Clara Lemlich – A Lifetime of Organizing

Clara Lemlich in 1910

Clara Lemlich in 1910

I first heard of Clara Lemlich on the American Experience special “Triangle Fire” about the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on March 25, 1911.  Prior to the fire, in the fall of 1909, garment workers in New York City went out on  a massive strike referred to as the Uprising of 20.000.  Clara Lemlich’s words prompted the final decision to strike.

Clara Lemlich was born in Gorodok, Ukraine on March 28, 1886. Her family was Jewish and primarily spoke Yiddish, but against her parent’s wishes Clara learned to read Russian and devoured as many books as she could get. She did sewing and wrote letters for illiterate neighbors in order to raise money for books. It was during this time that a neighbor introduced her to revolutionary literature and she became a socialist.

In 1903, after the Russian Orthodox celebration of Easter, a riot began against the Jews in Kishinev the capital of the Bessarabia province of the Russian Empire (now the capital of Moldova.) The pogrom continued without intervention of the police or military until the third day resulting in approximately 50 deaths, 600 wounded, and 700 houses and businesses looted and destroyed. After this pogrom and a second one in 1905, tens of thousands of Jews left the Russian Empire for the west. The Lemlich family was among them.

The pogram in 1903 captured the attention of the world. Theodore Roosevelt telling the tsar to stop oppressing the Jews.

The pogram in 1903 captured the attention of the world. Theodore Roosevelt telling the tsar to stop oppressing the Jews.

Clara immigrated with her family in 1903 to New York City and quickly found work in the garment industry. The conditions in the factories were terrible with low pay, long hours, lack of advancement, and often humiliating treatment from supervisors. The introduction of the sewing machine, rather than making the work easier, served to increase the required output for each day. Workers were often subcontracted and paid even less than those hired directly. Lemlich along with others rebelled against these conditions and joined the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. She quickly became a leader, organizing strikes and even returning to the picket line after being injured.

On November 22, 1909, a mass meeting was held at Cooper Union to rally support for striking workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company and the Leiserson Company. (Clara had been arrested 17 times while picketing outside the Leiserson factory, been beaten, and left bloody on the sidewalk with broken ribs in September.) Leaders in the labor movement and socialist movement spoke for a couple of hours and Clara grew impatient. Finally, she asked to be heard and was raised to the platform. I’ve read a couple of different versions of what Clara said that night. It could be because she spoke in Yiddish and the differences are in the translation, but basically she said that she was tired of talk. She had listened patiently to generalities, but they were there to make a decision, so she moved that they make the decision to strike. The crowd responded and voted for a general strike beginning the next day. Approximately 20,000 workers went out on strike the next day. It lasted until February 10, 1910, with union contracts at most shops. Sadly, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory held out and refused to make changes or allow the Union into their shop. Then on March 25, 1911, it became the site of a fire that took the lives of 146 people, mostly women and girls.

The fire department arrived quickly, but their ladders didn't reach to the floors where the workers were trapped.

The fire department arrived quickly, but their ladders didn’t reach to the floors where the workers were trapped.

After the Uprising, Lemlich was blacklisted from the garment industry and at odds with the more conservative leadership in the Union. She then took up the cause of women’s suffrage. She believed that suffrage was necessary to improve working women’s lives. Everyone around them in the workplace, the bosses, foremen, inspectors, and owners, were almost all men and they had a vote, but the working women had no vote. The primary suffrage organization, The National American Woman Suffrage Association, was oriented toward middle and upper class women, so she founded the Wage Earners League as a working woman’s alternative. The Wage Earners League, an alternative to the NAWSA was however, dependent on non-working class women for support. It soon passed out of existence and Clara continued her work for suffrage through the Women’s Trade Union League.

Her life took a different direction when Clara married Joe Shavelson in 1913. They moved to a working-class neighborhood and eventually to Brighten Beach. Clara had 3 children, Irving Charles Velson, Martha Shavelson Schaffer and Rita Shavelson Margules and didn’t return to work full-time for the next 30 years. She didn’t give up organizing however. While she devoted herself to raising her family she joined with other Jewish housewives to protest high prices and fight evictions through rent strikes. With Kate Gitlow, she organized the United Council of Working Class Housewives for this purpose and to raise money for relief for strikers.

