Monday Open Thread | International Slavery Museum Liverpool

international-slavery-museum-liverpoolThe transatlantic slave trade was the greatest forced migration in history. And yet the story of the mass enslavement of Africans by Europeans is one of resilience and survival against all the odds, and is a testament to the unquenchable nature of the human spirit.

In 1994, National Museums Liverpool opened the Transatlantic Slavery Gallery, the first of its kind in the world. This gallery has achieved huge visitor numbers and impact, but there is now a pressing need to tell a bigger story because of its relevance to contemporary issues that face us all.

Our vision is to create a major new International Slavery Museum to promote the understanding of transatlantic slavery and its enduring impact.

Our aim is to address ignorance and misunderstanding by looking at the deep and permanent impact of slavery and the slave trade on Africa, South America, the USA, the Caribbean and Western Europe. Thus we will increase our understanding of the world around us.”

Dr David Fleming OBE, director, National Museums Liverpool

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Sunday Open Thread | Black Historical Political Figures: President Barack H. Obama II

You can’t do a week of Black Historical Political Figures and not include the 44th President of the United States: Barack Hussein Obama II.


It seems the last 8 years that have gone by so fast. For those of us from Illinois, it’s 12 years from his run for the U.S. Senate.

I could not be more proud of the President and the First Family. They exceeded expectations that I didn’t even know I had.

I wish nothing but the best for them. This country didn’t deserve them, but thank goodness we got them.



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Saturday Open Thread | Black Historical Political Figures: Governor L. Douglas Wilder

Today’s Black Political Trailblazer is L. Douglas Wilder.


On January 14, 1990, L. Douglas Wilder was sworn in as governor of Virginia, joining a line that includes Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Harry F. Byrd. Wilder became Virginia’s 66th governor and the nation’s first elected black governor. In 2004, Wilder became the first mayor of the city of Richmond, Virginia. The grandson of slaves, Wilder is a moderate who immediately became a major influence in the U.S. political arena, announcing—but eventually repealing—his decision to run for the Democratic nomination in the 1992 U.S. presidential election. As a Washington Post correspondent wrote shortly before Wilder’s gubernatorial inauguration, “Willingly or not, Wilder becomes a symbol of the changing climate of politics in the South and the nation as a whole, the aspirations of American blacks to assume an equal place in society, and the uncertainties that confront any public leader as a new century looms.”

Wilder himself appeared aware of the significance of his victory in Virginia, noting in the Richmond News Leader that his office would be housed just blocks from the old White House of the Confederacy and just miles from the segregated neighborhood where he grew up. “As a boy,” he recalled in the News Leader, “I read the writings of [former U.S. President] Abraham Lincoln about freedom and equality, and I knew they were referring to me. My victory fulfills all of the dreams that could be dreamed by any person.”


Entered Politics

After establishing himself as one of Richmond’s up-and-coming criminal lawyers, Wilder entered politics in 1969. He announced his bid for a vacant state senate seat, fully aware that no black had ever been elected to that body. Wilder, a Democrat, won a three-way race with less than 50 percent of the vote. Over the next 16 years, however, he was never opposed in a reelection bid for the seat.

In the Virginia state senate Wilder immediately attracted attention. In his first speech, in February of 1970, he called for dropping the state song, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia,” because its lyrics glorified slavery and were offensive to blacks. Wilder told his fellow legislators that he and his wife had walked out of an official dinner when the song was played, with its warm words about “old massa” and the state where “this old darky’s heart am long’d to go.” His bill never passed and “Carry Me Back” remains Virginia’s official, if rarely sung, anthem. His protest, however, immediately established Wilder as the senate’s angry young man. Though he had never attended a civil rights demonstration, he was now seen as a spokesperson for black Virginians.

