Black is Beautiful

Black Is Beautiful 2023 – Charles Johnson


Charles Johnson was born in 1948 in Evanston IL. At an early age he showed an interest in drawing. He began his career as a cartoonist in high school drawing as a student of Lawrence Lariar. He won two competitions for his work from Columbia Scholastic Press. An adult discouraged him from pursuing art primarily so he went to school for journalism, continuing to draw, and pound the pavement in NY to get gigs. In that time while working for Chicago Tribune he saw a talk by Amiri Baraka and was inspired to do more cartooning about Black history and to reflect the times. He then worked Ebony and Jet magazine publishing cartoon strips and illustrations. 
I picked up his book “All Your Racial Problems Will Soon End” and was inspired by the drawings he’d done in the 70s. But he didn’t stop there. Inspired by a friend he took creative writing and continued his college education earning a doctorate in Philosophy. Johnson would go on to write for papers like the NY Times and the Wall St Journal. But he also began writing novels such as The Middle Passage, King, and Soul Catcher. He became a professor of creative writing at the University of Washington for more than 30 years. He wrote over 20 scripts for TV, he was awarded by the MacArthur Genius Award, Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Arts, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He’s a buddhist, and is still writing as we speak. 
Sources: The Belief Agency, Wikipedia,
Dig this? Check out my piece about Ruth Carter and Robert Sengstacke Abbott

Black Is Beautiful 2023- Dr. Muriel Petioni

Dr Muriel Petioni was known as the “mother of medicine” in Harlem. Born in 1914 in Trinidad she migrated to the US with her family. Her father worked hard to bring his family to the US, attended school, and became a doctor. She followed in his footsteps becoming a practicing physician for over 40 years with a degree from Howard University. She worked at various hospitals throughout the south before returning to NYC to start her own private practice which involved caring for poor and working class families in Harlem. She saw patients and made house calls, often addressing the entire person’s health, not just one ailment. She started the Friends of Harlem Hospital and helped to get 2 million dollars for it. She was on the board of the greater Harlem nursing home. She helped mentor others through the Dr Susan Smith McKenney Steward Medical Association. She was awarded by the Harlem Hospital Center, the NYC Coalition of 100 Black Women, CUNY, The Schomburg, and by her alma mater Howard. Dr Petioni passed away in 2011 at the age of 97. 

Sources: NAACP, Harlem Cultural Archives, NY Amsterdam News

Dig this? Check out this one about Dr Dorothy L. Brown or Alice Augusta Ball

Black Is Beautiful 2023 – C.R. Patterson & Sons


Check this out. Did you know there was a Black owned automobile manufacturing business? I didn’t! C.R. Patterson & Sons was founded by Charles Richard Patterson. Born in 1833 into slavery this brother escaped and made his way north to Ohio. There he began working as a blacksmith honing his skills to make horse carriages. In 1873 he linked with J.P. Lowe started a joint horse carriage business. In 1893 they parted ways and he renamed the company C.R. Patterson and Sons which he ran with his son Frederick (1 of 5 kids). They repaired carriages and cars at first then debuted their first car in 1913. Between the years of 1893 and 1939 they would make coupe’s, trucks, busses, and at one point had 28 types of horse carriages. C.R. passed away in 1910 his son Frederick kept the business going. They had several employees and a thriving business but could not compete with larger companies such as Ford, and once the depression hit they were one of many small companies to fold. Imagine what it would be like if they had the resources to continue?! Although there are no intact C.R. Patterson and Sons vehicles left they were pioneers from from Greenfield Ohio.

Sources:, Wikipedia, The Big Car Channel

Dig this? Check out these pieces about race car drivers Cheryl Linn Glass and Willy T. Ribbs

