Black History Month Influencers: Kelly Norman Ellis’s Facebook Challenge

Black History Month Influencers: Kelly Norman Ellis’s Facebook Challenge

Frank X Walker
Photo by Tracy A. Hawkins


On the first Day of Black History Month, 2013, the great poet Kelly Norman Ellis (who received her PhD in African American Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky in 2001) challenged her non-black facebook friends to post a photo of African-Americans who inspired/influenced their work and life.

Day One 2.01.2013

Here’s the first: Shirley Chisholm, NY Congresswoman elected when I was 6. And just to make sure we do Dr. Ellis’ assignment fully, I’ll just do one every day this month and still have hundreds left over.

Day Two 2. 2.2013

Marlon Riggs. Photo at Museum of Broadcast Communications, ctsy Signifyin’ Works, Andy Stern.

Black History Month Day 2. Influencer: Filmmaker Marlon Riggs, esp. his “Unleash the Queen” essay in “Black Popular Culture,” Wallace and Dent, eds. 1992.

Day Three 2.3.2013

Black History Month, Day 3. Influencer: poet Nikki Giovanni.

Day Four 2.04.2013

Black History Month, Day 4. Influencer: Gil Scott Heron.


Day Five 2.015.2013

Black History Month: Day 5. Influencers: Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right), 1968 Olympics. Watched this race and ceremony live at age five sitting against my father’s leg. Distinctly remember his look of confusion, interest/pride and then intense worry, alarm when the two made the Black Power salute. “My god, they will kill them.” They didn’t. But they tried. John Carlos later a high school teacher and coach in Palm Springs, Calif, where I worked at the newspaper.

Day Six 2.06.2013

Black History Month, Day 6. Influencer: George Washington Carver. The father of sustainability. Scientist, inventor, painter, educator (Tuskegee). Read a kids’ biography of him at age 8.

Day Seven 2.07.2013

Black History Month Day 7. Influencer: Frederick Douglass. His “Autobiography” probably the most important literacy narrative in U.S. history.

Day Eight 2.08.2013

Black History Month, Day 8. Influencer: Lorraine Hansberry. Playwright, author of A Raisin in The Sun. First African-American to direct a play on Broadway. Eulogized by Paul Robeson at her funeral … died at age 34.

Day Nine 2.09.2013

Black History Month, Day 9. Influencer: Ann Petry, Connecticut-based author. First African-American woman to sell more than 1 million copies of a book. In graduate school, we were allowed to add two titles to the very tight list of approved authors. I added Ann Petry’s The Narrows.”

Day Ten 2.10.2013

Black History Month, Day 10. Influencer: Berry Gordy, the man behind Motown. From the Jackson 5 cartoon to the soundtrack of American life for three decades and beyond. I cannot imagine my life without his life’s work.

Day Eleven 2. 11. 2013

Frank X Walker
Photo by Tracy A. Hawkins

Black History Month, Day 11. Influencer: The Affrilachian Poets, including:

Kelly Norman Ellis (who gave us this assignment), Frank X Walker, and Ricardo Nazario-Colón, and National Book Award Winner Nikky Finney. Many were students with me at University of Kentucky. The documentary “Coal Black Voices” by Jean L Donohue lays it out.

Day Twelve 2. 12. 2013

Black History Month, Day 12. Influencer, Big Chief Robbe, founder (in 1920s) of White Eagles Mardi Gras Indians, later chief of chiefs. Where the African-American and Native American mix the gumbo pot together. “My flag boy saw your flag boy…” Happy Shrove Tuesday.

Day Thirteen 2.13.2013

Black History Month, Day 13. Influencer, J. Alexander Looby. This Fisk University professor of law, with his JD from Columbia University and his doctorate from NYU, defended the students, who, on this day in 1960, staged the first of the Nashville sit ins at lunch counters. Dynamite was thrown into his home, destroying the house, but leaving Looby and his wife, asleep in a back bedroom, uninjured.

Day Fourteen 2.14.2013

Black History Month, Day 14. Influencers: Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. Artists, activists, and 55+ years together, until Davis’ 2005 death. A love supreme.

Day Fifteen 2.15.2013

Black History Month, Day 15. Influencer: Mary Church Terrell. Memphis-born suffragist and racewoman. One of the first African-American women to earn a college degree, at Oberlin College in the 1880s. Founded National Association of University Women. Invited as a speaker to an international conference in Berlin and as the only black person at the conference, received a standing ovation when she delivered her address. In German.

Day Sixteen 2.16.2013

Black History Month, Day 16. Influencer: Mark Dean, computer scientist. Developed the 3Ghz processor (the microprocessor), led team that developed the one-gigabyte chip. IBM’s CTO for Middle East and Africa. Holder of 20 patents.

