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Black History Month

Professor Steven Dooner’s analysis of The Hill We Climb

Creating a patterned tapestry of the spoken word.

FEBRUARY 2021 PODCAST – Our celebration of Black History Month continues with today’s podcast featuring an analysis of the poem The Hill We Climb presented by Amanda Gorman during the inauguration of President Joe Biden. It features Quincy College English Professor Steven Dooner’s analysis of the rich allusions, references and wordplay woven into the texture of this densely patterned tapestry of spoken word. Professor Dooner, a teacher and performer of literature for over 30 years and a favorite among Quincy College students, teases out Ms. Gorman’s many evocations of the writings of African American poets, writers and leaders, a backdrop of reference that provided poignant and pointed context for the historic moment.

William Monroe Trotter, The Boston Guardian

by Paula Paris

William Monroe Trotter 1872 – 1934

“For every right, with all the might”

(Motto of the Boston Guardian)

On Humboldt Avenue in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in the heart of what was once a thriving middle-class African-American residential and business neighborhood, sits the William Monroe Trotter K-8 School, one of two local tributes to its namesake. The other is the home Trotter once owned on Sawyer Avenue in Jones Hill, Dorchester, where he and his wife lived from 1899 to 1909 and which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Boston-bred Trotter was a major civil rights activist and journalist in the early twentieth century, whose legacy has largely faded away. There are no monuments preserving his likeness.

Monroe Trotter, his parents, and two sisters were among very few Black families living in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood in the late 19th century. Monroe was a brilliant, hard-working and affable student. He was senior class president and valedictorian of Hyde Park High School in 1891. He attended Harvard College where he was elected Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year (the first African-American so honored) and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in International Finance in 1895. This was one year before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Jim Crow principle of “separate but equal” in Plessy v. Ferguson. While his white classmates eased seamlessly into Boston’s business and banking establishment, that opportunity was closed to Trotter. He worked for several years in his father’s successful real estate business, acquired multiple properties, and launched his own successful real estate brokerage firm. But social justice activism would be his true calling.

Monroe – known as Mon to his close associates – and Geraldine “Deenie” Pindell were friends since childhood before marrying in 1899. She came from a prominent Black family in Everett, with similar social justice views to the Trotters. Her father Charles was an attorney and her uncle William led the struggle for Boston school integration in the 1850s. Deenie attended business school and worked as a bookkeeper before joining her husband as associate editor and business manager of the Boston Guardian, the newspaper he co-founded in 1901. But Deenie was also an activist and philanthropist in her own right, supporting the rights of Black World War I troops, raising funds for St. Monica’s Home for needy women and children, and participating in the Women’s Anti-Lynching League. Although both Deenie and Mon came from elite privileged families, they sacrificed the comforts of their privilege to be partners in the fight for racial justice and equality. They also urged other similarly advantaged Blacks to invest more of themselves in the cause. Deenie died young at 46 of influenza during the 1918 pandemic. Monroe published a tribute in the Guardian, calling her his “fallen comrade” who gave her life “for the rights of her race.”

Birth of a Nation theatric posterTrotter’s activism emerged in college, first as a founding leader of the Total Abstinence Club (to curb student drinking), followed by a protest against the segregated barber shops in Cambridge. He was keenly aware that education and personal wealth accumulation, though important, did not create fundamental change in the inequality of Black people in America or globally. He would lead many demonstrations, including a boycott of D.W. Griffith’s racially derogatory film “Birth of a Nation” and a nationally publicized in-person demand to President Woodrow Wilson to desegregate the federal workforce, a protest of the segregation policy Wilson had initiated in 1913.

The Guardian - 1902 publication

In 1901 Trotter and George Washington Forbes founded the Boston Guardian. The paper’s motto, “For every right, with all thy might,” reflected the view that racial equality and civil and political rights could not be gained in stages, but required relentless protest and civil disobedience. He rejected what he considered the conservative incrementalism and “accommodationalism” of Booker T. Washington, and the gradualism of the NAACP. Trotter routinely lambasted Washington in the paper about the many issues on which they disagreed. The Guardian chronicled a potpourri of local political, social and cultural gatherings, marriages, promotions, births and deaths in the Black communities of Greater Boston. It selected national and international news of the Black Diaspora, as well as announcements of lynchings in the South. From its perch on Tremont Row (now Government Center) in the same block as Boston’s premier newspapers, the Globe and the Herald, and in the same building that had housed William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator, the Guardian became a platform for radical protest.

While the Guardian often included appeals for funds to support legal defenses, unlike most publications the paper neither sought nor accepted advertising from tobacco or alcohol products – a risky policy for someone with Trotter’s prior business experience. He banked on deriving revenue from sales and subscriptions. At the turn of the century, Boston could boast one of the nation’s highest literacy rates among Blacks and the largest number of Black professionals – doctors, lawyers, dentists and small business owners and entrepreneurs. There seemed to be a vibrant market for a Black newspaper.

