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Posts Tagged ‘history

African-American workers were key to Atlantic City’s success, new book argues

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By Chuck Darrow, Philadelphia Inquirer

WHEN IT comes to the history of Atlantic City, Nelson Johnson literally sees things in black and white.

Johnson, an Atlantic County Superior Court judge from Hammonton, N.J., is the author of Boardwalk Empire, which plotted Atlantic City’s storied tale by focusing on the white power structure from the town’s founding in 1854 through the current casino era. The chapter about early-20th-century political and underworld boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson was the inspiration for the HBO series of the same name.

Tomorrow, Medford, N.J.-based Plexus Publishing releases Johnson’s The Northside, a parallel history of AyCee’s African-American community.

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November 23, 2010 at 7:36 pm

For the Museum of American History, a new trove of African American artifacts

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Source: Washington Post

Over 40 years, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, a Los Angeles couple, have acquired every kind of artifact related to the African American experience. In their collection are rare documents, such as a letter from a Union soldier recounting the 1862 murder of slaves in Tennessee and a parade flag of the Buffalo Soldiers. This important and fragile bounty is moving into the National Museum of American History on Oct. 15 in a series of galleries that are a showcase for the planned National Museum of African American History and Culture, to open in 2015.

One letter, written by slaveholder A.M.F. Crawford in 1854, introduces his slave Frances. The letter is stained, but the messages are clear. She is described as “the finest chamber maid I have ever seen in my life, she is a good washer, but at house cleaning she has perfect slight [sic] of hand.” The 17-year-old Frances does not know her fate, but the viewer will probably cry at the clear and attractive handwriting that says “she does not know that she is to be sold.” And Crawford boldly lets the potential buyer know he is using the proceeds for a new stable.

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October 3, 2010 at 2:31 pm

$4m US grant to help restore the African Meeting House

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By L Finch, Boston Globe

Renovations to the historic African Meeting House on Beacon Hill have received a boost in the form of a multimillion dollar federal grant, museum officials announced yesterday.

The $4 million in federal stimulus funds will allow curators to finish restoring the building on Joy Street, designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, to its original 19th-century state, according to officials of the Museum of African American History, which owns the building.

The 1,500-square-foot meeting house, which officials describe as the oldest existing building of its kind in the nation, has been closed for four years while undergoing renovations.

“This is a place where black and white people worked together to end slavery,’’ said executive director Beverly Morgan-Welch. “It was a beacon of hope for what was possible. . . . This is a fabulous opportunity for the museum to bring this important National Historic Landmark back to its original beauty and purpose.

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Storytellers Share African American Experience With Kids

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By Lisa Blackwell, ABC 32

Some Montgomery children were entertained by storytellers Friday.

More than 100 children heard stories about the African American experience told by nationally acclaimed writers Alabama State University.

Minnie stringer, C.L. Threatt and Emmett Woods gave presentations that got children clapping and chanting.

Joseph Trimble, Consultant, ASU National Center, says “We want them to see artists cause we can do and be anything and we want them to identify and strive to be anything they want ot be their only limitation is their imagination and we want them to see to see that and hear it and go out and write their own great stories.”

Booked on heritage is a summer reading program for kids ages 4 to 12.

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August 16, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Posted in children, Education, history

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Precious Time Left For ‘Selma’ To Mobilize As Director Lee Daniels Makes ‘Butler’ Deal

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By Mike Fleming, Deadline.com

EXCLUSIVE: While Precious director Lee Daniels continues to wait for financing to mobilize on the Civil Rights drama Selma, he has closed a deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment to rewrite and direct The Butler. The Laura Ziskin-produced drama is based on Eugene Allen. A servant in the White House over 34 years, Allen watched the eight presidents he worked for wrestle with and finally stem the tide of segregation. The film is based on a series of articles written on Butler by Wil Haygood. After Haygood’s first article, the long-retired Allen was invited to be a guest at the inauguration of the country’s first African American president, Barack Obama, bringing his experience full circle. The first draft was written by Recount‘s Danny Strong. Read the rest of this entry »

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August 2, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Plans under way to redevelop Five Points’ rich jazz and African American history

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By Anthony Bowe, THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Planners of a major revitalization project in the Five Points neighborhood in Denver hosted U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and Denver City Councilwoman Carla Madison for a briefing and tour of the neighborhood on Saturday.

Wil Alston, executive director of the Five Points Business District, led the walking tour up Welton Street and to the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library. Alston said Udall is the first of several leaders who will be briefed on the project as the group seeks funding.

“Typically the way these grants work, they want to know you have support from your senators and congressional delegation,” Alston said.

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July 5, 2010 at 11:43 am

Learning About African-American History at Colonial Williamsburg

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by Eileen Ogintz, Chicago Tribune

colonialwilliamsburgIt’s your personal property. Name it anything you like. Give it as a birthday gift or throw it on the ground when you get angry or frustrated.

That was the way slave children were treated in 18th-century Virginia. They could be sent away from their parents at any time, their name abruptly changed. The kids touring the elegant Peyton Randolph House in Colonial Williamsburg — home to just two adults and 27 slaves, half of which were children and young teens — were trying hard to process that reality as Bridgette Houston, dressed as an 18th-century slave — “interpreted” African-American revolutionary history for the group of parents and kids that visited here recently on a sunny fall day.

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October 16, 2009 at 7:01 am

Kinsey Collection makes a direct connection

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by Mark Hinson, Tallahassee Democrat

kinseycollectionThe letter was written April 3, 1854, but its emotional punch is still as powerful 155 years later.

It was penned by a slave-owner named A.M.F. Crawford, sealed and given to a 17-year-old chambermaid named Frances, who was a slave. She was told to deliver it to a fellow by the name of Dickerson. He was a slave trader.