Striking Garment Workers

Striking Garment Workers

During this time Clara had become a member of the Communist Party, from which she launched the United Council of Working Class Women. This organization was very successful for a time with over 50 branches in NYC and branches in Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Detroit. Although the Council recruited among Communist Party members, it didn’t identify with the Party or press members to join. It eventually was renamed the Progressive Women’s Councils which prompted the Party to withdraw support. Nevertheless in the early 1950s, the PWC was forced to shut down because of Communist Party affiliations.

Clara finally retired from garment work in 1954 and had to fight to get a pension. Over the following years, she was involved in various activities through the Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Women’s Clubs, which she helped to found. She protested nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War, and campaigned for ratification of the UN Convention on Genocide and Civil Rights reform.

After her second husband, Abe Goldman, died in 1967, Clara moved to California to be near her children. She moved into the Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles, and even there she organized. She convinced the management to join with the United Farm Worker’s boycott of grapes and lettuce, and organized the workers at the Home. I think it’s safe to say that Clara Lemlich agitated and organized as long as she was physically able. She died on July 25, 1982 at the age of 96

Clara Lemlich 2

Resources
“One Woman Who Changed the Rules”, Dwyer, Jim (March 22, 2011) New York Times  (From this article you can click through to see a series of articles published about the Triangle Fire.)
Clara Lemlich” – Wikipedia
The 1911 Triangle Factory Fire – Cornell University website
“Remembering the Waistmakers General Strike, 1909″ (pdf)
The Labor Wars by Sidney Lens
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Margaret Sanger – Mother of Modern Contraception

I am very excited to welcome guest blogger Tami Stout. She is currently studying political science and women and gender studies and has kindly offered to give us her insight about Margaret Sanger. Thank you Tami!

margaret-sanger-1-sizedMargaret Louise Higgins Sanger (1879 – 1966) was an American activist born in 1879 in Corning, New York.  Sanger was one of eleven children born to an Irish-Catholic immigrant working class family.  Her mother, Anne Purcell Higgins died of tuberculosis and cervical cancer at the age of 50 having born the strain of 11 pregnancies and seven stillbirths.  As the story goes, Margaret lashed out at her father over her mother’s coffin that he was responsible for Anne’s death due to so many pregnancies.

Margaret was determined to have a different future.  She left Corning to attend nursing school in the Catskills.  Margaret married William Sanger in 1902 and had three children of her own.  In 1910, the Sangers moved to New York City and settled in Greenwich Village.  The area was known as being bohemian and supported the more radical politics of the time.

Margaret returned to New York City to work as a visiting nurse on the Lower East side.  Here was where she saw the lives of poor immigrant women.  Without effective contraceptives many of these women, when faced with another unwanted pregnancy, resorted to five-dollar back-alley abortions or attempted to self-terminate their pregnancies.  After botched abortions Margaret was called in to care for the women.  After watching the suffering and trauma so many women experienced, Sanger began to shift her attention away from nursing to the need for better contraceptives.  Sanger objected to the suffering and fought to make birth control information and contraceptives available.  She began dreaming of a “magic pill” to be used to control pregnancy.  “No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother,” Sanger said.

Indicted under Comstock Laws for sending diaphragms through the mail and arrested in 1916 for opening the first birth control clinic in the country, which was only open for nine days before she was arrested, Margaret Sanger would not take no for an answer.  In 1921 she founded the American Birth Control League, the forerunner to Planned Parenthood and she spent the next thirty years trying to bring safe and effective birth control to the American woman.

Gregory Pincus

Gregory Pincus

By the 1950’s, although Sanger had many victories, she was far from finished.  Frustrated with limited birth control options on the market, Margaret still was in search of the “magic pill”.  No longer a young woman and in failing health, she was not ready to give up and made it her mission to find someone to complete her vision of a contraceptive pill as easy to take as an aspirin, inexpensive, safe, and effective.  In 1951 Sanger met Gregory Pincus, an expert in human reproduction.  Now all she needed was the money to make her vision happen and she found that in heiress Katherine McCormick.  Pincus partnered with Dr. John Rock and the collaboration led to the FDA approval of Enovid, the first oral contraceptive in 1960.

Katherine McCormick

Katherine McCormick

There were of course bumps in the road on the way to an effective contraceptive available to the masses.  Pill trials in Puerto Rico did cause health problems and deaths due to extremely high levels of hormones.  Sanger also faced controversy over her association with eugenics.  Sanger’s grandson, Alexander Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood stated that his grandmother “believed that women wanted their children to be free of poverty and disease, that women were natural eugenicists, and that birth control was the panacea to accomplish this.”

