#WEARETHELIONS
library-869061_1920.jpg

Blog

Blog

Posts tagged black history month
28 Days of Black Writers - Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington was the most famous black man in America between 1895 and 1915. He was also considered the most influential black educator of the late 19th and early 20th centuries insofar as he controlled the flow of funds to black schools and colleges. Born a slave on a small farm in the Virginia backcountry, he worked in the salt furnaces and coalmines of West Virginia as a child. Determined to educate himself, he traveled hundreds of miles under great hardship until he arrived -- broke, tired, and dirty -- at Hampton Institute. 

He became a star pupil under the tutelage of General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, head of Hampton. Washington was teaching at Hampton when General Armstrong called him aside after chapel. He said he had received a letter from some "gentlemen in Alabama" asking him to recommend a white principal for a colored school they wanted to open there in the town of Tuskegee. In 1881, Washington founded Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute on the Hampton model in the Black Belt of Alabama.

Starting with a broken down building, he used his ability to win the trust of white Southerners and Northern philanthropists to make Tuskegee into a model school of industrial education. He reassured whites that nothing in his educational program challenged white supremacy or offered economic competition with whites. He accepted racial subordination as a necessary evil, at least until such time as blacks could prove themselves worthy of full civil and political rights. As far as blacks were concerned, Washington insisted that industrial education would enable them to lift themselves up by their bootstraps and escape the trap of sharecropping and debt. 

In September 1895, Washington became a national hero. Invited to speak at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Washington publicly accepted disfranchisement and social segregation as long as whites would allow black economic progress, educational opportunity, and justice in the courts. "The wisest of my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than artificial forcing. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than to spend a dollar in an opera house." 

Washington further publicized himself and his program by publishing his (ghost-written) autobiography, UP FROM SLAVERY, in 1901. He also founded the National Negro Business League in 1900. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, both men with deep racial prejudices, used Washington as an advisor because he accepted racial subordination. He was able to recommend candidates for minor political posts that traditionally were given to blacks. The industrialists who controlled the financing of many black schools in the South depended upon his advice as to which schools should receive funds. In 1903, Washington's policies received a challenge from within the black community. W.E.B. Du Bois, then a scholar at Atlanta University, attacked Washington's philosophy in the book THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK. 

An organized resistance to Washington grew within the black intellectual community. But as far as the majority of middle-class and working-class blacks were concerned, Washington remained their man. His popularity enabled him to neutralize criticism, sometimes by devious means such as bribing newspapers to report false and unflattering reports of his critics. Because of his image as a conciliator, Washington seldom could publicly criticize injustice. Yet, behind the scenes, he did finance court cases challenging segregation and tried to mitigate some of its excesses. When Woodrow Wilson became president in 1913, Washington lost his influence in the federal government, which Wilson helped segregate further. Meanwhile, a new era had begun in the black community, and a younger generation would no longer accept white supremacy. Under the leadership of Du Bois and others, they would demand their political and civil rights. (via PBS.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - Harriet Ann Jacobs

Harriet Jacobsin full Harriet Ann Jacobs, also called Harriet A. Jacobs (born 1813, EdentonNorth Carolina, U.S.—died March 7, 1897, Washington, D.C.), American abolitionist and autobiographer who crafted her own experiences into an eloquent and uncompromising slave narrative.

Born into slavery, Jacobs still was taught to read at an early age. She was orphaned as a child and formed a bond with her maternal grandmother, Molly Horniblow, who had been freed from slavery. While still in her teens Jacobs became involved with a neighbour, Samuel Tredwell Sawyer, a young white lawyer by whom she had two children. When she refused to become her owner’s concubine, she was sent to work in a nearby plantation. In an attempt to force the sale of her children (who were bought by their father and later sent to the North), Jacobs escaped and spent the next seven years in hiding.

After escaping to the North in 1842, Jacobs worked as a nursemaid in New York City and eventually moved to Rochester, New York, to work in the antislavery reading room above abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s newspaper, the North Star. During an abolitionist lecture tour with her brother, Jacobs began her lifelong friendship with the Quaker reformer Amy Post. Post, among others, encouraged Jacobs to write the story of her enslavement.

