Black History Month


Helen Jones Woods, a founding member of the first integrated, all-women swing orchestra, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, died of COVID-19 at the age of 96 on July 25th. Woods was the daughter of Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones, founder of the most historic Piney Woods boarding school in Mississippi; and the mother of media mogul, Cathy Hughes, who founded Urban One, the largest African American owned and operated broadcast company in the nation.

Ms. Woods was born in the fall of 1923 in Meridian, MS. Her adopted father, Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones, was the founder of the Piney Woods Country Life School, a historic Mississippi-based African- American boarding school which is still in existence. She grew up on the school campus and began playing music at the age of six. Dr. Jones wanted her to learn to play the violin, but she opted for the trombone instead because she liked the way the struts slid up and down.

Dr. Jones raised funds for the school by touring student groups such as The Cotton Blossom Singers. One evening when he heard Phil Spitalny’s All-Girl Orchestra play on the 1930s CBS radio broadcast, “Hour of Charm,” he had a new fundraising idea. “He said, `I’ve got a bunch of women here [at the school], why don’t I start a girl band?” Woods remembered during a forum discussion at Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian Institution in 2011.

In 1937, Dr. Jones formed the Swinging Rays of Rhythm with a pre-teen Woods and other Piney Woods students ranging in age from 13-19. The all-girl band toured extensively to raise revenue for the school. Eventually, the band relocated to Arlington, Virginia where its manager Daniel Gary changed its name to the International Sweethearts of Rhythm to reflect the ethnic composition of the group which featured not only African Americans but also Asian, Mexican, Native American and European American women.

The ensemble became huge during World War II. For a time, Jesse Stone, who would eventually write the Rock N Roll classic, “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” was their arranger and brought polish to their sound. They had their own tour bus and set a Howard Theater box office record when they attracted over 35,000 patrons for a week of shows there in 1941.  They did a USO tour for the troops and performed at prestigious venues ranging from the Apollo Theater in Harlem to Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. They shared stages with or backed acts such as Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holliday, and Ella Fitzgerald. Louis Armstrong and Count Basie were fans. They were cited as America’s Top All-Female Orchestra by DownBeat Magazine in 1944. Although, they mostly performed hit songs of the day; they also recorded their own songs such as the popular “Jump Children” in 1945.

By 1949, the group had folded, and Woods moved on with her life. “When I found out other women could play trombone better than me, I retired myself,” she cracked at the Smithsonian forum. She married William Alfred Woods and raised a family in Omaha where she earned a nursing degree and a master’s in social work. She worked at the Douglas County Hospital there for over 30 years. Because of her history with The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Woods was inducted into the Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

For the last few years, Woods has resided in Sarasota, Florida. She is survived by her four children: Catherine Liggins Hughes, Jacquelyn Marie Woods, William Alfred Woods and Dr. Robert Anthony Woods.

One of Woods’ favorite sayings was, “Never give a person credit for what they have done when cash would be more appropriate.” In keeping with her wishes, the family requests that the public make financial donations to The Helen Jones Woods Fund at The Piney Woods School to help insure and guarantee a solid education for the next generation.

Levi and Yvonne Henry (deceased) began the Westside Gazette Newspaper in

February 1971. Levi started the newspaper in the Florida Room of his home,

using his daughter’s typewriter. Over the years, the newspaper has increased in size and circulation, beginning as an eight-page tabloid with a weekly circulation of   10,000   and   growing   into   a   Metro   24—page   with   a   circulation   of   30,000 throughout Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties.

Levi Henry, Jr. was born in Nichols, S.C. to Levi and Elizabeth Cooper Henry. Levi and Yvonne Lewis Price met and married in 1966. Yvonne was born and raised in  Paris,   Ky.   Yvonne, along  with   Dorothy   Dillard, were responsible   for many of the daily tasks involved in operating the newspaper, while Levi went out to sell advertisements. Levi and Yvonne shared and endured the usual struggles involved with starting a business on a shoestring budget; however, they often assured one another that they would not quit, refusing to be beaten.

Samuel F. Morrison

Samuel F. Morrison (born December 19, 1936) is an American librarian. Morrison was director of the Broward County Library system for thirteen years and the catalyst behind the system’s establishment of the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center. He also served as the chief librarian of the Chicago Public Library from 1987 to 1989, overseeing the design and construction of the Harold Washington Library.

Morrison was elected president of the Florida Library Association 1981 and served on the association’s Executive Board. His conference theme was “Florida Libraries: Resource for the Future”.

The DEMCO/Black Caucus of the American Library AssociationAward For Excellence in Librarianship was awarded to Morrison in 1997 for the promotion of African Americans in librarianship.

In 2003 Morrison was recognized with the American Library Association‘s highest honor, honorary membership. He was nominated “for his long and distinguished career in librarianship, his tireless and unflagging promotion of library services, his vision in establishing landmark partnerships between libraries and other community organizations, and his commitment to developing the next generation of librarians as a mentor and supporter of library education.”

Other notable awards include the National Urban League‘s Diversity Champion Award (1998), the NAACP President’s Award (1998), the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information ScienceDistinguished Alumnus Award (1999), and the Florida Library AssociationLifetime Achievement Award (2018).

An animatronic version of Morrison resides at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in recognition of his many contributions to the culture of the Broward community. The animatronic gives a selection of phrases in Morrison’s voice, one of which says, “I see the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center as a bridge and a beacon. It is a symbol of hope, a span across cultures and a shining light for a world in which knowledge is the true power.”

Woodrow Portier

Woodrow Johnson Poitier, affectionately known as “Woody” was born November 5, 1947. He is a graduate of Blanche Ely High School, attended Morehouse College for 2 years and holds an Associate of Science in Mortuary Science from Miami-Dade College. Poitier is a licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer at L.C. Poitier Funeral Home in Pompano Beach, Florida a company started by his parents, Llewellyn (L.C.) and Nellie Poitier, of which he has been entrusted to own and operate for over 40 years.

Woody Poitier has given relentless hours to the community as its local funeral director, a community activist and through his 24 years of dedicated service as a Pompano Beach Firefighter and Paramedic, where he rose to the rank of Lieutenant. He is the first African American Firefighter for the City of Pompano Beach and a respected retired City Commissioner; having represented District 4 Pompano Beach Northwest Community for 6 years and 2 months.