The month of February is recognized as Black History Month in the United States and Canada, and it is such a powerful month to honor the historic sacrifices made by people of color, and the incredible strength of black women throughout history. We’d like to honor some particularly amazing African-American women who have impacted history, and in doing so have given many young people the hope and belief that they too can accomplish their dreams. These days our young people see so many irreverent examples of humanity in pop culture, and as caregivers it is our responsibility to provide them with the tools and resources to discover the imitable strength, courage, tenacity and character that resides in so many of our fellow humans. As you dig into Black History Month with your charges, here are a few places to start the conversation.
Harriet Tubman: An African American slave who escaped north to freedom in 1850. She was instrumental in the success of the Underground Railroad, and helped over 300 slaves escape to freedom in her time as a Conductor. She served as a Union scout and spy during the American Civil War, and was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war. Later in life, Tubman was also active in the fight for women’s suffrage.
Rosa Parks: An African-American civil rights activist whose refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the pivotal events of the US Civil Rights Movement. The US Congress has called Parks “the first lady of civil rights” and the “mother of the freedom movement.” She also is the first African-American woman to be honored with a statue in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.
Bessie Coleman: Busting through the barriers in the ‘boys only’ club, Bessie became the the first African-American female pilot in 1921.
Patricia Roberts Harris: A Harvard grad and lawyer who became the first black female named U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg by President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter selected her for his cabinet as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, another first!
Shirley Chisholm: Elected the first African-American congresswoman. She went on to serve seven terms.
Condoleezza Rice: The first African-American female U.S. Secretary of State in 2005. She also was among the first group of women admitted to the Augusta National Golf Club.
Toni Morrison: The literary voice behind works like ‘Beloved’ hit a major milestone in 1993 when she was honored as the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize in literature.
Ursula Burns: After working for Xerox for 29 years, Ursula became the CEO in 2009. That made her the first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company.
Ruth Simmons: In 2000, Ruth was named the 18th president of Brown University– making her the first black president of an Ivy League school.
Oprah Winfrey: The philanthropist and TV personality was the first African-American woman to have a syndicated talk show. In 2003, she was named the first black female billionaire by Forbes.
Wilma Rudolph: Before Wilma was five years old, polio had paralyzed her left leg. Everyone said she would never walk again, but Wilma refused to believe it. Not only would she walk again, she vowed, she’d run and she did run — all the way to the Olympics! It was there that she became the first American woman to earn three gold medals in a single olympiad.
Claudette Colvin: On March 2, 1955, an impassioned teenager, fed up with the daily injustices of Jim Crow segregation, refused to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Instead of being celebrated as Rosa Parks would be just nine months later, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin found herself shunned by her classmates and dismissed by community leaders. Undaunted, a year later she dared to challenge segregation again as a key plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery and swept away the legal underpinnings of the Jim Crow South.
Sojourner Truth: An African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist who is best-known for her “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech on gender inequality that she delivered at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851. Born into slavery, Truth escaped as a young woman and later successful sued her former owner to gain custody of her son, becoming the first African-American woman to win such a case against a white man.
Corretta Scott King: An American author, activist, and civil rights leader. The widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King helped lead the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Michelle Obama: An American lawyer and writer, is the wife of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, and the first African-American First Lady of the United States.
Simone Biles: Simone was part of the gold medal-winning team dubbed the “Final Five” at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Having won a combined total of nineteen Olympic and World Championship medals, Biles is now the most decorated American gymnast, taking over the title from Shannon Miller, who had held this record since 1996. With her most recent win in Rio, Biles became the sixth woman to have won an individual all-around title at both the World Championships and the Olympic Games. With four Olympic gold medals, Biles set an American record for most gold medals in women’s gymnastics at a single Games.
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