Tag: African_American

#SaturdayStamps: Romare Bearden

Romare Howard Bearden was born on September 2, 1911, to (Richard) Howard and Bessye Bearden in Charlotte, North Carolina, and died in New York City on March 12, 1988, at the age of 76. His life and art are marked by exceptional talent, encompassing a broad range of intellectual and scholarly interests, including music, performing arts, history, literature and world art. Bearden was also a celebrated humanist, as demonstrated by his lifelong support of young, emerging artists.

Romare Bearden began college at Lincoln University, transferred to Boston University and completed his studies at New York University (NYU), graduating with a degree in education. While at NYU, Bearden took extensive courses in art and was a lead cartoonist and then art editor for the monthly journal The Medley. He had also been art director of Beanpot, the student humor magazine of Boston University. Bearden published many journal covers during his university years and the first of numerous texts he would write on social and artistic issues. He also attended the Art Students League in New York and later, the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1935, Bearden became a weekly editorial cartoonist for the Baltimore Afro-American, which he continued doing until 1937.

From the mid-1930s through 1960s, Bearden was a social worker with the New York City Department of Social Services, working on his art at night and on weekends. His success as an artist was recognized with his first solo exhibition in Harlem in 1940 and his first solo show in Washington, DC, in 1944. Bearden was a prolific artist whose works were exhibited during his lifetime throughout the United States and Europe. His collages, watercolors, oils, photomontages and prints are imbued with visual metaphors from his past in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Harlem and from a variety of historical, literary and musical sources.

Bearden was also a respected writer and an eloquent spokesman on artistic and social issues of the day. Active in many arts organizations, in 1964 Bearden was appointed the first art director of the newly established Harlem Cultural Council, a prominent African-American advocacy group. He was involved in founding several important art venues, such as The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Cinque Gallery. Initially funded by the Ford Foundation, Bearden and the artists Norman Lewis and Ernest Crichlow established Cinque to support younger minority artists. Bearden was also one of the founding members of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters in 1970 and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1972.

Recognized as one of the most creative and original visual artists of the twentieth century, Romare Bearden had a prolific and distinguished career. He experimented with many different mediums and artistic styles, but is best known for his richly textured collages, two of which appeared on the covers of Fortune and Time magazines, in 1968. An innovative artist with diverse interests, Bearden also designed costumes and sets for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and programs, sets and designs for Nanette Bearden’s Contemporary Dance Theatre.

Bearden’s work is included in many important public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Studio Museum in Harlem, among others. He has had retrospectives at the Mint Museum of Art (1980), the Detroit Institute of the Arts (1986), as well as numerous posthumous retrospectives, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (1991) and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2003).

Bearden was the recipient of many awards and honors throughout his lifetime. Honorary doctorates were given by Pratt Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Davidson College and Atlanta University, to name but a few. He received the Mayor’s Award of Honor for Art and Culture in New York City in 1984 and the National Medal of Arts, presented by President Ronald Reagan, in 1987.

#SaturdayStamps: Oswald Garrison Villard and Daisy Gatson Bates

Oswald Garrison Villard (1872-1949)
Villard was one of the founders of the NAACP and wrote “The Call” leading to its formation. His undated portrait comes from the records of the NAACP at the Library of Congress.

Daisy Gatson Bates (1914-1999)
Bates mentored nine black students who enrolled at all-white Central High School in Little Rock, AR, in 1957. The students used her home as an organizational hub. The 1957 photograph of Bates is from the New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper photographic collection at the Library of Congress.

#SaturdayStamps: W.C. Handy

W.C. Handy, in full William Christopher Handy, (born November 16, 1873, Florence, Alabama, U.S.—died March 28, 1958, New York, New York), African American composer who changed the course of popular music by integrating the blues idiom into then-fashionable ragtime music. Among his best-known works is the classic “St. Louis Blues.”

