Florence ‘Flo Jo’ Joyner-Kersey

At the 1988 Olympic trials, while outfitted in a one-legged purple track suit and sporting four inch fingernails, she set a world record in the 100 meters, running it at 10.49 seconds, knocking more than a quarter of a second off her best-ever time despite not even being one of the country’s best in the event a year earlier.

Flo Jo at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988

Flo Jo at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988

Florence Delorez Griffith grew up in a housing project in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles as the seventh of eleven children. From an early age, Griffith enjoyed competition and sought attention. She held handstand competitions, rode around on a unicycle, designed unique clothes for her Barbie doll, wore strange hairdos and owned a trained pet rat. And she was fast. Florence’s father often told a story about taking the kids to the nearby Mojave Desert when she was five and challenging them to chase jackrabbits. Florence caught one. “Jackrabbit” became her nickname.

By age 7, she was competing in track. In high school, she set records in sprints and the long jump. Following graduation, she competed at Cal State Northridge under the legendary sprint coach Bob Kersee and helped them win the national championship in 1978.  Continue reading

The Vanport Flood & Racial Change in Portland

VanportFlood1948P260On Memorial Day in 1948, the Columbia River, swirling fifteen feet above normal, punched a hole in a railroad embankment that served as a dike, starting a flood that would leave 18,000 people homeless and alter race relations in Portland forever.

For eight years, the embankment had kept the river out of a newly developed 648-acre complex called Vanport, then the largest public housing project in the United States.  Originally meant to be temporary, Vanport was shipbuilding-magnate Henry Kaiser’s answer to a lack of local housing in the early days of World War II, when he was importing men and women from across the United States to work in his Portland-area shipyards.  At the height of the war in 1944, close to 40,000 people lived in Vanport, including 6,000 African Americans, three times as many as had lived in all of Portland two years before. Continue reading

Big Joe Turner

Big Joe Turner

One of the key figures, the vehicle we took from R&B to Rock N’Roll, was Big Joe Turner. Born in 1911 in Kansas City, Big Joe’s dad was killed when he was 15. To help his family, Joe worked at a variety of odd jobs..from shining shoes to running liquor. In 1929 he began to play boogie-woogie with Kermit “Pete” Johnson in clubs around the Midwest. They were discovered and brought to New York to play Carnegie Hall.

The next week they began recording for a label and a star was born. Joe was characterized by his incredible deep singing voice. He didn’t play any instruments, his voice was all he needed. New York Times music critic Robert Palmer said: “…his voice, pushing like a Count Basie solo, rich and grainy as a section of saxophones, which dominated the room with the sheer sumptuousness of its sound.” Big Joe died of kidney failure in 1985..

Crispus Attucks

Crispus Attucks

A runaway slave who believed fiercely in freedom commanded the people of Boston “do not be afraid,” as he struck out against the redcoats and became the first hero to die in an attack that spurred the American Revolution.

On the night of March 5, 1770, five citizens of Boston died when eight British soldiers fired on a large and unruly crowd that was menacing them. Boston’s patriots, led by Sam Adams, immediately labeled the affray the Boston Massacre and hailed its victims as martyrs for liberty. The troops had been sent to Boston in late 1768 to support the civil authorities and were themselves subject to the jurisdiction of the local courts.  Continue reading

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was active in the struggle for human rights and economic Justice for over 50 years Born in 1912, he was reared in West Chester, Pennsylvania where he excelled as a student, athlete and musician. He attended Wilberforce University, Cheyney State College, the City College of New York, and the London School of Economics, earning tuition at odd jobs and singing professionally with Josh White’s Carolinians and Leadbelly.

A Quaker, Mr. Rustin placed his religious conviction above his musical interests, and in 1941 began a long association with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). Serving as its Race Relations Secretary, he toured the country conducting Race Relations Institutes designed to facilitate communication and understanding between racial groups.

Continue reading

Upcoming Black History Posts

  • Martin R. Delany
  • Dr. Percy Lavon Julian
  • Segregation in buses and terminals banned
  • Bethune-Cookman University
  • National Council of Negro women
  • William Tucker
  • Lena Horne
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