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black history

4 mins read

Homer G. Phillips Hospital: A Beacon of Hope, Excellence, and Resilience

The Homer G. Phillips Hospital, a testimony to vision and determination, stands as an enduring symbol of progress, equity, and the pursuit of excellence in healthcare.

Built at a final cost of $3.16 million, this institution was not just a hospital; it was a beacon of hope for the African American community in St. Louis and beyond.

The hospital’s architectural grandeur was awe-inspiring. It’s main central administration building, surrounded by four radiant wings, was a demonstration of thoughtful design and functional efficiency. With a staggering 685 patient beds, the hospital was a lifeline for countless individuals, providing much-needed medical care to those who had long been marginalized.

Homer G. Phillips

Operating such a colossal facility required an army of dedicated professionals. The Homer G. Phillips Hospital employed approximately 800 individuals who worked tirelessly to ensure its smooth operation. Their commitment to the community they served was truly commendable, and they played an integral role in making the hospital a success.

But the hospital’s commitment to excellence did not stop at providing medical care. It recognized the importance of education and empowerment, not only for the individuals it served but also for aspiring Black medical professionals.

The hospital’s dedication to this cause was evident through the construction of a separate nurse’s home, providing dormitories for 147 nurses and 24 interns. This nurturing environment allowed these future medical leaders to focus on their studies and training without the added burden of finding suitable housing.

Homer G. Phillips

Upon its inception, the Homer G. Phillips Hospital instantly became the largest, best equipped, and most technologically advanced hospital exclusively dedicated to the medical care of a city’s Black population.

This distinction was not just a matter of size; it was a matter of empowerment and representation. African Americans in St. Louis finally had a healthcare institution that recognized their unique needs and challenges.

By 1941, the hospital embraced a new philosophy: to become a premier training ground for Black medical professionals. This commitment to education was nothing short of transformative. In just seven years after opening its doors, the hospital was already training one-third of the graduates from the two Black medical schools in the entire country. This was an astonishing accomplishment, and it spoke to the hospital’s dedication to shaping the future of healthcare by empowering talented individuals.

However, as progress often comes with its own set of challenges, the Homer G. Phillips Hospital faced its own trials. The hospital eventually closed its doors in 1979.

While the physical building may have ceased its operations, its impact and legacy live on, inspiring future generations of medical professionals and serving as a reminder of the power of commitment, determination, and the pursuit of equality.

Homer G. Phillips
Homer G. Phillips Nurses Alumni, Inc.

The legacy of the Homer G. Phillips Hospital is one that continues to inspire and remind us of the power of commitment, determination, and the pursuit of equality.

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3 mins read

Opal Lee: The Grandmother of Juneteenth

Opal Lee is a 96-year-old retired teacher, counselor, and activist who has dedicated her life to fighting for justice and equality. She is best known for her work to make Juneteenth a federally-recognized holiday.

Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached enslaved people in Galveston, Texas. This was two and a half years after the proclamation was issued, and it marked the end of slavery in the United States.

Lee was born in Marshall, Texas in 1926. She grew up in a segregated society, and she witnessed firsthand the effects of racism. She was determined to make a difference in the world, and she chose to focus her work on Juneteenth.

In 1980, Lee began leading annual walks to commemorate Juneteenth. These walks were 2.5 miles long, representing the 2.5 years it took for news of the Emancipation Proclamation to reach Texas. Lee continued to lead these walks for over 40 years, and they became a symbol of her commitment to Juneteenth and to racial justice.

In 2016, at the age of 89, Lee embarked on a 1,400-mile walk from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., to advocate for making Juneteenth a national holiday. She walked two and a half miles each day, and she was joined by thousands of supporters along the way.

Lee’s efforts were successful, and on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed Senate Bill S. 475, making Juneteenth the eleventh federal holiday. Lee was present at the signing ceremony.

In addition to her work on Juneteenth, Lee has also been a vocal advocate for other causes, including voting rights, education, and economic justice. She is a tireless champion for the rights of all people, and she is a role model for young people and adults alike.

The Importance of Opal Lee’s Work

Opal Lee’s work to make Juneteenth a national holiday is important for several reasons. First, it helps to raise awareness of the history of slavery and the fight for Black liberation. Second, it helps to promote racial healing and reconciliation. Third, it provides an opportunity to celebrate Black culture and achievements.

