Alaska Airlines marked a milestone on Mother’s Day, as one of its West Coast flights became the first to be flown by two black women.
Tara Wright, the captain of Flight 361 from San Francisco to Portland, stepped out of the cockpit to introduce herself and first officer Mallory Cave to passengers before their Boeing 737’s Sunday takeoff.
After mentioning that Sunday was Mother’s Day, as well as her father’s 80th birthday, Wright sprung her surprise in a Facebook video.
“Finally, you’re sharing a pretty interesting piece of Alaska Airlines history this morning,” she told passengers, who began bursting into applause. “You’ll be piloted by two female African-American pilots for the first time in the airline’s history.”
Wait for it… Captain Tara Wright is about to announce to Alaska Airlines passengers that they’ll be "piloted by two African American female pilots for the first time in Alaska Airlines’ history." ✈ pic.twitter.com/PLNGbtEsPF
Alaska Airlines – which was formed in a 1932 merger and took its current name in 1944 – subsequently shared Wright’s video to its Facebook page. Its post called the moment “history in the flying,” adding that Wright and Cave were following in the footsteps of Bessie Coleman — America’s first black woman to make a public flight in 1922.
Airline officials declined to discuss details Thursday on the racial or gender diversity of its pilot corps, which includes nearly 2,000 pilots with Alaska and almost 840 more flying with Virgin America after it was acquired by Alaska in 2016.
Thousands more visitors gained entry to the popular Smithsonian museum on four Wednesdays last month, pushing officials to extend the program into May. April’s Walk-Up Wednesday crowds were larger than its Saturday crowds, typically the museum’s busiest day, according to Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas.
“Clearly it was successful,” St. Thomas said. “It allowed more visitors to enjoy the museum.”
There were 9,500 visitors on April 4, the middle of the busy Easter week, and about 8,900 the second Wednesday, April 11, St. Thomas said. The last two Wednesdays attracted 8,000 and 7,800 visitors, respectively. Those numbers exceeded visitor tallies on all four Saturdays in April, which averaged 6,825.
Visitor numbers also eclipsed Tuesday totals last month, which ranged from 4,500 and 7,000, St. Thomas said.
Since its opening Sept. 24, 2016, the newest Smithsonian museum has welcomed more than 3.5 million visitors. It has used timed passes to control crowd size and reduce lines. St. Thomas said officials were not yet considering eliminating all passes.
The museum has distributed thousands of free passes on the first Wednesday of each month — on May 2 it will distribute passes for August — but many are not used. About 3,000 visitors on each Wednesday in April had advance passes and were given priority entry, according to St. Thomas. No visitors were turned away.
In addition to advance passes, the museum distributes same-day passes online daily at 6:30 a.m. Walk-up admission is available after 1 p.m. weekdays, if capacity allows.
CHARLESTON – A swift, cool breeze lifts off the Cooper River. It frisks through the crowns of the towering palm trees that line the paved walkway. Small boats wobble in the calm waters on the east side of the Charleston peninsula. A neatly manicured patch of grass provides a tranquil spot for a blanket and a book. In the distance, the steel cables of the Ravenel Bridge stretch in splendor. To the right, flags fly over Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
Soon, this waterfront will be home to the International African American Museum. The $100 million, 40,000-square foot facility will bridge solemn history and modern magnificence. It will offer captivating exhibits, engaging events and a breathtaking view of the Charleston Harbor.
However, this land is more than prime riverfront real estate. It connects deeply to the heritage the museum aims to commemorate. Ship voyage records reveal that nearly half of the enslaved Africans who were shipped to North America disembarked in Charleston. Many slaves took their first steps on American soil on this patch of land, which was once the largest wharf in North America. Historians estimate that more than 90 percent of all African-Americans can trace at least one ancestor to this land.
Eighteen years ago, former Charleston mayor Joe Riley pledged to build an iconic museum that honors that heritage and illuminates the achievements cultivated from that regrettable past. Since then, 37 other museums dedicated to African-American history and culture have been constructed. However, IAAM supporters contend that this land grants it a distinctive, visceral magnetism.
Riley’s vision has attracted support from city, county and state government, local business owners, national organizations and historians. Yet, Riley and IAAM chief executive officer and president Michael Boulware Moore (who is the great-great-great grandson of Civil War Hero and Congressman Robert Smalls) must raise millions more before construction can begin.
