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1970 SPECIAL REPORT: “THE BLACK WOMAN”(Directed by Stan Lathan)

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History & Culture

Documenting ‘Slavery by Another Name’ in Texas

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Americans who grew up with the fiction that slavery was confined to the South — and that the North had always been “free” — learned differently in 1991, when construction workers stumbled upon the skeletal remains of more than 400 Africans at a site in New York City that has since been designated the African Burial Ground National Monument. The catalog of injuries etched into the bones of the men and women who labored to build, feed and protect Colonial-era New York includes muscles so violently strained they were ripped away from the skeleton, offering a grisly portrait of what it was like to be worked to death in bondage.

A similar portrait is emerging in Sugar Land, Tex., a suburb southwest of Houston, where researchers are examining the remains of about 95African-Americans whose unmarked graves were discovered this year.The dead are almost certainly victims of the second system of slavery that arose when Southerners set out to circumvent the 13th Amendment of 1865, which outlawed involuntary servitude except as punishment for criminal conviction.

Read more @ The New York Times

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Business News

45 GREAT MOMENTS IN BLACK BUSINESS – NO. 5: BET SELLS FOR $3 BILLION CREATING AMERICA’S FIRST BLACK BILLIONAIRE

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BLACK ENTERPRISE celebrates the 45th anniversary of its roster of the nation’s most successful black businesses—The BE 100s. To commemorate the significance of this collective’s widespread impact on black business and economic development as well as American industry over four decades, we have presented 45 milestone moments. As part of this tribute, we continue our yearlong countdown.  

2000: Robert Johnson, sells BET for $3 billion to media giant Viacom, making him the nation’s first black billionaire.

In clinching a deal that made him America’s first black billionaire, entrepreneur Robert Johnson led the sale of the nation’s largest black-owned cable channel to media conglomerate Viacom Inc. The transaction came with Viacom’s purchase of BET Holdings II Inc., the owner of Black Entertainment Television. The deal was announced in 2000 and closed a year later, valued at around $3 billion.

The pact made BET Founder Robert Johnson the nation’s richest black man and a household name. An astute executive, entrepreneur, and wealth builder, Bob Johnson made business history in 1991 by taking BET public. It became the first company ever traded on the New York Stock Exchange with majority ownership controlled by African Americans.

Not pleased with BET’s stock market performance, Johnson teamed with Liberty Media Group in 1998 to buy private ownership of the company and reorganized it as BET Holdings II Inc. When Viacom acquired BET Holdings II, it resulted into $2.4 billion in Viacom stock options for Johnson, who accepted a five-year contract with Viacom to continue leading BET. A former cable-industry lobbyist, Johnson and his wife at the time, Sheila, founded BET in 1980, with $500,000 in funding and a $15,000 bank loan.

Read more @ Black Enterprise

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A voice that could not be silenced

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Lonnie G. Bunch III, Museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present a page from Our American Story, a regular online series for Museum supporters. It showcases individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story—our American story.

Her song and her spirit could not be silenced

World War I Croix de Guerre

Marian Anderson Sings Spirituals album cover. Recorded by Marian Anderson, 1956.

The great operatic contralto Marian Anderson is most often recalled for her brave and stirring performance from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow her to sing from the stage of their Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin.

Less well remembered is the extraordinary life she led before and after that moment, in a career that took her from Philadelphia, the city of her birth, to New York City, the White House, and performances before royalty and in the great opera halls of Europe.

Anderson possessed a voice of power, grace, and extraordinary range. As Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini said, a voice like hers only comes along “once in a hundred years.”

And yet, like many African American singers of her era, Anderson faced discrimination in her own country.

After graduating from high school, Anderson applied to the all-white Philadelphia Music Academy, which refused to admit her. Undaunted, she continued to pursue her dream and, when she was 23 years old, Anderson beat over 300 competitors for the opportunity to sing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Soon after, she continued her studies in Europe, where her talent was quickly recognized.

In Europe, South America, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere, she captivated audiences with performances in multiple languages, including operatic arias and songs drawn from the classical canon.

She also included traditional African American spirituals in her repertoire, sharing this important art form with the world.

By 1939, Anderson was an international sensation. Yet, when Howard University invited her to perform in Washington, D.C., the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her access to DAR Constitution Hall, the only auditorium large enough to accompany the throngs of anticipated fans. It would be Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP, as well as Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes and others who would seek to right this injustice by inviting her to perform at the Lincoln Memorial.

The air was cold on April 9, 1939—no favor to an opera singer. Anderson also was intimidated by the prospect of singing before the largest crowd she had ever faced. Yet she strode to the microphone and, with all her dignity and mastery, began her first song: “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

In many ways, Anderson was an unlikely hero. Off the stage, she was quiet and reserved. When asked to comment on the Daughters of the American Revolution and their refusal to let her perform, she characteristically demurred—preferring to let her performance speak for itself.

World War I Croix de Guerre

Ensemble associated with Marian Anderson’s 1939 Lincoln Memorial concert.

It did. 75,000 people heard her sing that morning, and before her retirement she would enthrall millions more. She would make her belated debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1955, tour the world on behalf of the United States in 1957, and sing for the inaugurations of presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy.

After Martin Luther King’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—which is celebrating its 55th anniversary later this month—Anderson captivated participants with her voice as she sang the spiritual “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands.”

Eventually she moved to Connecticut, and at the end of her life she traveled to Oregon, where she lived quietly, occasionally accepting well-deserved honors, until her death at age 96.

At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, we have many treasured artifacts and exhibits from Anderson’s storied life. There is one of which I am particularly proud: the ensemble Anderson wore on April 9, 1939, when she sang to the conscience of the nation.

Although she wore a fur coat over her shoulders to fend off the cold, her jacket was bright orange with jeweled buttons that sparkled in the sun—a jacket befitting the icon she truly was. In 1993, with Anderson’s permission, the jacket was redesigned with new fabric and the trim that was on the original garment. We are honored to conserve and share the skirt as Anderson wore it that day.

If you have only ever seen black-and-white footage of her performance, I invite you to come to the Museum, see Marian Anderson’s dress, listen to her voice, learn more about her career, and experience a moment that transfixed and helped transform the nation. Join us as we celebrate the life and achievements of a great American hero.

All the best,
DD YE year end 1 signature
Lonnie G. Bunch III
Founding Director

P.S. There are all kinds of ways to be a leader. Marian Anderson chose to lead by example, and her talent, dignity, bravery, and selfless spirit remain an inspiration in a nation that once shunned her. Please help the Museum continue to celebrate the lives of leaders and heroes past and present by joining as a Member or making a donation today.

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