Category Archives: Black history

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

January 2, 1884 – March 25, 1951

Oscar Micheaux, the son of former slaves, was born in Illinois and grew up in Kansas . When he was 17 he became a porter on the railway, but within a few years left the railroad and homesteaded in South Dakota.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Homesteader to Author

He wrote about his farm life and  self-published The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer in  1913.  In 1915 he lost the farm.

In 1917 he again self-published a book, The Homesteader.  After a film deal fell through for the story, Micheaux decided to expand his publishing company. It became Micheaux Film and Book Company in 1919.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Author and Filmmaker

The Homesteader film was the first film made by an African-American. It starred Evelyn Preer.

Unlike the white-controlled film industry which portrayed blacks with stereotypes, Micheaux’s films had black characters in mysteries, gangster films and westerns. His films were written, directed, produced and portrayed by predominately all black cast and crew.

In 1924 he introduced the movie-going world to Paul Robeson in the film, Body and Soul.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Real characters

Given the times, his accomplishments in publishing and film are extraordinary, including being the first African-American to produce a film to be shown in “white” movie theaters. In his motion pictures, he moved away from the “Negro” stereotypes being portrayed in film at the time. Additionally, in his film Within Our Gates, Micheaux attacked the racism depicted in D.W. Griffith’s film, The Birth of a Nation.

The Producers Guild of America called him “The most prolific black – if not most prolific independent – filmmaker in American cinema.”

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Filmography

1919

* The Homesteader
* Within Our Gates

1920

* The Brute
* Symbol of the Unconquered

1922

* Gunaslaus Mystery
* Deceit
* The Dungeon
* The Virgin of the Seminole
* Son of Satan

1923

* Jasper Landry’s Will

1924

* Body and Soul

1926

* The Spider’s Web

1927

* Millionaire

1928

* When Men Betray
* Easy Street

1929

* Wages of Sin

1930

* Darktown Revue

 

1931

* The Exile

1932

* Veiled Aristocrat
* Black Magic
* Ten Minutes to Live

1933

* The Girl From Chicago
* Ten Minutes to Kill

1934

* Harlem After Midnight

1935

* Lem Hawkin’s Confession

1936

* Temptation
* Underworld

1937

* God’s Stepchildren

1938

* Swing

1939

* Birthright
* Lying Lips

1940

* The Notorious Elinor Lee

1948

* Betrayal

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Biography

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

In 2008, Patrick McGilligan published Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker.  McGilligan refers to Micheaux as, “…the Jackie Robinson of American film … a Muhammad Ali decades before his time” who “deserves to be considered in the same breath as the sainted D. W. Griffith.”

In his review of the book, Phillip Lopate is critical of McGilligan’s high praise for Micheaux’s work.  He wrote, “…we do a disservice to the achievements of truly superb black auteurs, like Charles Burnett, Spike Lee and Ousmane Sembène, by pretending Micheaux was a great filmmaker. The man had his own validity, as a pathfinder and as the creator of an intriguing, curious body of work, which reveals much about America’s past social and racial contradictions, and its melodramatic conventions.”

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Within Our Gates

Here is his “Within Our Gates” from 1919. It is the earliest known surviving feature film directed by an African American. The Library of Congress preserved it in 1993 from a single print found in Spain.

The story line is that a man abandons his fiance, an educated black woman.  She dedicates herself to helping a near bankrupt school for impoverished negro youths.

Within Our Gates was created in response to The Birth of a Nation which depicted southern whites in need of the Ku Klux Klan to protect them from blood thirsty blacks.

Micheaux showed the reality of racism, where a black man could be lynched for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux

Death

Micheaux died in Charlotte, North Carolina while on a business trip. His body was returned to Great Bend, Kansas, where he was interred in the Great Bend cemetery with other members of his family.

