I was blessed to grow up in the rich African American (Black) culture that resides in the Washington, D.C. area. I saw our good and bad, our strengths and weaknesses, our beauty and shame wherever I looked. I was secure…I was embraced…and every February, my history and culture were CELEBRATED! So, it is not hard for you to imagine that I was a little taken back when I moved to Arizona (almost 20 years ago) and met many people who did not know that February is Black History Month! As this realization reoccurred year after year, I began to understand that most non-blacks are not aware of the rich and ongoing contributions made by my people beyond Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights, and Rosa Parks. This includes those in academia, and many would share this knowledge in their classrooms if they knew. For those who would like to know more, here is some information on a few of these outstanding citizens, moments in history, and some resources that will help you further your investigations:
- Malcolm X – Contemporary of Dr. King; Muslim minister and human rights activist; terminated relationship with Nation of Islam and created Muslim Mosque, Inc.
- Paul Robeson – First Black actor to play Shakespeare’s Otello on Broadway; supporter of Civil Rights movement; blacklisted for his social and political stand
- Bob Marley – Jamaican singer-songwriter, and musician; stood for Black political independence; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994; Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001
- The First Black Cowboys – During the “cowboy era”, 1 in 4 were Black. Many slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries were familiar with herding cattle from their homelands. This made the life of a cowboy an assessable way of escape and livelihood.
- James Baldwin – Novelist, essayist, playwright; Spokesman for Civil Rights Movement in 1963
- Black Wall Street – Greenwood (suburb of Tulsa Oklahoma): 1906 – 1921; One of the most successful Black economies in America; founded by O.W. Gurley and flourished due to oil boom of 1910; destroyed in Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 which was a 2 day massacre of hundreds of Black residents that was started by a White mob.
- Shirley Chisholm – Politician, educator, and author; 1st Black candidate nominated for President by a major party (1972); National Women’s Hall of Fame (1993), Medal of Freedom (2015)
- Madame C.J. Walker – First Black female self-made millionaire in America (enough said!)
- Joan Higginbotham – Engineer and former NASA astronaut; logged over 300 hours in space, participated in 53 shuttle launches; 3rd Black woman to go into space
- Huey P. Newton, Ph.D. – Political activist and revolutionary; co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (1966)
- Matthew Henson – First Black Arctic explorer; 6 voyages and 18 years in exploration
- Fannie Lou Hammer – Voting rights activist, civil rights leader and philanthropist
- Claudette Colvin – Pioneer of the Civil Rights movement; 9 months before Parks, she was removed and jailed after refusing to give up her seat on a bus
- Maggie Lena Walker – Founded St. Luke Penny Savings Bank (Richmond, VA) in 1903; 1st female of any race to charter a bank in the U.S.
- Nina Simone – Singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist; openly addressed racism in the U.S. with the song “Mississippi Goddam” (1964); Grammy Hall of Fame Award (2000)
- Percy Julian – Chemist, pioneer of chemical synthesis of plant-based drugs; laid foundation work for steroid drugs (cortisone and birth control pills); inducted into National Academy of Sciences
- Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable – Haitian born frontier trader, farmer, entrepreneur, peacemaker, protector of Native Americans; in 1779, founded what would become the City of Chicago
- Maya Angelou– (Mother Maya) Poet, author, Civil Rights activist, singer, dancer, mother, friend
- Oprah Winfrey – Media network owner, talk show host, actress, philanthropist; billionaire
- President Barack Obama – 44th President of the United States (2009 – 2017)
- The internet is actually a great space to start. Try Google with the search term “African American history”. A variety of resources will come up.
- A great class resource: Black History Flash Cards (Volume 1 and 2) Volume 2 is dedicated to women only. They can be located online at UrbanIntellectuals.com
- The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture
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