“I was perceived as the fair housing guy, the Martin Luther King guy, the ‘Carry Me Back’ guy,” he pointed out in the Atlanta Constitution. “All the pictures of me showed the Afro [haircut], and I was always frowning or snarling. But my record was working with people, too.” In fact, Wilder de-emphasized civil rights issues during his 16 years in the legislature, instead focusing on becoming a power among established leaders in the senate. He did, however, launch a nine-year campaign for a state holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with the effort ending in a compromise; the day was combined with a long-standing state holiday in January honoring Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, resulting in a “Lee-Jackson-King Day.”

Over the years, noted the Washington Post, “Wilder earned a reputation as a shrewd, pragmatic politician who used his engaging personality and deft sense of humor, as well as his clout with black voters, to maneuver into the inner circles of power in Virginia’s clubby legislature.” Wilder’s close friend and political ally, Jay Shropshire, told the Washington Post, “He was the black kingpin. They all called on Doug Wilder either up front or out back.” The extent of this power was made clear in 1982 when he managed almost single-handedly to block the nomination of the man chosen by Democratic Governor Charles Robb to run for the U.S. Senate. The aspiring nominee, Owen Pickett, then a member of the state House of Delegates, was too conservative to suit Wilder, so Wilder announced plans to run against Pickett as an independent. The threat scuttled Pickett’s nomination.

A Power in the Senate

As Wilder’s seniority grew in the senate so did his power. By 1985 he was a committee chairman and was rated among the five most influential senators. And while his early legislative record could be considered liberal—particularly on law-and-order issues—he grew more conservative over the years. He began to sponsor fewer anti-discrimination bills and became increasingly interested in stiffening jail sentences.

Republican opponents contended that Wilder changed his views to more conservative positions when he started to think about seeking statewide office. Wilder disagreed, telling a Philadelphia Inquirer correspondent, “When you increase your seniority, you don’t have to fight as hard to be seen and heard. I started growing politically.” Regardless, he was given little chance of success when he ran for lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1985. Prominent Democrats openly feared that public resistance to a black candidate would not only mean defeat for Wilder, but for Democrats on the rest of the statewide ticket as well. But Wilder refused to accept the conventional wisdom, renting a station wagon and, over a period of two months, visiting each of the state’s 95 counties and hundreds of its towns. The personal approach worked, and in a state where blacks constitute 19 percent of the voting population, Wilder beat his Republican opponent, 52 to 48 percent, becoming the first black candidate ever elected to statewide office.

As lieutenant governor, a job with limited duties, Wilder concentrated on politics. He made a number of highly publicized speeches urging blacks to assume more responsibility for eliminating social problems in the black community. Such addresses drew praise from conservatives who, in the past, had rarely sided with Wilder. By 1989, Wilder was in such a strong position to run for governor that only one Democrat, state senator Daniel W. Bird, Jr., of Wytheville, offered a challenge for the party’s nomination. Bird withdrew early, and Wilder was nominated unanimously.

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Friday Open Thread | Black Historical Political Figures: Senator Carol Moseley Braun

Today’s Black Historical Figure is Carol Moseley Braun.


The first African–American woman Senator, Carol Moseley–Braun was also only the second black Senator since the Reconstruction Era.1 “I cannot escape the fact that I come to the Senate as a symbol of hope and change,” Moseley–Braun said shortly after being sworn in to office in 1993. “Nor would I want to, because my presence in and of itself will change the U.S. Senate.”2 During her single term in office, Senator Moseley–Braun advocated for civil rights issues and for legislation on crime, education, and families.

