Category: African-American Firsts

The Congressional Black Caucus Sworn in Today With More Than 50 Members – Largest in its History

CBC Members of the 116th Congress

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

The Congressional Black Caucus, for the first time in its 48-year history, has more than 50 members. At today’s swearing in ceremony the total was 55 members, nbcnews.com reports.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif, was elected CBC chair, and according to her website, the Caucus will also chair five full House Committees in addition to 28 House Subcommittees.

The caucus includes elected officials from both the House and Senate, and since its establishment in 1971, the CBC has been committed to using the full Constitutional power, statutory authority, and financial resources of the federal government to ensure that African Americans and other marginalized communities in the United States have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.

As part of this commitment, the CBC has fought to address critical issues such as voting rights, criminal justice reform, equal access to quality education.

To learn more about the Congressional Black Caucus, go to: https://cbc.house.gov.

Shea Moisture Founder Richelieu Dennis to Transform Madam C.J. Walker’s Estate into Training Center for Black Women Entrepreneurs

Richelieu Dennis; Villa Lewaro Estate (Photos via becauseofthemwecan.com)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

In this 100th year anniversary of its completion, the historic Villa Lewaro estate of the nation’s first self-made female millionaire and beauty pioneer, Madam C.J. Walker, has been purchased.

The New Voices Foundation, which helps women of color entrepreneurs achieve their vision through innovative leadership initiatives, will spearhead the stabilization of the structure and planning for future uses. The acquisition was facilitated by the Dennis Family, including entrepreneur, investor, and social impact innovator Richelieu Dennis, who once owned Shea Moisture and currently owns Essence Magazine.

The 28,000 square foot property is a historic residence that embodies the optimism and perseverance of the American entrepreneurial spirit.

“In the one hundred years since Madam Walker built her majestic home, Villa Lewaro, it has served as a landmark both to her own success and to her endeavor to create a space dedicated to the achievement and empowerment of African Americans,” said Brent Leggs, director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 for its architectural significance, Madam Walker’s Villa Lewaro estate, named after her daughter (A’LElia WAlker RObinson), was once a social and cultural gathering place for notable leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, such as James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Langston Hughes.

The home, which Madam Walker called her “dream of dreams,” was designed and completed 100-years ago by the first licensed Black architect in the state of New York and a founder of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Vertner Tandy.

Walker was the first person of color to own property in Irvington, close to Lyndhurst, a National Trust Historic Site. During the time it was built, Villa Lewaro was located on what was referred to as Millionaire’s Row and in an area that was also home to Rockefellers and Astors. Purchased in 1993, for the last 25 years Villa Lewaro served as the family home of Ambassador Harold E. Doley, Jr. and his wife Helena.

With a long admiration of Madam C.J. Walker, the Dennis family first reignited her cultural, entrepreneurial and hair care legacy through the acquisition of the Madam C.J. Walker brand in 2013 – when conversations to acquire Villa Lewaro also first began – and the brand’s subsequent relaunch on retail shelves in 2016 at Sephora.

“To be able to steward something so rich in our culture, history, legacy and achievement through the New Voices Foundation and guide it into its next phase of impact and inspiration is an incredible honor that my family and I welcome with tremendous responsibility and humility,” said Dennis. “When we relaunched the Madam C.J. Walker brand two and half years ago, our goal was to give the brand back to our community and elevate it in the iconic way deserving of such a phenomenal woman. Today, we have a similar focus with Villa Lewaro as its significance is much greater than just a house or property or historic landmark. It is a place where – against all odds – dreams were formed, visions were realized and entrepreneurs were born, and we look forward to returning its use to support that mission.”

Dennis continued, “Squarely aligned with the mission of the New Voices Foundation, we are excited to announce that the vision for future use of the property includes utilizing Villa Lewaro as both a physical and virtual destination where women of color entrepreneurs will come for curriculum-based learning and other resources aimed at helping them build, grow and expand their businesses. When people think of entrepreneurship services for women of color, we want them to think of the New Voices Foundation and Villa Lewaro.”

