tagged with: Black History Month

Langston Hughes photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1936.

We are already in February, the second month of the year, which means it’s  Black History Month, a time when we celebrate the achievements of black folk here in America. Every year, I take the opportunity to feature a few famous African American authors, and as I was about to make my pick, I came across a list of famous Black authors born in February.

One of them is Langston Hughes, famous playwright, novelist, poet, and social activist with whom I share the same birth date – Feb. 1. This illustrious scribe was born of mixed heritage – his paternal great-grandfathers were of European descent, while his maternal great-grandmothers were African American – Hughes took pride in his African-American identity and stressed this in his work.

Langston’s early years

While in high school in Cleveland, Ohio, Hughes wrote for the school newspaper, edited the yearbook, and began to write short stories, poetry, and dramatic plays. He wrote his first piece of jazz poetry — a literary art form in which the poet responds and writes about jazz — “When Sue Wears Red” while still in high school.

Hughes’ first book of poetry “The Weary Blues” (1926) features the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” which became a signature poem. In 1930, he won the Harmon Gold Medal for Literature for his first novel, Not Without Laughter. Hughes went on to write many short stories, novels, essays, works for children, autobiographies, and plays, and later formed a theater troupe in Los Angeles.

Langston’s influence on young black writers

Although a major influence during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Hughes was highly critical of other Renaissance men such as W.E.B Du Bois and others who, he felt, were too accommodating of Eurocentric values and culture. In addition to his literary prowess, Hughes’s racial consciousness inspired and united black writers not only in America but around the globe.  He had a major influence on writers  such as Jacques Roumain, Nicolás Guillén, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Aimé Césaire.  Hughes was greatly admired by young black writers whom he discovered and introduced to the publishing world. One such example is Alice Walker author of The Color Purple, who was also born in February.

Of course, I don’t believe in astrology, but I’ve heard it said that people born in February are creative, and this list certainly seems to bear this out. So, let’s take a look at some of the better-known Black authors and some of my favorites born in February :

Black authors born in February

  • Feb. 1 – Langston Hughes, Angela Joseph
  • Feb, 2 – Joseph S Cotter – one of the earliest African-American playwrights to be published.
  • Feb. 6 – Bob Marley
  • Feb. 9 – Alice Walker
  • Feb. 12 – Jacqueline Woodson
  • Feb. 14 – Frederick Douglass
  • Feb. 15 – Beverly Jenkins, Elizabeth Acevedo
  • Feb. 18 – Audre Lorde, Bebe Moore Campbell, Elizabeth Nunez, and Toni Morrison
  • Feb. 20 – Trevor Noah
  • Feb- 23 – W.E.B. Dubois

It would not be fitting for me to end this article without leaving you with a few lines from The Negro Mother, a poem by Langston Hughes, which I find very touching and which, I believe, is so pertinent to these times.

Excerpt from The Negro Mother

All you dark children in the world out there,
Remember my sweat, my pain, my despair.
Remember my years, heavy with sorrow –
And make of those years a torch for tomorrow.
Make of my pass a road to the light
Out of the darkness, the ignorance, the night.
Lift high my banner out of the dust.
Stand like free men supporting my trust.
Believe in the right, let none push you back.
Remember the whip and the slaver’s track.


Angela is the author of the Egypt series, Love, Lies, and Grace, and her newest release Making Music Together. 

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I feel a tinge of sadness as this Black History month comes to a close. As an immigrant, I knew nothing about celebrating black history until I came to this country, and the fact that a month was set aside to remember the achievements and struggles of black people in this country filled me with excitement.

Black History month was a time when we focused on the achievements rather than the struggles. We listened to and marveled at the eloquence, of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the bravery and courage of Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, and others like them.

The White House, Washington, D.C. USA”Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA

We wore our beautiful African dresses to church and sang our favorite negro spirituals, and some of the young people would read poems by Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and others.

Then came 2020 and along with all the mayhem taking place in the world — the Jan 6 insurrection, climate change, mass shootings, COVID-19 — things began changing. Later came the banning of books, mostly those written by African American writers, and now comes the shocking pronouncement that the teaching of African American history in schools has “no educational value.”

