Category: African-American Firsts

Brown University Renames Building to Honor Inman Edward Page and Ethel Tremaine Robinson, Two Early Black Graduates

With a location in the heart of campus, the newly renamed Page-Robinson Hall will honor the central role that Brown’s first black graduates played in the University’s history. (photo via news.brown.edu)

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 Edward Page, Class of 1877; and Ethel Tremaine Robinson, Class of 1905. (photo via news.brown.edu)

“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.

Continue reading “Brown University Renames Building to Honor Inman Edward Page and Ethel Tremaine Robinson, Two Early Black Graduates”

WNBA President Lisa Borders Leaves League to Become 1st CEO of Advocacy Group Time’s Up

Time’s Up CEO Lisa Borders (photo via thegrio.com)

by Jay Scott Smith via thegrio.com

Lisa Borders has spent the last three seasons leading the WNBA but just announced on Tuesday that she is stepping down from her post to become the first president and CEO of the advocacy group Time’s Up.

The league, which is a subsidiary of the NBA, made the announcement in a tweet on Tuesday morning.

“It has been an honor and my absolute privilege leading the WNBA and being part of what it stands for,” Borders said in a joint statement with the NBA. “I want to thank [NBA Commissioner] Adam [Silver] for giving me the opportunity and support to help grow this league.

“I am most proud of the players for their amazing talents on the court and their dedication to making an impact in their communities. I look forward to continuing my support for the W in my new role with Time’s Up. I will always be the WNBA’s biggest advocate and fan.”

Time’s Up was formed in January after a series of sexual harassment allegations in the entertainment industry involving Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, Louis CK, Matt Lauer, and others. The organization advocates for safer and more equitable work environments for women in Hollywood and in other industries.

The organization is also pushing for Hollywood to reach gender pay equity. Borders had overseen the WNBA since 2016 after serving as Coca-Cola’s Vice President of Global Community Affairs.

“We are extremely grateful for Lisa’s leadership and tireless commitment to the WNBA,” Silver said. “This is a natural transition for Lisa knowing what a champion she is for issues involving women’s empowerment and social justice and fortunately for us, she leaves the league with strong tail winds propelling it forward.”

Under Borders, the WNBA inked a new jersey deal with Nike, signed an agreement with Twitter to stream games on the social media platform and helped bring women to into the NBA Live video games for the first time through a deal with EA Sports.

NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum will serve as interim WNBA president while the search for a new president begins.

TIME’S UP is actively working with various industries including advertising, entertainment, healthcare, press, tech, music, venture, and advocacy groups representing farmworkers, restaurant workers, domestic workers to ensure safer workplaces and economic parity for women.

Under Border’s stewardship, TIME’S UP will continue its focus on creating solutions that increase safety and equity at work for women of all kinds.

Source: https://thegrio.com/2018/10/03/wnba-president-lisa-borders-steps-down-to-become-first-times-up-ceo/

College Student Kalan Haywood Jr., 19, Becomes Youngest State Legislator in History of Wisconsin

Kalan Haywood, 19,  in front of Fiserv Forum, in downtown Milwaukee.
(Photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

by Ricky Riley via blavity.com

At only 19 years old, Kalan Haywood Jr. will be the youngest state legislator in Wisconsin. He may also be the youngest legislator in the nation, according to political experts.

Haywood will represent Milwaukee’s 16th District after a hard-fought primary against five Democratic challengers, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That battle would be his last. There was no Republican challenger.

“Being young is going to play well with some people, but there will also be people who doubt me because of my age, which is fair — it’s new,” Haywood told the Journal Sentinel. “My age is my biggest asset,” Haywood added.

While he won’t be sworn in until January of 2019, he is likely the youngest person to serve in any state legislature in the nation. The Cardinal Stritch University student has been involved in politics since he was very young. When he was 13, he worked on Democratic Representative David Bowen‘s campaigns learning the tricks of the trade.

Then, Haywood served on the Milwaukee Youth Council at 14 and ultimately was elected president of the council. He spent the majority of his teenage years working and building a political career.

As a newly elected state representative, he wants to improve voting rights and the conditions of people’s lives in his city.  “Adding the requirement of registering to vote is very important, especially in my district where we get a very low [voter] turnout compared to a total population,” Haywood said.

His father, real estate developer Kalan Haywood Sr., believes, along with his son, that the state legislature needs young people to generate new ideas. “The state legislature as a whole — they are missing a young person’s perspective,” he said. “I want to make sure MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools) gets proper funding — I am a proud MPS graduate.”

