Our history is filled with stories of African Americans who influenced our society in important ways.
Rosa Parks demanded her freedom and refused to move to the back of a public bus.
Jackie Robinson played the infield as the first African-American in Major League Baseball.
Six-year-old Ruby Bridges walked into a segregated elementary school accompanied by U.S. marshals.
Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed his dream of equality and envisioned a future in which his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Barack Obama was sworn-in as the first African-American president.
These are just a few of the men and women who’ve changed our modern world, changing minds and opening hearts. The men and women we celebrate this month have also contributed in fields of endeavor less celebrated than sports and politics — through science, education and military service.
Harriet Tubman – Many of us know Tubman’s name from childhood, when we learned how she led slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad. That makes her impressive enough, but her mark on history is even larger. This enterprising woman was the first female in U.S. history to lead a military expedition! She was a recruiter, a spy for the Union army and led soldiers on raids through South Carolina.
George Washington Carver – Another name we know from our history books, Carver famously discovered hundreds of uses for the peanut. But beyond that, Carver was a brilliant botanist, scientist, inventor and educator. He led the Agriculture Department at Tuskegee Institute and introduced new methods for restoring the soil of southern farmland. His theories on crop rotation helped farmers all through the South, including many former slaves who now grew their own crops. His drive for education and innovation benefited those in his community, and his research continues to benefit us now.
Frederick Douglass – As a child, Douglass learned how to read and write from a slaveholder. As a teenager, he taught other slaves to read and gained as much knowledge as he could from books and newspapers. As an adult, he was an abolitionist, an advocate for women’s suffrage and Irish freedom, a writer, an orator, a vice presidential candidate and an adviser to American presidents. He was among the most famous African Americans of his time because he wouldn’t keep silent about the injustice he saw around him. His fame continues, as we still read his intellectual and moral arguments against slavery and for equality and freedom.
Tuskegee Airmen – The Air Force didn’t exist when the Tuskegee Airmen took to the skies, but they remain a part of its legacy as the first African-American military aviators, serving in the Army Air Corps. They fought in World War II and earned more than 150 medals. Most importantly, their performance encouraged the integration of the U.S. armed forces. We have them to thank for service members like Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., the first African-American general, Pfc. Milton Olive III, a Medal of Honor recipient, and Gen. Colin Powell, the first African-American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Septima Poinsette Clark – Septima Clark is lesser known, but her contributions were incredible. Clark was a teacher who fought for equal pay for black and white teachers. She directed the Tennessee Highlander Folk School’s citizenship program and taught others in her community to teach math and literacy, which enabled many African Americans to pass discriminatory literacy tests and vote. She empowered her community with the confidence and knowledge to live better lives.
Take some time this month to learn about the rich history of African-Americans who inspire all of us to be bold, innovative and fight for freedom!