Week 3: African American Visionaries, Change Makers, and the Pursuit of Equality

WELCOME (in Swahili, "Karibu Sana!")

February is Black History Month, a time dedicated to celebrating influential Black Americans and people of African descent in communities worldwide. Thank you for joining Week 3 of our Black History Month Program.

This week’s focus concentrates on acknowledging the perseverance, fortitude, and resolve that African American people possessed to survive and thrive in a nation largely intent on oppressing and marginalizing Black people and communities.


WEEKLY SPOTLIGHT - Thomas Warfield

For week three of our Black History Month Program, we are grateful to feature Mr. Thomas Warfield—a Rochester, NY. native—founder and artistic Director of PeaceArt International, a local and global outreach organization using the arts to foster world peace.

Thomas is the Director of dance at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Associate Director of Kaleidoscope Dance Theatre, and vocal soloist at Unity Church in Rochester, NY.

He began dance training in Rochester, NY. with Olive McCue at the Mercury Ballet Studio, studied at the School of American Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in New York City.

Visit our page for Thomas Warfield to view his interview and learn more about his life and contributions to the arts.


The Pursuit of Equality and Navigating Adversity

The struggle to realize freedom has been an ongoing challenge for African Americans in America. Through this adversity, African American people have continued in their efforts to resist tyranny and subjugation and to realize their inherent rights to citizenship and the actualization of liberty and equality. Here, in Week 3, we highlight only a handful of the many inspiring African American people who have improved the lives of all Americans with their contributions and commitments to excellence. Please return to view the new information that will be provided during Week 4.

Black history did not begin with slavery. To read more about Black history before Africans arrived in the New World, review Week 1. To learn about early life in the American Colonies, access Week 3 materials. Information about the Civil Rights Movement can be found at the link provided for Week 4.

From the American Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement

Perseverance and Triumph in the Face of Oppression

The American Civil War started in 1861 and occurred after decades of strife between Northern and Southern states. They fought over slavery, states’ rights, and westward expansion. The Confederate States of America formed when 11 Southern states seceded from the Union after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. The War ended in Confederate surrender in 1865.

Causes of the Civil War

  • Economic and social differences between the North and the South

  • States versus federal rights

  • The fight between Slave and Non-Slave State Proponents

  • Growth of the Abolition Movement

  • The election of Abraham Lincoln

  • Learn more about this topic. View the video and read the article found here History.com/Civil War

  • To discover more about African Americans that fought in the Civil War, visit the post from Week 2: Surviving and Flourishing Beyond Slavery

The Promises of Freedom

African American people sustained devastating setbacks and constant threats of death and violence during slavery and the years during and following the Civil War. Under the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), Abraham Lincoln declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."

The announcement of the proclamation was met with joy by many; however, it did not abolish slavery for all people; therefore Lincoln proposed the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery which was ratified on December 6, 1865, approximately 8 months after the assignation of Lincoln. In all, approximately 3.9 million enslaved people were freed.

Juneteenth—Untaught History

Did you know why Juneteenth is observed by 47 of the United States? Juneteenth (established on June 19, 1865)—also called Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day—is a holiday that commemorates the day that slaves in Texas received news of the Emancipation Proclamation that was announced in states other than Texas in 1863.

Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration, Austin Texas, June 19, 1900
Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration, 1900

Why did enslaved people in Texas continue living in bondage for two and a half years when by law they were free?

To review articles and videos, visit Smithsonian: National Museum of African American History & Culture to learn more about Juneteenth.

Post-Civil War, Reconstruction Era (1865-1880)

The Reconstruction Era immediately followed the Civil War. To assist the formerly enslaved people who were displaced after the War, in 1865, Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen’s Bureau).

The Bureau provided social, economic, and legal services and helped manage labor and land contracts.

Congress terminated the Bureau in 1872 in large part, due to pressure from White Southerners, that opposed the government’s support of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

During the Reconstruction Era, former slaves and their descendants participated in the political, economic, and social life of the South. Black individuals and communities sought independence and equal rights under the law. Notably, during Reconstruction, at least 2,000 African American people held public office, both on local and federal levels; yet, they remained underrepresented in government as the case remains today.

African American leaders elected to the House who had worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau included John Mercer Langston, Jeremiah Haralson, Josiah Walls, and Robert C. De Large.

