This Day in Black History: Duke Ellington is Born

From the African American Registry

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington

On this date in 1899, Duke Ellington was born. He was an African-American jazz composer, band leader, and pianist.

Born Edward Kennedy Ellington in Washington, D.C., into a middle-class family, he acquired the nickname Duke as a child for his manners, clothing, and personality. He began playing for friends and at parties and soon formed a small dance band named The Duke’s Serenaders. In 1923 Ellington moved to New York City, 4 years later Ellington began performing at The Cotton Club, the most prominent nightclub in the Harlem area of New York City at the time.

Read more about Duke Ellington here.

This Day in Black History: L.A. Riots

From the African American Registry

Burning in South Central

Burning in South Central

On this date The Los Angeles (Rodney King) Riot began in 1992. One of the first major urban insurrections in the United States after the 1960s, this riot shocked many Americans who had come to believe that the days of explosive racial tensions were behind them.

Like Los Angeles’ Watts Riot of 1965, the 1992 rioting was sparked by an act of anti-Black police brutality. On March 3, 1991, police officers in Los Angeles, California, stopped a car driven by a 34-year-old African-American named Rodney King, who, they said, was speeding. According to the officers, King emerged from his automobile in an aggressive manner that suggested he might have been high on drugs. Before handcuffing King, the police delivered some 56 blows and kicks and a number of shocks from a stun gun to the fallen body of the suspect.

A bystander captured the beating on videotape and within two days the footage was being broadcast on national television. King brought charges of brutality against four of the policemen. The officers, who claimed they acted in self-defense, were tried before a predominantly white jury in a white middle-class suburb of Los Angeles. On April 29, 1992, all four men were acquitted. Within two and a half hours of the verdict, a crowd of furious protesters gathered at the corner of Florence and Normandie Streets in South Central Los Angeles and through the next day and night rioting exploded across 50 square miles. At the same time, smaller disturbances were erupting in cities such as San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington; Atlanta, Georgia; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Read more about the riots here.

A 1859 Slave Auction in Savannah, as Reported by the New York Tribune

Background of This Story

In early March 1859 an enormous slave action took place at the Race Course three miles outside Savannah, Georgia. Four hundred thirty-six slaves were to be put on the auction block including men, women, children and infants. Word of the sale had spread through the South for weeks, drawing potential buyers from North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana. All of Savannah’s available hotel rooms and any other lodging spaces were quickly appropriated by the influx of visitors. In the days running up to the auction, daily excursions were made from the city to the Race Course to inspect, evaluate and determine an appropriate bid for the human merchandise on display.

The sale’s magnitude was the result of the break-up of an old family estate that included two plantations. The majority of the slaves had never been sold before. Most had spent their entire lives on one of the two plantations included in the sale. The rules of the auction stipulated that the slaves would be sold as “families” – defined as a husband and wife and any offspring. However, there was no guarantee that this rule would be adhered to in all cases.

The sale gained such renown that it attracted the attention of Horace Greeley, Editor of the New York Tribune, one of America’s most influential newspapers at the time. Greeley was an abolitionist and staunchly opposed to slavery. He sent a reporter to cover the auction in order to reveal to his readers the barbarity inherent in one human being’s ability to own and sell another. This is what the reporter saw:

March 9, 1859. Savannah, Georgia 

Preparation

“The slaves remained at the race-course, some of them for more than a week and all of them for four days before the sale. They were brought in thus early that buyers who desired to inspect them might enjoy that privilege, although none of them were sold at private sale. For these preliminary days their shed was constantly visited by speculators. The negroes were examined with as little consideration as if they had been brutes indeed; the buyers pulling their mouths open to see their teeth, pinching their limbs to find how muscular they were, walking them up and down to detect any signs of lameness, making them stoop and bend in different ways that they might be certain there was no concealed rupture or wound; and in addition to all this treatment, asking them scores of questions relative to their qualifications and accomplishments.

All these humiliations were submitted to without a murmur and in some instances with good-natured cheerfulness – where the slave liked the appearance of the proposed buyer, and fancied that he might prove a kind ‘mas’r.’

