Also called African American History Month, I wrote about this last year, and I will write about it again. As I see it, this will be a long-standing debate between races, on our end, a debate of the ignorant. This time of year, without fail, someone on Facebook will post, “Why do we need Black History Month?” The formation of what would eventually be known as Black History Month began way back in 1915, a creation of minister Jesse E. Moorland and historian Carter G. Woodson. It’s a way of promoting the accomplishments of African Americans.
Back to the “why?” Have you ever heard of Claudette Colvin? Lewis Latimer? Daniel Hale Williams? Frederick McKinley Jones? No? This is why we need Black History Month.
Claudette Colvin: At the age of 15, Colvin refused to move to the back of the bus, nine months before Rosa Parks did the same. The young activist studied the Jim Crow Laws and black leaders such as Harriet Tubma
n in school, which prompted her actions. The bus incident landed the teenager in jail. Colvin, along with Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Mary Louise Smith, three other women discriminated against as a result of the segregation policy of the Montgomery bus system, went to court to challenge the law. That case, Browder v. Gayle, eventually ended up in the United States Supreme Court which ordered the state of Alabama (and Montgomery) to desegregate its buses.
Lewis Latimer: Latimer was an inventor and engineer. After an honorable discharge from the navy, he took a job at a patent law firm as an office boy. By observing the draftsmen at work, he taught himself mechanical drawing and drafting. His bosses noticed his talents and promoted him to draftsman. He designed a number of inventions, and eventually found himself working with Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. Latimer drafted the patent for the telephone, and ended up inventing a light bulb that outlasted Edison’s original.
Daniel Hale Williams: Williams, or as he was called, Dr. Dan, was a surgeon in Chicago. Though he himself found success, he realized the lack of medical training for black doctors and nurses and deficiency in medical care for blacks. At the time, blacks were barred from being admitted to hospitals and black doctors were refused staff positions. In 1891, Dr. Dan founded Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses, the first interracial hospital and medical training facility. In 1893, Williams also performed one of the first successful open heart surgeries.
Frederick McKinley Jones: On his own from age 11, Jones did odd jobs to survive. He became adept at mechanics, and while working at a garage, continued to read up on the subject to improve his craft. Eventually his skills landed him a job on a farm where he taught himself about electronics. He began inventing machines when doctors needed a way to make house calls in the snow. He attached skis to the undercarriage of an old airplane body and a propeller to a motor. His “Snow Machine” easily got doctors to their destinations. He continued to invent, including a portable x-ray machine, a radio transmitter, and a device to combine sound with motion pictures. He patented more than 60 inventions, most of them were in refrigeration. Jones was responsible for advances in truck refrigeration, enabling the long-haul transportation of perishable goods. This helped greatly during World War II for the preservation and transportation of blood, medicines, and food to the battlefield and hospitals.
Want another? Read my blog about Bessie Coleman. This is just a handful of the profusion of great, but little known, African Americans that have made history.
Have you learned something? American history classes somehow seemed to omit the accomplishments of great African Americans – those who made advances in science, the creators and innovators, the artists and musicians, the ones who championed for civil rights, those whose contributions helped shape our American culture. Theirs is a history that should be learned and integrated with the rest of American history, as it is prolific with stories of possibility, aspiration, adversity, success, and inspiration.