Answer key

Feb 11, 2004 at 12:00 am


1. c) Carter G. Woodson, pioneering African-American historian and founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), founded Negro History Week in 1926, placing it in the week of Frederick Douglass’ and Abraham Lincoln’s births. The week caught on with African-American newspapers, civic and social groups and in the 1970s the ASNLH expanded it to a month.

2. a) The United States was the destination for about 6.5 percent, or 645,000, of all slaves coming to the New World. Brazil received the largest number of slaves, about 38.5 percent, or 3.9 million, and the Spanish Americas received about 17.5 percent, or 1.8 million. The Du Bois Institute reckoning on the number of slaves transported to the New World is based on analysis of records on more than 27,000 voyages. It is substantially less than some earlier estimates.

3. b or c) Henry Wiencek, a recent Washington biographer, notes that accurate records available from 1778 show an army that was 6 percent to 13 percent African-American, meaning Washington presided over an army that was more integrated, in fact, than any U.S. military force until the Vietnam War. But although the records are less accurate for later periods in the war, the proportion of African-Americans apparently rose significantly. Wiencek, in An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves and the Creation of America, quotes a French observer of Washington’s army in 1781 who estimated the blacks made up 25 percent of the force. The French officer, Baron Ludwig von Closen, also called the Rhode Island regiment “the best under arms.” It was 75 percent black, and, in Wiencek’s words, “would be hand-picked by Washington and Lafayette” to take part in the key assault during the Battle of Yorktown, “the most important assignment of the climactic battle of the revolution.”

4. c) Nine of the first 12 presidents (three-fourths) held human chattel. In order of their presidencies, they are: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor.

John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren (presidents No. 2, 6 and 8 respectively) were not slave owners.

Washington had the largest number of slaves, with more than 300, whom he freed and ensured substantial support for through his will. Washington biographer Wiencek argues that the ex-president’s will “implicitly declared that slaves had a right to freedom, to education, to productive work.” Had he acted with such clarity while still in office, the influence on the young nation could have been profound, says Wiencek, who characterizes Washington’s failure to do so as a tragedy.

5. a) The Columbia Exhibition, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World, embodied all the contradictions of its time. Douglass, the abolitionist crusader, in his twilight years, was there officially as a representative of the government of Haiti, to which he had previously been a U.S. ambassador. He was apparently reconciled to representing a despot, but he was deeply bothered that the advances he had fought for at home — through the Civil War and Reconstruction — were being rolled back. Lynching, the ultimate symbol of the sea change, was on the rise, and the young journalist Wells was at the fair to bang the drum for the anti-lynching cause. Dunbar, likewise a rising star, was in attendance on a special Colored People’s Day to read a poem prepared for the occasion. “The antique abolitionist was as much a relic as any on display,” wrote his biographer, William S. McFeely. But during his Colored People’s Day, Douglass delivered one of his last major addresses before his death two years later. Dunbar later wrote that Douglass’ commanding oratory silenced white hecklers “as an organ would a pennywhistle.” Said Douglass: “There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own Constitution.”

The same fair also introduced the Aunt Jemima pancake mix and the first of a series of African-American women who, over the years, would serve as official product representatives. Ex-slave Nancy Green, 59, reportedly served 1 million pancakes during the fair.

6. d) Confederate general and Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forest has 36 statues and markers in his home state of Tennessee, not to mention markers in some other states and his name on “parks, streets and schools” across the South, writes James W. Loewen in his book Lies Across America, a study of the nation’s distorted landscape of public remembrance. Bedford, he notes, was a pre-war slave trader, engaged in the import of slaves in violation of a constitutional ban on such, presided over massacres of Union troops, African-Americans in particular, and served as the first national grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan when it held its organizational meeting at the Maxwell House hotel in Nashville in 1867. The stately hotel became a symbol of Southern hospitality, which the coffee brand traded on when it came onto the market 25 years later. A Confederate flag flew on the coffee tins for many years. U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt later coined the marketing phrase “Good to the last drop.”

7. b) Conservative figures from the Tuskegee Institute count 3,833 lynchings from 1889 to 1940; 90 percent of them in the South, 80 percent of them of African-Americans. Earlier figures are less reliable, but are thought to have risen steadily beginning in the 1870s — in the backlash against ex-slaves and their allies — and hit a high of 230 victims (190 of them black) in 1892. Although some lynchings were the work of relatively small groups of assailants or conducted with stealth, the most shocking of these extra-judicial executions were carnivals of brutality that H.L. Mencken described as “the merry-go-round, the theatre, the symphony orchestra” for white communities involved. A number of factors contributed to the decline of lynchings, including growing public awareness and national pressures. But at least one scholar attributes it, in part, to Southern states’ prosecution with such vengeance as to appropriate “the rule of the mob.”

