African-American history

The first female African American streetcar conductor in San Francisco ended up becoming a celebrated author and poet, too! Maya Angelou was sixteen when she dropped out of school. She had her heart set on becoming a conductorette because she liked the uniforms. It took two weeks of sitting in the hiring office, refusing to leave until she got an interview, before she wore them down to get the job.


January 15th 1929: Martin Luther King Jr. born

On this day in 1929, the future civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Born as Martin King, he and his father changed their names in honour of Protestant reformer Martin Luther. King entered the ministry in his twenties and first came to national attention for his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. This event is considered by many to be the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, which saw a national struggle to end discrimination against African-Americans. King was one of many leaders, but became the face of the movement for his nonviolent tactics and powerful oratory. In 1963, during the March on Washington, King delivered the crowning speech of the movement - the ‘I have a dream’ speech. Beyond his role in combating racial inequality, King also focused on tackling poverty and advocating peace, especially during the Vietnam War. On April 4th 1968, King was shot and killed by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee. He lived to see the legislative achievements of the movement - the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act - but tragically was unable to continue the push for full equality. The movement King set in motion continues to be fought today; the United States is still not a completely equal society and systemic discrimination persists. However, thanks to Martin Luther King, America is closer to fulfilling King’s dream of a truly free and equal society. Since 1986, a national Martin Luther King Day is celebrated on the third Monday in January.

Today would have been his 88th birthday

Black LBGTQ History Icons

Marsha P. Johnson

  • A leader of the Stonewall Riots. According to several eyewitnesses, Marsha was the one who “really started it”. She was “in the middle of the whole thing, screaming and yelling and throwing rocks and almost like Molly Pitcher in the Revolution or something”
  • Dedicated her life to activism:
    • Co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (later renamed Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries)
    • Ensured that the young drag queens, trans women and other street kids on Christopher Street were fed and clothed. Marsha also housed them whenever she could. 
    • In the 1980s, she was an activist and organizer in ACT UP. 

Stormé DeLarverie

  • Also a leader in the Stonewall Riots - has been identified as the “butch lesbian that threw the first punch” against the police officers.
  • Several eye-witnesses recollections also recognize her as the cross-dressing lesbian that yelled “why don’t you guys do something” at the bystanders that evoked the reaction from them that helped make Stonewall a defining moment in history.
  • Unofficially worked at gay bars who otherwise couldn’t afford security.

Bayard Rustin

  • Was a leading strategist of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement between 1955-1968:
    • The formidable behind the scenes figure of the civil rights movement who organized the March on Washington
    • Through his influence, the civil rights leadership adopted a non-violent stance.
    • Is and was often overlooked in African-American history because of the public’s discomfort with his sexual orientation.
  • Supported LGBTQ rights and movements.
  • Was posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy

  • Another leader in the Stonewall Riots.
  • Has been involved in community efforts since 1978. She has worked at local food banks, provide services for trans women suffering from addiction or homelessness. During the AIDS epidemic she also provided healthcare and funeral services.
  • Is currently serving as the Executive Director for the Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project, working to assist transgender persons who are disproportionately incarcerated under a prison-industrial complex.

Alvin Ailey

  • At the young age of 22, Alvin AIley became Artistic Directer for the Horton Dance Company where he choreographed as well as directed scenes and costume designs.
  • Formed the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in 1958 but continued to choreograph for other companies.
  • Ailey’s signature works prominently reflects his Black pride.
  • Is credited for popularizing modern dance. 
  • Was also posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Feel free to add anyone I’ve missed!


January 7th 1923: Rosewood massacre ends

On this day in 1923, the Rosewood massacre ended in the Florida town after raging for a week. The violence began on January 1st, the day after a Ku Klux Klan rally was held in the area. It started when a white mob descended on the predominantly black town in response to a rumour that a black Rosewood man had sexually assaulted a white woman. The group of over 400 whites attacked African-Americans who they believed were involved, torturing people for information and targetting a family home. They then rampaged throughout the town burning buildings to the ground, including houses and churches. The black residents were forced to hide in the nearby swamps until they were evacuated to other towns, leaving Rosewood completely deserted in the wake of the violence. The carnage ended on January 7th when the mob burned the last structures and there were no black residents in Rosewood remaining. The final death toll was officially six blacks and two whites killed, but according to witnesses closer to thirty African-Americans died. A white jury decided there was insufficient evidence and none of those involved were ever charged for their role in what was erroneously portrayed as a ‘race riot’. In 1994, almost seventy years after the event, the Florida legislature passed a bill that gave each of the nine remaining survivors of the massacre $150,000 in compensation. While it is not enough to provide justice for the Rosewood victims and survivors, the 1994 law ended decades of refusal to come to terms with the horrors committed at Rosewood.

