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Black History Profile

By Michael BromkaAll of the brief history snippets that follow —save ONE —were written by Michael Bromka after conversing with locals regarding that particular historic figure.In each case the Carlsbad local offered input on personal significance of that famous historic figure.Depending on those conversations and input, some accounts are in the first person. Dwight Pitcaithley wrote his own entry.Frederick Douglass[Troy Williams III reads scripture daily, and conducts Bible study weekly.]Frederick Douglass, 1818 born a slave in Maryland, showed two attributes I respect —courage and curiosity.His curiosity wasn’t snooping or being nosy.Rather, it fueled his quest for literacy.He yearned to read and write.While very young (perhaps seven?) he was sent to serve as houseboy for a white couple in Baltimore.Stuck at home alone, the bored young wife started teaching little Frederick his ABCs.The eager boy learned quickly.When her husband returned, she proudly displayed their progress.Horrified, the man scolded her —while the boy overheard.Less than a decade later, teen Frederick was rented out to a sadistic white farmer.The sadist —Covey —was known as a “slavebreaker.”Happily for the history of all Black Americans, one day Frederick resisted being broken.In an extended man-on-man wrestle off, the two grappled till both were nearly spent.In a final burst of will, Frederick yanked Covey up off his feet and threw him down —Splat! —“in the cow yard.”(Likely, Covey thereafter needed to bathe and don fresh clothing!)T’was Covey’s will which had broken.To preserve his reputation. Covey never told other whites of his own humiliating defeat.Via luck and pure will, within his own heart, Frederick ceased to be enslaved.Secretly Frederick taught himself to read, then fled north.He began to speak at Abolitionist rallies.Pro-slavery foes accused him of fraud.So,in 1845, Frederick published “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” —still a classic, still a page turner!Harriet Tubman[Bernita Smith-Payne currently teaches at C.I.S.] When Harriet Tubman was a young teen, in the tight confines of a store, a white man threw an iron weight at a Black man.Missing its mark, the disk hit Harriet and cracked her skull.For the rest of her life she had seizures with vivid visions.Each time she awoke, with clarity she saw her path ahead.In1849, Harriet fled slavery, finding her way to freedom and safety in Philadelphia.On attaining that secure perch and respite, she turned to trek back into peril and rescue her dearest kinfolk.Thirteen times she revisited Maryland to usher forth seventy fellow fugitives.A white man in Philadelphia became her staunchest supporter on the Underground Railroad.He saw her powers as heaven sent.This pint-sized thin slip of a wiry woman was a colossus of conveyance for Blacks seeking to escape bondage.When Civil War broke out, Harriet’s mission grew from freeing single slaves to defeating the entire Confederacy.For the Union forces, she used her diminutive size and foes’ surmise of her insignificance to slip into Rebel territory and spy on their deployments.I myself was once a young Black woman seeking education and attainment in a resistant world.Ever I emulated Harriet.Due to the hue of my skin, some arrogant individuals dismissed my potential.Their own blind spots allowed me to traverse hostile territory again and again.The can-do spirit of Harriet still nurtures confidence within me, as it can for you.When spiritual night descends, illuminate your inner vision.Benighted by illiteracy (as Harriet was), learn to read the woods.Let purespirit within and all nature around guide your way ahead to freedom your own feet can find.Booker T. Washington[Michael Bromka settled in Carlsbad 26 years ago.]Black History Month brings us terrific write-ups about W.E.B Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall,and Dr. MLK, Jr.These great men wrote, litigated, and demonstrated for civil rights.Their work gained ground for all.Now I think of a college and a leader —Tuskegee Institute and Booker T. Washington.I’ll call him Booker T. so’s not to confuse him with George Washington.Booker T. was born and lived three years as a slave.From Virginia his family moved to West Virginia.For one year of his boyhood he worked in a mine —very perilous.But he learned how to read, the gateway to self-improvement.Still a boy, he moved back to Virginia and was admitted to Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. There he did well.Next he was recruited to lead the fledgling Tuskegee Institute.There he made history.White people in Alabamaand all across the U.S.A. donated to expand and improve the college.They supported training young Black men and women to excel in agricultural and technical trades.Economic progress of the Deep South required such skills.Other whites opposed Black self-improvement.Jim Crow oppression, violence, and lynchings were used to