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Black History, Jazz Ambassadors and Henry Louis Gates Helps Folks Find Their Ancestral Roots

May 01, 2021 at 01:01 pm by mikewood

the character of donald j trump trump character defined by racism and violence

Black History Month to End Soon

PBS has been Airing Some Excellent Documentaries about African Americans Role in Our Nation's History

nyc things to do nyc things to do this weekend nycFebruary 22, 2021 / NYC Neighborhoods / NYC History / Gotham Buzz NYC.

Weather. There will be a small bit of rain today between 11 am - 4 pm. Thereafter the rest of the week should be dry. The temperature highs will be in the 40's all week and the temperature lows will be in the 30's. The winds will be 5 - 10 mph except on Wednesday, when it will be a drafty 13 mph. Humidity will be in the 70% range today, dropping into the 60% range on Tuesday & Wednesday, then down into the 50% range on Thursday and Friday.

All tolled, it looks like a pretty fair week.


PBS - Finding Your Roots - Histories

Last night I came upon one of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s Finding Your Roots documentaries on PBS. For more info about this series see -

As I watched, I recollected how in my youth, I had considered Black hisotry to be a superfluous extension of American history. That perspective was, of course, born of youthful ignorance. Since then, I have come to appreciate the importance of Black Studies in providing a more comprehensive view of American history over the centuries. In part, I have PBS to thank, because they have aired and I have watched, quite a number of documentaries - some or all of which they funded or produced - particularly since the CoVid pandemic began.

In the program I viewed last night, one of the people on Gates' Finding Your Roots series was being informed about her family's history. It struck me when Gates referenced her great, great, great, great grandfather on a bill of sale by Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Over the past decade or so, I've become more interested in my own family's history. We knew a fair amount about those ancestors within temporal reach, going back to our great grandfathers, but little beyond. That was until a couple of summers ago when I found that one of the members of our extended family had a collection of scribbled notes and diagrams that recorded our lineage - some of which appears to date back to colonial times and the Revolutionary War. Up until this discovery, I had thought we had become Americans in the latter half of the 18th century.

But it occurred to me, based on Gates' reference to the great, great, great, great grandfather mentioned above, most African Americans' family histories date back at least a couple of centuries. Gates' documentary series delves into the histories of oftentimes, somewhat famous, African Americans who were descendants of slaves, or famous white Christian or Jewish Americans who are descendants of families that owned slaves.

Gates' geneological and genetic explorations also find interesting tidbits, like the fact that comedian Larry David and Senator Bernie Sanders are distantly related. PBS Producer Ken Burns is a descendant of a slave owner, but also related to Abraham Lincoln. And Brian Gumbel discovered he had some previously unknown Jewish ancestry.

Out of Gates' explorations into the past, we learn many things, not the least of which is that African Americans worked the fields, growing cotton and food that fed and clothed the nation, and provided their 'owners' with a tidy profit. It's worth noting that in the early 1800's about 75% of the nation worked in occupations related to agriculture [today it's about 10 - 11%]. But following the Civil War, African Americans' contribution to the nation went far beyond that, including serving our nation in two world wars, providing needed labor for the auto industry and significantly contributing to our culture and history.


Black History Month to End Soon

PBS has been Airing Some Excellent Documentaries about African Americans Role in Our Nation's History

February 22, 2021 / NYC Neighborhoods / NYC History / Gotham Buzz NYC. Continued.


PBS - The Jazz Ambassadors

Earlier this month there was a PBS documentary called The Jazz Ambassadors which delved into the role of African American musicians, playing in nations around the world, in an American State Department outreach program during the Cold War. The program was used to establish, support and strengthen the ties between Americans and ethnic / non white peoples around the globe. I forget the exact statistic, but in the documentary it pointed out that globally Caucasians are in the minority.

I had previously seen other PBS documentaries about African American jazz musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. In these documentaries they talked about how jazz, which we think of as an American music genre [and it is], was created and popularized by African American musicians. This was where African Americans were able to get one of their first solid cultural footholds in American society, in their ongoing struggle for parity in the American mainstream, after being demonized and degraded by colonial slavery.

