Tag: History

#SaturdayStamps: Ella Baker and Ruby Hurley

Ella Jo Baker was born on December 13, 1903, in Norfolk, Virginia. She developed a sense for social justice early in her life. As a girl growing up in North Carolina, Baker listened to her grandmother tell stories about slave revolts. As a slave, her grandmother had been whipped for refusing to marry a man chosen for her by the slave owner.

Baker studied at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a student she challenged school policies that she thought were unfair. After graduating in 1927 as class valedictorian, she moved to New York City and began joining social activist organizations. In 1930, she joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League, whose purpose was to develop black economic power through collective planning. She also involved herself with several women’s organizations. She was committed to economic justice for all people and once said, “People cannot be free until there is enough work in this land to give everybody a job.”

Ella Baker began her involvement with the NAACP in 1940. She worked as a field secretary and then served as director of branches from 1943 until 1946. Inspired by the historic bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, Baker co-founded the organization In Friendship to raise money to fight against Jim Crow Laws in the deep South.

In 1957, Baker moved to Atlanta to help organize Martin Luther King’s new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She also ran a voter registration campaign called the Crusade for Citizenship.

On February 1, 1960, a group of black college students from North Carolina A&T University refused to leave a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina where they had been denied service. Baker left the SCLC after the Greensboro sit-ins. She wanted to assist the new student activists because she viewed young, emerging activists as a resource and an asset to the movement. Miss Baker organized a meeting at Shaw University for the student leaders of the sit-ins in April 1960. From that meeting, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee — SNCC — was born.

Adopting the Gandhian theory of nonviolent direct action, SNCC members joined with activists from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to organize the 1961 Freedom Rides. In 1964 SNCC helped create Freedom Summer, an effort to focus national attention on Mississippi’s racism and to register black voters. Miss Baker, and many of her contemporaries, believed that voting was one key to freedom.  We agree that if we do not exercise our collective voice, we are unable to influence the policies and laws that impact our lives. To be counted, we must be heard. Our Soul of the City civic engagement work and participation with Oakland Rising builds on the Voting Rights work of the 60s.

With Ella Baker’s guidance and encouragement, SNCC became one of the foremost advocates for human rights in the country. Ella Baker once said, “This may only be a dream of mine, but I think it can be made real.” Her audacity to dream big is a cornerstone of our philosophy. Her influence was reflected in the nickname she acquired: “Fundi,” a Swahili word meaning a person who teaches a craft to the next generation. Baker continued to be a respected and influential leader in the fight for human and civil rights until her death on December 13, 1986, her 83rd birthday.

Ruby Ruffin was born on November 7, 1909 in Washington, D.C. to Alice and Edward R. Ruffin. She graduated from Dunbar High School in 1926. She attended Miner Teachers College and Robert H. Terrell Law School. She worked briefly for the federal government and at the Industrial Bank of Washington. She married William L. Hurley, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In 1939, Hurley was on a committee that was tasked with arranging for a performance from Marian Anderson, an African-American opera singer who was barred from singing at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The committee was able to secure a venue change and Anderson performed at an open air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 75,000.

For the next four years, Hurley worked reorganizing the D.C. branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), bolstering their youth council. Walter Francis White, who headed the NAACP, appointed Hurley to the position of national Youth Secretary in 1943. She moved to New York City and stayed in that role until 1950. Hurley traveled across the country organizing youth councils and college chapters, increasing their number from 86 to over 280 during her tenure.

In 1951, she moved from New York to Birmingham, Alabama to set up an NAACP office and oversee membership drives in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. It was the first permanent NAACP office located in the Deep South. She became Regional Secretary of the NAACP’s newly formed Southeast Regional Office the following year. In 1955 Hurley joined with civil rights activists Amzie Moore and Medgar Evers, who was Field Secretary at the NAACP’s Mississippi office, in investigating the murders of minister George W. Lee and 14-year-old Emmett Till. In order to interview witnesses for Till’s case, Hurley wore cotton picker’s clothes. Following the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, Hurley worked to implement racial integration in the South. While she practiced Christian nonviolence, she appeared on the cover of Jet magazine’s October 6, 1955 issue with a caption reading “Most Militant Negro Woman In The South”. In 1956, Hurley helped to prepare the case of Autherine Lucy to be allowed to attend the University of Alabama. Hurley’s efforts were met with open hostility and she suffered from fatigue and weight loss. Her house was attacked and she received obscene telephone calls. Following a riot at the University of Alabama campus, black taxi drivers offered protection, circling her home.

