Tagged with "first"
Meet the first woman to play professional baseball in an all men's leagues - Toni Stone Tags: toni tomboy stone first woman professional baseball men leagues word life production new quality

Toni "Tomboy" Stone made history in 1953 when she joined the Negro Leagues, making her the first woman ever to play professionally in a men's league.

Female baseball player Toni Stone made history in 1953 when she was signed by the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues, making her the first woman ever to play professionally in a men's league. Stone began playing ball when she was only 10 years old. Over the years, many people tried to dissuaded her from the game, including her husband. After baseball, she worked as a nurse. She died in 1996.

Early Life

Born Marcenia Lyle Stone on July 17, 1921, in St. Paul, Minnesota, Toni "Tomboy" Stone made history in 1953 when she was signed to play second base for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues, making her the first woman to play professionally in a men's league.

Stone's parents believed strongly that their four children needed to get a good education. But their athletically inclined daughter didn't share the same talent in the classroom as her siblings. Instead, she loved to compete, and excelled in all kinds of sports including ice skating, track, and the high jump. Baseball, however, was her true love and she spent her off-hours at a local park, soaking up the culture and devoting hours toward improving her own game.

Her parents didn't approve. Around the time she was 10 years old, Stone was forced to sit down with a local priest, whom her parents had invited over in hopes that he could talk their daughter out of her interest in baseball. Instead, toward the end of the sit-down, Father Keith asked Stone to play on his team in the Catholic Midget League.

At age 15, Stone was quietly earning a reputation as something of a phenom. She played with the Twin City Colored Giants, a traveling men's baseball club, and took to the diamond for clubs competing in the men's meatpacking league.

Playing for the San Francisco Sea Lions

In the 1940s, Stone moved to San Francisco to help a sick sister. It was there that her life began to finally change in the way she'd long hoped. But it was a humble start. She would later claim that she had only 50 cents in her pocket upon her arrival, and after staying in the bus station for several nights, she started to scrape together a living by working at a cafeteria and at a shipyard as a forklift operator.

Stone also began what can only be considered a personal reinvention. She changed her name to Toni Stone and dropped 10 years off her age to increase her appeal to a men's team.

It wasn't long before she was playing baseball again, signing on to play with an American Legion club. In 1949, she joined the San Francisco Sea Lions of the West Coast Negro Baseball League. The pay wasn't terrible (about $200 a month) and it enhanced Stone's exposure to high profile managers and team owners.

But it wasn't always an easy life. As a woman, Stone was subject to a barrage of insults from fans and sometimes even teammates who objected to seeing a female compete in a "men's" game. The complicated rules surrounding Jim Crow America only amplified the pressure, as she and other black players had to be careful not to patron white-only restaurants and other establishments.

The Indianapolis Clowns and Kansas City Monarchs

Still, Stone's talent was hard to miss. In 1953, she caught her big break when the Indianapolis Clowns signed her to its roster. The club, which had at one time developed a reputation as a showy kind of team, not unlike what basketball's Harlem Globetrotters would become, was in need of a boost.

Since Jackie Robinson's first appearance in the Majors in 1947, the Negro Leagues had seen attendance and talent drop considerably. The departures included the Clowns' prized second baseman, Hank Aaron. In the wake of all this upheaval, team owner Syd Pollack figured Stone might draw some fans.

Stone, however, played hard and didn't back down from any challenges that came her way. Backed by some pretty good Clowns PR to showcase their new female player, Stone appeared in 50 games that year, hitting a respectable .243—a stretch that included getting a hit off the legendary pitcher, Satchel Paige. She also got the chance to play with some excellent young talent, including Willie Mays and Ernie Banks.

But for Stone, she was a part of the roster and she wasn't. The fact that she was a woman meant that she wasn't allowed in the men's locker rooms. Her opponents showed little deference, either, sometimes coming hard at her on a slide with their spikes pointed up.

Stone's time with the Clowns was short. In the off-season, she was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs. It proved to be a difficult adjustment for her. Age had finally caught up to the fleet-footed Stone, and her new teammates and bosses resented her. At the end of the year, she retired.

Final Years

Toni Stone, who married Aurelious Alberga in 1950, a well-known San Francisco political player who was some 40 years her senior, spent her retirement life in Oakland. Eventually she earned the respect she'd long deserved from the baseball world. In 1993 she was inducted into the Women's Sports Hall of Fame in Long Island, New York.

Toni Stone died of heart and respiratory problems on November 2, 1996, at the age of 75, at an Alameda, California, nursing home.

Source: Biorgraphy.com

We will always remember Babe Ruth Tags: babe ruth baseball legend first black player word life production sports entertainment featured blog

George Herman Ruth Jr. was born on February 6, 1895 in Baltimore, Maryland to parents George Sr. and Kate. George Jr. was one of eight children, although only he and his sister Mamie survived. George Jr.’s parents worked long hours, leaving little time to watch over him and his sister. The lack of parental guidance allowed George Jr. to become a bit unruly, often skipping school and causing trouble in the neighborhood. When George Jr. turned 7 years old, his parents realized he needed a stricter environment and therefore sent him to the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a school run by Catholic monks from an order of the Xaverian Brothers. St. Mary’s provided a strict and regimented environment that helped shape George Jr.’s future. Not only did George Jr. learn vocational skills, but he developed a passion and love for the game of baseball.

Brother Matthias, one of the monks at St. Mary’s, took an instant liking to George Jr. and became a positive role model and father-like figure to George Jr. while at St. Mary’s. Brother Matthias also happened to help George Jr. refine his baseball skills, working tirelessly with him on hitting, fielding and pitching skills. George Jr. became so good at baseball that the Brothers invited Jack Dunn, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, to come watch George Jr. play. Dunn was obviously impressed, as he offered a contract to George Jr. in February 1914 after watching him for less than an hour. Since George Jr. was only 19 at the time, Dunn had to become George’s legal guardian in order to complete the contract. Upon seeing George Jr. for the first time, the Orioles players referred to him as “Jack’s newest babe”, and thus the most famous nickname in American sports history was born. Thereafter, George Herman Ruth Jr. was known as the Babe.