Day Seventeen 2.17.2013

Black History Month Day 17. Influencer, Mae Street Kidd, Kentucky legislator 1968-1986, sponsored bills for Kentucky’s ratification of 13th, 14th, 15th Amendments and bill to create a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the Commonwealth. “Passing for Black” tells her story. When I was 9, I was having breakfast with my grandmother in a Frankfort restaurant during “the session,” and she hailed and spoke with a beautiful woman in a suit, whom she obviously knew. It was Mae Street Kidd. “That lady is in the Legislature. She is very smart and a wonderful businesswoman. Some people say she is black. I don’t believe it.” (smh)

Day Eighteen 2.18.2013

Black History Month, Day 18. Influencer, Sylvia Robinson, founder of Sugarhill Records, which put out “The Message” and “Rapper’s Delight,” the first two rap records, in the 1970s. Recorded as “Little Sylvia” and “Sylvia” before becoming the mother of rap. I remember WNEW Ch. 5 venturing up to the South Bronx, which was then ON FIRE, literally, to do a piece on these bands and their “scratching” of records.

Day Nineteen 2.19.2013

Black History Month, Day 19. Influencer: Zora Neale Hurston. Scholar, novelist, chronicler. “Their Eyes Were Watching God” still on the Top 10 of all books read. (And I have read some books). Was lucky enough to study American literature with Dr. Robert Hemenway, who wrote the biography that helped get her works back into print and alongside Dr. Kelly Norman Ellis, who did her graduate work on Hurston.

photo: Paul Revere Williams Project

Day Twenty 2.20.2013

Black History Month, Day 20. Influencer: Paul Revere Williams, architect. The first African-American architect registered West of the Mississippi, Williams was Los Angeles-based. He designed both public structures and private homes, including many for Hollywood’s elite. His Ball-Arnaz House in Thunderbird CC, Indian Wells and the Palm Springs Tennis Club are two of his structures I like.

Day Twenty-One 2.21.2013

Black History Month, Day 21. Influencer: Bill T. Jones, choreographer, dancer. A MacArthur “Genius”, bestowed with Kennedy Honors, created works with and for Toni Morrison, Keith Haring, Max Roach and others. Saw him dance with his company in ’90s at Penn State. Amazing.

Day Twenty-Two 2.22.2013

Black History Month, Day 22. Influencer: Terrence A. Todman, first black U.S. ambassador. Ambassador to five separate countries, including Spain and Denmark. Retired as “career ambassador,” the equivalent of a four-star general. Today is our 24-hour International Crisis Simulation w the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.

Day Twenty-Three 2.23.2013

Black History Month, Day 23. Ava DuVernay. The night before Oscars. Today’s person made history just last month. First African-American woman to take the “Best Director” prize at Sundance for her “Middle of Nowhere.”

Day Twenty-Four 2.24.2013

Black History Month, Day 24. Influencer, Russell Williams, 4-time Oscar winner. Won Sound Mixing for Bird, Glory, Dances With Wolves and Dreamgirls.

Day Twenty-Five 2.25.2013

Black History Month, Day 25. Influencer: Dorothy Dandridge, first African-American woman nominated for Best Actress (Carmen Jones). We love you, Quvenzhane.

Day Twenty-Six 2.26.2013

Black History Month, Day 26. Influencer, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. This graduate of Phillis Wheatley High School in Houston was the first black Southern woman to be elected to Congress. An extraordinary orator, she worked performativity decades before Judith Butler. I remember her speeches and her policies from the 70s forward. Presidential Medal of Freedom, among many other honors.
Day Twenty-Seven 2.27.2013
Black History Month, Day 27. Influencer: bell hooks. This Hopkinsville, Kentucky native is a leading thinker on gender, race, literature, culture. Her books and life have had an immense impact on me. Some years ago, she returned to Kentucky, where she is a professor at Berea College. Her new book  Belonging: a Culture of Place features an interview with Kentuckian Wendell Berry on returning to Kentucky.
Day Twenty-Eight 2.28.2013
Chester Grundy with Ross Compton, Lyric Theatre.

Black History Month, Day 28. Influencer: Chester Grundy, longtime University of Kentucky Director of Minority Affairs. Though he would snort to be called old enough to be “history. 🙂 From his introductions of the greatest lights in jazz at the Spotlight Jazz shows, to his patient advocacy and education of others, his support of the nascent WRFL project and his student developmental approach to all UK students, regardless of race. From the day I met him in 1981 to today, Chester Grundy has made Black History live every day of the year for me and other UK students. (Pictured here at Lexington’s restored Lyric Theatre with random white student he may know).

Click here for Chester Grundy’s Ace 2001 article about Black History Month.
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