Black Resistance: What it means to me

Freedom Center Voices

August 1, 2023

Black Resistance: What it means to me

What does Black resistance mean to me? Black resistance means activism, freedom, love, family and hope. Black people in America have resisted oppression in systemic, institutional, interpersonal and intrapersonal forms for centuries. Resistance can be both good and bad, and it means different things for different people. Black resistance is the foundation of American democracy. Resistance for Black Americans started in the 1800s, as Black Americans were mistreated and forced into chattel slavery. A major mechanism of resistance was marching. An effort to combat racial injustice with the goal of reaching equal rights for Black Americans. Black resistance movements began during the era of slavery through the Underground Railroad and persisted through and after the Civil War. When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln, it prompted an even larger resistance movement eventually leading to the Civil Rights era, including the 1960s when individuals radically armed themselves, ultimately resorting to violence.

Black Americans have literally institutionalized resistance by building strong supportive communities such as Black churches, periodicals, historically Black colleges and universities, the Congressional Black Caucus and many other groups and organizations, all founded to ensure the future success of African Americans which had not been previously granted due to the oppressive societal standards that existed in that era. Some of these organizations may be familiar: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The NAACP advocated for political and educational access, and equity of minority group citizens across the country to eliminate racial prejudice. They strived to remove all barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes.

In 1942 a group of Black and white students in Chicago founded CORE, empowering one of America’s most prolific Civil Rights movements. The CORE organization worked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. and was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s protest strategies of nonviolence and civil disobedience. The SCLC mission was to focus its effort on citizenship, schools and efforts to desegregate individual southern cities. Their goal was to plan rallies, marches and boycotts to end racial discrimination across the South. The SNCC organization sought to coordinate youth-led nonviolent, direct-action campaigns against segregation and other forms of racism. These young Black college students conducted sit-ins around the country to protest the segregation of restaurants and establishments. These organizations and actions that were taken are what turned the world the way it is today. So Black resistance means a lot to me, because if it wasn’t for our ancestors, and these coalitions that were formed, we would not be able to co-exist in the world today. Black resistance plays a major role in my life and the lives of African Americans across the country today.

Keyona Gardner - Specialist, Guest Services

“Service to the People” – the Importance of Community Food Programs

Freedom Center Voices

August 1, 2023

“Service to the People” – The Importance of Community Food Programs

Food insecurity has long been a problem in the United States, made worse by increased income inequality. Wages have stagnated while food and healthcare prices keep increasing. According to Feeding America, over nine million children faced food insecurity in 2021. In that same year, 22% of Black children were food insecure. According to No Kid Hungry, food insecurity affects concentration, memory, mood and motor skills, which ultimately impacts school performance and behavior.

Food insecurity is a problem that many community organizations have fought to end. One of the most famous of these programs was the Free Breakfast for School Children started by the Black Panther Party. The Panthers were started by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in the mid-1960s to combat issues facing Black communities, such as hunger and lack of medical access.

The Black Panther Party recognized that hunger negatively impacts a child’s education and basic functionality. The Free Breakfast for Schoolchildren Program offered free, hot and nutritionally balanced breakfast for any child who attended the program. The program started off feeding a few hundred kids but grew to help over 20,000 kids by the end of its first year. By 1969, hundreds of free breakfast programs had opened throughout the country.  

Another Black Panther Party food initiative was the Free Food Program, which focused on all community members, not just children. According to Food Insecurity in Black Communities by Feeding America, Black Americans are three times more likely to face hunger than white Americans. Each week, the organization would deliver a week’s worth of nutritious, fresh foods to those requesting assistance. Food donations from various stores helped fuel both of the Panther food programs. In 1969, the U.S. National Lunch Program acknowledged that the Panthers were feeding more low-income children than they were. 

You can still find local food aid in your community. These programs can be found at food banks such as the Freestore Foodbank. Local churches often have food pantries that deliver food to their neighbors. Consider donating to these organizations or volunteering to cook and distribute food.  