Handy was a son and grandson of Methodist ministers, and he was educated at Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College in Huntsville, Alabama. Going against family tradition, he began to cultivate his interest in music at a young age and learned to play several instruments, including the organ, piano, and guitar. He was a particularly skilled cornetist and trumpet player. Longing to experience the world beyond Florence, Alabama, Handy left his hometown in 1892. He traveled throughout the Midwest, taking a variety of jobs with several musical groups. He also worked as a teacher in 1900–02. He conducted his own orchestra, the Knights of Pythias from Clarksdale, Mississippi, from 1903 to 1921. During the early years of this period of his life, Handy was steeped in the music of the Mississippi Delta and of Memphis, and he began to arrange some of those tunes for his band’s performances. Unable to find a publisher for the songs he was beginning to write, Handy formed a partnership with Harry Pace and founded Pace & Handy Music Company (later Handy Brothers Music Company).

Handy worked during the period of transition from ragtime to jazz. Drawing on the vocal blues melodies of African American folklore, he added harmonizations to his orchestral arrangements. His work helped develop the conception of the blues as a harmonic framework within which to improvise. With his “Memphis Blues” (published 1912) and especially his “St. Louis Blues” (1914), he introduced a melancholic element, achieved chiefly by use of the “blue” or slightly flattened seventh tone of the scale, which was characteristic of African American folk music. Later he wrote other blues pieces (“Beale Street Blues,” 1916; “Loveless Love”) and several marches and symphonic compositions. He issued anthologies of African American spirituals and blues (Blues: An Anthology, 1926; W.C. Handy’s Collection of Negro Spirituals, 1938; A Treasury of the Blues, 1949) and studies of black American musicians (Negro Authors and Composers of the United States, 1938; Unsung Americans Sung, 1944). His autobiography, Father of the Blues, was published in 1941.

#SaturdayStamps: Salem Poor

Salem Poor was an African-American slave who purchased his freedom, became a soldier, and rose to fame as a war hero during the Battle of Bunker Hill during the American Revolution.

Salem Poor was born into slavery in 1747 on a farm in Andover, Massachusetts owned by John Poor and his son John Poor Jr. Many New England families treated their slaves as live-in servants and near family members, which may have been the case in the Poor family. Salem Poor purchased his freedom on July 10, 1769, from John Poor Jr. for 27 pounds, a year’s salary for an average working man at the time.

In August 1771, Poor married Nancy Parker, a maidservant to Captain James Parker who was half Native American and half African American. The couple continued to live in Andover and had a son named Jonas born in about 1775.

In May 1775, Poor enlisted in the militia, serving under Captain Benjamin Ames in Colonel James Frye’s regiment, opposing the British troops occupying besieged Boston. On June 16, 1775, Frye’s regiment, along with two others, was ordered to march from Cambridge to Charlestown (Boston). There were about 350 men in Frye’s regiment, and, with several hundred men from the other two regiments, the group totaled about 850. Poor, along with other soldiers then began to build a redoubt, or fort, on the top of Breed’s Hill, adjacent to Bunker’s Hill. The next day, the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought on June 17, 1775, which included more than 100 African American and Native American soldiers fighting for the nation’s liberty.

Salem Poor is best remembered for his actions during the Battle of Bunker Hill, where he is credited with killing British Lieutenant Colonel James Abercrombie as well as several British soldiers. Later that year, Poor’s valor and gallantry at the Battle of Bunker Hill prompted 14 officers, including Colonel William Prescott, to cite him for heroism and petition the General Court of Massachusetts with the following statement:

“To the Honorable General Court of the Massachusetts Bay: The subscribers beg leave to report to your Honorable House (which we do in justice to the character of so brave a man), that, under our own observation, we declare that a negro man, called Salem Poor, of Col. Frye’s regiment, Capt. Ames’ company, in the late battle at Charlestown, behaved like an experienced officer, as well as an excellent soldier. To set forth particulars of his conduct would be tedious. We would beg leave to say, in the person of this said negro, centers a brave and gallant soldier. The reward due to so great and distinguished a character, we submit to the Congress.”

No other soldier of the American Revolution received such recognition.

Poor immediately re-enlisted in the militia and served at Fort George in upstate New York under General Benedict Arnold in 1776. Salem fought in the Battle of White Plains on October 28, 1776, and the Battles of Saratoga in September and October of 1777, before retreating with the other patriots to the winter camp at Valley Forge in 1677-78. Later, he fought in the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, and continued to fight with the Patriot forces until March 20, 1780, when he was apparently discharged.