Another PBS documentary, by Ken Burns, delved into how Jackie Robinson fought racism to become the first African American to play Major League Baseball on the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. The color barrier had previously been broken in another sports category, football, just a year earlier, by Kenneth Washington in 1946 who played for the Los Angeles Rams. Earl Lloyd was the first African American to play NBA basketball in 1950 - only a day ahead of Chuck Cooper of the Boston Celtics. Other professional sports followed including in golf, tennis and NASCAR race car driving, which were at one time all white and all male.

PBS - Mr. Civil Rights: Thurgood Marshall & the NAACP

Another PBS documentary that aired this month in recognition / celebration of Black History Month was about the life of Thurgood Marshall - the first African American Supreme Court Justice. Marshall still holds the record for winning more Supreme Court cases than any other lawyer.

What Marshall did, was to hold the American justice system accountable for upholding the ideals as set forth in the U.S. Constitution. The documentary told the story, which included the following.

" ... In 1944 - Smith vs Alwright - Overthrew the white primaries setting the stage for the modern voting rights movement. In 1946 - Morgan vs Virginia - Struck down racial segregation in interstate public transportation. In 1948 - Shelley vs Kramer - Ended the legality of racially restrictive covenants which signaled the end of racially segregated housing. In 1950 - Sweatt vs Painter & McLaurin vs Oklahoma - A major graduate school case that set the stage for Brown vs Board of Education. 1954 - Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka Kansas - Mandated the desegregation of America's schools. In 1956 - Browder vs Gayle - Ended the practice of segregation on buses and ended the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In 1961 - Garner vs Louisianna - Ruled that people could not be convicted for peaceful sit-ins in dining establishments, eventually leading to the end of discrimination in public accommodations found in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And on October 2, 1967 Thurgood Marshall was appointed the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court. ..."

What I've Learned about African Americans & U.S. History

All of these documentaries have helped deepen my understanding of American history and appreciation of the contributions made by African Americans in music, sports, law [particularly civil liberties], and history. Of course it doesn't stop there, and in some manner, it just starts there. Few ethnic groups, if any, have worked harder to obtain a place at the American table and in the American conversation, about who we are and who we should be.

This kind of change doesn't happen in fascist nations like China or Russia. China is suppressing free speech in Hong Kong where students want the city to remain free and China is using Nazi-like tactics to destroy the Uighurs and their culture, in a manner not unlike what the Chinese had done previously in Tibet. And Xi Jin Ping seems to be on a democracy blitz krieg in Hong Kong. Russia, at present, is a state that is under the control of a strongman, who doesn't defeat opponents based on his accomplishments or his ideas - but rather by locking up or poisoning the competition.

Real change, necessary change - like we saw with the Civil Rights movement in the mid 20th century - invariably begins by those at the bottom. Change is demanded by those not in power - because those in power are just fine with the way things are. Because the status quo has been built by them, for them. Like the Saudi royals, who rule a culture that strips women of any semblance of equal opportunity and equal treatment under the law.

President Lincoln said that we are a nation,

" ... of the people, by the people and for the people ..."

President Kennedy said,

" ... Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable. ..."

So I am thankful to all of those Republicans who stood up for what was right, at great risk to their own careers - and in some cases to themselves - these past couple of months. While we may disagree on specific policy issues, I laud their courage and integrity, for standing up against the strongman, dictator wannabee - Donald Trump - at a critical juncture. It is Americans like them, who help preserve our democracy, ensuring a smooth transition of power, which makes possible the changes we've seen with respect to African Americans' place in our society, and for women as well.

One of the reasons America stands out in the world, is because it is a nation that empowers and enables its people - not suppresses and exploits them. It's not hard to understand that enabling people is a good thing and that suppressing and exploiting them is a bad thing. And ultimately that is how we'll all be judged.

Have a good week.