The Babe performed well for Dunn and the Orioles, leading to the sale of Babe to the Boston Red Sox by Dunn. While Babe is most known for his prodigious power as a slugger, he started his career as a pitcher, and a very good one at that. In 1914, Babe appeared in five games for the Red Sox, pitching in four of them. He won his major league debut on July 11, 1914. However, due to a loaded roster, Babe was optioned to the Red Sox minor league team, the Providence Grays, where he helped lead them to the International League pennant. Babe became a permanent fixture in the Red Sox rotation in 1915, accumulating an 18-8 record with an ERA of 2.44. He followed up his successful first season with a 23-12 campaign in 1916, leading the league with a 1.75 ERA. In 1917, he went 24-13 with a 2.01 ERA and a staggering 35 complete games in 38 starts. However, by that time, Babe had displayed enormous power in his limited plate appearances, so it was decided his bat was too good to be left out of the lineup on a daily basis. As a result, in 1918, the transition began to turn Babe into an everyday player. That year, he tied for the major-league lead in homeruns with 11, and followed that up by setting a single season home run record of 29 dingers in 1919. Little did he know that the 1919 season would be his last with Boston. On December 26, 1919, Babe was sold to the New York Yankees and the two teams would never be the same again.

After becoming a New York Yankee, Babe’s transition to a full-time outfielder became complete. Babe dominated the game, amassing numbers that had never been seen before. He changed baseball from a grind it out style to one of power and high scoring games. He re-wrote the record books from a hitting standpoint, combining a high batting average with unbelievable power. The result was an assault on baseball’s most hallowed records. In 1920, he bested the homerun record he set in 1919 by belting a staggering 54 homeruns, a season in which no other player hit more than 19 and only one team hit more than Babe did individually. But Babe wasn’t done, as his 1921 season may have been the greatest in MLB history. That season, he blasted a new record of 59 homeruns, drove in 171 RBI, scored 177 runs, batted .376 and had an unheard of .846 slugging percentage. Babe was officially a superstar and enjoyed a popularity never seen before in professional baseball. With Babe leading the way, the Yankees became the most recognizable and dominant team in baseball, setting attendance records along the way. When the Yankees moved to a new stadium in 1923, it was appropriately dubbed “The House that Ruth Built”.

Babe’s mythical stature grew even more in 1927 when, as a member of “Murderer’s Row”, he set a new homerun record of 60, a record that would stand for 34 years. During his time with the Yankees, Babe ignited the greatest dynasty in all of American sport. Prior to his arrival, the Yankees had never won a title of any kind. After joining the Yankees prior to the 1920 season, Babe helped the Yankees capture seven pennants and four World Series titles. The 1927 team is still considered by many to be the greatest in baseball history. Upon retiring from the Boston Braves in 1935, Babe held an astonishing 56 major league records at the time, including the most revered record in baseball... 714 homeruns.

In 1936, the Baseball Hall of Fame was inaugurated and Babe was elected as one of its first five inductees. During the fall of 1946, it was discovered that Babe had a malignant tumor on his neck, and his health began to deteriorate quickly. On June 13, 1948, his jersey number “3” was retired by the Yankees during his last appearance at Yankee Stadium. Babe lost his battle with cancer on August 16, 1948. His body lay in repose in Yankee Stadium, with his funeral two days later at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. In all, over 100,000 people lined up and paid their respects to the Babe.

Despite passing over 60 years ago, Babe still remains the greatest figure in major league baseball, and one of the true icons in American history. The Babe helped save baseball from the ugly Black Sox scandal, and gave hope to millions during The Great Depression. He impacted the game in a way never seen before, or since. He continues to be the benchmark by which all other players are measured. Despite last playing nearly 75 years ago, Babe is still widely considered the greatest player in Major League Baseball history.

©/™ 2011 Family of Babe Ruth and Babe Ruth League c/o Luminary Group LLC

Source: Official Website

Unforgivable Blackness - Jack Johnson
Category: Black Men Rock!
Tags: first black heavy weight champion unforgivable blackness word life production new quality entertainment

Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, whose reign lasted from 1908 to 1915, was also the first African American pop culture icon. He was photographed more than any other black man of his day and, indeed, more than most white men. He was written about more as well. Black people during the early 20th century were hardly the subject of news in the white press unless they were the perpetrators of crime or had been lynched (usually for a crime, real or imaginary). Johnson was different—not only was he written about in black newspapers but he was, during his heyday, not infrequently the subject of front pages of white papers. As his career developed, he was subject of scrutiny from the white press, in part because he was accused and convicted of a crime, but also because he was champion athlete in a sport with a strong national following. Not even the most famous race leaders of the day, Booker T. Washington, president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, and W. E. B. Du Bois, founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and editor of that organization's magazine, The Crisis, could claim anywhere near the attention Johnson received. Not even the most famous black entertainers and artists of the day—musical stage comics George Walker and Bert Walker, or bandleader James Reese Europe, or ragtime composer Scott Joplin, or fiction writer Charles W. Chesnutt, or painter Henry O. Tanner—received Johnson's attention. In fact, it would be safe to say that while Johnson was heavyweight champion, he was covered more in the press than all other notable black men combined.

And, like the true pop culture figure, the way Johnson lived his life and, particularly, the way he conducted his sex life mattered a great deal to the public. He was scandal, he was gossip, he was a public menace for many, a public hero for some, admired and demonized, feared, misunderstood, and ridiculed. Johnson emerged as a major figure in the world of sports at the turn of the century when sports themselves, both collegiate and professional, were becoming a significant force in American cultural life and as the role of black people in sports was changing. Johnson arrived at a time when the machinery of American popular culture, as we know it today, was being put into place. Recorded music, which was to change entirely how music was made, sold, and distributed in the United States, came into being at this time. Movies were well established as a popular medium of entertainment at the time when Johnson became a big enough name in boxing to fight for a world title. Indeed, films were an important way for promoters and fighters to make money in boxing by showing the films of bouts in movie theaters. Boxing was, by far, the most filmed sport of its day.

