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KD Celebrates Black History Month - Week 3

February 19, 2021

Josephine Baker (1906-1975)

Performer and World War II Spy

Josephine Baker was a multitalented world-renowned performer, her successes ultimately lead her to Paris where she became known for her distinct dancing and unique costumes. One of her most legendary shows was at the Danse Sauvage when she danced across stage in a banana skirt. Above that, Baker was known for joining the fight against the Nazi regime and aiding the French Resistance during Word War II. Baker was well-known for her contributions to the civil rights movement and continued to fight racial injustices into the 1970s. Throughout her life Josephine adopted 13 children from different countries to show them that racial harmony could exist.

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Mary Jane Seacole (1805-1881)

Nurse, Healer, and Businesswoman

“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 Seacole is most known for setting up the “British Hotel” after applying for a nursing position in the Crimean and being rejected. She helped provide 'a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers'. Seacole cared for wounded servicemen on the battlefield and nursed many back to health, from nursing skills she learned from her mother.  The soldiers called her “Mother Seacole”. She was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 2004, she was voted the greatest Black Briton, a poll first undertaken in 2003 to vote for and celebrate the greatest Black Britons of all time.

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Ruby Bridges

American civil rights activist

"Racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it."

Ruby Bridges became the first African American student to integrate an all-white public elementary school in the South at just six years old. She was the first Black student to attend William Frantz Elementary in Louisiana at the height of desegregation. Every day Ruby and her mother were escorted by federal marshals due to the hateful reactions of the school’s students, and their parents. Only one teacher at the school, Barbara Henry, would accept Ruby into her classroom, no other children attended class with Ruby and her teacher. Ruby never missed a day of school, former United States Deputy Marshal Charles Burks later said, "She showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn't whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier, and we're all very very proud of her.”  Ruby later became a civil rights activist.

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Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)

American leader in social movements

“We are all one - and if we don't know it, we will learn it the hard way.”

Bayard Rustin was often referred to as “Mr. March-on-Washington” by A. Philip Randolph whom he worked with on the March on Washington Movement to end racial discrimination in employment. Rustin led a number of protests throughout the mid and late 1900s and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. to teach him about nonviolence – King said: “We are thoroughly committed to the method of nonviolence in our struggle, and we are convinced that Bayard’s expertness and commitment in this area will be of inestimable value.” Bayard Rustin was a gay man, and due to his disapproval over his sexuality he mostly acted as an adviser behind the scenes to many civil rights leaders. During the 1980s, he started speaking at events as an activist for gay causes and human rights. After his death, President Barack Obama awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

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Amelia Boynton Robinson (1911-2015)

American activist

“Only until all human beings begin to recognize themselves as human beings will prejudice be gone forever. People ask me what race I am, but there is no such thing as race. I just answer: "I’m a member of the human race.”

Amelia Boynton Robinson was a civil rights activist in Selma, Alabama, who defended voting rights for African Americans and held voter registration drives from the 1930s-1950s. Robinson was the major figure in the infamous march to Selma in 1965, where she attempted to cross a bridge with fellow protesters that marched from Montgomery to demand their right to register to vote. Met by state troopers, Robinson was gassed, whipped, and badly beaten before being left for dead. A photograph was taken of her after the brutal assault that was published in magazines and newspapers all around the world. In 1990, Robinson won the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Metal and continued to advocate for civil rights until her death in 2015, at the age of 104.

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James Meredith

American civil rights activist

“Nothing is a bigger waste of time than regretting the past and worrying about the future.”

James Meredith was the first African American student to attend college at the University of Mississippi. Going against a U.S. Supreme Court order to integrate the school, state officials initially refused and blocked Meredith’s entrance. This action led to large campus riots that left two people dead and hundreds injured. A couple days after the riots, Meredith was admitted to the university under the protection of federal marshals. He continued activism throughout his life, and in 1966 began a solitary protest march, which he called the March Against Fear, from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, where he was shot by a sniper. Meredith survived the attack and was able to rejoin the march. He later ran for various public offices, most notably a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1972, but his bid was unsuccessful.

More about James Meredith



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