Archive for February, 2018


February 28th, 2018

The first African American Female pilot was named Bessie Coleman.  Born in Atlanta, Texas in 1892, Bessie Coleman grew up in a world of harsh poverty, discrimination & segregation.  She moved to Chicago at 23 to seek her fortune, but found little opportunity there as well.  Wild tales of flying exploits from returning WWI soldiers first inspired her to explore aviation, but she faced a double stigma in that dream being both African American & a woman.

She set her sights on France in order to reach her dreams & began studying French.  In 1920, Coleman crossed the ocean with all of her savings & the financial support of Robert Abbott, one of the first African American millionaires.  Over the next seven months, she learned to fly & in June of 1921, the Federation Aeronautique Internationale awarded her an international pilot’s license.  Wildly celebrated upon her return to the United States, reporters turned out in droves to greet her.

Coleman performed at numerous airshows over the next five years, performing heart-thrilling stunts, encouraging other African Americans to pursue flying, & refusing to perform where Blacks were not admitted.  When she tragically died in a plane accident in 1926, famous writer & equal rights advocate Ida B. Wells presided over her funeral.  An editorial in the “Dallas Express” stated:  “There is a reason to believe that the general public not completely sense the size of her contribution to the achievements of the race as such.”


February 26th, 2018

One in four cowboys was Black, despite the stories told in popular books & movies.  In fact, it’s believed that the real “Lone Ranger” was inspired by an African American man named Bass Reeves.  Reeves had been born a slave but escaped West during the Civil War where he lived in what was then known as Indian Territory.  He eventually became a Deputy U.S. Marshal, was a master of disguise, an expert marksman, had a Native American companion, & rode a silver horse.  His story was not unique however.

In the 19th century, the Wild West drew enslaved Blacks with the hope of freedom and wages.  When the Civil War ended, freedmen came West with the hope of a better life where the demand for skilled labor was high.  These African Americans made up at least a quarter of the legendary cowboys who lived dangerous lives, facing weather, rattlesnakes, & outlaws while they slept under the stars driving cattle herds to market.

While there was little formal segregation in frontier towns & a great deal of personal freedom, Black cowboys were often expected to do more of the work & the roughest jobs compared to their white counterparts.  Loyalty did develop between the cowboys on a drive, but the Black cowboys were typically responsible for breaking the horses & being the ones to cross flooded streams during cattle drives.  In fact, it is believed that the term “cowboy” originated as a derogatory term used to describe Black “cowhands”.

FEBRUARY: BLACK HISTORY MONTH ( diverse history of black colleges)

February 22nd, 2018

While Jewish & African American communities have a tumultuous shared history when it comes to the pursuit of civil rights, there is a chapter that is often overlooked.  In the 1930s when the Jewish academics from Germany & Austria were dismissed from their teaching positions, many came to the United States looking for jobs.  Due to the Depression, xenophobia & rising anti-Semetism, many found it difficult to find work, but more than 50 found positions at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the segregated South.

Originally established to educate freed slaves to read & write, the first of the HBCUs was Cheyney University in Pennsylvania, established in 1837.  By the time Jewish professors arrived, the number of HBCUs had grown to 78.  At a time when both Jews & Blacks were persecuted, Jewish professors in the Black colleges found the environment comfortable & accepting, often creating special programs to provide opportunities to engage Blacks & whites in meaningful conversation, often for the first time.

In the years that followed, the interests of Jewish & Black communities increasingly diverged, but the once-shared experience of discrimination & interracial cooperation remains a key part of the Civil Rights Movement.


February 19th, 2018

Of the 12.5 million Africans shipped to the New World during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, fewer than 388,000 arrived in America.

In the late 15th century, the advancement of seafaring technologies created a new Atlantic that would change the world forever.  As ships began connecting West Africa with Europe and the Americas, new fortunes were sought and native populations were decimated.  With the native labor force dwindling & demand for plantation and mining labor growing, the transatlantic slave trade began.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade was underway from 1500-1866, shipping more than 12 million African slaves across the world.  Of those slaves, only 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage.  Over 400 years, the majority of slaves (4.9 million) found their way to Brazil where they suffered incredibly high mortality rates due to terrible working conditions.  Brazil was also the last country to ban slavery in 1888.

By the time the United States became involved in the slave trade, it had been underway for 200 years.  The majority of its 388,000 slaves arrived between 1700 and 1866, representing a much smaller percentage than most Americans realize.

FEBRUARY: BLACK HISTORY MONTH (Earliest Protest Against Slavery)

February 16th, 2018

The earliest recorded protest against slavery was by the Quakers in 1688.  Quakers, also known as “The Society of Friends”, have a long history of abolition.   It was four Pennsylvania Friends from Germantown who wrote the initial protest in the 17th century.  They saw the slave trade as a grave injustice against their fellow man and used the Golden Rule to argue against such inhumane treatment; regardless of skin color, “we should do unto others as we would have done onto ourselves”.  In their protest they stated “Pray, what thing in the world can be done worse towards us, then if men should rob or steal us away, & sell us to strange Countries, separating husband from their wife and  children…”.

Their protest against slavery & human trafficking was presented at a “Monthly Meeting at Dublin” in Philadelphia.  The Dublin Monthly Meeting reviewed the protest but sent it to the Quarterly Meeting, feeling it to be too serious an issue for their own meeting to decide.  The four Friends continued their efforts and presented at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, but it wasn’t until 88 years later that the Society of Friends officially denounced slavery.

Over the centuries, this rare document has been considered lost twice.  Most recently it was rediscovered in 2005 and is now at Haverford College Special Collections.