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Meet The Pioneering Queens of Hip-Hop

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Women have always been integral to hip-hop, dating to its founding. Cindy Campbell, the sister of Clive Campbell—better known as hip-hop originator DJ Kool Herc—is considered the First Lady and Mother of Hip-Hop, after she organized a party in 1973 with her brother as the DJ. No one knew then that hip-hop would grow from a set of turntables in the recreation room at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx into a multibillion-dollar business.

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The Birmingham Times

Quite naturally, when discussing the pioneering women of hip-hop, the names of DJ Spinderella (Deidre Roper) of Salt-N-Pepa and MC Lyte (Lana Michelle Moorer) come to mind, as they did when The Birmingham Times interviewed some of the Magic City’s female DJs.

Women have always been integral to hip-hop, dating to its founding. Cindy Campbell, the sister of Clive Campbell—better known as hip-hop originator DJ Kool Herc—is considered the First Lady and Mother of Hip-Hop, after she organized a party in 1973 with her brother as the DJ. No one knew then that hip-hop would grow from a set of turntables in the recreation room at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx into a multibillion-dollar business.

And there is the late Sylvia Robinson, founder of the renowned hip-hop record label Sugar Hill Records; she passed away in 2011. This visionary had the foresight to sign a trio of young men from Englewood, New Jersey: Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright, the late Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson (he passed away in 2014), and Guy “Master Gee” O’Brien, known collectively as the Sugar Hill Gang. Robinson was the driving force behind the first landmark singles in hip-hop: “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang (1979) and “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five (1982).

Campbell and Robinson played a key role in the birth of hip-hop. Since then, women have helped nurture hip-hop culture and move it forward with deft lyrics, unique fashion statements, and overall brilliance. Here are 10 pioneering women of hip-hop.

Queen Latifah

One of the most successful, if not the most successful, female artists in hip-hop is Queen Latifah, born Dana Elaine Owens in Newark, N.J. As a rapper, she has won a Grammy Award. As an actor, she has received Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations and won an Emmy Award. She also has been a talk show host and a product spokesperson and has worked on two documentaries for the Lifetime cable network. Queen Latifah is an original member of the Flavor Unit, a group of New York and New Jersey MCs and DJs. Along with fellow original Flavor Unit member Shakim Compere, Queen Latifah established Flavor Unit Entertainment, a film-and-management company that has produced more than 15 films and influenced the early careers of dozens of rap artists. She also was a member of the Native Tongues hip-hop collective, which included groups like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and fellow female MC Monie Love; one of the group’s hits was “Buddy,” which featured verses from Queen Latifah and Monie Love. Queen La’s debut album “All Hail the Queen” (1989) included the hit single “Ladies First” (also with partner-in-rhyme Monie Love). Her third album “Black Reign” (1993) featured the Grammy-winning “U.N.I.T.Y.,” an anthem that spoke out against the disrespect of women in hip-hop culture. In 2006, Queen Latifah was the first hip-hop artist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in October 2019 she received the W.E.B. Dubois Medal for her contributions to black history and culture during a ceremony at Harvard University. Still serving as the CEO of Flavor Unit Entertainment, Queen Latifah proves the sky is the limit not only for women in hip-hop but also for women of color.

Salt-N-Pepa

 

The trio of Cheryl “Salt” James, Sandy “Pepa” Denton, and Deidra “DJ Spinderella” Roper released their first album “Hot, Cool, and Vicious” in December 1986 and, propelled by the Grammy Award–nominated hit “Push It,” became the first female rap act to earn a platinum status LP. The group set trends with their hairstyles, wardrobe, and dance-driven music videos. The ladies of Salt-N-Pepa also were recognized for developing their own brand of hip-hop feminism, with lyrics that embraced female sexuality on songs like “Let’s Talk about Sex,” “Whatta Man,” and “Shoop.” The group has sold more than 15 million records worldwide, making them one of the best-selling rap acts of all time, male or female. And in 1995, they won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for their song “None of Your Business.” Salt-N-Pepa remained together until earlier this year, when Roper announced she had been “terminated” from the group.