That year, he married his second wife, Mary Twing, a free African American. The couple briefly moved to Providence, Rhode Island. By 1785, the marriage was over and Salem married a white woman named Sarah Stevens in 1787.

Poor then married Sarah Stevens, a white woman, in 1787. In 1793 he was known to have spent several weeks in the Boston Almshouse and was briefly jailed for “breach of peace” in 1799. He married for the fourth and final time in 1801 and died in poverty in Boston in 1802. He was buried on February 5th, but the location of his grave remains unknown.

In 1975, the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp for Salem Poor in honor of his heroism during the battle.

#SaturdayStamps: Ethel L. Payne

Pioneering journalist Ethel Lois Payne was born on August 14, 1911 in Chicago, Illinois to William A. Payne and Bessie Austin. Known as the “First Lady of Black Press” for her extensive list of accomplishments as a writer, journalist, and reporter, Payne, according to her colleagues, asked questions no one else dared to ask.

Payne attended Lindblom High School which was located in a white Chicago neighborhood. Despite the unwelcoming environment, she became an accomplished student in her English and history courses. One of her English teachers encouraged Payne to write and helped her with her first submission to a magazine.  The article was subsequently published. Payne pursued higher education at Crane Junior College and Garrett Biblical Institute, graduating from the latter institution in 1933. Upon graduation she decided to become a lawyer. The University of Chicago Law School, however, refused to accept her application because of her race.

Payne never became a lawyer.  Nonetheless, she devoted the rest of her life and career to racial justice issues.  In 1948, Payne responded to a Red Cross call-for-action to serve American forces in Japan and became a hostess for a military services social club. While in Japan, she met a reporter from the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper, and allowed him to take her journal back to his editors. Impressed by her writing, the newspaper used her journal notes to formulate an article about racially discriminatory practices in the U.S. military in Japan.  The article, the first of a series, was published on the front page of the Defender. In 1951, Payne was hired full-time by the Chicago newspaper and became the first African American woman to focus on international news coverage in addition to her national assignments.

Payne pursued assignments around the world. In 1955, she attended the Bandung Conference with the writer Richard Wright.  She covered the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. In 1966, she reported from Vietnam. and the following year she covered the Biafran War.  Her interviews with prominent leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.Nelson Mandela, and Senator John F. Kennedy made her a widely known and prominent global reporter.

In 1955, Payne was one of only three black journalists to cover the White House.  During one White House press conference she asked President Dwight D. Eisenhower what he was going to do to address racial disparities in the United States. His angry response made front page news the next day, but it also pushed civil rights issues to the top of the agenda for Eisenhower’s Administration and those that followed him. Her critiques carried significant influence at a time when U.S. State Department eagerly sought to depict to leaders around the world, and particularly in the new countries of Africa, the idea that American race relations were amicable.

After working with the Defender for 25 years, Payne in 1972 became the first African American woman to serve as a radio and television commentator when she was hired by CBS News. Throughout the 1980s she reported on apartheidin South Africa and worked for the release of Nelson Mandela.

Ethel Payne died at the age of 79 after a heart attack in Washington, D.C. on May 29, 1991. Her many honors included an award from the Capital Press Club in 1967 for her reporting during the Vietnam War and the TransAfrica African Freedom Award in 1987.

#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Korryn Gaines?

A Baltimore County jury awarded $37 million in damages to the family of Korryn Gaines, a black Maryland woman killed by county police in an August 2016 standoff that also injured her 5-year-old son.

The six female jurors decided in less than three hours that Cpl. Royce Ruby, the Baltimore County officer who fired the fatal shots, violated the civil rights of Gaines, 23, and her son, Kodi.

Ruby shot and killed Gaines on Aug. 1 during a confrontation in Randallstown, a suburb northwest of Baltimore City. Police serving a warrant for failure to appear in court over a traffic case kicked in the door to Gaines’s apartment to find her waiting with a shotgun. The ensuing six-hour ordeal ended when Ruby opened fire, killing Gaines and injuring Kodi.

The civil suit decision awarded more than $32 million to Kodi, $4.5 million to his toddler sister, Karsyn, and nearly a million dollars among Gaines’s parents and estate, court documents said.

