A hell-bent Headliner: The story of Gladys Bentley (Black History 365)

Welcome readers,

The Harlem Renaissance was a period in American History that was filled with exuberance and creativity. The people who created brilliant forms of art during that time did it with integrity and were very steadfast in bringing African American art to parts of America that were unfamiliar with it. However, even with all the praise artists received during that time for their captivating work, some artists had to experience an audience that was unreceptive to them and face condemnation for staying true to themselves. With that said, in this entry of Black History 365, I will present the story of Gladys Bentley, an unconventional artist that brought extraordinary talent and flamboyance that America during that time wasn’t accustomed to. 

Gladys Bentley unabashedly displayed her queer desires during the Harlem Renaissance. Even though a great entertainer, Bentley was constantly reviled due to her explicit songs, appearance, and queer lifestyle. She wore masculine attire over her full-figured physique, specifically a white tuxedo, tophat, and accessorized with a cane. Moreover, this kind of image was jarring to most, but once she began singing her appearance took a backseat. Regarding this, her musical prowess was respected and she made her mark as a formidable force in American music. 

Born in Philadelphia on August 12th, 1907, Bentley was the daughter of a Black American father and a mother from Trinidad and Tobago. When Bentley was young she knew she was not an ordinary child, saying that “it seems I was born different”. Her parents had a feeling something was awry when she began consistently wearing boy’s clothing. As a result, her parents went as far as to go to doctors in hopes of trying to “cure” her unorthodox interests. Nevertheless, Bentley felt comfortable and confident wearing men’s attire and would wear it from that day on. 

At the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance, Bentley found her first break in entertainment on the Harlem Party circuit and then the nightclubs, such as the UBANGI Club. During that time “the pansy craze” was prominent and drag queens were referred to as “pansy performers”. They were popular entertainment throughout major U.S. cities such as Los Angeles., New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. The UBANGI Club appealed to queer audiences and it became a place where Bentley felt welcomed and thrived. Furthermore, as her popularity increased she began getting billed as a male impersonator, and with this kind of marketing, it was hard for an audience to ignore an impending spectacle. Bentley was against cultural norms and she challenged concepts of what women were like during that era. In addition, she did it as a black woman in America, and that should be noted because it was commonplace for black women to be depicted as jezebels and lascivious after the reconstruction era. During her performances, she kissed women on stage, and overtly expressed her queer sexuality on stage with sexually explicit songs. In regards to this, homosexuality and other “deviant” sexual orientations were seen as peculiar and this attitude lead to a moral panic known as “Lavender Scare”. Gay men and lesbians were said to be a national security risk and communist sympathizers. This paranoia resulted in the marginalization of gay performers and one way the U.S. protected itself from threats was to remove them from employment. Additionally, gay people were seen as susceptible to being manipulated by foreign threats and the U.S didn’t want that kind of exposure. When it came to Bentley, she was reproached for her constant ostentatious behavior which she used to compliment her singing and was then subsequently barred from performing at other New York City nightclubs due to her conduct. Nebulous phrasing such as “Disorderly Places” was used as a disclaimer for patrons entering nightclubs performed by gays.  

Even though Gladys Bentley was an eccentric performer that had success performing at nightclubs nationwide for two decades, she had to endure a lot of public pressure and it resulted in her changing her performance and image to placate their discontent. Equally important, Bentley went back into the closet and lived her life so it seemed as a heterosexual woman, marrying a man and cleaning up the content of her music. Nevertheless, she still found success even with her rebranding but not to the level of her days working the New York City nightclubs. 

Bentley brought to the Harlem Renaissance a flare and was emboldened to display it at any cost up until the later parts of her career. Her impact was palpable every time she went on stage, and she even was the inspiration for several characters in novels such as “Deep River, “Strange Brother”, and “Parties”. Some might say she’s an unsung figure from the Harlem Renaissance and that’s why her story should be told.

Works Cited 

Shah, Haleema. “The Great Blues Singer Gladys Bentley Broke All the Rules.” Pocket, 14 Mar. 2019, getpocket.com/explore/item/the-great-blues-singer-gladys-bentley-broke-all-the-rules?utm_source=pocket-newtab&fbclid=IwAR2p9WwnDdqfNEZ_BFV5M0Shvf2pe_QnX9EZw56fSywdczpzjRK3XwEzjQw.

