adam clayton powell jr

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Malcolm X speaking at a boycott rally against the New York City Board of Education on March 16, 1964.

In one of the largest demonstrations of the Civil Rights movement, hundreds of thousands of parents, students and civil rights advocates took part in a citywide boycott of the New York City public school system to demonstrate their support for the full integration of the city’s public schools and an end to de facto segregation. After years of unsuccessful lobbying, the Parents’ Workshop for Equality decided to take direct action against the school board and called upon Bayard Rustin to organize a one-day protest and boycott of the city’s public school system on February 3, 1964. The organization’s sole objective was to render the racial imbalance of African American and Puerto Rican schools by persuading the New York City Board of Education to implement integration timetables. Response from the African American and Puerto Rican communities was overwhelming as more than 450,000 students refused to attend their respective schools on the day of the boycott. In addition, thousands of demonstrators staged peaceful rallies at the Board of Education, City Hall and the Manhattan office of Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Despite enjoying broad support, the boycott failed to force the city’s school board to undertake immediate reform. Another boycott was held on March 16, over 250,000 students participated in the second boycott.

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Today is National Tap Dance Day in honor of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who was born Luther Robinson in Richmond, Virginia, on May 25, 1878. His father, Maxwell, worked in a machine shop, while his mother, Maria, was a choir singer. After both of his parents died in 1885, Robinson was raised by his grandmother, Bedilia, who had been a slave earlier in her life. According to Robinson, he used physical force to compel his brother, Bill, to switch names with him, since he did not care for his given name of Luther. Additionally, as a young man, he earned the nickname “Bojangles” for his contentious tendencies.

At the age of 5, Robinson began dancing for a living, performing in local beer gardens. In 1886, at the age of 9, he joined Mayme Remington’s touring troupe. In 1891, he joined a traveling company, later performing as a vaudeville act. He achieved great success as a nightclub and musical-comedy performer. At this stage of his career, he performed almost exclusively in black theaters before black audiences.

In 1908, Robinson met Marty Forkins, who became his manager. Forkins urged Robinson to develop his solo act in nightclubs. Robinson took a break from performance to serve as a rifleman in World War I. Along with fighting in the trenches, Robinson was also a drum major who led the regimental band up Fifth Avenue upon the regiment’s return from Europe.

In 1928, he starred on Broadway in the hugely successful musical revue Blackbirds of 1928, which featured his famous “stair dance.” Blackbirds was a revue starring African-American performers, intended for white audiences. The show was a breakthrough for Robinson. He became well known as “Bojangles,” which connoted a cheerful and happy-go-lucky demeanor for his white fans, despite the nearly polar-opposite meaning of the nickname in the black community. His catchphrase, “Everything’s copacetic,” reinforced Robinson’s sunny disposition. Although he worked regularly as an actor, Robinson was best known for his tap-dance routines. He pioneered a new form of tap, shifting from a flat-footed style to a light, swinging style that focused on elegant footwork.

Robinson’s fame withstood the decline of African-American revues. He starred in 14 Hollywood motion pictures, many of them musicals, and played multiple roles opposite the child star Shirley Temple. His film credits include Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Little Colonel and Stormy Weather, co-starring Lena Horne and Cab Calloway. Despite his fame, Robinson was not able to transcend the narrow range of stereotypical roles written for black actors at the time. By accepting these roles, Robinson was able to maintain steady employment and remain in the public eye. In 1939, at the age of 61, he performed in The Hot Mikado, a jazz-inspired interpretation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta. Robinson celebrated his 61st birthday publicly by dancing down 61 blocks of Broadway.

Robinson was married three times. His 1907 marriage to Lena Chase ended in 1922. He married his second wife, Fannie S. Clay, in 1922. Clay served as her husband’s manager and assisted him in founding the Negro Actors Guild of America, which advocated for the rights of African-American performers. Clay and Robinson divorced in 1943. In 1944, he married Elaine Plaines. Robinson and Plaines were together until Robinson’s death in 1949.