Gaines family attorney J. Wyndal Gordon told The Washington Post on Saturday that the verdict was a “great decision” that will help make Gaines’s family whole after the incident. Gaines was shot four times by Ruby; one shot pierced her lungs and spine, and a ricochet struck her son, he said.

“Where is your moral compass?” Gordon asked rhetorically. “It was callous and sadistic.”
Ruby, who is white, remains on the police force and was promoted to corporal last year.
After the verdict was announced, Baltimore County Attorney Mike Field said in a statement that the county was “disappointed” by the decision and was reviewing its options, including an appeal.
“A mother died, a child was unintentionally injured and police officers were placed in mortal danger. By any account, this was a tragic situation,” Field said.

Baltimore County police spokesman Shawn Vinson told the Baltimore Sun that “the state’s attorney’s office reviewed the situation and deemed the shooting justified.” He declined to comment further.

Gaines’s mother, Rhanda Dormeus, told reporters Friday that she believed police were untruthful in testimony describing the shooting and the threat posed by Gaines.

“What we want is constitutional policing. We want them to be fair, we want them to have integrity, and we want justice,” Dormeus said. “And if they can’t do that, they shouldn’t be a part of the police force.” Since the incident, the county police department has expanded body camera wear for its officers and in 2017 began training for incidents involving people with mental-health issues. The county executive and local fraternal order of police group also did not return requests for comment.

Ruby testified that Gaines moved into the kitchen, with only her long braids and shotgun barrel visible. He fired once through a wall, believing she was raising her weapon to a firing position.

“There was no choice,” Ruby testified. “Officers were going to die if I didn’t take that shot.” He entered the room and fired three more rounds into Gaines, saying he feared that her finger was on the trigger.

Gordon disputed that version of events, saying Gaines was shot in the back, her lungs full of blood, indicating the additional shots Ruby took were unjustified.

Speaking outside the courthouse Friday, Kareem Courtney, Gaines’s boyfriend and Karsyn’s father, said taxpayers will bear the burden of the award, not Ruby.

“He’s not going to pay. He’s going to go home to his family. My family has been destroyed. My daughter’s not going to know her mother,” Courtney said, according to the Sun.

Kenneth Ravenell, the attorney for Kodi’s father, Corey Cunningham, told The Post that damages for the boy will be helpful for a lifetime of counseling and psychological treatment. Kodi explained in therapy that his mother went to make him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when she was shot, Cunningham testified.

Bearing witness to his mother’s death has jarred Kodi, his family members and teachers testified. “He’s a shell of himself,” Ravenell said, a once outgoing and happy child now introverted and sullen.

*Originally posted on the Washington Post.


#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Raheim Brown?

The Oakland Unified School District has agreed to pay $995,000 to settle two lawsuits filed in connection with a fatal police shooting outside a school dance that was later questioned by one of the two officers present at the scene, officials said Friday.

Raheim Brown, 20, of Alameda was shot and killed Jan. 22, 2011, by Oakland schools police Sgt. Barhin Bhatt after he allegedly tried to stab another schools police sergeant, Jonathan Bellusa, with a screwdriver, authorities said.

The incident happened as Brown was sitting in the passenger seat of a Honda Accord parked on Joaquin Miller Road, not far from where Skyline High School was holding its winter ball at a nearby park.

Bhatt told investigators that he opened fire on Brown because Brown had tried to attack Bellusa. Bellusa, though, told authorities that Bhatt fired two shots at Brown’s chest before his gun jammed and that by then, Brown was already incapacitated and no longer a threat.

Bellusa said Bhatt then fired five more shots, killing Brown. Bhatt told investigators he fired the second volley because Brown continued to move and was reaching for the gearshift.

Brown’s parents, Lori Davis and Raheim Brown Sr., filed a lawsuit against the district, as did LaDonna Smith, the mother of Brown’s then-unborn child. The parents and Smith will each receive $497,500.

Of the total $995,000 payout, the district will pay a $250,000 deductible, while the rest is covered by insurance, said district spokesman Troy Flint.

David Kelvin, Smith’s attorney, said, “This young man was killed for nothing. I don’t believe you can put a price on that loss.”