Papa Joe

August 12, 1952.  It was a date she would never forget.  It was the day she buried the man who had been a father to her for over twenty years.  It seemed so surreal.  Papa Joe was gone.  She stood there alone in her grief, shivering although it was a hot and muggy day.

She stared at the ground where Papa Joe lay.  The tears rolled down her cheeks as she cradled his worn Bible, remembering how he used to read it to her when she was a child. When her parents had died he took her in and raised her as his own. She had grown to love the old man as if he were her very own blood.  Many of the townspeople had a problem with the widower raising a black girl and didn’t hide their displeasure but Papa Joe ignored them.  His business began to suffer.  Papa Joe was a tailor.  He knew that business would pick up again if he got rid of Cassandra but he refused to do so.  Even if he went bankrupt, he would never part with her.  He vowed that only death would separate them.

It was Papa Joe whom she shared her dreams with.  It was Papa Joe who comforted her when she went home crying because of the racial slurs and taunts.  Papa Joe was the only one who knew that she loved a man she had no right to love.  She had known Dr. Baker since she was a child.  He used to stop by and see Papa Joe.   He was always kind to her and brought her treats.  As she grew older, the visits became more frequent.  Papa Joe was no fool.  He could see that feelings were developing between them and he warned her, “You and the doctor have to be careful, Cassie.  This town will not take kindly to a relationship between a black girl and a white man.”

One night when Dr. Baker visited, Papa Joe excused himself and went to his room.  As soon as they were alone, the doctor took Cassandra into his arms and kissed her.  “I have wanted to do that all day,” he whispered when he raised his head to gaze down into her face.  “I know that there is a considerable age difference between us but I love you, Cassandra.  I tried to stay away when I realized that I had fallen in love with you but I couldn’t.  I had to see you.”

“I love you too.”

“I’m leaving for Paris in three weeks and I would like you to come with me.”

“Paris?” she exclaimed.  “Why there?”

“I have always wanted to go there and set up a practice.  My mother was French and your family was from Haiti.  So the language won’t be a barrier for us.”

“I can’t go to Paris with you, Robert.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t leave Papa Joe.  He has been so good to me.”

“Joe would want you to be happy and you won’t be as long as you remain in this town.”

“I can’t be happy knowing that he is here all alone.”  She could see the distress on Robert’s face and she reached up and touched his face.  “I love you for wanting to take me away with you, but I can’t.  I hope you understand.”

“I do,” he sighed.  “Well, I better be going.  Please say goodnight to Joe for me.”  They kissed and then she walked with him to the door.

“Goodbye, Cassandra.  Write me and let me know how you are doing.”  He gave her a piece of paper with an address on it.  She took it.  After a lingering look, he was gone–perhaps out of her life for good.

That was three months ago.  They had exchanged letters since and when Papa Joe died, she had written and told Robert.  She stood now at the grave, the tears falling.  Papa Joe had left the house to her and all the money he earned from his tailoring.  She had the money locked away in a box.  She didn’t want to go back to the empty house.

She had no idea of how long she stood there but the biting cold prompted her to start making her way back to the house.  She had just reached the front porch when she saw a car pull up and Robert got out.  He walked over to her and taking her arm he led her up the steps.  “I’m sorry I didn’t make it on time for the funeral,” he apologized as she unlocked the door and they went inside.

Once inside and the door was shut, she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.  She sobbed, letting out the pent up grief that had closed around her heart like a fist.  Robert stood there, holding her until the sobs subsided and then ceased.

When she was spent from all that crying, Robert took her over to the sofa and sat her down.  “Joe wrote me this note,” he said, handing it to her.  “I think you should read it.”

She wiped away the tears before she reached for the note.  Frowning, she slowly unfolded the paper and read it.  Dear Robert, I know that you love my Cassie and that you wanted to take her away from this cursed place.  If I know my dear girl she will not want to leave me.  She feels a sense of obligation to stay and take care of me as I have taken care of her all these years.  I don’t want to be a burden to her.  She is young and deserves to live her life.  There’s no future for her here.  I know that she loves you and that it broke her heart to be separated from you.  She thought I wasn’t aware, but I could see the unhappiness in her sweet face and I could hear her crying in the night.  She had sacrificed her chance for happiness for me.  I haven’t told her but I don’t have much longer to live.  When I pass on, which should be any time soon, please come and take Cassie away from here.  Take her to Paris where you and she will be free to love each other.  She can use the money from the sale of the house to pay for her fare.  I am sorry that I won’t be there for your wedding but know that I wish you both all the happiness in the world.  Please take good care of my precious girl.

