It’s after February and I’m writing about Black American history. Black Americans in history have been an integral part of this country. We disservice our kids and ourselves greatly when we restrict the education and celebration of Black history to just a month in the year. Educating ourselves about our country and its vital history should be a lifelong pursuit.
As a non-Black woman, there are many Black Americans I’ve only read about (a long time ago) or heard of. However, in this new age of listening and learning, I’ve made it necessary to educate myself and learn more. Join me as I learn more in this second in a series highlighting the remarkable life and legacies of Black Americans we should all know and celebrate.
Malcolm X was an iconic human rights activist and one of the greatest “…champions of Black pride in the 20th century.” He was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, but moved to Lansing, Michigan with his family as a child. He was a Minister for the Nation of Islam when he changed his name to Malcolm X, before parting ways with them. He was known for his unapologetic views on Black empowerment and he was unafraid of letting it be known. But right before his death, Malcolm X returned home from performing pilgrimage to Mecca with optimistic views on “on integration and a message of love for all.” This is when he changed his name to El-Hajj Malik-El-Shabazz. Malcolm X will be forever remembered and celebrated for “…his contribution to society of underscoring the value of a truly free populace by demonstrating the great lengths to which human beings will go to secure their freedom.”
“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” —Malcolm X
- Book | The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told by Alex Haley by Malcolm X, Alex Haley
- Kids Book | Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz
- Movie | Malcolm X
Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to congress. She was an educator and a politician. In 1972, she became the first Black candidate for a major party’s nomination for the Presidency of the United States. Simultaneously, she became the first woman to run for the Democratic Party‘s presidential nomination. After leaving Congress, she went on to teach classes at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 2015.
“You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.” —Shirley Chisholm
- Book | Unbought and Unbossed by Shirley Chisholm
- Kids Book | She was the First!: The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm by Katheryn Russel-Brown
- Movie | Chisolm ‘72: Unbought & Unbossed (Documentary)
Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree. She was an abolitionist and a women’s rights activist. Truth was born into slavery but escaped with her infant child. She was also the first Black woman who challenged a White man in a U.S. Court and prevailed when her son was illegally sold after New York’s anti-slavery law was passed. Her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” delivered in Ohio in 1851 is recognized as “…one of the most famous abolitionists and women’s rights speeches in American history.” Truth stumbled upon Battle Creek, Michigan, and made it her new home where she lived for 27 years until she died.
“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman?” —Sojourner Truth
- Book | Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth
- Kids Book | Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney
- Movie | Slavery and the Making of America
W.E.B. Du Bois
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was an “…American civil rights activist, leader, Pan-Africanist, sociologist, educator, historian, writer, editor, poet, and scholar.” He also co-founded the NAACP (National Association of the Advancement of Colored People) in 1909. Du Bois was the first Black American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895.
“Either America will destroy ignorance, or ignorance will destroy the United States.” – W.E.B. Du Bois
- Book | The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
- Kids Book | Education is Power: A Snippet of the Life of W.E.B. Du Bois by Lenny Williams
- Movie | How W.E.B. Du Bois Changed Forever the Way Americans Think About Themselves (YouTube Video)
James Baldwin was a writer and playwright who was known as a “…voice for the American civil rights movement…” through his famous works. Go Tell It on the Mountain, his 1953 novel, was legendary for his views on race, spirituality, and humanity. He was also an essayist whose passionate and eloquent words about race in the 50s and 60s made him an important Black voice in American history. His books and works resonate today as much as they have in the past.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced…” —James Baldwin
- Book | James Baldwin: A Biography by David Leeming
- Kids Book | Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood by James Baldwin
- Movie | I am Not Your Negro