The following curiously sad scene is the type of a score of others that were there enacted:

‘Elisha,’ chattel No. 5 in the catalogue, had taken a fancy to a benevolent looking middle-aged gentleman, who was inspecting the stock, and thus used his powers of persuasion to induce the benevolent man to purchase him, with his wife, boy and girl, Molly, Israel and Sevanda, chattels Nos. 6, 7 and 8. The earnestness with which the poor fellow pressed his suit, knowing, as he did, that perhaps the happiness of his whole life depended on his success, was interesting, and the arguments he used were most pathetic. He made no appeal to the feelings of the buyer; he rested no hope on his charity and kindness, but only strove to show how well worth his dollars were the bone and blood he was entreating him to buy.

‘Look at me, Mas’r; am prime rice planter; sho’ you won’t find a better man den me; no better on de whole plantation; not a bit old yet; do mo’ work den ever; do carpenter work, too, little; better buy me, Mas’r; I’se be good sarvant, Mas’r. Molly, too, my wife, Sa, fus rate rice hand; mos as good as me. Stan’ out yer, Molly, and let the gen’lm’n see.’

Molly advances, with her hands crossed on her bosom, and makes a quick short curtsy, and stands mute, looking appealingly in the benevolent man’s face. But Elisha talks all the faster.

‘Show mas’r yer arm Molly – good arm dat mas’r – she do a heap of work mo’ with dat arm yet. Let good mas’r see yer teeth Molly – see dat mas’r, teeth all reg’lar, all good – she’m young gal yet. Come out yer Israel, walk aroun’ an’ let the gen’lm’n see how spry you be.’

Then, pointing to the three-year-old girl who stood with her chubby hand to her mouth, holding on to her mother’s dress, and uncertain what to make of the strange scene.

‘Little Vardy’s on’y a chile yet; make prime gal by-and-by. Better buy us mas’r, we’m fus’ rate bargain” – and so on. But the benevolent gentleman found where he could drive a closer bargain, and so bought somebody else…”

The Sale

“The buyers, who were present to the number of about two hundred, clustered around the platform; while the Negroes, who were not likely to be immediately wanted, gathered into sad groups in the background to watch the progress of the selling in which they were so sorrowfully interested. The wind howled outside, and through the open side of the building the driving rain came pouring in; the bar down stairs ceased for a short time its brisk trade; the buyers lit fresh cigars, got ready their catalogues and pencils, and the first lot of human chattels are led upon the stand, not by a white man, but by a sleek mulatto, himself a slave, and who seems to regard the selling of his brethren, in which he so glibly assists, as a capital joke. It had been announced that the Negroes would be sold in “families,” that is to say; a man would not be parted from his wife, or a mother from a very young child. There is perhaps as much policy as humanity in this arrangement, for thereby many aged and unserviceable people are disposed of, who otherwise would not find a ready sale…

…The expression on the faces of all who stepped on the block was always the same, and told of more anguish than it is in the power of words to express. Blighted homes, crushed hopes and broken hearts was (sic) the sad story to be read in all the anxious faces. Some of them regarded the sale with perfect indifference, never making a motion save to turn from one side to the other at the word of the dapper Mr. Bryan, that all the crowd might have a fair view of their proportions, and then, when the sale was accomplished, stepping down from the block without caring to cast even a look at the buyer, who now held all their happiness in his hands. Others, again, strained their eyes with eager glances from one buyer to another as the bidding went on, trying with earnest attention to follow the rapid voice of the auctioneer. Sometimes, two persons only would be bidding for the same chattel, all the others having resigned the contest, and then the poor creature on the block, conceiving an instantaneous preference for one of the buyers over the other, would regard the rivalry with the intensest (sic) interest, the expression of his face changing with every bid, settling into a half smile of joy if the favorite buyer persevered unto the end and secured the property, and settling down into a look of hopeless despair if the other won the victory…

The auctioneer brought up Joshua’s Molly and family. He announced that Molly insisted that she was lame in her left foot, and perversely would walk lame, although, for his part, he did not believe a word of it. He had caused her to be examined by an eminent physician in Savannah, which medical light had declared that Joshua’s Molly was not lame, but was only shamming. However, the gentlemen must judge for themselves and bid accordingly. So Molly was put through her paces, and compelled to trot up and down along the stage, to go up and down the steps, and to exercise her feet in various ways, but always with the same result, the left foot would be lame. She was finally sold for $695. (equivalent to approximately $15,300 in today’s dollars)

