Known as the father of Black History Month, Carter G. Woodson was born in 1875 and died in 1950. He attended the University of Chicago, and later in 1912 received his PhD from Harvard University.
Carter devoted his life to making sure African Americans received equal rights. For example, in 1915, he helped establish the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which was a non-profit organization that dedicated its time to the study and respect of African-Americans.
In 1926, he proposed and launched the annual February observance of "Negro History Week" which was turned into Black History Month. February was chosen for the observance because of the overlap with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In 1976, this became what we now know as “Black History Month” which was made by black educators at Kent State University.
Woodson believed that education and increasing social and professional contacts between different races could reduce racism and he promoted the organized study of African-American history partially for that purpose.
Other notable actions Carter took upon himself were getting attached with the NAACP. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is a civil rights organization made to advance justice for African Americans. In the NAACP he created a branch that black people can report any concerns that they have with their race which the NAACP can extend its operations into every part of the city."
Katherine Goble Johnson was one of the first three African-Americans students to be integrated into West Virginia University. She went on to work for NASA , putting her keen mathematical abilities to work in their research division.
Bessie Coleman worked hard in her childhood picking cotton and helping her mother with the laundry she took in. She educated herself and managed to graduate from high school. After seeing newsreels on Aviation, Coleman became interested in becoming a pilot, but no US flight schools would accept her because she was Black and female. After attending school in France, in 1921, Coleman became the firstBlack woman to earn a pilot’s license.
“The air is the only place free from prejudice.” Bessie Coleman
Jesse Ernest Wilkins Jr. was an African American nuclear scientist, mechanical engineer and mathematician. Mr. Wilkins was the youngest person to be accepted to the University of Chicago at the age of 13. Working under the direction of Arthur Holly Compton and Enrico Fermi, Wilkins researched the extraction of fissionable nuclear materials, but was not told of the research group’s ultimate goal until after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
Henrietta Lacks who was an African-American tobacco farmer who got cervical cancer. A doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital took a piece of her tumor and grew her cells in a culture. For reasons not known, her cells never died. Her cells, which are called HeLa cells, were used to develop the polio vaccine and contributed to many other scientific discoveries.
Mae Jemison – A doctor, who was the first African American woman chosen by NASA for the astronaut training program and the first African American woman to travel in space.
Benjamin Banneker – a self-educated mathematician. He was also a writer, compiler of almanacs and inventor. He constructed his own clock that struck each hour. He created puzzles that demonstrated his knowledge of trigonometry.
Garrett Morgan was an inventor. He first opened a sewing machine repair shop, but later went on to invent custom-made machines. One of his most famous inventions was the gas mask.
In the mid-1800s, the famous French painter Edouard Manet, painted Laure for the first time. Not much is known about Laure’s life, but the fact that she repeatedly allowed herself to be painted is extremely important for Black history because the paintings provide a rare window through which contemporary audiences can understand the role of Black women in this time period. With the scarcity of Black models as subjects in art during the 1860s, Laure carries the weight of visually representing a marginalized group of people through her portraits. If you want to learn more about Laure and see Manet’s paintings of her, the exhibit “Posing Modernity” has just moved from Columbia’s Wallach Gallery to Paris’ Musee D’Orsay and can be researched online.
Dorothy Lavinia Brown was an African American doctor, politician and one of the first Black female surgeons in the South.
In 1944, she enrolled at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee graduating in 1948 in the top third of her class. Brown started as an intern at Harlem Hospital in New York. With strong opposition to female surgeons, she was denied a surgical residency; but she did not let this stop her from becoming a surgeon. She went back to Meharry and got a residency there and completed it in 1954. Dorothy Brown became the first African-American female surgeon in the South.
In addition to her other firsts, in southern medicine, she also became the first single woman in Tennessee to adopt a child.
In 1966, she became the first African-American woman to be elected to the Tennessee State Legislature for a two-year term.
Brown spoke often on scientific, religious, medical, and political panels. . She wrote many essays and inspirational guides. She has also been given honorary degrees in Humanities from Bennett College and Cumberland University. Dorothy Brown, a pioneering Black female surgeon and Tennessee legislator, died of congestive heart failure on June 13, 2004, in Nashville.
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