Black Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux
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Linda Carol Brown

Linda Carol Brown

Linda Carol Brown
Cover for a collection of personal reflections, stories, and poems from ten children’s authors celebrating the hard-earned promise of equality in education.
February 20, 1943 – March 25, 2018

Linda Brown lived in Topeka, Kansas with her parents and two younger sisters. Topeka, like many American school districts, had separate schools for their black children and white children so Linda was not allowed to attend Sumner School, the nearest school, but for whites only.

She later said“We lived in a mixed neighborhood but when school time came I would have to take the school bus and go clear across town and the white children I played with would go to this other school,” 

Oliver Brown, Linda’s dad, decided to enroll his daughter in Sumner.  He walked her there, spoke to the principal who not surprisingly refused to admit Linda, not for any academic or classroom space reasons, but simply because Linda was black.

Oliver and Leola Brown decided to do something.

Linda Carol Brown

Linda Carol Brown

US history of legal apartheid

19th century

The judicial history of US Courts ruling that African-American were not entitled to the same rights and privileges as other Americans is a long one.

In the 1857 decision in Dred Scott, Plaintiff in Error  v.  John  F.  A.  Sanford, the Supreme Court held that Blacks, enslaved or free, could not be citizens of the United States. Chief Justice Taney, arguing from the original intentions of the framers of the 1787 Constitution, stated that at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, Black people were considered a subordinate and inferior class of beings, “with no rights which the White man was bound to respect.”

In 1865, following the Civil War, many state governments passed laws designed to marginalize its blacks using Black Codes.  These laws imposed severe restrictions such as prohibiting the right to vote, forbidding  Black from sitting on juries, and limiting their right to testify against white men. They were also forbidden from carrying weapons in public places and working in certain occupations.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 guaranteed Blacks basic economic rights to contract, sue, and own property, but enforcement was rare.

In 1868, the ratification of the 14th amendment overruled the Dred Scott decision. The amendment’s Section 1 reads: All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

But on April 14, 1873, the US Supreme Court decided in the Slaughterhouse cases  that a citizen’s “privileges and immunities,” as protected by the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment against the states, were limited to those spelled out in the Constitution and did not include many rights given by the individual states.

Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875 which prohibited discrimination in places of public accommodation, but on December 15, 1883, the US Supreme Court ruled that  The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments did not empower Congress to safeguard blacks against the actions of private individuals. To decide otherwise would afford blacks a special status under the law that whites did not enjoy.

The Court continued to uphold the legality of discrimination with its 1896 Plesy v Ferguson decision that  held that separate but equal facilities for White and Black railroad passengers did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

In 1899, in Cumming v. Board of Education of Richmond County, State of Georgia, the Supreme Court upheld a local school board’s decision to close a free public Black school due to fiscal constraints, despite the fact that the district continued to operate two free public white schools.

20th century
Linda Carol Brown

In 1908, in Berea College v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, the Supreme Court upheld a Kentucky state law forbidding interracial instruction at all schools and colleges in the state.

In 1927, in Gond Lum v Rice the Supreme Court held that a Mississippi school district may require a Chinese-American girl to attend a segregated Black school rather than a White school.

Linda Carol Brown

Crumbs of progress

On December 12, 1938, in the State of Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, the Supreme Court decided in favor of Lloyd Gaines, a Black student who had been refused admission to the University of Missouri Law School.  The decision did not mean separate but equal was unconstitutional. It was because there was no Black law school that the Court based its decision for Gaines.

10 years later on January 12, 1948, in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma, a unanimous Supreme Court held that Lois Ada Sipuel could not be denied entrance to a state law school solely because of her race.

On June 5, 1950, in Sweatt v Painter: the Supreme Court held that the University of Texas Law School must admit Herman Sweatt, a Black student. The University of Texas Law School was far superior in its offerings and resources to the separate Black law school, which had been hastily established in a downtown basement.