Yours sincerely,

Joe

Fresh tears fell.  “I had no idea that he was dying.  He was tired more but I just thought that it was to do with age.  I am thankful that I was here for him.”

“Now, you can get on with your life.  We have his blessing.  Let me take you to Paris.”  He reached out and took her hands in his.  “Cassandra, I want to marry you.  Let me take you to Paris.”

She nodded.  “I will go to Paris with you,” she said.  Her life here was over.  There was nothing to keep her here.  Her future was with Robert now.  She would sell this house filled with so many wonderful memories and leave this town which had been the source of her unhappiness.  Yes, she will go to Paris and marry the man she loved.

 

crying african american woman in the 1950s

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Shackles

As she read the two volume autobiography of Olaudah Equiano, she was reminded of how fortunate she was.  She was a black, educated woman who was able to go to the university of her choice and become what she had always dreamed of.   She and her parents left the West Indies for a better life in America.

 

Her world was so different from Olaudah’s.  He had been kidnapped from his home in the West Indies and taken to Virginia where he was bought by a sea captain, Michael Henry  Pascal, with whom he traveled widely.  Olaudah received some education before he bought his freedom in 1766.  He became an abolitionist, speaking out against the cruelty of British slave owners in Jamaica.

 

Slavery is something she was never going to experience, but she knew what it was like to be treated differently because of the colour of her skin.  She learned that being educated, living in a stylish condo and driving an expensive car didn’t matter to those who didn’t see past her colour.  She still had to deal with being watched or ignored or followed when in certain stores or co-workers looking away as she passed them.

 

Yes, she had her own issues to deal with but they paled in comparison to Olaudah who suffered cruelty and indignity at the hands of those who wanted to keep him and the other slaves in emotional and intellectual shackles.  She was grateful to Olaudah for writing about the horrors of slavery.  It made her more determined to work harder and achieve more.  It was what drove her to pursue her Masters.  Like Olaudah, there were times when she questioned her faith but she has since learned that it is during those tough, challenging times that God has proven that she has the mettle to overcome them.

 

Yes, she had come a long way with God’s help but there was still a long way to go. Little by little she was going to break free from the racist mentalities that would like to keep blacks shackled to the painful past of slavery.

 

“After all, what makes any event important, unless by its observation we become better and wiser, and learn ‘to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God?'” – Olaudah Equiano

 

Cartoon image of woman reading book

 

Sources:  WikipediaBritannica; Daily Kos

 

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was one of 13 children to Susan and George Coleman, sharecroppers.  The family lived in a one-room cabin in Atlanta, Texas.  When she was two years old, Bessie’s father left the family in search of better opportunities in Oklahoma.  Bessie’s mother did her best to support the family until the children were old enough to contribute.  When Bessie’s older brothers went to work, she took care of her two younger sisters.  She became the family leader, reading to her sisters and mother at night.  Bessie promised her mother that she was going to “amount to something.”

Bessie began attending school when she was six and had to walk four miles every day to her segregated one-room school.  There she loved to read and had the distinction as an outstanding Math student.  The school closed whenever the students were needed in the fields to help their families harvest cotton.

Bessie attended Langston University, known then as Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University.  She was able to complete one term before she ran out of money.  She returned home.  At 23 she moved to Chicago where she lived with her brothers.  It was when she was working at the White Sox Barber Shop as a manicurist that her interest in aviation was kindled.  She heard stories about flying during the war from pilots returning home from World War I.  American flight schools did not admit black women and one of the pilots was willing to teach her how to fly.

Determined to earn her pilot license and encouraged by Robert S. Abbott, founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender, Bessie went to France after taking a French language course at Berlitz School in Chicago.  In France, she learned how to fly in a Nieuport Type 82 biplane and on June 15, 1921 she became the first African American and Native American to earn both an aviation pilot’s license and an international license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.  For the next two months, Bessie took lessons from a French ace pilot near Paris to polish her skills.  When she returned to the United States she became a media sensation.

She specialized in stunt flying and parachuting.  She earned a living barnstorming and performing aerial tricks.  In 1922 she made her first appearance in an American airshow.  It was an event honoring veterans of an all-black 369th Infantry Regiment of World War I.  She was billed as “the world’s greatest woman flier.”

