Tag Archives: black history month

Mary McLeod Bethune, Pioneer in Education and Equality

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) was a prominent, influential African American woman of her time who became an American educator, philanthropist, and civil rights activist. In 1904, Dr. Bethune created a school for African American girls in Daytona Beach, Florida known as The Daytona Beach Educational and Industrial School for girls. In 1923, the school combined  with the all male Cookman Institute of Jacksonville which later became Bethune Cookman University. In 1935, Dr. Bethune cultivated and became President of multiple organizations to fight against school segregation and inadequate healthcare for black children. Her organizations consisted of the State Federation of Colored Women’s Club,  the prestigious National Association of Colored Women’s Club, and the National Council of Negro Women. Dr. Bethune also served as the President of Bethune Cookman University until 1942, and later served again from 1946-1947. On April 25, 1944, she fostered the development of the United Negro College Fund which has provided scholarships for thousands of African American students, including 39 black colleges and universities.

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune profound work as an humanitarian in such a tumultuous time period in history allowed her to become one of the most eminent leaders in history. She was appointed to numerous national commissions including the Coolidge Administration’s Child Welfare Conference, the Hoover Administration’s National Commission on Child Welfare and Commission on Home Building and Home Ownership. She eventually became an advisor on minority affairs in the Roosevelt Administration, organizing two national conferences on the problematic issues that black Americans faced on a daily basis. While providing counsel to presidents and networking with America’s elite, Mary McLeod Bethune remained accessible to mentor young men and women to be great in their chosen paths academically and professionally.

Dr. Bethune, amazing strength and commitment to service pave the way for African Americans to be victorious. Her, impeccable journey truly exemplifies a line from Maya Angelou’s poem,  called “Our Grandmothers” which states, “I come as one but I stand as 10,000.” She truly envisioned more for her people and stood at the forefront to use her voice as a weapon to promote change.

-Tammy Joyner,

Claude Pepper Library Associate


Mary McLeod Bethune Part 1

Video Creator: Brian Stewart (YouTube.com),Date created: January 24, 2009, Category-Education

Mary McLeod Bethune Part 2

Video Creator: Brian Stewart (Youtube.com),Date created: January 24, 2009, Category-Education

Mary McLeod Bethune Part 3

Video Creator: Brian Stewart (YouTube.com), Date Created, January 24, 2009, Category-Education

Hero of World War II

Dorie Miller (1919-1943), was the 1st African American man awarded the U.S. Navy Cross to acknowledge his heroic efforts when the battleship of West Virginia was attacked at Pearl Harbor.

Doris Miller, known as “Dorie,”was born in Waco, Texas, in 1919. He was one of four sons. After high school, he worked on his father’s farm until 1938 when he enlisted in the Navy as a mess attendant (kitchen worker) to earn money for his family. Unfortunately, at the time the Navy was segregated so combat positions were not open to African Americans. Yet, Dorie went against all odds by proving that African American men had the ability to serve in combat equal in skill to any man regardless of race. On December 7, 1941, Dorie arose at 6 a.m. to serve breakfast aboard USS West Virginia when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Dorie, immediately reported to his assigned battle station and began moving the ship’s Captain to safety who was brutally wounded. Miller then returned to deck and noticed that the Japanese planes were still dive-bombing the U.S. Navy Fleet. As a result, he picked up a 50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun without any professional training and managed to shoot down three to four enemy aircraft. With great bravery he fired until he ran out of ammunition, by then the men were being ordered to abandon ship as the West Virginia slowly began to sink.

Shortly after, the Pittsburgh Courier , one of the country’s most widely circulated black newspapers sent a reporter out to recognize and honor Miller’s bravery. On April 1, 1942 Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, and on May 27, 1942 he received the Navy Cross for his extraordinary courage in battle. In fact, Miller’s rank was raised to Mess Attendant First Class on June 1, 1942. Dorie Miller was later sent on tour in the States to raise money for war bonds, but he was called back in the Spring of 1943 to serve on the new escort carrier known as the USS Liscome Bay. The ship was operating in the Pacific near the Gilbert Islands. at 5:10 a.m. on November 24, the ship was brutally hit by a single torpedo fired from a Japanese submarine. The torpedo lead to a massive bomb explosion in minutes. Miller was initially listed as missing; by November 1944, his status was changed to “resumed dead.” Only 272 men survived the attack.