Linda Carol Brown

Stage set

And so under the auspices of the Topeka NAACP, on February 28, 1951 Brown v. Board of Education was filed in Federal district court, in Kansas. The plaintiffs were thirteen Topeka parents on behalf of their 20 children. The case listed the plaintiffs names alphabetically and Brown came first. Brown was Oliver, Linda’s father.  The ohter 12 plaintiffs were: Darlene Brown, Lena Carper, Sadie Emmanuel, Marguerite Emerson, Shirley Fleming, Zelma Henderson, Shirley Hodison, Maude Lawton, Alma Lewis, Iona Richardson, and Lucinda Todd, each a parent and representing 20 children.

In August, a three-judge panel at the U. S. District Court unanimously held that “no willful, intentional or substantial discrimination” existed in Topeka’s schools. The U. S. District Court found that the physical facilities in White and Black schools were comparable and that the lower court’s decisions in  Sweatt  v. Painter and McLaurin only applied to graduate education.

The NAACP appealed that decision and in June 1952 the Supreme Court announced that it would hear oral arguments in Briggs and Brown during the upcoming October 1952 term. Briggs was a similar case and was “bundled” with Brown. Actually the case of Brown v. Board of Education as heard before the Supreme Court combined five cases: Brown itself, Briggs, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (filed in Virginia), Gebhart v. Belton (filed in Delaware), and Bolling v. Sharpe (filed in Washington, D.C.). All were NAACP-sponsored cases.

The case was argued for the states in early December 1952. Politicking by some justices in an attempt to get a unanimous decision in favor of Brown caused a delay, so it wasn’t until December 1953 that the NAACP’s Thurgood Marshall presented the case for the plaintiffs.

Linda Carol Brown

May 17, 1954

The Court delivered its unanimous decision in favor of the plaintiffs and in its decision said in part:

Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does. …

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The effect is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system.” …

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Linda Carol Brown

Linda later

By May 1954, Linda Brown was in middle school and in Topeka the upper grades had already been integrated.

From Wikipedia: Throughout her life, Brown continued her advocacy in the cause of equal access to education in Kansas.  Brown worked as a Head Start teacher and a program associate in the Brown Foundation. She was a public speaker and an education consultant…

In 1979, with her own children attending Topeka schools, Brown reopened her case against the Kansas Board of Education, arguing that segregation continued. The appeals court ruled in her favor in 1993.

Linda Carol Brown

Death

When she died in 2018, Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer tweeted:  “Sixty-four years ago a young girl from Topeka brought a case that ended segregation in public schools in America. Linda Brown’s life reminds us that sometimes the most unlikely people can have an incredible impact and that by serving our community we can truly change the world.”

2017 video with Linda’s sister, Cheryl Brown Henderson, speaks about modern educational inequality. She is a part of the Brown Foundation. whose “ mission is to build upon the work of those involved in the Brown decision, to ensure equal opportunity for all people. Our cornerstone is to keep the tenets and ideals of Brown relevant for future generations through programs, preservation, advocacy and civic engagement.”

Linda Carol Brown
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Nat Turner Slave Revolt 1831

Nat Turner Slave Revolt 1831

From 1831–1862: The Underground Railroad Approximately 75,000 slaves escape to the North and to freedom via the Underground Railroad, a system in which free African American and white “conductors,” abolitionists and sympathizers help guide and shelter the escapees.

Birth and education

October 2, 1800: Nat Turner was born  on the plantation of Benjamin Turner in Southampton County, Virginia, the week before Gabriel  Prosser (see Aug 30) was hanged after a failed slave insurrection in Richmond, Virginia.

Nat Turner’s mother was enslaved woman named Nancy, who was captured from West Africa. His father, presumed to be a slave named Abraham, ran away from the Southampton, Virginia, plantation when Nat was about ten years old

Benjamin Turner allowed Nat Turner to be instructed in reading, writing, and religion.

Nat Turner Slave Revolt 1831

First vision

While still a young child, Nat was overheard describing events that had happened before he was born. This, along with his keen intelligence, and other signs marked him in the eyes of his people as a prophet.