No educational value? The history of a people who were brought here over four hundred years ago, forced to work as slaves, beaten and humiliated at the whim of their masters and literally treated like animals has no education value? But despite the harsh conditions under which they existed, these enslaved people built some of our iconic landmarks, among them the White House and the US Capitol.

Then once freed, the slaves went on to use their God-ordained creativity and skill in every area of American endeavor. They became lawyers, doctors, singers, dancers, writers, pilots, astronauts, and inventors to name a few. They fought in wars to defend this country at home and abroad and some, like Frederick Douglass, even became abolitionists.

These accomplishments were by no means painless. With emancipation came Jim Crow, a nefarious legal and social system of segregation designed to separate white and black and literally keep “blacks in their place.”

Through “blood, sweat, and tears,” African Americans overcame these horrendous conditions, but the struggle never ended completely. African Americans still have to fight for equality in healthcare, for equal pay, and even for voting rights. And now even our history is in danger of being wiped out.

In the beginning of this post, I said I feel a tinge of sadness as Black History month comes to a close, but judging from the tenacity and resilience of the former slaves and all they have overcome, I feel a sense of hope. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, I believe “we too shall overcome.”

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It was with much sadness that I heard the news of bomb threats made against Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) here in the United States. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a lot of books by African American authors are being banned during black history month. As I stated in another post, banning books only fuels curiosity, especially on the part of children and young people, to make them want to read these books even more.

Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston Library of Congress

Books are among the vehicles by which news, information and entertainment are brought to us. Those books that tell about our history should be sought after, not banned. They teach us so much of how our culture and practices came into being and about the men and women who helped shape those practices. I admit that some of the material may be “uncomfortable” for some of us to digest, but that’s the very essence of good literature. If the books we read don’t trouble our conscience and make us “uncomfortable,” they are failing in their duty.

Have you ever read the Bible? The most banned and burned book of all times? Some parts of the Bible will make you so uncomfortable you may have to put it down and come back to it at another time. Yet, the Bible is always on the bestsellers list. As I searched for something on black history to write about, I noticed this book on my bookshelf by Kevin M McCarthy. It’s called Black Florida, and it’s a city-by-city guide on churches, schools, homes and other important sites in Florida. With news of the bomb threats against (HBCUs) still playing in the background of my mind, and because I live in Florida, I decided to find two schools that are connected with famous African Americans.

The first one is The Florida School For the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine. This state-funded institution has been serving the needs of many Floridians since 1885. Its most famous alumnus is Ray Charles, who spent his early life in Greenville, Florida. When he began to go blind at the age of seven, his parents sent him to the St. Augustine School For the Deaf and the Blind where he learned to play the piano and prepare to begin a successful musical career.

Another black college that boasts a connection with a famous black history personality is Florida Memorial College. Well-known author Zora Neale Hurston, famously known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, lived upstairs in a two-story house at 791 West King Street, just east of the campus while she taught classes at the school, then called Florida Normal and Industrial Institute. This school, which was built in 1918 on the site of the Old Hanson Plantation, has since relocated further south to Miami Dade County.

As someone who has made Florida my home, I feel proud to know that these two famous African Americans, who have so enriched our lives, once lived in Florida. That’s the beauty of good literature. In my next post, I will highlight more about the history of Florida as it pertains to black history.

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Amanda Gorman
Attribution: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Washington D.C, United States, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

To me, one of the most crippling experiences of African American slavery was the fact that slaves were denied the privilege of learning to read and write.

Of course, if you were a slave, being worked almost to death, beaten for no good reason, and deprived of what we would consider basic necessities, learning to read and write would be the furthest thing on your mind.

But such was the law at that time. If you were a slave in the United States, literacy was beyond your reach. In Slavery and The Making of America: The Slave Experience, the article description states, “Fearing that black literacy would prove a threat to the slave system — which relied on slaves’ dependence on masters — whites in many colonies instituted laws forbidding slaves to learn to read or write and making it a crime for others to teach them.”

This doesn’t mean that slaves were never taught to read. Some slave owners allowed or taught their slaves to learn to read for the purpose of religious instruction. However, learning to write was considered off limits. It would “threaten the social order,” according to another article.

