We are currently in NYC, and this video is in front of the International Center of Photography on Bowery in Manhattan. The people at ICP have been so incredible to us, and for this week, Monday through Sunday, they are projecting our photos onto the windows of the museum, after hours, for the city to see. We got to go to their school, on 6th Ave, today for a family photo shoot and to meet some of the wonderful people associated with ICP. Tomorrow we will visit the museum, and have a toast/cupcake party with the curators and everyone there. NYC has been incredible. More photos of our adventure will come later!
Stay tuned... We are featuring a few more women this month, in honor of Women's History Month.
Bessie Stringfield was a pioneering motorcyclist.
Bessie, known as BB amongst friends, was born in Jamaica in 1911, and brought to Boston as a child. Orphaned at the age of 5, BB was raised by an Irish woman. When she was 16, she wanted a motorcycle, and even though, according to BB, "good girls didn't ride motorcycles," her guardian obliged, and she taught herself to ride her 1928 Indian Scout. She was a natural.
By 1930, BB began riding across the United States. She'd flip a penny onto a map and ride to wherever it landed, eventually covering the 48 contiguous states. She also began doing stunts and tricks in carnival shows. She was the first black woman ever to ride solo across the US, which she did 8 times, and she even rode across Europe, Haiti, and Brazil.
During WWII, Bessie served for 4 years as a civilian despatch rider. She was the only woman in her unit, and underwent rigorous training. On her own blue Harley-Davidson, she carried documents between domestic bases.
Throughout her life, BB encountered racism and sexism. While traveling, she'd often be denied accommodation because of her race, many times sleeping on her motorcycle overnight. She was once knocked off her bike by a white man in a pickup truck who ran her off the road. After settling in Miami in the 1950's, she was often pulled over and harassed by police who thought women of color had no business riding. She settled this with the police chief directly, proving her riding skills to him in a nearby park. She was also denied prizes she'd won in flat track races, because she was a woman.
While in Miami, Bessie became a License Practical Nurse, and also founded the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. She continued to ride until her death in 1993, at the age of 82.
Bessie owned 27 Harleys in her life, and in 1990, the American Motorcycling Association paid tribute to her in their Heroes of Harley-Davidson exhibit. In 2000, they created an award for women motorcyclists in her name. In 2002, she was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. #womenshistorymonth#bessiestringfield
We were so incredibly honored to receive this package from Ms. A'Lelia Bundles, the great-great-granddaughter of Madam CJ Walker. We will treasure these always.
If anyone is interested in reading a biography about Madam CJ, this one was written by her great-great-granddaughter herself. And, honoring her legacy, there is now the Madam CJ Walker Beauty Culture line of hair products available exclusively at Sephora.
Coretta Scott King was not just the wife of Martin Luther King, Jr. She was also an author, activist, and Civil Rights leader herself.
Born in 1927, in Alabama, Coretta was known for her singing voice, and played several instruments. After graduating high school as valedictorian, she attended Antioch College. She became more politically active, joining the Antioch chapter of the NAACP, and getting involved in the college's Race Relations and Civil Liberties Committee. She attained a B.A. in music and education. She then accepted a fellowship at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she would meet Martin.
Coretta and Martin married in 1953, and Coretta earned another degree in music, although she realized she would be unable to pursue a career in music as Martin's wife. Together, they moved to Alabama, where Martin became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Coretta joined the choir and taught Sunday School. Their first daughter was born in 1955. In 1956, the Kings got involved with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Coretta became an advocate for civil rights legislation. As their roles as leaders of the Civil Rights movement increased, so did the danger, with Martin being stabbed, and bullets and a bomb targeting their home. They continued to preach nonviolence for social change, despite this.
Over the next several years, Martin became one of the faces of the cause. They had 3 more children, traveled to Ghana to celebrate its independence and to India on a pilgrimage. They worked to get the Civil Rights Act passed, participated in the March from Selma to Montgomery, and the March on Washington. Coretta acted as a public mediator and liason to peace and justice organizations.
In 1968, Martin was assassinated. Coretta fearlessly continued her husband's work after his death, and founded the MLK, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, acting as President and CEO. Throughout the rest of her life, Coretta spoke out against apartheid, fought for LGBT rights, and women's rights. She passed away in 2006, of ovarian cancer.
Coretta holds awards and accolades, including the Ghandi Peace Prize; honorary doctorates; is in [cont...]