“She does not know that she is to be sold,” Crawford wrote to Dickerson. “I could not tell her; I own all her family and the leave taking would be so distressing that I could not. Please say to her that that was my reason, and that I was compelled to sell her to pay for the horses that I have bought, and to build my stable.”

The antebellum letter is now called “A slave carrying her fate in her hands” and is included in the new exhibit “The Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey” that opens Friday at The Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science. The show features more than 100 artifacts, documents, paintings, sculptures, rare books and other ephemera that focus on the black American experience.

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September 6, 2009 at 7:51 am

Russwurm, Class of 1826, first African American at Bowdoin

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by Nick Day, The Bowdoin Orient

bowdoin_college_sealIn September of 1826, senior John Brown Russwurm’s graduation from Bowdoin not only signaled a significant personal achievement.

It was also a milestone for the College.

Russwurm, who walked with a graduating class of 33 students, was the first African American to graduate from Bowdoin, and at that time, only the third African American to earn a college degree in the United States. Read the rest of this entry »

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February 14, 2009 at 7:04 am

African-American Woman Makes History

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by Christine Le, Celebrity Cafe

gordon_reed_annetteOn Wednesday night, Annette Gordon-Reed made history when she became the first African-American woman to win the National Book Award in the nonfiction category. The 59th awards took place on Wall Street, New York, with nearly 700 attendees, according to the NY Times.

Gordon-Reed’s book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, is the result of extensive research and interest in the biography of three generations of a slave family owned by Thomas Jefferson (NY Times). Having grown up in partially segregated East Texas with politically active parents, Gordon-Reed delved into a book on Jefferson’s life, titled Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate Portrait, immersing herself in his political philosophies. She became deeply intrigued by the relations between Jefferson and the Hemings family (NJ.com). Read the rest of this entry »

Legends and Unsung Heroes

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by Joyce Adams Burner, School Library Journal

black_history1Picture books pair up perfectly with African-American history, exquisitely depicting the determination and spirit that have marked more than two centuries of struggle against racial barriers and injustice. The emotions and humanity portrayed in the illustrations bring home the hardships and triumphs like no ordinary textbook can. Whether Eric Velasquez’s quiet charcoal drawings of marching children in Angela Johnson’s A Sweet Smell of Roses or R. Gregory Christie’s intense primitives of Sojourner Truth in Anne Rockwell’s Only Passing Through, the power of the images moves readers’ experience to a more heartfelt level.

Arranged in historically chronological sections, the books suggested here will be welcomed by students of all ages. While they are obviously useful on the elementary level for Black History Month and similar social studies units, consider incorporating Ntozake Shange’s Ellington Was Not a Street and Walter Dean Myers’s Harlem and Blues Journey into a secondary-level poetry study, or offering Kadir Nelson’s sophisticated We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball to high school sports classes. Tom Feelings’s The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo, most appropriate for teens due to its raw intensity, is a rich resource for high school art classes, as is prominent artist Romare Bearden’s Li’l Dan, the Drummer Boy: A Civil War Story. Jerry Pinkney’s intricate watercolors of the Great Migration coupled with Billie Holiday’s song God Bless the Child beg to enrich music classes, as do Brian Selznick’s sepia-toned paintings of Marian Anderson in Pam Muñoz Ryan’s When Marian Sang. Detailed author’s notes in most books provide further information about the people and events on which they are based. Creative use of picture books in the classroom will bring African-American history and heritage to life for students of all ages, interests, and backgrounds. Read the rest of this entry »

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December 4, 2008 at 9:56 am

Students find life lessons in Rosa Parks’ story

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by Jessie Gable, special to Tuscaloosa News

kidsrosaparksOn a cool afternoon on Dec. 1, 1955, a minister, nurse, nun and other passengers boarded a bus in Montgomery. The white passengers paid the toll and took their seats in the front, while the black passengers paid the same toll and took their seats in the back. One black woman sat in the middle. A white passenger got on and demanded her seat. The black woman refused.

Sound familiar? It was 53 years ago Monday when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, triggering the Montgomery bus boycott that lasted 365 days and the end of Jim Crow laws in Alabama. Read the rest of this entry »

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December 4, 2008 at 9:48 am

Son Fulfills Mother’s Dying Wish, Showcasing African-American Artifacts

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by Nikki Burdine, Your4State

What began as one woman’s collection displayed on her dining room table became a museum of sorts in her home, and now her son is hoping to display the treasures in public.

Artifacts like a freedom quilt made in 1848 and a map of what Hagerstown looked like when it was segregated are sitting in a basement.

In the 1970s, Mrs. Doleman began her collection of antiques on the dining room table. Read the rest of this entry »

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September 21, 2008 at 12:08 am

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American treasure: Dorothy Height

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by Marc Morial, Hudson Valley Online

This year’s State of Black America® report shines a much-needed spotlight on the struggles and triumphs of Black women. Too often invisible in mainstream society or depicted by demeaning stereotypes in “popular” culture, our women are at once the most oppressed and most resilient group in America.

Everyday, millions of African-American women work harder, earn less and shoulder the burdens of breadwinner and caregiver in their families. At the same time, many step up and stand out as leaders in their churches, schools, businesses and local communities. Lest we forget, it was Harriet Tubman who led us out of slavery and Rosa Parks who mortally wounded Jim Crow.

Today, I want to share my thoughts about Dorothy Height, a woman who has spent most of her 96 years on this earth standing on the front lines of freedom, not only for Black women, but for us all.

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September 6, 2008 at 7:15 am

Belleville Library getting African-American history exhibit

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by Aaron Sudholt, St. Clair Journal

The Belleville Public Library will be hosting a look into one of Illinois’ less-documented perspectives on the past: African-American history.