Autumn Pitney - Manager of Guest Experiences

Autumn holds a Bachelor's degree in Art History, Criticism and Conversation from the University of Cincinnati, and has been with the Freedom Center for almost two years (at time of publishing). 

Louise Shropshire, Civil Rights icon and Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame Inductee

Freedom Center Voices

July 17, 2023

Louise Shropshire, Civil Rights icon and Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame Inductee 

Louise Shropshire (1913-1993) was born in Alabama and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her grandparents were enslaved. Composing hymns at a young age, she eventually worked as the music minister at the Revelation Baptist Church in Cincinnati. She conducted the mass choir of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs in Cincinnati in 1935. Her hymnals were popularized throughout churches and were used during the Civil Rights Movement. “If My Jesus Wills,” was published in 1942, and used by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to bring people together during the Civil Rights Movement. The work was copyrighted in 1954.

“I’ll overcome, 

I’ll overcome, 

I’ll overcome someday, 

If my Jesus wills, 

I do believe, 

I’ll overcome someday.” 

“We Shall Overcome,” a song that brought hope, courage, and unity to the Civil Rights Movement was inspired by “If My Jesus Wills.” “We Shall Overcome” is believed to have come from African American workers were striking against the American Tobacco Co. in Charleston, South Carolina because they were only making $0.45 an hour. Pete Seeger overheard these workers singing and would go on to popularize the song.

“We Shall Overcome” has very similar lyrics to “If My Jesus Wills”: 

“We Shall Overcome, 

We Shall Overcome, 

We shall overcome someday, 

Deep in my heart, 

I do believe, 

We shall overcome someday.” 

Click here to listen to the Azuza Pacific University Gospel Choir perform “If My Jesus Wills.”   

Louise passed away in 1993. Her final words to her grandson, Robert A. Goins Shropshire, were “Someday, somebody’s gonna do somethin’ with with all my music.” In 2016, the We Shall Overcome Foundation filed a class-action lawsuit against The Richmond Organization, who they believed claimed illegitimate copyright. In 2018, a New York Federal Judge signed an order that released “We Shall Overcome” in public domain, which granted people easier access to Louise’s song. Her grandson believes she would been so happy that her song could be used by everyone.3 

Louise will be inducted into the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame on July 22nd, 2023. For more information, visit their website 

Autumn Pitney - Manager of Guest Experiences

Autumn holds a Bachelor's degree in Art History, Criticism and Conversation from the University of Cincinnati, and has been with the Freedom Center for almost two years (at time of publishing). 

National Mental Health Awareness Month: Improving Mental Healthcare For All

Freedom Center Voices

May 1, 2023

National Mental Health Awareness Month: Improving Mental Healthcare For All

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Social media lights up with #selfcare and celebrities testify to the importance of mental health care in their lives, but there is still an ongoing mental health crisis in the United States. Even for those who want access to mental health care, too often barriers exist to access. This is particularly true in communities of color.

In 2020, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that 21% – roughly 1 in 5 – U.S. adults experienced some form of mental illness. Further, 16.5% – about 1 in 6 – American youth ages 6-17 struggled with a “mental health disorder.” In total, that is roughly 60.6 million American men, women and children. This is just the tip of the iceberg, considering these numbers rely on self-reporting, which an individual may choose not to do for a variety of reasons.

Yet a very important nuance of the picture is missed when viewing the data from the broader level. Different ethnic and racial groups receive mental health care at different rates. See the bar graph (created from 2019 SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services)) for a visual representation of this discrepancy. In 2019, although about half of non-Hispanic white adults with mental health illnesses received treatment, less than a third of non-Hispanic African Americans suffering from mental health disorders received treatment. What gives?

