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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Olympians Past and Present


The very nature of the Olympics means that there are always firsts (fastest, highest, longest), athletes overcoming obstacles (literally and figuratively), personal stories of hard work and triumph. There are also stories of disappointments, pain, and missed opportunities.  The 2012 Olympics in London, England marks the 100 year anniversary since the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden when the “World’s Fastest Human” was not able to participate due to injuries.  Howard P. Drew, who set or tied every world record in his field between 1913 to 1916, was aiming for a record in the 100 meter semi-final when he sustained an injury on the track. He planned to compete once again in the 1916 Olympics, which were cancelled due to World War I.

Jesse Owen & his wife, Ruth, returning from the 1936 Olympics
The earliest African Americans to achieve firsts in the Olympics are George Coleman Poage, the first African American to win a medal at the Olympics in 1904; John Baxter Taylor, the first black person to win a gold medal at the games, 1904; William DeHart Hubbard, the first person to win an individual medal in 1924; Jesse Owens who was the first black person to win four gold medals and his teammate, Ralph Metcalf who won two gold medals in 1936; and finally Alice Marie Coachman who, in 1948, became the first black woman to win a gold medal at the games. 

Gabby Douglas, 16, from Virginia Beach, VA
The London Olympics is sure to produce many such athletic and human interest stories such as those referenced above. Dominique Dawes was the first African American female gymnast to go to the Olympics and, following in her footsteps, is The Flying Squirrel, Gabby Douglas.  

Another athlete to follow is Lex Gillette, the blind long jumper, who will be competing for the USA in the Paralympics.
Lex Gillette & guide, Wesley Williams












 For more stories about female athletes overcoming incredible odds to get to the Games, watch the videos about these young Muslim women competing for various African nations despite living in the African Diaspora.

The Sudan Female Running Team



Monday, July 23, 2012

Urban Farming.....who knew!


African Americans, like any other migrant or immigrant group moving from rural, farming communities to cities, have over time lost touch with their rural roots and rural knowledge and skills. In addition, a combination of the economic downturn  in 2008, the continued explosion in the health problems of urban dwellers, blight in the urban core of former manufacturing centers in what is now called the rust belt, and other factors has lead to a resurgence of people planting vegetable gardens and orchards in many cities in America.  

Two people responsible for educating the public on the importance of urban farming and implementing programs in support of this work are First Lady Michelle Obama and Urban Farmer Extraordinaire Will Allen. Michelle Obama turned a portion of the White House gardens into a place where not only could the White Chef and Kitchen use the bounty, but a place where children could be brought in to plant, harvest, learn about, and eat homegrown healthy food. This demonstration garden has set an example for home gardeners around the country. To highlight the successes of the White House gardens and kitchen, Mrs. Obama has written a book, American Grown, which can be purchased here.

Will Allen grew up on a farm in Rockville, Maryland, went off to college and a brief basketball career, before returning to his wife’s hometown, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and pursuing a corporate career.  The parents of Allen’s wife, Cindy, owned a farm just south of Milwaukee where Allen did some farming, selling the excess produce at farmers’ markets.  

 The beginning of what was to become Will Allen’s life’s work occurred when he purchased a derelict nursery. Thus began Growing Power, Inc., an organization dedicated to bringing agricultural knowledge to the inner city.

Growing Power has set up urban farms in a number of American cities, involving youth, the elderly, the poor, the enthusiastic. People have learned about aquaponics, composting, bee keeping, vertical integration in farm systems. Research is being conducted by locals, amateurs, and food scientists alike. There are regional training centers around the country

Will Allen with youth
Will Allen speaks around the country to community groups establishing urban farms, such as the seven-acre Beacon Food Forest in Seattle, the largest of its kind in the US. His enthusiasm has encouraged the US Department of Agriculture in its efforts to bring healthy, fresh produce to fresh food “deserts”. University students, such as those at the University of Washington, have created on-campus farms. This interest in urban farming is found in apartment window boxes and rooftops; empty lots; home renters’ and owners’ gardens; community allotments; derelict factories.  Will Allen has sown the seeds of empowerment, helping people re-learn that most basic of human skills: how to properly feed oneself and one’s community.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In Appreciation, In Memoriam


BlackPast.org is more than an encyclopedia and repository documenting, describing, and archiving information, stories, data, and analysis of African American History and History of the Global African Diaspora. It is a community of committed, caring individuals coming together  because they all share a dedication to uncovering, preserving, and describing the history of the African American people as part of the larger story of the United States. 

Thomas J. Pressly
Newspaper Clipping
Thomas J. Pressly, a longtime University of Washington historian  was one such academic who was an early supporter of BlackPast.org. The article he wrote for BlackPast.org, titled “Eyewitness to Terror: The Lynching of a Black Man in Obion County, Tennessee in 1931", was a reminder of the racial violence that far too often marred this nation's past. Dr. Pressly's essay describes one example of this violence and his reaction to it when he was just 12 years old. Thomas J. Pressly shared that story with many friends and colleagues over the years; in 2008 he wrote about it for the first time in BlackPast.org. Nearly 10,000 people have read his account since it was posted.  

Although Thomas J. Pressly was a significant historian of the Civil War and gave hundreds of presentations, the last time he was on television was in 2010 when a team from the BBC interviewed him about his article in BlackPast.org. He was tickled by the fact that the most important television interview in his life was not about his academic writings but instead on his article for the website.  


