The African diaspora is a rich tapestry weaving through the course of time, with not only a strong impact on the American society, but throughout the world. The “Black History” podcast ventures to each week introduce an innovative topic, influential person or present interesting aspects of history related to the African diaspora to those seeking knowledge and enlightenment.
George Crum - "Leaving Crum(b)s Through History"
In the United States, potatoes are the second most consumed item, just behind rice. But when potatoes are thin sliced, fried and salted, they go from being the number two consumed food to the number one snack food of choice.
George Crum, also known as George Speck, was born in 1824 in Saratoga Springs, New York to a Native American mother and African American father. When he was a young man, Crum worked as a guide in the Adirondack Mountains and an a Native American trader. Eventually however, he realized he had an exceptional ability to cook, and the culinary arts was his calling.
By the summer of 1853, Crum found himself as the head chef at one of Saratoga Spring’s fanciest restaraunts, the Moon Lake Lodge resort, where like many other places, French fries was a famous staple of the menu. Though Crum could make French fries, his specialties were really in his seasoned preparation of wild game like venison and duck, with him not afraid to push the envelope and really experiment with flavors and pairings in the kitchen.
In 1853, Crum was in the Moon Lake kitchen creating his famous French fries for a patron. Well apparently, the diner wasn’t happy with way his fries were cut, and sent them back asking for them to be cut thinner. Crum obliged, and cut them thinner. The diner STILL wasn’t happy, claiming the fries were too soggy, and sent the fries back again. According to legend, Crum was a bit more then perturbed and purposefully sliced the new batch of potatoes as thin as he possibly could, and then purposefully fried them as hard and as crunchy as possible. To top the new batch off, he salted them about as heavily as he could and served it up. Crum, despite his reputation for such amazing cuisine, tried to sabotage his own client. But, to Crum’s surprise, the diner LOVED this new creation, and with his new hit… a new snack was born.
By 1860, Crum had ventured to open his own restaurant in Malta, New York, invariably called “Crum’s House”. Crum’s restaurant was in ridiculously high demand among tourists to the Saratoga Springs area, and even the wealthy seasonal residents of the area. According to diners, “his prices were that of the fashionable high end New York City restaurants, but the food and service were more than worth it, with everything possible raised on his own small farm, and even his farm got his personal attention whenever he could manage to handle both.”
The famed Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt once was obligated to wait over an hour and a half for a meal.”
Though United States’ patent law was created with color-blind language to foster and encourage innovation, the patent system consistently excluded these inventors from their due recognition. Because of these uphill battle in getting a patent, George Crum never even attempted to patent his potato chips, or the process for their creation. Eventually potato chips were being mass produced without him receiving any credit. Today, Americans alone consume about 1.5 billion pounds of potato chips each year.
George Crum died at the age of 90 in 1914; but his potato chips will forever live on.
Curt Flood - "Finding Freedom in Sport"
“I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States."
Curt Flood was born in Houston, Texas on January 18, 1938, but raised in Oakland, California. In 1956, at age 18, Flood was signed to the Cincinnati Redlegs baseball club, but was ultimately traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in December 1957.
For the next twelve (12) seasons, Flood played centerfield for the Cardinals. During the 1969 season, Flood’s offensive production slipped a bit, and on October 7th the Cardinals announced they were trading Flood and fellow Cardinals Tim McCarver, Byron Browne and Joe Hoerner to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Flood was happy being in St. Louis, didn’t want to be traded, and on December 24, 1969 challenged the very nature of the entire professional sports system.
On December 24, 1969, Flood penned a letter to Bowie Kuhn in effect demanding that the commissioner declare him a free agent saying:
“After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.
It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decision. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.”
Curt Flood filed a $1 million lawsuit against Bowie Kuhn and Major League Baseball on January 16, 1970. On June 19, 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-3 in favor of Major League Baseball, citing the precedent set forth in the 1922 case Federal Baseball Club v. National League.
Twenty-six (26) years following the Supreme Court’s decision in Flood v. Kuhn, the Curt Flood Act of 1998 was passed. The act implemented exactly what Curt Flood himself was hoping for; it stopped major league baseball team owner from singlehandedly controlling the contracts and careers of the individual players.
Francois Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture - For Liberty of Haiti
Toussaint L’Ouverture’s father was a man named Gaou Guinou, the son of the King of Allada, a west African kingdom located in present-day Benin. L’Ouverture’s father was captured during a war, and subsequently sold into slavery. L’Ouverture’s mother was named Pauline, Guinou's second wife, and L’Ouverture was the oldest child between the married couple.
L’Ouverture started life as an enslaved person, and ended as a free man.
The Haitian Revolution lasted from approximately 1791 to 1804; and essentially it was a slave revolt in Saint-Domingue that culminated in the elimination of slavery on the island, and thereupon established the Republic of Haiti. Through the course of recorded history, it is the first and only slave rebellion that led to the founding of a state and is generally considered to be the most successful slave rebellion to have ever occurred in all of the Americas. Beginning in 1789, the freed people of color were inspired by the French Revolution to expand their own rights, and seek complete freedom.
On August 29, 1793, L’Ouverture made a famous declaration before his countrymen at St. Domingue:
"Brothers and friends, I am Toussaint Louverture; perhaps my name has made itself known to you. I have undertaken vengeance. I want Liberty and Equality to reign in St. Domingue. I am working to make that happen. Unite yourselves to us, brothers and fight for the same cause."
By 1796, L’Ouverture was thee dominant force in the fight for freedom. By early 1801, L’Ouverture’s troops had captured Santo Domingo, the capital of the Spanish part of Hispaniola. With this capture, the entirety of the island was under L’Ouverture’s control.