Everyone faces barriers to mental health care, but individuals from minority communities are often uniquely disadvantaged when it comes to mental health access. Barriers can include lack of insurance (or underinsurance, as mental health care is sometimes not included in health care plans), lack of transportation to appointments, prohibitive cost, and more. According to a 2019 NAMI California survey, the three greatest obstacles to mental health care reported by diverse patients and caregivers were cost, stigma within their communities, and lack of culturally competent services. To quote one participant, “We have been knocking on county mental health services’ doors for years.”  

So, what can be done to improve mental health services and outcomes for diverse communities? One important early step is to work within communities and with community leaders to educate about mental illnesses and lower the stigma about seeking mental health services. It's important that practitioners address culturally-specific traumas as well as community strengths. For an example of one group that practices this, check out the Center for Native Child and Family Resilience. By giving priority to community leaders and centering traditional spiritual and healing customs in development of community programming (see this example of using the Indigenous Medicine Wheel), the Center offers more holistic outcomes than traditional social and mental health frameworks for many Native American and Alaskan Native communities. 

This is just one step. The United States also needs to commit to more comprehensive mental health care included in health insurance for all, as well as requiring ongoing implicit bias training and cultural competency courses for social workers and mental health care professionals. Poor mental health outcomes have adverse effects on not only individuals, but also families, communities, and society as a whole. It snowballs into something that affects everyone. The CDC has even called it a “global public health issue.” Considering the consequences, who wouldn’t be invested in improving mental health care for all?  

Better mental health for all starts with access for all. Are you interested in therapy, but worried about the cost? You may qualify for state-sponsored therapy. Check the following links for more information: 

Choose another state: 

Haley Knuth - Specialist, Guest Services

Haley holds a Bachelor's degree in Acting and German from Wright State University, and a Master's degree in History from Miami University. 

National Poetry Month: Poetry’s ties to the Black American Community

Freedom Center Voices
April 10, 2023

National Poetry Month: Poetry's ties to the Black American Community

April is National Poetry Month, and for generations poetry has played a crucial role in elevating Black voices and providing a medium for Black stories. Black poets have used their poetry to talk about their experiences throughout US history – from slavery to segregation, from the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter.

Langston Hughes was one of the pioneers of the Harlem Renaissance, a golden age for Black culture stemming from an explosion of African American art, literature and music throughout the 20s and 30s. While other prominent Black poets of the time were turning inward for inspiration, like Countee Cullen who often wrote about lost love, Hughes was looking outward to his community.  He wanted to focus not just on their shared suffering, but their shared love of music, laughter and language.

Perhaps his most famous poem “I, Too” was published in 1926 and is equally sorrowful and hopeful. It powerfully rejects racism while expressing how African Americans have persevered, and will always persevere. The poem is meant to challenge Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing.” Whitman’s poem talks about the diversity of the US, and how people of all classes, in their own way, contribute to America’s “song.” However, the voices of African Americans are notably absent. Hughes rejects Whitman’s view of America and insists that “[Black voices], too, sing America.” In his poem, despite being forced to eat in the kitchen when company comes, Hughes “laugh[s], and eat[s] well, and grow[s] strong.” This alludes to the reality of life for Black Americans under Jim Crow and segregation. Despite these laws, African Americans were able to develop a thriving and vibrant culture. The poem argues that racism involves the willful exclusion and refusal to acknowledge African Americans’ contributions to America’s “song,” and that this unwillingness will inevitably be racism’s downfall; that through their perseverance and creativity, a time will come when Black voices can no longer be ignored. The poem ends powerfully, with “I, too, am America.”

Maya Angelou’s passion for poetry and literature began at a young age and in 2010 this passion resulted in her being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her civil rights activism and her contributions to American literature and poetry. One of her most famous poems, “Still I Rise,” is a powerful rejection of the oppression faced by Black Americans. Similar to Langston Hughes, Angelou reflects on the resiliency of African Americans. How, despite attempts to silence her, to break her down and ruin her, she will rise, again and again. She weaponizes her laughter, her dancing, her sexiness, because the best way to resist adversity, is to live and thrive despite negative intentions. “Does my sexiness upset you?” she writes. “Does it come as a surprise that I dance like I’ve got diamonds between my thighs? [ ] Leaving behind nights of terror and fear, I rise, Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear, I rise, Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise, I rise, I rise.”

