Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Black History Heavyweights – the Press and Dr. John Hope Franklin

91 year old Dr. John Hope Franklin was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award from the National Newspaper Publishers Association.  The NNPA is a 65-year-old federation of 200+ black community newspapers across the United States.

Dr. Franklin, holding a doctorate in history from Harvard, is the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University.

In accepting his award, Dr. Franklin stressed the importance of keeping the institution of the black press alive.

Here are some quick black press highlights to remember…


  • The USA’s first African American newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, was founded in 1827 in New York.
  • Frederick Douglass founded The North Star in Maryland in 1847.
  • William Monroe Trotter founded the Boston Guardian in 1901.
  • Robert S. Abbott founded The Chicago Defender in 1905, which remains the only daily African American newspaper.

John Hope Franklin is a legendary icon in the study of black history.  He’s best known for his classic book, “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans,” (now in its seventh edition).

Even at age 11, there was a connection between Franklin and the black press.  When he accepted his lifetime achievement NNPA Award, Dr. Franklin revealed that he was a carrier of NNPA newspapers The Chicago Defender, and The Pittsburgh Courier, in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

From paper boy to man of letters, Dr. John Hope Franklin, Ph.D., black history scholar superstar.

Posted by Hugh Smith on 03/28 at 09:21 PM
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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Number 42 is gone but the Legacy of Jackie Robinson Lives

Jackie Robinson was the first black 20th Century major league baseball player.  He signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers minor league Montreal Royals in 1945, before joining the big club in 1947.  Here are some of Jackie’s career highlights:


  • First Major League Rookie of the Year, 1947.
  • National League’s Most Valuable Player, 1949.
  • National League batting champion with a .342 average in 1949.
  • Stolen base leader in 1947 and 1949.
  • Six-time National League All-Star, 1949 - 1954.

Jackie Robinson’s playing career ended in 1956.  He was voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962, and was out of the game by 1964.

When baseball celebrated the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s breakthrough in 1997, his number was retired by every major league team.  Since 2004, every April 15th is celebrated in baseball as Jackie Robinson Day to acknowledge his social legacy to America and the world.

The Jackie Robinson Foundation provides four-year college scholarships to minority students who have a demonstrated record of academic distinction, leadership capacity, and financial need.

The foundation is currently supporting 266 Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholars attending 93 colleges and universities in 33 different American states and the District of Columbia.

March 31, 2006, is this year’s application deadline for students to take advantage of the Jackie Robinson Foundation scholarship.

Posted by Hugh Smith on 03/22 at 07:48 PM
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Monday, March 20, 2006

Edison, Latimer, Dickinson - Fathers of Invention

In the world of black history people, there are many unique personalities.  Master organ designer Joseph Dickinson is one of them.

In the late 19th century, Dickinson won numerous awards for his organs, but he didn’t stop there.  Expanding on his technical knowledge of musical instruments, Dickinson won several patents for the player piano.

His company perfected a system of controlling the volume of mechanical musical instruments, as well as proudly obtaining a number of phonograph patents...which leads us to Thomas Edison.

Thomas Edison didn’t invent all of those magical devices he’s given credit for by himself.  The phonograph?  Yes, Edison gets the credit, but he had several bright and energetic understudies who made important contributions to his research and ultimate patents.

Lewis H. Latimer, (1848-1928), invented and patented the first electric light bulb with a carbon filament (1882).  He joined the Thomas A. Edison Company in 1886 to become the only black engineer on Edison’s staff.  Edison later developed the carbon filament into the modern light bulb.

Posted by Hugh Smith on 03/20 at 09:42 PM
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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Black History Month Collectible Trading Cards

Direct from Canada, where the country miles stretch out to the horizon, and wheat fields abound a plenty, comes a Black History Trading Cards collection, from the picturesque urban enclave of Toronto.

Luanga Nuwame, pictured below, a 28 year old entrepreneur, has created a 24 card collection featuring Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, George Dixon, Marcus Garvey, and more.  Ancient African legends Shaka Zulu, Taharka and Makeda are also featured.

Just 5000 copies are available, with a share of the proceeds donated to both one American and one Canadian charitable organization.

Posted by Hugh Smith on 03/16 at 01:05 AM
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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Civil Rights Eyes on the Prize to Rise Again

A new generation will be able to see the landmark civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize in the Fall of 2006.  The last airing on USA public television was over 12 years ago.

In 1987, the first six hours of the series captured the imagination of TV viewers through riveting first person narratives of 1954 - 1965 civil rights stories told by black history people with varying degrees of fame.  Eight additional hours were produced in 1990 expanding on the African American experience through 1985.

When you don’t own the rights to use intellectual property, you have two choices.  Find public domain material, or pay to the license holder piper.  Eyes on the Prize used 110 songs, along with 80 reels of archival film, and 95 still photos.

Hundreds of licenses have expired keeping the production silent since 1990.  Ford and Gilder foundations have raised $800,000 to renew these licenses for the rebroadcast of at least the first six hours.  PBS will air the rebroadcast on the program American Experience.

During the five years my team and I took to develop our Empower Encyclopedia black history project, we proactively sought out as much public domain material as was available to minimize the very situation in which the producers of Eyes in the Prize inherited.

Sometimes a project gets so ambitious, that reasonable caution is cast aside in favor of financial agreements made by the buyer that have very negative long term consequences.

If you come across an Eyes on the Prize DVD on an auction site, it’s an illegal bootleg.  Just remember that the series has been out of print for 12 years.  Video tapes are extremely hard to find.


Posted by Hugh Smith on 03/15 at 08:45 PM
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Monday, March 13, 2006

Miles Davis in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honor roll members have had their day in the sun since 1986.  Jazz great Miles Davis is one of the class of 2006 inductees.

Davis in the Hall is an amazing tip of the hat to a legendary artist - showing special honor for his experimentation with rock influences, coming primarily from Davis’ appreciation of Jimi Hendrix.

Davis created the genre known as fusion.  His album Bitches Brew, touching on many rock influences, was way ahead of it’s time.  Congratulations to Miles Davis for this posthumous award.  Among black history people, he’s another standout.

Posted by Hugh Smith on 03/13 at 10:34 PM
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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Black History Month 2006

Our Black History People 365 blog is an acknowledgement of the notion that black history month can escape from February with frequent stories about fabulous folks any day of the year.

Since 1993, I have been active in developing several black history projects - with the goal of expanding the visibility of numerous personalities who have contributed to America and the world through their blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice.

As Black History Month 2006 comes to a close, thoughts reflect on the loss of five very special African American achievers over the past seven months.  Listen to their stories, and soak up the inspiration of these black history people.

Posted by Hugh Smith on 03/09 at 03:00 PM
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