Mary McLeod Bethune: My Last Will and Testament

Photo: A young Mary McLeod Bethune (b. July 10, 1875 - d. May 18, 1955)
Born July 10, 1875 in Mayesville, South Carolina, Mary Jane McLeod Bethune became a civil rights leader and educator known best for creating a private school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida -- now known as Bethune-Cookman University. Born to enslaved African parents, Sam and Patsy McLeod, she has left her legacy upon the wall of time: serving the African-American community, advising U.S. presidents, and more. Rising from the humblest background, she became an icon of African womanhood as preserver and a woman of courage in the face of great social and economic challenges. Below is one of McLeod's writings -- more of a prayer poem -- titled My Last Will and Testament.

If I have a legacy to leave my people, it is
my philosophy of living and serving.

Here, Then, is My Legacy...
  • I leave you love.
      Love builds. It is positive and helpful.
  • I leave you hope.
    • Yesterday, our ancestors endured the degradation of slavery, yet they retained their dignity.
  • I leave you the challenge of developing
    confidence in one another.
    • This kind of confidence will aid the economic rise of the race by bringing together the pennies and dollars of our people and ploughing them into useful channels.
  • I leave you thirst for education.
    • Knowledge is the prime need of the hour. 
  • I leave you a respect for the uses of power.
    • Power, intelligently directed, can lead to more freedom.
  • I leave you faith.
    • Faith in God is the greatest power, but great, too, is faith in oneself.
  • I leave you racial dignity.
    • I want Negroes to maintain their human dignity at all costs.
  • I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow man.

  • I leave you, finally, a responsibility to our young people.
      The world around us really belongs to youth, for youth will take over its future management.

    Mary McLeod Bethune
Bronze memorial statue of Mary McLeod Bethune, by Robert Berks, located in Washington D.C.

Margaret Walker: A Writer and Poet of the Black Chicago Renaissance

Margaret Walker (b. July 7, 1915 – d. November 30, 1998).

Margaret Walker was a poet and writer of African descent born in Birmingham, Alabama. The eldest of five children, her father was Sigismund C. Walker, a Methodist minister, linguist and professor. Her mother was Marion Dozier Walker, a musicologist and professor. In 1925, Walker's family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. She underwent her early education in New Orleans, including two years of college at New Orleans University (now Dillard University). Encouraged by Langston Hughes, Walker moved to Chicago and attend Northwestern University. In 1934, she would earn her B.A. in English, with a focus on Romantic poets, at the age of 19 years. 

The home of Walker's first published poem was The Crisis magazine, published by W. E. B. Du Bois. By 1935, she was active in the South Side Writers’ Group of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Her award-winning poem For My People was first published in 1937. Walker soon became part of the thriving Black Chicago Renaissance, a cultural arts movement among African Americans that began in the 1930s. Her most well-known work is her classic novel Jubilee, published in 1966.

For Walker, Chicago was a cultural boom city.  The Great Migration of African Americans from the South to Chicago's neighborhoods brought the hope of a people to the city. While not as well known as its sister renaissance in Harlem, the movement included such famous African American writers as Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Margaret Walker and Richard Wright. Musicians active during the Black Chicago Renaissance were such luminaries as Louis Armstrong, Thomas A. Dorsey and Earl Hines. Live Jazz and Blues clubs, such as the Palm Tavern, were many in Chicago's predominantly African-American Bronzeville community.

For My People

by Margaret Walker
For my people everywhere singing their slave songs
     repeatedly: their dirges and their ditties and their blues
     and jubilees, praying their prayers nightly to an
     unknown god, bending their knees humbly to an
     unseen power;
For my people lending their strength to the years, to the
    gone years and the now years and the maybe years,
    washing ironing cooking scrubbing sewing mending
    hoeing plowing digging planting pruning patching
    dragging along never gaining never reaping never
    knowing and never understanding;

For my playmates in the clay and dust and sand of Alabama
    backyards playing baptizing and preaching and doctor
    and jail and soldier and school and mama and cooking
    and playhouse and concert and store and hair and
    Miss Choomby and company;

For the cramped bewildered years we went to school to learn
    to know the reasons why and the answers to and the
    people who and the places where and the days when, in
    memory of the bitter hours when we discovered we
    were black and poor and small and different and nobody
    cared and nobody wondered and nobody understood;

For the boys and girls who grew in spite of these things to
    be man and woman, to laugh and dance and sing and
    play and drink their wine and religion and success, to
    marry their playmates and bear children and then die
    of consumption and anemia and lynching;

For my people thronging 47th Street in Chicago and Lenox
    Avenue in New York and Rampart Street in New
    Orleans, lost disinherited dispossessed and happy
    people filling the cabarets and taverns and other
    people’s pockets and needing bread and shoes and milk and
    land and money and something—something all our own;

For my people walking blindly spreading joy, losing time
     being lazy, sleeping when hungry, shouting when
     burdened, drinking when hopeless, tied, and shackled
     and tangled among ourselves by the unseen creatures
     who tower over us omnisciently and laugh;

For my people blundering and groping and floundering in
     the dark of churches and schools and clubs
     and societies, associations and councils and committees and
     conventions, distressed and disturbed and deceived and
     devoured by money-hungry glory-craving leeches,
     preyed on by facile force of state and fad and novelty, by
     false prophet and holy believer;

For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way
    from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding,
    trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people,
    all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless generations;

Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a
    bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second
    generation full of courage issue forth; let a people
    loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of
    healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing
    in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs
    be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now
    rise and take control.