The automobile, which became Johnson's great passion and the most celebrated piece of technology connected with popular culture, was part of the brave new world of the early 1900s, replacing the bicycle. And, along with this came the rise of spectator sports, which changed how Americans spent their leisure time: baseball was a long-standing craze, college football was growing in popularity, basketball had been invented. There was also track and field, the modern return of the Olympic Games, golf, tennis, bicycle racing, race walking, horse racing, and probably the most popular of all sports at the time, professional boxing or, as it was commonly called, prizefighting.

Boxing was created in 18th-century Regency England. It was largely performed by working-class men who were often sponsored by upper-class gentlemen, many of whom had a passion for the sport. Boxing arose in a society where masculine honor was an important facet of a man's ego and where a skillful display of self-defense was useful and appreciated. Some saw boxing as a less lethal form of dueling. Both gentlemen and poor men learned the art or the science, as some called it. However, what primarily drove the sport was betting on the outcome, which still largely attracts many people today to professional boxing as well as other sports, although these bettors were usually connoisseurs of the sport as well. Gambling has always been a particular stigma for boxing as it, because it is sport that involves a contest between only two men, can easily be fixed to produce a particular outcome favorable to a certain set of bettors. Boxing has been burdened by the specter of fixed fights, dishonesty and corruption, almost since its beginnings.

Blacks had an early presence in the sport. Ex-slaves Bill Richmond and Tom Molyneaux were both high-caliber boxers in England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At this time, boxers fought without gloves, rounds were of indeterminate length, ending when a fighter was knocked down. A fighter was then given 30 seconds to recover and return to "scratch," a mark in the center of the ring where the two fighters met to resume the contest. There were few punches thrown in these matches because the bare hand, which can be easily broken, is not well-equipped as a fist to be a durable weapon. The bouts mostly consisted of wrestling and pummeling.

The first great American champion was John L. Sullivan, who was champion from 1882 to 1892. He presided over the dramatic shift in boxing when it was transformed from bare knuckles to gloves. The Marquis of Queensbury rules changed boxing entirely, making it a more rational and disciplined sport: by the time Jack Johnson was a major fighter, it was a commonplace for fighters to use gloves (to protect their hands and enable them to punch more often). Wrestling was virtually eliminated from prizefights. Rounds were now timed at three minutes. Regular rest periods of one minute separated the rounds. Fights now had a determinate lengtha specified number of rounds, for the most part, instead of being a contest that went on until one of the two men was unable or unwilling to continue. If both fighters were still standing at the end of a predetermined number of rounds, the fight was awarded to the fighter who showed the best "ring generalship," the best all-around display of fighting skills. These changes gave us the boxing match as we understand it today.

Black participation in any of these sporting endeavors was very limited, although African Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries were interested in virtually all aspects of sports-playing, coaching, watching, and administrating. Sports did not grow up willy-nilly, but were importantly connected with two significant institutions: colleges and universities, and the workplace (many sports teams and sporting events were organized by employers). Blacks, at the turn of the century, were virtually shut out of both. They were confined largely to rural work in the South where employers had little interest in creatively or competitively organizing their free time for economic gain or for prestige, the major motives for the creation of sports teams. Other than access to a small number of black colleges, there was no way and no reason for a black person to attend college. (Whites, overwhelmingly, did not attend college either at this time.) By the turn of the century, institutionalized racism had shut blacks out of baseball. They were forced out of jockeying for the same reason, indeed, virtually all sports. Blacks were largely confined to professional boxing.

Around the time that Johnson began to develop as a fighter, there were other noted black pugilists: Joe Walcott, who was welterweight champion from 1901-1904; Joe Gans, who was lightweight champion from 1902-1904 and again from 1906-1908, and George Dixon, featherweight champion from 1890-1897 and 1898-1900, and bantamweight champion from 1890-1892. But the most prestigious title in boxing, the one that claimed the greatest admiration of both the fans and the general public was heavyweight champion. The rest of it was small potatoes. Blacks were not permitted to fight for this title, as they were shut out of fair competition with whites in most other sports.

It must be remembered that professional and amateur sports emerged as a significant presence in American cultural life at the end of Reconstruction (1877) and developed throughout the age of racial segregation in America, which culminated in the 1896 Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson that declared that Jim Crow laws and state-sponsored racial segregation were not unconstitutional. It was, moreover, in the 1890s, the era of white imperialism: so-called Anglo-Saxon dominance over the "lesser breeds" and the "colored races" was seen as inevitable. The United States became, as a result of the Spanish American War of 1898 a true imperial power, claiming control of the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Hawaiiall non-white nations whose occupants were seen as inferior by most white Americans. This, coupled with legislation abolishing Asian or "Oriental" immigration and the rampant belief in Social Darwinism or the superiority of the white race over others in the competition for world domination led to probably the most virulently racist period in post-Civil War American history. What is surprising is not that Jack Johnson, considering his times, should have had his ultimate downfall but that he was ever able to rise to the point where he was able to challenge for the heavyweight title in the first place.

Blacks were subjected to a harsh, abject system of racial segregation and second-class citizenship that was often backed up by lynching and white-instigated race riots where scores of blacks were killed. Clearly, during these years, neither the public, nor its leaders, were much interested in seeing any sort of race mixing or even the hint of it. From the time that Sullivan held the title until Jim Jeffries, who was champion from 1899-1905, no white heavyweight champion would even consider fighting a black, although there were many highly skilled black heavyweights at the time, most notably Peter Jackson. Other very good black heavyweights who were Jack Johnson's contemporaries include Sam McVey, Sam Langford, Joe Jeanette and Denver Ed Martin. Most of the time black heavyweights had to fight each other. Sometimes, when they fought whites (in virtually the entire South, mixed race fights were illegal), it was expected that the blacks would lose or else the fight would be declared "no decision"—in other words, a draw. It was when Jeffries retired as champion in 1905 and tried to engineer a successor that a chain of events were set in motion that eventually permitted Johnson to fight for and win the title.

Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas in 1878, the year that Reconstruction failed. His father, Henry, was a laborer and his mother, Tiny, a domestic. Johnson, according to his autobiography, learned to read and write, and apparently was always restless as a child. He seemed to have a sense of ambition, that he was destined for better things than the world of the roustabout and the ordinary black laborer. It was in the tough world of manual black labor that Johnson, being a big man for the times, at 6 feet and 200 pounds, learned to fight. The world of boxing was tough; it required a great deal of travel; money was always uncertain as promoters often absconded with funds or simply did not pay what was promised and managers often cheated their fighters. Blacks had no choice but to use white managers, and these men would sometimes take extraordinary advantage of their fighters, many of whom were unlettered. Johnson never let his white managers control him, and he was not above firing them if they failed to do what he wanted them to do. As fighters mostly existed in the sporting world of whores, pimps, hustlers, pop entertainers, drugs, crime, and alcohol, it was difficult for any fighter to maintain his training regimen and his concentration. Many succumbed to alcoholism and venereal disease. Despite its hardships, being a fighter meant one was in a profession; one was a member of a fraternity. It was also, despite its drawbacks, not as difficult as the work of the average black laborer and it paid better, despite the cheating.

Johnson was more than a survivor in this world. He learned to thrive. He made a name for himself in the sporting publications. He practiced his craft and improved as a fighter. He did not allow himself to become dissipated, despite his surroundings. He was intelligent, he was determined, and he had considerable ring skills. And he wanted to be champion.

After Jeffries retired, a set of elimination matches was held. Eventually, out of the confusion, Tommy Burns emerged as the new champion. A tough, fiery-tempered man, small for a heavyweight (he was actually the size of a middleweight), Burns tried to avoid fighting Johnson, who pushed the issue. On Johnson's side was a growing chorus of some influential in boxing circles like Richard K. Fox, publisher of the Police Gazette, probably the most popular sports newspaper in America at the time, who said that Johnson deserved a shot at the title. Burns made enormous demands, which, in the end, by and large, were conceded to by Johnson. Despite being criticized by other champions for giving Johnson a shot, Burns finally submitted—for the money, and because, despite the size difference between the two men, he thought he could win. They fought on December 26, 1908—Boxing Day—in Sydney, Australia. Johnson easily won the match in 14 rounds and became the first black heavyweight champion. It was almost immediate that the cry went up from whites for a "great white hope" who could wrest the title away from Johnson.

What most bothered whites about Johnson was that he openly had affairs with white women—and even married them—at a time when miscegenation of this sort was not only illegal but was positively dangerous. Johnson did not seem to care what whites thought of him, and this bothered most whites a great deal. He was not humble or diffident with whites. He gloated about his victories and often taunted his opponents in the ring. (This behavior was not unique to him as a champion boxer. Many boxers, notably John L. Sullivan, acted this way. It was unique for a black public figure.) He also did not care what blacks thought of him, as some were critical of his sex life. His preference for white women seemed an embarrassment and something that would bring the wrath of whites down on the heads of every black person. Jeffries was coaxed out of retirement to fight Johnson, some arguing that since Jeffries never lost his title in the ring, he was, in essence, the real champion. That fight took place in Reno, Nevada on July 4, 1910. It was the most talked-about, most publicized sporting event in American history. It was seen by nearly the whole country as a symbolic race war. It was also richest sporting event in American history: the two fighters split unevenly—the winner getting 60 percent—a sum of $101,000, a staggering prize for the time. Johnson once again won easily. Jeffries could not overcome a five-year layoff. Moreover, he probably lacked the skills, as he himself admitted after the fight, to have ever beaten Johnson. Since Johnson could not be defeated in the ring, the battle moved to defeating Johnson in the area where he most offended and where he was most vulnerable—his sex life.

If Johnson was born at the end of one major era of social reform—Reconstruction, he lived his years as a competitive boxer under the thrall of another—the Progressive Era. Between 1912 and 1920, the Constitution was amended four times, more than any other eight-year stretch in American history: the imposition of the federal income tax, the direct election of senators, the right for women to vote, and Prohibition were all added as amendments in what was one of the most intense periods of legislative social reform ever. The Mann Act was part of this social reforming zeal, an attempt to stem the tide of prostitution among working class and immigrant women that was plaguing the country, by prohibiting the transport of women across state lines for immoral purposes. Prostitution was a real problem in the United States at the time but the public was given lurid pictures in the taboo press of innocent white women who were lured into opium dens by sex-crazed "Chinamen" who turned these women into prostitutes. (The average white woman who was to enter this trade was not so terribly innocent and was likely to have been introduced to it by a white man.) So, somehow immorality was tied, in the public's mind, to race mixing. Johnson, the rebel who advocated no cause but his own right to be himself, found himself squeezed between temperance and a national sex purity impulse. He was a boxer, so this made him something of an underground figure to begin with. Boxing was coming under attack by reformers at this time as a barbaric sport. He was black, which made him an outcast in his society. Finally, he consorted with white women, which made him a public menace.

On September 14, 1912, Johnson's first white wife, Etta Duryea, blew her brains out in the upper floor of his Chicago nightclub (nightclub ownership being another sign of Johnson's immorality). The government was already trying to put together a case against him under the Mann Act with a woman named Lucille Cameron, a white prostitute who had consorted with Johnson. On December 4, 1912, less than three months after his first wife died, Johnson married Cameron. The white public was outraged beyond words. In part, Johnson did this to prevent being prosecuted by the government. Cameron couldn't testify against her husband. (He probably really loved her as well. The fact that she was white and that he had clearly been having an affair with her while his first wife was alive made it seem as Johnson was simply thumbing his nose at the moral and racial conventions of his society. With public sentiment so strongly against Johnson, the government was encouraged to continue its hunt for a witness against him for a Mann Act violation. They found one in Belle Schreiber, a white prostitute who had been Johnson's girlfriend on and off for several years. The case was successfully prosecuted and Johnson was found guilty in 1913 of violating a decidedly bad law. Despite being found guilty of fairly minor offense, he was given the maximum penalty of a year and a day in prison. Johnson jumped bail and fled to Europe. He was to live abroad until 1920, when he returned to serve his sentence.