Madam Walker’s great-great-granddaughter and biographer, as well as brand historian, A’Lelia Bundles, added, “No one at the time believed that a Black woman could afford such a place. So, I can think of no better way to celebrate Villa Lewaro’s 100th anniversary than the vision of the New Voices Foundation and the Dennis family for this historic treasure as a place to inspire today’s entrepreneurs, tomorrow’s leaders and our entire community. Richelieu’s own success story – from a humble family recipe to an international enterprise with an economic empowerment mission – very much mirrors Madam Walker’s journey of empowering and uplifting women. Just as Madam Walker aided in the preservation of abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s Washington, DC home, the Dennis family continues this tradition of preserving historic sites that raise awareness about the contributions people of color have made to the American narrative.”

The National Trust holds a perpetual preservation easement on Villa Lewaro that ensures the property’s historic character will be preserved. This easement was jointly supported by the Dennis and the Doley families. The home was named a National Treasure by the National Trust in 2014 and is part of a growing portfolio of African American historic sites protected through the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, an initiative designed to raise the profile of African American sites of achievement, activism, architecture, and community.

Memorial Park to be Built Commemorating Huntsville, Alabama’s 1st Public School for African Americans

City of Huntsville breaks ground on William Hooper Councill High School Memorial Park (photo via Twitter)

via waff.com

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) – On Friday, the William Hooper Councill Alumni Association broke ground on a memorial park celebrating Huntsville’s first public school for African-Americans.

Councill High School opened in 1867 and closed in the era of desegregation in the 1960s. The school was named after Dr. William Hooper Councill, a former slave and founder and first president of what would become Alabama A&M University. Councill also became a lawyer, newspaper editor, legislator and Alabama Supreme Court justice.

William Hooper Councill (photo via clio.com)

Crews will start work on a memorial park in 2019, on the school’s old site.

Members of the alumni association spoke about what the school means to them.

“We found friendship in William Hooper Councill High School, and we found affection,” said Brenda Chunn, president of the William Hooper Councill Alumni Association.

“It’s important because African-American history sometimes gets lost, and this is a way of preserving the heritage of the African-Americans, particularly with the celebration of the bicentennial that is coming up,” said Laura Clift, an alumni of Councill High School.

Read more: http://www.waff.com/2018/12/14/ground-broken-park-commemorating-huntsvilles-first-public-black-school/

U.S. Armed Forces All-female African American WWII Unit Honored with Monument at Fort Leavenworth

6888th Postal Battalion (photo via radio.com)

by Kaylah Jackson via radio.com

The contributions of over 800 African American women who sorted mail in a segregated unit during WWII were recognized last month in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, with a monument erected in their honor.

“No mail, no morale,” was the motto of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the U.S. Army’s only all-African American and all-female unit during the Second World War.

Often referred to as the “Six-Triple-Eight,” the unit was made of up 824 enlisted and 31 officer women, who were originally from the Women’s Army Corps, Army Service Forces and Army Air Forces.

(Photo courtesy of Women of 6888th)

While many African American nurses served overseas in combat zones, WAC units remained separated and women of color were only allowed to serve overseas depending on the “needs of the Army.” The military faced pressure for African Americans WACs to serve in overseas components and eventually a request for 800 women to serve in the European Theatre was approved.

In 1945, warehouses and Red Cross workers in England became overwhelmed with a backlog of mail and packages addressed to U.S. service members. The hundreds of women who eventually made up the 6888th were selected to train for this exact mission.

Under the direction of Lt. Col Charity Edna Adams, the women traveled to Camp Shanks, New York after enduring boot camp, and eventually arriving in Birmingham, England, in 1945. Upon arrival to Europe, the women were welcome to a dimly lit and rat-infested warehouse with mail stacked to the ceilings.

