Although I tried out once, I was not a cheerleader in high school. I had danced before as part of a community program at Hamilton Park on Chicago’s south side with my twin sister and our cousin. We were taught handstands, traditional African dances (I am not sure of the tribe), and tap dancing. We traveled to put on shows and everything.
But dancing was not for me.
Over the years, as my twin and cousin got deeper into it (joining Pom-Pom teams and creating dances from the latest hits), I grew out of it.
Instead, I read books, wrote in my diary, and joined all the “boring” programs at school.
It didn’t take long to realize I was not like everyone else. The things my peers found exciting did not move me.
What I didn’t realize at the time was how these seemingly boring activities were stepping stones to sharpening my writing skills and preparing me for a career as a writer.
Writing School Plays:During my Sophomore and Junior years, the school employed a group of other students and me to participate in a program where we had to write and perform plays for the school. I do not remember the program’s name, but this was my first official writing job.
Pen Pal Program:The photo above is from a pen pal program between our High School on the south side and a school on the north side. We wrote letters to our pals and introduced ourselves. Next, they filmed us introducing ourselves on camera and swapped it with the other school. And then, finally, we all met up in person in downtown Chicago. This was the first day we all met, and the event concluded with a camping trip in Wisconsin.
The Yearbook Team: I was actually the only member of the yearbook team that year, lol. Everyone thought it would be boring, but I thought it would be fun, and it was. Not only did I get out of class to film assemblies, but I got to follow Arnie Duncan (then the CEO of Chicago Public Schools) and Jessie Jackson around with the camera, snapping pictures that would be featured in the book.
UMOJA Spoken Word Poetry Group: I was part of a poetry group called UMOJA Spoken Word my Sophomore year. (UMOJA is the Swahili word for unity.) I was already writing poetry, but this group taught me how to go deeper by introducing the mechanics of the craft.
When I found this photo, I realized that everything I did led to this moment and that everything I do today is also leading somewhere greater.
I don’t know about you, but the fact that our past has shaped us for today and our today is shaping us for our tomorrow is fascinating to me. It is one of the reasons I love history.
The next time you feel inadequate or frustrated with your journey, whatever journey that may be, I hope this inspires you to look back at those special moments in your life. Remember that you are only stepping stones away from where you are destined be.
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“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.
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.
Before we tuck in for the weekend I wanted to give some quick heads up to those who may either be new to blogging or still trying to find your way around the WordPress platform.
If you are at all serious about blogging, whether that is to build an author platform or just to share your thoughts, be sure that your pages are all filled in and that your sidebar is as well. What do I mean “Fill in?”
There is nothing that screams amateur more than:
“This is a text widget, which allows you to add text…” and so on.
You would want to ban these words from anywhere on your blog! GET RID OF THEM. Why?
To put this as nice but as real as I can, it makes you look lazy. It only takes a few minutes or maybe even a few hours to fill in the text on your blog.
There aren’t rules to blogging exactly but there are things that are common sense. This is one of them.
To get rid of those dreadful words, you will need to be sure those words are replaced with images or text. No, you don’t have to get super fancy but if your blog theme is one that requires you to fill in an area, such as an about page, you may want to go ahead and do that. Or else these words will speak to readers before you do. When I see them I think maybe that blogger just started out. If you started your blog a year or more ago, that’s not exactly the impression you want to give.
Go to your WP Dashboard. To edit a page, go down to Page > All Pages and edit the pages you have there. If you don’t want to show pages then it is best to delete them, although I am not sure why anyone wouldn’t want an About page. Either way, it is your prerogative. If you want the page to show to viewers, please fill it in with something. Do not leave it blank.
This is especially important if you are an author looking to grow your audience through blogging. I mean, come on. You are a master of the written word (Yes, you are! Say it and then believe it). Anything that has to do with words should be taken seriously, even if it is text on your blog! If there’s no effort put into these words, then what are we to think about your books?
To edit sidebar Widgets, go to: WP Dashboard > Appearance > Widgets
This will show you the widgets that come with your blog’s theme and give you the chance to add more if you like.
You don’t have to be extra fancy. (We actually prefer you be your relaxed and funny self), but do put something there. Unless you don’t want your blog to grow, in which case, leave it how it is.
Now, run along now and enjoy the rest of this beautiful day.
One day, a couple weeks ago after posting the Underground Trailer, some ladies and me were talking and joking in the comments about movies. I mentioned that I should do movie reviews. But, I realized I was doing a version of this already. It was two years ago in a PBS Blog segment called “Movie Night Friday”.
If you’ve really been exploring this blog, you may have noticed the Movie Night Friday page in the sidebar. I have decided (while watching Lean on Me the other day for the 1,000th time) that I’d like to start this back up again. This is my second attempt at re-starting this feature so I am really going to try sticking to it. I am not sure why I am making more work for myself.
The purpose of Movie Night Friday is simple:
To help you to get to know more about me through the kinds of movies / TV shows I watch.
There is little that I do just for the sake of doing it. That said, the movies / TV shows that I watch I do so for a reason as I stopped watching TV for pure entertainment a long time ago. I will start this segment up again next week. I will also now include TV shows.
Pop Quiz: What movie does this line come from?
“No matter how hard it gets we haven’t finished yeeet…don’t leave me with regrets cause we haven’t finished yet. Oh, no no no no nooo.” Lol.
Ya’ll like my sidekick? He says he will help me keep up with Movie Night Fridays.
Step y’all movie game up! Lol. Enjoy your weekend, we’ll see you next week.