Gwendolyn Brooks was an acclaimed poet, author and teacher, known for her observational poetry about the inner city.
Gwendolyn was born in 1917, in Topeka, Kansas, but grew up in Chicago. Being shy, and often feeling outcast as a child, Gwendolyn spent much of her childhood writing. She attended readings by such poets as Langston Hughes, and corresponded with them, receiving encouragement for her poetry. By age 16, she had written over 75 poems. While in high school, Gwendolyn attended 3 different schools, which gave her a perspective of racial relations and bias, which would influence her work. After high school, she graduated from Wilson Junior College, choosing to forego any higher education, knowing she wanted to be a writer.
After college, Gwendolyn began working as a director of publicity for a youth organization of the NAACP. She would continue to write and began to have books of poetry published. She married her husband, also a writer, in 1939, and raised 2 children. She would write while her children were in school or asleep.
In 1950, Gwendolyn received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, becoming the first black person to do so. In 1968, she was named Poet Laureate of Illinois, which she remained until her death. She would go on to teach poetry at numerous colleges and Universities in the 1970's. She would hold workshops and poetry contests in prisons to encourage others to write.
In 1985, Gwendolyn was named poetry consultant for the Library of Congress. In 1990, The Gwendolyn Brooks Center at Chicago State University became the permanent home for her works. Ms. Brooks died of cancer in 2000, at the age of 83.
In addition to being a Poet Laureate, and her Pulitzer, Gwendolyn holds over 75 honorary degrees; has numerous institutions named in her honor; is in the National Women's Hall of Fame; is on a postage stamp, and has many awards and medals to her name.
Fannie Lou Hamer was a voting and civil rights activist and philanthropist, who notably coined the phrase, "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired," which is enscribed on her tombstone.
Born in 1917, Fannie was the youngest of 20 children. Her parents were sharecroppers in Mississippi, and she began working in the cotton fields at only 6 years old. Fannie dropped out of school at the age of 12 to help her family. By age 13, it is said that she could pick 200-300 lbs of cotton a day. She would end up the plantations record keeper.
In 1944, Fannie married Pap Hamer. They would continue to work on the plantation together for 18 years. They were unable to have children, because, in 1961, Fannie was subjected to something truly horrifying... while undergoing surgery to remove a tumor, she was given a hysterectomy, without her consent, as part of Mississippi's plan to reduce the number of poor blacks in the state. The couple would later adopt 2 girls.
At this time, black citizens in the South who wished to register to vote were met with stiff opposition. In 1962, Fannie set off to register. When she returned, she was fired from her job and sent away from her longtime home on the plantation. She then dedicated her life to civil rights activism, working for the SNCC, and strengthened her resolve to help others get the right to vote. She became a leader in the Civil Rights movement. As an activist, Fannie was beaten, arrested, and shot at. She suffered kidney damage from a severe beating in 1963, in jail after being arrested on false charges after attending a literacy workshop.
In 1964, Fannie helped to form the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which was in opposition to the all-white delegates at the DNC. She was nationally televised at the convention, making known the Struggle for civil rights. In 1972, she was elected as a national party delegate. She also helped establish the National Women's Political Caucus. She tirelessly fought for the poor and for civil rights until her death in 1977, from breast cancer.
Fannie Lou Hamer holds numerous honorary doctorates; has a memorial garden in Mississippi in her honor; is in the [cont...]
Zora Neale Hurston was a novelist, anthropologist and short story writer
Born in 1891, Zora was the daughter of a Baptist preacher and a school teacher. She grew up in an all black town, which her father was the Mayor of at one point. She would attend the high school portion of Morgan State University, an HBC in Baltimore. She went on to attend Howard University, and co-founded the school's student newspaper. She earned an Associate degree in 1920. In 1921, one of her short stories earned her a scholarship to Barnard College at Columbia University, and she was the school's only black student. She received her B.A. in Anthropology.
Living in Harlem in the 1920's, Zora befriended people like Langston Hughes, and it is said that her home was a popular social gathering spot. Her writing began to have success, and she is associated with the Harlem Renaissance. In 1934, she established a school of dramatic arts at Bethune-Cookman College.
Throughout her career, Zora did anthropological studies and research, writing about her findings. She wrote novels such as Their Eyes Were Watching God, which is perhaps her most well known, as well as non-fiction and folklore. Politically, she was conservative, even called, "America's favorite black conservative." Her writing was often controversial and resulted in her works fading into obscurity for some time.
