Tag Archives: African-American

Black History Month: Words for the Hour


Black History Month: Frances Harper—Words for the Hour

Men of the North! it is no time
    To quit the battle-field; 
When danger fronts your rear and van 
    It is no time to yield. 

No time to bend the battle's crest 
    Before the wily foe, 
And, ostrich-like, to hide your heads 
    From the impending blow. 

The minions of a baffled wrong 
    Are marshalling their clan; 
Rise up! rise up enchanted North! 
    And strike for God and man.

This is no time for careless ease; 
    No time for idle sleep; 
Go light the fires in every camp, 
    And solemn sentries keep. 

The foe you foiled upon the field 
    Has only changed his base; 
New dangers crowd around you 
    And stare you in the face. 

O Northern men! within your hands 
    Is held no common trust; 
Secure the victories won by blood 
    When treason bit the dust. 

['T]is yours to banish from the land 
    Oppression's iron rule; 
And o'er the ruined auction block 
    Erect the common school. 

To wipe from labor's branded brow 
    The curse that shamed the land, 
And teach the Freedman how to wield 
    The ballot in his hand. 

This is the nation's golden hour, 
    Nerve every heart and hand, 
To build on Justice as a rock, 
    The future of the land. 

True to your trust, oh, never yield 
    One citadel of right! 
With Truth and Justice clasping hands 
    Ye yet shall win the fight!

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


Black History Month: To a Dark Girl


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.


Black History Month: Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing


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.


Thirty is the old sixty

Resilient Tanner

Final Resting Place of Amos and Vilot Fortune

Today we break from African-American firsts to tell the story of a man whose life was exceptional because of his own resilience. Amos Fortune was likely born in 1710 in Africa’s Gold Coast (now Ghana). In an era when the average person who survived their teenage years lived to be 70, Fortune survived until 91 in spite of the hardships and deprivations of slavery.

Amos was probably brought to America aboard the White Falcon, a slaver that put into port at Boston in July, 1725. There is no other record of him until 1752 at which point he belonged to Ichabod Richardson, a tanner in Woburn, MA (just north of Boston). He was likely first bought by a bookbinder named Fortune. The assumption is made because of the conventions followed in naming slaves and the fact that Fortune managed to learn to read, write and do arithmetic despite being enslaved. His skill as a binder is attested to by the fact he was commissioned to bind the books of the Jaffrey Social Library. That said, there is always the possibility that he simply pre-empted Frederick Douglass’ ingenuity. Richardson promised Fortune his freedom a number of times but died leaving an unsigned will— the desire to preserve his income from Fortune’s labor seems to have overridden his conscience. After Richardson’s death in 1769, Fortune would buy his freedom. He was 60 years old.

It is at that ripe old age that Fortune began to construct his own life. In just five years, he earned enough to buy a half-acre of land in Woburn on which he built a house. He also maintained the trust of African Americans, slave and free, and acted as an agent for several of them. He bought the freedom of a number of other slaves including two women whom he married (the first died soon after being freed) and a young child that he adopted.

In 1781, he moved to Jaffrey, New Hampshire with his second wife, Vilot (the his is literal, he was legally her owner). They set up a tannery, raised a barn and built another house on a 25 acre plot that they bought alongside a road now known as Amos Fortune Road. Fortune’s tannery drew business from as far as eastern MA. In time, despite having been warned out by Jaffrey because they presumed he would have become a charge on the town, Fortune would become the town’s first benefactor and a founder of the Social Library in Jaffrey. The bindings he did for the library remain intact over 200 years later.

His gravestone reads:
Sacred to the memory of Amos Fortune, who was born free in Africa, a slave in America, he purchased liberty, professed Christianity, lived reputably, and died hopefully. Nov. 17, 1801, AET. 91.
Vilot’s reads:
Sacred to the memory of Violate,[sic] by sale the slave of Amos Fortune, by marriage his wife, by her fidelity his friend and solace, she dies is widow Sept 13, 1802, AET. 73

In 1955, Governor Lane Dwinell (NY) would declare February 20th Amos Fortune Day. We will post the text of that declaration next Wednesday.

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


Black History Month: Frederick Douglass—A Narrative of a Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

Resilient AbolitionistFrederick Douglass’ Narrative of a Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave is easily among the most renown of American slave narratives. Within the Narrative the most remember scene (certainly among our favorite) is that detailing the process by which he learned to read and write. It is a tale of him overcoming the degradation of slavery, the deprivation of his circumstance and his personal resilience in finding a way to access what he intuitively knew would be a valuable skill.