With the invention of the “magic pill” Margaret Sanger accomplished her life-long goal of bringing safe, affordable, and effective contraception to the masses.  Not only did she see the pill realized, but four years later, at the age of 81, Margaret Sanger witnessed the undoing of Comstock Laws.  In the 1965 Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, the court ruled that the private use of contraceptives was a constitutional right.  When Sanger passed away a year later, after more than half a century of fighting for the rights of women to control their own fertility, she died knowing she had done what she set out to do.

Margaret Sanger was a champion of women and by giving women the right to control their own fertility, she gave them the right to control their lives.  No longer held hostage by your body, you have the right to seek education, employment, and a rich and fulfilled life whether that involves children or not.

 

Sanger's Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau operated from this New York building from 1930 to 1973. It is now a National Historic Landmark.

Sanger’s Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau operated from this New York building from 1930 to 1973. It is now a National Historic Landmark.

Celebrating Black History Month Part 3

Here’s one last post of the women we’ve highlighted on the Saints, Sisters, and Sluts Facebook page for Black History Month. There are many more women who have made considerable contributions and done amazing things. It’s impossible to include them all. I know I have learned a lot though and have a basis to build on for future blog posts. I hope you’ve learned something along the way as well.

Nannie Helen Burroughs

Nannie Helen Burroughs by Rotograph Co., New York City, 1909

Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879 – 1961) was an educator, orator, religious leader, and business woman. She helped found the National Association of Colored Women and worked within the National Baptist Convention. In 1909, she founded the National Training School for Women and Girls. The school emphasized preparation for occupations, but also stressed being proud black women. To this end students were required to take a class in African American history and culture.

Willa Brown

Willa Brown

Willa Brown (1906 – 1992) was a teacher, social worker, pilot, and flight instructor, the first black woman officer in the Civil Air Patrol and the first black woman to hold a commercial pilot’s license in the US. With Cornelius R. Coffey (her husband and flight instructor) she established the Coffey School of Aeronautics to train pilots and mechanics.

She helped found the National Airmen’s Association of America in 1939 and lobbied for integration of black pilots into the Army Air Corps and the Civilian Pilot Training Program. The Coffey School was selected by the US Army to provide black trainees for the Air Corps pilot training program at the Tuskegee Institute.

Sissieretta Jones

Sissieretta Jones

Sissieretta Jones (1868? – 1933) was an American soprano who sang both opera and popular music. After beginning in the choir of her father’s African Methodist Episcopal church, Sissieretta went on to sing for 4 consecutive US Presidents and the British Royal Family.

Sissieretta Jones was sometimes referred to as "The Black Patti"

Sissieretta Jones was sometimes referred to as “The Black Patti”

She studied at the Providence Academy of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. In 1888, she came to the attention of Adelina Patti’s manager who suggested that she tour with the Fisk Jubilee singers. Adelina Patti was a successful Italian opera singer. Sissieretta was sometimes referred to as “The Black Patti.”

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842 – 1924) was an African American publisher, journalist, civil rights leader, suffragist and the founder and editor of Women’s Era, the first journal written by and for African American women. Together with her husband George Lewis Ruffin (who had a number of first’s to his name, including first African American male graduate from Harvard Law School,) Josephine worked to recruit black soldiers to the Union cause during the Civil War and to support the men in the field.

In 1869, Josephine joined with Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone to form the American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1895, she organized the Nation Federation of Afro-American Women which later merged with the Colored Women’s League to form the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs with Mary Church Terrell at its head.

“The Ruffin Incident” occurred when Josephine intended to attend the meeting of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1900. She was representing two integrated groups (the New England Woman’s Club and the New England Woman’s Press Club) and one all black group, the New Era Club. When southern leaders discovered that the New Era Club was an all black organization they refused to let her represent them, but said she could participate as a representative of the other groups. She refused to compromise. The incident was widely reported across the country with much support for Ruffin.

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917 – 1977) was a voting rights advocate and civil rights activist. In 1962, in spite of the danger, she joined a group of people inspired by James Bevel and traveled to Indianola MS to register to vote. It was a very dangerous thing for African Americans to attempt to vote in the South at the time, so to bolster the groups courage she began to sing Christian hymns. This became her trademark as she organized other groups to register. Her courage brought her to the attention of leaders in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who recruited her to speak and organize.

