GRANDMASTER VIC MOORE: DEFEATED BRUCE LEE, CHUCK NORRIS, JIM KELLY AND ALL OF THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONS.

Previewing in Black History Month, The Czar of Black Hollywood, is a new documentary by producer Bayer L. Mack. It chronicles the life and times of Oscar Micheaux, the first African-American independent feature-length filmmaker and studio boss.

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The Real Meeting, Martin Luther King and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad meet in Chicago in February, 1968 

Rarely discussed by the co-opters of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, from 1966 until his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr. had a relationship with fellow Georgian, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (who was born Elijah Poole in Sandersville, Georgia). Archival records suggest contact was made as early as 1958. 

Dr. King was considered a pariah by most of his fellow ministers, who couldn’t withstand the pressure King received after his stance against the Vietnam War. On July 6, 1966, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote Dr. King a letter calling for “walking toward one goal; freedom justice and equality from the common enemy—Let us realize that in unity there is strength.” 

On the eve of his assassination, Martin Luther King was one of the most unpopular leaders in America primarily because of his anti-war stance. A fact conveniently overlooked by those who have co-opted Dr. King’s legacy. In consideration of the public pressure on Dr. King, Elijah Muhammad added, “The meeting nor place need not be public.” The letter is preserved in the archives of the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Held on a Saturday in February of 1968, Martin Luther King visited with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, for over 5 hours. Some reports suggest 6 hours. Major networks and reporters remained outside. When asked “What did you and Elijah talk about?” Dr. King said, “We agreed that we wouldn’t say to anyone what we talked about.”

Elizabeth Cotten, Master Guitarist 

Elizabeth Cotten’s birth in late January 1893 is celebrated on this date. She was an African American guitarist.

From Chapel Hill, NC after first picking up the banjo at the age of eight, she soon moved on to her brother’s guitar, laying it flat on her lap and developing her picking style and chording. By the age of 12 she was working as a domestic, and three years later gave birth to her first child. As a young mother joining the church, she gave up the guitar, playing rarely over the next 25 years. In the early 1940s, Cotten had moved to Washington, D.C., where (as a domestic) she began working for the legendary Charles Seeger family and caring for children Pete, Peggy and Mike.

When the Seegers heard Cotten’s guitar skills a decade later, they recorded her for Folkways, and in 1957 she issued her debut LP, Folksongs and Instrumentals. The track “Freight Train,” written when she was 12, became a Top Five hit in the England, and ensured her a handful of concert performances. This motivated her to write new material, which appeared on her second album, Shake Sugaree. As Cotton became comfortable performing, her presentation evolved to add telling stories about her life and leading her audiences in singing her songs. She recalled more songs from her childhood, and learned new material.

Cotten did not retire from domestic work until 1970, and did not tour actively until the end of that decade. She won a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship Award as well as a Grammy, both earned during the final years of her life. She was one of the most influential guitarists to surface during the roots music revival era, her wonderfully expressive and dexterous finger-picking style a major inspiration to the generations of players who followed in her wake. Elizabeth Cotten died on June 29, 1987 in Syracuse, New York.

BOLD: “Stagecoach” Mary Fields (1832-1914), the first African American mail carrier (male or female) in the United States

Mary Fields began her life as a slave in Tennessee in 1832, the exact date is unknown. Mary’s mother Susanna was thepersonal servant to the plantation owner’s wife, Mrs. Dunnes. The plantation wife also had a daughter who was born within two weeks of Mary, and named Dolly. Mrs. Dunne allowed the children to play together. Over the years Mary was taught to read and write and the two girls became best friends. At sixteen, Dolly was sent to boarding school in Ohio and Mary was left all alone.

Mary’s father worked in the fields on the Dunnes’ farm. He was sold after Mary was born. Mary’s mother wanted her daughter to have a last name, so since her father Buck worked in the fields, her mother decided her last name should be Fields. So thus Mary Fields came to be. After Mary’s mother passed away, Mary became the head of the household at the young age of fourteen. 

After Dolly went away to boarding school, The Civil War began. The slaves were left to fend for themselves. It was during this time that she learned many life survival skills. She learned how to garden, raise chickens and practice medicine with natural herbs. 

Around the age of 30 Mary heard from her dear friend Dolly. Dolly was now a nun and was renamed Sister Amadaus. The Sister asked Mary to join her at a convent in Ohio. Mary immediately began her twenty-day trip from Tennessee to Ohio. Mary remained with the Ursuline Sisters for many years – even when Dolly relocated to the St. Peter’s Mission in Montana. Mary never married and she had no children. The nuns were her family. She protected the nuns.

Mary wanted to follow her friend to Montana, but was told it was too remote and rustic. However, that all changed when Mother Amadaus became ill with pneumonia and wrote to Mary asking for her support and healing. Mary wasted no time and departed for Montana by stagecoach in 1885. At 53 years old Mary started her new life in Montana. Mary helped nurse Mother Amadaus back to health. The sisters were all in amazement of this tough black woman. Mary was no stranger to rolling a cigar, shooting guns and drinking whiskey. She grew fresh vegetables that were enjoyed by the Sisters and the surrounding community. Mary was forced to leave her beloved mission and the Sisters after a shooting incident. Mary shot in self-defense, and was found innocent, but had to find a new home. 

Wells Fargo had the mail contract during that time and was looking for someone for the Great Falls to Fort Benton route to deliver the U.S. Mail. It was a rough and rugged route and would require a person of strong will and great survival skills to maneuver the snowy roads and high winds. Mary immediately applied at the ripe age of 60 years old. It was rumored that she could hitch a team of horses faster than the boys half her age and due to her toughness, she was hired! Mary became the first African American mail carrier in the United States and the second woman. Mary was proud of the fact that her stage was never held up. Mary and her mule Moses, never missed a day and it was during this time that she earned the nickname of “Stagecoach,” for her unfailing reliability.

The townspeople adopted Mary as one of their own. They celebrated her birthday twice a year since she didn’t know the exact date of her real birthday. Mary Fields was known as Black Mary and Stagecoach Mary. She was considered an eccentric even in these modern times. She was six feet tall and over 200 pounds. By the time she was well known in Central Montana, she had a pet eagle, a penchant for whiskey, baseball (which was a new sport at the time) and a heart as big as the gun she was famous for carrying. Mary wore a buffalo skin dress that she made herself – you might say she drew attention wherever she went – even in a small western pioneer town. Mary was a local celebrity and her legend and tales of her adventures were known by surrounding communities and neighboring states. 

Gary Cooper (the actor) had his mail delivered by Mary as a young boy in Cascade County. As an adult, he wrote about her for Ebony Magazine in 1955. Her wrote of her kindness and his admiration for her. The famous western artists Charlie Russell drew a sketch of her. It was a pen and ink sketch of a mule kicking over a basket of eggs with Mary looking none to happy. 

Mary retired her post in 1901 and passed away in 1914. She is buried at Highland Cemetery at St. Peter’s Mission. Her grave is marked with a simple cross.