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Today in History: Anna Julia Cooper delivers the address “The Ethics of the Negro Question”

On September 5th, 1902, Anna Julia Cooper delivered an address entitled “The Ethics of the Negro Question” to the General Conference of the Society of Friends at Asbury Park in New Jersey. Cooper began her speech with the following introduction:

“A nation’s greatness is not dependent upon the things it makes and uses. Things without thoughts are mere vulgarities. American can boast her expanse of territory, her gilded domes, her paving stones of silver dollars; but the question of deepest moment in this nation today is its span of the circle of brotherhood, the moral stature of its men and its women, the elevation at which it receives its “vision” into the firmament of eternal truth…”

In her speech she address the conscience and ethics of the nation, describing racism as not the problem of an individual race but “humanity’s problem.” Throughout her speech, she asserts the indisputable citizenship of African Americans and corresponding allegiance to the country, discussing the “hearty earnestness” with which African American children repeated the pledge of allegiance in public schools and stating, “They are Americans, true and bona fide citizens- not by adoption or naturalization but by birth and blood incontestable.” Cooper, who described her life’s vocation as “the education of neglected people,” reiterates in this speech the value and importance of education.

Within her discussion of citizenship, Cooper states, “While these are times that try men’s souls, while a weak and despised people are called upon to vindicate their right to exist in the face of a race of hard, jealous, all-subduing instincts, while the iron of [the white race's] wrath and bitter prejudice cuts into the very bones and marrow of my people, I have faith to believe that God has not made us for naught and He has not ordained to wipe us out from the face of the earth. I believe, moreover, that America is the land of destiny for the descendants of the enslaved race, that here in the house of their bondage are the seeds of promise for their ultimate enfranchisement and development.” Acknowledging the nation’s legacy of slavery and racism, Cooper closes her speech expressing a profound patriotism and faith in the country and it’s ability to ethically progress.

The entire speech is published in the collection “The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper,” edited by Charles Lemert and Esme Bhan, who reprint it by permission of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University.

Happy Birthday to Anna Julia Cooper

Happy birthday to Anna Julia Cooper, who was born today in 1858.

Anna Julia Cooper

On her 82nd birthday, Cooper wrote a poem entitled “No Flowers Please” that discussed how she would want to be remembered. The final stanza reads:

“No flowers please, just the smell of sweet understanding
The knowing look that sees Beyond and says gently and kindly
‘Somebody’s Teacher on Vacation now
Resting for the Fall Opening.’”

The full poem can be found in the collection “The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper: Including a Voice from the South and Other Important Essays, Papers, and Letters,” edited by Charles Lemert and Esme Bhan.

Read more about Anna Julia Cooper and her extraordinary life here. Check out the bottom of the page for a bibliography of Anna Julia Cooper, including her own writings, writings about her, and collections where her papers are housed.

March 24th is Dorothy Irene Height Day

In the fourth grade, I elected to do my Black History Month report on someone lesser known than Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X because each year several students chose one of the two. With some parental help, I researched and came across a remarkable woman named Dorothy Irene Height who too had a major hand in the civil rights movement. Dorothy was born in Richmond, Virginia, in March 1912. Determined to obtain higher education, Height was admitted to Barnard College in 1929 but was not allowed entrance because the school only admitted two Black students per year and she was third to arrive that day.

Dr. Dorothy I. Height went on to obtain her bachelor’s degree from New York University in 1932 and become a social worker in the city of New York. Dorothy’s insight on disparity in her personal and professional experiences led her to become a civil rights activist. During the 1960s, she was the female team leader in the United Civil Rights Leadership along side Martin Luther King, Jr. and other influential males.

In 1977, Height accepted the position of President of the National Council of Negro Women where she remained for twenty years before succeeding to President Emerita, a position she held until her passing in April 2010. Height’s astonishing work with the NCNW, YMCA, and two United States Presidents to fight discrimination led to countless awards such as the Franklin Roosevelt Freedom Medal, NAACP Spingarn Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal, as well as thirty-six honorary doctorate degrees.