Hamer is probably best known for her speech given to the Credential’s Committee at the Democratic National Convention in 1964. The Mississippi Democratic Party sent an all white and anti-civil rights delegation. In response Hamer with others formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Committee to challenge the all white delegation as not representing all of Mississippi. Ultimately, the compromise offered by the Convention was unacceptable to the MFDC, but the Democratic Party adopted a clause demanding equality of representation from all state delegations. Fannie Lou Hamer was selected as a delegate to the 1968 Convention.

There are several women I highlighted on the FB page, but not in these posts because they already appear in other blog posts. If you’re interested here are the names and links.

Marian Anderson
Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary Ann Shadd

In case you missed Part 1 or Part 2.

Celebrating Black History Month Part 2

I want to continue sharing brief information on the black women I’ve learned about during Black History Month. The more women I’ve researched this month, the more I have discovered. There is an embarrassment of riches in this area that has been unknown to me. One reason is the overshadowing, during their time, of black women by white women they worked jointly with such as Josephine Ruffin who worked with Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone to form the American Woman’s Suffrage Association. There is also the simple fact that women and African Americans are not fully present in the typical history curriculum. To anyone who thinks that we don’t need to emphasize Black History or Women’s History, I challenge you to do what I have done this month and search the internet for one person they have never heard of each day. You may be surprised.

Now for more black women from the SSS Facebook page. There are two women who should be remembered as the earliest African American female physicians: Rebecca Lee Crumpler and Rebecca Cole.

Dr. Rebecca Lee

Dr. Rebecca Lee

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831 – 1895) was the first African-American woman to become a physician. She graduated in 1864 from the New England Female Medical College. After graduation and the end of the Civil War, she worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau and other community groups to provide medical services to freed slaves in Richmond, VA. Later she returned to practice in her home in Boston, MA. Most of what we know about her comes from the introduction to her book “Book on Medical Discourse,” written from her clinical notes and published in 1883.

Rebecca Cole (source)

Rebecca Cole (source)

Rebecca Cole (1846 – 1922) was the second African-American female doctor. She graduated in 1867 from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and received her clinical training at Elizabeth Blackwell’s New York Infirmary for Women and Children. She practiced medicine for over 50 years working primarily with destitute women and children.

Sarah Early

Sarah Early

Sarah Jane Woodson Early (1825 – 1907) was the first African American women to become a college faculty member. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1856 and two years later took a position at Wilberforce College. The college had to close during the Civil War due to lack of funds, but for the next 40 years Sarah Jane was a teacher and school principal in Ohio and, after the war, in the South.

In 1868, Sarah Jane married the Rev. Jordan Winston Early, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and continued teaching and working with him in his ministry. She also traveled and lectured as the national superintendent of the Black division of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. In 1894, she published a biography of her husband including both his life as a slave and his ministry.

Fannie Williams

Fannie Williams

Fannie Williams (1855 – 1944) was a teacher, lecturer, and social reformer. She helped organize Provident Hospital and its Training school for Nurses in Chicago (both interracial institutions.) After speaking at both the World’s Congress of Representative Women and the World’s Parliament of Religions, held in conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, she was in great demand as a lecturer.

Fannie helped found the National Association of Colored Women, was among the founding members of the NAACP, and became the first Black member of the Chicago Woman’s Club. She wrote frequently for Chicago newspapers and in 1924 became the first African American and the first woman to be named to the Chicago Library Board. She also believed in a fully integrated women’s movement and was chosen as the only African American to eulogize Susan B. Anthony at the 1907 Women’s Suffrage Convention.

Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia Lewis (1844 – 1907) was an American sculptor of African American and Native American descent. She attended Oberlin College where she began sculpting and quickly became successful. She held her first solo exhibition in 1864 and produced popular works such as medallion portraits of John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison.

In 1865 Lewis went to Rome to study where she spent much of her adult life working and studying. One of her major works was a marble sculpture called “The Death of Cleopatra.” It was displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, this monumental piece (3000 lbs) was lost for almost 100 years. It was rediscovered, although covered in paint, and finally restored and donated to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1994.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000) was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. Raised in Chicago, she had approximately 75 published poems by the time she was 16. In 1943, she received her first award and in 1945 her first book “A Street in Bronzeville” was published to critical acclaim.

