Black Men Rock!
A Moment in History - Olaudah Equiano
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Olaudah Equiano (1745 – 1797) was an 18th century African writer and anti-slavery campaigner. From an early age, Olaudah Equiano experienced the horrors of slavery first hand. But, after gaining his freedom, he gained British citizenship and wrote about his experiences. His autobiography ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano‘ played a pivotal role in turning public opinion in Britain against slavery. His accounts of slavery and its human suffering were a factor in the enactment of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

Early life and experience as slave

Equiano writes that he was born in Nigeria in the year 1745 – a member of the Igbo tribe. Aged 11, he was kidnapped, along with sisters, by native slave-holders; after being sold to European slave traders, he was then packed into a slave ship and transferred across the Atlantic to Barbados. Equiano eventually ended up the British colony of Virginia. As a slave he was given different names, including Gustavus Vassa.

Equiano later wrote about the mistreatment of slaves on the Virginia plantations. His vivid descriptions of the various punishments and humiliations that slaves had to endure were the first published account of an autobiography of a slave. Speaking of the Virginia overseers.

These overseers are indeed for the most part persons of the worst character of any denomination of men in the West Indies. Unfortunately, many humane gentlemen, by not residing on their estates, are obliged to leave the management of them in the hands of these human butchers, who cut and mangle the slaves in a shocking manner on the most trifling occasions, and altogether treat them in every respect like brutes. – p.105 ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano‘

Equiano wrote that he was so shocked by his experience that he tried to wash the colour out of his face in an attempt to escape his position as a slave.

Equiano was bought by Michael Pascal a sailor in the Royal Navy; therefore Equiano was taught the art of seamanship and had to follow his master into battle during Britain’s Seven Years War with France. Equiano served during battles bringing gunpowder into position.

Equiano gained a certain respect from his master and after travelling extensively, he was sent to England where he gained a basic education. Pascal later wrote that Equiano was ‘a very deserving boy’. During this time, in 1759, he also converted to Christianity. His Christian beliefs were increasingly important in his life. He used the Christian message of the Golden Rule ‘do unto others, as you would have done to you’ as a way to shape attitudes on slavery. However, he was still denied the freedom that Pascal had once promised. Instead, he was sold on to Captain James Doran in the Caribbean and then onto Robert King, a Quaker merchant from Philadelphia.

A Free man

Doran furthered the education of Equiano and taught Equiano to assist him in trading. In his early 20s, Doran helped Equiano to purchase his freedom. Writing of the moment he gained his freedom, Equaiano wrote:

Accordingly he signed the manumission that day; so that, before night, I who had been a slave in the morning, trembling at the will of another, was became [sic] my own master, and completely free. I thought this was the happiest day I had ever experienced… p.177

Initially he stayed in America to assist Doran as a business partner. But, shortly after buying his freedom, slaveholders attempted to kidnapp Equaino and return him to slavery. He only escaped by being able to prove his education. Equiano later pointed out the position of free slaves was little better than slaves because of the dreadful treatment, black men received.

Hitherto I had thought only slavery dreadful; but the state of a free negro appeared to me now equally so at least, and in some respects even worse, for they live in constant alarm for their liberty; and even this is but nominal, for they are universally insulted and plundered without the possibility of redress; for such is the equity of the West Indian laws, that no free negro’s evidence will be admitted in their courts of justice. p.122

Feeling unsafe in the Caribbean, he returned to Britain.

Anti – Slavery movement

Back in England, he was befriended by many who supported the abolition of the slave trade. Many abolitionists were Quakers, but in the late Eighteenth Century, the movement was spreading to other denominations. Equiano was able to give first hand testament about life as a slave. This information was useful for those who were hoping to change the law and outlaw slavery. His friends encouraged him to write down a book about his experiences. First published in 1789, the account was eagerly received by many people in Britain. It sold well, and went through many editions. Many people who read about the suffering of slaves were more inclined to support the abolitionist cause. The book received good reviews, and many were surprised and moved at the quality of writing and his ability to depict life as a slave.

The book made Equiano a prominent figure in literary circles. In 1788, Equiano was able to personally petition the king for the end of slavery. The book also helped to demystify many of the current misconceptions about African people – this personal account and personality of Equiano was very influential in displaying the obvious humanity of black Africans.