Moore’s passion for this project is personal. When he walks this pristine patch of grass, he can hear the shackles rattling as they dragged against the wooden planks. He can see his great-great-great-great grandmother walking across the wharf. “We know that she landed here. That’s sort of my original anchor to Charleston. It’s really deep emotional territory for me,” Moore said. “Every time I go, it hits me.”
“I understand the history that occurred there,” he said. “I understand tens of thousands of people, including my ancestors, disembarked there in chains. I am confronted by the emotions that must have been felt on that space and just by the enormity of what happened.”
The land’s significance
This serene site was once the epicenter of America’s ugliest enterprise. Nearly 250 years ago, this area was merely brackish marsh. Charleston merchant Christopher Gadsden converted it into the largest wharf in North America. It covered 840 feet from the Charleston Harbor to East Bay Street, between what are now Calhoun and Laurens Streets. Initially, Gadsden’s Wharf primarily serviced the rice industry. Eventually, it became a hub of the international slave trade. From 1783 to 1808, approximately 100,000 enslaved African men, women and children were forced into ships and carried on a voyage through darkness across the Atlantic Ocean into the Charleston Harbor.
According to historian and former South Carolina Historical Society archivist Nic Butler, on Feb. 17, 1806, the City Council of Charleston passed an ordinance stipulating that all vessels importing enslaved Africans port in Gadsden’s Wharf. Enslaved Africans were stored like crops in a wharf warehouse. Shackled to despair, hundreds of men, women and children died from fevers or frostbite. They were buried unceremoniously in a nearby mass grave. Those who survived those subhuman conditions were advertised in newspapers, sold and dispersed.
“Some have described it as the enslaved Africans’ Ellis Island,” University of South Carolina history professor Bobby Donaldson said. “If you can imagine people who endured and survived the Middle Passage from West Africa across the Atlantic, Gadsen’s Wharf is where they see land, where they see a dark and unknown future.”
Slaves were taken to different corners of the fledgling country. They toiled in fields to quicken the economy and fostered a lineage of influential American inventors, educators, soldiers, politicians, writers, philosophers, entrepreneurs, entertainers, activists and athletes.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington D.C. harbors pieces of history that illustrate the story of the Black experience in America, and now the institution is giving African American families the opportunity to preserve memories of their own, The Baltimore Sun reported.
The museum launched a free program—dubbed the Community Curation Program—which provides Black families with the tools and equipment needed to preserve old photographs and footage by converting them into digital records, the news outlet writes. The program is supported by the Robert Frederick Smith Fund and travels to different cities across the country. The museum also provides the same equipment at the institution in Washington. One of the project’s latest stops was at the Impact Hub Baltimore in Station North, Maryland.
“In a very radical way, we recognize the importance of these vernacular, homemade images, this folk cinema, as an alternate history to the kinds of history that the mass media tells,” museum media archivist Walter Forsberg told The Baltimore Sun. “We wanted to render a public service free of charge because we knew there was a lot of material out there trapped on obsolete formats.”
Krewasky A. Salter, another museum curator, told the news outlet that the museum hopes to include some of the images, footage, and objects in their upcoming exhibitions; stating that the content provided by families will help fill in missing gaps in history. Several families have already taken advantage of the resource. Individuals who have digitized their family mementos say that the Community Curation Program has allowed them to weave their personal family stories into the larger fabric of Black history in a significant way. “These are stories in my family, and now I can share them with others,” said Pia Jordan, assistant professor at the School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University, according to the source.
The National Museum of African American History has been dedicated to capturing the essence of all facets of Black culture. The institution is currently working on crowd fundraising for a hip-hop anthology that will delve into the influence of Black music and African American culture on the world.
A new multi-year initiative to help preserve more African-American historical sites, and address funding gaps in the preservation of current sites, was announced today.
TheAfrican-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a partnership between the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations, will establish a grant fund for protection and restoration. Actress and activist Phylicia Rashad, who previously campaigned to protect the Brainerd Institute in South Carolina, a school established in 1866 for freed slaves, will serve as an advisor and ambassador.