“Very early in life I became fascinated with the wonders language can achieve. And I began playing with words.” Gwendolyn Brooks on Poetry

In 1950, Brooks became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry with her book “Annie Allen.” She received many other awards including the Robert Frost Medal for lifetime achievement, the National Medal of Arts, and was honored as the first Woman of the Year chosen by the Harvard Black Men’s Forum.

Mary Frances Berry

Mary Frances Berry

Mary Frances Berry, born Feb 17, 1938, was Provost at the University of Maryland, Chancellor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Assistant Secretary for Education in the US Dept of Health, Education, and Welfare. She received her education at Howard University, and the University of Michigan, obtaining  Ph. D. and J. D. degrees.

Berry was one of the founders of the Free South Africa movement and she was arrested and jailed several times due to her support of the cause. She was in Capetown in 1990 to greet Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison.

In 1980, Berry was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as a Commissioner on the US Commission of Civil Rights. She was later fired by President Reagan for criticizing his stand on civil rights and won her reinstatement through the federal courts. She was appointed Chairperson of the Commission by President Clinton and served until her resignation in 2004. Since then she has been a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.

Audrey Lord

Audre Lord

Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992) was an American poet, essayist, and activist of Caribbean descent. She was politically active in civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements. Later she also became active in lesbian and gay rights causes. She co-founded “Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press” with author Barbara Smith, the first US publisher specifically for women of color. She was the State Poet of New York.

“I am defined as other in every group I’m part of”, she declared, “the outsider, both strength and weakness. Yet without community there is certainly no liberation, no future, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between me and my oppression.”

Lorde described herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” She believed that the typical feminist approach of defining things and issues based only on gender was simplistic, if perhaps necessary, and that there were other issues of difference that needed to be addressed.

Violette Neatley Anderson

Violette Neatley Anderson

Violette Neatley Anderson (1882 – 1937) was an African American attorney and judge with many “firsts” to her name. Anderson was born in London and moved to the US as a young child with her family. After graduating from Chicago Law School in 1920, she became the first African American woman admitted to the Illinois bar, the first female city prosecutor in Chicago, the first African American woman to practice law in the US District Court Eastern Division, and the first African American woman admitted to practice before the US Supreme Court.

Pearl Bailey on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1968

Pearl Bailey on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1968

Pearl Mae Bailey (1918 – 1990) was known as an actress and singer, but she was much more. She wrote 4 books and at 67 earned a degree in Theology from Georgetown University. At 15, she won an amateur contest and decided to pursue a career in entertainment. Beginning in vaudeville, she made her Broadway debut in 1946 in St. Louis Woman. She won a Tony Award for the lead role in the all-black production of Hello Dolly in 1968. Her career was varied including both movie and television, voices for animation, even commercial jingles. During WW2, Bailey sang with the USO; she also sang in nightclubs with some of the greats including Duke Ellington.

One more post tomorrow will let me finish up the brief information I’ve posted on these women for the month. If you missed them be sure to read Part 1 and Part 3.

Celebrating Black History Month Part 1

During Black History Month, I’ve been highlighting at least one black woman each day on the Saints, Sisters, and Sluts Facebook page. I share other people’s posts, but I’ve made an effort to post at least one woman each day that is new to me or that I’ve learned something new about, and I’ve learned so much. However, there are people who follow the blog or follow me on twitter that don’t see the Facebook posts, so I decided to post that information here as well. It will also give me a handy place to refer to, because some of these women I want to learn more about, possibly for future blog posts.

All of the women I’ve posted have been African Americans. I didn’t necessarily intend it to be that way, Canada and Britain celebrate as well, there are two women Presidents in Africa now, and black women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize recently, but there is so much of my own country’s history that I still don’t know, so I just went where my search led me. There are many more women who could be highlighted, 28 days just isn’t enough. I’m going to break this up into several posts to keep them relatively short and readable. Please comment and let me know who your favorites are or more information about these women.

Maggie L. Walker

Maggie L. Walker

Maggie Lena Walker
Maggie Lena Walker (1864 – 1934) was an African-American business woman. She was the first woman to charter a bank in the US and the first female bank president. Working with the Independent Order of St. Luke, she established a newspaper, The St. Luke Herald, and chartered the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank.

