On this Veteran’s Day, Good Black News is choosing to honor former Union Navy boat captain and oft-hidden historical figure Robert Smalls of South Carolina.
Robert Smalls was the first black man elected to U.S. Congress during Reconstruction.He was born into slavery in 1839 in Beaufort, S.C., and started his remarkable, implausible journey to national prominence by daring to escape slavery during the Civil War with his family.
Smalls, like many other enslaved peoples, was made to work for the Confederate forces during the Civil War. Menial labor such as grave digging, cooking, digging trenches, etc. were the most common jobs, but some enslaved peoples were used in skilled labor positions, such as Smalls, who could navigate the waters in and around Charleston, so was used to guide transport ships for the Confederate Navy.
On May 13, 1862, Smalls convinced several other enslaved people to help him commandeer a Confederate transport ship, the CSS Planter, in Charleston harbor. Smalls sailed from Confederate-controlled waters to the U.S. blockade.
By doing so, not only did he gain freedom for himself, several enslaved peoples and members of his family, his example of cunning and bravery helped convince President Abraham Lincoln to accept black soldiers into the U.S. Army and Navy. Check out PBS video about this event below:
Lonnie G. Bunch III, the founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), was appointed the new Secretary of the Smithsonian on Tuesday. According to dcist.com, Bunch is the fourteenth person to hold the position in the Smithsonian’s 173-year history, and the first African American.
As Secretary, Bunch will manage the administration of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, 21 libraries, and the National Zoo. He is also responsible for its $1.5 billion annual budget. Bunch succeeds David J. Skorton, who announced his resignation in December.
“Lonnie has spent 29 years of his life dedicated to the Smithsonian, so he knows the institution inside and out,” said David Rubenstein, the chair of the Smithsonian Board of Regents on Tuesday. The Board met at the Supreme Court earlier in the day unanimously elected Bunch as Secretary.
“He’s also highly regarded by members of Congress and highly respected by our donor base,” Rubenstein added, while also citing Bunch’s “incredible character” and his leadership of the NMAAHC as major assets.
“You’re going to make a historian cry,” Bunch said when he spoke at Tuesday’s press conference. “This is an emotional moment, because the Smithsonian means so much to me personally and professionally.”
The museum has been such a huge success that tickets are still largely required more than two years after opening, with visitors staying for hours longer than at other facilities. In its first year of operation, NMAAHC welcomed nearly 2.4 million visitors and was the fourth-most visited Smithsonian institution.
“It tells the unvarnished truth,” Bunch told DCist on the one-year anniversary of the museum’s opening. “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.”
Over his tenure, Bunch and his team of curators made it a point to continue building a collection for the museum’s future, including acquiring artifacts from the Black Lives Matter movement, and to integrate D.C.’s own rich history into the fabric of the museum.
At the 50thNAACP Image Awards, the NAACP announced its historic “Jamestown to Jamestown” event partnership with Ghana, marking the 400th year enslaved Africans first touched the shores of what would become the United States of America.
An official event of Ghana’s “Year of Return,” Jamestown to Jamestown will allow for NAACP leadership, NAACP members, and members of the African American community to honor both ancestors and the struggle for Black liberation in a groundbreaking trek from Jamestown, Virginia to Jamestown in Accra, Ghana in August of this year.
“Jamestown to Jamestown represents one of the most powerful moments in the history of the Black Experience,” said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. “We are now able to actualize the healing and collective unity so many generations have worked to achieve in ways which bring power to our communities in America, Africa and throughout our Diaspora.”
The Jamestown to Jamestown events kickoff August 18 in Washington D.C., where participants will travel via bus to Jamestown, Virginia for a prayer vigil and candle- ighting ceremony marking the African “Maafa,” a term describing the horrific suffering embedded in the past four centuries related to the enslavement process.
Participants will then travel back to DC for a gathering at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (which was designed by Ghanaian architect Sir David Adjaye) prior to departing to Ghana on a direct flight for 7 to 10 days of cultural, spiritual and cathartic experiences designed to connect the present to the African past.
Some trip events include:
• Prayer Vigil at Jamestown, VA Settlement
• Direct Chartered Flight to Ghana from Washington, DC
More than 80 movies by and about African Americans will be screened in D.C. next week as part of the inaugural Smithsonian’s African American Film Festival.