Of the over 800 servicewomen, five were present at their monument dedication ceremony at Fort Leavenworth.

6888 Battalion Monument (Photo courtesy of George Marcec)

“Servicemen want their mail. That’s a morale booster,” Lena King told KCTV.  Now 95-years-old, then Corporal King worked among other women in the warehouse identifying miswritten pieces of mail and ensuring the men fighting received letters from their loved ones.

By dividing their work in shifts that ran 365 days a week, the women processed an average of 65,000 pieces of mail per shift, clearing the previous six-month backlog of letters in just three months.

(Photo courtesy of George Marcec)

Designed by sculptor Eddie Dixon, the monument features all of the names of the women of the Six-Triple-Eight, a bust of Lt. Col Adams and iconic photos highlighting the unit’s mission.

The monument sits near a series of other historical tributes on Fort Leavenworth. From honoring the first African American West Point graduate to the first African American four-star general, this monument will be another addition highlighting the “firsts” of our nation’s history at war.

Source: https://connectingvets.radio.com/articles/6888th-central-postal-directory-battalion-receives-monument-fort-leavenworth?fbclid=IwAR23Ae4QeZECbojxZvVOyPMVIjURCO9z3Uc4GqS4GPulDlmCwoukLX709mk

Viola Davis Stars As Shirley Chisholm in New Movie “The Fighting Shirley Chisholm”

viola-davis-shirley-chisholm-now-113018.pngThe first Black actress to earn a lead dramatic Emmy will bring another pioneering Black woman, Shirley Chisholm, to life on screen.

Deadline reported yesterday (November 29) that Viola Davis will produce and star in “The Fighting Shirley Chisholm.” This will be the “Widows” star’s first project under the first look deal that JuVee Productions, the company she co-heads with husband Julius Tennon, recently signed with Amazon Studios. Davis confirmed the project today (November 30) by retweeting JuVee’s tweet with one of the late Democratic politician’s quotes:

Read more via Viola Davis Stars As Shirley Chisholm in New Movie | Colorlines

Washington and Lee University Replaces Slaveholder’s Name On Building With John Chavis’, the 1st Black U.S. College Graduate

Bust of John Chavis at Washington & Lee University (photo via columns.wlu.edu)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

According to The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, the Board of Trustees at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA, will make changes to two of its buildings, Robinson Hall and Lee Chapel, after a student and faculty committee issued a report on how the university’s history is represented on campus. The committee was created after White supremacists rallied at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville last year.

Robinson Hall was originally named for John Robinson, a founder of the university. When Robinson died he left his estate, farm, and 73 slaves to the college. In 1836, the college sold the slaves and used the money to build Robinson Hall.

The board decided to rename the building Chavis Hall, in honor of John Chavis, the first African-American to receive a college education in the United States. He graduated from the university’s predecessor – first Liberty Hall Academy, then Washington Academy – in 1799.

Additionally, the university will make changes to Lee Chapel. The university will replace the portraits of Robert E. Lee and George Washington in military uniforms with new portraits of the two men in civilian clothing.

Also, the doors to the statue chamber in Lee Chapel will be closed during university events. However, Lee Chapel will keep its name. Robert E. Lee is buried below the chapel.

St. Cloud State University in MN Honors its 1st Black Graduate by Renaming Building Ruby Cora Webster Hall

Ruby Cora Webster, St. Cloud State University’s first black graduate (photo via St. Cloud State Archives)

via jbhe.com

St. Cloud State University in Minnesota recently dedicated one of the institution’s original academic buildings after the school’s first African American graduate, Ruby Cora Webster.

Webster graduated from the university in 1909 with a degree in elementary education. The daughter of former slaves, she was born in Ohio and moved with her family to St. Cloud, where she attended high school. After college, she became a teacher, married twice, and relocated to Missouri and later to Canada. Webster died in 1974.