Napoleon refused to respond, and eventually sent 20,000 of his men to Saint Domingue to restore French authority. L’Ouverture’s original plan was to scorch the earth, meaning he would burn the coastal cities and as much of the plains as possible and retreat with his troops into the mountains, generally inaccessible to those who were uninitiated, until such time as fever would destroy the French army. L'Ouverture's troops never fully gained their fighting strength, and eventually an amnesty was agreed upon.
Following the amnesty, L'Ouverture was captured and arrested by French troops, sent to a French prison and died on April 7, 1803.
Once he was deceased, Jean-Jacques Dessalines led the remainder of the Haitian rebellion until its completion, completing its defeat of the French in 1803.
1966 - The Bayview-Hunter's Point Riot
On September 27, 1966 a riot broke out in San Francisco's Bayview-Hunters Point, a black neighborhood, when a white police officer shot and killed a seventeen-year-old African American teen, Matthew Johnson, Jr. By the 1960’s, the Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhoods were populated predominantly with African Americans and other racial and ethnic minority groups, essentially being isolated from the more desirable San Francisco area. In 1964 and 1965, black neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Harlem, Watts and Cleveland erupted in violence. A new, militant generation of blacks was turning away from nonviolent civil rights organizations and embracing the fiery new ideology of black power.
At 2.30pm on a superhot Sept 27th 1966 night, three African American teenagers were joyriding through Bayview-Hunter’s Point in a stolen 1958 Buick. Allegedly, the car stalled on Griffith Street near Oakdale Avenue just as a police cruiser pulled alongside. At the same time, the three teenagers bolted from the car, Clifton Bacon (15) and Matthew Johnson (16) took off on foot, and Darrell Mobley (14) took cover behind a nearby parked car. A white patrol officer, Alvin Johnson, chased Clifton Bacon and Matthew Johnson in his patrol cruiser. Matthew Johnson was unarmed. As he ran away down a hill in a nearby housing project, the officer fired four (4) shots, one of them hit the child in the heart. Within minutes of being hit, he was dead.
The Mayor flatly refused to address or acknowledge the situation. The buzz amongst the crowd began to hum with suggestions to burn down a local police station. Before long, there was an overturned car burning out on Third Street. In 1966, just as in recent years, by the time the Mayor, Jack Shelley, arrived and promised the crowd gathered near the Bayview Community Center that Officer Alvin Johnson had been suspended, it was too late.
Police rushed to Third Street, closed it to all traffic and marched their way up Third Street to the Community Center, all the while firing shots over the heads of residents and protestors on the street. On television and in the newspapers, people saw the police fire in the Community Center. At the time, more than 200 children were reported to be present inside the building.
When it was all said and done, the riot ended up being an uprising that saw dozens of fires set, a few police officers injured, residents of Hunter’s Point shot, and the deployment of over 2,000 National Guard troops at the behest of then California Governor Edmund Brown.
Jean-Michel Basquiat - "The Original Social Graffitist"
Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. His ethnic background was Hatian, through his father,
and Puerto Rican, through his mother.
Basquiat had an interest in art that was developed from his mother’s insistence, and encouragement; but he learned to draw just by teaching himself through practice. By the age of 11, Basquiat was fluent in Spanish, French and English. At 15, Basquiat ran away from home, and slept on park benches in Manhattan’s East Village
Not long after running away from home, Basquiat dropped out of high school in the 10th grade.
After he dropped out, and though he was attending the alternative school, his father kicked him out of the house, causing Basquiat to stay with friends in Brooklyn and make ends meet by selling t-shirts and homemade post cards. Under the name “SAMO”, in the late 70’s, as a pre-teen Basquiat worked with a close friend to put graffiti on the trains, and buildings around various parts of Manhattan.
In 1980, Basquiat would star in an independent film called Downtown 81. In 1981, Basquiat starred in a Blondie music video for the song “Rapture” as a nightclub DJ.
After struggling to get his work noticed, and selling random items, Basquiat’s break came in 1980. He was fortunate enough to have his work featured with a group in an art show.
He joined the Annina Nosei gallery, and worked in the basement under the gallery toward his first one-man show that took place in March 1981. In December 1981, Reñe Ricard published an article titled “The Radiant Child” in Artforum magazine featuring Basquiat and from there he was brought to the attention of the art world.
The work of Basquiat was inspired by his graffiti past. Basquiat’s work was ripe with symbology, and references, to African history as well. In the mid-1980’s, Basquiat had a famed collaboration with pop artist Andy Warhol.
At only 25 years old, Basquiat exhibited nearly 60 paintings at the famed Kestner-Gesellschaft Gallery in Hanover, Germany; becoming the youngest artist to ever showcase their work in the gallery.
On August 12, 1988, Basquiat died of a heroin overdose at his art studio on Great Jones Street in Manhattan. He was only 27 years old.
The Diaspora - From Plymouth to Revolution
Prior to the Pilgrims arriving to to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620, people of African descent had been in the United States, since at least 1619. In addition, one of the early settlers of Plymouth Colony was in fact a black man. By the 1640s black Pilgrims were serving in the Plymouth Colony militia.
Free African colonists worked hard trying to build a future for their children, but it was nearly impossible, as opportunities for blacks to move up in society were few and far between. While working to improve their own lives and those of the families, in a society still dominated by the culture and economy created by slavery, free Africans also worked towards a day when one person could never own another.
From the time of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to the American colonies in 1619, the enslaved persons were generally welcomed into the ranks of the local militias to counter the threat from local Native American tribes. And in fact, this practice continued, especially in the northern colonies, for more than 150 years, until George Washington took control of the Continental Army in 1775.