Category: History

Story of 1st Black Astronauts Told in Smithsonian Channel Documentary “Black In Space: Breaking The Color Barrier” (WATCH)

 by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

After the box-office success of the Fox 2000 feature film “Hidden Figures” (full disclosure – I worked as a writer on that project) in 2016, several African-American women who worked at NASA and contributed to the space race, such as the recently departed Katherine Johnson, finally became a celebrated part of the cultural zeitgeist.

It was at that time I realized I knew the names of some black astronauts (Mae Jemison, Charles Bolden) – but didn’t know who the first black astronauts were or how they contributed to the space program. So I did some research and was thrilled to learn about Guion “Guy” Bluford, Ron McNair and Frederick Gregory – the first three African-Americans in space (the first person of African descent was Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez).

Recently, the Smithsonian Channel released the documentary (watch above) “Black in Space: Breaking The Color Barrier” which primarily chronicles the journeys of Buford, McNair and Gregory. To learn more about them, read below:

Buford, McNair and Gregory were all NASA classmates in the “Class of 1978,” when NASA re-invigorated the space program after not sending anyone into space since Apollo 17 took its last journey in 1972.

This was also the class that was the first to train women as astronauts (Sally Ride) as well as the first Asian-American man (Ellison Onizuka).

Out of 8,000 applicants, only 35 were selected. While in the program, the astronauts-to-be spent a year going through a battery of tests, training and simulations to prep them all for potential flight on the NASA space shuttle program. (The Space Shuttle program was instituted to carry huge payloads in space, conduct experiments in space, and also to allow the U.S. and other countries to launch probes and satellites from space to enable further exploration of our solar system, other galaxies and the universe.) Continue reading “Story of 1st Black Astronauts Told in Smithsonian Channel Documentary “Black In Space: Breaking The Color Barrier” (WATCH)”

Baroness Valerie Amos Appointed Master of University College at Oxford University in England

Baroness Valerie Amos (photo via Oxford University)

Baroness Valerie Amos has been appointed master of University College at Oxford University in England. When she takes office on August 1, she will be the first woman master of University College and the first Black person to lead any college at Oxford University, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

Since 2015, Baroness Amos has served as Director of the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. From 2010 to 2015, Amos served as undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator at the United Nations.

Earlier in her career, Baroness Amos was the first Black woman to sit in the British cabinet as Secretary of State for International Development. She became Leader of the House of Lords and served as the United Kingdom’s High Commissioner to Australia.

Born in Guyana, Amos earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Warwick and a master’s degree in cultural studies from the University of Birmingham. She was given the title of Baroness Amos of Brondesbury in 1997.

Read more: https://www.univ.ox.ac.uk/news/valerie-amos-appointed-new-master/

Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass Statues Installed in Maryland State House

Bronze Statues of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman (via Kingsport Times-News)

During a ceremony Monday night in the Maryland State House, bronze statues of famed abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass  (sculpted by Ivan Schwartz of StudioEIS) were unveiled, according to ABC News.

To quote abcnews.go.com:

The life-sized statues were dedicated during a special joint session of the Maryland General Assembly in the Old House Chamber, the room where slavery finally was abolished in the state in 1864.

“A mark of true greatness is shining light on a system of oppression and having the courage to change it,” House Speaker Adrienne Jones, the state’s first Black and first female House speaker, said in prepared remarks. “The statues are a reminder that our laws aren’t always right or just. But there’s always room for improvement.”

While the commissioning of the statues was put in motion more than three years ago, their arrival coincides with new leadership in the state legislature. This is Jones’ first session as speaker, and the first new Senate president in more than three decades was elected by senators last month.

The statues, dedicated during Black History Month, were made to show Tubman and Douglass as they would have appeared in age and dress in 1864.

Both Tubman and Douglass were born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Tubman escaped from slavery to become a leading abolitionist who helped scores of enslaved people through the Underground Railroad.

Douglass also escaped slavery, and he went on to become an author, speaker, abolitionist and supporter of women’s rights. His autobiography, published in 1845, was a bestseller that helped fuel the abolitionist movement.

The statues aren’t the only recent examples of the state taking steps to reflect its rich Black history.

Last month, a portrait of Verda Welcome, who was elected to the state Senate in 1962, is the first portrait of a black person to adorn the Maryland’s Senate walls. The painting of Welcome replaced one of a white governor who had been on the wall for 115 years.

Maryland also has removed several painful reminders of its past in recent years.

In 2017, the state removed a statue of Roger B. Taney, the U.S. Supreme Court justice and Maryland native who wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery and denied citizenship to African Americans.

