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Designing Women S4 E26 Extra Sugar - Lesser-Known Black History

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

This week, our dearest Anthony graduated college. The episode included some nods to the Civil Rights movement and Black history, which inspired us to discuss some lesser known historical Black figures and some important “firsts” you may haven’t heard about.

Our references and some reads!

Josephine Baker:

Harriet Tubman

Pauli Murray

Inside the Classroom


Come on y’all, let’s get into it!



Salina: Hey, Nikki.

Salina: Hey, Salina.

Salina: And hello, everyone, and welcome to this week's edition of Extra Sugar.

Salina: Sometimes I wish I could see all the hand move that I have going on.

Nikki: There's a lot of activity over there.

Salina: It's a real orchestra.

Salina: Theatrics I mean what I mean is I'm really glad y'all can't see anywho.

Salina: So this week, our dearest Anthony graduated college, and we couldn't have been happier for this TV character that we don't know at all, but we've grown so much to love to reach this gigantic milestone.

Salina: Just pleased as punch.

Salina: Just pleased.

Salina: So the episode did include some nods to civil rights movement and also to black history, more generally, Allah.

Salina: The black history reading room that Anthony strategically funded was Suzanne's, oh so generous and not at all guilt ridden or driven donation.

Nikki: She gave it out of the goodness of her heart.

Salina: The goodness of her heart.

Salina: But also, like, there was some sweetness to it.

Salina: So I don't want to take the shine off that it was this Angelia's truth bombs for Suzanne about the absence of people of color from the history books that has inspired today's segment.

Salina: So today we're going to talk about some lesser known historical black figures and some firsts that you may not know about.

Salina: Now, I say you may okay.

Salina: You may also know about them.

Salina: So if you do, please consider this a refresher.

Salina: We'll also have a couple of pop outs where I'll share a little bit more information about people who I don't know, maybe it just fascinated me a little bit more.

Salina: There was more to be had or whatever the case is, but primarily, I'll be sticking to the folks and accomplishments that I found in two great articles.

Salina: Thank you, Nikki.

Salina: One from Oprah Daly and one from the archive.

Salina: I want to be clear.

Salina: This is not original research.

Salina: This is an aggregated list.

Salina: I just feel like we always need to be clear, kind of what we do here as people who may have gone to journalism school.

Salina: I did not write all of this content.

Salina: I did not research all of this content.

Salina: So, per usual, let me know if you have any questions, Nikki.

Salina: I'll do my best, because, like I said, I may not be able to answer historical questions, but we'll see what we can do.

Salina: So let's start with five people that you may not know about.

Salina: Number one, and this is not in order of importance.

Salina: It's just would you even do that?

Salina: I don't know.

Salina: I just want to make sure I'm clear.

Salina: Oh, why would anyone do that?

Salina: I have no idea, but we're not doing that here.

Salina: So, Garrett Morgan, he was the son of a former enslaved man.

Salina: He only had elementary school education, but in 1923, he invented something that I think most of us still use to this day.

Salina: Hopefully, you do the three light traffic signal.

Salina: So he specifically added the yellow light after seeing a terrible accident at an intersection, morgan's invention was granted a patent in 1924.

Salina: So that sucker has been around a long time.

Salina: 100 years, almost.

Salina: That's right.

Salina: Then we have onesimus.

Salina: Number two in this list was an enslaved man who is credited with bringing the practice of vaccinations to America.

Salina: So there was a pretty bad smallpox epidemic that hit Boston in the 1720s.

Salina: I mean, we're really going back in time for this one.

Salina: But amidst many dying, onesimus actually told his enslaver, who was a minister named Cotton Mather, about the use of inoculations.

Salina: It sounds like something from a Hawthorne story, doesn't it?

Nikki: Name was Cotton.

Salina: Cotton Mather about the use of inoculations that had been used in Africa for centuries.

Salina: I'm not saying there wasn't some skepticism around it in the beginning, but eventually, Mather shares that what this potential could be with a local doctor.

Salina: And 240 people are successfully inoculated because of this information.

Nikki: And they gave him credit for the.

Salina: Idea in this story.

Salina: They did.

Salina: I can't tell you what was happening in 1724.

Salina: Probably not.

Nikki: Oh, I see.

Salina: Okay.

Salina: I'd be very interesting to see how they unearthed that information.

Nikki: Yeah.

Salina: All right.

Salina: Next up is LGBTQIA rights activist Bayard Rustin, who was instrumental to the civil rights movement.

