Katherine Dunham: legendary dancer who founded the 1st American black dance company

Katherine Dunham was a legendary dancer and choreographer, producer, author, scholar, anthropologist and Civil Rights activist. She has been called the matriarch and queen mother of black dance. She had one of the most successful dance careers in Western dance theatre in the 20th century and directed her own dance company for many years. Her pioneering work introduced much of the black heritage in dance to the stage. One of her most known dance innovation is the Dunham Technique, a system of movement and exercises based in traditional dances of…

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When Ohio residents rallied to protect fugitive slave Addison White from U.S. Marshals

In the race relations of blacks and whites in the United States, none proved more intriguing than the case of Addison White, a slave of Daniel White, who escaped from Fleming County, Kentucky in 1856 using the Underground Railroad. He resided at Ohio leading to a face-off between U.S. marshals and a posse which had formed. When Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Laws in 1793 and 1850, it allowed federal marshals to arrest slaves that had escaped to the North and take them back to their southern owners, as well…

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Ella Little-Collins, Malcolm X’s sister who paid for his Hajj pilgrimage and funeral expenses

Even the strongest of people need a backbone. Someone they can defer to for counsel, warmth, protection and love. For Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz), he found that in his older half-sister Ella Little-Collins, whom he crossed paths with when he was in the seventh grade. Of that experience, Malcolm would recall in his autobiography that Ella Little-Collins “…..was the first really proud black woman I had ever seen in my life. She was plainly proud of her very dark skin. This was unheard of among Negroes. … I had…

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How racism pushed Margot and Norton, a black ballroom dance couple to pass as ‘hispanic’ to be hired

Margot and Norton were a black ballroom dance couple who found fame in America and Europe during the 1930’s & 40’s. Margot Webb and Harold Norton danced the Waltz, Tango and Bolero at the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York 1933-39 and in London, Paris and Germany before WWII. In 1933, while at one of her dance performances, Webb met Harold Norton. Soon after their meeting, they became ballroom dance partners, professionally known as “Norton and Margot.” Although Margot and Norton found fame to an extent, because they didn’t perform…

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Francine Everett, the actress who shunned Hollywood’s maid roles and became darling of ‘race’ movies

You might not have heard of or seen Francine Everett in film because she did not achieve the attention, success and popularity with white cinema audiences. However, her appearances in “race” movies elevated her to fame in America’s black community. The African-American filmmaker and producer William Greaves said of her: “She would have been a superstar in Hollywood were it not for the apartheid climate in America and the movie industry at the time.” Everett, born in 1915 in Louisburg, North Carolina, moved with her family to New York during…

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From a nightclub performer at age 16, Lena Horne ruled Hollywood and got blacklisted for 7 years

In the early 1940s, Walter White, the leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took a stand that portrayals of black American females as maids and men as coons in Hollywood had to stop. In furtherance of that motive, the NAACP took interest in the career progression of Lena Horne as an actress. Her wealthy father connected to banking and gambling took interest in his daughter’s career and had to escort her in signing a seven-year contract with MGM Studios. On being told his daughter…

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William Carney: first black soldier to earn the Medal of Honor

Army Sergeant William Carney was the first African American to earn the congressional Medal of Honor in the U.S. Army. He was a member of the famous 54th Massachusetts. As a black soldier, he displayed incredible courage under fire, planting the flag atop the walls of the fort and safeguarding its return to Union lines, despite several wounds. He was born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia on February 29, 1840, to William Carney and Ann Dean. His father adopted the last name of his master, Major Carney, owner of a…

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At 17, Bobby Hutton became first Black Panther member to be killed, changing the party forever

Fifty-two years ago, the Black Panthers clashed with the police in Oakland in what analysts say shot the group to fame and inevitably made it stronger. In the midst of the confrontation with the police on April 6, 1968, Robert James Hutton, also known as Bobby Hutton, was shot dead by the police. Hutton, who was the Black Panther Party’s first recruit, and its first treasurer, became the first to die for the cause of the party at just 17. His death just two days after the assassination of civil rights…

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