‘Long before Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Vanessa Williams and Halle Berry, there was Fredi Washington.’

“You would never know she was Negro.  She can “pass” but she makes no attempt to pass.   In fact, she feels herself to be entirely identified with the Negro group” –Earl Conrad, “The Chicago Defender.”  Quote taken from the book “Brown Sugar” by Donald Bogle.”

“Fair skinned actress Fredi Washington turned down numerous opportunities to pass for white and become a big movie star.” –Wikpedia.org




Slender and green-eyed, Frederika (Fredi) Washington (pictured above) was an intellectual who spoke perfect English.  She was also a career girl on the move.


Born in Savannah, Georgia on December 23, 1903, Fredi and her sister Isable were sent to an orphanage after the death of their mother.  Once the girls left the orphanage, Isabel returned to the south and Fredi went to New York to live with a grandmother.


She heard of the auditions for the black play “Shuffle Along.”  Never having danced professionally, she took a chance and was hired.


After “Shuffle Along” ended, she appeared in another play, “Black Boy” starring Paul Robeson.  With good reviews, she was soon one of Broadway’s most talked about actresses.


Outside the theater; she was constantly pursued by men. At the “Cotton Club” a white multi-millionaire industrialist pursued her “openly” on a constant basis.  In the 1920’s and 1930’s, that had never before been engaged openly.  Fredi rejected his advances, he would go sit off in a corner and stare at her for the remainder of the evening.


Otto Khan told Fredi, “You look French, I will pay for your dramatic education if you change your name to a French one.”  Fredi replied, “But I want to be what I am, nothing else.”


Around this time, Fredi’s sister Isabel joined her in New York.


Soon, Isabel started dating black congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. She, Adam, Fredi and Bojangles would spend time on Powell’s boat.  Isabel would eventually marry Powell.


In the late twenties, Fredi appeared in such plays as “Sweet Chariot,” “Run,” “Little Chillun” and short musical films with Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington.

During the 1930’s, she emerged as one of Black America’s most exciting dramatic actresses.   She had strong roles in such movies as “Emperor Jones,” “One Mile From Heaven” and the original “Imitation Of Life.”


“Imitation Of Life” would be her biggest triumph. Fredi starred as Peola, the light-skinned black girl who passes for white in the original version.  The film also starred Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers.  The movie became a runaway hit and a box-office success in 1934.


This would be Washington’s greatest success but it almost did her in. In real life, African-Americans assumed Washington really did want to pass for white.


As she sat in a beauty parlor, she overheard a woman claiming that the high-yella Fredi, in real life, was just the way she appeared in “The Imitation Of Life.”   When Fredi confronted her, she shut-up.


One evening, after leaving a theater that had shown the film, Fredi overheard black patrons saying, “I bet that Fredi Washington is just like that too.”


The movie would be remade in 1959, starring Lana Turner.  Actress Susan Kohner was cast in the role Fredi originated.


The tragic side to Washington’s dilemma was that she never had the opportunities for strong new roles that might have wiped away the Peola myth.


Washington would retire from showbiz and dedicate her time to Civil Rights; she also headed the “Negro Guild.”


Fredi Washington died of a stroke at the age of 90 in Stamford, Connecticut in 1994.

Source: “Brown Sugar” by Donald Bogle




Author Carroll Case has written a book “The Slaughter” although fictionalized; (with some names and locations changed) the book is allegedly; (based on a true story) which chronicles an American atrocity against African-American soldiers in World War II.

This book also contains declassified materials supporting Case’s claims. During the research and writing of this book, Mr. Case alleges that he received death threats.



The 364th Infantry (an all black squadron) was originally stationed in Phoenix Arizona. In 1942, over 3,000 men belonged to the 364th Infantry.  They were a proud and dignified bunch; considered uppity by whites.


The soldiers refused to accept blatant racism and the harsh punishment and unequal treatment dished out by the military.  At one point, the soldiers refused to obey orders from their commanding officer.


