BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Born in the early 1800’s in Maryland and considered the first African American woman to serve in the military, Harriet Tubman escaped enslavement and became known as the “Moses of her people” for helping others escape to freedom. She was never caught nor lost anyone along the escape route. Slaveowners placed a $40,000 bounty on her capture or death. She went on to serve the union as a spy. She also played an instrumental role in the women’s suffrage movement.
Muhammad Ali is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time and is remembered as a figurehead for his positions on social justice and the anti-war movement of the 1960s. For his refusal to be drafted into the military as a conscientious objector, he was convicted and threatened with jail time while also being stripped of his boxing titles. He would go on to regain his titles in several high-profile matches. His skill and intelligence both in and out of the ring became a point of inspiration and racial pride for African-Americans and people around the world. The 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” match in which he defeated George Foreman was watched by an estimated audience of 1 billion people worldwide, a record to this day. He followed his mentor Malcolm X out of the Nation of Islam and became a Sunni Muslim under Imam Warith Deen Muhammad. In 1984, he made his diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease public. His death in 2016 was mourned all over the world and his janazah and burial was held in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
In 1968, Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman in Congress. In 1972, she was the first African American woman to pursue the nomination for president of the United States. Her autobiography titled “Unbossed and Unbought” portrays her adamant will to advocate for women and minorities during her seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. She wanted to be “remembered as a woman … who dared to be a catalyst of change.”
El-Hajj Malik el-Shabbaz, also known as Malcolm X, was a civil rights leader, a former minister of the Nation of Islam (NOI), a prominent national speaker, and the founder of Muslim Mosque, Inc. (MMI) and the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). After a rift with the NOI leader Elijah Muhammad, he broke off and performed the Hajj as a Sunni Muslim. During this time, he renounced many of the former positions he held. Through MMI, El-Hajj was able to secure 20 scholarships for young African-American Muslims to study at the prestigious Al-Azhar and 15 scholarships to the Islamic University of Madinah. On this day, Feb. 21, 1965, El-Hajj was martyred at the Audubon Theater in Harlem at the age of 39. The Autobiography of Malcolm X was named at the top of the list by Time magazine in 1998 as one of ten “Required Reading: Nonfiction Books.”
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister and activist and one of the leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement. As the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) he organized several boycotts, marches, and other non-violent protests throughout the American South and the nation. His March on Washington drew upwards of 200,000 people to Washington D.C. and the I Have a Dream speech is credited as helping pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That same year, he won a Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in April of 1968. Posthumously he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal and his legacy is celebrated by Martin Luther King Jr. Day as well as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C.
Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Hamer, was born on October. 06, 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi. She was a civil rights activist and organizer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. On August 31, 1962, she took 17 volunteers to register to vote at the Indianola, Mississippi Courthouse but because of the unfair literacy test, they were denied the right to vote. In 1964, she co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which challenged the local Democratic Party’s efforts to block Black participation.
W.E.B. Du Bois
W.E.B. Du Bois was the first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard and became a professor of history, sociology, and economics at Atlanta University. In 1909, he was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He argued for full civil rights and political freedom for black people and all people of color, and strongly attacked Jim Crow laws, lynching, and other forms of discrimination. He is remembered as a power author, writing such works as The Souls of Black Folks, a collection of his essays, and Black Reconstruction in America. He also served as editor of the NAACP journal The Crisis. A prominent Pan-Africanist, he passed away in Ghana one year before the United States Civil Rights Act was passed which finally brought many of the changes he had fought for his entire life.
Mary McLeod Bethune
Born on July. 10, 1875 near Maysville, South Carolina, Mary McLeod Bethune became one of the most influential black educators, civil and women’s rights leaders and government officials of the twentieth century. In 1904, Bethune opened the Daytona Beach Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls which was a boarding school. After some time, Bethune’s school became a college, merging with the all-male Cookman Institute to form Bethune-Cookman College in 1929. This college set educational standards for all black colleges to follow. Her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, landed her a role as an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and she became an advocate for African Americans in the government as the Director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. In 1945, after being appointed by President Harry S. Truman, Bethune was the only woman of color at the founding conference of the United Nations.
Rev. Jesse Jackson is a Baptist minister, politician, and one of the most prominent civil rights activists in our country. In 1971 he founded People United to Save/Serve Humanity (PUSH), a prominent Chicago-based organization advocating for black self-help and social justice. PUSH later merged with the National Rainbow Coalition which focused on demanding voter rights, affirmative actions, and social programs for all races and creeds. He ran as a presidential nominee in 1984 and 1988 and also served as a shadow U.S. senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1996. Jackson has advocated for some of the toughest issues of our time such universal health care, election law reform, gender equality, ending the South African apartheid, and peace negotiations in Palestine.
Thurgood Marshall was the first African American Supreme Court Justice, a position he held from 1967 until 1991. A graduate of Howard University School of Law, he practiced in Baltimore and founded the NAACP Legal Defense and Education fund. While serving as its executive director he argued several landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education on the issue of racial segregation in public schools. He was appointed as a circuit judge by President John F. Kennedy and Solicitor General by President Lyndon B. Johnson before being nominated as a Justice of the Supreme Court.
Born on August. 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Katherine Johnson exhibited great intelligence and skills with numbers at a very young age. She graduated college at the age of 18 and soon after started working for NASA as part of the Space Task Group. As an American mathematician, she is known for calculating and analyzing flight patterns and paths of many spacecrafts during her 30 plus years with the U.S. Space program. Her dedicated work and insight helped send astronauts to the moon.