Culminating a three-year campaign by the Obama Foundation, the Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved measures to allow construction of the Obama Presidential Center. The approval, which came on a 47-1 vote, means the foundation can move forward into federal reviews of the project with city support as a badge of endorsement.
No public comment was allowed during the council meeting, and aldermen discussed the matter for just over an hour — a contrast to the extended and heated debate last week during a Plan Commission hearing. Hundreds of residents, activists and leaders of cultural institutions testified both in favor of the presidential center and against it. The commission voted overwhelmingly in support, as did the Zoning Committee on Tuesday, which paved the way for Wednesday’s City Council vote.
The City Council decision was just another step in a long process. Besides the federal review — which is required because Jackson Park, the site of the center, is on the National Register of Historic Places — the foundation still must secure a formal long-term contract to lease Jackson Park from the city. The foundation already has hired a collective of construction firms to build the center, but they have to develop and hire a workforce.
The board of trustees of Princeton University in New Jersey has voted to honor two former slaves who played a role in the university’s early history. A new green roof garden at the Firestone Library will honor Betsey Stockton and an arch in the East Pyne building on campus will honor James Collins Johnson.
Betsey Stockton was born into slavery in Princeton at the end of the eighteenth century. She worked in the home of Ashbel Green president of Princeton University. After gaining her freedom, she established a missionary school for native Hawaiian children. She later started a school for Black children in Philadelphia and taught for 30 years in the only public school in Princeton for African American children. Stockton died in 1865.
Jimmy Johnson was a fugitive slave who arrived in Princeton in 1839. He worked as a janitor until 1843. That year, a student recognized him and had him apprehended as a runaway slave. Local residents raised money to buy Johnson’s freedom and he started a small business selling snacks to Princeton students. Johnson died in 1902. (To learn more of Johnson’s story, click here.)
The University of Oklahoma has announced that it is recognizing educator and civil rights leader Clara Luper by naming the department of African and African American studies in her honor.
Known as the “Mother of the Oklahoma Civil Rights Movement,” Luper led a sit-in at the segregated lunch counter at the Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City in 1958. She later led campaigns for equal rights in employment opportunity, banking, open housing, and voting rights.
David L. Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma, said that “we honor Clara Luper as a trailblazer for human rights and as a symbol of the university’s commitment to equal opportunity for all people.”
Clara Luper was born 1923 in rural Okfuskee County, Oklahoma. She graduated from an all-Black high school and then enrolled at historically Black Langston University in Oklahoma. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1944. She later earned a master’s degree in history education at the University of Oklahoma.
Luper taught history in high schools in Spencer, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma City for 41 years. She was the first African American vice president of the Oklahoma City Social Science Teachers Association and the first African American vice president of the Oklahoma County Teachers Association. Luper also hosted her own radio show for 50 years.
A state highway bears her name and the Clara Luper Scholarship Program has been established at Oklahoma City University. More on the life of this civil rights pioneer can be found in her autobiography Behold the Walls(1979).
CHARLESTON – A swift, cool breeze lifts off the Cooper River. It frisks through the crowns of the towering palm trees that line the paved walkway. Small boats wobble in the calm waters on the east side of the Charleston peninsula. A neatly manicured patch of grass provides a tranquil spot for a blanket and a book. In the distance, the steel cables of the Ravenel Bridge stretch in splendor. To the right, flags fly over Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
Soon, this waterfront will be home to the International African American Museum. The $100 million, 40,000-square foot facility will bridge solemn history and modern magnificence. It will offer captivating exhibits, engaging events and a breathtaking view of the Charleston Harbor.
However, this land is more than prime riverfront real estate. It connects deeply to the heritage the museum aims to commemorate. Ship voyage records reveal that nearly half of the enslaved Africans who were shipped to North America disembarked in Charleston. Many slaves took their first steps on American soil on this patch of land, which was once the largest wharf in North America. Historians estimate that more than 90 percent of all African-Americans can trace at least one ancestor to this land.
Eighteen years ago, former Charleston mayor Joe Riley pledged to build an iconic museum that honors that heritage and illuminates the achievements cultivated from that regrettable past. Since then, 37 other museums dedicated to African-American history and culture have been constructed. However, IAAM supporters contend that this land grants it a distinctive, visceral magnetism.
Riley’s vision has attracted support from city, county and state government, local business owners, national organizations and historians. Yet, Riley and IAAM chief executive officer and president Michael Boulware Moore (who is the great-great-great grandson of Civil War Hero and Congressman Robert Smalls) must raise millions more before construction can begin.
Moore’s passion for this project is personal. When he walks this pristine patch of grass, he can hear the shackles rattling as they dragged against the wooden planks. He can see his great-great-great-great grandmother walking across the wharf. “We know that she landed here. That’s sort of my original anchor to Charleston. It’s really deep emotional territory for me,” Moore said. “Every time I go, it hits me.”
“I understand the history that occurred there,” he said. “I understand tens of thousands of people, including my ancestors, disembarked there in chains. I am confronted by the emotions that must have been felt on that space and just by the enormity of what happened.”
