The story of David Ruggles : Black History 365

  • This entry for Black History 365 presents the story of David Ruggles. Leave a like if you’ve learned something new and give the page a follow so you can stay up to date with my future posts. As always, peace and keep it real.

David Ruggles was an abolitionist, businessman, journalist, hydrotherapist, and the first owner of a black bookstore in the United States. Ruggles was born in 1810 in Norwich, Connecticut, and attended the Sabbath school for the poor which began admitting people of color in 1815. Moreover, in 1827 he left Connecticut for New York City and pursued a steady job at a grocery store. He would work at that job for the next four years. Ruggles is widely accepted to be known as the first African American bookseller. While working at his bookstore, he extended many publications and prints that promoted the abolition of slavery in opposition to the efforts of the American Colonization Society which announced a black settlement in Liberia. This promotion was the catalyst for black settlement to leave the US (Mississippi to Africa) and make a significant impact on Liberia. Furthermore, Ruggles would later take on a printing job, letterpress work, picture framing, and bookbinding to augment his income. Unfortunately, in September 1835, a white anti-abolitionist mob burned down his store. 

In 1833 Ruggles began his travels across the Northeast promoting the Emancipator and Journal of Public Morals, an abolitionist weekly. Not only did Ruggles write articles and pamphlets, but he also gave lectures denouncing slavery and Liberian colonization. This gave him notoriety and made him a figure of rising prominence in abolitionist circles in the late 1830s. Equally important, when the Underground Railroad was in effect, Ruggles was active during it from 1835 to 1838. In 1835, when the New York Vigilance Committee was organized, Ruggles became the secretary of this rare interracial organization. His work with the committee led to his involvement in numerous court cases where he helped organize the legal defense against fugitive slaves who fled up North. In the first year of the organization’s existence, Ruggles intervened in over 300 fugitive slave cases. In September 1838, Ruggles took on the case of an escaped Maryland slave by the name of Frederick Washington Bailey. Later Bailey changed to what everyone knows him as today Frederick Douglas. 

    Fast forward to 1842 and David Ruggles is a shell of himself and in poor health. At this time virtually blind and his physician didn’t think he would live more than a few weeks. Lydia Maria Child, a prominent white abolitionist, learned about Ruggles’ health and brought him to Northampton, Massachusetts where the Northampton Association of Education and Industry was located. It was composed of fellow abolitionists, and they accepted him as a member. In addition, while he was recuperating, he learned about hydrotherapy. He was said to be able to diagnose ailments by his sense of touch, called “cutaneous electricity”. Ruggles’ first patients included wealthy members of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, which further enhanced his reputation as a healer. Not to mention, On January 1st, 1846, Ruggles purchased land and a building so he could conduct hydropathic treatments. He became famous in the field and modestly wealthy, offering a cure for ailments claimed by conventional medicine to be incurable. William Lloyd Garrison was one of his notable patients. Ruggles continued his profession as a hydropathist up until he began experiencing an inflamed optic nerve in his left eye in September 1849. From there he was placed in the care of his mother and sister. Three months later on December 26th, 1849, David Ruggles, died in Northampton, Massachusetts of a severe case of inflammation of the bowels.        

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.  

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Till Death to Confess: The Murder of Emmett Till (Black History 365)

This horrific story is one of the most recognized crimes in America’s racist history. I remember watching a Dave Chappelle special that he had a few years back when he made his comeback, and near the end, he brought up the true crime story that was a fuel that ignited the civil rights movements and that was the murder of Emmett Till. 

The date is August 28th, 1955, and 14-year old Emmett Till an African American kid from Chicago is brutally murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman four days earlier. His assailant, the white woman’s husband and his brother forced Till to carry a 75-pound cotton gin fan to the bank of Tallahatchie River and ordered him to take off his clothes. Following that, the two men then proceeded to beat Till nearly to death, gouged out his eyes, shot him in the head, and then threw his body tied to the cotton gin fan with barbed wire into the river. 

Who was Emmett Till? 

Till grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Southside Chicago, and though he attended a segregated elementary school, he was ill – equipped for the level of segregation he would encounter in Mississippi. Till would receive warnings from his mother to be careful when embarking the deep south due to his race. Emmett was an upbeat kid and liked pulling pranks but a place like Mississippi back then had no tolerance for expressive nature. On August 24th, 1955, while standing with his cousins and some friends outside a county store in Money Mississippi. Till was acting braggadocious saying that his girlfriend back home was white. His friends, all young black boys, disbelieved him and dared Emmett to ask the white woman sitting behind the store for a date. 

