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Black History

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin: A Leader of Women in Fight for Vote

In 1894, Ruffin and her daughter, Florida Ridely, along with Maria Baldwin, a Boston school principal, and 20 other Black women from Boston founded the Woman’s Era Club (1893), a civic association for African-American women.

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Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin. Public domain photo.

Born in Boston’s Beacon Hill community, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842–1924) grew up learning from people with abolitionist ideals of justice, equality and political representation. Her mother was English-born, and her father, from the Caribbean Island of Martinique, founded the Boston Zion Church.
   Young Josephine received her early education in Salem, Mass., where the schools were integrated. By age 16, she’d met and married George Lewis Ruffin, the first African American to graduate from Harvard Law School and serve on both the Boston City Council and in the state Legislature. He later became Boston’s first Black municipal judge.
   After her marriage, Ruffin graduated from a Boston finishing school and subsequently completed two years of private tutoring in New York. She fought against slavery, recruited African-American soldiers to fight for the North in the Civil War. During the Civil War years (1861–1865), the couple became involved in charity works and civil rights causes. Ruffin developed a passion for the advancement of Black women and the women’s suffrage movement and began to work closely with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
    Ruffin served as the first vice president of the National Association of Colored Women and helped found the Boston chapter of the NAACP. She served as editor of the Women’s Era (1890–1897), the first newspaper published by and for African-American women.

    But Ruffin wanted to take the movement beyond the pages of a paper; she wanted to expand the paper and its purpose into an organization. Women’s voices needed to be brought to the forefront for social and political change.
   In 1894, Ruffin and her daughter, Florida Ridely, along with Maria Baldwin, a Boston school principal, and 20 other Black women from Boston founded the Woman’s Era Club (1893), a civic association for African-American women.

   Suffrage was not the club’s only goal though its members did actively engage in the suffrage movement and participate in suffrage-related events. They also joined local organizations and published articles in support of the suffrage cause. Being a member provided Black women opportunities for both self-improvement and to discuss topics of interest specific to their gender and race.
     For Ruffin, women’s suffrage served as a stepping stone to more expansive civil rights: “We are justified in believing that the success of this movement for equality of the sexes means more progress toward equality of the races.”

   The Women’s Era Club, one of Ruffin’s greatest achievements, later disbanded. Topics from local politics and education to the debilitating discrimination and terrorism of Black Americans in the South had been quieted but not silenced. Ruffin remained active, later becoming one of the founding members of the Boston NAACP (1910). Ruffin died in Boston in 1924.

Black History

Juneteenth: Our Independence Day

Also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, it commemorates the end of slavery, the seminal event in Black history.

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Graphic courtesy istock.

June 19, or Juneteenth, is independence day for many Americans of African descent.

Also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, it commemorates the end of slavery, the seminal event in Black history.

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, but was read to slaves in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, more than two years later.

There are several different accounts of why the news of freedom took so long to arrive.

One story has it that slaves were intentionally kept ignorant about their freedom in order to allow crops to continue being harvested. Another has a messenger traveling by mule to deliver the news, and it simply took more than two years to arrive from Washington, D.C., to Texas. Yet another story has the messenger being murdered before he could deliver the message.

No matter the origin of Juneteenth, the end of slavery is definitely worth celebrating. But while much has happened in the 158 years since slavery officially ended, its legacies still remain in the form of disparate salaries, educational levels and incarceration rates.

Juneteenth, which is now observed in 48 states (North Dakota and Hawaii do not observe)  and the District of Columbia, is a time to take stock of our progress — and of the work that remains.

Last year, during the pandemic our current vice president and former senator, Kamala Harris, said:  “[m]y message on this Juneteenth:  may we honor those who suffered, died and survived the crushing reality of slavery by looking to the future.”

Twelve years ago President Barack Obama said: “African Americans helped to build our nation brick by brick and have contributed to her growth in every way, even when rights and liberties were denied to them.”

We’re still building it.

In 2021, as our state opens up post-pandemic and we deal with racial reckoning as we never have before  #BlackLivesMatter is becoming a reality. 

This year is truly our Independence Day.

Happy Juneteenth.

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African American News & Issues

Black Panther Mini Museum Free to BIPOC Juneteenth Weekend

Lisbet Tellefsen is the curator, Linnea Du is the editor, Otherwise provided design, and Art Kotoulas production.

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Graphic courtesy West Oakland Mural Project.

The Mini Museum of the Black Panther Party @ The Mural opens on Juneteenth, June 19, 2021, at 831 Center St., Oakland, CA.  It’s open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  Tickets for up to five people for a 30-minute tour can be purchased in advance by logging onto westoaklandmuralproject.org.  Children under 12 are free as are BIPOC folks during Juneteenth weekend. Individual tickets can be purchased for $12.50.

Lisbet Tellefsen is the curator, Linnea Du is the editor, Otherwise provided design, and Art Kotoulas production.

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Arts and Culture

Buddy Bolden: The Forgotten Father of Jazz

It is suggested that Bolden was a byproduct of his time and circumstances. He was an improviser; there was no trace of written music left. He performed at the beginning of the age of recorded music and silent film, so there are no known video or audio traces of him. So far, only one photograph of him has been discovered.

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Buddy Bolden holding his coronet is standing to the left of the upright bass player. Wikipedia photo.

Charles “Buddy” Bolden (1867–1831) is one of the central figures in New Orleans music, yet his place in the history of jazz remains tenuous. His name may mean nothing to a casual jazz listener but his legacy, a collage of truth, whispers and some rumors, lives on.

Much of what is known of Bolden comes from oral accounts passed down decades after his death. Records about his life remain scarce. It was often said that he cut hair at a barber shop in New Orleans; jumped from a hot air balloon over Lincoln Park and played his coronet on the way down; moonlighted as the editor of a scandal sheet called The Cricket.

What music scholars do know is that Bolden grew up in the New Orleans’ neighborhood now known as Central City. It’s likely that there, from childhood, he was constantly exposed to brass bands parading through the streets. He probably attended Fisk School and may have even graduated. During this time Bolden began studying the coronet.
Bolden would later become a working musician known for his loud sound and improvisational skills. He played in parades, at picnics, parks and union halls, and was a favorite at the honky-tonks. Yet this talented pioneering jazz musician had schizophrenia.

He was unable to properly read music and had impaired motor function. He only improvised on his coronet, playing the ragtime music popular from the 1890s to the 1920s. It never mattered because people loved him.

Bolden was arrested for the first time in 1906. According to newspaper reports, Bolden, in a fit of psychosis, was convinced he was being drugged or poisoned. He attacked his caregiver, who was either his mother or his mother-in-law. “He was booked on a charge of being insane, and alcohol abuse was cited as the reason for his insanity.”

How long Bolden was jailed is unknown. His life, however, would deteriorate after the incident. He became erratic and unreliable; he eventually quit playing his coronet. His final public performance was during a parade on Labor Day 1906. He dropped out of the festivities before the finish.

Two more arrests were made the following year. After the third (March 13, 1907), Bolden was committed to the State Insane Asylum in Jackson, La. It was there that he would spend the rest of his life.

By the time New Orleans music was dubbed jazz (1918) Bolden had been in the mental asylum for more than a decade. He was a distant memory.

It is suggested that Bolden was a byproduct of his time and circumstances. He was an improviser; there was no trace of written music left. He performed at the beginning of the age of recorded music and silent film, so there are no known video or audio traces of him. So far, only one photograph of him has been discovered.

Bolden died in obscurity. He was buried in Holt Cemetery in New Orleans, but the location is unknown.

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