Archive for February, 2018

FEBRUARY: BLACK HISTORY MONTH (Inoculation introduced to America)

February 12th, 2018

Inoculation was introduced to America by a slave.  Few details are known about the birth of Onesimus, but it is assumed he was born in Africa in the late 17th century before eventually landing in Boston. One of a thousand people of African descent living in the Massachusetts colony, Onesimus was a gift to the Puritan church minister, Cotton Mather, from his congregation in 1706.

Onesimus told Mather about the centuries-old tradition of inoculation practiced in Africa.  By extracting the material from an infected person & scratching it into the skin of an uninfected person, one could deliberately introduce smallpox to the healthy individual, making them immune to smallpox.  Considered extremely dangerous at the time, Cotton Mather convinced Dr. Zabdiel Boylston to experiment with the procedure when a smallpox epidemic hit Boston in 1721 & over 240 people were inoculated.  Opposed politically, religiously, & medically in America & abroad, public reaction to the experiment put Mather’s & Boylston’s lives in danger despite records indicating that only 2% of patients requesting inoculation died compared to the 15% of people not inoculated who contracted smallpox.

Onesimus’ traditional African practice was used to inoculate American soldiers during the Revolutionary War & introduced the concept of inoculation to America.


February 8th, 2018

Before there was Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin.  Most people think of Rosa Parks as the first person to refuse to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  There were actually several women who came before her; one of whom was Claudette Colvin.

It was March 2, 1955 when the 15-year-old schoolgirl refused to move to the back of the bus, 9 months before Rosa Parks’ refusal that launched the Montgomery bus boycott.  Claudette  had been studying Black leaders like Harriet Tubman in her segregated school—those conversations had led to discussions around the current day Jim Crow laws they were all experiencing.  When the bus driver ordered Claudette to get up, she refused.  “It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, & Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down.  I couldn’t get up.”

Claudette Colvin was arrested & thrown in jail.  She was one of the 4 women who challenged the segregation law in court.  If Browder v. Gayle became the court case that successfully overturned bus segregation laws in both Montgomery & all of Alabama, why has Claudette’s story been largely forgotten?  At the time, the NAACP & other Black organizations felt Rosa Parks made a better icon for the movement than the teenager.  As an adult with the right look, Rosa Parks was also the secretary of the NAACP, & was both well-known & respected—people would associate her with the middle class & that would attract support for the cause.  But, the struggle to end segregstion was often fought by young people—more than half of which were women.


February 5th, 2018

Martin Luther King, Jr. improvised the most iconic part of his “I Have a Dream” speech.  On Wednesday, August 28,1963, 250,000 Americans united at the Lincoln Memorial for the final speech of the March on Washington.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at the podium, he eventually pushed his notes aside.

The night before the March, Dr. King began working on his speech with a small group of advisers in the lobby of the Willard Hotel.  The original speech was more political & less historic, according to Clarence B. Jones, & it did not include any reference to dreams.  After delivering the now famous line, ” we are not satisfied, & we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters & righteousness like a mighty stream”, Dr. King transformed his speech into a sermon.

Onstage near Dr. King, singer Mahalia Jackson reportedly kept saying, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin”, & while no one knew if he heard her, it could likely have been the inspiration he needed.  Dr. King then continued, “Even though we face the difficulties of today & tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream…”. And then the famous Baptist preacher preached on, adding repetition & outlining the specifics of his dream.  While this improvised speech given on that hot August day in 1963 was not considered a universal success immediately, it is now recognized as one of the greatest speeches in American history.



February 1st, 2018

The iconic character Betty Boop was inspired by a black jazz singer in Harlem.  Introduced by cartoonist Max Fleischer in 1930, the caricature of the jazz age flapper was the first and most famous sex symbol in animation.  Betty Boop is best known for her revealing dress, curvaceous figure, and signature vocals “Boop Oop A Doop!”.  While there has been controversy over the years, the inspiration has been traced back to Esther Jones who was known as “Baby Esther” and performed regularly in the Cotton Club in the 1920s.

Baby Esther’s trademark vocal style of using “boops” & other childlike scat sounds attracted the attention of actress Helen Kane during a performance.  After seeing Baby Esther, Helen Kane adopted her style & began using “boops” in her songs as well.  Finding fame early on, Helen Kane often included this “baby style” into her music.  When Betty Boop was introduced, Kane promptly sued Fleischer & Paramount Publix Corporation stating they were using her image & style.  However, video evidence came to light of Baby Esther performing in a nightclub, & the courts ruled against Helen Kane stating she did not have exclusive rights to the “booping” style or image, & that the style, in fact, pre-dated her.

Baby Esther’s “baby style” did little to bring her mainstream fame & she died in relative obscurity.  But a piece of her lives on in the iconic character Betty Boop.