Whether she really was lame or not, no one knows but herself, but it must be remembered that to a slave a lameness, or anything that decreases his market value, is a thing to be rejoiced over. A man in the prime of life, worth $1,600 (equivalent to approximately $35,200 in today’s dollars) or thereabouts, can have little hope of ever being able, by any little savings of his own, to purchase his liberty. But, let him have a rupture, or lose a limb, or sustain any other injury that renders him of much less service to his owner, and reduces his value to $300 or $400, and he may hope to accumulate that sum, and eventually to purchase his liberty. Freedom without health is infinitely sweeter than health without freedom.

And so the Great Sale went on for two long days, during which time there were sold 429 men, women and children. There were 436 announced to be sold, but a few were detained on the plantations by sickness…

The total amount of the sale foots up $303,850.”1

1Equivalent to approximately $6,700,000 in today’s dollars.

Source:

New York Daily Tribune, March 9, 1859 reprinted in Hart, Albert B., American History Told by Contemporaries v. 4 (1928).

How To Cite This Article: “Slave Auction, 1859”, EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2005).

 

African-American Male Teacher A Vanishing Phenomenon, Experts Say

From wdsu.com

Michael Booker, principal at Lake Area High College Prep in New Orleans, is a rare breed. According to the Department of Education, African-American male teachers and administrators are becoming extinct. Only 2 percent of the nation’s 4.8 million teachers are black men.

Bearing that in mind, Booker says he and other African-American male educators have a responsibility to set a positive tone.

“I’m not negating any ethnicity. I just think that we are a disproportionately low number, and African-American males in particular need to go into this profession and think of it as one where they can make a difference in the lives of all children,” he said.

Black male teachers, according to a study by Colorado State University in 2006, not only tend to be firm disciplinarians but also appear to enhance test scores among African-American students, particularly boys.

Read more here.

This Day in Black History: Coretta Scott King is Born

From Who’s Who of American Women

Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King was born on this date in 1927. She was an African-American civil rights activist and author.

From Heiberger, Alabama, Coretta Scott was the daughter of Bernice McMurry Scott, a housewife, and Obadiah Scott, a lumber carrier. Scott grew up walking three miles each day to school while school buses carrying white children drove by her. Such occurrences, while difficult, led her to strive for equality and the best for herself. Scott went on to graduate from high school and in 1945 entered Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio on a scholarship.

Majoring in Education and Music, Scott became alarmed when she was not able to teach in a public school because she was Black. At this time she became involved with Civil Right groups, joined the Antioch chapter of the NAACP, the college’s Race Relations Committee, and Civil Liberties Committees. In 1951, she accepted a scholarship to continue her musical training at the New England Conservatory in Boston before finishing her degree from Antioch College. Upon her arrival in Boston, she met her future husband, Martin Luther King Jr., a young minister who was studying for his Ph.D. at Boston University.

On June 18, 1953, Martin Luther King Sr. married his son, Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott. They returned to the South to work on the civil liberties of Black Americans. By 1964, King was the mother of four children: Yolanda, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott, and Bernice Albertine. She had also become active with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Although usually at her husband’s side, she made solo appearances at various civil rights functions that her husband could not attend. She also performed at benefit concerts by lecturing and even singing to the audience. On April 4, 1968, her husband was shot and killed while giving a speech on a hotel balcony.

Read more about Coretta Scott King here.

John Carter – Father of Five, Husband, Disabled (?)

John Carter cropped

John Carter. Photo in the Arkansas Gazette, May 1927

John Carter was thirty-eight years old at the time of his death. Most of  the other “facts” of his life are conflicting rumors.

Some said he was mentally disabled.

A year before he was lynched, Carter had allegedly attacked a white woman with a hammer. He had recently escaped from a prison work crew, when he allegedly attacked two more white women. The women were driving a horse-drawn wagon to Little Rock at the time.

The African American community is Little Rock believed that Carter jumped on the wagon to save the women when their horses ran out of control.