“There is an opportunity and an obligation for us to step forward boldly and ensure the preservation of places which tell the often-overlooked stories of African-Americans and their many contributions to our nation,” said Stephanie Meeks, President and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in a statement. “We believe that this fund will be transformative for our country, and we are committed to crafting a narrative that expands our view of history and, ultimately, begins to reconstruct our national identity, while inspiring a new generation of activists to advocate for our diverse historic places.”
The nascent initiative will seek $25 million in initial funding, and focus on historical sites and buildings that help tell often-overlooked aspects of the country’s history, as well as stories of overcoming intolerance, injustice, and inequality.
“As the scholar Carl Becker once wrote, history is what the present chooses to remember about the past,” said Patrick Gaspard, vice president of the Open Society Foundations. “The events in Charlottesville this past summer are a stark reminder of how one segment of American society chooses to celebrate a brutal past. We have an opportunity, through this tremendous project, to preserve, protect and cherish another history too often neglected—the vital story of African-Americans and their enormous contributions to the idea of America.”
Since Ruth Odom Bonner joined President Barack Obama in ringing the bell to open the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture last year, more than 2.5 million people have visited the site.”What’s been so moving is that it’s clear after a year, the museum has already become a pilgrimage site,” says Director Lonnie Bunch, who began the “great adventure” of opening the museum in 2005. What followed was more than a decade of building a collection and a building from scratch. It culminated on September 24, 2016 when the daughter of a slave and the nation’s first black president tolled the 500-pound bell that had been lent by the historically black First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Va. and ushered people in.
Visitors to the African American History and Culture Museum tend to stay more than triple the typical amount of time they spend at most museums. Even a year later, a pass system remains in place to prevent overcrowding, and the free tickets remain difficult to come by (they are released monthly, and a limited number of same-day tickets are available online starting at 6:30 a.m.). The cafe serves up over 1,500 meals a day. Bunch attributes the success in part to a pent up demand—generations worked to get the museum built, and the long-held dream was only fulfilled after more than a century of effort. But he also believes that the way the museum presents its subject matter has a lot to do with it.”It tells the unvarnished truth,” Bunch says. “I think there are people who were stunned that a federal institution could tell the story with complexity, with truth, with tragedy, and sometimes resilience. So I think the kind of honesty of it appeals to people.”
Museum officials know that even many Washingtonians still haven’t managed to get through its doors. So as they celebrate the year anniversary, much of the programming and performances they’ve planned are taking place outdoors. Music and tours of the grounds will take place on both Saturday and Sunday, and the museum’s hours have been extended for those who have passes to go inside.Ahead of the celebration, we spoke with Bunch about what it’s been like to shepherd the museum through its first year. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to a year.
Thank you. That’s the easy part. The hard part was getting it open.
You worked on this for more than a decade before it opened. What was it like to finally see it open after all that work, gathering all those artifacts, building this up from the ground (really a giant hole in the ground) up?
In many ways, it was probably one of the most emotional moments of my life, both professional and personal. To actually not only fulfill a dream of all the staff, but a dream of generations who wanted this, it was really very humbling. But quite honestly it was also very motivating. Whenever you hit a bump or you worry about how you’re going to pull it off, recognizing that I didn’t want to let down all these other generations who had tried, that was a great motivating factor.
You had this moment celebrating the opening, you had the president and all these people who had traveled to D.C., and then it was day one on the grounds. What’s been your experience like shepherding it through this first year?
It’s been wonderful in that it’s become, within the first year already, part of the American lexicon. There’s almost no one that doesn’t know about the museum, doesn’t know about how hard it is to get in, or how much they enjoyed it. But also I think that what’s been so moving is that it’s clear after a year, the museum has already become a pilgrimage site—that there are thousands of people who come to share their story with their grandchildren or to connect over an object with people who shared maybe a comparable experience in the Civil Rights movement. I think it’s really become what we wanted, which was to be a place that was as much about today and tomorrow as it is about yesterday.
You’ve had a long museum career. How has this particular museum been different from previous places you’ve worked at?
It’s different in that you had to start from scratch—you didn’t have a collection, you didn’t have a building. What it allowed us to do is say “what should a 21st century museum that explores race, what should it do?” So it helped us put the way that museums interpret race on its end. Instead of saying “this is a story about the African American community,” we’re saying “this is a story about America through the lens of the African American community.” And so that’s very different.Being able to start from scratch allowed us to think innovatively about how do you actually collect by working with communities and going into peoples homes, in their trunks and attics. In essence, because we had nothing, it forced us to be different than most museums. We have to be more creative, more nimble.
