tagged with: Black history

Fort Lauderdale is the city you never want to leave, states the beginning of an article on the government’s website. Located along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in the US state of Florida, Fort Lauderdale boasts 165 miles of scenic, inland waterways, giving the city the well-deserved designation “the Venice of America.”

My friend caught a shark!
Fishing in Fort Lauderdale Copyright mine

The city is also home to a number of museums, libraries, and cultural centers, including the Riverwalk, which features the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, the hub of the city’s arts, science and historic district. The famous Las Olas Boulevard offers the finest in fashion, dining, and entertainment.

Fort Lauderdale is a bustling city with its own airport, The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and accommodates a number of industries, including marine, tourism, manufacturing, real estate, and others. Just as diversified is its population with whites making up 46.6%, followed by blacks or African American, 32.2%, Hispanic or Latino, 18.5%, according to a 2020 census. American Indian, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander make up the rest.

Fort Lauderdale is named after three forts built by the United States during the Second Seminole War. The forts were named after Major William Lauderdale who led a detachment of Tennessee Volunteers south to capture Seminole agricultural lands and battle the Indian warriors.

Among the first settlers in the 1880s —when Florida was controlled by the Spanish —were slaves who had escaped from northern plantations. Immigrants from Bahamas, farmers and craftsmen looking for opportunities also came to Fort Lauderdale. They settled in the northwestern part of the city called “colored town.” Here they faced school segregation for their children and Black Codes that kept them in a new form of bondage. Black men paid a dollar tax for the schools and the children had to pay for tuition. By 1901, when Fort Lauderdale was still part of Dade County, the county had 20 schools for whites, but only 6 for blacks.

In 1907, blacks in Fort Lauderdale got their first school when white pioneer Tom M. Bryan donated a one-room building on the west side of N.W. Third Avenue, but this was later torn down to build an ice plant. Black children then either had to go to private homes or to Knights of Pythias Hall at N.W. Fourth Street and Fourth Avenue, while still expected to work in the fields after school and during the winter harvest.

Finally, in 1923 the Broward County School Board agreed to open a “colored school” in Tuskegee Park. Joseph Ely became the school’s first principal when the school opened in 1924, and named it in honor of James Hardy Dillard, a white man who had helped foster good relations between the races. Today, there is a Dillard Elementary and a Dillard High School catering to middle and high school students. Local officials began integrating the schools in 1961, and by 1970 all the schools of Broward County were fully integrated.

As Black History month comes to a close, we honor the lives of those who suffered and died in order to blaze a trail for us to follow so we can enjoy a better life. I don’t think we should be afraid of our history. Black history is a painful one indeed, but when we look at how far we have come, we can hold our heads high and be proud of what we accomplished. “The mixture of pain and anger, from past experiences, are the most sincere colors to create new horizons on my canvas.” ― Efrat Cybulkiewicz

Let’s create some new horizons.

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If you love books and love wearing t-shirts then you may love to add one of these to your wardrobe.

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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My Black History spotlight this week is on Terry McMillan, one of the most successful writers of our time. She is the  author of several magazine articles, and six bestselling books, two of which, Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back, became blockbuster movies.

Terry began her writing career in 1987 with the publication of her first novel, Mama, which started out as a short story. Terry followed the advice of members of the Harlem Writers’ Guild who told her that Mama ought to be a novel. After six weeks, she’d expanded her short story into a novel of over 400 pages. Terry sent her collection of short stories to Houghton Mifflin, expecting to get some free editorial advice. It turned out that Houghton Mifflin was more interested in Mama, which she’d mentioned briefly in her letter. Terry sent them some pages from the book and they loved it.

Here’s the opening line of Mama: “Mildred hid the ax beneath the mattress of the cot in the dining room.” Who wouldn’t want to continue reading after that?

For me, this is where the story of Terry’s rise to fame really got my attention. The writer of the article in encyclopedia.com says that typically first novels don’t get a lot of publicity. I can relate. But, the article continues, Terry was not about to let her hard work go to waste. When the publishers told her they couldn’t do more for her, Terry struck out on her own. She wrote over 3000 letters to bookstores, universities and colleges, and by the end of the summer of 1987 she was scheduled for several readings. Instead of waiting on her publicist to arrange her publicity tour, Terry did it herself. By the time Waiting to Exhale was published in 1992, Terry McMillan had become a sensation. The movie grossed $66 million.

So, what lessons can we as writers learn from Terry McMillan?

1. Read. Terry discovered the beauty of reading from working in the library. Prior to that, she had not been exposed to books by black writers. In an interview, Terry says she felt embarrassed when she came across a book by James Baldwin with his picture on the cover. After reading the autobiography of Malcolm X, Terry  realized that black literature was nothing to be ashamed of.

2. Study. Terry attended Los Angeles City College, where she immersed herself in African American classics. She then went on to the University of California at Berkeley and pursued a Master’s degree in Film at Columbia University. She also attended McDowell and Yaddo artist colonies.

3. Take advice. Had Terry not listened to the advice of the Harlem Writers Guild, she may not have published Mama, which launched her writing career.

4. Take charge. (This is my favorite) Don’t sit back and wait on others to do everything for you. Had Terry waited on her publishers to handle all her marketing for her, Mama may have fallen flat and her career may have never got off the ground.

In reading about this great, contemporary African American author, I feel proud to be a writer even though I have not begun to scratch the surface of what she has done. Still, she has motivated me, and I daresay other writers, to strive to be the best we can be. For that, we owe her a debt of gratitude.

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Harriet Beecher Stowe

Image by dbking via Flickr


In honor of black history month, I have been featuring African Americans, past and present, who have distinguished themselves in the field of literature. However, this week’s post is not about an African American, but a white woman who influenced the course of African slavery through her writing. Her name  is Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose work sold in the millions, and who became an abolitionist and a defender of slaves.

Like Ann Petry who was featured last week, Harriet was born in Connecticut, one of three daughters to Lyman Beecher and Roxanna Foote. However, Harriet was born almost a century earlier on June 14, 1811.  Her mother died when Harriet was only four years old and her older sister Catherine became her educator. Harriet enrolled in a seminary (girls’ school) run by Catherine, where she was educated in traditional “male” fashion in the classics, languages and mathematics. (more…)