By NAN News Editor
News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Feb. 4, 2022: It’s another Black History Month in the US and as has now become a norm – lost in the shuffle – is that significant contribution of Caribbean nationals in the annals of US’ black history. Here are 10 you should know:
One of the pre-eminent entertainers of the Vaudeville era and one of the most popular comedians for all audiences of his time, Bert Williams, was born in Nassau, Bahamas in 1874. At the age of 11, Bert permanently emigrated with his parents, moving to Florida. The family later moved to Riverside, California, where he graduated from Riverside High School. He would go on to become by far the best-selling black recording artist before 1920. In 1918, the New York Dramatic Mirror called Williams “one of the great comedians of the world.” In an age when racial inequality and stereotyping were commonplace, he became the first black American to take a lead role on the Broadway stage and did much to push back racial barriers during his three-decade-long career.
Frank L. White
Barbados-born Frank L. White was a professional chef best known as the model for the fictional breakfast chef, often identified as “Rastus” on the boxes of Cream of Wheat breakfast cereal. White immigrated to the U.S. in 1875, where he became a citizen in 1890. He was working as a master chef at a Chicago restaurant at the time he was photographed for the cereal box in 1900. He died at age 70 in Leslie, Michigan and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Leslie.
St. Croix, USVI-born Hubert Henry Harrison has been described by activist A. Philip Randolph as “the father of Harlem radicalism” and by the historian Joel Augustus Rogers as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” John G. Jackson of American Atheists also described him as “The Black Socrates.”
Harrison immigrated to the US at age 17 and went on to become a writer, orator, educator, critic, and race and class-conscious political activist and radical internationalist based in Harlem, New York. Harrison played significant roles in the largest radical class and race movements in the United States. In 1912-14 he was the leading Black organizer in the Socialist Party of America and in 1917 he founded the Liberty League and The Voice, the first organization and the first newspaper of the race-conscious “New Negro” movement. He died on the operating table during a surgery for appendicitis at the age of 44.
Nevis-born Cyril V. Briggs was the founder of the African Blood Brotherhood, a small but historically important radical organization dedicated to advancing the cause of Pan-Africanism; and publisher of The Crusader, a seminal New York magazine of the New Negro Movement of the 1920s. Briggs’ father was a white plantation overseer and his mother, was of Afro-Caribbean ethnicity. In accord with the racial caste system in colonial Nevis, the bi-racial Briggs was regarded as “colored,” despite his extremely light complexion. He moved to the US in July 1905 to join his mother, who had already emigrated here. In 1917, shortly after Hubert Harrison founded the Liberty League and The Voice, Briggs founded the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB), to stop lynching and racial discrimination, and ensure voting and civil rights for African Americans in the South.
Briggs saw American White-Black racism as a form of “hatred of the unlike” that draws “its virulence from the firm conviction in the white man’s mind of the inequality of races—the belief that there are superior and inferior races and that the former are marked with a white skin and the latter with dark skin and that only the former are capable and virtuous and therefore alone fit to vote, rule and inherit the earth.”
The first black newspaper in the US was founded by Jamaican immigrant John Russwurm in collaboration with Delaware-born Samuel Cornish. Freedom’s Journal began on March 16, 1827, in New York City as weekly four column publication printed every Friday. The newspaper contained both foreign and domestic news, editorials, biographies, births and deaths in the local African American community, and advertisements. Editorials deriding slavery, racial discrimination, and other injustices against African Americans were aimed at providing a counterweight to many of the white newspapers of the time, which openly supported slavery and racial bias.
Jean Baptiste Point du Sable is regarded as the founder of the city of Chicago, then called Eschikago. Point du Sable was born in 1745 in Saint-Marc in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). He wasthe first permanent resident of what became Chicago, Illinois after he moved to settle at the mouth of the Chicago River in early 1790.