Reconstruction Era Constitutional Amendments

In the context of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution passed in 1865, which abolished slavery, it is also important to consider two additional Reconstruction Amendments:

The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution was approved in 1866 and ratified in 1868. The Amendment granted citizenship to all persons “born or naturalized in the United States,” including former slaves, and guaranteed “equal protection of the laws” to all citizens.

The 15th Amendment was approved in 1870 and stated that voting rights could not be “denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

While the US Constitution guaranteed these rights to formerly enslaved people, African American people were not free to exercise these rights and faced constant intimidation by most White American individuals and institutions.

Following the Civil War, Southern states enacted a set of restrictive Black Code Laws to legally force the newly freed Black citizens into indentured servitude. The codes rescinded voting rights, controlled where African American people lived, how they traveled, and granted states’ rights to seize Black children for labor purposes.

Despite incredible odds, African American people found ways to blaze trails in government, business, medicine and science, literature and the arts, and other sectors of society.

See how our past affects our present with this inside look of Reconstruction with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Reconstruction: America After the Civil War which premiered April 9, 2019, and read the PBS-American Experience Article that describes the Reconstruction Timeline.

The Backlash from White Supremacists

The end of slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation did not end brutality towards or the oppression of African American people. Instead, at the end of the Civil War in 1865, came the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, KKK (or the Klan), which is an American White supremacist hate group that established itself in the Southern United States.

The violent group functioned to terrorize and kill the former enslaved African American people and find ways to disenfranchise them socially, politically, and economically and strip away the rights of African Americans and their descendants. The hate group expanded from the South to the North and later took root in Western states as well.

The Klan (and other white supremacist groups) are still active to this day. Hate groups attempt to marginalize people of non-White racial, ethnic, and non-Christian backgrounds. It has taken hundreds of years; however, the surveillance of white supremacy groups may now be under more scrutiny by law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigations, as reported in a 2020 news story by National Public Radio.

Notable African American Visionaries and Change Makers During Reconstruction

The following section introduces only a select few African American people born in the 19th Century who made significant achievements during the 19th Century when Black people lacked true rights and social standing in mainstream American life.

African American Men Served in the US Government During Reconstruction

Shortly after the Civil War, African American men made up the vast majority of Southern Republican voters, forming a coalition with “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags” (derogatory terms referring to recent arrivals from the North and Southern White Republicans, respectively).

Of the delegates elected, 265 were African American men. More than one-third of the men were formerly enslaved. From South Carolina and Louisiana, where African American people had experience with political organizing, nearly half of the elected delegates were Black. However, in the other Southern states, relative to their populations, African Americans were underrepresented.

During Reconstruction, a total of 16 African American men served in the U.S. Congress. Greater than 600 more Black men were elected to the state legislatures, and hundreds held local offices across the South.

US Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827-1901)

Born September 27, 1827, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Revels was a clergyman, educator, and Republican politician who became the first African American to serve in the U.S. Senate (1870–71). Senator Revels represented Mississippi during Reconstruction.

Revels made good use of his time in office, championing education for Black Americans, speaking out against racial segregation, and fighting efforts to undermine the civil and political rights of African Americans. When his brief term ended on March 3, 1871, he returned to Mississippi, where he later became president of Alcorn College.

Elijah McCoy (1844-1929) Engineer and Inventor

Elijah McCoy, of Canada, was an engineer of African American descent.

He was the author of 57 US patents and specialized in railroad locomotive engineering. McCoy invented an automatic lubricating cup that allowed trains to travel long distances before having to stop to have their gears lubricated manually.

This invention revolutionized the industry by improving the efficacy of railroad travel. The phrase, “The Real McCoy” is a reference to this famous inventor.

Booker T Washington American Educator (1856-1915) Educator and Orator

Booker Taliaferro Washington was born into slavery in Virginia. He went on to become one of the most influential world leaders of the 19th Century.

Washington founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama (now the Tuskegee University).

In addition to his career as an American educator, author, and orator, Washington was an adviser to multiple US presidents. Learn more about Booker T. Washington at History.com

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) Journalist and Civil Rights Activist

Ida Bell Wells (married name, Wells-Barnett) was born into slavery during the height of the Civil War.

She was a fearless investigative journalist who overcame sexism, racism, and threats of violence to expose the horrors of the lynching of scores of African American people in the United States.

In addition to advancing women’s suffrage to secure voter’s rights, Wells-Barnett was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), although she was not recorded as a founder. See the section below for information about the NAACP.

Discover more about Ida B. Wells-Barnett by visiting The National Women's History Museum.