He went in, bought some candy, and on his way out was heard saying “Bye, baby” to the women. Interestingly enough there were no witnesses in the store, but Carol Bryant the woman behind the counter claimed that he grabbed her and made lewd advances towards her and topped it off with a wolf whistle at her as he walked out the store. It was his word against hers if her accusations were to ever go to court against Till, but things escalated quickly before any truth was ever to be discovered. 

Till’s Murder

Roy Bryant, the owner of the store and the woman’s husband, returned from a business trip a few days later and was informed how Emmett had allegedly spoken to his wife. Irate, he went to the home of Till’s great uncle, Moses Wright, with half-brother J.W. Milam in the early morning hours of August 28th. 

The pair demanded to see the boy. Despite pleas from Wright, they forced Emmett into their car. They drove around in the night and took their time torturing Till in a toolhouse behind Milam’s residence. Thereafter, they drove him down to the Tallahatchie River. It was three days later that Till’s corpse was recovered but he was so disfigured beyond recognition that only his great uncle Moses Wright could identify him by an initialed ring Till wore. Authorities wanted to bury the body quickly, but Till’s mother, Mamie Bradley, requested it to be sent back to Chicago. 

Emmett Till Is Anne Frank To Black America'

Open – Casket Funeral 

After his mother saw the mutilated remains decided to have an open-casket funeral so that the world could see what the racist murderers did to her son. “Jet” an African American weekly magazine published a photo of Till’s corpse, and soon the mainstream media picked up the story. Furthermore, less than two weeks after Till’s body was buried Milam and Bryant went on trial in a segregated courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi. Other than Moses Wright, there were a few witnesses who could positively identify the defendants as Till’s killers. 

On September 23rd, 1955, the all-white jury deliberated for less than an hour before issuing a verdict of “not guilty” explaining that the reason they came to that decision was that they believed the state had failed to prove the identity of the body. Subsequently, many people around the country were outraged by the decision and also by the state’s decision not to indict Milam and Bryant on the separate charge of kidnapping. 

Carol Bryant’s Confession

The Emmett Till murder trial brought to light the brutality of Jim Crow segregation in the south and was the early catalyst of the civil rights movement. In 2017, Tim Tyson the author of the book “The Blood of Emmett Till revealed that Carol Bryant recanted her testimony admitting that Till never touched, threatened, or harassed her. “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” she said. 

The living legacy of Emmett Till's casket | Facing South

Leave a like and comment if you’d like to chime in. Also give my page so you can stay up to date with my future posts. Lastly, check out my podcast “Black History 365 : The Throw Down” on Spotify or any other podcast platforms you use. As always peace and keep it real.

Nat Turner’s Rebellion(Black History 365)

Nat Turner’s rebellion was one of the largest and bloodiest slave rebellions to ever take place in the U.S., and it played a significant role in the development of antebellum slave society. Historical images depict Nat Turner’s rebellion of armed black men roaming the countryside slaying white men, women, and children. They haunted white southerners and this showed how vulnerable slave owners were when they were unprepared to face the wrath of slaves who got fed up with the torturous daily life on the plantation. With that said, following the rebellion whites throughout the South were determined to prevent any further slave uprisings. To make it possible they tightened the harsh slave codes to keep African Americans from having a freedom mindset and in their perspective a constant subservient position. To understand how this rebellion occurred we must start from the beginning starting with the man who initiated him and his fellow slaves fight for freedom.

Slaves

Nat Turner was born in 1800 into slavery in Southampton Virginia, about twenty miles from the North Carolina border. As with other slaves he lived among, Turner’s experience was the typical daily hell in Southern plantations. He could not legally marry, travel without his master’s permission, own property, or earn money. Turner would work long hard hours on the fields for meager rations of food and clothing, and if he refused to accept he would have to endure whippings or other punishment. As with other slaves, Turner was sold several times to different masters. Every time that happened he was forced to leave his family and friends and start a new day in hell in a different plantation. The brutal system of slavery that was demanding and  torturous was something Nat Turner sought to overthrow. Furthermore, he sought to not only gain his freedom but to dismantle the entire system of slavery and liberate African Americans from white tyranny. 

