Month: September 2015

Civil Rights Heroines and Martyrs: Elizabeth Jennings Graham

Elizabeth Jennings Graham, ca. 1895

Posted on March 2, 2013

by Sylvia Wong Lewis From Narrative Network

Elizabeth Jennings was a New York City Sister with an attitude. About 100 years before Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Jennings refused to get off a horse-drawn streetcar in New York. Think of Miss Jennings as a ‘Rosa Parks’ with a New York attitude.  Not only did the 24 year-old teacher and church organist refuse to get off the horse-drawn streetcar, but she fought the driver, conductor and policeman, reminded them of her rights, sued them and the transit company and won! Oh, and did I mention that her lawyer went on to become president of the United States? More on that later. Thanks to some conscientious New York City school children, a street was named Elizabeth Jennings Place in Lower Manhattan in 2007 at Park Row and Spruce Street. More on the school children later.

I first heard about Miss Jennings (later she married Charles Graham) from Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts who preached about her from the pulpit at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church years ago in honor of Black History Month. Elizabeth Jennings is one of my favorite unsung sheroes. She was courageous and outrageous, two important qualities needed in the long struggle for women’s equal rights in this nation.

Miss Jennings was wealthy and educated during a time when most African Americans were not. In fact, most were enslaved. Can you imagine being a BAP-Black American Princess during slavery?  Her father was a successful, well-connected tailor with a shop on Church Street. He held patents on methods for renovating clothing and was an abolition leader at two major Black churches— Abyssinian and St. Phillips, both located in Lower Manhattan, New York’s original Black community!  Usually, Miss Jennings traveled with a chauffeur. But on this day she and her friend Sarah E. Adams were running late for choir practice at the First Colored Congregational Church on Sixth Street and Second Avenue. She flagged the streetcar that picked her and her companion up at Pearl and Chatham streets on Sunday, July 16, 1854. Then, things went downhill. The conductor and driver tried to kick her off.

NYC street named Elizabeth Jennings Place, an African American schoolteacher who refused to get off the streetcar in 1854.

The Details
— Here’s an account that was read aloud (as she was still recovering from injuries, her words were read by the meeting secretary) from an open letter to the church rally and as published in Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, July 19, 1854, 7:2 (edited) article:Outrage Upon Colored Persons “I held my gloved hand up to the driver and he stopped the cars. We got on the platform when the conductor told us to wait for the next car. I told him I could not wait, as I was in a hurry to go to church.  He insisted upon my getting off, but I did not get off. He waited a few minutes, when the driver, becoming impatient, said to me, “Well, you may go in, but remember, if the passengers raise any objections you shall go out, whether or no, or I’ll put you out.”

 I then told him that I was a respectable person, born and raised in New York, that I had never been insulted before while going to church, and that I did not know where he came from but that he was a no good for nothing impudent fellow for insulting decent persons while on their way to church. He then said that he would put me out.

 I told him not to lay his hands on me. He took hold of me and I took hold of the window sash and held on; he pulled me until he broke my grasp and I took hold of his coat and held onto that but previously he had dragged my companion out, she was all the while screaming for him to let go of me. A crowd gathered. The driver then went to his horses. I went again into the car. The conductor said, “You shall sweat for this.”

 He then told the driver to drive as fast as he could and not to take another passenger in the car, to drive until he saw an officer or a Station House. We saw an officer at the corner of Walker and Bowery and he without listening to anything that I had to say, thrust me out, and then pushed me down, and tauntingly told me to get redress if I could. I would have come up myself, but am quite sore and stiff from the treatment that I received from those monsters in human form yesterday afternoon.” (this account was picked up by Black and White newspapers across the nation!)

New York, being the financial capital of slavery during the time,  was full of organized movements among successful, free, Black New Yorkers to end discrimination and slavery. These activities were led by her father, Thomas Jennings and his notable white and black friends and colleagues. Frederick Douglass, her father’s dear friend, publicized Miss Jennings’ story and it became a national sensation. A huge community rally was held and a Black Legal Rights Association, a precursor to the NAACP, was formed at the First Colored Congregational Church. She decided to sue.

