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On August 30, 1983, Dr. Guion Stewart “Guy” Bluford, Jr. became the first African American in space.

Bluford, pictured, had earned his M.S. and PhD in aerospace engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. He flew the space shuttle, performed various experiments and aided in the launch of a $45 million weather and communications satellite for India. During this first mission with more to come, launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, Bluford received a call from Ronald Reagan in which he said, “You will serve as a role model for so many others and be so inspirational.”

Gail Fisher, who broke many racial barriers for black women on American television, was born August 18, 1935. Her mother raised her and her siblings with her own hair styling business in Edison, New Jersey. During her teenage years, Fisher had showed an interest in entertainment through her participation in various beauty contests, acting in her High School’s plays and as a cheerleader. Fisher studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, after winning a contest sponsored by Coca-Cola, and later became a member of the Repertory Theater at Lincoln Center. She did many television commercials and declared herself “the first black female– no, make that black, period– to make a national TV commercial, on camera, with lines.” Her most well known and one of the first major roles for black women was as the secretary “Peggy Fair” on the show Mannix from 1968 until 1975. Fisher, pictured with Mark Stewart, as her son in Mannix (1970), won two Golden Globes and an Emmy Award  for the role. She was the first black woman to win an Emmy Award. 

W. E. B. Du Bois, the African-American thinker and activist whose writings influenced generations of freedom fighters, was born on February 23 in 1868, 149 years ago. While nearly a century and a half has passed since Du Bois’ birth, many of his writings still feel as relevant today as they did in the early 20th century. Here are some quotes from Du Bois, coupled with our images of him from the Photographs and Prints Division at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

What is the legacy of Jim Crow? On April 15, a trio of leading social-justice activists discuss the laws in conjunction with the exhibition One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North. The event features Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; Sherrilyn Ifill, President, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; and Cornell Brooks, President and CEO, NAACP. 

[Jacob Lawrence. The Migration Series. 1940-41. Panel 22: “Another of the social causes of the migrants’ leaving was that at times they did not feel safe, or it was not the best thing to be found on the streets late at night. They were arrested on the slightest provocation.” Casein tempera on hardboard, 18 x 12″ (45.7 x 30.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy. © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Digital image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY]

Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives from Ohio, was born September 10, 1949 in Cleveland. She received her law degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1971. She was an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor for three years. In 1981, she was elected a Cleveland Municipal Court Judge and then became a chief prosecutor. She was an active supporter of broader health care coverage for low and middle income individuals and assistance for re-entry of convicts into their communities. She also fought against predatory lending practices. In 1998, Jones was involved in the controversy of reopening the investigation of the murder of Dr. Sam Sheppard’s wife in 1954. In her later years, Jones was against additional financing for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Jones passed away in August 20, 2008, due to a ruptured brain aneurysm. 

Last June filmmaker Raoul Peck was at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture as part of its Artist and the Archive series. He had a two-part conversation, speaking with both Kevin Young, the Director of the Schomburg, and with Paul Holdengräber, the Director of LIVE from the NYPL.

Peck discussed I Am Not Your Negro, his groundbreaking documentary which envisions an unfinished book by James Baldwin that Peck came across while researching in Baldwin’s archives.

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Watch: Civil rights leaders from Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the NAACP discuss how Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, currently on view at MoMA, relates to events today. 

James Benton Parsons, the first African American to serve as a United States federal judge, was born on this day, August 13, 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri. Before he was a Judge, Parsons was a musician and a teacher. He taught public school and was a supervisor for two years in Greensboro, N.C. He then taught constitutional law at John Marshall Law School in Chicago and political science and music at Lincoln University. Parsons was the first African American to be a part of the U.S. District Court with life tenure appointed by President Kennedy in 1961. He was known to be an outspoken and controversial jurist and received a lot of criticism for his words and actions, as well as awards throughout his life as a judge. He served as chief judge from 1975 until 1981 and then had senior status in 1981 until his death in 1993, Chicago. 

Ibram X. Kendi, the best-selling historian and author of the National Book Award–winning Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, in conversation with Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Harvard professor and Director Emeritus of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Recorded at the Schomburg back in June, the conversation on Kendi’s history of racist ideas in America feels especially urgent given the recent events in Charlottesville and their aftermath.

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Olivette Miller, celebrated “swing” harpist of the 1940s, was born 101 years ago today (February 2, 1914) in Illinois. Here parents were Bessie Oliver Miller, a 1900’s chorus girl and the venerable actor, comedian, writer and producer Flournoy Miller, who co-wrote and produced the groundbreaking Broadway musical “Shuffle Along.” Raised on Harlem’s famous Striver’s Row, Ms. Miller graduated from East Greenwich Academy, a private Methodist boarding school in Rhode Island in 1931, and went on to study music in Paris and at Juilliard. She originally planned to play concert halls but after being “bitten by the night club bug” she turned to more popular music. Ms. Miller’s stunning beauty and colorful love-life kept her in the newspapers almost as much as her performances around the country and the world. She performed with both Lena Horne and a young not-yet-a-superstar Dorothy Dandridge in the 1940s, top notch night clubs in Hollywood, Chicago and New York, and made a few appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the 1960s. I’m still trying to pin it down, but by my count, she was married at least six times. The Chicago Defender reported her impending divorce from her first husband, Channing Price in November 1934 and in October 1939, the New York Amsterdam News reported that Ms. Miller, who had married a musician named Oett Mallard two years earlier, gave birth to their son, Alvin Miller Mallard, on October 1, 1939 in Denver, Colorado. She was married to the dancer Freddie Gordon in the 1940s and in the 1950s to the comedian Bert Gibson and performed and toured with him across the country. In the 1970s, when she sued Flip Wilson for copyright infringement over a sketch he did on his show that Ms. Miller claimed was lifted from her father’s work in “Shuffle Along,” her name ws Olivette Miller Darby. By the early 1990s, she had a bit part as a maid in the film “A Rage in Harlem” and was billed as Olivette Miller Briggs, due to her marriage to the dancer Bunny Briggs. Ms. Miller died on April 27, 2003 at the age of 89. Photo: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.


Jazz drummer and band leader Art Blakey was born on this date, October 11, 1919. 

In celebration, watch Art Blakey & the Messengers in their performance of “It’s You or No One” from 1958. 

For this week’s episode of the New York Public Library Podcast, we highlight discussions presented by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on two documentaries about icons Maya Angelou and John Lewis. To talk about American Masters - And Still I Rise, a film about the Pulitzer-nominated Dr. Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander, Director of Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation; Rita Coburn Whack, co-director and co-producer of Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise; Louis Gossett, Jr., Academy Award-winning actor; and Colin Johnson, Co-Founder and Principal of Caged Bird Legacy joined Director of the Schomburg Center, Kevin Young. Get in the Way: The Journey of John Lewis is a documentary film about Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon and the winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for March: Book Three. It is discussed by Arva Rice, President and CEO of the New York Urban League; activist and advocate Phil Pierre; and Ahmad Greene, a core member of the Black Lives Matter Movement. In this week’s episode, we’re proud to present conversation around generations of activism with some of our nation’s most inspiring freedom fighters.

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