The Shame of America

Lynching in Paris, TX 1893 (Image: Library of Congress)

Ida B. Wells, an early anti-lynching advocate who virtually worked alone, exposed the unspeakable brutality of a violent mob with their “unwritten law” that justified putting human beings to death by lynching. Wells documented the history of lynching in the goldfields of the far West. The thief or the man who jumped a claim and other outlaws tried, and if found guilty, were hanged under a tree where the court convened. But what happened in the South by the end of the Civil War and during Reconstruction, was an entirely different situation. She demanded that lynching end, that it was a federal crime and required a federal remedy.

Southern Democrats had successfully established Jim Crow
Laws throughout the South and repressed black leadership

Southern Democrats used frequent lynchings to intimidate, suppress, and nullify blacks’ right to vote. This “unwritten law” was used to accuse blacks of rape against white women or bumping into a white person – anything Southern Democrats wanted to charge a black for to return white supremacy to the South.  By the time of the collapse of Reconstruction, Southern Democrats had successfully established Jim Crow Laws throughout the South and repressed black leadership. Wells continued her prominent anti-lynching campaign for forty years urging Presidents William McKinley to President Woodrow Wilson to outlaw the practice of lynching. She became the most prominent opponent of lynching in the United States and garnered an essential ally in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Reuben Stacy Lynching Fort Lauderdale, FL (Library of Congress)

Unsuccessful efforts to stop lynchings in America would continue during FDR’s administration and not until President Truman, did the Democrats pass an anti-lynching bill in 1946. However, lynchings would continue through 1967 along with Jim Crow laws and brutality for blacks and other whites that supported them.

Ida B. Wells – The Library of Congress

Lynch Laws in All Its Phases; February 13, 1893

Lynch Law in America, speechgiven in Chicago, Illinois; January 1900

Speech, Lynching Our National Crime; June 1, 1909

Black Architects that Made America Great

Black Architects from the 19th and 20th Centuries

Before the Civil War, blacks learned the building trade to benefit their owners, but after the Civil War, they passed their skills to their children and these budding architects would eventually attend school and lead the way for other black architects. One of these pioneer architects, Robert R. Taylor (1868 – 1942), became the first accredited black architect and a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1892. Booker T. Washington recruited him to establish the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Later, the school of architecture would be named the Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science (TSACS).

Julian Abel (1881-1950)

Other architects would follow such as Wallace A. Rayfield (1873 – 1941), Moses McKissack III (1879 – 1952), and Julian Abel (1881 – 1950). Many of these architects did not sign their work and did not receive credit for their efforts. Julian Abel was not given credit in his lifetime for the beautiful works of art on the Duke University campus such as the gothic Duke University Chapel. At the time he designed these buildings for the campus, Duke was a whites-only university. It would be the 1980s until Abel was given credit for his work at Duke University and in 2016, Duke named a campus quad after him. Rayfield was the second formally trained black architect and his buildings played an essential role in the Civil Rights Movement; his 16th Street Baptist Church (completed in 1911) was the site of the 1963 bomb that killed four black teenage girls. McKissack III established one of the earliest black-architecture firms in the U.S., today the firm, McKissack & McKissack managed the building of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.

Norma Merrick Sklarek (1928 -2012) called the “Rosa Parks of architecture,” was one of the first black women in architecture; she co-founded one of the first women-architectural firms, Siegel-Sklarek-Diamond in 1985, with two other women-architects, Margot Siegel (1925 – ) and Katherine Diamond (1954 – ).

Marshall Purnell (1950-)

The twentieth century would include Paul R. Williams (1894 – 1980), the architect of the stars as well as designing the LAX Theme Building, and a significant architect for the city of Long Beach, California.  J. Max Bond ( 1935 – 2009) who was also involved with the National Museum of African American History and Culture; and Marshall Purnell (1950 – ) considered one of the most accomplished architects in United States today with projects that include Washington Convention Center, Washington Nationals Baseball Park, Washington NBA and NHL Venue Verizon Center, and the National Martin Luther King Memorial.

In 1930, there were only 60 registered black architects, but today, there are more than 2,278.

Paul R. Williams video

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First Black American Car Dealer

Homer B. Roberts

Homer B. Roberts was a WWI veteran and an electrical engineer. Not only was he the first black American car dealer but was also one of the first black retailing giants.

