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The evolution of slave laws in the American colonies reflected the increasing difficulty in preventing servants from escaping as well as the escalating paranoia among white citizens who feared a growing community of fugitive slaves From the mid 1600s well into the 1700s the Virginia legislature the House of Burgesses in Jamestown passed a series of measures that sought to prevent clandestine transport of slaves reward those who aided in the capture of fugitives with both cash and goods punish those who helped escapees and eventually permanently define slaves as property Many statutes were in direct response to specific incidents especially those concerning escaped slaves who were believed to be living the wilderness beyond the town The law reproduced below sought to incorporate several of these measures into one bill In the ensuing decades these omnibus laws would become more elaborate mandating the establishment of sheriffs offices and militia creating ...

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In the long tradition of American social activism the influence of the sisters Grimké looms large Natives of South Carolina Sarah Grimké and the younger Angelina Grimké Weld were among their country s earliest proponents of equal rights for all Americans as well as for that most cherished of liberal institutions the universal adult franchise They were also fierce abolitionists a position that frequently earned them the derision of male observers not a few of whom were their fellows in the fight against the institution of slavery who reckoned such political posturing unfit for women of good breeding The sisters also dared to shine a light on the rape of female slaves and had the temerity to suggest a sisterhood among women of all colors again to the outraged brays of Southern slaveholders and Northern abolitionists alike Too early for their time the convictions and beliefs of the sisters Grimké ...

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The day-to-day trade of human beings involved the brutal practice of separating mothers from their children. Though there were some laws to protect the rights of slave women, the usual practice was to sell mothers with their infants together. However, as the advertisement below indicates, a child who had reached the age of six was already regarded as old enough to be bought separately. This post, it should be noted, is found in the Pennsylvania Gazette, a Philadelphia-based newspaper cofounded by Benjamin Franklin.

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Sudarkasa Niara

Early in the twentieth century, scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, and Melville J. Herskovits incorporated research about the African past in their writings on blacks in the United States and elsewhere in the Americas. More than any other scholar, the anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits focused his research and publications on the survival of African cultural influences in the United States, as well as in the Caribbean and South America. Herskovits refuted the assertion by E. Franklin Frazier and others that the culture of blacks in America showed little or no evidence of links to Africa. According to Frazier, the remnants of African culture that had been brought to the United States were obliterated by the experience of slavery. Yet Herskovits provided many examples of enduring cultural links to Africa in his book, The Myth of the Negro Past (1941).

Primary Source

In 1851 Sojourner Truth (Isabella Bomefree or Baumfree) spoke to the Woman's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Her speech has become one of the most honored artifacts of American history. Because Truth could neither read nor write, the speech was preserved only through newspaper accounts and through that of Frances Gage, a white feminist who was at the convention. Her record of the speech is written in a heavy dialect that it is unlikely Truth used, given that she was from the far northern United States and grew up working for a Dutch family. She spoke only Dutch as a child and had a marked Dutch accent. For this reason, most historians refer to the speech rendered without dialect. Gage introduced the speech in the History of Woman Suffrage in this way Several ministers attended the second day of the Woman s Rights Convention and were not shy in ...

Primary Source

Few luminaries of the antislavery, pro-suffrage movement can be said to have raised as many hackles (or as much righteous hell) as the magnificent sisters Grimké, Sarah and Angelina. Born in the early years of the nineteenth century to a prominent judge (and slaveholder) the Grimké sisters went on to blaze a trail through the national debates over the slavery question and the rights of women. Their attention to questions of such national importance was not, to say the least, publicly welcomed. Angelina Grimké's 1836 Appeal to the Christian Women of the South a scriptural attack on the evils inherent in the peculiar institution made her a celebrity in the North a reviled figure in the South Such was her fame that in 1837 she became the first woman invited to address the state legislature of Massachusetts However soon Grimké married the redoubtable Theodore Weld and thus came an ...

Article

John Garst

the inspiration for the “Frankie and Johnny” song, was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents were Cedric Baker and his wife Margaret (maiden name unknown), and she had three brothers: Charles, Arthur, and James. Charles, who was younger than Frankie, lived with her on Targee Street in 1900. In 1899 Baker shot and killed her seventeen-year-old “mack” (pimp), Allen “Al” Britt. St. Louis pianists and singers were soon thumping and belting out what would become one of America's most famous folk ballads and popular songs, “Frankie and Johnny,” also known as “Frankie and Albert,” “Frankie Baker,” and “Frankie.”

At age sixteen or seventeen Baker fell in love with a man who, unknown to her, was living off the earnings of a prostitute (this kind of man was known as an “easy rider,” a term made famous by W. C. Handy in his ...