The African-American History Exhibit will be premiering at the library Sept. 2 through Nov. 4. It will provide the curious with a chance to learn about the history of black Illinois residents throughout Illinois’ history before and after it became a state.

Library Archivist Dana Prusacki said that the exhibit’s goal was “to show not only the discrimination that African-Americans experienced in this state but to show the influence they had.”The exhibit includes items such as a photo exhibit called “Generations of Pride: African-Americans in Illinois.” It that features photographs, documents, drawings and more that teach about life on slave ships, slavery and on into modern times.

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September 5, 2008 at 11:57 am

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Md. city with edgy racial past elects black mayor

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by Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press

This Chesapeake Bay city of idled crab processing plants and costly vacation homes has had a not-too-distant history of racial strife. But when Cambridge elected its first black mayor this week, residents said their worries about joblessness and the economy were foremost on their minds — not the race or gender of the winning candidate.

Decades after the demise of segregation, this sleepy city on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has elected not only its first black mayor but also its first woman to the post. For Cambridge, the choice of Victoria Jackson-Stanley signaled just how much times have changed.

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July 14, 2008 at 7:49 pm

Family Day at Museum of the African Diaspora

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by Eve Kushner
San Francisco Chronicle

In the 19th century, photography inflicted a certain amount of pain. Cameras were expensive, so few people owned one. Those who wanted portraits had to sit in studios for long periods with their heads clamped so they wouldn’t move. No wonder people were rarely smiling in old-timey portraits.

Photography has come a long way, and the Museum of the African Diaspora is focusing on the big picture. The museum’s current exhibition displays early photographs, such as tintypes and daguerreotypes, as well as photographs on linen, wood and felt. The 90-plus images in the exhibition include depictions of slavery, 20th century civil rights conflicts, African American soldiers and family life.

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Obama’s moment also a major juncture in US history

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by Adam Gellar
Associated Press

The principle that all men are created equal has never been more than a remote eventuality in the quest for the presidency. But with the Democratic nomination finally in Barack Obama’s grasp, that ideal is no longer relegated to someday.

Someday is now.

It is a history-making moment — though Obama is not necessarily the candidate many might have expected to make that history. He is the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas. He’s too young to remember the civil rights struggle, let alone to have been a soldier in the fight.

“He was impossible to anticipate,” says Shola Lynch, director of a documentary about the 1972 campaign waged by Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the New Yorker who was the first black woman to vie for the presidency.

In a country whose self-identity has been warped by racial prejudice since the beginning, this moment has taken an eternity to arrive. Or, viewed over the spectrum of a long, painful history, relatively little time at all.

After all, it has been just 45 years since Martin Luther King declared his dream for a colorblind America, just over 30 years since Mississippi disbanded the sovereignty commission that fought to maintain segregation and deny blacks their rights.

Other notable black candidates have run for the highest office. Some waged serious campaigns that, at least when it came to the prospect of winning the nomination, were never taken seriously.

“I grew up and matured in the height of the civil rights movement and there was no thought then of a black man being president of the United States. We had barely begun to vote then,” says Ronald Walters, who served as deputy director of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s run for the presidency in 1984.

“It was hard for us, even in the Jackson campaign, to get our arms around this, the fact that there would be a black president of the United States — even though we were running,” says Walters, now a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.

But even as they marvel at Obama’s rise, Walters and others say it will take time to appraise what it says about the nation’s political and cultural state of mind. Can he be elected? How long will it take before other viable black candidates — not to mention women — compete for the presidency?

Obama’s likely nomination is a milestone, but it is not at all clear where that marker is posted. His ascendance could prove to be a fairly isolated event, the creation of extraordinary coincidences, or something more.

“The nation has come a long way,” when a major party demonstrates its support for a presidential nominee who is not a white male, says Thomas J. Davis, author of the book “Race Relations in America” and a professor of history at Arizona State University.

But “what does it tell us aside from that fact, which we can see right before our eyes?”

Some may see Obama’s success as marking a revolution in the politics of race. In fact, it’s the latest incremental step — albeit the most noticeable one — in a gradual evolution.

By the early 1960s, pressure was building. Activists clashed with police in Selma, Ala., in a history-making demand for the right to vote. Congress passed the National Voting Rights Act to eliminate the literacy tests many Southern States used to keep black voters from the polls. That led to much greater black voter participation and the first significant entry of black candidates and office holders.

Change came, but slowly. In 1965, Massachusetts voters chose Edward Brooke for a Senate seat, but it wasn’t until 1993 that another black candidate was elected to the chamber.

In 1972, Chisholm, a New York congresswoman, became the first black woman to pursue the presidency, waging a campaign to end the Vietnam War and give voice to the silent in the nation’s policy-making. Jesse Jackson followed in 1984 and 1988, paving the way for the candidacies of Alan Keyes, Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun.

Still, it wasn’t until 1989 that Virginia made Douglas L. Wilder the nation’s first black elected governor.

A majority of Americans said the country was ready for a black president, but that was far from making it reality.

“The fact is that there were no African-Americans who were in a position to run for president at that time so what people would say was really pretty irrelevant,” said David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank focused on issues important to black Americans.

Voters did not really begin to contemplate the idea of a black president as anything beyond an abstract until the 1990s when Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff during the Gulf War, gained wide admiration.

Now, the irony of Obama’s achievement is that much of what it represents is not about the color of his skin.

Obama, at 46 too young to remember the civil rights era, has run a race that, at least when possible, has been deliberately not about race.

He steered clear of a campaign like Jesse Jackson’s, which shaped itself as a fight for the rights of minorities and the poor. Instead, he promised an era of change, an idea that found broad support among different groups of voters. He excluded many of the civil rights leaders and others — from Jackson to Al Sharpton — who would have defined him as a black candidate.

He spoke about himself not primarily as a black man, but as a man whose story was uniquely American.