The former Business Building, now known as Ruby Cora Webster Hall, houses the department of English, the Writing Center, the Intensive English Center, the department of political science, and the department of ethnic, gender, and women’s studies.

Last year, after the university implemented a non-donor related naming policy, Dr. Christopher Lehman, chair of the department of ethnic, gender, and women’s studies, spearheaded the proposal to rename the academic building after Webster. It received extremely positive feedback from the community, with 2,200 signatures collected to support the proposal.

“I commend and applaud Dr. Christopher Lehman for his initiative in researching and bringing to light the significance of Ruby Cora Webster to our school’s history and the importance of naming this building after her,” St. Cloud President Robbyn Wacker said. “Ruby is someone from our university’s early history that exemplified hope, courage and resilience and who believed in something greater than herself.”

Source: https://www.jbhe.com/2018/11/st-cloud-state-university-names-academic-building-after-its-first-black-graduate/?fbclid=IwAR37A-eVvZzIJjVhUqRpYbuAuAXJQ6CHvwCcOS08FDQeaXzztPf-d–KQ48

Kristine E. Guillaume Elected 1st Black Woman President in Harvard Student Newspaper’s 145-Year History

Kristine E. Guillaume ’20 will serve as the President of the 146th Guard of The Harvard Crimson. (Photo: Amy Y. Li)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

The Harvard Crimson, Harvard College’s daily newspaper, recently reported that Kristine E. Guillaume, Class of 2020, was elected to lead the 146th Guard as the paper’s President. Guillaume is the first black woman to serve as President of The Crimson in its 145-year history.

Guillaume, a joint African American Studies and History and Literature concentrator, is currently one of The Crimson’s Central Administration reporters. She has interviewed the last two of the University’s Presidents — Drew G. Faust and Lawrence S. Bacow — and worked as part of the reporting team that covered Harvard’s 2018 presidential search.

Queens, New York native Guillaume is also one of three Chairs of The Crimson’s Diversity and Inclusivity committee, responsible for formulating and overseeing initiatives meant to make the paper more diverse and welcoming to students from all backgrounds. Guillaume will begin as President on Jan. 1, 2019.

In her new position Guillaume will work as a go-between the Crimson’s editorial departments and initiatives, while also steering the future direction of the paper in the increasingly difficult media landscape. She will now oversee a paper with 320 staffers.

“At Harvard you’re in a space that was made for white men, so if you’re not the cookie-cutter white man who Harvard was built for, it can be difficult to navigate being here,” Guillaume said to CNN. “I want people to think about how to navigate, and feel like they can and get through their education and feel like they do belong here. That’s a big thing for me.”

Founded in 1873, The Crimson is the oldest continuously published daily college newspaper in the United States and the only breakfast-table daily publication of Cambridge, Mass. The paper is proud to provide news and analysis to a wide range of Harvard affiliates, Cambridge residents, and readers across the nation.

The Crimson selects its leaders through an election process called the Turkey Shoot, in which all outgoing members of the masthead are invited to participate. A candidate for a senior leadership position must receive at least 75 percent of the vote to be elected.

MIDTERMS 2018: Many Historic Wins to Celebrate Across U.S.

Ayanna Pressley (l) and Jahana Hayes (r) [photo via newtimes.com]
by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

Although the Orange and Peach-producing states of Florida and Georgia have yet to bear the historic fruit of African-American gubernatorial victory (fingers still crossed for you, Stacey Abrams!), there were many historic elections won last night by African-Americans and people of color that GBN would like to celebrate as we move into 2019 with more diverse local, state and federal governments, hopefully geared towards just change and unity:

Ayanna Pressley is elected first black House member from Massachusetts. Pressley was the first black woman to serve on Boston’s city council and made history again after defeating the 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano in the primary. She did not face a challenger in the general election, and last night was officially elected to the House of Representatives.

In her victory speech, she said: “These times demanded more from our leaders and from our party. These times demanded an approach to governing that was bold, uncompromising and unafraid. It’s not just good enough to see the Democrats back in power but it matters who those Democrats are.”

