A Mixtape for Our Unsung Presidents

Today is a national holiday honoring the current and former presidents of the United States. Today also marks the 18th day of Black History Month which takes place annually each February. We choose to recognize and celebrate the indelible contributions people of African descent have made to building and sustaining the U.S. - and many places across the world - not only in February but throughout the entire year.

In honor of increasing the visibility of these valuable contributions, we articulate a different history today. Our staff has put together a MIXTAPE of sounds, visuals and text - listing a few of our unsung “Presidents” - people of African descent in the U.S. and other parts of the world who are worthy of critical mention for unearthing spaces of dignity, imagination, knowledge and freedom-making for Black peoples to be and thrive.

Nosotros te Saludamos!

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THE FUGITIVE by Uncivil

How difficult is it to escape when your owner is the most powerful man in the world? Listen    here   .

How difficult is it to escape when your owner is the most powerful man in the world? Listen here.

This episode of my favorite history podcast, Uncivil, tells the story of Ona Judge, a woman of African descent who was enslaved by one of the presidents we celebrate on this day. Her story is traumatic but essential to hear, especially for white Americans who – like me – grew up with a very different narrative of our nation’s founders.
— Sarah Workman

MAHALIA JACKSON & DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

Music by African Americans has influenced many social and political movements including the Civil Rights Movement. This clip shows Mahalia Jackson, the legend Queen of gospel, leading a congregation in powerful song during Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s sermon for the Chicago Movement for Freedom (1966). This moment expresses how and why music was a tool to communicate the power, strength and endurance that sustained Black communities before, during after the jim crow era. Martin gives Mahalia a look that gives me goosebumps to this day.
— LaDora Carter

JILL SCOTT Sings “STRANGE FRUIT”

This clip features singer Jill Scott performing an adapted version of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” at the Shining a Light Conference (2016). Strange fruit is a painful metaphor speaking to lynchings that primarily took place during the 19th and 20th centuries in the U.S. This song written in 1939 by Abel Meeropol transcends time by referencing a socio-political climate of systemic racism that people of African descent and immigrant communities endure today through police violence, mass incarceration, and daily inequities experienced living while Brown and Black.
— LaDora Carter

PAUL NABOR, The Paranda Healer

Paul Nabor, who popularized Paranda, a style of traditional Garifuna music that integrates the guitar with drums, maracas and dance, showcases the merge of African and Central American cultures. He is largely understood as the most notable musician from the coast of southern Belize. Nabor was also a respected spirit medium and healer (Buyei).
— Jake Hershman

ROSA PARKS & SHIRLEY CHISOLM

Read more on Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm and 9 Black Women who made historic firsts in U.S. Congress, and Richmond’s first woman mayor, Eleanor P. Sheppard.

Rosa Parks is most known for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus and helping to spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a critical part of the Civil Rights Movement in 1955. However, before this her activism kicked into being when she worked on a national campaign to end sexual assaults against Black women after an attempted rape by a white male neighbor in 1931.

Shirley Chisholm is the first Black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1969 who also ran for President in 1972. Her courageous leadership reminds me of Richmond’s first woman mayor, Eleanor P. Sheppard who served as vice mayor (1960-62) and mayor (1962-64).
— Chelsea Higgs Wise

BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR’s “Diasporadical Trilogia”

Blitz the Ambassador is one of the most imaginative artists of our time. He is a visual designer, composer, musician, filmmaker and producer from Ghana. Blitz is literally one of the hardest working dudes out here who is committed to his crafts, persistently presenting African peoples with intricate integrity and beautiful complexity. “Diasporadical Trilogia” (2016) is a liquid journey between Accra (Ghana), Brooklyn, NY (U.S.), and Salvador Bahia (Brazil) that explores ancestral calls and diasporic responses that can not be bound by time or space. It is an alchemy of immigration blues, African electronics, and a deep jazz of longing for home(s) on Earth.
— Sionne Rameah Neely