Posts Tagged ‘African Americans’

TDIH: Thurgood Marshall Confirmed to the Supreme Court

“I believe he earned his appointment. He deserves the appointment. He’s the best qualified by training and by very valuable service to the country. I believe it’s the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man, and the right place.”–President Lyndon Johnson, on nominating Thurgood Marshall to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court

“There is very little truth in the old refrain that one cannot legislate equality. Laws not only provide concrete benefits; they can even change the hearts of men–some men anyway–for good or for evil.”Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall (on telephone), President Lyndon B. Johnson, 6/13/1967
by Yoichi R. Okamoto/White House Photograph Office
via National Archives [public domain]

Fifty years ago today, August 30, 1967, Thurgood Marshall’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court was confirmed by the Senate, making him the first African American to serve as a Justice on the highest court in the land. Marshall had a lasting and significant impact on civil rights in the United States. He argued and won cases, and later wrote opinions from the bench that changed the nation’s laws on segregation and racial injustice.

Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 2, 1908, the great-grandson of a slave. He attended the racially segregated public schools there graduating from high school in 1925, then went on to the historically black Lincoln University in Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, graduating with honors in 1930. He then applied to the all-white University of Maryland Law School but was denied admission because he was Black. This event went on to direct his future professional life. He was accepted at another historically black school–Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C., that same year. He received his law degree in 1933, graduating first in his class (magna cum laude).

Between 1934 and 1961, as an attorney for the NAACP, Marshall traveled throughout the United States, representing clients in many different disputes involving questions of racial justice. Marshall’s first major civil rights case came in 1936 when he successfully sued the University of Maryland for their unfair admissions policy. Murray v. Pearson was the first in a long line of cases designed to undermine the legal basis for racial segregation in the United States.

He argued thirty-two cases before the Supreme Court, more than anyone else in history, and won an astounding twenty-nine of them. His first victory at the high court was in 1940. Chambers v. Florida demonstrated that police brutality and coerced confessions were a violation of the 14th Amendment’s right to due process. Other notable cases were Smith v. Allwright (1944), which invalidated the so-called white primary (the practice of barring blacks from the Democratic party primary in a state where that party controlled state government), Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), which prohibited state courts from enforcing racially restrictive real estate covenants, and the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which invalidated state-enforced racial segregation in the public schools.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where he wrote over 150 decisions. None of his 98 majority decisions were ever reversed by the Supreme Court.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson named him Solicitor General of the United States, another racial first. The Solicitor General represents the U.S. when it is sued by a corporation or an individual. He served until 1967, when Johnson nominated him to the Supreme Court, winning 14 of the 19 cases he argued.

In his 24 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Marshall was an outspoken liberal on a Court dominated by conservatives, often voting in the minority. He consistently voted to uphold gender and racial affirmative action policies. He also dissented in every case that the Court refused to overturn a death sentence, as well as opposing all efforts to limit abortion rights. He believed that the Constitution requires the government to provide certain benefits to everyone–including education, legal services and access to the courts–regardless of their ability to pay for them. He succeeded in fashioning new protections under the law for women, children, homeless persons, and prisoners.

On June 27, 1991, Marshall announced his intention to retire from the Court. President George H.W. Bush nominated 43-year-old Black conservative Clarence Thomas to replace him a week later. Marshall died of heart failure in Bethesda, Maryland on January 24, 1993, at the age of 84.

To learn more about Justice Marshall, navigate to these websites available on SIRS Knowledge Source:

Justice for All: The Legacy of Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall Before the Court

Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary

Or direct your students to the SIRS Knowledge Source feature on the U.S. Supreme Court. Students can browse editorially-selected cases by Constitutional Articles & Amendments, or by Topic. This feature includes a list of Landmark Cases by category, profiles of the current Justices, as well as biographical information on all the Justices who have served on the Court throughout history, including Justice Marshall. A glossary, a graphic that explains how the Court is organized, supplementary references with links to related articles in the product, and a link to the official U.S. Supreme Court website are also provided. An additional link includes the text of the U.S. Constitution.

