Black Inventors


DID YOU KNOW… that an African American man named Lewis Latimer who worked with Thomas Edison and
Alexander Graham Bell drew up the plans for Bell’s first telephone?

If you did, you are probably among the fortunate few who possess such knowledge. It is a fact that has not
been well publicized. There are countless inventions by African Americans and they cover everything from
food processing to electrical technology. The inventions by African Americans point out the contributions
that African Americans have made to the comfort and advancement of mankind. The following are some
inventions by African Americans.

America’s Hi-Tech “Invisible Man”

Frederick Jones contributed to the invention of the air conditioner unit and the automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks.

Sarah Boone contributed to the invention of the ironing board.

Jan Matzeliger contributed to the invention of the shoe-lasting machine (for attaching soles on shoes in Lynn, Mass. His invention revolutionized the shoe industry.

Alexander Miles contributed to the invention of major improvements to the elevator.

Dr. Charles Drew contributed to the invention of a way to store blood and then created the first blood bank.

M.A. Cherry contributed to the invention of the tricycle.

Major Robert H. Lawrence was the first African American astronaut chosen to make a journey to the moon.
He had a doctoral degree in Chemistry and would have made one of the first lunar trips, but he died in the
crash of an Air Force F-104 jet at Edwards Air Force Base, CA in 1968.

Ernest E. Just was the first biologist to receive the Springarn Medal. He received distinction in his field
through his research on egg fertilization and the functioning of cells.

Harold D. West was the first person to synthesize the amino acid threonine in the laboratory.

Dr. William Hinton devised a test to determine syphilis.

Andrew Bryan was the first African American pastor, ordained in 1788.

Constance B. Motley was the first African American female appointed as a Federal Judge in 1966.

Barbara Watson Federal was the first African American and first female to serve as Asst. Secretary of State.
She held her post in 1974.

Bernice Gaines Hughes was the first African American female to obtain the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Alonzo Pietro (known as “il Negro”) was one of Columbus’ navigators on his first voyage to America in 1492.

Ray Charles on Ray – An Autobiography

When I was a kid three years old, I was already trying — whenever I heard a note — I was already trying to involve myself with it. There was this wonderful man named Wylie Pitman who was one of the first people to encourage me. As a youngster I would jump in the chair next to him and start banging on the piano keys while he was trying to practice. And he would say, “Oh no, son, you don’t play like that; you don’t hit the keys with all your fingers at one time. I’m going to show you how to play a little melody with one finger.” He could have easily said, “Hey kid, don’t you see I’m practicing? Get away, don’t bother me.” But instead he took the time to say, “No, you don’t do it that way.” When Mr. Pitman started playing, whatever I was doing I’d stop to go in and sit on that little stool chair he had there.


Things started changing fast shortly after that. I guess the first major tragedy in my life was seeing my younger brother drown when I was about five years old. He was about a year younger, and a very smart kid. I remember that well; he was very bright. He could add and subtract numbers when he was three-and-a-half years old. The older people in the neighborhood, they used to say about him, “That boy is too smart. He’s probably not going to be very long on this earth.” You know old folks, the superstitions they have.

Anyway, we were out in the backyard one day while my mom was in the house ironing some clothes. We were playing by a huge metal washtub full of water. And we were having fun the way boys do, pushing and jostling each other around. Now, I never did know just how it happened, but my brother somehow tilted over the rim of this tub and fell down, slid down into the water and slipped under. At first I thought he was still playing, but it finally dawned on me that he wasn’t moving, he wasn’t reacting. I tried to pull him out of the water, but by that time his clothes had gotten soaked through with water and he was just too heavy for me. So I ran in and got my mom, and she raced out back and snatched him out of the tub. She shook him, and breathed into his mouth, and pumped his little stomach, but it was too late.

It was quite a trauma for me, and after that I started to lose my sight. I remember one of the things they tried to save my sight for as long as they could was to have my mama keep me away from too much light. It took me about two years to completely lose all sight, but by the time I was seven, I was completely blind. That’s when I went to St. Augustine’s school for the blind.

Strangely enough, losing my sight wasn’t quite as bad as you’d think, because my mom conditioned me for the day that I would be totally blind. When the doctors told her that I was gradually losing my sight, and that I wasn’t going to get any better, she started helping me deal with it by showing me how to get around, how to find things. That made it a little bit easier to deal with. My mother was awful smart, even though she’d only gotten to fourth grade. She had knowledge all her own; knowledge of human nature, plus plenty of common sense.

