Tag: History

#SaturdayStamps: Dorothy Height

 

Who Was Dorothy Height?

Dorothy Height was a leader in addressing the rights of both women and African Americans as the president of the National Council of Negro Women. In the 1990s, she drew young people into her cause in the war against drugs, illiteracy and unemployment. The numerous honors bestowed upon her include the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1994) and the Congressional Gold Medal (2004).

Early Life

Born on March 24, 1912, in Richmond, Virginia, African American activist Dorothy Height spent her life fighting for civil rights and women’s rights. The daughter of a building contractor and a nurse, Height moved with her family to Rankin, Pennsylvania, in her youth. There, she attended racially integrated schools.

In high school, Height showed great talent as an orator. She also became socially and politically active, participating in anti-lynching campaigns. Height’s skills as a speaker took her all the way to a national oratory competition. Winning the event, she was awarded a college scholarship.

Height had applied to and been accepted to Barnard College in New York, but as the start of school neared, the college changed its mind about her admittance, telling Height that they had already met their quota for black students. Undeterred, she applied to New York University, where she would earn two degrees: a bachelor’s degree in education in 1930, and a master’s degree in psychology in 1932.

Tireless Activist

After working for a time as a social worker, Height joined the staff of the Harlem YWCA in 1937. She had a life-changing encounter not long after starting work there. Height met educator and founder of the National Council of Negro Women Mary McLeod Bethune when Bethune and U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt came to visit her facility. Height soon volunteered with the NCNW and became close to Bethune.

One of Height’s major accomplishments at the YWCA was directing the integration of all of its centers in 1946. She also established its Center for Racial Justice in 1965, which she ran until 1977. In 1957, Height became the president of the National Council of Negro Women. Through the center and the council, she became one of the leading figures of the Civil Rights Movement. Height worked with Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, John Lewis and James Farmer—sometimes called the “Big Six” of the Civil Rights Movement—on different campaigns and initiatives.

In 1963, Height was one of the organizers of the famed March on Washington. She stood close to King when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Despite her skills as a speaker and a leader, Height was not invited to talk that day.

Height later wrote that the March on Washington event had been an eye-opening experience for her. Her male counterparts “were happy to include women in the human family, but there was no question as to who headed the household,” she said, according to the Los Angeles Times. Height joined in the fight for women’s rights. In 1971, she helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus with Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Shirley Chisholm.

While she retired from the YWCA in 1977, Height continued to run the NCNW for two more decades. One of her later projects was focused on strengthening the African American family. In 1986, Height organized the first Black Family Reunion, a celebration of traditions and values which is still held annually.

LATER IN LIFE

Height received many honors for her contributions to society. In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She stepped down from the presidency of the NCNW in the late 1990s but remained the organization’s chair of the board until her death in 2010. In 2002, Height turned her 90th birthday celebration into a fundraiser for the NCNW; Oprah Winfrey and Don King were among the celebrities who contributed to the event.

n 2004, President George W. Bush gave Height the Congressional Gold Medal. She later befriended the first African American president of the United States, Barack Obama, who called her “the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement,” according to The New York Times. Height died in Washington, D.C., on April 20, 2010.

Former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among the many who mourned the passing of the famed champion for equality and justice. Clinton told the Washington Post that Height “understood that women’s rights and civil rights are indivisible. She stood up for the rights of women every chance she had.”

On February 1, 2017, the United States Postal Service kicked off Black History month with the issuance of the Dorothy Height Forever stamp honoring her civil rights legacy.

#SaturdayStamps: Jimi Hendrix

Widely recognized as one of the most creative and influential musicians of the 20th century, Hendrix displayed an innovative style that embraced the influences of rock, R&B, modern jazz and the blues, inspiring musical artists of his era and beyond.

Jimi Hendrix was born in Seattle, WA, Nov. 27, 1942. Originally named Johnny Allen Hendrix, his name was later changed by his father to James Marshall Hendrix. Entirely self-taught, he had to adjust his first right-handed guitar to his left-handed playing; he restrung it upside down and turned the instrument around to play it. The teenager soon began playing with bands in the Seattle area.

Hendrix pushed the boundaries of what a guitar could do, using a basic setup that at times included a wah-wah pedal to control the output from the amplifier to produce voice-like tones; a fuzz-box to create distortion of the sound; and a Univibe, a phaser that created regular, pulsating changes of pitch, all channeled through a set of Marshall amplifiers at top volume. He was able to manipulate the various devices to produce sounds that could be loud — the quintessential psychedelic music — or melodic and gentle. A master at the controlled use of distortion and feedback, he expanded the instrument’s vocabulary in a way that had never been heard before — or since.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and the U.K. Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Rolling Stone ranked Hendrix No. 1 on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, and No. 6 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

In 1991, Hendrix received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 1993, he was awarded a posthumous Grammy for lifetime achievement.

