Sunday, March 8, 2015

Women in the March

Amelia Boynton became one of the first African Americans to register to vote in Alabama in 1932.  The following year she worked to register others forming the Dallas County Voters League.  After working decades with little success, Boynton encouraged the SNCC to come to Selma to help.
In 1964, Boynton ran for Congress as a Democrat, making history as the first African-American woman to seek national office in Alabama.  Later that same year she sought additional support for her efforts in Selma.  Other civil rights activists recalled Ms. Boynton approached Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in late 1964 and asked that he come to Selma and help.  It is believed that is where the Selma movement started.  She inspired King and members of the SCLC to take action in Selma.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Women's History

Our celebration began with what is traditionally recognized as "Black History Month".  Our celebration continues with  "Women's History Month" .   I will start the celebration with one of, if not my favorite, women in history, Kathryn Nelson.  The strong bias is not simply because she was my mother but because she remains one of the most amazing women I have ever known.  I have shared information about Mama before so I'll make this entry in the form of a timeline.  

Kathryn Bryan was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1925.  
Five years later her family moved to Memphis, Tennessee where she grew up.  
Kathryn attended a private Elementary school in Memphis.  The school was an experiment.  The school's head mistress, had previously taught at a finishing school. Her goal was to determine  if young Black children could be taught similar skills taught to white children.  Because Kathryn could read upon starting school and was very bright, she skipped grades.
Kathryn went on to attend a public high school in Memphis. (I think it was Booker T. Washington)
She was a member of the marching band and played trombone.  (I recall her saying she played very badly, but had fun playing) In one of her stories about high school she said a special visitor to their school was W.C. Handy.  
Kathryn graduated from high school and received a scholarship from the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and enrolled in LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis. Kathryn was 17 years old.  
Kathryn met Clyde Nelson and they dated until he joined the army to fight in World War II.  He would return to LeMoyne after the war and complete his degree.  
Kathryn obtained a degree in social science in 1946.

Kathryn left Memphis after graduation and simultaneously attended Columbia University Teachers College and Union Theological Seminary in New York.  In 1948 she earned a joint degree, a Master's of Arts in religious education.

 After graduate school Kathryn left the country for five years to become a missionary for the Episcopal church in Haiti.

Kathryn returned to St. Louis to reunite with her college sweetheart and they were married September of 1952.

 Kathryn held a variety of jobs and was once described as a "champion for persons of less chance."  Jobs included working with children on the Navajo reservation at Fort Defiance, Arizona, social worker at Annie Malone Children's Home, director of the Junior Kindergarten at the Page Park YMCA, the Channel 9 series she created and hosted, "Growing Together", faculty member and administrator at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, and program director at the Danforth foundation.  She spent endless hours in meetings and sat on a variety of boards in the St. Louis community.  She served on the board of directors of the St. Louis Public Library Board, was a trustee at Webster University, co-chair of the Forest Park Master Plan committee and was a board member of St. Louis 2004. (to name a very few)
Mama was a wise woman and very intelligent.  She loved learning and was a voracious reader.  She had a way of telling you what you needed to hear rather than what you wanted to hear.  Mama was a great listener and had a gift of bringing people together.  She was comfortable in her own skin and folks enjoyed being around her.  In the book "Hitting Our Stride" by Joan Cohen, Karen Coburn and Joan Pearlman, Mama talks about aging, she was 54 at the time the book was written.  She says, " I've come to see that for the really vital women, there's that zest for living; they can laugh and find joy and do what they want and make a contribution to the world."  Mama had a zest for living until her last day and her contributions were many, she was truly an amazing woman.  I miss her daily. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Digging for History

Grandma Maggie

I was looking for an interesting person to share in this posting and put my stacks of history books away and decided to stick with the theme of sharing history through my own personal stories. This is what I know of my Grandma.  She was born Mary Magdalene in Ripley, Tennessee in January  1899.  She did not like her name and called herself Magalene, then Maggie L. , then Maggie.  What I knew of my paternal grandmother was that she lived in Memphis and had been a teacher in a one room school house.  
Grandma's teaching certificate dated July 1918.

She was married twice and had two children from her first marriage.  One of the children was sadly killed in a fire.  
The child on the left is my Daddy the girl is his sister Mary.  

I knew  my Grandmother was active in her church and was a woman of faith.  As I dug for more clues about her I found them in her bible.  Her bible had keepsakes, a dried leaf, newspaper clippings family history (names of relatives) and book marks that held the place of familiar readings.  I remember summer visits with my Grandma and her taking us on outings to show us off to her friends.   I wish I knew more about her.  She passed in the 70's . I wonder if I was like her at all.   Maybe it was her DNA that influenced my becoming  an educator also.  I gifted my daughter with her name linking her to our family history.  We carry our elders with us sometimes by choice and sometimes by who we become.  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Guest Blogger Magdalene Linck: Meet Victoria Spivey

Victoria Regina Spivey was a  Texas born blues singer whose career spanned nearly 40 years. The child of working class parents, Spivey was raised in a musical household and her siblings, Addie “Sweet Peas” and Elton Island each enjoyed a  level of success as recording artists. Victoria worked as a piano player in various nightclubs and bars throughout her teens before relocating to St. Louis, Missouri at the age of 20. It was in St. Louis that Spivey was signed to Okeh Records. Her first recording featured original songs and went on to become a best seller. At the time, Okeh Records was gaining notoriety as a recorder and publisher of ‘Race’ Records featuring Black artists such as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Lucille Bogan, and Hattie McDaniel.