Scott Joplin (1868-1917) Composer and Pianist

Joplin was likely born in Texas in 1867 or 1868. His father, a former slave, worked as a laborer and his mother worked as a domestic servant.

It is believed that young Joplin gained access to a piano in the home where his mother was employed by a White family and taught himself the fundamentals of music. The original documentation of Joplin’s musical career was reported by a newspaper in Texarkana, Texas, in 1891.

In the 1890s, Joplin began composing marches and waltz and piano rags. In 1899, he published one of the world’s most popular rags, known as the Maple Leaf Rag.

Learn more about Scott Joplin through the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation website

Post Reconstruction (Jim Crow) Era (1880-1954)

Despite the passage of the Reconstruction Era Constitutional Amendments outlined in a previous section, Black people were barred from exercising their liberties. In addition to the formation of the Klan and the Black Codes, in 1877, the Southen states also implemented, so-called, Jim Crow Laws that legalized racial segregation. The laws were in existence for approximately one century and were abolished in 1968. It is important to note that the Northern states also forced separation and practiced racial segregation as described by the New York Times Article The Forgotten Northern Origins of Jim Crow. In the Northern states, leaders such as Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists fought racial segregation with fierce resistance.

It is essential to note that African American people faced intense racism and opposition from most White American citizens during Jim Crow. Black people have had many barriers to freedom and equality to overcome, involving every aspect of life from employment, education, and access to quality housing and medical care.

Read the History.com article, Jim Crow Laws to learn more about this period in American history.

Resilience in the Face of the Profound Adversity of Jim Crow Bigotry

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)* was established in 1909.

NAACP.org (Founding Members)
Photo credit: NAACP.org (Founding Members)

The NAACP was instrumental in ending Jim Crow Laws, launching anti-lynching campaigns, and ending school segregation. The organization also worked to restore voting rights and ushered in the Civil Rights Laws. Today the NAACP continues to serve as an essential legal advocacy group to address all civil rights issues. Another important civil rights organization, the National Urban League, was established in 1910 to focus on issues related to employment.

* The term, “colored” to refer to an African American or Black person is an outdated term that is no longer used because it is offensive by today’s social norms.

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) Sociologist, Civil Rights Activist

Despite the racial strife, loss of life, and disenfranchisement, African American communities across the country resisted oppression. They found many ways to effect changes on both small and large scales and ways to make rich contributions to our nation. As segregation and racial oppression continued escalating in the United States, African American leaders such as W.E. B. Du Bois of Massachusetts and other Black leaders increased activism measures and founded the Niagara Movement in 1905.

In collaboration with White reformers, the Niagara Movement formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. The organization used the federal courts to challenge racial discrimination and residential segregation. The mission of the NAACP, which is still in existence today, is to achieve a fully integrated society with equal rights for all.

Learn more about the NAACP. Watch the video at History.org

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) Author, Activist, Lawyer, Educator, Diplomat

John was born in Florida, and later in life became the leader of the NAACP in 1920. Lift Every Voice and Sing– often called “The Black National Anthem” – was originally written by Johnson as a poem in 1900. His brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, set the words to music in 1905 to commemorate the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Waldon Johnson The Negro National Anthem

The Great Northern Migration

With sustained campaigns of violence and intimidation that were common in the Jim Crow South, millions of African American people left the Southern states. They headed north from 1916 to 1970. It is estimated that 6 million people made the journey to pursue a better life.

Image: African American family from the rural South arriving in Chicago, 1920. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library (1168439)

During War World I, factories in the Northern states needed workers, and many of the jobs were filled by Black Southerners. By the end of the migration, more than half of the African American population left the Southern states. Some Black people found that they could earn factory wages in the North that were three times higher than what Black workers would expect to earn working on farms in the Southern states.

Popular relocation destinations in the North included New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit. While segregation was not legalized in the North, racism, and bigotry remained as barriers to equality in the Northern US Cities.

Unfortunately, in the Northern regions of the country, African American communities were the targets of violence by white supremacists. The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 ended in a large loss of life, injuries, and homelessness for Black residents.

African Americans from the south also migrated west, and some settled in Oklahoma. In 1921, a white mob attacked residents, homes, and businesses in a self-sufficient, Black community of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The news of the massacre was largely suppressed; however, hundreds of people were killed, and thousands were left homeless. The community of Greenwood was once a bustling and prosperous community that is referred to as Black Wall Street.