#SaturdayStamps: Larry Doby

On October 9, 1948, in the fourth inning of the fourth game in the World Series, a young man stepped up to the plate. His team, the Cleveland Indians, held a slim one run lead. The Indians held an equally slim one game lead. Before 82,000 people, the largest crowd ever to see a series game up till that time, and with no one on base and with two outs, the batter slammed the second pitch 420 feet over the right field wall. It proved to be the decisive run, providing a 2-1 win for the Indians. It also provided an overwhelming 3-1 lead in the series. Two games later the Indians shut out the Boston Braves on the road.

Larry Doby was the driving force behind the only Cleveland World Series Championship in the last half century. He also led the heroic drive to the pennant that year. In a race that came down to a playoff with the other Boston team, the Red Sox, Doby paced the team with a .396 batting average over the last 20 crucial games. His season average was .301.

Although Larry Doby had a stellar career in baseball–playing in six All-Star games, named to a seventh (1949-1955), playing in two World Series (1948 and 1954), home run leader in the American League in 1952, both the home run and RBI leader and runner-up to Yogi Berra for American League MVP in 1954, having the top fielding average of all full-time American League center fielders in 1954, and setting a major league record of 164 games without an error in 1954 and 1955 that stood for seventeen years–he will be remembered mostly as a quiet and proud pioneer. He became the second African-American to play major league baseball on July 5, 1947, following the much more flamboyant Jackie Robinson by only eleven weeks. He was the first African-American to play in the American League. Some years later he played another pioneering role, but again he was second. Following Frank Robinson, who was named manager for the Cleveland Indians in 1975, Doby replaced his old friend and former teammate, Bob Lemon, as manager of the Chicago White Sox in June of 1978.

Born in Camden, South Carolina in 1923, Lawrence Eugene Doby was the son of David and Etta Doby. David, a World War I veteran who worked in the horse industry as a groom, played baseball in his spare time and was known as a great hitter. Any influence on Larry’s baseball skills was indirect. David was away from home most of the time working in the North. Larry vaguely remembered his father playing ball but little else. David Doby died when Larry was only eleven years old. Etta also had little to do with Larry’s upbringing. She emigrated north to Paterson, New Jersey in search of work. Etta’s mother was in charge of Larry’s life during most of his early years, rearing him with strict discipline, regular church attendance, and reading and writing lessons before his formal education began. That changed when Larry’s grandmother began having mental problems, and Etta returned to move Larry into the home of her sister-in-law, where he lived for the next four years.

These few years living with the Cookes on Lyttleton Street in Camden were very happy and positive years for Larry. Residents still living there remember playing ball in the street in games where race did not matter (Robinson). His uncle, who was successful in construction, was a leader in the African-American community. Larry attended Mather Academy, where he had good teachers, heard lectures by Mary McLeod Bethune, and played organized baseball and other sports for the first time. He learned baseball from Richard DuBose, who was one of the best known figures in African-American baseball in the state for more than half a century. DuBose had also coached Larry’s father in the many games he organized. In 1938 Larry graduated from the 8th grade and his mother insisted that he move to Paterson to attend high school, where educational and economic opportunities were relatively greater for African-Americans. He never lived in South Carolina again.

Living with a friend of his mother in Paterson, Doby soon adjusted to a life that revolved around sports in the streets and in school. Only being able to see his mother on her one day off a week from domestic service, Doby never really had a family, but he found solace in sports. At the end of his high school career he had lettered in eleven sports and was an all-state performer in most of them. He began playing with the semi-professional and professional teams in both basketball and baseball. His talents were such that he even played a few games before graduation with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League. He played under an assumed name since high school students weren’t allowed to play. Following graduation, he played the summer of 1942 with the Eagles, batting .391 in the 26 games for which records exist.

Doby began college in September of 1942, but his college career quickly ended with a draft notice. Ironically, he was stationed at Camp Smalls in the Great Lakes, a station named after a fellow South Carolinian, Robert Smalls, a hero of the Civil War. There his physical prowess earned him an assignment as physical education instructor and plenty of playing time with sports teams that represented the camp. He spent the last year of the war on a coral reef in the Pacific both unloading ships and organizing recreational activities for other servicemen.

