Category: History

History

Visionary women of Atlanta

In honor of Black history month, thought I would highlight some inspiring murals that adorn Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue.

Mural to Black women leaders on Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue.

The first highlights the contributions of four women to Atlanta. They are Selena Butler, Mathilda Beasley, Annie McPheeters, and Dorothy Thompson.

Dorothy Bolden Thompson was one of the true unsung lights of the Civil Rights movement. Employed for many years as a domestic worker (starting at the age of nine!) in Atlanta, she organized the National Domestic Workers Union, which “successfully improved the wages and working conditions of domestic workers in Atlanta, and other cities of the U.S.“. She was at one point a neighbor of Dr. Martin Luther King. I would like to think that their’s was a collaborative, mutually inspiring relationship. Ms Thompson organized successful strikes and protests to improve the lives of the women who performed the invisible, demanding, and often demeaning labor in the homes and offices of White families. Her story is to me so deeply inspiring and connecting. It is the story of the grandmothers and great-grandmothers and aunties, of the proud ladies of the church I attended as a child — the women with gnarled loving hands and unmatched fierceness and wit, the women who built and sustained a people.

Selena Butler (a graduate of Spelman College) is now considered to be the co-founder of the Parents Teachers Association — that is the PTA so ubiquitous across public schools in the United States. Concerned about the welfare of students, in the 1920’s Butler helped organize the first convention of teachers and parents united for better schools. Segregation being what it was, that first convention led to the formation of the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers Association. So inspiring was her work that U.S. President Herbert Hoover appointed her to the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection.

Mathilda Beasley was the first African American nun from Georgia.

Annie McPheeters was the first professional African American librarian with the Atlanta Public library. She was instrumental in developing the Auburn Avenue library and also taught library science at Georgia State University.

The second mural? That one is of Stacey Abrams who came within a percentage point of becoming Georgia’s first African American governor. Fittingly, she is giving a counter to the state of the union speech tonight (February 5th).

A mural of Stacey Abrams looks out over Auburn Avenue in Atlanta

Black History MonthData ScienceHistory

Black history month book giveaway!

In honor of the U.S. Black History Month commemoration, I am giving away two copies of the book
W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America.

What do you have to do to be a winner? Be one of the first to create and send in a visualization inspired by the set of infographics on Black America that Dr. W.E.B. DuBois developed for the 1900 Paris Exposition.

Any visualization that you implement that is relevant to the peoples of SubSaharan Africa or the SubSaharan diaspora is relevant too!

Just email me or post as a comment. The first two submissions get the book, and I’ll try to hook up something outstanding works too!

GeorgiaHistory

What are the Muskogee holy days?

When does the United States get to the level of spiritual and psychological maturity to honor the peoples and civilization that lived on its soil and held its skies and rivers sacred before the first European countries even existed?

I eat, live and breath on stretches of earth that were carefully and lovingly maintained, defended, honored by the Muskogee, Cherokee and their forebears for millennia. We can’t even approve an hour to remember and cherish our collective ancestors? They don’t even rate to the level of Halloween? That ain’t right.

Think of it this way. The pride of India is the Taj Mahal. The Mughal empire — in whose time it was built — has long passed into time, yet every child in Delhi knows some connection to this wonder of the world. India is home to so many diverse faiths, among them the Sikh faith. Not everyone — not even a majority — is Sikh yet the sacred days of that faith are celebrated widely. Because it is a denial of history and a warping of reality not to. Would any resident of London refuse to acknowledge their connection to Stonehenge, or to Shakespeare? Yet the governments of those times, even the notion of the country of Britain, has changed many times in the centuries since. Would any Egyptian deny the pyramids, or Hatshepsut?

So yea, this place we call the U.S. did not and does not begin and end with European settlement. Being complicit in Erasure is no way to live.

So what to do?

Well the image for this post is from the Ocmulgee National Monument mounds in Georgia. We know that the Ocmulgee peoples have held this site sacred for at least the last 17,000 years, give or take a colonizer shutdown or two.

My one resolution for getting beyond Erasure? Understand and live my debt to the Ocmulgee (forbears of today’s Muskogee Nation) civilization. A festival will be held on September 21 and 22 of this year on the grounds of the monument.

Join me?

GeorgiaHistorySocial JusticeUncategorizedVoting

Who’s worse Brian Kemp or Lester Maddox?

Feeling some despair headed back to Georgia, and the U.S. generally after a month in India.

It’s about this question: Will Brian Kemp govern Georgia like Lester Maddox?

Lester Maddox became the governor of Georgia during my childhood. He was openly racist, was famous for selling axe handles with which to beat down civil rights activists, and actively fought a state memorial immediately after Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated.

Until Brian Kemp, I don’t remember any Georgia governor who so actively and openly embraced race based voter suppression and racist immigration messages.

Yet Maddox apparently went on the most aggressive hiring of African Americans in the state’s history.

I’m finding solace knowing that people of color in Georgia nonviolently sacrificed their livelihoods and their lives to end the Maddox mode of governance.

Those sacrifices opened the door for people like Stacey Abrams, Andrew Young, and Jimmy Carter.

Our grandmothers and uncles and neighbors did this with an inner soul power (to quote Dr King) that could not be suppressed by axe handles or tear gas. I find strength knowing that we can call on that soul power to do the same again.

