Georgia O’Keeffe quote: “I found I could say things…

Portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe

“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way — things I had no words for.”

– Georgia O’Keeffe

“Georgia O’Keeffe quote: ‘I found I could say things…” sources: Portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe taken in 1918 by Alfred Stieglitz / Wikimedia Commons / Georgia O’Keeffe quote is from a catalogue ‘forward’ for a show at the Anderson Galleries in New York in 1926 / Georgia O’Keeffe Wikiquote

Actress Olivia de Havilland: a snapshot biography

Actress Olivia de Havilland

Olivia de Havilland performed in forty-nine feature films and won multiple Academy and Golden Globe awards. But her career almost ended well before stardom.

Deeply passionate about drama while in high school, Olivia won the role of Elizabeth Bennet in a school fundraising production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Her parents, however, did not permit extracurricular activities. “I shall have nothing to do with it. You will have to ask your stepfather,” was how Olivia’s mother responded to her daughter asking for permission to perform.

Olivia chose not to ask her father, studying her lines at night with a flashlight. Upon learning of Olivia’s preparation to perform, her stepfather gave an ultimatum – leave the show and continue living at home, or play the role and no longer be welcome at home.

Not wanting to let her school and classmates down, Olivia kept her role and moved out.

“Actress Olivia de Havilland: a snapshot biography” sources: Fontaine, Joan (1978). No Bed of Roses. New York: Morrow. / Portrait of Olivia de Havilland is a publicity photo taken in 1938 by Warner Bros. / Wikimedia Commons

Abraham Lincoln quote: “Now, it happens that…

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln

“Now, it happens that we meet together once every year, sometimes about the fourth of July, for some reason or other. These fourth of July gatherings I suppose have their uses…We are now a mighty nation; we are thirty, or about thirty, millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years, and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country, with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men; we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other being connected with this rise of prosperity. We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men; they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity which we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time, of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves, we feel more attached the one to the other, and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live, for these celebrations. But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these, men descended by blood from our ancestors — among us, perhaps half our people, who are not descendants at all of these men; they are men who have come from Europe — German, Irish, French and Scandinavian — men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence, they find that those old men say that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh, of the men who wrote that Declaration; and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”

“Abraham Lincoln quote: ‘Now, it happens that…” sources: Portrait of Abraham Lincoln taken on November 8th, 1863 by Alexander Gardner / Mead Art Museum / Wikimedia Commons / Quote from a reply by Abraham Lincoln in a debate with Senator Stephen Douglas in a campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1858 / Abraham Lincoln Wikiquote

Langston Hughes: writer, “My People” & other works

Portrait of Langston Hughes, writer of "My People" & other works.

“The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.”

Langston Hughes wrote this poem at twenty-one. He called it “My People.”

Born in Missouri in 1902, Langston experienced a childhood of challenges and change. His father left the family shortly after Langston’s birth. Afterwhich, Langston moved to Kansas to live with his grandmother, as his mother moved often seeking work.

Langston learned many lessons in his grandmother’s home. She taught him about racial pride, inspired him to help his race. It was also there that Langston fell in love with reading. “I was unhappy for a long time, and very lonesome, living with my grandmother. Then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books,” he said.

But his entry into writing, which would define his life’s work, came by chance. He was elected class poet in grammar school. “I was a victim of a stereotype. There were only two of us Negro kids in the whole class and our English teacher was always stressing the importance of rhythm in poetry. Well, everyone knows, except us, that all Negroes have rhythm, so they elected me as class poet.” He read his first poem at graduation, receiving loud applause from the crowd.

Langston would write many more works after that poem. He spent his working life writing to inspire and uplift people. And while censored at times, banned from places at others, he never shied away from talking of life’s struggles, especially with poverty and racism.

Langston passed away in New York City in 1967.