Don’t have SIRS Knowledge Source at your school or library? Free trials are available.

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SIRS Discoverer Spotlight of the Month: Black History Month

February is Black History Month! In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week and then in 1976 President Gerald Ford proclaimed February as “Black History Month.” African Americans have played vital roles in shaping the country’s past and present. We encourage you to observe Black History Month in your classroom and media center by teaching about African Americans. On SIRS Discoverer, young researchers can find articles and images on the accomplishments, history, culture, and heritage of African Americans. Here are samples of what they can find:

Frederick Douglass
George Kendall Warren [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  • John Lewis — A vigorous civil rights worker, he has served as a Congressman from Georgia for more than 30 years. He is now the only organizer of the 1963 March on Washington who is still alive.
  • Frederick Douglass — Born into slavery, he was a journalist, public speaker, and well-known antislavery leader.
  • Sojourner Truth — Also born into slavery, she was an advocate for the abolitionist movement and women’s rights.
  • Ralph Bunche — A diplomat and a mediator working for the United Nations, he was the first African-American to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson — These barrier-breaking African-American athletes defied racist attitudes and became trailblazers in their sports.
  • Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison — Award-winning and prolific, these authors wrote about the experiences of African-American women.
  • Ruby Bridges, the Greensboro Four, and the Freedom Riders — These children and students played pivotal roles in the civil-rights movement.

How are you celebrating Black History Month in your library or classroom? Let us know in the comments or tweet us with #ProQuest. 

Black History Month on ProQuest SIRS Discoverer

February is Black History Month! In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week and then in 1976 President Gerald Ford proclaimed February as “Black History Month.” African Americans have played vital roles in shaping the country’s past and present. We encourage you to observe Black History Month in your classroom by teaching about African Americans. On ProQuest SIRS Discoverer, young researchers can find articles and images on the accomplishments, history, culture, and heritage of African Americans. Here are samples of what they can find:

Ruby Bridges

By Uncredited DOJ photographer (Via [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Sojourner Truth — Born into slavery she was an advocate for abolitionist movement and women’s rights.
  • Ralph Bunche — A diplomat and a mediator working for the United Nations, he was the first African American to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. — One of the civil rights movement most well-known figures, his historic “I Have a Dream” speech still influences.
  • Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson — These barrier-breaking African-American athletes defied racist attitudes.
  • Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison — Award winning and prolific, these authors wrote about the experiences of African American women.
  • Ruby Bridges, the Greensboro Four, and the Freedom Riders — These children and students played pivotal roles in the civil-rights movement.

Go to February’s Discoverer Spotlight of the Month and pay tribute to Black History Month.

Black History Month: To Celebrate or Not?

Black History Month Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Black History Month Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

February 2016 marks the 90th anniversary of Negro History Week, the predecessor to Black History Month.  Begun in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the second week of February was chosen to honor the erased history and contributions of African Americans in the creation of America because of the birthdates of Frederick Douglass the abolitionist and Abraham Lincoln the emancipator.  Negro History Week became the month-long celebration we know as Black History Month fifty years later in 1976.  Today Black History months are celebrated not only in the United States, but also in Canada, Britain and Germany.

In recent years, criticism has arisen whether Black History Month should be celebrated.  Some debate its relegation to just one month.  The actor Morgan Freeman famously said, “You’re going to relegate my history to a month. I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.”  Others say Black History Month has veered from its original intent whereby famous African Americans are reduced to mere soundbites of achievement and excessive worship.  The complexity of African-American life is not considered along with the achievement or contribution to history some argue.  Other critics believe it to be outdated and wonder if African Americans need to be reminded of things past in a time when the United States has its first African-American president.

On the other hand, proponents of Black History Month argue it is as important now as it has ever been to understand the intricacies of black history — intricacies which should not be in the shadows of American history curricula.  They contend until there is complete integration of African-American history in the textbooks Black History Month will continue to be relevant.  Others advocate Black History Month’s usefulness in helping teachers discuss and examine issues of race and ethnicity in the classroom.