“Was it about race? No, it was about electability,” Walters said. “The racial aspect of his agenda is missing, the racial politics are missing. So really all you have left is the symbol of the person.”

The result is a prospective nominee whose candidacy is weighted with the possibility of cultural significance, but maybe not in the way that might have been imagined. It is less a testament to rising black political fortunes than to the power of a fast-changing social dynamic.

In the ranks of black politics, the baton is being passed from leaders rooted in the fight for civil rights and social activism to a new group of young, educated and energized politicians with their own point of view.

At the same time, the nation’s electorate is less strictly defined by black and white. That is partly the result of immigration and the growth of other groups of voters. But it is also a sign of assimilation, intermarriage and the arrival of younger voters with different sensibilities.

“America is in the midst of a significant demographic shift and Barack Obama in his person represents a significant element of that shift,” Davis says.

Today’s teens have much more experience with people of other races or mixed races than did their parents. While Obama’s story doesn’t reflect the typical African-American experience, it does speak to this new generation that is less polarized by race — tomorrow’s voters, Bositis says.

His candidacy should act as a signal to these voters, whether they’re young black men or young white women, that people like them can dream, realistically, about being president, observers say.

Politics is a lagging indicator of that shift. But Obama’s message of change taps into it.

“People are thirsting for a new face, a new voice and he’s set to go,” Walters says.

The Obama candidacy reflects a country that is at, or at least near, the point where a generation that has long held on to power must cede the spotlight.

But the general election campaign to come is likely to remind us that the nation, despite its maturation, remains conflicted about race.

“Race is so tender and temperamental an issue in U.S. society and politics,” Davis said. “It won’t be a major issue overtly, but under the covers it’s going to be an issue, absolutely.”

In recent polls, about three of every four voters said the country is ready for a black president. Obama’s nomination offers the first chance to put that assertion to the test.

Many black voters remain skeptical. Significantly fewer of them say they believe the country is ready. Their doubts are a reminder that Obama’s claim to the nomination, while a milestone, does not resolve the country’s long entanglement with racialized politics.

It reminds Walters of a day, 50 years ago, when he led the nation’s first sit-in demonstration at the whites-only Dockum Drugstore lunch counter in his hometown of Wichita, Kan. Back then, the prospect of a black president was unimaginable.

Now, with Obama one step away, “it’s tremendous pride in the fact that this is occurring,” he says. But that pride is tempered by “a sense of realism and caution about what can be achieved.”

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June 7, 2008 at 2:05 pm

Driving Back Into Louisiana’s History

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by Ron Stodghill
New York Times

STRIDING across the rain-soaked field of an abandoned Louisiana plantation, Mitch Landrieu, the state’s lieutenant governor, waved his hands impatiently. “C’mon, you’ve got to see this,” he called out, sounding more P. T. Barnum than politician. Marching beside him was the Whitney Plantation’s owner, John Cummings, a wealthy Louisiana lawyer turned preservationist who, with Mr. Landrieu’s help, hopes to prove that the old Southern plantation, or at least this one, is still very much in business.

Centuries past its prime, the Whitney Plantation sits grandly beneath a canopy of oak trees along a dusty road in St. John the Baptist Parish, a sleepy river community 35 miles northwest of New Orleans. The estate, promoted as the most complete plantation in the South, is an antebellum gem. It includes, among other things, a Creole and Greek Revival-style mansion, an overseer’s house, a blacksmith shop and the oldest kitchen in Louisiana. Built in the late 1700s by Jean Jacques Haydel Jr., the grandson of a German immigrant with a penchant for fine art, the house walls are adorned with murals said to be painted by the Italian artist Domenico Canova, a relation of the neo-Classical sculptor Antonio Canova.

Yet Mr. Landrieu is far less interested in the Haydels than the legacy of the 254 slaves who once inhabited the nearly dozen shacks behind the big house during Whitney’s reign among the largest sugar farms in Louisiana. His muddy shoes planted in front of a row of neatly situated sun-bleached shacks during a recent visit, Mr. Landrieu nudged a reporter toward what he likes to call a living museum:

“Go on in. You have to go inside. When you walk in that space, you can’t deny what happened to these people. You can feel it, touch it, smell it.”

He compared the experience to visiting the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

Personal politics aside, in an era of proliferating theme parks and “Girls Gone Wild” spring breaks, it is entirely possible that hanging out in former slave quarters — or, for that matter, the adjacent so-called “nigger pen” lockup — runs counter to most Americans’ idea of a vacation. But in post-Katrina Louisiana, where an antidote to recent images of black disillusionment, despair and displacement has so far proven elusive, the recently started African-American Heritage Trail offers a disarmingly triumphant immersion into Louisiana’s rich black history and culture through such powerful juxtapositions of freedom and bondage and the creativity that sprung out of both conditions.

Served up in heaping gumbo-style portions, the African-American Heritage Trail is not always easy to digest: it spans 26 sites, wending its way through museums, marketplaces and cemeteries from New Orleans to Shreveport.

To be sure, this is one wandering, race-obsessed road trip: not even those tasty Cracklin or Boudin balls at Highway 190 truck stops, or the reassuring baritone of the actor Louis Gossett Jr., who narrates a fact-filled audiotape of people and places, can always cut the lull of hundreds of miles of often barren, rural highway. And if you’re toting kids as this trailee was, you might feel at points as if you’re driving the African-American Headache Trail.

But if you can hang in, there’s a realism to this traveling history lesson, with a richly tactile and authentic quality. You’ll find it as you stand in front of the childhood home of Homer Plessy, whose refusal to move from the “whites only” section of a rail car would lead to the landmark Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson; as you take in the story of Madame C. J. Walker, the hair-care entrepreneur who bootstrapped her way out of poverty to become the nation’s first black female millionaire; as you stroll through Armstrong Park in New Orleans, named to honor the jazz pioneering work of Louis Armstrong. And of course it’s there in the Cajun and Creole cooking that puts an exclamation mark behind each stop.

