African-American history


CultureHISTORY: #WhiteCoats4BlackLives - #Ferguson #EricGarner Protests - December 2014 

An incredible day of protests from medical students across the nation. The story and more photos here

  1. USC, Los Angeles, CA 
  2. Northwestern University, Chicago, IL 
  3. Boston University, Boston, MA 
  4. Morehouse, Atlanta, GA
  5. University of California, San Francisco
  6. Harvard Medical Students, Boston, MA 

A young “Miss Maggie” Walker, the daughter of a former slave, who in 1903 became the first woman of any race to found and become president of an American bank. She also founded a newspaper and a department store called “Saint Luke’s Emporium.”

Courtesy of the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

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Missing Chapter From America’s History Books

One In Four Of America’s Cowboys Were African-American

Many of the slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries were familiar with cattle herding from their homelands of West Africa. This brings historians the question of the name “Cowboy” and whether or not it was made from slave cow herders.

  • On some Texas trails, about a quarter of cowboys were black.

African American cowboys were largely African American freedmen after the Civil War who were drawn to cowboy life, in part because there was not quite as much discrimination in the west as in other areas of American society at the time. For enslaved Blacks the West offered freedom and refuge from the bonds of slavery. It also gave African Americans a chance at better earnings. . After the Civil War many were employed as horsebreakers and for other tasks, but few of them became ranch foremen or managers. Some black cowboys took up careers as rodeo performers or were hired as federal peace officers in Indian Territory. Others ultimately owned their own farms and ranches.

  • Hundreds of black cowboys were among the very first hands who drove huge herds along trails to Abilene, Kansas, the cattle-selling center of the Old West.  They were especially skilled in vetting horses. When herding cattle, many black riders rode “on point,” ahead of the dust. Black cowboys were forced to do the hardest work with cattle, such as bronco busting, they had special skills with breaking in steeds.

Photo: No original source found, possible circa 1913


CultureTRIBUTE: First Lady Michelle Obama – Happy 51st Birthday

A celebration of the nation’s First Lady on her birthday (1/17). With her warm grace, her shrewd intellect, her honest humor about life in the West Wing, her commitment to America’s youth through mentoring and educational programs, and her groundbreaking nutritional program to reduce childhood obesity, Michelle Obama has become one of the most consequential First Ladies in American history.

She’s the first White House fashion icon since Jackie O and the most significant since Eleanor Roosevelt, Mrs. Obama has captured the world’s attention for the last six years. For the black community especially, she remains a source of deep enduring pride. As a woman, a mother, a wife, a policy maker, and a role model, she has reshaped the image of the African American woman in the 21st century.

(And let’s not forget the Fallon Evolution of Mom Dancing clip from 2013. Go ‘head Michelle.)

Police Report on Arrest of Rosa Parks

On December 1, 1955, during a typical evening rush hour in Montgomery, Alabama, a 42 year-old woman took a seat near the front of the bus on her way home from the Montgomery Fair department store where she worked as a seamstress. Refusing to yield her seat to a white passenger when instructed by the bus driver, police were called and she was arrested.

The police report shows that Rosa Parks was charged with “refusing to obey orders of bus driver.” According to the report, she was taken to the police station, where she was booked, fingerprinted, and briefly incarcerated.

The event touched off a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system in which a 26-year-old unknown minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., emerged as the leader.

(more via DocsTeach)


CultureHISTORY: Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Olympics 1968

“We were just human beings who saw a need to bring attention to the inequality in our country.” - Tommie Smith

On this date (10/16) in 1968, the ‘black power’ salute at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. One of my favorite historical photos and one of the most powerful moments in black history. More background here.

Photo credits:

  1. Summer Olympics, Mexico City, 1968
  2. Summer Olympics, Mexico City, 1968
  3. San Jose State University honors former students Smith & Carlos with a statue on campus, 2005
  4. Smith and Carlos, 2011

History Of African Hair Culture- Civil War Era

Black hairstyles in the 1800s were based on customs and tradition, symbolizing tribal affiliations. When Africans were bought to America in the slave trade they had to find functional ways to wear their naturally curly hair in order to work. Twists, cornrows and braids were a way African women could still respect their cultural heritage. Since each African tribe wore hair in different patterns to identify their culture, it was common to see slave women of similar tribes and regions wearing their hair the same way throughout the South.


Without the combs and herbal treatments used in Africa, slaves rely on bacon grease, butter and kerosene as hair conditioners and cleaners. For shampooing, black soap was widely used in nations in West and Central Africa. Additionally, palm oil, and palm kernel oil were popularly used for oiling the scalp. Shea Butter has traditionally been used to moisturize and dress the hair: a yellow variety is popular in West Africa, and a white variety in East Africa. In North Africa, Argan Oil was applied to the hair and/or scalp for protection against the arid environment and intense sun. 