State officials voted to remove the Taney statue days after a woman was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a man rammed his car through the crowd of people who were there to condemn hundreds of white nationalists who were protesting the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Read more: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/maryland-unveil-statues-tubman-douglass-capitol-68878494

BHM: Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner – The Forgotten Inventor Who Revolutionized Menstrual Pads

From Vice:

Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner (1912–2006) always had trouble sleeping when she was growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her mother would leave for work in the morning through the squeaky door at the back of their house and the noise would wake Kenner up. “So I said one day, ‘Mom, don’t you think someone could invent a self-oiling door hinge?’” She was only six at the time, but she set about the task with all the seriousness of a born inventor. “I [hurt] my hands trying to make something that, in my mind, would be good for the door,” she said. “After that I dropped it, but never forgot it.”

This pragmatic, do-it-yourself approach defined her inventions for the rest of her life. But while her creations were often geared toward sensible solutions for everyday problems, Kenner could tell from an early age that she had a skill that not many possessed. When her family moved to Washington DC in 1924, Kenner would stalk the halls of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, trying to work out if someone had beaten her to it and led a patent for an invention first. The 12-year-old didn’t find any that had done so.

In 1931 Kenner graduated from high school and earned a place at the prestigious Howard University, but was forced to drop out a year and a half into her course due to financial pressures. She took on odd jobs such as babysitting before landing a position as a federal employee, but she continued tinkering in her spare time. The perennial problem was money; filing a patent was, and is, an expensive business. Today, a basic utility patent can cost several hundred dollars.

By 1957 Kenner had saved enough money to her first ever patent: a belt for sanitary napkins. It was long before the advent of disposable pads, and women were still using cloth pads and rags during their period. Kenner proposed an adjustable belt with an inbuilt, moisture-proof napkin pocket, making it less likely that menstrual blood could leak and stain clothes.

“One day I was contacted by a company that expressed an interest in marketing my idea. I was so jubilant,” she said. “I saw houses, cars, and everything about to come my way.” A company rep drove to Kenner’s house in Washington to meet with their prospective client. “Sorry to say, when they found out I was black, their interest dropped. The representative went back to New York and informed me the company was no longer interested.”

Undeterred, Kenner continued inventing for all her adult life. She eventually filed five patents in total, more than any other African-American woman in history.

Read more: The Forgotten Black Woman Inventor Who Revolutionized Menstrual Pads – VICE

African American Miniature Museum Founder and Artist Karen Collins Has”Greensboro Four” Piece Highlighted by Google to Kick off Black History Month

“The Greensboro Four” by Karen Collins

Sixty years ago, four African American college students sat down quietly at a whites-only Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. They received no service, only requests to leave, but they kept waiting for hours. And the next day, they returned and waited again. Within three days of their protest, more than 300 students joined the young people who became known as the “Greensboro Four” in their sit-in.

The Four’s actions set off a wave of similar demonstrations throughout the South, drawing national attention to the fight against Jim Crow-era segregation and marking a turning point in the civil rights movement. Today’s Google Doodle commemorates these brave activists to kick off Black History Month.

According to CNN.com, the doodle is actually a photo of a diorama by Compton-based artist Karen Collins, who is also the founder of the African American Miniature Museum. “Organized by four Black college freshmen, the protest against segregation served as a catalyst for similar demonstrations throughout the nation,” Collins wrote in a blog post.

Artist Karen Collins (photo via CNN.com)

Collins has been creating dioramas that capture moments in black history for 24 years through the African American Miniature Museum, a project she started with her husband Eddie Lewis.

Collins had always wanted a dollhouse as a little girl, but as the daughter of a single mom, her family couldn’t afford it, she wrote in a blog post. When she bought her first dollhouse 40-some years later, she discovered her passion for using dioramas to tell stories.

That passion gained a new meaning when her son was incarcerated, she wrote. In the midst of her pain and anguish, she started the African American Miniature Museum. The museum began as a mobile project in the 1990s, when Collins displayed her work in venues like schools, libraries and churches as a way of contextualizing black history for children.

Today, she continues to operate the museum from home. Collins says on her website she hopes to have a permanent location one day for the more than 50 dioramas she has created, which depict events from the Middle Passage to the Black Lives Matter protests. Below are some examples of her work from an exhibit of her collection Collins had at the Los Angeles Public Library in 2018:

“Black Lives Matter” by Karen Collins
Madam CJ Walker by Karen Collins

“For me, the museum was a way to turn the negativity into something positive and share the stories of our ancestors’ strength and perseverance through hardship,” Collins wrote in a blog post.

“I want young people to learn about those that came before them who sacrificed to help make the lives they live today possible. Most importantly, I want them to see that we each have the power to make it through difficult times to thrive and hopefully make things better for those who come after us.”

To Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day 2020, King’s Progeny Read From His 1965 “American Dream” Speech (WATCH)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

To honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2020, CBS This Morning aired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s children, Bernice King and Martin Luther King III, and his granddaughter, Yolanda King, reading part of the civil rights icon’s insightful, inclusive “The American Dream” sermon, which built upon and extended his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech from 1963’s March on Washington. (See a brief history of that speech here.)

MLK Jr. originally delivered the “American Dream” speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in 1965. To hear King himself, listen below:

To read the full transcript of “The American Dream,” go to: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/american-dream-sermon-delivered-ebenezer-baptist-church

 

‘Stay Close’: PBS Film Highlights Olympian Keeth Smart’s Rare Success as Black Man in Sport of Fencing

Keeth Smart (photo via Twitter.com)

Keeth Smart became the first American to reach No. 1 in the world in saber fencing and later won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics. That he was black made it all the more compelling.

In 19 minutes, the sum of Smart’s life plays out in “Stay Close,” an inspiring short documentary that debuted last night on PBS and speaks to one man’s uncompromising desire to achieve in the face of hardship.

Using a combination of black and white animation, raw family footage and interviews, “Stay Close” illuminates Smart’s ascension from a West Indies community in Brooklyn to the apex of a sport blacks rarely compete in: fencing.

Danielle Outlaw Becomes 1st Black Woman Commissioner of Philadelphia Police Department

New Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw (photo via Portland Police Bureau)

NBC News recently reported that former Portland, Oregon police chief and Oakland, California native Danielle Outlaw will be the new Police Commissioner of Philadelphia. She is the first black woman to hold that position.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney addressed his new hire, according to nbcnews.com, by saying: “I am appointing Danielle Outlaw because I am convinced she has the conviction, courage and compassion needed to bring long-overdue reform to the Department,” Kenny said in a statement. “With our support, she will tackle a host of difficult issues, from racism and gender discrimination, to horrid instances of sexual assault on fellow officers.”

To further quote the article:

Kenny added that such violence often disproportionately “impact women, especially women of color within the Department.”

Beyond addressing issues within the Philadelphia Police Department, Kenny said Outlaw will also work to curtail violent crime and gun violence. The city is currently experiencing a gun violence epidemic; more people were shot in Philadelphia this year than in any other year since 2010, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Outlaw herself is quoted saying: “I am convinced there can be humanity in authority; they are not mutually exclusive.”

To read more: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/danielle-outlaw-becomes-first-black-woman-commissioner-philadelphia-police-department-n1108761

Universal Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx Awarded $3.75 Million Grant by New York State

Universal Hip Hop Museum at Bronx Terminal Market (image via Kevin Ross/radiofacts.com)

New York state officials have approved a $3.75 million grant to help build the Universal Hip Hop Museum, according to cnn.com.

The museum will be located in the Bronx and is the brainchild of local hip hop aficionados. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the $3.75M grant last Thursday to the nation’s first museum dedicated to hip-hop.

To quote from CNN:

Now at a temporary location in the Bronx Terminal Market, The Universal Hip Hop Museum is the brain child of New Yorkers who have been on the hip-hop scene since the very beginning. One of these New Yorkers is executive director Rocky Bucano. Born and raised in the Bronx, Bucano was a DJ as a teenager in the early 1970’s.

Bucano describes the 8-year-old museum as an “ambitious, audacious dream.” Bucano’s co-founders include hip-hop legends Kurtis Blow and Grand Wizzard Theodore, who helped pioneer the popular DJ technique known as scratching.

According to CNN the founding board of directors includes Ice-T and cultural ambassadors include New York natives LL Cool J, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Grandmaster Flash, Fab Five Freddy and Nas.

In 2018, the Universal Hip Hop Museum announced that Public Enemy’s Chuck D would serve as the chairman of the museum’s celebrity board.

Thanks to the state funding, the 50,000-square-foot hip-hop museum will have a permanent place to call home in Bronx Point come 2023. The museum’s construction will begin in the summer of 2020.

The museum will showcase all aspects of hip-hop culture — from fashion and breakdancing, as well as the evolution of hip-hop — highlighting artists new and old, from the late ’70s to today. The museum will offer workshops, mentorships and programming to help area youths.

To visit the museum’s site for tickets or to donate, go to: https://www.uhhm.org

To read more: https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/20/us/new-york-hip-hop-museum-trnd/index.html

Umoja! Good Black News Wishes You and Yours a Very Happy Kwanzaa

Heri Za Kwanzaa! Kwanzaa, for those who are new to the party or need a refresher, is an African American and pan-African seven day cultural holiday that goes from December 26 to January 1 and celebrates family and community.

During the holiday, communities and families celebrate with feasts, music, and dance, and end the holiday with a day dedicated to reflection and recommitment to the seven principles.

To read more: https://nationaltoday.com/kwanzaa-december-26/