Tag: History

#SaturdayStamps: Oscar Micheaux

Oscar Micheaux (October 2, 1884 – 1951) was a pioneering African American author and filmmaker, and without a doubt the most famous producer of race films.

Micheaux (or sometimes written as “Michaux”), was born near Metropolis, Illinois and grew up in Great Bend, Kansas, one of eleven children of former slaves. As a young boy he shined shoes and worked as a porter on the railway. As a young man, he very successfully homesteaded a farm in an all-white area of South Dakota where he began writing stories. Given the attitudes and restrictions on black people at the time, Micheaux overcame them by forming his own publishing company to buy his books door-to-house.

The advent of the motion picture industry intrigued him as a vehicle to tell his stories. He formed his own movie production company and in 1919 became the first African-American to make a film. He wrote, directed and produced the silent motion picture The Homesteader, starring the pioneering African American actress Evelyn Preer and based on his novel of the same name. He again used autobiographical elements in The Exile, his first feature film with sound, in which the central character leaves Chicago to buy and operate a ranch in South Dakota. In 1924 he introduced the moviegoing world to Paul Robeson in his film, Body and Soul.

Given the times, his accomplishments in publishing and film are extraordinary, including being the first African-American to produce a film to be shown in “white” movie theaters. In his motion pictures, he moved away from the “Negro” stereotypes being portrayed in film at the time. Additionally, in his film Within Our Gates, Micheaux attacked the racism depicted in D.W. Griffith’s film, The Birth of a Nation.

The Producers Guild of America called him “The most prolific black – if not most prolific independent – filmmaker in American cinema.” Over his illustrious career, Cledisson Micheaux wrote, produced and directed forty-four feature-length films between 1919 and 1948 and wrote seven novels, one of which was a national bestseller.

Micheaux died in Charlotte, North Carolina while on a business trip. His body was returned to Great Bend, Kansas, where he was interred in the Great Bend cemetery with other members of his family.

Filmography

1919

* The Homesteader
* Within Our Gates

1920

* The Brute
* Symbol of the Unconquered

1922

* Gunaslaus Mystery
* Deceit
* The Dungeon
* The Virgin of the Seminole
* Son of Satan

1923

* Jasper Landry’s Will

1924

* Body and Soul

1926

* The Spider’s Web

1927

* Millionaire

1928

* When Men Betray
* Easy Street

1929

* Wages of Sin

1930

* Darktown Revue

1931

* The Exile (1931 film)

1932

* Veiled Aristocrat
* Black Magic
* Ten Minutes to Live

1933

* The Girl From Chicago
* Ten Minutes to Kill

1934

* Harlem After Midnight

1935

* Lem Hawkin’s Confession

1936

* Temptation
* Underworld

1937

* God’s Stepchildren

1938

* Swing

1939

* Birthright
* Lying Lips

1940

* The Notorious Elinor Lee

1948

* Betrayal

Advertisements

#SaturdayStamps: Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, on June 7, 1917, and raised in Chicago. She was the author of more than twenty books of poetry, including Children Coming Home (The David Co., 1991); Blacks (The David Co., 1987); To Disembark (Third World Press, 1981); The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems (The David Co., 1986); Riot (Broadside Press, 1969); In the Mecca (Harper & Row, 1968); The Bean Eaters (Harper, 1960); Annie Allen (Harper, 1949), for which she received the Pulitzer Prize; and A Street in Bronzeville (Harper & Brothers, 1945).

She also wrote numerous other books including a novel, Maud Martha (Harper, 1953), and Report from Part One: An Autobiography (Broadside Press, 1972), and edited Jump Bad: A New Chicago Anthology (Broadside Press, 1971).

In 1968 she was named poet laureate for the state of Illinois. In 1985, she was the first black woman appointed as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, a post now known as Poet Laureate. She also received an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, the Frost Medal, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, the Shelley Memorial Award, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Guggenheim Foundation. She lived in Chicago until her death on December 3, 2000.

 

#SaturdayStamps: Doris Miller

Doris Miller, known as “Dorie” to shipmates and friends, was born in Waco, Texas, on 12 October 1919, to Henrietta and Conery Miller. He had three brothers, one of which served in the Army during World War II. While attending Moore High School in Waco, he was a fullback on the football team. He worked on his father’s farm before enlisting in the U.S Navy as Mess Attendant, Third Class, at Dallas, Texas, on 16 September 1939, to travel, and earn money for his family. He later was commended by the Secretary of the Navy, was advanced to Mess Attendant, Second Class and First Class, and subsequently was promoted to Cook, Third Class.