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#SaturdayStamps: Gee’s Bend Quilt

Gee’s Bend is a small, isolated, rural community in southern Alabama. Joseph Gee had a cotton plantation there that he sold to Mark Pettway in 1845. After the Civil War, Pettway’s freed slaves became tenant farmers. Many bought their farms in a 1940s’ New Deal program.
The women of Gee’s Bend made dozens of quilts. They were needed for warm bed coverings. Quilts were hung on walls to keep out drafts and laid on floors for children to sit on. The quilters passed their skills down through generations. They pieced together recycled fabrics in a bold, geometric style more like modern abstract paintings than familiar quilt patterns.
In Gee’s Bend, the top is designed and stitched by one quilter. Sewing together the top, batting, and back is sometimes done communally. In 2003, more than 40 women founded the Gee’s Bend Quilter’s Collective. Typically, half of the proceeds from each quilt sold goes to the designer and the rest is divided among the collective’s members.
In the 1930s, Gee’s Bend quilts sold for two dollars. Now, having been discovered by the outside world and displayed in museums across the country, top Gee’s Bend quilts sell for as much as $35,000. Gee’s Bend Quilt stamps are part of the American Treasures Series.

Remembering Diahann Carroll (1935-2019)

Diahann Carroll made a number of films during her career and was nominated for an Academy Award for Claudine in 1974. It wasn’t until she was cast as the lead in Julia in 1968, however, that Carroll became a bona fide celebrity. The role made her the first African-American woman to star in her own TV series. She was nominated for an Emmy for Julia in 1969 and won the Golden Globe Award in 1968.

Early Life and Career

Actress and singer Carol Diahann Johnson was born on July 17, 1935, in The Bronx, New York. She attended Manhattan’s School of Performing Arts and worked as a nightclub singer and model before making her Broadway debut in The House of Flowers in 1954. That year, she also made her film debut alongside Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones.

Acting Career

Carroll made a number of films during her career and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in Claudine in 1974. She starred in No Strings (1962) and also appeared in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1979). It wasn’t until she was cast as the lead in Julia in 1968, however, that Carroll became a bona fide celebrity. The role made her the first African-American woman to star in her own television series. She was nominated for an Emmy Award for Julia in 1969 and won the Golden Globe Award in 1968.

Carroll was also well known for her role as jet setter Dominique Deveraux on Dynasty from the 1980s. She received her third Emmy nomination in 1989 for her role on A Different World. Most recently, Carroll has made recurring guest appearances on the hit dramedy Grey’s Anatomy.

Death

Carroll passed away on October 4, 2019, in Los Angeles, California after a long battle against cancer.

#SaturdayStamps: James VanDerZee

 

Beginning in 1916, James Van Der Zee (1886-1983) photographed the people of Harlem for more than six decades, depicting the life of one of the most celebrated black communities in the world. By providing elaborate costumes, props, and backdrops, in combination with creative double exposures, expert retouching, and airbrushing, Van Der Zee became renowned for the quality of his portraits. Although he gained fame for his portrayal of African-American celebrities who passed through Harlem, Van Der Zee made his daily living by taking thousands of photographs of Harlem’s residents, including family groups, weddings, athletic teams, and social clubs.

#SaturdayStamps: Errol Garner

Pianist and songwriter Erroll Garner was born June 15, 1921. Blessed with a natural talent, he began playing the piano by ear at age three. Although he never received any formal training, and was never able to read or write music, Garner was able to play any song – even if he had heard it only once!
Garner started performing with local bands in 1937. He moved to New York City at age 23 and began playing clubs on 52nd Street, including the Three Deuces and Tondelayo’s. His unique piano styling was featured on recordings by the Slam Stewart Trio before he recorded under his own name with a bassist and drummer. From 1945 to 1949, Garner made a number of records on a freelance basis before signing an exclusive contract with Columbia Records. In 1948 he performed at the Paris Jazz Festival.
Garner’s music appealed to non-jazz audiences, and he enjoyed great success in the late 1950s. He toured Europe in 1957 and ’58. His most famous song, “Misty,” was a big hit in 1959 and enjoyed a resurgence in 1971, when it became the theme song for the Clint Eastwood film “Play Misty For Me.” He is also remembered for the songs “It Gets Better Every Time,” “Dreamy,” “Nightwind,” and “La Petite Mambo.”t’s Notice,” and “Equinox.”

