Category: African-American Firsts

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)”

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

‘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

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.