I learned at an early age that my great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells, was a force to be reckoned with.
Born a slave in Mississippi, she became a leading civil rights activist when she sued the Chesapeake, Ohio & Southwestern Railroad for discrimination in the mid-1880s.
At the end of the 19th century, as an investigative journalism pioneer, she uncovered and documented in meticulous detail the violence of lynching. She also explained in hundreds of speeches how lynching served as a tool to terrorize the African-American community, rather than a form of punishment against alleged crimes against white women. In the early 20th century, she founded the Alpha Suffrage Club, the first African-American women’s group that advocated for their right to vote.
Growing up in the Windy City, I met people who had never heard of Wells, only recognized her name from a housing project that bore her name; or confused her with someone they thought invented the hot comb.
A family commitment
Concerned that her legacy would fade from public memory, I decided to do what I could to make sure more people would remember the life and work of one of the most famous women during her time.
Through all of this work, I’ve come to see many parallels between the grassroots support that my ancestor experienced during her lifetime and the posthumous movements to honor her.
Four decades after she died, the late 19th-century Romanesque Revival style stone residence that Ida B. Wells and her family lived in was designated a national historic landmark in 1974 and a Chicago Landmark by the City Council in 1995.
But the general public and our family had no access to the site in the predominantly black Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side because of its private ownership.
Her former residence, with the discreet historic marker in front, was located across the street from a massive public housing community.
As a public works project, it was the first of its kind in the city to incorporate a big park with playgrounds and athletic fields. Although the authorities considered other names, pressure from the local community to name the projects after my ancestor prevailed. The Ida B. Wells Homes, which opened in 1941, eventually included over 1,600 units.
Dozens of former residents have told me that when the homes first opened they were considered a dream place to live for African-American working-class families. For several decades the housing served as a beacon of hope and source of pride.
However, as a result of many factors, the area fell into disrepair and despair. As the Chicago Housing Authority demolished the buildings between 2002 and 2011 to make way for mixed-income housing, former residents of the Ida B. Wells Homes joined with other local leaders and activists to seek new ways to sustain Wells’ legacy in the community.
Between 2011 and the end of 2017, the monument committee raised money in traditional ways like mailings and fundraising events, as well as waging a crowdfunding campaign. Despite widespread interest in and support for a monument, by early 2018 we had raised less than a third of the money required.
I decided to approach other organizations that were in alignment with the work my great-grandmother did about partnering with us. I also awakened my sleepy Twitter account and began to make appeals for support from the public.
My tweets caught the attention of several people with large followings, including organizer Mariame Kaba and award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. They retweeted my messages raising awareness about this project, and added #IdaPledge to urge people to get involved in making history. In addition, Kaba hosted a New York-based fundraiser that included Hannah-Jones as a panelist, and I made appeals to people at various events across the country.
Donors from all over the nation and some from Canada and England supported the project, proving the international interest in my ancestor. A deluge of donations from over 1,100 people totaling more than US$40,000 coincided with her 156th birthday on July 16. Within six months, Kaba, Hannah-Jones and I had raised close to $200,000 – mostly through online donations that ranged between $10 and $100.
Street renaming initiated by local groups
At the same time, dozens of local organizations, led by the League of Women Voters of Chicago, pushed to have a major Chicago downtown street renamed after Ida B. Wells. There is already a Wells Street, but it’s named for a soldier who was stationed in the area before it became a city.
Two local officials, Aldermen Sophia King and Brendan Reilly, led the initiative as grassroots organizations worked to increase public support.
The aldermen originally proposed renaming Balbo Drive, which honors a controversial Italian aviator and fascist leader. Their idea stirred opposition that diverted attention from the goal of honoring Ida B. Wells.
King and Reilly agreed that the nearby bigger and busier Congress Parkway, which feeds into interstate highways, was a more fitting honor for the longtime Chicago resident who fought for justice and equality. And on July 25, 2018, the Chicago City Council voted to rename the major thoroughfare Ida B. Wells Drive, the first downtown street in the city’s history to be named after a woman or person of color.