As long as I can remember, music has always been something extraordinary in my life. It’s always been something that completely captured my attention — from the time I was three, when Mr. Pitman was showing me these little melodies. My first love was the music I heard in the community: blues, church gospel music, and country and western. That’s why I love country and western today, because I heard a lot of it when I was a kid. My mom would let me stay up to listen to the Grand Old Opry on Saturday night. That’s the only time I got to stay up late. I heard the blues played by Muddy Waters and Blind Boy Phillips and Tampa Red and Big Boy Crudup. And of course every night if you listened to the right station, you might pick up a little Duke Ellington or Count Basie. But the bulk of what I heard of blues in those days was called “race music,” which became rhythm and blues, and rhythm and blues later was called soul music.

When I got to school I couldn’t get into the piano class because it was full. That’s when I took up the clarinet. I was a great fan of Artie Shaw, so I started playing a reed instrument. Later I was able to get into the piano class. Music teachers in those days were a lot different from teachers today; it was a different thing all together. When I came up, you didn’t have jazz appreciation like you have today; you studied classical music. With blind kids, as opposed to sighted kids, when you study music you must read the music with your fingers. I’d read three or four bars of music with my fingers, and then play it. You can’t just sit there and play as you’re reading the music. You have to first learn the bars of music, practice it, and then play it and memorize it.

The name of the game was to know your lesson when it was due and I studied like everybody else. Even in my other classes, I always felt that it was important to know what you were supposed to do and have your lessons down, or at least have a working relationship with the music. I was just an ordinary student; I was not exceptional like some students. The only problem I had with my teachers was that when I was supposedly practicing my lesson, a lot of times I’d be playing jazz. Of course, the teacher would catch me, and that didn’t go over too well. She’d say, “What the hell are you doing boy; what’s the matter with you; you lost your mind? Get to your lessons.” Classical music to me was a means to an end. In other words, I wanted to learn how to arrange and I wanted to know how to write music, and in order to do that I had to study classical music. But I wanted to play jazz, and I wanted to play blues — that was my heart.

As a student, I was always playing music that somebody else wrote, and I got the idea in my mind that I would like to write music myself. The first time I wrote an arrangement and heard it played back to me, you can’t imagine how excited I was. I mean, to write something and then have musicians play it back to you, and you hear it and you hear your ideas, your thoughts — that was the most exciting thing to me. I was 12 years old when I first had that feeling and I’ve never forgotten that. It was at the St. Augustine’s. We had a small orchestra, you understand. Keep in mind, this was a small school for the deaf and the blind, so you had maybe nine or 12 people in the band, something like that.

I wasn’t quite 15 when my mama died. That was the most devastating thing in my whole experience — bar nothing, period. It happened while I was away at school, and they didn’t want to tell me about it. They just called me in to the principal’s office and said that I needed to go home right away. When I got there I found out from Miss Mary Jane, a lady that helped my mom raise me and take care of me; she gave me the news. From that moment on, I was completely in another world. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep — I was totally out of it. There’s no way to describe how I actually felt. I was truly a lost child.

The big problem was I couldn’t cry; I couldn’t get the sorrow out of my system, and that made things worse. Now, there was an old lady in town we called Ma Beck. She was the kind of lady that –well, everybody in town used to say that if there was a heaven, she was certainly going to be there when she passed. Anyway, this elderly woman saw the trauma I was going through. So she took me aside one day and said, “Son, you know that I knew your mama. And I know how she tried to raise you. And I know she always taught you to carry on. I also know she told you she wanted you to know how to get around and be independent. Because she knew she wasn’t always gonna be with you. Didn’t she tell you that?”

I said, “Yes ma’am'” and started to tear up. And Ma Beck kept after me. “Well, then, you also know that your mamma didn’t want you going around just doing nothing and feeling sorry for yourself, ’cause that’s not the way she brought you up. Isn’t that right?” I said, “Yes, ma’am,” and more tears came out. Now this elderly lady, she knew everything about me, including my sorrow over my brother’s death. She made me realize that it wasn’t my fault, and told me that I couldn’t go through life blaming myself.

