Black History Month: A Personal View

In honor of recognizing the many contributions African Americans have made historically and in this present day, I wanted to create this Black History Month Blog to honor Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr., Robert Sengstacke Abbott, and Condoleezza Rice. These four individuals have not only shaped our nation and even the world, but have had a tremendous influence in my life in one way or another.

Louis Daniel Armstrong

The first individual is someone I learned about very early in life when I first picked up the trumpet in fourth grade. Louis Daniel Armstrong, born August 4, 1901 (my middle name is Louis and I used to tell people I was named after him). He was one of the founding Jazz improvisational solo artists who broke away from the traditional collective at the time. Being a soloist singer and trumpet player, I often imitated him… his lip technique drove my music teacher nuts).
As I grew older and began to read and learn more about him, he became an even larger than life individual to me. If you have the chance, please read his memoir Louis Armstrong + the Jewish Family in New Orleans, La. The Year of 1907. Here’s an excerpt: “I was only seven years old but I could easily see the ungodly treatment that the white folks were handing the poor Jewish family whom I worked for.” He wore a Star of David pendant for the rest of his life and wrote about what he learned from them, namely “how to live-real life and determination.”
Louis Armstrong’s own life was one challenge and barrier after another and at times he was shunned by his own community. A person who was given talent but also challenges, Armstrong still found a way to live HIS life HIS way.

Sammy Davis Jr.

As part of my continued celebration for Black History Month, I want to highlight Sammy Davis Jr., another influence in my life early on because of my musical background. I had a good ear when I was younger and my talent was soon recognized. I found myself playing multiple instruments and singing in many different roles due to my wide vocal range. Being able to watch Sammy Davis Jr. on television with my pops as well as being exposed to re-runs of his shows when I toured Canada helped me become an all-around entertainer instead of an actor/singer.

As I learned more about Davis’ life, I found out what a true warrior he was. I couldn’t help but respect a man who was willing to sacrifice so much for his beliefs and still seemed to find a way to travel through life with empathy and compassion for his fellow human beings.

Please take the time to learn more about this man. His service to this country during WWII and his political views make him very intriguing. Without a doubt you cannot discuss the musical, TV, and Motion Picture history of the U.S. without talking about Sammy Davis Jr.

R.S. Abbott

Robert Sengstacke Abbott

When I first thought about the individuals I was going to write about in the beginning of the month, this gentleman was probably the least known up front. There were people in my network that had to familiarize themselves with him. That was my motive!

Although my family had left Chicago after I was born, I returned as a young adult for a while. This is when I gained most of my knowledge of Mr. R.S. Abbott. I learned most about him because of his publishing of “The Chicago Defender”. It grew to be the highest circulated black newspaper in the United States. You could make the argument that he had a vision to use technology (trains) to help market and distribute his paper. He was incredibly innovative! But it was later in life when I came across a quote of his that made me dig deeper into his history:

“No greater glory, no greater honor, is the lot of man departing than a feeling possessed deep in his heart that the world is a better place for his having lived.”

This quote resonated with me since my Grandfather’s (my name sake) brother, “Uncle Rock” used to tell me, you have your Grandfather’s name, in life all you have is your name and word. Make it count!”

I could have taken this entire month to write about almost every stage of Mr. Abbott’s life. He has been that much of an inspiration to me! But besides giving respect to the individuals who have had an influence in my life specific to the celebration of Black History month, it is also my goal as always for us to learn about each other and understand the Vision of others and how and why they got there.

I leave you with a short excerpt taken from Wikipedia in regards to Robert SengstackeAbbott but I ask that you take some time to really learn the life history of this American Entrepreneur.

Abbott was a fighter, a defender of rights. He listed nine goals as the Defender′s ‘Bible:’

1.    American race prejudice must be destroyed;

2.    Opening up all trade unions to blacks as well as whites;

3.    Representation in the President’s Cabinet’

4.    Hiring black engineers, firemen, and conductors on all American railroads, and to all jobs in government;

5.    Gaining representation in all departments of the police forces over the entire United States;

6.    Government schools giving preference to American citizens before foreigners;

7.    Hiring black motormen and conductors on surface, elevated, and motor bus lines throughout America;

8.    Federal legislation to abolish lynching; and

9.    Full enfranchisement of all American citizens.[13]

The Chicago Defender not only encouraged people to migrate north for a better life, but to fight for their rights once they got there. The slogan of the paper and the first goal was “American race prejudice must be destroyed.”[14] Sengstackeopenly discussed African-American history in his articles, including its difficult issues. He wrote, “Miscegenation began as soon as the African slaves were introduced into the colonial population and continues unabated to this day…. What’s more, the opposition to intermarriage has heightened the interest and solidified the feelings of those who resent the injunction of racial distinction in their private and personal affairs.”.[15] He believed that laws restricting personal choice in a mate violated the constitution and that the “decision of two intelligent people to mutual love and self-sacrifice should not be a matter of public concern.”.[16] Abbott also published a short-lived periodical called Abbott’s Monthly. The Defender actively promoted the northward migration of Black Southerners, particularly to Chicago; its columns not only reported on, but encouraged the Great Migration.

Condoleezza Rice

As I wrap up this month’s blog celebrating some of my African American mentors, I must finish with an absolutely incredible woman, Condoleezza Rice. Unfortunately, in today’s world her political views sometimes keep her from being known by some, which is an extreme disservice to the rich history of not only her but of her family. The Rice family has experienced everything that is wrong with our country and encompasses everything that is right about its history. The ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. She was born in then segregated Birmingham, Alabama. If you have the opportunity, I recommend watching Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s “Finding Your Roots” episode on PBS to get a full understanding of her family’s history and their incredible journey through the building of this Nation.

She is a classically trained pianist and was our 66th US Secretary of State. In that role she played a part in one of the most polarizing geo-political events in my lifetime. Historians will forever debate the merits and courses of actions she took but it cannot be denied that she was there! In the room as a key player and decision maker, to the direction and use of POWER of this Country. As a child she was told what drinking fountain to use! An amazing journey for one lifetime if you think about it!

Accompanying Condoleezza Rice amongst African American women who have made history, I must also mention the passing of Katherine Johnson. I must admit I did not know Ms. Johnson’s story like most others in this blog until the movie “Hidden Figures”. Another incredible American Woman who deserves to be known and taught.

Here is a quick sample from Wikipedia:

From 1958 until her retirement in 1986, Johnson worked as an aerospace technologist, moving during her career to the Spacecraft Controls Branch. She calculated the trajectory for the May 5, 1961 space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space.[1] She also calculated the window for his 1961 Mercury mission.[21] She plotted backup navigation charts for astronauts in case of electronic failures.[3] When NASA used electronic computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn‘s orbit around Earth, officials called on Johnson to verify the computer’s numbers; Glenn had asked for her specifically and had refused to fly unless Johnson verified the calculations.

As this month comes to a close, I hope I have shared something you did not know about someone or motivated you to learn more. Our goal at Visions is always to show that we ALL share the Responsibility to treat each other right so we must also then share the burden of when we have not. Our shared history contains both success and failure but has also always contained progress and forward momentum!

Not everything that’s faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed that is not faced.

James Baldwin

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