It was Bessie’s dream to establish a school for young black aviators but she didn’t live to fulfill it.  On April 30, 1926, Bessie was killed in an accident while preparing for an airshow.  She was only 34 years old.

Bessie Coleman remains a pioneer of women in the field of aviation.  “Because of Bessie Coleman,” wrote Lieutenant William J. Powell in Black Wings 1934, dedicated to Coleman, “we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers.  We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.”  Lieutenant Powell served in a segregated unit during World War I and pushed for black aviation in his book, journals and through the Bessie Coleman Aero Club which he founded in 1929.

Notes to Women is pleased to honor this remarkable woman who broke down gender and race barriers by daring to dream big.  She kept her promise to her mother.  She did “amount to something”.

The air is the only place free from prejudice.

I refused to take no for an answer.

You’ve never lived till you’ve flown!

I decided blacks should not have to experience the difficulties I had faced, so I decided to open a flying school and teach other black women to fly.

 

Bessie Coleman painting

Sources:  Biography; Notable Biographies; Wikipedia; Brainy Quote

Mary Seacole

I just finished reading a very long but interesting biography of Mary Seacole. When I mentioned her to my husband, he immediately knew who I was talking about. He’s from Jamaica where Mary was born. She was born on November 23, 1805 to a Scottish father and Jamaican mother. Her father was a soldier in the British Army and her mother was a free woman. Mrs. Seacole was a doctress, a healer who used traditional Caribbean and African herbal remedies. She ran Blundell Hall, a boarding house, considered one of the best hotels in Kingston. It was from watching and helping her mother, that Mary became interested in nursing.

Mary was proud of her Scottish ancestry and called herself a Creole. Legally, she was classified a mulatto, a multiracial person with limited political rights. She was also very proud of her black ancestry. “I have a few shades of deeper brown upon my skin which shows me related—and I am proud of the relationship—to those poor mortals whom you once held enslaved, and whose bodies America still owns.” Being the educated daughter of a Scottish officer and a free black woman with a respectable business would have afforded Mary a high position in Jamaican society.

Mary married Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole, rumored to have been the illegitimate son of Horatio Nelson and his mistress, Emma, Lady Hamilton. Edwin was a merchant. The newly married couple moved to Black River where they opened a provisions store which failed to succeed. In the early 1840s, they returned to Blundell Hall.

During the years 1843 and 1844, disasters struck Mary and her family. They lost much of the boarding house in a fire on Kingston. Blundell Hall burned down and was replaced by the New Blundell Hall which was deemed “better than before.” She lost her husband and then her mother. Overcome with grief, Mary didn’t move for days. Then she composed herself and assumed the role of manager of her mother’s hotel and plunged herself into work, turning down many offers of marriage. She became a widely respected among the European military visitors to Jamaica who frequently stayed at Blundell Hall.

During the cholera epidemic of 1850 which killed 32,000 Jamaicans, she treated patients and blamed the outbreak to infection brought on a steamer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Shortly after she arrived in Cruces, Panama where her half-brother moved, cholera struck. Familiar with the disease and having treated those who had the infection, Mary moved into action, treating the first victim who survived. This did wonders for her reputation and many patients were brought to her as the infection spread. The epidemic raged, causing many casualties which filled Mary with exasperation with the victims, claiming that they “bowed down before the plague in slavish despair.” Towards the end, she too became sick but managed to pull through.

During the Crimean War, disease broke out and hundreds perished, mostly from cholera. Hundreds more died while waiting to be shipped out or on the voyage. It was during this time that Florence Nightingale was charged with the responsibility of forming a detachment of nurses to be sent to the hospital to save lives. After suitable candidates were selected following interviews, Florence left for Turkey. Mary tried to join the second group of nurses to the Crimea. She applied to the War Office and other government offices but arrangements for departure were already underway. She applied to the Crimean Fund, a fund raised by the public to support the wounded in Crimea for sponsorship to travel there but again, she was refused. Resolute, she decided to travel to Crimea using her own resources and to open a British Hotel.

On the ship Malta, Mary met a doctor who recently left Scutari, where Florence Nightingale was. He wrote Mary a letter of recommendation to Florence. Mary visited Florence at the Barrack Hospital in Scutari, asking for a bed for the night as she planned to travel to Balaclava the following day to join Thomas Day, her Caribbean acquaintance. In her memoirs, Mary mentioned that Florence was very friendly. They found a bed for her and breakfast was sent to her in the morning.