The land’s significance
This serene site was once the epicenter of America’s ugliest enterprise. Nearly 250 years ago, this area was merely brackish marsh. Charleston merchant Christopher Gadsden converted it into the largest wharf in North America. It covered 840 feet from the Charleston Harbor to East Bay Street, between what are now Calhoun and Laurens Streets. Initially, Gadsden’s Wharf primarily serviced the rice industry. Eventually, it became a hub of the international slave trade. From 1783 to 1808, approximately 100,000 enslaved African men, women and children were forced into ships and carried on a voyage through darkness across the Atlantic Ocean into the Charleston Harbor.
According to historian and former South Carolina Historical Society archivist Nic Butler, on Feb. 17, 1806, the City Council of Charleston passed an ordinance stipulating that all vessels importing enslaved Africans port in Gadsden’s Wharf. Enslaved Africans were stored like crops in a wharf warehouse. Shackled to despair, hundreds of men, women and children died from fevers or frostbite. They were buried unceremoniously in a nearby mass grave. Those who survived those subhuman conditions were advertised in newspapers, sold and dispersed.
“Some have described it as the enslaved Africans’ Ellis Island,” University of South Carolina history professor Bobby Donaldson said. “If you can imagine people who endured and survived the Middle Passage from West Africa across the Atlantic, Gadsen’s Wharf is where they see land, where they see a dark and unknown future.”
Slaves were taken to different corners of the fledgling country. They toiled in fields to quicken the economy and fostered a lineage of influential American inventors, educators, soldiers, politicians, writers, philosophers, entrepreneurs, entertainers, activists and athletes.
Recently the University of South Carolina unveiled a nine-foot statue of Richard T. Greener on campus. The bronze statue, located between the library and the student health center, honors the first Black faculty member at the university.
In 1870 Richard T. Greener became the first African American graduate of Harvard University. He taught high school in Philadelphia and Washington before joining the faculty at the University of South Carolina in 1873, which for a brief period during Reconstruction admitted Black students. Greener also studied law at the university while teaching philosophy, Latin, and Greek. After Blacks were purged from the University of South Carolina at the end of Reconstruction, Greener worked at the U.S. Treasury Department and taught at the Howard University School of Law.
Katherine Reynolds Chaddock, a retired professor of education at the University of South Carolina, said that Greener “accomplished some worthwhile things at the university in the few years it was open during Reconstruction. He acquired scholarship money for poor students and established a preparatory program for freshmen. He even went to Howard University to recruit South Carolina students who had enrolled there, inviting them to return to their own state for a college education at the now-integrated university.”
Professor Chaddock is the author of a biography about Greener, Uncompromising Activist: Richard Greener, First Black Graduate of Harvard College (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017).
Now that Barack Obama is out of the White House, he’s making a statement on support for Black businesses with a huge deal for the Obama Presidential Center.
The OPC is set to cost about $350 million, and an alliance of minority firms is set to get a large chunk of that. Powers & Sons Construction, UJAMAA Construction, Brown & Momen, and Safeway Construction, all part of the Presidential Partners consortium, have all come together as part of the Lakeside Alliance working on the presidential center, according toBlack Enterprise.
The minority companies will be getting a 51% stake, while Turner Company, which is one of the nation’s largest construction companies, will have a 49% stake. It’s a historic move, not just because of the companies involved but because most minority firms will be hired on as subcontractors and not given majority stakes like this.
“The Obama Foundation believes in creating opportunities for diverse and local businesses and building pathways to meaningful jobs for minorities and other underrepresented populations,” said David Simas, CEO of the Obama Foundation.
“The development of the Obama Presidential Center gives us an opportunity to make a major, unprecedented impact on the South Side in terms of hiring talented, local businesses and individuals. We look forward to working with Lakeside Alliance to achieve our goals, set new benchmarks and make the Obama Presidential Center a landmark that our neighbors can be proud of.”
It’s a big win not just for the companies but the communities, because the alliance of minority companies has promised that they will be employing minority workers and people who live in the surrounding area for the massive project. That way, the companies will be giving back to the community and the presidential center will be a boon to Chicago’s South and West sides.
Ground will be broken for the project later on this year.
The University of California Berkeley is naming its newest residence hall in honor of David Blackwell. Dr. Blackwell, an accomplished statistician, was the first African American to be grant tenured at the university. He joined the mathematics department at Berkeley in 1954 and stayed on the faculty there until retiring in 1988. Dr. Blackwell died in 2010.
The new residence hall will house 750 undergraduate students and is expected to be ready to open this fall. Chancellor Carol Christ said that Professor Blackwell is “an exemplar of what Berkeley stands for: scholarly excellence of the highest caliber tied to a mission of social justice and inclusion.”
A native of Illinois, in 1935 Blackwell entered the University of Illinois at the age of 16. By 1941 he had earned bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics. He then joined the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton but left after one year. Professor Blackwell taught at Southern University and Atlanta University before joining the faculty at Howard University in 1944. At Howard, he became a full professor and chaired the department of mathematics. In 1965 Dr. Blackwell was the first African American to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences.