Following training at the Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Virginia, Miller was assigned to the ammunition ship USS Pyro (AE-1) where he served as a Mess Attendant, and on 2 January 1940 was transferred to USS West Virginia (BB-48), where he became the ship’s heavyweight boxing champion. In July of that year he had temporary duty aboard USS Nevada (BB-36) at Secondary Battery Gunnery School. He returned to West Virginia and on 3 August, and was serving in that battleship when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Miller had arisen at 6 a.m., and was collecting laundry when the alarm for general quarters sounded. He headed for his battle station, the antiaircraft battery magazine amidship, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it, so he went on deck. Because of his physical prowess, he was assigned to carry wounded fellow Sailors to places of greater safety. Then an officer ordered him to the bridge to aid the mortally wounded Captain of the ship. He subsequently manned a 50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship.

Miller described firing the machine gun during the battle, a weapon which he had not been trained to operate: “It wasn’t hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about fifteen minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”

During the attack, Japanese aircraft dropped two armored piercing bombs through the deck of the battleship and launched five 18-inch aircraft torpedoes into her port side. Heavily damaged by the ensuing explosions, and suffering from severe flooding below decks, the crew abandoned ship while West Virginia slowly settled to the harbor bottom. Of the 1,541 men on West Virginia during the attack, 130 were killed and 52 wounded. Subsequently refloated, repaired, and modernized, the battleship served in the Pacific theater through to the end of the war in August 1945.

Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on 1 April 1942, and on 27 May 1942 he received the Navy Cross, which Fleet Admiral (then Admiral) Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet personally presented to Miller on board aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) for his extraordinary courage in battle. Speaking of Miller, Nimitz remarked:

This marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race and I’m sure that the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts.

On 13 December 1941, Miller reported to USS Indianapolis (CA-35), and subsequently returned to the west coast of the United States in November 1942. Assigned to the newly constructed USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56) in the spring of 1943, Miller was on board that escort carrier during Operation Galvanic, the seizure of Makin and Tarawa Atolls in the Gilbert Islands. Liscome Bay’s aircraft supported operations ashore between 20-23 November 1943. At 5:10 a.m. on 24 November, while cruising near Butaritari Island, a single torpedo from Japanese submarine I-175 struck the escort carrier near the stern. The aircraft bomb magazine detonated a few moments later, sinking the warship within minutes. Listed as missing following the loss of that escort carrier, Miller was officially presumed dead 25 November 1944, a year and a day after the loss of Liscome Bay. Only 272 Sailors survived the sinking of Liscome Bay, while 646 died.

In addition to the Navy Cross, Miller was entitled to the Purple Heart Medal; the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.

Commissioned on 30 June 1973, USS Miller (FF-1091), a Knox-class frigate, was named in honor of Doris Miller.

#SaturdayStamps: Anna Julia Cooper

Anna Julia Cooper, née Anna Julia Haywood was born August 10, 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. and died February 27, 1964 in Washington, D.C. was an American educator and writer whose book A Voice From the South by a Black Woman of the South became a classic African American feminist text.

Cooper was the daughter of a slave woman and her white slaveholder (or his brother). In 1868 she enrolled in the newly established Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute (now Saint Augustine’s University), a school for freed slaves. She quickly distinguished herself as an excellent student, and, in addition to her studies, she began teaching mathematics part-time at age 10. While enrolled at Saint Augustine’s, she had a feminist awakening when she realized that her male classmates were encouraged to study a more rigorous curriculum than were the female students. After that early realization, she spent the rest of her life advocating for the education of black women.

In 1877 Anna married her classmate George Cooper, who died two years later. After her husband’s death, Cooper enrolled in Oberlin College in Ohio, graduating in 1884 with a B.S. in mathematics and receiving a master’s degree in mathematics in 1888. In 1887 she became a faculty member at the M Street High School (established in 1870 as the Preparatory High School for Negro Youth) in Washington, D.C. There she taught mathematics, science, and, later, Latin.

During the 1890s Cooper became involved in the black women’s club movement. Women’s club members were generally educated middle-class women who believed that it was their duty to help less-fortunate African Americans. During that time Cooper became a popular public speaker. She addressed a wide variety of groups, including the National Conference of Colored Women in 1895 and the first Pan-African Conference in 1900.

In 1902 Cooper was named principal of the M Street High School. As principal, she enhanced the academic reputation of the school, and under her tenure several M Street graduates were admitted to Ivy League schools. Cooper’s controversial emphasis on college preparatory courses irked critics (such as Booker T. Washington) who favoured vocational education for blacks. Using trumped-up charges, the District of Columbia Board of Education refused to renew her contract for the 1905–06 school year. Undaunted, Cooper continued her career as an educator, teaching for four years at Lincoln University, a historically black college in Jefferson City, Missouri. In 1910 she was rehired as a teacher at M Street (renamed Dunbar High School after 1916), where she stayed until 1930.