“Langston Hughes: writer, ‘My People’ & other works” sources: Langston Hughes Wikipedia / “My People” First published as “Poem” in The Crisis (October 1923), p. 162, and The Weary Blues (1926). The title poem “My People” was collected in The Dream Keeper (1932) and the Selected Poems of Langston Hughes (1959). Rampersad & Roessel (2002), The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, pp. 36, 623. / Van Vechten, Carl, photographer. Portrait of Langston Hughes. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2004663042/>

Booker T. Washington quote on going to school

“I had no schooling whatever while I was a slave, though I remember on several occasions I went as far as the schoolhouse door with one of my young mistresses to carry her books. The picture of several dozen boys and girls in a schoolroom engaged in study made a deep impression upon me, and I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study in this way would be about the same as getting into paradise.”

– Booker T. Washington

“Booker T. Washington quote on going to school” sources: Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. Booker T. Washington, half-length portrait, seated. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2010645746/>. / Washington, Booker T. Up from Slavery.

President John F. Kennedy quote: “This state…

President John F. Kennedy

“This State, this city, this campus, have stood long for both human rights and human enlightenment — and let that forever be true. This Nation is now engaged in a continuing debate about the rights of a portion of its citizens. That will go on, and those rights will expand until the standard first forged by the Nation’s founders has been reached, and all Americans enjoy equal opportunity and liberty under law.

But this Nation was not founded solely on the principle of citizens’ rights. Equally important, though too often not discussed, is the citizen’s responsibility. For our privileges can be no greater than our obligations. The protection of our rights can endure no longer than the performance of our responsibilities. Each can be neglected only at the peril of the other. I speak to you today, therefore, not of your rights as Americans, but of your responsibilities. They are many in number and different in nature. They do not rest with equal weight upon the shoulders of all. Equality of opportunity does not mean equality of responsibility. All Americans must be responsible citizens, but some must be more responsible than others, by virtue of their public or their private position, their role in the family or community, their prospects for the future, or their legacy from the past.

Increased responsibility goes with increased ability, for ‘of those to whom much is given, much is required.’”

– President John F. Kennedy

“President John F. Kennedy quote: ‘This state…'” sources: President John F. Kennedy Wikiquote / Address at Vanderbilt University – May 18th, 1963 / Department of Defense. Defense Communications Agency. White House Communications Agency. (1962 – 06/25/1991) / Portrait of President John F. Kennedy is titled President Kennedy addresses nation on Civil Rights, 11 June 1963 – taken by Abbie Rowe / John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum / National Park Service / United States Department of the Interior / Wikimedia Commons

Bert Williams: “The funniest man I ever saw.”

Bert Williams

Bert Williams was simple and kind, many liked him. He was also one of the best comedians of his time. “The funniest man I ever saw,” one fellow comedian described Bert. 

Born in Nassau, The Bahamas, in 1874, Bert moved to Florida with his family at eleven, and to California a year later. While studying engineering in college at Stanford, Bert began performing in minstrel shows to earn funds to support himself financially. This would mark the beginning of a lifetime in show business. 

Pairing up with a fellow performer, the troupe sang, and danced, performed skits, exchanged comedic dialogue. They slowly grew in stature, until coming into much fame with their musical, In Dahomey, in 1902. The popular show also took them abroad, as they performed in Buckingham Palace. The pair worked together until 1911, when Bert’s partner passed away. At which point, Bert joined a production company. 

While Bert made others laugh, he coped with much pain. The same description of him being the funniest man was followed up with Bert is “the saddest man I ever knew.” He dealt with significant racism, often having to find his own accommodations, eating alone, taking backroom elevators, and though being black, having to perform in blackface. Remarking about a time when fellow performers went on strike, he said. “I went to the theatre as usual, made-up and dressed. Then I came out of my dressing room and found the stage deserted and dark, the big auditorium empty and the strike on. I knew nothing of it: I had not been told. You see, I just didn’t belong. So then I went back to my dressing room, washed up, dressed up, and went on the roof. It all seemed like a nightmare.”

Sick, needing help to dress himself, Bert still went to perform. He collapsed during his performance and soon after passed away at the age of forty-seven. 

“Bert Williams: ‘The funniest man I ever saw.'” sources: Hill, Errol, and Hatch, James V.. A history of African American theatre. United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press, 2003. / “TCS 1.1120, Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University” / Let It Resound / Wikimedia Commons 

Anne Sullivan letter on first year in Tuscumbia

Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller

My dear; –It was a year ago yesterday that I arrived in Tuscumbia. Did you realize it?

How forlorn and weary I was, nobody, not even you can imagine. I remember how the conductor on the train from Chattanooka [sic] tried to comfort me. He noticed that I cried a great deal, and stopped to ask, “Any of your folks dead, young lady?” His voice was so kind, I could not help telling him a little of my trouble, and he did his best to cheer me, telling me that I would find the southern people most kind and hospitable. When the train stopped at Tuscumbia, the thought flashed through my mind, “Here I am more than a thousand miles from any human being I ever saw before!” But somehow I was not sorry that I had come. I felt that the future held something good for me. And the loneliness in my heart was an old acquaintance. I had been lonely all my life. My surroundings only were to be different.

The first person who spoke to me as I stepped from the train was James Keller, Captain Keller’s eldest son, and although he simply spoke my name with a rising inflection, I knew instinctively that we should never be good friends. He said Mrs. Keller was in the carriage waiting for me. When she spoke, a great weight rolled off my heart, there was such sweetness and refinement in her voice. It is a wonder how much of one’s character and disposition is revealed in one’s voice. There is no doubt in my mind that the voice is a truer index to character than the face. We learn to control the expression of our features; but very few ever succeed in controlling their voices.

I thought, as we drove to my new home through the little town of Tuscumbia, which was more like a New England village than a town; for the roads–there were no streets–were lined with blossoming fruit-trees, and the ploughed fields smelt good, (I think the earthy smell is the best of all spring odors) “Certainly this is a good time and a pleasant place to begin my life-work.” When Mrs. Keller pointed out her house at the end of a long, narrow lane, I became so excited and eager to see my little pupil, that I could scarcely sit still in my seat. I felt like getting out and pushing the horse along faster. I wondered that Mrs. Keller could endure such a slow beast. I have discovered since that all things move slowly in the South. When at last we reached the house, I ran up the porch-steps, and there stood Helen by the porch-door, one hand stretched out, as if she expected some one to come in. Her little face wore an eager expression, and I noticed that her body was well formed and sturdy. For this I was most thankful. I did not mind the tumbled hair, the soiled pinafore, the shoes tied with white strings–all that could be remedied in time; but if she had been deformed, or had acquired any of those nervous habits that so often accompany blindness, and which make an assemblage of blind people such a pitiful sight, how much harder it would have been for me! As it was, I knew the task I had set myself would be difficult enough.

I remember how disappointed I was when the untamed little creature stubbornly refused to kiss me and struggled frantically to free herself from my embrace. I remember, too, how the eager, impetuous fingers felt my face and dress and my bag which she insisted on opening at once, showing by signs that she expected to find something good to eat in it. Mrs. Keller tried to make Helen understand by shaking her head and pointing to me that she was not to open the bag; but the child paid no attention to these signs, whereupon her mother forcibly took the bag out from her hands. Helen’s face grew red to the roots of her hair, and she began to clutch at her mother’s dress and kick violently. I took her hand and put it on my watch and showed her that by pressing the spring she could open it. She was interested instantly, and the tempest was over. Then I led her to my room, and she helped me remove my hat, which she put on her own head, tilting it from side to side in imitation, I learned afterwards, of her Aunt Eve. When the hat was put away, we opened my bag, and Helen was much disappointed to find nothing but toilet articles and clothing. She put her hand to her mouth repeatedly and shook her head with ever greater emphasis as she neared the bottom of the bag. There was a trunk in the hall, and I led Helen to it and by using her signs I tried to tell her that I had a trunk like it, and in it there was something very good to eat. She understood; for she put both her hands to her mouth and went through the motion of eating something she liked extremely, then pointed to the trunk and to me, nodding her head emphatically, which meant, I suppose, “I understand you have some candy in your trunk,” and ran down-stairs to her mother, telling her by the same signs what she had discovered. This was my introduction to that bit of my life now out there on the piazza, building queer, shaky houses out of blocks of wood.