In his twenties, Turner became a spiritual leader among his fellow slaves including his mother and grandmother. They believed that he had been chosen by God to do great things. Then, in the 1820’s he had serious visions. He had a Moses in the burning bush moment where he believed God was commanding him to prepare himself for a great battle against evil. During the religious revivals of the 2nd Great Awakening, many Americans back then no matter their background were said to have experienced visions or believed that God spoke directly to them and in Nat Turner’s case his belief that God had destined him for a special purpose which reflected the religious fervor of his time. You see the purpose for which Turner believed in was that God had chosen him to do something extraordinary. In February 1831, a solar eclipse was said to be a sign Turner was waiting for, and from there he began his preparations for an insurrection. Fast forward to August 13th of the same year, and even though this sounds implausible, it is said that Turner saw the sun appear a blue – green coloring in the sky, and Turner and his friends took it as the final sign. 

Nat Turner | Biography, Rebellion, & Facts | Britannica

On August 22nd, 1831, Nat Turner and six fellow slaves began their attack. They planned to move systemically from plantation to plantation in Southampton and began to kill all white people connected to slavery including men, women, and children. Moreover, they started on their plantation and murdered Turner’s owners and his family. During the next 23 hours, Turner and his fellow insurgents moved throughout the country to eleven different plantations, killing 55 people and inspiring 50 – 60 enslaved to join their ranks. They would then move onto the town of Jerusalem to destroy the town and kill all the inhabitants. However, before they could reach their destination they were stopped by a heavily armed white militia. Subsequently, the Governor had called about three thousand militiamen to put down the rebellion. Seeing that they were outnumbered and over matched, Turner’s insurgents disbanded and retreated into the woods and swamps. 

Remembering the horror of Nat Turner's rebellion on this day in 1831 -  Baltimore Sun

Turner and his fellow insurgents’ anger and destruction were quickly diffused due to a white militia hunting them down and capturing them. Not only were they captured, but the white militia killed the men who had participated except for Nat Turner. Turner hid for two months in the woods of Southampton County. When he was finally captured, he was tried, convicted, and then hung and skinned. Wow, talk about brutality. In addition, fifty – four other men were executed by the state. Having said that, to terrorize the local African American population some of the militia decapitated fifteen of the captured insurgents had their heads put on stakes. Afterward, fear spread through the white population and this led to white mobs turning on blacks who played no role in the uprising. An estimated two to three hundred African Americans, most of whom were not connected to the rebellion were murdered by white mobs, possibly to keep them in line to not start another uprising. The Governor of Virginia tried to put an end to this vigilante justice, insisting that those who had participated in the rebellion should be tried and executed by the state and also reinforce the supremacy of the law for both blacks and whites. In the aftermath of the rebellion, the state legislature of Virginia considered abolishing slavery but instead voted to tighten the laws restoring blacks’ freedom in hopes of preventing any further insurrections. 

Nat Turner's Rebellion – Last Best Hope of Earth

In nearby North Carolina, several slaves were falsely accused of being involved in Turner’s rebellion and executed. Rumors began to spread that slaves in North Carolina were plotting their uprising and white mobs murdered many enslaved men, while other slaves were arrested, tried, and executed. North Carolina, like Virginia, passed new legislation further restricting the rights of both enslaved people and free blacks. The legislation also made it illegal for slaves to preach to be “insolent” to white people, to carry a gun, to hunt in the woods, to coexist with a free black or white person, and to own any type of livestock. These new codes also forbade white people from teaching an enslaved person to read. 

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The Tuskegee Airmen (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 “Tuskegee Airmen”, how they formed, the adversity they faced and the ways their contributions to aviation help pave the way for future generation of black pilots. Below is the story, so let’s get started.

The date is March 19th 1941 and the U.S. War Department established the 99th pursuit Squadron, which along with a few other squadrons combined to become better known as the Tuskegee Airmen. This aviator team consisted of America’s first black military pilots and once assembled they had to not only endure with the racism at home (America) but confront it from enemies abroad. However, despite the extra obstacles they had to overcome, they would go on to compile an exemplary record in the Mediterranean and European theaters of War World II, and that would help them pave the way for desegregation of the military. 

Tuskegee Airmen
Tuskegee Airmen receiving their commissions at the Tuskegee Army Flying School in Alabama in 1942.

Even though African Americans had fought in every major U.S. conflict dating back to the revolutionary war, they were always confined to menial jobs that segregate them from whites. As late as 1925 an Army war college report called them “ a sub-species of the human family”. The rest of the report went with degrading remarks that held no truth whatsoever. You have to understand that physiological and physical pain was one of the ways that whites had to exude their “superiority” during the Jim Crow days. The rest of the quote stated; “they perform poorly as soldiers due to their cowardly, subserviant, superstitious, amoral, and mentality inferior nature. In retaliation black advocacy groups  and newspapers attempted to counter that pseudoscience. However, as WWII approached, the militarily remained staunchly opposed both to integration and to putting blacks in positions of authority. For example, in 1940 U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Marshall Plan, remarked that now was “not the time for critical experiments which would inevitably have a highly destructive effect on morale.” With that said, the navy and war secretaries agreed with the latter writing that “leadership is not embedded in the Negro race yet” and that mixing white and black troops would be “trouble.” 

Tuskegee Airmen prepare for a flight from Tuskegee Army Airfield, 1943.
Tuskegee Airmen prepare for a flight from Tuskegee Army Airfield, 1943.

Due to Jim Crow laws, blacks were barred from flying in the U.S. Army Air Corps (The predecessor to Air Force). In fact, they rarely were allowed to enter the cockpits. Moreover, census records show that only a few dozen licensed black pilots lived in the entire U.S. prior to WWII. That number would begin to finally increase when several historically balack colleges were included in the Civilian Pilot Training Program which congress created in 1939 to ensure that pilots would be available should a war break out. Even with implemented the Air Corps remained opposed to admitting black recruits. However, in 1940 Republican presidential nominee Wendell Wilkie promised to desegregate the military, prompting his opponent, Demorcratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt , to authorize the entitlement of African American aviators, among other modest civil rights concessions aimed at keeping the blakc vote. On January 16th, 1941, it was then announced that an all-black fighter pilot unit would be trained at the Tuskegee institute in Alabama, a historically black college founded by Booker T. Washington. 

The War Department officially established the 99th Pursuit Squadron (later renamed the 99th Fighter Squadron on March 19, 1941, and it activated the unit three days later. Furthermore, before the first cadets even arrived, the program got a publicity boost when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was taken up in a plane by C. Alfred “Chief Anderson, a black aviation pioneer who served as the Tuskegee Institute chief flight instructor. Nevertheless, many top military officials, including the war secretary, reportedly expected the Tuskegee experiment to fail. As a result, local whites expressed opposition, and at one point nearly initiated a race riot following a tense confrontation with an armed black military policeman. Meanwhile, about 100 whites signed a petition lamenting that the Tuskegee Army Air Field which was built at a great expense purely so that preexisting army air fields wouldn’t have to integrate. This kind of action could be perceived as fear that might cut off the “only outlet of expansion for white citizens of Tuskegee.”

Tuskegee airmen attending a briefing in Italy in 1945. First row (l-r): Hiram E. Man, unidentified airman, Newman C. Golden, Bertram W. Wilson Jr., Samuel W. Watts Jr., Second row (l-R): Armour G. McDemoe, Howard C. Gamble, Harry T. Steward, Jr, Earle R. Lane, Wickliffe, Wyrain T. Shell, Harold M. Morris, John E. Edwards, John H. Porter, James H. Fischer, Wyrain T. Shell. Third row (l-r): William E. “Porky” Rice, Tony Weaver, Charles L. White, George Arnold Lynch, Samuel L. Washington, Calvin J. Spann, Frank N. Wright.
Tuskegee airmen attending a briefing in Italy in 1945. First row (l-r): Hiram E. Man, unidentified airman, Newman C. Golden, Bertram W. Wilson Jr., Samuel W. Watts Jr., Second row (l-R): Armour G. McDemoe, Howard C. Gamble, Harry T. Steward, Jr, Earle R. Lane, Wickliffe, Wyrain T. Shell, Harold M. Morris, John E. Edwards, John H. Porter, James H. Fischer, Wyrain T. Shell. Third row (l-r): William E. “Porky” Rice, Tony Weaver, Charles L. White, George Arnold Lynch, Samuel L. Washington, Calvin J. Spann, Frank N. Wright.

The airmen lived primarily in primitive tents in the inaugural class of Tuskegee pilots studied subjects such as radio code, navigation and meteorology. They also took to the air for more hands -on learning. In regards to that, of the 13 original cadets, five made it to graduation in March 1942, including Benjamin O. Davis Jr. who would eventually become the units commander. More graduations quickly followed, and the program was expanded to comprise not only the 99th Fighter Squadron, but also the 100th 301 st and 302nd fighter squadron, which together made up the 332nd Fighter Group. (Also considered Tuskegee Airmen are the black bomber pilots of the 477th Bombardment group, as well as all support personnel.) Overall, 922 pilots completed the Tuskegee training program, nearly half of whom were shipped overseas, where they gained fame for their unparalleled success at escorting bombers on long – range raids deep into Nazi – controlled terrority. They would fly some 1,600 missions and destroying over 260 enemy aircraft, the Tuskegee Airmen helped lay the foundation for Harry S. Truman’s decision  to desegregate the armed forces in 1948. 

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