Black History Month 2019

The year 2019 marks 400 years since the first African Americans arrived in Virginia.  The 2019 theme “Black Migrations” in part celebrates the resolve of African Americans as “Through their resilience and perseverance they made it possible for all of us to be here today” says Browne-Marshall, author of Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present.

As we celebrate Black History Month let’s focus on some of the women who played major roles in history through their actions:

Sojourner Truth: Sojourner was a true feminist and fought tirelessly for women’s rights and to abolish slavery. After her escape from slavery with her infant daughter, Truth learned of the illegal sale of her son into slavery and successfully took his owner to court for his freedom. This was one of the first cases of its kind. She gave herself the name of Sojourner Truth when she decided to fully dedicate her life to activism and her memoirs were published in 1850.

She regularly protested and delivered speeches about human rights. Her main concerns included; prison reform, universal suffrage, women’s rights, criticizing capital punishment and property rights. Her most famous speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention later entitled ‘Ain’t I A Woman’ earned her a place in the history books, as it is still frequently referenced today. She recruited Black troops for the Union Army during the Civil War and brought her beliefs to President Abraham Lincoln, whom she still had issues with even after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Harriet Tubman: Harriet was a true warrior in the battle against slavery. She risked her own freedom to help hundreds of people escape the cruel clutches of involuntary labor using the Underground Railroad. During her time as a slave, she endured permanent brain damage and physical health complications from the relentless beatings she suffered at the hands of her masters. She also had to deal with the mental slavery and reluctance of some slaves to escape to freedom.

Even when a law was made allowing escaped slaves to be returned to slavery in the North, she adjusted her plan and got them to safety in Canada. She used her role as a cook and nurse in the Civil War to gain intel on her enemies and led an armed expedition to liberate over 700 slaves. She was buried with military honors in 1913 and was commemorated with many schools, museums, plaques and statues for her efforts in the abolition of slavery.

Rosa Parks: Best known for her refusal to leave her seat for a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks sparked a citywide boycott of buses that led to a law desegregating buses across the nation. She was a trained civil rights activist, who worked as the secretary to the President of the NAACP until 1957. Her trial inspired further efforts to desegregate public places in a peaceful manner, solidifying her name in the history books as one of the most influential people in the fight for racial equality.

Rosa also worked with Planned Parenthood and founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, which uses bus tours to educate young people about Black history. She has published two books and received numerous accolades for her work in the Civil Rights Movement. After her passing in 2005, she was also immortalized in a statue and postal stamp on the anniversary of what would have been her 100th birthday by President Obama in 2013.

Shirley Chisholm: Shirley Chisholm is best known for becoming the first black congresswoman (1968), representing New York State in the U.S. House of Representatives for seven terms. She went on to run for the 1972 Democratic nomination for the presidency—becoming the first major-party African-American candidate to do so. Throughout her political career, Chisholm fought for education opportunities and social justice. Chisholm left Congress in 1983 to teach.

Condoleezza Rice: Condoleezza Rice is currently the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution; and a professor of Political Science at Stanford University.  She is also a founding partner of RiceHadleyGates, LLC.  Condoleezza was the first Black woman to serve as the US National Security Adviser and Secretary of State. She was also the first Black female to hold the position of provost at Stanford University, where she also worked as a professor and went back to after her time in the White House. She has written several political books and has broken down many typically male employment structures.

Madam C.J. Walker: Madam C.J. Walker became one of the first female self-made millionaires in the world when she inventing a line of hair care products specially for African Americans in 1905. She traveled around the country to promote her products and give hair care demonstrations. She eventually founded Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories to manufacture cosmetics and train beauticians.

Dr. Mae Jemison: Dr. Jemison is the first black woman to be admitted into the astronaut training program and fly into space in 1987. She became the first African American woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992. Jemison also developed and participated in research projects on the Hepatitis B vaccine and rabies.

Dr. Dorothy Height: Dr. Height was regarded by President Barack Obama as “the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement.” She served as the president of the National Council of Negro Women for over two decades and was instrumental in the integration of all YWCA centers in 1946.

Bessie Coleman: Bessie Coleman became the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license and the first black woman to stage a public flight in the United States. She specialized in stunt flying and parachuting and remains a pioneer for women in aviation.

Katherine Johnson:  Katherine Johnson overcame the prejudices thrown at her while working as a “human computer” at NASA to calculate the numbers that successfully launched the first Americans into space. Johnson’s work helped mark a turning point in the United States race to space with the Soviet Union. Johnson’s untold story has recently been popularized through the critically acclaimed film “Hidden Figures.”

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune: Dr. Bethune was an educator and civil rights activist who believed education was the key to racial advancement and worked hard to make sure that young people had the knowledge they needed to move forward.

She aided several presidents and offered advice on child welfare and minority affairs. She started the National Council of Negro Women, worked with NAACP and went on to be the director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, helping young people to find employment. After her passing in 1955, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, immortalized on a stamp and has her own council building. She was also the president and founder of Bethune-Cookman College in Florida.

Coretta Scott-King:  Coretta is known as the wife of Dr Martin Luther King, but she was also a famed activist in her own right for civil rights, women’s rights and against war. She participated in the Montgomery bus boycott, worked to pass the Civil Rights Act and founded the Center for Non-Violent Social Change after her husband’s assassination. She was a talented singer and violin player with multiple degrees, which is how she met Martin, while studying at university in Boston.

After his death, she worked as a syndicated columnist writing about social issues and became a regular commentator on CNN. Coretta wrote a book and pushed for a retrial of Martin’s alleged killer, as well as ensuring that Martin’s birthday became a national holiday. She also fought hard for LGBT rights and left behind a legacy of peace and equality, similar to her husband’s: “I believe all Americans who believe in freedom, tolerance and human rights have a responsibility to oppose bigotry and prejudice based on sexual orientation.”

As the above rich legacies show us, women can accomplish anything.  The key is tenacity and determination to work towards our mission to “work for the advancement of women in government”.  With persistence and commitment to my vision we will continue “Soaring to New Heights”.