The Story of Sarah Rector (Black History 365)

After the civil war, reconstruction, and what would subsequently become Jim Crow laws, slaves in the south were freed and lived as free Americans but still experienced disenfranchisement and some had difficulty prospering financially. However, I’ll be presenting in this episode the story of a young black girl named Sarah Rector from Taft Oklahoma who came upon a fortune that changed her life forever, but she had obstacles standing in her way.

Sarah Rector was born in 1902 in Taft Oklahoma and came from humble beginnings but she later became the wealthiest black girl in the country at the age of 11. Her family was African American members of the Muscogee Creek Nation in Indian Territory. Rector’s grandparents had been enslaved by Creek Tribe members, but once the Civil War ended, they were entitled to land allotments under the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887. Furthermore, when Indian territory integrated with Oklahoma territory to form the state of Oklahoma in 1907, hundreds of Black children who were referred to back then as “Creek Freedmen minors,” were granted 160 acres of land.

Rector’s allotment was located in the middle of the Glenn Pool oil field and was initially valued at $550. A few years later in 1911, her father decided to lease his daughter’s piece of land to a major oil company to help pay for the property taxes. And in 1913, everything would change.

According to Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America by Tonya Bolden, an independent driller struct oil that started to bring in 2,500 barrels or 105,000 gallons per day. As a result, Rector, still being an owner of the land, began earning more than $300 a day (which is equivalent to about 7,500 a day in our time).

It was inevitable with all the fortune she received that she would attract attention. Rector began getting national attention from newspapers all over the country. For instance, The Kansas City Star published the headline, “Million to a Negro Girl – Sarah Rector, 11-year-Old, Has Income of $300 A Day from Oil”. Additionally, another newspaper, The Savannah Tribune, published the headline, “Oil Well Produces Net Income – Negro Girl’s $112,000. You have to understand a black person making that much, especially at that young, would cause eyebrows to raise and white America wasted no time in relinquishing her fortune. 

As mentioned, sadly Rector’s fortune would be interfered with by the law. There was a law at the time that required Native Americans and African Americans who were citizens of Indian Territory to be assigned a “well-respected” white guardian. As a result, Rector’s guardianship was turned over to a white man named T.J. Porter. 

However, reportedly W.E.B Du Bois and the NAACP got involved to protect her well-being and fortunately were able to be successful with it. Rector, later on, to own one of the first Black-owned auto dealerships in the country, and reportedly enjoyed her wealth until she died!

Ma Raineys Black Bottom Film Review and History (Black History 365)

Welcome to Black History 365: The Throw Down a series where I explain, educate and explore, historical events, unsung black figures in world history, and the struggles and triumphs of black people worldwide. In this episode, I’ll be presenting the story of Ma Rainey “ The Mother of the Blues” and a quick review of the recent film about her story and artistry. Ma Rainey was referred to as “the mother of the Blues “which is an ode to her brilliance in transforming the genre despite a relatively short recording career. During Christmas week, Netflix released “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom starring Viola Davis as the brazen but passionate blues legend and the late Chadwick Boseman in his final film role, which brought new attention to Rainey’s captivating and mystifying story. 

Even though the film doesn’t have an exciting plot, it does make up for it I believe with its character development and the entertaining dialogue that keeps the story moving smoothly. From Sylvester the stuttering young announcer for Ma Rainey, Boseman’s character Levee’s fiery temperament which culminates to an awful ending he quickly regrets, to Ma Rainey’s relentless effort to get all her records and accommodations done right no matter who challenges her. Since we don’t have any footage or much stories about Ma Rainey, Davis did a wonderful job portraying an unwavering musician that aspired to reach success in her recordings in her style and unapologetic ways when it comes to her sexuality and a black woman during a time when segregation was embedded in everyday life in the south. Below my review is an article on the history of Ma Rainey, all rights go to the curator of the article hence the works cited above it. 

Works Cited

https://www.etonline.com/who-is-ma-rainey-how-the-mother-of-the-blues-became-an-icon-157871 

Who Is Ma Rainey? How the ‘Mother of the Blues’ Became an IconMa Rainey, 1923

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Davis is not the first to portray the icon. Whoopi Goldberg starred as the blues singer in the 2003 Broadway revival of Wilson’s play, a role originally played by Theresa Merritt in 1984, and Monique in the HBO film Bessie

Through her pioneering contributions to blues music, Rainey has ascended to a level of posthumous celebration and well-deserved adoration. It all started in Georgia.