In her later life, Zora experienced financial and medical issues, and she died in a welfare home in 1960. Her works were ordered to be burned, but fortunately were rescued and preserved. She was buried in an unmarked grave and seemingly forgotten. Years later, author Alice Walker and scholar Charlotte Hunt marked a gravestone in her honor.
In more recent decades, Zora's works have received a revival. Her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God was adapted for the screen. Her hometown of Eatonville, Florida has an annual Festival in her name; her home in Fort Pierce is a National Historic Landmark; she is in both the New York and Alabama Writers Hall of Fame, amongst other honors.
Zora is proof that our work can continue to speak for us long after we are gone.
Dorothy Height was an administrator and educator, and tirelessly fought for both civil and women's rights throughout her career.
Born in 1912, Dorothy's family moved to Pennsylvania when she was a child, where she attended integrated schools. She was politically active even in high school, participating in anti-lynching campaigns. She was a skilled speaker, which would earn her a college scholarship. Dorothy went on to New York University, earning her Bachelor's degree in education, and her Master's in Psychology.
After college, Dorothy worked as a social worker before joining the staff of the YWCA, where she would meet Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt, prompting her to join the National Council of Negro Women. During her time with the YWCA, Dorothy fully integrated all of its centers. She ultimately was named President of the National Council of Negro Women, which she would remain for 40 years. She also founded the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership.
Dorothy became a major figure in the Civil Rights movement, even counseling Eleanor Roosevelt, encouraging President Eisenhower to integrate schools, and encouraging President Johnson to elect black women to government positions. She helped organize the famed March on Washington, and helped form the National Women's Political Caucus alongside the likes of Shirley Chisholm and Gloria Steinem. In 1990, Dorothy also helped to form the African-American Women for Reproductive Rights organization.
Dorothy passed away at the age of 98, in 2010. She received many awards and accolades in her career, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Congressional Gold Medal, induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame, and this month the Dorothy Height Forever US Postage stamp was issued.
Born a slave in 1818, Biddy was separated from her mother and given as a wedding present to slave owner Robert Smith. Mormon missionaries were proselytizing in Mississippi at the the time, and Robert and his family converted. In 1848, they decided to make the trek to Utah to join the main body of Mormons, taking their slaves with them.
Biddy was 30 by this time. She made the 1700 mile journey on foot, walking behind a 300 wagon caravan. She acted as nurse and midwife, herded cattle, cooked the meals, and took care of her 3 young daughters. After making it to Utah, they lived there for 3 years, before Robert and his family set out for California, to establish a new Mormon community, willfully ignorant that California was a free state. They arrived in San Bernardino, where he illegally kept his slaves until 1855.
By then, he feared losing his slaves, so he decided to take them with him to Texas, a slave state, with the intention of selling them. Biddy feared being separated from her children, so she and other slaves tried to escape, but were caught. The sheriff of LA County was notified, and he rounded up a posse and took the slaves into protective custody. Biddy then petitioned the court for her freedom. She won freedom for herself and 13 other women and girls, including her daughters.
After being freed, Biddy and her family moved down to LA, where she worked as a nurse and midwife, saving her money. 10 years after winning her freedom, she became one of the first black women to own land in LA, buying a parcel for $250. That parcel was in what is now the commercial district in LA. Continuing to make wise business and real estate decisions, Biddy amassed a fortune of nearly $300,000, despite being illiterate.
Biddy always gave back to her community. She gave to charities, fed and homed the poor of all races, and visited jail inmates. She also founded and financed LA's first black church, the First African Methodist Episcopal church. She passed away in 1891, and was buried in an unmarked grave; however in 1988, the Mayor of LA and 3,000 members of her church unveiled a tombstone to mark her grave. November 16, 1989 was declared Biddy Mason day.
Toni Morrison is a highly acclaimed prize-winning author, editor, and Professor Emerita.
Chloe Wofford was born in 1931, in Lorain, OH. She loved to read, and Tolstoy and Jane Austen were amongst her favorites. Becoming Catholic at age 12, she received the baptismal name "Anthony," prompting the nickname "Toni." Toni would graduate high school with honors, then enroll at Howard University, earning her B.A. in English, before earning her Master's at Cornell University.
Following college, Toni taught English at Texas Southern University and Howard. She married Harold Morrison during this time, and had 2 children. After her divorce in 1964, she became an editor, ending up in New York City, working for Random House as senior trade-book editor. She edited books for such people as Angela Davis and Muhammad Ali.