The revenue from book sales enabled Equiano to live independently of philanthropic backers and he could devote more time to campaigning against slavery. He also served as a leader for the poor black community of London. These were often freed slaves and descendants, but struggled to survive economically. Equiano also campaigned for the extension of the vote to working men. He was an active member of the Corresponding Society. He also supported the London Missionary society – a Christian organization committed to spreading education and Christianity overseas.

In 1792, Equiano married Susan Cullen, a local girl from Soham in Cambridgeshire. They had two daughters. He died in 1797 in London.

Legacy of Equiano

Although there is some controversy about the exact birth place of Equiano – some historians believe he may have been born in North America rather than Africa, there is no doubt that Equiano played a pivotal figure in the anti-slavery movement. His writing and speeches helped show people that there was a strong sense of shared humanity. He made a passionate appeal to the higher ideals of British lawmakers – hoping this would affect change.

I hope to have the satisfaction of seeing the renovation of liberty and justice resting on the British government, to vindicate the honour of our common nature.

After reading about the suffering of fellow humans, there was a growing support for the abolitionist cause. Equiano’s biography became an important instrument of abolitionist propaganda.

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. (G+) “Olaudah Equiano Biography”, Oxford, www.biographyonline.net, 11/08/2013 Biography Online

Michael Jordan on Black Men Rock!
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Michael Jordan (MJ) is considered the greatest basketball player of all time. He was voted NBA most valuable player a record five times. Playing most of his career for the Chicago Bulls, he won six NBA Championships. Michael Jordan also became one of the most marketed sportsmen, with lucrative endorsements with Nike, helping to make the Nike Air shoe one of best known trainers in the world. His career and high profile, coincided with a rapid growth in the popularity of NBA basketball, and his personal achievements are considered a major factor in boosting the popularity of basketball. The NBA Website says of Michael Jordan:

    “A phenomenal athlete with a unique combination of fundamental soundness, grace, speed, power, artistry, improvisational ability and an unquenchable competitive desire, Jordan single-handedly redefined the NBA superstar.” (NBA)

Michael Jordan was born in Brooklyn, New York. But, his family moved to North Carolina where he grew up. As a sophomore, at times, he struggled to get in the High School Team due to his low height. Instead he concentrated on other sports, such as baseball. But, as a late developer, he grew to 6 foot 3 inch and this helped him to dominate the junior court. Michael Jordan attended the University of North Carolina where he was named College Player of the Year but the Sporting News. In 1984, he was picked in the NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls.

In 1984, he was also selected to be in the US Olympic basketball team, where, with the team, he won the gold medal.

The 1984 season saw the emergence of Michael Jordan as a supreme player. Crowds at the Chicago Bulls increased as people came to see this exciting new talent. Jordan had excellent shooting statistics, but, he also had a distinct and rare ability to excite the crowds with his great dexterity, acrobatic dunks and dives. He seemed to float around the court with effortless ease. Jordan became more than just the best player on the pitch, he exuded something unique and stylish. He also gained a reputation for being one of the best defensive players in basketball. He managed to combine this athletic excellence with a humility that endeared him to the public even more. He later said that what he achieved was only possible because of former great players who taught and helped him to evolve.

In the late 1980s, Jordan led an increasingly successful Chicago Bulls team. They won their first championship in 1991 and went on to win six titles in the space of nine years. Along the way, Jordan broke many of the long standing NBA records. In 1988-89, he led the league with 32.5 points per game.

In 1992, Jordan again returned to the Olympics. This time as a full professional – Jordan was part of the ‘Dream Team’. The US easily won the Olympic gold – with their opponents often admitting they felt honored to be on the same court as Michael Jordan and the ‘dream team’.

However, in 1993, a series of personal difficulties caused him to temporarily retire from the game. His father was murdered during an armed robbery, devastating Jordan who saw his father as his closest confident. He was also struggling with his own gambling issues.

For a short time, he made a foray into baseball, playing the 1994 season for the Birmingham Barons. But, in the 1994-95 season he came back to his primary love – basketball. Despite losing some of his youthful speed, Jordan still had the magic touch and led the Chicago Bulls to the semi finals with some stellar performances. The next year, 1995-96, he led the Chicago Bulls to another title.

Jordan continued to play until past his 40th birthday in the 2002-03 season.

