Mrs. Cornelia Crenshaw & African American History

Carter G. Woodson, a great African American scholar, educator, and historian is known as the Father of Black History. In 1915, he founded the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH). The ASALH produces information about the life and history of African American people through its publications, which includes the Journal of Negro History and the Negro History Bulletin. It was through the ASALH that Woodson and others established an annual observance of African American History in February to honor Frederick Douglass who was born February 14, 1817. Initially, a week long observance was sponsored; but, by 1976, the celebration had been expanded to the entire month of February and became known as Black History Month. The study of African American history is important and necessary for a number of reasons. As one writer put it, “Those who do not know and/or remember their history are doomed to repeat it.”    

The study of African American history and proper education go hand in hand. Mrs. Crenshaw believed that African American History education should be studied and practiced every day, not just during the month of February. Mrs. Cornelia Crenshaw said that if we are to heal the sickness of self-hatred and expose the big lie of African American inferiority, we must dig deep to find our history and properly educate ourselves about it. As one important leader of the African American Community put it, “Education is an important element in the struggle for human rights”. It is the means to help our children and our people rediscover their identity and thereby increase their self respect. Education is our passport to the future, “for tomorrow belongs only to the people who prepare for it today.”     

We will be able to help our children discover their self respect and meet the challenges of the 21st century, only if we move from “Miseducation” to Education. Without knowledge of our history, we will continue to be ineffective in our efforts to keep our children from joining the increasing numbers who are already headed towards self destruction. We will continue to be frustrated in our efforts to lift the masses of our people, who are stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder with little hope of ever being able to climb out of poverty. Racism, which is the systematic use of racial conflict to manipulate, divide, exploit, and control will continue to be used as a means of denying African American people basic human  rights. Therefore, we must study our history, including the barbaric and dehumanizing experience of slavery, not only during African American History Month, but throughout the year. Until we become fully acquainted with our history and memorialize it in the same ways that the Jewish people do their history, we will not be able to understand who we are or where we want to go. If you don’t know where you want to go, it doesn’t really matter which road you take. This is not a good situation to be in because, as most of us know, there are roads which should not be taken because they lead to a dead end or are full of pitfalls.  

African American people in Memphis and Shelby County must come to see African American History Month as a time to recall the struggles and the victories in the battle for decent jobs and decent pay in the city of Memphis, the county of Shelby, the state of Tennessee, and this Country. It is a time to remember the history of how African Americans were, and in many instances, are still treated in Memphis. It is a time to remember the promises African American p e o p l e were denied and are still lied to about.    

We must remember the progress we have made; but, we must also remember the obstacles that stood in our way.

We must remember that the opposition to our progress also came from certain African American people who were willing to be used to achieve individual success and that some African American people still stand in the way of our collective progress and are willing to be used to achieve their individual goals.  

We must also remember our recent history as we take the time to reflect during African American history month. This should remind us that we still have a long way to go before we can see the world Dr. King envisioned. It should also remind us that we cannot let old division like those between house slaves, porch slaves, yard slaves, and field slaves divide us. We must stand together as one and do our part to bring about the kind of world where our children can grow in a safe, decent environment, without the threat of death facing them daily. We owe it to those on whose shoulders we stand not to allow our individual differences and agendas to cause us to work against the dream of a more perfect nation. Too many people, both African American and White, have bled and died to bring such a country into existence.   

We must teach our children, our relatives, and friends the full and complete history of Memphis and Shelby County and its relationship to African Americans. Knowledge of this history will encourage and strengthen our children so that they will be able to complete the task of gaining full equality for the sake of their children. We must help and make our children understand that no other race of people will ever be able to solve the problems of the African American Community. Our four hundred plus years’ history of slavery and legal oppression in this country should have taught us that no one can solve our problems for us, but us, and we must solve them in spite of racism and injustice. We must teach our children well so they will understand that we are where we are today because our people had faith in God and then got off of their knees and were willing to struggle and fight for what was right.

They must understand that while we have won a few battles from time to time, the war against racism and injustice and their crippling legacies are not over. In Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee and this Nation, there are those among us who will never give up the fight to reestablish white supremacy and other injustices as a way of life. In other words, we are facing an endless war to establish and maintain equality. With this knowledge, we must resolve to continue to struggle, fight and sacrifice in the spirit of those who have gone before us. Mrs. Crenshaw always stated that black people love to pray and it is good to pray; but they must get up off their knees and prepare to fight because fighting goes along with praying. In the words of the Old Testament, we must continue to “watch, fightand pray.”    

An important battle to establish equality under the law and improve the quality of life for all people in Memphis, Tennessee was waged by African American people in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s and even to this day. These men and women struggled and fought against very difficult odds. They stood up like giants so that we would not have to suffer the same unfair conditions they were forced to live and operate under.  

Had it not been for women such as Mrs. Cornelia Crenshaw and others, many of us would not be in the positions we occupy today in the City of Memphis and Shelby County. Nor would we enjoying the quality of life we are able to afford with the money we earn. African Americans in the City of Memphis and Shelby County have benefitted greatly from the struggles waged by these African American Memphians. All of us stand on their backs and shoulders, but some of us have done very little to benefit the masses of African American people who remain stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder in Memphis and Shelby County.

It seems that some of us have forgotten the price that was paid in blood, sweat, and tears so we can have the lives we enjoy today. Too often it seems that many African American high ranking people in Memphis and Shelby County have shown themselves to be not only unworthy, but a disgrace to the memory of those men and women who waged the earlier struggles for human rights, civil rights, equal employment opportunities, and better schools in Memphis, Tennessee.  

History teaches us that the struggles and sacrifices of people such as Mrs. Cornelia Crenshaw and many others did so much to improve the quality of our lives. Such knowledge should make us want to recognize and honor them by taking up the tasks they left unfinished. By rededicating ourselves to the task of improving the quality of life for all African American people, we can ensure that their struggles and sacrifices were not in vain.

To help you see one of the benefits of those early fighters, the Cornelia Crenshaw Human Rights Preservation Foundation is honored to profile Mrs. Cornelia Crenshaw on this website. At some point we will also share some of the comments from other people who knew Mrs. Cornelia Crenshaw and the great work that she has done, as well as the progress of African Americans in Memphis, Tennessee. 

In conclusion, I, Rick Thompson, founder of the Cornelia Crenshaw Human Rights Preservation Foundation, would personally like to thank all of you who supported and assisted Mrs. Cornelia Crenshaw in all of her endeavors over the years before her death, including Jackie Smith who was and continues to protest in front of the Lorraine Motel (so-called Civil Rights Museum).  

The Real Car Dr. Martin Luther King Rode In…

Mrs. Cornelia Crenshaw offered to give her Lincoln Continental (the true car Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rode in when he visited Memphis) to the Civil Rights Museum. At the time, the Lincoln was stored at Hayes & Sons Body Shop. The Civil Rights Museum rejected her offer. The two cars (one a Cadillac and one a Dodge) that are presently in front the of the Civil Rights Museum was never associated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,  giving the impression that these were the cars he rode in when he visited Memphis.

The question is “Why would the Civil Rights Museum officials not want the actual car that was associated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he came to Memphis, TN?” Why is the Civil Rights Museum putting out fake news as it relates to the vehicles that Dr. King rode in when he came to Memphis?

Test Your Knowledge

This Black History Quiz should challenge you to keep reading and studying throughout the year.  How well do you know your Black History? (Check your answers against those at the end of test).

  1. Where was the original man born?
  2. This woman published a newspaper called Free Speech in Memphis. After she published a story about the lynching of three Blacks, her printing equipment was destroyed and her life threatened. Who was she?
  3. This Black man came to the U.S. from Jamaica. He organized the Universal Negro Improvement Organization and encouraged Black People to become economically independent and claim their African Heritage. Who was he? 
  4. Through its legal ARM, the Legal Defense Fund, this organization fought to end segregation in public accommodations in the courts.
  5. As head of the Legal Defense fund, this African American assembled a team of lawyers and mapped out the strategy to end legal segregation in this country. He believed that lawyers should be social engineers. Who was he? 
  6. This African American led the last phases of the legal battles to end segregation in public schools and became the first African American to be appointed to sit on the U.S. Supreme court. Who was he?   
  7. What famous African American took the name El Hajj Malik Shabazz after his pilgrimage  to Mecca?   
  8. What famous African American woman inspired the Montgomery bus boycott by refusing to give up her seat on a bus? 
  9. What African leader was held in prison 27+ years for fighting apartheid?
  10. Who was the first African American to win a Pulitzer prize for poetry? 
  11. What African slave on the Island of Santa Domingo (Haiti) defeated a 60,000 man army led by Napoleon and became general and governor?   
  12. What African American was called the most eloquent voice of the Civil Rights Movement? He challenged the conscience of this nation and was assassinated April 4, 1968.   
  13. What African American won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin Germany? 
  14. Who was the first African American woman to sit in the U.S. House of Representative and to run for the presidency? 
  15. Who was the first African American to become a self-made millionaire from the sale of hair care products? 
  16. What Black Physician and Scientist pioneered in blood plasma Research? 
  17. In what case did the U.S. Supreme Court rule that Black men had no rights White men were bound to respect? 
  18. What two men founded the Black Panther Party? 
  19. What African American physician and surgeon performed the first open heart surgery? 
  20. In what case did the Supreme Court overrule the doctrine of “separate but equal”? 
  21. What is the name of the great orator and antislavery leader who escaped slavery by running away from a plantation in Maryland?
  22. What was the name of the document signed by Lincoln on January 1, 1863 to free Africans held in slavery in the confederate states? 
  23. Which Amendment was passed to abolish slavery?   
  24. Which Black man, born before the end of slavery, educated himself against great odds and founded a great Black institution in Tuskegee, Alabama?  
  25. What African woman escaped slavery by running away to the north and then returning to the south to lead other Africans North so many times that she was known as “Black Moses” .
  26. Name three well known Africans who led revolts against slavery in the early 1800’s?   
  27. What is the name of the African who led a successful revolt on the slave ship Amistad?   
  28. What was the triangular trade?   
  29. What African country is  one of the world’s richest sources of diamonds?   
  30. Who is the father of medicine.?
  31. Who is the father of the Million Man March? 
  32. Who was the first black President of the United States?
  33. Who was the first black First Lady of the United States?
  34. Who was the first black mayor of the City of Memphis?
  35. Who was the first black elected mayor of the City of Memphis?
  36. Who was the first black female on the Federal Grand Jury in Memphis and Shelby County?

ANSWERS to the Quiz

  1.  Africa
  2. Ida B. Wells
  3. Marcus Garvey
  4. NAACP
  5. Charles Houston
  6. Thurgood Marshall
  7. Malcolm X
  8. Rosa Parks
  9. Nelson Mandela
  10. Gwendolyn Brooks
  11. Toussaint L’Ouverture 
  12. Martin Luther King, Jr. 
  13. Jessie Owens 
  14. Shirley Chisolm 
  15. Madame C.J. Walker 
  16. Charles Drew 
  17. Dred Scott 
  18. Huey P. Newton & Bobby Scale; 
  19. Daniel Hale Williams 
  20. Brown v. Board of Education; 
  21. Fredrick Douglas 
  22. Emancipation Proclamation 
  23. 13th 
  24. Booker T. Washington 
  25. Harriet Tubman 
  26. Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser and Nat Turner 
  27. Joseph Cinque 
  28. The African Slave Trade 
  29. South Africa 
  30. Imhotep
  31. Minister Louis Farrakhan 
  32. Barak Obama
  33. Michelle Obama 
  34. J. O Patterson, Jr.
  35. Willie Herenton
  36. Mrs. Cornelia Crenshaw