Mar 31 2012


  • Published: 1879 as The California Owl. Renamed The California Eagle under ownership of the Bass Family
  • Publisher(s): John James Nemoire; John and Charlotta Bass
  • Mission: Initially, the publication was to help African-American migrants settle in the West by providing housing and job listings. Throughout the Great Migration, the publication focused on challenging injustice and racist practices in the United States.

Like Ida B. Wells’ xxx which crusaded against lynching, the Eagle led campaigns against racism in the motion picture industry. In 1914, publishers of The Eagle printed a series of articles and editorials protesting the negative portrayals of African-Americans in D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. Other newspapers joined the campaign and as a result, the film was banned in several communities across the nation.

On the local level The Eagle used its printing presses to expose police brutality in Los Angeles and discriminatory hiring practices of companies such as the Southern Telephone Company, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Boulder Dam Company, the Los Angeles General Hospital and the Los Angeles Rapid Transit Company.

Mar 31 2012


    Key Details
  • Published: 1905
  • Founding Publisher: Robert S. Abott
  • Mission: The Defender utilized the tactics of
    yellow journalism to expose racism and oppression that African-Americans faced throughout the United States.

Robert S. Abott published the first edition of The Chicago Defender with an investment of twenty-five cents. He used his landlord’s kitchen to print copies of the paper—a collection of news clippings from other publications and Abott’s own reporting. By 1916, The Chicago Defender boasted a circulation of more than 15,000 and was considered one of the best African-American newspapers in the United States. The news publication went on to have a circulation of over 100,000, a health column and a full page of comic strips.

From the outset, Abbott employed yellow journalistic tactics-sensational headlines and dramatic news accounts of African-American communities throughout the nation. The tone of the paper was militant and referred to African-Americans, not as “black” or “negro” but as “the race.” Graphic images of lynchings, assaults and other acts of violence against African-Americans were published prominently in the paper. As an initial supporter of The Great Migration, The Chicago Defender published train schedules and job listings in its advertising pages as well as editorials, cartoons, and news articles to persuade African-Americans to relocate to northern cities. Through its coverage of the Red Summer of 1919, the publication used these race riots to campaign for anti-lynching legislation.

Writers such as Walter White and Langston Hughes served as columnists; Gwendolyn Brooks published one of her earliest poems in the pages of the Chicago Defender.

Mar 30 2012

Discovering Family History and a Complex Legal System

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

The right to vote is a liberty that many Americans take for granted. For Tobias Carter, a former slave, it was a privilege he was ready to exercise.

In 1865, Carter was emancipated from slavery through the 13th Amendment. Later, Carter received full citizenship through the 14th Amendment. And by March 30, 1870, the 15th Amendment
was adopted into the U.S. Constitution, allowing Carter to vote.

Nevertheless, in 1965, his great-great grandson, John Robert Lewis
was marching through the streets of Alabama for that same right.

Can we say ironic?

Lewis, who is now a congressional representative in Georgia, discovered this bit of family history while participating in PBS’ ten-part series, Finding Your Roots. In each episode, historian Henry Louis Gates uncovers the legacies of two well-known Americans–helping them answer questions about their family legacies.

Yet Lewis’ family legacy offers viewers the opportunity to understand the complexity of the legal system—how one man can achieve the right to vote through a federal law yet his descendants have to fight for the right to vote because state laws created barriers to keep African-American citizens from voting. From poll taxes, literacy tests and the Grandfather Clause, Southern states consistently created and enforced laws that would never allow African-American men, and later women, the right to be fully citizens in society.

However, throughout United States’ history, men such as Lewis countered these acts of disenfranchisement through organizations such as the Niagara Movement and later, the NAACP and SNCC. Men such as Robert Abott, publisher of The Chicago Defender and other African-American newspapers campaigned against segregation in the South and race riots such as The Red Summer of 1919.

What’s your family history? How does your family history offer you an understanding of United States’ history?

Suggested Reading

Thirteenth Amendment

The Reconstruction Period

The Civil Rights Movement

Mar 29 2012


Following the abolishment of slavery in 1865, African-Americans in the South faced an uncertain future. Although the Freedmen’s Bureau helped to rebuild the South during the Reconstruction period, African-Americans soon found themselves reliant on the same people who were once their owners. However, instead of being enslaved by plantation owners, African-Americans became sharecroppers, a system in which small farmers rented farm space, supplies and tools to harvest a crop. However, an insect known as the boll weevil damaged crops throughout the south between 1910 and 1920. As a result of the boll weevil’s work, there was less of a demand for agricultural workers, leaving many African-Americans unemployed.