Because of Dorie Miller commendable sacrifices for his country there is a Dorie Miller park in Hawaii and several schools and buildings that are named throughout the U.S. to exemplify his valiant temperament during such a monumental event in history.

The Claude Pepper Library Celebrates the Legacy and Life of Dorie Miller and Salutes him for his bravery.

-Tammy Joyner

Claude Pepper Library Associate

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

Poems of Cabin and Field (1899) by Paul Laurence Dunbar, featuring photographs by the Hampton Institute Camera Club
Image credit: Wikimedia

Although Paul Laurence Dunbar was only 33 years old when he died of tuberculosis on February 9, 1906, he left behind a lasting legacy of poems, short stories, and novels. The eldest son of former Kentucky slaves, Dunbar published his first poems in his hometown newspaper at the age of sixteen. His first collection of poetry, Oak and Ivy, was published in 1893. While much of his poetry was written in traditional English verse, Dunbar achieved widespread popularity for writing in African American vernacular dialect. Several volumes of Dunbar’s poetry like Poems of Cabin and Field (1899), Candle-Lightin’ Time (1901), When Malindy Sings (1903), and Li’l’ Gal (1904), shown here, featured full-page, black-and-white photographs taken by the Hampton Institute Camera Club, with whom Dunbar frequently collaborated to illustrate his verse. The hundreds of photographs in these books have significant cultural value as representations of rural African American life at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Art Nouveau bindings designed by Margaret Armstrong and Alice Morse on volumes of Dunbar’s verse from the Shaw Collection

Several volumes of Dunbar’s poetry are included in the John MacKay Shaw Collection of Childhood in Poetry. In his short life, Dunbar spoke with passion, humor, and elegance of the human experience, inspiring later writers such as Maya Angelou, who titled her autobiography after lines from Dunbar’s poem Sympathy

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
    When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he 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!




Zora and Marjorie: Literary Legends and Friends

From Zora in Florida, edited by Steve Glassman and Kathryn Lee Seidel.
From Zora in Florida, edited by Steve Glassman and Kathryn Lee Seidel. Florida Collection, PS3515 .U789 Z955 1991.

Zora Neale Hurston moved to St. Augustine at the beginning of World War II for a quiet place to write. While in St. Augustine, she taught part-time at the local black college, Florida Normal. She did not get along well with the administrators of the college after she became involved in a dispute between serviceman being trained at the signal corps school at the college and the college president. Zora sent a letter to Walter White, the executive secretary of the NAACP in November 1942, telling him she thought the soldiers were living in inadequate living quarters and blamed him for putting pressure on Florida Normal to allow the government  the use of the school when Fisk, Hampton, and Tuskegee had wanted the training at their schools. Zora did not see the argument settled because she left St. Augustine in early 1943 to move to Daytona Beach where she lived on a houseboat she had purchased.

I have had to go through a long, long, dark tunnel to come out to the light again. But I had the feeling all the time that you believed in me ~Zora Neale Hurston

From Crossing the Creek: The Literary Friendship of Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.
From Crossing the Creek: The Literary Friendship of Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

In 1942, while in St. Augustine, Zora became friends with Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who lived part-time in St. Augustine, as her husband, Norton Baskin, owned the Castle Warden Hotel located there. Zora’s autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road and Marjorie’s Cross Creek were both published in 1942. Zora invited Marjorie to speak to her class, and in turn, Marjorie invited her to tea at the Castle Warden, a segregated hotel. When writing about Marjorie’s invitation to the hotel in Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography, Robert E. Hemenway says, “Later, realizing what she had done, she gave special orders to the elevator man to take Zora immediately up to the Rawlings residence on the fourth floor. But Zora had lived in the South for a long time; she went in through the kitchen and walked up the stairs. Safe in the apartment she was her usual vibrant self, causing Rawlings to admit to her husband that she had never in her life had such a stimulating visit”.

The 1940’s were a time of personal hardships for both women; they struggled with their writing and experienced health issues and had various other issues. They remained friends through the years, and Zora visited Marjorie’s home Cross Creek.

Our Florida Collection includes books written by them and about them, and we also have theses and dissertations written by Florida State University students on their lives and works.

And without my writing, I am nothing ~Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

The Florida Highwaymen

Willie Daniels painting from The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters by Gary Monroe. Florida Collection, ND1351.6 .M66 2001.
Harold Newton painting from Harold Newton: the Original Highwayman by Gary Monroe. Florida Collection, ND237 .N4875 M66 2007

I love the paintings of The Highwaymen artists.   They are colorful, show movement, and depict images of “Old Florida” with palms, water, birds, boats, and sunsets.  The paintings are mostly landscapes although I have seen a few with people in them.