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Joshunda Sanders

media mogul, model, and actress, was born Tyra Lynne Banks and grew up in Inglewood, California. Her father, Donald Banks, was a computer consultant, and her mother, Carolyn London, was a medical photographer and business manager. The couple divorced when Tyra was six years old, in 1980.

Banks attended Immaculate Heart Middle and High School, an all-girl's private school. She credited her mother's photography business and friends' encouragement with her ability to overcome a self-consciousness during her awkward adolescence that almost made her pursue another path.

“I grew three inches and lost 40 pounds in 90 days,” she told the Black Collegian in an interview about her teen years. “It was just this crazy growth spurt. I felt like a freak: people would stare at me in the grocery store.”

A friend encouraged her to try modeling during her senior year At the time several ...

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Tiffany M. Gill

Black is beautiful This familiar cry of the Black Power movement was revolutionary in its celebration of the culture style politics and physical attributes of peoples of African descent Symbols of the black is beautiful aesthetic most notably the Afro not only conjured up ideas about black beauty but also highlighted its contentious relationship with black politics and identity This tension between beauty standards and black politics and identity however did not first emerge in the late twentieth century with the Afro or the Black Power movement In fact blacks particularly black women have been struggling to navigate the paradoxical political nature of black identity and beauty since their enslavement in the Americas Despite this strained relationship black women have actively sought to define beauty in their lives and in the process created and sustained one of the most resilient and successful black controlled enterprises in America the black beauty ...

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Anne K. Driscoll

blues singer and pianist, was born Gladys Alberta Bentley in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the eldest of four children of George L. Bentley and Mary C. Mote, a native of Trinidad. The Bentley family was very poor. Later a lesbian, Bentley acknowledged that even as a child she felt more comfortable in boys' clothing than in girls' clothing; however, it was when Bentley developed a long-term crush on one of her female schoolteachers that her classmates began to ridicule her and her parents began to take Bentley from doctor to doctor in an effort to “fix” her. Finally at age sixteen Bentley left Philadelphia and traveled to Harlem, New York, where she quickly became immersed in the Harlem Renaissance and its “don't ask, don't tell” attitude about sexuality. Bentley became just one of many homosexual or bisexual celebrities, joining the likes of Langston Hughes, Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith ...

Article

Terri DiFazio

Despite how common it was for many of them to have more children than they desired, women of color were suspicious of the early birth control movement. This may be attributed, in part, to its association with the eugenics movement. Francis Galton, a British scientist and distant relative of Charles Darwin, coined the word “eugenics” and founded the Eugenics Society in 1907. Galton’s ideas fueled fear of “race suicide” in the white community and followers advocated birth control as a way to prevent American-born whites from being outnumbered by immigrants and blacks.

Margaret Sanger a public health nurse known for her tireless advocacy of the modern contraceptives movement was not in agreement with Galton s approach to eugenics although she used its terms to win support for the birth control movement Her complex role in this controversial matter raises questions about whether she was a racist ...

Article

Rose C. Thevenin

Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale organized the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) on 15 October 1966, in Oakland, California. They devised a Ten Point Platform and Program to demand self-determination, employment, land, food, and education along with an end to robbery by capitalists in the black community. The BPP Program also insisted upon exemption from military service, an end to police brutality, freedom for all incarcerated men, trials by a jury of peers, and justice and peace for all oppressed minorities.

Although the BPP was founded by men and emphasized some programs directly related to black men, women were integral to the organization and worked for the greater good of their people without regard for gender conventions.

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Francesca Gamber

civil rights and gay rights advocate, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to Bill Boykin, a bus driver and salesman, and Shirley, a federal employee. Shortly after the birth of his sister Krystal in 1966, the family moved from inner-city St. Louis to the predominantly white suburb of Florissant, Missouri. As he grew up, Boykin displayed an interest in politics, becoming student body president in the fifth grade and dreaming of the White House.

Boykin's parents separated when he was in elementary school, and both left the St. Louis area in 1980. Boykin moved with his father and sister to Clearwater, Florida, where his father opened a black beauty-supply business. Boykin attended Countryside High School, where as a senior he was elected student government president, and graduated in 1983 He enrolled in Dartmouth College in Hanover New Hampshire that fall and joined the track team and ...

