On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African American seamstress, seated in a segregated bus, refused to give up her seat to a white man. It sparked the 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott and resulted in an early and significant victory for the Civil Rights movement. It brought to national attention a 26-year-old recently appointed Baptist reverend by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Three years earlier, in 1952, the US Supreme Court declared that segregation on interstate railways was unconstitutional, and, two years later, also outlawed segregation on interstate buses. However, the practice was not barred on state-run bus services and persisted in many southern states.
White people entered the bus from the front, black people from the back. If the bus was full, and another white person boarded, then a black person was expected to give up their seat. Martin Luther King described the situation: ‘Negroes (were forced) to stand over empty seats reserved for “whites only”. Even if the bus had no white passengers, and Negroes were packed throughout, they were prohibited from sitting in the front seats.’ Continue reading
Egbert Austin Williams, who was known as “Bert Williams,” was born on November 12, 1874, and died March 4 1922. He was one of the most well-known entertainers of the Vaudeville era, and made a name for himself as one of the most popular comedians of the time.
One of Williams’s most noteworthy achievements was that he was the best-selling black recording artist before the year 1920. The New York Dramatic Mirror dubbed Williams, “one of the best comedians of the world.”
During his lifetime, Bert Williams played a key role in African–American entertainment. Racial inequality was a fact of life and stereotyping was still commonplace in America. That didn’t stop Williams from becoming the first black American entertainer to step into a leading role on Broadway. He was not content with the status quo, and would go on to push back the number of racial barriers during his career. Comedian W.C. Fields once described Bert Williams as “the funniest man I ever saw – and the saddest man I ever knew.”
Half a century on, three elderly Kenyans tortured by the British colonial authorities during the Mau Mau Uprising can pursue their claims for compensation against the British Government. The High Court, having rejected the Government’s claim that too much time had passed for there to be a fair trial, declared that the three Kenyans had ‘arguable cases in law’. But what was the Mau Mau Uprising? Here, Rupert Colley offers a brief summary.
After the Second World War, Britain had begun the difficult and lengthy process of decolonisation. In African countries that were entirely black in population, such as Ghana, the process was relatively straightforward. Where it was more difficult were the nations that had sizeable population of white settlers. Rhodesia being an example of this latter category, as was Kenya.
The Crown Colony
Kenya’s official association with Britain had started in 1895, when the country became British East Africa. The British government encouraged the settlement of Kenya’s fertile highlands by Europeans, utilising the labour of the very peoples they had dispossessed, such as the traditional tribes of the Kikuyu. In 1920, British East Africa became an official crown colony of the British Empire, renamed the Colony of Kenya. The white settlers were given preference in all spheres of politics, administration and society, and Africans were barred from political involvement until 1944 when a small number were appointed (not elected) onto the legislature.
The Sweatt v Painter case of 1950 is an important but often overlooked landmark in the progress of the Civil Rights Movement in the US, writes Angelita Williams.
Sweatt v Painter
In February 1946, Heman Sweatt, a young African-American mail carrier, applied for admission to the University of Texas’ School of Law. Upon reviewing the young man’s application, the school refused admission on the grounds that Texas schools prohibited integrated education. Despite the fact that much of the nation already embraced integration, states in the Deep South – including Texas and Alabama – had resisted integration. Using the “separate but equal” doctrine established by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case, states were allowed to resist racial integration as long as the separate facilities they created for African Americans were of – you guessed it – equal condition.
Sweatt and his lawyer Thurgood Marshall challenged the UT School of Law in 1950, saying that the law school UT considered equal to theirs – the Texas State University for Negroes – was in no shape or form equal to the University of Texas’ School of Law, given that the UT Law School had 16 full-time professors and the Texas State University for Negroes only had 5 full-time professors; the UT Law School had 850 students and a 65,000-volume law library, while the Texas State University for Negroes only had 23 students and a 16,500-volume library; and the University of Texas Law School had many graduates working in public and private law practice, while the Texas State University for Negroes only had one graduate admitted to the Texas Bar Association.
American author Maya Angelou has been referred to as “America’s most visible black autobiographer” by Joanne M. Braxton. Born April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, Angelou had what can only be described as a difficult childhood.
She spent time being moved between her mother and her grandmother’s homes, and was raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was eight years old. The trauma of this event caused the little girl to become mute for almost six years, and she gave birth to a son, Guy, when she was just 16 years old.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou’s first published volume of poetry, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, includes a work by the same name, which includes the following:
The Black Panther Party, founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, was based on ideas such as black nationalism and a staunch belief in the necessity of violence and armed self-defence in order to obtain freedom from white oppression – ideas which are strongly associated with Malcolm X’s life work.