Discharged from the Navy in early 1946, Doby returned to professional baseball. He spent a winter season playing in Puerto Rico and then rejoined the Newark Eagles. There he played with some of the all-time greats: Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige (who would later be his roommate in Cleveland), Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, both of whom would later play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was not the top player in the league, but he was among the elite with a .348 batting average for the 1946 season. He helped lead his team to the Negro World Series title. The first half of the 1947 season Doby led the league with a .458 average. He did not finish the season–fate and Bill Veeck were about to change and challenge his life.

On July 3, 1947, after weeks of rumors, Larry Doby was told that he had been purchased by Bill Veeck’s Cleveland Indians. He made his playing debut two days later when he struck out pinch hitting, but barely missed on a line drive that was foul by inches. He received very limited playing time that first half season, appearing in only 29 games and batting 32 times, mostly as a pinch hitter.

The next year, the championship and World Series year, Doby came into his own. He was the first African-American to hit a home run in an All-Star game and was the first African-American to win a league home run crown. He is best remembered as a power hitter, who like other power hitters, did strike out a lot. In May of 1948 he hit what would have been one of the longest home runs in history, estimated at over 500 feet, had it not hit a loud speaker hanging high over the center field fence in Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. Almost exactly a year later he hit another home run over 500 feet. It cleared the scoreboard in right center field in the same ball park.

He should also be remembered as one of the best defensive center fielders in the game at the time, with a 164 game streak of flawless play in the field. On July 31, 1954, Doby made a catch that snatched a home run away by vaulting himself up the fence with his left hand while making the catch with his right hand, then falling back onto the field while hanging onto the ball. Dizzy Dean, who was broadcasting the game, declared it the greatest catch he had ever seen. In that year he led Cleveland to a record number of wins in the regular season, a record that stood till 1998 when the Yankees set a new mark.

After breaking an ankle while sliding into third base in 1959, Doby retired from baseball as a player. After an interlude of nearly ten years, which included briefly playing ball in Japan, running a business in Newark, and campaigning for Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 Presidential Campaign, Doby reentered professional baseball as hitting coach for the Montreal Expos in 1969. Thus began his second career. He proved to be a very effective coach with his ability to communicate with players and adapt instruction to their styles and abilities. His ambition was to be a manager, but no African-American had ever managed a major league team before. He nearly got the chance in 1975 with his old team, the Cleveland Indians. But the management chose Frank Robinson instead.

Three frustrating years later Doby was given a chance to manage. The opportunity came from the same man who had brought him into the white major leagues, Bill Veeck, who was then head of the Chicago White Sox. However, the opportunity was really only half a chance. Although Doby was able to improve the team’s performance, he did not have the players to win a pennant without a miracle. Most importantly to the owner, Doby did not improve ticket sales. Thus Veeck fired Doby and replaced him with a white manager whom he felt would draw in more of the White Sox’s mostly white fans. Doby then left baseball to work as director of community relations for the New Jersey Nets of the National Basketball Association.

For all his feats in baseball, perhaps his greatest achievement lay outside the statistics that are such a central part of the culture of baseball. Larry Doby, without the months of preparation that helped Jackie Robinson endure his ordeal, endured two ordeals of his own. The first involved his entry into a hostile world where many wanted him to fail, and the second was being ignored by history because he was not the first to enter that world. Doby endured both without complaint, never saying anything about Jackie Robinson that could be construed as even hinting at jealousy. He endured with quiet pride and great dignity. When he first joined the Indians, some players refused to shake his hand. Doby has refused to ever say who they were. He and his family were forced to live apart from the team in Spring training camp because of segregation rules. He often had to stay in separate hotel facilities and eat in separate areas from the rest of his teammates. In one instance, after being tagged out at second base, the opponent spit in his face. Doby walked away, not giving in to the evil of prejudice.
Late in life Doby finally began to receive the recognition he had quietly earned. In 1994 the Cleveland Indians retired the number 14 he had worn in the ten seasons playing there. The 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland was dedicated to Larry Doby. He was honorary American League captain and threw out the first pitch for the game. About half a million dollars from the All-Star proceeds went to building a playground project in the city where he first played, the Larry Doby All-Star Playground. Finally, in July 1998, Doby was awarded a long overdue recognition, induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

#SaturdayStamps: Aaron Douglas

In both his style and his subjects, Aaron Douglas revolutionized African-American art. A leader within the Harlem Renaissance, Douglas created a broad range of work that helped to shape this movement and bring it to national prominence. Through his collaborations, illustrations, and public murals, he established a method of combining elements of modern art and African culture to celebrate the African-American experience and call attention to racism and segregation.