Jennings Wins in Court—Jennings did win her landmark case Jennings V. Third Avenue Rail. Frederick Douglass’ paper, March 2, 1855, 2:5 “Legal Rights Vindicated,” stated: “Our readers will rejoice with us in the righteous verdict. Miss Elizabeth Jennings, whose courageous conduct in the premises is beyond all praise, comes off a good old New York stock. Her grandfather, Jacob Cartwright, a native African, was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and took part in city politics until his death in 1824; her father Mr. Thomas L. Jennings, mentioned in our paper many times, is founder and leader of institutions for the benefit and elevation of the colored people…”

The case was also reported in a New York Tribune, February 23, 1855, 7:4. article “A Wholesome Verdict.” Judge Rockwell of Brooklyn Circuit Court instructed the jury that the transit company was “liable for the acts of their agents, whether committed carelessly and negligently, or wilfully and maliciously. That they were common carriers, and as such bound to carry all respectable persons including colored persons.”

Furthermore, the judge said:  “Colored persons if sober, well behaved and free from disease, had the same rights as others and could neither be excluded by any rules of the Company, nor by force or violence.”

Miss Jennings sued for $500 and the majority of the jury wanted to give her the full amount. But as the Tribune stated: “Some jury members had peculiar notions as to colored people’s rights.” (BTW, the transit driver, conductor, and police were all Irish immigrants, it was stated in the court proceedings.)

Miss Jennings’ lawyer—A settlement of $225, with the court adding 10 percent, plus her legal expenses was the final agreement. Within a month of this case, an African American man sued and won a similar public transit case and settled out of court. Miss Jennings’ lawyer Chester A. Arthur, later became a Civil War officer and politician. He was elected US Vice President in 1880 and became US President when President James Garfield was murdered in 1881.

Civil War Draft Riots—Some years later after the Jennings’ case, in July 1863, a resolution allowed wealthy New Yorkers to buy their way out of the Civil War draft. An angry white mob, mostly Irish immigrants who competed for slave work and blamed the Black people for the Civil War, rioted over a four-day period. More than 70 African Americans, mostly, successful, free men, women, and children were killed and over 20 were lynched. Elizabeth Jennings Graham’s young son died during that time.

NYC Pupils Saved Elizabeth Jennings from Obscurity—In the end I say, God bless the New York City public school children, their teachers and parents who saved Miss Elizabeth Jennings from obscurity.

‘”After finding out about Elizabeth Jennings in preparation for a show on Martin Luther King Jr., a group of third and fourth-graders from P.S. 361 on the Lower East Side took the initiative in 2007 to get her name immortalized at the corner of Spruce Street and Park Row. After a year of attending meetings, gathering petition signatures, and pressuring elected officials, they were able to get a street sign named for her—a feat that had been unsuccessful by another group of students in 1990s,” stated a blog posted on called “The Story Behind Elizabeth Jennings Place.”

“In 1991, four sixth-grade girls in the Museum of the City of New York’s Wednesday afternoon history club researched the life of Elizabeth Jennings, whom they called the Rosa Parks of her time, and presented a play, ”Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Her Rights,” at the museum’s first history fair. At the fair they collected signatures on a petition asking  the City Council to name one of the corners of Park Row (originally Chatham Street) and Pearl Street in honor of Elizabeth Jennings and forwarded the petitions to the City Council. Unfortunately, the Council never responded, according to a “Letter to the Editor” by Kathleen Benson, head of Education, Museum of the City of New york, September 17, 1994,” it was reported in NY Times article “A Civil Rights Victory in Old New York.”


Jayne Harrison Kennedy-Overton: Actress, Beauty Queen, and Sportscaster

Jayne Kennedy (1980s)
                                                                              Jayne Kennedy (1980s)
Jayne Kennedy as Sportscaster
                           Jayne Kennedy as a Sportscaster on CBS Sports “NFL TODAY”

images                                                       jayne-kennedy-3

Born: Jayne Harrison on October 27, 1951,  in Washington, D.C.