Roxanne Shanté

 

“I gave birth to most of them MCs, … so when it comes around to the month of May, send me your royalty check for Mother’s Day.”—Roxanne Shanté, “Have a Nice Day”

Lolita Shanté Gooden was an unknown 14-year-old who approached hip-hop producer Marlon “Marley Marl” Williams with the idea of a rap response to the UFTO hit “Roxanne, Roxanne.” Her 1994 single “Roxanne’s Revenge” triggered the Roxanne Wars, one of the most well-known series of hip-hop rivalries during the 1980s—maybe ever; it spawned anywhere from 30 to more than 100 answer records citing Roxanne’s family or making various claims about the rapper. And probably a first in rap, the Roxanne Wars created a dispute between two personas who were created as a result of a song: Roxanne Shanté and The Real Roxanne. Gooden, the original Roxanne, was born and raised in the Queensbridge Projects in New York’s Long Island City neighborhood, and was part of the Juice Crew, a group of artists founded by Marley Marl and legendary New York City DJ John “Mr. Magic” Rivas, who passed away in 2009. Not only was Shanté’s song the first recorded “battle response” in hip-hop, but she became one of hip-hop’s first female battle rappers. She started out vocally sparring with UTFO and moved next to fellow female MC Doreen “Sparky D” Broadnax, a clash that led to several freestyle face-offs between the two female rappers. “Roxanne, Roxanne,” a dramatized biopic about Roxanne Shanté’s life that was first shown at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, received critical acclaim. The film was co-produced by actor Forest Whitaker and music producer Pharrell Williams, and its lead actress, Chanté Adams, won a special jury prize for breakthrough dramatic performance at Sundance for her portrayal of Roxanne Shanté.

MC Lyte

 

Born Lana Michelle Moorer, MC Lyte ushered in a whole new way of how women were viewed in hip-hop. Her 1988 release of “Lyte As A Rock” marked the beginning of the solo female MC. She broke barriers in the music industry not only for being the first solo female MC to sell millions of singles and albums but also for her songs that helped transition hip-hop from the feel-good, party vibe of the late 1970s into a socially conscious form of expression. She addressed issues like racism, sexism, and the drug culture that consumed her community, and she was the first rap artist to perform at Carnegie Hall. The 1993 single “Roughneck” earned the legendary lyricist a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Single. MC Lyte would later serve as the first African American woman president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Recording Academy (the Grammy organization) from 2011 to 2013. She still performs, writes music, runs a scholarship foundation, mentors, and acts. She also is a much-sought-after DJ who has provided music for the NAACP Image Awards, Essence, Black Enterprise, and several other groups. MC Lyte’s journal is part of the “Hip-Hop Won’t Stop: The Beat, The Rhymes, The Life” collecting initiative by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

MC Sha Rock

 

When the Funky Four Plus One hit the music scene many may not have paid attention to the “Plus One”—Sharon “MC Sha Rock” Green, also referred to as the “Mother of the Mic” and the “Luminary Icon.” As an early pioneer affiliated with the Universal Zulu Nation, an international hip-hop-awareness group, Sha Rock inspired use of the “echo chamber,” a style of rapping emulated and made notable by later groups, including 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Run-DMC. The Funky Four Plus One had their first significant hits with the singles “Rapping and Rocking the House” (1979) and “That’s the Joint” (1980), both on Sugar Hill Records. The group made rap and hip-hop television history by being the first music artists to appear on national broadcast television. In 1981, progressive rock group Blondie, the featured performer on an episode of Saturday Night Live, chose the Funky Four—plus 19-year-old Sha Rock—as their special musical guests for the last live music slot of the show. When the group disbanded, Sha Rock went on to form an all-female rap group, Us Girls, which was featured in “Beat Street,” the 1984 groundbreaking film about New York City hip-hop culture.

