Katherine Dunham revolutionized American dance in the 1930’s by going to the roots of black dance and ritual and transforming them into significant artistic choreography that speaks to all. She is a pioneer in the use of folk and ethnic choreography; she is one of the founders of the anthropological dance movement. She showed the world that African American heritage is beautiful.
Dunham prepared herself by dancing and performing throughout her youth in Peoria, Illinois, by her graduate studies in social anthropology at the University of Chicago, and by living among the native in the West Indies.
Between her initial education and her appointment to Southern Illinois University in 1967, Ms. Dunham did ground breaking work in every aspect of dance, theater, music and education. She danced, choreographed, and directed on Broadway. She danced with Les Ballet Negre, the first black ballet company in the United States, and appeared in the films “Stormy Weather” and “Cabin in the Sky” which she co-choreographed with George Balanchine. Dunham chose to leave Hollywood soon after to create a more culturally comfortable place for American black people to perform, in East St. Louis, Illinois. She formed the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, which toured in more than 60 countries, amassing cultural and theatrical experiences, which would be recounted in eight books, numerous articles and short stories which she wrote.
One scholar called Katherine Dunham “a hip swinging anthropologist”; “the hottest thing to hit Chicago since Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked the bucket” and “an authoritative interpreter of primitive dance rhythm.” She made her debut as a dancer on Broadway in the1930’s sporting a birdcage on her head and a cigar in her mouth. Such accoutrements are standard for the ladies who circulate around Caribbean ports, which her anthropological studies had taught her.
Throughout the years, Katherine Dunham continues to fight for racial equality. She devoted much of her talent and insight to re-directing the energy of violent street gangs through the performing arts. Her work resulted in the formation of the Performing Arts Training Center. She also founded the Katherine Dunham Museum and Children’s School, which continues today.
Ms. Dunham is the recipient of ten honorary doctorates, numerous awards, including the Kennedy Center Honors. As well, she continues to receive the admiration and devotion of the hundreds of students and colleagues whose lives have been enriched. Women’s International Center is privileged to offer the Living Legacy Award to a magnificent teacher, dancer, choreographer, actress and humanitarian, Katherine Dunham.
The United States Postal Service has honored ten of America’s most illustrious poets of the 20th century on 45-cent First-Class Mail Forever stamps. Among those chosen was Robert Hayden, the first African-American to be appointed Poet Laureate. Hayden was also a longtime Baha’i.
Born Asa Bundy Sheffey in 1913 in the Paradise Valley neighborhood of Detroit, Mr. Hayden spent much of his time reading and writing. He attended Detroit City College (now Wayne State University) on a scholarship and earned a master’s degree at the University of Michigan, where he was mentored by celebrated poet W.H. Auden.
In 1943, while in graduate school, Mr. Hayden became acquainted with the Baha’i Faith and was drawn to its focus on racial harmony. He incorporated those beliefs into his poems and thought of himself as an American poet, rather than a black poet.
Mr. Hayden was awarded the grand prize for poetry in 1966 for his collection Ballad of Remembrance at the First World Festival of Negro Arts held in Senegal. The award earned him long-awaited worldwide recognition. In 1976, he was named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, which later became the esteemed title Poet Laureate of the United States. His poetry is wide-ranging and includes tributes to black leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, folklore, politics, life in the slums and the Vietnam War. One of his most-well-known poems is “Those Winter Sundays,” in which a son reminisces about his father.
Robert Hayden taught at Fisk University in Nashville for 23 years and then at the University of Michigan from 1969 until his death in 1980 at age 66.
Other Twentieth-Century Poets honored by the Postal Service include Elizabeth Bishop, Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, E.E. Cummings, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. Each stamp features a photograph of one of the 10 poets. Text on the back of the stamp sheet includes an excerpt from one poem by each poet. The art director was Derry Noyes.
Nicknamed “Campy,” Roy Campanella (1921-1993) was the first black catcher in the history of Major League Baseball. Known for his years with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the famous “Boys of Summer,” Campanella is remembered as a talented all-around player. He hit 242 home runs during his 10-year Major League career, he was a catcher in five World Series, and he was named Most Valuable Player three times.
Born in Philadelphia, Campanella began his career by playing ball with a semiprofessional Negro League team, the Bacharach Giants, during his teens. He played for the Baltimore Elite Giants from 1937 to 1945 and was considered one of the best catchers in the Negro Leagues. He also played in briefly in the Mexican League.
