Category: African-American Firsts

BHM: Extra! Extra! Read All About Ethel Payne, “First Lady of the Black Press”

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

Now that the government shutdown is over and national museums are open again (unless that mess happens again), Black History Month is an especially poignant time to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) if you are in the D.C. area.

I had the good fortune to visit NMAAHC two years ago, and still remember acutely its “Making a Way out of No Way” exhibit, which focusses on the six avenues African-Americans pursued post-slavery to gain equity and agency in the United States – Activism, Enterprise, Organization, Education, Faith, and… the Press.

Because of my lifelong interest in journalism, I am personally drawn to stories about the Black Press, which has existed in some form since antebellum times (the first black publication of record is the Freedom Journal in 1827), and exists to this day.

Yet so many don’t know about its rich history and how its presence and its reporters not only served often unrecognized communities, but also were (and still are) deeply involved in activism and social justice at every turn in every era on local, state and national levels.

Enter Ethel Lois Payne.

Long before former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempted to call out American Urban Radio Networks’ correspondent April Ryan for giving him what he thought was a disrespectful headshake while simply trying to do her job, Ethel Payne was agitating White House officials in the press room on a daily.

Payne set the standard in the 1950s when she became one of only three black journalists to be credentialed as a member of the White House Press Corps.

Known as the “First Lady of the Black Press,” Payne was a columnist, lecturer, and freelance writer. She combined advocacy with journalism as she reported on the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s, and was known for asking questions others dared not ask.

It was just unheard of for blacks to be standing up and asking presidents impertinent questions and particularly a black woman. – Ethel Payne

Payne became the first female African-American commentator employed by a national network when CBS hired her in 1972. In addition to her reporting of American domestic politics, she also covered international stories, and questioned every president from Eisenhower to Reagan.

As Payne’s biographer, James McGrath Morris, who wrote Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press says, “Her not being known today is really a legacy of segregation, in that she was iconic to a large segment of the U.S. population, but like most black institutions, the Chicago Defender was entirely invisible to white Americans. So the notion of discussing civil rights with the President of the United States, in that case Eisenhower, she felt she was part of ‘the problem’ and couldn’t pursue typical objective reporting. Instead she adopted a measure of being fair. It may seem like a small distinction but it wasn’t. Her questions were laden with an agenda.”

Born in Chicago, Illinois, the granddaughter of slaves, Payne’s father worked as a Pullman Porter, one of the best jobs open to African Americans in those times. He died at age forty-six after contracting an deadly infection from handling soiled linens and clothes on the train, when Ethel was fourteen years old. Her mother then took various domestic jobs to support the family, which made it difficult to educate all of her children.

Ethel spent her childhood in the predominantly black neighborhood of West Englewood bit attended Chicago public schools, notably the mostly white Lindblom Technical High School. Payne longed to be a writer and pushed to continue her education at Crane Junior College and the Chicago Training School for City, Home, and Foreign Missions.

Continue reading “BHM: Extra! Extra! Read All About Ethel Payne, “First Lady of the Black Press””

BHM: Let’s Honor Oprah! Entrepreneur, Media Maven, Philanthropist, Actor, Influencer… Genius

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

Not many people on Earth have their names become synonymous with genius in their profession, let alone genius in general. Einstein, Shakespeare, Mozart, even Spielberg and Prince easily come to mind. Notably, they are all men, mostly White, and only one is known by his first name. But when you say, “Hey, where are the women? What women do you think of when someone says ‘Who are the geniuses?,'” an immediate response would (or should) be… Oprah.

It may seem like opinion, but I want to go on record that saying “Oprah Winfrey is a genius” is a fact, and one that should be touted widely. Oprah’s status as a cultural icon, media mogul and inspirational leader is taken as a given, but when you look back and reflect on her journey from rural poverty in Mississippi to global icon, you too will recognize how much intelligence, excellence and genius it took to get there and what’s more – stay there.

What follows below in regards to recognizable achievement, vision and success rightfully will only add credence to the “Oprah Winfrey is a genius” fact, but I submit that the secret sauce of Oprah’s claim to that title has been best articulated (and realized) by Oprah herself:

Everybody has a calling. And your real job in life is to figure out as soon as possible what that is, who you were meant to be, and to begin to honor that in the best way possible for yourself. – Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Gail Winfrey, originally named “Orpah” after the biblical figure in the Book of Ruth but had it misspelled and mispronounced so much that “Oprah”  stuck, recently celebrated her 65th birthday on January 29, 1954. Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to Vernita Lee, an unmarried teenage mother and housemaid, and Vernon Winfrey, a coal miner turned barber turned city councilman who had been in the Armed Forces when Oprah was born.