Parents: Herbert Harrison (Father) and Virginia Harrison (Mother)

Spouse (s): Leon Issac Kennedy (married 1970; divorced 1982) Bill Overton (married 1985-present)

Jayne and 1st husband Leon Issac Kennedy on 1980s Ebony Magazine Cover
                                                  Jayne and current husband Bill Overton

Children: 1 stepdaughter (Bill’s Daughter) Cheyenne; 3 biological daughters with Bill: Savannah Re, Kopper Joi, and Zaire Ollyea.

Occupation: Actress, Beauty Queen, and Sportscaster

Achievements, Accomplishments, and Contributions: From WikipediaIn 1978, she was one of the first women to infiltrate the male-dominated world of sports announcing with a role on The NFL Today. She has been on the cover of Ebony and Jet magazines numerous times. In 1981, she was the first Black actress to grace the cover of Playboy. In the early 1980s she produced exercise videos, at the same time, she also had a contract with both Coca-Cola‘s Tab and Diet Coke.[citation needed]She was crowned Miss Ohio USA in 1970 (she was the first African American woman to win the title), and was one of the 15 semi-finalists in the Miss USA 1970 pageant. She played an secret agent in the NBC TV Movie, Cover Girls (1977). It was rare for an African American woman at that time to be in the contest.[citation needed]     

Honors/Awards:  She won a 1982 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture award for her performance in the 1981’s film Body and Soulco-starring alongside her then-husband Leon Issac Kennedy.

Jayne Kennedy (Playboy, July, 1981)
Miss Ohio 1970
Miss Ohio 1970


Jayne Kennedy Cover Girls (NBC) 1977
Jayne Kennedy in TV Movie Cover Girls (NBC) 1977
                                                      Jayne Kennedy-Overton Today
                                              Jayne, Bill, and Their Young Family
Jayne Kennedy-Overton and Family
                                   Jayne Kennedy-Overton and Family

I salute this AMAZING Her-story making sista!        

Lola Falana: “First Lady of Las Vegas” “Queen of Las Vegas”

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Lola Falana Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1970: Photo of Lola Falana Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

image (1)                      f9069968bb00dfed3beaaa0a67947829

Born: Loletha Elyane Folana on September 11, 1942, Camden New, Jersey

Parents: Cleo Falana (Mother), Bennett Falana (Father)

Siblings:  ?

Spouse: Feliciano “Butch” Tavares (married: 1971, divorced: 1975)

                                                                                       Lola and Butch

Children: 0

Education: Germantown High School

Occupation: Singer, Dancer, and Actress; later became a Roman Catholic evangelist

Accomplishments, Achievements, and Contributions: From Wikipedia

While dancing in a nightclub, Falana was discovered by Sammy Davis Jr., who gave her a featured role in his 1964 Broadway musical Golden Boy. Her first single, “My Baby”, was recorded for Mercury Records in 1965. Later in her career she recorded under Frank Sinatra‘s record label. In the late 1960s Falana was mentored by Davis. In 1966 Davis cast her, along with himself, Ossie Davis, and Cicely Tyson, in her first film role in the film, A Man Called Adam.

Falana became a major star of Italian cinema beginning in 1967. In Italy she learned to speak fluent Italian while starring in three movies, the first of which was considered a spaghetti western. She was known as the “Black Venus”. During this time she was busy touring with Davis as a singer and dancer, making films in Italy, and reprising her role in Golden Boy during its revival in London.

In 1969 Falana ended her close working relationship with Sammy Davis Jr., though the two remained friends. “If I didn’t break away,” Lola told TV Guide, “I would always be known as the little dancer with Sammy Davis Jr. … I wanted to be known as something more.” The previous year, Sammy Davis Jr. was divorced by his second wife, May Britt, after Davis admitted to having had an affair with Falana.

In 1970, Falana made her American film debut in The Liberation of L.B. Jones and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year – Actress for her performance. That same year she posed forPlayboy magazine. She was the first black woman to model for a line of cosmetics that was not targeted solely at blacks, in the successful Faberge Tigress perfume ads. In those early years, she also starred in a few movies considered to be of the blaxploitation genre. She appeared at the Val Air Ballroom sponsored by Black Pride, Inc., in 1978.