Carol Moseley was born in Chicago, Illinois, on August 16, 1947. Her parents, Joseph Moseley, a policeman, and her mother, Edna (Davie) Moseley, a medical technician, divorced in 1963. The oldest of the four Moseley children in a middle–class family, Carol graduated from Parker High School in Chicago and earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Illinois in 1969.3 Possessing an early interest in politics, she worked on the campaign of Harold Washington—an Illinois state representative, a U.S. Representative, and the first African–American mayor of Chicago—and the campaign of Illinois State Senator Richard Newhouse.4 In 1972, Carol Moseley graduated from the University of Chicago School of Law. In Chicago she met and later married Michael Braun. Moseley–Braun hyphenated her maiden and married names. The couple raised a son, Matthew, but their marriage ended in divorce in 1986. Moseley–Braun worked as a prosecutor in the office of the U.S. Attorney in Chicago from 1973 until 1977. In 1978, she won election to the Illinois state house of representatives, a position she held for a decade. After an unsuccessful bid for Illinois lieutenant governor in 1986, she was elected the Cook County, Illinois, recorder of deeds in 1988, becoming the first African American to hold an executive position in Cook County.5

Not satisfied with her position as recorder of deeds, and believing politicians were out of touch with the average American, Moseley–Braun contemplated running for Congress. Her resolve to seek national office strengthened after she witnessed Senators’ questioning of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas’s controversial confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court in 1991. “The Senate absolutely needed a healthy dose of democracy,” she observed. “It wasn’t enough to have millionaire white males over the age of 50 representing all the people in the country.”6 Officially entering the race for the Senate in November 1991, Moseley–Braun focused in her Democratic primary campaign on two–term incumbent Alan Dixon’s support of Clarence Thomas’s appointment and the need for diversity in the Senate. Despite organizational problems and paltry fundraising, Moseley–Braun stunned the experts, defeating her two opponents, Dixon and Alfred Hofeld, an affluent Chicago lawyer, and capturing 38 percent of the primary vote.7 “This democracy is alive and well, and ordinary people can have a voice with no money,” Moseley–Braun remarked shortly afterward.8 In the general election, she faced Republican candidate Richard Williamson, a lawyer and a former official in the Ronald W. Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations.9 Focusing on a message of change and diversity encapsulated by slogans such as, “We don’t need another arrogant rich guy in the Senate,” Moseley–Braun ultimately defeated Williamson with 53 percent of the vote.10 In the “Year of the Woman,” Carol Moseley–Braun became a national symbol of change, reform, and equality. Soon after her election to the Senate, she commented, “my job is emphatically not to be a celebrity or a full time symbol. Symbols will not create jobs and economic growth. They do not do the hard work of solving the health care crisis. They will not save the children of our cities from drugs and guns and murder.”11

In the Senate, Moseley–Braun became the first woman to serve on the powerful Finance Committee when a top–ranking Democrat, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, gave up his seat to create a spot for her. Also, Moseley–Braun and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California became just the second and third women ever to serve on the prestigious Senate Judiciary Committee. In addition, Moseley–Braun served on the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee and on the Small Business Committee. In 1993, the Illinois Senator made headlines when she convinced the Senate Judiciary Committee not to renew a design patent for the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) because it contained the Confederate flag. The patent had been routinely renewed for nearly a century, and despite the Judiciary Committee’s disapproval, the Senate was poised to pass a resolution sponsored by Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina that included a provision to authorize the extension of the federal patent. Moseley–Braun threatened to filibuster the legislation “until this room freezes over.” She also made an impassioned and eloquent plea to her colleagues about the symbolism of the Confederate flag, declaring, “It has no place in our modern times, place in this body, place in our society.”12 Swayed by Moseley–Braun’s argument, the Senate rejected the UDC’s application to renew its patent.13

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Thursday Open Thread | Black Historical Political Figures: Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm

Today’s Black Political figures is Shirley Chisholm.