During her lifetime, Ida B. Wells got most of her work done with grassroots support from the African-American community. In keeping with her legacy, almost every public honor that Chicago has bestowed on her grew out of the interest, tenacity, and work of ordinary citizens who pushed for her recognition.
Pierre Toussaint, from left, Mary Elizabeth Lange, Julia Greeley and Augustus Tolton are some of the African-American candidates being supported for sainthood. Photos via Creative Commons; Greeley courtesy of Archdiocese of Denver
The founders of two religious orders and an African-American priest who had to train in Rome because no U.S. seminary would accept him are among five candidates being supported for sainthood by a new coalition of black Catholic organizations.
The initiative was announced Tuesday (July 31) at Xavier University in New Orleans, where a new resource center will be established to facilitate research on these candidates and other black Catholics.
Lining up behind the effort are Xavier’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies, the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, the National Black Sisters Conference, the National Black Catholic Seminarians Association and the National Association of Black Catholic Deacons. Although the Catholic Church has many saints of African descent, it has no black American saints.
Scholarly research is important “for the larger church, understanding the role of African-Americans in building the church,” said Xavier President Reynold Verret. Documentation of a person’s life, including expressions of virtue and performance of miracles, is generally required for progress on the path to sainthood.
The candidates are:
Pierre Toussaint, 1766-1853, a former slave who parlayed his connections as a hairdresser to prominent New Yorkers into a career of charity.
Henriette Delille, 1813-1862, a mixed-race woman who founded Sisters of the Holy Family, a religious order based in New Orleans.
Mary Elizabeth Lange, c. 1794-1882, who founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore.
Augustus Tolton, 1854-1897, identified by Xavier as America’s first black Catholic priest, who had to train in Rome because no U.S. seminary would take him.
Julia Greeley, c. 1840-1918, a former slave who became known as Denver’s Angel of Charity for her support of poor families.
The five candidates all are in the early stages of the journey to sainthood, which in the Roman Catholic Church is a four-stage process. Lange, Tolton and Greeley have attained the first level, in which a diocesan tribunal affirms that they lived lives of “heroic virtue.”
Delille and Toussaint have attained the second level, veneration, meaning they have been proclaimed heroic in virtue by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints with the approval of the pope. The next level, beatification, generally requires documentation of one miracle (except in the case of a martyr). Canonization, the fourth level, requires two miracles.
The process can take decades or even centuries. Verret said advocacy for Toussaint was underway in the 1970s.
Some credit Toussaint with inspiring the creation of Catholic Charities, one of the largest charitable organizations in the United States. After being freed from slavery, he financially supported his former slave master’s widow through his work as a hairdresser for the rich and famous in New York City, including the family of Alexander Hamilton. Through Toussaint’s connections, he helped create several organizations serving the destitute of the city without regard to race.
The enslaved Africans who first arrived in the British colony of Virginia in 1619 after being forcefully removed from their natural environments left much behind, but their rhythms associated with music-making journeyed with them across the Atlantic.
Many of those Africans came from cultures where the mother tongue was a tonal language. That is, ideas were conveyed as much by the inflection of a word as by the word itself. Melody, as we typically think of it, took a secondary role and rhythm assumed major importance.
For the enslaved Africans, music – rhythm in particular – helped forge a common musical consciousness. In the understanding that organized sound could be an effective tool for communication, they created a world of sound and rhythm to chant, sing and shout about their conditions. Music was not a singular act, but permeated every aspect of daily life.
In time, versions of these rhythms were attached to work songs, field hollers and street cries, many of which were accompanied by dance. The creators of these forms drew from an African cultural inventory that favored communal participation and call and response singing wherein a leader presented a musical call that was answered by a group response.
As my research confirms, eventually, the melding of African rhythmic ideas with Western musical ideas laid the foundation for a genre of African-American music, in particular spirituals and, later, gospel songs.
Spirituals: A journey
John Gibb St. Clair Drake, the noted black anthropologist, points out that during the years of slavery, Christianity in the U.S. introduced many contradictions that were contrary to the religious beliefs of Africans. For most Africans the concepts of sin, guilt and the afterlife, were new.
