Hello! If you don’t know which you should this last Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day in honor of his birthday the week before and to celebrate his legacy in the civil rights moment and in black history.
MLK was a big supporter of non violence and doing peaceful protests to get your point across. He was big during the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott as well as the march through Selma for voting rights. He gave his “I Have A Dream Speech” in 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs & Justice before being shot and killed outside of his Tennessee hotel room in April of ’68. He would have been 86 last week.
Ok so we all know about MLK, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglass and Jackie Robinson as we learn about these figures in our history books (lies and all) but there were other prominent black figures and groups in history that go unnoticed by kids these days. So in honor of MLK day & Black History Month coming up next week, I though I would highlight a few figures and places from our past and those who are going strong today.
Egypt/Kemit and the Nile Valley Civilization- The birth place of civilization. Egypt or Kemit which is its original name was one of the civilizations along the Nile Valley River which also included Kush or what is today Ethiopia. Kemit & Kush were both big in creating what we have today as cities as well as a lot of our ways of thinking and getting information. Now in history class they might try and make it out to seem like the Egyptians were fair skinned people but you have to remember that Egypt is in Africa so they were dark black people. The reason that some pictures of Egyptians back then looked kind of fair skinned was because they saw gold as very sacred and protecting so they would put it on their bodies and that’s why they look lighter then they should. Anyway it’s only right to give credit where credits due and remember the beginning of it all.
Listervelt Middleton- Listervelt was a journalist out of South Carolina who had a TV show called “For the People” which debunked all the lies that you are taught about Ancient Africa & it’s people. He died of cancer in the ’90s.
Malcolm X- Take MLK and do a 180 and you’ve got Malcolm X. Malcolm X or Malcolm Little his born name, was a civil rights leader who thought that integration and non violence wasn’t cutting it as a way to solve racism in America. After going to prison at the age of 20 for breaking and entering he joined the black American Muslim group called The Nation of Islam. He became the new face of the Nation supporting their views such as black supremacy and pro segregation. But by 1964, Malcolm had become disillusioned with the Nation and after visiting Africa & the Middle East came back to start his own group called Muslim Mosque Inc. and began following the Suni way of thinking. He also started the Organization of Afro-American Unity in which they still supported pan-Africanism and black self defense without teaching some of racist things the Nation had brainwashed him to think. Soon after leaving the Nation, Malcolm became a target and had many death threats pointed at him by the Nation until his assassination by a few of their men while he was giving a speech in 1965. It is said Malcolm regrets his involvement with the Nation as it put him against some of the other civil rights leaders at the time like Dr. King who he only got one picture with but who admired his involvement in the struggle. Malcolm X would be 86 this May.
Langston Hughes- Langston Hughes besides being one of my favorite poets was a Harlem Renaissance poet in the early 1900s. He is sometimes scene as the father of the Harlem Renaissance as his poems spoke to many and started a new style of writing called “Jazz Poetry”. Langston wrote about a number of things including race and prejudice and was a big proponent of “black is beautiful”. It is also rumored that Langston was a gay man who would hide his homosexuality in code with in his poems. My favorite poem by him is “Dream Deferred”.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Emmett Till- Emmett Till is the “father” if you will of all the modern day “young black boy/girl killings” we have scene lately. In August of 1955, 14 year old Emmett was brutally murdered by two white men for “flirting” with an older white female. Story has it that Till was visiting his great-uncle in Mississippi from Chicago and had went to the local store to buy something. There he started talking to the wife of the grocery store owner. Word got to her husband and him and his brother went to Till’s great-uncle’s house one night dragged him out of his bed took him to the barn where they beat him & gouged out his eyes before shooting him and discarding of the body in the river with a cotton gin fan tied around his neck. Three days latter the body was found. It was sent back to Chicago where Emmett’s mom had a public funeral and then in September 1955, they tired the two men for murder but they where seen not guilty. This incident was a pivotal moment for the start of the Civil Rights Movement and is one of the precursors of the Rodney King & Travon Martin killings of the past 20 years.
