Monthly Archives: December 2016

BLACK WOMEN IN AMERICA: MARY JACKSON, KATHERINE JOHNSON, DOROTHY VAUGHAN AND CHRISTINE DARDEN – THE WEST COMPUTER WOMEN

Their names are not known to millions of Americans. Their major contributions have been hidden for decades.

They are the Black women known as the West Computers, Black women who made their indelible contribution to NASA’s space race program. These four women with their superior math skills helped get astronaut John Glenn and many others into space.

In the 1940s, not many Black women had obtained university degrees, and the few who did, became nurses, secretaries or teachers in the fields of many subjects:  English, art, literature, history—and mathematics. For Black women, just as it was for Black men, the crushing cruelty of Jane Crow segregation held back so many bright and intelligent Black people forcing them into jobs of degradation and poverty. But, these women sought the best for themselves, their families, and their community when they defied all odds against them by joining NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which would later become NASA. Their work helped shape and contribute to the space race, the Civil Rights Movement, World War II, and the advent of electronic computers. The West Area Computing Unit (West Area Computers) was the name of the all Black American group of female mathematicians that existed at the NACA Langley Research Center in Virginia from 1943 through 1958. These women, a subset of the hundreds of female mathematicians who began careers in aeronautical research during World War II, were subjected to Virginia’s Jane Crow law, requiring them to use segregated bathroom and cafeterias, segregated from their fellow workers and the indignities that meant to undermine and assail their humanity and womanhood.

Their names are Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Christine Darden.

Here are their stories.

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DOROTHY JOHNSON VAUGHAN,   (September 20, 1910 – November 10, 2008) born in Kansas City, Missouri, was a Black American mathematician who worked at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor agency to present-day National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In 1949, she was the first Black American woman to be promoted as a head of personnel at NACA. Ms. Vaughan worked at the center from 1943 through 1971. The West Area Computing Unit (West Area Computers), was in the beginning supervised by White male section heads until Ms. Johnson was put in charge.

Dorothy Vaughan. Photo credit SOURCE

Ms. Vaughan was one of three Black American women at NASA who calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury and Apollo 11 in the 1960s. Yes, that Apollo 11 that under the command of Neil Armstrong, set down on the Moon.

Apollo 11 lunar landing. Photo credit NASA

Before arriving at NACA’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1943, Ms. Vaughan worked as a mathematics teacher at R.R. Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia.

Catching a segregated bus for her first day of work at Langley, she arrived in 1943 for her job as a “computer”, someone who made calculations and worked numbers for the engineers developing aerospace technology.

With the enactment of Executive Order 8802 and Executive Order 9346, Ms. Vaughan was hired. Along with the other Black women of the West Computers, they worked on mathematical calculations by hand using tools to improve accuracy in space flight.

Ms. Vaughan moved into the area of electronic computing when the first (non-human) computers were introduced at NACA. There, she did computer programming, becoming proficient in coding languages such as FORTRAN, while contributing to the space program through her work on the Scout Launch Vehicle Program.

In 1949, Ms. Vaughan became the acting head of the West Area Computers, taking over from after a White woman who passed away. In 1951, she was made head of the unit. This promotion made her the first Black supervisor at NACA at the most racist time in America’s history and one of a very few female supervisors. This group, known as the Coloured West Computers was almost entirely Black American mathematicians. It would take many years in her work before she would finally receive the “official” title of supervisor, thus allowing Ms. Vaughan to become a spokeswoman  for the women in the West Computing unit as well as other females in other departments of NACA.

Ms. Vaughan continued to work at Langley after NACA became NASA in 1958. By then, NASA no longer had racially segregated groups of employees. Ms. Vaughn joined the Analysis and Computation Division (ACD) at NASA.

Dorothy Vaughan’s career at Langley was an impressive twenty-eight years.

During her tenure at Langley, Ms. Vaughan raised her four children, one of whom also has worked for NASA.

She retired from NASA in 1971, at age 60, and died November 10, 2008 in Hampton, Virginia.

She was 98 years old.

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KATHERINE COLEMAN GOBLE JOHNSON  (born August 26, 1918) is a physicist and mathematician who made important contributions to NASA’s aeronautics and space programs with the early application of digital electronic computers. With her accuracy in computerized celestial navigation, her technical work at NASA spanned decades during which she calculated the trajectories, launch windows, and emergency back-up return paths for many flights from Project Mercury including the early NASA missions of John Glenn and Alan Shepard, the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, through the Space Shuttle program and even early plans for the Mission to Mars.