Who Is Ma Rainey? 

Ma Rainey, Rabbit Foot Minstrels

Gertrude “Ma Rainey” Pridgett was born in Columbus, Georgia, sometime around 1886 (though Census records state that she was born in Alabama in 1882). Although the details of her childhood are unclear, Rainey was one of at least four children born to Alabama natives Thomas and Ella Pridgett. 

At age 14, Rainey began performing in local tent shows, eventually catching the eye of musician William “Pa” Rainey, who was more than 10 years her senior. The couple wed when Rainey was 18. 

“Ma” and “Pa” hit the road working as traveling performers. They founded the Alabama Fun Makers company, and later joined the Rabbit Foot touring minstrel shows billed as “Black Face Song and Dance Comedians, Jubilee Singers [and] Cake Walkers.”

By 1914, the Raineys were known as “The Assassinators of the Blues.” Her marriage, however, didn’t last very long. Rainey separated from her husband in 1916 and set off on a solo career. 

How She Became the Mother of the Blues

The origins of blues music can be traced back to the post-Civil War era. Birthed from the hardships of the formerly enslaved Black Americans in the deep South, the blues evolved from spirituals and work songs and became a way to air grievances while maintaining the tradition of oral storytelling through music. 

“It is hard to define this music,” Wilson wrote in his play. “Suffice it to say that it is music that breathes and touches. That connects. That is in itself a way of being separate and distinct from any other.”

If the blues were an exquisitely designed structure, Rainey was one of its architects. She was introduced to the blues in the early 1900s, years before it was defined as a music genre. Known by nicknames like “Ma Can Can” and “Black Nightingale,” Rainey captivated audiences, belting out lyrics that echoed the agony and angst of Black life in the Jim Crow era. 

Rainey’s performance style — a blend of gritty, sometimes intense moaning, call-and-response delivery and emotional turbulence — became so popular that she performed for integrated audiences decades before segregation ended.

In the early 1920s, Rainey migrated to Chicago where the blues scene electrified the city. Music producer J. Mayo Williams moved to the Windy City around the same time. Williams, one of the first Black NFL players, ended his football career and found success as a producer and music executive for Paramount Records. After signing Rainey to the label, she laid down her first blues recording in 1923, following the lead of Mamie Smith, noted as the first Black female artist to be recorded.

Paramount marketed Rainey as the “Mother of the Blues,’ a fitting title for her grandiose bravado. Weighing nearly 300 pounds, Rainey played up her stage persona with a flamboyant style of feather boas, flowy sequin gowns, flashy jewelry, gold teeth, fur-trimmed jackets, and her signature headgear.

Rainey was sharp-witted, often categorized as a shrewd, businesswoman who traveled with an entourage that included her choreographer and dancers. She worked with some of the most influential acts of the era such as T-Bone Walker and Tampa Red, and forged a friendship with Bessie Smith, whom she helped mentor. 

In 1924, Rainey recorded several collaborations with Louis Armstrong, including “Jelly Bean Blues” and “Countin’ the Blues.’’ That year, Rainey toured the South and Midwest with the Theater Owners Booking Association, backed by pianist Thomas Dorsey and the Wildcats Jazz Band.

Why Rainey Is a LGBTQ+ Pioneer 

During her five years with Paramount, Rainey recorded more than 100 songs. Among them, 1928’s “Prove It on Me Blues,” a sultry offering drizzled with not-so-hidden references to Rainey’s queerness. It is arguably one of the earliest song depictions of same-sex relationships in the blues (one of the lyrics is rumored to reference a 1925 lesbian orgy that resulted in Rainey’s arrest), and undercuts the brilliance of Rainey’s ability to subtly affirm her sexuality. 

She cleverly hid lyrics about lesbianism in earlier recordings like “Shave Em Dry” and “Bo-Weevil Blues,” but also addressed issues like domestic violence in “Black Eye Blues.”