After he finally retired, he had played a total of 1,072 games, with a points per game average of 30.

After making his final retirement, Jordan has concentrated on management and ownership.1 and a total of 32,292 points.

In June 2006, he bought a minority stake in the Charlotte Bobcats and later gained outright ownership, becoming the first former NBA star to become the majority owner of a league franchise.

In June 2010, Jordan was ranked by Forbes Magazine as the 20th-most powerful celebrity in the world with $55 million earned between June 2009 and June 2010. According to the Forbes article, Jordan Brand generates $1 billion in sales for Nike.

    “Limits, like fears, are often just an illusion”

– Michael Jordan 2009

In 1999, he was named the greatest North American athlete of the 20th century by ESPN, and was second to Babe Ruth on the Associated Press’s list of athletes of the century. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.

Source: Biography Online

 

Adam Clayton Powell Jr. on Black Men Rock!
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Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. loomed as a giant in the Black community of Harlem, not only as the pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, but also as a community activist and as the first African-American to represent New York in the United States House of Representatives.

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was born in New Haven, Connecticut on November 29, 1908. He was the son of Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., then a Baptist minister in New Haven and his wife Mattie Buster Shaffer. He had an older sister Blanche and the family was of mixed racial origins, African, European and Native American. Powell Sr. had graduated from Wayland Seminary, Yale University and Virginia Seminary and was chosen to pastor the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, eventually growing the church to more than 10,000 members.

Adam Jr., because of his father’s success, grew up in a rather wealthy household and attended Townsend Harris High School before studying at City College of New York and then Colgate University (his father sent him to Colgate, a baptist school, to put Adam on the right path and to get him away from the nightlife and nightclubs that he avidly frequented). He was a handsome young man and because of his fair skin and hazel eyes, he was often able to pass as being white (at birth his hair was blonde), often allowing him to avoid much of the racial strife that was directed towards his Black classmates. This caused a great deal of anger on their part towards him because he withheld his racial background from his classmates, even joining a white fraternity (very uncommon in those days).

His father encouraged him to follow in his footsteps as a minister. Adam Jr. (Adam) received his bachelors degree from Colgate in 1930 and then received a M.A. in Religious Education from Columbia University a year later. Although he had originally planned for a career in medicine, he realized that the church would provide him with a ready-made career. Following his ordination, Adam assisted his father at the church, both preaching to the congregation and in growing the outreach to the community, (primarily in charitable endeavors) and took over for his father as Head Pastor of the church in 1938. He had married Isabel Washington, a star dancer at the Cotton Club, in 1933 and adopted her son Preston and was deeply committed to the church, its parishioners and those community around him. He was now the pastor of the largest protestant congregation in the United States.

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. - Great Black HeroesHe became prominent in political activism, fighting for employment opportunities and fair housing. He became the Chairman of the Coordinating Committee for Employment, mounting pressure on local businesses to hire Blacks on all levels of employment. He led very noteworthy protests. He led a “Shop Only Where You Can Work” boycott of all of store along 125th, shutting most of them down, thereby forcing them to hire Black workers. During the World’s Fair of 1939, his protesters picketed in front of the Fair’s headquarters at the Empire State Building which resulted in Black hiring to increase by 250%. Two years later he led the bus boycott of the New York Transit authority leading to 200 additional jobs for Black constituents. His activism on the part of the community led him to run for the New York City Council and he was elected in 1941, the first Black to serve on the Council.

Three years later he ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. He ran on a campaign of fighting for the civil rights of Blacks including seeking a ban on obstacles for voting rights (such as poll taxes), fair employment opportunities and a ban on lynching. Running as a Democrat, he was elected in 1944 representing the 22nd Congressional district (which included Harlem) and was the first Black Congressman from the state of New York. He did not try to ease his way in quietly and instead directly addressed issues that affected his constituents. With Jim Crow being the law of the land in the south and almost all of the southern Congressmen being segregationists, there had been no one willing to stand on the House floor and raise issues that affected Blacks throughout the nation. Powell would be the man to do so.

