Sunday, February 27, 2011


On 2/3/2011 the African American Center in conjunction with the San Francisco African American Hisotrical and Cultural Society (SFAAHCS), put on the Annual Black History Month Kickoff at City Hall.  SFAAHCS have been putting together this event and this was another wonderful event. 

Watch the event in its entirety by clicking the link below. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


The idea for the Aint No Half Stepping exhibit came about when photographer Joanne Bealy and writer Evelyn C White stopped by the library and invited the library to be a witness to the cultural life and landscape that makes up Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. Bealy and White had so eloquently written about and photographed this region in their new book Every Goodbye Aint Gone: a photo narrative of Black Heritage in salt Spring Island and asked if we would like to do an exhibition based around it. Of course we jumped at the idea to collaborate with them on this project.  

What made this such an enticing subject for the library, was that 153 years ago a group of 800 blacks from all over California came together and migrated from San Francisco up to Canada. This exhibit strives to honor those émigrés and put into context their lives both here and in Canada and speak to what the current political landscape was like here in the 1850’s California that drove them far from their homes. The African American Center is always looking for exhibits that connect the past and the future, the local and the global. This exhibit perfectly does both.

Blacks have long held claims to the land and soul of California, with some of the earliest settlers of the state being of African origin.  Of the 44 original settlers of present day Los Angeles, 26 were either of full African ancestry or of mix blood- Spanish and black.  Even with this said, California has long had a conflicted and sometimes rocky relationship with blacks.  In 1852 blacks in California had doubled in number, “and their material possession in property and businesses had improved at a rate far exceeding that of blacks in the eastern states.”
Enjoy the exhibit-

Monday, February 14, 2011


Both the British and the Americans enlisted African Americans during the Revolutionary War. American military leaders were reluctant to allow black men to join their armed forces on a permanent basis, even though black men had fought with the Continental Army since the earliest battles of the war at Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill. The British encouraged runaways--male and female--to join their ranks. This work provides excellent documentation of the variety of roles African Americans played during the war when they were finally and officially allowed to join the ranks of the Continental Army.

Haiti was founded after a slave revolt started in 1791, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, toppled the government of the French colony of St. Domingue.
The Pobladores ("townspeople") of Los Angeles refers to the 44 original settlers who founded city of Los Angeles, California in 1781.
Of the 22 children who contributed to the settlement, 16 were of African ancestry and would be considered "black" by present-day American standards of racial classification.

On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued two executive orders. One instituted fair employment practices in the civilian agencies of the federal government; the other provided for "equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion,or national origin."

This was a major victory for civil rights advocates in the quest for full citizenship.

"Jim Crow" laws mandated that blacks have separate facilities for travel, lodging, eating and drinking, schooling, worship, housing, and other aspects of social and economic life.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


The railroad and trains have long held a sacred space in the minds of African Americans in both a literal and metaphorical way. From the times of slavery there was Harriet Tubman a leader and head conductor on the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad represented freedom, the hope for a better future to enslaved Africans. Tubman, or the Moses of her people as she was referred to, led those enslaved out of the bondage using an informal series of safe houses and secret routes that led to free states and Canada. The Underground Railroad, although without wheels and rails or the physical trappings of a traditional train, was no less a journey for those who undertook the trip.

The railway is also deeply embedded in African American folklore in two different and distinct ways. First with the legendary folk hero John Henry- a mythical figure that was born with a hammer in his hand. John Henry is notable for having raced against a steam powered hammer and won, only to die in victory with his 20 pound hammer still in his hand. “Henry represents the worker and serves as a folk hero for all American working-class people, representing their marginalization during changes entering the modern age in America.”

Although the legend of John Henry was said to be based on some factual evidence, more to the truth is that many African American men and women were John Henry and helped build the railways as it made its way across the American landscape.  From the early days of passenger trains African Americans have served as servants on trains; slave labor, both male and female, was utilized in some capacity. For years the railroads have been a means of employment for black communities- first the use of slave labor as maids and servants, water carriers on the early trains and later for men who worked as Pullman Porters.