On Thanksgiving night in 1942, 100 of the men took part in a shootout; there were 15 deaths.  16 men belonging to the 364th were tried by court martial; each received 50 years of hard labor.


The army faced big problems with the 364th. The disobedience may influence other black soldiers to disobey. Solution: Send the 364th to the Deep South to be straightened out. Destination: Mississippi.


As soon as the 364th hit town (on May 28th, 1943) they demanded equal treatment.   Mississippi answered quickly when the Sheriff killed one of the soldiers because a button on his uniform was missing.


A race riot ensued between the soldiers and the townspeople.  The army’s plan was backfiring.


Between May 30th -June 25th, over 3,000 people participated in the riot and 25 black soldiers were killed.


The army panicked and allegedly, turned to a final solution.  Military operatives infiltrated the 364th to identify the leadership.


Severe punishment was imposed.


In the fall of 1943, while the soldiers were doing maneuvers, someone went into the barracks and removed the firing pins from their weapons.


Later that evening, the Military Police were called in as well as riot control. Each soldier was awaken by superior officers and instructed to go line up in formation, outside.


Over 1200 members of the 364th were lined up.


Allegedly, the MP’s and the riot squad opened fire and shot everything that moved.  The entire area was sealed off; the men were trapped.  They yelled, screamed and begged for their lives as the shooting continued.


When it was over, blood was everywhere. 1200 soldiers of the 364th were massacred.   Their bodies were loaded in boxcars and shipped to the South gate of the base where they were covered with lime and buried in long trenches dug by bulldozers.


The army allegedly notified the next-of-kin, saying, the soldiers were killed in combat.

The remaining 1800 members of the 364th were threatened with death if they ever spoke of the massacre.  They were all shipped out to Alaska where they remained until the war was over.




I became familiar with Mary Ellen Pleasant through my history professor.  Soon after, I visited a museum where her clothes were on display, silk dresses, hats and shoes.  I also toured her former house on Octavia Street.  It was simply remarkable, that an African-American woman in the 1800's lived in such elegant surroundings.  This is her story.


Mary Ellen Pleasant (pictured above) was born a slave near Augusta, Georgia on August 19, 1814.  Pleasant said her rescuer from slavery sent her to New Orleans at the age of 9. While in New Orleans, Pleasant learned to cook, experimenting with different seasonings and spices, her dishes became legendary.  Although she couldn’t read nor write, at 20, she relocated to Boston and became a tailor’s assistant.  Shortly afterwards, she married James W. Smith, a wealthy mulatto contractor/merchant.  The couple relocated to Virginia.  They soon became immersed in helping slaves to freedom and guided them to the under-ground railroad.  James’ white father had left him a plantation in Virginia and he serviced it with freed slaves, who he had purchased out of slavery.  Smith died in 1847 and left Mary with land and a fortune of $45,000 in bonds, which she exchanged for gold.  By 1848, Mary was a wealthy black woman.  She was briefly married to a man named James Pleasant before she decided to relocate to San Francisco (by boat) on April 7, 1852. Every millionaire in San Francisco congregated on the docks and attempted to bid for her culinary services because her cooking skills had become legendary.  Pleasant walked right past them without uttering a word, instead, investing in a business empire: restaurants, real estate, mining ventures and boarding houses.  Mary also owned a plush facility at 920 Washington Street, which soon became the most popular place to board and dine in San Francisco.

Mary eventually bought a $100,000 mansion (estimated at $1 million by today’s standard) on Octavia Street where she entertained the San Francisco elite.  She had special built rooms in the home where she could listen to investors discussing stocks.  The next morning, Mary would go and invest in this particular stock.  She used money from these investments to help white abolitionist John Brown end slavery forever.  She bought land, which enabled Brown to house escaped slaves.  Brown was eventually hanged and Mary barely escaped with her life.  In 1848, Mary was appalled at how San Francisco trolley car operators discriminated against blacks. She filed the first racial discrimination lawsuit in this country.  This case set a precedent.   African-Americans referred to her as “The Black City Hall,” because she was the first powerful person to fight for the civil rights of blacks.