 

#SaturdayStamps: James Beckwourth

James Pierson Beckwourth was born April 26, 1798 or 1800, in Frederick County, Virginia to an African American slave mother and English father, Sir Jennings Beckwith. Although his father raised him as his own son, according to the law, Jim Beckwourth was still legally considered a slave. His father appeared in open court on three separate occasions (in 1824, 1825, and 1826) and “acknowledged the execution of a Deed of Emancipation from him to James, a mulatto boy.” Beckwourth’s father, mother and siblings moved to Missouri in the early 1800’s. The young Beckwourth, as he later came to spell his surname, attended school in St. Louis for four years. When and why James changed his name to Beckwourth is unknown. He was apprenticed to a blacksmith in St. Louis but was unhappy as an apprentice. He left home in 1822 on an expedition to the lead mines in the Fever River area. In the summer of 1824 he signed on with General William Ashley for a trapping expedition to the Rocky Mountains. For a number of years Beckwourth took part in a series of trapping expeditions with the American Fur Company and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company where he learned the frontiersman skills he would use for the rest of his life. He also met and worked with such well-known mountain men as Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, Jim Clyman and Edward Rose. He participated in the first Mountain Man Rendezvous at Henry’s Fork on the Green River in 1825. The location of the rendezvous changed every year, and it quickly became the best-known social and business institution of the American mountain men.

In about 1828, while on a trapping expedition with Jim Bridger, Beckwourth was captured by a party of Crow warriors. By Beckwourth’s account, he was mistaken for the long lost son of Big Bowl, one of the tribal chieftains, and adopted into the tribe. Beckwourth spent the next six to eight years with the Crow, and gained considerable influence with the tribe. There are many documents from his contemporaries which confirm his position of leadership with the Crow. He apparently rose within their ranks to at least the level of War Chief, and by his own account was named head Chief of the Crow Nation upon the death of Arapooish (Rotten Belly). Beckwourth improved a Native American path to create what became known as the Beckwourth Trail through Plumas, Butte, and Yuba counties in 1850. In August 1851, he led the first intact wagon train into the burgeoning Gold Rush city of Marysville, CA. Between 1851 and 1854, 1,200 emigrants used the trail. The Beckwourth Trail was used during the California Gold Rush until about 1855, when the railroad supplanted the wagon train as the preferred method of traveling to California. Between 1895 and 1916, the pass was used by the Sierra Valley & Mohawk Railway narrow gauge. The abandoned right-of-way is still visible on the eastern slope of the pass.

Beckwourth dictated his autobiography to Thomas D. Bonner, an itinerant Justice of the Peace in the gold fields of California, in 1854-55. After Bonner “polished up” Beckwourth’s rough narrative, The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians was published by Harper and Brothers in 1856. The book apparently achieved a certain amount of popular success, for it was followed by an English edition in the same year, a second printing two years later, and a French translation in 1860. In 1937, a bronze plaque was erected at Beckwourth Pass by the Native Daughters of the Golden West to commemorate the discover and the pioneers who passed along the trail. On August 8, 1939, Beckwourth Pass was designated as California Historical Landmark Number 336. Beckwourth Frontier Days was established to honor James P. Beckwourth, an unsung, genuine American hero who created a lower, safer passage across the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the mid-1800s. Beckwourth Pass, is located in Plumas County, CA, State Route 70 and crosses the Sierras at an elevation of 1,591 m (5,221 ft.), making it one of the lowest crossings of the Sierra Nevadas in California. In 1994, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 29 cent commemorative postage stamp honoring Jim Beckwourth. In 1996, the city of Marysville renamed its largest park Beckwourth Riverfront Park in recognition of Beckwourth’s significance to the growth of the city.

#SaturdayStamps: Howlin’ Wolf

During his hard-driving performances, Chester Arthur Burnett sang out with such intensity that legendary musician Jimmie Rodgers nicknamed him “Howlin’ Wolf.” He was born in West Point, Mississippi on June 20, 1910, and brought up on a cotton plantation. There he was exposed to the traditional music of the Mississippi Delta. Howlin’ Wolf was taught and heavily influenced by Charley Patton, who was considered the model Delta blues performer. And although he did master the guitar and harmonica, his main instrument was always his powerful voice.
Howlin’ Wolf began his professional career when he was quite young, and performed all over Mississippi in the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1940s he moved to the flourishing blues scene in Arkansas. His band there included James Cotton and Little Junior Parker, both of whom gained recognition on their own.
In 1951 he recorded his first record, “Moanin’ After Midnight,” which became a big hit and led him to Chicago. Howlin’ Wolf, along with Muddy Waters, turned Chicago into the blues capital of the world. Fame with white audiences came to Howlin’ Wolf in the 1960s and ’70s, when rock bands like the Rolling Stones acknowledged his influence on their music.