8. b) The successful fight by W.E.B. DuBois, the NAACP and others to allow black soldiers to enlist in World War I was intended to be a decisive step forward. Having proved their manhood in battle, black soldiers expected to return as part of the all-American victors and spearhead a new era of equality. James Weldon Johnson reflected that optimism watching a parade of returning black soldiers marching through Harlem: “We wonder how many people who are opposed to giving the Negro his full citizenship rights could watch the Fifteenth [Regiment] on its march up the Avenue and not feel shame or alarm?”

The optimism was soon dashed by more than 20 riots — primarily white attacks on blacks — across the nation, including Chicago and Washington, D.C., although not Detroit. One scholar writes that lynching was pursued with “a relish approaching that of the 1890s.” Negro History Week founder Carter G. Woodson, caught in the Washington melee, watched two white lynch mobs at work, slipping away from the second “as fast as I could without running, expecting every moment to be lynched myself.”

The concurrent “Red Scare” of hysterical rhetoric about Bolsheviks and federal raids to round up subversives had relatively little impact in black communities.

Guitarist-singer Tampa Red and pianist Thomas Dorsey, later to achieve fame as the father of gospel music, had their hit with “Tight Like That” in 1927.

9. d) Never. The initial thrust and raison d’être of the NAACP, to make lynching a federal crime, never bore legislative fruit.

The intense efforts came closest to success in 1935 and 1937, but Southern Democrats filibustered in the Senate and ultimately blocked the legislation. In both cases, President Franklin D. Roosevelt refused to weigh in and stand up to Southerners he needed for his own agenda. In the aftermath of the 1937 failure, “there arose a sense among blacks that they had seen the limits of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s sympathies,” wrote author Philip Dray in his award-winning 2002 book, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America.

President Truman introduced anti-lynch legislation in 1948 following the report of a presidential commission on racial issues. The commission report, however, had one lasting effect, putting the phrase “civil rights” into widespread usage and eventually replacing the older term “the Negro question.”

Since 1966, the federal government’s ability to fight lynchings has been strengthened by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of law enacted after the Civil War to protect the formerly enslaved.

10. d) Only Alaska, Connect-icut, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont and Wisconsin, along with the District of Columbia, did not bar interracial intimacies. The laws were voided by the eerily titled case of Loving vs. Virginia in 1967. Alabama voters removed the last such wording from their state Constitution in 2000, though 40 percent of them cast ballots to keep the unconstitutional language on the books.

11. a) The artistically groundbreaking and relentlessly racist Birth of a Nation chronicles the white South’s fall in the Civil War, humiliation in Reconstruction and revival with the Ku Klux Klan as avenging angels. President Woodrow Wilson has been widely quoted as having told Griffith that “It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” The still-young NAACP and other black groups protested the film and succeeded in having some of its most offensive scenes cut, including one suggesting mass deportation of blacks to Africa. On the other hand, an estimated 25,000 Klansmen paraded in Atlanta to celebrate the opening of the film, which became an enormous hit and is still considered a troubling classic of American cinema.

12. b) Born to an ex-slave couple in 1867 and orphaned at an early age, Madam C.J. Walker married at age 14 and was widowed before she was 20. In her 20s, she worked as a sales representative for another black woman who manufactured hair-care products, and eventually Walker went into business with her own “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.” The formula, she said, had been revealed in a dream. She manufactured the product, building a factory in Indianapolis, marketing it through the mail and via a door-to-door network, opening schools to train beauticians and a chain of beauty parlors. She and her daughter, A’Lelia, who took over the business at Madame C.J.’s death in 1919, were supporters of the causes — the anti-lynch crusade high on the list — and intellectual life of what was called the Harlem Renaissance. Her great-great-granddaughter and biographer, A’Lelia Bundles, emphasizes on her Web site that contrary to the oft-repeated claim, Walker did not invent the straightening comb.

13. a, b, c) Among the creations of African-American inventor Garrett Morgan is a helmet-style gas mask used by firefighters around the country early in the century and which was adapted for use by the Army during World War I. His automatic stop sign was widely used before the introduction of the current red-yellow-green light system.