As she had planned, Mary opened the British Hotel near Balaclava. Meals were served there and there was outside catering. It prospered. Meals and supplies were provided for the soldiers. One frequent visitor was Alexis Soyer, a French chef who advised her to concentrate on food and beverage service and not to have beds for visitors as the few either slept on board the ships in the harbor or in tents in the camps.

The Special Correspondent of The Times newspaper highly commended Mary’s work, citing, “Mrs. Seacole…doctors and cures all manner of men with extraordinary success. She is always in attendance near the battle-field to aid the wounded, and has earned many a poor fellow’s blessings.”

Florence Nightingale acknowledged favorable views of Mary to Soyer and Mary had told him how kindly Florence had given her board and lodging. When Soyer mentioned Mary’s inquiries of her, Florence responded pleasantly and with a smile that , “I should like to see her before she leaves, as I hear she has done a great deal of good for the poor soldiers.” Yet, Florence didn’t want her nurses to associate with Mary and in a letter to her brother-in-law, Sir Harry Verney, she insinuated that Mary had kept a “bad house” in Crimea and was responsible for “much drunkenness and improper conduct”. This letter came at the time when Mary approached Sir Harry for the opportunity to assist in the Franco-Prussian War because of his involvement in the British National Society for the Relief of the Sick and Wounded.

In spite of this, Mary moved in royal circles. Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a nephew of Queen Victoria was one of Mary’s customers in Crimea when he was a young Lieutenant. Perhaps as a token of gratitude and appreciation, he carved a marble bust of her in 1871 which was exhibited in the Royal Academy summer exhibition a year later. Mary also became the personal masseuse to the Prince of Wales who suffered from white leg rheumatism.

Sadly, while she was well-known at the end of her life, Mary quickly faded from public memory and her work in Crimea was overshadowed by Florence Nightingale’s for many years. And there were controversies surrounding Mary. It has been argued that she is being promoted at the expense of Florence Nightingale. According to Professor Lynn McDonald, “…support for Seacole has been used to attack Nightingale’s reputation as a pioneer in public health and nursing.”

There are claims that her achievements have been exaggerated for political reasons and a plan to erect a statue of her at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, describing her as “pioneer nurse” has sparked some outrage. According to those who oppose, Mary has no connection with the institution whereas Florence Nightingale did. In Dr. Lang’s opinion, she “does not qualify as a mainstream figure in the history of nursing.”

Mary’s name appears in an appendix to the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum, as an example of a significant Victorian historical figure but teachers are not required to include her in their lessons. At the end of 2012, it was reported that she would be removed from the National Curriculum. This was opposed by Greg Jenner, the historical consultant to Horrible Histories. He believes that removing Mary from the curriculum would be a mistake in spite of the fact that her medical achievements have been exaggerated.

In January 2013, Operation Black Vote launched a petition to request that Education Secretary Michael Gove not drop Mary Seacole or Oloudah Equiano from the National Curriculum. Reverend Jesse Jackson and others wrote a letter to The Times, protesting the proposed removal of Mary Seacole from the National Curriculum. The campaign was a success as Michael Gove was forced to concede after receiving approximately 35,000 signatures.

Today, Mary Seacole is remembered in the Caribbean. She was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 1954, the headquarters of the Jamaican General Trained Nurses’ Association was christened “Mary Seacole House”. This was quickly followed by the naming of the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica. A ward at the Kingston Public Hospital is named in her memory. In Britain, buildings and organization now commemorate her by name and near the bottom of Fleet Street in London a Seacole Lane existed until it was redeveloped in the 1980s.

Notes to Women celebrate this pioneer in healing and helping those who were sick. She may not have been a registered nurse and her achievements may have been exaggerated but what matters is that she had the heart for nursing. There are some in the nursing profession who not in it because it is their passion. Mary Seacole had the heart and the passion for nursing and she was a blessing to many of those whom she treated. We think that this phenomenal woman should be recognized for what she has done.

She is a role model for all of us.  She was proud of her heritage.  She defied racism and bigotry and she embarked on her calling to help others, not allowing rejection or any other obstacles to get in her way.  If you have a goal in life, make it happen.  Don’t dream.  Act.  Florence Nightingale was not the only light.  Like Mary Seacole, you can be light too wherever you are.