It is Dorothy Irene Height’s fortitude that propelled her to become a greatly influential Black woman in the battle for equal rights, and her accomplishments were certainly not unnoticed. Nearly one year after Height’s passing, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell declared March 24th Dorothy Irene Height Day in the state of Virginia calling observance of her excellence.

Governor Bob McDonnell Proclaims March 24th “Dorothy Irene Height Day” in Virginia

- Post by Janessa Robinson, Tulane University Student

Why Did Mardi Gras Krewes Integrate?

A native of New Orleans, Dorothy Mae Taylor was an advocate for justice and equality in the city. Long before the official start of her political career, Dorothy Mae Taylor challenged the New Orleans School Board’s racially discriminatory distribution of resources, supplies, and funding. Mrs. Taylor also led the charge to desegregate the New Orleans Recreation Department’s playgrounds and pools. Approximately forty years ago, Dorothy Mae Taylor became the first African American woman in Louisiana’s history to be elected to the State House of Representatives. Mrs. Taylor was later elected City Council President. Throughout her career, Taylor supported women, especially African American women, seeking political office. As the city of New Orleans celebrates the carnival season, we must remember that it was Dorothy Mae Taylor that introduced the ordinance that effectively integrated the Mardi Gras krewes.

Dorothy Mae Taylor's "Mardi Gras Ordinance"

-Post by Kristen Lee, Tulane University Student

“Phenomenal woman, That’s me.”

As one of the most influential African American women of our time, Maya Angelou is a celebrated poet, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, and civil rights activist. Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1928, Angelou spent her childhood experiencing racial discrimination. After moving to San Francisco with a scholarship to study dance and drama, she dropped out of school at 14 and became city’s first African American cable car conductor.

After giving birth to her son, she toured Europe with an opera company, recorded her first album, and joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild. By 1960 Angelou moved to Cairo, Egypt, as the editor of The Arab Observer and then to Ghana where she taught at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama.

Later in life Dr. Angelou helped Malcolm X create his Organization of African American Unity and served as the Northern Coordinator for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She began to work on her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1970, and now her list of works includes over 30 bestsellers. In 1993 she recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s inauguration. Among her many accomplishments, she has received over 30 honorary degrees and won 3 Grammys.

Most recently Dr. Angelou has worked on the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and she currently works as a professor at Wakefield University in North Carolina.

-Post by Natalie Hare, Tulane University Student

Selena Sloan Butler, Advocate for Children & Education

Selena Sloan Butler was a woman of firsts. Born to black mother and a white father in Thomasville, Georgia, just seven years after the abolition of slavery, Butler lived with only her mother until enrolling in Spelman Seminary School, now known as Spelman College. After marrying a prominent African-American doctor in Atlanta, she gave birth to a son. When he was of age, she began looking for a pre-school to enroll him and, finding none in her racially segregated neighborhood, she simply started one herself. When her son was in primary school, she rallied other parents and started the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers Association, which later combined with its white counterpart to become the National PTA. In 1929 President Herbert Hoover appointed her to serve in the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection. She also co-founded the Spelman College Alumnae Association, organized an Atlanta branch of the YWCA, and was also a delegate to the founding convention of the National Association of Colored Women. In addition to her service to children and within the state of Georgia, Butler made a name for herself in the Red Cross as well by organizing the first black women’s chapter of the Gray Ladies. She died at the age of 92, yet her legacy lives on. Her portrait is hung in the Georgia State Capitol, the City of Atlanta named a park after her in 1966, in 1970 she was officially named one of the founders of the PTA, and as recently as 1995 she was posthumously inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Honorees. Mrs. Butler lives on as a tribute to the power of community organization, service, and triumph.

