Monday, February 28, 2011


Black History Month is coming to an official end, but the study of history never ends, and thanks to resources such as the Library of Congress African American History Month collection, we will never run out of interesting avenues to explore.

The Library of Congress African American History Month collection provides an endlessly fascinating array of historical photographs, an online exhibition from the Smithsonian Museum of African Art titled "African Mosaic: Celebrating a Decade of Collecting," and online exhibits of materials related to arts and culture, civil rights, government & politics, religion, and sports.

Click here to read about the history of African American History Month and the work of Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) and the first Negro History Week in 1925.

Note, in particular, a link to the extraordinary collection of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, who over the span of 40 years collected a variety of important documents, rare artifacts, and works of art, such as an early version of the Emancipation Proclamation to correspondence between Malcolm X and Alex Haley.

The Kinsey collection includes items such as an 1854 letter, written by one A.M. Crawford, the owner of a young slave named Frances, offering her for sale. (This letter can be viewed at the top of this posting. Click on the image to enlarge it.) The letter states: "She is the finest chamber-maid [sic] I have ever seen in my life." In the letter, Crawford goes on to say: "She does not know that she is to be sold. I could not tell her. I own all her family." Crawford is aware of the heartbreak the separation will cause, but his only concern is for making the sale and avoiding a "distressing leave-taking." The proceeds from the sale are earmarked for the construction of a new stable.

This year's theme for African American History Month, chosen by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, was "African Americans and the Civil War." (See This theme "...honors the efforts of people of African descent to destroy slavery and inaugurate universal freedom in the United States."

The Association "...urges all Americans to study and reflect on the value of their contribution to the nation."

Friday, February 25, 2011


With thanks to Bryan Johnson of the English Department, who is responsible for the text reproduced here:

"Please join us for the spring 'Samford Nobel Prize Big Read.' To refresh your memory, in fall semesters we read a work by a past Nobel Prize winner in literature, and in the spring we take on the newest laureate, announced in October."

"This semester we’ll read Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat
(2002)...The Feast of the Goat concerns chiefly the downfall of a Latin American dictator and the specific experiences of different agents of that downfall. As Walter Kirn writes in his NY Times review, Vargas Llosa gives us 'the lowdown on organized evil in high places.'"

The bookstore will be ordering fifteen copies of the novel. Dr. Johnson will hold spots for the first fifteen people to email him ( The discussion group will meet on Wednesday, April 6 at 3:00, Brooks 105.

Source: Dr. Bryan Johnson

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


We have yet another great trial to tell you about: the Small Business Reference Center™, providing "up-to-date information on relevant topics from starting a company, operations management and sales to growing or rescuing a business. The database contains nearly 400 full-text periodicals and over 450 full-text reference books." Available until 6/30/11.

Monday, February 21, 2011


In January 2010, the New York Times wrote a review of the new International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. It is housed in the very same Woolworth building, the same "mundane luncheonette," where four 17-year-old freshmen at the all-black Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina sat down on Feb. 1, 1960 and attempted to order some food

That simple act in the American South set off "....[one of the] greatest political movements of the twentieth century...a cataclysmic social transformation."

Read about it here:

Friday, February 18, 2011


"Against all odds, African-American chemist Percy Julian became one of the great scientists of the 20th century."

There is a wealth of information about the work of Percy Julian on this PBS website based on the NOVA series that featured Julian's story and work: this PBS website.

Dr. Percy Julian was born in 1899 in Montgomery, Alabama into a family "...that believed absolutely in education." (Source

He was a talented student, but at that time the city provided no public education for black students after eighth grade. He persisted in pursuing his education, however, and was admitted to DePauw University in Indiana as a "sub-freshman," taking remedial classes to make up for the foundational courses denied him in Montgomery's public system. In 1920, he graduated first in his class with Phi Beta Kappa honors.

He became a chemistry instructor at Fisk University, and in 1923 received a fellowship that took him to Harvard to complete his masters degree. Subsequently, he again taught at the university level before traveling to Austria to obtain his PhD in chemistry from the University of Vienna in 1931.

He returned to DePauw to continue his research. His original interest was investigating plant products, especially traditional medicinal plants such as the African calabar bean. In 1935, in collaboration with Josef Pikl, he first synthesized from this plant a chemical called physostigmine, or esserine, which had properties allowing for the treatment of glaucoma by reducing pressure inside the eyeball. This brought him international scientific acclaim, but DePauw would not offer him a professorship.

Perry was interviewed at DuPont and numerous other chemical companies, all of which rejected him once they learned that he was black. He was eventually offered the position of Director of Research at The Glidden Company, a paint manufacturer now part of Imperial Chemical Industries. At Glidden, he was supervising white chemists ten years before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line.

He devised methods for using soybean protein to improve water-based paints, and as a central ingredient in the fire retardant Aer-O-Foam. Just as significantly, Perry and his Glidden team discovered that soybean protein could be used to make human hormones. They developed a method for bulk manufacturing of these hormones, which lead to the production of drugs that prevent miscarriage.