HistoryTravel

Havana: whimsical artchitecture

Cuba has left us with a lot to think about. Still coming to terms with its lessons on race, identity, the bounty of being out of one’s place of comfort, and most importantly those on human dignity and kindness.

While I make sense of those lessions, I’ll share some photos from Vedado, Trinidad, and points in between that testify to the whimsical, surprising beauty of this country and its people.

Data ScienceHistoryMigrationPoliticsSocial Justice

Back to Mississippi: Black migration in the 21st century

The recent election of Doug Jones to the U.S. senate in Alabama — thanks largely to African American turnout — got me thinking: What if the Black populations of Southern cities were to experience a dramatic increase? How many other elections would be impacted?

Does that seem far-fetched? Over a tenth of the Black population of the U.S. left the South during the first half of the last century.

They moved from the rural South to the North and West, hoping to escape race-based terrorism and find economic opportunity. The featured image, from the U.S. Library of Congress, is an infographic made in 1950 by the Census department about the migration. My grandparents were part of this movement — they left oppression in small town Georgia and Alabama hoping to find a (slightly) better situation in Atlanta.

As the U.S. census figure infographic below indicates, this migration — one wave in 1910 – 1940 and another wave coming 1940 – 1970 — was epic. Isabel Wilkerson’s book The Warmth of Other Suns is a gripping history of this Great Migration.

020_blackpop_northern_cities_horiz-01

The Great Migration, 1910 – 1970 from: US Census Bureau. (2012). Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/dataviz/visualizations/020/

 

A trend towards a reverse migration back to the South has been noted recently. In a 2011 story, the New York Times reported that in 2009, of the 44,000 people who left New York City, over half moved to the South. A more recent report by the Times, provocatively entitled  Racism Is Everywhere, So Why Not Move South? explores some of the rationale behind this movement. The sentiments echo the recent paper Individual Social Capital and Migration by Julie L. Hotchkiss and Anil Rupasingha.  Improved social capital — the sense that you are a somebody in the place that you live, that your life matters (or could matter someplace) is a powerful catalyst for movement.

The LinkedIn Workforce Report for January confirms that Southern cities are gaining workers at the expense of Northern cities, and this Redfin analysis reports that there has been some North to South migration. According to the LinkedIn Workforce Report, southern cities are still among the top ten in terms of job migration (at least amongst LinkedIn members). Thriving African American communities in cities like Atlanta and Jacksonville, lower costs of living, and the rise of these cities as technology centers are powerful draws.

To look at the potential political impact of a new reverse migration, I ran a few simulations. I assumed a similar reverse migration rate of 2% per year over out ten years. In my simulations, I assume that the main states from which African Americans migrate are New York, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, and California — the main destinations of the Great Migration.  I assumed that the main destinations of the new migrants are among the states that people left during the initial Great Migration: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina. I could have arguably added Tennessee to this mix. I used a Dirichlet distribution to model the allocation of migrants to various destination states.

Let’s first revisit the 2016 election map

newplot (6)

Below are a couple of illustrative outcomes from my simulations. In most of the outcomes, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are the states in which the political outcome of the migration are felt most.

newplot (8)

Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are impacted the most

newplot (7)

There’s still hope for Mississippi

Again, I let 10,000 simulations play out, sampling the allocation of migrants to destination states from a Dirichlet distribution.

To make the point a bit further, below is a bar chart showing the number of outcomes for each state over the 10,000 simulations in which Black voters had a decisive impact upon the presidential election (i.e. allocation of electoral college votes) for that state.

election_outcomes_nicer

The point though is not really predicting the dominance of one political party or the other, it is understanding the implication Black voter empowerment — how Black people are empowered to participate in decisions regarding the health, education, policing, and economic viability of their communities. Further, beyond just Black and White, it speaks to me as an opening to think about participatory multi-racial democracy. After all, there was a flash of time between the Civil War and the enactment of Jim Crow racialist laws  in which Citizens of Color of the South were actively involved in governance.

Although these are speculative simulations — for me they contain the seeds of a certain kind of hope. Perhaps the future is the past — but maybe we can mold the future in ways that are universally empowering.

HistoryinclusionMathematicsPoliticsSocial Justice

Black history month is Black mathematicians month — in the UK

In the US, the African American scholar (and February 1st Google doodle subjectCarter G Woodson began working in 1926 to establish “Negro History Week“, for in Woodson’s day the contributions of Black people were  “overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.” Woodson’s Negro History week evolved into today’s US Black History Month thanks to the efforts of student activists of the 1970s.

My partner, Dr Gayatri Sethi, reminds me that the aspiration of marginalized and minoritized peoples to be heard, to enter into equity in whatever place they call home is universal.

With that in mind, it is no surprise then that Black History month has been celebrated in the UK for the last 30 years in October. This October a group of mathematicians at University College London — and  — decided to make October Black Mathematicians month.

During the month they presented interviews with UK mathematicians starting with Dr Nazar Miheisi who does research in Analysis at King’s College. The Aperiodical blog also ran pieces highlighting Black mathematicians, among them Dr Caleb Ashley who gives this Numberphile segment on the fifth postulate.

Building an equitable mathematics community, or better yet an equitable world, should not be confined to a single month — it is an undertaking that will require continuous and deliberate effort. But it is encouraging and inspiring to see many hopeful signs on a global scale.

Do you know of similar efforts in other countries to encourage the participation of marginalized peoples in science and mathematics? If so, please leave a comment or drop an email!