Victoria Spivey ‘Any-Kind-A-Man’ 1934 on Vocalion Records

When the Great Depression hit the United States, countless musicians found themselves out of work and record labels began to flounder. Despite this, Spivey continued working in the record industry. In 1929 she had a role in the MGM film, Hallelujah—which was one of the first films with an entirely Black cast released by a major motion picture studio. Spivey continued working as an artist taking roles in vaudeville shows, musicals, and stage productions until her ‘retirement’ in the early 1950s. 

Trailer for MGM’s Hallelujah 1929 directed by King Vidor

With the revival of folk music a decade later, Spivey returned to performing. During the 1960s Spivey played at numerous festivals and recorded songs with other aging blues musicians, such as Alberta Hunter and Lonnie Johnson. It was also during this period that Spivey worked with jazz historian Len Kunstadt to found Spivey Records—a label specializing in blues and jazz. The label was in operation until the mid-1980s and recorded musicians such as Roosevelt Sykes, Big Joe Turner, Otis Rush, and Sippie Wallace. Despite its vast number of prominent blues recordings, the label is perhaps best known for the LP ‘Three Kings and the Queen’ which featured a young Bob Dylan on harmonica and backing vocals in March of 1962, just prior to the release of his debut album.  Victoria Spivey passed away in October 1976.

Sitting on Top of the World’ by Big Joe Williams featuring Bob Dylan on backing vocals and harmonica. 

For more recordings check out:

For a complete discography of Victoria Spivey’s early recordings check out:

A complete discography of Spivey Records can be found HERE.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Through a Lens Darkly

The Independent film "Through A Lens Darkly " explores Black photography and aired on PBS's Independent Lens yesterday (2/22/2015).  The film was shown in St. Louis during the St. Louis Film Festival in November of 2014.   PBS' Nine Network teamed with the film maker, Thomas Allen Harris, to bring the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Roadshow to St. Louis and offered participants an opportunity to share family photos and stories. It was the similar theme of the project/exhibit I did in 2013 "As If We Weren't There" that led PBS to contact me to be a part of the DDFR Roadshow.  It was an honor for my small body of work to be recognized and to be invited to participate.
Below is the film I created for my exhibit:

Click here to see an article about the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Roadshow that appeared in the St. Louis American.  

 Related video

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Our History

I have been writing and talking about Black History for a while.  I name Black History as the history of ALL of us.  It is the often forgotten story that is missing in the American narrative that gives a more accurate picture of our country growing, working and struggling together. I returned to my family photographs.  As I looked through the pages of photos, first I realized how lucky I was to have these treasures.  Second, I wondered if these old photos shaped how I view history.  I suspect most people view  'history' as what is offered in the text books in school, with carefully selected, incomplete chapters that round out curriculum requirements.  This is only a part of our history.  Instead I have come to believe that history is where our stories begin-  in our homes.  History is where our stories and lives intersect.  When you grow up with old photographs you begin to see yourself as a part of history.  You can see first hand how your elders worked, played and worshiped.   We all have time lines and events that shape us.  We have people we look up to and admire for their leadership, skill, craft and character.  We are surrounded by people who have inspired,  mentored and lead us to our better selves in our homes, communities, schools, churches and work places. We know writers, artists, orators, athletes, musicians and people with strong moral fiber.  We don't need products and posters and awards to name our personal heroes.  In sharing history I look for those people, the un-named, and celebrate their gifts and talents.  I take pride in naming my own heroes and she-roes.  Learn your history, dig out the old photographs, record your history, listen carefully to the stories of your elders.  Think about the people and events that helped shape you.   Where does your history begin?  Where does your story intersect in the American story, the story of ALL of us?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Negro Leagues....wait, who's she?

African Americans began playing baseball in the late 1800s on military teams, college teams, and company teams.  They eventually found their way to professional teams with white players.  With existing "Jim Crow" laws and racism prevalent Black players formed their own teams, "barnstorming" around the country to play anyone who would challenge them.  In 1920, an organized league structure was formed under the guidance of Andrew" Rube" Foster- a former player, manager, and owner for the Chicago American Giants.  The Negro Leagues played until the 1960s.  An historic baseball and civil rights event that is credited with the Negro League teams folding is the recruitment of Major League Baseball's first African American player-Jackie Robinson in 1945.  Robinson was recruited from the Kansas City Monarchs and shortly after the best Black players were also recruited for the Major Leagues.
But, did you know the story of Marcenia Lyle?

"In 1937, at the age of sixteen, Marcenia  Lyle began her career as a pitcher with the Twin Cities Colored Giants.  From there she moved on to semiprofessional and minor league Negro teams, including the  San Francisco Sea Lions and the New Orleans Creoles.  As Marcenia's playing took off, she changed her name to Toni Stone. The name Marcenia "was just too cute for baseball," she said.
In 1953, when she was thirty-two years old, Toni's dream of playing professional baseball came true.  She signed to play second base for the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns,  filling the position vacated by Hank Aaron's move to the Major Leagues.  This made Toni the first female member of an all-male professional baseball team."
Excerpt from the Afterword in "Catching the Moon" by Crystal Hubbard illustrated by Randy DuBurke
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