The first African–American Congresswoman, Shirley Anita Chisholm represented a newly reapportioned U.S. House district centered in Brooklyn, New York. Elected in 1968 because of her roots in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood, Chisholm was catapulted into the national limelight by virtue of her race, gender, and outspoken personality. In 1972, in a largely symbolic undertaking, she campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination. But “Fighting Shirley” Chisholm’s frontal assault on many congressional traditions and her reputation as a crusader limited her influence as a legislator. “I am the people’s politician,” she once told the New York Times. “If the day should ever come when the people can’t save me, I’ll know I’m finished. That’s when I’ll go back to being a professional educator.”1

Shirley Anita St. Hill was born on November 20, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York. She was the oldest of four daughters of Charles St. Hill, a factory laborer from Guyana, and Ruby Seale St. Hill, a seamstress from Barbados. For part of her childhood, Shirley St. Hill lived in Barbados on her maternal grandparents’ farm, receiving a British education while her parents worked during the Great Depression to settle the family in Bedford–Stuyvesant. The most apparent manifestation of her West Indies roots was the slight, clipped British accent she retained throughout her life. She attended public schools in Brooklyn and graduated with high marks. Accepted to Vassar and Oberlin colleges, Shirley St. Hill attended Brooklyn College on scholarship and graduated cum laude with a B.A. in sociology in 1946. From 1946 to 1953, Chisholm worked as a nursery school teacher and then as the director of two daycare centers. She married Conrad Q. Chisholm, a private investigator, in 1949. Three years later, Shirley Chisholm earned an M.A. in early childhood education from Columbia University. She served as an educational consultant for New York City’s Division of Day Care from 1959 to 1964. In 1964, Chisholm was elected to the New York state legislature; she was the second African–American woman to serve in Albany.

A court–ordered redistricting that carved a new Brooklyn congressional district out of Chisholm’s Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood convinced her to run for Congress. The influential Democratic political machine, headed by Stanley Steingut, declared its intention to send an African American from the new district to the House. The endorsement of the machine usually resulted in a primary victory, which was tantamount to election in the heavily Democratic area. In the primary, Chisholm faced three African–American challengers: civil court judge Thomas R. Jones, a former district leader and New York assemblyman; Dolly Robinson, a former district co–leader; and William C. Thompson, a well–financed state senator. Chisholm roamed the new district in a sound truck that pulled up outside housing projects while she announced: “Ladies and Gentlemen … this is fighting Shirley Chisholm coming through.” Chisholm capitalized on her personal campaign style. “I have a way of talking that does something to people,” she noted. “I have a theory about campaigning. You have to let them feel you.”2 In the primary in mid–June 1968, Chisholm defeated Thompson, her nearest competitor, by about 800 votes in an election characterized by light voter turnout.

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Wednesday Open Thread | Black Historical Political Figures: Congressman Oscar de Priest

Today’s Political Figure is Oscar De Priest.


Oscar De Priest was the first African American elected to Congress in the 20th century, ending a 28–year absence of black Representatives. De Priest’s victory—he was the first black Member from the North—marked a new era of black political organization in urban areas, as evidenced by the South Side district of Chicago, whose continuous African–American representation began with De Priest’s election in 1928. Although he made scant legislative headway during his three terms in Congress, De Priest became a national symbol of hope for African Americans, and he helped lay the groundwork for future black Members of the House and Senate.1

Oscar Stanton De Priest was born to former slaves Alexander and Mary (Karsner) De Priest in Florence, Alabama, on March 9, 1871. His father later worked as a teamster and a farmer, while his mother found part–time employment as a laundress.2 In 1878, the De Priest family, along with thousands of other black residents of the Mississippi Valley, moved to Kansas. The migrants from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama sought to escape poor economic and social conditions after Democrats and former Confederates regained control of southern state governments at the end of Reconstruction. These families, one historian wrote, were “pushed by fears of damnation and pulled by belief” in a better life in Kansas.3 De Priest graduated from elementary school in Salina and enrolled in a business course at the Salina Normal School, where he studied bookkeeping. In 1889 he settled in Chicago before the great wave of African–American migration to northern cities during and after World War I. In Chicago, De Priest worked as an apprentice plasterer, house painter, and decorator, and he eventually established his own business and a real estate management firm. On February 23, 1898, he married Jessie Williams (a music teacher whose family was from Pennsylvania), and they had two sons—Laurence and Oscar Stanton, Jr. Laurence died as a teenager in a drowning accident.4