However, by 1800 he sold his property and moved to St. Charles, Missouri, where he died in 1818. In Chicago, a school, museum, harbor, park and bridge have been named, or renamed, in his honor; and the place where he settled at the mouth of the Chicago River is recognized as a National Historic Landmark, now located in Pioneer Court. The US Postal Service has also honored Point du Sable with the issuance of a Black Heritage Series, 22-cent postage stamp on February 20, 1987.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
Hubert Julian was a Trinidad-born aviation pioneer who earned the nickname “The Black Eagle.” He was the son of a cocoa plantation manager and migrated to Canada in 1914, where he claimed to have learned to pilot an airplane and served as a Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Air Force. In 1921 he patented the “Airplane Safety Appliance,” a combination parachute and propeller. Julian emigrated from Montreal to Harlem in 1921. His first flight above Harlem occurred during the 1922 Universal Negro Improvement Association Convention, when he flew over the parade in a plane decorated with UNIA slogans. That flight led to his appointment as head of the organization’s new Aeronautical Department. He made his first parachute jump on 3 September 1922, at an airshow at Curtiss Field on Long Island headlined by black pilot Bessie Coleman. Several more jumps followed in the next year, at Curtiss Field and at Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. During one jump in New Jersey in June 1923, Julian played “I’m Running Wild” on the saxophone. He became the first black person to fly Trans Atantic Solo, and East to West Coast of America. Hubert Fauntleroy Julian died in the borough of The Bronx, New York City, in February 1983. He is buried at the Calverton National Cemetery in Suffolk County, New York. His passing went largely unnoticed.
Jan Earnst Matzeliger, the inventor of a revolutionary shoe-making machine, was born in Suriname.
His father was a Dutch engineer, and his mother was a black Surinamese slave. He settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 19 after working as a sailor and then moved to Massachusetts. In the early days of shoe making, shoes were made mainly by hand. For proper fit, the customer’s feet had to be duplicated in size and form by creating a stone or wooden mold called a “last” from which the shoes were sized and shaped. Since the greatest difficulty in shoe making was the actual assembly of the soles to the upper shoe, it required great skill to tack and sew the two components together. It was thought that such intricate work could only be done by skilled human hands. As a result, shoe lasters held great power over the shoe industry. They would hold work stoppages without regard for their fellow workers’ desires, resulting in long periods of unemployment for them.
After five years of work, Matzeliger obtained a patent for his invention, a machine that could produce between 150 to 700 pairs of shoes a day, cutting shoe prices across the nation in half. He died at age 36 on August 24, 1889. In recognition of his accomplishment, he was honored on a postage stamp on September 15, 1991.
William Stanley Beaumont Braithwaite was the son of an immigrant from British Guiana and went on to publish his first book, Lyrics of Life and Love, in 1913.
The annual collection of poetry for which he is best known, Anthology of Magazine Verse and Yearbook of American Poetry appeared between 1913 and 1939 and also showcased the work of many authors, including Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, and Amy Lowell.
Braithwaite was awarded in 1918, in recognition of his contributions to literature, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People awarded Braithwaite the organization’s highest honor. After retiring from teaching and moving to Harlem, New York, Braithwaite died in 1962.
William Henry Crogman, (1841- 1931), was Latin and Greek scholar, former president of Clark College, and one of the founders of the American Negro Academy who was born in Sint Maarten.
Crogman was born May 5, 1841, in Philipsburg. He was orphaned at 12 and moved to the US at the age of 14 with a man named B. L. Boomer. He attended schools in Massachusetts and had the chance to travel the world, visiting ports in Asia, Europe, Australia, and South America. After the American Civil War (1861-1865), he entered Pierce Academy in Middleborough, Massachusetts led by J. W. R. Jenks. He finished his study, and in 1870, started teaching at Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. After three years of teaching, in 1873, he enrolled at Atlanta University and in 1876 graduated as a part of the first class of the school. He then took a position at Clark University of Atlanta where he became professor of Greek and Latin. He was the first person to receive a Doctor of Letters from Atlanta University, which was awarded as an honorary degree. He also received an honorary Doctor of Laws.