Black Is Beautiful 2023 – Margaret Sloan Hunter


Margaret Sloan Hunter was born in Chattanooga Tennessee in 1947. She grew up in Chicago and started a career in activism early. As a teenager she joined the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE). She co-founded a student group called The Junior Catholic Inter-Racial Council to get Black and White students her age to unite. She then joined the SCLC or Southern Christian Leadership Council. She then gravitated towards spaces where women could construct their own organizations free from male domination even within movement circles. She was a driving for for the creation of Ms Magazine (1st national magazine on feminist viewpoints) in 1971 becoming one of the first editors. She spoke around the country and internationally, linking up w/ other Black women who identified as such and as feminists to found The National Black Feminist Organization. She moved to the Bay she helped to found the Berkeley Women’s Center and the Feminist School for Girls. She was a mother, a poet, singer, author, and a self proclaimed Black Lesbian Feminist. 
She spoke about coming out as being a Black Lesbian Feminist saying before she identified as a feminist or a lesbian she believed some of societies stereotypes, and the ignorant things people say. She wanted to put some of those preconceived notions to rest and when speaking about popular media that she felt starved for representation of women like her: ” I think the future is visual, I think we can read it, see it in our minds”. She died in Oakland California in 2004.
Sources: Black Women Radicals, Lesbians-The Invisible Minority, SF Gate, Feminist Majority, Wikipedia, BUST
Dig this? Check out these illustrations of the UK’s Olive Morris , Denise Oliver-Velez, and Claudia Jones
Some process shots:

Black is Beautiful 2023 – Nelson Vails


Welcome to Black Is Beautiful 2023! My first pick for the year is Nelson Vails, a pro cyclist from Harlem NYC. Born in 1960, he began riding a bike as a kid and received his first track bike from a member of a motorcycle gang. Eventually he grew into it and not only became a NYC bicycle messenger but would ride in central park before and after work to train. He joined the TOGA racing team named after the famed NYC bike shop and then made the move to live and train in Europe and Japan. Nelson was known as the “cheetah” and became the 1st Black man to win an olympic medal for cycling in 1984. In 2009 he was inducted into the Bicycle Hall of Fame and has many accomplishments, He speaks 5 languages, is an innovator of cycling equipment, been sponsored by companies (Raleigh, Rensho, Rapha), produced a documentary about his life, and has served as an advocate for cycling for youth. Salute to this OG of cycling!
Dig this? Check out this post about Justin Williams, L&M Tourers, or Greg Liggins
Sources:, The Cheetah Documentary, Rapha, Wikipedia

Black is Beautiful 2022 – Brenda Banks


Brenda Banks was an animator born in Los Angeles California in 1948. I believe she grew up or spent time in Georgia but came back to LA to go to Cal Arts where she studied from 1966 to 1970. She did a student animated film and got her first gig working on the Flip Wilson show. Shortly after that she willed her way into a gig with Palestinian American animation director named Ralph Bakshi (Cool World, Fritz The Cat). At Bakshi films she worked on a adult satirical animation called Coon Skin which came out in 1977. She was described as shy, funny, and extremely talented with the pencil. She animated animals, people, and monsters. In her nearly 30 year career she worked as a layout artist, storyboard revisionist, and an animator. She also trained other artists. She is the one of the first Black women to work in animation if not thee first. In her career she worked on Charlie Brown, The Smurfs, American Pop, Looney Tunes, King of The Hill, The Simpsons, Lord of The Rings, The Jetsons, and Scooby Doo.  I’m sure she faced many barriers not only as a Black person but as a disabled person, and a woman. But, she is a pioneer  who people in the biz remember fondly. She passed away in 2020.
Sources: African Animators Past & Present, Cartoon Brew, Black Women Animate, Women in Animation, IMDB, BLK
Check out this one of cartoonist Jackie Ormes
And the previous one this year was The Black Resurgents

Wanna see another Black animator? Peep Jim Simon

Black is Beautiful – The Warehouse


The Warehouse is one of the foremost prominent and founding clubs of house music. In fact I heard someone say the music is named after this club. Originally located at 206 S Jefferson St in Chicago, the club was founded by Robert Williams and his partner Ron Braswell in 1975. Williams moved from NYC to Chicago and at the urging of friends and boredom decided to start throwing parties. He brought in Frankie Knuckles (godfather of house) who was then a protege of Larry Levan and Nicky Siano. He had renowned engineer Robert Long build the sound system for the 3 floored club and convinced Frankie to come play; telling him it was his club to program the sound. What they did together was create a sound and movement that brought in people from all over the midwest, east coast, and soon the US to dance. It was founded as a queer Black club (men and women) with membership cards. This was to keep the vibe but also to protect the community. Soon, hetero folks, and friends of all ethnicities were invited by members as well. The sound system was incredible and they played underground music that you couldn’t hear on the radio. The club closed after the city threatened to close it for structural issues; think hundreds of people stomping and jumping in parties that started at midnight and ran until the next morning. As someone who didn’t grow up with house, but who now loves it this history is remarkable. The Warehouse is a historical monument right up there w/ clubs like the Loft, Paradise Garage, Studio 54, and the Music Box (also founded by Williams).
Sources: I Remember When House Took Over the World documentary, Red Bull Radio, Ron Trent via Creative mornings
Speaking of places, check out this piece of :
Marcus Books and Soulbeat in Oakland California.

