Black History

UNDERGROUND RAILROAD DRAWINGS

For the past three years or maybe even four I have been working on a project about the Underground Railroad.  One particular aspect that seems interesting to me is its connection with the whaling industry at Mystic Seaport, CT.

As a kid when I learned about the Underground Railroad the thought amazed me. I literally pictured it as train tracks or railroad tracks that were under the ground. Kind of like the NYC subway. Not so! It was a network of secret routes and safe houses in the 19th century. The height of the movement was between 1850 and 1860 and by the year 1850 nearly 100,000 slaves escaped via the Railroad. It consisted of meeting points, routes that were kept secretive, and safe house that provided assistance aided by abolitionist. The resting spots where runaways could sleep and eat were given the code names "stations" and "depots." Travel could be by boat or train but mostly was done by foot.

Slaves would run north along certain routes that were meant to confuse slave catchers. Most escapes were by small groups and individuals. The journey was particularly dangerous and difficult for women and small children however many still participated, such as Harriet Tubman.

I'm afraid of many of things! Being confined is one especially on airplanes. I enjoy my freedom so the thought of being owned I can not fathom! Sometimes I do wonder what I would have done if I had been a slave. If I would try to escape or just ride it out. Considering I'm a fighter and sometimes accused of being stubborn ( haha!) there are times I would think I would just try to escape. Of course its easy for me to say that since I am not faced with that situation. It would be a difficult decision. But the chance for freedom that would be a big incentive.

Below are a few drawings and paintings I did pertaining to the theme of the Underground Railroad.

Thumbnail for quilt design

Family Escaping 

Family Escaping


AND STILL WE RISE

Yesterday my family and I went to the Museum of African-American History in Detroit. I was completely fascinated by an exhibit they had called, "And Still We Rise."  I have never been blow away by such an amazing exhibit in all my life! It told the story and journey of African-Americans from the very beginning of time.  It began with the story of how humans evolved from one single woman in Africa and ended with the election of President Barack Obama. To see the years of struggle,  the oppression and formation of a new culture was amazing to me. My brain was overstimulated. At one point in the exhibit we were able to walk through a recreated slave ship and experience the dark belly of the ship.  I have to say it was extremely creepy and I could feel the chills go up my spin.  I felt the same when I saw the shackles, and the examples of the whips they used to beat slaves. Sadness took over and I was almost in tears. I sat there wondering if I could have had the strength to make it through the Middle Passage journey.  I often think about this if I feel myself complaining that life is so hard. Some voyages took up to two months or longer.

During the next few weeks I will make a few more posts about my visit to the museum. I'm hoping to go back in about a week to do a few more drawings and finish a project I started. If you live in Detroit I suggest you take a visit. It is truly amazing!

Slave girl defeathering a chicken


CORETTA SCOTT KING

" I am investing my time in something that matters."

When I read this quote today it reminded me of a few drawings I did of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King.  I did these drawings last year while watching the television series,  Eyes on the Prize.  In school we never learned much about her except that she was married to Martin Luther King.




Both Martin Luther King Jr.  and Coretta Scott King invested their time into something that mattered. The Civil Rights Movement and the struggle for equality. Long after her husbands assassination  in 1968 Coretta took on the leadership role of The Civil Rights Movement.  As leader of the movement she founded the Martin Luther King,  Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change located in Atlanta. She held the position of both president and CEO until she passed away in 2006.

Coretta Scott King was born in 1927 in Marion, Alabama. She was born to her parents Obadiah Scott and Bernice Scott.  She is the third child of  four children. As a child her family lived on a farm where she picked cotton during the Great Depression to help earn money. Her father owned a barber shop and a lumber mill which was burned down by Caucasian neighbors. Coretta attended a one room elementary school and later attended a high school that was 9 miles away. Due to racial segregation it was the closet school. Her mother was the bus drive and transported all the black teenagers to school.

In 1945 she graduated from Lincoln Normal school as valedictorian and later attended Antioch College in Ohio as part of the Antioch Program for Interracial Eduction. Once there she studied music  and became  politically active joining the NAACP, Race Relations,  and the Civil Liberties Committees.  She transferred to the New England Conservatory of Music where she met Martin Luther King Jr.  They were married on June 18, 1953.  A year later they moved to Montgomery, Alabama where they had four children, Yolanda, Martin Luther King lll, Dexter and Bernice. They all became  civil rights activist.

While married they both played a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement.  She took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and worked hard to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Before her passing in 2006 she earned numerous awards and medals such as the Gandhi Peace Prize. In 1970 the American Library Association began awarding the Coretta Scott King medal to outstanding African American writers and illustrators of children's literature.