The Super Soaker is the creation of African-American Lonnie G. Johnson, who once worked for the government on nuclear power systems for spacecrafts.

Chris Rock invented the joke about the first computer being invented by African-American George Washington Carver, who pioneered numerous uses for the lowly peanut. A peanut-computer, however, was not among them.



14. b) Church records from 1736 note the observance of last rites for an “unknown negresse.” That’s the extent of the first record pertaining to African-Americans in Detroit, according to the Detroit African American History Project Web site ( Jean DeBaptiste Pointe Du Sable, a Haitian fur trapper of African descent, arrived in Detroit in 1757. Twelve years later, he would establish the trading post now known as Chicago.

15. c) Patrick was elected in 1957, and it is widely said that his name was marked by significant numbers of Irish voters who were unaware of his race. Shifting from district elections to an at-large system made it harder for African-Americans to win elections in the 20th century. Ironically, black Detroiters had representation in the state Legislature and Congress before they had a voice at the council table.

16. c) Ku Klux Klan influence surged in Detroit — as nationally — during the early 1920s as an exodus of blacks left the South fleeing Jim Crow-style segregation, hoping to trade sharecropping for assembly line work. The sight of thousands of Klansmen burning a cross at the old City-County Building must have reminded blacks of what they hadn’t left behind.

In 1923, a write-in Klan candidate was the top vote-getter by 7,000 votes. But Ku Kluxer Charles Bowles was denied the mayor’s job because 17,000 of those who tried to write in his name couldn’t spell it correctly, according to Working Detroit by Steve Babson.

17. c) Jack Johnson took the heavyweight championship in 1908 and defeated a succession of challengers, including James J. Jeffries, a white former champ who returned from retirement as “the Great White Hope.” Their match of the century was preceded, writes Randall Kennedy, with the playing of the then-current hit “All Coons Look Alike to Me” and ended with Jeffries’ defeat and Johnson more reviled than ever. Johnson’s flamboyant lifestyle out of the ring further inflamed whites against him; to blacks he was both heroic and embarrassing. “A remarkable pugilist, he was also a redoubtable sexual athlete who surrounded himself with professional sexpots, many of whom were white,” writes Kennedy in Interracial Intimacies. He was eventually convicted on the so-called White Slavery Act, barring the transportation of women across state lines for prostitution, fled the country for years (during which time he lost his title) and returned to serve a year in prison.

When Wisconsin debated a ban on interracial marriages, it was widely referred to as the Jack Johnson Bill.

Johnson lives on in slang, however. Although the term “Johnson” for male genitalia has an older English derivation, its use among blacks is commonly footnoted to the boxer.

As to the others named: Singer-actor Herb Jeffries was known as the Bronze Buckaroo. Billy Eckstine was a star jazz singer. James Weldon Johnson was an NAACP official, poet, novelist, and composer, best-remembered for “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

18. b) Malcolm Little (his pre-Nation of Islam name) needed a nickname that distinguished him from two other guys on the Harlem scene already using the name Red. And since Lansing didn’t exactly resonate with folks, he became Detroit Red. As to the other Reds: St. Louis Red was an armed robber, Malcolm recalled in his autobiography. Chicago Red was a buddy who worked alongside Malcolm in a speakeasy; Malcolm was a waiter, Chicago Red was “the funniest dishwasher on this earth.” By the time of The Autobiography of Malcolm X in the mid-’60s, Chicago Red was “making his living being funny,” as the rising nightclub comedian Redd Foxx.

19. a, b, c, d) W. D. Fard began proselytizing his version of Islam in Detroit in the 1930s, which led to the establishment of the faith’s first temple in the city. Among his Detroit converts was Elijah Poole (later the Hon. Elijah Muhammad), who took the helm of the faith after Fard left town and eventually dropped from sight. After converting to the Nation of Islam while in prison, Malcolm X directed temples in Harlem, Detroit and Philadelphia before becoming a national spokesman for the group.

20. c) According to the Detroit African American History Project: “Only the Boston Red Sox waited longer (1959) to hire an African-American player.”

21. a, b, c, d) All are true quotes, including a closed-circuit TV greeting from Hawaii and a response to a worker from a leftist paper. Said Young, who died in 1997: “Swearing is an art form. You can express yourself much more directly, much more exactly, much more succinctly, with properly used curse words.” Sadly, the printed page cannot convey all the nuances Young could bring to a word like motherfucker.