Source: https://blavity.com/this-19-year-old-will-make-history-as-the-youngest-state-legislator-in-wisconsin

Minnesota Finally Gets an African-American Museum Thanks to Co-Founders Tina Burnside and Coventry Cowens

Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery co-founders Tina Burnside, left, and Coventry Cowens. Above, the museum’s fourth-floor interior and some of its exhibits. (photo by Leila Navidi via startribune.com)

by Alicia Eler via startribune.com

A reproduction of a 19th-century purple dress with white lace collar is positioned on a stand, as if waiting for its owner to slide it on. A copy of the Green Book, an historic guide that helped steer travelers toward black-welcoming businesses, is gently perched under a glass case. Large panels explaining the history of African-Americans in Minnesota stand in front of floor-to-ceiling windows.

This isn’t a scene from the Minnesota History Center or even the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It is the new Minnesota African American Heritage Museum & Gallery in north Minneapolis.

Co-founded by civil rights attorney Tina Burnside and writer/education administrator Coventry Cowens, the museum addresses a long-standing gap in the Twin Cities. “Minnesota is one of the few states that does not have a museum dedicated to the African-American people in the state,” said Burnside.

For 30 years there have been repeated attempts to remedy that. Why has it taken so long? “I couldn’t tell you why,” she said. “Perhaps it’s a question for the people of Minnesota.”

The museum is entirely volunteer-run. At its soft opening Sept. 8, more than 200 people packed into the spacious fourth-floor gallery it shares with Copeland Art and Training Center in the new Thor Construction headquarters at Penn and Plymouth avenues N.

Like a mini-history center, it is similar to places like the Hennepin History Museum or the Somali Museum of Minnesota. Parking and admission are free.

The inaugural exhibition, “Unbreakable: Celebrating the Resilience of African Americans in Minnesota,” which runs through December, focuses on early settlers in the 1800s, black female heroes, the Great Migration from the South, and war veterans who fought abroad yet faced racism at home. Exhibitions will rotate every three to four months. The next one, opening in January, will focus on the civil rights movement in Minnesota before the 1960s, with a focus on the development of the NAACP in the Twin Cities and Duluth in the early 1900s.

While Chicago was a major destination on the Great Migration north, some continued on to Minnesota. A 2017 census report put the black share of Minnesota’s population at 6.5 percent, about half as much as Illinois. Continue reading “Minnesota Finally Gets an African-American Museum Thanks to Co-Founders Tina Burnside and Coventry Cowens”

R.I.P. Dance Legend Arthur Mitchell, 84, Founder of the Dance Theater of Harlem

Arthur Mitchell in 1963. (Credit: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)

by Jennifer Dunning via nytimes.com

Arthur Mitchell, a charismatic dancer with New York City Ballet in the 1950s and ’60s and the founding director of the groundbreaking Dance Theater of Harlem, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 84. His death, at a hospital, was caused by complications of heart failure, said Juli Mills-Ross, a niece. He lived in Manhattan.

Mr. Mitchell, the first black ballet dancer to achieve international stardom, was one of the most popular dancers with New York City Ballet, where he danced from 1956 to 1968 and displayed a dazzling presence, superlative artistry and powerful sense of self.

That charisma served him well as the director of Dance Theater of Harlem, the nation’s first major black classical company, as it navigated its way through severe financial problems in recent decades and complex aesthetic questions about the relationship of black contemporary dancers to an 18th-century European art form.

Born in Harlem on March 27, 1934, Arthur Adam Mitchell Jr. was one of five children. His father was a building superintendent, and his mother, Willie Mae (Hearns) Mitchell, was a homemaker.

An avid social dancer all his life, Mr. Mitchell had his first exposure to formal training when a junior high school guidance counselor saw him dancing at a class party and suggested that he audition for the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan.

Mr. Mitchell worked so hard there that in stretching he tore his stomach muscles and was hospitalized. But he was soon performing with the school’s modern-dance ensemble and experimenting with his own choreography. He also performed in Europe and the United States with Donald McKayle (who died in April), Louis Johnson, Sophie Maslow and Anna Sokolow, and he played an angel in a 1952 revival of the Virgil Thomson-Gertrude Stein opera “Four Saints in Three Acts” in New York and Paris.

Mr. Mitchell was 18 when he began studying with Mr. Shook, a demanding ballet teacher who encouraged black dancers to train in classical dance. On his graduation from the High School of Performing Arts he was offered a modern-dance scholarship at Bennington College in Vermont and a ballet scholarship at the School of American Ballet in New York. He chose to study ballet, although there were almost no performing outlets for black dancers in the field.

Beneath Mr. Mitchell’s gleaming smile and sunny charm was a tenacity of belief and purpose that could be almost frightening. In Lincoln Kirstein, a founder with Balanchine of the City Ballet school and company, Mr. Mitchell found a similarly stubborn friend. To get into the company’s corps de ballet, Mr. Kirstein told him, he must dance like a principal.

