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Mayme Agnew Clayton (1923 – 2006)

Mayme Agnew Clayton (1923 – 2006) was a librarian, and the founder, president, and leader of the Western States Black Research and Education Center. The collection represents the core holdings of the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum located in Culver City, California. The museum is the largest and most academically substantial independently-held collection of objects, documents and memorabilia on African American history and culture.Over the course of 45 years, Clayton single-handedly, and with her own resources, collected more than 30,000 rare and out-of-print books. The collection is considered one of the most important for African-American materials and consists of 3.5 million items, according to UCLA Magazine. Her collecting grew from her work as a librarian, first at the University of Southern California and later at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she began to build an African-American collection. The centerpiece of the collection that grew this way is a signed copy of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, from 1773,the book was acquired for $600 from a New York dealer in 1973. In 2002 it was appraised at $30,000, » according to the New York Times



Priscilla Sitienei, kenyan grandmother

Priscilla Sitienei, kenyan grandmother, 91, is believed to be the oldest primary school pupil in the world. She enrolled at Leaders Vision Preparatory School in the Rift Valley village of Ndalat five years ago, with the intention of finally learning to read and write. She has returned to primary school along with six of her great-great-grandchildren. Affectionately known as « Gogo », which means grandmother in the local Kalenjin language, Mrs Sitienei grew up under British colonial masters and never had the chance to go to school. She said she wants to be able to read pass on her midwifery skills and write down the herbal remedies she uses in births. She also hopes to inspire those younger than her including her own classmates, aged between 10 and 14, some of whom she delivered as babies.



Marva Collins (1936-2015)


Marva Collins (1936-2015) was an educator who started Westside Preparatory School in the impoverished Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois in 1975. Her own childhood in Alabama, where segregation meant limited resources for black schools and no access to the public library, seems an unlikely training ground for an educator. For Collins, her father made the difference. He placed a high value on education, self-reliance, and achievement, and expected his children to succeed. « We were expected to be excellent, » she says, « we didn’t have a choice. »
« All children can learn, » says educator Marva Collins. « For thirty years, we have done what other schools declare impossible, » explains Collins, who has trained more than one hundred thousand teachers, principals, and administrators in the methodology developed and practiced at her Westside Preparatory School in Chicago. « I don’t make excuses, I take responsibility. If children fail, it’s about me, not them. I tell my students, if you think excellence is difficult, you don’t want to try failure. »
Collins says the critical element is instilling self-worth and convincing children that they are born to succeed. « Values can be replicated, excellence can be replicated, but it has to begin with the idea that everything is about me, not the other person, and about being proud of my work. Many parents are busy giving their children everything except a sense of self-esteem and self-worth. »
Due to the success of her teaching methods. President Reagan asked her to be secretary of education, but she declined in favor of staying at Westside. Collins continued spreading her methodology to public schools in Oklahoma, Illinois, and Wisconsin. In 1983, Reagan cited Collins during an unveiling of a national program to combat adult illiteracy. In 1994, Prince featured Collins in his music video « The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. » He also donated $500,000 to the Westside Preparatory School Teacher Training Institute, which was created to teach Collins’ teaching methodology. In 1996, Collins was hired to supervise three Chicago public schools that had been placed on probation. In 2004, Collins received a National Humanities Medal, among many awards for her teaching and efforts at school reform.

« Determination and perseverance move the world; thinking that others will do it for you is a sure way to fail. » Marva Collins


Sandra Laing (1955-)