Bessie Coleman- She was the first female African American pilot. Due to her being a black women Bessie who at 18 got a job as a manicurist to war soldiers who would tell stories of their time in the air which excited her, but she had to travel to France to learn how to be a pilot due to prejudice. After gaining her skills as a aviator pilot in 1922, she started a career at the air shows and her nick name became “Queen Bess”. As her fame heightened she was offered a movie roll which she except until she saw her first scene was her with tattered clothes on and a pack walking off stage and she didn’t want to portray the white lens of a black person so she declined. One of Coleman’s dreams was to open a school to teach black kids aviation but died in a plane accident before she could at only 34. #revolutionarychick
The Black Panther Party- So little is taught about the Black Panthers except that they were black nationalist thugs who were hard core out there killing cops & promoting violence to solve racial issues in America. What most people don’t know though is that they were also big into their communities and helped start many influential programs like the Free Breakfast for Children program and community health clinics. This program was a real threat to the government so they had to be shut down but, “by doing this,” says Oakland-based journalist and hip hop historian Davey D, the Panthers “made themselves attractive to the community.” It was also nice to read that Davey D has taken what he learned from the Panthers to help the Oakland communities today. The BPP was built in the inner-cities of California in the late ’60s to help lesson police brutality by having Panther members following the police around with guns. They also came up with a very well thought out 10 point plan for how they wanted to see the world for blacks in America with things like employment, good housing, education an end to police violence, freedom ect. (Most of which still is not afforded to people) The Black Panthers broke up in the early ’80s and has a split legacy of being both a game changing group for the black urban community and a nightmare.
Booker T. Washington- Booker T. was an African American author, educator, orator out of Virginia and adviser to the then president of the United States Theodore Roosevelt. He was of the last generation born into slavery and become a voice for the slaves and their descendants who where then discriminated against under the Jim Crow laws put on during the post-Reconstruction area in the south. He base was the Tuskegee Institute a historically black college in Alabama (where my dad who is from NOLA went to Veterinary School). In 1885, Washington gave a speech at the peak of lynchings in the south in Atlanta that made him nationally famous. The speech focused on black progress through education and entrepreneurship. His message was that it was not the time to challenge Jim Crow segregation and the disfranchisement of black voters in the south. He also this year called out his Atlanta Compromise, avoiding confrontation over segregation and instead putting more reliance on long-term educational and economic advancements in the black community. Secretly, he supported court challenges to segregation. One of Booker T.’s opponents in the north was W.E.B. Du Bois who was more militant. Du Bois had supported Washington’s Atlanta Compromise at first but after the NAACP was set up in 1909 he tired with little success to challenge Washington’s presence in the black community. After Booker T.’s death though the Civil Rights movement took more of a Du Bois/NAACP rout then Washington’s vision. Booker T. Washington’s legacy is one of political power in a time and place where being black could kill you. He was able to manipulate the media, raise money, strategize, network, reward friends and distribute funds while punishing those who opposed his plans for uplifting blacks. His long term goal was to end the disfranchisement of the vast majority of American Americans lived in the south. Booker T. died in 1915 in Tuskegee, Alabama.
The Tuskegee Airmen- the Tuskegee Airmen where the African American fighter pilots and their support personal of WWII. They were the first black aviators in the armed forces. The U.S. military at the time was segregated due to the Jim Crow laws in the south. The trained at Moton field and Tuskegee Army Air in Tuskegee, Alabama. The Tuskegee Airman we’re apart of the 477th Bombardment Group and although they trained where unable to serve. The 99th Pursuit where the first flying squadron and the first to go over seas. The 332nd Flying group was the first black group to fly together and got the nickname “Redtails” due to them painting the tails of their plans red. My grandfather on my mom’s side was a Tuskegee Airman and is a great honor in my family.