Katherine Johnson. Photo credit SOURCE

Along with the women of the West Computers, she advanced human rights with a slide rule and a pencil.

Ms. Johnson was another former teacher. She graduated high school at age 14. She began attending West Virginia State College at age 15. As a student, Ms. Johnson took all the  math courses offered. Many professors took her under their wings, including chemist and mathematician Angie Turner King, who had also mentored Johnson throughout high school, and W.W. Schiefflin Claytor, the third Black American to receive a PhD in math. While mentoring Ms. Johnson, Mr. Claytor added new math courses just for her. She graduated summa cum laude in 1937, with degrees in math and French, at 18 years old. Upon graduation, Ms. Johnson moved to Marion, Virginia, to teach math, French, and music at an elementary school.

In 1938, Ms. Johnson became the first Black American woman to desegregate the graduate school at West Virginia University in Morgantown, Monongalia County, West Virginia. She was one of three Black American students, and the only female, selected to integrate the graduate school after the United States Supreme Court decision ruling Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada.

Ms. Johnson worked at jobs as a teacher until a relative told her of that NACA was hiring, as they had recently opened up to hiring Black American women for their Guidance and Navigation Department. Ms. Johnson was offered a job in 1953, she immediately was accepted and became part of the early NASA team.

As one of the “computers that wore skirts”, she started as a computer and then joined the thrusting flight division and from 1953 to 1958 she did analysis for gust alleviation for aircraft working as an aerospace technologist. Her first research report, on orbital flight, was also the first flight research report written by a woman. She calculated the trajectories of NASA’s first human space flights and her work was important to the Apollo Moon landing.

From 1958 until she retired in 1986, Ms. Johnson working as an aerospace technologist accomplished the following:  calculated the trajectory for the space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space, in 1959; calculated the launch window for his 1961 Mercury mission;  plotted backup navigational charts for astronauts in case of electronic failure; calculated John Glenn’s MA-6 Project Mercury orbital spaceflight orbit around Earth,  in 1962 when NASA, using electronic computers for the first time,  needed her in verifying the computer’s numbers because Glenn asked for her personally and refused to fly unless Ms. Johnson verified the calculations; calculated the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon.

Alan Shepard, first American astronaut in space. Photo credit SOURCE

 

Ms. Johnson’s ability and reputation for accuracy in working with digital computers helped usher in the new computer technology establishing confidence in the new technology.

At the time of the moon landing, Ms. Johnson was at a meeting in the Pocono Mountains. She along with some friends and neighbors sat around a small television screen watching the first steps of man’s small step for man and giant leap for mankind on the Moon. In 1970, Ms. Johnson worked on the Apollo 13’s mission to the Moon, the lost Moon of Commander James Lovell’s mission.

Once the mission was aborted,  Ms. Johnson’s work on backup procedures and charts helped safely return the crew to Earth four days later.

Later in her career, she worked on the Space Shuttle program, the Earth Resources Satellite, and on plans for a mission to Mars.

On November 16, 2015, President Barack Obama included Ms. Johnson on a list of 17 Americans to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. She was presented with the award on November 24, 2015, cited as a pioneering example of Black American women in STEM.

Former NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson is seen after President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls).

She retired from NASA in 1979.

She continues to inspire and encourage her grandchildren and all students to pursue careers in science and technology and to aim for the stars.

 

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MARY WINSTON JACKSON (April 9, 1921 – February 11, 2005) was a Black American mathematician and aerospace engineer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Born in Hampton, Virginia, she excelled in her studies in school in the areas of mathematics. She graduated in 1942  from Hampton Institute with bachelor degrees in mathematics and physical science.

After graduating from Hampton Institute, Ms. Jackson taught school in Maryland and became a mother. She became a military secretary and in 1951, Langley offered her a job as a computer. She joined Langley as a computer research mathematician. In two years, she was working with the engineering team working on the supersonic pressure tunnel, where Langley tested models. After that she was training to become an engineer, and after enduring venomous humiliations from Whites in her having to apply for special permission, she started taking classes at a whites-only school.

In 1953 Ms. Jackson moved to the Compressibility Research Division. After five years at NASA and after taking several additional courses, she joined a special training program and was promoted to aerospace engineer. She then worked to analyze data from wind tunnel experiments and real-world aircraft flight experiments at the Theoretical Aerodynamics Branch of the Subsonic-Transonic Aerodynamics Division at Langley.  Her goal was to understand air flow, including thrust and drag forces.  Many years later, she was assigned to work with the flight engineers at NASA.

She worked with young children in her neighborhood and even created a miniature wind tunnel with the Black children.

Black and white portrait f Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson. Photo credit NASA

After 34 years at NASA, Ms. Jackson reached the highest level of engineer that was possible for her short of becoming a supervisor. Changing positions to become an administrator, which meant a pay cut, Ms. Jackson took that position at the Equal Opportunity Specialist field. In her work, she worked to make changes and highlight the accomplishments of minorities in the field of mathematics and physics. Ms. Jackson served as the Federal Women’s Program Manager in the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, and as the Affirmative Action Program Manager.

She worked at NASA until her retirement in 1985.

Ms. Mary Jackson died in Hampton, Virginia on February 11, 2005.

She was 83 years old.

 

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DR. CHRISTINE DARDEN (born September 10, 1942) is an American mathematician, data analyst, and aeronautical engineer who has devoted her 40-year career in aerodynamics to researching sonic booms at NASA. She was the first Black American woman at NASA’s Langley Research Center to be promoted into the position of senior executive.

Born in Monroe, North Carolina , as a child she acquired a love of geometry. Upon graduating school in 1958, she struggled to find decent employment and as like so many other Black women, her chances of advancement for herself was limited due to racist white supremacy Jane Crow segregation. But before she graduated school, she took classes in calculus and number theory. She graduated as the class valedictorian in 1958, and subsequently received a scholarship to attend Hampton University, then known as Hampton Institute. She graduated from Hampton with a B.S. in Mathematics in 1962. She also earned a teaching certification, spending a brief portion of her early career teaching high school mathematics.

Dr. Christine Darden. Courtesy NASA

Dr. Christine Darden. Courtesy NASA

Ms. Darden joined Langley as a computer and found it unfulfilling after several years there. Wanting to become an engineer, she watched as White men were promoted over her.

Christine Darden. Photo credit NASA

 

Christine Darden in the control room of NASA Langley’s Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel in 1975. Credit: NASA

She challenged the division chief on why this was so when men with the same education as her, and in many cases with less education and experience as her, were constantly promoted over her when she was not promoted. His answer to her was that the women had never complained about it before. He believed that the women would give up work as soon as they started families and had children. But the reality was that for Ms. Darden, like millions of Black women, that was never true, because once Black women went out to work to help feed and care for their families, they had no choice but to continue working to keep their families from starving.

Ms. Darden pressed her case and persisted and was soon after promoted to an engineering team where she could work on her career of sonic boom research. She later completed a doctorate in mechanical engineering. Her early work provided the foundations in sonic boom reduction technology.

In her 40 year career at NASA, Ms. Darden became one of the world’s top leading experts in that area.

Ms. Darden had started her career at NASA in 1967 when by then it had become desegregated and she had known some of the women who were pioneers in that first group of West Computers. She knew that she stood on their shoulders and that she was able to do what she did because of the trail they blazed, knowing that their accomplishments would be scrutinized and they would open paths up for all the Black women who followed them. She knew that she stood on the shoulders of Ms. Johnson, Ms. Jackson and Ms. Vaughn and Ms. Darden felt that all those who came after her will in turn stand on her shoulders as well.

In 1985 Ms. Darden was awarded the Dr. A. T. Weathers Technical Achievement Award from the National Technical Association. She also received three Certificates of Outstanding Performance from Langley Research Center in 1989, 1991, and 1992.  She received a Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1987.

In March 2007, Ms. Darden retired from NASA as director of the Office of Strategic Communication and Education.

 

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SKYWATCH: MARS APPROACHES NEPTUNE ON NEW YEAR’S EVE, CATCH THE QUAD METEORS, AND MORE

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IN REMEMBRANCE: 12-25-2016

MARION PRITCHARD, WHO RISKED HER LIFE TO RESCUE JEWS FROM NAZIS

Marion Pritchard with Erica Polak, a Jewish baby she was hiding, in 1944. Credit Marion Pritchard, via United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Marion Pritchard, a gentile whose shock at watching Nazi soldiers storm a home for Jewish children in Amsterdam and load them into a truck for deportation inspired her to enter a clandestine world of rescuing Jews, died on Dec. 11 at her home in Washington. She was 96.

The cause was cerebral arteriosclerosis, her family said.

“By 1945, I had lied, stolen, cheated, deceived and even killed,” Ms. Pritchard said in a lecture in 1996 at the University of Michigan, where she received the Wallenberg Medal, a humanitarian award given by the university in memory of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who rescued tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II.

In the spring of 1942, Ms. Pritchard was a social work student who had been imbued by her father, a judge, with a strong sense of outrage about the injustices perpetrated against the Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. One day, she recalled, as she was riding her bicycle to class, she saw Nazis at the children’s home “picking up the kids by an arm or a leg or by the hair” and throwing them into a truck.

“Well, I stopped my bike and looked,” she said in an oral history recorded in 1984 by the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. “Two other women coming down on the street got so furious, they attacked the German soldiers, and they just picked the women up and threw them in the truck after the kids.

“I just stood there,” she added. “I’m one of those people who sat there and watched it happen.”

Ms. Pritchard in her United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration uniform in 1946. Credit Marion Pritchard, via United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

To save and shelter Jews, Ms. Pritchard registered Jewish infants as her own children and found safe, non-Jewish homes for them. She helped feed Jews and get them ration cards. She secured false identification papers to help them avoid capture by the Nazis, and found medical care for children through a friendly pediatrician.

Sometimes her role was simply to be one in a line of rescuers who handed Jewish children to someone else, who would then lead them out of danger. By her estimate, she helped rescue 150 Jews.

“You just did not talk,” she said.

Ms. Pritchard was recognized in 1981 by Yad Vashem, the world center for Holocaust research and commemoration in Jerusalem, as “Righteous Among the Nations,” an honor given to gentiles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. Ms. Pritchard, who was Anglican, is one of about 26,000 people to receive the award. About one-fifth of them were from the Netherlands.

She was born Marion Philippina van Binsbergen on Nov. 7, 1920, in Amsterdam, one of two children of Jacob and Grace van Binsbergen. Her mother, a homemaker, was born in Britain.

Marion was educated in Amsterdam and England, where she attended boarding school and was active in the Girl Guides, a scouting organization. She graduated from the Amsterdam School of Social Work.

One night in 1941, she was studying with a friend in a house in Amsterdam when she was arrested by Nazis in a roundup of others there who had been covertly distributing mimeographed broadsheets culled from BBC news reports. She was not part of the group, she said, but was imprisoned for about six months and tortured.

Her best-known rescue started in late 1942. She was asked by a friend to hide Fred Polak and his young children, Erica, an infant, and her brothers, Lex, 4, and Tom, 2. When she could not find a safe place, her friend persuaded his mother-in-law to let Ms. Pritchard and the Polaks move into the servants’ quarters of her villa in Huizen, 15 miles outside Amsterdam.

Jews in hiding, like the Polaks, feared the Nazis’ nighttime raids demanding their papers. So they developed a routine: If they felt in danger — most often by hearing the approach of the vehicle the Germans would arrive in — they would push aside the coffee table and rug in the living room, pull up the floorboards and hide below in a pit.

They practiced the drill often and could complete it in less than a minute.

One night in late 1944, three Nazis and a Dutch collaborator, who had been a police officer before the war, came to the door. The Polaks were in the pit.

Ms. Pritchard received the Medal of Valor at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s annual national tribute dinner in May 2009 in Beverly Hills, Calif. Credit Kevin Winter/Getty Images

“They didn’t find the hiding place,” Ms. Pritchard recalled. “But the Nazis had learned that if they didn’t find the hiding place, if they came back an hour later, the Jew or Jews might have come out of the hiding place and they could pick them up.”

“I couldn’t think of anything else to do but kill him,” she told the filmmaker Aviva Slesin in an interview for her 2002 documentary “Secret Lives: Hidden Children and Their Rescuers.” “There was a moment of great exhilaration. Thank God the kids were safe.”

A local undertaker buried the collaborator’s body in the same coffin as another body, she said.

She feared that people would look for the missing Dutch Nazi — whom she described as widely-loathed — but as far as he knows, no one did. “I think a lot of people were delighted” that he was dead, she recalled.

Ms. Pritchard stayed with the Polak family until the end of the war.

Erica Polak was reunited with Ms. Pritchard about 30 years after the war. “I wanted to thank her for keeping us alive through these difficult war years,” Ms. Polak wrote in an email this week. “And somehow, I felt very connected to this woman whom I didn’t see for such a long time.”

After the war, Ms. Pritchard worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in displaced-persons camps in Germany. That work enabled her to meet Anton Pritchard, a United States Army officer who had been discharged and was the head of a camp in Bavaria. They were married in the camp.

They moved to the United States in 1947, and Ms. Pritchard continued her social work. She later became a psychoanalyst.

She is survived by her sons, Arnold, Brian and Ivor; eight grandchildren; and one great-grandson. Her husband, a health care consultant, died in 1991.

“Some of our students chose their professions referencing Marion,” Professor Dwork said in an interview on Thursday. “One of them just finished her dissertation on women rescuers and perpetrators in Rwanda. She wrote to me and said, ‘This is all about Marion.’

“Not only did she save lives during the 1940s,” Professor Dwork said, “but she continues to save lives today through her influence.”

SOURCE

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CHINA MACHADO, GROUNDBREAKING MODEL, MUSE AND EDITOR

Model China Machado, from the film About Face, poses for a portrait during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Victoria Will/AP

China Machado, a model, muse and editor who was one of the first women to break high fashion’s color barrier, has died at 86.

A Facebook page associated with Machado’s fashion line announced on Sunday that she had died. The New York Times, citing Machado’s family, says she died over the weekend of a heart attack.

Machado spent decades working closely with legendary photographer Richard Avedon, who called her “probably the most beautiful woman in the world,” according to New York Magazine.

Avedon’s striking photos of Machado appeared in Harper’s Bazaar in the late ’50s. According to reports, the magazine initially balked at Machado’s race, but Avedon vowed to cut ties with Harper’s if it didn’t run the photos.

The images were published — one of the first times, if not the very first time, a woman of color was featured in a major fashion magazine.

But those groundbreaking images were just part of a long, storied and influential fashion career.

Model China Machado in a dinner dress and jacket by Ben Zuckerman, New York, in November 1958. Richard Avedon/Courtesy of The Richard Avedon Foundation

Machado, who was of Chinese and Portuguese descent, was born in Shanghai on Dec. 25, 1929, as Noelie Machado. (Machado modeled in a campaign called “Born in 1928,” but multiple sources identify her birth year as 1929.)

Her family fled to Argentina after World War II. Machado became a Pan Am air hostess and lived with her brother in Lima, Peru, according to a Telegraph profile.

At 19, she met Luis Miguel Dominguín, who was the most famous bullfighter in the world at the time — Ernest Hemingway’s The Dangerous Summer is about Dominguín and his brother. By all accounts, he was immediately smitten.

Machado ran off with the dashing bullfighter, scandalizing her family and kicking off two extraordinary years of travel and adventure — partying with Errol Flynn and Pablo Picasso.

But then Dominguín left Machado — for Ava Gardner, who was still married to Frank Sinatra at the time.

“I was with him the night they met — at a party in Madrid,” Machado told the Telegraph. “Can you imagine, the most beautiful woman in the world coming in and going after your guy? I had no chance.”

Model China Machado in a dress by Jacques Griffe, Paris, in August 1959. Richard Avedon/Courtesy of The Richard Avedon Foundation

Machado was a beauty herself, of course, but she said repeatedly in interviews that she didn’t see it that way. Beauty, in the 1950s, was white:

“I never thought I was good-looking in any way, shape or form, because Vivian Leigh and Lana Turner and Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth I thought were beautiful,” she said in a video for Cole Haan’s Born in 1928 campaign. “I didn’t look like them, so I thought I can’t be good-looking, right?”

After Dominguín broke her heart, Machado entered the world of high fashion — and became, for future generations, the nonwhite beauty icon she’d never had for herself.

She moved to Paris and modeled for Givenchy, Balenciaga and Dior, according to W Magazine. (She also had an affair with movie star William Holden, and met and married her first husband, French actor Martin LaSalle.)

Vogue noted that she was one of the first prominent nonwhite models on European runways, opening the doors for generations to follow.

Nodding to her exceptional status as an Asian woman on European runways, Machado changed her name as her modeling career kicked off, as W Magazine writes:

“Somewhere along the line Noelie Machado decided that her very Catholic, born–on–Christmas Day name did little to enhance her unusual look and her burgeoning career on the haute circuit. In South America she had heard the Indian girls referred to derogatorily as chinitas. She decided to turn the slur into a moniker that pulsed with exotica. China (pronounced CHEE-na) Machado was born.”

New York Magazine interviewed her in 2011, and Machado said she was the highest-paid freelance runway model in Europe back in her prime.

Her runway success was followed by her magazine fame. In New York, Machado met Avedon; for a few years, she was photographed exclusively by him. Later, she was shot by Andy Warhol, Bruce Weber and Geoffrey Holder, New York Magazine reports.

After appearing in the pages of the glossies, Machado switched to the other side — becoming a fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar.

“She went on to produce fashion TV shows, design costumes for films, and crisis-manage as fashion director of Lear’s, a magazine for women over 35,” New York Magazine wrote.

She ran a gallery in the Hamptons, married her second husband, made a fortune in real estate. And she continued to model occasionally over the years, signing a contract with IMG at age 81.

As of this fall, Machado was still working — promoting her new line of wool and faux-fur jackets and stoles called Cheena.

Profiles of Machado in her 80s invariably comment on her vitality, energy and enduring beauty.

“I’ve never dieted, never exercised, I eat like a pig, and I drink — mainly vodka,” the supermodel told the Telegraph at age 82. “I still smoke, too.”

She gave some life advice to Vogue this October.

“I think it’s crucial to be happy. I always tell everybody I know, ‘Listen, if you don’t like your job, quit!’ I know this is insane, but you’re not going to be good at it if you don’t like it,” she said.

“In my life, the most important thing is to stay happy.”

And she had some advice for young women, specifically, that she shared with New York Magazine:

“Do not in any way underestimate yourself,” she said. “Don’t take any kind of crap.”

SOURCE

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GEORGE MICHAEL, POP SUPERSTAR

Slide Show

George Michael: Evolution of a Pop Icon

CreditSusana Vera/Reuters

George Michael, the creamy-voiced English songwriter who sold tens of millions of albums in the duo Wham! and on his own, died on Sunday at his home in Goring in Oxfordshire, England. He was 53.

A police statement said: “Thames Valley Police were called to a property in Goring-on-Thames shortly before 2 p.m. Christmas Day. Sadly, a 53-year-old man was confirmed deceased at the scene. At this stage the death is being treated as unexplained but not suspicious.”

Mr. Michael onstage in Bratislava, Slovakia, on a 2007 European tour. Credit Samuel Kubani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Michael was one of pop’s reigning stars in the 1980s and 1990s — first as a handsome, smiling, teenypop idol making lighthearted singles like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” with Wham!, then arriving as a grown-up pop sex symbol with his 1987 album “Faith.”

But Mr. Michael grew increasingly uncomfortable with the superficiality and relentless promotion of 1980s-style pop stardom. He turned away from video clips and live shows; he set out to make more mature statements in his songs, though he never completely abandoned singing about love and desire. Mr. Michael wrote supple ballads, like “Careless Whisper” and “Father Figure,” as well as buoyant dance tracks like “Freedom ’90” and “I Want Your Sex.” For much of his career, including his best-selling albums “Faith” and “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1,” he was also his own producer and studio backup band. Much of his music drew on R&B, old and new, but his melodic gift extended across genres.

Mr. Michael won a Grammy Award for “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” a duet with Aretha Franklin, and “Faith” won the Grammy for album of the year. In Britain, he was showered with awards, and in 2004, Britain’s Radio Academy said he had been the most-played performer on British radio from 1984-2004.

Mr. Michael performing solo at Madison Square Garden in 1988. He later turned away from live shows. Credit Ebet Roberts

In 1998, Mr. Michael came out as gay after being arrested on charges of lewd conduct in a men’s room in Beverly Hills, Calif. He had long lent his name and music to support AIDS prevention and gay rights. During interviews in later years, he described himself as bisexual, and said that hiding his sexuality had made him feel “fraudulent.” He also described a long struggle with depression.

“It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” his publicist Connie Filippello said in a statement. “The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage.”

Mr. Michael became one of pop’s reigning stars in the 1980s in Wham! Credit Ian Dickson/Redferns

George Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in East Finchley, London, on June 25, 1963, the son of a Greek Cypriot restaurateur and an English dancer. In 1979, he and a schoolmate, Andrew Ridgeley, were members of their first band together, a ska band called the Executive. That didn’t last, but they continued to make music together — most of it composed and sung by Mr. Michael — and began releasing singles as Wham!, cultivating the image of carefree teenage rebels in songs like “Young Guns (Go for It!).” Their 1983 debut album, “Fantastic,” reached No. 1 in Britain; in the United States, the 1984 single “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” became ubiquitous on MTV and reached No. 1. In 1985, the duo became the first major Western pop group to tour China as part of its world tour, and Mr. Michael appeared at the Live Aid concert, broadcast worldwide, joining Elton John to sing “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”

The worldwide 1984 hit “Careless Whisper,” credited in Britain to George Michael solo and to Wham! featuring George Michael in the United States, signaled a turn away from perky teen fare. In 1986, Wham! dissolved, with a farewell show at Wembley Stadium. Mr. Michael had a No. 1 hit with “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” his duet with Aretha Franklin, before releasing the album “Faith” in 1987. Its first single, “I Want Your Sex,” reached No. 2 in the United States, though it was seen as too risqué by some radio stations; Mr. Michael made an introduction to its video clip stating “This song is not about casual sex.” “Faith,” which hinted at both gospel and rockabilly, reached No. 1, and the album included three more No. 1 hits: “Father Figure,” “Monkey” and “One More Try”; it has sold more than 10 million copies in the United States.

But for the next album “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1,” released in 1990, Mr. Michael set out to jettison his pop persona. The autobiographical “Freedom ’90” declared his independence from the pop machine along with his determination to “stick around”; he didn’t appear in its video clip, which had models lip-syncing the lyrics. The album also included a No. 1 single, the ballad “Praying for Time,” and has sold two million copies in the United States, but after the blockbuster of “Faith” it was considered a commercial letdown.

Mr. Michael entered a protracted legal battle with Sony Music over his contract, and was unable to release another album until 1996. Its title, “Older,” was an unmistakable signal that he was no longer directly courting the youth market; he was 32 years old. But the album was an instant hit in England and Europe — it had six hit singles in England — though less popular in the United States. After the 1998 arrest, Mr. Michael released a greatest-hits album with two new songs; one, “Outside,” set its video clip in a men’s restroom. He made a 1999 album of cover songs, “Songs of the Last Century.”

Aretha Franklin joined Mr. Michael in 1988 in Auburn Hills, Mich., on his tour for his Grammy-winning album “Faith.” Credit Robert Kozloff/Associated Press

In the early 2000s, Mr. Michael released songs protesting the invasion of Iraq including the 2002 “Shoot the Dog.” His last full studio album, “Patience,” was released in 2004, full of introspective ballads. Mr. Michael returned to performing; he joined Paul McCartney onstage during the Live 8 benefit concert. In 2006, he performed a world tour, paired with another collection of hits, “Twenty Five,” that included new duets with Mr. McCartney and Mary J. Blige. He continued to release individual songs sporadically, and in 2014, he released “Symphonica,” a collection of standards and his own songs recorded with an orchestra.

He had been planning an expanded reissue, due in 2017, of “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1,” paired with a documentary, “Freedom,” exploring his musical, personal and legal struggles.

Correction: December 25, 2016
An earlier version of this obituary misspelled the surname of Mr. Michael’s Wham! bandmate. He is Andrew Ridgeley, not Ridgely.

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THE MIND OF THE RACIST WHITE SUPREMACIST

 

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” -Lyndon B. Johnson

 

Postcard depicting the lynching of Lige Daniels, Center, Texas, USA, August 3, 1920. The back reads, "This was made in the court yard in Center, Texas. He is a 16 year old Black boy. He killed Earl's grandma. She was Florence's mother. Give this to Bud. From Aunt Myrtle."

Postcard of the lynching of Lige Daniels, Center, Texas,  August 3, 1920. The back caption on the photo reads, “This was made in the court yard in Center, Texas. He is a 16 year old black boy. He killed Earl’s grandma. She was Florence’s mother. Give this to Bud. From Aunt Myrtle.”

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SKYWATCH: DID BETELGEUSE SWALLOW ITS COMPANION?, AN EXTRA SECOND IN 2016, AND MORE

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Did Betelgeuse Swallow Its Companion?

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Do you think 2016 has seemed unusually long? An international agency has decided to make it even longer — by adding a “leap second” at the last possible moment on December 31st.

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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, December 23 – 31

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It’s not too late to get in some stargazing before 2016 ends! After sunset, brilliant Venus (and much dimmer Mars) rule in the west, while Orion and the Pleiades are up in the east. Meanwhile, a thin crescent Moon graces the predawn sky on December 26-27.

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HATEWATCH: HEADLINES FOR 12-23-2016

 

December 20, 2016

‘Alt-Right’ targets comedian; Tech giants refuse to aid Muslim registry; Farrakhan sees opening for black nationalism; and more.

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The Daily Beast: A comedian’s fans insulted the ‘Alt-Right, and he was then declared a pedophile ringleader.

The Guardian (UK): Inside the hate-filled echo chamber of the ‘Alt-Right’s’ favorite new social-media platform, Gab.

Big News Network: U.S. tech giants refuse to help Trump build his proposed Muslim registry.

Washington Post: Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan sees an opening for a black separatist message.

Mother Jones: Trump’s budget director spoke at John Birch Society event.

Christian Science Monitor: Judge spares man life term in plot to kill Muslims with ‘death ray’ gun, hands him 30 years.

Think Progress: Meet the white nationalist movement’s favorite Russian philosopher, Aleksandr Dugin.

USA Today: New TV documentary series on Ku Klux Klan to start on A&E Network in January.

Salon: How Milo Yiannopoulos, trolling in the name of free speech, built a media empire off violent harassment.

San Francisco Chronicle: Third suspect arrested in East Bay hate crime slaying of black musician.

Hyperallergic: LGBT activists attacked by Trump supporters while leaving NYC art space.

New York Daily News: Spray-painted swastikas, ‘Make America White Again’ graffiti investigated as hate crime.

CT News Junkie: Anti-LGBT group American Family Association may be removed from list of state payroll-deduction groups.

Raw Story: Florida woman screaming racial slurs aims gun’s laser pointer at black McDonald’s customer.

Inside Higher Ed: Stony Brook may review background of Ph.D. by white-nationalist activist Jason Reza Jorjani.

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INTERNATIONAL HUMAN SOLIDARITY DAY: DECEMBER 20, 2016

International Human Solidarity Day

The United Nations’ (UN) International Human Solidarity Day is annually held on December 20 to celebrate unity in diversity. It also aims to remind people on the importance of solidarity in working towards eradicating poverty.

Paper doll people in shades of blue link hands while standing on top of the world
International Human Solidarity Day reminds people on the importance of solidarity in working towards eradicating poverty.
©iStockphoto.com/Trista Weibell

What Do People Do?

On International Human Solidarity Day, governments are reminded of their commitments to international agreements on the need for human solidarity as an initiative to fight against poverty. People are encouraged to debate on ways to promote solidarity and find innovative methods to help eradicate poverty.

Activities may include promoting campaigns on issues such as:

  • Banning land mines.
  • Making health and medication accessible to those in need.
  • Relief efforts to help those who suffered the effects of natural or human-made disasters.
  • Achieving universal education.
  • Fighting against poverty, corruption and terrorism.

The day is promoted through all forms of media including magazine articles, speeches at official events, and web blogs from groups, individuals or organizations committed to universal solidarity.

Public Life

International Human Solidarity Day is a global observance and not a public holiday.

Background

Solidarity refers to a union of interests, purposes or sympathies among members of a group. In the Millennium Declaration world leaders agreed that solidarity was a value that was important to international relations in the 21st century. In light of globalization and growing inequality, the UN realized that strong international solidarity and cooperation was needed to achieve its Millennium Development Goals. The UN was founded on the idea unity and harmony via the concept of collective security that relies on its members’ solidarity to unite for international peace and security.

On December 22, 2005, the UN General Assembly proclaimed that International Solidarity Day would take place on December 20 each year. The event aimed to raise people’s awareness of the importance of advancing the international development agenda and promoting global understanding of the value of human solidarity. The assembly felt that the promotion of a culture of solidarity and the spirit of sharing was important in combating poverty.

Symbols

The UN emblem may be found in material promoting International Human Solidarity Day. The emblem consists of a projection of the globe centered on the North Pole. It depicts all continents except Antarctica and four concentric circles representing degrees of latitude. The projection is surrounded by images of olive branches, representing peace. The emblem is often blue, although it is printed in white on a blue background on the UN flag.

International Human Solidarity Day Observances

 

Weekday Date Year Name Holiday Type
Mon Dec 20 2010 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Tue Dec 20 2011 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Thu Dec 20 2012 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Fri Dec 20 2013 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Sat Dec 20 2014 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Sun Dec 20 2015 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Tue Dec 20 2016 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Wed Dec 20 2017 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Thu Dec 20 2018 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Fri Dec 20 2019 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance
Sun Dec 20 2020 International Human Solidarity Day United Nations observance

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