Nat was given as a gift, along with his mother and grandmother, to Benjamin’s son Samuel around 1809, and formally willed in 1810.

In 1821, Turner ran away from Samuel, but returned  after thirty days because of a vision in which the Spirit had told him to “return to the service of my earthly master.”

Nat Turner Slave Revolt 1831

Second Vision

By 1822, Samuel had died, and his widow, Elizabeth Turner, oversaw Nat until she married Thomas Moore, who took formal ownership of Nat in 1823.

According to a National Geographic article, “After Elizabeth’s death, Moore married Sally Francis, who became a widow and then married Joseph Travis, Nat’s last master, although Sally’s 10-year-old son, Putnam, was legally Nat’s owner.”

In 1825: Nat Turner had a second vision. He saw lights in the sky and prayed to find out what they meant. Then “… while laboring in the field, I discovered drops of blood on the corn, as though it were dew from heaven, and I communicated it to many, both white and black, in the neighborhood; and then I found on the leaves in the woods hieroglyphic characters and numbers, with the forms of men in different attitudes, portrayed in blood, and representing the figures I had seen before in the heavens.

Nat Turner Slave Revolt 1831

Third Vision

May 12, 1828: Turner “…heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first… And by signs in the heavens that it would make known to me when I should commence the great work, and until the first sign appeared I should conceal it from the knowledge of men; and on the appearance of the sign… I should arise and prepare myself and slay my enemies with their own weapons.

By 1830, Southampton County was home to 6,573 whites, 1,745 free blacks, and 7,756 enslaved African Americans.

It was in 1830 that Turner was moved to the home of Joseph Travis with his official owner being the young child Putnum Moore. Turner described Travis as a kind master, against whom he had no complaints. The Travis plantation was lived 411 acres and had 17 slaves working his property in 1830.

Records show that Nat married an enslaved woman named Cherry who lived on a neighboring plantation, and they had at least one child, a son named Reddick. Nat would have to obtain a pass from his masters to visit his family.

Records show that he was outspoken in his beliefs that blacks should be free, and that freedom would be theirs one day; an opinion for which he was whipped in 1828.

Nat Turner preaches religion. “”Knowing the influence I had obtained over the minds of my fellow-servants…by the communion of the Spirit, whose revelations I often communicated to them… I now began to prepare them for my purpose.” (Image Credit: The Granger Collection, New York)
Nat Turner Slave Revolt 1831

Signs from the heavens

February 1831: there was an eclipse of the sun. Turner took this to be the sign he had been promised and confided his plan to the four men he trusted the most, Hark Moore, Henry Porter, Nelson Edwards, Sam Francis, Will Francis, and Jack Reese . They decided to hold an  insurrection on July 4 and began planning a strategy. However, they had to postpone action because Turner became ill.

August 13, 1831: there was an atmospheric disturbance in which the sun appeared bluish-green. Turner interpreted this as the final sign.

Nat Turner Slave Revolt 1831

Revolt

Nat Turner Slave Revolt 1831

August 21, 1831: Turner, Moore, Porter, Edwards,  Sam Francis, Will Francis, and Reese  met in the woods to eat a dinner and make their plans.

At 2:00 AM they launched the rebellion by entering the Travis household, where they killed the entire family as they lay sleeping, save for a small infant. They moved from one farm to the next, killing all slave-owning whites they found. As they progressed through Southampton county, other slaves joined in the rebellion.

They continued on, from house to house, killing all of the white people they encountered. Turner’s force eventually consisted of more than 40 slaves, most on horseback.

August 22, 1831: Turner decided to march toward Jerusalem, the closest town. By then word of the rebellion had gotten out to the whites; confronted by a group of militia, the rebels scattered, and Turner’s force became disorganized. After spending the night near some slave cabins, Turner and his men attempted to attack another house, but were repulsed. One slave was killed and many escaped, including Turner.