Juneteenth is a day of great significance for Black Americans. It marks the end of slavery in the United States, and it is a day to celebrate freedom and liberation. However, Juneteenth is also a day to remember the legacy of slavery and to work towards a more just and equitable society.

Opal Lee’s work to make Juneteenth a national holiday is an important step towards achieving these goals. It helps to raise awareness of the history of slavery and the fight for Black liberation. It also provides an opportunity to celebrate Black culture and achievements.

Lee’s work is an inspiration to us all. Her work will continue to have a lasting impact on the fight for a more just and equitable society.

4 mins read

Norma Merrick Sklarek: An Architectural Trailblazer

Norma Merrick Sklarek was a pioneering African-American architect, known for breaking barriers in a male-dominated profession and becoming the first Black woman to be licensed as an architect in both New York and California.

Her contributions to the field of architecture not only include the design of numerous high-profile buildings, but also her work as a mentor and advocate for women and minorities in the industry.

norma merrick sklarek

Born in Harlem, New York in 1926, Sklarek was one of six children in a family that valued education and hard work. She earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Barnard College and then went on to study at Columbia University, where she received a Master of Science degree in architecture. Despite her impressive credentials, Sklarek struggled to find work in the field, as few firms were willing to hire a Black woman.

In 1954, Sklarek was finally hired by the prestigious Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) firm, where she worked on projects such as the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles and the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. She then went on to work for a number of other well-known firms, including Gruen Associates and Welton Becket Associates. During this time, Sklarek faced numerous obstacles and forms of discrimination, but she persevered and continued to excel in her work.

In 1980, Sklarek co-founded Siegel Sklarek Diamond (SSD), the first female-owned architecture firm in the United States. The firm was responsible for a number of significant projects, including the renovation of the Terminal One building at JFK Airport and the design of the Embassy Suites Hotel in Washington, D.C. Sklarek’s work at SSD helped to pave the way for other women and minorities in the field of architecture, and she became a mentor and role model for many young architects.

Throughout her career, Sklarek was committed to increasing diversity in the architecture profession. She was a founding member of the Organization of Women Architects and Design Professionals and was actively involved in the National Organization of Minority Architects. Sklarek also served on numerous boards and committees, including the California Architects Board and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Sklarek’s impact on the field of architecture cannot be overstated. She broke down barriers for women and minorities in a profession that had long been dominated by white men, and her work paved the way for generations of architects to come. Sklarek’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity in the field of architecture is a legacy that continues to inspire and inform the work of architects today.

In 1985, Sklarek was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects, the highest honor awarded to architects in the United States. In 2008, she was posthumously awarded the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award by the American Institute of Architects, which recognizes architects who have made significant contributions to social justice and diversity.

Norma Merrick Sklarek was a trailblazer, a pioneer, and a visionary. Her contributions to the field of architecture have had a lasting impact, and her legacy serves as an inspiration for all who seek to break down barriers and create a more just and equitable world.

This Black History moment is brought to you by National Standard Abstract

3 mins read

Ann Lowe: The Visionary Behind Some of the Most Iconic Dresses of the 20th Century

Ann Lowe was born into a family of skilled seamstresses in Montgomery, Alabama. Her grandmother was a formerly enslaved dressmaker, while her mother was an embroidery specialist.

When Lowe was sixteen years old, her mother died suddenly, and she took over the family dressmaking business. She completed a high-profile order from the governor’s wife, which established her as the new head of the business.

Lowe left her husband and moved to Florida with her son, where she worked as a live-in dressmaker for a socialite for a decade. In 1917, she traveled to New York City to attend sewing courses. However, as the only Black student, she was segregated from her peers and had to work in a separate room. She moved to New York City permanently in 1928.

Lowe’s success was attributed to her client network. Her unique gowns, often featuring floral motifs and made of fine fabric, were sought after by the wealthy American elite. She specialized in debutante gowns and wedding dresses. Lowe’s craftsmanship was of the highest quality, with techniques such as gathered tulle and canvas to hold out hems, lace seam bindings, hand-sewn organza facings, and weights to promote proper hang.

Ann Lowe

In 1950, Lowe opened her stand-alone business, “Ann Lowe’s Gowns” in New York City. Three years later, she was chosen to create the dresses for the entire bridal party of Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding to Senator John F. Kennedy.

