According to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently debuted an online database of more than 500 court cases in which enslaved persons had sued to gain their freedom. The Dred Scott case in 1857 is the most famous of such cases, but there were many more.
The project collected, digitized, and makes accessible the freedom suits brought by enslaved families in the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, Maryland state courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court. African-American enslaved families accumulated legal knowledge, legal acumen, and experience with the law that they passed from one generation to the next.
The freedom suits they brought against slaveholders exposed slavery a priori as subject to legal question. The suits in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, raised questions about the constitutional and legal legitimacy of slavery, and by extension, affected slavery and law in Maryland, Virginia, and all of the federal territories.
One such case was that of Ann Williams, who leapt from the third floor window of a tavern on F Street in Washington, D.C., after she was sold to Georgia slave traders and separated from her family. She suffered a broken back and fractured her arms, but she survived.
In 2015, original documents about her came to light at the National Archives. Williams and her husband were reunited and had four more children. Then she sued for her freedom. And won. Below is a short film about her story:
The online database concentrates on cases filed in Washington, D.C. in the 1820s and 1830s. More than 100 of these cases involved enslaved persons who were represented by Francis Scott Key, the author of the “Star Spangled Banner.” As such the database is named “O Say Can You See: Early Washington, D.C., Law and Family.”
According to jbhe.com, the student body of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. recently voted on a proposal to add a semester fee of $27.20 that would go toward a fund to benefit descendants of the 272 enslaved persons once owned and then sold in 1838 by the university to pay off debt. The referendum passed by a vote of 2,541 to 1,304, which means nearly two-thirds of enrolled students are in favor of the new fee.
“The university values the engagement of our students and appreciates that 3,845 students made their voices heard in yesterday’s election,” said Todd Olson, Georgetown’s Vice President for Student Affairs, in an official statement. “Our students are contributing to an important national conversation and we share their commitment to addressing Georgetown’s history with slavery.”
Georgetown administrators, however, have said the student referendum is nonbinding, and the school’s 39-member board of directors would have to vote on the measure, according to the school’s student newspaper, the Hoya.
If Georgetown’s board approves, reports The Huffington Post, it would be one of the first major U.S. institutions to create a fund for slavery reparations.
Critics of the reparations fund have argued that it should not be current students’ responsibility to atone for the school’s past.
Nationally, the issue of reparations has been in the spotlight lately. Earlier this week, the New York Times published an opinion piece entitled “When Slaveowners Got Reparations”, pointing out how President Lincoln signed a bill in 1862 that paid up to $300 to slaveholders for every enslaved person freed when he emancipated those in bondage in Washington D.C. In 2014, journalist and best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote “The Case for Reparations,” for The Atlantic, highlighting the topic, and even typically conservative NY Times writer David Brookswrote in March why he’s come around to the cause.
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.
Craig Kirby, founder of “Golf. My Future. My Game,” is on a crusade to introduce more black teens to the game of golf.
Kirby started the non-profit golf foundation in Washington, D.C., in 2014. He’s been working to expose the predominantly white sport to young kids who may not think the game is accessible or possible as a career option. Roughly 80 percent of recreational American golfers are white, according to the 2015 Golf Diversity & Inclusion Report. Within golf-industry workers, that percentage jumps to nearly 90 percent.
Kirby, 55, said he knew nothing about golf until he was invited to play by three white classmates in college. He hasn’t looked back since. “We teach them the game of golf, the business of golf — from soup to nuts,” Kirby told NBC News of his foundation work. “They learn everything — from the pro shop to the cart shop to the back office. It’s a complete golf experience. If kids don’t want to play golf professionally, there are plenty of great jobs within the industry.”
Kirby, a former Democratic political strategist, said he handles everything from fundraising meetings to arranging local transportation for the program’s participants. He tries to open professional doors on the golf course and behind the scenes, making connections with golf-club owners, caddies and even golf-wear designers. He also emphasizes the availability of college golf scholarships.
Since the foundation’s inception, Kirby said about 300 kids from all types of socio-economic backgrounds have participated in the various programs, clinics and internships. Kirby’s mission comes as several prominent golf industry leaders acknowledge racism as a persistent problem in the sport.
“There are real diversity issues in golf and there is a real history of exclusion and racism,”said Jay Karen, CEO of The National Golf Course Owners Association, which represents more than 3,400 courses. “We need to reconcile this history, but we also need to do better. We need to welcome and invite people who have not traditionally been part of the golf industry.”
One of Kirby’s most steadfast supporters is World Golf Foundation CEO Steve Mona. Mona said he tries to give Kirby a national platform to grow his program and introduces him to some of golf’s most prominent leaders. “We want to make sure golf reflects the diversity of our country and, ultimately, it’s good for the game,” Mona told NBC News.
