Black History Month Spotlight
During assemblies in February and March, Solebury faculty are sharing 90-second spotlights as a tribute to Black Americans who have made significant contributions to America and beyond in honor of Black History Month. With the aim of acknowledging and understanding the impact of these seminal individuals—now and beyond Black History Month—faculty are sharing the stories, contributions, and a visual representation of their journey.
February 8: African American Opera Singers
Learn about several of the influential individuals highlighted by Phyllis Arnold during assembly here.
February 18: Alvin Ailey
He began studying modern dance with Lester Horton in 1949 at the age of 18. In 1958, he founded Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to carry out his vision of a company dedicated to enriching the American modern dance heritage and preserving the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience. In 2014, he posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, in recognition of his contributions and commitment to civil rights and dance in America. Learn more about him and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company here.
February 19: Robert Smalls
Born into slavery in 1839. Robert Smalls and a crew composed of fellow slaves, in the absence of the white captain and his two mates, slipped a cotton steamer off the dock, picked up family members at a rendezvous point, then slowly navigated their way through the harbor. Smalls, doubling as the captain, responded with the proper coded signals at two Confederate checkpoints sailing into the open seas. Once outside of Confederate waters, he had his crew raised a white flag and surrendered his ship to the blockading Union fleet. Following the war, Smalls continued to push the boundaries of freedom as a first-generation black politician, serving in the South Carolina state assembly and senate, and for five nonconsecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Learn more about him here.
February 25: James Reese Europe's 369th U.S. Infantry "Hell Fighters" Band
Europe originally enlisted in the New York National Guard, but was soon given a commission once his musical skill was discovered. He was charged with creating a band for the 369th Infantry Regiment which composed of African-American and Latino men. They were sent to France in December of 1917, eventually being assigned to the French Army, as American Soldiers refused to serve with the 369th troops. When the 369th returned to New York, they participated in the parade in their honor up Fifth Avenue. Europe was hailed as America’s “jazz king” and he was signed to a second recording contract. Shortly after, he and the band embarked on an extensive national tour.
Learn more about the Hell Fighters in this short History Channel YouTube clip.
Enjoy James Reese Europe's 369th U.S. Infantry "Hell Fighters" Band - The Complete Recordings on Spotify.
March 18: Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha found joy as a self-made drag queen of Christopher Street, infamous for her unique design and costume creation. Throughout her discovery phase, she was referred to as Malcolm and Black Marsha before settling on Marsha P. Johnson. The “P” stands for “Pay It No Mind.” Johnson quickly became a prominent fixture in the LGBTQ community serving as a “drag mother” helping homeless and struggling LGBTQ youth. Marsha was extremely successful and toured the world as a successful drag queen with the Hot Peaches.
Following the events at Stonewall, Johnson and her friend Sylvia Rivera co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) and they became fixtures in the community, helping homeless transgender youth. STAR provided services including shelter to homeless LGBTQ people in New York City, Chicago, California, and England for a few years in the early 1970s but eventually disbanded.
March 22: Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman in Congress (1968) and the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major political parties (1972). Her motto and title of her autobiography—Unbossed and Unbought—illustrates her outspoken advocacy for women and minorities during her seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Chisholm retired from Congress in 1983. She taught at Mount Holyoke College and co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women. In 1991 she moved to Florida, and later declined the nomination to become U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica due to ill health. Of her legacy, Chisholm said, “I want to be remembered as a woman who dared to be a catalyst of change.”