Ten days before the wedding, there was a flood in Lowe’s studio, destroying two months’ worth of work. However, Lowe was able to reconstruct the dresses with extra help, and despite absorbing the cost, she did not receive credit for her work at the time, as the press referred to her as “a colored dressmaker.”

ann lowe

Despite designing for an elite clientele, Lowe was paid less than white designers for her custom design work. After the death of her son and business partner in 1958, she struggled financially and ultimately declared bankruptcy in 1962.

Today, Ann Lowe is recognized as a pioneering African American couturier, and her pieces are preserved in renowned museum collections, including the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, and The Museum at FIT.

She is no longer “society’s best-kept secret,” as the Saturday Evening Post once called her.

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3 mins read

Anderson Hunt Brown: A Pioneer in Real Estate Development and Civil Rights

Anderson Hunt Brown (1880 – 1974) was an American businessman, real-estate developer, and civil rights activist.

He was born on April 23, 1880 in a three-room house in Dunbar, West Virginia. His parents, recently freed from slavery, took multiple jobs to make ends meet, enlisting Brown and his siblings’ help in their work as a farmer and laundress.

anderson hunt brown
A.H. Brown (third from left) stands with a group that includes Martin Luther King, Sr. at Charleston, West Virginia’s First Baptist Church in 1971.WEST VIRGINIA STATE ARCHIVES

Despite only having a fourth-grade education, Brown began his entrepreneurial journey at an early age. He would climb onto coal train cars, throw coal onto the tracks, and with his friends, sell it to local businesses for 50 cents.

As a teenager, Brown learned to play the trombone and traveled to Cincinnati and other Western cities with his brothers in their band, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” netting $10 a week (about $300 in today’s terms) for their performances.

He learned how to cut meat and opened a butcher shop and an adjoining restaurant. Several years later, he took a real estate investing course in Boston and used his earnings to buy a house at 1219 Washington Street, next to Charleston High School.

Brown’s frustration with a lack of affordable housing for Black families in Charleston inspired him to build a real estate empire, filling that need. He built commercial properties and leased office space to fellow Black entrepreneurs, creating one of the earliest Black-owned shared work spaces.

Brown also bought land around Charleston to build houses, which he rented affordably to Black community members who may have had trouble securing housing from the mostly all-white realtors at the time. By the time of his death in 1974 at the age of 94, Brown had owned and managed up to 100 properties.

In addition to developing residential and commercial properties, Brown fought for civil rights throughout his life. He was frustrated by the lack of adequate medical care for Black citizens and discrimination, which led to the opening of the Community Hospital in 1924, the city’s first state-of-the-art hospital for Black residents.

Brown used his influence and wealth to launch successful court battles that struck down segregation laws at local swimming pools, libraries, and lunch counters in his home state of West Virginia.

He instilled this passion for civil rights in his children, and his son, Willard L. Brown, became the first Black judge in West Virginia and represented the state chapter of the NAACP in a case of racial discrimination in public schools, which became part of the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, that banned segregation in public schools.

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4 mins read

Ann Petry: The First Black Woman to Sell Over a Million Copies of a Book

Ann Petry was an accomplished African American author and pharmacist who broke barriers in the literary world with her first novel, The Street.

Published in 1946, The Street became the first book written by an African American woman to sell over one million copies and cemented Petry’s place in history as a trailblazer in both the literary and African American communities.

Ann Petry was born on October 12, 1908, in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, to a family of pharmacists. Her father owned a drugstore, and Petry’s early exposure to the world of medicine and literature laid the foundation for her future career as a pharmacist and author. After graduating from the University of Connecticut with a degree in pharmacy, Petry worked in her family’s drugstore and eventually opened her own pharmacy in Harlem, New York.

ann petry

It was in Harlem where Petry began to see the harsh realities of poverty and racism first-hand, experiences that would later influence her writing. In the 1930s and 1940s, Harlem was a hub of cultural and political activity, with artists, writers, and activists coming together to challenge the status quo. Petry was part of this community, and her own experiences as a black woman in America, combined with her observations of the lives of others in Harlem, provided the inspiration for The Street.

The Street tells the story of Lutie Johnson, a single mother living in Harlem who is struggling to raise her son and make ends meet. The novel is a powerful depiction of the challenges faced by African Americans in the mid-20th century, including poverty, racism, and sexism. Through Lutie’s story, Petry explores the effects of these societal ills on individuals and communities, showing how they can be both oppressive and empowering at the same time.

