Category: African-American Firsts

HISTORY: Meet Robert Smalls, Boat Captain for Union Navy who Escaped Slavery and Became 1st African-American Elected to U.S. Congress

U.S. Naval Captain and U.S. Congress Member Robert Smalls (photo via Library of Congress)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

On this Veteran’s Day, Good Black News is choosing to honor former Union Navy boat captain and oft-hidden historical figure Robert Smalls of South Carolina.

Robert Smalls was the first black man elected to U.S. Congress during Reconstruction. He was born into slavery in 1839 in Beaufort, S.C., and started his remarkable, implausible journey to national prominence by daring to escape slavery during the Civil War with his family. 

Smalls, like many other enslaved peoples, was made to work for the Confederate forces during the Civil War. Menial labor such as grave digging, cooking, digging trenches, etc. were the most common jobs, but some enslaved peoples were used in skilled labor positions, such as Smalls, who could navigate the waters in and around Charleston, so was used to guide transport ships for the Confederate Navy.

On May 13, 1862, Smalls convinced several other enslaved people to help him commandeer a Confederate transport ship, the CSS Planter, in Charleston harbor. Smalls sailed from Confederate-controlled waters to the U.S. blockade.

By doing so, not only did he gain freedom for himself, several enslaved peoples and members of his family, his example of cunning and bravery helped convince President Abraham Lincoln to accept black soldiers into the U.S. Army and Navy. Check out PBS video about this event below:

Smalls became Captain of the same boat for the Union Navy and helped free enslaved peoples as he fought and outwitted the Confederate Navy several more times during the duration of the War. After the South surrendered, Smalls returned to Beaufort, S.C. and purchased his master’s house, which was seized by the Union in 1863. His master sued to get it back, but lost in court to Smalls. Continue reading “HISTORY: Meet Robert Smalls, Boat Captain for Union Navy who Escaped Slavery and Became 1st African-American Elected to U.S. Congress”

Eugene Bullard, the 1st Known African-American fighter Pilot, Now Has Statue at Museum of Aviation in Georgia

Eugene Bullard statue in Georgia (photo via aero-news network)
Fighter pilot Eugene Bullard (photo via wikipedia.org)

Eugene Bullard, who became known as the Black Swallow of Death, was the first African-American pilot to fly in combat. Bullard now has a statue in his honor, unveiled last week in Warner Robins, Georgia, at the Museum of Aviation next to Robins Air Force Base, and about 100 miles south of Atlanta.

To quote from CNN:

His distant cousin, Harriett Bullard White, told CNN she wept with joy as she placed a wreath at the statue during a ceremony, attended by Air Force officers, nearly two dozen family members and several surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen.

“All my life I’d known how great he was. Of course, no one else knew who he is,” White said. “He’s an American hero and someone all Americans should know about.”

Born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1895, Bullard ran away from home as an 11-year-old, wandering the South for years before stowing away on a freight ship destined for Scotland.

The next year, 1913, he settled in France. When World War I broke out, Bullard enlisted in the French Foreign Legion, serving first in the infantry.

But after being wounded in battle, Bullard made a $2,000 bet with a friend that he could become a military aviator despite his skin color, according to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. He won the bet, receiving his wings as a member of the Aéronautique Militaire in May 1917. That November, he claimed he shot down two German fighters, though accounts vary as to whether those aerial victories could be confirmed.

Black military pilots wouldn’t become common in America until the famed Tuskegee Airmen began training to fly in 1941. President Harry Truman formally desegregated the U.S. armed forces with an executive order in 1948.

To read more: https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/09/us/first-black-fighter-pilot-statue-trnd/index.html

Steven L. Reed Elected Mayor of Montgomery; 1st African American to Lead Alabama’s Capitol Since its Founding

Newly-elected Montgomery, Alabama mayor Steven L. Reed (photo via wtvm.com)

Voters in Montgomery, Alabama made history Tuesday by decisively electing Steven L. Reed as their new and very first African American mayor in the 200 years since the city’s founding.

To quote the Washington Post:

Reed, already a trailblazer as Montgomery County’s first black probate judge, defeated David Woods, owner of the local Fox affiliate, in a non-partisan runoff election with 67 percent of the vote and all precincts reporting, according to the unofficial election results.