That episode with Ma Beck shook me out of my depression. It really started me on my way. After that I told myself that I must do what my mom would have expected me to do. And so the two greatest tragedies in my life — losing my brother and then my mom — were, strangely enough, extraordinarily positive for me. What I’ve accomplished since then, really, grows out of my coming to terms with those events.

My mama had a friend that lived in Jacksonville, Florida, and after she died I went there to see this lady, whose name was Lena May Thompson, and her husband. They weren’t any kin to me; they were just friends of my mama and when she passed they just took me in like I was their own child. They were wonderful people. I stayed in Jacksonville for a year or so working in little bands for musicians like Henry Washington. Whenever he would get a job, and if he could use me, I would work for four dollars a night. Later I went to Orlando, and it was the same thing. I would get jobs with a fellow named Joe Anderson, who had a band there. I stayed about a year before going to Tampa to work with a couple of bands there. I played for two fellows, Charley Brantley and Manzi Harris, and I even worked with a hillbilly band called The Florida Playboys. I learned how to yodel when I was with them.

During those years I was totally in love with Nat King Cole’s music. I ate, slept, and drank everything Nat King Cole. I wanted to be like him because he played the piano and sang and put all those tasty little things behind his singing. That’s what I wanted to do, so he became my idol. I practiced day and night to sound like Nat Cole, and I got pretty proficient at it, too. One morning I woke up and, still laying in bed, something said to me, “Where is Ray Charles? Who knows your name? Nobody ever calls you, they just say, ‘Hey, kid, you sound like Nat Cole,’ but they don’t even know your name.” I knew right then I was going to have to stop singing like Nat, but I was scared to because I could get jobs sounding like him. I finally told myself, “Ray, you have got to take a chance and sound like yourself — period.”

Work was very sparse. I might work a couple of nights and then no more for two weeks or three weeks — whenever something came along. Hit and miss, really, that’s what it was. I was very lucky in the sense that when I was going through those hard times, I was fortunate to run into some people like the Thompsons. Even in Tampa, I ran into two sisters name the Spencers. One of them, the oldest, was a music teacher and she just took a liking to me. I don’t know; I guess she saw that I was out there struggling and blind. They took me into their home, fed and sheltered me, and gave me a few dollars to spend. Although I wasn’t making any money, I didn’t completely starve to death. I had a lot of days when I ate sardines and dried beans and bread to survive.

I was playing dance halls in different little cities like De Land, Florida, or St. Petersburg. It wasn’t concerts in those days. These were dances you worked from 9:00 at night until 1:00 in the morning; four hours at least. You’ve got to realize, now, there was no such thing as nightclubs — like Cheerios and the Blue Note. These were small places with one door, that means one way in and one way out. They might have had two or three windows. In one corner they might have been frying fish and selling beer and soda and stuff like that. The people were out there on the dance floor dancing, and the band was stuck back in the corner somewhere. We were usually in the back, so if any trouble broke out, we would make sure there was a window to climb out. These places were not nightclubs like you think of them where people come in and sit down, and they’ve got on their furs and have a drink. You came in, you came to dance and to drink your liquor, you ate your fish or chicken or whatever they were selling in there and that was it.

I was not the star, mind you; in those days, I was always with somebody else’s band. If I was working in Charlie Brantley’s band, he was the star. As a matter of fact, in Charlie Brantley’s band I wasn’t even the vocalist. Of course, they let me sing one or two songs before the show was over, but Charlie had his own singer, Clarence Jolly. Otherwise, I was just his piano player, and I was happy to do that because I needed the money. If he needed me to sing, I’d sing; if he wanted me to play the piano, that’s what I did; if he wanted me to write an arrangement, I’d write an arrangement. Whatever it took to make a dollar. And, of course, I wrote some music during this period as well. For example, Joe Ellison’s band played some of my music when I was with them.

Eventually, I got tired of Florida. I was working with these different bands and I had worked with The Florida Playboys, when I got the feeling one day — just an impulse — and I said to myself, I’m going to leave here because I’m not going anywhere, I’m not doing anything. I was too scared to go to a big city like New York or Chicago, but I wanted to go to a city that was a nice size and where I thought I wouldn’t get swallowed up. So I said to a friend, Gosady McGee, “I want to go to a city. . .what would be the furthest city I could get to from Florida that’s still a city.” And that’s how I wound up in Seattle. I saved what little money I could — about $500 — and finally took a bus from Tampa, Florida, to Seattle, Washington. The trip took me 5 days.

