In the 19th century, American firefighters had two ways of descending from their sleeping quarters to their horse-and-buggy conveyances on the ground floor: either by spiral staircase—installed to keep wayward horses from wandering upstairs—or through a tube chute, similar to the enclosed slides you see at playgrounds today. The stairs were cumbersome and the slides were slow, and in the 1870s, David Kenyon of Company 21, an all-African-American firehouse in Chicago, had an epiphany. Continue reading How a Black Fireman Brought a Pole Into the Firehouse
Last month, hours after a jury acquitted former police officer Jeronimo Yanez of manslaughter in the shooting death of 32-year-old Philando Castile, protesters in St. Paul, Minnesota, shutdown Interstate 94. With signs that read: “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace,” the chant of “Philando, Philando” rang out as they marched down the highway in the dark of night. Continue reading The Long, Painful History of Police Brutality in the U.S.
Regal would be the best way to describe the photograph of Mary Church Terrell. Delicately swathed in lace, satin and crystals, the charismatic civil rights activist is seen in profile. The front of her tasteful Gibson pompadour is dappled with light and her face is illuminated as if a single ray of sun had parted the clouds in the sky. It’s a highly flattering image of the D.C. activist and suffragist, and Terrell thought so herself. Continue reading For Turn-of-the-Century African-Americans, the Camera Was a Tool for Empowerment
For Madam C.J. Walker, a new life began when she decided to find a cure for her own hair loss. Her ailment would become the impetus for a large, multi-faceted, international company that sold hair care products—including an inventive vegetable shampoo that she developed—and that offered training to women both as hair stylists and as sales representatives. Continue reading How Business Executive Madam C. J. Walker Became a Powerful Influencer of the Early 20th Century
It’s a striking photograph: six young black women with a spectrum of complexions, faces paused in mid-exclamation, fists raised in simultaneous solidarity at a Black Panther rally. Even their afros are emphatic and resolute as they stand in tandem in Oakland’s DeFremery Park, then and now a popular gathering place for the community’s African-Americans. There, a grove of trees honors Bobby Hutton who, at just 16, had been the Panthers’ first enlisted member and at 17, died after police shot him—purportedly, as he tried to surrender. Continue reading The Women of the Black Panther Party and Their Powerful Influence
The next time you pick up your clothes at the dry cleaner, send a thank you to the memory of Thomas Jennings. Jennings invented a process called ‘dry scouring,’ a forerunner of modern dry cleaning. He patented the process in 1821, making him likely the first black person in America to receive a patent. Continue reading The First African-American to Hold a Patent Invented ‘Dry Scouring’
If the name George Washington Carver conjures up any spark of recognition, it’s probably associated with peanuts. That isn’t an unfair connection—he did earn the nickname “the peanut man” for his work with the legume—but it’s one that doesn’t give credit to the rest of Carver’s pioneering, fascinating work. Continue reading In Search of George Washington Carver’s True Legacy