Slaves adapted, finding sheep fleece carding tools useful for detangling their hair. They suffered from scalp diseases and infestations due to their conditions. Slaves used remedies for disinfecting and cleansing their scalps, such as applying kerosine or cornmeal directly on the scalp with a cloth as they carefully parted the hair. In the 19th century, hair styling, especially among women, became more popular. Men began using axle grease to straighten and dye their hair. Cooking grease such as lard, butter, and goose grease were used to moisturize the hair. Female slaves sometimes used hot butter knives to curl their hair.

Overloaded with the suggestion that straight hair was more acceptable than kinky hair, slaves and freedmen began exploring solutions for straightening, or relaxing, their tresses. One solution was a mixture of lye and potato, which burned the scalp upon contact.

After the Civil War and emancipation, many African Americans migrated to towns or cities, where they were influenced by new styles. Women straightened their hair to conform to white beauty ideals.  Some women, and a smaller number of men, lightened their hair with household bleach. A variety of caustic products that contained bleaches, including laundry bleach, designed to apply to Afro-textured hair, were developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as blacks demanded more fashion. They used creams and lotions, combined with hot irons, to straighten hair. 

Read more :

Joy Phido (2011-04-18). "Going Back to the Roots of Black Hair

Woman from Madagascar, c. 1868 wiki


Banished vividly recounts the forgotten history of racial cleansing in America when thousands of African Americas were driven from their homes and communities by violent racist mobs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fear for their lives, black people left these towns and never returned to reclaim their property. The film places these events in the context of present day race relations, by following three concrete cases of towns that remain all-white to this day (Forsyth County, Georgia; Pierce City, Missouri; Harrison, Arkansas). 

Banished raises the larger questions — will the United States ever make meaningful reparations for the human rights abuses suffered, then and now, against its African American citizens? Can reconciliation between the races be possible without them? Banished follows a twisting trail through yellowed newspaper archives registries of deeds, photos from treasured family albums and dimly recalled stories of elders who lived through those traumatic events.

The film features black families determined to go to any length to reconstruct their families past and gain some justice for their ancestors and themselves. It also interviews dedicated, local, newspaper reporters who braved community opposition to research the banishments in-depth and force their readers to confront their towns past and present. [film link]


CultureHISTORY: The NYPD Murder of Eric Garner - 2014 

It was reported on Friday that the NY Medical Examiner ruled his death a homicide. So much for the NYPD holding out hope that he had some pre-existing medical condition which caused his death. 

No, it was straight up murder. He and his family deserve justice. 

"With daylight the Americans found four dead Germans on the battlefield and evidence of perhaps as many as thirty-two more involved in the fight. The Germans had probably dragged away several of their dead. The Americans also found thirty-eight bombs, rifles, bayonets, and revolvers. The Germans are said to have thereafter designated African American troops the ‘blood-thirsty black men.’ The French dubbed them ‘hell-fighters’; the 369th would henceforth be known as the ‘Harlem Hellfighters.’"

Learn about the life of Henry Johnson, and the struggles of many African American soldiers during the First World War, in the American National Biography Online

Watch on

Malcolm X: Make It Plain  (PBS Documentary).

Malcolm X: Make It Plain is a 1994 documentary by PBS about the life of Malcolm X, or El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. The documentary was narrated by Alfre Woodard, produced and directed by Orlando Bagwell, written by Steve Fayer and Orlando

The voice of Malcolm X, silenced so abruptly on this day 49 years ago (February 21 1965), speaks to more people today than ever before. His autobiography sells more than 150,000 copies a year, his writings are devoured by thousands born after he died. But who was he? Drawing on hundreds of sources, the PBS “American Experience” documentary of his life, Malcolm X: Make It Plain, explores his many-faceted character - political philosopher and visionary, husband and father, dynamic orator and hero - and the many forces that forged him.

The revolutionary Malcolm X rose from the streets of Detroit, Boston, and Harlem, to become one of the most influential leaders of the human rights and international black liberation movement. His adventure-filled path to public service is detailed in this documentary. Malcolm X first connected with the Nation of Islam while in prison. His subsequent duties within the organization led to his role as their national spokesperson.  Malcolm X was always impassioned, he brought much attention to the struggle for African-Americans’ as African diaspora for equal treatment as under the law. As well as advocating for the self development and self sufficiency of African Americans as part of the African diaspora stressing the importance of them making a connection to Africa.

This documentary features interviews with the many famous faces that populated the late leader’s life including Maya Angelou, Alex Haley, Ossie Davis, Dr John Henrik Clarke Dr Ben Yosef Jochannan and Malcolm X’s own family.