Andrea Roberts, assistant professor of urban planning in the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University, has started a project to provide comprehensive documentation of the so-called “Freedom Colonies” in Texas. Freedom colonies were self-sufficient, all-Black settlements that former slaves established after they were freed at the end of the Civil War.
“Africans became hash marks on census reports when they reached America and were enslaved, leaving them, ultimately, without an understanding of their heritage or connection to their homeland,” Dr. Roberts said. “These self-sufficient freedom colonies were established under the most difficult of circumstances by industrious, intelligent and organized people acting much like current-day city planners — and some of their descendants are performing the work of preservationists today.”
Dr. Roberts has identified more than 550 freedom colonies established by the almost 200,000 newly freed African-Americans living in Texas just after the abolition of slavery. Today, some of these freedom colonies still exist as communities and host festivals and celebrations while maintaining connections with the past. However, little evidence remains that some of these colonies ever existed. The project, The Texas Freedom Colonies Project, aims to help African-American Texans reclaim their unrecognized and unrecorded heritage and empower city planners to plan and preserve communities.
“This [project] is about changing the dynamics so that we’re focusing on accountability, and helping people define and reclaim their communities,” Dr. Roberts said. “It’s also about realizing that African-Americans built their own communities, and they should see themselves as part of urban planning, an important field where they are more commonly considered the subject.”
City authorities in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, have officially renamed the street where the new U.S. Embassy is being built to Malcolm X Avenue after the famed Black Muslim civil rights leader, CNN reported this week.
According to state-run media agency Anadolu, Turkish leaders announced that the city assembly had accepted the name change unanimously.
The move comes at a time when relations between Turkey and the United States have been tense because of the Trump administration’s decision to supply Kurdish group that support the Syrian opposition with weapons.
This change coincides with other politically-charged name changes to streets in Ankara. The new signs are likely meant to be seen as an olive branch to American diplomats, but is both a symbolic and controversial move. Malcolm X is still seen as a polarizing figure in U.S. history; with many applauding the Black Muslim civil rights leader as an activist while others continue to regard him as divisive and responsible for inciting racial tension, violence and anti-American rhetoric.
“The street was given the name of U.S. Muslim politician and human rights defender Malcolm X, about whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said ‘we will make his name live on in Ankara,” Ankara’s municipality said in a statement published over the weekend.
Erdogan met Malcolm X’s daughters during a visit to New York last month and his spokesman Ibrahim Kalin shared the story about the name change on his Twitter account on Sunday.
The U.S. State Department reports that construction of the new American Embassy, which will sit three miles from the current embassy, is expected to be completed by June 2020.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In honor of two trailblazing black graduates, Brown University will rename one of the most heavily-trafficked buildings in the heart of its College Hill campus as Page-Robinson Hall.
The six-story academic and administrative facility currently known as the J. Walter Wilson building, will be renamed for Inman Edward Page — who, with a classmate, became one of the first two black graduates of Brown in 1877 — and Ethel Tremaine Robinson, who earned her degree in 1905 as the first black woman to graduate from the University.
“Inman Page was born into slavery, sought liberty and opportunity and found them at Brown — and he saw the power of education to cultivate the innate ‘genius’ in everyone,” Brown President Christina Paxson said. “Ethel Robinson broke a color barrier and a glass ceiling when she graduated from Brown in 1905. Together, these two pioneers embodied the faith in learning, knowledge and understanding that has animated Brown for generations.”
Given the historical and academic significance of this renaming, the University undertook a deliberate process in determining the right building to bear the new designation, Paxson said. “We wanted a building at the heart of campus that every student, faculty member and staff member uses on a regular basis,” she said. “And one that serves as a center of classroom activity, teaching and learning — the core of the Brown experience.”
The target date for formally implementing the Page-Robinson Hall name change throughout various campus maps and business systems will coincide with the start of the Spring 2019 semester at Brown.
Lives of distinction
Born in Virginia, Page graduated from Brown in 1877. He was elected class orator, giving a speech at Commencement that was noted in the Providence Journal for its intellectual power and eloquence. Robinson excelled in her studies, graduating with honors in 1905 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy degree and winning the Class of 1873 Prize Essay competition.
After their respective graduations from Brown, both Page and Robinson proceeded into lives and careers as influential educators.
Page dedicated his life to promoting higher education opportunities for African Americans in the American South. He served as president of four historically black colleges and universities: the Agricultural and Normal University in Langston, Oklahoma; Western Baptist College in Macon, Missouri; Roger Williams University in Nashville, Tennessee; and the Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri.
In 1918, then-Brown President William H.P. Faunce conferred upon Page an honorary master’s degree, citing him as a “teacher, organizer, college president, whose constructive work is… not forgotten by his Alma Mater.”