Self-published in 1861, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is arguably the most comprehensive slave narrative written by a woman. Jacobs’s narrative does not shrink from discussing the sexual abuse of slaves or the anguish felt by slave mothers who faced the loss of their children. Rediscovered during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Jacobs’s autobiography was not authenticated by scholars until 1981 and had therefore often been considered a work of fiction. (via Britannica.com)

28 Days of Black Writers - Claude McKay
claude mckay.jpg

Claude McKay was born in Jamaica on September 15, 1889. He was educated by his older brother, who possessed a library of English novels, poetry, and scientific texts.

In 1912, McKay published a book of verse called Songs of Jamaica (Gardner), recording his impressions of black life in Jamaica in dialect. That same year, he traveled to the United States to attend Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He remained there only a few months, leaving to study agriculture at Kansas State University.

In 1917, he published two sonnets, “The Harlem Dancer” and “Invocation," and later used the form in writing about social and political concerns from his perspective as a black man in the United States. McKay also wrote on a variety of subjects, from his Jamaican homeland to romantic love, with a use of passionate language.

During the twenties, McKay developed an interest in Communism and traveled to Russia and then to France, where he met Edna St. Vincent Millay and Lewis Sinclair. In 1934, McKay moved back to the United States and lived in Harlem, New York. Losing faith in Communism, he turned his attention to the teachings of various spiritual and political leaders in Harlem, eventually converting to Catholicism.

McKay’s viewpoints and poetic achievements in the earlier part of the twentieth century set the tone for the Harlem Renaissance and gained the deep respect of younger black poets of the time, including Langston Hughes. He died on May 22, 1948. (via Poets.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - James Weldon Johnson

Born on June 17, 1871 in Jacksonville, Florida, James Weldon Johnson was encouraged by his mother to study English literature and the European musical tradition. He attended Atlanta University, with the hope that the education he received there could be used to further the interests of African Americans. After graduating, he took a job as a high school principal in Jacksonville.

In 1900, he wrote the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” on the occasion of Lincoln’s birthday; the song was immensely popular in the black community, and became known as the “Negro National Anthem.” Johnson moved to New York in 1901 to work with his brother Rosamond, a composer; after attaining some success as a songwriter for Broadway, he decided in 1906 to take a job as a U.S. consul to Venezuela. While employed by the diplomatic corps, Johnson had poems published in The Century Magazine and The Independent.

In 1912, Johnson anonymously published his novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (French & Co.), the story of a musician who rejects his black roots for a life of material comfort in the white world. The book explores the issue of racial identity in the twentieth century, a common theme for the writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

With his talent for persuading people of differing ideologies to work together for a common goal, Johnson became the national organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1920. He edited The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt Brace, 1922), a major contribution to the history of African-American literature. His book of poetry God’s Trombones (Viking Press, 1927) was influenced by his impressions of the rural South, drawn from a trip he took to Georgia while a freshman in college. It was this trip that ignited his interest in the African American folk tradition.

James Weldon Johnson died on June 26, 1938 (via Poets.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - Nikki Giovanni

Yolanda Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on June 7, 1943, and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1960, she entered Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she worked with the school’s Writer’s Workshop and edited the literary magazine. After receiving her bachelor of arts degree in 1967, she organized the Black Arts Festival in Cincinnati before entering graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.

Giovanni is the author of numerous children books and poetry collections, including Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid (William Morrow, 2013), Bicycles: Love Poems (William Morrow, 2009); Acolytes (HarperCollins, 2007); The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1998 (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2003); Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not-Quite Poems (William Morrow, 2002); Blues For All the Changes: New Poems (William Morrow, 1999); Love Poems (William Morrow, 1997); and Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni (University Press of Mississippi, 1996). In her first two collections, Black Feeling, Black Talk (Harper Perennial, 1968) and Black Judgement (Broadside Press, 1969), Giovanni reflects on the African-American identity. 

A lung cancer survivor, Giovanni also contributed an introduction to the anthology Breaking the Silence: Inspirational Stories of Black Cancer Survivors (Hilton Publishing, 2005).

Her honors include the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Dedication and Commitment to Service in 2009, three NAACP Image Awards for Literature in 1998, the Langston Hughes award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters in 1996, as well as more than twenty honorary degrees from national colleges and universities. She has been given keys to more than a dozen cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, and New Orleans.