He also discovered new and more cost-effective methods for synthesizing cortisone, a drug that relieves the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. In 1948, the Mayo Clinic had announced the discovery of cortisone, but it was difficult to produce. Julian focused his gifts on this challenge, and by October 1949, his team had created a synthetic cortisone substitute, equally effective and much less expensive, since natural cortisone had to be extracted from the adrenal glands of oxen and cost hundreds of dollars per drop, while Julian's synthetic cortisone cost pennies per ounce.

Julian held more than 100 chemical patents, wrote scores of papers describing his work, and received dozens of awards and honorary degrees. He founded The Julian Laboratories, Inc., with labs in the U.S. and Mexico, and worked to hire as many qualified black chemists as possible. (Both laboratories were purchased by Smith Kline French in 1961).

In 1951, Julian and his family moved to Oak Park, Illinois, becoming the first black family to live there. His house was firebombed twice (events that my parents recall and mentioned to me when we were discussing Dr. Julian). But the community was largely supportive of him and a community group was established to defend the family. (Source: The Julian family became "a focal point" for civil rights work in Oak Park. (Source:

Ned Heindel, former president of the American Chemical Society stated:
"If you look at Percy Julian's career, you can say, if this man had not been black, he could have been a chaired professor at any Ivy or Big Ten institution...The breadth of his understanding of chemistry, and his fire in the belly to produce so many results in such a short period of time, this is Nobel Laureate stuff."(Source:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Mary Eliza Mahoney, R.N.
First Black Nurse

Mary Mahoney was the first African-American woman to complete the course of professional study in nursing.

Mahoney was born in Boston in 1845. She was employed as a cook and cleaner at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, but she had a greater vision for herself and was determined to move beyond domestic work. In 1878, she applied and was accepted to the hospital's nursing school

She graduated from the rigorous program in 1879, one of only a handful of students from the original class to graduate that year. Her graduation marked a new era for the education of African-American nurses in Boston. From that time on, Black students were accepted into the program as long as they were able to meet its requirements. (Source:

Mahoney recognized the need for African-American nurses to combine forces in order to improve their status in the profession. In 1908, she co-founded with Adah B. Thoms the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN), and was the speaker for the organization's first annual convention in 1909. The NACGN merged with the American Nurses Association (ANA) in 1951.

(Note that the archival records of the NACGN are held at the New York Public Library. Click here to learn more.)

In 1921, helped to bring about the reception of Ms. Thoms and a group of African-American nurses to the White House during the NACGN Convention in Washington, D.C., where they met President and Mrs. Warren G. Harding. (Thoms had worked with Jane Arminda Delano, Chairman of the American Red Cross Nursing Service, to convince the Surgeon General to enroll black nurses in the Army Nurse Corps. Though African-American nurses enrolled in July 1918, it wasn't until after the war was over that 18African-American nurses were appointed to the Army Nurse Corps.)

From 1911 to 1912 Mahoney served as supervisor of the Howard Orphan Asylum for Black Children in Kings Park, Long Island. After her return to Boston, she is reputed to have been one of the first women in that city to register to vote after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.

Ten years after her death in 1926, the NACGN honoured her memory by establishing the Mary Mahoney Medal, an award to a member for distinguished service to the profession.

Mahoney was named to the Nursing Hall of Fame in 1976 and to the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

LEARN MORE (click link to title below)
Davis, Althea T. Early Black American Leaders in Nursing: Architects for Integration and Equality

Monday, February 14, 2011


No one could make a joyful noise to the Lord like Ms. Jackson.

Most people can recall the names of great jazz and blues singers, but gospel music, because it has less commercial appeal, has fewer widely-known "stars." The name most closely associated with gospel in the minds of many is that of Mahalia Jackson, the undisputed "Queen of Gospel."

My father was a fan from years and years ago, when Ms. Jackson had a Sunday-evening television show in Chicago. This was around 1954. He told me that if he went out with friends on a Sunday night, he would tell them that he had to be near a television between 7-8 p.m. so he wouldn't miss Mahalia Jackson.

Ms. Jackson was born in New Orleans in 1911 and moved to Chicago at the age of sixteen, where she joined the Greater Salem Baptist Church on Chicago's South Side and eventually began touring with a gospel quintet. She had an outstandingly beautiful contralto voice. She made her first recordings as a soloist in the mid-1930s for Decca and Apollo records, and eventually signed with Columbia records.

There is an interesting piece of information about one of the South Side Chicago churches where Ms. Jackson sang--the Pilgrim Baptist Church--which flourished under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Dorsey, best known for his hymn "Precious Lord."

She could have had enormous success--and greater wealth--singing blues and jazz. These opportunities were offered to her, but she never wanted to sing any type of music other than gospel. (My father also emphasized this point during our discussion about her; he was well aware that she could have been a great blues singer, but that she never wanted to depart from the singing of gospel music.)

Ms. Jackson explained her deep commitment to gospel music this way: "When you sing gospel you have a feeling there is a cure for what's wrong. But when you are through with the blues, you've got nothing to rest on." (Source:

Both her own music and that of Dr. Dorsey were, not surprisingly, significantly influenced by the vocal artistry of ragtime, jazz, and blues artists such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. (Dr. Dorsey was himself originally a blues musician.)