Sister Souljah

 

Not many rap artists have had books appear on The New Times Best Sellers list, but Lisa Williamson—better known as Sister Souljah—has done it three times. Sister Souljah used her platform as a hip-hop artist to spark critical debates about race in America and encouraged often-silenced black women to speak up, not only through music but also as activists in communities around the world. During her teenage years, she received several honors, including the American Legion’s Constitutional Oratory Contest, for which she received a scholarship to attend Cornell University’s Advanced Summer Program. She graduated from Rutgers University with a dual degree in American History and African Studies. During her senior year at Rutgers, she developed and financed the African Youth Survival Camp for children of homeless families, a six-week summer sleepaway camp in Enfield, N.C. Sister Souljah appeared as a featured guest on several tracks with revolutionary hip-hop artists Public Enemy and eventually became a full member of the group, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. In 1992, she released her only album, “360 Degrees of Power,” but she will forever be remembered for her statements about the Los Angeles riots that took place the same year. In an interview, she was quoted in The Washington Post as saying, “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?” The quotation was later reproduced in the media, and she was widely criticized. Then presidential candidate Bill Clinton publicly criticized that statement and the Rev. Jesse Jackson for allowing the rapper to be part of his Rainbow Coalition—thus the “Sister Souljah Moment” was created.

Oaktown’s 357

 

Suhayla “Sweet L.D.” Sabir, Phyllis “Lil P” Charles, and Tabatha Zee “Terrible T” King-Brooks began as background dancers for Stanley “MC Hammer” Burrell and in the late 1980s released their own Billboard Top 10 hit singles: “Juicy Gotcha Krazy” and “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.” “Oaktown” is a nickname for Oakland, Calif., and “357” referred to a .357 Magnum revolver to represent the power of their dance moves. The group struggled through member changes, and when Hammer’s popularity slid, so did the group. The ladies released two more albums—“Fully Loaded” (1991) and “Fila Treatment” (1992)—but by that time, most listeners had moved on. Still, that doesn’t take away from their role in the growth of female representation in hip-hop, especially at a time when the genre was male-dominated.

J. Fad

 

Without J. J. Fad’s 1998 platinum-selling debut album “Supersonic,” Ruthless Records wouldn’t have had the cash to drop N.W.A.’s seminal “Straight Outta Compton,” which was released later that same year, according to members of the group and superproducer Andre “Dr. Dre” Young in the Grammy Award–winning Best Music Film “The Defiant Ones.” J. J. Fad featured a rotating cast of Juana “MC JB” Burns, Juanita “Crazy J” Lee, Fatima “OG Rocker” Shaheed, Anna “Lady Anna” Cash, and Dania “Baby D” Birks; the group’s name is an acronym formed from the first letter each member’s first name. These ladies don’t get enough credit for their role in hip-hop history.

The Sequence

 

Another pioneering group signed to Sugar Hill Records in the late 1970s was The Sequence, which in 1979 released “Funk You Up,” the first rap single by a female group. The group’s members—Cheryl “Cheryl the Pearl” Cook, Gwendolyn “Blondie” Chisolm, and Angie “Angie B” Brown Stone—met in high school as cheerleaders in Columbia, S.C. The Sequence also was America’s first Southern rap group and one of the first to seamlessly blend singing and rapping. Cheryl the Pearl also claims they were the first to utter “gangsta rap” (a style of hip-hop that emphasizes a violent lifestyle) lyrics in their song “And You Know That” (1980), which includes the line, “We’re not Con Funk Shun/We’re not the Gap/We’re the Sugar Hill girls with the gangsta rap.” And if the name Angie Stone rings a bell, it should: She went on to become a producer, actress, and neo-soul music icon with four top-10 albums.