While he was abroad, Johnson continued to fight. He had to. He needed the money. Unfortunately for him, he was becoming less and less of an attraction and the fact that he had the title belt did not mean very much. The belt had no value because he was a fugitive, and was unable to fight in the biggest market for fights—the United States. In addition, with the start of war in Europe, he had become superfluous. Who cared about an out-of-shape, aging black American fighter who was hanging out in Europe? Eventually, he lost the title in Havana, Cuba in April 1915 to a big, lumbering Kansan named Jess Willard, who knocked out Johnson in the 26th round of their fight. Johnson claimed that the fight was fixed. Johnson probably lost cleanly: he was not in good fighting condition when he fought Willard, who was four years younger. Why would Johnson purposely want to lose the title? It was the only calling card to public notice of any sort that he had left. But whites finally got what they wanted: the return of the title to the white race. No black would fight for the heavyweight title for another 22 years, until Joe Louis did so, winning it in 1937.

After he served his time, Johnson did what many famous ex-athletes do: he tried to live off his name. He fought in exhibitions, told his life story in dime museums, appeared in a few movies in bit roles, and exchanged predictions about upcoming title bouts for meals from reporters. He took out a patent for a wrench in 1922 that apparently never caught on. (Taking out a patent is not an indication that one's invention is a success in the market.) He continued to marry white women, but since he was no longer heavyweight champion, no one cared. He occasionally performed as a musician. There was an aspect of the shabby about his final years, but Johnson was a man of dignity and even of cultural bearing. He was an intelligent man—always a shrewd operator, looking for an angle. And he continued to drive fast, as he had when he was champion. He died in an automobile accident in 1946.

Johnson enjoyed a bit of renaissance in the late 1960s when Howard Sackler's play, The Great White Hope, a thinly veiled fictional version of Johnson's life, was performed on Broadway. But more people at the time thought the play was actually a commentary on then-heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, who openly identified with Johnson in interviews and in his autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story (1975). Ali also got into trouble with the government—over the draft. Ali refused conscription on religious grounds, that he was a Muslim minister as a member of the Nation of Islam. Ali was convicted, like Johnson, but instead of leaving the country (he couldn't because the government had confiscated his passport), Ali endured an exile from his profession, being denied a boxing license for three and a half years. But how alike were the two men, really? Not really very much at all, other than being black heavyweight champions who were convicted for violating a federal law. In some ways, the presence of Ali at the time obscured Johnson from view, as Johnson seemed to be important only inasmuch as he adumbrated Ali. Now, the late 1960s are over, as is Ali's era. We can look back at Johnson now and give him the examination he deserves, without someone else getting in the way.

Gerald Early is Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters in the Department of English at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature, and Modern American Culture.

Source: PBS

A Moment in History - Oscar Micheaux
Category: Black Men Rock!
Tags: Oscar micheaux first film maker word life production feature blog black men rock new

Oscar Devereaux Micheaux (January 2, 1884 – March 25, 1951) was an American author, film director and independent producer of more than 44 films. Although the short-lived Lincoln Motion Picture Company produced some films, he is regarded as the first major African-American feature filmmaker, the most successful African-American filmmaker of the first half of the twentieth century and the most prominent producer of race films. He produced both silent films and "talkies" after the industry changed to incorporate speaking actors.

Micheaux was born on a farm in Metropolis, Illinois on January 2, 1884. He was the fifth child born to Calvin S. and Belle Michaux, who had a total of thirteen children. In his later years, Micheaux added an “e” to his last name. His father was born a slave in Kentucky. Because of its surname, his father's family appears to have been associated with French-descended settlers. French Huguenot refugees had settled in Virginia in 1700; their descendants took slaves west when they migrated into Kentucky after the American Revolutionary War.

Micheaux was born when African Americans were trying to succeed in a world dominated by whites. He struggled with social oppression as a young boy, which he reflected in writing in later years. To give their children education, his parents relocated to the city for better schooling. Micheaux attended a well-established school for several years before the family eventually ran into money troubles and were forced to relocate to the farm. Unhappy, Micheaux became rebellious and discontented. His struggles caused internal problems within his family. His father was not happy with him and sent him away to do marketing within the big city. Micheaux found pleasure in this job because he was able to speak to many new people and learned many social skills that he would later reflect within his films.

When Micheaux was 17 years old, he moved to Chicago, Illinois, to live with his older brother, then working as a waiter. Micheaux became dissatisfied with what he viewed as his brother’s way of living “the good life.” He rented his own place and found a job in the stockyards, which he found difficult. He worked many different jobs, moving from the stockyards to the steel mills.

After being “swindled out of two dollars” by an employment agency, Micheaux decided to become his own boss. His first business was a small shoeshine stand, which he set up at a white suburban barbershop, away from Chicago competition. He learned the basic strategies of business and started to save money. He became a Pullman porter on the major railroads, at that time considered prestigious employment for African Americans, because it was relatively stable and well-paid, secure and gave freedom of travel and acquaintance. This job was an informal college education for Micheaux. He profited financially, and also gained contacts and knowledge about the world through traveling, as well as a greater understanding for business. When he left the position, he had seen much of the United States, had a couple of thousand dollars saved in his bank account, and had made a number of connections with wealthy white people who helped his future endeavors.