Powell did not make many friends, especially among the southern Congressmen but he stood up and addressed issues facing Blacks. One particularly noteworthy incident occurred when he stood on the House floor and chastised Congressman John Rankin of Mississippi. A tradition within the House was that freshmen Congressmen did not speak on the House floor during their first year. On this occasion, however, when Rankin used the word “nigger” on the House floor, Powell stood and announced “the time has arrived to impeach Rankin, or at least expel him from the party.” To take on a Congressman as powerful as Rankin demonstrated that Powell would be a force to be reckoned with. Powell would take particular delight in irritating Rankin. Rankin had called Powell’s election to the house “a disgrace” and when Rankin made it known that he did not want to sit anywhere near Powell, Adam would find any opportunity possible to sit as close to the Mississippi Congressman. On one occasion he followed him from seat to seat until Rankin had moved five times.

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. - Great Black Heroes

In 1945, having divorced Isabel, Powell married Hazel Scott, a jazz singer and pianist. The two had a son whom they named Adam Clayton, Powell III.

Powell served with only one other Black Congressman (William Levi Dawson of Illinois) until 1955 and they were subject to numerous informal barriers within Congressional offices. Powell protested and refused to defer to the bans on the “Whites Only” House restaurant, the Congressional Barber Shop, the House gymnasium and other facilities. He constantly battle segregationist on both policy and decorum and found allies within the Black community and organizations like the NAACP to push for equality for Blacks throughout the United States.

One method he used to attain his goals was referred to as the “Powell Amendments.” On any proposed legislation that would call for federal expenditures, he would offer an amendment that required that federal funds be denied to any jurisdiction that maintained segregation. This grated on both liberal allies and conservative foes but it gradually seeped into the mindsets of the politicians as they realized that Powell was not going to stop and was not going away. Some were not ready to give up their fight, however. During a 1955 meeting of the Education and Labor Committee, Powell was punched in the face by West Virginia Congressman Cleveland Bailey, a segregationist who was so incensed by Powell’s persistent use of the “Powell Amendment” rider.

His willingness to anger even his allies led him to buck the party ticket in 1956 and throw his support behind Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Powell was dissatisfied with the Democratic Party platform on civil rights and made sure that he was not seen as a rubber stamp for the Democratic party. He also sailed against mainstream opinions when he travelled to Indonesia for the 1955 Asian-African Conference which celebrated the recent move to independence from colonialism for countries which included Ghana, Sierra Leone and Indonesia. The State Department had asked him to not attend but he did so as an observer and ended up speaking of the need to end colonialism abroad and segregation at home while also defending the United States against the communist talking points being used against his country. Powell returned home to a warm reception, honored as “Man of the Year” by the Veterans of Foreign Wars,” and invited to speak with President Eisenhower. He offered the opinion that the United States was wasting an opportunity to truly compete with the Soviet Union by trotting out ballet companies and symphonies to tour around the world. Instead, he thought, the country should focus on presenting more current and popular American offerings such as jazz music, which was an American created style of music appealing to and engaged in by members of various races. Powell suggested sending well known jazz musicians to tour abroad, spreading the American art form to catch the ear of younger citizens of the world. The State Department agreed and set up such a goodwill tour including well known musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie. Gillespie headlined the tour which many referred to as “Jazz Diplomacy.” The musicians were able to meet with high-ranking officials as well as the common man and was considered a great success. One man who attended a concert in Zagreb, Yugoslavia stated “What this country needs is fewer ambassadors and more jam sessions!”

In 1960, having divorced Hazel, Adam married again, this time to Yvette Flores Diago, the daughter of the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico. They had a son whom he also named Adam Clayton Powell (this son would later change his name to Adam Clayton Powell, IV).

 

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. - Great Black Heroes

After serving the House of Representatives for 15 years, Powell was finally granted a committee chairmanship in 1961 when he became the Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. The committees stated purpose is “to ensure that Americans’ needs are addressed so that students and workers may move forward in a changing school system and a competitive global economy.” Under his leadership, the committee created federal programs addressing Medicaid, minimum wage and equal pay for women, as well as education for the disabled, support for libraries and vocational training. Much of this legislation was incorporated into President John F. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” program as well as President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” and “War on Poverty” programs.

Some of his greatest triumphs involved passing legislation to protect the rights of Blacks, particularly those affected by Jim Crow laws in the south.  He authored bills to criminalize lynching, dismantle public school desegregation and to abolish the Southern practice of charging a Poll Tax to Black voters. This tax was applied to voters in many southern states, but a grandfather clause allowed those adult males whose father or grandfather had voted prior to emancipation to be exempt from the tax. As such, white male voters were allowed to vote while many Black voters who could not afford to pay the tax were prevented from engaging in the electoral process. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 included many of these provisions and called for enforcement of them.

