alvin ailey dance

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!

vimeo

Just Dance: Moonlight x Alvin Ailey dir. Anna Rose Holmer (2017)

An original dance piece pays homage to director Barry Jenkins’s award-winning drama, Moonlight

instagram

View of actress Diana Sands and dancer Alvin Ailey in the play, “Tiger, tiger burning bright.” Typed on back: “Diana Sands in ‘Tiger, tiger burning bright’ (with Alvin Ailey).”

  • Courtesy of the E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts, Detroit Public Library

Black history month day 28: American astronaut Mae Jemison.

Mae Carol Jemison was born on October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama. When she was three years old, her family moved to Chicago, Illinois for better employment and education opportunities. Jemison was always interested in science and dreamed of going to space from a young age. Once when she was little a splinter infected her thumb. Her teacher mother turned it into a learning experience and she ended up doing a whole project about pus.

While Jemison’s parents were always very supportive of her scientific interests, her teachers were not. Jemison once recalled: “In kindergarten, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told her a scientist. She said, ‘Don’t you mean a nurse?’ Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a nurse, but that’s not what I wanted to be.”

Jemison went to Stanford University when she was just 16 and graduated with a B.S. in chemical engineering. She received her doctor of medicine degree at Cornell Medical College in 1981. During medical school she traveled to Cuba, Kenya and Thailand, to provide primary medical care to people living there.

Jemison first applied for the space program in 1983 after the flight of Sally Ride. The program was delayed after the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, but she was accepted into the program after reapplying in 1987, one of 15 applicants out of 2000. One of her biggest inspirations for pursuing the space program was African-American actress Nichelle Nichols, better known as Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek. Later Jemison would go on to guest star in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, becoming the only actual astronaut to appear on the show.

As a lover of dance, Jemison took a poster from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater along with her on the flight saying: “Many people do not see a connection between science and dance, but I consider them both to be expressions of the boundless creativity that people have to share with one another. She also took some small art objects from West African countries to symbolize that space belongs to all nations, and a picture of African-American pilot Bessie Coleman.

Jemison is now 60 years old and currently serving as the principle of the 100 Year Starship organization.

I sincerely hope you have enjoyed going on this educational journey with me this month, exploring 28 inspiring figures in black history. It was a lot of fun for me to do research for this project and I learned quite a few things along the way. I really tried to get at least some figures who are less commonly discussed during Black history month. There is a lot of information I didn’t get to cover, so I would strongly encourage you to read up on everybody I’ve mentioned this month because they have some very interesting stories to tell!

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These 5 black dancers paved the way for Misty Copeland 

Misty Copeland made history on Tuesday when she was promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater. Her ascension is the result of her own hard work, and decades of struggles faced by America’s black ballerinas. From Janet Collins to Alvin Ailey, black dancers have elevated the form for decades while dealing with discrimination and injustice.