According to wikipedia.org, Winfrey spent her first six years living with her maternal grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee, who was so poor that Winfrey often wore dresses made of potato sacks, and the local children made fun of her. Her grandmother, ever in Oprah’s corner, taught her to read before the age of three and took her to church, where she was nicknamed “The Preacher” for her preternatural ability to recite Bible verses and command the stage.

Despite parental neglect from her mother, sexual abuse by family members from the age of nine, and the stillbirth of a son at age 14, Oprah’s intellect and ability to speak powerfully in public earned her a full ride to HBCU Tennessee State University on an Oratory Scholarship.

As Oprah honed her skills through education and experience, she became the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV. Oprah then became an anchor in the larger market of Baltimore, MD before taking over the hosting position of low-rated AM Chicago in 1984.

Oprah aligned her talents, smarts, professionalism and relatability to catapult her over Phil Donahue’s long-venerated talk show Donahue for the top-rated slot. Oprah then wisely took advice from movie critic Roger Ebert to make a syndication deal with King World Media and have ownership in her program – the beginning of the Oprah brand.

The Oprah Winfrey Show debuted September 8, 1986 and topped daytime talk show ratings for 25 years until she retired from the show. Oprah really hit her stride and pinpointed her brand when she followed her instincts in the 1990s to shift away from “tabloid-style” shows to ones with a focus on literature, self-improvement, mindfulness and spirituality. Even though she briefly took a ratings dip during the change, she soared to the top again and outlasted several popular talk show hosts of the time such as Sally Jesse Raphael, Ricki Lake, Montel Williams, Donahue, Jenny Jones, and Jerry Springer. Continue reading “BHM: Let’s Honor Oprah! Entrepreneur, Media Maven, Philanthropist, Actor, Influencer… Genius”

BHM: “Ain’t I A Woman?” The Life and Legacy of Abolitionist and Activist Sojourner Truth

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

It’s February 1st, which means it is now officially Black History Month! Although we here at Good Black News celebrate the achievements of Black people every day of the year, it is always lovely when the rest of the U.S. joins in to do the same for at least 28 of them. So, for #BHM2019, GBN will be highlighting the achievements of black women, past and present, who have and are paving the way to a better future.

Sojourner Truth Google Doodle (via google.com)

And what better person to start with than today’s Google Doogle, abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, who, with “Ain’t I A Woman?” gave one of the most powerful and unforgettable American speeches of all time on what we now call intersectionality?

In 2014, Sojourner Truth was included in Smithsonian Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time” – yet the majority of Americans don’t know who she was, what she did, or they confuse her with Harriett Tubman.

Born Isabella (“Bell”) Baumfree circa 1797, Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, Ulster County, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son, in 1828 she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.

She gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 after she became convinced that God had called her to leave the city and go into the countryside “testifying the hope that was in her.” Her best-known speech was delivered extemporaneously, in 1851, at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.

The speech became widely known during the Civil War by the title Ain’t I a Woman?,” a variation of the original speech re-written by someone else using a stereotypical Southern dialect. Truth was from New York and grew up speaking Dutch as her first language, and had a Dutch accent. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit black troops for the Union Army; after the war, she tried unsuccessfully to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sojourner_Truth)

There are a lot of other events and details in Truth’s life, of course, including collaboration with Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, President Abraham Lincoln and varied suffragists and women’s groups – Truth was known for her persuasive speeches against slavery as well as sexism – she even once defiantly opened her top and showed her breasts during a speech when she was accused of being a man.  

But what is remarkable and often not mentioned is that she is likely the first black woman in the U.S. to attain national fame (she sold photos and autographs of herself at events to make money “I sell the shadow to support the substance”) and the first to have her voice heard in America. It is also rather ironic that many of the records of her speeches were written by white men, and thus often altered to their perception of a black, female, former slave.

Some would quote that she had 13 children who were sold away from her (she had 5 and raised most of them) or say she was raving when she was calm. Truth’s was a 19th-century case of what is all too familiar today – media distortion by the dominant culture trying to make sense of “the other”- and in her instance, white men trying to process the experiences and truths of black women.

However, Truth was self-possessed – she claimed her ownership of herself by renaming herself and writing her own Narrative in 1850. Truth traveled and spoke to hostile, indifferent and embracing crowds, fought for women’s rights and black women’s right to vote, fought for land grants and reparations for former slaves, prison reform and the end of capital punishment.

Truth was in her 80s when she died at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan. In 1999, a 12-foot high monument was built in Battle Creek to honor her. The calendar of saints of the Episcopal Church remembers Truth annually, and the Lutheran Church calendar of saints remembers her on the same day as Harriet Tubman. 