The four-day festival, which runs from Oct. 24 – 27, includes films ranging from Hollywood hits to experimental shorts. The event is organized by the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The festival’s goal is to introduce the breadth and depth of African American film to a wider audience, according to Kinshasha Holman Conwill, the museum’s deputy director.
“There’s something for the cinephile who knows film like that back of her or his hand, and there’s something for the person who’s just learning about African American film,” she said. “From the most popular to the most provocative, it is all here.”
Most of the screenings will take place in the museum’s Oprah Winfrey Theater, though the Freer|Sackler and National Gallery of Art will also host some screenings.
The festival kicks off on Wednesday night with Widows, a new film starring Viola Davis that doesn’t hit theaters until mid-November. The director, Steve McQueen, became the first black filmmaker to win an Academy Award for Best Picture for his 2013 film 12 Years A Slave. If you’re interested in attending the Widows screening, you’re unfortunately out of luck – it’s already sold out.
The festival will also give audiences the chance to see films from the museum’s extensive collection. These range from Garden, a five-minute experimental short from 2017, to Black Panthers, a 1968 documentary about the Black Panther Party and its members’ fight to free their imprisoned co-founder Huey P. Newton.
And while the 2017 Marvel superhero movie Black Panther isn’t part of the lineup, attendees of the festival’s “Night at the Museum” celebration on Oct. 25 will be able to see the costume worn by actor Chadwick Boseman in the blockbuster film on display for the first time. The museum acquired the costume and other objects from the film earlier this year.
Netflix will stream its new documentary Quincy on Friday, Oct. 26. The film tells the story of the iconic music producer and singer Quincy Jones; it was co-produced by his daughter, the actress Rashida Jones. The titular Jones will speak on a panel following the screening.
If you’d rather talk than watch, you can attend one of the festival’s free Exchanges forums at the Freer|Sackler. Discussion topics include stop-motion animation and the museum’s home movie digitization project, Great Migration. Under that program, visitors can bring in home videos made on obsolete media (we’re talking eight-millimeter film and cassettes) and get them digitized and preserved.
“What it allows us to do,” said Rhea Combs, the museum’s film and photographer curator, “is tell the American story through the African American lens. Literally.”
The festival also builds upon work started by the D.C. Black Film Festival to highlight lesser-known black filmmakers and actors for the Washington audience. “We don’t ever want to be the all-consuming Smithsonian that comes into a community and takes over,” Conwill said of its role in the broader film festival ecosystem. The D.C. Black Film Festival celebrated its second event this year.
The African American Film Festival’s closing day features an awards ceremony for the juried film competition. Fifteen finalist films are competing in six different categories: Best Documentary Short, Best Narrative Short, Best Documentary Feature, Best Narrative Feature, Best Experimental & Animation, and the Audience Award.
The festival closes Saturday night with a screening of a film adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, If Beale Street Could Talk.
You can buy tickets for specific films or events here, and see the full slate of screenings here. The festival is scheduled to recur every other year at the museum.
Come Friday, we can all watch the seeds of the future, stand-alone Oprah Winfrey Museum be sown.
Opening June 8 and running through June 2019, the “Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture” exclusive exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will, according to The Washington Post, feature video clips, interview segments, movie costumes, and personal photographs and journals to explore what has influenced Winfrey and how her work has shaped America.
“What’s interesting is the same way America thought about Walter Cronkite — you could trust Walter Cronkite and his opinion — they trust Oprah,” said museum director Lonnie G. Bunch III. “An African American woman becomes the person America turns to.”
Winfrey donated $12 million to the $540 million museum as it was being built, making her its largest individual benefactor (its theater is named in her honor). But her role as benefactor did not influence the exhibition, Bunch said. “We made sure there was a bright line, that this was done by the museum and museum scholars,” he said. “The fundraising was not through Oprah’s people.”
Curators Rhea L. Combs and Kathleen Kendrick worked with Winfrey and her staff on arranging loans for the exhibition and on fact-checking and background information. “In terms of content and narrative and the way the story is told, it’s the museum’s product,” Kendrick said. “The way we approached it was the way we approach all of our exhibitions.”