Maggie L. Walker: First African American Woman to Found a Bank in the United States

Photo of Maggie Lena Mitchell Walker (b. 7/15/1864 - d. 12/15/1934)

Maggie Lena Mitchell was born on July 15, 1864, the daughter of Elizabeth Draper and William Mitchell. Both of her parents were born into slavery in Virginia. Her mother worked as a servant at the Van Lew estate in Richmond, Virginia.

Tragedy struck the Mitchell family early in post-Civil War Richmond when her father was found floating in a river, robbed and murdered. Despite these early challenges, Maggie graduated from the Colored High and Normal School at the top of her class and would achieve national prominence as a community leader and business woman -- becoming the first African American woman in the United States to found a bank.

Born into a South changed by the Civil War, Maggie's graduating class was quite active in pressing forward the cause of equal treatment under the law. In fact, her class is known to have held the first school strike by African Americans in the United States. The topic of the strike was that graduates of European descent were given a city facility for their commencement exercises, something the students of African descent were deprived. Maggie's class was successful in its protest, resulting in succeeding graduates having equal access to tax-supported facilities.

On September 14, 1886, Maggie married Armistead Walker, Jr. Her husband was a successful brick mason and building contractor, providing her with a comfortable life to raise their two sons and care for the family.

1901 Executive Board of the Order of St Luke

The young Mrs. Walker soon became active with the Order of St. Luke organization, a fraternal burial society originally established in Baltimore in 1867 to help the aged, sick and to bury the dead. She held many positions in the fraternal order. By 1899, she was the organization's Right Worthy Grand Secretary. She soon took over the financially ailing organization when it had no money, no property and only 300 members. Bring the organization back to solvency, Maggie increased its membership to 100,000 and expanded the reach of the association to 24 states. 

Headquarters of the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank

By 1902, Mrs. Walker had developed a plan for a banking institution to be called the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. In one of her speeches she stated,  "Let us put our money together; let us use our money; Let us put our money out at usury among ourselves, and reap the benefit ourselves." On November 2, 1903, the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank opened for business at the St. Luke Headquarters Building at 900 St. James Street in Richmond, Virginia. Mrs. Walker became its first president and the first African American woman to charter a U.S. bank.

The St. Luke Penny Savings Bank would later become the St. Luke Bank and Trust Company, a depository for city taxes and gas and water accounts. It eventually merged with two other local banks and became The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company. Until 2009, the bank was the oldest continually running African American operated bank in the United States.

Black Chicago Commemorates the 85th Annual Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic

Everyone who is anyone is said to have participated in the Bud Billiken parade -- from Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Barack Obama. Photo: Joe Lewis in Bud Billiken Parade.
August 9, 2014 marks the 85th annual Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic celebration -- commencing from 35th to 55th & Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. Held in Chicago, Illinois annually, the parade is the oldest running African American parade in the United States of America. It is also the second largest parade in the country. Effectively, the parade, kicks off the traditional start of the school year. It marks the end of summer vacation for the young people in the Chicago, which hosts among the largest communities of people of African descent in the USA.

Portion of the Bud Billiken Day Parade, August 1948.

Portion of the Bud Billiken Day Parade, August 1973.

South Shore Drill Team performs at the 2011 Bud Billiken parade in Chicago's Bronzeville. (Photo: Kalle Eko)

The fictional character Bud Billiken was created in 1923 by Robert Sengstacke Abbott, the founder of the Chicago Defender newspaper. Before the parade began in 1929, there was a long-running Billiken newspaper column written by the famed African-American novelist Willard Motley. Embodying the hope of the African American community, for a time the Bud Billiken character also emerged into a popular comic strip in the Chicago Defender newspaper. Abbott also founded a Bud Billiken Club which continues to provide youth scholarships and training opportunities.

Chicago Defender's Bud Billiken Parade float hosts the annual King, Queen and Royal Court winners from its annual Bud Billiken youth contest. Contest winners are based on a results of a subscription drive and oral and written essay contest.

Dancers Perform at the 2012 Bud Billiken Parade (Photo: Kalle Eko)
The Bud Billiken parade was developed in 1929 and is always held the second Saturday in August to kick off the back-to-school year. It draws numerous community booths and parade floats hosted by community organizations, local businesses and government agencies -- using the gathering to distribute information and donate school supplies and other goodies to young people.

The parade occurs in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago's south side, the traditional settlement of African Americans to the region during the Great Migration from southern states. The parade is now the largest parade celebration in the city of Chicago, drawing an annual local production of costumes and parade floats. It features youth marching bands, drummers, step shows, acrobats, youth dancers and more.

Photographs of Children Along Bud Billiken's Parade Route (Photo: Kalle Eko)

At the end of the parade, families and friends gather in the city's Washington Park to end the festivities with a community-wide picnic. The collective coordination of the community to bring wide youth participation in the parade is displayed by the proud shouts of encouragement supporting the creative showcase of Black Chicago from family and friends lining the miles of covered terrain. 

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