Black History Month 2016 – Bessie Coleman

What a journey it has been! When I came up with the idea to write about Black Americans for Black History Month, I thought that I would focus on those women who made a statement in history. I decided to let inspiration take me where it would and I wound up writing about all men so far. From the creator of Black History Month, to the first black fighter pilot, to a man that fought for the rights of blacks, women and the Irish, and finally to the first Black American to play baseball in the major leagues.

For the final week of Black History Month of 2016, I’m going to blog about Bessie Coleman. What was the inspiration this time? I thought back to what my original plan for the Black History Month 2016 blog was and started researching. My interest in aviation drew me to looking at women pilots. When I started reading about Bessie Coleman, I found out there are many similarities between her and Eugene Bullard’s experiences in life and in Aviation. Then I was even more intrigued. Bullard was the first black fighter pilot that I blogged about earlier this month. Coleman and Bullard both broke through the color line, Bullard as a fighter pilot and Coleman as a woman barnstorming pilot. They both were forced to go to France to escape from the discrimination here in the US to do what they wanted to do, Bullard to make a life for himself in a place where he would be respected. Coleman went there to learn how to fly which gave her the tools to pursue her three life goals.

According to AvStop.com, Bessie Coleman was born on January 26, 1892, the 12th of 13 children. Her father, being part Indian, moved back to the Indian territory when Bessie was only seven, leaving her Mom to raise four daughters and a son. To support the family, her Mom picked cotton and took in laundry. The children all helped out and their mom encouraged them to learn as much as they could. Bessie would pick out books from the traveling library to read to her family in the evenings. This is where her quest for knowledge had begun.

Bessie finished high school and attended one semester of college before she had to drop out due to lack of finances. She moved back home for a short stint then headed to Chicago. She had a hard time finding a flight school in the United States that would teach a black person how to fly, much less a woman. So, she did some odd jobs to earn money for a trip to France, where they would teach her.

Part of her drive to fly was due to something her brother had told her. He said that there were many French women already flying planes, and because of her gender and race, she would never be allowed to fly. She eventually earned the money and took French lessons before heading over to France to learn how to fly in a Nieuport Biplane. While in France, Bullard enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. Upon his recovery from being seriously wounded in battle, he volunteered for the French Air Service and received pilot’s license #6950 on May 5, 1917. Bessie proved her brother wrong when she returned to the United States in 1921 as the first black woman pilot to earn a license.

After attaining goal number one, she would now be chasing goal number two, to become a recognized stunt and exhibition flier. Barnstorming was popular in the Roaring ’20s and was the main avenue for women pilots to pursue. It was a form of entertainment where stunt pilots performed aerial tricks. Some of these pilots went from airshow to airshow performing tricks and giving airplane rides to make a living. Again, since no one in the US would teach her the advance skills needed to be a stunt pilot, she went back to France in February of 1922 to complete the advanced flying course. Shortly after she got the training needed, she came back to the US and during Labor Day weekend in 1922 she made her first appearance in an airshow.

Her third goal was to establish a flying school where young black Americans could receive training. She started raising the funds by doing lectures and flying in airshows. In a letter to her sister, Bessie said that she was on the threshold of making this goal a reality too. But, on April 30, 1926 the day before an airshow she was going to fly in, Bessie and her mechanic, William Willis, went to do a test flight. William had some concerns while he flew the plane from Texas to Florida for the show and wanted to check things out. While doing an aerial maneuver, a wrench got caught in the flight controls, which caused it to roll and toss Bessie out of the airplane. Her mechanic was also killed when the plane subsequently crashed into the ground. Due to her death, she would not realize her final goal.

She achieved some things that most people at the time wouldn’t have been able to. Add into the equation that she was a black woman, made what she did even more remarkable. Through her accomplishments, she also became a positive role model for young girls. Her perserverance in battling discrimination helped to pave the way for other woman pilots to achieve their dream to fly, whether they were black or not.

Blogging in honor of Black History Month this year has opened my eyes to the different battles that many blacks had to fight to get where they wanted to be in life. Many people have fought against discrimination to achieve their goals when they are living in a country where they are a minority. Our country’s history seems to have made that achieving more for yourself harder on some, just because they are different.

With all of the different people in this country, we have the ability and resources to do some amazing things. We just need to support and respect each other, regardless of the color of our skin or the language that we speak.

Black History Month 2016 – Jackie Robinson

Update: I talked about reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin last week. Well, I got it from the library and started reading it last Thursday night. In the introduction, they talk about the impact of Stowe’s book on society. Novels were written at that time to bring readers into current events through a relatable medium, if people were able to get them and read them. Along with gossip, these books were big topics of discussion when women got together with each other to do domestic things like quilting and cooking. I think novels and movies are written and produced for some of the same reasons now. It can be an easier way to understand things that happen, as long as the author writes a good story about it.

Baseball is a big sport in our house. So much so, we give up most of our summer of going to the cabin to be involved in it. Both of the boys play on high school teams in the spring and travelling teams in the summer. As we were getting them signed up this year, I saw a post about Jackie Robinson on Facebook. And, that’s where the inspiration for this week’s blog came from, continuing on the theme of Black History Month.