{Read about the lynching and see original newspaper accounts here.}

One women (a relative?) contributed the following comment to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture article about the Lynching of John Carter:

“This man lost his life and his family. His life was cut short due to hate. He had nothing to do with any killing or hitting any white woman. This man had a wife and five little children; his baby son who was two years old at the time never got to know his father. No one has ever gone to trial for the killing of Mr. John Carter. There is even no headstone for him. Is there a grave? Where? And this is justice?”

Linda Carter
Moreno Valley, CA

 

Eyewitness Account: The Kidnapping of Africans for Slaves

In this exhibit Dr. Alexander Falconbridge describes what he saw and heard about how slaves were captured inland and sold on the coast to slave traders. Falconbridge, a medical doctor, served aboard several slave ships working between the West African coast and the Caribbean in the late 1700s. He described his experiences in a popular book published in 1788. He became active in the Anti-Slavery Society and was appointed Governor of a colony established for freed slaves on the coast of modern-day Sierra Leone. His service was brief as he died in 1788 shortly after his appointment.

Griot: Dr. Alexander Falconbridge

Posted: 1788

“There is great reason to believe, that most of the Negroes shipped off from the coast of Africa, are kidnapped. But the extreme care taken by the black traders to prevent the Europeans from gaining any intelligence of their modes of proceeding; the great distance inland from whence the Negroes are brought; and our ignorance of their language (with which, very frequently, the black traders themselves are equally unacquainted), prevent our obtaining such information on this head as we could wish.

I have, however, by means of occasional inquiries, made through interpreters, procured some intelligence relative to the point. . . . From these I shall select the following striking instances: While I was in employ on board one of the slave ships, a Negro informed me that being one evening invited to drink with some of the black traders, upon his going away, they attempted to seize him. As he was very active, he evaded their design, and got out of their hands. He was, however, prevented from effecting his escape by a large dog, which laid hold of him, and compelled him to submit. These creatures are kept by many of the traders for that purpose; and being trained to the inhuman sport, they appear to be much pleased with it. I was likewise told by a Negro woman that as she was on her return home, one evening, from some neighbors, to whom she had been making a visit by invitation, she was kidnapped; and, notwithstanding she was big with child, sold for a slave. This transaction happened a considerable way up the country, and she had passed through the hands of several purchasers before she reached the ship. A man and his son, according to their own information, were seized by professed kidnappers, while they were planting yams, and sold for slaves.

This likewise happened in the interior parts of the country, and after pass­ing through several hands, they were purchased for the ship to which I belonged. It frequently happens that those who kidnap others are themselves, in their turns, seized and sold…. During my stay on the coast of Africa, I was an eye-witness of the following transaction: a black trader invited a Negro, who resided a lit­tle way up the country, to come and see him. After the entertainment was over, the trader proposed to his guest, to treat him with a sight of one of the ships lying in the river. The unsuspicious countryman read­ily consented, and accompanied the trader in a canoe to the side of the ship, which he viewed with pleasure and astonishment. While he was thus employed, some black traders on board, who appeared to be in the secret, leaped into the canoe, seized the unfortunate man, and dragging him into the ship, immediately sold him.

The preparations made at Bonny by the black traders, upon set­ting out for the fairs which are held up the country, are very consider­able. From twenty to thirty canoes, capable of containing thirty or forty Negroes each, are assembled for this purpose; and such goods put on board them as they expect will be wanted for the purchase of the number of slaves they intend to buy. When their loading is com­pleted, they commence their voyage, with colors flying, and music playing; and in about ten or eleven days, they generally return to Bonny with full cargoes.

As soon as the canoes arrive at the trader’s landing place, the purchased Negroes are cleaned, and oiled with palm-oil; and on the following day they are exposed for sale to the captains. When the Negroes, whom the black traders have to dispose of, are shown to the European purchasers, they first examine them rela­tive to their age. They then minutely inspect their persons, and inquire into the state of their health, if they are afflicted with any infirmity, or are deformed, or have bad eyes or teeth; if they are lame, or weak in their joints, or distorted in the back, or of a slender make, or are narrow in the chest; in short, if they have been, or are afflicted in any manner, so as to render them incapable of much labor; if any of the foregoing defects are discovered in them, they are rejected. But if approved of, they are generally taken on board the ship the same evening. The purchaser has liberty to return on the following morning, but not afterwards, such as upon re-examination are found exceptionable.