The Street was an instant success, receiving critical acclaim and commercial success. Petry’s powerful writing style, combined with her unique perspective as an African American woman, resonated with readers, and the novel quickly became a bestseller. With its publication, Petry became the first African American woman to sell over one million copies of a book, a remarkable achievement that cemented her place in literary history.

ann holt

Petry continued to write throughout her life, producing several more novels, including Country Place (1947) and The Narrows (1953), as well as a number of short stories and essays. Although her later works did not achieve the same level of commercial success as The Street, they nonetheless earned her critical acclaim and cemented her legacy as one of the most important African American writers of the 20th century.

In addition to her writing, Petry was also a prominent activist and advocate for social justice. Throughout her life, she spoke out against racial and gender inequality, and her works continue to be relevant today, serving as powerful reminders of the ongoing struggles for justice and equality in America.

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3 mins read

Benjamin “Pap” Singleton: A Visionary Leader in Black Business History

Benjamin “Pap” Singleton was a formerly enslaved man who later became a businessman and advocate for African-American migration. After the Civil War, Singleton, who was born into slavery in Tennessee in the early 1800s, was granted his freedom. Passionate about bettering the lives of African-Americans, he rose to prominence in the Black economic empowerment movement.

He was a visionary businessman who saw the potential for African Americans to build prosperous businesses and amass wealth. He established several thriving businesses, including a lumber yard, a brick-making company, and an estate agency.

In the late 1860s, while he was selling his goods, Singleton became convinced that his mission was to help his people improve their lives and convince them to purchase farmland in Tennessee. Soon after, he shifted to a new strategy, advising them to relocate west to farm and acquire federal homestead lands.

In the early 1870s, he began exploring Kansas before returning to the south to organize settlement parties. In 1873, nearly 300 African Americans followed him to Cherokee County and established “Singleton’s Colony.” Other individuals would quickly relocate to the counties of Wyandotte, Shawnee, and Lyon.

By 1874, Singleton and his associates had founded the Tennessee-based Edgefield Real Estate and Homestead Association, which guided over 20,000 black emigrants to Kansas between 1877 and 1879.

Benjamin “ PAP “ Singleton
These four people moved from Tennessee to Kansas as part of the Exodusters movement. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

In 1880, Singleton was called to testify before Congress regarding the alarming exodus of Blacks from the South.

In 1881, he capitalized on his reputation to establish the Colored United Links in Topeka, Kansas. The objective was to pool all African-Americans’ financial resources in order to build Black-owned businesses, factories, and trade schools.

James B. Weaver, the presidential candidate of the Greenback Party, met with the organization to discuss the possibility of a merger. After 1881, membership declined, and the organization disbanded shortly thereafter.

Singleton’s prominence in the Black community was a result of his enterprise and advocacy. Respected for his wisdom, intelligence, and business acumen, he was also well-known for his unwavering commitment to improving the lives of African-Americans.

Despite his life and legacy being largely forgotten, Singleton’s entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to Black economic empowerment continue to inspire generations.

He remains an important figure in the history of African-American business and a prime example of how entrepreneurship can drive economic growth and create wealth for the Black community.

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3 mins read

Margaret and Roumania, The Tennis Superstars That Paved The Way For Venus And Serena

Decades before Venus and Serena Williams overpowered the sport, Margaret and Roumania Peters changed the face of women’s tennis.

Affectionately known as “Pete” and “Repeat” Peters, they made history with their doubles record from the 1930s to the 1950s. At a time when African Americans were not allowed to compete against whites, the Peters sisters played in the American Tennis Association, which was created specifically to give Blacks a forum to play tennis competitively.

Margaret and Roumania Peters
Roumania (left) and Margaret (right) Peters dominated the American Tennis Association in the 1940s. (Photo courtesy of Fannie Walker Weekes)

Margaret Peters was born in 1915 in Washington, D.C., and Roumania Peters was born two years later in the same city. The girls began playing tennis for fun when Margaret was about ten years old. They played in a park across from their home in Georgetown.

They began to play competitively when they were teenagers in the 1930s. The Peters sisters played for the American Tennis Association (ATA), which was created in 1916 to organize Negro Tennis Clubs across the country and to provide competitions for African-American tennis players.

At that time tennis, like most other sports, was segregated so African Americans were not allowed to compete against whites.

By the time tennis integrated, Margaret and Roumania Peters were in their 30’s — considered to be the retirement age for elite players. As a result, they barely missed their own opportunity to make history.