Rainey spent much of her professional life backed by male musicians, yet she never downplayed her complicated feelings for men, namely on songs like “Trust No Man” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

The End of an Era  

Ma Rainey, Georgia Jazz Band

As the roaring ‘20s came to a close, Rainey’s career began to slow down. The music industry became one of the many casualties of the Great Depression. Subsequently, Paramount went bankrupt and ceased all recordings in 1932, ending Rainey’s time with the label. 

The brand of blues that made Rainey famous had faded in popularity as swing jazz grew into a dominant genre. Rainey continued touring for a few years, but retired in 1935. 

With her music career over, Rainey settled back in Columbus where she ran a string of theaters —  the Lyric, the Airdrome, and the Liberty Theatre. She died of a heart attack in 1939, at age 53. 

Over four decades after her death, Rainey began to receive widespread recognition. She earned a posthumous induction into the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame, and was later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the GRAMMYs Hall of Fame.

Her trailblazing blues technique inspired generations of artists including Dinah Washington, Big Mama Thornton, Melissa Etheridge, and Cyndi Lauper, who dedicated her Memphis Blues album to Rainey.

Outside of music, Rainey influenced the writings of poet Langston Hughes, and was the inspiration for the character Shug Avery in Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, The Color Purple.

In 2004, Rainey was added into the Library of Congress National Recording Register. Three years later, Rainey’s former home in Columbus was turned into a museum. The Columbus native’s legacy continues to be celebrated in her hometown, which hosted the first-annual Ma Rainey International Blues Festival in 2016. 