His growing power made him a target for his political enemies. Unfortunately, in many ways, Powell made himself an easier target through his spending of committee funds, his legal problems, his erratic behavior and habit of constantly traveling and often being absent from the House. Without a doubt, many of the southern House members opposed him simply because of his race and looked for any opportunity to punish him. Unfortunately for Powell, although he had fight so hard against unfair treatment by House members, he had also given them plenty of ammunition to use against him.

In 1958, Powell was indicted by a Federal grand jury for income tax evasion. The trial ended in a hung jury but the Federal government continued to investigate his finances. In 1960, Powell gave a television interview in which he accused a Harlem widow named Esther James of being a “bag woman” for corrupt police payoffs. James sued him and was awarded $211,500.00 in a jury award. Powell refused to pay the damages and instead would only return to his district in Harlem on Sundays when he when he could not be served by court officials (the award was eventually paid out years later after he was cited for criminal contempt, but the matter damaged him significantly). In 1967, a House committee suspended Powell’s third wife, Yvette Diago, and accused her of being on the House payroll without doing any work. Diago, in fact, admitted that she had moved to Puerto Rico in 1961, but was paid from Powell’s Congressional payroll from that time until January of 1967 when the allegation came to light and she was fired.

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. - Great Black HeroesHe also travelled a great deal with stays in Florida as well as a vacation home he owned in Bimini in the Bahamas. House opponents accused him of using House funds to pay for this travel including once when he was accompanied by two young women at the expense of the Federal government (the women were Tamara Wall, a staff attorney and secretary Corinne Huff, the first Black Miss Ohio, with whom Powell was romantically involved). As such, the House Democratic Caucus stripped him of his committee leadership in January of 1967 and the full House refused to seat him until the Judiciary Committee completed an investigation of him. On March 1, 1967, by a vote of 307 to 116, the House voted to exclude him from its proceedings. Powell decided to sue to retain his seat. Although he won a Special Election to fill his vacant seat (by a margin of 7-1), he refused to take it, preferring to challenge his removal in court. In the meantime, in November of 1968, his constituents in Harlem defiantly re-elected him with overwhelming support. The House had no choice but to seat him now, but did so while at the same time denying him seniority and fining him $25.0000.00. In June 16, 1969, the United Staes Supreme Court decided 7-1 in Powell vs. McCormack that the House had violated his constitutional rights in refusing to seat him as he was a duly elected member of Congress. Unfortunately, after his Supreme Court victory, he seemed to rub it in the nose of his foes, showing up for only nine roll calls out of 177, a record for absenteeism. He was the most powerful Black politician of his time, but like many great men, it seemed hubris was to become his most destructive opponent.

Regarding his travel expenditures, Powell defended himself saying that “that I will always do just what every other Congressman and committee chairman has done and is doing and will do.” His constituents had grown weary of their Representative always seeming to have to put out fires, whether in the form of lawsuits, political fights or embarrassing scandals. He was defeated in the Democratic primary in 1970 by Charles Rangel by a mere 150 votes. He attempted to get on the November ballot as an independent through a signature campaign, but failed to do so and resigned from his position at the Abyssinian Baptist Church and retired to his home in Bimini.

In April 1972, Powell’s health began faltering and he was rushed from Bimini to Miami, Florida where he was hospitalized. He died on April 4, 1972 due to acute prostatitis, an inflammation of the prostate gland. His funeral was held at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and his ashes were spread by his son, Adam III, over the waters of Bimini.

Adam Clayton Powell - Great Black HeroesOver the years numerous public schools have been named after him as has an office building in Harlem and Seventh Avenue, north of Central Park in New York City was renamed Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard. His real legacy, though, is as a confident political figure when many Blacks were afraid to speak out against the racism and poverty that they saw.  He was a bright and engaging leader who would not back down from his opponents and led the fight to change things in a turbulent society. Most of all, he is seen as a man who opened the doors for a lot of minorities who would follow in his footsteps as politicians in the Untied States Congress.

