A Black History of America in 110 Buttons

By Albert Feldstein, Trustee of the Maryland Historical Trust

In honor of Black History Month, I want to share with you “A BLACK HISTORY OF AMERICA IN 110 BUTTONS: The Events, The Issues, The Organizations, The People.” Derived from my 11,000+ button collection, this poster consists of original buttons related to Black history, from the Scottsboro Boys in 1931 to Black Lives Matter today. Many of buttons stem from advocacy campaigns; a few are controversial and most are self-explanatory. However, historical footnotes describe basic information, relevant dates, names, and when the various organizations were founded

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A special effort was made to incorporate Maryland and Baltimore subject matter. Among these buttons is one from the Maryland Freedom Workers Union which was formed in 1966. Assisted by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Union’s initial purpose was to help organize nurse’s aids, housekeepers, and kitchen staff at a Baltimore nursing home. It spread to other venues, such as small retail establishments, resulting in the sncc-we-shall-overcomeformation of Maryland Freedom Local #1. Another button commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Baltimore based Afro-American Newspaper which was founded by John Henry Murphy Sr., a former slave. It is the oldest African-American family-owned newspaper in the nation. The button depicted here, from 1992, was issued in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the newspaper, which is also popularly known as “The Afro”. Along with its coverage of news and current events, the Afro-American newspaper remains a strong advocate of equal rights, and economic opportunity. All three buttons from the 2015 Maryland History Day Program depicting Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Thurgood Marshall are also portrayed.

I began collecting buttons almost fifty years ago, as a student at the University of Maryland. I was attracted to the graphics and the colorful way these buttons depicted the people and issues that were front-page news at the time. The collection goes all the way back to 1896, when buttons as we know them today were first introduced. In recent years, I realized that, while some of what is portrayed on these buttons is still part of our popular culture, important people and events were being forgotten about by each new generation. Projects like the Black History of America poster represent my attempt to share this knowledge for the future.

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The poster has sold nationwide and has been accepted for exhibit and sale at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. For more information, please visit http://www.blackhistorybuttons.com.

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