I wanted to form my own group; that was my whole thing back then. See, after my mama passed, I always worked with somebody, or rather for somebody. I’m not saying that was a bad thing, but I kept thinking that I just wasn’t going anywhere. I was just getting a job here, getting a job there, and I got paid. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even get paid. I wanted to have something of my own. I thought I wanted to have my own little trio.

When I first got to Seattle, I went down to where they were having a talent show. I was really too young, but I begged this guy to let me perform. He felt sorry for me and let me in. On this talent night, I sang my little song, which was heard by representatives of a place called the Elk’s Club. See, on talent night you would have various club owners or club representatives come and see what the talent was. Anyway, the Elk’s Club hired me for the weekend and they asked if I could get a trio together. Hell, I didn’t know what I was talking about. I didn’t even know anybody. I just felt that I could find somebody to play well.

As it turned out, I got my friend Gosady McGee and I found Milt Jarret, and we started practicing and I went to work in the Elk’s Club. I worked there every weekend. The guitar player’s name was McGee, and mine was Robinson, so we called it The McSon Trio. We had a nice little trio and that was the first thing I had that I could honestly say was mine. Every weekend we knew we would make something, and after I had worked there for five weekends or so, the guy at the Rocking Chair, which was a much nicer club, decided they wanted to hire us.

In those days, I lived on 20th Avenue. I had a little house, nothing fancy. We had an oil heater and I remember we went out to get kerosene to put in the damn heater. While I was living there, I bought the first little electric piano that came out — that shows you how far back it goes. I didn’t have much money, but I had the things I needed. I had a radio, but not a TV. It was a big radio with a record player in it.

During my time in Seattle, I met and worked with some musicians who later made names for themselves. There was a fellow named Bumps Blackwell who had a band. As I recall, he hired me to play a gig one night with him. There was a young guy named Quincy Jones in the band. I think we may have first met in a club — maybe the 908 or the Black and Tan or the Elk’s Club. It probably sounds like I’m making our meeting insignificant, but musicians just meet; it ain’t no big deal. Quincy and I became very good friends because I could write music and he wanted to learn how to write. He would come over to my house in the morning, wake me up, and sit at the piano while I would show him how to do little things. That’s how we became very close. I have always loved him and he’s the same way now as he was as a kid — just as sweet and nice.

I first met Jack Lauderdale of Swingtime Records when we were at the Rocking Chair. There was a private club upstairs — that’s where they would gamble at — and downstairs was where we were working. Jack was there one night and he came downstairs and heard us playing. He said, “I’d like to sign you guys up to a contract. What would you think about that?” Oh, Man, I was so excited! “Wow! We’re gonna get a record contract!” There was nothing about any advance or money up front. All the man said to me was the he was gonna record me, and we’d have a hit. I didn’t even ask about the terms. All I knew was that I wanted to make a record; this was a big thing to me at that time. Jack was the first person I signed with, and I have to give him credit. I don’t know what he heard, but he must have heard something — because he recorded me in Seattle and then flew us down to record in L.A.

After arriving in Los Angeles around 1950, I made a record called “Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand.” It started making a little noise — in the black community, of course — and Swingtime thought it would be a good idea if Lowell Fulson and I went out on the road together as a package, ’cause Lowell had “Everyday I Had the Blues” and I had “Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand.” And so that’s what we did.

When Lowell and I were on the road, we played the same kinds of dance halls, that I worked in down in Florida. We were working everyday on this tour, which was okay. Of course, in those days we put up with “the usual things.” I didn’t go into the Hilton Hotel, I didn’t go into the Sheraton, I had to stay in rooming houses. I had to make sure I stopped at the right gas station, where they had restrooms for colored, and if I was hungry I couldn’t stop at just any restaurant to eat, so if I was long distance between places and I saw a restaurant, I had to go around to the back door and let them hand me out sandwiches.

“Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand,” was my first big hit on the radio, but I had heard myself before, singing my first record, “I Love You, I Love You” and “Confession Blues.” To tell the truth, hearing my songs on the radio was no where near as exciting as making a record. I really wasn’t that excited about hearing myself; I was more excited about making music. I did make some records for Swingtime where I sound like myself, where I wasn’t trying to sound like Nat Cole. One of them was “Going to the River and Drown Myself,” another was “Kiss Me, Baby.” I was testing the waters then, just before I went to Atlantic. Even when I started recording for them, I made two or three records sounding like Nat Cole. After that, I finally told myself, “Stop this Nat Cole imitation…sink, swim, or die.” Next I did “I Got a Woman” and it was a smash.

I made a big change professionally when Atlantic bought my contract from Swingtime. Originally, I didn’t know anything about it. By the time I found out, Atlantic had already bought the rights from Jack. Naturally, buying my contract didn’t mean anything if I didn’t agree to go along, but Atlantic had the contract from Jack and, of course, it was all right with me. I didn’t see anything wrong with it. Atlantic was very good to me. They didn’t interfere with my music. they would say to me, “Okay, we want you to come in and record.” Then they would send me different demos of music, and if I didn’t like them I’d write something and record that instead. It just turned out that most of the things I wrote were successful, and Atlantic would just come in and pay the bill. It was unusual, really, because record companies in those days picked the music and the artist sang it and that’s the ways it was done. I was lucky in the sense that even when I was starting out I went to companies that didn’t interfere with what I wanted to record, even Swingtime would just say, “Well, kid, what do you got for us?” And that was it. For an artist, there are few things more rewarding than the freedom to do the things you want to do the way you want to do them.

I was with Atlantic from 1952 to 1959. I had control of what I was recording, so if I made any bad recordings or bad decisions I have to say it was strictly my own fault. Most of what we were doing in those days were singles; they were more popular than albums. I only did two albums on Atlantic. The first album was a jazz album I did with Quincy Jones, which had songs like “Doodlin’.” The second album, The Genius of Ray Charles, Quincy wrote with Ralph Burns.

About that time — still with my smaller band — I was thinkin’ I really wanted to introduce a girl sound to my music. Don’t forget, I was raised in a Baptist church and I wanted my music to have a certain kind of feelin’. One night in 1957, I was in Philadelphia and there was a band playin’ — I forget who was playin’ — but I went to catch the band and on this show they had a second band performing called The Cookies. Well, The Cookies sounded pretty good to me. So the following week, we recorded together in New York, I think we did Swany River Rock. And it sounded so good, I asked them to work with me all the time. That’s when The Cookies — Margie Hendrix, Ethel (Darlene) McCrae and Pat Lyles — became The Raelettes.

By 1959, my career was on the fast track. Although I didn’t know it when I signed with ABC, things were about to start happening for me at a much faster pace then I ever thought possible when I was a kid back at the St. Augustine’s school. But that’s another story, for another time.



Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring.
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee,
Shadowed beneath thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

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What is Kwanzaa?


Kwanzaa is a unique African American celebration with focus on the traditional African values of family, community responsibility, commerce, and self-improvement.

Kwanzaa is neither political nor religious and despite some misconceptions, is not a substitute for Christmas. It is simply a time of reaffirming African-American people, their ancestors and culture. Kwanzaa, which means “first fruits of the harvest” in the African language Kiswahili, has gained tremendous acceptance.


Since its founding in 1966, in the aftermath of the Watts riots in 1965, by Dr. Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa has come to be observed by more than15 million people worldwide. Dr. Karenga, Cal State professor of African-American history, feeling that the solution would require African-Americans to reconnect with their African heritage, created Kwanzaa. Many African-Americans desired a stronger sense of community as had once existed. Karenga sought to reinstill in the African-American community the principles that had allowed their ancestors to endure slavery, oppression and racism.
Celebrated from December 26th to January 1st, it is based on Nguzo Saba (seven guiding principles), one for each day of the observance:

Umoja (OO-MO-JAH) Unity stresses the importance of togetherness for the family and the community, which is reflected in the African saying, “I am We,” or “I am because We are.”

Kujichagulia (KOO-GEE-CHA-GOO-LEE-YAH) Self-Determination requires that we define our common interests and make decisions that are in the best interest of our family and community.

Ujima (OO-GEE-MAH) Collective Work and Responsibility reminds us of our obligation to the past, present and future, and that we have a role to play in the community, society, and world.

Ujamaa (OO-JAH-MAH) Cooperative economics emphasizes our collective economic strength and encourages us to meet common needs through mutual support.