“This election has never been about me,” Reed, 45, said during his victory speech. “This election has never about just my ideas. It’s been about all of the hopes and dreams that we have as individuals and collectively in this city … and the way we found the opportunity to improve outcomes regardless of neighborhood, regardless of Zip code, regardless of anything that may divide us or make us different from one another.”

His victory reverberated well beyond Montgomery as many celebrated the milestone in a city remembered as both the cradle of the Confederacy and the birthplace of the civil rights movement. Montgomery, where about 60 percent of residents are black, was the first capital of the Confederate States of America, becoming a bastion of racial violence and discrimination in the Jim Crow era but also of protests and resistance in the civil rights era.

It’s home to the Montgomery bus boycott against segregation led by Rosa Parks, and it’s home to the Selma to Montgomery marches for voting rights led by Martin Luther King Jr. It was in Montgomery where, after the third march in March 1965, King addressed a crowd of 25,000 people on the steps of the Alabama Capitol, famously saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“This is a historic day for our nation,” Karen Baynes-Dunning, interim president and chief executive of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is based in Montgomery, said Tuesday on Twitter. “The election of Steven Reed, the first black mayor of Montgomery, AL, symbolizes the new inclusive & forward thinking South that so many have worked to achieve.”

To read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/10/09/steven-reed-montgomery-first-black-mayor-alabama/

History-Making Tyler Perry Studios Has Grand Opening Gala in Atlanta with Oprah, Beyonce and More

Tyler Perry (photo via commons.wikipedia.org)

Actors, directors, musical artists, filmmakers and politicians such as Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé, Stacey Abrams, Ava DuVernay, Viola Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, Tiffany Haddish, Whoopi Goldberg, Reginald Hudlin and Halle Berry showed up to support filmmaker and entrepreneur Tyler Perry as he formally opened his Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.

Tyler Perry Studios marks the first time that an African-American person has owned and operated a major film studio anywhere in the U.S.

Perry also reportedly named his twelve sound stages after living and late legends such as Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Halle Berry, Sydney Poitier, Della Reese, Spike Lee, Harry Belafonte, Cicely Tyson, Whoopi Goldberg, Diahann Carroll and Will Smith.

“Why did it take so long?” Goldberg wondered in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “Why was he the first to get it? Now he’s the man who makes the decisions, chooses the movies, and he doesn’t have to ask anybody for shit. There’s nothing better than that. He’s never on his knees. He gets what he needs because he provided it.”

Davis concurred by saying, “Tonight is history. Tonight is not just entertainment and flamboyancy, it’s not just an excuse to get dressed up. It’s an excuse to celebrate a historic moment, which is a black artist taking control of their artistic life and the vision that God has for their life,” she said. “What’s happened with us historically is we’re waiting for people to get us. We’re waiting for people to throw us a crumb. That’s not what Tyler Perry has done. I want to be able to look back on this and say ‘I was there.'”

Winfrey added of Perry: “Tyler is my little big brother. To see him rise to this moment that I know he’s dreamed about, planned, defined, clarify for himself, it’s just a fulfillment of a dream. It’s wonderful to see.”

DuVernay, among others, touchingly reported on the momentous occasion on her Instagram and Twitter:

To read and see more, go to: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/inside-tyler-perry-studios-grand-opening-gala-1245752

R.I.P. Diahann Carroll, 84, Groundbreaking Actress and Tony Award Winner

 

Diahann Carroll (photo via commons.wikipedia.org)

According to the Los Angeles Times, Diahann Carroll, star of stage and screen who changed the course of television history as the first African American woman to star in a TV series (1968’s ground-breaking sitcom “Julia”) and to win a lead actress Tony Award, has passed away. She was 84.

The Oscar-nominated actress and breast cancer survivor, who also starred in “Paris Blues” with Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, primetime soap “Dynasty” and “White Collar,” died of cancer, her daughter Suzanne Kay said Friday.

Born Carol Diahann Johnson in 1935 in the Bronx, Carroll moved to Harlem with her parents at a young age. With their support, she enrolled in dance, singing and modeling classes and attended Music and Art High School with Billy Dee Williams, who would later costar with her in “Dynasty.” By 15, Carroll was modeling for Ebony, and by 18 she got her big singing break after winning the televised talent show “Chance of a Lifetime” in 1954.