suppress progress.Booker T. urged students to soldier on regardless.White supporters brought Booker T. to speak at the 1895 World’s Fair in Atlanta.He was much heeded and praised.Booker T. was invited to dine at the White House as President Theodore Roosevelt’s guest.Alas, news of that dinner brought harsh criticism of Roosevelt from segregationists.Booker T. raised funds and expanded Tuskegee.Across the south, families and communities were improved by training young Blacks there.Booker T. died before WWII brought glory to Tuskegee Airmen for their service in aerial combat.However, his lifelong work had blazed their trail.Much of this can be found in Booker T’s 1901 memoir “Up From Slavery.”William E. B. Du Bois[CHS graduate Dwight T. Pitcaithley, was formerly Chief Historian of the National Park Service.]William E. B. Du Bois helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).In 1895, he was the first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University.His 1903 book “The Souls of Black Folk” remains a well-read classic of American literature.In it, he wrote “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line."Duly noted.For decades, Black citizens endured segregation, disfranchisement, lynching, and exclusion from civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution.Modest gains accrued from the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision in 1954.Likewise the Civil Rights Act 1964, and the Voting Rights Act 1965.Yet, people of color kept facing entrenched racism.Du Bois’s words about the color line still ring true in our twentieth-first century.America has yet to emerge from that grim shadow.Despite a Civil War to end slavery, white supremacy remains its tainted legacy.Over these recent four years we’ve witnessed horrors from Charlottesville to homegrown terrorists storming our United States Capitol.We havemuch work to do before ensuring our founding declaration “that all men are created equal.” America’s iconic symbol of white supremacy is the Confederate battle flag.Seeing it paraded in the national Capitol’s Rotunda should sound a historic alarm.Racism is a malignancy enfeebling our nation’s aspirations.In hearts and minds of far too many, race relations are a white-up / black-down notion.We must redouble efforts and strive to ensure our patriotic pledge of “liberty and justice for all.”There’s work to be done lest “the color line” linger on as the problem of our twenty-second century.Black Suffragists[Liz Madison, Nurse Practitioner]I grew up here, worked hard in school, and sought college and professional certification.But just 102years ago, paths of progress were forbidden to women.I now thank women who demonstrated for suffrage (the right to vote), among them self-organized African American women.Back then, a Black woman faced double hurdles —as a woman, and as a stigmatizedBlack person to boot.It’s sad to note that white suffragists regarded Black suffragists as “lesser” —although white women were glad to have their behind-the-scenes support.Suffragists back then won me my current right to vote.With my vote came economic opportunities.Looking at modern history, I thank recent First Lady Michelle Obama.She spearheaded a worldwide campaign to urge all nations to educate their young women.Survival of our species and planet calls for all hands on deck.Here’s to Black American women who’ve help lead our way!Marian Anderson[Janice Graber and her husband LaVerne are South Dakota snowbirds who spend winter months in Carlsbad.Janice volunteers at Abundant Harvest Food Pantry.]Our American National Mall is staging ground for historic events, both bad and good.One Black American who drew a big crowd there was opera singer Marian Anderson. Born 1897 in Philadelphia, Marian grew up with a Granddad who’d been born a slave.As a child in church, already she sang solos.When Marian came of age, the prestigious Philadelphia Music Academy refused to admit her because she was Black.Emigrating to Europe, Marian attained stardom singing opera, spirituals, and even original pieces written for her by famed Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.By 1939, many Americans wanted to hear their renowned homegirl sing here, live.Our then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt asked her local chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution to rent out their hall for the concert.The D.A.R. refused to present a Black singer, so Eleanor resigned her membership and booked the National Mall instead.This was an ironic triumph.From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Marian Anderson sang for a crowd of 75,000 —tens of times larger than could’ve fit in the D.A.R. hall.An African American woman performer recently read her poem at the 2021 inauguration.Amanda Gorman attained an audience beyond what folks in 1939 might have imagined.But it’s all of a piece of our progress in the Arts and social justice.


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