Mary would recruit a secret business partner, a Scotsman, named Thomas Bell, an official of the ‘Bank Of California.’  Under his guidance, Mary Ellen Pleasant amassed a fortune estimated at $30 million dollars.  She became the first black millionaire in U.S. history.   People couldn’t understand or fathom a woman, and a Black woman at that, got what she wanted, not by using sex but by using her power despite being illiterate.   Mary Ellen Pleasant became the most ‘powerful’ woman, black or white, in San Francisco and she was the most talked about woman in 1880’s San Francisco.  She walked like a duchess, tall, thin, straight, imperious, with a graceful, gliding walk.  She was driven through the streets of San Francisco in her own specially constructed carriage, attended by a driver and footman.

Eventually, white people became resentful of Mary Pleasant and tried to scandalize her name in every imaginable way, some accused her of being a voodoo priestess and a madam.  They also accused her of every crime in the book, including murder.  During this time, Mary became low-key and mysterious but her humanitarian efforts weren’t thwarted.  She found homes for unwanted babies and stormed into dives and physically rescued attractive young arrivals.  Over time, Mary made bad investments and her fortune dwindled but she was still rich.

Mary Ellen Pleasant died in the home of friends in San Francisco, in 1904.  She was 90 years old and left $300,000 to those who cared for her in her declining years.  She’s buried in Napa’s ‘Tulocay Cemetery.’

Sources: Lerone Bennett, Jr. and Susheel Bibbs.



This little-known and compelling true story was brought to the small screen ten years ago and Louis Gossett, Jr. played the title role. This is a riveting story of betrayal that took place in Canada in the 1800’s.


Slavery was still prevalent in the United States but not in Canada. James Mink was the son of a freed American slave.  Mink relocated to Canada to get away from racism and the horrors of slavery.

In the 1850’s, he would establish himself as a prosperous (millionaire) Livery owner and a budding politician.   Mink also owned stables and the City Council used Mink’s livery stables for its horses, while his stagecoach service carried passengers as well as mail between Toronto and Kingston until the 1860’s.

Mink married a white woman named Elizabeth and she gave birth to a daughter named Mary.

Mink does not want his daughter to marry a black man and he fears that she is unmarriageable because she is of mixed race.  Against Mary’s protests, Mink advertises a huge dowry and eventually finds her a suitable match in William Johnson, a white horse dealer and charming suitor.

Over time, Mary grows to like him too and the two get married and head off to Niagara Falls.  When they arrive in Niagara Falls, they check into a hotel and Johnson violently rapes Mary.

The next morning, a grinning Johnson reveals himself to be not a horse dealer but a slave trader.

He whisked Mary off against her will to Richmond, Virginia to put her on the auction block, where she is purchased by a plantation owner.  When Mary tries to tell the plantation owner that she was tricked into slavery and raped the night before, he laughs in her face and asks? Gal, how did you learn to speak so proper?

On their way to the plantation, Mary is shocked at the mistreatment of blacks.  She had been so sheltered and pampered throughout her life, she was unaware of what was going on in the real world.

Distraught, beaten and forced to work for the first time in her life, Mary meets a black man by the name of Elroy on the plantation. They become close and Mary teaches him and his mother how to read and write.

She also writes a letter and asks Elroy to distract the postman while she slips the letter in his bag.

The next day, Elroy distracted the postman and Mary slipped the letter in his bag.

A week later, the Minks’ receive the letter and are outraged that their daughter has been sold into slavery.   Mary includes the name of the plantation and the address in the letter.  The Minks’ make plans to rescue her. They devise a plan where they will pose as owner and slave.

A week later they arrive at the plantation with Mrs. Mink posing as a slave trader.  James is housed with the other slaves during their visit.

An escape plan is hatched, when the time comes to escape, James doesn’t want Elroy to come with them until Mary says she want leave the plantation without him, James relents and they escape into the night.