Several magazines have named Giovanni Woman of the Year, including EssenceMademoiselleEbony, and Ladies Home Journal. She was the first recipient of the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award. She has served as poetry judge for the National Book Awards and was a finalist for a Grammy Award in the category of Spoken Word.

She is currently University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, where she has taught since 1987. (via Poets.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - Roxanne Gay

Roxane Gay (born October 15, 1974) is an American feminist writer, professor, editor and commentator. She is an associate professor of English at Purdue University, contributing opinion writer at The New York Times, founder of Tiny Hardcore Press, essays editor for The Rumpus, and co-editor of PANK, a nonprofit literary arts collective.

She perhaps best known as the writer of the New York Times best-selling essay collection Bad Feminist (2014). She is also the author of the short story collection Ayiti (2011), the novel An Untamed State (2014), the short story collection Difficult Women (2017), and Hunger (forthcoming 2017).

After completing her Ph.D., Gay began her academic teaching career in the fall 2010 at Eastern Illinois University, where she was assistant professor of English. While at EIU, in addition to her teaching duties, she was a contributing editor for Bluestem magazine and she also founded Tiny Hardcore Press. Gay worked at Eastern Illinois University until the end of the 2013-2014 academic year, taking a job in August 2014 at Purdue University as associate professor of creative writing.

She is the author of the short story collection Ayiti (2011), the novel An Untamed State (2014), the essay collection Bad Feminist (2014), the short story collection Difficult Women (2017), and Hunger (forthcoming 2017). Gay's publication of An Untamed State and Bad Feminist in the summer of 2014 led one Time Magazine reviewer to declare, "Let this be the year of Roxane Gay." The review noted of her inclusive style: "Gay’s writing is simple and direct, but never cold or sterile. She directly confronts complex issues of identity and privilege, but it’s always accessible and insightful."

She also edited the book Girl Crush: Women's Erotic Fantasies. In addition to her regular contributions to Salon and the now defunct HTMLGiant, her writing has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories 2014Best American Short Stories 2012Best Sex Writing 2012A Public SpaceMcSweeney’sTin HouseOxford AmericanAmerican Short FictionWest BranchVirginia Quarterly ReviewNOONBookforumTimeThe Los Angeles TimesThe Nation and The New York Times Book Review. (via Wikipedia)

28 Days of Black Writers - Countee Cullen

Born on May 30, 1903, in New York City, Countee Cullen was raised in a Methodist parsonage. He attended De Witt Clinton High School in New York and began writing poetry at the age of fourteen. In 1922, Cullen entered New York University. His poems were published in The Crisis, under the leadership of W. E. B. Du Bois, and Opportunity, a magazine of the National Urban League. He was soon after published in Harper’s, the Century Magazine, and Poetry. He won several awards for his poem, “Ballad of the Brown Girl," and graduated from New York University in 1923. That same year, Harper published his first volume of verse, Color, and he was admitted to Harvard University where he completed a master’s degree.

His second volume of poetry, Copper Sun (1927), met with controversy in the black community because Cullen did not give the subject of race the same attention he had given it in Color. He was raised and educated in a primarily white community, and he differed from other poets of the Harlem Renaissance like Langston Hughes in that he lacked the background to comment from personal experience on the lives of other blacks or use popular black themes in his writing. An imaginative lyric poet, he wrote in the tradition of Keats and Shelley and was resistant to the new poetic techniques of the Modernists. He died on January 9, 1946. (via Poets.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - Paul Laurence Dunbar

Born on June 27, 1872, Paul Laurence Dunbar was one of the first African-American poets to gain national recognition. His parents Joshua and Matilda Murphy Dunbar were freed slaves from Kentucky. His parents separated shortly after his birth, but Dunbar would draw on their stories of plantation life throughout his writing career. By the age of fourteen, Dunbar had poems published in the Dayton Herald. While in high school he edited the Dayton Tattler, a short-lived black newspaper published by classmate Orville Wright.