Key Ideas

Douglas depicted African subjects in an innovative and bold graphic style that was inspired by modern art, particularly Cubism. His approach elevated both everyday experiences and non-Western history to be part of an international avant-garde. He also integrated the rhythms of jazz into his compositions, adding an additional element of African-American culture to his imagery.
Flattening his figures to two-dimensional silhouettes and generalizing their forms to be generic men and women, Douglas created imagery that celebrated African and African-American themes in terms that were universal and integrative. He employed this style across a range of different media, including painting, illustration, murals, and prints.
Douglas often worked with a narrow range of colors, instead using compositional elements and shapes like concentric circles and radiating beams, to create dramatic focal points and dynamic movement. These abstract elements enhanced the narratives of his paintings to make them more emotionally impactful.
Through his work with the Harlem Artists Guild and as the chair of the art department at Fisk University (a historically black college), Douglas worked to increase educational access and career opportunities for young African-American artists. He was an important mentor for second-generation Harlem Renaissance artists and an inspiration to contemporary artists who deal with race and identity in their work.

#SaturdayStamps: John Johnson

John Johnson, the founder of Johnson Publishing Company, which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines, is the 35th honoree in the Black Heritage stamp series. The Postal Service has recognized the achievements of prominent African Americans through the Black Heritage series since 1978. Past honorees have included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Madam C.J. Walker, Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Marian Anderson, Langston Hughes and Barbara Jordan.

“John Johnson’s unyielding commitment to journalistic excellence and his unparalleled reporting on African American culture have distinguished him as one of America’s greatest publishers,” said USPS Chicago Senior Plant Manager Anthony Vaughan.

Joining Vaughan to dedicate the stamp at Johnson Publishing Company’s Chicago offices today were Linda Johnson Rice, chairman, Johnson Publishing Co.; Desiree Rogers, CEO, Johnson Publishing Co.; Rahm Emanuel, mayor, Chicago; Richard M. Daley, former mayor, Chicago; U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, 7th Congressional District; and Rev. James Meeks, Salem Baptist Church of Chicago.

“I’m immensely proud that my father and his life’s passion are being recognized in such a high honor as the Black Heritage Stamp,” said Linda Johnson Rice. “His legacy lives on in all whom he touched and in the work we continue to do daily.” The stamp goes on sale today at Post Offices nationwide, online at usps.com and by phone at 800-782-6724.

From poverty to the pinnacle of American society, Johnson’s journey was extraordinary. He was born in Arkansas City, AR., where schools were segregated and there were no high schools for black students. By the time of his death at age 87, he commanded a business empire encompassing magazines, cosmetics, radio stations, book publishing and more. In 1982, he became the first black person to appear on Forbes magazine’s annual list of the 400 wealthiest people in America.

Johnson was the trailblazing publisher of Negro Digest, Ebony, Jet, and other magazines that showcased African American accomplishments at a time when such affirmation was rare in mainstream media. In 1946, the year after it was founded, Ebony landed its first national advertising account. Selling advertising space to white-owned corporations and persuading them to use black models in their ads were major breakthroughs.

In recognition of his achievements, Johnson received many prizes and honors, including the NAACP’s prestigious Spingarn Medal in 1966 and being named publisher of the year by industry peers in 1972. President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, and a panel of experts polled by Baylor University in 2003 named Johnson the greatest minority entrepreneur in American history.

#SaturdayStamps: Robert Robinson Taylor

The stamp honors Robert Robinson Taylor (1868-1942). The son of emancipated slaves, he was the first black student to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  When he graduated in 1892, he became the first fully accredited African-American architect in America.

During his time at MIT, Taylor met Booker T. Washington.  President of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, Washington focused on education to fight discrimination in the post-Civil War South.  He was impressed with Taylor and recruited him to teach at the school.

As the drafting instructor and architect to the Tuskegee Institute, Taylor was dedicated to promoting Washington’s self-help philosophy.  His architectural debut, Science Hall, was constructed entirely by the students, right down to the bricks.  But Taylor’s second project, the Tuskegee Chapel, was his proudest accomplishment.  Washington once referred to it as the most imposing building on campus.  Taylor’s designs and structures were said to epitomize the institute’s standards of excellence.

Taylor spent the majority of his career at Tuskegee.  He became a model of achievement   through his many contributions – a symbol of pride for the Tuskegee Institute and the nation.

#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.