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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Quite Frankly, We Would Love Your Support!

This blog is a companion to BlackPast.org, and is another tool to explore and appreciate all the information on the website. The blog offers an opportunity to see how the reference material, insights, and opinions of the website can relate to other contexts. BlackPast.org has been a fulfilling experience and a labor of love of all the many volunteers and staff who have contributed. Even though the website relies heavily on the goodwill of its volunteers, cold, hard cash is still necessary to maintain and improve the site. Below is the Official BlackPast.org Fact Sheet, compiled by Quintard Taylor, the Scott and Dorothy Bullitt Professor of American History at the University of Washington, Seattle.  I am hoping that once you have read through it, you will consider making a donation to this very valuable 501(c)3. Thanks.

The future:school children who will benefit from BlackPast.org
BlackPast.org (www.blackpast.org), founded on February 1, 2007, is broadly conceived to provide reference information on people of African ancestry in the United States and around the world. BlackPast.org is supported by a volunteer staff of twelve and nearly 500 volunteer contributors from six continents.  The website has more than 10,000 pages and is free and ungated.  New features are added regularly. 

BlackPast.org includes:
1)      An online encyclopedia featuring nearly 3,000 entries which describe people, places and events in African American History, African American History in the West, and global African history. 
2)      The complete text of more than 300 speeches by African Americans and other people of African ancestry from 1789 to 2009. 
3)      More than 120 full text Primary Documents—court decisions, laws, organizational statements, treaties, government reports and executive orders.
4)      Nine major timelines that show the history of people of African ancestry from five million B.C.E. to today. 
5)      Nine bibliographies listing more than 5,000 major books categorized by author, title, subject, and date of publication.   
6)      Six “Gateway” Pages with links to digital archive collections, African and African American museums and research centers, genealogical research websites and more than 200 other website resources on African American History, African American History in the West, and global African history.
7)      Perspectives Online Magazine which features commentary of important but little known events in black history often written by the individuals who participated in or witnessed them.  To date more than 100 articles have appeared.           
8)      Special Features include The Blog Roll, TheBarack Obama Page, Major Black Officeholders since 1641, The Black National Anthem, 101 African American Firsts, the LGBTQ page, By the Numbers and links to all of the major newspapers, magazines, and journals of African America, Africa, and the West Indies.
BlackPast.org Website Statistics:

Total Visits for 2007 (First year)
455,963
Total Visits for 2009
 1,982,442
Total Visits for 2011
2,870,568

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Woman Who Unwittingly Made & Affected History

Henrietta Lacks. She was living just an ordinary life when the seemingly ordinary event of illness had extraordinary results that would forever change science and cancer research.

Henrietta Lacks
Dr. Clarence Spigner has written a powerful essay for BlackPast.org entitled Henrietta Lacks and the Debate Over Ethics in Bio-medical Research. Dr. Spigner's essay provides an overview of Mrs. Lacks' life, the treatment of her cancer, and the subsequent cancer research based on the cancerous cells taken from her body at the time of diagnosis. The importance of her cancerous cells became apparent when, unlike other failed attempts at propagating cells for research, her cells (called HeLa cells) not only lived, but self-propagated at an extraordinary rate. The journalist Rebecca Skloot's work "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew." (excerpted from the website of Rebecca Skloot, referenced above). To purchase a copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, click on the book title and you will support BlackPast.org (thank you!). Ms. Skloot has made efforts to assist the family of Henrietta Lacks. Information on the family may be found at The Henrietta Lacks Foundation and also The Lacks Family website.

Addendum: The New York Times published an opinion piece by Rebecca Skloot on Sunday March 24 2013 on the continuing issues with donor and family consent. To read this piece, click on this link.

HeLa cells dividing
HeLa cells showing other diseases
Interest in Henrietta Lacks as a person and as an object lesson in the importance of ethical research,  has not diminished  over time. Her cells continue to be used in research. One of the researchers, Dr. Paul Andrews, University of Dundee in Scotland, has taken amazing photos of HeLa cells, including the one at the left. Many other researchers have taken photos such as the one above right.
Further attestation to the enduring legacy of Henrietta Lacks is the establishment of a new high school in Vancouver, Washington: the Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School!
Henrietta Lacks Health & Bioscience High School


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Lincoln: the man, the movie, the rest of us

President Abraham Lincoln
The recent release of Steven Spielberg's movie  Lincoln, has engendered renewed interest in the 16th President of the United States and the issues of slavery and race and the ongoing impact of the Civil War on our civic life today. The film is based on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and its focus is the drama surrounding adoption of The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and its subsequent grouping with related amendments that became known as The Reconstruction Amendments.

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley
The film brings to light major players (e.g. Thad Stevens) and minor characters (e.g. Charles Sumner), highlighting the geographic, socioeconomic, and racial tensions in the country. Two people central to this drama are Mary Todd Lincoln and her companion Elizabeth Keckley (a link to Keckley's book can be found here) and their importance/influence in Lincoln's life.

A reading of three speeches over a four year period highlights the nature of these divisions and elucidates Lincoln's clear and profound thinking vs the contorted thought process of those opposed to acknowledging the common and equal humanity of all people: Alexander Stephens's Cornerstone Speech; Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation; and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.

Here are some more links to websites which offer information and ideas for exploration in various contexts: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and information from the White House archives.

Lincoln the movie
Historical dramas can be excellent teaching tools and a jumping off point for further reading and conversation. To continue exploring this topic with others who have seen the movie, visit LincolnMovie on Facebook.

A great number of novels have been written about the Civil War, not all of equal quality and value. Four choices to set people thinking are: Black Flower by Howard Bahr; March by Geraldine Brooks; The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara ; and Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks. A work of non-fiction sure to raise questions is America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation by David Goldfield. Any of these books may be purchased through this link here and BlackPast.org will benefit.

And finally, for a stunning collection of photographs of African Americans who fought in the Civil War (below), see a story about Ronald Coddington's book African American Faces of the Civil War, An Album at  this link here.
John & Isaiah Owens of the 60th U.S.Colored Infantry