Throughout the 1950s, Ms. Jackson appeared regularly on radio and television, and in concert halls around the world. Her European concert appearances were packed. She sang at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival at an all-gospel program she herself requested. In 1954, she began hosting her own Sunday night radio show for CBS.

She performed on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956, from which she introduced gospel music into America's mainstream.

Gospel concerts are still alive and well, as my parents discovered last night during their attendance in Miami Beach last night of a concert featuring Kurt Carr accompanied by the Miami Mass Choir and the Voices of Christian Fellowship Choir. A joyful noise indeed. They report that it was splendid.

Now everyone do yourselves a favor and take a break when you can to listen to and watch this historic video of Ms. Jackson:

According to the note attached to this video, Ms. Jackson sang this just prior to the March on Washington before Dr. King's "I Have a Dream Speech."

Here is a German-produced video of Ms. Jackson singing at the rally:

Here is Ms. Jackson singing "Didn't It Rain," accompanied by a choir.

Friday, February 11, 2011


This is an especially interesting and important project with relevance for music, theatre, history, and the social sciences.

Black Gospel Music Restoration Project at Baylor University:
This is an ongoing project that seeks to acquire, preserve and catalog rare and seldom-heard 78s, 45s and LPs dating from 1945-1970. The project's eventual goal is the creation of a digital audio archive. The site currently offers limited streaming material. Click on "browse a portion of the collection," then click on a vinyl disc thumbnail. Choose side one or side two, and then click on "access this item" from the top center of the page. The project's director, Robert Darden, was interviewed on the NPR program Fresh Air on December 20, 2007. Click here to listen to this interview and to learn more about how materials for this unique and important collection are being acquired.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


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Monday, February 7, 2011


Born in New Iberia, Louisiana, Vivien Thomas was an aspiring medical student when the stock market crash wiped out his education savings. The lack of funding forced him to drop out of college, and in the absence of other types of work during the difficult time, he took a job sweeping floors at Vanderbilt University. There, Dr. Alfred Blalock, took notice of him and hired him to work as a laboratory, and eventually, surgical assistant. Blalock was in charge of the surgical research laboratory, and was working to research and develop methhods of treating hemorrhagic and traumatic shock.

Thomas very rapidly learned to perform surgery and physiologic studies, and to carry out chemical determinations. He developed into a highly skilled technician capable of conducting complicated experimental cardiac operations and devising new surgical methdods completely unassisted. He remained Blalock's principal technician and laboratory chief for the rest of Blalock's career. When Blalock was offered a pretigious position at the then-segregated Johns Hopkins University in 1941, he accepted on the condition that Thomas accompany him.

In 1976, Thomas was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Johns Hopkins University and was made a member of the medical school faculty in recognition of his contributions to the practice of cardiovascular surgery and to the education of young surgeons. Today, his portrait hangs in the lobby of the Blalock Building on The Johns Hopkins Hospital campus.

Dr. Levi Watkin, of Johns Hopkins University, described Thomas as, "the most un-talked about, unappreciated, unknown giant in the African American community. What he helped facilitate impacted people all over the world." Recently, Vivien Thomas' story has been the inspiration for the PBS documentary, "Partners of The Heart" and the HBO film, "Something The Lord Made."

You can read more about Dr. Vivien Thomas here and here.

Friday, February 4, 2011


My family is on a first-name basis with Ella Fitzgerald. Not because we knew or even met her, but because my father has always been in the habit of referring to her--with great reverence--simply as "Ella." When he says, "I've been listening to Ella," or "I watched a documentary about Ella," we know exactly what he's talking about. Because there is only one Ella. Her gifts were completely unique. There was no one like her.

When my nephew came home from school one day singing "A-Tisket A-Tasket," my brother naturally asked him where he had heard it. He told my brother that his music teacher had played the song, sung by Ella Fitzgerald, in that day's music class. My brother phoned my father immediately to tell him the news--and this sort of thing definitely qualifies as news in my
family--about the wonderful music teacher and the latest addition to the Gold family Ella fan club.

A 2007 NPR segment describes the career and gifts of the great Ella. And in honor of Jazz Appreciation Month in 2008, NPR made available for streaming five Ella classics, including "Something's Gotta Give" and "It Don't Mean a Thing." Make your day by taking some time to listen.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


February is Black History Month, and it's just as well that the event spans an entire month, because we have a lot to cover. The Civil Rights Movement is just one element, and a central one to be sure. We will also be posting material covering the visual and performing arts, science, medicine, and political & public life.

This item was provided by the Internet Scout Project:

"American RadioWorks is always looking for compelling topics to explore, and this recent radio documentary looks into the role that certain groups of white people played in combating the civil rights movement in Mississippi. Here visitors can listen to the complete program, or take a look at some of the separate sections, which include 'The March Backward' and 'The Citizens' Council.' The program includes interviews and commentary from a wide range of persons, and there is particularly good coverage of one well-known race riot at the University of Mississippi and the Citizens' Council, whose goal was to maintain white supremacy. The site is rounded out by a selection of links and resources and social media buttons designed to allow users to share the program with others."