Although Greater Boston was a hub of anti-slavery activism, African-American intellectualism and progressive political thought, Trotter reminded Black citizens and white allies that racial discrimination and segregation were not limited to the southern states, but fully present in the North, though manifested in different ways. He believed that building coalitions across socio-economic classes would be the most effective strategy to combat racism and achieve complete equality.

The Guardian flourished for several years with local and national readership. But the paper was never profitable and it drained Trotter’s financial assets as his declining popularity, shifting demographics, and the Great Depression undermined its standing and its finances. Monroe’s sister Maude Trotter Steward continued publication of the Guardian for twenty years after her brother’s death.

Trotter died on his 62nd birthday, April 7, 1934, in a fall from the roof of the Cunard Street boarding house where he had spent his waning years. He is buried next to his beloved Deenie in Fairview Cemetery, Hyde Park, which is also the final resting place of former Mayor Thomas Menino.

William Monroe Trotter should be remembered as a brilliant man who held steadfastly, with all his might, to his calling to build a just society. His relentless pursuit of that ideal made him a controversial figure. He was a champion of social justice and systemic reform, a visionary who foreshadowed leaders and movements yet to come, from the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and 60s to Black Lives Matter.

William Monroe Trotter illustration by Paul RogersIn 1984, the William Monroe Trotter Institute was established at UMass Boston “to address the concerns of Black communities in Boston and Massachusetts through critical research, public advocacy and community engagement.” He would have considered this center of inquiry and activism the most fitting of all monuments, a living embodiment of the cause and commitment that drove his restless, relentless life.

 

Paula Paris is Deputy Director of JFYNetWorks.


Image attributes and sources:

Header image: Date 1915: Source-Dickinson College: http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/35232 , source citation: Boston (MA) City Council, Exercises at the Dedication of the Statue of Wendell Phillips, July 5, 1915 (Boston: City of Boston, 1915), 11. (Author Published by Boston City Council)
Licensing Public domain: This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired.

Geraldine “Deenie” Pindell Trotter: The Crisis, Vol. 17, No. 2. (December, 1918).

Birth of a Nation: The Allentown Leader, 18 March 1916 Via https://www.newspapers.com/, Author Lyric Theater 23 North Sixth Street, Allentown, PA

The Guardian: Front page of The Guardian, July 26 1902 | Date:14 July 2020, Source: Own work, Author: XelaWho Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the following license: Creative Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Trotter Illustration: UMASS Boston official twitter account: https://twitter.com/trotterUMB. Attribute: Illustration by Paul Rogers, published: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/11/25/the-legacy-of-a-radical-black-newspaperman. Citing ‘Educational’ Fair Use as described here: https://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html


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Black History Month: Celebrating Mathematicians

by Cathie Maglio

As a math teacher, I am always looking for role models for my students, especially role models of different backgrounds. I’m taking advantage of Black History month to write about some Black role models who have contributed to my favorite field, mathematics.

Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806)

Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker lived in Baltimore County, Maryland.  He is best known for building America’s first clock.  Made of wood, it struck the hour and kept precise time for decades. He used his knowledge of trigonometry and astronomy to predict a solar eclipse for 1789. His prediction was correct: there was a solar eclipse on March 4, 1789. The Benjamin Banneker Public Charter School in Cambridge is named for him.

 

 

Image attribute: Benjamin Banneker depicted on a 1943 mural by Maxime Seel binder in the Recorder of Deeds Building in Washington, D.C. (2010) [Library of Congress] (Creative Commons, Public Domain, Wikipedia)


Elbert Frank Cox (1895-1969)

Elbert CoxElbert Frank Cox was the first Black person to receive a PhD in mathematics in the United States and in the world. He was awarded the degree in 1925 by Cornell University, after having earned his A.B. from Indiana University in 1917.  He then taught math for 40 years at Howard University and West Virginia State College. The Cox-Talbot Address was created by the National Association of Mathematicians in his honor. It is delivered annually at their national meeting. In 1975 Howard University established a scholarship in his name to help Black students pursue graduate studies in mathematics.

Image attribute: Elbert Cox, Class of 1917, Indiana University – Unknown author – Indiana University 1917 Yearbook http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/archivesphotos/ (Creative Commons, Public Domain, Wikipedia)


John Urschel (b. 1991)

John UrschelIf you are a football fan, you may have seen John Urschel play for Penn State or the Baltimore Ravens. You may not know that he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from Penn State and retired from football at 26 to pursue a PhD in mathematics at MIT.

Three Black women mathematicians worked for NASA and made significant contributions to the space program.

