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 [...]

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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 [...]

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“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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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. [...]

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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, [...]

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Responding to Clark & Clark Through Art

Like many young black girls, visual artist Lauren Kelley played with blonde, blue-eyed dolls growing up. With an MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she most recently has begun using brown-skinned dolls in her art, playing a grownup version of a childhood dollhouse. Her stop motion film Big Gurl features black dolls in situations that touch on the intersections of gender and race. The animated film earned Kelley a fellowship at the Museum of Fine Arts’ Core program, and the prestigious Altoids Award from New York’s New Museum. Kelley explains the significance of her work best: “Animating brown and plastic figures, I’m exploring a specific history when 1940s and ‘50s social science attempted to address the [...]

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Black Woman on Broadway

Vinnette Justine Carroll was the first African-American woman to direct on Broadway, and so far the only African-American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award in Direction. Born in 1922, Carroll moved with her family to Jamaica at a young age, spending much of her life there. Encouraged by her father to pursue medicine, she received an MA in Psychology from New York University, and completed doctoral work at Columbia. In 1948 Carroll dropped her Psychology profession to pursue a career in theater, studying with Lee Stasberg and Stella Adler. Carroll made her Broadway debut in 1957, and continued to work regularly thereafter. She founded the Urban Arts Corps in 1967 to support minority participation in the theatrical arts. [...]

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