Dr. Pressly's bio on the BlackPast.org website reads: “Thomas J. Pressly (PhD., Harvard, 1950) is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Washington. A member of the faculty from 1949 until his retirement in 1986, and a specialist in Southern and Civil War history, Professor Pressly’s career spanned nearly four decades. During that period he taught nearly 20,000 students. His many publications include Americans Interpret Their Civil War (1954) and Voices from the House Divided: The United States Civil War as Personal Experience (1995). Professor Pressly lives in Seattle, Washington.” He passed away here on April 3, 2012. Readers may wish to learn more about him by reading his obituary in the Seattle Times and in the tribute written by his UW colleague, Richard Kirkendall. 
Tom Pressly & Richard Kirkendall

To give a gift to the University of Washington in Tom Pressly's honor, please visit this link or contact the History Department at 206-543-5790. To give a gift in memory of Tom Pressly to BlackPast.org, please visit this link.

We at BlackPast.org will always remember Thomas J. Pressly as part of our family.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Timbuktu: Sadness and Outrage


The Sahara has been home to 1100 years of libraries and bibliophiles. From Chinguetti 
Examining manuscripts from Timbuktu
in Mauritania to Timbuktu in Mali.
  
In 2007, Malian historian Ismaël Diadié Haïdara was predicting a resurgence of Timbuktu’s cultural place in today’s world. He reported there had been renewed interest in the ancient documents, manuscripts, and books found in the homes of many Malian citizens as well as in mosques and other locations. What a turn-around and sad state of affairs today! The online news source allAfrica reported several days ago on the current attacks by militant Islamists on many of these ancient sites in Timbuktu
Library of Manuscripts, Timbuktu, Mali
The militant Islamists intend to destroy all the  ancient mosques and monuments. They believe these 'shrines' are not a component of Sharia law. Housed in these mosques are valuable manuscripts, part of the cultural heritage of Mali. Many of the ancient sites under attack in Timbuktu are  UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Concerns have been expressed in the UN and the Islamists have been warned. We all need to express our outrage at this travesty. Back in April, the New York Times  reported that the UN had expressed concern over books and documents being stolen by these invading militants.

This conflict in Mali is complicated. While seemingly out of the blue, some of the tension can be traced back to 2009 when the government of Mali allowed then dictator of Libya, Muammar Qaddafi, to take over and lease farm land belonging to villages and local farmers. After the Libyan Revolution, many Qaddafi supporters fled to Mali.  Many of these refugees were members of  minority groups in Libya that had been protected by Qaddafi in exchange for support. These included Tuaregs who are also Malians and, it is believed, some of the militant Islamists.

For more background on Timbuktu, click here.
The Ahmed Baba Institute Library interior, Mali

The Smithsonian has an online exhibit on Ancient Manuscripts from the Desert Libraries of Timbuktu: be sure to check it out, it is fabulous.

 While looking for information on the above topics, I came across Mmofra: a non-profit organization in Ghana “dedicated to enriching the cultural and intellectual lives of all children in Ghana. On their website is a blog post about the ancient libraries of the Sahara.There is interesting information on their website.

An addendum: thanks to Holland Cotter of the New York Times for his article Imperiled Legacy

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Welcome to the first post at BlackPast.org’s new Blog.

The Blog is a new feature to BlackPast.org.  The primary blogger is me, Hazel. The topics in blog posts may cover current affairs, art exhibits, book reviews, science, farming, any topic that brings into focus contributions to our community by African Americans and Africans in the Diaspora.  Guest contributors to the blog will visit and comment on a variety of topics.

I expect that the Blog will evolve and change over time, but the focus will always be to highlight new ideas and information that both refer back to BlackPast.org's content and bring in new voices, information, and sources. The BlackPast.org website contains a fabulous collection of photos, some of which come with minimal information. From time to time, I will post some of those photos and ask your help with any identifying information you may have. I plan to cover art, music, literature, history. This Blog is meant to be informative, not combative. Readers have the option to email information, comments, suggestions to me, but remember to be respectful of other readers and opinions.

Frederick C. Flemister, Self-portrait
Several years ago, I heard a story on NPR about the international art extravaganza in Miami, Art Basel. The year was 2008 and the reporter was commenting on the number of African Americans purchasing art by African Americans and what a new, big trend this was. One of the artists featured prominently was Frederick C. Flemister: I was captivated by the self-portrait shown left and went hunting for more information about him. There is very little available. Two website entries have minimal information. I have also been able to only come across one other painting by him: Man with a Brush (below right). 

If anyone has any more information, please let me know! For more information on the Harlem Renaissance, check out BlackPast.org’s information links here. 

Frederick C. Flemister, Man with a Brush
The Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue, WA has an exhibit of African American Quilts  from the collection of Corrine Riley:  any visitors to the Seattle area between now and October 2012 should be sure to plan a visit. Over the last several years, the Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle has displayed the famous quilts of Gees Bend, Alabama: these women have created stunning works, both abstract in design and traditional. At the link above, be to scroll down passed the quilts to read the copy about this community. As you look at these quilts, also check out the website of The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. They had a recent exhibit on Kuba Textiles and the Woven Art of Central Africa. There are many interesting ideas to explore in looking at similarities in design concepts between the quilts and the various woven textiles. The catalogue that accompanied the exhibit is well worth purchasing.

Kuba Cloth