They arrive back in Canada. It takes awhile for Mary to get over the ordeal but with Elroy’s help, she recovers.

Despite Elroy’s help, James still doesn’t want Mary to marry a black man, but he’s overruled by Mary and her mother, and the two eventually exchange vows.



Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor was born in Indiana. He was raised and educated in the home of a wealthy white family that employed his father as a coachman.  The family gave Marshall a bicycle on his birthday.  This simple act of kindness would change his life.

Taylor fell in love with his bicycle and learned how to perform stunts.  He became so good that he was hired to perform bicycle stunts at various functions.  He always wore a soldier’s uniform-which earned him the nickname Major.

Over time, Major decided to make a career out of cycling. When he got older, he moved to Worcester, Mass., with his employer and racing manager Louis “Birdie” Munger who planned to open a bike shop.

In 1896, Major started racing on the pro circuit. In his first year, he broke two world track records for paced and unpaced 1-mile rides in Indianapolis.  But his feats offended white sensibilities and he was banned from Indy’s Capital City track.  Major was not allowed to race in Southern states.

The racism would become so intense in some cities, whites would storm the track and try and pull Major off of his bike when he competed.  Major also had ice water thrown at him during races and nails scattered in front of his wheels and he was often boxed in by other riders, preventing the sprints to the front of the pack.

Later that year, Major finished eighth in a six-day endurance race at Madison Square Garden in New York.

By 1898, Major held seven world records. The following year he won the world 1-mile championship.

In 1900, Major competed in the national championship series and became American sprint champion.

In 1901, Major competed in Europe, which he had long resisted because his Baptist beliefs precluded racing on Sundays.  He beats every European champion. Major’s career was greatly celebrated in France.

During this time, Major was being referred to as the ‘Colored Cyclone.”

In 1902, Major married Daisy V. Morris, she would give birth to a daughter, named Sydney.

In 1907, Major makes a brief comeback after a two-year hiatus.

In 1910, Major retires from racing at age 32, saying he is tired of the racism.  He managed to sock away $30,000 in earnings.  Over the next two years, Major invested in unsuccessful stock ventures, which left him broke.

In 1930, Major is impoverished and estranged from his wife; he lives at the YMCA.  In his spare time, he tries to sell copies of his self-published 1928 autobiography, “The Fastest Bicycle Rider In The World. In his autobiography, he reports actually being tackled on the racetrack by a white rider, who choked him into unconsciousness but only received a $50 fine as punishment.

In 1932, Major Taylor dies at age 53 in the charity ward of Cook County Hospital in Chicago and was buried in an unmarked grave.

In 1948, A group of former pro bike racers, with money donated by Schwinn Bicycle Co. owner Frank Schwinn, has Taylor’s remains exhumed and reburied in a more prominent part of Mount Glenwood Cemetery in Illinois.




Talk show host, actor and former military man Montel Williams and Morgan Freeman have been trying to bring Bass Reeves story to the big screen for years.  A movie was done on Bass Reeves some years ago but it’s hard to locate.


Bass Reeves was born a slave.  Bass worked alongside his parent as a water boy.   At a young age he had a fascination for guns.


When Bass became older, his slave master made him a companion and servant.  Reeves would eventually escape to freedom.


His speed with a pistol became legendary.  He could draw and shoot with great speed and accuracy from the hip. People said, “He could shoot the left hind leg off a contented fly sitting on a mule’s ear at a hundred yards and never ruffle a hair.”


Reeves would win so many shooting competitions, that he was barred from competing in turkey shoots.


One day, a local posse was on the trail of an outlaw, someone got word to Reeves. When Reeves arrived, the posse had the outlaw cornered when he decided to make a run for it.  Reeves told everyone, “Watch, while I break his neck.”  At a distance of a quarter-mile, Reeves, with one shot from his Winchester rifle, broke the outlaw’s neck.


Reeves would settle down and marry a pretty woman named Jennie.  They proceeded to have 10 children, 5 boys and 5 girls.


Reeves shooting expertise and honesty came to the attention of Judge Issac Charles Parker.


Parker had Reeves summoned to his chambers, on that day, history was made as Judge Parker commissioned Bass Reeves as the first ever black deputy marshal.


Reeves would often carry warrants in his pocket totally in excess of $900 in fees (a fortune for a black man in the late 1800’s).


Reeves would go on to capture all of his outlaws.  On one occasion, Reeves caught two bank robbers, his height of 6-2 and weight of 180 pounds, allowed him to overtake them. Reeves collected $5,000 on their capture.


Reeves would become Judge Parker’s most dependable and favorite deputy but the white population began to resent a black marshal arresting white outlaws.  By 1901, Reeves had arrested more than 3,000 men and women, a staggering record.


Bass Reeves served his last day as a U.S. deputy marshal on Nov. 16, 1907 because legislation passed, separating blacks and whites. Reeves could no longer arrest white outlaws so he quit.


Bass Reeves died three years later on Jan. 12, 1910. He was buried in the old “Union Agency Cemetery.”  The service was attended by hundreds of friends and admirers.


Today, his gravesite is lost, although efforts are underway to locate it.


In 1992, Bass Reeves was inducted into the “National Cowboy Hall Of Fame.”


Source: “The outlaws.com”




On March 25, 1931, a skirmish between black and white men broke out on a Southern Railway freight train after a white man stepped on a black man’s (Haywood Patterson’s) foot without apologizing.


All but one white man, Orville Gilley, was forced off the train when it stopped in Paint Rock, Alabama, the nine blacks were arrested on charges of assault.


Victoria Price and Ruby Bates (two white girls) were found hiding on the freight train as well.  They were all taken to Scottsboro, Alabama.  The two girls agreed to testify against the boys on a rape charge.


After a lynch mob gathered, the Governor was forced to call the National Guard to protect the jail.  The boys were indicted on this trumped up charge and were convicted and sentenced to death except one thirteen year old, who was sentenced to life in prison.


One of the women would eventually come forward and deny the rape.  After serving years in prison on false charges, all of the Scottsboro boys were paroled, freed or pardoned, except for Haywood Patterson.



Haywood Patterson (pictured above) was the most defiant of the Scottsboro boys.  It was Patterson who faced the most trials and convictions (four convictions between 1931 and 1937), it was Patterson who did the hardest time in Alabama prisons and it was Patterson who managed the most prison escapes (two) and whose story was first told in the book “Scottsboro Boy.”


Patterson was eighteen at the time he was falsely accused of rape by Victoria Price and Ruby Bates.  He would spend the next 16 years in Alabama courtrooms and prisons.   Tried four times, Patterson was convicted and sentenced to death three times before receiving a 75-year sentence from the fourth jury.


Prison life in Alabama was never easy, especially for a black man.  The prison was filled with sadistic and murderous guards, murderous inmates, rampant homosexual rape and venomous snakes.  Several times Patterson was whipped viciously.  He was left without food and water for as long as a week at a time.  He was kept in solitary confinement and surrounded by poisonous snakes.  On one occasion the prison bookkeeper offered two other black inmates $50 dollars each to kill Patterson, but the inmates warned him.  In February 1941, he was stabbed twenty times, puncturing his lungs, by a inmate paid by a prison guard to kill him.


Patterson managed two escapes. The first escape in 1943, gave Patterson five days of freedom.   The second escape occurred on July 17, 1947, when Patterson escaped with a number of inmates.  Cornered by three dogs, Patterson drowned two before scaring of the third.  After a few close calls, Patterson made his way to Atlanta, then Chattanooga, then to the home of his sister in Detroit.  At age 36, Patterson was able to enjoy his first beer.