Despite being a fine student, Dunbar was financially unable to attend college and took a job as an elevator operator. In 1892, a former teacher invited him to read his poems at a meeting of the Western Association of Writers; his work impressed his audience to such a degree that the popular poet James Whitcomb Riley wrote him a letter of encouragement. In 1893, Dunbar self-published a collection called Oak and Ivy. To help pay the publishing costs, he sold the book for a dollar to people riding in his elevator.

Later that year, Dunbar moved to Chicago, hoping to find work at the first World’s Fair. He befriended Frederick Douglass, who found him a job as a clerk, and also arranged for him to read a selection of his poems. Douglass said of Dunbar that he was “the most promising young colored man in America.” By 1895, Dunbar’s poems began appearing in major national newspapers and magazines, such as The New York Times. With the help of friends, he published the second collection, Majors and Minors (Hadley & Hadley, 1895). The poems written in standard English were called “majors," and those in dialect were termed “minors.” Although the “major” poems outnumber those written in dialect, it was the dialect poems that brought Dunbar the most attention. The noted novelist and critic William Dean Howells gave a favorable review to the poems in Harper’s Weekly.

This recognition helped Dunbar gain national and international acclaim, and in 1897 he embarked on a six-month reading tour of England. He also brought out a new collection, Lyrics of Lowly Life (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1896). Upon returning to America, Dunbar received a clerkship at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and shortly thereafter he married the writer Alice Ruth Moore. While living in Washington, Dunbar published a short story collection, Folks from Dixie (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1898), a novel entitled The Uncalled (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1898), and two more collections of poems, Lyrics of the Hearthside (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1899) and Poems of Cabin and Field (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1899). He also contributed lyrics to a number of musical reviews.

In 1898, Dunbar’s health deteriorated; he believed the dust in the library contributed to his tuberculosis and left his job to dedicate himself full time to writing and giving readings. Over the next five years, he would produce three more novels and three short story collections. Dunbar separated from his wife in 1902, and shortly thereafter he suffered a nervous breakdown and a bout of pneumonia. Although ill and drinking too much in attempt to soothe his coughing, Dunbar continued to write poems. His collections from this time include Lyrics of Love and Laughter (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1903), Howdy, Howdy, Howdy (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1905), and Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1903). These books confirmed his position as America’s premier black poet. Dunbar’s steadily deteriorating health caused him to return to his mother’s home in Dayton, Ohio, where he died on February 9, 1906, at the age of thirty-three. (via Poets.org)

28 Days of Black Writers - Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry was born on May 19, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois. She wrote A Raisin in the Sun, a play about a struggling black family, which opened on Broadway to great success. Hansberry was the first black playwright and the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle award. Throughout her life she was heavily involved in civil rights. She died at 34 of pancreatic cancer.

In New York, Hansberry attended the New School for Social Research and then worked for Paul Robeson’s progressive black newspaper, Freedom, as a writer and associate editor from 1950 to 1953. She also worked part-time as a waitress and cashier, and wrote in her spare time. By 1956, Hansberry quit her jobs and committed her time to writing. In 1957, she joined the Daughters of Bilitis and contributed letters to their magazine, The Ladder, about feminism and homophobia. Her lesbian identity was exposed in the articles, but she wrote under her initials, L.H., for fear of discrimination. 

During this time, Hansberry wrote The Crystal Stair, a play about a struggling black family in Chicago, which was later renamed A Raisin in the Sun, a line from a Langston Hughes poem. The play opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on March 11, 1959, and was a great success, having a run of 530 performances. It was the first play produced on Broadway by an African-American woman, and Hansberry was the first black playwright and the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle award. The film version of A Raisin in the Sun was completed in 1961, starring Sidney Poitier, and received an award at the Cannes Film Festival. 

In 1963, Hansberry became active in the Civil Rights Movement. Along with other influential people, including Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne and James Baldwin, Hansberry met with then attorney general Robert Kennedy to test his position on civil rights. In 1963, her second play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, opened on Broadway to unenthusiastic reception.

A Raisin in the Sun is considered one of the hallmarks of the American stage and has continued to find new audiences throughout the decades, including Emmy-nominated television productions from both 1989 and 2008. The play has earned accolades from Broadway as well, winning Tony Awards in 2004 and 2014, including Best Revival of a Play. (via Biography.com)

28 Days of Black Writers - 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. (Poets.org)