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  • Taylor Twohy

Juneteenth - DSA Celebrates Black Artists and Innovators

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. We recognize June 19, 1865 as a day of freedom, for this was the day enslaved people in Texas were alerted to the surrender of General Lee and of their freedom. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln January 1, 1863, nearly two and a half years earlier. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

In February 2020, we posted that we would share a Black artist or innovator every Friday until Juneteenth. Then just a few weeks later, we all ended up going home and staying there for quite some time (some of us may still be there). We lost track of the days but we realize we have a responsibility to share Black stories and the way Black Americans have influenced art from poetry to painting. Below please find the histories and contributions of several notable Black artists.

On our instagram (@DSAFriendsFund), we shared about Nina Simone, Erykah Badu, Robert Johnson, Quincy Jones, Augusta Savage, and Bill Withers. Please enjoy the other 12 artists, one for each Friday we missed, we have chosen to highlight. We hope this leads you to finding new stories, understanding more of American history, and learning how Black Americans have been creating, influencing, and building art and popular culture for centuries.

Maya Angelou

"If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities." Maya Angelou, American poet, writer, and civil rights activist. 1928-2014.

Maya Angelou is one of the most influential Black voices. She is best known for her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), making her one of the first Black women able to publicly discuss their personal life. She was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. With more than 30 bestselling titles, Maya Angelou has written 36 books and continues to inspire generations with her words.

August Wilson

Have a belief in yourself that is bigger than anyone's disbelief.” August Wilson, American playwright and author. 1945-2005

In addition to writing 16 plays, August Wilson co-founded multiple theaters in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Son of an African-American mother and a German immigrant father, he explored the experience of race in his works. Fences (1985) won multiple Tony awards and hearned Wilson a Pulitzer Prize.

Amy Sherald

"I don't think anybody can create in a space where they don't feel comfortable." Amy Sherald, American painter. 1973-.

Amy Sherald rose to prominence when she was chosen by Former First Lady Michelle Obama to create her portrait for the National Portrait Gallery, making her onw of the first Black artists in the Gallery (along with Kehinde Wiley). She has had her bold, colorful works exhibited across the United States. She currently resides in Baltimore, MD and is the recipient of the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in Visual Arts.

Sidney Poitier

"When I set out to become an actor, I had set myself a standard." Sidney Poitier, Bahamian-American actor, director, and producer. 1927-.

Originally thwarted by his Bahamian accent, Poitier worked to learn American enunciation and became the first African-American to win an Academy Award (Lillies of the Field, 1963). He rejected parts based in sterotype, helping the advancement and portrayal of Black individuals. He became the first Black movie star and has multiple awards, including two Golden Globes.

Audre Lorde

“In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction."Audre Lorde, American poet, writer, womanist, and civil rights activist. 1934-1992

Her poems and prose dealt with the issues she faced - civil and gay rights, feminism, and her outrage with civil and social injustices. She is internationally recognized as an activist and artist, having been awarded the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit and being honored as New York's Poet Laureate from 1991-1993.

Ava DuVernay

“Don’t wait for permission to do something creative.” Ava DuVernay, American director, writer, and producer. 1972 -.

Ava DuVernay became the highest grossing Black woman director in American box office history with 2018's A Wrinkle in Time. She has been nominated for Emmys, Golden Globes, and Academy Awards, and is the winner of the Sundance 2012 Directing Award. Her work highlights Black stories and now is canonized with "the DuVernay test;" where the Bechdel test measures feminism in film, the DuVernay test measures racial diversity in film.

Josephine Baker

"All my life, I have maintained that the people of the world can learn to live together in peace if they are not brought up in prejudice." Josephine Baker, American-born French dancer, entertainer and civil rights activist. 1906-1975.

Known for her banana skirt at the Folies Bergère, she became an instant icon and representation of the 1920's Jazz Age. Baker famously refused to perform for segregated audience and she moved to Paris in 1925, where she quickly rose to fame. While in France, she became a part of the French Resistance, using her charm to collect German information and help France win the war.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

"I'm not a real person. I'm a legend." Jean-Michel Basquiat, American artist. 1960-1988.

Jean-Michel Basquiat is famous for his colorful style of art, emmulating the work of children. His art focused on dichotomies, mixing text with images for his distinct brand of abstraction. He was a neo-expressionist, friend of Andy Warhol and would often use other people's property as a canvas. In 2017,an Untitled piece of his from 1982 sold at Sotheby's, setting a new record high for any American artist at auction, selling for $110.5 million.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

"Oh, these kids and rock and roll — this is just sped up rhythm and blues. I’ve been doing that forever." Sister Rosetta Tharpe, American singer, songwriter, and guitarist. 1915-1973.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is the godmother of Rock'n'Roll. She rose to fame in the 1930s and 40s with her gospel recordings, pioneering guitar techniques. Her music heavily influenced British blues of the 1960s and paved the way for Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and the like. In 2017, she was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an Early Influence.

Hattie McDaniel

"Every actor and actress is possessed of the absorbing passion to create something distinctive and unique." Hattie McDaniel, American actress, singer-songwriter, and comedian. 1893-1952.

Hattie McDaniel won an Academy Award for her portrayal of "Mammy" in Gone with the Wind. She went on to star in other films with Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, among others. Her career was rife with drama regarding the portrayal of Black stereotypes in film. Her story and the racism in mid-century Hollywood are being revisited by Queen Latifah in Ryan Murphy's Hollywood.


"Art is about building a new foundation, not just laying something on top of what's already there." Prince, American musician, singer, songwriter, and producer. 1958-2016.

Prince is widely regarded as the best guitarist of his time and is one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. An exceptional musician, his artistry was heard in his music and seen in his stage presence. His sixth studio album, Purple Rain, spent 24 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. The album and it's film earned him Grammys, AMAs, and an Academy Award.

Jessie Redmon Fauset

"The Complex of color...every colored man feels it sooner or later. It gets in the way of his dreams, of his education, of his marriage, of the rearing of his children." Jessie Redmon Fauset, American editor, poet, writer, and educator.

Fauset was the first literary editor if W.E.B. Du Bois' magazine, The Crisis. She was integral to the Harlem Renaissance, encouraging the careers of Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, and Claude McKay. She was also co-editor of The Brownies' Book, a monthly publication to teach African-American children of their heritage.

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