Black History Month and black women
Let us teach our black daughters and our white daughters about civil rights and activists for freedom during Black History Month. Let us care about women of color. Could the civil rights movement have happened without black women? No, indeed.
Let It Shine, Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013) authored by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn is recommended.
Bold. Gutsy. Plucky. Scrappy. Determined. Spirited. Sojourner Truth, Biddy Mason, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary McLeod Bathune, Ella Josephine Baker, Dorothy Irene Height, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Shirley Chisholm are featured.
Born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree in 1797, Sojourner Truth was an Afro-American women’s rights activist. Her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech was delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. “…And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”
“Nobody’s free until everybody is free.” Fannie Lou Hamer dedicated her life to fighting racial injustice. In 1964 she co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and ran for Congress in Mississippi in 1965.
The first African-American woman elected to Congress, Shirley Chisholm of New York, won election to the House in 1968.
More Brave Black Women
Of the 127 women serving in the 116th Congress, 22 are Black. In 1993, Carol Moseley Braun became the first African American female to serve as U.S. senator.
Gloria Jean Watkins, known by her pen name bell hooks, is the author of Feminism is for Everybody. The bell hooks Institute in Berea, KY, celebrates, honors, and documents the life and work of this acclaimed intellectual, feminist theorist, cultural critic, artist, and writer. www.bellhooksinstitute.com.
Known as the “Mother of the American Civil Rights Movement,” Septima Poinsette Clark was an activist, teacher, and advocate for education. www.biography.com/.
“In the 20th century, African American women formed the backbone of the modern Civil Rights Movement. They were the critical mass, the grassroots leaders challenging America to embrace justice and equality for all,” according to The National Women’s History Museum. www.womenshistory.org/.
There were countless unnamed African American women who struggled for freedom and justice. Let us remember them as well.
NASA’s employees Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan were black scientists featured in the film Hidden Figures. Astronaut Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman in space in 1992.
Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Condoleezza Rice, Joycelyn Elders, M.D., Maya Angelou and other black women stand as female icons for civil rights and equality.
The Civil Rights Movement was triumphant in 1964 and 1965, with the federal government’s passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Civil Rights in Ohio
The State of Ohio enacted the Ohio Civil Rights Act of 1959 to “prevent and eliminate the practice of discrimination in employment against persons because of their race, color, religion, national origin, or ancestry.” The Ohio Civil Rights Act established the Ohio Civil Rights Commission to help eliminate discrimination in Ohio. www.ohiohistorycentral.org/.
The Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame was created in 2009. The Civil Rights Hall of Fame seeks to acknowledge outstanding Ohioans who are recognized as pioneers in human and civil rights and who have advanced the goals of equality and inclusion. Watch the video of the 2018 Induction Ceremony at www.ohiochannel.org. The Ohio Channel is a service of Ohio’s public broadcasting stations.
Black Women in Ohio
Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, hails from Lorain, Ohio. She won a Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988 for Beloved. President Barack Obama presented Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Stephanie Tubbs Jones was the first African-American woman elected to Congress from Ohio. She was a municipal judge, trial court judge and Cuyahoga County prosecutor.
Sophia Mitchell was the first African-American woman to serve as a mayor in Ohio. In 1976, she was appointed in Perry County.
“Just remember the world is not a playground but a schoolroom. Life is not a holiday but an education. One eternal lesson for us all: to teach us how better we should love,” proclaimed Barbara Jordan, the first Southern African-American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives.
This is not an exhaustive list of former or current black women involved in civil right movements, government offices, or in the struggle for equality. I have highlighted only a few.
Black History Month is celebrated every February in the United States. White women, let the named and unnamed black women of struggle, freedom, and equality be nestled in our spirits and let their struggles be on our lips.
“There are still many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made.”—Michelle Obama
Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in Southern Ohio.