As Roumania’s daughter, Fannie Walker Weeks put it, “My father always said that they just came along at the wrong time but they were happy with their lives. They were happy with what tennis did for them.”

After retiring from the ATA in the early 1950s, Margaret and Roumania earned master’s degrees and worked in the D.C. Public Schools, while continuing to inspire and encourage the next generation of D.C. tennis players.

For twelve years, Roumania taught tennis in the Department of Recreation’s summer tennis camp at Rose Park. Many of her protégés went on to receive four-year-athletic scholarships to college.

Margaret and Roumania Peters
Mayor Muriel Bowser and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson along with Peters family members, friends and officials unveil the Peters plaque for the tennis courts at Rose Park. | Photo by Robert Devaney

Years later, Margaret and Roumania Peters received overdue recognition for their athletic accomplishments. In 2003 the USTA presented the sisters with an “achievement award” and inducted them into the Mid-Atlantic Section Hall of Fame.  In 2015, the DC Government officially dedicated the Rose Park Tennis Courts to Margaret and Roumania Peters.

1 min read

Rebecca Lee Crumpler, The First African American Woman in the United States to earn an M.D. Degree

Rebecca Lee Crumpler challenged the prejudice that prevented African Americans from pursuing careers in medicine.

Crumpler was born in 1831 in Delaware, to Absolum Davis and Matilda Webber. An aunt in Pennsylvania, who spent much of her time caring for sick neighbors and may have influenced her career choice, raised her.

By 1852 she had moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she worked as a nurse for the next eight years (because the first formal school for nursing only opened in 1873, she was able to perform such work without any formal training).

In 1860, she was admitted to the New England Female Medical College. She graduated in 1864 as the first African American woman in the United States to earn an M.D. degree, and the only African American woman to graduate from the New England Female Medical College.

Dr. Crumpler married twice and had one child, Lizzie Sinclair Crumpler. She passed away in Boston in 1895 and is buried in Fairview Cemetery. Her life and work testify to her talent and determination to help other people, in the face of doubled prejudice against her gender and race.

4 mins read

Patrice Lumumba: His Last Words To His Wife Before His Assassination

On January 17th, 1961, Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the independent Democratic Republic of the Congo was assassinated.

He was the second of five leaders of independence movements in African countries to be assassinated in the 1960s by their former colonial masters, or their agents.

patrice lumumba
Patrice and Pauline Lumumba with their children.

Before his assassination, Lumumba wrote his wife a letter:

My dear wife,

I am writing these words not knowing how they will reach you and when they will and whether I shall still be alive when you read them.

All through my struggle for the independence of my country, I have never doubted for a single instant the final triumph of the sacred cause to which my companions and I have devoted all our lives.

But what we wished for our country, its right to an honourable life, to unstained dignity, to independence without restrictions, was never desired by the Belgian imperialists and their Western allies who found direct and indirect support, both deliberate and unintentional amongst
certain high official of the United Nations that organization in which we placed all our trust when called on its assistance.

They have corrupted some of our compatriots and bribed others. They have helped to distort the truth and bring our independence into dishonour. How could I speak otherwise?

Dead or alive, free or in prison by order of the imperialists, it is not I myself who count. It is the Congo, it is our poor people for whom independence has been transformed into a cage from beyond whose confines the outside world looks on us, sometimes with kindly sympathy but at other times with joy and pleasure.

But my faith will remain unshakeable. I know and I feel in my heart that sooner or later my people will rid themselves of all their enemies, both internal and external, and that they will rise as one man to say no to the degradation and shame of colonialism, and regain their dignity in the clear light of the sun.

As to my children whom I leave and whom I may never see again, I should like them to be told that it is for them, as it is for every Congolese, to accomplish the sacred task of reconstructing our independence and our sovereignty.

For without dignity there is no liberty, without justice there is no dignity, and without independence there are no free men.

Neither brutality nor cruelty nor torture will ever bring me to ask for mercy, for I prefer to die with my head unbowed, my faith unshakeable and with profound trust in the destiny of my country, rather than live under subjection and disregarding sacred principles.

History will one day have its say, but it will not be the history that is taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or in the United Nations. But the history which will be taught in the countries freed from imperialism and its puppets.

Africa will write its own history and to the north, and south of the Sahara, it will be a glorious and dignified history.

Do not weep for me, my dear wife. I know that my country which is suffering so much, will know how to defend its independence and its liberty.

Long Live the Congo. Long Live Africa!



Tony O. Lawson

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