Micheaux moved to Dallas, South Dakota, where he bought land and worked as a homesteader. This experience inspired his first novels and films. His neighbors on the frontier were all white. “Some recall that [Micheaux] rarely sat at a table with his white neighbors”. Micheaux’s years as a homesteader allowed him to learn more about human relations and farming, a time in his life full of tests and experiments. While farming, Micheaux wrote articles and submitted them to press. The Chicago Defender published one of his earliest articles.

In South Dakota, Micheaux married Orlean McCracken. Her family proved to be complex and burdensome for Micheaux. Unhappy with their living arrangements, Orlean felt that Micheaux did not pay enough attention to her. She gave birth while he was away on business. She was reported to have emptied their bank accounts and fled. Orlean’s father sold Micheaux's property and took the money from the sale. After his return, Micheaux tried unsuccessfully to get Orlean and his property back.

Micheaux decided to concentrate on writing and, eventually filmmaking, a new industry. He wrote seven novels.[3] In 1913, 1000 copies of his first book, The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Homesteader, were printed.[3] He published the book anonymously, for unknown reasons. Based on his experiences as a homesteader and the failure of his first marriage, it was largely autobiographical. Although character names have been changed, the protagonist is named Oscar Devereaux. His theme was about African Americans' realizing their potential and succeeding in areas from which they were previously excluded.

In 1918, his novel The Homesteader, dedicated to Booker T. Washington, attracted the attention of George Johnson, the manager of the Lincoln Motion Picture Company in Los Angeles. After Johnson offered to make The Homesteader into a new feature film, negotiations and paperwork became contentious between him and Micheaux. Micheaux wanted to be directly involved in the adaptation of his book as a movie, but Johnson resisted and never produced the film.

Instead, Micheaux founded the Micheaux Film and Book Company of Sioux City in Chicago; its first project was the production of The Homesteader as a feature film. Micheaux had a major career as a film producer and director: he produced over 40 films, which drew audiences throughout the US as well as internationally. Micheaux contacted wealthy white connections from his earlier career as a porter, and sold stock for his company at $75 to $100 a share. Micheaux hired actors and actresses and decided to premiere in Chicago was celebrating the return of troops from World War I. The film and Micheaux received high praise from film critics. One article credited Micheaux with “a historic breakthrough, a creditable, dignified achievement”. Some members of the Chicago clergy criticized the film as libelous. The Homesteader became known as Micheaux’s breakout film; it helped him become widely known as a writer and a filmmaker.

In addition to writing and directing his own films, Micheaux also adapted the works of different writers for his silent pictures. Many of his films were open, blunt and thought-provoking regarding certain racial issues of that time. He once commented, “It is only by presenting those portions of the race portrayed in my pictures, in the light and background of their true state, that we can raise our people to greater heights”. Financial hardships during the Great Depression eventually made it impossible for Micheaux to keep producing films, and he returned to writing.

Micheaux’s first novel The Conquest was adapted to film and re-titled, The Homesteader.[5] This film, which met with critical and commercial success, was first produced in 1918. It revolves around a man named Jean Baptiste, called the Homesteader, who falls in love with many white women but resists marrying one out of his loyalty to his race - people of ethnic African descent who were classified as black in the society. Baptiste sacrifices love to be a key symbol for his fellow African Americans. He looks for love among his own people and marries an African-American woman. Relations between them deteriorate. Eventually, Baptiste is not allowed to see his wife. She kills her father for keeping them apart and commits suicide. Baptiste is accused of the crime, but is ultimately cleared. An old love helps him through his troubles. After he learns that she is a mulatto and thus part African, they marry. This film deals extensively with race relationships.

Micheaux’s second silent film was Within Our Gates, produced in 1920. Although sometimes considered his response to the film Birth of a Nation, Micheaux said that he created it independently as a response to the widespread social instability following World War I. Within Our Gates revolved around the main character, Sylvia Landry, a mixed-race school teacher. In a flashback, Sylvia is shown growing up as the adopted daughter of a sharecropper. When her father confronts their white landlord over money, a fight ensues. The landlord is shot by another white man, but Sylvia's adoptive father is accused and lynched, along with her adoptive mother.

Sylvia is almost raped by the landowner’s brother but discovers that he is her biological father. Micheaux always depicts African Americans as being serious and reaching for higher education. Before the flashback scene, we see that Sylvia travels to Boston seeking funding for her school, which serves black children. They are underserved by the segregated society. On her journey, she is hit by the car of a rich white woman. Learning about Landry's cause, the woman decides to give her school $50,000.

Within the film, Micheaux depicts educated and professional people in black society as light-skinned, representing the elite status of some of the mixed-race people who comprised the majority of African Americans free before the Civil War. Poor people are represented as dark-skinned and with more undiluted African ancestry. Mixed-race people also feature as some of the villains. The film is set within the Jim Crow era. It contrasted the experiences for African Americans who stayed in rural areas and others who had migrated to cities and become urbanized. Micheaux explored the suffering of African Americans in the present day, without explaining how the situation arose in history. Some feared that this film would cause even more unrest within society, while others believed it would open the public’s eyes to the unjust treatment by whites of blacks. Protests against the film continued until the day it was released. Because of its controversial status, the film was banned from some theatres.

Micheaux adapted two works by Charles W. Chesnutt, which he released under their original titles: The Conjure Woman (1926) and The House behind the Cedars. The latter, which dealt with issues of mixed race and passing, created so much controversy when reviewed by the Film Board of Virginia that he was forced to make cuts to have it shown in the state. He remade this in 1932, releasing it as Veiled Aristocrats. Both versions of the film are believed to have been lost.

Micheaux's films featured contemporary black life. He dealt with racial relationships between blacks and whites, and the passage for blacks trying to achieve success in the larger society. His films also reflect his ideologies and life experiences. The journalist Richard Gehr said, “Micheaux appears to have only one story to tell- his own- and he tells it repeatedly”.