Sandra Laing was born in 1955 to Sannie and Abraham Laing, Afrikaners in Piet Retief, a small conservative town in South Africa during the apartheid era, when laws governed officially established social castes of racial classification. The girl had darker skin than others in her family, which seemed to become more obvious as she grew older. Her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were all white, but Sandra apparently was an example of atavism, a genetic throwback to some earlier African ancestor. Her family treated her as white, the same as their sons Adriaan and Leon. When Sandra was 10 years old and at an all-white boarding school, the school authorities expelled her because of complaints by parents of other students, based on her appearance: primarily skin colour and the texture of her hair. They believed she was « coloured », a term for mixed-race people.She was escorted home by two police officers. Sandra’s parents fought several legal battles to have her classified as white. Her father underwent a blood-typing test for paternity in the 1960s, as DNA tests were not yet available. Sandra found herself shunned by the white community, although her parents gained classification of her as white again in 1966. Her only friends were the children of black employees. At the age of 16, Laing eloped to Swaziland with Petrus Zwane, a black South African who spoke Zulu. She was jailed for three months for illegal border-crossing. Her father threatened to kill her for the marriage and broke off contact with her. They never met again. When she returned to South Africa she was forced by law to live in a black township, a place with no power or running water. Even worse, her children were not allowed to live with her: they were “black” and she was still “white”. She tried to get herself changed back to coloured so they could stay with her, but her father blocked it. It took her ten years to get them back. Her father went to his grave never seeing her again. Even her two (white) brothers, who are still alive, will not see her. They blame her for their parents’ unhappiness: ever since she ran away they were never happy again. But she did get to see her mother in 2000 just before she died. Her story was made into a documentary in the 1970s which was not allowed to be shown in South Africa. It has also been made into a book, “When She Was White” by Judith Stone, and a British film, “Skin” (2009), starring Sophie Okonedo and Sam Neill.



Muthoni wa Kirima


Muthoni Wa Kirima

When Muthoni wa Kirima learned of Kenya’s independence in 1963, she was still living in the forest. She had been there since the start of the Mau Mau uprising against the British colonial authority a decade earlier. No one had told her or her handful of ragged comrades that the fight was over. Most Mau Mau rebels had been bloodily suppressed by 1956. But a hard core had continued to battle on. The only woman said to have been given the Mau Mau rank of field-marshal, she was invited to meet Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first post-independence leader. At first he thought she was joking when she said she had been in the forest all that time. But she convinced him by unfurling her dreadlocks that had been left to grow throughout her time in hiding.
Now 86 and living in a modest homestead in central Kenya, in the heartland of the Kikuyus who made up the Mau Mau, she says she is still waiting for the benefits of independence. Until she receives them, she refuses to trim her knotted hair, snow white at the roots but dark where it touches the floor. She calls it “the history of Kenya”. She was beaten and wounded by gunfire but never captured by the colonial Home Guard. The Mau Mau were defeated but their campaign marked the start of Britain’s retreat from its African colonies.

10 things to know about slavery


1) Slavery laid the foundation for the modern international economic system.
The massive infrastructure required to move 8 to 10 million Africans halfway around the world built entire cities in England and France, such as Liverpool, Manchester and Bordeaux. It was key to London’s emergence as a global capital of commerce, and spurred New York’s rise as a center of finance. The industry to construct, fund, staff, and administer the thousands of ships which made close to 50,000 individual voyages was alone a herculean task. The international financial and distribution networks required to coordinate, maintain and profit from slavery set the framework for the modern global economy.

2) Africans’ economic skills were a leading reason for their enslavement.
Africans possessed unique expertise which Europeans required to make their colonial ventures successful. Africans knew how to grow and cultivate crops in tropical and semi-tropical climates. African rice growers, for instance, were captured in order to bring their agricultural knowledge to America’s sea islands and those of the Caribbean. Many West African civilizations possessed goldsmiths and expert metal workers on a grand scale. These slaves were snatched to work in Spanish and Portuguese gold and silver mines throughout Central and South America. Contrary to the myth of unskilled labor, large numbers of Africans were anything but.

3) African know-how transformed slave economies into some of the wealthiest on the planet.
The fruits of the slave trade funded the growth of global empires. The greatest source of wealth for imperial France was the “white gold” of sugar produced by Africans in Haiti. More riches flowed to Britain from the slave economy of Jamaica than all of the original American 13 colonies combined. Those resources underwrote the Industrial Revolution and vast improvements in Western Europe’s economic infrastructure.

4) Until it was destroyed by the Civil War, slavery made the American South the richest and most powerful region in America.
Slavery was a national enterprise, but the economic and political center of gravity during the U.S.’s first incarnation as a slave republic was the South. This was true even during the colonial era. Virginia was its richest colony and George Washington was one of its wealthiest people because of his slaves. The majority of the new country’s presidents and Supreme Court justices were Southerners.