In a state that relishes its contradictions, Louisiana’s African-American trail is actually the brainchild of Mr. Landrieu, the white liberal scion of a famous Louisiana political family. In the 1970s, his father, Maurice Edwin Landrieu, known as Moon, made history, and his share of enemies, when as New Orleans mayor, he hired the first blacks into his administration. Mitch, a self-proclaimed champion of social justice, said he conceived the trail as a way of brokering dialogue between the races at a time when the nation sorely needed it, an idea that gained urgency in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“We want to transform the discussion about race and poverty in America,” said the 47-year-old Mr. Landrieu, who served 16 years in the State House of Representatives (his father and sister, Mary Landrieu, also a Democrat and currently a United States Senator, held the same seat). “Many, many white people and black people of good will have been separated by ideological fights that have been powerful. But you can’t transform the discussion if you can’t remember what happened.”

Mr. Cummings puts it another way: “Is black men not caring for their children today in any way connected to slavery? These are the kinds of questions we should be asking. I want to get beyond the moonlight and magnolia myths of the plantation.”

There is a more practical basis for the trail also. “There’s not enough money to build a museum in every parish in Louisiana,” Mr. Landrieu said. So, over the past couple of years, he has spearheaded an effort to link private-sector cultural attractions into a network of state-sponsored tourism programs, from bird-watching to golf tours. The African-American Heritage Trail is but the latest example of fiscal creativity with Louisiana’s tourism program.

“The whole state of Louisiana really is a museum,” he said.

At the turn of the 19th century, Louisiana was a major player in the Deep South in international slave trade, thanks to its location on the Mississippi River and its rise as a sugar capital. Far more compelling than its robust slave population, though, was the culture that developed around it, as a blend of French governance, liberal manumission laws and tradition of racial mixing created an especially unique twist to an already peculiar institution.

A trail weighted with such historical crosscurrents could easily turn into a kind of four-wheel Rubik’s Cube in the wrong guide’s hands. That is why what appears at first blush a freewheeling journey that can begin and end virtually anywhere in Louisiana is best approached with a degree of conformity.

There are some obvious reasons to start the trail in New Orleans, including the fact that airfares to there will most likely be cheapest. But perhaps the most compelling reason to begin in New Orleans is that one of the oldest, richest strains of African-American culture flows directly from there, or more specifically, from Tremé, which according to historians, is the nation’s oldest surviving black community. On the northern fringe of the French Quarter, Tremé, also known as Faubourg Tremé, bears resemblance to a well-to-do Caribbean community, with pastel-colored Creole and shotgun-style cottages and Greek Revival-style homes lining narrow shaded streets.

Throughout the 19th century, Tremé (named after Claude Tremé, a Frenchman who split up the lots and sold them off) was populated by free people of color — many of them fair-skinned French-speaking Creoles — who identified more with their European than African ancestry as they dominated the trades as merchants, businessmen and real estate speculators.

In many cases, their ascension up the social ladder was orchestrated through Cordon Bleu or quadroon balls, private soirees in which wealthy Creole families presented their daughters to white suitors for long-term relationships.

So fascinating are the quadroon balls that you’ll want to visit the African-American Museum, located in the heart of Tremé, for more nitty gritty on these affairs, as well as the lowdown on Tremé’s most infamous Creole woman, Marie Laveau, known as the voodoo queen, who is believed to have resided, at one point, in the Passebon Cottage on the museum’s property.

The centerpiece of Tremé, though, is St. Augustine Catholic Church, which embodies much of the community’s complex cultural narrative. Built in the mid 1800s at the request of people of color, St. Augustine remains the spiritual nerve center of the New Orleans black community.

The church also has the distinction of being one of the nation’s first integrated churches thanks to a legendary “War of the Pews” in which free people of color and whites one-upped one another in purchasing family pews for Sunday Mass. Free blacks not only nabbed two pews for every white family pew, but also gave them as gifts to their enslaved black brethren. After church, and filled with the spirit, colored congregants would migrate to Congo Square (today within Louis Armstrong Park) where they would sing, dance and play music in their native African traditions.

With the French Quarter so nearby, dinner at the Praline Connection, a black-owned, child-friendly Creole soul food joint in neighboring Faubourg Marigny, is a good way to cap the evening — and the New Orleans portion of the trail. While this unpretentious, affordable place, isn’t exactly historic — it was founded in 1990 — its gumbo has earned praise from locals, as have the smothered pork chops and other specialties. And kids, exhausted by now, will squeal as straight-faced waiters serve up fried alligator as nonchalantly as a bowl of Cap’n Crunch.

A few sites on the heritage trail veer from Mr. Landrieu’s “living museum” construct, though they are not necessarily any less satisfying. Among them is the River Road African-American Museum, in the town of Donaldsonville, about 65 miles north of New Orleans. The River Road area is brimming with historical significance: Donaldsonville elected the nation’s first African-American mayor, Pierre Caliste Landry, in 1868, Others who hail from the area include King Oliver, Louis Armstrong’s musical mentor, and a corps of enslaved African-American soldiers who fought with the Union at nearby Fort Butler.

The museum’s founder, Kathe Hambrick, a native of Donaldsonville, enthuses over their tales to audiences as though reminiscing over her own family scrapbook. Ms. Hambrick started the museum in 1994 after living for several years in California.

“Everywhere I turned, there was this word ‘plantation,’ ” Ms. Hambrick said. “And every time I heard it, I would get this knot in my stomach. One day I decided to take one of these plantation tours. It was all about antiques, furniture, architecture and the wealthy lifestyle. But I wanted to know how many lives of my ancestors did it take to produce one cup of sugar.”

