Category: History

Professor Farah Jasmine Griffin to Chair Columbia University’s Newly-Created African American and African Diaspora Studies Department

Professor Farah Jasmine Griffin (photo via goodreads.com)

via jbhe.com

The Columbia University board of trustees recently approved the creation of a new African American and African Diaspora Studies Department. Professor Farah Jasmine Griffin, the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African American Studies, has been appointed as the chair of the new department.

“Now, more than ever, we need to have both an understanding of that history, but we also need to understand the ways that history contributes to a sense of possibility and vision for the future,”said Dr. Griffin. “Even though we are later than many of our peers, the creation of this department at Columbia is right on time because our nation and our world need the kind of knowledge we produce.”

In 1993, long before there was a centralized department for African studies, Dr. Manning Marable established the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) at Columbia. The institute has brought together scholars from a variety of disciplines and continues to bridge scholarship, teaching, and public life. Once the new department has been created, the IRAAS will continue to conduct research.

Now that the department has been approved, Columbia plans to hire new faculty who are experts in the field of African American and African diaspora studies and create a Ph.D. program to produce additional innovative scholarship.

Additionally, the school recognizes the significance of being located in Harlem, a center of Black cultural life in the United States, and plans to collaborate with the surrounding community.

“Departments and academic institutions don’t produce knowledge for the moment, they produce knowledge for the long term,” said Dr. Griffin, who also serves as director of the IRAAS. “Creating a new department is an investment in producing knowledge that is valuable for our country at any time, but especially at this moment, as it reminds us of a historical legacy as well as a vision of America that we need to engage more now than ever.”

Dr. Griffin holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, a Ph.D. from Yale University, and has authored several books including “Who Set You Flowin’?”: The African-American Migration Narrative (Race and American Culture), and If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday.

Source: https://www.jbhe.com/2018/12/columbia-university-approves-an-african-american-and-african-diaspora-studies-department/

Crenshaw Boulevard to Break Ground on Mile-Long Artistic Tribute to Black History and Culture of Los Angeles

A rendering of views to the east from the upper level of the viewing deck at Sankofa Park, located where Crenshaw Boulevard and Leimert Boulevard split. (Courtesy of Perkins+Will)

by Mike Roew via laist.com

When the Metro’s new Crenshaw/LAX line opens in summer 2020, riders will travel through a 1.3-mile-long art project celebrating Los Angeles’ African-American achievement.

“Destination Crenshaw” is set to break ground in early 2019, and will flank the route along Crenshaw Boulevard. Renderings were released earlier this month.

“The hope,” Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said, “is that [people] understand that L.A., among other things, is quintessentially a black city. In the same way that it’s a Latino city, in the same way it’s a Jewish city, in the same way that it’s a Japanese city. The stories of black people in this town are central to what this town is, and what it continues to develop into.”

Harris-Dawson called Destination Crenshaw an “open-air museum” that is set to feature monuments, art, park space, and other cultural experiences celebrating black Los Angeles. It’ll be one of the first stops for people taking the Metro from LAX, with clear views of the surrounding art.

An aerial rendering of Crenshaw Boulevard from the Hyde Park Station at Slauson Avenue (left) to Leimert Park (right) showing various Destination Crenshaw project element locations. (Courtesy of Perkins+Will)

The inspiration for the project was the Crenshaw Wall, Harris-Dawson said. That’s the massive graffiti project that already stands in Crenshaw, which Harris-Dawson wants to see restored and enhanced.

“But also many of our artists that are in this community have art that you have to travel outside South L.A. to see,” Harris-Dawson said. “We wanted to create a space for them to show their work in their own neighborhoods.”

An open call went out for artists earlier this year, but another is planned for 2019.

The space will have more than 125 spots for art, according to Harris-Dawson, including 3D art, street art, fine art, and more. The art will tell stories curated by the project’s historian.

Even the parks will be part of telling the story.

“There may be a [play structure] there that may spell out the words, ‘say it loud,'” Harris-Dawson said. “So that’s a way in which, as a park, it is a functional tool, but it tells a story about political protest, and community confrontation, and African-American music in a direct way.”

Harris-Dawson hopes Destination Crenshaw will help bring back creative businesses and boost the local economy. “African-American culture is consumed by the world, in every corner of the world, but African-American neighborhoods have not necessarily been able to take advantage of that,” Harris-Dawson said.

“Whether it’s streetware and street fashion that is largely generated by young people in the Crenshaw neighborhood — they make a sneaker popular, and then you have to go to Melrose to get the sneaker. And the same is true for all forms of art,” he said.

Destination Crenshaw is set to open in spring 2020. They also have a public kickoff event planned for Feb. 8, 2019, where they hope to reveal a couple of the key artists contributing to the project, according to Harris-Dawson.

Here’s a promotional video from earlier this year:

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

Common’s Freedom Road Productions and Lionsgate to Bring Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Barracoon’ to TV

Zora Neale Hurston (l), Cudjo Lewis (r) [photo via blackyouthproject.com]
by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

According to Deadline.com, hip hop artist and Academy-Award winner Common‘s Freedom Road Productions in conjunction with Lionsgate Entertainment, has optioned the rights to Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’, the recently discovered book by Zora Neale Hurston, to develop as a limited television event series.

Barracoon centers on 86-year-old Cudjo Lewis, who Hurston identified as the last known formerly enslaved person to survive the Middle Passage.

Hurston’s book chronicles Cudjo’s time of slavery and the profound complexities of reconstruction and freedom after the Atlantic slave trade was abolished.

This is the second project to emerge from Lionsgate and Freedom Road’s TV deal. They are already developing the Saturday Night Knife and Gun Club TV adaptation starring and produced by Common.

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

Marvin Gaye and Gregory Hines to be Honored with U.S. Postal Stamps in 2019

Gregory Hines and Marvin Gaye 2019 Commemorative Stamps (images via usps.com)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

The United States Postal Service announced yesterday commemorative stamps honoring singing and dancing legends Marvin Gaye and Gregory Hines will be issued in 2019.

Though the specific release dates have yet to be revealed, Gaye’s stamp will be part of the Postal Service’s Music Icons series, which in the past has featured Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix and Sarah Vaughan, and many other superlative talents.

Gaye, best known for early Motown hits with Tami Terrell such as “How Sweet It Is” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” as well has his groundbreaking What’s Going On album has a stamp design features a portrait inspired by historic photographs. The stamp pane is designed to resemble a vintage 45 rpm record sleeve. (A pane is the unit into which a full press sheet is divided before sale at post offices.) One side of the pane includes the stamps, brief text about Gaye’s legacy, and the image of a sliver of a record seeming to peek out the top of the sleeve.

Another portrait of Gaye, also inspired by historic photographs, appears on the reverse along with the Music Icons series logo. Art director Derry Noyes designed the stamp pane with original art by Kadir Nelson.

Hines’ stamp will be the 42nd stamp in the Black Heritage series, which in the past has honored historian Carter G. Woodson, civil rights activist Dorothy Height, and tennis champion Althea Gibson, among others. Noyes designed this stamp as well, which features a 1988 photograph of Hines by Jack Mitchell.

Hines is best known for his unique style of tap dancing injected new artistry and excitement into tap dancing with his unique style. A versatile performer who danced, acted and sang on Broadway, on television and in movies such as “Tap,” “White Knights,” and “Waiting To Exhale,” Hines developed the entertainment traditions of tap into an art form for a younger generation and is credited with renewing interest in tap during the 1990s.

In related postal news, a bill naming the post office at 3585 S. Vermont Ave. in South Los Angeles, CA the Marvin Gaye Post Office was signed into law this July.