In April, a Pennsylvania golf club owner called the police on five black women golfers, claiming they were playing too slowly. Last week, the women filed formal complaints against the club alleging they were discriminated against due to their race and gender.
The women did receive an apology, but the incident made national headlines and led the club to lose some business. “It’s not a golf issue, it’s a human issue,” Karen said. “It’s a shame the police were called to resolve a conflict that could have been handled through a conversation, talking to each other as human beings. These kinds of conflicts should not happen on golf courses and they shouldn’t happen at Starbucks.”
Only two black golfers have earned their PGA cards since Tiger Woods began his career in 1996. No African-American woman has ever won an LPGA title. Among America’s 15,000 private golf courses, only about a handful are black-owned, Kirby said. Kirby takes his students to one of them: The Marlton Golf Clubin Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
“We take our kids to golf courses and give them a whole new experience,” Kirby said. “They get lessons, guidance and advice from experts in the golf industry who look like them. I don’t want black kids to say they can’t play when get they get invited to play.”
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.
One of the nation’s most renowned performing arts institutions has taken a major step in recognizing hip-hop culture’s influence on society. The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.recently announced the creation of its hip-hop culture council.
The council was developed in efforts to bring more hip-hop-focused programming to the institution. Through an array of different events, hip-hop culture will be examined through the lens of workshops, film screenings, panels, and virtual programs. Rapper Q-Tip will spearhead the council which is made up of a collective of influential individuals that are connected to hip-hop. Amongst some of the individuals who will sit on the council are Questlove of The Roots, rapper Common, rapstress MC Lyte, producer Mimi Valdes, DJ Bobbito Garciaand Interactive One’s own Kierna Mayo. Rapper LL Cool J—who was honored by Kennedy Center last year—will also be a part of the council.
“We are thrilled to be collaborating with such an extraordinary group of icons, innovators, and contributors to the Culture,” said Simone Eccleston, Director of Hip Hop Culture and Contemporary Music at the Kennedy Center in a statement. “As we continue to build the complex ecosystem that supports this program, the Council becomes an integral piece in sustaining Hip Hop’s presence at the Center.” Events that are lined up include a screening of the film Wild Style and a live performance inspired by Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.
The creation of the council comes at a time where many institutions are bringing hip-hop’s influence to the forefront. In November 2017, it was announced that the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. planned on creating an anthology to capture the essence of hip-hop history and highlight how its culture has left an indelible mark on the world. Check out Q-Tip’s introduction to the Kennedy Center’s hip-hop culture council below.
In April of 2017, I had the good fortune to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture as part of a business trip. Once in Washington D.C. and at the National Mall, I was thrilled to learn that the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was only a ten-minute walk away, so after my work was done, I headed over. Photos don’t do it justice, but it is an awesome space, and one I’d encourage every American to visit it if ever in our nation’s capital. It’s the quotes that strike you first – the aesthetic beauty of the words coming out of the granite, then the meaning, then the context of each one of them. Like the MLK we know publicly, it is equal parts solemn, potent, righteous and wise.
I’ve since read that the grounds of the Memorial, which opened to to the public on August 22, 2011, cover four acres and includes the Stone of Hope, a granite statue of Dr. King carved by sculptor Lei Yixin. The inspiration for the memorial design is a line from King’s “I Have A Dream” speech: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” In a word, it is formidable. MLK stands as a beacon of strength, hope and possibility, despite seemingly insurmountable challenges and inequity and injustice. Reflecting upon the man, his journey and his words is of course doable from anywhere in any space, but there is something incredibly special about being to do it where he is honored in the same area as other lauded architects of this country such as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
There are fourteen quotes around the memorial – above are photos of the ones that I was able to get clear photos of before it started getting dark on my day. Enjoy and Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!
Thirty years after becoming rap’s first sex symbol, LL Cool J will be the first hip-hop artist to receive Kennedy Center Honors in its 40-year history.
The rapper-turned-actor born James Todd Smith will be inducted with a prestigious 2017 class — including pop stars Lionel Richie, Gloria Estefan, television icon Norman Lear and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade – on Sunday, Dec. 3 at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C.
The honorees will be saluted by performers while seated alongside President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. While Kennedy Center Honors acknowledge the lifetime achievements of contributors to American culture, the list has traditionally been limited in scope. But the inclusion of LL, born James Todd Smith, in this year’s honoree list further expands the center’s growing embrace of hip-hop culture.
Earlier this year the center appointed Simone Eccleston as its first director of Hip-Hop Culture after naming A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip as artistic director of Hip-Hop Culture in 2016. Historic performances by Kendrick Lamar and Commonhave also underlined the center’s investment, and more programming for the 2017-18 season is expected to be announced in the coming months.
