Tag: Black History Month

February 22 Booker T. Washington


This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Booker T.



“No race can prosper until it learns that there is as much
dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.”


-Booker T. Washington



Booker T. Washington is a complicated and towering figure in
the history of Black America. Although Washington was born a slave, he died as
the most prominent Black person in America. In the interim, he created a
previously unmatched legacy of accomplishment.



Washington is most closely associated with Tuskegee
Institute, the school he led from its inception until his death. Tuskegee is
located in the deep southern state of Alabama and continues to exist as an Historically
Black College (HBCU). Founded in the Jim Crow era, Tuskegee specialized in
skilled labor training (a fact that eventually drew the ire of people like WEB
who wanted Blacks to explore the liberal arts) in an attempt to make
Blacks more economically valuable. The school eventually became one of America’s
pre-eminent Black colleges. Washington himself was a graduate of Hampton
Institute, another HBCU, where he was trained as a teacher. Washington’s career
served as a model for many Blacks as he transitioned from poverty to Tuskegee.



The most significant public moment of Washington’s career
was 1895’s Atlanta Address. In this speech, Washington seemed to accept Jim Crow
segregation policies and restrictions on voting as long as Blacks were granted
a measure of economic and educational opportunity. Washington was challenged by
DuBois and others who wanted to press for increased social justice but
Washington seemed convinced that Black safety was in constant jeopardy as seen
by the dramatic rise of the Ku Klux Klan and increase in lynchings after



Although Washington is frequently viewed as too accommodating
to White supremacists there is a strong line of argument that suggests his
public statements were an attempt to minimize the White fear of social change.  It is now known that Washington spent years secretly
raising and funneling money toward legal challenges of the Jim Crow regime.  



Washington became generally perceived as the leader of Black
America after his Atlanta speech and became connected with important leaders in
business and politics. Many of these relationships helped lead to the
foundation and perpetuation of schools for Black children throughout the
country. Eventually, there were more than 5 000 schools funded through Washington’s
network of donors. Tuskegee also received incredible financial gifts and
attention. Tuskegee’s successes led to a visit from President William McKinley.



After his 1901 autobiography Up From Slavery, Washington
became even more widely known. One of the fruits of this success was an
invitation to dinner from the new President, Theodore Roosevelt. Washington was
the first Black to be so honored. Roosevelt invoked the wrath of White America
by hosting Washington in the White House and both men received intense
criticism for this interaction.



The legacy of Booker T. Washington continues to be a
challenging one, filled with interpretive possibilities. If nothing else, it is
clear that Washington created an important institution and attempted to create
the best possible future conditions for his race and for his country.



Today I am grateful for Booker T. Washington. You should be






February 17 Olaudah Equiano


This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Olaudah Equiano



“But is not the slave trade entirely a war with the heart of man? And
surely that which is begun by breaking down the barriers of virtue involves in
its continuance destruction to every principle, and buries all sentiments in


Olaudah Equiano



Equiano was a native Nigerian who was sold into slavery as a
child. His autobiography, The Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, is
often considered the founding document of the genre of slave narrative. Slaves
like Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass followed in Equiano’s footsteps by
sharing their own stories.



Equaino’s harrowing tale of being kidnapped as a ten year
old helped introduce White Americans to some of the worst elements of the slave
trade. Reading this young man’s story of terror (he worried that any people who
stole other people were likely cannibals!) caused some to reject Northern
participation in the African slave trade.



Equiano’s storytelling was also an early indicator of the
intellectual ability of Blacks. When it became clear that Equiano wrote his own
story, some of the rationales for African enslavement were substantially
undercut. Although his fame in England far surpassed his limited recognition in
the United States, Equiano made important impacts that continue to resonate
into modern works like Alex Haley’s Roots.



Today I am grateful for Olaudah Equiano. You should be too.






February 16 Zora Neale Hurston


This Black History Month I’m Grateful for  Zora Neale Hurston



Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not
make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the
pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”


-Zora Neale Hurston



Hurston was the kind of multitalented thinker who helped
validate the name of the Harlem Renaissance. At various points in her life,
Hurston was best known for being a prominent anthropologist, highly acclaimed author
and a dedicated folklorist.



With her fictionalized books being rooted in specific
real-life experience, Hurston paved the way for contemporary writers like Alice
Walker, Jodi Picoult and Toni Morrison. Hurston’s ability to translate spoken
diction into written language helped introduce an authentic Southern Black
vernacular into traditional literary forms. The richness of Hurston’s language
seemed to move her beyond the dialect poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar and
Langston Hughes who also attempted to represent the spoken voices of the south.



Despite having once been out of print, Hurston is now
considered an artistic foremother for feminist and womanist writers, thanks to
Walker’s efforts at reclaiming Hurston’s legacy. In the past forty years,
Hurston has moved from being virtually forgotten to holding a prominent place
in the American literary canon.



Hurston’s novels are among the earliest
examples of Black women existing in the center of their own stories. Her female
characters may be buffeted by the harsh winds of racism, poverty and sexism by
their dignity remains intact.



Today, I am grateful for Zora Neale Hurston. You should be






February 7 Sojourner Truth


This Black
History Month I’m Grateful for Sojourner Truth


"The Spirit calls
me, and I must go." 

 -Sojourner Truth



Sojourner Truth is rightfully revered as an American hero.
Truth was born into slavery but never allowed that condition to determine her
self-worth. Even before she joined the abolitionist movement, Truth was a
pioneer. She was one of the earliest Black American women to win a lawsuit
against a White man when she successfully sued to have one of her children
freed from slavery and returned to her.


Having lived as a northern slave, Truth had a very different
set of circumstances than most southern slaves and dictated an autobiography attesting
to her experiences. Soon after, she began traveling the country as a speaker,
advocating for the abolition of slavery and the expansion of rights for women.
Her most famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman”, beautifully articulated the
intersection of gender and racial oppression she suffered.


For many northerners, Truth helped make the horrors of
slavery real for the first time. Combined with other speakers like Frederick
Douglass and books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Truth helped sow the seeds for
northern support for the Civil War. She even assisted the war effort by recruiting
Black men for the Union Army.


Sojourner Truth spent decades of her life fighting against
injustice and fighting for opportunity. She succeeded in changing her life, her
circumstances and her world.


Today I am grateful for Sojourner Truth. You should be too.







February 1 Frederick Douglass

This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Frederick Douglass


“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

-Frederick Douglass



The accomplishments of Frederick Douglass are so numerous they seem mythological to many of us today. For a Black person, born a slave in the first half of the 19th century, to have become so accomplished was literally unimaginable until Douglass did it.


A few highlights:

Douglass freed himself after illegally learning to read; worked as an abolitionist and suffragist; published The North Star and other newspapers; wrote multiple autobiographies; expanded benefits for Black soldiers in the Civil War; received nominations for Vice-President and President.

His autobiographies captivated the country and, for many Northerners, provided the first clear demonstration that Blacks could be the intellectual equal of Whites. Douglass was the first Black person to garner a truly national reputation, the nearly universal respect of Whites, and to be treated as an equal by an American President.

In fact, I consider Douglass to be the original president of Black America. He was the first person who could be said to have represented the most urgent interests of Blacks to the whole country.
It’s nearly impossible to conceive even now but Frederick Douglass was born as a slave and died as one of the most important people in the world.


Today, I am grateful for Frederick Douglass. You should be too.