Watch the PBS video to learn more. The African Americans: Many Rivers to CrossThe Great Migration

Entrepreneurship, Creativity, and Resolve Despite Barriers and Hostilities

During Reconstruction and the Jim Crow Era (and through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s-1960s and beyond) African Americans, whether they migrated or remained in the south, continuously exercised their rights of citizenship through some of the most difficult years in American history.

Black people have shown that they could take on a strongly biased system, and at times— win. Evidence of this can be seen in the legacy that has been made by so many great political leaders, medical and science professionals, scholars, artists, musicians, and athletes. One important period that grew out of the Great Northern Migration was The Harlem Renaissance. This was a cultural movement that inspired African American music, art, dance, fashion, literature, and politics. Harlem, Manhattan, New York was the center of activity for the movement in the 1920s and 1930s.

View the History.com video to discover more about the Harlem Renaissance.

Learn more about some of the writers, poets, artists, singers, and musicians that influenced the Harlem Renaissance.

African American Change Makers from the 20th Century

A large part of what unites people throughout history is the drive to learn, create, and find meaning in life and relationships. Some of our nation’s most talented businesspeople, scientists, inventors, and artists were African American people who were born and lived during the post-Civil War or Jim Crow Eras. The following section lists only a few notable examples of inspiring individuals and the opportunities they provide for growth and learning.

Maggie Lena Walker (1864-1934) Businesswoman and Teacher

Walker was born in Virginia and active within the Independent Order of St. Luke, an organization dedicated to the social and financial advancement of African Americans. In 1899, Walker became the grand secretary of the organization — a position that she would hold for the rest of her life.

Walker was the first African American woman to charter a bank—the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, where she served as its president.

Walker also published a newspaper, the St. Luke Herald in Richmond, VA.

Read more about Maggie Lena Walker in Biography

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) Author, Anthropologist, and Filmmaker

Hurston hailed from Alabama and graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C. She wrote fiction about topics that were important to the Black community and was a writer that contributed to the advancing culture during the Harlem Renaissance.

Hurston published several novels including, Their eyes Were Watching God (1937), Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939), and others. Hurston died in 1960, and two of her works were published posthumously, Every Tongue Got to Confess (2001) and Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo was published in (2018).

Watch this PBS video to learn more about the life of Zora Neale Hurston

Hattie McDaniel (1893-1952) American Actress and Academy Award Winner

McDaniel was born in Kansas and went on to become an actress, singer-songwriter, and comedian. She was a prolific actress and appeared in dozens of films during the 1930s and 1940s.

The role of Mammy in the film Gone with the Wind, earned McDaniel’s an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1940.

She was the first Black actress to receive the high honor from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Access the link to view the video and learn more about the life of Hattie McDaniel

Crystal Bird Fauset (1894-1965) US Legislator and Civil Rights Activist

Born in 1894, Bird Fauset became the first African-American woman to be elected to any state legislature in the country. After being trained as a teacher at Columbia University, she was instrumental in forming the Institute for Race Relations at Swarthmore College in 1933.

During her time in office in Pennsylvania, she sponsored nine bills, primarily focused on public health, housing safety, and education. Although not passed, House Bill 773 of 1939 amended the Female Labor Law of 1913, regulating labor hours and working conditions for women employed in domestic service.

Fauset was a friend of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, and during her career, Fauset was appointed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Black Cabinet, a body that promoted African American civil rights. During World War II, Bird Fauset served as assistant director and race relations director for the Office of Civil Defense.

Discover more about Crystal Bird Fauset

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) Poet, Novelist, Playwright, Social Activist

From Missouri, Langston Hughes was the driving, creative force behind the Harlem Renaissance. As a poet, novelist, and practitioner of other arts, he left a legacy that continues to inspire new readers today. Hughes was an innovator of Jazz Poetry and worked as a social activist.

At just 17-years old, Hughes published his first poem “The *Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Later, Hughes attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and after graduating, published his first novel, “Not Without Laughter.” He also served as a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War.

Hughes published one of his most celebrated poems, “What Happens to a Dream Deferred” in 1951. In 1981, 14 years after his death, his home in Harlem was added to the National Register of Places. His work continues to be translated throughout the world.

Access the video to learn more about the contributions of Langston Hughes.

* The term, “negro” to refer to an African American or Black person is an outdated term that is no longer used because it is offensive by today’s social norms.