De Priest’s foray into politics was facilitated by Chicago’s budding machine organization. Divided into wards and precincts, Chicago evolved into a city governed by a system of political appointments, patronage positions, and favors. Unable to consolidate control of the city before the 1930s, Chicago mayors nonetheless wielded considerable authority.5 De Priest recognized the potential for a career as a local leader in a city with few black politicians whose African–American population was experiencing dramatic growth.6 At first comfortable with a behind–the–scenes role, De Priest eventually assumed a more prominent political position as a loyal Republican interested in helping his party gain influence in Chicago. By 1904, De Priest’s ability to bargain for and deliver the black vote in the Second and Third Wards gained him his first elected position: a seat on Chicago’s Cook County board of commissioners. He retained this position for two terms, from 1904 through 1908.7 Caught between rival factions, De Priest failed to secure a third term as commissioner. During a seven–year break from politics, he turned his attention to real estate, and became an affluent businessman.8

To revive his political career, De Priest curried favor with powerful Republican officials such as Chicago Mayor William Hale (Big Bill) Thompson and longtime U.S. Representative Martin Madden. He became Chicago’s first black alderman, enabling him to sit on the influential city council from 1915 to 1917.9 De Priest’s service on the council ended abruptly; he resigned from office at the urging of local Republican leaders after being indicted for accepting money from a gambling establishment. “I shall devote myself unreservedly to proving my innocence and restoring my good name in this community,” proclaimed De Priest, announcing his decision not to seek another term in office.10 With Clarence Darrow—who later became one of the most famous trial lawyers in the country—as his defense counsel, De Priest was acquitted of the charges, but his political future remained uncertain because of several outstanding indictments.11 After failing to gain the Republican nomination in 1918, De Priest unsuccessfully attempted to regain his council seat by running as an Independent.12 However, he recovered enough power by 1924 to be elected Third Ward committeeman.13

The turning point in De Priest’s career occurred when Martin Madden, the influential Chicago Representative and chair of the House Appropriations Committee, died suddenly after he had secured the Republican nomination for a likely 13th term in Congress. The Republican machine, led by Mayor Thompson, selected De Priest to replace Madden as the nominee in the lakeshore congressional district encompassing Chicago’s Loop business section—a cluster of ethnic white neighborhoods—and a predominantly black area that included the famous Bronzeville section of the South Side.14 Some black leaders in Chicago balked at the choice, contending that the credentials of other African–American politicians were better than De Priest’s.15 In the November election De Priest squared off against Democrat Harry Baker and three Independents, including William Harrison, an African–American assistant attorney general.16 De Priest narrowly defeated his opponents with only a plurality, securing 48 percent of the vote; Harrison siphoned off some of the black votes in the district.17 In his two subsequent congressional elections, De Priest won by more sizable margins, earning 58 and 55 percent of the vote, respectively.18 As the first African American elected to Congress for nearly three decades, De Priest initiated a trend of black representation in urban northern cities repopulated by the Great Migration.

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Tuesday Open Thread | Black Historical Political Figures: Senator Hiram Revels

Today’s Historical figure is Senator Hiram Revels.


February 25, 1870
First African American Senator

On February 25, 1870, visitors in the Senate galleries burst into applause as senator-elect Hiram Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, entered the chamber to take his oath of office. Those present knew that they were witnessing an event of great historical significance. Revels was about to become the first African American to serve in the Senate.

Born 42 years earlier to free black parents in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Revels became an educator and minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. During the Civil War, he helped form regiments of African American soldiers and established schools for freed slaves. After the war, Revels moved to Mississippi, where he won election to the state senate. In recognition of his hard work and leadership skills, his legislative colleagues elected him to one of Mississippi’s vacant U.S. Senate seats as that state prepared to rejoin the Union.

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