“I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.”
Born in 1918 in the little town of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Johnson was a research mathematician, who by her own admission, was simply fascinated by numbers. Fascinated by numbers and smart to boot, for by the time she was 10 years old, she was a high school freshman–a truly amazing feat in an era when school for African-Americans normally stopped at eighth grade for those could indulge in that luxury.
Horace King (sometimes Horace Godwin) (September 8, 1807 – May 28, 1885) was an American architect, engineer, and bridge builder. King is considered the most respected bridge builder of the 19th century Deep South, constructing dozens of bridges in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. Born into slavery in South Carolina in 1807, King became a prominent bridge architect and construction manager in the Chattahoochee River Valley region of Alabama and Georgia before purchasing his freedom in 1846. He went on to construct lattice truss bridges in the style of Ithiel Town at every major crossing of the Chattahoochee River and over every major river in the Deep South between the Oconee and Tombigbee.
Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte in 1911. Although his family moved north when he was only four years old, he said of his home state, “Most artists take some place, and like a flower, they sink roots, looking for universal implications. . . . My roots are in North Carolina.” Indeed, many of his paintings and collages were drawn from memories of his time in North Carolina.
The Beardens eventually settled in Harlem, an epicenter of African American culture in the 1920’s. Harlem society was important to Bearden’s development—the young man met many prominent musicians, artists, and writers at social and intellectual gatherings. In 1935 Bearden graduated from New York University and gained employment as a caseworker for the New York City Department of Social Services, a job he would hold until 1969.
She launched her case almost six years before Rosa Parks helped start the Montgomery bus boycott and a decade before sit-ins rocked lunch counters across the South
In a city known for iconic buildings, Thompson’s Restaurant was unremarkable. Located a few blocks from the White House, it sat on a commercial corridor: banks, storefronts, streetcar tracks. Inside, it was the kind of place where customers stood in line with their trays, grabbed a slice of cake, and sat down at a table. If they were white, that is.
Mary Church Terrell, an 86-year-old charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was not white. Born in 1863, the year of the Emancipation Proclamation, she was the daughter of former slaves. She was also an 1884 graduate of Oberlin College, a suffragist, and a veteran activist for civil rights. On January 27, 1950, she had lived in Washington, D.C. for sixty years.
At roughly 2:45 p.m., Terrell walked through Thompson’s double glass doors. With her were three hand-picked compatriots: Geneva Brown and the Rev. William H. Jernagin, who were African American activists, and David H. Scull, a white Quaker. Collectively, none of them made it to the dining area. The manager, Levin Ange, stepped in front of Jernagin and refused to serve him because he was “colored.”
Elsewhere in Washington, President Harry S. Truman was leading a worldwide crusade for democracy. The manager of Thompson’s, however, was invoking the decades-old logic of Jim Crow, with its architecture of racial inferiority. That outlook, Terrell knew, was a liability in foreign affairs, especially when Washington restaurants refused to serve dark-skinned diplomatic envoys, treating them as if they were American blacks. She had no intention of backing down.
“Do you mean to tell me that you are not going to serve me?”
The Mechanics and Farmers Bank, North Carolina’s oldest African American-owned bank, was established in 1908 in Durham under the auspices of the North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association (renamed the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1919). The original charter members included Richard Fitzgerald, John Merrick, Aaron M. Moore, William G. Pearson, J. C. Scarborough, Charles C. Spaulding, J. A. Dodson, and Stanford L. Warren. The bank first operated from space in the building of the North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association, later moving to a building on West Parrish Street.
Mechanics and Farmers became an important source of financing in the 1920s, saving more than 500 African American farms and residences, when its loan department provided $200,000 in individual loans.
Clarence H. Graham has been known by many titles in his hometown: Honor student. Vietnam veteran. Social worker. Father. And criminal, for an act that is now considered heroic.
But in a courtroom last month the State of South Carolina officially vacated the life-changing misdemeanor conviction that it secured more than a half-century ago against Mr. Graham, 72, and other black civil rights protesters who were dragged by the police from a segregated lunch counter, convicted of trespassing and sentenced to 30 days’ labor in a county prison camp.
The men came to be known as the Friendship 9, because most of them were attending a now-defunct local school called Friendship Junior College. Their refusal to pay fines and instead serve jail terms was recognized as an act of courage by fellow activists at the time who copied their tactics and were inspired to escalate efforts to end the segregation of restaurants and other public facilities in the South.
You might call it the beginning of the discipline we now know as black studies.
Carter G. Woodson was the son of slaves. He earned a doctorate from Harvard. And exactly a century ago founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, later changed to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.