 Rev. Adam Clayton Powell

Source: Great Black Heros

Civil Rights Activist, Baseball Player - Hank Aaron
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Considered one of the best baseball players of all time, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home-run record when he hit his 715th home run in 1974. He later set a new MLB record with 755 career home runs.

Born into humble circumstances on February 5, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama, Hank Aaron ascended the ranks of the Negro Leagues to become a Major League Baseball icon. Aaron played as an outfielder for the Atlanta Braves for nearly 23 years, during which time he broke many of baseball's most distinguished records, including most career home runs (755)—a record that stood for more than two decades.

American baseball icon Hank Aaron, nicknamed "Hammerin' Hank," is widely regarded as one of the greatest hitters in the history of the sport. For nearly 23 years (1954–76), Aaron played as an outfielder for the Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers, setting several records and winning a number of honors along the way.

Aaron continues to hold many of baseball's most distinguished records today, including runs batted in (2,297), extra base hits (1,477), total bases (6,856) and most years with 30 or more home runs (15). He is also ranked one of baseball's Top 5 players for career hits and runs. For more than two decades, Aaron held the record for most career home runs (755), surpassing Babe Ruth's home-run record on April 8, 1974. Barry Bonds broke the record on August 7, 2007, when he scored his 756th home run in San Francisco, California.

Born Henry Louis Aaron on February 5, 1934, in a poor black section of Mobile, Alabama, called "Down The Bay," Hank Aaron was the third of eight children born to Estella and Herbert Aaron, who made a living as a tavern owner and a dry dock boilermaker's assistant.

Aaron and his family moved to the middle-class Toulminville neighborhood when he was 8 years old. Aaron developed a strong affinity for baseball and football at a young age, and tended to focus more heavily on sports than his studies. During his freshman and sophomore years, he attended Central High School, a segregated high school in Mobile, where he excelled at both football and baseball. On the baseball diamond, he played shortstop and third base.

In his junior year, Aaron transferred to the Josephine Allen Institute, a neighboring private school that had an organized baseball program. Before the end of his first year at Allen, he had more than proved his abilities on the baseball field. Then, perhaps sensing that he had a bigger future ahead of him, in 1951, the 18-year-old Aaron quit school to play for the Negro Baseball League's Indianapolis Clowns.

It wasn't a long stay. After leading his club to victory in the league's 1952 World Series, in June 1952, Aaron was recruited by the Milwaukee Braves (formerly of Boston and later of Atlanta) for $10,000. The Braves assigned their new player to one of their farm clubs, The Eau Claire Bears. Again, Aaron did not disappoint, earning the esteemed title of "Northern League Rookie of the Year."

Hank Aaron made his Major League debut in 1954, at age 20, when a spring training injury to a Braves outfielder created a roster spot for him. Following a respectable first year (he hit .280), Aaron charged through the 1955 season with a blend of power (27 home runs), run production (106 runs batted in), and average (.328) that would come to define his long career. In 1956, after winning the first of two batting titles, Aaron registered an unrivaled 1957 season, taking home the National League MVP and nearly nabbing the Triple Crown by hitting 44 home runs, knocking in another 132, and batting .322.

Star Player

That same year, Aaron demonstrated his ability to come up big when it counted most. His 11th inning home run in late September propelled the Braves to the World Series, where he led underdog Milwaukee to an upset win over the New York Yankees in seven games.

With the game still years away from the multimillion-dollar contracts that would later dominate player salaries, Aaron's annual pay in 1959 was around $30,000. When he equaled that amount that same year in endorsements, Aaron realized there may be more in store for him if he continued to hit for power. "I noticed that they never had a show called 'Singles Derby,'" he once explained.

He was right, of course, and over the next decade and a half, the always-fit Aaron banged out a steady stream of 30 and 40 home run seasons. In 1973, at the age of 39, Aaron was still a force, clubbing a remarkable 40 home runs to finish just one run behind Babe Ruth's all-time career mark of 714.

Obstacles

But the chase to beat the Babe's record revealed that world of baseball was far from being free of the racial tensions that prevailed around it. Letters poured into the Braves offices, as many as 3,000 a day for Aaron. Some wrote to congratulate him, but many others were appalled that a black man should break baseball's most sacred record. Death threats were a part of the mix.