The book Railroads in the African American Experience, a reviewer writes “Kornweibel presents a detailed history of the African American connection with railroads from the days of slavery through the Civil Rights Movement. He explains that railroads were one of the few sources of comparatively decent-paying employment for African Americans. Working for the railroads nonetheless meant coping with exploitation, discrimination, and even violence. Kornweibel devotes entire chapters to various railroad occupations, such as fireman, porter, and cook. He also explains how railroad work permeated African American society and culture. He supplements his text with hundreds of period photos and illustrations of African Americans in railroad settings. This wonderful book dealing forthrightly with one aspect of past racism would be an excellent source for readers interested in either African American or railroad labor history.” Copyright 2010. Library Journals

Friday, February 4, 2011


George Carruthers invented the far ultraviolet electrographic camera, used in the 1972 Apollo 16 mission. This invention revealed new features in Earth's far-outer atmosphere and deep-space objects from the perspective of the lunar surface. Carruthers was inducted into the National Inventor's Hall of Fame in 2003.

In 1897, African-American inventor Alfred Cralle patented the first ice cream scoop. His original design remains in wide use, even today.

After African-American performer Josephine Baker expatriated to France, she famously smuggled military intelligence to French allies during World War II. She did this by pinning secrets inside her dress, as well as writing them in invisible ink on her sheet music.

Legendary singer James Brown performed in front of a televised audience in Boston the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Brown is often given credit for preventing riots with the performance.

Arthur Ashe was the first African-American to win the U.S. Open (1968); to come in first in the Wimbeldon men's singles (1975); and be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1985).

Thursday, February 3, 2011


In 2002, Maritza Correia became the first black female swimmer to break an American record, beating out Jenny Thompson, the most decorated American swimmer in Olympic history. She is also the first female black swimmer to make it onto the U.S. Olympic team.

The Buffalo Soldiers served in the Spanish American war, various Indian wars and helped to settle the west by installing telegraph lines, protecting wagon trains and defending new settlements. More than 20 Buffalo Soldiers have received the highest military award, the Medal of Honor—the most any military unit has ever received.

Muhammad Ali the self-proclaimed "greatest [boxer] of all time" was originally named after his father, who was named after the 19th century abolitionist and politician Cassius Marcellus Clay.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on friend Maya Angelou's birthday on April 4th, 1968. Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday for many years afterward, and sent flowers to King's widow every year until Mrs. King's death in 2006.

Macon Bolling Allen was the first African-American to pass the bar and practice law in the United States in 1845.  Macon Bolling Allen was also the first black American Justice of the Peace.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Nathaniel Alexander was the first to patent the folding chair. His invention was designed to be used in schools, churches and at large social gatherings.

Henry Blair, the second African-American to receive a patent, invented a corn seed planter in 1834 and a cotton planter in 1836. Blair could not read or write and signed his patent with an X.

As a child Muhammad Ali was refused an autograph by his idol, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. When Ali became a prize-fighter, he vowed never to deny an autograph request, which he has honored to this day.

Allensworth is the only California community to be founded, financed and governed by African-Americans. Created by Allen Allensworth in 1908, the town was built with the intention of establishing a self-sufficient, all-black city where African-Americans could live their lives free of racial discrimination.

BET was the first African-American controlled company to sell shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Black History Month was originally started as Negro History Week in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson. The goal of Black History Week was to honor the history and contributions of African Americans and educate Blacks about their cultural background, and instill in them a sense of pride in their race. Many Africans Americans still jokingly or not so jokingly, believe that February was given as Black History Month because it is the shortest month, actually Woodson chose the second week of February to pay tribute to the birthdays of two Americans that dramatically affected the lives of Blacks: Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14). From there the week, later became a month and in 1976 getting national recognition as Black History Month.

Carter G Woodson was a historian, scholar, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. He was one of the first scholars to systematically and seriously study black history. To this day he is still considered The Father of Modern Black History.

For more information on the works and life of Carter G Woodson:

The Rural Negro
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The mis-education of the Negro
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The history of the Negro church
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Carter G. Woodson : a life in Black history