1966, she was a member of the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal.

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Photo of Nora Holt, taken by Carl Van Vechten, 1955

Nora Holt died January 25, 1974, in Los Angeles.


 

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Capturing the Good in Harlem

 

Yes indeed, twins make history again. Meet Marvin and Morgan Smith, painters who focused on capturing the positive side of Harlem during the decline of the Harlem Renaissance and the birth of The Great Depression.

“During the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, Harlem spread itself before the cameras of Morgan and Marvin Smith like a great tablecloth, and eagerly they went about devouring what it had to offer.”

– Gordon Parks Sr.

We often discuss the writers of the movement and the musicians while the artists are often left out. Names like Kwame Brathwaite, Aaron Douglass, Lois Jones, and Morgan and Marvin Smith, are not as well known.

Morgan (right) and Marvin (left) Smith were born on February 16, 1910 in Nicholasville, Kentucky. The boys found a talent for art but wouldn’t pursue it much until the sharecropping family moved to Lexington in the late 1920s. Here Morgan and Marvin attended Dunbar High School, the only Black High School in Lexington at the time, and developed further their artistic abilities. They worked with oil paintings and sculptors until eventually, cameras.

In 1933, Morgan and Marvin graduated High School and pursued their art full time. However, Kentucky at the time provided little to no support for the young men and as I imagine, they could not grow in the way that they wished. They moved to Cincinnati with hope of a better future but not finding opportunities there, decided to move on to New York.

Marvin and Morgan

When they arrived to Harlem the twins did manual labor for the WPA or Works Progress Administration and took art lessons from Augusta Savage (another sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance) at her studio. Through Savage the twins became connected with the 306 Group, a collective of African American artists who worked and socialized together in Harlem, New York in the 1930s. The name of the group came from the address of a studio space, 306 W. 141st Street, used by two of the artists, Charles Alston and Henry Bannarn.

Marvin and Morgan became acquainted with prominent figures through Savage but it wasn’t until 1937 when the twins really came into the public’s eye when Morgan won an award for his photo of a boy playing.

Awwue!

After 1937, the twins decided to focus their attention on the  community of Harlem overall. Their interest was in capturing the good instead of the bad. With the stock market crash of 1929 and The Great Depression smacked down in the middle, there was plenty to complain about, I am sure, and much of the glitter and glam of the Harlem Renaissance had begun to fade. People weren’t as interested in Black culture and art during these tough times which brings Marvin and Morgan into focus.

They look more alike as old men than they did when they were younger…or is it just me??

Over the next 40 years with their paint brushes and cameras, the brothers would record what remained, refusing to document anything negative. What’s cute is that the brother’s married identical twin sisters on the same day and three years later both divorced on the same day. They would die exactly ten years apart, Morgan smith at 83 and Marvin at 93. I am happy to see that they both lived full lives.

The 306 Group

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The artists of the 306 W. 141st Street WPA Art Center. Back row, left to right: Add Bates; unidentified; James Yeargans; Vertis Hayes; Charles Alston; Sollace Glenn; unidentified; Elba Lightfoot; Selma Day; Ronald Joseph; Georgette Seabrooke; ——— Reid. Front row, left to right: Gwendolyn Knight; unidentified; Francisco Lord; unidentified; unidentified.
© Morgan and Marvin Smith. Reproduction from the Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundation, http://iraas.columbia.edu/wpa/introartists.html

Black History Fun Fact Friday –Black Inventors / Inventions

There’s a funny story behind this post. My stomach was growling and I thought “Hmmm, what if there was a device where you could hook up to your body parts and see what’s going on in there??” Like, say your stomach hurts or you’re hungry or your leg is in pain, you could hook up to some technology screen type deal and see what is causing those changes. OK, you may already know but I mean in a way where you could see it .(medical genuis smarty pants lol) You can go to the doctor and already know what needs to be done. Anywho, that’s when I thought it would be fun to look at some inventors / inventions that we may not have known about.