-Post by Melissa Barwick, Tulane University Student

The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

Fannie Lou Hamer was born October 6, 1917, in Montgomery County, Mississippi. The twentieth child of sharecroppers Jim and Lou Ella Townsend, Hamer grew up picking cotton and cutting corn, and only attended school until the 6th grade. She married fellow sharecropper Perry Hamer, and despite her humble beginnings, Hamer would go onto become a recognized fighter in the Civil Rights Movement through her involvement in securing voting rights for African Americans. Her activism began after going to a meeting encouraging African Americans to vote and become active in 1962. In addition to championing the right to vote, Hamer advocated for economic assistance for African Americans, spoke out against pervasive poverty in the black community and founded organizations including Freedom Farms (a land co-op for poor farmers to eventually purchase land) and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (the Democratic Party of Mississippi did not allow blacks), as well as being a member of SNCC. Mrs. Hamer even ran for Congress, and though the current party would not allow her to put her name on the ballot, Hamer received more outside votes than her opponent. In spite of being threatened, arrested, and beaten for advocating civil rights, Hamer went on to become a nationally recognized symbol for the male dominated civil rights movement. Though she died of cancer in Mississippi in 1977, she is often remembered today as the “spirit of the Civil Rights Movement” and is well known for her famous quote, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Fannie Lou's Speech on Voting Rights at the DNC

-Post by Mwende Katwiwa, Tulane University Student

RIP Etta James

“Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” 1962

Three weeks ago, January 20th 2012, the country lost one of its great musical talents, singer Etta James. Widely admired as a star of Rhythm & Blues and Rock & Roll, Etta’s rollercoaster career spanned the genres of Blues, Soul, Gospel and Jazz. With her death, the 15-time Grammy-nominated singer leaves an indelible mark American music.

Born Jamesetta Hawkins in 1938 to a black mother and an allegedly white father, James started her professional career at age 14. She had her first hit in 1955 with the single “Dance With Me, Henry,” before embarking on a tour with Rock & Roll star Little Richard. As a newly signed singer for Chess Records, 1960 marked the release of James’s first album At Last! Incorporating jazz, blues, and doo-wop, the album includes such classics as “At Last” and “A Sunday Kind of Love.”

By the ‘70’s troubles for James began to arise, in the form of heroin addiction, a streak of crime, and minor stints in jails and rehabilitation programs. In 1989 though, James began a resurgence with her album Seven Year Itch. By the ‘90’s she had become an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame, and the Grammy Hall of Fame.

-Post by Jesse Friedman, Tulane University Student

Toni Morrison Rewrites African American Women in Literature

Toni Morrison was born on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. The author of many best selling books received her B.A. at Howard University and her M.A. at Cornell University.

Morrison’s best known works include The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Paradise, and Beloved. Though Toni Morrison claims that her novels do not favor a matriarch or feminism, there is a strong theme toward women uniting against society, as seen in Paradise, when she tells the story of women who gather in a former convent that fosters their growth in an oppressive society. Morrison’s childhood in a working class family is reflected in her novels, which often explore richly black characters, in less–than-ideal situations, who are guided by spirituality.

In 1993, Toni Morrison created the Toni Morrison Society, one of the fifty societies included in the American Literature Association. Toni Morrison’s greatest achievement occurred in 1993 when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature; she was the first black woman in history to receive this award.

Politically, her support of “the first black president” can be seen when she writes of the President Clinton being abandoned in light of his impeachment. (Her full article regarding the controversy can be read here.

Overall, Toni Morrison epitomizes a strong, black, female writer and her beautifully written novels expose a world, defined and divided by race, gender, and class, previously unrenowned to readers.

-Post by Allison Thornton, Tulane University Student

Jeannie Pepper Breaks Boundaries in the Porn Industry

Born in Chicago, Illinois on July 9, 1958, Joan Desiree Ruedelstein could not have imagined that 26 years later she’d be most notably recognized as Jeannie Pepper, porn star. At the start of her career Jeannie Pepper was one of very few African American women that were making it in the porn industry (one of many industries infamous for its racism). She has appeared in over 200 adult films since she began her career in 1984. In 1997 Jeannie became the first African American woman to be inducted into the Adult Video News (AVN) Hall of Fame. She was still making appearances in films up until 2007. Today, while you can’t find 53-year-old Jeannie Pepper in any recently filmed movies, the movies of her later years are easily accessible to all. (Although, I would not recommend Google-ing her at the workplace!)

-Post by Crosby Fitzgerald, Tulane University Student