In Africa, when one sinned, it was a mere annoyance. Often, an animal sacrifice would allow for the sin to be forgiven. In the New Testament, however, Jesus dismissed sacrifice for the absolution of sin. The Christian tenet of sin guided personal behavior. This was primarily the case in northern white churches in the U.S. where the belief was that all people should be treated equally. In the South many believed that slavery was justified in the Bible.
This doctrine of sin, which called for equality, became central to the preaching of the Baptist and Methodist churches.
In 1787, reacting to racial slights at St. George Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, two clergymen, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, followed by a number of blacks left and formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The new church provided an important home for the spiritual, a body of songs created over two centuries by enslaved Africans. Richard Allen published a hymnal in 1801 entitled “A Collection of Spirituals, Songs and Hymns,” some of which he wrote himself.
His spirituals were infused with an African approach to music-making, including communal participation and a rhythmic approach to music-making with Christian hymns and doctrines. Stories found in the Old Testament were a source for their lyrics. They focused on heaven as the ultimate escape.
Spread of spirituals
After emancipation in 1863, as African-Americans moved throughout the United States, they carried – and modified – their cultural habits and ideas of religion and songs with them to northern regions.
Later chroniclers of spirituals, like George White, a professor of music at Fisk University, began to codify and share them with audiences who, until then, knew very little about them. On Oct. 6, 1871, White and the Fisk Jubilee Singers launched a fundraising tour for the university that marked the formal emergence of the African-American spiritual into the broader American culture and not restricted to African-American churches.
Their songs became a form of cultural preservation that reflected the changes in the religious and performance practices that would appear in gospel songs in the 1930s. For example, White modified the way the music was performed, using harmonies he constructed, for example, to make sure it would be accepted by those from whom he expected to raise money, primarily from whites who attended their performances.
Gospel songs – while maintaining certain aspects of the spirituals such as hope and affirmation – also reflected and affirmed a personal relationship with Jesus, as the titles “The Lord Jesus Is My All and All,” “I’m Going to Bury Myself in Jesus’ Arms” and “It Will Be Alright” suggest.
The rise of gospel song was also tied to the second major African-American migration that occurred at turn of the 20th century, when many moved to northern urban areas. By the 1930s, the African-American community was experiencing changes in religious consciousness. New geographies, new realities and new expectations became the standard of both those with long-standing residence in the North and the recently arrived.
For the former, there was little desire to retain what some called “corn-shucking” songs, songs associated with plantation life. New arrivals, however still welcomed the jubilant fervor and emotionalism of camp meetings and revivals that included, among other things, the ring shout, a form of singing that in its original form included singing while moving in a counterclockwise circle often to a stick-beating rhythm.
The 1930’s were also the era of Thomas A. Dorsey, the father of gospel music. Dorsey began his campaign to make gospel acceptable in church after the tragic death of his wife and child. A former bluesman who performed under the name of Georgia Tom, Dorsey, after his tragic loss, rededicated his life to the church. His first gospel song published was “If You See My Savior.” He went on to publish 400 gospel songs, with the best known being “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”
Dorsey was also one of the founders of the first gospel chorus in Chicago, and, with associates, chartered the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, the precursor to gospel groups in today’s black churches.
Gospel song and the Hammond organ
In the ‘30s black gospel churches in the North originally, began using the Hammond organ, which had been newly invented, in services. This trend quickly spread to St. Louis, Detroit, Philadelphia and beyond. The Hammond was introduced in 1935 as a cheaper version of the pipe organ. A musician could now play melodies and harmonies but had the added feature of using his feet to play the bass as well. This enhanced the players’ ability to control melody, harmony and rhythm through one source.
The Hammond became an indispensable companion to the sermon and the musical foundation of the shout and praise breaks. Solo pieces within the service imitated the rhythms of traditional hymns in blues-infused styles that created a musical sermon, a practice still common in gospel performances.
Gospel’s journey continues today producing musicians of extraordinary dedication who continue to carry the word.