22. b) Under the segregated seating arrangement, whites filled the bus from the front to the middle. Blacks from the back to the middle. When all seats were filled, blacks were to vacate rows of seats, beginning in the middle of the bus, to make room for whites. Since three other African-American passengers had dutifully left their seats, Parks’ crime in remaining seated would have been sitting parallel (and symbolically on par) with a white man.

23 d) The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a revival of a march planned and aborted more than 20 years earlier to pressure President Franklin D. Roosevelt to put an end to job discrimination; the threat of that march helped prod Roosevelt to action, including signing an executive order banning discrimination in the defense industry. Like that effort, the ’60s march began with the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, although other civil rights groups, unions and other organizations coalesced as the late August date neared. The brotherhood’s top concern was always the disproportionate unemployment and underemployment of African-Americans.

24. a) W.E.B. DuBois had been instrumental in creating the mainstream civil rights movement — the NAACP, in particular — represented at the Washington march. He had created much of the vocabulary, including the idea of “the color line” as the central issue of the century and the “two-ness” of African-Americans as within but apart from American culture. But he had moved far to the left and spent his final years in post-colonial Ghana. NAACP leader Roy Wilkins, who was poles apart from DuBois, told the gathering of 200,000 that: “It is incontrovertible that at the dawn of the 20th century, his was the voice that was calling to you to gather today in this cause.”

25. c) Like Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, John Lewis was part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the group that took on many of the most dangerous assignments in advancing the civil rights cause in the South. SNCC also grew increasingly radical and in the aftermath of the March on Washington. Carmichael would change the group’s calls for integration to calls for “black power.” Brown would gain prominence praising black rioters a few years later.

Lewis, the group’s spokesman at the 1963 march, was less radical, but too pointed for the mainstream march backers who muted his criticism of civil rights legislation then being pushed by President John F. Kennedy. Lewis told the crowd that without sufficiently strong civil rights legislation, SNCC would “march through the South.” He had wanted to promise a march “through the heart of Dixie … [to] pursue our own scorched earth policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground nonviolently.”

26. c) Johnson, then campaigning in New Orleans against Republican Barry Goldwater, was making the case for his civil rights agenda and made a key point with a term that none of the press — black or white — reflected in reporting his comments. Playing up that he was speaking to an audience of fellow Southerners, Johnson said, the powers that be “have kept their foot on our necks by appealing to our animosities and dividing us. … I am not going to let them build up the hate and try to buy my people by appealing to their prejudice.”

In Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65, author Taylor Branch tells what happened next: Johnson recalled how an old senator — “whose name I won’t call” — once beseeched [House] Speaker Sam Rayburn for encouragement to make just one speech toward the common good of his despoiled state. “I feel like I have one in me!’” Johnson quoted the senator. “‘The poor old state, they haven’t heard a Democratic speech in 30 years. All they ever hear at election time is, ‘Nigger! Nigger! Nigger.’”

Branch says Johnson’s shouted epithets were followed by gasps, “grudging and scattered applause” and finally a seven-minute standing ovation. The press cleaned up his quote to “Negro! Negro! Negro!” — until Johnson corrected the record in his own memoirs.

27. a) Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Although the Panthers advocated a socialist revolution, the end of police intimidation and harassment in black communities was a more immediate rallying issue.

28. c) Although the Panthers were influenced by Fanon, the Algerian psychiatrist-turned-revolutionary theorist, and by the dissident NAACP leader Williams, they found a profit center with the aphorisms of the leader of Red China. They bought books in bulk for 30 cents apiece in San Francisco’s Chinatown and sold them on the UC-Berkeley campus for $1. “Power comes from the barrel of a gun. Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse Tung. Get your Red Book,” went Huey Newton’s sales pitch as recounted by Panther co-founder Bobby Seale. Profits in hand, they headed to a department store. “And if you ever had a ‘Freedom Now’ feeling, you would have sure got it if you saw how we took off to buy some shotguns,” wrote Seale in his autobiographical Seize the Time.



29. c) Lewis Allen was a pen name for Jewish schoolteacher Abel Meerpol, who first published his poem in a publication of his New York union. He later set it to music and introduced it into left political circles, where it was heard by a cabaret producer who in turn presented the song to Holiday and asked her to perform it. It became a sensation — and was ironically released the same year as the film Gone with the Wind. There couldn’t be two more different takes on the South and the condition of blacks. Meerpol later became a composer for films and television and intersected history once again. He and his wife adopted the two sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, both executed as Soviet spies in a prosecution that remains controversial.