In 2009, Truth became the first black woman honored with a bust in the U.S. Capitol.

Nancy Pelosi, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton honoring Sojourner Truth as her likeness is added to U.S. Capitol (photo via sfgate.com)

To learn more about Truth, you can read her autobiography The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, the biography Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol by Nell Irvin Painter, and for children, Who Was Sojourner Truth?  or My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth written by Ann Turner and illustrated by James Ransome.

To watch a mini-biography on Truth on biography.com, go to: http://www.biography.com/video/sojourner-truth-mini-biography-11191875531

Berklee College Professor Julius P. Williams Becomes 1st African-American President of the Conductors Guild

Julius P. Williams (photo via wikipedia.org)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

According to jbhe.com, Julius P. Williams has been named President of the Conductors Guild, a global membership organization comprised of conductors of symphony, opera, ballet, choral, band, contemporary, and chamber ensembles. Dr. Williams is the first African American president in Conductors Guild history, and began his two-year term in earlier this month.

Williams is a Professor of Composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston currently, as well as artistic director and conductor of the Berklee Contemporary Symphony Orchestra. His other positions include music director and conductor of Trilogy: An Opera Company in New Jersey, composer with the Boston Symphony Orchestra‘s “Composer-in-Residence Project.” Williams also works with the Boston Pops Orchestra.

“The appointment of Julius Williams as president of Conductors Guild is both meaningful and newsworthy. Maestro Williams has not only the stellar credentials, but the right vision, breadth and leadership, to set a powerful example for our field,” said Afa S. Dworkin, president and artistic director of The Sphinx Organization. “We applaud the Conductors Guild on this news and look forward to many inspiring programs and ideas that will undoubtedly emerge!”

Throughout his career, Williams has conducted ensembles at Carnegie Hall, and performances with orchestras in Dallas, Savannah, Hartford, Sacramento, Tulsa, and Knoxville, as well as the Harlem Symphony, Armor Artist Chamber Orchestra, Connecticut Opera, and the Kalistos Chamber Orchestra in Boston.

Source: https://www.jbhe.com/2019/01/julius-p-williams-becomes-first-african-american-president-of-the-conductors-guild/

Gov. Newsom Appoints Pediatrician, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris as California’s First-Ever Surgeon General | KTLA

Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday announced the appointment of a pediatrician as California’s first-ever surgeon general. Newsom said in a news release that Dr.
— Read on ktla.com/2019/01/21/gov-newsom-appoints-pediatrician-as-californias-first-ever-surgeon-general/

“Black Panther,” “Black KkKlansman,” Regina King, Spike Lee and More Nominated for 2019 Academy Awards

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

The nominees for the 91st Academy Awards were announced early this morning by Black-ish star Tracee Ellis Ross and The Big Sick star Kumail Nanjiani, and among them were for the first time a superhero movie nominated for Best Picture, Black Panther, and the prolific Spike Lee‘s first nomination in the Best Director category for Black KkKlansman, which also was nominated for Best Picture.

Ever since the #OscarsSoWhite controversy of 2016, the demand for more diversity in movies and television has gained and retained attention. Although there are no African-Americans among the Best Actor or Best Actress nominees, Mexican actress Yalitza Aparicio was recognized for her work in Roma, and among the nominees in the Best Supporting Actress category are Golden Globe winner Regina King for her turn in If Beale Street Could Talk, and Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali, who garnered his third Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Green Book.

Other notable African-American Oscar nominees this year are Kendrick Lamar and SZA in the Original Song category for “All The Stars” from Black Panther, and Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson, who might win for what she first became known for as she is also nominated (with Diane Warren) in the Original Song category for “I’ll Fight” from RBG.

“Black Panther” nominees Hannah Beachler and Ruth E. Carter; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse” co-director Peter Ramsey

Peter Ramsey, who is co-director on Best Animated Feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Barry Jenkins in the Adapted Screenplay category for If Beale Street Could Talk. Spike Lee earned a second nod in the Adapted Screenplay category as one of the writers of Black KkKlansman.

Another first this year is Hannah Beachler‘s nomination for Production Design for Black Panther, the only African American woman to receive one in this category. Ruth E. Carter earned her third nomination for Costume Design (the first two were for Malcolm X and Amistad) for Black Panther and  composer Terence Blanchard, who has scored more than forty films and all of Spike Lee’s, finally earned an Original Score nomination this year for his work on Black KkKlansman.

The Oscars will be broadcast live by ABC on Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET. Below is a complete list of all the nominees:

Continue reading ““Black Panther,” “Black KkKlansman,” Regina King, Spike Lee and More Nominated for 2019 Academy Awards”

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