Skip to main content News Photos Videos ET Live Music Who Is Ma Rainey? How the ‘Mother of the Blues’ Became an Icon By Latifah Muhammad‍ 8:00 AM PST, December 18, 2020 Ma Rainey, 1923 Donaldson Collection/Getty Images Ma Rainey’s title as the “mother of the blues” is an ode to her unremitted genius in transforming the genre despite a relatively short recording career. Now streaming on Netflix, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, starring Viola Davis as the brazen blues legend and Chadwick Boseman in his final film role, has brought new attention to Rainey’s mystifying story. Adapted from August Wilson’s Broadway play of the same name, the film explores an intense 1927 Chicago recording session between Rainey and her band members, with Davis delivering an unapologetic portrayal of the singer. “Usually Ma Rainey and how she looks has been greatly stereotyped in cinematic history and in life,” the Oscar winner said in an interview with Zora. “I didn’t want [Ma] to physically look like she was apologizing for herself. I wanted her to switch. If those breasts were hanging out like that? They just hung out. She was unapologetic about her sexuality. I just feel like in playing her, I had to honor that.” Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Netflix Davis, however, is not the first to portray the icon. Whoopi Goldberg starred as the blues singer in the 2003 Broadway revival of Wilson’s play, a role originally played by Theresa Merritt in 1984, and Monique in the HBO film Bessie. “Ma Rainey was a woman who wasn’t willing to waver in what she believed in,” Monique said in 2015. “She was very strong-willed, but she had a heart that would open up to the world.” Through her pioneering contributions to blues music, Rainey has ascended to a level of posthumous celebration and well-deserved adoration. It all started in Georgia. Who Is Ma Rainey? Ma Rainey, Rabbit Foot Minstrels Gilles Petard/Redferns/Getty Images Gertrude “Ma Rainey” Pridgett was born in Columbus, Georgia, sometime around 1886 (though Census records state that she was born in Alabama in 1882). Although the details of her childhood are unclear, Rainey was one of at least four children born to Alabama natives Thomas and Ella Pridgett. At age 14, Rainey began performing in local tent shows, eventually catching the eye of musician William “Pa” Rainey, who was more than 10 years her senior. The couple wed when Rainey was 18. “Ma” and “Pa” hit the road working as traveling performers. They founded the Alabama Fun Makers company, and later joined the Rabbit Foot touring minstrel shows billed as “Black Face Song and Dance Comedians, Jubilee Singers [and] Cake Walkers.” By 1914, the Raineys were known as “The Assassinators of the Blues.” Her marriage, however, didn’t last very long. Rainey separated from her husband in 1916 and set off on a solo career. How She Became the Mother of the Blues Ma Rainey, 1923 Donaldson Collection/Getty Images The origins of blues music can be traced back to the post-Civil War era. Birthed from the hardships of the formerly enslaved Black Americans in the deep South, the blues evolved from spirituals and work songs and became a way to air grievances while maintaining the tradition of oral storytelling through music. “It is hard to define this music,” Wilson wrote in his play. “Suffice it to say that it is music that breathes and touches. That connects. That is in itself a way of being separate and distinct from any other.” If the blues were an exquisitely designed structure, Rainey was one of its architects. She was introduced to the blues in the early 1900s, years before it was defined as a music genre. Known by nicknames like “Ma Can Can” and “Black Nightingale,” Rainey captivated audiences, belting out lyrics that echoed the agony and angst of Black life in the Jim Crow era. Rainey’s performance style — a blend of gritty, sometimes intense moaning, call-and-response delivery and emotional turbulence — became so popular that she performed for integrated audiences decades before segregation ended. In the early 1920s, Rainey migrated to Chicago where the blues scene electrified the city. Music producer J. Mayo Williams moved to the Windy City around the same time. Williams, one of the first Black NFL players, ended his football career and found success as a producer and music executive for Paramount Records. After signing Rainey to the label, she laid down her first blues recording in 1923, following the lead of Mamie Smith, noted as the first Black female artist to be recorded. Paramount marketed Rainey as the “Mother of the Blues,’ a fitting title for her grandiose bravado. Weighing nearly 300 pounds, Rainey played up her stage persona with a flamboyant style of feather boas, flowy sequin gowns, flashy jewelry, gold teeth, fur-trimmed jackets, and her signature headgear. Rainey was sharp-witted, often categorized as a shrewd, businesswoman who traveled with an entourage that included her choreographer and dancers. She worked with some of the most influential acts of the era such as T-Bone Walker and Tampa Red, and forged a friendship with Bessie Smith, whom she helped mentor. In 1924, Rainey recorded several collaborations with Louis Armstrong, including “Jelly Bean Blues” and “Countin’ the Blues.’’ That year, Rainey toured the South and Midwest with the Theater Owners Booking Association, backed by pianist Thomas Dorsey and the Wildcats Jazz Band. Why Rainey Is a LGBTQ+ Pioneer During her five years with Paramount, Rainey recorded more than 100 songs. Among them, 1928’s “Prove It on Me Blues,” a sultry offering drizzled with not-so-hidden references to Rainey’s queerness. It is arguably one of the earliest song depictions of same-sex relationships in the blues (one of the lyrics is rumored to reference a 1925 lesbian orgy that resulted in Rainey’s arrest), and undercuts the brilliance of Rainey’s ability to subtly affirm her sexuality. She cleverly hid lyrics about lesbianism in earlier recordings like “Shave Em Dry” and “Bo-Weevil Blues,” but also addressed issues like domestic violence in “Black Eye Blues.” Rainey spent much of her professional life backed by male musicians, yet she never downplayed her complicated feelings for men, namely on songs like “Trust No Man” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” The End of an Era Ma Rainey, Georgia Jazz Band JP Jazz Archive/Redferns/Getty Imahes As the roaring ‘20s came to a close, Rainey’s career began to slow down. The music industry became one of the many casualties of the Great Depression. Subsequently, Paramount went bankrupt and ceased all recordings in 1932, ending Rainey’s time with the label. The brand of blues that made Rainey famous had faded in popularity as swing jazz grew into a dominant genre. Rainey continued touring for a few years, but retired in 1935. With her music career over, Rainey settled back in Columbus where she ran a string of theaters — the Lyric, the Airdrome, and the Liberty Theatre. She died of a heart attack in 1939, at age 53. Over four decades after her death, Rainey began to receive widespread recognition. She earned a posthumous induction into the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame, and was later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the GRAMMYs Hall of Fame. Her trailblazing blues technique inspired generations of artists including Dinah Washington, Big Mama Thornton, Melissa Etheridge, and Cyndi Lauper, who dedicated her Memphis Blues album to Rainey. Outside of music, Rainey influenced the writings of poet Langston Hughes, and was the inspiration for the character Shug Avery in Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, The Color Purple. In 2004, Rainey was added into the Library of Congress National Recording Register. Three years later, Rainey’s former home in Columbus was turned into a museum. The Columbus native’s legacy continues to be celebrated in her hometown, which hosted the first-annual Ma Rainey International Blues Festival in 2016. 

Mary Turner and The May 1918 Lynchings

  • This entry of Black History 365 has situations of graphic violence. Reader discretion is advised.