Jahana Hayes is elected first black congresswoman from Connecticut. The 2016 National Teacher of the Year and first-time political candidate Jahana Hayes won her bid to represent Connecticut’s fifth congressional district. Alongside Massachusetts’ Pressley, will be one of the first two women of color to represent New England.

Antonio Delgado (photo via AP)

In upstate New York, Schenectady native Antonio Delgado beat out Rep. John Faso to take the Hudson Valley’s 19th Congressional District seat the Times-Union reportsThe candidates were in a dead heat for a while, but Delgado eventually pulled ahead. Delgado now becomes the first black congressman to represent the district.

Lauren Underwood (photo via slate.com)

In Illinois, Lauren Underwood unseated Republican incumbent Randy Hultgren to take the state’s 14th Congressional District in suburban Chicago. Underwood, a 32-year-old nurse, and former adviser to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services won in a traditionally Republican-leaning area. Underwood made history with her victory as the first woman and first African American elected to represent the district.

Underwood has been a longtime advocate for access to affordable quality health care, first as a nurse and later as a senior advisor in the Obama administration.

Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids (Getty Images/You Tube)

Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, first Native American congresswomen. An attorney and former MMA fighter, Davids became the first Native American congresswoman and the first lesbian congresswoman from Kansas. Raised by a single mother army veteran and a member of the Wisconsin-based Ho-Chunk Nation, Davids was a fellow in the Obama White House. 

Haaland is a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo people. Haaland is focused on progressive issues like Medicare-for-all and a $15 minimum wage, she says she is most passionate about the environment and promoting clean, renewable energy.

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar (photo via vibe.com)

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar become first Muslim congresswomen. Tlaib ran unopposed in her race to represent Michigan’s 17th district and has become the nation’s first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, and one of two Muslim women elected on Tuesday.

She is a Democratic-Socialist who served on the state legislature from 2009 to 2014 and ran her congressional primary campaign supporting Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage and abolishing Ice.

Omar is the first Somali-American, first refugee and first woman of color elected to represent the fifth congressional district of Minnesota.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (photo via Getty Images)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory in the June congressional primary in New York shook up Washington and the Democratic party. The progressive challenger and member of the Democratic socialist party unseated a powerful 10-term New York congressman, running with a campaign ad that said: “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.” Now 29, she has become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia (via vibe.com)

Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, first Latina congresswomen from Texas

More than a third of the population of the Lone Star state may be Latino, but until Tuesday, no Latina had been elected to represent the state in congress. Escobar, a former county judge, won her race in Beto O’Rourke’s former district in El Paso, while Garcia trounced her Republican opponent in Houston.

“It’s about time,” Garcia told supporters, according to the Texas Tribune. “But you know, it’s never been about being a first. It’s always been about being the best.”

Leticia James (photo via newsday.com)

Letitia James is Elected New York Attorney General. James was overwhelmingly elected as the attorney general of New York on Tuesday, shattering a trio of racial and gender barriers and now in position to be at the forefront of the country’s legal bulwark against the policies of the current federal administration.

Wesley Bell (photo by Wiley Price)

Wesley Bell is elected St. Louis County, Missouri’s first black prosecutor. Bell’s victory was no surprise, as his real victory came in the August 7 Democratic primary when he crushed incumbent Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch who made enemies of blacks and progressives – for 27 years. Bell celebrated making history with supporters on election night last night, now that his win is official.

Harris County, TX judges (photo via cosmopolitan.com)

Also, all 19 black women who ran for various judicial seats in Harris County, Texas won their races last night, marking the single biggest victory for black women in the county’s history.

And with the passing of Amendment 4 in Florida, 1.4 million people with felonies on their record will be getting the right to vote back. This re-enfranchisement of former felons who have served their sentences (except for those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses) will likely be significant factor in future elections in that state.

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”

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