He created a cutting-edge campaign of “class and distinction almost describes our cars and customers” in the 1920s that preceded the Duesenberg elegant men and women campaign in the 1930s. Roberts knew that marketing the feeling of driving a car sold by him was as important as the car itself. He was a marketing genius.

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Jim Crow in the Saddle

Black Jockeys During Reconstruction

In the early 19th Century, Southern Thoroughbred breeders relied on slaves to care for, ride and train horses. After Emancipation slaves remained on the farms and it was their expertise and skill that allowed them to become successful jockeys, trainers and eventually owners.  During Reconstruction, black jockeys dominated America’s tracks at the most prestigious races, and in 1875 with the first race at the Kentucky Derby, 13 of the 15 riders were black.

the first race at the Kentucky Derby, 13 of the 15 riders were black

Black jockey, Isaac Burns Murphy, was the first black millionaire athlete who made between $15,000 to $20,000 a year (nearly $1 million in today’s dollars). Other famous black jockeys included Edward Dudley, Jimmy Winkfield, Shelby “Pike” Barnes, and Ansel Williamson. These jockeys were either born into slavery or grew up as children of slaves and infused with a unique understanding of horses’ proficiencies and weaknesses which made them excellent handlers on the tracks.

By 1896, The Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson endorsing the “separate but equal” doctrine led to increased discrimination throughout the country including its racetracks. So, by 1911 in Kentucky, only two black jockeys remained. The concerted effort to rid horse racing of black jockeys was successful, and Jim Crow laws won.

First Black Auto Manufacturer

F. D. Patterson

Frederick Douglass Patterson was the first manufacturer, owner, and operator of Greenfield-Patterson Automobile Company.  His first car debuted in 1915, built in Ohio, the car competed with the Model T by Henry Ford and cost $850. Patterson’s car was possibly more sophisticated than Henry Ford’s Model T but it could not match Ford’s manufacturing capability. So, Patterson, as so many other small independent car manufactures did, closed their doors.

Patterson recognized the opportunity to switch to production of buses, trucks and utility vehicles and changed his business name to Greenfield Bus Body Company. By 1939, this small manufacturing company closed its doors as it could no longer compete with major companies.

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Victor Young: Lamborghini Merchant & Media Mogul

Victor Young
“Young’s advice is learning a work ethic early, do not quit, do not let anyone discount you, find who wants your talent”

Last year a presentation was made to an after-school tutoring program for middle school students that shared the story of Victor Young, a Lamborghini merchant and media mogul. It was a huge success! The video was not about being a Lamborghini dealer; it was about how to achieve success while overcoming tremendous obstacles.

Created by Block Starz Music Television and produced by Frances Presley Rice and Bayer Mack, this video is encouraging to young people to help them understand their value and how important their individual brand is. Young’s advice is learning a work ethic early, do not quit, do not let anyone discount you, find who wants your talent, and do not spend time trying to sell your ideas to someone not interested in them.  Finally, he says that we all have value and talent, find it and develop it. Hard work and working smart are the keys to success.

Black History DVDs available on Amazon

Before Rosa Parks, There Was Claudette Colvin

Claudette Colvin

Fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin was an active member of the local NAACP Youth Council lead by Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama. On March 2, 1955, Colvin tested the cities’ segregated busing ordinance by refusing to give up her seat to a white rider. She was arrested, fined and jailed. The NAACP and other activists were initially excited at the prospect of organizing a bus boycott and civil rights action around Colvin’s case. Interest soon diminished when it was discovered that Colvin was several months pregnant, and her frequent outbursts and cursing made her less sympathetic to the conservative African-American churches and community.

Nine months later, activist Rosa Parks, “a pillar of the community,” became the suitable person the NAACP chose to challenge Montgomery’s busing ordinance. Parks participated in strategy sessions and discussions in preparation for the challenge against segregation. Lead by Parks, the bus boycott would last more than a year. Claudette Colvin filed a case in the U.S. District Court on February 1, 1956, Browder v. Gayle, along with three others to sue for the end of busing segregation. The decision reached on December 17, 1956 ruled that Brown v Board of Education applied to Browder v. Gayle. The boycott ended on December 20, 1956.

Parks was not a woman that just showed up on the bus one day while she was doing her daily work, she was a part of a well thought out plan to end segregation on the buses in Montgomery. Colvin was interviewed much later in life and said, “My mother told me to be quiet about what I did. Let Rosa be the one. White people are not going to bother Rosa – her skin is lighter than yours and they like her.”

Claudette Colvin should not be footnote in history. Her contributions are invaluable in the history of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.