 

Micheaux sought to create films that would counter white portrayals of African Americans, which tended to emphasize inferior stereotypes. He created complex characters of different classes, and was never interested in simplicity. His own life experiences were the basis for much of his work. Growing up in southern Illinois, which had long been influenced by Southern migrants and culture, he learned about some relationships between African Americans and whites, and their misunderstandings.

he critic Lupack described Micheaux as pursuing moderation with his films and creating a “middle-class cinema”. His works were designed to appeal to both middle- and lower-class audiences.

Micheaux said,

    “My results…might have been narrow at times, due perhaps to certain limited situations, which I endeavored to portray, but in those limited situations, the truth was the predominate characteristic. It is only by presenting those portions of the race portrayed in my pictures, in the light and background of their true state, that we can raise our people to greater heights. I am too imbued with the spirit of Booker T. Washington to engraft false virtues upon ourselves, to make ourselves that which we are not.”

Micheaux died on March 25, 1951, in Charlotte, North Carolina, of heart failure. He is buried in Great Bend Cemetery in Great Bend, Kansas, the home of his youth. His gravestone reads: "A man ahead of his time"

    Midnight Ramble: Oscar Micheaux and the Story of Race Movies (1994) is a documentary whose title refers to the early 20th-century practice of some segregated cinemas of screening films for African-American audiences only at matinees and midnight. The documentary was produced by Pamela Thomas, directed by Pearl Bowser and Bestor Cram, and written by Clyde Taylor. It was first aired on the PBS show The American Experience in 1994, and released in 2004.

    On January 19, 2014, Block Starz Music Television previewed The Czar of Black Hollywood, a six-part 2014 documentary film chronicling the early life and career of Oscar Micheaux using Library of Congress archived footage, photos, illustrations and vintage music. On February 13, The Czar of Black Hollywood was announced by American radio host Tom Joyner on his nationally syndicated program, The Tom Joyner Morning Show, as part of a "Little Known Black History Fact" on Micheaux.

Source: Wikipedia

Ella Fitzgerald is Dubbed "The First Lady of Song,"
Category: Voices of Jazz
Tags: ella fitzgerald first lady jazz music word life production jazz music feature blog

Dubbed "The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums.

Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat King Cole, to Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman. (Or rather, some might say all the jazz greats had the pleasure of working with Ella.)

She performed at top venues all over the world, and packed them to the hilt. Her audiences were as diverse as her vocal range. They were rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions and all nationalities. In fact, many of them had just one binding factor in common - they all loved her.

Humble but happy beginnings

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Va. on April 25, 1917. Her father, William, and mother, Temperance (Tempie), parted ways shortly after her birth. Together, Tempie and Ella went to Yonkers, N.Y, where they eventually moved in with Tempie's longtime boyfriend Joseph Da Silva. Ella's half-sister, Frances, was born in 1923 and soon she began referring to Joe as her stepfather.

To support the family, Joe dug ditches and was a part-time chauffeur, while Tempie worked at a laundromat and did some catering. Occasionally, Ella took on small jobs to contribute money as well. Perhaps naïve to the circumstances, Ella worked as a runner for local gamblers, picking up their bets and dropping off money.

Their apartment was in a mixed neighborhood, where Ella made friends easily. She considered herself more of a tomboy, and often joined in the neighborhood games of baseball. Sports aside, she enjoyed dancing and singing with her friends, and some evenings they would take the train into Harlem and watch various acts at the Apollo Theater.

A rough patch

In 1932, Tempie died from serious injuries that she received in a car accident. Ella took the loss very hard. After staying with Joe for a short time, Tempie's sister Virginia took Ella home. Shortly afterward Joe suffered a heart attack and died, and her little sister Frances joined them.

Unable to adjust to the new circumstances, Ella became increasingly unhappy and entered into a difficult period of her life. Her grades dropped dramatically, and she frequently skipped school. After getting into trouble with the police, she was taken into custody and sent to a reform school. Living there was even more unbearable, as she suffered beatings at the hands of her caretakers.

Eventually Ella escaped from the reformatory. The 15-year-old found herself broke and alone during the Great Depression, and strove to endure.

Never one to complain, Ella later reflected on her most difficult years with an appreciation for how they helped her to mature. She used the memories from these times to help gather emotions for performances, and felt she was more grateful for her success because she knew what it was like to struggle in life.

"What's she going to do?"

In 1934 Ella's name was pulled in a weekly drawing at the Apollo and she won the opportunity to compete in Amateur Night. Ella went to the theater that night planning to dance, but when the frenzied Edwards Sisters closed the main show, Ella changed her mind. "They were the dancingest sisters around," Ella said, and she felt her act would not compare.

Once on stage, faced with boos and murmurs of "What's she going to do?" from the rowdy crowd, a scared and disheveled Ella made the last minute decision to sing. She asked the band to play Hoagy Carmichael's "Judy," a song she knew well because Connee Boswell's rendition of it was among Tempie's favorites. Ella quickly quieted the audience, and by the song's end they were demanding an encore. She obliged and sang the flip side of the Boswell Sister's record, "The Object of My Affections."

Off stage, and away from people she knew well, Ella was shy and reserved. She was self-conscious about her appearance, and for a while even doubted the extent of her abilities. On stage, however, Ella was surprised to find she had no fear. She felt at home in the spotlight.

"Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from my audience," Ella said. "I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life."

In the band that night was saxophonist and arranger Benny Carter. Impressed with her natural talent, he began introducing Ella to people who could help launch her career. In the process he and Ella became lifelong friends, often working together.

Fueled by enthusiastic supporters, Ella began entering - and winning - every talent show she could find. In January 1935 she won the chance to perform for a week with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House. It was there that Ella first met drummer and bandleader Chick Webb. Although her voice impressed him, Chick had already hired male singer Charlie Linton for the band. He offered Ella the opportunity to test with his band when they played a dance at Yale University.

"If the kids like her," Chick said, "she stays."

Despite the tough crowd, Ella was a major success, and Chick hired her to travel with the band for $12.50 a week.