I’ve heard you say this a number of times, that this is an “American story told through an African American experience.” That story is obviously still happening; what is the museum’s role in responding to that story as it occurs, as we’re seeing things like Charlottesville happen in real time.
First of all, part of the museum’s job is to collect today for tomorrow, so that there are things—like we’ve collected Black Lives Matter artifacts, we’ve collected things in Ferguson, things in Baltimore—and some of those are on display in the museum. Some maybe won’t be in display until a curator 30, 40, or 50 years from now wants to use it. Our goal is to make sure that it never happens, like it used to happen early in my career—there were exhibits I wanted to do, stories I wanted to tell, and museums didn’t have those collections. I wanted to make sure that future curators wouldn’t have that problem. Continue reading “As the National Museum of African American History and Culture Turns One, Director Lonnie Bunch Looks Back”→
Antoine Fuqua is developing a film about the late activist and Black Panther affiliate Fred Hampton. The project is based on Jeffrey Haas’ 2009 book The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther, according to Variety. Beginning at the age of 15, Hampton inserted himself into the world of activism by organizing a chapter of the NAACP at his high school and later became the chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party at age 20.
Haas’ book, adapted for the screen by screenwriter Chris Smith, uncovers the controversial events surrounding Hampton’s 1969 murder. The 21-year-old was shot dead in his bed as 14 officers opened fire during a police raid. Though Hampton’s death was ruled as a “justifiable” homicide by officials, Hampton’s surviving family members filed a civil lawsuit in 1970, which resulted in a settlement of $1.85 million in 1982. The untitled project is a part of Fuqua’s new production deal with Sony Studios.
For the filmmaker, the new deal is a homecoming of sorts as the film studio has helmed some of his biggest films including “The Equalizer,” “Training Day,” and his breakout feature, “The Replacement Killers.” “I started my feature film career almost 20 years ago at Columbia,” Fuqua said to Variety about rejoining Sony for his new deal. “Since then some of my biggest career achievements have been with the studio. I am proud of our work together and am very much looking forward to this new collaboration and our upcoming creative endeavors.”
As Fuqua continues to develop his Fred Hampton project, fans can expect the filmmaker to reteam with Denzel Washington for the sequel to their 2014 blockbuster, “The Equalizer,” which will hit theaters September 2018.
Cornell University in New York has made a priceless photographic archive available to the public. It shows the lives of black Americans as they rose through society after the antebellum era. To see all photographs, go to: Loewentheil Collection of African American Photographs
The University of Minnesota Libraries has launched a new online database of African American history. The Umbra Search African American History websiteoffer users access to more than 400,000 digitized archival materials documenting African American history from more than 1,000 libraries and cultural organizations.
Cecily Marcus, director of Umbra Search and a curator at the University of Minnesota Libraries, notes that “no library is able to digitize all of its holdings, but by bringing together materials from all over the country, Umbra Search allows students and scholars to tell stories that have never been told before. Umbra Search partners have amazing collections, and now those materials can sit side by side with related content from a library on the other side of the country.”
Kara Olidge, executive director of Amistad Research Center at Tulane University and an Umbra Search advisory board member, adds that the new service “is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to learn more about African American history. By providing access to thousands of digitized materials, Umbra Search makes it possible to do research at libraries all across the country without getting on a plane.”
According to ShadowAndAct.com, during the Television Critics Association (TCA) winter tour, PBS unveiled that it has teamed up with African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for a 3-part/6-hour documentary series titled “Africa’s Great Civilizations” which premieres on February 27, promising to bring “little-known yet epic stories to life, detailing African kingdoms and cultures.”
The official summary is as follows: “Henry Louis Gates, Jr. provides a new look from an African perspective at African history, traversing the dawn of mankind to the dawn of the 20th century. The series is a breathtaking and personal journey through history that includes evidence of the earliest human culture and art, arguably the world’s greatest ever civilizations and kingdoms, and some of the world’s earliest writing. Gates travels throughout the vast continent of Africa to discover the true majesty of its greatest civilizations and kingdoms.”
The series will air over 3 nights, Monday-Wednesday, February 27-March 1, from 9-11 p.m. ET each airing. To see the trailer, click below: