BLACK HISTORY MONTH IS MORE THAN A MONTH
Black History month is a time to remember and celebrate the many contributions Black Americans have made to this country and society as a whole.
All too often during Black History Month we hear the familiar names of Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, or W. E. B. DuBois. Seldom do we hear additional names or even have our school educators regularly teaching about the litany of Black pioneers.
I would like to recognize some additional Black pioneers who are equally significant as the high profiled names and whose efforts we have greatly benefited. Black pioneers such as:
Richard Allen - U.S. religious leader. He was born to slave parents in Philadelphia, and his family was sold to a Delaware farmer. In 1816 he organized a conference of Black leaders to form the African Methodist Episcopal Church, of which he was named the first bishop.
Samuel E. Cornish - Cornish, a free Black man who was born in Delaware in 1795, was pastor of New York City’s first African-American Presbyterian Church prior to editing Freedom’s Journal. Cornish went on to become a founding member of New York’s famed Anti-Slavery Society in 1833.
William Lloyd Garrison - born in Newburyport, Mass., he joined the abolitionist movement at 25 and edited several local newspapers dedicated to moral reform. In 1865 he retired but continued to press for women's suffrage, temperance, and free trade.
Sojourner Truth - she was born into slavery in Ulster Co., N.Y., where she bore five children. After being freed, she worked as a domestic in New York City (1829-43) and began preaching on street corners with the evangelical missionary Elijah Pierson. After the war she worked for the freedmen's relief organization and encouraged migration to Kansas and Missouri.
Henry Highland Garnet - led by his father George Garnett, Henry Highland Garnett escaped from Maryland slavery in 1825 to New York. Garnett traveled to England to try to encourage a worldwide boycott of cotton. He knew that if the market for cotton collapses, slavery would not survive. Eventually however, his ideas about liberation, politics and economics would be embraced by many Black leaders of his day.
Charles Sumner -Born in Boston, he practiced law while crusading for abolition, prison reform, world peace, and educational reform. He was elected to the U.S. Senate (1852-74) and spoke out against slavery. He returned to the Senate in 1859, and as chairman of the foreign relations committee (1861-71) helped resolve the Trent Affair.
Thaddeus Stevens -he practiced law in Pennsylvania, defending fugitive slaves without fee. In the U.S. House of Representatives (1849-53, 1859-68), he opposed the extension of slavery into the west territories. He helped establish the Freedmen's Bureau and secured passage of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
Alex Haley - born in Ithaca, N.Y., and raised in North Carolina, he served in the Coast Guard (1939-59) and later became a journalist. His greatest success was Roots (1976, special Pulitzer Prize), a history of seven generations of his ancestors beginning with their enslavement.
Barbara Jordan - born in Houston, she earned a law degree in 1959, served in the Texas senate (1966-72), and then won election to the U.S. House of Representatives (1973-79), the first Black woman to be elected from the Deep South. She retired from the House to teach at the University of Texas.
Toni Morrison - U.S. writer. Born in Lorain, Ohio, she studied at Howard and Cornell University, taught at various universities, and worked as an editor before publishing The Bluest Eye (1970), a novel dealing with some of the shocking realities of the lives of poor Blacks. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1993.
Alice Walker - born in Eatonton, Ga., Walker moved to Mississippi after attending Spelman and Sarah Lawrence colleges and became involved with the civil-rights movement. She has also written essays, some collected in “In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens” (1983); several books of poetry; short stories; and children's books.
Althea Gibson - U.S. tennis player. Born in Silver, S.C., she moved to New York City when she was three, later returning south to attend Florida A&M Univ. She was the first Black to win the French (1956) and Wimbledon and U.S. singles championships (1957-58) the first Black to receive that honor.
Madame C. J. Walker – birth name Sarah Breedlove. Both of her parents were freed slaves who died when she was five years old. She married at 14 and lost her husband to a lynch mob. She was a widowed washerwoman with a daughter to support. Sacrificing her health to take good care of her daughter, poverty coupled with bad nutrition Walker began to suffer from hair loss. She experimented with methods to stop the loss. One night she had a dream in which an old man gave her the ingredients for a potion that not only sopped balding, but quickened regrowth. She sold this product through advertisement and mail orders and turned her business into a million dollar enterprise. Walker was the first Black female millionaire in the U.S.
Marian Wright Edelman - founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional career.
Lena Horne - She was the first Black signed to a long-term studio contract. In her rise beyond Hollywood's racial stereotypes of maids, butlers, and African natives, she achieved true stardom on the silver screen, and became a catalyst for change even beyond the glittery fringes of studio life.
Myrlie Evers - married civil rights leader Medgar Evers in 1951. The couple worked for the NAACP against segregation and discrimination in Mississippi. After Evers was assassinated in 1963, Evers-Williams moved to California, where she continued her civil rights work. In 1967 she coauthored a book, For Us, the Living, with William Peters. Evers-Williams became the first Black woman to serve on the Los Angeles Board of Public Works. She was elected the first woman to chair the NAACP in 1995.
Garrett Morgan - obtained a patent for an improved sewing machine and opened his own repair business. In 1914 Morgan invented a breathing device that became the prototype and precursor for the gas masks used during World War I, protecting soldiers from toxic gas used in warfare. There was some resistance among Southern buyers to purchase Morgan’s device. To sell his product Morgan hired a white actor to pose as "the inventor" during presentations of his breathing device and Morgan would pose as the inventor's sidekick. Morgan was the first Black man in Cleveland to own a car. In 1923 he created a new kind of traffic signal, one with a warning light to alert drivers that they would need to stop.
Had it not been for the tenacity, drive and fortitude of theses Black pioneers and many more, the Black generation of today would not have accomplished so much. Looking back on the adversities of the time and the accomplishments of these pioneers, we need to reflect inward and make a commitment to do our part to pave the way for other Blacks.
When future Black History Month speeches are given, let your name be among the pioneers. Black History is American History and should be celebrated and appreciated 365 days out of the year.