Salina: So he was an advisor to Dr.

Salina: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Salina: And he was also a big part of the March on Washington.

Salina: But he is also the person who introduced Dr.

Salina: King to the nonviolent civil resistance tactics that he learned while he was in India in the late 40s.

Salina: However, Rooston was also an openly gay man, and unfortunately, he was kept out of the spotlight.

Salina: Rooston shifted his focus to gay rights later in life and did so until his death in 1987.

Salina: He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Salina: And in 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom pardoned his 1953 arrest that was related to the criminalization of homosexuality at the time.

Salina: So it does seem like now we're getting to learn more about some of these folks who may have been in the background and making a lot of things happen.

Salina: And also, I have a really hard time pronouncing words like hard one.

Salina: It kicks me in the b*** every time.

Nikki: Well, you did it beautifully the first time.

Salina: The first time the second time was more like normal.

Salina: So, Rosa Parks is, I want to say, arguably one of the best known figures in black and civil rights history, but it was actually Claudette COVID who first refused to give up her seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

Salina: So Rosa famously did so on December 1 955.

Salina: Claudette on March 2 of the same year.

Salina: She was only 15 at the time.

Salina: She told Newsweek years later, I felt like, so joyner.

Salina: Truth was pushing down on one shoulder, and Harriet Tubman was pushing down on the other, saying, Sit down, girl.

Salina: And I was glued to my seat.

Salina: Absolutely.

Salina: It really is.

Salina: COVID may not have had the same notoriety, but her protest and arrest led to a court case that ruled the segregated bus system in Montgomery was in fact, unconstitutional.

Salina: The NAACP considered using her case to challenge segregation laws.

Salina: However, they were concerned over both her age and that she was pregnant and unmarried.

Salina: We are still steeply in these stories a long time ago, so we'll see some of that come up.

Salina: I don't know.

Salina: That would be something that would keep someone out of the spotlight today.

Salina: But it was the 50s josephine Baker.

Salina: Not to pick favorites, but Josephine Baker is probably up there for me on this list of people.

Salina: Let's just walk through her credentials, shall we?

Salina: First of all, she was a triple threat talent, a singer, a dancer, an actor, an entertainer in every sense of the word.

Salina: She was also the first black woman to star in a motion picture, but she got her start quite young in vaudeville.

Salina: Again, we are really reaching back in time, guys.

Salina: It was her move to Paris and then her casting in an all black review that catapulted her to fame.

Salina: And she was only 19 years old at the time.

Salina: Baker was a survivor and a civil rights activist.

Salina: The France part's going to come into play, I promise.

Salina: But at age eleven, when she was still here in the United States in 1917, she essentially watched her hometown burn in the East St.

Salina: Louis massacre.

Salina: This was a months long series of labor and race related attacks where up to 150 Americans were murdered by white Americans, 6000 African Americans were left homeless.

Salina: This really drives her first out of Missouri and then later out of the US.

Salina: For good.

Salina: And I think it just really for obvious reasons.

Salina: I mean, that's a heck of a thing to endure.

Salina: It really just impacts, I think, just about every decision that she makes after this.

Salina: That's my reading on the situation.

Salina: She writes several books about racism and was the only woman to speak at the March on Washington in 1968.

Salina: In the 50s, Baker adopted twelve children from around the world that she called her Rainbow Tribe Twelve.

Salina: Her now adult children remain close today, holding family reunions with second and third generations.

Nikki: That's nice.

Salina: Did I mention that she was also a French spy during World War II and a grade A T?

Salina: Total badass.

Salina: Because she was she was part of the French Resistance and aided in many ways both before and during N*** occupation.

Salina: She would conceal and deliver messages to Allied spies across Europe while traveling to perform eavesdrop at high profile events.

Salina: And her chateau was used to hide weapons as well as resistance fighters and Jewish refugees.

Salina: It was truly an honor to look into the background on this fascinating person.

Salina: All right, let's talk about some historical firsts that you may not know about.

Salina: Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first black woman to become a doctor of medicine in the United States.

Salina: She graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1864.

Salina: And the next year, following the end of the Civil War, she moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she provided medical care to freed slaves.

Salina: And then years later, she would move back to Massachusetts and open her own clinic in Boston, where she treated patients regardless of their ability to pay.

Salina: Shirley Chisholm has had quite the resume of first, and she is next on our list.

Salina: She was the first black woman elected to Congress in 1968, and during this time, she was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Salina: Chisholm was also the first black candidate for president from a major party and the first female candidate to run for the Democratic Party's nomination.