Nat Turner Slave Revolt 1831

Escape

In the end, the rebels had stabbed, shot and clubbed at least 55 white people to death.Turner escaped and remained free for nearly two months.

In those two months though, the militia and white vigilantes instituted a reign of terror over slaves in the region. Hundreds of blacks were killed. White Virginians panicked over fears of a larger slave revolt and soon instituted more restrictive laws regulating slave life.

Nat Turner Slave Revolt 1831

Capture

Nat Turner Slave Revolt 1831

August 30, 1831: The Richmond Enquirer published a description of the rebels’ “murderous career” that likened them to “a parcel of blood-thirsty wolves rushing down from the Alps; or rather like a former incursion of the Indians upon the white settlements.” The lesson gleaned by the writer of the article from the case of Turner, “who had been taught to read and write, and permitted to go about preaching,” was that “No black man ought to be permitted to turn a Preacher through the country.”

Credit was given to “many of the slaves whom gratitude had bound to their masters, that thy had manifested the grestest alacrity in detecting and apprehending many of the brigands.”

According to the article, General Broadnax, the militia commander of Greensville County, was “convinced, from various sources” of the “entire ignorance on the subject of all the slaves in the counties around Southampton, among whom he has never known more pefect order and quiet to prevail.” [full text of article]

Nat Turner Slave Revolt 1831

Harriet Ann Jacobs

Harriet Ann Jacobs, born into slavery in North Carolina in 1813, eventually escaped to the North, where she wrote a narrative about her ordeal of slavery.

In Chapter Twelve of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, Jacobs describes the harassment of blacks in Edenton, North Carolina, following the rebellion.

Her “Fear of Insurrection” begins with a statement that captured the irony of white society’s fear: NOT far from this time Nat Turner’s insurrection broke out; and the news threw our town into great commotion. Strange that they should be alarmed when their slaves were so “contented and happy”! But so it was. [full text]

October 30, 1831: Turner captured and imprisoned in the Southampton County Jail, where he was interviewed by Thomas R. Gray, a Southern physician. Out of that interview came his now famous “Confession.

Convinced that “the great day of judgement was at hand,” and that he “should commence the great work,” Turner took the eclipse of the sun to mean that “I should arise and prepare myself, and slay my enemies with their own weapons.”

Gray described Turner as being extremely intelligent but a fanatic. He went on to say: “The calm, deliberate composure with which he spoke of his late deeds and intentions, the expression of his fiend-like face when excited by enthusiasm; still bearing the stains of the blood of helpless innocence about him; clothed with rags and covered with chains, yet daring to raise his manacled hands to heaven; with a spirit soaring above the attributes of man, I looked on him and my blood curdled in my veins.”

Nat Turner Slave Revolt 1831

Trial and execution

November 5, 1831: Nat Turner was tried in the Southampton County Court and sentenced to execution. (BH, NT, & SR, see Nov 10)

November 10, 1831: Nat Turner hung. He was buried the following day.

No grave marker exists for Nat Turner, nor for his fellow soldiers. The rebels were caught, tried, and executed in different places, and their scattered remains lie under unmarked soil.

The November 14, 1831, Norfolk Herald reported that: “He betrayed no emotion, but appeared to be utterly reckless in the awful fate that awaited him and even hurried his executioner in the performance of his duty! Precisely at 12 o’clock he was launched into eternity.”

In total, the state executed 55 people, banished many more, and acquitted a few. The state reimbursed the slaveholders for their slaves. But in the hysterical climate that followed the rebellion, close to 200 black people, many of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion, were murdered by white mobs. In addition, slaves as far away as North Carolina were accused of having a connection with the insurrection, and were subsequently tried and executed.
The state legislature of Virginia considered abolishing slavery, but in a close vote decided to retain slavery and to support a repressive policy against black people, slave and free.

The basic information for this blog entry came from Brotherly Love, a PBS article.

Nat Turner Slave Revolt 1831
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