The 25th Infantry Bicycle Corp was formed in 1896. It was one of four African American military units serving as a peacekeeping force west of the Mississippi. The black soldiers were known as “Buffalo Soldiers”. The unit was originally stationed in Texas until 1880. It then moved to the Dakota Territory and then eight years later the unit moved to Fort Missoula, Montana. The soldiers were used as guards and peacekeepers during railroad and mine strikes. They also fought forest fires in Montana and Idaho. The development of the chain driven safety bicycle in 1874 and in 1888 the pneumatic tire invention increased the use of bicycle for sports and leisure and piqued the interest of the military as a possible method of transport.
The U.S. Army began experimenting with the use of bicycles in 1896 deploying the 25th Infantry to pilot its efforts. The newly formed group was initially comprised of eight black enlisted officers and their white commander, Lieutenant James A. Moss. The 25th Infantry was given its first long distance assignment of riding north to Lake McDonald and back. The trip was a “test” to see how the would bicycles would perform. It was a distance of 126 miles. The trip took 3 days. The Infantry encountered extremely challenging weather including heavy rain, fierce winds, and deep mud. The group experienced flat tires and many other issues with their bikes. Again on August 15, the group conducted another test run. Leaving Fort Missoula they headed for Yellowstone Park. It was a ten day trip of 500 miles. They remained in Yellowstone for 5 days before returning to Fort Missoula. The groups speed in covering the terrain was impressive. They averaged 6 miles per hour over the roughest and steepest part of the terrain.
Minnie Cox (1869-1933) was appointed as post master in Indianola, Mississippi in 1891. Before her employment at the post office, Cox was an educator and school principal. She was a graduate of Fisk University. Initially she was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison to the postmaster role when there was no white Republican who qualified for the job. She is believed to be the first African American woman to hold a post master position. Her appointment was made during the post civil war reconstruction era when African Americans were appointed and elected to various political roles that had previously been unavailable to them before the Civil War. Cox was again reappointed in 1897 under President William McKinley and continued under the term of Theodore Roosevelt. Indianola was a predominately African American community. Minnie Cox and her husband were well respected members of the community.
The position of postmaster was a highly respected and well paid federal position. As postmaster, Cox oversaw postal services for approximately 3,000 residents and was paid $1,100 annually which would have been a significant salary at that time. She was known to have a strong work ethic; working long hours and even helping residents pay their rental fees on post office boxes when they fell behind. Cox even had a telephone installed in the post office at her own expense so that residents would have better communication with the post office. As the political climate began to change; hiring of African Americans in roles of this kind, fell out of favor. Cox was initially hired due, in part to her affiliation with the Republican party. However, during the Roosevelt presidential administration, the white community in Indianola decided to rally to eliminate African Americans from serving in leadership roles.
A petition was started within the community to remove Minnie Cox from her postmaster position; hoping that the role would then be filled by a white person. James K. Vardaman, editor of the Greenwood Commonwealth and also a white supremacist was a vocal opponent of Cox. In one speech, Vardaman scolded the residents of Indianola for, “tolerating a negro wench as postmaster”. Vardaman wanted Cox removed so that he could take over the role himself. His speeches garnered greater support to remove Cox from her position. White residents demanded that Cox resign her position by January 1, 1903. Cox initially refused to step down before the end of her term but did indicate that she would not seek reappointment after her current term ended.
She soon found her physical safety to be at risk because of her refusal to step down. Local authorities refused to come to her aid. Postal inspector, Charles Fitzgerald saw these threats to Cox, as necessitating intervention by the federal government. He requested that if necessary, federal troops be dispatched to protect Cox since she was a federal employee. Fearing for her safety, Cox submitted her resignation. President Roosevelt intervened and indicated that that intervention of federal troops would not be necessary. He also refused to accept Cox’s resignation. Instead, President Roosevelt suspended mail service in Indianola on January 2, 1903 and told the city’s residents that mail service would be rerouted until Minnie Cox could safely resume her duties. He also ordered that Cox would continue to receive her salary during this time.
The city environment continued to remain hostile and Cox eventually left the Indianola fearing for her safety on January 5, 1903. President Roosevelt ordered that the citizens who had threatened Minnie Cox be prosecuted by the attorney general. This incident drew national media coverage and was also debated for several hours in the U.S. Senate. A year later, in 1904, at the time that Cox’s term would have expired, the post office was re-opened. However it was reduced in rank from 3rd class to 4th class. Minnie Cox died in 1933.
Thomas Greene Bethune Wiggins (1849 – 1908) was born to enslaved parents who lived on a Georgia plantation. The family was owned at first by Wiley Jones but was then sold to General James Bethune in Columbus, GA. Wiggins was blind from birth and was also considered to be autistic. He showed an early aptitude for music and also was said to have a great memory. By the age of 4 he was able to play the piano and made his musical concert debut at the age of 8, in Atlanta, GA. Wiggins was hired out as an enslaved musician. The fee for his performance was $15,000. He would be the first African American to perform at the White House for President James Buchanan in 1859, when he was 10 years old. Two of his original piano pieces “Oliver Galop” and “Virginia Polka” were published in 1860. During the Civil War, his musical talents were used to raise funds for Confederate relief efforts. By 1865, Wiggins was 16 years old and was considered an “indentured” servant to General Bethune. Continue reading “Thomas Bethune Wiggins: Enslaved, Blind, Musical Genius”→
On February 22, 1989, DJ Jazzy Jeff (Jeffrey Townes) and The Fresh Prince (Will Smith) won the first Rap Grammy Award, for “Best Rap Performance” for their hit single, “Parents Just Don’t Understand” written by Ready Rock C (Clarence Holmes). The group eventually sold over 5 million albums worldwide. The rap group formed in 1986. At the time the group launched, the Grammy Awards did not include a hip hop category. This did not occur until 1989. Though the group was nominated the category nomination was not going to be televised. The group was however, asked to perform their hit single at the Grammy Awards Show. Continue reading “DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince: 1st Rap Artists To Win A Grammy Award”→
“Some people are so worn down by the yoke of oppression that they give up…. The oppressed must never allow the conscience of the oppressor to slumber…. To accept injustice or segregation passively is to say to the oppressor that his actions are morally right. ” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) has the distinction of having one of the first women’s track teams in the United States. The team was started in 1929. 3 years later, two African American women, Louise Stokes (1913-1978) and Tidye Pickett (1914-1986) qualified for the 1932 Olympics in track and field. (Neither Stokes nor Pickett attended Tuskegee). They traveled to the Olympics with the team but were not allowed to compete because of their race. Replaced by 2 white teammates, Pickett and Stokes watched from the stands as their team competed.
David Walker (1785-1830), was the son of an enslaved father and a free black mother. Because his mother was free, Walker was also considered a free citizen. His freedom, however, did not shield him from witnessing firsthand the injustices of slavery. On one occasion, Walker witnessed an enslaved boy who was forced to whip his mother until she died. This experience and others throughout his life rallied him to become an activist and an abolitionist. As an adult, Walker settled in Boston, MA. Though Boston was a free city in the North, discrimination was still very prevalent there. Walker opened a clothing store in Boston in the 1820’s. He also began to associate with other black activists and abolitionists and became a writer for the first African American Newspaper in the U.S. “Freedom’s Journal”. Walker was also involved with the Underground Railroad providing clothing to those trying to escape slavery.