Jazzing things up

In mid 1936, Ella made her first recording. "Love and Kisses" was released under the Decca label, with moderate success. By this time she was performing with Chick's band at the prestigious Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, often referred to as "The World's Most Famous Ballroom."

Shortly afterward, Ella began singing a rendition of the song, "(If You Can't Sing It) You Have to Swing It." During this time, the era of big swing bands was shifting, and the focus was turning more toward bebop. Ella played with the new style, often using her voice to take on the role of another horn in the band. "You Have to Swing It" was one of the first times she began experimenting with scat singing, and her improvisation and vocalization thrilled fans. Throughout her career, Ella would master scat singing, turning it into a form of art.

In 1938, at the age of 21, Ella recorded a playful version of the nursery rhyme, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." The album sold 1 million copies, hit number one, and stayed on the pop charts for 17 weeks. Suddenly, Ella Fitzgerald was famous.

Coming into her own

On June 16, 1939, Ella mourned the loss of her mentor Chick Webb. In his absence the band was renamed "Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Band," and she took on the overwhelming task of bandleader.

Perhaps in search of stability and protection, Ella married Benny Kornegay, a local dockworker who had been pursuing her. Upon learning that Kornegay had a criminal history, Ella realized that the relationship was a mistake and had the marriage annulled.

While on tour with Dizzy Gillespie's band in 1946, Ella fell in love with bassist Ray Brown. The two were married and eventually adopted a son, whom they named Ray, Jr.

At the time, Ray was working for producer and manager Norman Granz on the "Jazz at the Philharmonic" tour. Norman saw that Ella had what it took to be an international star, and he convinced Ella to sign with him. It was the beginning of a lifelong business relationship and friendship.

Under Norman's management, Ella joined the Philharmonic tour, worked with Louis Armstrong on several albums and began producing her infamous songbook series. From 1956-1964, she recorded covers of other musicians' albums, including those by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, and Rodgers and Hart. The series was wildly popular, both with Ella's fans and the artists she covered.

"I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them," Ira Gershwin once remarked.

Ella also began appearing on television variety shows. She quickly became a favorite and frequent guest on numerous programs, including "The Bing Crosby Show," "The Dinah Shore Show," "The Frank Sinatra Show," "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tonight Show," "The Nat King Cole Show," "The Andy Willams Show" and "The Dean Martin Show."

Due to a busy touring schedule, Ella and Ray were often away from home, straining the bond with their son. Ultimately, Ray Jr. and Ella reconnected and mended their relationship.

"All I can say is that she gave to me as much as she could," Ray, Jr. later said, "and she loved me as much as she could."

Unfortunately, busy work schedules also hurt Ray and Ella's marriage. The two divorced in 1952, but remained good friends for the rest of their lives.

Overcoming discrimination

On the touring circuit it was well-known that Ella's manager felt very strongly about civil rights and required equal treatment for his musicians, regardless of their color. Norman refused to accept any type of discrimination at hotels, restaurants or concert halls, even when they traveled to the Deep South.

Once, while in Dallas touring for the Philharmonic, a police squad irritated by Norman's principles barged backstage to hassle the performers. They came into Ella's dressing room, where band members Dizzy Gillespie and Illinois Jacquet were shooting dice, and arrested everyone.

"They took us down," Ella later recalled, "and then when we got there, they had the nerve to ask for an autograph."

Norman wasn't the only one willing to stand up for Ella. She received support from numerous celebrity fans, including a zealous Marilyn Monroe.

"I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt," Ella later said. "It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the '50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him - and it was true, due to Marilyn's superstar status - that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman - a little ahead of her times. And she didn't know it."

Worldwide recognition

Ella continued to work as hard as she had early on in her career, despite the ill effects on her health. She toured all over the world, sometimes performing two shows a day in cities hundreds of miles apart. In 1974, Ella spent a legendary two weeks performing in New York with Frank Sinatra and Count Basie. Still going strong five years later, she was inducted into the Down Beat magazine Hall of Fame, and received Kennedy Center Honors for her continuing contributions to the arts.

Outside of the arts, Ella had a deep concern for child welfare. Though this aspect of her life was rarely publicized, she frequently made generous donations to organizations for disadvantaged youths, and the continuation of these contributions was part of the driving force that prevented her from slowing down. Additionally, when Frances died, Ella felt she had the additional responsibilities of taking care of her sister's family.

In 1987, United States President Ronald Reagan awarded Ella the National Medal of Arts. It was one of her most prized moments. France followed suit several years later, presenting her with their Commander of Arts and Letters award, while Yale, Dartmouth and several other universities bestowed Ella with honorary doctorates.

End of an era

In September of 1986, Ella underwent quintuple coronary bypass surgery. Doctors also replaced a valve in her heart and diagnosed her with diabetes, which they blamed for her failing eyesight. The press carried rumors that she would never be able to sing again, but Ella proved them wrong. Despite protests by family and friends, including Norman, Ella returned to the stage and pushed on with an exhaustive schedule.

By the 1990s, Ella had recorded over 200 albums. In 1991, she gave her final concert at New York's renowned Carnegie Hall. It was the 26th time she performed there.

As the effects from her diabetes worsened, 76-year-old Ella experienced severe circulatory problems and was forced to have both of her legs amputated below the knees. She never fully recovered from the surgery, and afterward, was rarely able to perform. During this time, Ella enjoyed sitting outside in her backyard, and spending time with Ray, Jr. and her granddaughter Alice.

"I just want to smell the air, listen to the birds and hear Alice laugh," she said.

On June 15, 1996, Ella Fitzgerald died in her Beverly Hills home. Hours later, signs of remembrance began to appear all over the world. A wreath of white flowers stood next to her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a marquee outside the Hollywood Bowl theater read, "Ella, we will miss you."

After a private memorial service, traffic on the freeway was stopped to let her funeral procession pass through. She was laid to rest in the "Sanctuary of the Bells" section of the Sunset Mission Mausoleum at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, Calif.

Source: Official Website

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