Nia (NEE-YAH) Purpose encourages us to look within ourselves and to set personal goals that are beneficial to the community.

Kuumba (KOO-OOM-BAH) Creativity makes use of our creative energies to build and maintain a strong and vibrant community.

Imani (EE-MAH-NEE) Faith focuses on honoring the best of our traditions, draws upon the best in ourselves, and helps us strive for a higher level of life for humankind, by affirming our self-worth and confidence in our ability to succeed and triumph in righteous struggle.


As it is always better to get an early start, I suggest that you begin the first week in December by making a check list for the following items: A Kinara (candle holder); Mkeka (placemat preferably made of straw); Mazao (crops, i.e., fruits and vegetables); Vibunzi (ears of corn to reflect the number of children in the household); Kikombe cha umoja (communal unity cup); Mishumaa saba (seven candles, one black, three red, and three green); and Zawadi (gifts that are enriching).

It is important that the Kinara not be confused with the menorah. The Kinara holds seven candles to reflect the seven principles which are the foundation of Kwanzaa, while the menorah is a Jewish religious symbol that holds nine candles. If you don’t have a Kinara and don’t know where to get one, it is suggested that you use “kuumba” (creativity) and make one. A 2×4 or a piece of driftwood will do just fine, and screw-in candle holders can be purchased in most hardware stores. The Mkeka (place mat) shouldn’t present a problem. While straw is suggested because it is traditional, cloth makes an adequate substitute. If cloth is used, one with an African print is preferred. The other symbols are easy to come by and warrant no further discussion other than to caution against placing the Mazao (crops)in a cornucopia which is Western. A plain straw basket or a bowl will do just fine. One last note, even households without any children should place an ear of corn on the place mat to symbolize the African concept of social parenthood. All seven symbols are creatively placed on top of the place mat, i.e., the symbols should be attractively arranged as they form the Kwanzaa centerpiece.


The Kinara along with the other symbols of Kwanzaa should dominate the room, which should be given an African motif. This is easily achieved and shouldn’t result in too much expense. The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green. This should be kept in mind when decorating the home. Black, red and green streamers, balloons, cloth, flowers, and African prints can be hung tastefully around the room. Original art and sculpture may be displayed as well.


Kuumba (creativity) is greatly encouraged. Not only is Kuumba one of the seven principles, it also brings a sense of personal satisfaction and puts one squarely into the spirit of Kwanzaa. Therefore, those symbols that can be made, should be made. The giving of gifts during Kwanzaa should be affordable and of an educational or artistic nature. Gifts are usually exchanged between parents and children and traditionally given on January 1st, the last day of Kwanzaa. However, gift giving during Kwanzaa may occur at any time.


The Kwanzaa Karumu is traditionally held on December 31st (participants celebrating New Year’s Eve, should plan their Karamu early in the evening). It is a very special event as it is the one Kwanzaa event that brings us closer to our African roots. The Karamu is a communal and cooperative effort. Ceremonies and cultural expressions are highly encouraged. It is important to decorate the place where the Karamu will be held, (e.g., home, community center, church) in an African motif that utilizes black, red, and green color scheme. A large Kwanzaa setting should dominate the room where the karamu will take place. A large Mkeka should be placed in the center of the floor where the food should be placed creatively and made accessible to all for self-service. Prior to and during the feast, an informative and entertaining program should be presented. Traditionally, the program involved welcoming, remembering, reassessment, recommitment and rejoicing, concluded by a farewell statement and a call for greater unity.

The Principle Symbols Associated with Kwanzaa

The Karamu

A ritual Kwanzaa feast, celebrating Umoja, or unity, is the highlight of the holiday. Usually held on December 31, families gather to share a meal, to pay homage to their ancestors, to celebrate African-American heroes, to exchange the Zawadi or gifts. During the meal a toast or tamshi la tambiko is made and a libation is drunk from the kikombe cha umoja (unity cup) to the ancestors.

The Kinara

A candle-holder which, like the menorah in the Jewish Hanukkah celebration, holds one candle for each of day of Kwanzaa. The seven Mishumaa Saba (candles), are placed left to right in the kinara as follows: three red candles (representing nia, kuumba and imani), one black candle (representing umoja – unity), and three green candles (representing kujichagulia, ujima and ujamaa). The black center candle is lit first, with the remaining six on each of the following days.