Since then, Ms. Hambrick has assembled a collection that combines everything from shackles and plantation tools with antebellum maps and deeds from slave auctions. The production is heavy stuff, and its details, while fascinating to adults, may be less so to small children yearning to return to the open air.

But a couple of hours north, the Louisiana landscape opens wide, and as you travel along Highway 1 toward the town of Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-ah-tish), home of the Cane River Creoles, the hard stories in Donaldsonville fade under the great magnolias that shade the entrance of Melrose Plantation. This is where the love story of Marie-Therese, known as Coincoin, the grand matriarch of Melrose, took place.

Raised as a slave in the household of a Louisiana military commander, Marie-Therese was later sold to Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer, a French merchant. The two fell in love and she eventually bore him 10 children. Marie-Therese and her children eventually gained their freedom and became wealthy landowners in their own right. As the story goes, Marie-Therese Metoyer owned slaves but also bought many slaves their freedom along the way.

One of her sons, Nicholas Augustin Metoyer, financed the first Catholic church in the United States built for people of color. St. Augustine Catholic Church was founded in 1803 and is located in Natchitoches.

The story of the Metoyers seems to illustrate Mr. Landrieu’s belief that the trail “is about so much more than civil rights — it’s about hope.” He paused, and rephrased his thought for wider appeal. “This trail is really about how hope hits the streets.”

IF YOU GO

The Web site for the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail, louisianatravel.com/explore/cultural_history/african_american_heritage_trail, offers maps and detailed information on the trail’s sites. You can also call (800) 474-8626.

WHERE TO EAT

The Praline Connection (542 Frenchman Street; 504-943-3934; www.pralineconnection.com) in the New Orleans neighborhood of Faubourg Marigny offers affordable local dishes like gumbo and smothered pork chops. Entrees $12.95 to $19.95.

In a restored Art Deco building in historic Donaldsonville, the Grapevine Cafe and Gallery (211 Railroad Avenue; 225-473-8463; www.grapevinecafeandgallery.com) offers arty atmosphere and lauded South Louisiana cuisine, like crawfish étouffée ($13.95) and seafood gumbo ($5.25).

WHERE TO STAY

The major hotel chains might offer convenience for families, but Louisiana boasts a wide array of B & B alternatives. In New Orleans, the Hubbard Mansion Bed and Breakfast (3535 St. Charles Avenue, 504-897-3535; www.hubbardmansion.com), set behind oaks along St. Charles Avenue, blends modern amenities with classic charm for about $160 a night.

Farther north, near Melrose Plantation along the Cane River in historical Natchitoches, there’s the cozy Creole Rose Estates Bed and Breakfast (318-357-0384; www.creoleroseestates.com), a three-bedroom waterfront getaway with scrumptious Creole meals cooked by the host, Janet LaCour. Rates range from $145 for two people to $250 for six people a night.

Child of Georgetown fights discrimination with education

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by Dave Baity
The Sun News

Minnie Kennedy, 91, grew up surrounded by opulent wealth at Hobcaw Barony.

But her life was a sharp contrast to the privileged existence of Wall Street multi-millionaire Bernard Baruch and his family who entertained presidents, prime ministers and powerful generals in the big house up the way.

Minnie’s parents, William and Daisy Kennedy, were servants. Treasured servants, to be sure, but servants nonetheless. And black servants, at that, which Minnie observed at an early age marked them for less than equal treatment in the segregated South.

Even in the one-room schoolhouse on the Barony that she attended to the fourth grade, she simply couldn’t say the last six words of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. The words “with liberty and justice for all” simply didn’t ring true for anybody but folks who were white, she said.

But poring over the tattered, hand-me-down books that black youngsters used at the little school, she came to a revelation: Education was the key to achieving the respect and dignity that all people deserved. And so she read and studied, determined to rid herself and others of the discrimination she chafed under.

William Kennedy was a valued member of Baruch’s staff of servants. He was the Barony handyman and served as a duck-hunting guide for Baruch’s powerful buddies who gathered there during the hunting season.

His wife, Daisy, was the cook who planned and prepared the sumptuous meals the Baruchs served their guests. The couple and their 13 children lived in a two-story tenant house outside the fence that surrounded the posh Baruch mansion. Other servants lived nearby in a village of smaller homes.

Daisy Kennedy was a strong-willed woman who sometimes smarted from being treated as a second-class citizen. And she often muttered retorts just out of earshot to demands made by her white bosses. Once, she adamantly refused a request to enlist her daughter to join her and dance for a gathering of white guests at the Baruch home.

When Minnie and her father visited town in her youth and she asked him to take her into a restaurant to get a sandwich, she was dismayed by his answer.

‘”We can’t go in there,’ he said, ‘that’s for white folks,’” she recalled. And when she questioned her parents about why books – and the U.S. Constitution – declared that all people were created equal but they had to tolerate substandard treatment, her father always told her to calm down.

‘”That’s just the way it is,’ he would say, and then I’d say, ‘But it doesn’t have to be that way,’” Minnie Kennedy recalled.

Even though his acceptance of the way things disappointed Minnie, William Kennedy quietly supported her quest to get an education. He scraped together enough money to buy a house on Queen Street in Georgetown and move his family there so that she and her sisters could attend Howard High School, the town’s all-black high school that went through the 10th grade.

The black school on the Barony ended at fourth-grade, Minnie Kennedy said, and the only way to get to Howard High was to take the ferry to Georgetown – which was a privilege denied to blacks.

And when she graduated with honors and wanted to attend college, William Kennedy put together the $30-per-semester tuition and $12-a-month room and board she needed to get a degree from S.C. State College in Orangeburg that would allow her to become a teacher. Bernard Baruch had told her father he would pay for Minnie’s education, but failed to keep the promise until she sent him a letter after graduating that totaled up her expenses.