Madam C.J. Walker- Madame C.J. Walker was the first female American (not just female African American take note) to become a self-made millionaire. She made her fortune by making a successful line of beauty and hair products for black women under her company Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. (Hear that ladies she was the first to help you tame the kitchen lol) Like most women at the time Walker started early hair loss. and started to learn about hair from her brothers who owned a barber shop in St. Louis. Then in 1904 she became a commission agent selling the black owned hair care products for Annie Turnbo Malone. After she moved to Denver and married and emerged with the name Madam C.J. Walker and independent hairdresser and retailer of cosmetic creams. In 1906 she employed her daughter to operate the mail orders in Denver while Madam and her husband traveled through out the east and south settling in Pittsburgh and opening Lelia College (in honor of her daughter) to train “hair culturists”. In 1910 Walker ended up moving to Indianapolis where she built her headquarters, factory, hair salon and beauty school. Her business was also starting to become popular beyond the US in places like Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Panama and Costa Rica. Madam C.J. Walker also gave money to great causes like the Silent Protest Parade which was a public demonstration of more than 8,000 blacks to riot the killing of 39 African Americans. She also helped countless black women learn aout women’s independence, budgeting and grooming in order to help them build their own businesses as well as giving $5,000 (65,ooo today) to the NAACP anti-lynching tree. Madam C.J. Walker died in 1919 of hypertension at 51. Her daughter soon after took over the business. #revolutionarychick
John Coltrane- John Coltrane was a jazz saxophonist and composer out of North Carolina & Philadelphia. He was given his first sax by his mother before he enlisted in the Navy in 1945 to avoid being drafted. Coltrane ended up being shipped to Pearl Harbor after training in upstate New York. He was stationed at Mañana Barracks with one of the largest population of African American servicemen in the world at the time. While in the service John’s talent was discovered and he end up playing with the base’s swing band. His first record was a small record with the Navy swing band Melody Makers in 1946. When Coltrane got discharged from the Navy he got plunged into the new music scene bebop. He started touring with Jimmy Heath and then and studied jazz theory with Dennis Sandole. One of John Coltrane’s idols was Charlie Parker. In 1955 he was asked by Miles Davis to join his band and they worked together from 1955-1957 but the band broke up in ’57 due to Davis’s heroine addiction. He also worked with Theloinous Monk for a while in 1957 and then started working on his solo band for Blue Note Records. Then in 1958 “Trane” & Davis started to work together again as sextet until 1960. After this period John put out his first solo album with Atlantic Records Giant Step which is sad to be the most complex jazz progression. Then in 1960 formed his first group with Atlantic and recorded his famous My Favorite Things. In 1961 his contract with Atlantic was bought out by Impulse! Records and started to do more avant-garde jazz. It is also speculated that in 1965 “Trane” started to experiment with LSD and were described at times to be speaking in tongues. It is said the Coltrane was a spiritual man and believed his belief was helpful and getting him off heroine and alcohol. He grew up Christian but had an affinity for Indian spirituality as well as an appreciation for other forms of religion and spirituality. John died of liver cancer in 1967 at the age of 40. To jazz and music lovers alike John Coltrane was seen as one of greasiest saxophonist of the 20th century.
Chuck Berry- Chuck was one of the pioneers of Rock & Roll. None of that Elvis King of Rock crap, real rock came out of the southern swamps as another form of blues and jazz by black people. Chuck got his start and fascination with rock with his love of T-Bone Walkers guitar riffs. He got his big break in 1955 while touring with Johnnie Johnson Trio where he met Muddy Waters who convinced him to talk to Leonard Chess of Chess Records. Chess then helped him record “Maybellene” which became a number one hit and skyrocketed his career from their. He became in heavy demand after that putting out several hit records and becoming big on the touring circuit. His legacy is one of pride for most African-Americans the way Elvis is for White Americans.
Harry Belafonte- Harry is a Caribbean American pop singer from the 1950s. He is best know for writing & singing Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) as well as Jump in the Line. Harry is also a big humanitarian & was a big supporter of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. He was one of Martin’s confidants and helped provide for his family as well as help bail him out of Birmingham Alabama He supported the anti-apartheid movement and is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Both him and Danny Clover have been big critics of George W. Bush’s presidential administration. In 1960 after refusing to perform in the south Harry was featured in a commercial for John F. Kennedy’s election and was later named cultural advisor to the Peace Corps.