Salina: Now, this is in 1972.

Salina: She has a really amazing slogan unbought and unbossed.

Salina: We could use a little bit of that.

Salina: We could use a little bit of that energy.

Salina: There were three assassination attempts on her life during her run, and I'm mentioning this to remind people that 1972 was not exactly an easy time for a woman and a woman of color to run for president.

Salina: She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, again posthumously, in 2015.

Salina: Then we have Madam C.

Salina: J.

Salina: Walker.

Salina: This is America's first female self made millionaire.

Salina: Not first female.

Salina: Black self made millionaire.

Salina: First female.

Salina: It's an amazing accomplishment in and of itself, but even more astonishing given she was born in 1867, only two years after the end of the Civil War, to former enslaved parents on a Louisiana cotton plantation.

Salina: Her millions came from a cosmetic manufacturing company, her company that specialized in beauty and hair care products for African American women.

Salina: And she was also a philanthropist.

Salina: She was also a philanthropist and activist who donated generously to the NAACP's anti lynching fund she gave to Tuskegee Institute.

Salina: And she also commissioned the first black architect in New York City.

Salina: This 1 may sound more familiar to people because Octavia Spencer played Madam CJ.

Salina: Walker in the 2020 Netflix series self made.

Salina: Up next is Harriet Tubman.

Salina: All right.

Salina: Harriet Tubman is arguably the most well known historical figure across both mean and just like generally out there, I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't know who Harriet Tubman is.

Salina: What people usually remember is her pivotal role in the Underground Railroad, including the fact that she was never caught and she never lost a passenger.

Salina: She has a really cool first, though, that doesn't get as much airplay, and that is that she was the first woman to lead a US military operation.

Salina: Ultimately, it's her contributions as an incredibly valuable Union Army informant that led to her leading the raid on Cumby farm.

Salina: Excuse me.

Salina: Cumby ferry.

Salina: In 1863, they freed 750 enslaved people and landed a serious blow to the Confederates encampment it's worth noting that she was leading 150 members of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment.

Salina: This is an all black volunteer regiment known as the Glory Regiment.

Salina: So if you're having ding ding dings of Denzel Washington movie, yes, that Glory Regiment and we could do a whole segment just on them.

Salina: Because she was a woman.

Salina: However, and despite her many petitions to the US.

Salina: Government she never received a soldier's pension for her invaluable contributions.

Salina: Tubman dedicated her life to helping formerly enslaved people and the elderly and the only pension she ever saw was after her husband passed away and he was a Union soldier.

Salina: It really is the last person.

Salina: And I think the reason I'm sharing some of these things is to remind us of the unfairness.

Salina: Even within these shiny stories and the fact that they still persisted, they still went on, they still did these big, amazing things for people around them, probably because of a lot of the hardships that they endured.

Salina: And I just feel like that's part of the story.

Salina: I don't want it to just sound like everything was hunky dory because that wasn't the case at all.

Salina: Not that I think anybody feels that way, but I feel like it just needs that punctuation.

Salina: So let's talk about the last person on this list and that's going to be Anna Pauline Murray or Pauline Murray.

Salina: She has a couple of super impressive firsts under her belt.

Salina: In 1965, she was the first African American to earn a JSD degree from Yale Law School.

Salina: All right, I'm ignorant.

Salina: I didn't know what a JSD degree was.

Salina: I know what a JD is.

Nikki: I was going to say, is it different than a JD?

Salina: It is, because it's more of a research based doctoral degree targeted towards scholars of law.

Salina: This is specifically the doctor of science of law.

Salina: I guess this is the people behind the people, if you will.

Salina: Maybe.

Salina: I don't know.

Salina: It's also worth noting that she was denied entry to two schools the University of North Carolina, because of her race in 1938 and then later, Harvard Law because of her sex.

Salina: Here's what she sends back to the admissions at Harvard Law gentlemen, I would gladly change my sex to meet your requirements but since the weight of such change has not been revealed to me I have no recourse but to appeal to you to change your minds on this subject.

Salina: Are you to tell me that one is as difficult as the other?

Salina: So I love that she sent that back, especially at that time period.

Salina: Harvard did not let her, so but good for her.

Salina: She was also the first person to teach African American Studies and Women's Studies at Brandeis University.

Salina: I don't know the specific years, but it was sometime between 68 and 73.

Salina: This lady is super educated.

Salina: I lost track of all the different degrees and different places that she taught and everything.