Carter Woodson spoke of a time when Negro History Week (and now Black History Month) would not be needed.  He believed “black history should be an everyday part of American life.”  Dr. Woodson was right, and Morgan Freeman was right that black history is American history.  It’s good to know as much as you can about American history no matter which side you take in the debate.



50 Years Ago: Selma to Montgomery and the Right to Vote

Selma to Montgomery March Research Topic in ProQuest eLibrary

Selma to Montgomery March Research Topic in ProQuest eLibrary

Imagine you go to your county clerk to register to vote. You complete the required registration forms and give them to the clerk. However, before being added to the voter roll, you are told you must pay a poll tax or pass a literacy test—a test with questions such as “How many county judges are there in the state?” or “Name each of the county judges in the state.” Many people, educated or not, would not be able to answer these questions. Scenes like this (as depicted in the recent movie Selma) played out in the South daily for many African Americans when trying to register to vote.  Though the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited the denial of the right to vote of any citizen based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude” by both the federal and state governments, it would be 100 years before African Americans had that right fully enforced.

Efforts to register black voters in Selma (Dallas County) Alabama began in 1963 with local organizers joining the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  After passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which banned racial discrimination and protected voting rights, African Americans continued to be disenfranchised at every turn. In the spring of 1965, at the urging of local activists, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined the cause.

On February 18, during a peaceful protest march, activist Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot by a state police officer. He died from his wounds on February 26. His death would be the catalyst for the march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery.

Police attack Selma to Montgomery marchers on March 7, 1965 (Bloody Sunday).

Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

At Dr. King’s encouraging, supporters from all over the country came to Selma to march. The first march took place on March 7.  Some 600 marchers would be attacked on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by troopers and county locals armed with barbed-wire billy clubs and tear gas. John Lewis, one of the leaders, sustained a head injury. Another leader, Amelia Boynton, beaten unconscious, lay on the bridge. Images of the violence on Bloody Sunday as it would become known were seen worldwide.  Two days later, instead of walking through the police presence which had moved to allow the marchers to pass, Dr. King led marchers back to Selma in order to receive federal protection for the march.  That same night, James Reeb, a Unitarian pastor from Boston who had heeded the call to come to Selma, was murdered.  The nation was outraged by what it had seen in Selma.  In response, on March 15, President Lyndon Johnson before a televised session of Congress asked for the passage of a voting rights bill stating “the real hero of this struggle is the American negro…he has asked us to make good the promise of America.”

The final march to Montgomery began six days after President Johnson’s appeal.  With federal protection, marchers walked 54 miles on Route 80 sleeping and eating on the side of the road.  Arriving in Montgomery on March 24 and at the state capitol building on March 25, the group was 25,000 strong.

The Selma marches were pivotal in the civil rights movement.  From the small town of Selma, Alabama one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation was born.  On August 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.  The pressure of activists, many whose names are not known, resulted in the enfranchisement of millions of African Americans over the years.

Matthew Henson Reaches the North Pole

Most of us know that Robert Edwin Peary was the first man to reach the North Pole. Many of us are also aware that Roald Amundson won the race to the South Pole. Ernest Shackleton made history by not reaching the South Pole. Since February is Black History Month, it might be a good time to take a look at Matthew Henson, who may have stepped on the North Pole just ahead of Peary.

1910 Photo of Matthew Henson

1910 Photo of Matthew Henson [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Orphaned when he was very young, at the age of 12 Henson signed on as a cabin boy aboard a sailing ship, where he learned many technical skills, including navigation. Henson first served with Peary while he was with the Navy Corps of Engineers. Henson traveled with Peary on seven voyages over a period of 23 years. Before Peary’s eighth and final attempt to reach the Pole, Peary said that “Henson must go all the way. I can’t make it without him.” On April 6, 1909, Peary, Henson and four Inuit men were recognized at the first to reach the Geographic North Pole. When they were taking their official measurements, Henson discovered that his footprints had already crossed the spot of the Geographic North Pole. It is believed that Henson planted the U.S. flag for the team.