I must say that I don’t appreciate your friend’s kind wishes with respect to my complexion. If it had been as dark as a nigger’s, I should have been just as happy and useful, and as much respected by those whose respect I value: and as to his offer of bleaching me, I should, even if it were practicable, decline it without any thanks.

I have a few shades of deeper brown upon my skin which shows me related to those poor mortals you once held enslaved, and whose bodies America still owns. Having this bond, and knowing what slavery is, having seen with my eyes and heard with my ears proof positive enough of its horrors, is it surprising that I should be somewhat impatient of the airs of superiority which many Americans have endeavoured to assume over me.

I have always noticed what actors children are……….whatever disease was most prevalent in Kingston, be sure my poor doll soon contracted it…….before long it was very natural that I should seek to extend my practice, and so I found other patients in the cats and dogs around me.

Doubts and suspicions rose in my heart for the first and last time, thank Heaven. Was it possible that American prejudices against colour had some root here? Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs?

 

Mary Secole

 

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Seacole; http://www.biographyonline.net/humanitarian/quotes/mary-seacole.html

Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Mary Ann Shadd Cary was the eldest of thirteen children.  She was born on October 9, 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware.  Her great-grandfather was Hans Schad, alias John Shadd, who served as Hessian soldier with the British army during the French and Indian War.  Her father, Abraham Doras Shadd was trained as a shoemaker and owned a shop in Wilmington and later in the nearby town of West Chester, Pennsylavania.  In these two places, he was a conductor on the Underground Railroad and involved in other civil rights activities.  He was an active member of the American Anti-Slavery Society and in 1833 he was named President of the National Convention for the Improvement of Free People of Colour.

It’s not surprising that the Shadd family moved to Pennyslavania when it became illegal to educate African American children in the the state of Delaware.  In Pennyslavania, Mary attended a Quaker school.  In 1840 Mary Ann returned to West Chester where she established a school for black children.  She taught in Norristown, Pennsylvania and New York City.  Three years later, Abraham was forced to move his family to Canada, settling in North Buxton, Ontario.  The reason of this move was the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.  The law threatened to return free northern blacks and escaped slaves into bondage.   In 1858, Abraham D. Shadd became the first black man to be elected to political office in Canada.

Mary Ann founded a racially integrated school in Windsor with the support of the American Missionary Association.  She ran The Provincial Freeman, an anti-slavery newspaper which made her the first female editor in North America.  Her brother, Isaac managed the business affairs of the newspaper and at his home he hosted meetings to plan the raid on Harper’s Ferry.

Mary Ann traveled around Canada and the United States, an advocate for full racial integration though education and self-reliance.  She promoted emigration to Canada amongst freemen.  In 1855 when she attempted to participate in the Philadelphia Colored Convention, the assembly debated whether or not to even allow her to sit as a delegate.  She was viewed as a controversial figure becuase of her advocacy for emigration.  By 15 votes she was admitted and according to Frederick Douglass’ Paper, although she gave a speech advocating for emigration, she was so well received that the delegates voted that she be given ten more minutes to speak.  Unfortunately, her presence at the Convention was omitted from the minutes most likely because she was a woman.  How sad.  Here we have blacks who know what it’s like to be discriminated because of color and yet they were discriminating against Mary Ann because she was a woman.  How difficult it was to be a black woman in those days.  She faced prejudice because of her color and prejudice because of her gender.

In 1856 Mary Ann married a Toronto barber named Thomas F. Cary who was involved with the Provincial Freeman.  They had a daughter and a son.  After Thomas died in 1860, Mary Ann and their children returned to the United States.

During the Civil War, at the request of abolitionist, Martin Delany, she served as a recruiting officer to enlist black volunteers for the Union Army in the state of Indiana.  After the Civil War, she went back to teaching.  She taught in the black schools in Wilmington before she moved to Washington, D.C. where she taught in public schools and attended Howard University School of Law.  In 1883, at the age of 60, she graducated as a lawyer, becoming the second black woman in the United States to earn a law degree.  Age didn’t slow this remarkable woman down.  Not only was she writing for newspapers such as National Era and The People’s Advocate but she organized the Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise.  She joined the National Woman Suffrage Association where she worked alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton for women’s suffrage.  They testified before the Judiciary Committee of the House of the Representatives.

