Thursday, February 16, 2017


[note: every image I searched for Black History or African American History Month never included Paul Robeson - and I find that highly disturbing.]

I always wondered why February was African American History month? why the shortest month? It is also the month for many wonderful things such as:  [a list from National Day Calendar]
And today I learned that February 16th is WORLD READ ALOUD DAY

   Last year at this time I devoted myself to profiling some wonderful African Americans for African American or Black History Month.  This I did pretty faithfully every day until I learned I had to go in for surgery and experience the unfortunate occurrence of having two kinds of cancer discovered in my female organs (and more).
   My blogs were a labor of love.  There are so many fine African Americans who are not even known to people in this country -- I could've kept writing every day to profile more.
   Well, this time I have decided to stick to some of the more obscure people who need to be taught to students -- under the heading of Ethnic Studies perhaps -- but really, as part of their learning about the history of the United States.  Why I wonder every time is this a separate celebration? Obviously because it would not be observed at all if there weren't a special month set aside.


   Let's start with Shirley Graham DuBois, a prolific writer, singer, composer and more and who wrote a wonderful book called There Was Once A Slave about the life of Frederick Douglass.   I own a copy of the 1947 book published by Julian Messner, a first edition I believe.   I will quote from the back of the jacket cover about Shirley Graham (as she is called at the time of this edition):  
   "Shirley Graham brought to her research and study a youthful admiration for Douglass.  When she as a child, her father used to tell her stories of how Douglass visited the old Wayne County farmhouse where Miss Graham was born.  The farmhouse had been purchased by her great-great-grandfather long before the Civil War after he had been freed from slavery, and it subsequently became a station in the underground railway.  Frederick Douglass had been a frequent visitor during her father's childhood.
   "Miss Graham is a graduate of Oberlin College where she also took her Master's Degree.  She studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and later after receiving a Julius Rosenwald Foundation Fellowship for creative writing, she studied at the Yale School of Drama.  Miss Graham supervised the Chicago Federal Unit that brought the Swing Mikado to Broadway and designed and wrote the music for the popular and highly praised children's production, Little Black Sambo.  She is the author of Dr. George Washington Carver, Scientist and, Paul Robeson: Citizen of the World, both biographies for young people.
   "There Was Once A Slave, The Heroic Story of Frederick Douglass is her first book for adult readers and was selected from over six hundred manuscripts submitted in the Contest. The judges were Carl Van Doren, Lewis Gannett, and Clifton Fadiman."
   "The Julian Messner Award for the Best Book Combating Intolerance in America was augmented by the Lionel Judah Tachna Foundation to $6500.00 -- $5000.00 outright and $1500.00 against royalties.  The Foundation was established by Max Tachna in memory of his son lost during the Battle of the Coral Sea when the USS Sims went down."
   Shirley Graham married W.E.B. DuBois in 1951 after the death of his first wife. Graham-DuBois career didn't stop, even after the move to Ghana, and later to Cairo when the President of Ghana Nkrumah was overthrown. For further biographical information, see Gerald Horne, Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois (2000)

   [A blog titled "9 Influential Women in Black History You Won't Hear About In School"   includes Fannie Lou Hamer, Marsha P. Johnson, Madam C.J. Walker, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ruby Bridges, Dorothy Height, Audre Lorde, Ella Baker, and Shirley Chisholm.  This is a great list and I will include some of them here.]

   Eslanda Goode Robeson is even less well known than Shirley Graham DuBois, just as Paul Robeson is left off displays of great African Americans for Black History Month.  Here's a teaser from the book by Dr. Barbara Ransby, PhD:  "Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson (Yale University Press, January 8, 2013) is a deeply researched biography that chronicles an amazing life set against the backdrop of some of the most pivotal events of the twentieth century: the Great Depression and the rise of fascism; the anti-colonial struggles in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean; World War II and the founding of the United Nations: the Chinese revolution; the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s; and the rise of the U.S. Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Eslanda (Essie) Robeson traveled to every corner of the globe and witnessed history in the making, a history she wrote about and spoke about.
"Her friends and associates included heads of state, world-renowned artists and writers, and revolutionaries. Her career and commitments took her many places: colonial Africa in 1936, the front lines of the Spanish Civil War, the founding meeting of the United Nations, Nazi-occupied Berlin, Stalin’s Russia, and China two months after Mao’s revolution. She studied with Bronislaw Malinowski, vacationed with Nikita Khrushchev, befriended Jawaharlal Nehru, interviewed Mahatma Gandhi, danced with Eugene O’Neill, flirted with Marcel Duchamp, dined with Noel Coward and maintained deep and complicated friendships with Vijaya Pandit, Emma Goldman, Jomo Kenyatta, W.E.B. and Shirley DuBois, Langston Hughes, and Kwame Nkrumah. She was a woman of unusual accomplishment—an anthropologist, a prolific journalist, a tireless advocate of women’s rights, an outspoken anti-colonial and antiracist activist, and an internationally sought-after speaker.
"Yet historians, for the most part, have confined Essie to the role of Mrs. Paul Robeson, a wife hidden in the large shadow cast by her famous husband. This book, by award-winning biographer, Barbara Ransby (author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement) changes all that. Essie Robeson’s story is told for the first time in all of its complexity and in the context of the dynamic historical times in which she lived."

   My family pride includes my father's friendship with both W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson.  I was concerned that my father may not have given their wives their due. But then I found among my parents' books a copy of Eslanda Robeson's book African Journey - which is signed to my father - in a very loving way. "For Charlie Kramer with thanks for so cheerfully accepting me  as one of the gang.  Gratefully Eslanda Goode Robeson  May 1949" 

   I realize that my study into not so well known African Americans also has a great deal to do with books. Both these wonderful women were authors, as well as so much more.  I will continue to write about more African American women later this month.

World Read Aloud Day -  

African American History Month - 

Biographies - 

Shirley Graham DuBois - 
Papers, Shirley Graham DuBois 1896-1977 - 

Eslanda Goode Robeson profiled on Democracy Now - 

Dr. Barbara Ransby on Eslanda Good Robeson - 

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