Matthew Henson in 1912

1912 Photo of Matthew Henson [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Polar Explorer Robert Edwin Peary

Robert Edwin Peary [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons










When the party returned to the United States, Robert Peary received most, if not all, of the attention for conquering the Pole, and for almost 20 years Henson received little acknowledgement for his achievement. In 1912, Peary did write a glowing forward to Henson’s autobiography. In 1937, Henson was invited to become the first African-American member of The Explorers Club. In 1946, Henson was awarded a medal, identical to the one given to Peary, by the U.S. Navy. And in 1954, he was invited to the White House by President Dwight Eisenhower to receive a special commendation for his early work as an explorer on the behalf of the United States of America.

Henson died in 1955.

On April 6, 1988, by order of President Ronald Reagan, Henson’s body was re-interred next to Peary’s tomb at Arlington National Cemetery. Henson’s monument reads: “Matthew Alexander Henson: Co-Discoverer of the North Pole.”

Find out more about Matthew Henson and other African-American heroes during Black History Month with eLibrary!

Black History Month in the Classroom

Portrait of Harriet Tubman in 1911.<br />  by Library of Congress, via Library of Congress  [Public Domain]

Portrait of Harriet Tubman in 1911.
by Library of Congress, via Library of Congress [Public Domain]

How do you integrate Black History Month into your classroom? Do you and your students follow Harriet Tubman along the Underground Railroad? Or celebrate the innovations and contributions of African American scientists? Perhaps you incorporate art and music into your lessons with the Harlem Renaissance, or introduce your students to the leaders and events of the Civil Rights Movement.

With SIRS Discoverer, you can do all this and more. Not only is the database a fantastic place to find articles and images that you can share with your students, but it’s a wonderful resource for young and curious researchers.

Let’s start by researching the Underground Railroad, a pivotal resistance movement during slavery. Try a Subject Heading search for Underground Railroad. You’ll find editor-selected and age-appropriate articles, maps, graphics, photos, and even external Web sites to help you create your lesson plan.

Looking for a biography on an African American scientist to share with your class? A Subject Heading search for African American scientists will return 13 biographies, including profiles of medical pioneer Vivien Thomas and physicist Louis Roberts. Photos are available, also. Or click on the Biographies link under Database Features on the home page and type in the name of a specific person–for example, agricultural innovator George Washington Carver. Four articles and eight photos are provided.

George Washington Carver, full-length portrait, seated on steps, facing front, with staff.
Source: Library of Congress [Public Domain]

Have you thought about incorporating African American art, music, and literature into your curriculum with a lesson on the Harlem Renaissance? SIRS Discoverer can help. A Keyword search for “Harlem Renaissance” provides more than 60 articles, so you can pick and choose your focus. Langston Hughes was an important voice of the Harlem Renaissance–your students could learn about his life and read two poems he wrote for children. Or you could bring some music and color into the classroom with a discussion about jazz legend Duke Ellington or montage artist Romare Bearden.

Do you want your students to do their own research? Maybe challenge the class: “Who were the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights Movement and what did they do?” A Keyword search for “Freedom Riders” provides more than 20 editor-selected, age-appropriate articles and eight graphics and photos. Students feel empowered when they discover information and answers on their own. With SIRS Discoverer, it’s easy!

If you’ve never used SIRS Discoverer to help create a lesson plan, Black History Month may be the time to start. Simplify your research and empower your students. Be sure to check out this month’s Spotlight of the Month—we highlight the lives and works of African Americans, past and present. Join us in commemorating Black History Month.

