Richard Theodore Greener (1844-1922) was the first Black graduate of Harvard University (Class of 1870). His papers, including his Harvard diploma, his law license, photos and papers connected to his diplomatic role in Russia and his friendship with President Ulysses S. Grant, were recently discovered in an attic on the South Side of Chicago - just before the house was demolished. Absolutely MONUMENTAL!
The Ebers papyrus (1350 B.C.) suggests placing drops of crushed and roasted ox liver in the eyes of people suffering from night blindness. While Egyptians most likely were not aware of vitamin A, liver does have high levels of the vitamin which help maintains normal vision in dim light.
‘Taken from the catacombs of Rome in the 17th century, the relics of twelve martyred saints were then attired in the regalia of the period before being interred in a remote church on the German/Czech border.’
Asa Philip Randolph (April 15, 1889 – May 16, 1979)
He organized and led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly Negro labor union and led the March on Washington Movement, which convinced Franklin D. Roosevelt to desegregate production-plants for military supplies during World War II.
Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) was the first African American painter to gain international renown. His desire to paint developed in his teen years as he grew up around the Philadelphia art scene. At the age of 21 he enrolled in the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and learned under the guidance of the visionary Thomas Eakins. In 1888 Tanner began teaching at Clark College, but desperately wanted to go abroad due to the racism he felt at home. He would gain enough funds to do so when a bishop and his wife purchased his entire collection. He would settle in Paris and learn under many famous artists and eventually came to reside in the Etaples art colony in Normandy. His paintings would depict African American and Peasant life with respect and care, but he would eventually transition into Biblical pieces. His art was very well received and he even had pieces exhibited in the Paris Salon, one of which was purchased by the French government and now resides in the Louvre’s collections. During WWI he would paint from the front lines of war, which earned him a knighthood in the Legion of Honor. He became a member of many art societies and the first African American full academician at the National Academy of Design. He would continue to paint the rest of his life and would be awarded many medals for his art internationally.
Butterfly McQueen achieved fame primarily as a film actress in the 1940s…She was born Thelma McQueen on January 8, 1911, in Tampa, Florida, the only child of a stevedore (waterfront-related, like the loading/unloading ships) and a cleaning woman.
She attended grammar school and cultivated her interests in music and dance. From, the Negro Youth Project to the Federal Theater Project, McQueen was able to play in many productions. Her performance in the musical “Swingin’ in Dream” brought her to the attention of David O. Selznick, producer of “Gone with the Wind.”
McQueen got great reviews for her role as Prissy, however, in retrospect, many African-Americans regretted her performance.
Malcolm X, for example, recalled feeling both anger and shame the first time he saw Prissy on screen.
However, to be fair to McQueen, she herself thought Prissy backward. She also resisted many offensive characterizations. She refused to eat watermelon in one scene and only after she made sure everyone was aware of her displeasure did she submit to the scene where Scarlett O’Hare (played by Vivien Leigh) to slap her after she speaks the immortal line
Lawdy, Miz Scarlett, I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies!
All of her subsequent roles, for the most part, were a variation of Prissy. McQueen had to “act stereotypes or starve.”
To protest the lines she was asked to speak as a colored servant on Jack Benny’s radio program, she walked out of the studio, and when she declined similar motion picture assignments, casting agents boycotted her for more than a year. The actress retired from films in 1947. “I didn’t mind playing a maid the first time, because I thought that was how you got into the business… but after I did the same thing over and over I resented it. I didn’t mind being funny, but I didn’t like being stupid.”
She briefly returned to Hollywood in the 50s, but left again. For the next the 50 years, she did menial jobs. In 1975, at age 64, she earned a Bachelor of Arts major in Spanish and immersed herself in social welfare projects.
She occasionally still acts (as she did in “The Mosquito Net” starring Harrison Ford), however, for her stand against racist stereotyping, she was, in effect, punished by the Hollywood establishment and her acting career never recovered.
Billie Burke, known to many as the beautiful Glinda in The Wizard of Oz, was the only child of a famous circus clown. After her stage debut in London at eighteen, she was an overnight sensation. She went onto New York to become “the toast of Broadway” as a musical comedy star, as well as the wife of Florenz Ziegfeld himself. At the time of filming The Wizard of Oz in 1939, she was every bit of 53 years old, but as she said, “Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.” Throughout her lifetime, she appeared in more than 80 films and was said to be “the most photographed woman in the world.”
Harriet Powers (1837-1910) was an African American slave and folk artist that would find recognition for her complicated quilt work. Sadly only two of her quilts survive today; they are her Bible Quilt (1886) and her Pictorial Quilt (1898) which can be found at the National Museum of American History and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, respectively. Her quilts would make their first public debut in 1886 at a cotton fair. Impressed by the work, a teacher at the Lucy Cobb Institute named Jennie Smith offered to buy Powers’s Bible Quilt; she refused to sell it but would after five years due to financial necessity. At the time of the sell, Powers explained the imagery on the quilt and Smith recorded their meaning. The origin of the second quilt is not as clear, but it is known to have been presented to the chairman of the board of trustees at Atlanta University in 1898. Her quilts are renowned for their rich storytelling and African and African American stylistic influences. Her figures are intricately stitched appliques and celestial bodies figure heavily in her work. Although we do have recordings of the meanings of her works, it is not known how much influence the recorders had on the meanings. It is possible that Powers originally intended to use her quilts as a way to teach Biblical stories despite being illiterate. In 2009 she would be inducted into Georgia Women of Achievement.