The Pencil Sharpener

 

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The Love Sharpener

Also, known as The Love Sharpener, The Pencil Sharpener was patented by a black man named John Lee Love. John did not invent the pencil sharpener* but what he did invent would carry on to the same pencil sharpeners we use today. A carpenter in Fall River, Massachusetts, John invented several devices and in 1897, he patented a portable pencil sharpener known as the “Love Sharpener.” (*The first ever pencil sharpener was patented in France by mathematician Bernard Lassimone in 1828. A decade later another Frenchman, Therry des Estwaux, designed  a conical-shaped device that, when a pencil was inserted and twisted, all sides of the pencil were whittled away at once and make the sharpening process much quicker.).

Heating Furnace — Ventilation System

Alice H. Parker, an African-American woman from Morristown, NJ developed, in 1919, an early concept of the modern home heating system. Her system gave birth to the thermostat and the forced air furnaces in most homes today, replacing what was then the most common method for heating – cutting and burning wood in fireplaces or stoves. Parker’s invention would be better known today as Central Heating.

The Mailbox

What would you know, a black man invented the mailbox. Known as The Street Letter box back then, Philip Downing designed a metal box with four legs which he patented on October 27, 1891. He called his device a street letter box and it is the predecessor of today’s mailbox. (A fellow blogger wrote a post about Downing awhile back. Check it out here!)

The Sanitary Belt, The Walker, The Toilet Tissue Holder

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Sanitary Belts

Before pads and tampons menstrual huts were common where women would be separated from communities while on their cycle (known biblically as a time of uncleanliness). Later women began using cloth or rags which is where the term “she’s on the rag” came from. Common forms of protection rabbit skins, rags, menstrual aprons (aprons??) homemade knitted pads and eventually, the sanitary belt. I heard of the sanitary belt from my mom, otherwise I would not have a clue what this is. Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, a black woman, had some pretty cool inventions, the Sanitary Belt being one of them. She also invented the walker and toilet tissue holder. Pretty neat. (Ladies, you can learn more about the evolution of the pad HERE.)

Toilet

Thomas Elkins, a black man, invented a lot of things (to include an improved refrigerator). Known then as a Chamber Commode, the modern toilet was patented by Thomas Elkins on January 9, 1872. Elkins’ commode was a combination bureau, mirror, book-rack, washstand, table, easy chair, and chamber stool.  (The flush toilet goes back to the 1500s but the idea failed to catch on until later).

The First “Perm”

A woman getting a permanent (perm)

Did you know that Perm is short for Permanent? The first concept of the perm was invented by a black woman named Marjorie Joyner. The granddaughter of slave owner and slave, Marjorie developed an invention called “The Permanent Waving Machine” which permed or straightened hair by wrapping it in rods. Later, a black man named Garret Morgan (inventor of the Traffic Signal and Gas Mask) invented our modern version of the perm by accident. In his tailor shop, Garrett was thinking of a solution he could use to polish the needles to a high gloss and stop them from scorching clothes. When Morgan doctored this liquid, he decided to test the effects of the liquid on dog’s hair and saw how the texture had smooth out. Later trying this on human hair, the relaxer was born. Delighted with his success, Morgan coined his hair division the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company. This Company was also responsible for the black hair oil dye and the curved tooth iron comb (to be used as a hot comb.)

Blood Bank

Charles R. Drew was an African-American surgeon who pioneered methods of storing blood plasma for transfusion and organized the first large-scale blood bank in the U.S. Ironically, he died due to an accident that blocked blood flow to his heart (there’s a myth that he died at an all-white hospital among whites who refused to operate on him but this story cannot be verified. According to my research, Drew was treated at Alamance General Hospital, a facilities-poor “White” hospital. The White doctors at Alamance began work immediately but Drew’s injuries were so severe and his loss of blood so great that he could not be saved. It is possible that due his prominence he was treated better than most blacks were during the time but further research / insight is needed.)

Feeding Tube

Bessie Blount was a physical therapist who served during WWII. She invented an electrically driven feeding tube device that enabled wounded soldiers to consume a mouthful of food when biting down on a tube. At the time, it was hard to get a patent and she donated this invention to France. In 1951, she received a patent for a modified version from the U.S. called the portable receptacle holder, smaller tube that could be worn around the neck. However, many of Blount’s inventions are not very well known since she signed over her inventions to France.