For the next three years, Patterson lived underground. He rediscovered women and made contact with Scottsboro supporters.  At the urging of I.F. Stone, Patterson told his story to a publisher.  Shortly after the publication of “Scottsboro Boy,” Patterson was arrested by the F.B.I. Alabama asked that Patterson be returned to Alabama but Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams refused extradition after a nationwide letter-writing campaign was mounted on Patterson’s behalf.


In December 1950, Patterson was arrested in connection with a barroom brawl that resulted in the death of another man. Patterson was charged with murder.  Patterson claimed self-defense.  His first trial resulted in a hung jury, a second ended in a mistrial and a third resulted in a manslaughter conviction.


Less than a year after Patterson returned to prison, on August 24, 1952, he was dead of cancer at age thirty-nine.



Among the old-timers, a woman known to everyone as Madame (pictured above) came to California from Kentucky with her children and her husband but once they were in California, her husband left her.  Desperate to find work, she introduced herself to a movie director named D.W. Griffith.  He not only cast her in ‘Birth Of A Nation’ in 1915, but the two became friends for life.  And with this woman, called Madame Sul-Te-Wan, ‘Black Hollywood began.’ –‘Bright Boulevard, Bold Dreams’ by Donald Bogle.

Madame quickly realized, at the turn of the century, she only had two opportunities, become a maid in real life at $100 per month or become one on screen for $1500 a week.  She chose the screen version.

Madame would only star in one major film throughout her career but she became the ‘Queen Of Black Hollywood’ by hosting lavish parties.  The black A-list (Bojangles, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers) clamored to get invitations to Madame’s parties.  These spectacular events included catered food and the best entertainment that money could buy.

When Madame wasn’t hosting parties, she was seen all over town in expensive cars, decked out in designer wear and expensive jewelry.

The black elite sought her out and often asked for her approval on various matters.  She was well respected and adored.  She was a grand dame throughout her life.

The black community was devastated when Madame died on February 1, 1959.  She was 81.

Source: Wikipedia.org


Mary Elizabeth Bowser (pictured above) had been a slave for the Van Lew family.  The Van Lew’s freed her and sent her North to be educated.

When Elizabeth Van Lew decided to establish a spy ring in Richmond, VA., she asked Bowser to return and work with her for the Union.  Van Lew obtained a position for Bowser as a servant in the Confederate “White House.”

Bowser pretended to be uneducated but hardworking, she was eventually hired as a regular employee.  Her access provided her with opportunities to overhear valuable information. As a black servant, Bowser was ignored by the President’s guests.  Her intelligence focused on conversations she overheard between Confederate officials at the President’s residence and on documents she was able to read while working around the house.  She and Van Lew, often dressed as a country farm wife, would meet at isolated locations on the outskirts of Richmond to exchange information.

Another Union spy, Thomas McNiven, noted that Bowser had a photographic memory and could report every word on each document (she saw) at the “White House.”

Bowser also served as a spy for General Ulysses S. Grant.

In recognition of her intelligence contributions, Mary Elizabeth Bowser was inducted into the U.S. Army Intelligence Hall Of Fame,” at Fort Huachuca on June 30th, 1995.

Although Elizabeth Bowser recorded the details of her espionage activities in a diary.  The diary is now owned by an African-American family and they refuse to release the material.

Bowser’s date of birth was circa 1840’s, her date of death remains unknown.

Above photo, courtesy of the “Central Intelligence Agency.”


For several decades, Union cavalry reconnaissance was given credit for identifying General Lee’s movement in the valley toward Maryland. While many reasons can be cited for Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg, there can be no doubt that a young black man, Charlie Wright, made a major contribution by providing intelligence that eventually enabled Union forces to get to Gettysburg first and seize the best ground.

What is known about Charlie Wright (no photo available) he had an excellent memory for detail and extensive knowledge of unit’s in General Lee’s army.

Prior to his Gettysburg intelligence, Wright had identified more than a dozen separate Confederate regiments from both Ewell’s Corps and Longstreet’s Corps.  The information was confirmed and this information convinced General Hooker that Lee’s army was moving into Maryland.


















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