During his student years, Mr. Mitchell performed in modern dance and on Broadway in “House of Flowers,” and he was on tour in Europe with the John Butler Dance Theater when the invitation came to join City Ballet for the 1955-56 season.

When asked in an interview with The New York Times in January what he considered his greatest achievement, he said, “That I actually bucked society, and an art form that was three, four hundred years old, and brought black people into it.”

His dancing in just two roles created for him by New York City Ballet founder and choreographer George Balanchine ensured him a place in American ballet history.

In the first, in “Agon,” a trailblazing masterwork of 20th-century ballet that had its premiere in 1957, Mr. Mitchell embodied the edgy energy of the piece in a difficult, central pas de deux that Balanchine choreographed for him and Diana Adams. In this duet, “Balanchine explored most fully the possibilities of linear design in two extraordinary supple and beautifully trained human bodies,” the dance historian and critic Lillian Moore wrote.

“Can you imagine the audacity to take an African-American and Diana Adams, the essence and purity of Caucasian dance, and to put them together on the stage?” he said. “Everybody was against him. He knew what he was going against, and he said, ‘You know my dear, this has got to be perfect.’ ”

Five years after “Agon,” Balanchine created the role of a lifetime for Mr. Mitchell as the high-flying, hard-dancing, naughty Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He danced the part, Walter Terry wrote, “as if he were Mercury subjected to a hotfoot.”

Mr. Mitchell would forever be identified with the role.

One of the last ballets Mr. Mitchell performed with City Ballet was Balanchine’s “Requiem Canticles,” a tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. created shortly after he was killed in 1968. Profoundly affected by the King assassination, Mr. Mitchell began to work toward establishing a school that would provide the children of Harlem with the kinds of opportunities he had had.

Mr. Mitchell, center, working with members of the Dance Theater of Harlem in 1997. He founded the company in 1969 with the dance teacher Karel Shook, a friend and longtime mentor. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

He founded the Dance Theater of Harlem the next year with Karel Shook, a friend and longtime mentor. In the early 2000s, the company, along with its dance school, faced mounting debt, and it was forced to go on hiatus in 2004. But it returned to performance in reduced form in 2012 and now tours regularly and performs at City Center. The school today has more than 300 students.

Mr. Mitchell became artistic director emeritus of Dance Theater in 2011.

He returned to the company in August to oversee a production of “Tones II,” a restaging of one of his older ballets. It is to be performed in April, to commemorate Dance Theater’s 50th anniversary.

Tiffany Haddish, Katt Williams, Samira Wiley and Ron Cephas Jones Sweep Emmy Guest Actor Categories

Emmy Award winner Samira Wiley (photo via Variety.com)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

According to Variety.com, all four winners in the guest actor categories were black for the first time in Television Academy Awards history.

Presented tonight at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony, Tiffany Haddish won best guest actress in a comedy for hosting “Saturday Night Live,” Samira Wiley won best guest actress in a drama for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Ron Cephas Jones won best guest actor in a drama for “This Is Us,” and Katt Williams won best guest actor in a comedy for “Atlanta.”

Comedians Williams and Haddish won in their first year being nominated, while both Jones and Wiley had been nominated previously.

As Variety noted when this year’s Emmy nominees were announced, 36 actors of color were nominated this for the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, up 20% from the year before, amid a larger push in the entertainment industry for diversity and inclusion in television, in front of and behind the camera.

Tiffanye Wesley Becomes Northern Virginia’s 1st African-American Female Battalion Chief

Tiffanye Wesley (Photo courtesy Arlington Fire Department)

via wtop.com

Almost 24 years after she answered a radio ad seeking to recruit new firefighters, Tiffanye Wesley has been selected as Arlington, VA’s southern battalion chief.

The county’s fire department tapped her for the post Sunday (Sept. 2), making her both Arlington and Northern Virginia’s first African-American female battalion chief.

There are two battalions in the Arlington Fire Department, divided between north and south, with each encompassing five stations. Wesley is chief of the southern battalion, coordinating operations not only between the five stations but with partner agencies across Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax.

“If there is a fire call, I’m in charge of that call,” said Wesley. “My job is to ensure everyone goes home safely.”

When Wesley first joined the Arlington Fire Department, she said she walked in the door with no expectations. She’d never known any firefighters or been into a fire house, and said she failed the physical ability tests twice, but she kept training and going back to try again.

Before being selected as battalion chief, Wesley was commander of the Crystal City station, Arlington’s largest and one of its busiest stations. Wesley stepped into the battalion chief role temporarily in 2016, which she said gave her an opportunity to get to know the other stations in the battalion.

“Every station is different,” said Wesley. “My goal is to go sit down with the officers and let them know up front what [my] expectations are and to give me theirs. I believe, as long as you set up right up front what you expect, it makes it easier. The problem comes in when you don’t know what your leader expects, then you tend to fall back and do whatever you want to do.”

