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!

Hand-colored tintype portrait of three unidentified African American women, c. 1856.

Source: Harvard Library.

Celebrating African-American Social Dance

This is the Bop. The Bop is a type of social dance. Dance is a language, and social dance is an expression that emerges from a community. A social dance isn’t choreographed by any one person. It can’t be traced to any one moment. Each dance has steps that everyone can agree on, but it’s about the individual and their creative identity Because of that, social dances bubble up, they change, and they spread like wildfire. They are as old as our remembered history.

In African-American social dances, we see over 200 years of how African and African-American traditions influenced our history. The present always contains the past. And the past shapes who we are and who we will be.

Now, social dance is about community and connection; if you knew the steps, it meant you belonged to a group. But what if it becomes a worldwide craze? Enter the Twist.

It’s no surprise that the Twist can be traced back to the 19th century, brought to America from the Congo during slavery. But in the late ‘50s, right before the Civil Rights Movement, the Twist is popularized by Chubby Checker and Dick Clark. Suddenly, everybody’s doing the Twist: white teenagers, kids in Latin America, making its way into songs and movies. Through social dance, the boundaries between groups become blurred.

The story continues in the 1980s and '90s. Along with the emergence of hip-hop, African-American social dance took on even more visibility, borrowing from its long past, shaping culture and being shaped by it. Today, these dances continue to evolve, grow and spread.

Why do we dance? To move, to let loose, to express.

Why do we dance together? To heal, to remember, to say: “We speak a common language. We exist and we are free.”

From the TED-Ed Lesson The history of African-American social dance - Camille A. Brown

Camille A. Brown is a choreographer fusing dance and social commentary to explore race, sexuality and femininity.

Title Design by Kozmonot Animation Studio 

This Day in History: Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United Sates. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

“I have as much muscle as any man and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed and can any man do more than that?” -Sojourner Truth

Today marks the beginning of Black History Month, or National African American History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history.

We are beginning by honoring Sojourner Truth, an American abolitionist and women’s rights activist who escaped slavery with her infant daughter in 1826. In 1828, she went to court to get back her son, who had been illegally sold into slavery at the age of 5. She became one of the first black women to go to court against a white man and win the case.

From the TED-Ed Lesson How to use rhetoric to get what you want - Camille A. Langston

Animation by TOGETHER

Oney Judge was a slave on George Washington’s plantation in Virginia. Beginning in 1789, teenaged Oney began working as a personal slave to the new First Lady Martha Washington in the presidential households, first in New York City and then in Philadelphia. According to Pennsylvania law, slaves that stayed in the state for longer than six months could take their freedom. George Washington rotated his household slaves out of the state, every six months. That was illegal in Pennsylvania law! But no one challenged the new President and Father of the Nation.

Before one return to Virginia in 1796, when Congress was out of session, Martha Washington told Oney that she was being gifted! Oney was to be given to Martha Washington’s granddaughter as a wedding present. She was twenty at the time. “I knew that if I went back to Virginia, I should never get my liberty,” Oney later said in an interview. She contacted her friends among the free black community in Philadelphia, packing and sending her things to a friend’s home in advance. Then one night, while the first family ate dinner, she fled. With the free black community’s help Oney made her way to New Hampshire.

The Washingtons put notices of a runaway in the Philadelphia papers, and after finding out she was in New Hampshire, twice considered trying to kidnap her! Oney, with help from abolitionists both times, remained free. She eventually married a free black sailor, had a family, and died in 1848. Because George Washington’s will did not free her, she and her children were considered fugitives by the law until her death.

alluringbutterfly  asked:

Do you all know anything about the Gullah people?

Funny story, lol I 1st learned about the Gullah people after watching Gullah Gullah Island as a child (please tell me you remember otherwise i feel old). I didn’t fully understand the culture and motive behind the show until last fall in my African Retentions in American course in college.

So here goes:

The Gullah people are the descendants of the slaves who worked on the rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia. They still live in rural communities in the coastal region and on the Sea islands of those two states, and they still retain many elements of African language and cultureMany traditions of the Gullah and Geechee culture were passed from one generation to the next through language, agriculture, and spirituality. The culture has been linked to specific West African ethnic groups who were enslaved on island plantations to grow rice, indigo, and cotton starting in 1750, when antislavery laws ended in the Georgia colony.

A Board of Trustees established Georgia in 1732 with the primary purposes of settling impoverished British citizens and creating a mercantile system that would supply England with needed agricultural products. The colony enacted a 1735 antislavery law, but the prohibition was lifted in 1750. West Africans, the argument went, were far more able to cope with the climatic conditions found in the South. And, as the growing wealth of South Carolina’s rice economy demonstrated, slaves were far more profitable than any other form of labor available to the colonists.

Rice plantations fostered Georgia’s successful economic competition with other slave-based rice economies along the eastern seaboard. Coastal plantations invested primarily in rice, and plantation owners sought out Africans from the Windward Coast of West Africa (Senegambia [later Senegal and the Gambia], Sierra Leone, and Liberia), where rice, indigo, and cotton were indigenous to the region. Over the ensuing centuries, the isolation of the rice-growing ethnic groups, who re-created their native cultures and traditions on the coastal Sea Islands, led to the formation of an identity recognized as Geechee/Gullah. There is no single West African contribution to Geechee/Gullah culture, although dominant cultural patterns often correspond to various agricultural investments. For example, Africa’s Windward Coast was later commonly referred to as the Rice Coast in recognition of the large numbers of Africans enslaved from that area who worked on rice plantations in America.