Maggie Walker worked to create tangible improvements in the lives of women and African Americans. She also was an example for people with disabilities later in life when she was confined to a wheelchair. The Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies in Richmond, VA is named for her and her home was designated a National Historic Site and opened as a museum in 1985.

Edith S. Sampson, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1949

Edith S. Sampson, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1949

Edith Spurlock Sampson
Edith Spurlock Sampson (1898 – 1979) left school at 14 because of family financial difficulties. She cleaned and de-boned fish at a fish market, but was able to return to school and graduate. She went on to study social work at the New York School of Social Work, then went to law school while working full time as a social worker.

After graduating from John Marshall Law School, she opened a law office and worked with the Juvenile Court system and as a probation officer. In 1927, she became the first woman to receive a Master of Laws from Loyola University’s graduate program and passed the Illinois bar exam. In 1934 she was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the US. Sampson was the first black woman elected as a judge in the state of Illinois, was the first African-American appointed as a delegate to the United Nations, and was the first African American US representative to NATO.

Audrey Forbes Manley

Audrey Forbes Manley

Audrey Forbes Manley
Audrey Forbes Manley (b. 1934) is an American pediatrician and public health administrator. After graduating from Spelman College and Meharry Medical College, she began a distinguished career that included private practice and becoming chief of medical services at Grady Memorial Hospital’s Emory University Family Planning Clinic. Manley began her career in Public Health in 1976 eventually becoming US Deputy Surgeon General and acting Surgeon General from 1995 to 1997 when she became the President of her alma mater Spelman College.

Rosa Parks arrest in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on the bus

Rosa Parks arrest in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on the bus

Rosa Parks
February 4th of this year would have been Rosa Park’s 100th birthday. Most of us are familiar with her act of civil disobedience in 1955, when she refused to give up her seat in the ‘colored’ section of the bus to a white man, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But Parks was more than a demure seamstress, she had been an active participant in the fight for civil rights since 1943. She also endured many hardships due to her involvement in the movement. She and her husband eventually moved to Detroit MI to try to find work. Jeanne Theoharis, political science professor at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, has written a new biography of Rosa Parks which sounds excellent, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. She gave a presentation about Rosa Parks which you can view online.

Elizabeth Jennings c. 1895

Elizabeth Jennings c. 1895

Elizabeth Jennings
One hundred years before Rosa Parks refused to leave her seat on the bus, Elizabeth Jennings insisted on her right to ride on a street car in NYC. When she was removed, she filed a law suit. Future President Chester Arthur won the case and the street cars of the city were integrated as a result. See Patricia Dolton’s blog post for more information. Not much is known about her later life. She was a teacher, church organist, and she opened the first kindergarten for black children in NYC.

Leontyne Price

Leontyne Price

Leontyne Price
Leontyne Price is an American soprano with an exquisite voice. Although Price wasn’t the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera, she was the first to sing many different roles at the Met and to build an opera career in the US and in Europe. When she debuted on January 27, 1961, the final ovation was 35 minutes, one of the longest in the history of the Met. Prior to this she had developed her reputation in Europe including being the first African American to sing a leading role in Italy’s great opera house, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Her many awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts, and 19 Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award..

Plácido Domingo wrote, “The power and sensuousness of Leontyne’s voice were phenomenal–the most beautiful Verdi soprano I have ever heard.”

Delta Sigma Theta founders

Delta Sigma Theta founders

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was founded by 22 women from Howard University in 1913. Their first public act was to march in the Women’s Suffrage March on March 3, 1913. The participation of African American women in 1913 was controversial, but this year ΔΣθ is sponsoring the march on March 3, 2013 to commemorate the Centennial of the 1913 march which changed the tide of the women’s suffrage movement. The National Women’s History Museum invites you to join them.

Regarding their decision to march in the Suffrage Parade in 1913, founder Florence Letcher Toms commented, “We marched that day in order that women might come into their own, because we believed that women not only needed an education, but they needed a broader horizon in which they may use that education. And the right to vote would give them that privilege.”

A sisterhood of more than 300,000 predominantly Black college-educated women, the sorority currently has over 1,000 chapters located in the United States, England, Japan (Tokyo and Okinawa), Germany, the Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Republic of Korea. (from Wikipedia)

Continue to read Celebrating Black History Month in Part2 and Part 3.

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