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Black Facts for May 12th

1862 - Robert Smalls steals Confederate ship

It has just gotten dark on the evening of May 12, 1862. General Roswell Ripley and the other white confederate officers of the

Steamer Planter have just gone ashore to attend a party in Charleston, leaving the black crew alone. This was not unusual

except that the crew had planned on these events. Quickly, the black crews families left their hiding places on other vessels and

came aboard the Planter.

Robert Smalls was the quartermaster, or wheelman of the ship. In this capacity he had become knowledgable of all navigation

channels in Charleston harbor as well as all the gun and troop positions of the confederate armies guarding the harbor. Smalls

and the other slaves quietly got the ship underway and headed for the mouth of the harbor and the blockading Union fleet.

Soon they would have to pass under the guns of Fort Sumter. To increase their chances of success, Smalls donned the clothing

of Planters confederate captain. The trick apparently worked because they are not fired upon until after they are out of range.

Planter eventually approached the U.S.S. Onward, of the blockading fleet to surrender. She brought with her a 24-pound

howitzer, a 32-pound pivot gun, a 7-inch rifle and 4 smooth-bore cannons. Planter had served as headquarters ship for General

Ripley and was a valuable ship because she could carry as many as one thousand troops and her shallow draft gave her

freedom throughout much of the coastal waters. Robert Smalls had been born on the Sea Islands and knew the waters from

Beaufort, South Carolina to Florida. Together they were important prizes for the Union.

For the Benefit of Robert Smalls and Others.....

Generally, any enemy ships taken in this manner are treated as prizes for the men who performed the courageous act.

Commander Du Pont submitted the claims for these men to Washington despite his misgivings that they would be honored.

Since these men had been slaves and the Dred Scott Decision said they were merely contraband, it took a special act of

congress to award the ship as a prize,

1959 - Ving Rhames

Ving Rhames is one of the celebrated African American film artists. He is best known for his work in Pulp Fiction, Con Air, Dawn of the Dead, Mission: Impossible film series and Bringing Out the Dead. In 1998, he was awarded Golden Globe for his remarkable performance in a TV miniseries, Don King.

Ving was born Irving Rameses Rhames on May 12, 1959 in Harlem, New York City. His father, Ernest Rhames, was an auto-mechanic and mother Reather was a homemaker. Irving was named after the late NBC journalist, Irving R. Levine, who also grew up in Harlem. He received his formal education from New York’s High School of Performing Arts. There he developed a keen interest in acting. Upon graduation, he went on to study drama at SUNY Purchase. At SUNY he met now-popular actor Stanley Tucci and they both became friends. Stanely Tucci was the one who gave him the nickname ‘Ving’. Subsequently, Rhames was transferred to the Juilliard School’s Drama Division. In 1983, he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in drama.

In 1984, Rhames began his professional career with a Broadway play The Boys of Winter. Afterwards, he stepped into his film career with the role of Leroy in Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs. Then he played the character of Marcellus Wallas in Pulp Fiction. Later on he took up a role, in the TV medical drama ER, as Peter Benton’s brother-in-law which lasted for three seasons. Soon after he was offered a role in Brian De Palma’s action thriller, Mission Impossible (1996), in which he played the ace computer hacker Luther Stickell.

During 1998 Golden Globes awards ceremony, Rhames was presented a best TV actor award for his astounding performance in HBO’s Don King: Only in America. He surprised his audience by giving away his award to fellow nominee Jack Lemmon. He explained this act of generosity as his way of sharing since that’s what being actor is about. Lemmon made an unsuccessful attempt at returning the award but Rhames stood fast on his promise. The act overwhelmed Lemmon who called it the “sweetest

1923 - Dymally, Mervyn (1923- )

Mervyn Malcolm Dymally, an African American politician from Los Angeles, California who has served in the California Assembly, the State Senate and as a U.S. Congressman.  He is also the first African American Lt. Governor of California.  Dymally is now once again in the California Assembly.

