Fierce

The Little-Known History Of Grace Wisher, The Black Teen Girl Who Helped Craft The American Flag

Smithsonian

The United States was built on the forced labor of enslaved Africans. This isn’t hyperbole, either. The strenuous work of Africans who were violently shipped to the US laid the foundation of the country, from laboring on plantations — the mainstay of the early US economy — to building streets and railroads to literally constructing the White House and the US Capitol. Less known: a young Black girl is also behind our Star-Spangled Banner.

Grace Wisher, a 13-year-old indentured servant of Mary Pickersgill, a famed flag-maker credited with designing the US flag that inspired our national anthem, helped sew the original flag, Teen Vogue reports.

According to the news outlet, Wisher was a free girl in Baltimore, Maryland who became a servant after her mother, Jenny, signed a contract with Pickersgill in 1810.

The contract details that Wisher was expected “to learn the art and mystery of housework and plain sewing,” abilities her mother believed would better prepare her for life.

“It seems as though Jenny wanted Grace to be able to learn a trade, especially as a free African-American girl,” Amanda Shores Davis, the executive director of the Star-Spangled Flag House in Baltimore, told Teen Vogue. “It would have been important for her to learn skills that could carry her through the rest of her life.”

Information on Wisher is hard to come by. Not only were the early stories of African Americans intentionally left out of history, as an indentured servant, not a slave, Wisher’s name was not mentioned in Pickersgill’s title for the house or her belongings, like the flag-maker’s enslaved servants were, Sally Johnston, former executive director of the Flag House and a Mary Pickersgill biographer, says.

In recent years, historians have been working to ensure that the young Black girl’s role in the creation of the Star-Spangled Banner is no longer erased.

In 2014, the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House in Baltimore started to include the little information they had about Wisher in their exhibitions. Currently, an outline of a young girl representing Wisher sits on a plexiglass covering a popular oil painting depicting the creation of the flag. Additionally, in 2014, an exhibition titled For Whom It Stands and housed at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, which documents Maryland’s African American history and culture, included Wisher’s story.

“A name like Grace Wisher, unless you’re deep into the story about the Star-Spangled Banner itself, doesn’t often come to the fore,” Wilkinson tells Teen Vogue. “That’s why I think it’s important that there’s not a single narrative. There are things we think we know, but there’s more we need to know. And certainly, Grace Wisher’s life and her contributions should not go unknown. It should be acknowledged and presented in our historical displays about this era.”

Wilkinson, who is now a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMHAAC), believes spreading this hidden history could allow African Americans and other Black Americans to see themselves, perhaps for the first time, as part of the American dream.

“The flag and the anthem are not the same thing. But because they’re related in terms of these symbols of American identity, these are places where people are invested,” she said. “And African-Americans are as invested as any other American and understand the potency of these symbols to call attention to issues that they want to see change in.”

Read: These Surprising Facts Will Explain Why Latinos Ought To Celebrate Juneteenth

A San Francisco High School Is Losing A Historic Mural After Backlash Against Imagery And I Shed No Tears

Culture

A San Francisco High School Is Losing A Historic Mural After Backlash Against Imagery And I Shed No Tears

librarymail / Instagram

The United States is currently undergoing a significant transformation. The division of political parties, including having a divisive president, is not helping to ease racial tensions. With so much emphasis on trying to right the wrongs of our country’s embroiled history, many are demanding the removal of several historical statues that glorify racist leaders. Though, it’s not just ending at statues. Paintings and murals depicting the cruelty of this country’s minority population are now being reevaluated with a 21st-century mindset. However, the issue isn’t as cut and dry as it seems. There are others that say doing away with these historical artifacts goes against freedom of speech. That’s the debate roiling at a San Francisco high school.

Last week, a school board in San Francisco voted to paint over a 1936 mural inside a high school that shows the mistreatment of African slaves and Native people.

Credit: artdecoca / Instagram

The fresco, titled “Life of Washington” is inside the walls of the diverse George Washington High School in San Francisco and it shows the early presidential years of our nation’s first president. But according to those offended by the mural, they say that it glorifies “racism, genocide, Manifest Destiny, colonization, and white supremacy,” according to the National Review.

The 13-panel mural was painted by Russian-American painter Victor Arnautoff who studied and worked under Diego Rivera.