For decades, a burning question loomed over a towering 20th-century book: “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”: What happened to the reputedly missing chapters that may have contained some of the most explosive thoughts of the African-American firebrand assassinated in 1965?
The answer came on Thursday when an unpublished manuscript of a chapter titled “The Negro” was sold by Guernsey’s auction house in Manhattan — for $7,000.
“We are like the Western deserts; tumbleweed, rolling and tumbling whichever way the white wind blows,” he writes. “And the white man is like the cactus, deeply rooted, with spines to keep us off.”
The buyer was The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, based in Harlem.
Schomburg Director Kevin Young confirmed to The Associated Press that this was in fact an unpublished missing section of Malcom X’s autobiography, whose 241-page draft the Schomburg also acquired Thursday for an undisclosed sum.
Courtesy of The Biography Channel
The manuscript of the autobiography was for years owned by Gregory Reed, a lawyer for Rosa Parks who purchased the collection from author Alex Haley’s estate.
The draft of the entire book is of immense value, beyond the historic, for the handwritten revisions and comments by Malcolm X and Haley, Young said in a telephone interview after the auction.
Their dialogue, in writing, reflects the human rights activism of the Muslim minister who indicted white America for what he saw as criminal behavior against blacks; opponents including the U.S. government accused him of inciting racism and violence. He was assassinated in Harlem in 1965 by three members of the Nation of Islam, a radical religious movement, shortly after he had broken away from the group.
The scribbled notes in the manuscript — not available until now — “are a very direct narrative that he’s crafting,” says Young, citing the image of racist cross-burning that Malcolm X’s mother described to him as a child. “And that’s what brings him into the world.”
One mystery was solved in public on Thursday, but another was born: loose fragments of Malcolm’s writing-in-the-works. Were these parts of possible other missing chapters?
“I examined them, and I don’t know what those are, it’s too early to tell; they look like they were probably stapled at one time, or cut and pasted; some are half of a page, or just slips of paper,” Young said. “The best way to describe them is that they’re literal fragments and literary fragments.”
It may take years before the story of the fragments is pieced together.
“You see in these pages the history of black people in America,” concluded Young. “And we’re bringing the sons and daughters of Harlem home.”
The rebuilt house of Rosa Parks at the WaterFire Arts Center in Providence, R.I. The house where Parks sought refuge in Detroit after fleeing the South will be auctioned on July 26 in New York, with a minimum bid of $1 million. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
The house where Rosa Parks sought refuge after fleeing the South amid death threats is scheduled for auction next week with a minimum bid of $1 million.
Auctioneer Guernsey’s plans to put the house up for auction July 26 in New York City, and has set a pre-auction estimate of $1 million to $3 million. It’s part of an auction that will feature several other items related to African-American history and culture.
Parks moved to Detroit in 1957, two years after refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama. Her family says Parks stayed in her brother’s tiny wood-framed house with 17 other relatives.
The house was going to be demolished by the city of Detroit when it was rescued by Parks’ niece, Rhea McCauley, and a Berlin-based American artist who took it apart and shipped it to Germany. Artist Ryan Mendoza rebuilt it in his yard, turning it into a work of art.
In Berlin, it attracted international attention and a steady stream of visitors interested in learning more about Parks and her importance in the civil rights movement. It was shipped back across the Atlantic Ocean earlier this year to be displayed in Rhode Island. It’s now in storage in Massachusetts.
The house also includes ceramic sculptures of furniture that was in the home when Parks stayed there.
Proceeds from the sale will be split between Parks’ family and Mendoza, the auction house said. Guernsey’s will also auction bricks from the home’s chimney, which had to be dismantled for the project.
Mendoza has said that he wants the house to end up in the hands of somebody who loves Rosa Parks and who wants to display it publicly. The house has become a way to tell the story of how redlining and segregation affected black communities in America, he said.
“This is a way to save this chapter of black oral history,” Mendoza said.
QUNU, South Africa (AP) — July 18 marks 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela, who died in 2013.