At 49, LL will be the Kennedy Center’s youngest honoree since Stevie Wonder. It’s a long way from home for the St. Albans, Queens native who made his first record, “I Need A Beat,” at 16, after his demo tape made it to the ears of producer and Def Jam founder Rick Rubin. As rap’s first bona fide solo star, LL was larger than life in the 1980s, the first to embody the street-corner swagger and sex appeal that would become a blueprint for future hip-hop icons ranging from Big Daddy Kane to Biggie.
Before an artist like Drake could legitimately mix hip-hop lyricism with R&B vulnerability, LL turned out the first hit rap ballad with 1987’s “I Need Love.” And the ladies loved him for it. Best known today for his starring roles in TV and film, he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year. But after a career spanning 30-plus years and 13 albums, he’s yet to leave rap alone — he’s rumored to be in the studio recording with Dr. Dre.
A fiery Michelle Obama vigorously defended the healthy eating initiative that was her biggest legacy as First Lady on Friday, telling a public health summit in Washington D.C. that something was “wrong” with an administration that did not want to give consumers nutrition information or teach children to eat healthily.
“We gotta make sure we don’t let anybody take us back,” Obama said. “This is where you really have to look at motives, you know. You have to stop and think, why don’t you want our kids to have good food at school? What is wrong with you? And why is that a partisan issue? Why would that be political? What is going on?”
In a 43-minute conversation, peppered with sarcastic remarks and veiled references to the Trump administration, Michele Obama discussed topics from life since her husband left the presidency to her Let’s Move! initiative.“Take me out of the equation — like me or don’t like me,” Obama added. “But think about why someone is okay with your kids eating crap. Why would you celebrate that? Why would you sit idly and be okay with that? Because here’s the secret: If someone is doing that, they don’t care about your kid.”
The comments were Obama’s first public remarks on the Trump administration’s assault on nutrition policy, which has already seen the delay of rules meant to reduce sodium and refined grains in school lunches and provide calorie counts on restaurant menus. The former First Lady championed many of those programs.
The First Lady was speaking at the annual summit of the Partnership for a Healthier America, an organization she helped found to extend her nutrition policies to the private sector. Her remarks were made during a conversation with Sam Kass, a longtime friend and the first executive director of her Let’s Move! program. Kass and Obama discussed a range of topics, including the Obamas’ move to a new D.C. residence and the sorts of meals Obama ate as a child. (Of life since her husband’s presidency, Mrs. Obama said: “Being former is alright.”) But by far her most pointed comments were about the recent delays to the menu-labeling rules and the changes to the school lunch program.
The former First Lady appeared to take issue with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue‘s defense of the school lunch rollbacks, which he justified in part, in his May 1 announcement, by saying many kids didn’t like the foods.“That to me is one of the most ridiculous things that we talk about in this movement — ‘the kids aren’t happy,’” Obama said. “Well you know what? Kids don’t like math either. What are we gonna do, stop teaching math?”
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture declined to comment on Mrs. Obama’s remarks, and said that “Sec. Perdue has nothing but the utmost respect for Michelle Obama.”Obama also objected to the proposed delay of new nutrition labels that were scheduled to go into effect in 2018. The new labels would feature information about calories and added sugars more prominently, but the packaged food industry has requested the compliance deadline be pushed back until at least 2020.
“Keep families ignorant. That’s all I’m hearing,” Obama said. “You don’t need to know what’s in your food. You can’t handle that, mom. Just buy this, be quiet, spend your money — don’t ask us about what’s in your food.” The sharpness of Obama’s remarks are unusual for a former First Lady: There is an unwritten rule that they do not criticize their successors, said Kati Marton, the author of a best-selling book on presidential marriages. It’s also a shift for Obama, who tended to tread cautiously during her husband’s tenure. But Marton said the rules, such as they are, were made for different times.
“It’s impossible to compare her to any prior first ladies, because it’s impossible to compare the Trump administration to any prior one,” she said. “I think it would be a mistake for the Obamas to play by rules that Trump doesn’t play by, himself.” The past four months have seen the food industry seize onto President Trump’s anti-regulatory agenda, arguing for the delay or suspension of rules that Mrs. Obama encouraged. In recent weeks, the National Association of Convenience Stores, the National Grocers Association and the American Bakers Association have all cited the Trump administration’s regulatory rollback as reason to delay the menu-labelling rules and new nutrition labels.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Portrait Gallery is putting up a photograph of American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, often referred to as “The First Lady of Song.”
The portrait is on view beginning Thursday, ahead of the 100th anniversary of Fitzgerald’s birth. Fitzgerald, who died in 1996 at the age of 79, would have celebrated her 100th birthday April 25.
The National Portrait Gallery said in a statement the photograph on display is of Fitzgerald in performance flanked by Ray Brown, Dizzy Gillespie and Milt Jackson. It was taken around 1974 by William Gottlieb, who learned to use a camera to take pictures to accompany his weekly music column for The Washington Post. It’s the first time the photograph has been displayed at the museum.