Documentation of the developing culture on the Georgia islands dates to the nineteenth century. By the late twentieth century, researchers and scholars had confirmed a distinctive group and identified specific commonalities with locations in West Africa. The rice growers’ cultural retention has been studied through language, cultural habits, and spirituality. The research of Mary A. Twining and Keith E. Baird in Sea Island Roots: African Presence in the Carolinas and Georgia (1991) investigates the common links of islanders to specific West African ethnicities.

Enslaved rice growers from West Africa brought with them knowledge of how to make tools needed for rice harvesting, including fanner baskets for winnowing rice. The sweetgrass baskets found on thecoastal islands were made in the same styles as baskets found in the rice culture of West Africa. Sweetgrass baskets also were used for carrying laundry and storing food or firewood. Few present-day members of the Geechee/Gullah culture remember how to select palmetto, sweetgrass, and pine straw to create baskets, and the remaining weavers now make baskets as decorative art, primarily for tourists.

Aspects of West African heritage have survived at each stage of the circle of migration, with rice, language, and spirituality persisting as cultural threads into the twentieth century. The Geechee/Gullah culture on the Sea Islandsof Georgia has retained a heritage that spans two continents. Sapelo Island Cultural DayAt the end of the Civil War, lands on the coastal islands were sold to the newly freed Africans during the Port Royal Experiment, part of the U.S. government's Reconstruction plan for the recovery of the South after the war.

During the 1900s, land on some of the islands—Cumberland, Jekyll,Ossabaw, Sapelo, and St. Simons —became resort locations and reserves for natural resources. The modern-day conflict over resort development on the islands presents yet another survival test for the Geechee/Gullah culture, the most intact West African culture in the United States. Efforts to educate the public by surviving members of the Geechee/Gullah community, including Cornelia Bailey of Sapelo Island and the Georgia Sea Island Singers, help to maintain and protect the culture’s unique heritage in the face of such challenges.

The Gullah/Geechee have arguable preserved the heritage of their African ancestors better than any group in the United States.


Cornelia Bailey, with Christena Bledsoe, God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man: A Saltwater Geechee Talks about Life on Sapelo Island (New York: Doubleday, 2000).

Margaret Washington Creel, A Peculiar People: Slave Religion and Community-Culture among the Gullahs (New York: New York University Press, 1988).

Trackwomen, 1943. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company

Series: Women Working In Industry, 1940 - 1945. Record Group 86: Records of the Women’s Bureau, 1892 - 1995

March is Women’s History Month! Women have shaped this country’s history in more ways than we can count. Long before Rosie the Riveter joined the war effort in the 1940s, women earned wages to support themselves and their families. This series of posts celebrates the diversity of women’s labor, ranging from industry to agriculture to folklore and beyond. 

This archival series (Women Working In Industry, 1940 - 1945) contains images depicting women and their contributions to the war effort during World War II. The photographs show women for the first time on a mass scale and from every social and economical background preforming jobs that have been traditionally considered as men’s work. In addition to the clerical and secretarial fields, women are seen working in the aircraft industry, the metal industry, ordnance, the railroad, the shipyards, as well as the military services. There are approximately 94 different occupations shown in this series where women were performing the work.


This month’s Women’s History series comes via Nora Sutton, one of our interns from the Department of State’s Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) program. Nora is finishing her Master’s in Public History at West Virginia University this semester.

The Silent Parade 100th Anniversary

The Silent Parade was a silent protest march of 8,000-10,000 African Americans along Fifth Avenue starting at 57th Street in New York City on July 28, 1917.

In protest to murders, lynchings, and other violence directed towards African Americans, the parade was precipitated by the East St. Louis riots in May and July 1917, when between 40 and 250 black people were killed by white mobs.

East St. Louis riots

The ferocious brutality of the attacks by murderous white mobs, and the refusal by the authorities to protect innocent lives contributed to the reactionary measures of some African Americans in St. Louis and the nation. Marcus Garvey declared in a speech that the riot was “one of the bloodiest outrages against mankind” and a “wholesale massacre of our people”, insisting that “This is no time for fine words, but a time to lift one’s voice against the savagery of a people who claim to be the dispensers of democracy.

Protest in New York

In New York City on July 28, as many as ten thousand African Americans marched down Fifth Avenue in a silent protest march in response to the East St. Louis riots. They carried signs that highlighted protests about the riots. The march was organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), W. E. B. Du Bois, and groups in Harlem. Women and children were dressed in white; the men were dressed in black.

They hoped to influence Democratic President Woodrow Wilson to carry through on his election promises to African-American voters to implement anti-lynching legislation, and promote Black causes. Wilson did not do so, and repudiated his promises, and federal discrimination increased during Wilson’s presidency.

Legacy

The parade was the very first protest of its kind in New York, and the second instance of African Americans publicly demonstrating for civil rights so bravely.

William B. Gould and his sons, 1917. In 1862 Gould escaped from slavery by rowing a boat 52 kilometers down the Cape Fear River and into the Atlantic, where he was picked up by, and subsequently joined, the Union navy. He kept an eloquent diary of his experiences and travels during and after the war. A half-century later, his six sons joined the military to fight in the Spanish-American War and World War One.

10

Bayard Rustin - The Gay Civil Rights Leader

Bayard Rustin was the heart and soul of the black civil rights movement in the United States, He was Martin Luther King Jr.s chef organizer, the pioneer of nonviolent resistance, and the man behind the march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, during which Dr.King delivered his momentous and influential “I Have a Dream” speech. Rustin’s open homosexuality was contentious, and to this day his impact on the American landscape is all too often overlooked.