Bill Robinson was involved in baseball as well as theater. In 1936, He cofounded the New York Black Yankees team, based in Harlem, with financier James Semler. The team was a part of the Negro National League until 1948, when Major League Baseball first integrated racially.

Despite earning millions during his lifetime, Robinson died poor in 1949, at the age of 71. Much of his wealth went to charities in Harlem and beyond before his death. Robinson’s funeral, arranged by longtime friend and television host Ed Sullivan, was held at the 369th Infantry Regiment Armory and attended by thousands, including many stars from the entertainment industry. A eulogy by Adam Clayton Powell Sr. (father of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr.) was broadcast over the radio. Robinson was buried in the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn, New York.

Robinson remained a well-known figure after his death, particularly in dance circles. In 1989, a joint congressional resolution established National Tap Dance Day on May 25, Robinson’s birthday. Additionally, a public park in Harlem bears Robinson’s name—a way of honoring his charity contributions and participation in the neighborhood’s civic life.

Sources: YouTube and biography.com

@thefullbronte “everything’s copacetic” -Clete Purcell

On This Day: April 18
  • 1689: A popular uprising known as the Boston Revolt against Sir Edmund Andros, the governor of the Dominion of New England.
  • 1850: American anarchist Joseph Labadie was born in Paw Paw, Michigan.
  • 1857: Clarence Darrow born. He was a lawyer who defended Eugene Debs, IWW members and teacher John Scopes for teaching evolution in schools.
  • 1888: 260 non-unionised women clothing workers of Shotwell, Clerihew and Lothman walk out in protest over pay cut.
  • 1889: Jessie Street born. Australian suffragette and activist for human rights.
  • 1908: IWW poem “We Have Fed You All for a Thousand Years” published in the “Industrial Union Bulletin”.
  • 1912: UMWA miners’ strike, demanding same pay as other West Virginia miners and union recognition. The National Guard is called out, and over 50 are killed.
  • 1925: True Friend’s Alliance (Jin Wu Ryong Mong) group established in Taegu, Korea by anarchists Shin Jae-mo, Bang Han-sang and Choung Myong-kun.
  • 1937: Spain’s Friends of Durruti Group held their first public meeting with a crowd of around 1,000.
  • 1941: NYC bus companies agree to hire African-American workers after 4-week riders boycott led by Rev Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
  • 1959: King speaks for the integration of schools at a rally of 26,000 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.
    November 20 – Alabama passes laws to limit black voter registration.
  • 1970: In Trinidad and Tobago, sugar workers go on a near-general strike.
  • 1977: Native American activist Leonard Peltier found guilty of murder.
  • 1984: French Trotskyist, Pierre Frank, dies in Paris. Author of a history of the movement, “The Long March of the Trotskyists”.
  • 2011: Approximately 100,000 protesters sat in the central Square of Homs, Syria calling for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad.

In 1993 this hotel, now an office building, was declared an #NYClandmark. But, what makes the history of the Hotel Theresa so interesting? The Harlem hotel was opened in 1913 by a German immigrant named Gustavus Sidenberg (his wife was named Theresa). It was primarily an apartment hotel, but also accepted short term guests. Additionally, at the time it was the tallest building in Harlem. Initially the hotel, like many establishments of the time, was white only but it was bought in 1937 by Love B. Woods, an African American businessman, who in ended its racial segregation policy 1940. It became known as the “Waldorf of Harlem” and was integrated when most mid-Manhattan hotels would allow African Americans to perform in their venues but not to stay or use their facilities. Over the years, the Theresa became the place to stay for visiting artists, celebrities, and politicians. #FidelCastro famously stayed there in 1960 while visiting for his UN address. While he was there Nikita Khrushchev, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Malcolm X all came to visit. That same year #JFK made a campaign stop at the hotel accompanied by Eleanor Roosevelt and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. As he said that night, “I am delighted to come to Harlem and I think the whole world should come here and the whole world should recognize that we all live right next to each other, whether here in Harlem or on the other side of globe.”

X2010.11.5170
Byron Company (New York, N.Y.)
Hotel Theresa, Seventh Ave. & 125th Street.
DATE:ca. 1915

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Adam Clayton Powell Jr.. He is great.