Two kids had already been killed down the street from the apartment complex that would one day be the center of media attention when Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton would be murdered in his bed this same year. Teens from the Henry Horner projects had been protesting for months, a little over a year to be exact, for a traffic signal at the corner of local schools and health clinics where two teens had already been killed. The city refused. In addition, earlier this year, police kicked down the doors of a Panther office, brutally beating and injuring six people and one bystander on Madison Street.
As you can see, the climate of 1969 Chicago was already heated surrounding citizens and the city. Police brutality in Chicago is far from anything new and this year they were on a roll.
John Soto was an active member of the protest campaigns to get a traffic light installed at the corner, a few blocks from Fred’s Apartment. Sadly, John only lived to seventeen, were killed just one day (Oct 5th) after a police raid on a Panther office. According to the reports, John fought with the police before being “accidentally” shot by them. The already agitated community grew furious and John’s brother, Michael Soto, returned home from the army to attend his brother’s funeral. Five days later, on October 10, 1969, Michael Soto too was shot and killed. The black community did not believe in coincidences.
It was said that Michael was killed because, after being stopped by police, he pulled out a gun, contrary to the account given by witnesses.
The community became even more outraged and according to the NAACP’s Commission of Inquiry, “The commission discovered that a substantial segment of the community believed that, contrary to all police reports, John and Michael Soto had been murdered by the police because of their participation in the traffic light protests.”
I decided to dedicate this week’s Black History Fun Fact to these brothers because of two things:
Google’s limited amount of information on them
Their minimum mention in black history
Though their lives were sadly ended, I wanted to highlight what happened to them for those who may not have been familiar. They existed and are among the many so-called Black and Hispanic men and women who died at the hands of law enforcement.
Update: Interestingly enough, I found this article and thought I’d update this post to include the link:
Chicago police use excessive force, DOJ finds
“Chicago police officers’ use of excessive force, she said, stemmed in large part from what the Justice Department found were severely insufficient training and accountability procedures — including failing to train officers to de-escalate situations.”
If you’re anything like me, you get tired of the same repeated history. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston. These are names to which we are exceptionally familiar. They were great but we know them. Let’s talk about something else.
Admittedly, I didn’t have a lot of time on my hands this week so I decided to compile a list of women who took part in The Harlem Renaissance to which we aren’t too familiar for this week’s fun fact. Enjoy.
The daughter of a freed slave, the only child of Isaac and Rachel West, Dorothy West’s father built a fruit and vegetable business that provided the family a more affluent life among Boston’s middle class. Nicknamed “The Kid” by Langston Hughes and sharing an apartment with Zora Neale Hurston, Dorothy West was a young member of the Harlem Renaissance. Not yet 20 in 1926 when her short story ”The Typewriter” won a prize from the Urban League’s Opportunity magazine, Dorothy moved to Harlem and joined the poets, novelists, musicians and other artists.
Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson
When I first came across Alice I kept trying to figure out what was so familiar about her name. It wasn’t until I researched her that it became apparent. She was once married to Paul Lawrence Dunbar before they separated in 1902. Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to mixed-race parents. Documented as African American, Anglo, Native American, and Creole, her works cover the complex subjects of race, ethnicity, and oppression. Her first book, Violets and Other Tales (1895), was published when she was just 20. A writer of short stories, essays, and poems, Dunbar-Nelson was one of the few black female diarists of the early 20th century.
Clarissa Scott Delany
Clarissa looks as if she was fly back in the day lol.
Born in 1901 in Tuskegee, Alabama Delany is most known for her powerful poem “The Mask”. Dying at an early age (26) she did not contribute many works but still contributed by publishing poetry and journal articles into the newspaper Opportunity. After her young years in Alabama, she was sent to New England where she graduated from Wellesley College in 1923. During Delany’s years at Wellesley, she attended meetings of the Boston Literary Guild. Speakers were featured each week. Delany started writing and gained the attention and became associated with the Harlem Renaissance.
“To read across May Miller’s life is to read across the history of 20th century America.”
– Myra Sklarew
It begins with May’s father, Kelly Miller. Born a year before Emancipation he was the first African American to attend John Hopkins University and among the first blacks to learn to read in public schools. He studied mathematics, physics, and astronomy. His daughter, May Miller was the most widely published playwright of The Harlem Renaissance. Myra writes how May often told about having to give up her childhood room for visits by W.E.B. Du Bois, author of The Souls of Black Folk, and the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. She spoke of visits by Booker T. Washington, Carter G. Woodson, and Alain Locke.
One of four children, Marita Bonner was born in Boston to Joseph Andrew and Mary Anne Bonner. She was raised and educated in Boston, attending Brookline School, where she received musical training and in 1918 she entered Radcliffe College, concentrating in English and comparative literature. In Washington Bonner became closely associated with poet, playwright, and composer Georgia Douglass Johnson, whose “S” Street salon was an important gathering place for many of the writers and artists associated with the New Negro Renaissance of the 1920s better known as The Harlem Renaissance: Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Jessie Fauset, May Miller, Alain Locke, Jean Toomer, Willis Richardson, and others. She also began to publish her writing in journals like The Crisis of the NAACP and Opportunity, the official journal of the Urban League. Her first published pieces, “Hands” and “On Being Young-a Woman-and Colored,” appeared in The Crisis in 1925.
Yecheilyah Ysrayl is the YA, Historical Fiction author of eight books most notably, The Stella Trilogy, Blogger, and Poet. She is currently working on her next book series “The Nora White Story” about a young black woman writer who dreams of taking part in The Harlem Renaissance movement and her parents struggle to accept their traumatic past in the Jim Crow south. “Renaissance: The Nora White Story (Book One)” is due for release July 15-16, 2017. For updates on this project, sneak peeks of other projects, nuggets and tidbits, video tutorials, writing inspiration, and more, be sure to follow this blog and to subscribe to Yecheilyah’s email list HERE.