In 1926, a self-taught musician named Big Bill Broonzy found his way to Chicago. A sharecropper turned soldier, he had left Mississippi and headed north to escape the pervasive racism of the Jim Crow South along with thousands of others of African-Americans in the Great Migration. Like many other black men, he worked as a janitor and a Pullman porter and a cook. But when he found himself in front of a microphone in a recording studio, the blues musician knew he had found his niche. Continue reading How ‘Race Records’ Turned Black Music Into Big Business
In 1780, the proclamation “all men are born free and equal,” rang out from the central square in the small town of Sheffield in western Massachusetts. The line was from the state’s newly ratified constitution, read aloud for a proud public to hear. America’s war for independence was raging and, like the rest of the burgeoning country, the town was gripped by revolutionary fever. Continue reading Meet Elizabeth Freeman, the First Enslaved Woman to Sue for Her Freedom—and Win
Black codes were restrictive laws designed to limit the freedom of African Americans and ensure their availability as a cheap labor force after slavery was abolished during the Civil War. Though the Union victory had given some 4 million slaves their freedom, the question of freed blacks’ status in the postwar South was still very much unresolved. Under black codes, many states required blacks to sign yearly labor contracts; if they refused, they risked being arrested, fined and forced into unpaid labor. Outrage over black codes helped undermine support for President Andrew Johnson and the Republican Party. Continue reading Black Codes
For centuries black communities around the world have created hairstyles that are uniquely their own. These hairstyles span all the way back to the ancient world and continue to weave their way through the social, political and cultural conversations surrounding black identity today. Continue reading A Visual History of Iconic Black Hairstyles
Martha Gadley’s marriage was a nightmare. When her husband drank, he turned increasingly violent. One night, he used an ax to chop a hole in the floor and threatened to push her into the room below. He refused to bring her water when she was sick. When she left the house, he nailed up the entrance and put padlocks on the door. Continue reading Charlotte E. Ray’s Brief But Historic Career as the First U.S. Black Woman Attorney
I have argued for many years now that the worst crime that we can commit is to teach our children that our history began with slavery. And yet, this is what many of us do in the Black communities of the Western Hemisphere. When Black History Month rolls around, we tend to celebrate the great heroes and sheroes who emerged after we were taken from Africa to the Americas. In the United States, we love Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass and Langston Hughes and Rosa Parks, and rightfully so. We might even talk Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines of Haiti, and perhaps even Zumbi dos Palmares in Brazil. Continue reading Before Enslavement: Africa’s Ancient Diaspora
Lena Horne (1917-2010)
Horne became a part of the Civil Rights Movement and performed at rallies on behalf of the NAACP and the National Council for Negro Women, and she participated in the March on Washington in 1963.