To me she is a lady that made a true mark in history.

"I am indebted to my wife Coretta, without whose love, sacrifices, and loyalty neither life nor work would bring fulfillment. She has given me words of consolation when I needed them and a well-ordered home where Christian love is a reality."-Martin Luther King Jr


 ROSA PARKS


"People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."-Rosa Parks

I decided to start my research of black historical figures with Rosa Parks. On Sunday while I was home with my sister watching TV a movie came on about her life. After watching it I went on Wikipedia to find out a little bit more info. To my dismay there was much I didn't know. I think I have taken her story for granted and was only going on the surface information that I had acquired growing up.

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an African-American civil rights activist. She was born on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama and died on October 24, 2005 in Detroit, Michigan. The U.S Congress later named her, "Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement."

On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama Rosa Parks  at the age of 42 refused to give up her seat to a white passenger.  The bus driver named, James Blake, ordered her to do so along with three other passengers but she refused. Her action became one of the most important elements in the Civil Rights Movement, and she became a symbol of the resistance to racial segregation.



 At this time in history Jim Crow laws were in full effect. Under these laws blacks and whites were segregated in almost every accept of daily life. Including separate bathrooms, water fountains, store entrances and public transportation. The bus system did not provide separate buses for blacks and whites but instead they enforced strict seating policies. Also, school bus transportation was completely unavailable to black children in the South no matter how far the walk.



Rosa Parks recalls, "I'd see the bus pass every day... But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world." ("The Story Behind the Bus". Rosa Parks Bus. The Henry Ford. Retrieved 2008-07-01.)

She along with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. organized the Civil Rights Movement and sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. At this time Rosa Parks was a secretary for the NAACP and had attended the Highlander Folk School, which was a Tennessee center for workers' rights and racial equality.  As a result of her actions she faced consequences. She lost her job as a seamstress in a department store and eventually moved to Detroit, Michigan. Rosa Parks received most of her recognition and awards later in her life.  In 1979 the NAACP awarded her the Spingarn Medal and she received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award the following year. In the year 1990 she was present at the release of Nelson Mandela. He stated to her, "You sustained me while I was in prison all those years." ( Rosa Parks: freedom rider, Ruth Ashby, Sterling Publishing ISBN 9781402748653)

Her biography goes on much  further and deeper.  If  you get a chance to read it I think it would not only provide more information about her story but also about what was going on around her at that time in history.  I myself am a frequent rider of the public bus and I often wonder, "would I have had the courage to give up my seat?"


THE MIDDLE PASSAGE







To continue with my project I decided to post another thumbnail about the Middle Passage. In the year1654 an estimated 8,000-10,000 Africans underwent the Middle Passage each year. That number reached it peak by 1750 when the annual number stabilized at 70,000. It is estimated that over 15 million Africans were forced to undergo the Middle Passage and only about 3 to 5 million reached America.

The one thing that I always think of in terms of the Middle Passage is the physical and emotional distress that was bestowed upon the enslaved Africans. I can't imagine what it must have felt like knowing you would never see your family again and being ripped from your home. Who comforted you when you were scared, or when you cried? Did you dare show your tears? Who did you talk to? Considering there was a mixture of African tribes thrown onto these ships the real question is who understood you when you did want to share how you were feeling.  There must have been some kind of communication going on in the hold of the ships. I believe in times of real distress people will inevitably try to find a way to communicate with one another.




February is Black History Month. I always wonder how I can acknowledge it more with my art. Recently, I have been reading heavily about African-American history. Some of it scares me and makes me feel incredibly sad. When I was younger I remember learning about the middle passage. It created such intense visions in my head and still does to this day. I often wonder what it must have been like for the millions of Africans aboard the ships and the tremendous amount of courage they must have had. I have seen the middle passage depicted in movies and I have read about it but I know it does nothing in comparison to having actually experienced it.

As a child and a teenager I attended wonderful schools. But it always bothered me that I never really learned much about my culture. The history books were about 500 pages long and only 3 pages out of those 500 talked about African -Americans. It was always the same people. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Please do not get me wrong they were extremely important figures in our society, but there are so many others that I never learned about or that my peers never learned about. I had no idea Africans were involved in the whaling industry, or that we fought in the Civil War. I wish there was a way to incorporate more of this into the educational system. Not just my culture but every culture. I think it's necessary and may decrease the level of ignorance and racism in our society. To be honest I learned most of my history from my parents and my own research.

I decided to do a series of drawings for Black History Month each week. The first one is entitled " The Middle Passage."