“He then sent my father a check for a little over $600,” she said. “He congratulated my father on my graduation, but also said in the letter that I was a rude girl. I always was a rebel.”

With her degree in hand, Minnie Kennedy returned to Georgetown and joined the faculty at Howard High. But after World War II broke out, she ventured North to seek better pay and new opportunities. She quickly learned that discrimination wasn’t limited to the South. When she wanted to use the money she made at the Brooklyn Naval Yard to buy a new dress at a well-known department store, she learned that women of color could buy the clothes there, but weren’t allowed to try them on. Black women had to enlist white women who wore the same size to model the clothes for them, she said.

And, when she applied for a teaching job with the New York educational system, she was turned down because she hadn’t shed her Southern accent.

When the war ended, she used savings from her defense job to return to college and eventually earn a master’s degree in early childhood education. That led to a series of teaching positions in experimental schools where she had the opportunity to work with whites and blacks of all economic backgrounds. One was in Westchester County, N.Y., where she shepherded a kindergarten class that became a model for others in the school district. Based on her success there, she launched workshops for other teachers that demonstrated their need to have a democratic outlook about their charges, an open, unforced acceptance of other races and a willingness to set loving rules for hard-to-teach kids.

The notoriety of her philosophy landed her a job as an adjunct professor at New York University administering an early childhood program for college students interested in joining the field that was funded by a Head Start and a New York state grant.

She refused to allow youngsters taught in the experimental program to be identified by income, and insisted that parents of the young students be available to come to the school to discuss their children’s progress and serve as volunteers when possible.

As a result, she wound up as a Head Start regional training officer that required her to give workshops in many of the New England states.

During summer months, she became a world traveler by attending education workshops in Europe and Asia and earning extra money by serving as a counselor at private camps that often had only well-to-do white students. At one, she had the opportunity to arrange for her campers to set up their tents on former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s Hyde Park lawn.

Minnie Kennedy had campaigned for John F. Kennedy and was invited to his presidential inauguration, where she had met Eleanor Roosevelt. So, when she called to ask if she might bring her 13 youngsters there to meet her, the former first lady agreed.

“She was most gracious,” Kennedy said. “She came out, greeted the children, talked with them and answered their questions. It was a very nice experience.”

And when the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s got under way, Kennedy joined the fray. She joined a group of activists who headed to Louisiana to help register black voters. Kennedy’s job was to teach illiterate blacks in Plaquemine, La., enough about the U.S. Constitution to pass the oral test required to get them on the voter rolls. She also accompanied them to the county courthouse to take the test, which many activists complained had been designed to prevent them from voting.

She and the racially mixed members of her group landed in jail when they decided to take a ferry from Plaquemine to New Orleans for an outing. When they drove their cars onto the ferry and got out to stand by the ferryboat’s railing to enjoy the scenery, the captain ordered them to the other side. They were standing at the railing reserved for whites, he said, and had to head to the black side.

Most were New York and New Jersey residents who’d never experienced such treatment. Kennedy jokingly made a comment that she didn’t understand the captain’s complaint because he obviously couldn’t distinguish colors. She quipped that he wasn’t white, he was pink, never expecting anybody to take that to mean he was a communist.

In any event, the captain turned the boat around, headed back to Plaquemine and radioed for police to be at the dock to haul the group to jail for violating the boat’s segregation rules. It took days for them to finally be released.

Shula Chernoff, 85, and professor emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University, said Kennedy was reluctant to discuss the incident or her work with the late Dr. Martin Luther King with students when Chernoff enlisted her first to fill in for a professor at the university. She finally talked about it, however, while conducting a program when students asked her if she’d ever been to jail.

She figured parents would react badly when students told them she’d said yes, but was delighted when they returned to class to proclaim that their parents had “declared that Minnie is a heroine.”

“Then she began sharing her life story with the children,” Chernoff said.

“She had worked with Martin Luther King and took a lot of risks. Young people and children at the time knew little about that era. She brought them a very powerful message.”

Ojetta Parker Smith, 90, of Georgetown, was Kennedy’s classmate at Howard High. She graduated from Morris College in Sumter with a degree in elementary education and taught 43 years in the Georgetown County schools, several of those at Howard High with Kennedy.

The jailing story doesn’t surprise her.

“Minnie always was a fireball,” she said with a chuckle.” She’s a fighter for what she thinks is right. She’s one of those people who truly believes what she believes in.

“She’s still politically active,” Smith said. “She invites political candidates and her friends to her home so they can come in, meet the candidates and question them about the issues they feel are important. Everybody in Georgetown knows Minnie Kennedy as well as lots of people in New York.”

Norma Johnson, an 83-year-old former teacher turned human resources administrator in New York City, spent years teaching alongside Kennedy at several schools and as an adjunct professor at NYU.

“Minnie influenced me so much,” she said. “I’ve never met anyone so selfless and so humane. She knew how to help children be who they needed to be. Parents really loved her and knew that she wanted what was good for their children. She provoked children to really think. That’s what education is all about.”

Kennedy said her view on “civil rights” has been tempered by age and maturity. She has come to realize the full import of Martin Luther King’s message, she said.

The thrust of what King was talking about wasn’t simply civil rights, she said. It’s about humanity and human relations.

“Civil rights is a manmade thing, a thing for the government,” she said, that speaks to a manmade problem. “Human relations is of God. We are all God’s children. It’s only when we see each other for what we are and give each other respect that we will finally get past seeing only color and how it divides us.”

Written by Symphony

May 12, 2008 at 7:30 am

Tarant County (TX) first Black high school

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Tarrant County’s first public high school for black students opened in 1882. The “Colored High School” was located at several sites and was named I.M. Terrell in 1921 before the building at 1411 Terrell Circle opened in 1938. Isaiah Milligan Terrell was one of Fort Worth’s first black teachers and principals.