Danny Clover- While he might be up there with Denzel as an actor Danny Clover has also used his movie star status to do some great humanitarian work. While he was in college at San Fransisco State University, Danny was apart of the Black Student Union which along with the American Federation of Teachers started a five-month student led strike to establish a Department of Black Studies which led to the first Department of Ethnic Studies. He was also a big supporter of the United Farm Workers and The Black AIDs Institution. In 2006, Danny Clover and other activists celebrates including Harry Belafonte where invited to a meeting with Hugo Chavez the president of Venezuela. Other humanitarian efforts that Danny has been apart of was in support of Prop 7 in California, on the board of The Jazz Foundation of America, protesting the war in Darfur as well as the war in Iraq. At the 2010 Academy Awards Danny called upon the celebrities to boycott Hugo Boss suits after their decision to close a manufacturing plant in Ohio after a proposed cut to wages. Danny has had his hand on the pulse of social justice issues most of his career and will leave a lasting legacy of humanitarianism.
Duke Ellington- Duke Ellington was a jazz pianist and band leader from Washington, DC & New York. At age 7 Duke started taking piano lessons but was more interested in sports. In 1917 while working as a soda jerk he came up with his first composition “Soda Fountain Rag”. After sneaking into pool halls at 14, Ellington watched the pianist and gave him the inspiration to take his studies more serious. In 1975 Duke put together and promoted his first jazz group. He then left DC and worked in New York from the mid 1920s onward through the Cotton Club. In the 1930s his band toured Europe. In 1941 Duke Ellington started working with composer Billy Strayhorn before in 1956 going on a world tour. During his career Ellington for most American record labels, appeared in films, composing films & composing stage plays. It is said Duke like to not categorize his music and like to say it was more American music then put the jazz label on it. Duke died of lung cancer and pneumonia in 1975 a few weeks after his 75th birthday.
Jimi Hendrix- Besides being the God Father of the modern guitar and just an all around amazing spirit and talent Jimi was about making art that meant something. Coming out of Seattle Jimi started his jump into music by touring with the Isley Brothers & Little Richard. Jimi then became a household name in Europe before making it big with his then band The Jimi Hendrix Experience with hits like “Purple Haze”. He gained fame in the US in 1968 after his performance at Monterey Pop Festival. Later that year he put out his third and last album Electric Ladyland and then did his show at Woodstock in ’70 before an accidental overdose at 27. His legacy can be herd everywhere in modern music and in the way we view rock and guitar music to this day.
Michael Jackson- What can’t you say about the King? Michael was a rare spirit that if you can look past all his scandals did some amazing things for this world & humanity. In 1985 him and Lionel Richie wrote “We Are The World” to support Africa. The next year he set up the “Michael Jackson United Negro College Fund Endowed Scholarship Fund” a $1.5 million fund that went to kids in the performing arts. He also took the money from his 1989 Bad Tour and the proceeds went to underprivileged kids and abused kids. In ’92 he started the Heal the World fund where he had 6 tons of supplies airlifted to Sarajevo, instituted drug and alcohol abuse education classes & helped less fortunate kids. Michael was also big on putting these messages in his music too from Man in the Mirror to Black or White to Heal the World The Earth Song and more.
“Baby Ester”- She was a singer named Ester Jones who was with the Cotton Club and who’s signature sound was her baby doll voice. She used it a lot when she would sing songs such as “I Wanna be Loved by You” (Boop-Boop BeDo) which was latter used to make Max Fleischer’s Betty Boop cartoon. She tried to get rights to the cartoon till the day she died. #ripoff #revolutionarychick
Santa- I know I know Santa can be whatever color you want because he is made up but the real St. Nicholas was black. Mr. Give to the poor himself was from Turkey where a lot of African people lived at the time.
Malik Yakini- a former K-8th grade principal at an African centered school in Detroit, Michigan. Malik Yakini recently founded the Detroit Black Community Food Security which, works to build self-reliance, food security, and justice in Detroit’s Black community. He speaks highly on race in the food system as it still impacts people in all major institutions in America. He also talks about local ownership being important. In 2008, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network started the Ujamaa Food Co-op Buying Club, a monthly buying club offering healthy food, supplements, and household items at discounted prices. Yakini says what keeps him going in this work is knowing that we have the capacity to transform ourselves and our communities. “My spirituality compels me to strive for truth, balance, harmony and justice.”