While in his 70s, Page served as principal of Oklahoma City’s Frederick Douglass High School, where he greatly influenced novelist Ralph Ellison, a student there at the time. According to Brown records, after Page’s death in in 1935 at age 82, one newspaper editorialist wrote: “Old Man Ike, as his pupils endearingly referred to him, was a terror to the disobedient and the mischievous. This was not because of any cruel penalties he visited upon them, but because his students abhorred the thought of their idol knowing of their delinquency. It was this peculiar hold that he had upon youth which wove out of the fabric of their lives virtue and strength of character.”
Though Robinson’s life is not as well documented as Page’s, she paved the way for many other black women at the University, including her younger sister Cora, who graduated in 1909. Returning to her hometown of Washington, D.C. after earning her Brown degree, Robinson taught English and literature at Howard University. In 1908, she mentored Howard student Ethel Hedgeman Lyle in her efforts to found the nation’s first black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, which now has nearly 300,000 members.
After leaving Howard University, Robinson married Joaquin Pineiro, a member of the Cuban diplomatic mission to the United States, in 1914. The couple then moved to France, where Pineiro was appointed chancellor of the Cuban Consulate in Bordeaux, coming home to the United States in 1916 after the start of WW-I. Upon her husband’s death, Robinson returned to Providence, where her sister Cora’s descendants still live.
According to the Associated Press, Johns Hopkins University and the family of Henrietta Lacks announced a new building on the school’s campus in East Baltimore will be named after the woman whose cells were taken without her consent and widely used in revolutionary cell research.
News outlets report the building will support programs promoting research and community engagement. Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the university where researchers soon discovered her cells reproduced indefinitely in test tubes.
For decades, it was not widely known that a black woman who was a patient at Hopkins was the unwitting source of the famous HeLa cells. It was only once Rebecca Skloot’s book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, was published in 2010 that Lacks’ story gained national attention. Oprah Winfrey subsequently produced and starred in a 2016 HBO biopic of Lacks’ life.
The announcement was part of the 9th Annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture, NBC 4 reports. Lacks’ granddaughter, Jeri Lacks, says the honor befits her grandmother’s role in advancing modern medicine.
Last year, the city of Baltimore designated October 4 as Henrietta Lacks Day to recognize the contributions of the woman behind the HeLa cells.
Actor Denzel Washington headlined a rainy ceremony Wednesday afternoon in Pittsburgh’s Hill District to mark the start of renovations at playwright August Wilson’s childhood home.
Washington led a $5 million fundraising effort to restore what is now called the August Wilson House. Renovations are expected to be completed in 2020, when the house is set to become a center for art and culture in the neighborhood.
“It is a privilege and an honor and a responsibility … and a joy to play a small part in keeping him alive,” Washington told an audience that huddled under umbrellas in the yard of the house at 1727 Bedford Ave.
Paul Ellis, Wilson’s nephew, led an effort to restore the nearly 200-year-old building to its 1950s-era look, matching how it appeared when Wilson lived there with his mother and five siblings. Wilson, who died in 2005, last visited the house in 1999.
When renovations are complete, the building — which is now on the National Register of Historic Places — will house displays and artifacts from Wilson’s life and plays. Wilson said he wanted the building to be “useful,” not only a museum, Ellis said. It will incorporate artist studios and will continue to host plays in its yard.
Duquesne University has launched a program to award fellowships to emerging writers who will live and study at Duquesne and spend time working at the House, Duquesne President Ken Gormley said.
Washington, who starred in a 2016 film production of Wilson’s play “Fences,” called Wilson one of the world’s great playwrights and talked about a familiar feeling in visiting the Hill District house. “I love August Wilson,” Washington said. “He touches my soul, our souls, in a way that no one else I know has. This is just like coming home.”
He identified some of the project’s big-name donors, noting Oprah Winfrey and actor Tyler Perry each gave $1 million and writer and producer Shonda Rhimes, director Spike Lee and actor Samuel L. Jackson all contributed.
Washington is producing nine more of Wilson’s plays — the rest of the 10 plays in the playwright’s Century Cycle.
Duquesne University has already selected its first fellow, former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey. Trethewey read her poem “Pilgrimage” at the ceremony, which included short performances of Wilson’s work by student Jamaica Johnson and Pittsburgh actor Wali Jamal.
Not to be confused with the upscale Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Rodeo Road is a 3.5-mile street that runs from near the Culver City border east to Mid-City.
In his proposal, Wesson noted that Obama held a campaign rally at Rancho Cienega Park on Rodeo Road when running for president and that the area already has streets named after presidents, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. It’s a residential strip in a predominantly African American community.