Poetry continues to be a powerful vehicle for sharing and elevating Black stories, giving voice to stories that stir emotions, inspire to action and evoke empathy. Through poetry and spoken word performances, Black voices, too, sing America as they rise.

Honoring the legacy of Black Soldiers is Essential

Freedom Center Voices
November 11, 2022

Honoring the Legacy of Black Soldiers is Essential

The American Revolution officially ended on September 3, 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Along with the Civil War, the American Revolution is one of the most noteworthy events in American history. Generations of Americans have honored and commemorated the Revolution by erecting monuments to various peoples, places, and events. According to the Journal of the American Revolution, there are approximately 450 monuments, memorials, statues, and plaques to the American Revolution across the country. This reflects the significance of the event, but where are the stories of the Black soldiers who fought?

During the American Revolution, thousands of Black people fought on both sides of the conflict. But unlike their white counterparts, they were not just fighting for independence or to sustain British rule. At a time when the majority of Black Americans lived in bondage with their labor seeding the economy of the fledgling nation, many accepted to call to arms hoping for freedom from the despotism of chattel slavery.

Historians estimate that between 5,000 and 8,000 Black Americans participated in the Revolution on the Patriot side, and that upward of 20,000 served with the British. More than a few fought with bravery and great prowess, but their exploits have faded from our collective memory. There are many notable and exceptional Black American figures including Crispus Attucks, Peter Salem, and James Armistead Lafayette. Their crucial contributions to the conflict have often gone unnoticed or unacknowledged within the American narrative.

Despite the patriots’ rhetoric about liberty and justice for all, America’s war for independence did not herald widespread emancipation for countless enslaved persons. But for some, the Revolution’s promise of liberty became a reality. The story of Pvt. John Scott is a brilliant example of that reality.

Pvt. John Scott's Replacement Headstone
Daughters of the American Revolution - Turtle Creek Chapter

Pvt. John Scott was born 15 Aug 1760 and died 17 Dec 1847 in Maineville, Ohio. He served as a Private with Prince Edward Company, Virginia in 1778 and did a second tour in 1779. Pvt. Scott is listed in “Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian patriots in the Revolutionary War: a guide to service, sources and studies,” an extensive study published by Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The Turtle Creek Chapter in Lebanon, Ohio was apprised of Pvt. Scott and his final resting place in 2019 and filed an application for a historic preservation grant to the DAR Historian General in August 2020. Approval was received in August 2021 and the Turtle Creek Chapter worked to replace the broken headstone of American Revolutionary War Patriot John Scott in the Maineville Cemetery in preparation for a Patriot insignia marker.

On May 21, 2022, my colleague and I were able to represent the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center at the Grave Marking Ceremony honoring Revolutionary War Patriot Pvt. John Scott. Scott served as a private in the 10th regiment of the Virginia Continental Line in Company F commanded by Colonel Thomas Posey. The regiment would fight in the Battle of Monmouth, the largest and longest one day battle of the Revolutionary War.

Picture of Novella Nimmo, Christopher Miller, and Gael T. Fischer (Regent with Turtle Creek Chapter, NSDAR) , May 21, 2022
Provided By Christopher Miller

Although the war ended on September 3, 1783, Scott was paid through November 15, 1783. His pension file indicates he was entitled to bounty land available to eligible veterans. He received his certificate for one hundred acres of land and in 1811 he received arrearages in pay in the amount of $452.

It was a privilege to stand for the legacy of Black soldiers like Pvt Scott, reminding us that Black American have been critical contributors with their lives towards the ideals of America. Let us not forget the essential role Black American soldiers have played from the very beginning of America!

Christopher Miller

Senior Director of Education & Community Engagement
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center