However, the invention of the cotton gin took the South’s national economic dominance and transformed it into a global phenomenon. British demand for American cotton, as I have written before, made the southern stretch of the Mississippi River the Silicon Valley of its era. The single largest concentration of America’s millionaires was gathered in plantations along the Mississippi’s banks. The first and only president of the Confederacy—Jefferson Davis—was a Mississippi, millionaire slave holder.

5) Defense of slavery, more than taxes, was pivotal to America’s declaration of independence.
The South had long resisted Northern calls to leave the British Empire. That’s because the South sold most of its slave-produced products to Britain and relied on the British Navy to protect the slave trade. But a court case in England changed all of that. In 1775, a British court ruled that slaves could not be held in the United Kingdom against their will. Fearing that the ruling would apply to the American colonies, the Southern planters swung behind the Northern push for greater autonomy. In 1776, one year later, America left its former colonial master. The issue of slavery was so powerful that it changed the course of history.

6) The brutalization and psychological torture of slaves was designed to ensure that plantations stayed in the black financially.
Slave revolts and acts of sabotage were relatively common on Southern plantations. As economic enterprises, the disruption in production was bad for business. Over time a system of oppression emerged to keep things humming along. This centered on singling out slaves for public torture who had either participated in acts of defiance or who tended towards noncompliance. In fact, the most recalcitrant slaves were sent to institutions, such as the “Sugar House” in Charleston, S.C., where cruelty was used to elicit cooperation. Slavery’s most inhumane aspects were just another tool to guarantee the bottom line.

7) The economic success of former slaves during Reconstruction led to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.
In less than 10 years after the end of slavery, blacks created thriving communities and had gained political power—including governorships and Senate seats—across the South. Former slaves, such Atlanta’s Alonzo Herndon, had even become millionaires in the post-war period. But the move towards black economic empowerment had upset the old economic order. Former planters organized themselves into White Citizens Councils and created an armed wing—the Ku Klux Klan—to undermine black economic institutions and to force blacks into sharecropping on unfair terms. Isabel Wilkerson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Warmth of Other Suns”, details the targeting of black individuals, as well as entire black communities, for acts of terror whose purpose was to enforce economic apartheid.

8) The desire to maintain economic oppression is why the South was one of the most anti-tax regions of the nation.
Before the Civil War, the South routinely blocked national infrastructure protects. These plans, focused on Northern and Western states, would have moved non-slave goods to market quickly and cheaply. The South worried that such investments would increase the power of the free-labor economy and hurt their own, which was based on slavery. Moreover, the South was vehemently opposed to taxes even to improve the lives of non-slaveholding white citizens. The first public school in the North, Boston Latin, opened its doors in the mid-1600s. The first public school in the South opened 200 years later. Maintenance of slavery was the South’s top priority to the detriment of everything else.

9) Many firms on Wall Street made fortunes from funding the slave trade.
Investment in slavery was one of the most profitable economic activities throughout most of New York’s 350 year history. Much of the financing for the slave economy flowed through New York banks. Marquee names such as JP Morgan Chase and New York Life all profited greatly from slavery. Lehman Brothers, one of Wall Street’s largest firms until 2008, got its start in the slave economy of Alabama. Slavery was so important to the city that New York was one the most pro-slavery urban municipalities in the North.

10) The wealth gap between whites and blacks, the result of slavery, has yet to be closed.
The total value of slaves, or “property” as they were then known, could exceed $12 million in today’s dollars on the largest plantations. With land, machinery, crops and buildings added in, the wealth of southern agricultural enterprises was truly astronomical. Yet when slavery ended, the people that generated the wealth received nothing.

The country has struggled with the implications of this inequity ever since. With policy changes in Washington since 1865, sometimes this economic gulf has narrowed and sometimes it’s widened, but the economic difference has never been erased. Today, the wealth gap between whites and blacks is the largest recorded since records began to be kept three decades ago.