American TV audiences became familiar with Falana during the early 1970s. She often appeared on The Joey Bishop Show and The Hollywood Palace, displaying her talent for music, dance, and light comedy. These appearances led to more opportunities.

She was the first supporting player hired by Bill Cosby for his much-anticipated variety hour, The New Bill Cosby Show, which made its debut on September 11, 1972 (her 30th birthday) on CBS. Cosby had met Falana in his college days, when he was a struggling comic and she was a 14-year-old dancing for $10 a show in Philadelphia nightclubs.[citation needed] Throughout the mid-1970s Falana made guest appearances on many popular TV shows, including The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Muppet Show, Laugh-In and The Flip Wilson Show. She also starred in her own television specials.

In 1975, her disco record “There’s A Man Out There Somewhere” reached #67 on the Billboard R&B chart. That same year, she returned to Broadway as the lead in the musical Doctor Jazz. Although the production closed after just five performances, Lola was nominated for a Tony Award and won the 1975 Theater World Award.

With help from Sammy Davis, Falana brought her act to Las Vegas and became a top draw there. By the late 1970s, she was considered the Queen of Las Vegas. She played to sold-out crowds at The Sands, The Riviera, and the MGM Grand hotels. Finally,  The Aladdin offered her $100,000 a week to perform. At the time, Falana was the highest paid female performer in Las Vegas. Her show ran twenty weeks a year and became a major tourist attraction.

While still playing to sell-out crowds in Las Vegas, Falana joined the cast of a short-lived CBS soap opera, Capitol, as Charity Blake, a wealthy entertainment mogul. In 1983, Falana was appearing at Bally’s hotel and casino in Atlantic City and, while playing baccarat, won a minority stake in the New York Mets, a stake she held until she sold it in 1988 for 14 million dollars to Frank Cashen.

Awards/Honors: 1975 Theatre World Reward

PBDLOFA EC016       maxresdefault

lola_falana_unlvsc_0049_0251_WEB                                                                                                         Lola Falana

                                          Lola Falana Today

I Salute This AMAZING  HER-story sista!

Black Miss Universe Winners Appreciation Post

 Within the last 38 years, five Beautiful Black Women Have Won the title of Miss Universe. They are….


Leila Lopes (2011), Benguela, Angola


Mpule Kwelagobe (1999), Botswana

Wendy Fitzwilliam (1998), Trinidad and Tobago

Chelsi Smith (1995), USA

Janelle Commissiong (1977), Trinidad and Tobago

I Salute these AMAZING HER-story making sistas!

Janelle Penny Commissiong: The First Black Miss Universe Winner

When Janelle Penny Commissiong first appeared, she was competing for the T&T’s Miss Universe position. But she never though that she went on to make history as not only as the first Trinbagoian to win the title in 1977, but the first contestant of african-descent to achieve it.

Born in Trinidad and Tobago on June 15th, 1953, Janelle migrated to the U.S. at age 13, and returned back 10 years later and competed for Miss Trinidad and Tobago and won. Afterwards, she move on to compete for the Miss Universe pageant in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where she was crowned Miss Universe

She also won Miss Photogenic in the same pageant, as well as receiving the Trinity Cross (The highest national award at it time.) and 3 Postal Stamps were issue in her honuor. During her reign, she advocated for the black rights and world peace. After her reign, she went on to marry her first husband Brian Bowen, founder of Bowen Marine, who died in an accident in November 1989. She then married businessman Alwin Chow.

Today, she is still remembered for her achievement and becomes an inspiration to many women, and an influential figure today. She recently turn 61.

Photography by Gary Jordan Photography ©2012 (Check) his work here)


Here’s something a little extra

I Salute this AMAZING HER-story making sista!

President Obama’s Speech Highlighting The Plight of the Original Black Woman

I haven’t been too awfully impressed with the president lately, but his speech where he highlights the many contributions, achievements, struggles, and challenges of Original Black Woman in America and asking that there be more focus on the Black Woman’s  plight really impressed me. He’ gets 10-star rating from me. Gone are the days of ignoring the plight of the Original Black Woman. I’m proud of you Mr. President!