Toni would go on to write her first novel in 1970, titled The Bluest Eye. It would later become a bestseller. She continued writing novels, known for her exquisite words, and epic, often heavy, themes. Her book, Sula, would win the National Book Award, and Song of Solomon was chosen as Book of the Month, the first by a black author since 1940. Toni was appointed to the National Council on the Arts in 1980, and in 1987, her most well known book, Beloved, was published. It would earn her the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, amongst other awards, and later be adapted as a film, starring Oprah and Thandie Newton.
Toni began her professorship at Princeton in 1989, where she would stay until retiring in 2006. In 1993, she became the first black woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. She would continue to author numerous books, even branching out into children's books. In 2007, an opera she wrote debuted at the New York City Opera. She also worked on a play based on Othello, which debuted in London in 2012. Her most recent book, God Help the Child, was published in 2015.
Ms. Morrison has so many accolades and awards, it would be difficult to list them, but she holds numerous honorary doctorates, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, her Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes, and a Grammy for Spoken Word.
Ella Baker was an activist and unsung hero of the Civil Rights movement, with her work being largely behind the scenes.
Born in 1903, Ella grew up hearing stories about her grandmother's life as a slave. When she was older, she attended Shaw University, often challenging that which she thought was unjust. She graduated as class valedictorian in 1927. After stints on the editorial staff of newspapers, in 1931, she became the national director of the Young Negros' Cooperative League, which sought to develop black economic power.
Ella also worked for the Works Progress Administration, teaching consumer education, labour history and African History. She was inspired by the Harlem Renaissance, and founded the Negro History Club at the Harlem Library, as well as being involved with the YWCA.
In 1940, Ella became a field secretary for the NAACP, traveling to raise funds and recruit members. She was known for being able to connect the people, making friends wherever she went. She believed in a grassroots approach to social change, believing the strength of an organization grew from the bottom up, not the top down, stating, "Strong people don't need strong leaders." She would become the national director of branches, before resigning in 1946 to take care of her niece. However, she stayed active in her local New York chapter, working on issues such as police brutality and desegregation, and became president in 1952.
In 1957, Ella joined the SCLC, at the request of MLK, Jr. She helped initiate voter registration campaigns, and set up the event that led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and would later organize the historic "Freedom rides" of 1961. She acted as mentor to young activists, including Diane Nash and Stokely Carmichael.
Ella continued to fight for social justice and equality for the rest of her life, including supporting the "Free Angela" campaign, speaking out for the Puerto Rican independence movement, and against South African apartheid. She passed away on her 83rd birthday, in 1986. She is memorialized by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights; is on a US Postage stamp; and the [cont...]
Madam CJ Walker was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist. She is remembered as a self made millionaire, and one of the most successful black business owners.
Born in 1867, in Delta, LA, Sarah Breedlove was the 5th of 6 children, but the first child to be born free, after the Emancipation Proclamation. She was orphaned at the age of 7, and by age 14, she married for the first time. In 1885, she had a daughter. When her husband died 2 years later, she moved to St. Louis, where her brothers lived, working as barbers. She began to learn about hair care from them.
Sarah began working for Annie Turnbo Malone in 1905, a successful black haircare entrepreneur, as a commission agent. She moved to Denver, and using the knowledge she'd gleaned, began developing her own hair care products.
During this time, she remarried a man named Charles J. Walker, who worked in advertising. He encouraged her to brand herself as 'Madam CJ Walker" and together they traveled to promote her products and methods, which included her own shampoo and pomade, and brushing and using heated combs. She sold her products door to door, and began a mail order system. As the profits increased, Sarah and Charles moved to Pittsburgh, where they opened Lelia College, a beauty school named after her daughter. With A'lelia taking over operations in Pittsburgh, Sarah relocated to Indianapolis in 1910, setting up headquarters. She would open a factory, hair salon, a laboratory for research, and a beauty school to train her sales agents. She trained and employed thousands of women, encouraging their financial independence. Her products were advertised in magazines and newspapers, and her brand became well known throughout the country. It is believed that Sarah was among the first to hold a national convention for her sales agents, rewarding those with the most sales and the most charitable contributions in their community.
In 1913, Sarah and Charles divorced, and she began traveling to Latin America and the Caribbean, promoting her business. In 1916, she moved to New York. She became more involved in political matters, joining the NAACP, and lecturing at black [cont...]