The road is also home to Dorsey High School, Baldwin Hills Elementary School and Rancho Cienega Sports Center and Park — where Obama held a campaign rally when he was running for president. East of La Brea Avenue, the new Obama Boulevard will intersect with Martin Luther King Boulevard (which was renamed from Santa Barbara Avenue in 1983).
Also #OTD in 2008, @BarackObama became the first African-American presidential nominee from a major political party. Today our council gave final approval to our motion to rename Rodeo Road to Obama Boulevard. Proud to take this next step on a day that meant so much to so many. pic.twitter.com/fpGqikmQtD
The move is not the first to honor the former president in the greater Los Angeles area. In September, a resolution by state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) to rename a portion of the 134 Freeway passed. Several California schools have also been named after Obama, and in the Monterey Bay town of Seaside, city leaders designated one street Obama Way.
According to the Associated Press, Alice Allison Dunnigan, the first African-American woman journalist credentialed to cover the White House, will be honored with a life-sized statue to be erected next month in Washington D.C.
Dunnigan, a Kentucky native who died in 1983, was the first Black female journalist to cover a presidential campaign — President Harry Truman’s whistle-stop campaign tour in 1948. She subsequently received credentials to cover the White House.
As head of the Associated Negro Press’ Washington bureau for 14 years, Dunnigan supplied stories to 112 African-American newspapers across the nation. She was also the first Black woman to obtain press credentials to cover the U.S. Congress, the State Department, and the Supreme Court.
“Throughout Dunnigan’s career, she battled the rampant racism and sexism that dominated the mostly white and male professions of journalism and politics. She once famously stated, ‘Race and sex were twin strikes against me. I’m not sure which was the hardest to break down,’” the Newseum, the non-profit news museum in the nation’s capital that will be displaying the sculpture, said in a statement.
The bronze sculpture, created by fellow Kentuckian Amanda Matthews, will be displayed at the Newseum from Sept. 21 until Dec. 16, before moving to Dunnigan’s hometown of Russellville, KY.
It will be installed on the grounds of the West Kentucky African American Heritage Center as part of a park dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement, the Newseum said.
After a two-year process, Oregon State University President Ed Ray announced recently that he has chosen new monikers for three university buildings whose previous namesakes have ties to historical racist positions or beliefs.
OSU’s Benton Hall will become Community Hall, honoring local residents who raised funds to start the college in 1860s and 1870s; Benton Annex, the university’s women center, will become the Hattie Redmond Women and Gender Center, after an African-American suffragette who lived in Portland in the early 20th century; and Avery Lodge will be renamed Champinefu Lodge, borrowing a word signifying “at the place of the blue elderberry” from the dialect of the local native Kalapuya Tribe.
“The names of buildings and places play a very important role in our university,” Ray said Monday in a prepared statement. “They speak to the history of OSU, the university’s values and mission, and our efforts to create an inclusive community for all. Names also recognize and honor the positive contributions of those associated with the university.”
The changes follow a push that has occurred across the country in recent years to proactively remove names and take down statues that honor people who held overtly racist views, in the name of improving race relations. Those efforts have faced blow-back from people who argue that they erase history and punish historical figures for views that were widely held during their lifetimes.
Ray decided last November that the building names associated with former Missouri U.S. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton and Corvallis co-founder Joseph C. Avery should be stripped from the buildings, following community input and scholarly research into their positions.
An architect of the United States westward expansion and backer of the Manifest Destiny, Benton “supported federal legislation to remove Native Americans from their tribal lands and, while he was opposed to extending slavery into western states, he was not in favor of abolishing slavery elsewhere,” Ray wrote last November.
While the 1947 naming of Benton Hall was designed to honor Benton County residents, not Thomas Benton, Ray determined that the hall’s name didn’t make that distinction clear. Joseph Avery, meanwhile, pushed “views and political engagement in the 1850s to advance slavery in Oregon (that) are inconsistent with Oregon State’s values,” Ray wrote, making the 1966 name untenable.
Ray decided against renaming OSU’s Gill Coliseum and the Arnold Dining Center, however, after ruling that their namesakes, Benjamin Lee Arnold and Amory Gill, displayed some signs of forward-thinking racial acceptance, outweighing the more controversial parts of their biographies.
The new names announced Monday were chosen by Ray, after receiving input from OSU faculty, students and leaders of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon.
Champinefu, which is pronounced CHOM-pin-A-foo, was chosen because Native Americans of the Kalapuya Tribe traveled to the area around Corvallis to harvest wild blue elderberries.