July 1964: 50 Years of the Civil Rights Act

July 2, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of a turning point in American civil rights history. It was on this day the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. Many consider this law the toughest civil rights statute since Reconstruction and perhaps the most significant piece of legislation of the entire twentieth century. The Act prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. It banned racial segregation in the workplace, schools and public facilities. It protected voter rights by barring unequal registration requirements for people of color, although it did not bar all voting discrimination.

While it was originally proposed by President Kennedy in 1963, he had reservations about passing civil rights legislation. Southern legislators who controlled the Senate were opposed to it, and President John Kennedy wanted to ensure his other legislative priorities would be given attention and passage. President Kennedy believed he would have a second term to enact civil rights legislation.  His assassination in November 1963 would be the catalyst for President Lyndon Johnson, a former senator from the South, to use his political skill in working with the Senate to achieve a law long overdue even risking his own political future.

President Lyndon Johnson shakes the hand of Dr. Martin Luther King at the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Beyond the surface of the Civil Rights Act, its impact was almost immediate and its legacy varied. Strides were quickly made in regard to desegregation in public accommodations and voting rights which helped spur the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  While there remained inequities among the races, division by race and class primarily, opportunities for African Americans, and in later years Latinos, Asians and Native Americans increased.  Rep. John Lewis, a notable veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, in recalling the days of discrimination and segregation, perhaps put the impact and legacy of the law best:  “Those signs are gone, the fear is gone.  America is a better nation and we are a better people because of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”


Celebrating Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History

Most people know February is Black History Month.  But do they know there was a week of celebrating African American people and their achievements prior to Black History Month?  That week was called Negro History Week.  It was created in 1926 by the historian, Carter G. Woodson, who has been commonly referred to as the Father of Black History.

Carter G. Woodson

Dr. Woodson was one of the first historians to study the African diaspora and African American history.  He founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and its academic journal, the Journal of Negro History (now called the Journal of African American History), both of which still exist today.  He believed Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”  His contributions not only included advancing the study of African American history but also the advocating of education reform for African American children and equality for all.

Follow Carter Woodson’s lead by delving into African American history offerings in eLibrary.  Use eLibrary not only to learn more about Dr. Woodson and his work but also to learn more about other pioneering African Americans with whose accomplishments you may not be familiar.  For example, search Madame C.J. Walker.  Did you know she is considered the first female self-made millionaire?  Her beauty and hair care products launched a career in the early 20th century.  What about Hiram Revels?  He was the first African American to serve in the United States Senate.  Even more interesting is that he served Mississippi from 1870-1871 during Reconstruction.

In addition, check out eLibrary’s African American-centric publications.  From classic popular magazines like Ebony to scholarly journals such as the Journal of Negro Education, eLibrary offers what you need to complete a successful search regarding African American history.  And, finally, do not forget to browse ProQuest Research Topics where hundreds of African American history topics ranging from the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing to the Tuskegee Airmen serve as jumping off points to deeper study.

SIRS Discoverer Spotlight: Black History Month

Americans, both white and black, marching from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala., in March 1965, in an effort to guarantee voting rights for all Americans. <br \> by James H. Karales, Library of Congress, via ProQuest SIRS Discoverer [Public Domain]

Americans, both white and black, marching from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala., in March 1965, in an effort to guarantee voting rights for all Americans.
by James H. Karales, Library of Congress, via ProQuest SIRS Discoverer [Public Domain]

February is Black History Month. It’s a perfect time to celebrate African-American heritage, culture, and history, and to learn about the many African Americans who have contributed so much to the United States and the world! Read about the accomplishments of African Americans who made a difference with their ideas and actions, such as Hiram Revels, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Jackie Robinson.  This month is also a great opportunity to learn about organizations that have been vital to the progress of civil rights, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons, known as the NAACP. For more than 100 years, the NAACP helped minorities in their struggle for freedoms. The group supported the African-American labor movement of the 1930s and 1940s and, in the 1950s, was involved in the Brown v. Board of Education case.

Check out this month’s SIRS Discoverer’s Spotlight of the Month and join us in honoring African Americans and their continuing influence and triumphs.