Posts from the ‘HERstory’ Category

Happy Centennial Delta Sigma Theta!!

Happy Centennial Delta Sigma Theta!!

Congratulations to the Devastating Divas of Delta SIgma Theta Sorority Inc. on reaching 100 fabulous years!! Enjoy your year ladies!!

HERstorical Thursdays: Beah Richards (July 12, 1920 – September 14, 2000)

A veteran stage performer and character player, Beah Richards is perhaps best remembered by movie audiences for her Oscar-nominated portrayal as Sidney Poitier’s proud, knowing mother in Stanley Kramer’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” (1967). Like Angela Lansbury, Richards was often called on to portray the mother of actors not much younger than herself (e.g., she was a mere seven years older than Poitier and 11 years older than James Earl Jones who portrayed her son in 1970’s “The Great White Hope”). TV aficionados will recall her from her many appearances ranging from Bill Cosby’s mother on his first sitcom (NBC, 1970-71) to a recurring role as the ailing mother of Dr. Benton (Eriq LaSalle) on “ER” (NBC, 1994-95).

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Richards was graduated from Dillard University and spent three years as an apprentice at the San Diego Community Theater in the late 1940s, early 50s, before moving to NYC to pursue an acting career. The soft-spoken, kindly-faced actress was cast as a grandmother (at the age of 30) in the Off-Broadway production of “Take a Giant Step” in 1956 and understudied Claudia McNeil in the lead role of Lena Younger in the 1959 Broadway production of “A Raisin in the Sun”. (Richards eventually played the role in L.A. in 1968 and again at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 1983). She garnered critical acclaim for her starring performance in “The Amen Corner” (1965) which earned her a Theater World Award and a Tony nomination as Best Actress. During the 70s, Richards appeared in two plays she had written “One Is a Crowd” (1970) and “A Black Woman Speaks” (1975) and also developed a one-woman show “An Evening with Beah Richards”.

While Richards made her film debut in the feature version of “Take a Giant Step” (1959), she did not recreate her stage role. For the movie, she was cast not as the hero’s grandmother, but as his mother. Subsequently Richards recreated her stage roles of Viney in “The Miracle Worker” (1962) and Idella in “Gone Are the Days!/Purlie Victorious” (1963). 1967 offered Richards three prime roles: as Robert Hooks’ white-haired mother in Otto Preminger’s “Hurry Sundown”; as the town abortionist in Norman Jewison’s Oscar-winning “In the Heat of the Night”; and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”. Despite her Oscar nomination, Richards was cast only sporadically in features in the 70s and 80s, mostly in small roles that hardly tapped her abilities (e.g., “Mahogany” 1975 and “Homer and Eddie” 1989). In 1998, she made a one-shot return to the big screen as Baby Suggs, the mother-in-law of Oprah Winfrey’s Sethe, in “Beloved”.

The small screen has proven more hospitable to Richards’ talents. She began making guest appearances in the 60s and has been featured in regular or recurring roles in five series. She succeeded Lillian Randolph as Bill Cosby’s mother during the 1970-71 season of “The Bill Cosby Show” (NBC) and was Aunt Ethel on “Sanford and Son” (NBC, 1972). Other series credits include a recurring role as a voodoo priestess on “Beauty and the Beast” (CBS, 1987-89) and as Markie Post’s childhood nursemaid in “Hearts Afire” (CBS, 1992). Richards won an Emmy as Best Guest Performer in an acclaimed episode of “Frank’s Place” (CBS, 1987) as the wife of a man whose death in a car accident isn’t what it first appears. She subsequently played the mother of a paranoid schizophrenic Diana Ross in Ross’ TV movie debut, “Out of Darkness” (ABC, 1994). Richards also was amongst the players in the 1990 “American Playhouse” production of the stage play “Zora Is My Name!” dramatizing the life and work of writer and cultural anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. In 2000, shortly before her untimely death, Richards picked up a second Emmy Award for her moving guest appearance as an elderly woman whose daughter was moving to end her mother’s new marriage in an episode of the ABC drama series “The Practice”.

Source: Yahoo Movies

HERstorical Thursdays – Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman, the daughter of a poor, southern, African American family, became one of the most famous women and African Americans in aviation history. “Brave Bessie” or “Queen Bess,” as she became known, faced the double difficulties of racial and gender discrimination in early 20th-century America but overcame such challenges to become the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license. Coleman not only thrilled audiences with her skills as a barnstormer, but she also became a role model for women and African Americans. Her very presence in the air threatened prevailing contemporary stereotypes. She also fought segregation when she could by using her influence as a celebrity to effect change, no matter how small.

Coleman was born on January 26, 1892, in Atlanta, Texas, to a large African American family (although some histories incorrectly report 1893 or 1896). She was one of 13 children. Her father was a Native American and her mother an African American. Very early in her childhood, Bessie and her family moved to Waxahachie, Texas, where she grew up picking cotton and doing laundry for customers with her mother.

The Coleman family, like most African Americans who lived in the Deep South during the early 20th century, faced many disadvantages and difficulties. Bessie’s family dealt with segregation, disenfranchisement, and racial violence. Because of such obstacles, Bessie’s father decided to move the family to “Indian Territory” in Oklahoma. He believed they could carve out a much better living for themselves there. Bessie’s mother, however, did not want to live on an Indian reservation and decided to remain in Waxahachie. Bessie, and several of her sisters, also stayed in Texas.