Carroll debuted as an actress in 1954’s Oscar-nominated adaptation of “Carmen Jones,” a retelling of the Bizet opera with an all-black cast alongside Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte and Pearl Bailey. In 1959, she headlined the musical “Porgy and Bess” with Dandridge, Sidney Poitier and Sammy Davis Jr.

Carroll was nominated for a lead-actress Oscar for her turn as a single mother in the 1974 comedy “Claudine” opposite James Earl Jones, and earned a Tony Award in 1962 for Richard Rodgers’ “No Strings.”

In the late 1960s, Carroll was cast in “Julia,” the enormously successful NBC sitcom that featured her as a war-widowed nurse raising a son.

Carroll won a Golden Globe for female TV star and a nomination for best TV show, among other nods. She also earned a lead actress in a comedy Emmy nomination in 1969. Because the show was sponsored by toymaker Mattel, she served as the model for one of the first black Barbie dolls and found her likeness plastered on a variety of merchandise, including lunch boxes and coloring books.

To read more: https://www.latimes.com/obituaries/story/2019-10-04/diahann-carroll-dead

 

Vanderbilt University Honors Trailblazing Student-Athlete Perry Wallace by Renaming a Street in His Honor

Perry Wallace (photo via vanderbilt.edu)

According to jbhe.comVanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee announced that part of 25th Avenue South in front of its Memorial Gymnasium will be ceremonially renamed “Perry Wallace Way” in memory of the trailblazing Vanderbilt student-athlete who integrated Southeastern Conference varsity basketball in 1967.

On December 2, 1967, Wallace made history when he played for Vanderbilt University in a game with Southern Methodist University. Two days later, he played in a game against Southeastern Conference rival, Auburn University. Wallace endured verbal abuse from fans and had objects thrown at him from the stands.

His story is told in Andrew Maraniss’ best-selling book Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South (Vanderbilt University Press, 2014).

After graduating from Vanderbilt University and Columbia Law School, Wallace served as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Later, Wallace entered the academic world and served on the faculty of the law schools at Howard University, the University of Baltimore, and American University.

WNBA Legend Lisa Leslie to Be Honored with Statue Outside Staples Center in Los Angeles

 

WNBA great Lisa Leslie (photo via flickr.com)

WNBA superstar and Olympic gold medalist Lisa Leslie will be the first female athlete honored with a statue outside of Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Arash Markazi reported the news, writing that the Los Angeles Sparks and Anschutz Entertainment Group still have to iron out the specific date but agreed Leslie will be the 11th statue outside of the famed sports and entertainment arena. Leslie’s statue will also be the first of a WNBA player outside of a team’s home arena.

According to bleacherreport.com, Leslie went to the Sparks in the WNBA’s inaugural draft in 1997 and played her entire career with the team through 2009. During her professional basketball career, Leslie won three league MVPs, two championships, four Olympic gold medals and three All-Star Game MVPs .

Leslie, who was the first WNBA player to dunk in a game, was also named to eight All-Star teams and 12 All-WNBA teams, including eight first-team selections. In addition to her WNBA achievements, she once scored 101 points in a half during a game for Morningside High in Inglewood, and was named first-team all-conference in each of her four seasons at USC.

Leslie will now be forever memorialized alongside statues of Los Angeles legends such as Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

John Warner Smith Appointed Poet Laureate of Louisiana, 1st Black Man to Hold the Position

John Warner Smith (photo via commons.wikipedia.org)

According to jbhe.com, professor and writer John Warner Smith has been appointed by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and the state’s Governor, John Bel Edwards, to serve as the next Poet Laureate of Louisiana. This appointment makes Smith the first African American man to hold the position.

“John Warner Smith’s writing captures the human experience through meaningful, passionate poetry that moves your emotions. John is not only a talented and gifted poet, he is a trailblazer who devotes himself to education and the greater good of the community,” Gov. Edwards said.

“He is making history today as the first African American male appointed as Louisiana Poet Laureate, and I’m confident that John will serve our great state well. I want to thank the LEH for leading this search, and I congratulate all of the nominees whose writings tell the unique stories of Louisiana, the place we call home.”