Slavery and The Making of America: The Slave Experience cites an excerpt from the South Carolina Act of 1740, which states in part, “Whereas, the having slaves taught to write, or suffering them to be employed in writing, may be attended with great inconveniences; Be it enacted, that all and every person and persons whatsoever, who shall hereafter teach or cause any slave or slaves to be taught to write, or shall use or employ any slave as a scribe, in any manner of writing whatsoever, hereafter taught to write, every such person or persons shall, for every such offense, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds, current money. “

If only the framers of those laws could have seen into the future, they would have scrapped them before the ink dried on the page. Because today, descendants of slaves are among the most prolific and sought-after writers in libraries and bookstores across America.

One slave who did receive reading and writing instruction from her masters was Phillis Wheatley, who, it was revealed, published her first poem “On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin,” at the age of 13. By the time she was 18, she had gathered a collection of 28 poems, for which she, with the help of her mistress Mrs. Wheatley, sought subscriptions in Boston newspapers.

However, this effort proved futile, and on May 8, 1771, Wheatley and Nathaniel, the Wheatley’s son, sailed for London, where Phillis was welcomed by several dignitaries, including Benjamin Franklin. Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), became the first volume of poetry by an African American published in modern times.

Today, other names have followed the trail blazed by Phillis Wheatley: Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Gwendolyn Brooks, and many others.

This post will not be complete without mentioning the latest poet to join the ranks of illustrious African American poets. Many of us had not heard of Amanda Gorman until she recited her captivating poem, The Hill We Climb at Joe Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in US history. She will no doubt go on to cross many rivers and climb many hills, forever keeping her name etched in the annals of African American literature.

Reading poetry can be inspiring, stimulating, and soothing at the same time. It can speak to your heart in ways that prose may not always do. For Black History month, will you take the time to delve into some of these treasures that can enrich your life? If you look at the related posts below, you would find a couple that, I hope, will whet your appetite for more. When you do, please drop me a line and tell me what you read and what you think about them.

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Kobe Bryant, Lakers shooting guard, stands ready to shoot a free throw during Tuesday night’s pre-season game against the Golden State Warriors. Bryant was essential in bringing together a large point gap late in the second quarter, after the Warriors took the early lead.

Every year during Black History month, I pay tribute to a black author, living or dead, who has made a significant impact on the literary world. But this year, I’m opening the month with a post about a basketball star–Kobe Bryant.

I feel led to do this, not because I’m a basketball fan–although I do like to watch the Miami Heats, since they are in my neck of the woods– but because Kobe’s untimely passing has so stunned the world that I could not help but join in mourning the loss of this amazing young man. All I knew of Kobe Bryant was he was one of the world’s greatest basketball players. But what touched me about him so much was his devotion to his family.

As fate would have it, Kobe and his thirteen-year-old daughter perished together in that horrible helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of seven other people. Images of Kobe and his daughter taken before the crash showed him hugging her close. I imagined him hugging her even tighter as the helicopter went down.
What a loss; to his family, to the sport and to the world.

I began this post by saying I usually write about black authors during Black History month. Well, it so happens that the multi-talented, multi-lingual Gold medalist and Oscar winner was also an author.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Kobe published the book The Mamba Mentality: How I Play. I think this book will make a fitting birthday present for my grandson who, I believe, will one day be a NBA star. Will Jayden be as great as Kobe or Shaq or LeBron or any of the other players he looks up to? Only time will tell. But I do hope he will emulate Kobe’s dedication not just to the game, but to his family and his community.

This quote from Kobe gives us a glimpse into the man’s character and the secret to his success. It has inspired me and I daresay it will inspire all who read it: “If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re probably going to fail.”

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Toni Morrison speaking at "A Tribute to C...

Image via Wikipedia

I could not let Black History month go out without writing something about Toni Morrison, recipient of many distinguished literary awards and the first black woman to win a Nobel prize in  Literature.  Her real name is Chloe Anthony Wofford, but she changed it to Toni to coincide with her middle name since many people could not pronounce her first name correctly. Toni was an excellent student who loved to read and in first grade she was the only black student who could read.

Toni graduated from Howard University in Washington, DC with a bachelor’s degree in English before moving to Cornell University, New York where she graduated with a master’s degree. Toni’s first job was as a teacher in Texas University. She was later offered a job as an editor with Random House where she edited the works of prominent figures like Muhammad Ali, Angela Davis and Andrew Young.  (more…)