Campanella began playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948. During his 1953 MVP season, he hit 41 home runs, chalked up 142 RBIs, scored 103 runs, and batted .312, considered one of the best seasons ever recorded by a catcher. With Campanella, the “Boys of Summer” won five National League pennants between 1949 and 1956 and won the World Series in 1955.
In 1958, Campanella was paralyzed in a car accident, but for decades he worked behind the scenes and in community relations for the Dodgers in Los Angeles. In 1969 he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1991, two years before he died, Campanella and his wife founded The Roy and Roxie Campanella Physical Therapy Scholarship Foundation, which provides support for those living with paraplegia and funds scholarships for students who pursue degrees in physical therapy.
Kenneth Allen Gibson, the first African American mayor of Newark, New Jersey, was born in 1931 in the town of Enterprise, Alabama. He graduated from high school in Enterprise in 1950 and joined the U.S. Army as a civil engineer. He remained in the Army until 1958. After his discharge, he took a job as a New Jersey State Highway Patrol trooper while simultaneously attending Newark College. Gibson graduated with a B.S. in Civil Engineering in 1963.
After college Gibson took an engineering position for the Newark Housing Authority where he oversaw urban renewal projects from 1960-1966. In 1966, he became Newark’s chief structural engineer. He was also the head of Newark’s Business and Industry Coordinating Council and served as vice president of the United Community Corporation, which fought poverty in Newark during that time.
In 1970 Gibson ran for Mayor of Newark, New Jersey and defeated incumbent Hugh J. Addonizio, who was subsequently convicted of extortion and conspiracy charges. Gibson took over a predominantly African American city, still recovering from the race riot of 1967 which left 23 people dead. He was credited for economic revival that resuscitated the city’s economy. When he first came into office, the city was in the midst of a population loss from 400,000 to 300,000. By the end of his first term, the numbers slowly began to grow again as Gibson encouraged the return of middle class residents with urban housing developments such as Society Hill. His administration was also initially identified with black nationalist poet and playwright Amiri Baraka whom many credited with Gibson’s first election to the mayor’s post.
Kenneth Gibson served four consecutive terms in office until 1986 when he was defeated for reelection by Sharpe James following a scandal which resulted in his indictment on conspiracy and misconduct charges. Gibson was acquitted in his subsequent trial that took place after he left office.
Gibson was actively involved in a number of civil rights organizations such as the National Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). In 1976 Gibson also became the first African American to serve as President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Judge Damon J. Keith has had an illustrious career. Born on July 4, 1922, he has served as a United States Court of Appeals judge for the Sixth Circuit since 1977. Keith was the youngest of six children born to Annie and Perry Alexander Keith and the first to attend college. He graduated from West Virginia State College in 1943 and was then drafted into the military. His experiences in the segregated Army strengthened his conviction to the cause of civil rights. Keith received a J.D. from Howard Law School in 1949, passed the Michigan bar exam in 1950, and earned an L.L.M. from Wayne State University School of Law in 1956.
In 1964, Keith established his own law practice, Keith, Conyers, Anderson, Brown, & Wahls, with four other African American attorneys. Keith was also very active in the Democratic Party and used his political connections to help his community. He served as the chair to the Detroit Housing Commission and the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Keith to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, where he served as Chief Judge from 1975 to 1977 before President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Keith took senior status in 1995.
In 1993, the Damon J. Keith Law Collection, an archival resource devoted to the substantial historical accomplishments of African American lawyers and judges as well as the African American legal experience, was created at Wayne State University and named in his honor. Keith has received numerous awards and honors, including: thirty-eight honorary degrees from various colleges and universities; the NAACP’s highest award, the Spingarn Medal; the 1997 American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award; the Detroit Urban League’s 1998 Distinguished Warrior Award; the Distinguished Public Service Award for the National Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith; the prestigious Edward J. Devitt Award for Distinguished Service to Justice; the Pinnacle Award at the 2000 Trumpet Awards in Atlanta; and the American Bar Association Spirit of Excellence Award in 2001.
Keith has also received the lifetime achievement award from the National Black College Alumni and was inducted into their Hall of Fame. Keith is married to Rachel Boone Keith, M.D., with whom he has three daughters.
Keith passed away on April 28, 2019.