Dr. Charles Drew (1904-1950) American Surgeon

Dr. Drew was an African American physician, surgeon, and medical researcher. The American Red Cross blood program in place today is a direct result of the work of his medical pioneering work.

During World War II, Dr. Drew was instrumental in developing blood plasma processing, storage, and transfusion therapy.

His groundbreaking work in the large-scale production of human plasma was eventually used by the U.S. Army and the American Red Cross as the basis for blood banks.

View the video from New York Presbyterian Hospital to hear about Dr. Charles Drew’s contributions.

Jessie Owens (1913-1980) Olympic Athlete (American Track and Field)

Owens was born in Alabama. At the age of 23-years old, Owens became one of the most famous track and field athletes in history.

Within 45 minutes, he broke five world records in 1935 and went on to hold the world record for the long jump for 25 years.

At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, Owens won gold 4 times in these events: the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay, and the long jump. For his achievements, he enjoyed worldwide accolades on the international stage. Both a street and a school in Berlin were named in his honor. Owens later wrote the following statement.

“My whole life was wrapped up, summed up – and stopped up – by a single incident: my confrontation with the German dictator, Adolf Hitler, in the 1936 Olympics. The lines were drawn then as they had never been drawn before or since. The Germans were […] coming to represent everything that free people have always feared.”

Prior to Owens events, Hilter would personally meet every gold medalist. However, Hitler had left after Owens' first gold medal win and did not meet him. Subsequently, he stopped meeting with any of the gold medalists.

After the 1936 Berlin Olympics, only the white athletes were invited to see and meet Roosevelt. No such invitation was made to the African American athletes such as Jesse Owens. Owens said that "Hitler didn't snub me—it was [Roosevelt] who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram".

Owens has received many tributes in the US since his achievements, including two commemorative US postage stamps and a memorial park in Alabama that have been named in his honor. In 1981, the USA Track and Field created the Jesse Owens Award, the countries highest award for the sport. Find out more about Jesse Owens at the Offical Olympics website

William Warfield (1920-2002) Concert Bass-Baritone Singer, Actor

Opera singer and educator William Caesar Warfield was born in Arkansas. Warfield developed vocal skills by singing in the choir of his father’s Baptist church. During his childhood, the Warfield family moved to Rochester, NY. In high school, Warfield won the District Award for the National Music Educators’ League vocal competition, which earned him a scholarship to a music school. He went on to earn a B.A. degree from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in 1942.

After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Warfield returned to New York and began performing in Broadway musicals. In 1950, Warfield was also cast in the film adaptation of Show Boat and made his New York City Town Hall debut. In 1952, Warfield was chosen to star as Porgy in a revival of the musical Porgy and Bess, opposite opera soprano legend Leontyne Price. They toured throughout the United States and Europe and later married. Warfield went on to enjoy a long career as a performer and educator from the 1950s through the 1980s.

In 1975, the twenty-fifth anniversary of Warfield's Town Hall debut was commemorated by a recital at the Duke Ellington Center in New York City's Carnegie Hall. In 1984, he won a Grammy Award in the spoken-word category for his narration of Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait. Warfield was a past president of the National Association of Negro Musicians and a board member of the Schiller Institute In Washington, D.C.

To learn more about William Warfield, visit historymakers.org.

Leontyne Price (1927-) Lyric Soprano Opera Singer

Born Mary Violet Leontine Price in Mississippi, she went on to become the first African American singer to achieve an international reputation in opera. As a girl, Price sang in her church choir and received excellent vocal training at an early age, and studied piano.

In 1948, Price received a full scholarship and began studies at Juilliard School of Music in New York City. She starred on Broadway in 1952 performing the opera, Four Saints in Three Acts. Later that year, Price debuted in Dallas and appeared as Bess in a revival of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. During this time, Price met and later married William Warfield, her co-star in Porgy and Bess.

Price’s successes on Broadway earned her an international career where she starred in several works in recital halls, opera stages, and on television.

Price’s career has spanned several decades, and through her acclaim, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1985, she became a National Medal of Arts recipient. Throughout her career, Price's recordings earned her numerous honors, including more than a dozen Grammy Awards.

To learn more about the life of Leontyne Price, visit Biography.com

The Birth of Jazz and the Blues

No discussion of African American history and culture in the 20th Century would be complete without mention of American Jazz and the Blues. This music is deeply rooted in the rhythm and sounds that enslaved Africans carried with them from the African continent. Those enslaved were stripped of their homes, their names, and rights but the music and culture that they held onto were transformed and evolved as Black communities were established in the Colonies.