Credit: Public Domain

Arnautoff painted several murals in the city (as did Rivera), but Arnautoff’s pieces are much controversial. As one critic noted, Arnautoff’s painting “depicts the father of our country as also being the father of a genocide later claimed by the victors as Manifest Destiny. It is a position so contrary to the national mythology of the time that I have often wondered how the artist got away with such criticism in a public space.” It seems that time has run out.

The removal of the painting will cost $600,000 to paint over it, but people who are offended by it say taking it down is worth it, regardless of the bill.

“Think of all the families, the children who have walked through there,” Joely Proudfit, professor of American Indian Studies at California State University, San Marcos, told The SF Chronicle.”What images do they see? Dead Indians to the left and African Americans to the right in bondage.”

Historic preservationists say that removing it these works of art is a violation of free speech.

Credit: @katwalkssf / Twitter

“We don’t burn great art. It is unconscionable,” Richard Walker, director of the Living New Deal Project, that is currently which is documenting art from Works Progress Administration, told The SF Chronicle.  “It’s something reactionaries do, fascists, it’s something the Nazis did, something we learned from history is not acceptable.”

The school board felt that students of color should not have to subject themselves to that kind of art.

Credit: @chatandcutt / Twitter

“Painting it over represents not only a symbolic fresh start but a real fresh start,” Mark Sanchez, vice president of the school board and a third-grade teacher, told CBS News.

However, just because they voted to remove the painting, doesn’t mean it will happen any time soon. The SF Chronicle reports that the vote to remove the mural has brought forth more trouble and will be under litigation.

San Francisco is undergoing a massive and poignant overhaul in the city that is rectifying the audacities of the past and honoring beloved artists of color.

Credit: @thehill / Twitter

Just last year, the SF Board of Supervisors voted to remove a street named after James D. Phelan, a racist 19th-century mayor and renamed it Frida Kahlo Way. California Mayor Gavin Newsom held a special event in which he apologized the Native American community for the state’s part in their population’s genocide.

“It’s called a genocide,” Newsom said, according to the Sacramento Bee. “No other way to describe it… I’m sorry on behalf of the state of California.” He added, “We can never undo the wrongs inflicted on the peoples who have lived on this land that we now call California since time immemorial, but we can work together to build bridges, tell the truth about our past and begin to heal deep wounds.”

READ: While D.C. Debates Reparations, California Governor Issues The Long Overdue Apology Indigenous People Have Long Awaited

Frida Kahlo’s Former Students Deny Claims That The Recording Thought To Be Her Voice Is Actually Hers

Entertainment

Frida Kahlo’s Former Students Deny Claims That The Recording Thought To Be Her Voice Is Actually Hers

mnbaq.org

Earlier this month, the National Sound Library of Mexico announced they had discovered the only known recording of the artist’s voice. Media outlets and Kahlo fans around the world were ecstatic about the audio thought to have captured Kahlo reading a portion of her essay about her husband and fellow artist, Diego Rivera.

Now, the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s relatives and former students have come forward to dismiss claims that the discovered recording could be her voice.

Last week fans of the artist were enthused to find out last week that researchers in Mexico had discovered an audio recording of Frida Kahlo, but now people that knew her well are saying that voice in the recording is not her at all.

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“The thing is, I don’t recognize the voice,” Guillermo Monroy Becerril, a former student of Kahlo’s, told the Spanish news agency Efe. “The first time I met her, I noticed she was a woman with a very sweet, cheerful voice … Frida’s real voice was very lively, charming, and cheery. It wasn’t serious or smooth or delicate … it was crystal clear.”

Kahlo’s descendants have also questioned the origins of the recording.

In a statement, member’s of the artist’s family said: “As far as Kahlo family knows, there are no records of Frida’s voice.”

Another person is claiming the voice in that recording is her and not Kahlo.

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Mexican actress Amparo Garrido, who did the voice of Snow White in the 1960s for a dub recording in Spanish, said, according to The Guardian, “I feel it’s me and have for a while. I recorded various things for El Bachiller … I’m almost absolutely sure that I recorded this one.” Her daughter agrees, “I immediately heard the voice of my mother.”

The library researches who found the audio recording in the first place said they are still investigating the file to find out the origin.

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Why did we get our hopes up for nothing?!

The New York Times reports that the National Sound Library will meet with Garrido to see if her voice matches that of the Kahlo recording and will test out other voices from actresses in Mexico from that era as a process of elimination.

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