Lauryn Hill

 

Many of the pioneers on the list date back to the 1970s and 1980s, but Lauryn Hill’s “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (1998)—one of the top-selling hip-hop and rap albums of all time—must be acknowledged. Often described as a “masterpiece” by music experts, Hill’s only solo studio album has received critical acclaim as a representation of life and serves as a standard within the neo-soul genre. According to Billboard magazine, the album “turned her into an icon, showcased her visionary talents as the sole writer-producer on almost every track, and taught a generation about the power of baring your soul through song.” “Miseducation” debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and has sold approximately eight million copies and counting. At the 41st Grammy Awards, the album earned her five awards, including Album of the Year and Best New Artist. Hill, raised mostly in South Orange, N.J., began singing with her music-oriented family. She was approached in high school by Prakazrel “Pras” Michel for a band he started, which his friend, Wyclef Jean, soon joined; the trio named themselves the Fugees and released the album “Blunted on Reality” (1994). But it was “The Score” (1996)—which won a Grammy for Best Rap Album and sold six million copies in the U.S.—that catapulted Hill to prominence via her African American and Caribbean music influences, rapping and singing skills, and rendition of the Roberta Flack hit “Killing Me Softly.” The Fugees split in 1997 and paved way for Hill’s groundbreaking, career-defining album.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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She Bought Freedom for Herself and Other Slaves Today a Park is Named in Her Honor

Alethia Browning Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised. 

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Alethia Browning Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

In her early years, Alethia Browning Tanner sold vegetables in a produce stall near President’s Square – now known as Lafayette Square – in what is now Northwest Washington, D.C.

According to the D.C. Genealogy Research, Resources, and Records, Tanner bought her freedom in 1810 and later purchased several relatives’ release.

She was the first woman on the Roll of Members of the Union Bethel AME Church (now Metropolitan AME Church on M Street), and Turner owned land and a store at 14th and H Streets, which she left to her nephews – one of whom later sold the property for $100,000.

Named in her honor, the Alethia Tanner Park is located at 227 Harry Thomas Way in Northeast DC.

The park sits near the corner of Harry Thomas Way and Q Street and is accessible by foot or bike via the Metropolitan Branch Trail, just north of the Florida Ave entrances.

“The first Council legislative meeting of Black History Month, the Council took a second and final vote on naming the new park for Alethia Tanner, an amazing woman who is more than worthy of this long-delayed recognition,” Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie said in 2020 ahead of the park’s naming ceremony.

“[Her upbringing] itself would be a remarkable legacy, but Ms. Tanner was also active in founding and supporting many educational, religious, and civic institutions,” McDuffie remarked.

“She contributed funds to start the first school for free Black children in Washington, the Bell School. Feeling unwelcome at her predominately segregated church, she & other church members founded the Israel Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. When the church fell on hard times and was sold at auction by creditors, she and her family stepped in and repurchased the church.”

Born in 1781 on a plantation owned by Tobias and Mary Belt in Prince George’s County, Maryland, historians noted that Tanner had two sisters, Sophia Bell and Laurena Cook.

“Upon the death of Mary Pratt (Tobias had predeceased his wife) in 1795, the plantation, known as Chelsea Plantation, was inherited by their daughter Rachel Belt Pratt,” historians wrote.

“Mary Belt’s will stipulated that Laurena be sent to live with a sibling of Rachel Pratt’s while Sophia and Alethia were to stay at the Chelsea Plantation.”

Tanner sold vegetables at the well-known market just north of the White House in Presidents Park. It is possible – and probable – she met Thomas Jefferson there as he was known to frequent the vegetable markets there along with other prominent early Washingtonians, according to historians at attacksadams.com. 

“There are also White House records suggesting she worked for Thomas Jefferson in some capacity, likely doing various housework tasks,” the researchers determined.

Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised.

“Self-emancipation was not an option for all enslaved peoples, but both Alethia and her sister Sophia were able to accomplish this, almost entirely through selling vegetables at the market,” the researchers continued.

“Alethia Tanner moved to D.C. and became one of a significant and growing number of free Black people in the District. In 1800, 793 free Black people were living in D.C.

By 1810, there were 2,549, and by 1860, 11,131 free Black people lived in D.C., more than the number of enslaved peoples.”

Historians wrote that beginning at about 15 years after securing her manumission, Alethia Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

All in all, Tanner would have paid the Pratt family well over $5,000. All accomplished with proceeds from her own vegetable market business, they concluded.

“Alethia Tanner, it’s an amazing story of resilience, hard work, and perseverance,” D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter said at the park’s dedication.

“I just learned about this history through this, so it shows how when you name a park, you really educate people on the historical significance.”

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