“It has been a struggle telling this story over the years, because a lot of people don’t want to hear about this kind of history … It’s a sad story, but it’s one I think everyone needs to hear”
- Lizzie Jenkins, descendant of a Rosewood survivor


January 9th 1914: Phi Beta Sigma founded

On this day in 1914, Phi Beta Sigma - one of the first predominantly African-American fraternities - was founded at Howard University, Washington D.C. Founded by three black students called A. Langston Taylor, Leonard F. Morse, and Charles I. Brown, the Greek letter fraternity was intended to exemplify brotherhood, scholarship, and service through translating the members’ skills into practical services to the wider community. The founders also desired their fraternity to promote inclusivity, rather than seeing itself as apart from the general university community. While not the first black fraternity, it was one of the most successful, expanding to other American campuses, organising youth mentoring clubs, and establishing chapters abroad in Africa. Its sister sorority - Zeta Phi Beta - was established in 1920 at Howard University. While Phi Beta Sigma is majority African-American, it also includes members of Caucasian, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian descent.


African American Lives (part 1)

A series hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. where he helps well-known African Americans trace their ancestry, as well as their genetics back to Africa. 

I just re-watched this series and gathered some things from this viewing that i hadn’t the first time i watched it. what i really appreciate about this series is how it is a lesson in African American history - in that it speaks and informs about different situations and experiences of African Americans throughout American history - and that it also connects these experiences with people; we aren’t just learning about facts whereby one can easily feel disconnected…you’re learning about the racism that murdered family members, that broke up families, that forced grandparents and great-grandparents to migrate hundreds of miles from their hometowns. 

not too long ago, a facebook friend of mine shared an experience she had in which she was in a room, for some academic/work event, wherein there were a number of international students along with 3-4 African Americans. one of their “break the ice” exercises entailed them sharing where their names came from. she said that when she and the other African Americans shared where/how they acquired their last names, there was shock and confusion and she realized that many had not learned the extent to which slavery had effected African Americans. i think this series is definitely a must-see for those who don’t know all the ugly details about our past (and how it effects our present). 

African American Lives (part 2, part 3, part 4)
African American Lives: The Road Home (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4)


The National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

The NMAAHC is sold out through March already and it’s worth all the hype. It was truly an amazing museum. I was really lucky to get tickets and be able to go. I urge everyone to visit! In a time of uncertainty for many minorities, the museum is a walk-able history lesson through African American life from past to present. It will take you through a range of emotions; from sadness, to anger, to joyful and back again. I found it eerie that some parts of the Civil Rights Era exhibits had images that could have been taken out in the streets of today. To see history juxtaposed to our present day is unsettling when you see similarities and patterns.That said, I had a lot of hope and pride by the time I walked out. To see where we were, and how far we have come, is still something to be praised. ps - not gonna lie, everyone was crowded around the Obama exhibit and I was trying not to shed a tear knowing this was the last hoorah for the First Family.*sigh*.


December 1st 1955: Rosa Parks on the bus

On this day in 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old black seamstress from Alabama, refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white man. A member of the NAACP, Parks was returning home from a long day at work when the bus driver ordered her to give up her seat on the full bus for a white man. No stranger to civil rights activism, she was subsequently arrested for civil disobedience in defying the state’s Jim Crow racial segregation laws. Through this act of defiance, Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, during which time African-Americans - under the leadership of a young, charismatic reverend called Martin Luther King Jr. - refused to use the city buses, arguing that they should be integrated per the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. The boycott was successful in forcing Montgomery to end its discriminatory segregation laws, and marked the beginning of the main phase of what is now known as the Civil Rights Movement. From Montgomery, African-Americans across the United States went on to lead sit-ins, freedom rides, and political marches, in an attempt to bring an end to segregation laws which had oppressed their community for so long. These activists were all indebted to Rosa Parks - known as the ‘mother of the Civil Rights Movement’ - for her simple act of defiance, firmly asserting her humanity and her rights as an American citizen. As the movement grew, Parks remained an influential symbol and leader of the movement, which ultimately brought an end to legal segregation and forced Congress to pass the 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights Acts. As for Parks herself, the affair of her arrest and the subsequent boycott caused her to lose her job and made her a victim of harassment and threats. She moved to Detriot and in 1965 began to work in the office of Congressman John Conyers. In 1999, Rosa Parks was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for her role in transforming American race relations, and upon her death in 2005 she lay in state at the U.S. Capitol. Today, 60 years on, we remember Rosa Parks’s personal bravery, the successes of the movement she inspired, and the steps yet to be taken as the struggle against systemic racism continues.

“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day…No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in”

60 years ago today