The Blues and Jazz are two musical art forms that have roots in the tradition of old African American spiritual music that was shaped into something new as a form of self-expression and as one way to enrich their lives.

Watch the video to hear about the origins and evolution of the Blues, which is also the basis for Rock and Roll music. A Short History of the Blues: Emerging Music of the 20th Century

The Expansion of African American Music in the 20th Century

During the 20th Century, America saw a great expansion of talented Blues and Jazz musicians and singers as the music became popularized in the wider American Culture as African Americans left the Southern states during the Great Northern Migration that began in 1916.

Duke Ellington (1899-1974) Composer, Pianist, Jazz Orchestra Leader

Born, Edward Kennedy in Washington, D.C., Duke Ellington became one of the most influential, talented, and productive composures and musicians of the 20th Century. He arrived in New York City in 1923, and the following year created and led a band, which was hired to play at the Cotton Club where he stayed for several years.

After visiting the White House in 1931, his band embarked on a European tour in 1933. Ellington brought jazz to audiences worldwide for more than 5 decades. During Ellington’s long career, he composed more than 50 top hits, including "Satin Doll" and "Take the A Train".

Ellington was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971 before his death in 1974. Access the video to hear Duke Ellington and his band perform, Take the A Train in 1939

Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996) American Jazz Singer

Fitzgerald was born in Virginia and became an iconic jazz singer that is frequently referred to as the First Lady of Song and other endearing titles such as Queen of Jazz.

Fitzgerald performed with the Chick Webb Orchestra in Harlem but later became a solo artist.

Fitzgerald also enjoyed collaborations with famous musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Fitzgerald had scores of popular songs, including, "It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing)" and "My Funny Valentine."

Fitzgerald was a highly celebrated performer who received fourteen Grammy Awards, the National Medal of Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The End of Jim Crow

Since the end of the Civil War, millions of courageous African American people and their allies fought against the horrors of Jim Crow Laws and legal segregation. The post-World War II era saw an increase in civil rights activities in the African American community, with a focus on ensuring that Black citizens were able to vote. These events ushered in the civil rights movement, eventually, resulting in the removal of Jim Crow laws.

In 1948 President Harry Truman ordered integration in the military, and in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that educational segregation was unconstitutional, bringing to an end the era of “separate-but-equal” education. While this intervention by social activists and the US Government was a step in the right direction, it was not until 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which legally ended the segregation that had been institutionalized by Jim Crow laws.

In 1965—100 years after the passage of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution—the Voting Rights Act halted efforts to keep minorities from voting. The Fair Housing Act of 1968, which ended discrimination in renting and selling homes, followed.

Ruby Bridges (1954-present)

Born in Louisiana in 1954, Ruby Bridges advanced the cause of civil rights in November 1960 when she became the first African American student to integrate an elementary school in the segregated South.

A quote by Ruby Bridges in 2020—"When I think about how great this country could be, America, land of the free, home of the brave, I think about what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said about being great. Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace. Really, it is that love and grace for one another that will heal this world."

Please return during Week 4 when we provide an overview of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and work that is currently ongoing in our society to preserve and advance the hard-earned liberties that African Americans have fought and died for and how Black people continue to enrich the fabric of our country.



Throughout February, we will share our PTSA programming. We will also include news about the exciting educational experiences that schools across our district have planned to help students and families celebrate Black History Month.

A Focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Inherent Value of All People

We know that it is essential to create welcoming schools and classrooms where differences in language, culture, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, unique abilities, etc., are viewed as assets rather than deficits. An awareness and acceptance of these differences are foundational to the success of all students.

Please return to our website each week. Here you will find interviews, historical profiles, and resources providing snapshots of the culture and the legacy of the African Diaspora and life in America.

If you have questions regarding any of this material, you may reach the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee at dandi@pittsfordptsa.net


Indigenous Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge the Seneca people as the traditional custodians of the land we are on and their enduring presence. We would also like to pay respects to Elders past and present of the Hodinöhsö:ni' Confederacy, and we extend that respect to any other indigenous people who are present with us today. We make this acknowledgment as a first step in fulfilling our responsibility to critically look at colonial histories and their present-day implications as we pay respect to the keepers of the land and the land itself. We are aware that acknowledgment is not reparation. Land acknowledgment without active steps towards education, support of the Seneca Nation, and sincere efforts to undo Colonial legacies mean very little.