Mary Ann Shadd died in Washington, D.C. on June 5, 1893.  She was interred at Columbian Harmony Cemetery.  She left behind her a great legacy.  Her former residence in the U Street Corridor was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.  In 1987 the National Women’s History Project designated her a Women’s History Month Honoree and Canada honored her by designating her a Person of National Historic Significance.

Like her father, Mary Ann was an advocate for civil rights –the right to freedom and education among blacks.  She was an anti-slavery activist, journalist, teacher and lawyer.  She was a wife and mother.  She was a wonderful example to her children.  She taught them that everyone is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  No one should have their freedom and right to education taken away from them.

Notes to Women salute this amazing woman who showed us that the things we sometimes take for granted are to be cherished.  Freedom and education are two things we should fiercely guard.  There are some countries in the world where human rights are violated.  Women are treated as second class citizens or worse, girls are denied education and Christians are denied the freedom to worship.  Be thankful for the freedoms you currently have.

“Self-reliance Is the Fine Road to Independence.”

 

220px-Mary_Ann_Shadd

 

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Ann_Shadd;

http://www.womeninhistoryohio.com/mary-ann-shadd-cary.html

Lena Horne

In celebration of Black History Month, Notes to Women are going to celebrate a few notable women.  We begin with singer, actress, Lena Horne.

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born in Bedford-sTuyvesant, Brooklyn.  Her father, Edwin Fletcher Horne left the family when she was three years old.  Her mother was the daughter of inventor Samuel R. Scottron.  She was an actress with a black theatre troupe and travelled extensively.  Lena was raised by her grandparents.  When she was five, she was sent to Georgia to live.  For seeral years she travelled with her mother.  For two years, she lived with her uncle who would later serve as an adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

At the age of sixteen, Lena joined the chorus of the Cotton Club and became a nightclub performer before she moved to Hollywood.  In Hollywood she had small parts in movies, notably Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather.  She was never cast in a leading role because of her race and the films featuring her had to be re-edited for showing in states where theatres would not show films with black performers.  Interestingly enough, Lena was the first African American elected to serve on the Screen Actors Guild board of directors.

In 1951, Lena wanted to be considered for the role of Julie LaVerne in the MGM’s version of Show Boat but lost the part to her friend, Ava Gardner due to the Production Code’s ban on interracial relationships in films. Lena stated in the documentary, That’s Entertainment! III that MGM executives wanted Ava Gardner to practice her singing using Lena’s recordings. Both actresses were offended by this.

Not surprisingly, Lena was disenchanted with Hollywood and she began to focus more on her nightclub career.  She made two major appearances in MGM films in the 1950s, Duchess of Idaho and Meet Me in Las Vegas.  It was during this time that she was blacklisted for her political views.

After she left Hollywood, Lena made waves as one of the premier nightclub performers of the post-war era.  She headlined clubs and hotels throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.  In 1958, she was the first African American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award for “Best Actress in a Musical”.  She appeared in variety shows on TV such as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show and The Judy Garland Show and in 1969., she starred in her own television special, Monsanto Night Presents Lena Horne.

In 1970, she co-starred with Harry Belafonte in ABC’s show, Harry & Lena and in 1973 with Tony Bennett in Tony and Lena.  She toured the U.S. and U.K. with Bennett.  In 1981, she received a special Tony Award for her one-woman show, Lena Horne:  The Lady and Her Music.  In the 1990s she was active in the recording studio.

Lena was also a Civil Rights activist.  She was involved in the movement for years.  In 1941, she sang at Cafe Society and Paul Robeson, another blacklisted performer.  During World War II, Lena refused to perfom for segregated audiences or for groups where German POWS were sitting in front of African American servicemen.  The U.S. Army refused to have integrated audiences so Lena ended up putting on a show for a mixed audience of black U.S. soldiers and white German POWs.  When she saw that the black soldiers were forced to sit in the back seats, she walked off the stage to the first row where they were seated and performed with the German POWs behind her.  Way to go Lena!

She was a participant at an NAACP rally with Medgar Evers the weekend before he was assassinated and she met John F. Kennedy at the White House two days before he was assassinated.  She participated at the March on Washington where she spoke and performed on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC adn the National Council of Negro Women.  She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt, another champion of civil rights, to pass anti-lynching laws.  She received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP in 1983.