Mar 26 2012

From Selma to Montgomery: Marching to Vote

On March 25, 1965 more than 20,000 men, women and children arrived on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol building. For 17 days, marchers had traveled from Selma to Montgomery, demanding the right to vote. Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the speech “How Long, Not Long,” before handing the state’s governor, George Wallace, a petition insisting that African-Americans in the state of Alabama be granted voting rights.

Related Articles

Voting Rights Act of 1965

March 1965 voting rights march

Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “How Long, Not Long”

Mar 13 2012

Today in African-American History: The Dred Scott Decision

Painting of Dred Scott

Public Domain. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On March 6, 1857, the United States Supreme Court upheld the rulings of lower courts in the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford.

In its ruling the court stated that African-Americans–whether freed or enslaved–were not and could not be considered citizens of the United States. In addition, the Supreme Court proclaimed that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional.

Mar 13 2012

Today in African-American History: Benjamin Banneker Designs the Nation’s Capitol


On March 12, 1791, Benjamin Banneker, a self-educated mathematician, writer, astronomer and inventor became the first African-American to receive a presidential appointment.

For more than thirty years, Banneker’s astronomical predictions, inventions and published writings helped create changes in American society. However, it is his work on our nation’s capital that is most notable. When Pierre L’Enfant resigned from from his position as chief designer of Washington D.C., he took the layout plans, leaving the surveyors without any plans to finish. Using only his memory, Banneker was able to recreate L’Enfant’s designs.

plans for d.c.

Public Domain. Images Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

About Benjamin Banneker

African-Americans in Astronomy and Space

Mar 10 2012

Top Five Cities

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, abolitionism developed as the campaign to end slavery. While some abolitionists favored gradual legal emancipation, others advocated for immediate freedom for slaves. However, all abolitionists worked with one goal in mind: freedom for African-Americans.

Black and white abolitionists worked tirelessly to create changes in the United States’ society. They hid runaway slaves in their homes and businesses, held meetings in various spaces, and published newspapers in northern cities such as Boston, New York, Rochester, and Philadelphia. As the United States expanded, abolitionism spread to smaller towns, such as Cleveland, Ohio. Today, many of these meeting places are still standing, while others are marked for their importance by local historical societies.

Mar 10 2012

Lugenia Burns Hope

For thirty years, Hope worked to improve the lives of African-Americans in Atlanta, Georgia through her efforts as a social activist and community organizer.

Arriving in Atlanta in 1898, Hope worked with a group of women to provide services to African-American children in the West Fair neighborhood. These services included free day care centers, community centers and recreational facilities.

Seeing the great needs in many poor communities throughout Atlanta, Hope enlisted the help of Morehouse College students to interview community members concerning their needs. From these surveys, Hope realized that many African-Americans not only suffered from societal racism, but also a lack of medical and dental services, inadequate access to education and lived in unsanitary conditions. By 1908, Hope established the Neighborhood Union, an organization providing educational, employment, recreational and medical services to African-Americans throughout Atlanta. In addition, the Neighborhood Union worked to reduce crime in African-American communities in Atlanta and also spoke out against racism and Jim Crow laws.

Mar 10 2012

The Red Summer of 1919

The first act of violence took place in Charleston, S.C. in May. For the next six months, riots occurred in small Southern towns such as Sylvester, Ga. and Hobson City, Ala. and larger northern cities such as Scranton, Pa. and Syracuse, N.Y.

The largest riots, however, took place in the following cities:

Washington D.C.:On July 19, white men initiated a riot after hearing that a black man had been accused of rape. The men beat random African-Americans, pulling them off of streetcars and beating street pedestrians. African-Americans fought back after local police refused to intervene. For four days, African-American and white residents fought. By July 23, four whites and two African-Americans were killed in the riots. In addition, an estimated 50 people were seriously injured. The Washington D.C. riots was especially significant because it was one of the only instances when African-Americans aggressively fought back against whites.

Chicago: The most violent of all the race riots began on July 27. A young black man visiting Lake Michigan beaches accidentally swam on the South Side, which was frequented by whites. As a result, he was stoned and drowned. After the police refused to arrest the young man’s attackers, violence ensued. For 13 days, white rioters destroyed the homes and businesses of African-Americans. By the end of the riot, an estimated one thousand African-American families were homeless, over 500 were injured and 50 people were killed.

Elaine, Ark.:One of the last but most intense of all the race riots began on October 1 after whites tried to disband the organization efforts of African-American sharecroppers. Sharecroppers were meeting to organize a union so that they could express their concerns to local planters. However, the planters, opposed the workers organization and attacked African-American farmers. During the riot, an estimated 100 African-Americans and five whites were killed.