Dymally was born on the West Indian island of Trinidad on May 12, 1923.  After high school he was a reporter for The Vanguard, the publication of the Oil Workers Trade Union.  He left Trinidad at 19 to study Journalism at Lincoln University in Missouri. After deciding that Midwest winters were too cold he transferred to Chapman College in California and later to Los Angeles State College where he graduated with a B.A. in Education. After college he received his M.A. in Government from California State University in Sacramento and a Ph.D. from the United States International University (now Alliant International University).

After his Ph.D. was complete Dymally he became a teacher of handicapped students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He also was a lecturer at several universities including Central State University in Ohio and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine in Los Angeles.

During his teaching career Dymally joined the Young Democrats organization and rose through the ranks to become the California State Treasurer. When Senator John Kennedy ran for President, in 1960, he made Dymally a Field Coordinator in his campaign. In 1962 Dymally ran for office for the first time.  He campaigned for a seat in the California Assembly and won.

Dymally represented South Los Angeles, which covered the areas of Compton, Paramount, and North Long Beach. While in the California Assembly he served as the Chairman of the Assembly Democratic Study Group, which was committed to promoting progressive social and economic legislation. In 1966 Dymally became the first African American elected to serve in the State Senate and soon became the Chairman of the Senate Majority Caucus.

In 1974 Dymally once again made history when he

1951 - DePriest, Oscar (1871-1951)

A child of the early post-reconstruction south, Oscar DePriest was born in Florence, Alabama on March 9, 1871.  In 1878 his family moved to Salina, Kansas. Sometime in the late 1880s DePriest moved to Chicago, Illinois where he found work as a house painter and decorator.  DePriest created his own contracting business and became active in local civic affairs. DePriest’s organizational skills and his affable and engaging personality caught the eye of Republican Party leaders who eventually nominated him for Cook County commissioner in 1904. He won the election and served two terms in this position.

While in office DePriest worked as a real estate broker and amassed considerable wealth by moving black families into previously all-white neighborhoods, a practice later know as blockbusting.  He also continued to rise in Republican Party politics and in 1915 he became Chicago’s first black alderman.   

DePriest soon became known as an avid defender of black civil rights and a progressive on labor issues.  He also developed a reputation as a corrupt politician.   In 1917 he was indicted for bribery and accused of protecting South Side gamblers.  DePriest, however, was acquitted at his trial.  For the next decade, he would continue to run for public office with varying degrees of success.  Finally, in 1928 DePriest was elected to represent the First Congressional District of Illinois.  He became the first African American Congressman since North Carolina’s George H. White left Washington, D.C. in 1901 and the first black congressman ever elected outside the South.  As the sole early 20th Century black Congressman, DePriest soon became a political symbol for much of African America.  

While in Congress DePriest vigorously fought against racial discrimination in both government and military employment.  He introduced several measures that would have outlawed discrimination including, most notably, an anti-lynching bill.  Most of his measures failed but his 1933 amendment barring racial discrimination in the Civilian

1930 - Mazisi Kunene

Mazisi Kunene , in full Mazisi Raymond Kunene (born May 12, 1930, Durban, S.Af.—died Aug. 11, 2006, Durban), South African-born poet, whose work reflects the influences of traditional Zulu poets.

Kunene began writing in the Zulu language when he was still a child and by age 11 had published a number of his poems in newspapers and magazines. In his University of Natal (now University of KwaZulu-Natal) master’s thesis, An Analytical Survey of Zulu Poetry, Both Traditional and Modern, Kunene criticized several tendencies in modern Zulu literature: its reliance on European stylistic techniques rather than adaptation of traditional ones; its unanalytical documentary writing; and a slide toward sentimentality and escapism that he saw as an influence of the Christian and Romantic traditions.

After earning an M.A. in 1959, Kunene went to the University of London to complete his doctorate, but he soon found himself involved in politics and never completed his studies. He was an official representative of the African National Congress. He taught at the University of Iowa, Stanford University, and the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1966 the South African government banned Kunene, and he did not return to the country until 1993. That year he joined the faculty at the University of Natal.

Kunene’s Zulu Poems (1970), a collection of his poetry translated from Zulu into English, was praised by critics for the freshness of the English translations, with patterns and imagery successfully carried over from Zulu vernacular traditions. Again translating his work from the original Zulu into English, Kunene published two epic poems—Emperor Shaka the Great (1979), a history of the Zulu leader, and Anthem of the Decades (1981), a work dealing with Zulu religion and cosmology. His later books include Isibusiso sikamhawu (1994) and Umzwilili wama-Afrika (1996). The recipient of numerous honours, Kunene was named poet laureate of Africa by UNESCO (1993) and the first poet laureate of South Africa (2005). In 2006 the Mazisi

2015 - Harriet Tubman on the Twenty Dollar Bill

Harriet Tubman was an amazing woman: she escaped slavery, freed hundreds of others, and even worked as a spy in the Civil War. Now she’s going to grace the front of the twenty dollar bill. But is move progress or pandering?

The faces of United States currency have a few things in common. They feature prominent figures in American history. Figures such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Benjamin Franklin have been pictured on our paper money, and some of our coins, for decades.

These individuals were prominent in the founding and/or leadership of the nation. Not surprising, money is sometimes referred to colloquially as “dead presidents,” despite the fact that some figures on the money, such as Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin, were never presidents. In some ways, that fact does not matter much to the public. Hamilton, Franklin, and the others are larger than life figures in the history of the founding of the nation. It makes sense that the currency would feature them.

However, what Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, and Franklin also have in common is that they are prominent white men. Indeed, very few women, and fewer people of color more generally, have been featured on U.S. currency. For example, prominent women’s suffragist Susan B. Anthony was featured on a United States dollar coin minted from 1979 to 1981; however, the series was halted due to poor public reception, only to be reissued again for a short period in 1999.

The following year another dollar coin, this time featuring the Native American guide and interpreter from the Shoshone nation, Sacagewa, who led Lewis and Clark on their expedition. Like the Susan B. Anthony coin, the golden dollar coin featuring Sacagewa was unpopular with the public and is of primary interest to collectors.

But it looks like things are about to change. Now several women, including Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Marian Anderson, and Alice Paul will be gracing other denominations of paper money in

1630 - Pareja, Juan de (1606?-1670)

Depending on the source consulted, Spanish Baroque painter Juan de Pareja was born in the region of Andalusia, Spain, either in Seville or the much smaller city of Antequera 82 miles southeast, reputedly to a female of African descent and a native Spanish male whose surname he is believed to have inherited. As a teenager Pareja was employed by the celebrated artist Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez. Sensitive, literate, and perceptive, he served Velázquez well, meticulously cleaning brushes, preparing canvasses, and grinding paints in the artist’s studio in Madrid. Pareja traveled with Velázquez to Italy and was further exposed to the works of other leading artists of his era such as Titian, Veronese, and Correggio.

Until recently it had been generally assumed and reported that the relationship of Velázquez and Pareja was that of master and slave. A fanciful story, widely accepted until now, gave King Phillip IV responsibility for emancipating Pareja when the talented mulatto slave cunningly arranged for him to discover an exquisite painting he executed in secret. Interestingly, a similar story is told of the early career of the next most significant painter of African descent in Europe in the 1600s, Sebastian Gomez (1646-1682).

In fact, Pareja was a free person. Prior to his arrival in Madrid he passed the examination to be designated a painter in Seville, a profession from which slaves were legally banned. Moreover, in a letter dated May 12, 1630 from Pareja to a high official in Seville, he requested permission to continue studying his craft in Madrid accompanied by his brother, Jusepe, not Velázquez. Pareja was the free, loyal assistant of Velázquez until the latter’s death in 1660. The last decade of Pareja’s life was spent in the employ of Velázquez’s daughter, Francisca de Silva Velázquez y Pacheco, working as an assistant to her husband, the noted portrait and landscape painter Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo.  

Pareja’s undisputed masterpiece is “The Calling of St. Matthew,” housed at the Prado