I watched last night as Viola Davis accepted her best supporting actress Oscar for her performance in Fences. She is the first black star to win an Oscar, Emmy and Tony for acting. Bravo!
Oscar nominated film Hidden Figures star, Taraji Henson, who plays the role of Katherine Johnson, brought the real NASA physicist Katherine Johnson out on stage. Johnson, now 98, made history as one of the first black women involved in the space race during the 1960’s. The film, an adaptation of Margot Shetterly’s book, tells the story of a group of NASA engineers, all black women, and how they computed the math that sent John Glenn into orbit. Henson, along with Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae did a fabulous job of making this piece of history finally come to life on the big screen. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie you should do both. My favorite film this year.
Throughout time there has been a long list of black women who have fought for freedom, made political and business history, and continue to fight for their right to inclusion and diversity in society today. In this country and countries throughout the world, black women continue to play a critical role in the past, present and future of our history.
A few that come to mind for me:
Hattie McDaniel was a 1940’s actress and radio personality. She was the first black woman to win an Oscar for her performance in Gone With the Wind.
Rosa Parks, one of the most influential women in the fight for racial equality, refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery bus, leading to the desegregation of buses across the country.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the world’s first elected black female President and Africa’s first female Head of State. Liberia has continued to move in a better direction since she took office. Ms. Shirleaf helped my friend, Katie Meyler, build her first school for girls in Liberia.
Maya Angelou was an actress, screenwriter and director who became a legendary poet and award-winning author. Her book, I Know Why The Caged Bird Cries, remains one of the most inspiring autobiographies of all time.
Dame Eugenia Charles, better known as Mamo, was the first female Prime Minister of Dominica. She was a tough woman who survived a coup led by the Ku Klux Klan and went on to reshape her country.
Madame CJ Walker, born to slaves in Louisiana, became the first black millionaire businesswoman with her successful line of hair care products. Her philanthropic efforts included donations to the YMCA and NAACP.
Dorothy Height, one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington was the only woman seated on the speaker’s platform. She spent decades working for racial equality and women’s rights.
Ella Baker held posts with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP during the Civil Rights Movement. She helped to organize the 1961 Freedom Rides, fighting segregation and promoted black voter registration during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964.
This is just a short, very incomplete list of the many black women who have made significant contributions in history.
In the United States, Black history month is an important part of our nation’s tradition helping to create awareness of the historic challenges African Americans have faced and continue to face today. But, should we only be reminded of this rich history during the month of February? There are a number of museums and institutions that offer a year-round opportunity to learn more about our African American history. As Morgan Freeman once said, “I don’t want a Black history month. Black history is American history.” He makes a very good point.
Peace and Love,