CultureSOUL: “Black, Brown and White” - Big Bill Broonzy (1951) 

One of the great but lesser-known protest songs of the 20th century, this became one of Broonzy’s most well-known tunes. I rarely post the lyrics for an entire song but these are important. This is the voice (and pain) of a middle-aged African American man half way through the 20th century. Nearly 100 years after Slavery

This little song that I’m singin’ about
People you know it’s true
If you’re black and gotta work for a living now
This is what they will say to you

They said if you was white should be all right
If you was brown stick around
But as you black, oh brother
Get back, get back, get back

I was in a place one night
They was all having fun
They was all buyin’ beer and wine
But they would not sell me none

They said if you was white should be all right
If you was brown stick around
But as you’re black, oh brother
Get back, get back, get back

I went to an employment office
Got a number ‘n’ I got in line
They called everybody’s number
But they never did call mine

They said if you was white should be all right
If you was brown stick around
But as you black, oh brother
Get back, get back, get back

Me and a man was workin’ side by side
This is what it meant
They was paying him a dollar an hour
And they was paying me fifty cent

They said if you was white should be all right
If you was brown stick around
But as you black, oh brother
Get back, get back, get back

I helped built this country
And I fought for it too
Now I guess that you can see
What a black man have to do

They said if you was white should be all right
If you was brown stick around
But as you’s black, oh brother
Get back, get back, get back

I hope to win sweet victory
With my little plough and hoe
Now I want you to tell me brother
What you gonna do about the old Jim Crow?

Now if you was white should be all right
If you was brown stick around
But if you black, oh brother
Get back, get back, get back

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


Nina Simone is still too black for Hollywood. (From Black Acrylic)

The above video is Nina speaking in her own words.

I am boycotting Cynthia Mort and Jimmy Iovine’s Nina Simone biopic featuring Zoe Saldana. I have too much respect for Nina Simone’s legacy to pay money to see her life played out in blackface – a caricature of the dark skin and African features she was proud of. Nina Simone dedicated her life to rebelling against White supremacy and racism through her music and activism. Her music is part of an African-American Black Arts Movement of politically inspired resistance. Songs such as “Four Women”, “Mississippi Goddamn,” and “Young, Gifted and Black” spoke to a generation fighting for freedom and social justice. Nina Simone’s unapologetic defense of blackness was personified by her looks – dark skinned, natural haired and defiant in her self-love. Her aesthetics were as political as some of her compositions. I mean, Black is beautiful but not that Black…right? I say this sarcastically, but it is how many people – regardless of their race – feel. It is clear that Nina Simone has failed Hollywood’s brown paper bag test and if her blackness could not be mitigated by the celebrity of Mary J Blige (who was originally cast for the role), the filmmakers feel Saldana would bleach Simone into a more socially acceptable heroine. Sadly, the casting of Saldana is an anticlimax – more tap water than the necessary cognac. Click here for the full article.


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

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)


Cathay Williams - Became the first and the only known female Buffalo Soldier. Enlisting in the US Regular Army 1866 at St. Louis, Missouri for a three year engagement, passing herself off as a man.

She is the first African American female to enlist, and the only documented to serve in the United States Army posing as a man under the pseudonym, William Cathay.

 Williams travelled with the 8th Indiana, accompanying the soldiers on their marches through Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia. She was present at the Battle of Pea Ridge and the Red River Campaign. At one time she was transferred to Little Rock, where she would have seen uniformed African-American men serving as soldiers, which may have inspired her own interest in military service. Later, Williams was transferred to Washington, D.C., where she served with General Philip Sheridan’s command. When the war ended, Williams was working at Jefferson Barracks.

The exact date of Williams’ death is unknown, but it is assumed she died shortly after being denied a pension, probably sometime in 1892. Her simple grave marker would have been made of wood and deteriorated long ago. Thus her final resting place is now unknown.



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: "Hands Up, Don’t Shoot" - Hong Kong Protests

The passionate voices of Black America have been heard around the world. Incredible protests in tribute and solidarity as Hong Kong’s youth fights for political autonomy from China.

More on the Hong Kong protests here and more on the power of the “Don’t Shoot” movement here.

"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.