Black History Month Reflections – Week 4
Final Week’s Features
Marta Moreno Vega is the founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI). She led El Museo del Barrio, is one of the founders of the Association of Hispanic Arts, and founded the Network of Centers of Color and the Roundtable of Institutions of Colors. Vega is also a visual artist and an Afro-Latina activist.
She was one of the founders of the Association of Hispanic Arts (AHA), which was created in 1975. AHA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the work of Hispanic artists.
In 1976, she founded and became the Director of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) in New York City. The CCCADI is an international nonprofit dedicated to maintaining the history and traditions of the African diaspora in the Americas and promoting social activism, among other things. Vega was inspired to create the CCCADI after realizing that were was limited information about the African and Native cultures from the Caribbean and Latin American countries.
In addition to Dr.Vega being a Yoruba Priestess, she is also a lead researcher in the culture and religion. Vega has been a professor at many universities throughout America during her career after the GALCI program at Hunter College. Vega has taught at El Centro de Estudios Avanzados Puertorriquenos de Puerto Rico y El Caribe in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was an adjunct professor at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, and an adjunct professor in New York University’s Department of Arts and Public Policy.
Vega founded the program, Creative Justice Initiative, whose focus is to allow a fluid creative process of gathering thought makers essentially to create thoughtful and intentional change.
Denyce Graves is an opera singer from Washington, D.C.
She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1995 and has appeared at many opera houses. Though her repertoire is extensive, her signature parts are the title roles in Carmen and Samson et Dalila. Graves also made many appearances on the children’s television series, “Between the Lions” where she used her talents to teach children sounds of words. On January 20, 2005, she sang the patriotic song “American Anthem” during the 55th Presidential Inauguration, between the swearing-in ceremonies of Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush for their second terms in office.
Graves sang “America the Beautiful” and “The Lord’s Prayer” at the Washington National Cathedral during a memorial service for the victims of 9/11 on September 14, 2001, attended by President Bush, members of Congress, other politicians and representatives of foreign governments. In 2003, Graves performed in front of a live audience at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia for a television special, Denyce Graves: Breaking the Rules. In 2005, she hosted the radio show Voce di Donna (Voice of a Lady) on Vox!, the vocal classical music channel of XM Satellite Radio, on which she interviewed various opera singers. Graves often was heard on The Tony Kornheiser Show radio program with her rendition of the “Mailbag Theme”. In 2005, she sang the lead role in the world premiere of Margaret Garner, an opera by Richard Danielpour and Toni Morrison.
Graves performing at the PBS National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C., 2009. In May 2010, Graves performed a concert with tenor Lawrence Brownlee in the United States Supreme Court Building for the Supreme Court justices. On June 15, 2013, Graves sang in the world premiere of Terence Blanchard’s and Michael Cristofer’s boxing opera, Champion with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. In 2014, a recording of We Shall Overcome arranged by composer Nolan Williams, Jr. and featuring Graves was among several works of art, including the poem A Brave and Startling Truth by Maya Angelou, sent to space on the first test flight of the spacecraft Orion. On September 25, 2020, Graves sang at the US Capitol as her friend Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s casket was lying in state. Ginsburg was a devoted fan of opera.
James Richmond Barthe was an African-American sculptor associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Barthé is best known for his portrayal of black subjects. The focus of his artistic work was portraying the diversity and spirituality of man. Barthé once said: “All my life I have been interested in trying to capture the spiritual quality I see and feel in people, and I feel that the human figure as God made it, is the best means of expressing this spirit in man.
Barthé showed a passion and skill for drawing from an early age. His mother was, in many ways, instrumental in his decision to pursue art as a vocation. Barthé once said: “When I was crawling on the floor, my mother gave me paper and pencil to play with. It kept me quiet while she did her errands. At six years old I started painting. A lady my mother sewed for gave me a set of watercolors. By that time, I could draw very well.” Barthé continued making drawings throughout his childhood and adolescence, under the encouragement of his teachers. His fourth grade teacher, Inez Labat, from the Bay St. Louis Public School, influenced his aesthetic development by encouraging his artistic growth. When he was only twelve years old, Barthé exhibited his work at the Bay St. Louis Country Fair.
In 1924, Barthé donated his first oil painting to a local Catholic church to be auctioned at a fundraiser. Impressed by his talent, Reverend Harry F. Kane encouraged Barthé to pursue his artistic career and raised money for him to undertake studies in fine art. At age 23, with less than a high school education and no formal training in art, Barthé applied to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago, and was accepted by the latter.
Jessie Redmon Fauset was an African-American editor, poet, essayist, novelist, and educator.
In 1919 Fauset left teaching to become the literary editor for The Crisis, founded by W. E. B. Du Bois of the NAACP. She served in that position until 1926. Fauset became a member of the NAACP and represented them in the Pan African Congress in 1921. After her Congress speech, the Delta Sigma Theta sorority made her an honorary member.
In 1926, Fauset left The Crisis and returned to teaching, this time at DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City, where she may have taught a young James Baldwin. She taught in New York City public schools until 1944. In 1929, when she was 47, Fauset married for the first time, to insurance broker Herbert Harris. They moved from New York City to Montclair, New Jersey, where they led a quieter life. Harris died in 1958. She moved back to Philadelphia with her step-brother, one of Bella’s children. Fauset died on April 30, 1961, from heart disease and is interred at Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, Pennsylvania.
