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Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine HansberryLorraine Hanberry’s play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” was the first Broadway play written and produced by a black woman.

Hansberry was born in Chicago, Illinois on May 19, 1930. She became interested in theater while in high school. After high school she attended the University of Wisconsin for two years and studied drama and stage design.

She moved to New York in 1950 and began writing for Freedom, a progressive newspaper founded by Paul Robeson.

Hansberry married in 1953. Her husband’s success as a songwriter allowed her to quit work and concentrate on writing. She wrote A Raisin in the Sun in 1957. The play’s title came from Langston Hughes poem “Harlem: A Dream Deferred.”

A Raisin in the Sun which details the experiences of a black family in Chicago opened on Broadway on March 11, 1959.

The play won the New York Critics Circle Award for best drama.

Lorraine Hansberry was the first woman and the youngest person to receive the award.

NOTE: A Raisin in the Sun was revived on Broadway in 2004. It starred Sean “Puffy” Combs and Audra McDonald. It was revived again in 2014 and starred Denzel Washington and Sophie Okonedo. The 2014 revival won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.

Bernard Harris

Bernard Harris

Bernard Harris was the first Black astronaut to walk in space. He was selected by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) in 1990 and became an astronaut in 1991.

Harris’ first space flight was on the space shuttle Columbia where he flew a ten day mission and logged over 239 hours and 4,164,183 miles in space. During the mission the crew conducted research in physical and life sciences.

In 1995 he flew his second mission in space. That mission was the first flight of the joint Russian-American Space Program and included a rendezvous with the Russian Space Station, Mir. During that mission Harris became the first African American to walk in space.

Bernard Harris was born in Temple, Texas on June 26, 1956. He received a bachelor of science degree in biology from the University of Houston in 1978, and a doctorate in medicine from Texas Tech University School of Medicine in 1982. He trained as a flight surgeon at the Aerospace School of Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. He also attended the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and received a master’s degree in biomedical science in 1996.

Harris has received several awards from NASA including the NASA Award of Merit and the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal.

Oliver Lewis

Oliver Lewis Oliver Lewis (1856-1924) was the first African American and the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby.

The first Derby was held at the Louisville Jockey Club on May 17, 1875.

Oliver Lewis, who was just nineteen at the time, was the jockey for a horse called Aristide. Aristide was not expected to win. Chesapeake, a colt from the same stable and owner was favored to win the race.

The plan was for Lewis to set the pace and tire out the other horses, which would then open up the race for Chesapeake.

When the horses came to the last kilometer, Lewis looked for Chesapeake. When he realized the horse was too far back to catch up, Lewis pulled Aristide ahead and won the event.

The Kentucky Derby is the premiere event in the sport of horse racing. Thirteen of the fifteen jockeys in the first Derby were African American. In the early years, Black jockeys dominated the event and won fifteen of the first twenty-eight races.

Maggie Lena Walker

Maggie Lena Walker First Black Female Bank PresidentWhen Maggie Lena Walker was just a teen she joined the local chapter of the Independent Order of St. Luke, a fraternal society that provided for the needs of African Americans. Walker believed in a strong community. She also believed African Americans should establish institutions within their community to strengthen it and help it thrive.

Maggie Lena Walker was born in Richmond, Virginia on July 15, 1864 to parents who were formerly enslaved. She attended the Richmond Normal Colored School where she trained as a teacher. After graduating, she taught for three years. At the same time she continued her education and took classes in accounting and business management.

In 1902 Walker founded the St. Luke-Herald newspaper and used the paper to encourage African Americans to grab and hold onto their power by establishing businesses and institutions. The following year she established St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and served as the bank’s first president.

During the Great Depression, when many banks failed, Walker managed to keep St. Luke Penny Savings alive by merging with two other Richmond banks. The new bank was named The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company. Walker served as Chairperson of the Board of Directors.

Later in her life she became partially paralyzed. Walker refused to let her paralysis stop her and continued working for the bank and her community until her death on December 15, 1934.

In 1979 Maggie Lena Walker’s Richmond home was purchased by the National Park Service and designated a National Historic Site.

Marian Anderson

Marian AndersonMarian Anderson was the first African American invited to perform at the White House and the first to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Anderson was born on February 27, 1897 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She began singing with the youth choir in her church.  Adult members were so impressed with her voice that they started a fund so she could formally train with a local and well known voice instructor.

After two years of voice lessons she won a contest organized by the New York Philharmonic and later received a scholarship to sing on a tour through Europe.

In 1939 she was invited to perform in the White House when President Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt were entertaining the King and Queen of Great Britain.

Later, when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her perform at Constitution Hall in Washington DC, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a member of the organization, resigned in protest. Roosevelt then arranged for Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. 75,000 people attended the performance.

Marian Anderson made her debut at the New York Metropolitan Opera in January 1955, and in 1961 sang the National Anthem at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.