Ron Finley- He was on a TED Talk on building community gardens in South Central LA. In the video Ron Finley talks about coming from South Central LA where there is an abundance of liquor stores, fast food places and not a community garden in site making it a food desert. So he decided to take the stretch of grass above his side walk and start planting and made a garden. He said a lady and her daughter came up one night admiring his garden due to the lack, of in other parts of the city. After a while he said the city got on his tail about planting there. So he moved to a local homeless shelter and had a great experience there. Finley said he is big on getting youth to start and work on gardens to help them stay out of trouble and sustain themselves and their families. “Make a shovel your weapon of choice”
Davey D- local Oakland DJ Davey D takes the message of the Black Panthers and others and uses hip-hop to get the message across that juicing and healthy eating is a good thing. He says it can be difficult at times though due to ethnic agriculture corporations and non profits supporting big agribusiness not being supportive to the little guy, but he has a lot of faith in this generation. “Fast food joints and Monsanto may be Goliath, but, like the Panthers, today’s food justice activists aren’t afraid of a fight.”
Color of Change- the Color of Change is an 501c4 organization that aims to strengthen the political voice of black America. It was set up after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina by Rashad Robinson the executive director. I was fortune enough to meet them and their a great org doing some great things for black folks.
Dr. Cornel West- Cornel West is a philosopher, author, activist, academic, and a public intellectual. He is the son of a Baptist Minister who got his undergrad degree from Harvard graduating with a bachelors degree in 1973. He then went on to become the first black person to get his Ph.D from Princeton in philosophy. West has worked at Princeton teaching African American studies up till 2011 where he now teaches at Union Theology Seminary teaching philosophy & Christian practice. Cornell works a lot around race, gender & class in American society and is a frequent mediator on social and political issues. He has been in many movies, tv news shows and has several spoken word and hiphop albums out.
Janelle Monáe- Janelle is an inspiration to girls of color everywhere. From her natural hair to her suit and tie to her incredible dance moves she makes it less about looks and more about the music. Growing up in Kansas City to working parents she adopted the suit & how it represents the everyday person. She feels a responsibility to her community and to young people everywhere to give them a positive outlook on life. She has won the 2012 Black Girls Rock! Young, Gifted and Black Award and is a spokes person for Covergirl. #revolutionarychick
J Cole- J Cole is a rapper out of North Carolina to a merger on the scene in 2011 with various mix tapes. Then in 2012, he got signed to Roc Nation and put out 2 albums in 2012 & 2013. His latest effort is the highly received album 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Cole is an artist who things outside of the box. Especially with his new album and the promotion (or lack there of) he talks a lot about the social change, freeing our minds & actually talking about something real which in his case is love. Cole has been a big supporter of the Ferguson efforts by going down there with the protesters as well as putting out a song called “Be Free” about police violence.
Travie McCoy- Travie McCoy solo & Gym Class Heroes come from humble beginnings. Coming from Upstate NY Travie and his best friend band mate Matt were heavily bullied as kids. They met in gym class and Travie would defend Matt against bullies which gave them their band name. 5 albums & 15 years later they have become household names for the underdogs. In their lyrics they write of standing up and not going down without a fight. Travis has also done some humanitarian work on behalf of HIV/AIDs in 2010 where he traveled to South Africa, the Philippines & India and wrote an inspiring song where the proceeds benefited the MTV Staying Alive Campaign.
Obama- Ok so despite the politics and how much he has been able to do over his two terms or not do Obama is a black history icon. As the first black president or president of color it is monumental. Plus he has done some important things during his term like health care, ending the “war”, some environmental things & some immigration policy among other things. Plus his First Lady counterpart has been big on supporting health, fitness & community gardens.
Kid President- Kid President is a family project by Robby Novack who makes inspirational YouTube videos for kids & adults to help change the world. He has a disease where his bones brake and has had to go to the hospital many times but that didn’t stop him from dancing. He does pep talks for adults as well as many charity drives. He is just a really cool kid who is trying to change the world.
Afropunk- Afropunk is basically the alternative culture of black people. That can mean in a musical since like the black rock, punk, hardcore or metal scenes or in a cultural since like with black fashion, spiritually & hair lots of hair like hence “Afro”. They are also big on fighting the good fight on all causes related to black people. The movement started out a documentary back in 2000 and then went on to start the highly successful summer festival in NY.
Queen Latifa- Latifa is a female MC, actress, talk show host and spokes women for Covergirl. Queen has been going strong since the late 1980s where she got her start in New Jersey. Being one of the first female MCs alongside MC Lyte, Salt & Pepper, Yo-yo and Monie Love she is an important figure in music and the hiphop game. Her and the other MCs have paved the way for such greats as Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot and Eve. She is very much into the power of women in music as well as being very Afrocentric. She has a few songs out like “Ladies First” & “U.N.I.T.Y” where she talks about women being important and independent and for us not to let a man call us a bitch or a hoe. UNITY also takes about domestic violence especially with in the black community. Latifa got her start in acting when she made a few guest appearances on the Fresh Prince of Bell Air. She has been in countless movies and tv shows as well as staring in the ’90s sitcom Living Single and having her own take show twice. She is an inspiration to countless women everywhere and an icon for the ages. #revolutionarychick
Ben Harper- Ben has been around for a while like a long while you are most likely to hear him with people like Jack Johnson, Eddie Vedder & G. Love. As a former surfer himself he makes very beachie soul music. He is a singer/songwriter who’s music just melts like warm butter on morning biscuts.
Michael Franti- Michael Franti has been around a long time like Ben Harper. He has fronted a few bands and opened for U2 on tour. His current band is called Spearhead which he has been with through the 2000s. He is a humanitarian & very inspirational person. His music is very beachy but with a message. He is definitely got an easy like Sunday morning voice.
Aloe Black- ok you have herd him on Wake Me Up and he has a voice. Kind of reminds me of a folkie/R&B feel like Stevie Wonder. Also in a lot of his music videos he brings up subjects like black kids going to jail after high school & deportation of non US citzens.
Tamar Kali- The orginial Afropunk women or at least in the documentary. She is kick ass! She is from NY and plays a lot of punk/hardcore music that goes deep. Like most punk music it comes with a really empowering message that inspires in this case young women and girls. One song talks about rape of young women while the video tells the story of a young black girl who likes punk music but all she sees in white faces and having to deal with self image. She also comes from a rich ancestry of being Gulla Geechee and Cherokee. This chick goes all out and even has a orchestra which she directs along with her hardcore music. #revolutionarychick
Earl Greyhound- They are a really awesome hippie band that make modern rock music and it goes hard. Kind of like a hippier version of the Foo Fighters (sound wise) kind of grungie like Nirvana or the Cranberries. Their fronted by who I call my hippie goddess crush Kamara Thomas who is this bad ass black hippie chick who can rock on bass and sing. Then you have the white hippie guy and the black drummer. It’s a recipy for greatness although sadly they are no longer together Kamara Thomas put out some solo stuff a while back. Check these guys out they are also Afropunk alum. #revoultionarychick #hippielife
D’Angelo-He has a voice like no other. I just get this mood when ever I hear him. He is a R&B soul singer out of Virginia (yay) who got his start with two pretty great albums in the ’90s before going away. He has recently come back with an album late 2014 that has been on repeat on my iPhone since I first listened to it. He is amazing very much into the black rock scene and very socially conscious. Check him out he will make your ears melt.
Laverne Cox- As a spokes person for transgender people especially those of color Laverne Cox has become a world wide name. As one of the stars of Orange is the New Black, Laverne has used her fame to help uplift the voices of those who are voiceless. She is the first openly transgender person to be on the cover of Time Magazine also the first transgender women to be nominated for an Emmy award. She also made her own documentary for Logo & MTV called Laverne Cox presents the T word where she told the stories of young transgender youth and their struggles. She is a beautiful all around amazing person who truly cares about these issues as they effect her life everyday.