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Highly regarded for her science-fiction novels and short stories, Octavia Butler was born in Pasadena, California. A shy and dyslexic child, Butler was raised in Pasadena and attended John Muir High School. She then studied for two years at Pasadena City College before completing additional coursework at California State College and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

Butler read avidly as a youth and began writing short works of fiction at the age of ten. Her first novel, Patternmaster, was published in 1976 as part of a series that includes Mind of My Mind (1977), Survivor (1978), Wild Seed (1980), and Clay's Ark (1984). Though best known for her novels, Butler has won awards for her short stories, including a Hugo for “Speech Sounds” (1983) and both a Hugo and a Nebula for “Blood-Child” (1984 ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

singer, actor, and comedian, was born Nell Ruth Hardy in Birmingham, Alabama, one of nine children. Nell's parents were Edna Mae Humphrey, a homemaker, and her second husband Horace Hardy, an Army sergeant. At age two, Nell witnessed his accidental electrocution death. Deeply affected by Dinah Washington, B. B. King, and Elvis Presley records, Nell began singing in her church choir, on a local radio show called the “Y-Teens,” and on the gospel circuit. She never grew taller than four feet eleven inches but had a large, commanding voice and presence. Her show business ambitions made her a “weirdo” in a social environment where “most kids wanted to be teachers or nurses” (CNN.com, Entertainment, 23 Jan. 2003). At age 13, the Presbyterian-raised Nell discovered that one of her grandfathers probably had Jewish ancestry. Although not converting until 1983 she started ...

Article

Sharla M. Fett

The history of African American women’s childbearing is one of cultural resilience and profound structural oppression. Far more than a mere biological event, childbirth has been an important social and religious experience in African American communities. At the same time, slavery, poverty, and discrimination have strongly shaped the social realities of childbearing for many black women. Despite important changes in birth practices over the last three centuries, the experiences of pregnancy and childbirth continue to be closely connected to the broader political and economic struggles of African American women.

From the many cultures of West and Central Africa captive women carried their understandings of birth into the slave societies of the New World Though widely varied African gender systems emphasized the importance of motherhood and fertility to women s social identity and family lineage Captivity by slave traders brought African social institutions of childbirth into a collision with slavery s ...

Article

Wilma King

A variable social construction, the concept of childhood barely existed in early America. In fact, this special period of growth and development experienced before accepting adult responsibilities was not an entrenched American institution until the twentieth century. The time at which this protected segment of the lifecycle ends is debatable. Some scholars and public officials have used twelve as the cutoff while others set it at age sixteen or eighteen. Still others claim childhood lasts until twenty-one years of age.

Age limits aside, other factors, including color, class, status, and the embracing shield of loved ones, are significant in determining if girls enjoy a protected period in their formative years. There are also concerns about their psychological well-being and freedom from emotional devastation, which may mature girls beyond their chronological years.

Primary Source

The arrival of Africans in the southern colonies did not immediately lead to the construction of a complex legal system designed to keep them and their offspring in permanent servitude Instead many arrived as servants who often had the opportunity to purchase their freedom just as white servants did However in the closing decades of the seventeenth century laws began to emerge that restricted the movement and liberties of African immigrants Moreover these laws made the restrictions hereditary thereby hardening the racial divide The first of these from Virginia deals with the contentious issue of children born from the union of a white man and a black woman The solution to this problem according to this statute was to regard the child as free or slave according to the status of his or her mother But as if to prevent its own application in the years to come the law ...

Article

Leyla Keough

Elizabeth Coleman, later known as Bessie, was born in Atlanta, Texas. Her mother, Susan Coleman, was African American, and her father, George Coleman, was one-quarter African American and three-quarters Choctaw Indian. While Coleman was still an infant her family moved to Waxahachie, Texas, but a few years later her father returned to an Indian reservation in the Oklahoma Territory. Coleman's mother was left to care for the large family by picking cotton and doing domestic work. Susan Coleman enlisted Bessie's help in these jobs; in return, Bessie was allowed to save the wages she earned to help finance her college education.

Coleman finished high school, but the money she had saved was only enough to pay for one semester at the Colored Agricultural Normal University in Langston, Oklahoma (later Langston University). Coleman left the university for Chicago, Illinois where two of her brothers lived There ...

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Jessica Millward

Black women in early America lived in territory held by the Spanish, the British, the French, and the Dutch. While the presence of African and African American slaves in places such as Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and even New England is well known, black women also lived in the Spanish colonies, which comprised portions of present-day California, Florida, and New Mexico. Black women also had a formidable presence in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, which is present-day New York, as well as in the French territory of New Orleans. While the overwhelming number of black women in what became the United States lived their entire lives as slaves, some were indentured servants, and some were free persons. Black women traveled with explorers to present-day New Mexico, petitioned their respective colonial governments for freedom, and produced literary works.

The experiences of black women in early America varied depending on whether ...