Each February, since 1976, our county has celebrated the contributions and achievements of African Americans with Black History Month. This month-long look into the history of Black Americans and the legacy that they have left behind is something I look forward to each year. The nationwide acknowledgment of my people feels like a small taste of vindication and validation and is something I think we can display all year long.
On February 1st, suddenly our commercials, window displays, and google banners will showcase some historical Black faces. You may hear the words of Maya Angelou in a commercial, quotes from brilliant minds like James Baldwin or Malcolm X on your Twitter feed, and displays in stores highlighting black brands. Don’t get me wrong, I love to see these familiar faces from my community but, there are so many more influential, significant, and memorable African Americans we can celebrate. So many names have been forgotten in history and I want to change that this year. Let’s take a look at three Black women in history and one that is currently doing big things!
I’m going to start with one of my favorite women in history, Mary “Stagecoach” Fields. Mary was the first African American mail carrier in the United States. Born into slavery around 1832, Mary was freed with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865. She began her job with the Postal Service in Montana at the ripe age of 60 and never missed a day of work. Ever. She loaded up her horses, rain or shine or snow. And if the snow was too deep for the horses, she would load up her bags, lace-up her snowshoes, and do the deliveries herself. She’s the epitome of “boss babe”.
Next, Henrietta Lacks. This story is going to blow your mind. Henrietta was an African American woman whose cervical cells were the source material contributing to the development of drugs for numerous ailments like polio, Parkinson’s disease, and leukemia. The only thing is, her cells were taken without her consent or knowledge. Henrietta went to the doctors at John Hopkins in Maryland after a diagnosis of cervical cancer and during the tumor biopsy, her cells were collected. It was discovered that her cells were unique in that they reproduced at a very high rate and stayed alive long enough to do more in-depth examinations. These cells would go on to be known as HeLa cells or “immortal cells.” After her death, the doctor that initially took her cells had more samples taken from her body while it was in the John Hopkins autopsy facility. Henrietta’s unknowing contributions have changed the face of modern medicine. At the time, her family was unaware of the continuous usage of her cells and stayed in the dark for over 20 years. Finally, in 2020, her family was given financial reparations from the multi-billion-dollar industry that profited off of her cell line.
Last but definitely, not least, we have a young trailblazer that is making her mark. Many Americans were introduced to Amanda Gorman at the Presidential Inauguration of Joe Biden. Amanda is an author, poet, and activist whose star is on the rise. Born in 1998 in Los Angeles, Amanda has achieved so much in her young life. Harvard Educated and nationally recognized, she has published a handful of books, became the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, was selected as Glamour magazines College Women of the year in 2018, and solidified her name in history with her poem “The Hill We Climb” in 2021. In 2017, Amanda said that she intends to run for president in 2036. She is quoted saying “Seeing the ways that I as a young black woman can inspire people is something I want to continue in politics. I don’t want to just speak works; I want to turn them into realities and actions.”
From slavery and segregation to the senate and space, Black people have had a hand in the development and progress of this country. Let this Black History Month be the first to sparks a commitment to learning more about the contribution of Black Americans with your family. Have your kids do a book report on astronaut Mae C. Jemison or choreographer Alvin Alley. Watch the Netflix documentary 13th about the 13th Amendment or a film by Ava DuVernay. You can tell them that the traffic light, the colored PC screen, the Super Soaker, gas mask, tissue holders, mailboxes, and the potato chip were all invented by African Americans!
Let’s inform this next generation, across all backgrounds that Black History Month is important and getting made every day.