In 1911 Cooper began studying part-time for a doctoral degree. In 1925, at age 67, she received a doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris, having written her dissertation on slavery. Written in French, it was published in English as Slavery and the French Revolutionists, 1788–1805.

In addition to her scholarly activities, Cooper reared two foster children and five adoptive children on a teacher’s salary. From 1930 to 1941 she served as president of the Frelinghuysen University for working adults in Washington, D.C. She died in her sleep at age 105.

#SaturdayStamps: Charles W. Chestnutt

Charles W. Chestnutt was born June 20, 1858 and died November 15, 1932 in Cleveland, OH.

Chesnutt was the son of free blacks who had left their native city of Fayetteville, N.C., prior to the American Civil War. Following the war his parents moved back to Fayetteville, where Chesnutt completed his education and began teaching. He was named assistant principal (1877–80) and then principal (1880–83) of State Colored Normal School (now Fayetteville State University), but he became so distressed about the treatment of blacks in the South that he moved his wife and children to Cleveland. He worked as a clerk-stenographer while becoming a practicing attorney and establishing a profitable legal stenography firm. In his spare moments he wrote stories.

Between 1885 and 1905 Chesnutt published more than 50 tales, short stories, and essays, as well as two collections of short stories, a biography of the antislavery leader Frederick Douglass, and three novels. His “The Goophered Grapevine,” the first work by a black accepted by The Atlantic Monthly (August 1887), was so subtle in its refutation of the plantation school of Thomas Nelson Page that most readers missed the irony. This and similarly authentic stories of folk life among the North Carolina blacks were collected in The Conjure Woman (1899). The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line (1899) examines colour prejudice among blacks as well as between the races in a manner reminiscent of George W. Cable. The Colonel’s Dream (1905) dealt trenchantly with problems of the freed slave. A psychological realist, Chesnutt made use of familiar scenes of North Carolina folk life to protest social injustice.

His works outranked any fiction written by blacks until the 1930s. Chesnutt’s thematic use of the humanity of blacks and the contemporary inhumanity of man to man, black and white alike, anticipates the work of later writers as diverse as William Faulkner, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin.

#SaturdayStamps: Clifton R. Wharton Sr.

Clifton Wharton earned a master of law degree from Boston University School of Law in 1923 and joined the Department of State as a law clerk. His diplomatic career stretched across nearly four decades of distinguished service.

In 1925, Wharton became the first African American to enter the Foreign Service after the passage of the 1924 Rogers Act, which consolidated the Department’s Consular and Diplomatic Services. He would be the only African American admitted to the Foreign Service for the next 20 years.

Wharton held various posts at embassies and consulates around the world—Liberia, the Canary Islands, Madagascar, the Azores, and Portugal. In 1953, he became consul general in Marseilles, France. Five years later, President Dwight Eisenhower named him minister to Romania, making him the first black career diplomat to head a U.S. mission in a European country. At the time, U.S. diplomatic relations with Romania were strained. The United States demanded reparations for damage done during the Communist takeover and froze Romanian assets in American banks. Romania accused the United States of espionage. By 1960, Wharton had helped negotiate a settlement. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him Ambassador to Norway. Wharton was the first African American career Foreign Service officer to become an Ambassador. In May 2006 the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp to honor his service.

The History of Black History Month

During the dawning decades of the twentieth century, it was commonly presumed that black people had little history besides the subjugation of slavery. Today, it is clear that blacks have significantly impacted the development of the social, political, and economic structures of the United States and the world. Credit for the evolving awareness of the true place of blacks in history can, in large part, be bestowed on one man, Carter G. Woodson. And, his brainchild the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc. is continuing Woodson’s tradition of disseminating information about black life, history and culture to the global community.

Recognizing the dearth of information on the accomplishments of blacks in 1915, Dr. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

Under Woodson’s pioneering leadership, the Association created research and publication outlets for black scholars with the establishment of the Journal of Negro History (1916) and the Negro History Bulletin (1937), which garners a popular public appeal.

In 1926, Dr. Woodson initiated the celebration of Negro History Week, which corresponded with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, this celebration was expanded to include the entire month of February, and today Black History Month garners support throughout the country as people of all ethnic and social backgrounds discuss the black experience. ASALH views the promotion of Black History Month as one of the most important components of advancing Dr.Woodson’s legacy.

In honor of all the work that Dr. Carter G. Woodson has done to promote the study of African American History, an ornament of Woodson hangs on the White House’s Christmas tree each year.

*Originally posted on ASALH.org