Category: Landmarks

HISTORY: Movement to Honor Anti-Lynching Crusader and Journalist Ida B. Wells in Chicago is Gaining Momentum, and is ‘Long Overdue’

Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells. (Taylor Glascock for The Washington Post)

Adapted from a story by The Washington Post’s Peter Slevin. via thelily.com

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.

Ida B. Wells's gravesite in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago. (Taylor Glascock for The Washington Post)
Ida B. Wells’s gravesite in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago. (Taylor Glascock for The Washington Post)

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.

That’s it.

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.

Continue reading “HISTORY: Movement to Honor Anti-Lynching Crusader and Journalist Ida B. Wells in Chicago is Gaining Momentum, and is ‘Long Overdue’”

Will Smith Honored with Mural in West Philadelphia (VIDEO)

Will Smith mural in West Philadelphia (photo via ambrosiaforheads.com)

by Kia Morgan-Smith via thegrio.com

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.

Source: https://thegrio.com/2018/07/03/will-smith-and-his-mom-celebrate-philadelphia-mural/

Nina Simone’s Childhood Home in North Carolina Designated a National Treasure

Photo via blueridgenow.com

by Parker Riley via newsone.com

Musician Nina Simone passed away in 2003 at 70 years old, but her legacy survives. A 2015 documentary on her life, What Happened, Miss Nina Simone?, received an Oscar nomination and her influence has touched everyone from Lauryn Hill to Mary J. Blige.

Now the icon is receiving a huge honor. Her childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina will be designated a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Her home is now a vacant wooden cottage with three rooms and measuring 660-square feet. The house was put on the market in 2016 and was recently purchased by four Black artists to maintain Simone’s legacy. One, Adam Pendleton, said in a press release, “Last year, my fellow artists and I felt an urgent need to rescue Nina Simone’s childhood home—a need sprung from a place of political activism as well as civic duty.” He continued, “A figure like Nina Simone—an African American woman from a small town in North Carolina who became the musical voice of the Civil Rights Movement—is extraordinarily relevant to artists working today. She constantly expressed her commitment to the democratic values our country espouses by demanding that we live up to them. We are honored to partner with the National Trust to further protect her legacy.”

Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said in a press release, “Nina Simone’s distinctive voice and social critique in the mid-20th century was unlike anything America had ever heard before. And while her musical and social justice legacy burns bright, her childhood home has been neglected. We’re delighted to work with the home’s new owners and the local community to chart a new future for the property that will honor her tremendous contributions to American society and inspire new generations of artists and activists to engage with her legacy.”

Source: https://newsone.com/3811737/nina-simone-honored-national-trust-for-historic-preservation/

NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson to Be Honored by West Virginia State University With Bronze Statue and Scholarship

(L-R) Actor Janelle Monae, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson and actors Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer pose backstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

via apnews.com

INSTITUTE, W.Va. (AP) — Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician whose calculations helped astronauts return to Earth, is being honored at her alma mater West Virginia State University with a bronze statue and a scholarship in her name. West Virginia State says a dedication ceremony is planned for Aug. 25, the day before Johnson’s 100th birthday.

Related: Katherine Johnson Computational Facility Opens at Langley Research Center 

Long before the digital era, Johnson worked as a human “computer” at the agency that became NASA, working in relative obscurity as an African-American woman. Her contributions were later recognized in the “Hidden Figures” movie, with actress Taraji P. Henson playing her role.

West Virginia State hopes to endow the scholarship at $100,000, awarding money to students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math, targeting people who are underrepresented in those fields.

Source: https://www.apnews.com/4267eb76ac9541428e20c0368c3483d9/NASA-mathematician-Katherine-Johnson-being-honored-in-bronze

Obama Presidential Center Gets Green Light from Chicago City Council

The design for the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park was unveiled May 3, 2017 (photo via chicagotribune.com)

by Lolly Bowean via chicagotribune.com

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.

Betsey Stockton and James Collins Johnson, Former Slaves with Ties to Princeton University, Have Campus Locations Named in their Honor

Betsey Stockton (photo via jbhe.com)
James Collins Johnson (photo via paw.princeton.edu)

via jbhe.com

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.)

Source: https://www.jbhe.com/2018/05/princeton-to-name-two-campus-locations-after-former-slaves/

Civil Rights Leader and Educator Clara Luper Has Department Named in her Honor at University of Oklahoma

Civil Rights Leader and Activist Clara Luper (photo via blackthen.com)

via jbhe.com

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).

Clara Luper died in 2011.

Source: https://www.jbhe.com/2018/03/university-of-oklahoma-names-an-academic-department-to-honor-clara-luper/

International African American Museum in South Carolina Will Stand Where 100,000 Enslaved People Took 1st Steps on American Soil

by Manie Robinson via greenvilleonline.com

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.

Continue reading “International African American Museum in South Carolina Will Stand Where 100,000 Enslaved People Took 1st Steps on American Soil”

Richard T. Greener, 1st Black Faculty Member of University of South Carolina, is Honored with Bronze Statue on Campus

Richard T. Greener (image via harvardmagazine.com)

via jbhe.com

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).

Source: https://www.jbhe.com/2018/02/university-of-south-carolina-honors-its-first-black-faculty-member/

Black Construction Companies Working on $350 Million Obama Presidential Center

Michelle Obama Barack Obama theGrio.com
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

via thegrio.com

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 to Black 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.