Black History Month 2012
Harriet Tubman was born Araminta “Minty” Ross to slave parents in approximately 1822 in Maryland. Tubman escaped from slavery in 1849, making use of the Underground Railroad, eventually reaching Philadelphia. However, she immediately returned to Maryland for her family, and eventually guided dozens of slaves to freedom. She was known as “Moses” and “never lost a passenger”. Tubman later helped plan and recruit help for John Brown’s raid at Harper Ferry. She served in the Civil War as a nurse, scout, and even led an armed assault in support of the Union. In her later years, Tubman worked to promote suffrage for women. She died of pneumonia in 1913.
Frederick Douglass, born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, was born a slave in approximately 1818 in Maryland. In 1838, Douglass escaped slavery and made his way to New York, though he would eventually settle in Massachusetts. He became an anti-slavery lecturer, and participated in the American Anti-Slavery Society’s Hundred Conventions project. Douglass also produced a wealth of abolitionist newspapers, including The North Star, New National Era, and Frederick Douglass Weekly. In 1848 he attended the Seneca Falls Convention and worked continuously for women’s rights. In 1872, Douglass was the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States on the Equal Rights Party ticket, though he never campaigned nor acknowledged the nomination. He died in 1895, shortly after returning from a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C. He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery.
Lorraine Hansberry was born in 1930 in Chicago, Illinois. She attended the University of Wisconsin for two years before leaving to pursue a writing career in New York City, where she attended The New School. Hansberry worked on the black newspaper Freedom while in New York, at which time she was also writing her best known work, A Raisin in the Sun. A Raisin in the Sun was a huge success, and was the first play written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. At 29 years old, Hansberry was the youngest American playwright and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Play. She died at age 34 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Audre Lorde was in 1934 in New York City to Caribbean immigrants from Grenada. A writer, poet, and activist, she wrote her first poem when she was eight. Lorde attended Hunter College, but spent a year as a student at the National University of Mexico, and upon her return to New York confirmed her identity as a poet and a lesbian. She earned her master’s degree in Library Science from Columbia University. Lorde’s poetry was published very regularly during the 1960s, at which time she was very politically active in the civil rights, antiwar, and feminist movements. In 1980, she co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first U.S. publisher for women of color. Lorde was also State Poet of New York from 1991-1992. Lorde battled cancer for 14 years; she was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 1978 and underwent a mastectomy, and 6 years later was diagnosed with Liver Cancer, from which she died in 1992.
Michelle Gordon received her M.A. in African-American Studies and Ph. D. in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Southern California. She specializes in American Literature and African-American Studies, with an emphasis on literary radicalism, intellectual history, black women’s studies, and urban cultural studies in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. She has published a book chapter entitled “Somewhat Like War: The Aesthetics of Segregation, Black Liberation, and A Raisin in the Sun”, and her book manuscript “Bringing Down Babylon: The Chicago Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, and African American Freedom Struggles, 1931-1969” offers a literary history of black Chicago’s two most vibrant literary movements. Gordon will give this year's Two Icons Lecture, “Baby, You Could be Jesus in Drag: Lorraine Hansberry and Black Domestic Workers on Being The Help,” on Wednesday, February 29 at 5pm in the Welles-Brown Room, Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester.