Frances “Toni” Draper, AFRO CEO and Publisher
“I’m not the president of Black America,” President Barack Obama famously said in 2012 when pressed during his re-election campaign on issues of race and inequality. “I’m the president of the United States of America.” While that statement was true, Barack Hussein Obama will forever be remembered as the first African-American President of the United States of America. He will forever be remembered as the one person who did something that had never been done before. This is the case of the African Americans highlighted in today’s edition.
From Thurgood Marshall to Jacob Lawrence to Simone Biles, the AFRO is proudly highlighting African-American firsts. Some of those highlighted may not be as well known as others, but each person is a noteworthy trailblazer in his or her own right.
One of those persons is Violet Hill Whyte. When I was jumped by three girls, while walking home from Lemmel Junior High School one warm Spring afternoon, my mother said, “I’m going to call Sergeant Whyte.” At the time, I didn’t know who Sergeant Whyte was and I certainly didn’t want (in my 13 year old opinion) to make matters worse by being labeled a tattle tale. But the bruise on my face was clear evidence that my mother wasn’t going to let it rest.
My mother drove me to Sergeant Whyte’s office, where I had to share every detail. She listened patiently to my story, asking question after question. A few days later she called us back to her office. There to my surprise (and quite frankly, my horror) sat the three perpetrators. “Oh, no,” I thought, “this isn’t going to go well.” However, the girls not only admitted their guilt, but they apologized profusely and promised that it would never happen again to me or anyone else – especially after Sergeant Whyte threatened to bring assault charges against them if she ever saw them in her office again.
As Ralph Moore writes in his story about Miss Whyte (as many called her), “She was very kind to some and yet could strike the fear of God in others. The mere mention of her name made people nervous and her ‘office conversations’ were oftentimes life changing for the better.” Violet Hill Whyte, a teacher by profession, was the first African American and the first woman to be appointed as a Baltimore City Police Officer.
Then there’s Maggie L. Walker, the first African-American woman to charter a bank; Ethel Waters, the first Black person in history to have a lead role in a television show, Letitia James, Nicholas Johnson and Pat McGrath.
While there are hundreds, if not thousands more, who could and should be lauded for their brilliant contributions, including those whose names we may never know, we hope that our readers will share these stories –especially with the young people in their lives. As Rep. Kweisi Mfume says, if Black history is American history than we should treat it as such.
A special thanks to the entire AFRO team for a job well done. This edition, like so many of our special editions, is a keepsake.
Frances Murphy Draper (Toni)