The exhibit balances Winfrey’s humble personal story with her achievements. “We’re providing a context for understanding not only who she is, but how she became a global figure, and how she is connected to broader stories and themes,” Kendrick said.
The first section of the show, which is in the Special Exhibitions gallery, explores Winfrey’s childhood and early career and how the cultural shifts of the 1950s and 1960s informed her worldview.
“Civil rights, the women’s movement, the media and television landscape, she’s at this distinct intersection of all of these dynamic moments,” Combs said. “She becomes someone at the forefront of dealing with ideas, of discussing hot-button topics like racism and sexual orientation.”
The middle section looks at the 25-year run of the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” the highest-rated talk show in U.S. television history. Using artifacts from Winfrey’s Harpo Studios in Chicago, where the show was filmed, this section focuses on its evolution, its variety of subject matter and guests, and its reach into social issues such as racism and equality.
“She used television as a social medium, convening conversations and creating these interactive experiences with people,” Kendrick said. “She’s offering lessons for living, social guidance in a way.”
The third section looks at Winfrey’s role as cultural influencer and tastemaker in the movies she has made (“The Color Purple,” “Beloved,” “The Butler”) the books she promoted in her television book club and her philanthropic work.
The timing of the high-profile exhibition was planned to coincide with the last quarter of the African American Museum’s second year, when officials expected a drop in attendance. Instead crowds are regularly at capacity and timed passes to enter are still required. Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the museum has welcomed 3.8 million visitors, making it one of the most popular Washington D.C. attractions.
“I really thought after the first year it’d be business as usual, so at the end of the second year I’d do something to give it visibility,” Bunch said. “I didn’t anticipate we’d have the same crush of crowds.”
Bunch said he hopes the exhibition will encourage visitors to think about what Winfrey has represented over the years.
“There are so many issues, about women, power, media, body image,” he said. “This should be a popular show because of the impact of this person, but it is also a show that allows us to think about what it means that a woman who doesn’t fit the TV look could build a media empire and become an entrepreneur.”
According to the Smithsonian Institute, next Tuesday, its National Portrait Gallery will recognize and honor the life of Henrietta Lacks with the installation of a 2017 portrait by Kadir Nelson on the museum’s presentation wall on the first floor. The portrait was jointly acquired by the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture as a gift from Nelson and the JKBN Group LLC, and will be shared by the two museums. The painting will be on display at the Portrait Gallery through Nov. 4.
Lacks, a mother of five, lost her life to cervical cancer at age 31. During her treatment, doctors took cells from her body and discovered they lived long lives and reproduced indefinitely in test tubes. These “immortal” HeLa cells have since contributed to over 10,000 medical patents, aiding research and benefiting patients with polio, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and other conditions.
Considering the history of medical testing on African Americans without their permission, the fate of Lacks raised questions about ethics, privacy and racism. Rebecca Skloot’s 2010 best-selling book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, addressed those issues and later prompted Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions to adapt her story into a theatrical movie that first aired on HBO in 2017.
“It is fitting that Henrietta Lacks be honored at two Smithsonian museums, as each approaches American history from unique and complementary perspectives,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “Lacks’ story presents moral and philosophical questions around issues of consent, racial inequalities, the role of women, medical research and privacy laws, providing rich platforms for historical understanding and public dialogue.”
“The National Museum of African American History and Culture has always felt that the story of Henrietta Lacks is a significant and important moment that deserved greater recognition,” said Lonnie Bunch, director of the museum.
Commissioned by HBO, Nelson used visual elements to convey Lacks’ legacy. The wallpaper features the “Flower of Life,” a symbol of immortality; the flowers on her dress recall images of cell structures; and two missing buttons allude to the cells taken from her body without permission.
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.
SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook has named one of the nation’s most prominent black corporate leaders, American Express‘ Kenneth Chenault, to its board of directors.
The appointment, which gives the social media giant the guidance of a highly regarded finance executive and the first black director on its all-white board, was the culmination of years of recruitment efforts, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. “I’ve been trying to recruit Ken for years. He has unique expertise in areas I believe Facebook needs to learn and improve — customer service, direct commerce, and building a trusted brand,” Zuckerberg said in a statement. “Ken also has a strong sense of social mission and the perspective that comes from running an important public company for decades.”