Jackie Robinson was born on January 31, 1919. He played football, basketball, baseball and track in high school and college. He had to drop out of college due to financial hardship, but started to play football outside of college. His football career was cut short when the US entered World War II. He served as a second lieutenant in the US Army, but he never saw combat. During boot camp in 1944 he was arrested and court martialed after refusing to give up his seat and move to the back of the bus. His reputation, help from the NAACP, and black newspapers brought what happened to light and he was acquitted of the charges and given an honorable discharge. His courage and moral objections in this case would be a precursor to how he would handle his experience in Major League Baseball.

After his discharge from the Army, Jackie started playing professional baseball. Due to segregation, the blacks played on different teams than the whites did. Robinson started out playing in the negro leagues until Branch Rickey gave him the chance to play for the Montreal Royals, the farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers. After about a year on the farm club, he was moved up to play for the majors on April 15, 1947 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.

Even though Jackie was a good baseball player, he was still given a hard time because he was black. Not only by players and fans of the other teams, but from some of his own team mates. Rickey and Joe Durocher, the Dodger’s manager, wouldn’t tolerate that kind of treatment of Robinson on their team. They coached Robinson to be strong and not fight all of the hate people were showing him because of his color. His ability to do this, showed an inner strength that Robinson had about himself and the fact that he knew he was good enough to be there, regardless of what other people had to say.

The movie 42 gave us a look of what it was like for Robinson to break the color line and become the first black baseball player to play in the majors. We took Max and Mitch to see 42 in the theater when the movie originally came out. As we walked out of the theater afterwords, both of the boys commented how sad it was that everyone treated Robinson and other black players differently just because they were colored.

Other players like Curt Roberts, Ernie Banks and Willie Mays followed in his foot steps and continued to break down the color line in baseball. Curt Roberts was the first to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Branch Rickey signed him up for the team just like he did for Robinson. Rickey liked his calm personality and hoped that it would help him deal with the heckling that he would encounter. Roberts only made it for one year, as his batting average fell, he was cut the next year.

Ernie Banks said,

“I tried to get along with people who did not normally associate with blacks. I let them know there’s good and bad in every ethnic group.”

Robinson was also the first black player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962. Banks was inducted in 2011 while Mays was inducted in 1979. When they asked Robinson what he would like his legacy to be, he replied,

“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” – Robinson on his legacy.

Through the research that I have done this month into the lives of these black Americans, I have seen some very disturbing trends in how people in our country were treated. My Mom always said that we shouldn’t be mean to people because they are different from us. Didn’t we all hear that when we were younger? If we did, then why are we continuing to do it?

Robinson and other black baseball players broke the color line and played a game that was seen as all white before. Blacks and other races have had to break a color line to get to do many things that other people are able to do here in America. I think over time people have become more accepted, but they are still not truly respected by all.

Black History Month 2016 – Carter G. Woodson

After focusing on libraries, I decided to change the focus of the blog for this month. What a better topic than Black History Month, which along with Valentine’s Day, is what February is known for.

I discovered an interesting story about the origin of Black History Month. According to Wikipedia, Black History Month was originally called “Negro History Week”. It was created in 1926 by an historian by the name of Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The second week of February was picked since it was when the birthdays of former president Abraham Lincoln (February 12th) and abolitionist Frederick Douglass (February 14th) would traditionally fall on the calendar. These two important dates were celebrated together by the black community since the late 19th century.

Carter G. Woodson has been called the Father of black history because he was one of the first scholars to have studied and published journals and books on the subject. He was the son of two former slaves and his father, James, helped Union soldiers during the Civil War. James moved his family from Virginia to West Virginia upon hearing the news that they were building schools for blacks to attend there.

Carter was one of seven children from a poor family and had to instruct himself in common school subjects. He mastered them all by the age of 17. Since he had to work to help provide for his family, he couldn’t focus on getting more education until he saved some money of his own. He entered Douglass High School at the age of 20 and earned his diploma at age 22. He went on to become a teacher and worked his way up to principal at Douglass High School in 1900. While working in the education field, he founded Associated Publishers in 1920, which is the oldest African-American publishing company in the United States.

According to Wikipedia, Woodson believed that education and creating social and professional contacts among blacks and whites could reduce racism. He promoted the organized study of African-American history partly for that purpose. I think he has a great vision here. The more personal knowledge that we have about people we work and deal with, the easier it is to talk about things that aren’t working and work together to try and make them better. It might be a good way to open communication and bring all of us Americans together as one nation.

He dedicated his life to education and furthering the knowledge of the Negro in American and World History. So dedicated in fact, he never married or had any children of his own. Dorothy Porter Wesley, was an African American librarian, bibliographer and curator. She was known for building the research collection at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University into a world class one. She said about Woodson’s dedication to his work, “Woodson would wrap up his publications, take them to the post office and have dinner at the YMCA.” He would teasingly decline her dinner invitations saying, “No, you are trying to marry me off. I am married to my work”.

In recognition of his contributions to Black History, he has many places named after him throughout the United States including The Woodson Institute for Student Excellence, a public charter school here in Minneapolis.

When I was brainstorming the theme for February’s blogging, I originally thought that I’d focus on black women. But after starting my research into Black History Month, I think I’m going to open my mind and change my idea to look at all of the people that we are recognizing this month. With my experience on the first blog, it looks like I may find some interesting people to write about on this writing journey.