Still, Aaron pushed forward. He didn't try to inflame the atmosphere, but he didn't keep his mouth shut either, speaking out against the league's lack of ownership and management opportunities for minorities. "On the field, blacks have been able to be super giants," he once stated. "But, once our playing days are over, this is the end of it and we go back to the back of the bus again."

Legacy

In 1974, after tying the Babe on Opening Day in Cincinnati, Ohio, Aaron came home with his team. On April 8, he banged out his record 715th home run at 9:07 p.m. in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was a triumph and a relief. The more than 50,000 fans on hand cheered him on as he rounded the bases. There were fireworks and a band, and when he crossed home plate, Aaron's parents were there to greet him.

Overall, Aaron finished the 1974 season with 20 home runs. He played two more years, moving back to Milwaukee to finish out his career to play in the same city where he'd started.

After retiring as a player, Aaron moved into the Atlanta Braves front office as executive vice-president, where he has been a leading spokesman for minority hiring in baseball. He was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1982. His autobiography, I Had a Hammer, was published in 1990.

In 1999, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of breaking Ruth's record, Major League Baseball announced the Hank Aaron Award, given annually to the best overall hitter in each league.

Hank Aaron was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002

Source: Biography.com

 

Matthew Henson - Co-Discover of North Pole
Category: Black Men Rock!
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Matthew Henson was an African American explorer best known as the co-discoverer of the North Pole with Robert Edwin Peary in 1909.

Famed African-American explorer Matthew Henson was born in Charles County, Maryland, on August 8, 1866. Explorer Robert Edwin Peary hired Henson as his valet for expeditions. For over two decades, they explored the Arctic, and on April 6, 1909, Peary, Henson and the rest of their team made history, becoming the first people to reach the North Pole—or at least they claimed to have. Henson died in New York City on March 9, 1955.

American explorer Matthew Alexander Henson was born on August 8, 1866, in Charles County, Maryland. The son of two freeborn black sharecroppers, Henson lost his mother at an early age. When Henson was 4 years old, his father moved the family to Washington, D.C., in search for work opportunities. His father died there, leaving Henson and his siblings in the care of relatives.

Henson ran away from home at age 11, and was taken in by a woman who lived near his home. At age 12, he left to work as a cabin boy on a ship. Over the next six years and under the mentorship of Captain Childs, Henson learned literacy and navigation skills.

After Captain Childs died, Henson returned to Washington, D.C. and worked as a store clerk for a furrier. It was there that he met Robert Edwin Peary, an explorer and officer in the U.S. Navy Corps of Civil Engineers. On the recommendation of the store owner, Peary hired Henson as his valet for his travel expeditions.

Career as an Explorer

In 1891, Henson joined Peary on a Greenland expedition. While there, Henson embraced the local Eskimo culture, learning the language and the natives' Arctic survival skills. At the trip's end, in 1893, Henson remained the sole member of Peary's entourage—the rest of the team had abandoned the mission.

Their next trip to Greenland came in 1895, this time with a goal of charting the entire ice cap. The journey almost ended in tragedy, with Peary's team on the brink of starvation; members of the team managed to survive by eating all but one of their sled dogs. Over the next two years, the explorers returned to Greenland to collect three meteorites found during prior explorations, ultimately selling them to the American Museum of Natural History and using the proceeds to help fund their future expeditions.

Over the next several years, Peary and Henson would make multiple attempts to reach the North Pole. Their 1902 attempt proved tragic, with six Eskimo team members perishing due to a lack of food and supplies. They made more progress during their 1906 trip: Backed by President Theodore Roosevelt and armed with a then state-of-the-art vessel that had the ability to cut through ice, the team was able to sail within 174 miles of the North Pole. Melted ice blocking the sea path thwarted the mission’s completion.

The team's final attempt to reach the North Pole took place in 1908. Henson proved an invaluable team member, building sledges and training others on sled-handling. Of Henson, expedition member Donald Macmillan once noted, "With years of experience equal to that of Peary himself, he was indispensable."

The expedition continued into the following year (1909). While other team members turned back, Peary and the ever-loyal Henson trudged on. Peary knew that the mission's success depended on his trusty companion, stating at the time, "Henson must go all the way. I can't make it there without him." On April 6, 1909, Peary, Henson, four Eskimos and 40 dogs (the trip had begun with 24 men, 19 sledges and 133 dogs) finally reached the North Pole—or at least they claimed to have.

Source: Biography.com   

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