Fruits and vegetables of the harvest, or the rewards for working together throughout the year, are placed on the mkeka (a straw mat symbolizing traditions of the past). At least two ears of corn, called mihindi, are included to symbolize the children (the kernels) of the father (the stalk), the hope for the future.

The Bandera

African-American flag created by Marcus Mosiah Garvey, founder of UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League) in the early 1900’s and adopted by Dr. Karenga as a symbol for Kwanzaa. The flag has three stripes: green representing freedom, black representing unity, and red representing the blood spilled in the name of the other two.

“Umoja is my favorite day because it means ‘unity’ and the best part of Kwanzaa is the gathering of the family.” Harambee – “Let’s all work together” or “Let’s pull together”.


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African Americans Will Lose the Right To Vote in 2007 – Fact or Fiction?

Summary of the Rumor: The story says that blacks will be losing their right to vote in 2007. The reason is that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was not a law, it was just an act, but never passed into law. In 1982, according to the story, Ronald Reagan amended the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years… until 2007. At that time, congress will revisit the whole issue and in addition to congressional approval, there needs to be the approval of 38 states for the law to be extended.


The Truth: This is a hoax. Voting rights for African Americans will not expire in 2007.
1. According to the United States Department of Justice, both the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, guarantee that no person can be prohibited from voting because of race or color. That guarantee is without expiration. The Voting Rights Act does not expire. Lawmakers did add some provisions to the law, however, that are up for review in 2007. Those include things like a ban on poll taxes, allowing the government to register voters if local registrars of voters refuse to do it, and monitoring of elections where there may be concern over everybody getting a chance to vote.

2. Both acts and laws are actions of congress and are the law. There is no distinction in terms of how long they exist. It depends on how they’re written.

3. These special provisions of the Voting Rights Act were to originally expire in 1970, but congress voted to extend them. They were extended again in 1970, 1975, and 1982. The chances are good that congress will extend them again.

4. An extension does not need any approval by the states. Someone has gotten that mixed up with an amendment to the Constitution, which does require the approval of at least 38 U.S. states.

An example of the false story as it has been circulated in emails:

Subject: VOTE OR LOSE IN 2007



“I am wondering if anyone out here knows what the significance of the year 2007 is to Black America? Did you know that the right to vote will expire in the year 2007? Seriously! The Voters Rights Act signed in 1965 by Lyndon B. Johnson was just an ACT. It was NOT made a LAW! In 1982, Ronald Reagan amended the Voters Rights Act for only another 25years, which means that in the year 2007, we could lose the right to vote! Does anyone realize that Blacks/African Americans are the only group of people who require PERMISSION under the United States Constitution to vote? In the year 2007 Congress will once again convene to decide whether or not Blacks should retain the right to vote (crazy, but true). In order for this to be passed, 38 states will have to approve an extension. In my opinion and many others, this is ludicrous! Not only should the extension be approved, but also the Act must be made into a law. Our right to vote should no longer be up for discussion, review and/or evaluation. We must contact our Congress representatives, Senators, Alder persons, etc., to put a stop to this! We have come too far to let the government make such a huge step backward. As bona fide citizens of the United States, we cannot “drop the ball” on this one! So please, let us push forward to continue building the momentum towards gaining equality. I urge all of you that are able, to contact those in government that have your vote and will be voting on this issue.”


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We have the customers you want to reach ! If your company currently benefits from print, TV, and/or radio advertising direct to the high end consumer, then you will certainly benefit from an advertising program on our site ! is of interest to a very select, high quality demographic group. Since we’ve been on the Internet for 6 years, our site is extensively linked to every major search engine on the Net – often appearing in the top 10 listings – making it very easy to find by black business owners and consumers. Our site gets great national exposure from direct mail, banner ads, email – and is a proven money maker and a true leader in this industry with millions of visitors each year !

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Oakland Community Organizations – Director of Development and Communications

Job Announcement


The Director of Development and Communications will work closely with the Executive Director and volunteer leaders, leading the development and execution of the annual fund development and communication plan. This is a great opportunity to join a well-respected, highly-leveraged grassroots organization addressing core societal problems with hope, wisdom, community involvement, and conviction. OCO is seeking a motivated, self-starter for this position.