If you’re following along this year, the last piece I did was of Race Car driver Cheryl Linn Glass

Black is Beautiful 2022 – Cheryl Linn Glass


Cheryl Linn Glass was born in Seattle Washington in 1961. She is the oldest of two and developed an interest in racing at a young age. She began racing as a kid in quarter midget cars, then moving up to half midget, then wingless Sprinter cars. Having encouraging parents, she and her sister developed a great love for racing. She graduated high school at 16 and turned pro at 18. The cars she drove at her height used v8 engines and went at least 120 mph. Her goal was to make it to the Indianapolis 500 and then Formula 1. She is the first African American woman to be a professional race car driver. She raced in over 100 races in pacific northwest and nationwide racking up tons of wins and trophies. In addition to being a world class driver she was also a model and an entrepreneur who started a business as a kid as a doll maker and as an adult as a wedding dress maker. In the later part of her career she made it two crashes and dealt with a lot of racism, harassment, sexism, and rape. She died young and the report says she committed suicide though her family disputes this. She is a trailblazer.
Sources: History link, Hemmings, Wikipedia
Did you see the one I did of Willy T Ribbs? See that here

If you haven’t been keeping up with the pieces this year, here is the last one of Jerry Lawson

Black is Beautiful 2022 – Jerry Lawson


    Jerry Lawson was born in 1940 in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens NY. He developed a love for science and technology early on and by his early teens was repairing televisions and building his own Ham radio (long distance, home made). He was encouraged by his parents to pursue his passion and he nurtured that passion into a career in electrical engineering. He moved from NYC to the bay Area and was hired at Fairchild Semiconductor in San Francisco. While living in the Silicon Valley he built a coin operated arcade game in his garage. His employer found out and put him in charge of a project that would revolutionize the gaming industry. Before Lawson video games existed like Pong., but you could only play one game. With a team of folks he invented and developed the “Channel F” which allowed you to play multiple games; storing the software on inter changeable cartridges using microprocessors. The Channel F didn’t do so well financially and was eclipsed by Atari, but his invention changed the game. He was a trailblazer for Black folks in the gaming industry and stem. And he was a pioneer for the industry as a whole. I first heard of him in 2019 through Xbox engineer Cierra McDonald and I hope more young people of all backgrounds get to know his story!

Sources: Microsoft, High Score Documentary, Anderson and Karen Lawson
Check out this piece about Uncle Jamm’s Army from last year.

Black Is Beautiful 2022 – Gladys Bentley


Yo, welcome to this year’s offering of art highlighting BLK folks from the past and present! First up this year: Gladys Bentley!
Gladys was born in 1907 in Philly. She loved music at an early age and began showing an interest for “boys” clothes and girls early. Her parents did not like this and tried to “cure” her. She ran away to Harlem at the age of 16. She began to slowly build a career as a musician slowly and Harlem was a place that was blossoming with BLK folks from all over. She first performed at rent parties and buffet flats which are parties. Buffet flats were private home clubs w/ sex, alcohol, music, and were often welcoming of queer folks. She then graduated to speakeasies (prohibition era). One thing that made her stand out besides her chops on the piano was her deep singing voice and her complete embrace of her queerness and dressing as a “man”. She wore a top hat and tuxedos and people loved her. Her success not only brought her to big venues like the Apollo, The Savoy, or The Cotton Club; but it also gave her the oppoRtunity to tour the US. Later she would experience a huge loss of income during the depression (1930s) and ran up against a crack down against Gay or Lesbian people. Not only by Whites but by conservative BLK folks too. In fact, she later claimed to have left her queer life behind and married a guy. But was a pioneer in blues, gender fluidity, and recording! She began recording blues records on labels like Excelsior, Victor, and Okeh w/ a catalogue that ran from 1928 until 1953. I believe she opened doors for masculine identifying women, Black musicians, and queer folks of all stripes. Much respect to the legacy of Gladys Bentley! 
Sources: PBS,, Wikipedia
Peep this 2021 piece of the Transgdender Cultural District
2017 Blues Musician Memphis Minnie
Note: If you do not include Black LGBTQ folks in your Black History Month celebrations prominently, please get with the program and show love and respect for our fellow BLK family!
Some process art: