Celebrating Black History in America

Celebrating Black History in America

Why you should care

Because Black history is U.S. history.

Maybe, like us, you’ve been watching a certain Beyoncé video on repeat for the past week. Gaping that a mainstream-music mega-queen came out and into the conversation of Black lives mattering, of post-Katrina New Orleans, of the epidemic of cops killing Blacks. She’s not Angela Davis, and she’s not a full-time activist — great. The battle to exterminate racism could use a pop deity or two.

It’s shaping up to be an intriguing Black History Month. We at OZY are celebrating by running three Saturdays of our favorite pieces. Today is Black history in America. Next weekend, we’ll give you a window into Black history, globally. The weekend after, strap on your jet packs and join us for a look at the Black future.

We’re aware, like we’re aware that, say, some people prefer Silicon Valley to New York, that some people have not read James Baldwin. Unlike the geography problem, the Baldwin issue can be fixed. We invite you to watch him — formidable, chic, smarter than you’ll ever be. A queer Black man who’d just published a major American novel whose first 80 pages create an intimacy with a queer Black man that eviscerates. In this 1965 video, Baldwin slays a room full of fancy white Englishmen, in a debate over this question: “Has the American dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?”

For any not-Black reader who’s ever wondered what it’s like to be Black, we offer you Eugene S. Robinson’s story of journalist and white Southerner John Howard Griffin, who in 1959 took a drug to darken his skin and set out as a Black man into Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia. Click here to find out how long he lasted.

James Baldwin was formidable, chic, smarter than you’ll ever be — a queer Black man who’d just published a major American novel …

We’ll tell you about some incredible firsts. Like Misty Copeland, the first Black woman to be named principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre. She told OZY co-founder Carlos Watson back in 2014 that when she stepped into the ballet studio, her “big feet and long legs and this little peanut head” shifted to a sense of “perfection and beauty.”

But OZY loves history’s unknowns. Take Eugene Bullard, whose name probably doesn’t ring a bell. It should. He was the first Black fighter pilot — as well as a boxer, a Paris nightclub owner and a World War II resistance fighter who escaped the Gestapo and later endured a beating by cops at a civil rights demonstration. Then he was forgotten — an unknown elevator operator. Read more and know his name.

Don’t miss our stories about Shirley Graham, better known at OZY as the badass wife of W.E.B. Du Bois; about how Civil War soldiers (29,000 of the Black ones) were decimated by pneumonia, malaria, dysentery, smallpox and typhoid fever; and about 2,300 accounts of slavery preserved by the Federal Writers’ Project. Chase that with stunning photographs of Grace Jones, “Jamaican colossus and a gay icon nonpareil.”

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