 

Image attribute: John Urschel – Date: 12 September 2015 | Source: Own work | Author: Jeffrey Beall  (Creative Commons, Public Domain, Wikipedia)


Annie Easley (1933-2011)

Annie EasleyAnnie Easley was known as a “human computer.” A famous NASA computer and rocket scientist, she was a member of the team that developed the Centaur rocket in the early 1960s which opened the door for other NASA missions. Her work at NASA broke down barriers for both women and Black Americans in science.  She earned her bachelor’s degree from Cleveland State University while working full time at NASA.

 

 

Image attribute: Front cover of the Science and Engineering Newsletter featuring Annie Easley at Lewis Research Center. (NASA item #C-82-4215) (Creative Commons, Public Domain, Wikipedia)


Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)

Katherine JohnsonKatherine Johnson was instrumental in John Glenn’s orbit around the moon in 1962. She did the orbital entry and launch window calculations. She and other Black women at NASA had to fight segregation and prejudice to be recognized for their mathematical ability. She was able to master complex manual calculations and pioneered using computer programming for more complex calculations. In the end, she and her colleagues were able to end segregation at NASA and finally received the accolades they deserved. Katherine Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barak Obama in 2015. Her story is told in the movie “Hidden Figures.” If you have not seen it, it is worth watching.

Just last week, the spacecraft manufacturer Northrup Grumman announced that their NG-15 Cygnus spacecraft would be named the S.S Katherine Johnson in honor of her contributions to spaceflight. This spacecraft will be launched on February 20 heading to the International Space Station.

Katherine Johnson held a B.S. in mathematics and French from West Virginia State College.

Image attribute: Katherine Johnson, also Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, 1983; see NASA bio at https://crgis.ndc.nasa.gov/historic/Katherine_Johnson (Creative Commons, Public Domain, Wikipedia)


Mae Carol Jemison (b. 1956)

Mae Carol Jemison Mae Carol Jemison was the first Black woman astronaut. She visited outer space aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. Before becoming an astronaut, she was a physician and served in the Peace Corps. She holds bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering and Afro-American Studies from Stanford and an M.D. degree from Cornell.  She continues to be a role model by encouraging children to pursue careers in STEM.

 

Image attribute: Mae Carol Jemison – NASA Image and Video Library (file) (Creative Commons, Public Domain, Wikipedia)


Lonnie Johnson (b. 1949)

Dr. Lonnie JohnsonDr. Lonnie Johnson is the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun. The famous inventor, mathematician and engineer invented the device in 1990 while working for the U.S. Air Force. He also invented the Nerf Gun. While serving as an engineer in the U.S. Air Force, he worked on the development of the Stealth Bomber. He then spent 12 years at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He holds more than 80 patents with 20 more pending. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tuskegee University.

Image attribute: Dr. Lonnie Johnson – 2016 (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released), Office of Naval Research (Creative Commons, Public Domain, Wikipedia)


Valerie Thomas (b. 1943)

Dr. Valerie ThomasWe would not have 3-D television, video games and movies if it were not for Valerie Thomas, the inventor of the Illusion Transmitter. This technology enabled all these 3-D formats. She received a patent in 1980. She also worked for NASA developing real-time data systems and served on the team that developed the Landsat technology that supported the first satellite to transmit images from outer space. She earned her bachelor’s degree in physics from Morgan State University where she was one of only two female physics majors.

These are just a few of the great Black scientists and mathematicians in history. There are many others whose names we may never know who have done and are doing great things in math and other STEM fields. I’ll leave it to the next researcher to expand the list. The more we know about the backgrounds and achievements of people like these, the more we can encourage our students to follow in their footsteps.

Image attribute: Dr. Valerie Thomas – NASA file, restored by Adam Cuerden https://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/ (Creative Commons, Public Domain, Wikipedia)


Cathie Maglio is a veteran math teacher and a Learning Specialist with JFYNetWorks.


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The Healing Fountain, What poetry does

by Gary Kaplan

What poetry does

“Poetry is typically the touchstone that we go back to when we have to remind ourselves of the
history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for.”  –Amanda Gorman

“Poetry makes nothing happen,” wrote W.H. Auden in his tribute to W.B. Yeats. The line was a typically irreverent Auden quip. He loved to shock and subvert, but under his surface flippancy ran a deep current of humanistic faith. Yeats died on January 28, 1939. Germany invaded Poland on September 1, igniting the Second World War. Auden’s In Memory of W.B. Yeats was written in 1940, as was his September 1, 1939. Both poems attempted to find a way out of the “negation and despair” of a world collapsing.

Madison Park Tech Voc Grad Now the Educator Podcast, Lessons during Black History Month with Settenah Wright

Lessons taught during Black History Month

FEBRUARY 2020 PODCAST – Settenah Wright is a graduate of Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, where she now teaches English as a Second Language. She grew up in Roxbury, MA, attending the Boston Public Schools and spent two years living in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is where her ESL teaching career began. In this episode, Ms. Wright shares her classroom lessons during Black History Month, and the local connections Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X and Barack Obama have to the Roxbury neighborhood.