Currently, Smith teaches English at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He has published four collections of poetry: Muhammad’s Mountain (Lavender Ink, 2018), Spirits of the Gods (University of Louisiana Lafayette Press, 2017), Soul Be A Witness (MadHat Press, 2016), and A Mandala of Hands (Kelsay Books-Aldrich Press, 2015). His fifth collection, Out Shut Eyes: New & Selected Poems on Race in Americais forthcoming this year from MadHat Press.

Read more: https://www.jbhe.com/2019/08/john-warner-smith-is-the-first-black-male-poet-laureate-for-the-state-of-louisiana/

Taylor Dumpson, 1st Black Female Student Body President at American University, Awarded over $700K in Suit Against Neo-Nazi Website Founder

Taylor Dumpson (SAMAD AROUNA/THE EAGLE)

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that white supremacists who used social media to threaten and harass Taylor Dumpson, the first African American female student body president of American University in Washington D.C., were liable for over $700,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees.

In 2017, Taylor Dumpson was elected as American University’s student body president. The day after she was inaugurated, a hate crime targeted her on the basis of her race and gender. A masked person hung nooses around campus with bananas tied to them. Some bananas had “AKA” written on them – referencing Plaintiff’s historically black sorority.

Others read “Harambe bait,” referencing a gorilla killed at the Cincinnati Zoo as a racist and threatening comparison to African Americans. Defendant Andrew Anglin, an avowed neo-Nazi and publisher of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, then directed his white supremacist followers to threaten and harass her on social media to amplify the harm of the hate crime.

In addition to other allegations, the suit alleged that Defendants interfered with the Ms. Dumpson’s ability to fully enjoy places of public accommodation and interfered with her equal opportunity to education. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and pro bono counsel Kirkland & Ellis LLP, along with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Plaintiff.

Continue reading “Taylor Dumpson, 1st Black Female Student Body President at American University, Awarded over $700K in Suit Against Neo-Nazi Website Founder”

Tony Nominee Lauren Ridloff to Play Marvel’s 1st Deaf Superhero in “The Eternals”

Lauren Ridloff (photo via commons.wikipedia.org)

According to Entertainment Weekly and broadwayworld.com, Tony nominee Lauren Ridloff is set to be Marvel’s first deaf superhero in the upcoming film, The Eternals, which also stars Angelina Jolie (Thena), Richard Madden (Icarus), Kumail Nanjiani (Kingo), Brian Tyree Henry (Phastos), Salma Hayek (Ajak), Lia McHugh (Sprite), and Don Lee (Gilgamesh). Ridloff will play the role of Makkari and The Rider’s Chloe Zhao is directing the film.

Ridloff appeared in the 2018 Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God and was nominated for a Tony for her performance as Sarah Norman. Ridloff appears in the Palme D’Or nominated film Wonderstruck, and can be seen in John Legend‘s music video, “Love Me Now.” Ridloff was also the first Miss Deaf America of African-American and Mexican descent.

During San Diego Comic-Con on July 20 director Zhao and several of the stars spoke about The Eternals, which is shooting in London and is scheduled to be released on November 6, 2020.

To quote from ew.com:

“It’s about this group of incredible immortals but through their journey we really get to explore what it means to be human and humanity on our time on this planet,” Zhao said.

“The Eternals are a race of immortal aliens sent to Earth by the Celestials to protect humankind from the Deviants,” added Madden. Ridloff also signed that she is playing the first deaf character in the MCU.

Hayek, speaking about being the leader of the group, told the crowd, “I take my inspiration from our leader, Chloe, who’s also a strong woman and it takes a strong woman to do a movie like this because it’s so big and amazing and I’m so excited to be a part of it. The way she approaches leadership as a woman, as a strong woman, is that she sees them as a family. So there’s a lot of mother instincts in this Eternal, who is not supposed to have kids. So this is very exciting, and I feel very honored to be a part of a movie that is going to allow people who never felt represented in superheroes, or in this case Eternals, represented because I am proud to have a diverse family.”

Said Jolie, “I’m so excited to be here. I’m going to work 10 times harder because I think what it means to be a part of the MCU, what it means to be an Eternal, to be a part of this family, I know what we all need to do. We have all read the script. We have all know what the task ahead is and we are all going to be working very very hard. I’m training. I am thrilled. Thank you so much.”