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Sammie Davis Jr.

Sammie Davis Jr.

1925 to 1990. In the over hyped world of popular music music, there are legends, and then there are Legends with a capital L. There’s no doubting which category Sammy Davis Jr falls into. For a staggering 60 years, from his debut as a four year old child star in the late 1920’s to his untimely death in 1990 at the age of 64, he more than justified his title of ‘Mr Entertainment’ and when he wasn’t inspiring headlines on stage he was making news of it, as a founder member of the Rat Pack with fellow superstars Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

He owed his early start to his parents, vaudeville star Sammy Davis Sr and Puerto Rican ‘Baby Sanchez, who performed with the youngsters adopted uncle, Will Mastin, in his act ‘Holiday In Dixieland’. But Sammy Jr soon became the star of the show as the newly rechristened ‘Will Mastin’s Gang, Featuring Little Sammy’ acknowledged. When the authorities forbade him to appear, so legend has it his father shrugged his shoulders, gave his son a rubber cigar and billed him as a ‘dancing midget’.   Continue reading

Bernice Gaines Hughes

During World War II, Fort Des Moines served as a training center for the Women’s Army Corps.

One of the accomplished graduates of that training course was Bernice Gaines Hughes, the first black woman to become a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Philadelphia’s Free Africa Society

Richard Allen and Absalom Jones formed the Free African Society in Philadelphia, a mutual aid society designed to provide socioeconomic guidance to newly freed people. Among its main objectives were teaching thrift and saving to build wealth in the community. These mutual aid societies and fraternities served as a model for banks later formed in the black community.

By the late 1700s there were nearly 2,000 free blacks in Philadelphia. The community had a strong need to establish financial institutions to support businesses and to provide a secure place for accumulating wealth. In 1778, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, two ministers, founded the first quasi-financial organization in Philadelphia. These leaders understood the connection between saving and investing and economic growth and stability. Within 10 years, the society had a balance of 42.416 pounds on deposit at the Bank of North America. By 1838 the number of benevolent organizations grew to 100, with membership recorded as 7,448.

Similar organizations were established in Boston, New York, Baltimore, and other cities with large black populations. Although these organizations kept their money on deposit at many local banks, by the mid-19th century African Americans found it increasingly difficult to secure credit supporting commerce and industry. In the years leading up to the Civil War, there was extensive conversation about African Americans establishing their own bank.

Bill Bojangles Robinson

Bill Bojangles Robinson

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (May 25, 1878 – November 25, 1949) was an American tap dancer and actor of stage and film. Audiences enjoyed his understated style, which eschewed the frenetic manner of the jitterbug in favor of cool and reserve; rarely did he use his upper body, relying instead on busy, inventive feet, and an expressive face.

A figure in both the black and white entertainment worlds of his era, he is best known today for his dancing with Shirley Temple in a series of films during the 1930s, and for starring in the 1943 musical Stormy Weather, loosely based on Robinson’s own life.

William Reuben Pettiford

The Penny Savings Bank, founded by Reverend William Reuben Pettiford in Birmingham in 1890, was the first black-owned and black-operated financial institution in Alabama. Created as a necessity of de facto and later codified segregation, the bank backed and encouraged development of black businesses, especially in urban areas, as well as savings by African Americans, until its closing in 1915.

William Reuben Pettiford

William Reuben Pettiford was born to free parents in North Carolina in 1847. He moved to Alabama in 1869 to seek better educational and financial opportunities. After seven years of studying while holding down jobs, Pettiford completed his degree at the Lincoln Normal School (a predecessor of Alabama State University) in Marion, Perry County. In 1877, Pettiford became a teacher at Selma University and simultaneously entered the theological department of the school, taking courses from President Harrison Woodsmall.

Three years later, he voluntarily severed his connection with the school to become pastor of the First Baptist Church of Union Springs, where he also served as principal of the city school for African Americans. In 1883, he accepted the pastorate of the First Colored Baptist Church of Birmingham, later named the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, at the urging of state Baptist leaders and educator Booker T. Washington, who assured him that he could provide necessary leadership for Birmingham’s expanding black population.

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