Her literary work helped sculpt African-American literature in the 1920s as she focused on portraying a true image of African-American life and history. Her black fictional characters were working professionals which was an inconceivable concept to American society during this time. Her story lines related to themes of racial discrimination, “passing”, and feminism. From 1919 to 1926, Fauset’s position as literary editor of The Crisis, a NAACP magazine, allowed her to contribute to the Harlem Renaissance by promoting literary work that related to the social movements of this era. Through her work as a literary editor and reviewer, she discouraged black writers from lessening the racial qualities of the characters in their work, and encouraged them to write honestly and openly about the African-American race. She wanted a realistic and positive representation of the African-American community in literature that had never before been as prominently displayed. Before and after working on The Crisis, she worked for decades as a French teacher in public schools in Washington, DC, and New York City. She published four novels during the 1920s and 1930s, exploring the lives of the black middle class. She also was the editor and co-author of the African-American children’s magazine The Brownies’ Book. She is known for discovering and mentoring other African-American writers, including Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, and Claude McKay.
Percy Lavon Julian was an American research chemist and a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. He was the first to synthesize the natural product physostigmine and was a pioneer in the industrial large-scale chemical synthesis of the human hormones progesterone and testosterone from plant sterols such as stigmasterol and sitosterol. His work laid the foundation for the steroid drug industry’s production of cortisone, other corticosteroids, and birth control pills.
He later started his own company to synthesize steroid intermediates from the wild Mexican yam. His work helped greatly reduce the cost of steroid intermediates to large multinational pharmaceutical companies, helping to significantly expand the use of several important drugs, including synthesizing cortisone.
Julian is a “part of a small group” of African-American Inventors and Scientists; he received more than 130 chemical patents. He was one of the first African Americans to receive a doctorate in chemistry. He was the first African-American chemist inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, and the second African-American scientist inducted (after David Blackwell) from any field.
After graduating from DePauw University in Indiana, Julian wanted to obtain his doctorate in chemistry, but learned it would be difficult for an African American to do so. Instead, he obtained a position as a chemistry instructor at Fisk University. In 1923 he received an Austin Fellowship in Chemistry, which allowed him to attend Harvard University to obtain his M.S. However, worried that white students would resent being taught by an African American, Harvard withdrew Julian’s teaching assistantship, making it impossible for him to complete his Ph.D. there.
In 1929, while an instructor at Howard University, Julian received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to continue his graduate work at the University of Vienna, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1931. He studied under Ernst Späth and was considered an impressive student. Europe gave him freedom from the racial prejudices that had stifled him in the States. He freely participated in intellectual social gatherings, attended the opera, and found greater acceptance among his peers. Julian was one of the first African Americans to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry, after St. Elmo Brady and Edward M.A. Chandler.
Madam C.J. Walker was
an African American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political and social activist. She is recorded as the first female self-made millionaire in America in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Walker made her fortune by developing and marketing a line of cosmetics and hair care products for black women through the business she founded, Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. She became known also for her philanthropy and activism. She made financial donations to numerous organizations and became a patron of the arts. Villa Lewaro, Walker’s lavish estate in Irvington, New York, served as a social gathering place for the African-American community. At the time of her death, she was considered the wealthiest African-American businesswoman and wealthiest self-made black woman in America. Her name was a version of “Mrs. Charles Joseph Walker,” after her third husband.
Walker’s method of grooming was designed to promote hair growth and to condition the scalp through the use of her products. The system included a shampoo, a pomade stated to help hair grow, strenuous brushing, and applying iron combs to hair; the method claimed to make lackluster and brittle hair become soft and luxuriant. Walker’s product line had several competitors. Similar products were produced in Europe and manufactured by other companies in the United States, which included her major rivals, Annie Turnbo Malone’s Poro System from which she derived her original formula and later, Sarah Spencer Washington’s Apex System.
Between 1911 and 1919, during the height of her career, Walker and her company employed several thousand women as sales agents for its products. By 1917, the company claimed to have trained nearly 20,000 women. Dressed in a characteristic uniform of white shirts and black skirts and carrying black satchels, they visited houses around the United States and in the Caribbean offering Walker’s hair pomade and other products packaged in tin containers carrying her image. Walker understood the power of advertising and brand awareness. Heavy advertising, primarily in African-American newspapers and magazines, in addition to Walker’s frequent travels to promote her products, helped make Walker and her products well known in the United States.
In addition to training in sales and grooming, Walker showed other black women how to budget, build their own businesses, and encouraged them to become financially independent. In 1917, inspired by the model of the National Association of Colored Women, Walker began organizing her sales agents into state and local clubs. The result was the establishment of the National Beauty Culturists and Benevolent Association of Madam C. J. Walker Agents (predecessor to the Madam C. J. Walker Beauty Culturists Union of America).
Paul Laurence Dunbar was an American poet, novelist, and short story writer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in Dayton, Ohio, to parents who had been enslaved in Kentucky before the American Civil War, Dunbar began writing stories and verse when he was a child. He published his first poems at the age of 16 in a Dayton newspaper, and served as president of his high school’s literary society.
Dunbar’s popularity increased rapidly after his work was praised by William Dean Howells, a leading editor associated with Harper’s Weekly. Dunbar became one of the first African-American writers to establish an international reputation. In addition to his poems, short stories, and novels, he also wrote the lyrics for the musical comedy In Dahomey (1903), the first all-African-American musical produced on Broadway in New York. The musical later toured in the United States and the United Kingdom. Suffering from tuberculosis, which then had no cure, Dunbar died in Dayton, Ohio, at the age of 33.
Much of Dunbar’s more popular work in his lifetime was written in the “Negro dialect” associated with the antebellum South, though he also used the Midwestern regional dialect of James Whitcomb Riley. Dunbar also wrote in conventional English in other poetry and novels. Since the late 20th century, scholars have become more interested in these other works.