Visitors can follow in Mandela’s footsteps from the villages where he was born and raised, to the Soweto township where he became an anti-apartheid leader, to Robben Island where he was imprisoned for years.
THE EASTERN CAPE
“When Mandela was just a child, he walked for miles on this route, moving from one village to another,” said tour guide Velile Ndlumbini as we drove through the picturesque green rolling hills of the Eastern Cape.
The homestead where he was born can be seen in the small village of Mvezo. He lived here until age 2, when his father lost his position as village chief in a dispute with a magistrate.
The family then moved to neighboring Qunu, where Mandela lived until age 9, when his father died. He and his mother then moved 19 kilometers (12 miles) away to Mqhekezweni.
Here he was adopted by the acting regent king and groomed for leadership. Mandela wrote in his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” that his interest in politics was first kindled listening to tribal elders holding community meetings in Mqhekezweni. A shady spot under a circle of gum trees, Ndlumbini said, is still used for that purpose.
It was Qunu where Mandela returned after 27 years in prison. He built a complex there along the N2 highway for his family, where some still live, and he moved back to Qunu himself after retiring from public life.
Dusty roads lead to his private grave, across from his family’s burial site.
Qunu also houses the Nelson Mandela Museum, which opened on Feb. 11, 2000, the 10th anniversary of his release from prison. It takes visitors from his childhood through his involvement in politics to his triumphant election as president.
Some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south lies the Steve Biko Museum in King William’s Town. Biko was an icon of anti-apartheid activism, an African nationalist and a leader of the grassroots Black Consciousness Movement. He was a major influence on Mandela, and died in 1977 after being arrested and beaten.
In neighboring Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth, an installation called Route 67 showcases 67 artworks symbolizing Mandela’s 67 years of service. The art, all by locals, depicts significant moments on the journey from apartheid to democracy, moving from laser-cut steel figures forming a voting line in the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, to a stairway that starts in darkness and progresses to an era of color and new beginnings.
Created in the 1930s by the white government to relocate the black population away from Johannesburg, Soweto became the largest black city in South Africa. Poverty was rampant in the shanty towns and civil unrest was common during apartheid.
Mandela lived in Soweto from 1946 to 1962 and met African National Congress activist Walter Sisulu there.
Mandela’s Soweto home has also been converted into a museum. But the most exhaustive and heartbreaking site is the Apartheid Museum. The entrance is divided into “blankes/whites” and “nie-blankes/non-whites,” followed by a display of “passes” that the black population was required to carry, restricting their movements. The museum details the white settlers’ history in South Africa, the beginnings of apartheid and daily struggles blacks endured, along with the story of how Mandela transformed the African National Congress into a mass political movement.
The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum tell the story of the 1976 Soweto riots. Hector was 12 when he was shot and killed by police firing on student protesters. A famous photo shows his limp body being carried as his sister ran alongside. Some accounts say hundreds died during the protests. The museum contains a heart-wrenching and moving collection of oral testimonies, large-scale photos, audiovisual displays and historical documents about the uprising.
A drive north takes you to Liliesleaf, in the suburb of Rivonia. This farm-turned-museum, once owned by South African Communist Party member Arthur Goldreich, was used in the 1960s as a secret hideout for Mandela and other activists on the run from police. The famous Rivonia Trial ended with Mandela and his comrades sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island.
A 45-minute ferry ride from Cape Town, Robben Island is where Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 years in prison, beginning in 1964, alongside other heroes of the movement like Sisulu and Govan Mbeki.
The most powerful part of the tour, led by a former prisoner, is a visit to Mandela’s cell, a 7-by-9-foot (2-by-2.7-meter) room. Despite the humiliation and oppression of his years here, this was also where he honed his skills as a leader, negotiator and proselytizer, which put him on the path to the presidency in 1994.
For visitors, making a pilgrimage to places connected to Mandela’s life is both distressing and uplifting. While South Africa has come a long way, this young democracy still has a lot of work ahead, including improving living conditions and resources for its majority black population.
A mobile app, Madiba’s Journey, created by South African Tourism and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, can help you trace the footsteps of the man who dedicated his life to freedom.