Bachelor degree or equivalent.

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Job Announcement

OCO is hiring two community organizers with a passion for social justice and a commitment to develop low income grassroots leadership. An organizer has responsibility for training congregation, school and neighborhood leaders to develop Local Organizing Committees (LOCs) and the OCO citywide federation to improve conditions for their families.

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Associate or baccalaureate degree (may be waived in light of fulltime, relevant experience).

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Timeline for Getting Ready to Go to College

So you’re planning to go to college once you finish high school, right? But are you really ready?

Planning for college is a two-year process. And unless a rich uncle is going to write that $30,000 check for you, it is going to involve acquiring and submitting financial aid forms, scholarship applications, and grant applications. But don’t despair. By following the suggestions below, and by carefully monitoring the process, you should be buying college textbooks before you know it. Keep in mind, however, that this is a process; it isn’t like taking one test and getting an A. It requires diligence, double-checking, and follow-up.


When you are a high school JUNIOR:

Take the SAT and/or ACT…this is a must.
Keep your grades up! Remember that colleges look at your entire high school academic record when making admissions decisions: what you do in 9th through 11th grade is just as important as what you do as a high school senior.
Consider college options. Decide what is important to you: Location? Curriculum? Size? Diversity? Athletics? Social life?

Keep an eye on your local papers and community bulletin boards for college nights and open houses; talking to representatives at college fairs is a great way to find out about the colleges you are considering.
Research your scholarship and grant options. Utilize the best customized scholarship search service available on the Internet, You just can’t mimic their resources yourself; they will save you time and headaches, and help you avoid scams.

Send away for scholarship information and applications with early deadlines. It’s never too soon to do so since some scholarship and grant applications need to be received in the fall of your senior year.
Make an effort to be involved in your community or in extra-curricular activities at school.
Join a club, do a service project, sign up for a committee at your church. Admissions officers and scholarship providers will want to see evidence of your leadership and commitment to service when they review your applications next year.

In the FALL of your SENIOR year:

Select the colleges that interest you most, as soon as you enter your high school homeroom. Don’t delay. Send away for information and applications; be sure to check out web sites for information you can obtain online.
Sign up to re-take the SAT or ACT. Buy a study guide or sign up for a test prep course to take before the actual test date. Believe it or not, you CAN improve your test scores by taking them a second time, and better scores could affect your ability to get scholarships!

If possible, visit any colleges you can. Find out when there are prospective student activities or if you can sign up to “shadow” an existing college freshman.

In September (and then once each month thereafter), search for scholarship opportunities using the premiere online service, Take time to fill out the entire profile on the site, making sure to ask your parents about their work experiences and association/union memberships for optimal results.
Pay attention to early admission deadlines. By October or November, submit applications for early decision programs.
Attend a financial aid presentation. These are offered at schools, libraries, and college campuses.
Narrow your list of intended colleges, and make sure you have all the financial aid forms required by each school. Required documents may not be the same at each school, so pay close attention to what each requires.
Obtain a Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). This should be available in January, and it is very important. Call 1-800-4-fed-aid; the online address is The FAFSA form can also be obtained from high schools, colleges, and local libraries.

Complete and submit the FAFSA immediately (it can be submitted anytime after January 1st in your senior year). Make a copy for yourself. Parents should compile income tax information and complete taxes early.
In the SPRING of your SENIOR year:

Verify that you have submitted all of your financial aid forms. The FAFSA must be filled out and sent in between January 1 and March 15 — get it in early and file it correctly to avoid delays in funding decisions.
Be sure to send in your scholarship applications on time; several scholarships have spring deadlines. Check back regularly with to find even more awards during the spring and summer months; you should update your profile each month to generate new, customized award lists.
Verify that you have received your Student Aid Report (SAR); it should arrive about 4 weeks after you have submitted your FAFSA.

Compare financial aid packages when you receive admissions notifications. Look for the best rather than the most.
Finalize your choice and notify the college.

Sign and return financial aid forms to the university you plan to attend.
Send your final transcript and student loan application.
Notify the schools whose enrollment offers you decline.
Now celebrate! You are about to enter one of the most amazing times of your life, and one that will change you forever. Make the most of your college experience, and remember to study. It is important to maintain your GPA so that you can maintain your scholarships throughout your college career.

For additional information about this topic, visit

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