Black History Month - 2019

I’m adopted and was raised by a white family in rural Arkansas. As much as my parents tried to teach me about  Black History, they were limited in their knowledge and the public school system fell short. I’ve done A Poster A Day series every February. My goal in this is to both learn more about Black historical figures and events but also share that knowledge with others in engaging and exciting ways. Each poster is accompanied with a writeup or video explaining the significance of the subject. 

This has been one of my favorite recurring projects as it gives me a challenge to communicate effectively while also giving me creative freedom to see the task through.  

Here are some of my favorites from 2019.

Hiram Revels

Firsts are a big deal. Kids often need to see that something’s possible before they think they can do it.
Hiram Rhodes Revels was born free in North Carolina in 1827, and went on to live quite the interesting life. Over the course of his 73 years, he served during the civil war, owned a business, was a principal for a black college, was a minister to four churches and to cap it all off: the first African-American to serve in Congress.

His background in ministry helped him appeal to the community, and the life he lived impacted many others. After opening with a prayer at the state legislature, those who heard it were impressed that he was not only a man who was talented, but also a man that who has achieved and overcome a lot. His time in Congress was a fiery catalyst for others like him to pursue civil service.

The Negro League

Black men had been playing baseball for as long as whites (professionally as early as 1885!), but discrimination and segregation kept them from fully participating in white leagues. ⁣

There were dozens of groups that played baseball informally (typically in minor leagues), but from 1920-1960, 7 different leagues rose and fell in popularity. Some stars to come out of the Negro leagues include Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige. In addition to catering to African Americans, the Negro League opened doors for Latin Americans to participate in peofessional baseball.⁣

Fun fact: The MLB held a special draft in 2008 where each team drafted one of the surviving members of the Negro League. This was done in honor of the League and to make up for the fact that they were excluded in the first place. (Also, I know this was only 11 years ago but I was like 14 and obsessed with football & Runescape at the time, so cut me some slack haha)⁣

Branch Rickey

Branch Rickey did a LOT for the sport of baseball – introducing helmets (+ for brain safety), developing the minor league system (+ for inexpensive baseball tickets and more teams to cheer for), and breaking the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson. He was a player, a coach, and a manager at all levels of the game.⁣

Now, back in the 40s, there wasn’t any sort of specific rules or laws outright banning for blacks from participating in the major leagues, but there was an unspoken rule among the owners who didn’t want to stir the pot and potentially be seen as being pro-integration. After seeing stardom in the Negro Leagues and how the players there could make the sport of baseball better (and a first-hand experience where a player of his was initially banned from entering the team hotel), he put plans into motion to find the right guy. He’s quoted as saying “I may not be able to do something about racism in every field, but I can sure do something about it in baseball.”⁣

Rickey saw Robinson’s talent and called him up. He warned him that he’d see discrimination and guess what, he did. They agreed that no matter what type of hatred he faced, Robinson wouldn’t retaliate – that’d put integration as a whole in jeopardy. And guess what – he didn’t. Robinson maintained his temper and eventually made it from the minor leagues to the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he won the very first Rookie of the Year award. ⁣

Rickey’s willingness to sign (and Robinson’s ability to keep his cool) spurned more owners to sign the talented Negro League players, when eventually, the Negro League wasn’t even needed any more. Sometimes, the hard thing to do is the right thing to do.⁣

Duke Slater

Duke Slater was the first African-American lineman in NFL history, playing for the Milwaukee Badgers in 1922. ⁣

His time playing college football at Iowa cemented his legacy – a few highlights include crushing Notre Dame’s 20-game winning streak, leading Iowa to a perfect record and its first Big Ten title in decades, and being named the first black All-American at Iowa. Sportswriter Walter Eckersall said of Slater, “(He’s) so powerful that one man cannot handle him and opposing elevens have found it necessary to send two men against him every time a play was sent off his side of the line”. That’s what we in the business of “Semi-Professional Football Watching” call a GAMEWRECKER.⁣

He played 2 games for the Badgers before signing with the Rock Island Independents, where he was on the field for every minute of every game for the 43 games he played with the team. However, under pressure by professional baseball owners who were excluding blacks from playing, NFL owners ushered every black player out of the league in 1927. Well, except Duke. ⁣

Duke stayed in the league for 10 seasons. Two of those years, he was the sole black player in the league. He retired in 1931 and by the point, he had achieved All-Pro status 6 times. He played offense, defense, AND special teams and didn’t miss any of the 99 games that he played due to injury.⁣

In 1934, the league enacted an official color ban, so Duke moved to coaching smaller teams before eventually rising up through the ranks of the Chicago Court system, becoming the second African-American judge in Chicago and the first black member of the highest court in the city.⁣

Fannie Lou Hamer

Okay, so before I start on Fannie Lou Hamer, I just wanna mention something that I found out was going on – have you heard of a “Mississippi appendectomy”? It’s a phrase Hamer is credited for coining. Basically, if black women would have to go in for minor surgeries, they’d sometimes wake up to find that they were also given a hysterectomy without their knowledge. This was all part of MS’s “compulsory sterilization” plan to keep poor people from reproducing. CRAZY. ⁣

OKAY, so now that that’s out of the way, let me talk a bit about the good that Fannie Lou did. She was born in 1917 (the youngest of 20!) to a family of sharecroppers and learned how to read from Bible study in her church. She married a tractor driver on the farm in 1945, and they stayed there for the next 18 years. ⁣

In 1962, she learned about SNCC and rode with them to register to vote. She failed the registration test (it asked her to explain what a de facto law was), and when she returned to the farm, she was immediately kicked off by the owner. Around this time white supremacists in Mississippi were rampant, and while Hamer was staying over at a friend’s while looking for a place to live, she was shot at 16 times by white supremacists. No one was hurt. She laid low until 30 days passed and she could take the test again. The second time, she failed. The third time, on January 10, 1963…she passed. ⁣

HOWEVER, as soon as she was registered and good to go, she realized she needed two poll tax receipts. She paid for and got the tax receipts, but this struggle inspired her to get even more involved with the movement. She would put on workshops for poor families, gather signatures for grants, and help blacks register to vote. At one point, her and a group of co-activists stopped for a break at a diner while travelling. A patrolman threatened them and made them leave, called for backup, and arrested the entire party. Once in county jail, they were all beaten. ⁣

She was released on June 12, 1963 and never fully recovered, both physically and psychologically. But she continued to help where she could. In 1969, she created the Freedom Farm Co-op – an attempt to lift blacks up by helping them become self-sufficient through agriculture. Over the years, the FCC was able to offer financial counseling, a scholarship fund, and a housing agency which secured FHA houses for struggling black families. After struggling with her health for years, she passed away on March 14, 1977. But her legacy abounds – there are many places in MS that bear her name and continue to tell her story.