Chenault announced in October that he would retire as chairman and CEO of American Express on Feb. 1, capping a 16-year run.
Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandbergtold the Congressional Black Caucus in October that the social media giant was in talks to bring aboard its first black board member but she did not disclose the person’s identity.
The striking lack of people of color in the executive suite and on the boards of Silicon Valley companies won’t come as a culture shock to Chenault, one of the longest-serving black CEOs of a major U.S. corporation and a veteran of an industry dominated by white men in its top management ranks. The appointment to the Facebook board, effective Feb. 5, comes after years of lobbying by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson to add people of color to the company’s directors.
Diversity remains a top challenge for Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies that are mostly staffed by white and Asian men. Top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading technology companies hire them, USA TODAY research showed.
Minorities are also sharply underrepresented in non-technical jobs such as sales and administration, with African Americans faring noticeably worse than Hispanics, according to USA TODAY analysis of the employment records of Facebook, Google and Yahoo in 2014.
Women now make up 35% of Facebook’s global workforce, up from 33%, and hold 19% of technical roles, up from 17%, the Menlo Park, Calif. company said last year.
In the U.S., Facebook has brought aboard more people of color. Three percent of Facebook workers are African American, up from 2%, and 5% of them are Hispanic, up from 4%.
But Facebook fell short where the lack of diversity is most acute, in the proportion of African-American and Hispanic workers in technical roles, which has stayed flat at 1% and 3% respectively since 2014. The percentage of African Americans and Hispanics in senior leadership positions at Facebook has also remained largely unchanged.
Chenault was the second black Fortune 500 CEO to announce plans to step down in 2017, along with Xerox Corp.’s Ursula Burns. Less than 5% of the 200 largest U.S. companies are led by African Americans, according to a 2016 report from recruitment firm Spencer Stuart.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Chenault, 66, has been with American Express since 1981. He serves on the boards of IBM, Procter & Gamble and non-profit groups including the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health. He’s also a philanthropist who took a lead role in raising money for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
When Chenault announced he was stepping down from American Express, Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is the largest AmEx shareholder, said in a statement that he was the “gold standard for corporate leadership and the benchmark that I measure others against.”
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is already looking to include Colin Kaepernick in it halls. Director Lonnie Bunch reached out to sociologist Harry Edwards as the museum was being developed, and Edwards was part of the game-changers exhibit featuring famous black sports stars and their impact on the world. To that end, Edwards recently donated a collection of Kaepernick’s memorabilia to the museum, suggesting that they should put up an exhibit featuring Kaepernick sooner than later.
“I said, ‘Don’t wait 50 years to try to get some memorabilia and so forth on Kaepernick,’ ” Edwards told USA TODAY Sports. “ ‘Let me give you a game jersey, some shoes, a picture … And it should be put right there alongside Muhammad Ali. He’s this generation’s Ali.’ ”
Kaepernick was rocketed to nationwide attention when he decided to take a knee during he national anthem in protest of the state of race relations in the United States, a decision that prompted a wave of similar protests across the country.
Ruth Negga is the January 2017 cover model for Vogue Magazine. The Irish-Ethiopian actress is starring in Loving, a film directed by Jeff Nichols, about an interracial couple who desire to be married in 1958 Virginia. Loving is the first full-length film to be screened at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Ruth delved to Vogue about growing up with interracial parents and losing her father at a young age. Ruth and her mother went to Ireland and was waiting for her father, but he died in Ethiopia in a car crash. She found out via a letter. “This was 1988. There wasn’t any grief counseling for kids.” Ruth admits to going to therapy in her early 30’s to deal with the loss of her father.
Ruth identifies as Irish-Ethiopian, adding, “I become very territorial about my identity because it’s been hijacked by so many people, with their own projections.” Deep and a struggle, many racially ambiguous women must address. Ruth explains, “I’m always very careful to say I’m Irish-Ethiopian because I feel Ethiopian and I look Ethiopian and I am Ethiopian. But there are 81 languages in Ethiopia, and I don’t know any of them.”