On a more personal note, Lena was married to Louis Jordan Jones.  They had a daughter and a son.  Sadly, their son died of a kidney disease.  In 1940, Lena and her husband separated.  They divorced in 1944.  In 1947, she remarried.  Her second husband was Lennie Hayton, Music Director and one of the premier musical conductors and arrangers at MGM.  In the early 1960s they separated but never divorced.  Lennie died in 1971.  In her biography, Lena, she recalled the pressures they faced as an interracial couple.  She admitted that she married him to advance her career and cross the “color line” in show business but had learned to love him very much.

Fame runs in the family.  Lena’s daughter, Gail, a best-selling author, was married to director, Sidney Lumet.  Their daughter, Jenny Lumet, a screenwriter, is known for her award winning screenplay, Rachel Getting Married.

On May 9, 2010, Lena Horne died in New York city of heart failure.  Among those gathered to pay their respects at her funeral were Leontyne Price, Dionne Warwick, Liza Minnelli, Jessye Norman, Chita Rivera, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Leslie Uggams and Lauren Bacall.  At the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony held on February 27, 2011, actress Halle Berry presented a tribute to Lena.

Notes to Women salute this phenomenal woman who was not afraid to speak out against racism and was the first African-American actress to have a major studio contract with the stipulation that she would not have to play any demeaning, stereotypical roles.  In doing this, she paved the way for other African American actresses.

In my early days I was a sepia Hedy Lamarr. Now I’m black and a woman, singing my own way.

I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept. I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.

Always be smarter than the people who hire you

It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.

My identity is very clear to me now, I am a black woman, I’m not alone, I’m free. I say I’m free because I no longer have to be a credit, I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.

You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way.

I never considered myself a movie star. Mostly, I just sang songs in other people’s movies.

 

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Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lena_Horne; http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/a/qu_lena_horne.htm; http://www.qotd.org/quotes/Lena.Horne; http://www.blackclassicmovies.com/Artist_Profile/lena_horne.html; http://www.biography.com/#!/people/lena-horne-9344086; http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0395043/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm

Global Renaissance Woman

“I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone…”

Maya blamed herself for the death of the man who sexually abused and raped her when she was only eight years old.  For five years she remained mute until a teacher and friend of her family, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, helped her to speak again.

In her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya touches on her childhood rape.  Rape is used as a metaphor for the suffering of her race. Another metaphor, that of a bird struggling to escape its cage, is a central image throughout the work, which consists of “a sequence of lessons about resisting racist oppression”.  Angelou’s treatment of racism delivers a thematic unity to the book. Literacy, and seizing the power of words, help young Maya cope with her bewildering world; books become her refuge as she works through her trauma.

 Caged Bird was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970 and remained on The New York Times paperback bestseller list for two years. It has been used in educational settings from high schools to universities, and the book has been celebrated for creating new literary avenues for the American memoir. However, the book’s graphic depiction of childhood rape, racism, and sexuality has caused it to be challenged or banned in some schools and libraries.

 The success of  I Know Why the Caged Bird sings hailed Maya as the as a new kind of memoirist and earned her the distinction of being the first African American women who was able to publicly discuss her personal life.  She became recognized and highly respected as a spokesperson for blacks and women. It made her “without a doubt, …America’s most visible black woman autobiographer”.  According to author Hilton Als, Maya made an important contribution to the increase of black feminist writings in the 1970s.  Her writings which were more about self-revelation than politics freed many other female writers to “open themselves up without the shame to the eyes of the world.”

 Angelou is one of the most honored writers of her generation. She has been honored by universities, literary organizations, government agencies, and special interest groups. Her honors include a National Book Award nomination for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her book of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, a Tony Award nomination for her role in the 1973 play Look Away, and three Grammys for her spoken word albums. 

 In 1995, Angelou’s publishing company, Bantam Books, recognized her for having the longest-running record (two years) on The New York Times Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller List. In 1998, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She has served on two presidential committees, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Musician Ben Harper has honored Angelou with his song “I’ll Rise”, which includes words from her poem, “Still I Rise.” She has been awarded over thirty honorary degrees.

Maya is dubbed the “global renaissance woman”  She is hailed as one of the great voices of contemporary literature.  She travels and continues to captivate audiences with her words and lyrics.  She is a multifaceted woman–poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director and an inspiration for many of us.  Notes to Women salute this amazing woman who found her voice and is using it to spreading her legendary wisdom. 

 I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings.

   

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Know_Why_the_Caged_Bird_Sings

http://mayaangelou.com/