#HiddenFigures in the Arts

Written By: Shannon Crowner

Date: February 4, 2017

The movie “Hidden Figures” reminds us that African Americans made significant contributions to history, but are often left out of the story. Each Saturday this month, We’ll be highlighting fascinating pioneers in black history whose stories have gone untold.

Part 1: 5 African American contributions that have influenced the arts.

Ann Lowe (1898- 1981)

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy is known as one of the most fashionable First Ladies in American history. What most Americans don’t know is that her wedding dress was designed by African American fashion designer, Ann Lowe. The wedding dress graced media coverage internationally, yet Ann Lowe died in her old age unknown. A collection of Ann Lowe’s dresses have been gifted to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Charles Alston (1907-1977)

Charles Alston was a painter, sculptor, artist, muralist, and teacher based out of Harlem, NY. In 1934, he cofounded the Harlem Art Workshop. “306” (as it was known) became a center for some of Harlem’s most creative minds, including Langston Hughes, Augusta Savage, Gwendolyn Knight, Ralph Ellison, Countee Cullen, and Richard Wright. In 1990, one of Alston’s most famous works, a bust of Martin Luther King Jr., was put up in the White House. His bust is the first sculpture displayed in the White House by an African American artist.

Hattie McDaniel (1895-1952)

Hattie McDaniel, best known for her role as Mammy in Gone With The Wind, was the first African American to receive an Academy Award. The awards ceremony was held in the segregated Cocoanut Grove nightclub, so McDaniel’s agent had to call in a special favor just to have McDaniel allowed in the building. When she arrived, McDaniel and her date were escorted to a segregated table for two apart from the rest of the Gone With The Wind cast. Despite the circumstances, McDaniel delivered a tear filled speech thanking the Academy for its “kindness.” McDaniel’s acting career included 74 maid roles and when she received backlash about it, she claimed she’d rather “play a maid than be one.”

Thomas Andrew Dorsey (1899-1993)

The son of a Baptist minister and music teacher, Thomas A. Dorsey is known as the “father of gospel music.” His mother taught him to play the organ at a young age and he eventually mastered playing the piano. Despite his mother’s advice to use his gifts to serve the Lord, his love for music led him into jazz and blues halls of Chicago. A turning point in his personal life caused Dorsey to go back to the church. He wrote over 400 compilations, but “Take my Hand, Precious Lord,” is his most famous work.

The National Negro Network (1954)

Founded by businessman W. Leonard Evans Jr., the National Negro Network, was the first black owned radio network in the United States. The network aired popular soap operas, including The Story of Ruby Valentine, which starred Ruby Dee. While Evans efforts were successful in securing the network, he failed to factor in entertainment’s newest invention- television. Due to the advent of television and integration of radio broadcasts, NNN went off the airways in 1955.

Visit the blog next Saturday (2/11/17) for #HiddenFigures in Sports.