The school educated generations of African-American teens from Fort Worth and surrounding communities; including Arlington, Mosier Valley and the Tarrant County portion of Grand Prairie.

For decades, Jim Crow laws limited professional opportunities for even the most talented black people, so the best and the brightest often became teachers. Some I.M. Terrell teachers studied at the country’s finest universities, including Columbia and Stanford.

They tried to teach the graces by example. During the 1940s, every female teacher wore a business suit or a floor-length dress. Every male teacher wore a starched white shirt and tie. The men always opened doors for their female colleagues and students, and the teachers always spoke to one another with formality and deference.

I.M. Terrell High closed when Fort Worth schools desegregated in 1973. The building now houses an elementary school and an alumni center.

“Wherever you go, you always run into somebody who went to I.M. Terrell,” said Sarah Walker, a 1956 graduate.

Read more at Star-Telegram 

Written by Symphony

February 8, 2008 at 10:47 am

Tulsa Oklahoma’s Greenwood District (Black Wall Street)

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Boluwaji Ogunyemi talks Black Wallstreet, a symbol of African-American potential and site of the worst race riot of its time

 Less than a century ago, a positive community of African-Americans served as a shining example of the potential of those of African descent — Black Wallstreet.

Following the Civil War, many African-Americans settled in Oklahoma due to the wealth from oil fields.

In 1908 the Greenwood Heights community in Tulsa, Oklahoma was established. It was known as “the Negro Wallstreet” and was comparable in affluence to Beverly Hills today. About 15,000 African-Americans lived in this neighbourhood.

The Greenwood business district boasted around 600 African-American owned, successful businesses including modest two-seat barber shops to family-run grocery stores. It was one of the most concentrated African-American business communities in America.

A number of jazz and blues artists also sprung from this area. Greenwood was also home to not one, but two black newspapers: The Tulsa Star and The Oklahoma Sun.

Read more at The Gazette

Written by Symphony

February 8, 2008 at 10:25 am

Before King, There was Robert Smalls

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A Documentary Reveals the Life and Achievements of a 19th Century African-American Congressman

 Washington, DC — In 1875, Robert Smalls of South Carolina was elected to the first of his five congressional terms.  A former slave, Smalls tirelessly served his constituents, black and white, with dignity and courage.  He fought for equal opportunity among the races in business, politics and education.  Up to now, very little has been written about his life and achievements. 

DoubleBack Productions, a Washington, DC-based production company, has released a feature documentary entitled, Congressman Robert Smalls: A Patriot’s Journey from Slavery to Capitol Hill. This film brings to light the full picture of the development of American democracy, the origins of civil rights movement and the man who dedicated his life to this crusade.  African-American politicians like Robert Smalls pushed the boundaries of American democracy setting the stage for the modern day civil rights movement. 

“Smalls’ story is still relevant today as African Americans seek to maintain a voice in the American political system,” said Executive Producer/Writer, Adrena Ifill.  “Smalls made a great impact on American democracy by pushing our country to live up to its ideals of freedom and justice for all citizens. Today’s African American congressmen and senators are the embodiment of his legacy.”

The documentary, narrated by actor Sean Patrick Thomas (“The District,” “Save the Last Dance”), explores the leadership and legacy of Smalls, a former slave who became one of the first black congressmen during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War.

During his political career, Smalls was instrumental in the creation of South Carolina public school system.  He was also the catalyst for the integration of Philadelphia’s public transportation system.  After resigning from office in 1887, Small continued to work tirelessly to hold back the tide of domestic terrorism designed to disenfranchise African American in the democratic process.

Robert Smalls wrote in 1895, “My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be equal of any people anywhere.  All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”The documentary, Congressman Robert Smalls: A Patriot’s Journey from Slavery to Capitol Hill, is produced by DoubleBack Productions, LLC.  Featured at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, CA and winner of the Best Documentary at the Arizona Black Film Festival, it was also screened at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (www.mvaaff.com) in August 2007. The documentary was broadcast on BET J, an international cable channel, and SC ETV, a PBS station in South Carolina, USA.

Written by Symphony

February 3, 2008 at 7:52 pm

Vets Museum exhibits Blacks in WWII

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Over 2.5 million African American men and thousands of black women served in all branches of service and in all Theaters of Operations during World War II.For many, their service in WWII was filled with irony: they were being asked to fight fascism and racism abroad, while they themselves endured racism at home.

The exhibit currently on display at the ITOW Veterans Museum in Perham shows how, despite extensive discrimination and segregation, these men and women met the challenge, persevered and served with distinction and honor. function photoFull (URL) { day = new Date(); id = day.getTime(); eval(“page” + id + ” = window.open(URL, ‘” + id + “‘, ‘toolbar=0,scrollbars=0,location=0,statusbar=0,menubar=0,resizable=0,width=510,height=510,left = 137,top = 84′);”); }

This exhibit of 40 photographs is on display through February 29, 2008 at the ITOW Veterans Museum, 805 West Main, Perham.

SOURCE: Perham Enterprise Bulletin

Written by Symphony

January 26, 2008 at 9:36 pm

Son of “Great Debater” coach Tolson a professor at Southern University

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“The Great Debaters” is based on a true story chronicling the life of Melvin Tolson as a debate coach at Wiley College (TX). Tolson’s son, Arthur Tolson, is a Southern University history professor.

“Indeed the Wiley College debaters were the predecessors of the civil rights movement as they paved the way for other African Americans to overcome the segregation and racial prejudices of the 1920s and 1930s,” Arthur said.

Arthur Tolson is a historymaker in his own right. He was the first black to attain a master’s degree in history from Oklahoma State University and a doctorate in history from the University of Oklahoma.

Read more at Black College Wire 

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