Exploring Black History
February, as a month, I feel is both much aligned and has a lot going for it. I mean, for sure, it’s smack dab in the middle of winter (for those of us who live in the great northeast, at least), and it tends to be cold and gray and stormy. Sure, but February is also the shortest month of the calendar year (so we’re that much closer to spring once it’s over!), and it is Black History month, Heart Health month, President’s Day, and the Hallmark-created Valentine’s Day. (oh, and let’s not forget Galentine’s Day…) PLUS, in February, there is National Pizza Day, National Love Your Pet Day, National Wine Day, National Margarita Day, and National Call In Sick to Work Day (I just made that last one up).
Now, I won’t be writing blog posts about all of those, of course, but at least February has also given the beleaguered blog post writers for the library plenty of fodder for the blog!! Today, I want to explore Black History month.
Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history. (https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-month)
Since I’m always trying to learn new things, here are some random items I found today:
Inoculation was introduced to America by a slave. Few details are known about the birth of Onesimus, but it is assumed he was born in Africa in the late seventeenth century before eventually landing in Boston. One of a thousand people of African descent living in the Massachusetts colony, Onesimus was a gift to the Puritan church minister Cotton Mather from his congregation in 1706.
Onesimus told Mather about the centuries old tradition of inoculation practiced in Africa. By extracting the material from an infected person and scratching it into the skin of an uninfected person, you could deliberately introduce smallpox to the healthy individual making them immune. Onesimus’ traditional African practice was used to inoculate American soldiers during the Revolutionary War and introduced the concept of inoculation to the United States.
The Lone Ranger was inspired by an African American man named Bass Reeves. Reeves had been born a slave but escaped West during the Civil War where he lived in what was then known as Indian Territory. He eventually became a Deputy U.S. Marshal, was a master of disguise, an expert marksman, had a Native American companion, and rode a silver horse.
Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, there was Claudette Colvin. It was March 2, 1955, when the fifteen-year-old schoolgirl refused to move to the back of the bus, nine months before Rosa Parks’ stand that launched the Montgomery bus boycott. Claudette had been studying Black leaders like Harriet Tubman in her segregated school, those conversations had led to discussions around the current day Jim Crow laws they were all experiencing. When the bus driver ordered Claudette to get up, she refused, “It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, and Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down. I couldn't get up."
Esther Jones was the real Betty Boop. The iconic cartoon character Betty Boop was inspired by a Black jazz singer in Harlem. Introduced by cartoonist Max Fleischer in 1930, the caricature of the jazz age flapper was the first and most famous sex symbol in animation. Betty Boop is best known for her revealing dress, curvaceous figure, and signature vocals “Boop Oop A Doop!” While there has been controversy over the years, the inspiration has been traced back to Esther Jones who was known as “Baby Esther” and performed regularly in the Cotton Club during the 1920s.
And how about Charlotta Amanda Spears Bass, the first African-American woman nominated for Vice President of the United States in 1952. She accepted the nomination in Chicago, IL, and declared; “This is a historic moment in American political life. Historic for myself, for my people, for all women. For the first time in the history of this nation, a political party has chosen a Negro woman for the second-highest office in the land.” Her campaign slogans were “Win or Lose, We Win by Raising the Issues” and “Don’t Fence Me In.” At the time she accepted the nomination the Voting Rights Act would not exist for another decade. It would be another two years before school segregation would be ruled unconstitutional.
And lastly, if you haven’t heard of her before, let me introduce you to Sister Rosetta Tharpe: the Godmother of Rock & Roll. Despite not being a household name today, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Her flamboyance, skill, and showmanship on the newly electrified guitar played a vital role in the conception of Rock & Roll as a genre of music. She attained popularity in the 1930s and 1940s with her gospel recordings, characterized by a unique mixture of spiritual lyrics and rhythmic accompaniment that was a precursor of rock and roll. She was the first great recording star of gospel music and among the first gospel musicians to appeal to rhythm-and-blues and rock-and-roll audiences, later being referred to as "the original soul sister" and "the Godmother of rock and roll".
Check her out in this YouTube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xzr_GBa8qk