Miss Lucy Craft Laney (1854-1933)


Lucy Craft Laney was born in Macon, Georgia on April 13, 1854, eleven years before slavery ended. She was the seventh of ten children born to Rev. and Mrs. David Laney. Rev. Laney was a noteworthy Presbyterian minister and an outstanding carpenter. Using the money he saved doing side jobs, Mr. Laney was able to purchase his wife’s freedom and promise his children a better life.
Although there were laws that prohibited blacks from reading during Miss Laney’s time, with the help of Ms. Campbell, the slave owner’s sister, Lucy was able to read by the time she was four. Ms. Campbell’s generosity and her parent’s open-arm policy with strangers and family taught Lucy the importance of giving and sharing. These lessons would be the foundation for her success. In 1869 at the age of 15, Lucy entered the first class of Atlanta University. In 1873, she was graduated with three other students and went on to start a teaching career that would change the lives of an entire community of people and influence the nation.
Miss Laney began her teaching career in Macon, Milledgeville, and Savannah before, due to health reasons, settling in Augusta, Georgia. With the encouragement of the Christ Presbyterian Church, USA, Miss Laney started the first school in Augusta, Georgia for black boys and girls. The school opened on January 6, 1883 in the basement of the Christ Presbyterian Church then on 10th and Telfair Street with little money and only six students. Miss Laney did not have much, but what she did have was dedication and determination, which would prove to be all this unique woman would need. In 1885, the first class was graduated from Miss Laney’s school. By that time, the school had 234 students and needed a bigger facility and more money. Armed with a one-way ticket, only a little money, her prayers and her desire, Miss Laney traveled to Minnesota to tell the Presbyterian Church Convention about her school and to request funding so that they could expand. Unfortunately, although Miss Laney spoke well, she was unable to convince the Convention to commit to funding her school. However, they did pay for her return trip home. Miss Laney was unsure how she would proceed from there, but knew that her mission was a good one and that her school would continue. Shortly after her trip to Minnesota, Miss Laney received a letter from Mrs. Francine E. H. Haines, President of the Woman’s Department of the Presbyterian Church, USA who had heard her speak at the convention. Mrs. Haines was so impressed with Miss Laney and her mission that she was able to secure funding for the expansion of the school in the amount of $10,000.00. Miss Laney was so touched by the kindness of this stranger that she named the new school the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute. In 1886, the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute was chartered by the state of Georgia and moved into its new location at 800 Gwinnett (Laney-Walker Blvd.) Street. Miss Laney was a forward thinking person. She believed that the only way for blacks to be successful in America was by being well educated. She also believed that in order for the race to continue its women’s must be educated as well. Her students studied the classics, Latin, Algebra, and various trades. She produced well-rounded young adults who also studied the arts and music and participated in sports. Miss Laney assured that students who graduated from Haines Normal were ready to compete in society.
In addition to starting her own school, the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute, Miss Laney started the first black kindergarten in Augusta, Georgia and the first black nursing school in the city, the Lamar School of Nursing. Many people were influenced by the work that Miss Laney did at Haines. Ms. Mary McCleod Bethune who worked with Miss Laney for a year was so impressed by Miss Laney’s accomplishments that she went to Florida and founded Bethune-Cookman College for Blacks. This outstanding institution continues to thrive and produce thousands of African American students. After a life of selfless dedication to the education of her people, which focused on the education of her people, Miss Laney died on October 23, 1933. Thousands of people came to her funeral. Her body was buried on the corner of the lawn of the Haines & Normal Industrial Institute. Miss Laney’s spirit lives on and her strong legacy continues to this day. Throughout her life Miss Laney received many honors. President Ware of Atlanta University paid many tributes to her and she received several honorary degrees from various other colleges and universities. After her death, the Haines Normal & Industrial Institute was renamed the Lucy Craft Laney Comprehensive High School in her honor, Gwinnett Street was renamed Laney-Walker Boulevard in the honor of her and that of Dr. Charles T. Walker, pastor, civic leader, founder of Tabernacle Baptist Church and co-founder of Atlanta University. There are several other schools throughout the USA that have been named in Miss Laney’s honor. In 1974, in honor of her contributions to Georgia and its children, the portrait of Miss Laney was commissioned by then Governor Jimmy Carter and unveiled in the Georgia State Capitol. In 1983, Miss Laney was inducted into the Women of Achievement of Georgia. In 1987, Miss Laney’s home was damaged by fire, purchased by Delta House, Inc., and later restored and made into a museum, which promotes the legacy through art, history, and the preservation of her home. The Haines Alumnae Association later placed an eternal flame on her grave site, which reminds us all of a great woman.