According to Gary Monroe in The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters, “The Highwaymen didn’t exist, so to speak, until 1994, when art aficionado Jim Fitch assigned the name to an unknown group of African-American artists.  Suddenly, thousands of the Florida landscape paintings they had produced since the end of the 1950s, which had been stored for years in Florida attics, were brought down, dusted off, and viewed with renewed interest”.  Monroe states that “They made upwards of 50,000 paintings; some estimates exceed four times this amount”.

The artists painted on construction material called Upson board, named after the company that produced the material, and sold their paintings around Florida from the backs of their cars.   The paintings were sold inexpensively, but now original Highwaymen art can sell for very high prices.

Recently, The John G. Riley House and Museum in Tallahassee was the recipient of 13 original Florida Highwaymen paintings donated by Tallahassee resident Grace Dansby.  The Riley House is a member of the Florida African Heritage Preservation Network — a statewide web of 40 museums and groups. The downtown museum is now the largest holder of Highwaymen art in the network.

In his book, Monroe has identified one woman and twenty-five men as members of The Highwaymen: Mary Ann Carroll, Curtis Arnett, Hezekiah Baker, Al “Blood” Black, Ellis Buckner, George Buckner, Robert Butler,  Johnny “Hook” Daniels, Willie Daniels, Rodney Demps, James Gibson, Alfred Hair, Isaac Knight, Robert Lewis, John Maynor, Roy McLendon, Alfonso “Pancho” Moran, Harold Newton, Lemuel Newton, Sam Newton, Willie Reagan, Livingston “Castro” Roberts, Cornell “Pete” Smith, Charles Walker, Sylvester Wells, and Charles “Chico” Wheeler.   In our Florida Collection, in addition to Monroe’s  The Highwaymen, we also have his Harold Newton: the Original Highwayman.

Harold Newton painting from Harold Newton: the Original Highwayman.
Harold Newton painting “Eddie’s Place” from The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters.

Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley

From the cover of Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley: African Princess, Florida Slave, Plantation Slaveowner. Florida Collection, E444. K56 S33 2003.

From the book jacket of Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley: African Princess, Florida Slave, Plantation Slaveowner by Daniel L. Schafer:

“Both an American slave and a slave owner – and possibly an African princess – Anna was a teenager when she was captured in her homeland of Senegal in 1806 and sold into slavery. Zephaniah Kingsley, Jr., a planter and slave trader from Spanish East Florida, brought her in Havana, Cuba, and took her to his St. Johns River plantation in northeast Florida, where she soon became his household manager, his wife, and eventually the mother of four of his children. Her husband formally emancipated her in 1811, and she became the owner of her own farm and twelve slaves the following year. For 25 years, life on her farm and at the Kingsley plantation on Fort George Island was relatively tranquil. But when Florida passed from Spanish to American control, and racism and discrimination increased in the American territories, Anna Kingsley and her children migrated to a colony in Haiti established by her husband as a refuge for free blacks. Amid the spiraling racial tensions of the antebellum period, Anna returned to north Florida, where she bought and sold land, sued white people in the courts, and became a central figure in a free black community. Such accomplishments by a woman in a patriarchal society are fascinating in themselves. To have achieved them as a woman of color is remarkable.”

Anna returned to Florida from Haiti in 1846 to fight for the control of Zephaniah Kingsley’s Florida properties. He had died in 1843, and his sister Martha McNeil had tried to have her brother’s will declared “null and void”. She did not want Kingsley heirs of African ancestry to inherit his estate. The Florida courts ruled in Anna’s favor, and she remained in Florida as the matriarch of the Kingsley clan until 1862 when she went North with her family to escape  pro-slavery. She returned in 1865 with her daughters to their diminished estates and wealth. Anna died in the spring of 1870 and was first buried in a family cemetery, but her final burial place is in an unmarked grave in the Arlington area of Jacksonville, Florida.  Anna was from the Wolof states of Senegal and was Anta Majigeen Ndiaye before she was captured.

Love is a wild wonder

“Love is a wild wonder

And stars that sing,

Rocks that burst asunder

And mountains that take wing.”

Shakespeare in Harlem by Langston Hughes, with drawings by E. McKnight Kauffer, first edition, author signed presentation copy

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