An elementary school in Utah has traded one Jackson for another in a change that many say was a long time coming.
Jackson Elementary School in Salt Lake City will no longer be named for Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president, whose slave ownership and treatment of Native Americans are often cited in the debate over memorializing historical figures associated with racism.
Instead, the school will honor Mary Jackson, the first black female engineer at nasa whose story, and the stories of others like her at the space agency, was chronicled in Hidden Figures, a 2016 film based on a book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly.
A unanimous vote by the the Salt Lake City school board this week was met with a standing ovation from the crowd in the room, reportsThe Salt Lake Tribune’s Erin Alberty. School employees and parents have discussed changing the elementary’s school name “for years,” Alberty reported, and last year started polling and meeting with parents, alumni, and others. More than 70 percent supported the change. Of the school’s 440 students, 85 percent are students of color, according to the Salt Lake City School District.
Mary Jackson, a native of Hampton, Virginia, worked as a math teacher, a receptionist, and an Army secretary before she arrived at NASA’s Langley Research Center in 1951 as a member of the West Area Computing unit, a segregated division where African American women spent hours doing calculations with pencil and paper, including for the trajectories of the country’s earliest space missions.
Two years in, a NASA engineer picked Jackson to help him work on a wind tunnel that tested flight hardware by blasting it with winds nearly twice the speed of sound. The engineer suggested Jackson train to become an engineer. To do that, Jackson had to take night courses in math and physics from the University of Virginia, which were held at the segregated Hampton High School. Jackson successfully petitioned the city to let her take the classes. She got her promotion to engineer in 1958. After 34 years at the space agency, Jackson retired in 1985. She died in 2005, at the age of 83.
Many — perhaps most — African Americans can trace family roots back to Charleston. About 40 percent of enslaved Africans brought to North America arrived on ships that docked in Charleston Harbor.
Slaves then were sold to plantation owners throughout the Antebellum South. During the “Great Migration,” about 6 million blacks moved from the South to the Northeast, Midwest and West between 1916 and 1970, chastened by the ghosts of their oppressed ancestors and motivated by the prospect of a better life.
On the cusp of the Civil War, the U.S. was home to 4 million slaves, 400,000 of whom lived in South Carolina. Their labor created enormous wealth for white rice and cotton planters, and it built whole cities, including Charleston.
Now, 50 years since the death of Martin Luther King Jr., the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission has named 10 top black history sites to visit in the state, including several associated with King and the civil rights movement. The commission also has compiled a much larger list of about 300 sites for its new online travel guide, Green Book of South Carolina (www.GreenBookofSC.com).
Dawn Dawson-House, an ex officio board member who works for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said the initiative is meant to raise awareness of black history and to assist the commission’s efforts to identify, preserve, mark and protect the state’s many sites connected to black history and heritage.
“In the past 24 years, more than 200 markers have been added to the official state markers program,” Dawson-House said. “When the commission started, there were only about 35 markers dedicated to black history.”
She said historical sites can be found throughout the state, and many local people know about the ones near them.
“No matter where you are in South Carolina, there is an important African-American heritage element or place to visit,” Dawson-House said. “But the entire story is not told collectively. It’s told in bits and pieces in everybody’s community. At the commission we’ve decided we have to pull together an entire portrait of this history.”
Michael Allen, a founding board member of the commission, said the Green Book — “a manifestation of out 24-year journey” meant to assist anyone interested in black history — is a reference to the Jim Crow-era guide that African Americans used when traveling through the South. The old guide provided information about black-owned businesses (gas stations, hotels, restaurants, hospitals) that were safe for black travelers during the period of legal segregation.
“When you went traveling some place, you cooked your food, packed your food, the food was in your car,” Allen said. “You planned visits according to where relatives lived, or drove straight to where you needed to be.”
In April of 2017, I had the good fortune to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture as part of a business trip. Once in Washington D.C. and at the National Mall, I was thrilled to learn that the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was only a ten-minute walk away, so after my work was done, I headed over. Photos don’t do it justice, but it is an awesome space, and one I’d encourage every American to visit it if ever in our nation’s capital. It’s the quotes that strike you first – the aesthetic beauty of the words coming out of the granite, then the meaning, then the context of each one of them. Like the MLK we know publicly, it is equal parts solemn, potent, righteous and wise.
I’ve since read that the grounds of the Memorial, which opened to to the public on August 22, 2011, cover four acres and includes the Stone of Hope, a granite statue of Dr. King carved by sculptor Lei Yixin. The inspiration for the memorial design is a line from King’s “I Have A Dream” speech: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” In a word, it is formidable. MLK stands as a beacon of strength, hope and possibility, despite seemingly insurmountable challenges and inequity and injustice. Reflecting upon the man, his journey and his words is of course doable from anywhere in any space, but there is something incredibly special about being to do it where he is honored in the same area as other lauded architects of this country such as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
There are fourteen quotes around the memorial – above are photos of the ones that I was able to get clear photos of before it started getting dark on my day. Enjoy and Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!