Category Archives: Black History Month

A celebration of the resilience of black entrepreneurs and culture

Happy Amos Fortune Day

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In 1955, New Hampshire Governor Lane Dwinell would declare 20th February Amos Fortune Day.
We join in this celebration of an exemplar of resilience and good citizenship.

We have reproduced the text of Governor Dwinell’s declaration below.

WHEREAS, AMOS FORTUNE, Negro, born in 1710 free in Africa, made a slave and sold in America, did by the strength of his character and by his industry surmount almost impossible obstacles to become a free and distinguished citizen of Nev‘ Hampshire, and

WHEREAS, said AMOS FORTUNE, though for many years a slave, did acquire an education above average for his time, did become an expert tanner and did purchase freedom for himself and three other slaves, and

WHEREAS AMOS FORTUNE did not only by his life exemplify the highest obligations of good citizenship but on his death in 1801 did bequeath to the church and school of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, sums of money to be used in the furtherance of religion and education, and

WHEREAS, the day, February 20, is part of America’s Negro History Week and American Brotherhood Week

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Lane Dwinell, Governor of the State of New Hampshire, in behalf of our people, do proclaim the day February 20, 1955 to be AMOS FORTUNE DAY, and I do call upon the citizens of New Hampshire to consider on that day their obligations of tolerance and good citizenship.

For more on Amos Fortune, please see last Friday’s post
For more on Negro History Week, see our post on the origins of Black History Month.

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Black History Month: Like a Strong Tree

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Black History Month: Claude McKay—Like a Strong Tree

Poet of ResilienceLike a strong tree that in the virgin earth
Sends far its roots through rock and loam and clay,
And proudly thrives in rain or time of dearth,
When the dry waves scare rainy sprites away;
Like a strong tree that reaches down, deep, deep,
For sunken water, fluid underground,
Where the great-ringed unsightly blind worms creep,
And queer things of the nether world abound:

So would I live in rich imperial growth,
Touching the surface and the depth of things,
Instinctively responsive unto both,
Tasting the sweets of being and the stings,
Sensing the subtle spell of changing forms,
Like a strong tree against a thousand storms.

——Claude McKay

In celebration of Black History Month, we will post an inspirational cultural item each day.

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Bootstrapping Bootblacking Tarheel

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“As long as it is God’s will, I want this institution to move, for men to support their families; and God will let it live. That is what I am interested about and God knows it. I want this institution to live and she will!”—John Merrick

Resilience in NCThe North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company is the United States’ oldest black-owned business and was for decades the largest. It was built by John Merrick and a consortium of black North Carolinians. Merrick was born into slavery in 1859. By age 12, he was working in a brickyard to help support his family. He would become a brickmason but opted to work as a bootblack because he wanted to learn about barbershops which thought would offer the best opportunity for entrepreneurship. He left Raleigh for the less established Durham for similar reasons. By 1881 Merrick would own a share of a barbershop and a growing real estate portfolio. In time, he would own as many as nine barbershops and co-own the Merrick-Moore-Spaulding Land Company.

His start in insurance came with his purchase of the Royal Knights of King David, a benevolent society providing burial insurance. In 1898, this became the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company. At the start, the company was on life support. For years, it depended on infusions of cash from Merrick and other prominent African Americans in the Raleigh-Durham area. However, through the dedicated and able management of Charles Spaulding—a young nephew of Dr Aaron Moore, Merrick’s partner in the land company—NC Mutual was saved and survives to this day.

Merrick was also an early investor in the Mechanics and Farmers Bank, a co-founder of the Bull City Drug company and the Durham Textile mill (which failed due to poor management soon after Merrick’s death). NC Mutual continues to serve thousands of North Carolinians.

By remaining resolute in a hostile environment, meeting the challenges of turning around a failing institution and being willing to try new and varied things despite/because of youth and limited education, John Merrick exemplifies the resilient entrepreneur.

For more on Merrick see R. McCants Andrew’s biography at UNC’s Documenting the American South

In honor of Black History Month, our regular Tuesday and Friday posts will highlight black entrepreneurs who have displayed exemplary success and resilience.

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Black History Month: The Struggle Makes You Stronger

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Black History Month: Booker T. Washington—Up From Slavery, Chapter 2.

Testament to ResilienceExcerpted below are a few paragraphs from the second chapter of Booker T. Washington’s memoir, Up From Slavery.
When one considers the circumstances of a black child in nineteenth century Virginia one realizes two things:

  1. Successful persons have come out of even the most trying circumstances
  2. Resilience can be forged and cultivated in these trying circumstances

Booker T Washington and Maggie Lena Walker, both from the same state and overlapping eras were on very different sides of the race debate, yet their lives bear testament to the truth that the human capacity for achievement and resilience is a powerful force.

In those days, and later as a young man, I used to try to picture in my imagination the feelings and ambitions of a white boy with absolutely no limit placed upon his aspirations and activities. I used to envy the white boy who had no obstacles placed in the way of his becoming a Congressman, Governor, Bishop, or President by reason of the accident of his birth or race. I used to picture the way that I would act under such circumstances; how I would begin at the bottom and keep rising until I reached the highest round of success.

In later years, I confess that I do not envy the white boy as I once did. I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed. Looked at from this standpoint, I almost reached the conclusion that often the Negro boy’s birth and connection with an unpopular race is an advantage, so far as real life is concerned. With few exceptions, the Negro youth must work harder and must perform his tasks even better than a white youth in order to secure recognition. But out of the hard and unusual struggle through which he is compelled to pass, he gets a strength, a confidence, that one misses whose pathway is comparatively smooth by reason of birth and race.

From any point of view, I had rather be what I am, a member of the Negro race, than be able to claim membership with the most favoured of any other race. I have always been made sad when I have heard members of any race claiming rights or privileges, or certain badges of distinction, on the ground simply that they were members of this or that race, regardless of their own individual worth or attainments.

——Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery
In celebration of Black History Month, we will post an inspirational cultural item each day.

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Black History Month: To a Dark Girl

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Black History Month: Gwendolyn  B. Bennett—To A Dark Girl

I love you for your brownness,
And the rounded darkness of your breast,
I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice
And shadows where your wayward eyelids rest.

Something of old forgotten queens
Lurks in the lithe abandon of your walk
And something of the shackled slave
Sobs in the rhythm of your talk.

Oh, little brown girl, born for sorrow’s mate,
Keep all you have of queenliness,
Forgetting that you once were slave,
And let your full lips laugh at Fate!

In honor of Black History Month, we will post an inspirational cultural item each day.

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Black History Month: Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing

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Black History Month: James Weldon Johnson—Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing also known as The Black National Anthem

Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

In honor of Black History Month, we will post an inspirational cultural item each day.

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