This true crime story I’ll be presenting in this entry Black History 365  is an event in history that I for one didn’t know about and you might not have known. The horrors of slavery and Jim Crow segregation complied an array of racial terror attacks that were brutal and some of them did make it front-page news i.e. Till murder.  This true-crime story in Black History I’m going to present was one of the many deaths that served as in the inspiration for Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit”. With that said, onto the events that occurred on the date of May 19th 1918 in Southern Georgia, United States. 

May 19th 1918 in Southern Georgia, United States was a terrifying day that ended in the gruesome murders of a group of black individuals in the form of lynchings. The most notable death was a woman by the name of Mary Turner. Not much is know about Mary Turner’s background, but what is known is that she was a soon to be a mother before her murder. 

Mary Turner, a black woman who was eight months pregnant, was lynched by a white mob from Brooks County, Georgia at  Folsom’s Bridge 16 miles north of Valdosta for speaking publicly against the lynching of her husband the day before. What I’m about to say is going to be graphic, so you’ve been warned. When the white mob captured Turner, they bound her feet, hung her upside from a tree, threw gasoline on her, and burned her clothes. The mob took their heinous actions and brutality to the extreme that led to the still alive Turner’s abdomen being torn by a mob member’s butcher knife, resulting in them cutting the unborn baby from her. Brace yourself for what you’re about to hear. Once the baby fell from Mary Turner, a member of the mob crushed the crying baby’s head with his foot. Afterward, Mrs. Turner’s body became target practice for the mob. They went to riddle her body with hundreds of bullets, killing her. 

I’m going to backtrack to what caused and led to Mary Turner’s capture and death. Mary Turner’s husband Hayes Turner had been lynched the day before. Hayes Turner was accused of being an accomplice in the killing of a notorious white farmer, Hampton Smith, who was well known for his abuse of black farmworkers. Mr. Smith would bail black people accused of petty crimes out of jail and then require them to work off the fine at his farm. Avoiding jail time to work off his fight might seem like the better deal, but Sidney Johnson, a black man working to pay off a legal fee for “rolling dice” or simply gambling confessed to killing Mr. Smith during a quarrel about being overworked. Police officers killed Johnson in a shootout. When news reached the white community, Mr. Turner and other black farm workers who had been previously accused by Mr. Smith were targeted and accused of conspiracy. 

Many black people during this time were lynched based on mere accusations of murder against white people. The same was true here, at least seven confirmed black individuals were lynched by the white mob in response to Hampton Smith’s death, inflicting community – wide racial terror and violence.

Mrs. Turner was grieving and spoke out against her husband’s death, promising to take legal action. Enraged by this, the white mob made an example of Mrs. Turner, despite having not to fear actual legal repercussions from her promise, as black people at that time were afforded judicial processing. The lynching of Turner and her unborn child from the white mob’s perspective was to maintain white supremacy, silence her, and communicate to the black community that no dissent from the racial order would be tolerated. To no surprise, no member was ever held accountable for the lynching of Mary Turner and her unborn baby. 

The grotesque execution of a black woman eight months pregnant reveals a great deal about how  black women were dehumanized with impunity. There has been a documented number of 594 racial terror lynchings between 1877 and 1950 in the state of Georgia. Brooks County had the third – highest number of documented racial terror lynchings.

Leave a like if you learned something new from this piece of history. Also, give my page a follow so you stay up to date with my future posts. As always peace and keep it real.

Sojourner Truth (Black History 365)

Welcome to Black History 365, a series where I can explain, educate and explore historical events, unsung black figures in world history, and recount the struggles and triumphs of black people worldwide. In this entry I’ll be presenting the story of Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth was a former slave, an outspoken abolitionist, and a civil rights and women’s rights activist in the nineteenth century. Her work during the civil war earned her an invitation to meet Abraham Lincoln in 1864.

Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Bomfree, a slave in Dutch-speaking Ulster County, New York. Truth was bought and sold four times, and subjected to harsh physical labor and violent punishments. In her teens, she united with another slave with whom she had five children with, beginning in 1815. Furthermore, in 1827, a year before New York’s law freeing slaves was to take effect, Truth escaped with her infant Sophia to a nearby abolitionist family, the Van Wageners. This family would buy her freedom for twenty dollars and helped Truth successfully sue for the return of her five year old son Peter who was taken from her and sold illegally into slavery in Alabama. 