I need not tell you, dear, that this has been a hard year; but I do not forget the many pleasant spots in it. I have lost my patience and courage many, many times; but I have found that one difficult task accomplished makes the next easier. My most persistent foe is that feeling of restlessness that takes possession of me sometimes. It overflows my soul like a tide, and there is no escape from it. It is more torturing than any physical pain I have ever endured. I pray constantly that my love for this beautiful child may grow so large and satisfying that there will be no room in my heart for uneasiness and discontent.

And, dear, I am glad that my success has been such a gratification to you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the mother-love you gave me when I was a lonely, troublesome schoolgirl, whose thoughtlessness must have caused you no end of anxiety. It is a blessed thing to know that there is some one who rejoices with us when we are glad, and who takes pride in our achievements. I know you feared that my quick temper and saucy tongue would make trouble for me here; but I am glad to be able to tell you, at the end of the first year of my independence, that I have lived peaceably with all men and women too. There have been murder and treason and arson in my heart; but they haven’t got out, thanks to the sharpness of my teeth which have often stood guard over my tongue.

The arrogance of these southern people is most exasperating to the northerner. To hear them talk, you would think that they had won every battle in the Civil War, and that the Yankees were little better than targets for them to shoot at. But for all that, they are uniformly kind and courteous, and I shall remember with gratitude as long as I live their gentleness and forbearance under conditions that tried the souls of all concerned.

Indeed, I am heartily glad that I don’t know all that is being said and written about Helen and myself. I assure you, I know quite enough. Nearly every mail brings some absurd statement printed or written. The truth is not wonderful enough to suit the newspapers; so they enlarge upon it and invent ridiculous embellishments. One paper has Helen demonstrating problems in Geometry by means of her playing blocks. I expect to hear next that she has [letter ends here].

Sources: Anne’s Letter to Sophia C. Hopkins (March 4, 1888) – American Foundation for the Blind / C.M. Bell, photographer. Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. [between January and January 1894] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2016691955/>.

Ada “Bricktop” Smith: a snapshot biography

Portrait of Ada "Bricktop" Smith

Her full name was Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith. But most people called her Bricktop because of her red hair.

Bricktop was born in Alderson, West Virginia, in 1894. After her father passed away when she was four, her mother moved the family to Chicago, where Bricktop would spend her youth.

In Chicago, Bricktop began what would be a lifetime in show business. She performed at five in a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. By her late teens, she was a dancer and singer, performing all over the country. At twenty, she moved to Harlem and Paris a few years later.

Her Paris life first started with performing. But within a few years, she decided to open a Her Paris life first started with performing. But within a few years, she decided to open a nightclub, the first of a number of endeavors owning and managing nightclubs in Europe, Mexico, and the U.S.

Bricktop was beloved by many. Writers wrote about her; F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “My greatest claim to fame is that I met Bricktop before Cole Porter.”

After retiring from managing clubs in 1961, she said, “I’m tired, honey. Tired of staying up all night.” But she continued performing into her eighties.

“Ada ‘Bricktop’ Smith: a snapshot biography” sources: Portrait of “Ada ‘Bricktop’ Smith taken in 1934 – Van Vechten, Carl, photographer. Portrait of Bricktop Ada Smith du Conge, Paris. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2004662625/> / Stanford Libraries: A Night at Bricktop’s: Jazz in 1930s’ Montmartre / William G. Pomeroy Foundation