Salina: But then in 1977, she was the first African American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest.

Salina: That's actually the first that led me into this entire category of learning more about her was the priesthood piece.

Salina: This is towards the end of her life, and from what I read, she spent her last years before retirement providing ministry to the sick.

Salina: This is only like, three years before she died.

Salina: So I think next she was sick.

Salina: And I think that's the only reason she actually stopped serving in this capacity.

Salina: That is me reading between the lines.

Salina: She is more than a list of first, she was a legal trailblazer, a civil and women's rights advocate, and an instrumental figure in the dismantling of segregation and discrimination.

Salina: Not only did she found or co found now the National Organization for Women in 1966, but her book states laws on race and color is considered the Bible, a civil rights work.

Salina: Her ideas influenced Ruth Bader Ginsburg's fight for gender equality and Thurgood Marshall's civil rights arguments.

Salina: Today, she is also considered an LGBTQIA historical figure.

Salina: According to the Smithsonian Gender Study, scholars acknowledge that if Murray were living today, she may have identified as a transgender man.

Salina: Based on the article and what they share from her personal writings, I think it's a fair argument.

Salina: She definitely had some struggles when it came to her gender identity.

Nikki: Does that put a finer point on that response she sent to Yale as well?

Salina: No.

Salina: Please.

Salina: Absolutely it does.

Salina: And it's worth a read, too.

Salina: So that is one of the articles that I've linked to from our blog post, and I do want to be very clear.

Salina: The reason I'm continuing to use she is and her is because that's how the Smithsonian decided for historical precedent and also how she identified herself.

Salina: So I don't want anybody think I'm poo pooing on her identity.

Salina: I think she still identified as she.

Salina: So let me ask you, Nikki, off the top of your head, how many people do you recall being familiar with in this?

Nikki: Not many.

Nikki: And I don't have to do it off the top of my head because I can actually look at the list because you sent it to me.

Nikki: Josephine Baker is when you said her name, I actually thought maybe you had lost track of where you were, like, in your notes, because to me, she's really well known, but as a jazz singer and much less for all the other things you mentioned.

Salina: Right?

Nikki: Yeah.

Nikki: So that name was not new to me.

Nikki: Madam CJ.

Nikki: Walker was not new to me.

Nikki: And I'm glad that you mentioned the Netflix series about her, because that might be why.

Nikki: And obviously neither was Harriet Tubman.

Nikki: But the fact that she led a military operation was new to me.

Nikki: And what I wanted to say then and you got to it, I think, with Paulie Murray, was when you talk about black women leaders, it's so impossible to not acknowledge the two layers of challenge that they faced.

Nikki: So, like, Harriet Tubman's husband got a pension, was probably well won for him because black men before him probably weren't acknowledged in a meaningful way by the US government.

Nikki: And I think we've even talked about that before.

Nikki: So he overcame that first barrier and was able to get his pension, but fortunately, he was a man.

Nikki: So he was missing one other key barrier, which is the barrier of being a woman in the world and in the US in a certain time period.

Nikki: So that was the thing that was speaking to me as you were talking about all of these people.

Nikki: I was like, man, black women just really have an additional barrier that is so impossible to not see when you talk, especially in a historical context.

Salina: Yeah, and Polly in particular was someone and that's why I wanted to bring in that's great about the priest part, and that's plenty interesting.

Salina: But this commitment to both civil rights and women's rights and if you are interested in reading either you, Nikki, or anyone listening, the thing that she really talks about is she was not going to let the other one go because she was seeing that intersectionality so far before anyone else was.

Salina: It was things that people couldn't even really comprehend at the time, because we can only comprehend so much at a time we're learning as humans.

Salina: And I just thought that was so interesting about her.

Salina: And I was just really grateful to learn about this entire list of people.

Salina: I will tell you that I only knew four of the ten.

Nikki: I think that's probably what mine added up to be.

Salina: Yeah.

Salina: And I only learned about one person on this list while I was in school.

Nikki: Yeah.

Salina: Oh, for sure.

Salina: And I've always been a history fan, but I can also tell you that when I was growing up and I'm not going to put this on you, but I imagine this is probably similar to your experience, is that it was very Eurocentric, very white and very male.

Salina: And so I think there's been a concerted effort to change this in schools and have more representation, more inclusivity, more stories, more experiences, because more perspectives should be a good thing.

Salina: That's the point.

Salina: Here's the other thing.

Salina: There will always be push and pull when the status quo is tested or questioned.