The following year, Truth moved to New York City, where she would work for a local minister. Two years later in 1830, she participated in the religious revivals that were spreading throughout the state and the rest of the nation. She would find success in her preaching due to her charisma and credibility.  

It seems during the religious revivals aka the second awakening, slaves and in her case, a free slave spoke with or were called upon by the spirit to embark on a journey of freedom and truth. I spoke about this on the episode dealing with Nat Turner. In 1843, she believed that her persistent teaching was the cause for the holy spirit to call on her to preach the truth. From then on she renamed herself Sojourner Truth.

As an itinerant preacher, Truth would meet William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglas. Garrison’s anti-slavery organization encouraged Truth to give speeches about the evils of slavery. However, as with other slaves, she was illiterate. However, in 1850 she dictated what would become her autobiography – The Narrative of Sojourner Truth to which a man named Oliver Gilbert assisted in the publication. Moreover, Truth survived on sales of the book, which garnered her national recognition. In the meantime, she would continue her civil rights activism for freed and enslaved blacks and women’s rights which allowed her to come in contact with fellow women’s right activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. 

In 1851, Truth began a lecture tour that included her women’s rights peers and they would have conferences in Akron Ohio. There she would deliver her famous “Ain’t I a woman”? speech. In the speech, she challenges the prevalent notions of racial and gender inferiority and inequality by reminding listeners of her combined strength and female status. In regards to that, Truth had a falling out with Frederick Douglass, who believed the suffrage for formerly enslaved men should come before women’s suffrage, a perspective she thought should happen simultaneously. 

During the 1850s Truth settled in Battle Creek Michigan where three of her daughters lived. She continued to speak nationally and helped slaves escape to freedom. When the Civil War started, Truth urged young men to join the union cause and organized supplies for black troops. Furthermore, after the war, she was honored with an invitation to the White House and became involved with the Freedom Bureau, helping free slaves find jobs and build new lives. While in Washington D.C., she lobbied against segregation. In the mid-1860’s  a streetcar conductor tried to violently block her from riding. Truth went on to ensure his arrest and went on to win her case. In the late 1860’s she collected thousands of signatures on a petition to provide former slaves with land, though Congress never took action. Nearly blind and deaf towards the end of her life, Truth spent her final years in Michigan.  

Leave a like and give my page a follow so you can stay up to date with my future posts. As always peace and keep it real.

They deserve better #ThursdayThoughts

  • It does not matter if you’re a black American woman, Caribbean black woman, or an African black woman, justice seems to always elude the misrepresented, marginalized, and neglected women in this nation. News that is to no surprise but is always disheartening and enraging came out yesterday on the Breonna Taylor case. A Grand jury decided to not charge Louisville cops that killed Breonna Taylor. This has been a recurring theme of justice not being served to dating back to the murder of Emmit where the jury only needed an hour to make their decision to acquit his killers. In regards to that, the faces of the killers taking the lives of these black people to change, but the mentality of racism and hate remains to be passed down by generations. Protests have been ignited in the streets once again and rightly so, and the cycle of injustice continues under this land that states “liberty and justice for all. Leave a like and comment if you’d like to chime in. Also, give my page a follow so you can stay up to date with my future posts.
Breonna Taylor Commemorated with 7,000-Square-Foot Mural

The Dahomey Warriors (Black History 365)

Welcome readers, to another entry in Black History 365, a series where I explain, educate and explore historical events, unsung black figures in world history, and recount the struggles and triumphs of black people worldwide. In this entry, I will present the story behind the Dahomey Warriors from West Africa. With the recent passing of the extraordinary actor Chadwick Boseman, I felt it would be fitting to present the real life African women warriors that inspired the Black Panther film. I for one didn’t know about them, but after taking a look at the photos of the Dahomey Warriors and the fictional Dora Milaje in Black Panther, it’s hard to not notice the similarities  and the inspiration for the blueprint on how to depict the Dora Milaje army in the Marvel Universe. 

