In honor or Black History Month, we wanted to take a moment to pull together some moments of Black history and examples of Black history makers that maybe aren’t as well-known as others. This is by no means a comprehensive collection. It’s simply a collection of articles, poems, essays, letters, and videos that we hope you find interesting and inspiring.
Aretha Franklin was 73 years old when she performed “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the 2018 Kennedy Center Honors. She hadn’t played piano publicly in years, and surprised the audience when she sat down to play. And then she began to sing. Jennifer Hudson says, ““I am so mad to this day that I was not there in that very room…I’m getting chills just thinking about it.” And an emotional President Obama later told the New Yorker that he was so moved because “nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R. & B., rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.”
Lucille Clifton was born in 1936 and studied at Howard University before transferring to SUNY-Fredonia. She was discovered as a poet by Langston Hughes, who published Clifton’s works in his classic anthology, The Poetry of the Negro (1970.)
James Baldwin, on the Dick Cavett show in 1968: “You want me to make an act of faith on some idealism which you assure exists in America, which I have never seen.” For a deeper dive, watch Baldwin debate William F. Buckley here.
Gordon Parks, Untitled, Mobile, Alabama, 1956.
“I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera.” Check out the Gordon Parks Foundation on Instagram.
Zora Neale Hurston wrote “Their Eyes Were Watching God” among other novels. In the 1930’s, she and others in the Federal Writer’s Project recorded former slaves to archive their stories and songs. Here’s one example from the project, where John and Ruby Lomax interview “Uncle Bob Ledbetter” from Oil City, LA. Trust us when we say you can go down a rabbit-hole and spend a whole day listening to these interviews.
On Thanksgiving of 1972, BB King went to the Sing Sing maximum security prison to play a concert. He later called it the best performance of his life.
Serena Williams, winner of 23 Grand Slam singles titles, including one when she was 20 weeks pregnant.
An audience member asks Ta-Nehisi Coates how they should react when their friends say a racial epithet while singing along with a song. Hear Mr. Coates’ reply, in which he discusses how some words don’t belong to everyone. Read Coates’ seminal work, “The Case for Reparations” here.
A letter dictated from a former slave to his former owner. You have to read all of it, but here’s one line to pique your interest: “P.S.—Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.”
Speaking of letters, here’s an excerpt from W.E.B. Du Bois’s letter to his daughter, Yolanda, after she moved to England.
“You will meet, of course, curious little annoyances. People will wonder at your dear brown and the sweet crinkley hair. But that simply is of no importance and will soon be forgotten. Remember that most folk laugh at anything unusual, whether it is beautiful, fine or not. You, however, must not laugh at yourself. You must know that brown is as pretty as white or prettier and crinkley hair as straight even though it is harder to comb. The main thing is the YOU beneath the clothes and skin — the ability to do, the will to conquer, the determination to understand and know this great, wonderful, curious world. Don’t shrink from new experiences and custom. Take the cold bath bravely. Enter into the spirit of your big bed-room. Enjoy what is and not pine for what is not. Read some good, heavy, serious books just for discipline: Take yourself in hand and master yourself. Make yourself do unpleasant things, so as to gain the upper hand of your soul.
Above all remember: your father loves you and believes in you and expects you to be a wonderful woman.”
Writer Clint Smith on how Chadwick Boseman transfixed the world.
Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald: The Artists behind the Obama Official Portraits
Hanif Abdurraqib writes about grief and sneakers.
Who and what inspires you? We would love to hear your recommendations on people, articles, poems, and videos. Send your recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.