Hattie Redmond, meanwhile, was part of the successful push in 1912 to give women the right to vote in Oregon, after voters previously had rejected it five times. According to the Oregon Historical Society, Redmond’s role was little known and not celebrated until 2012, when details of her biography were discovered during the centennial celebration of woman suffrage in Oregon. Redmond, the daughter of slaves, moved to Portland in 1880, in an era when the state still had a black exclusion law in its constitution. Redmond was the president of the Colored Women’s Equal Suffrage Association during the 1912 campaign and organized meetings and educational lectures on the issue in a local church.
Ida B. Wells, a crusading African American journalist who exposed the crime and shame of lynching and fought for women’s suffrage, spent half her life in Chicago. She died in 1931 after dedicating her life to the battle against racial injustice. Yet her pioneering work is all but unrecognized in Chicago, which has no shortage of statues and monuments to leading white men.
There is the grave marker at Oak Woods Cemetery. It reads BARNETT. Along the bottom, “Crusaders for Justice.” On the left, there is her name: Ida B. Wells, beside her husband’s.
Then, there was a housing project, erected in 1941 and called Ida B. Wells Homes. It grew to 1,662 units, but it did not end well. The project succumbed to neglect and dysfunction before the last building was torn down in 2011, doing no honor to her name.
Michelle Duster, her great-granddaughter, aims to change that. For the past decade, Duster and a few friends have labored, dollar by dollar, to raise $300,000 to build a monument to Wells in Chicago. They’re still barely halfway there, but the word is getting out.
“You can’t just gloss over this history,” said Duster, a writer and lecturer who sees a need for Wells’s example these days. “She not only believed in certain principles and values but she sacrificed herself over and over and over again. She was called fearless. I don’t believe that she had no fear. I believe she had fear and she decided to keep going forward.”
A monument will honor the legendary activist, as well as introduce her to people who aren’t familiar with her place in American history.
“People who may know nothing about Ida B. Wells will find things about this extraordinary woman they didn’t know anything about,” said Kirk Savage, an art historian at the University of Pittsburgh who studies public memorials.
In 1862, Wells was born in Holly Springs, Miss., a few months before the Emancipation Proclamation. She passed a teacher’s exam at age 16 and taught school. In 1884, after she moved to Memphis, three railroad workers forcibly removed her from a train for refusing to leave a car reserved for white women, even though she had purchased a ticket. She sued and won, only to see the verdict overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Wells began writing newspaper columns and purchased a share of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight. When three of her black friends were lynched after opening a grocery store in competition with a white-owned business, she started investigating and challenged the assertion that large numbers of black men were raping white women.
The city of Memphis, she wrote, does not protect an African American “who dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival.” After a mob destroyed the printing presses, she moved for good to Chicago in the early 1890s. There, she married lawyer Ferdinand Barnett, had four children, worked as a probation officer and supported migrants from the South, all the while traveling widely to oppose racial terror.
Wells “challenged every type of convention,” including sexism in the civil rights community and racism in the women’s suffrage movement, New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones said. “She refused to stay in her place at a time when doing something could be debilitating, could be dangerous.”
Hannah-Jones, whose 75,000 Twitter followers see her handle as Ida Bae Wells, also worked to create the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Journalism, designed to increase and elevate investigative work by people of color.
Last month, Hannah-Jones flew to Chicago to help raise money for the Wells monument, which has been a slow-moving project.
Will Smith is the native son of West Philadelphia and the city that raised the mega movie star paid homage with the painting of a mural by British artist Richard Wilson.
Wilson reportedly envisioned Smith’s painting in the light of Kehinde Wiley’s presidential portrait of Barack Obama, except that Smith has on more casual attire.
Smith, said it was humbling to learn that Wilson, a renowned artist chose him as his subject to paint a mural which lives on the wall of Gevurtz Furniture store on Girard Ave in the city. “The idea that there would be a mural of me on the side of a school in West Philadelphia just wrecked me,” said an emotional Smith, wiping away tears in a video about the mural.
Will Smith’s mom, Caroline Bright, also was at a loss for words when she came to see the mural firsthand. Even Smith’s close friend and former bodyguard Charlie Mack, complimented Wilson on getting Smith’s protruding ears just perfect.
Dr. Naomi Booker, CEO of Global Leadership Academy was moved knowing that her school sits near the giant mural and her students can take a page from Smith’s book and dream big. “This man is an icon and he’s looking at GLA (Global Leadership Academy) so my kids everyday will see this image and know that you can be whatever you want to be,” Booker said according to Philly.com.
“This is a man who grew up in Philadelphia, went to Overbrook High School up the street was a part of this world, that he now is looking at us,” she said about the mural facing the school.
Smith hasn’t yet see the mural in person but reportedly plans a visit to the city to check it out. In the meanwhile, he’s launched a fundraiser and is selling merchandise where 100% of proceeds will go to West Philadelphia’s Global Leadership Academy Charter School and artist Richard Wilson.