Following Malcolm X‘s assassination in 1965, it has been suggested by some historians that the Black Panther Party used his philosophy of gaining freedom “by any means necessary” both as a justification of their methods and as a means of inspiring other African Americans to join their cause. Although Huey Newton later stressed in his autobiography a belief that the party had not done things the way that Malcolm X would have done them had he lived beyond 1965, the fact that Malcolm X had a huge influence on the philosophy of the party is virtually indisputable.
It is also clear is that Malcolm X had a strong influence on the individual, personal philosophies of key Black Panther members, especially the two founding members. Both Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale were drawn in by Malcolm’s speeches and agreed with many of the revolutionary ideas he expressed within them. Bobby Seale wrote about listening to Malcolm X’s speeches, proclaiming him to be “a better speaker than even Martin Luther King.” He went on to name his son Malik Nkrumah Stagolee Seale, later explaining “Malik” was “for Malcolm X”. After Malcolm’s death, Seale wrote that he “cried like a baby” and announced soon afterwards: “I will make my own self into a motherf**king Malcolm X…they’ll have to kill me!” In the process, Seale made clear the extent to which Malcolm X had influenced his beliefs.
This is how the story goes… Mary Seacole was born Mary Jane Grant in 1805, in Kingston, Jamaica to a Jamaican mother and a Scottish soldier: ‘I have good Scots blood coursing through my veins,’ as she wrote on page one of her memoir. Her mother, a freed black woman, kept a home, or a boarding house, for wounded soldiers (many of them British soldiers suffering from yellow fever) and installed in Mary a love of nursing and medicine.
A keen traveller, the young Mary journeyed widely with her parents, including two trips to Britain, expanding her medical knowledge.
In 1836, she married Edwin Horatio Seacole, a former guest at her mother’s boarding house. Edwin Seacole was believed, without substance, to have been either an illegitimate offspring of Lord Nelson and his mistress, Lady Hamilton, or Nelson’s godson. A sickly man, he died eight years later in 1844. Despite several offers, Mary never married again. As a couple, the Seacoles had maintained the boarding house established by Mary’s mother and, as a widow, Mary Seacole’s work intensified in 1850 when a cholera epidemic struck Jamaica, killing over 30,000 inhabitants.
John Brown, the radical abolitionist, ensured his place in US history when on 16 October 1859 he led a group of 21 men on a raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. The raid failed and Brown, wounded, was tried, convicted and hanged. But by his action, John Brown deepened further still the chasm between the anti and pro-slavery camps and by his death became a martyr for the abolitionist cause.
Brown’s raid on the Harpers Ferry arsenal was not his first. During a spell in Kansas, Brown was involved in more than one attack on pro-slavery supporters. After a group of pro-slavery supporters attacked the anti-slavery town of Lawrence in Kansas, Brown, who believed it was his divine mission to extract revenge, retaliated and led a nighttime attack on a proslavery settlement at Pottawatomie Creek on 24/25 May 1856. Among his group of seven men were four of his sons and one son-in-law. Three pro-slavery supporters were dragged from their homes and hacked to death. Two more were killed before the sun rose. Brown escaped the pursuing peace-keeping troops of the US Army.
As the concept of banning slavery within the United States grew, so did the number of people who were willing to risk their safety and security to help runaway slaves. One such person was Harriet Tubman. Here, Kat Smutz summarizes her life.
Harriet Tubman was a fugitive slave with a high price on her head in the American South. Born Araminta Ross in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman, the eleventh child, was often called Minty. Harriet was a name she chose for herself as an adult.
“I felt like I was in heaven”
In 1844, aged about 25, Harriet sought permission from her owners to marry. She married John Tubman, a freeman, and lived with him in his cabin, but was obliged to continue working for her master. She once confided in her husband her dreams of running away and obtaining freedom. John Tubman threatened to denounce her if she ever tried it.
Born 23 February 1868, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was perhaps the most influential African American leader of the first half of the twentieth century. The first black graduate from Harvard, W.E.B. Du Bois believed in protest and activism to advance the rights and conditions of African Americans.
His views were in stark contrast to his fellow campaigner, Booker T Washington, who believed that through education and hard work, blacks could eventually win the respect of whites and thus gain greater equality. Du Bois became increasingly critical of what he considered Booker T Washington’s accommodating approach to racial integration, believing that Washington’s approach undermined the black person’s status in society. Instead, Du Bois believed in a more proactive approach, and strove to achieve greater political representation for blacks. He believed education should do more than merely teach vocational trades; it should teach black people how to live assertively, fighting for equality and to be demanding of their civil rights.
Du Bois was also critical of fellow black campaigner, Marcus Garvey. ‘Without doubt,’ wrote Du Bois of the flamboyant Garvey, ‘he is the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America and in the world. He is either a lunatic or a traitor.’