Currently, Wesley says the department is also awaiting news of who will replace Fire Chief James Bonzano.

“Right now, the department is looking for a new fire chief,” said Wesley. “Everyone is in a holding pattern, we’re not sure who that person will be, whether they’re from inside the department or someone totally new, we will have to learn that person; their ideals and expectations.”

As Wesley settles into her new role as battalion chief, she says the outpouring of support from friends and followers of her active social media accounts has been overwhelming. Among the most interesting was a call from a fire chief in Nigeria congratulating her on the promotion.

“My promotion was not just for me, it’s for everyone who has watched me, who has been sitting back and passed over and doubted their own self, whose doubted it would ever happen,” said Wesley. “It’s all for those people. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t give up.”

Source: https://wtop.com/arlington/2018/09/acfd-taps-northern-virginias-1st-african-american-female-battalion-chief/

Science Fiction Author N.K. Jemisin Makes History at the Hugo Awards with 3rd win in a row for Best Novel

N.K. Jemisin set a record winning a third Hugo in a row for best novel. (N.K. Jemisin)

by Michael Schaub via latimes.com

The winners of the Hugo Awards, considered some of the most prestigious science fiction and fantasy literary prizes, were announced on Sunday, with science fiction author N.K. Jemisin making history as the first writer ever to win the best novel award three years in a row.

Jemisin won the prize for “The Stone Sky,” the third book in her “Broken Earth” trilogy. The previous two books in the series, “The Fifth Season” and “The Obelisk Gate,” both won the best novel award as well.

During her acceptance speech at the World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, CA, Jemisin said, “I get a lot of questions about where the themes of the Broken Earth trilogy come from. I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m drawing on the human history of structural oppression, as well as my feelings about this moment in American history.”

But she also sounded a note of optimism.

“I want you to remember that 2018 is also a good year. This is a year in which records have been set,” Jemisin said. “A year in which even the most privilege-blindered of us has been forced to acknowledge that the world is broken and needs fixing — and that’s a good thing! Acknowledging the problem is the first step toward fixing it. I look to science fiction and fantasy as the aspirational drive of the Zeitgeist: We creators are the engineers of possibility. And as this genre finally, however grudgingly, acknowledges that the dreams of the marginalized matter and that all of us have a future, so will go the world.”

Jemisin’s fans took to Twitter to celebrate her historic hat trick. Among them was her cousin, the television host and comedian W. Kamau Bell, who noted that Jemisin’s books have yet to be adapted into film:

Television producer Shonda Rhimes responded to Bell with a link to a year-old Deadline story about “The Fifth Season” being adapted into a TNT television program, and Jemisin replied.

Nnedi Okorafor took home a non-Hugo award for best young adult book for her novel “Akata Warrior.”

A full list of this year’s winners is available at the Hugo Awards website.

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/books/la-et-jc-nk-jemisin-hugo-awards-20180821-story.html

R.I.P. George Walker, 96, Trailblazing American Composer and Pulitzer Prize Winner

Composer George Walker (photo via npr.org)

by Tom Huizenga via npr.com

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, pianist and educator George Walker has died at the age of 96. Walker’s death was announced to NPR by one of his family members, Karen Schaefer, who said he died Thursday at Mountainside Hospital in Montclair, N.J. after a fall.

Walker’s music was firmly rooted in the modern classical tradition, but also drew from African-American spirituals and jazz. His nearly 100 compositions range broadly, from intricately orchestrated symphonic works and concertos to intimate songs and solo piano pieces.

“His music is always characterized by a great sense of dignity, which is how he always comported himself,” says composer Jeffrey Mumford, who, as a music professor at Lorain County Community College in Ohio, uses examples of Walker’s music in his classes. “His style evolved over the years; his earlier works, some written while still a student, embodied an impressive clarity and elegance.”

Walker was a trailblazing man of “firsts,” and not just because of the Pulitzer. In the year 1945 alone, he was the first African-American pianist to play a recital at New York’s Town Hall, the first black instrumentalist to play solo with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the first black graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

The following year, Walker wrote his first string quartet. In 1990, he revised the second movement into a new piece, Lyric for Strings, which has become his most often-performed work.

In 1996, Walker broke new ground again when he became the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for music. Lilacs for voice and orchestra, set to a text by Walt Whitman, is a moving meditation on the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Continue reading “R.I.P. George Walker, 96, Trailblazing American Composer and Pulitzer Prize Winner”

Alice Allison Dunnigan, 1st Black Woman Journalist to Cover the White House, to be Honored with Statue in D.C.

White House correspondent Alice Allison Dunnigan (photo via Wikipedia)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

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.

The Good Things Black People Do, Give and Receive All Over The World
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