We have excerpted a few segments below. The lessons are clear:

  • Recognize when one is falling into despair and resist it with action
  • Use even the slimmest of openings to overcome even the most toughest challenges
  • Look for creative ways to work around old obstacles
  • After developing a plan, be persistent in its execution

Shadow of Despair

I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead; and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt but that I should have killed myself, or done something for which I should have been killed.

Using the slimmest of openings

From this time I was most narrowly watched. If I was in a separate room any considerable length of time, I was sure to be suspected of having a book, and was at once called to give an account of myself. All this, however, was too late. The first step had been taken. Mistress, in teaching me the alphabet, had given me the inch, and no precaution could prevent me from taking the ell.

Creative Workarounds

I immediately commenced copying them, and in a short time was able to make the four letters named. After that, when I met with any boy who I knew could write, I would tell him I could write as well as he. The next word would be, “I don’t believe you. Let me see you try it.” I would then make the letters which I had been so fortunate as to learn, and ask him to beat that. In this way I got a good many lessons in writing, which it is quite possible I should never have gotten in any other way.


I used to spend the time in writing in the spaces left in Master Thomas’s copy-book, copying what he had written. I continued to do this until I could write a hand very similar to that of Master Thomas. Thus, after a long, tedious effort for years, I finally succeeded in learning how to write.

The full text of Frederick Douglass Narrative, Chapter 7 can be found at the University of Virginia’s Electronic Text Center

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


Madam President


Key Lessons

  • Do not let personal circumstances be a check on your imagination or ambitions
  • Create and support community to increase personal resilience and to have greater impact
  • Look for opportunities to “lift as you rise”
MLWalker President Resilience

Courtesy National Park Service

America’s first female bank president was, like its first self-made female millionaire, a black woman. She lived in Richmond, Virginia—the capital of the Confederacy—at the height of Jim Crow. Her name was Maggie Lena Walker. Maggie was born Maggie Lena Mitchell in 1867, the daughter of Elizabeth Draper, a former slave and (possibly) a Northern abolitionist. Her mother was married to a black butler who moved the family to a small cottage some time after her birth.

Mother of Resilience

Elizabeth Draper

A few years later, her mother’s husband was found murdered, apparently the victim of a robbery. Maggie’s mother worked as a laundress to take care of Maggie and her brother while Maggie attended the local black elementary school, inspiringly located across the street from the local jail.

At age 14, Walker joined the Independent Order of St Luke, a women’s civic organization founded in the year of her birth. The organization became the vehicle for Walker’s many philanthropic and entrepreneurial activities. In 1889, she became its executive secretary and in 1895 she organized its juvenile branch. In 1901, she called for the Order to offer burial insurance and in 1903 she organized the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank which she promised would “take nickels and turn them into dollars.” The bank operated like a credit union with depositors able to buy shares of the bank at $10 a share. The bank also offered savings accounts and mortgages. The Order also established the St Luke Herald, a newspaper.

The Order of St. Luke also established the St. Luke Emporium, a department store that hired and sold to black women but this venture was ultimately unsuccessful. In 1906, Walker broke her kneecap and was confined to a wheelchair. In 1915 her husband was killed by their son who mistook him for a burglar. Her son was eventually cleared but died soon after two exhausting trials. Through all these difficulties she remained active. She established the Richmond Council of Colored Women which had as its motto “Lifting as we climb”. In 1920 she helped organize a voter registration drive that was so successful that 80% of black voters were women (this in the first election in which women were permitted to vote). Walker would also serve as the president of the State NAACP and a board member of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs.
During the Great Depression, Walker would merge her bank with the Second Street Savings Bank and the Commercial Bank and Trust Company. The new entity was called the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company and she served as the chairman of the board until her death in 1934. She had one of the largest funerals in Richmond history and in 1979 her home was made a national historic site and museum.

Walker overcame the challenges of her time and place as well as the tragedies of her life. She pursued success in ways that enable her to contribute to the success of others. In this she exemplified selfless resilience and perseverance. A model for us all.

For more on Maggie Walker, see A Right Worthy Grand Mission by Gertrude Marlowe.

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