On the coast of West Africa, the Dahomey Kingdom was in what is now modern day Benin was once home to one of the most fierce and elite female warrior troops in world history. Furthermore, there are various myths surrounding the creation of this army commonly known as the Dahomey Amazons. Oral legends state that the Dahomey Warriors were descendants of Queen Hangbe who was the sister of the King of Dahomey, Akaba. Queen Hangbe was a warrior who led men and women in battle and it is believed during her reign (estimates range from 3 to 6 years) she gradually established an all – female troop called the Dahomey Warriors. 

The Dahomey Warriors were said to be formed in order to protect their Kingdom. The Kingdom Dahomey was outnumbered by their enemies and the rise of the European Slave trade forced the Kings of Dahomey to conscript women into the military with their main objective to protect the King and their Kingdom. 

At the end of the 19th century, the Dahomey kingdom found themselves battling the French. Unfortunately, they would lose their battle to the French, and nowadays there is very little evidence of the survivors. Many sources claim that the last of the Dahomey Warriors, a woman named Nawi, was discovered living in a remote village but she died at the age of 100 in 1979. On the other hand, other sources suggest that the last of the Dahomey Warriors died in the 1940s.

All in all, the Dahomey warriors have gone down in history as strategic leaders, fearless warriors, ruthless soldiers, and revered protectors. A French soldier once praised them as “warrioresses… who fight with extreme valor, always ahead of the other troops.” He continued, “They are outstandingly brave… well trained for combat and very disciplined.”

Leave a like and comment if you found this interesting and would like to chime in. Also, give my page a follow so you can stay up to date with my future posts. Lastly, if any of you use Spotify or Overcast, check out my podcast series Black History 365 : The Throw Down which is the audio version of this blog series. You can simply type in the podcast name and it will be the first one to show. As always, peace and keep it real.

 

Soaring with strength (Black History 365)

Welcome readers to another entry in Black History 365 a series where I explain, educate and explore historical events, unsung black figures in world history, and the struggles and triumphs of black people worldwide. In this entry, I want to present the story of the first licensed African American female pilot, Bessie Coleman aka “Brave Bessie,” “Queen Bess,” and “The Only Race Aviatrix in the World”.

A lot of people are familiar with aviator Amelia Earhart and Americans revere her as one of the pioneers in aviation. However, they were unsung individuals in American history and in this case pilots that have been neglected to be taught and discussed to Americans. During a time when segreation and discrimation was legal and the norm it was easier and more acceptable for white America to see a white woman achieving successful endeavors compared to a black woman who accomplished just as much as her (Earhart) and her white counterparts. 

Bessie Coleman was born in Atlanta Texas in 1939 during a time and society full of poverty, Jim Crow discrimination, and segregation. At 23 she moved to Chicago to seek her fortune, but she came across hardships and found minimal opportunity there. She became aware of the wild tales of flying exploits from returning from WWI soldiers, and this inspired her to learn and explore aviation. Another reason that can be attributed to her desires in aviation was her brother who fought in WWI. After he returned home from France with stories for Bessie he told her that her dreams of becoming a pilot were futile compared to French women who were allowed to learn to fly and Bessie couldn’t. With all her aspirations to become an aviator and create her own adventures, there was a double obstacle and stigma she had to overcome to reach her goals and that being black and a woman in America. That would not deter her from achieving her goals and she went for it with much persistence even if her journey was adverse. 

Bessie Coleman

Coleman set her sights on France to reach her dreams and while staying there she learned French. In 1920, she crossed the ocean with all her savings and the financial support of Robert Abbott, founder of the Chicago Defender, one of the first African American newspapers in the . For the next seven months, she learned to fly and in June of 1921, the Federation of Aeronautique Internationale awarded her an international pilot’s license. When she returned to the United States she was widely celebrated to the point where reporters were rushing to greet and get stories of her adventures.

african american women pilots | ELIZABETH BESSIE COLEMAN: FIRST ...

Over the next five years, Coleman performed at numerous airshows. She performed heart thrilling stunts, encouraging other African Americans to pursue flying and refusing to perform where black people were not admitted. When she tragically died in a plane accident in 1926, a famous writer and equal rights advocate Ida B. Wells presided over her funeral. An editorial in the Dallas Express stated, “There is reason to believe that the general public did not completely sense the size of her contribution to the achievements of the race as such”. 

Rocket Girls exhibit to honor pilot | Manning Live

If you’ve made it this far in the post, leave a like and comment to chime in. Give my page a follow so you can stay up to date with my future posts. As always peace and keep it real. 

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