The traders frequently beat those Negroes which are objected to by the captains, and use them with great severity. It matters not whether they are refused on account of age, illness, deformity, or for any other reason. At New Calabar, in particular . . . the traders, when any of their Negroes have been objected to, have dropped their canoes under the stern of the vessel, and instantly beheaded them, in sight of the captain. As soon as the wretched Africans, purchased at the fairs, fall into the hands of the black traders, they experience an earnest of those dreadful sufferings which they are doomed in future to undergo. . . .

They are brought from the places where they are pur­chased to Bonny, etc. in canoes; at the bottom of which they lie, hav­ing their hands tied with a kind of willow twigs, and a strict watch is kept over them. Their usage in other respects, during the time of the passage, which generally lasts several days, is equally cruel. Their allowance of food is so scanty, that it is barely sufficient to support nature. They are, besides, much exposed to the violent rains which frequently fall here, being covered only with mats that afford but a slight defense; and as there is usually water at the bottom of the canoes, from their leaking, they are scarcely ever dry.”

 

Source:  Alexander Falconbridge, An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa(1788);, Atlantic Slave Trade (1969); Matheson, William Law, Great Britain and the Slave Trade, 1839-1865 (1967).

How to Cite: “Slave Trade: the African Connection, ca 1788” EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2007).

 Alexander Falconbridge, a medical doctor, served aboard several slave ships working between the West African coast and the Caribbean in the late 1700s. He described his experiences in a popular book published in 1788. He became active in the Anti-Slavery Society and was appointed Governor of a colony established for freed slaves on the coast of modern-day Sierra Leone. His service was brief as he died in 1788 shortly after his appointment.

Room for Debate: Is Hollywood too Whitewashed?

From the New York Times

Cast of ABC's "Scandal"

Cast of ABC's "Scandal"

The virtually all-white cast of the HBO comedy “Girls” has generated debate about why so many television programs have few nonwhite actors in major roles. Shows like “Scandal,” a new ABC
drama starring a black actress, Kerry Washington, in a leading role, are rare exceptions.

Why are executives not casting more minorities? Are show runners afraid of compromising their storytelling, or is something else at play?

Read the discussion here.

Number of biracial babies soars over past decade

By Carol Morello of the Washington Post

The number of mixed-race babies has soared over the past decade

The number of mixed-race babies has soared over the past decade

The number of mixed-race babies has soared over the past decade, new census data show, a result of more interracial couples and a cultural shift in how many parents identify their children in a multiracial society.

More than 7 percent of the 3.5 million children born in the year before the 2010 Census were of two or more races, up from barely 5 percent a decade earlier. The number of children born to black and white couples and to Asian and white couples almost doubled.

“I think people are more comfortable in identifying themselves, and their children, as mixed race,” said William H. Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer who analyzed detailed census data on mixed-race infants. “It’s much more socially acceptable, more mainstream, to say, ‘That’s what we want to identify them as.’ ”

Read more of the story here.

This Day in Black History: Jazz Singer Ella Fitzgerald is Born

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald

This date in 1918 marks the birth of Ella Fitzgerald. She was an African American jazz singer from Newport News, Virginia.

Considered one of the greatest singers in jazz history, Fitzgerald moved as a child with her mother and her stepfather to Yonkers, New York. As a teenager, she began winning amateur talent contests at the Harlem Opera House and its nearby competitor, the Apollo Theater. This recognition led to an invitation to sing with noted drummer and band leader Chick Webb at the Savoy Ballroom. Upon Webb’s death in 1939, Fitzgerald became leader of the band.

By the 1940s, Ella Fitzgerald had established the style that made her famous: a warm and lovely voice, unfailingly accurate pitch, superb clarity of diction, and an irresistible sense of swing. In the 1950s, she began a series of songbook recordings, interpreting classics by Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, and others. She also made collaborative recordings with legendary band leaders such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. She earned 14 Grammy Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1967), a number of honorary doctorates, and other prizes, and she gave generously to charitable and humanitarian causes.

She achieved spectacular success in bringing jazz into mainstream American culture and was rightly dubbed the “First Lady of Song.” Ella Fitzgerald died in 1996; a year later her son and attorney presented her archives to the Smithsonian Institution, which in 1998 opened an exhibition on her life and contributions.

From the African American Registry