Bessie was a highly motivated individual. Despite working long hours, she still found time to educate herself by borrowing books from a traveling library. Although she could not attend school very often, Bessie learned enough on her own to graduate from high school. She then went on to study at the Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now Langston University) in Langston, Oklahoma. Nevertheless, because of limited finances, Bessie only attended one semester of college.

By 1915, Bessie had grown tired of the South and moved to Chicago. There, she began living with two of her brothers. She attended beauty school and then started working as a manicurist in a local barbershop.

Bessie first considered becoming a pilot after reading about aviation and watching newsreels about flight. But the real impetus behind her decision to become an aviator was her brother John’s incessant teasing. John had served overseas during World War I and returned home talking about, according to historian Doris Rich, “the superiority of French women over those of Chicago’s South Side.” He even told Bessie that French women flew airplanes and declared that flying was something Bessie would never be able to do. John’s jostling was the final push that Bessie needed to start pursuing her pilot’s license. She immediately began applying to flight schools throughout the country, but because she was both female and an African American, no U.S. flight school would take her.

Soon after being turned down by American flight schools, Coleman met Robert Abbott, publisher of the well-known African American newspaper, the Chicago Defender. He recommended that Coleman save some money and move to France, which he believed was the world’s most racially progressive nation, and obtain her pilot’s license there. Coleman quickly heeded Abbott’s advice and quit her job as a manicurist to begin work as the manager of a chili parlor, a more lucrative position. She also started learning French at night. In November 1920, Bessie took her savings and sailed for France. She also received some additional funds from Abbott and one of his friends.

Coleman attended the well-known Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France. There she learned to fly using French Nieuport airplanes. On June 15, 1921, Coleman obtained her pilot’s license from Federation Aeronautique Internationale after only seven months. She was the first black woman in the world to earn an aviator’s license. After some additional training in Paris, Coleman returned to the United States in September 1921.

Coleman’s main goals when she returned to America were to make a living flying and to establish the first African American flight school. Because of her color and gender, however, she was somewhat limited in her first goal. Barnstorming seemed to be the only way for her to make money, but to become an aerial daredevil, Coleman needed more training. Once again, Bessie applied to American flight schools, and once again they rejected her. So in February 1922, she returned to Europe. After learning most of the standard barnstorming tricks, Coleman returned to the United States.

Bessie flew in her first air show on September 3, 1922, at Glenn Curtiss Field in Garden City, New York. The show, which was sponsored by the Chicago Defender, was a promotional vehicle to spotlight Coleman. Bessie became a celebrity, thanks to the help of her benefactor Abbott. She subsequently began touring the country giving exhibitions, flight lessons, and lectures. During her travels, she strongly encouraged African Americans and women to learn to fly.

In February 1923, Coleman suffered her first major accident while preparing for an exhibition in Los Angeles; her Jenny airplane’s engine unexpectedly stalled and she crashed. Knocked unconscious by the accident, Coleman received a broken leg, some cracked ribs, and multiple cuts on her face. Shaken badly by the incident, it took her over a year to recover fully.

Coleman started performing again full time in 1925. On June 19, she dazzled thousands as she “barrel-rolled” and “looped-the-loop” over Houston’s Aerial Transport Field. It was her first exhibition in her home state of Texas, and even local whites attended, although they watched from separate segregated bleachers.

Even though Coleman realized that she had to work within the general confines of southern segregation, she did try to use her fame to challenge racial barriers, if only a little. Soon after her Houston show, Bessie returned to her old hometown of Waxahachie to give an exhibition. As in Houston, both whites and African Americans wanted to attend the event and plans called for segregated facilities. Officials even wanted whites and African Americans to enter the venue through separate “white” and “Negro” admission gates, but Coleman refused to perform under such conditions. She demanded only one admission gate. After much negotiation, Coleman got her way and Texans of both races entered the air field through the same gate, but then separated into their designated sections once inside.

Coleman’s aviation career ended tragically in 1926. On April 30, she died while preparing for a show in Jacksonville, Florida. Coleman was riding in the passenger seat of her “Jenny” airplane while her mechanic William Wills was piloting the aircraft. Bessie was not wearing her seat belt at the time so that she could lean over the edge of the cockpit and scout potential parachute landing spots (she had recently added parachute-jumping to her repetorie and was planning to perform the feat the next day). But while Bessie was scouting from the back seat, the plane suddenly dropped into a steep nosedive and then flipped over and catapulted her to her death. Wills, who was still strapped into his seat, struggled to regain control of the aircraft, but died when he crashed in a nearby field. After the accident, investigators discovered that Wills, who was Coleman’s mechanic, had lost control of the aircraft because a loose wrench had jammed the plane’s instruments.

Coleman’s impact on aviation history, and particularly African Americans, quickly became apparent following her death. Bessie Coleman Aero Clubs suddenly sprang up throughout the country. On Labor Day, 1931, these clubs sponsored the first all-African American Air Show, which attracted approximately 15,000 spectators. That same year, a group of African American pilots established an annual flyover of Coleman’s grave in Lincoln Cemetery in Chicago. Coleman’s name also began appearing on buildings in Harlem.

Despite her relatively short career, Bessie Coleman strongly challenged early 20th century stereotypes about white supremacy and the inabilities of women. By becoming the first licensed African American female pilot, and performing throughout the country, Coleman proved that people did not have to be shackled by their gender or the color of their skin to succeed and realize their dreams.

Source:US Centennial Office of Flight Commission

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