30. b and d) Vee Jay, which was something of an inspiration for the Gordy clan behind Motown, had a primarily black roster, including the Dells, John Lee Hooker and Jerry Butler, among others. Betty Everett hit with “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” and Gene Chandler with “Duke of Earl.” But they also hit with the Four Seasons (including “Sherry”) and the Beatles’ early U.S. releases. Unfortunately for Vee Jay, those records flopped. Capitol Records picked up the group for “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and the hits that followed.

31. d) The Rev. C.A. Tindley, according to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. biographer Taylor Branch, was an influence on Thomas A. Dorsey, the early jazz and blues pianist who got religion and became known as the father of gospel music. Among Tindley’s works is “Lord Stand By Me,” which was secularized as “Stand By Me” for the pop market by Ben E. King and rose to No. 4 on the Billboard pop charts of 1961.

32. a, b, c) Often called America’s greatest cartoonist for the comic strip he drew from 1910 to his death in 1944, Herriman was born in 1880 in New Orleans to a family identified in census records as Creole. That fact surfaced only after his death. Frank Yerby, although never hiding his African-American ancestry, concentrated on popular novels about white characters, often in the Old South. Thus, his status as the best-selling African-American author comes as a surprise to many.

Carol Channing, in her autobiography, Just Lucky I Guess, writes of being told just as she headed off for college that her father was a light-skinned African-American who had been passing for white since his teens. According to Just Lucky, her father, journalist George Channing, worked for the Detroit Free Press in the years immediately before and after World War I, which means the paper’s newsroom was integrated decades earlier than was generally thought, albeit unwittingly. Bandleader Johnny Otis, though he considered himself black in many ways, was actually of Greek descent. Otis once said he so identified with African-Americans that “I cannot think of myself as white.”

33. b) According to Betty K. Gubert’s Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science, as cited at the site, Willie Jones was a professional parachute jumper and wing walker. “Jones worked for twenty-something flying air circuses or barnstorming shows during his career, which ran from the early 1920s until 1950,” according to the Africana site, and set a free-fall record in 1939: He fell roughly 24,500 feet before opening his chute 800 feet above ground.


Bottom lines

34. d) According to United for a Fair Economy, “For every dollar of white per-capita income, African Americans had 55 cents in 1968 — and only 57 cents in 2001. At this pace, it would take Blacks 581 years to get the remaining 43 cents.” The report, “The State of the Dream 2004: Enduring Disparities in Black and White,” is available at

35. d) The human genome — or genetic code — runs 3 billion chemical letters long. Humans, regardless of race, are 99.99 percent alike.

Bonus questions:

1. b) According to the Web site (a highly useful site for black history and contemporary affairs), blacks had been private and government letter carriers since the 1600s. But President Jefferson’s Postmaster General Gideon Granger wrote to Congress of his fears that “by traveling from day to day … they … will learn that man’s rights do not depend on his color.” The Africana article says that Granger’s fear was probably based on the slave uprising then engulfing Santo Domingo, present-day Haiti. The law was not repealed until after the Civil War, clearing the way for the reinstatement of black mailmen.


2. a) In the 1960s in opposition to integration and the civil rights movement.


3. b) Aretha Franklin’s father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, was a mover and a shaker in several realms. His recorded sermons, released by Chess Records, were hits of sorts and widely influential; he led revival gospel shows that toured nationally; he headed a major Detroit congregation, New Bethel African Methodist Episcopal. And his activism reached a watershed in the 1963 march that brought King to his most important Detroit address. “Respect” became a pop anthem to the civil rights, black pride and feminist movements when it hit the charts in 1967.


4. d) Although the producers insisted on putting black theatergoers in some areas previously assigned to white, it was the content of the musical that had Sissle on edge. A serious, romantic love song between black characters — without the broad stroke of comedy — was expected to make white theatergoers uncomfortable. “Love as a heavenly beacon” — as depicted in the song “Love Will Find a Way” — wasn’t the kind of line that blacks typically got to sing. Josephine Baker joined the show after its debut and became a protege to Sissle and Blake. She left for Paris and fame — near-nude dance routines and all — in 1925.


5. a, b, c, d) All true, according to Wil Haygood’s In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr. The donation to the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s People United to Save Humanity led to an uproar at an appearance at the group’s convention. Against a torrent of boos, Jackson praised Davis’ contributions to the civil rights movement. “Look at what this gigantic little man has committed himself to over all these years,” said Jackson, downplaying the Nixon hug. Davis launched into “I Gotta Be Me.”

W. Kim Heron is the managing editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].