Salina: And unfortunately, we've decided to politicize education and drag that fight right out into the middle of the classroom.

Salina: Because what better, dude, than to get the kids in the mix?

Salina: You know what I'm saying?

Salina: They're scrappy those children.

Salina: Exactly.

Salina: So according to a 2022 Washington Post article, there are now laws or directives in at least 13 states that govern how race can be taught in schools.

Salina: This includes restricting what can be taught and how it can be discussed.

Salina: P.

Salina: S.

Salina: It's more like 18 states now, from the best I could tell, and that doesn't include states who are considering or have already introduced legislation.

Salina: These laws have reportedly both scared and confused teachers.

Salina: Because why do one when you can do both in some cases?

Nikki: And why not do it to the people who are already underpaid and maxed out?

Salina: Oh, my God.

Salina: I know.

Salina: In some cases, the laws have not only been vague and unclear, but no one can explain them.

Salina: Not the state, not the teacher union, not the school lawyers.

Salina: And so teachers are kind of left.

Salina: And I'm not saying this is in every situation, but this is part and parcel to what's going on.

Salina: Because of this confusion, a quarter of surveyed teachers said that these laws have influenced their choice of curriculum or instructional practices.

Salina: Others are just straight up self censoring.

Salina: They're worried about their jobs.

Salina: They're scared that somebody's going to get mad, and they don't even know anymore what they're getting mad for.

Salina: Books are on the chopping block, too.

Salina: We talked a little bit about book bans last season, but one in five banned book titles directly address race or racism.

Salina: This is about 338 books.

Salina: That's 21% of books that are banned have to do with this particular topic.

Salina: And whether it's book bans or educational restrictions, these aren't limited to race and racism.

Salina: These actions are also taken around topics such as gender, gender identity, and other things that touch or affect young LGBTQIA.

Salina: I don't think I need to say how this is dripping with irony as we went through this list, and people like the people of color on this list, first they had people discriminating against them for that and then for these other reasons on the list as well.

Salina: I mean, I'm just saying it's right there.

Nikki: Almost as if we just find ways to identify people as different and then hate on them for it.

Salina: That's right.

Salina: So we're also going to link to a couple of resources from Pen America that track these educational restrictions and these book bans, in case you're interested in seeing those for yourself.

Salina: And we just cannot have this conversation without at least touching on what happened within the higher education environment.

Salina: Just two days ago, the Supreme Court ruled colleges and universities can no longer take race into consideration as a specific basis for admission.

Salina: Civil rights leaders and education advocates said this will make it more difficult to achieve a diverse student population.

Salina: Since the 60s, this practice within admissions has been a tool to prevent discrimination at selective institutions, many of which historically only admitted white students.

Salina: And then, because I'm not always the most articulate person, as I prove over and over again on this podcast, I'm actually going to defer to Michelle Obama and what she released in a statement.

Salina: It's just an excerpt.

Salina: We'll link to the whole thing.

Salina: But this really, I think, encapsulates what's so screwy about this landmark decision.

Salina: Here's what she had to say students across the country were and continue to be granted special consideration for admissions.

Salina: Some have parents who graduated from the same school legacies.

Salina: Others have families she didn't say legacies.

Salina: I did.

Salina: Okay.

Salina: Others have families who can afford coaches to help them run faster or hit a ball harder.

Salina: Others go to high schools with lavish resources for tutors and extensive standardized test prep that help them score higher on college entrance exams.

Salina: We don't usually question if those students belong.

Salina: So often we just accept that money, power, and privilege are perfectly justifiable forms of affirmative action, while kids growing up like I did are expected to compete when the ground is anything but level.

Salina: We'll link to that full statement again so that everybody can get the context.

Salina: I also really liked what President Obama said.

Salina: He said it wasn't a perfect system, but it sure gave some kids a leg up that wouldn't have had a leg up otherwise.

Salina: I'm paraphrasing there, but you'll see so I put this situational update at the end, not because it's not important, but because I did not want to take away from the celebration, which is what this segment started out to be an acknowledgment of some amazing humans and historical figures that may not always get their due.

Salina: But I also didn't want to ignore what's going on in the world right now.

Salina: Or Anthony's point, or actually, it was Julia's point excuse me, but it still rings true today.

Salina: And that is that history has a pesky habit of leaving out some folks.

Salina: Let's do better, y'all.

Salina: You know the drill.

Salina: DM us, email us, or contact us from the website.

Salina: Find us all over the social.

Salina: And that's this week's extra sugar sam.


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