As Black History Month nears its close, I have come across another innovative, radical, groundbreaking, extremely intelligent individual who few likely know by name. Ralph Bunche was an academic, political scientist, activist, and diplomat. While alive, he was celebrated for his peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East, Africa and the Mediterranean, for helping form the United Nations, and for his work in the Civil Rights Movement. And, not only was he the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he was the first person of color to receive the award.
This post goes out to my 7-year old science-loving niece, Xenia. I hope that learning about all of these innovative and brilliant black Americans will inspire you to shoot for the stars.
You’ve probably seen a particular photo of Mae Jemison before: an orange puffy suit, a black round helmet, and a beautiful smile. But, like so many other groundbreaking black Americans, you probably don’t know her by name. Jemison is an engineer, physician, and astronaut. In fact, she was the first African American woman in space.
bell hooks is a revolutionary writer, educator, and cultural critic. She explores the intersectionality of race, class, and gender and the way they are used to perpetuate systems of oppression. Her feminism is not about elevating women into positions of power that were developed in the patriarchy, but rather replacing the patriarchy with a culture of love and mutuality.
There are three reasons I want to do a Black History Month post about Florence Griffith Joyner: I purposefully stayed away from featuring athletes, because sometimes it seems like that’s the area most people focus on when considering the accomplishments of black Americans (and the approach starts to feel a little too reminiscent of seeing black Americans as property and not people), but there is no denying that there are many amazing black athletes who deserve to be recognized; Flo Jo is one of the athletes I recall most from my youth; This photo is everything.
Percy Julian was a research chemist who figured out how to synthesize medicinal compounds from plant sources, making them more affordable for mass-production. His work laid the foundation for the production of cortisone and birth control pills.
At the age of 26, Michael Tubbs made history when he was elected as mayor of Stockton, CA in 2016. He is not only the first black mayor of Stockton, but the youngest elected in the city’s history.
In light of her recent passing, today’s Black History Month post is on Toronto soul singer, Jackie Shane. A performer who defied gender stereotypes and had a captivating stage presence, Shane is recognized by soul-music enthusiasts as one of the greatest singers of the genre, yet Shane has remained largely unknown outside Toronto.
Gordon Parks was a photographer, musician, artist, writer, and film director. Not only was he prominent in photo-documentary of the black experience from the 1940s to 1970s, he was a cultural pioneer. He was the first African-American photographer to work for the FSA, Life magazine, and Vogue, and to direct a major Hollywood motion picture. While his photography is what he should be best known for, most know him as the creator of the “blaxploitation” genre of films.
George Carruthers is an astrophysicist and award-winning inventor. He created the spectrograph, the ultraviolet camera used by NASA in the 1972 Apollo 16 flight. It is because of Carruthers that we learned that hydrogen is the predominant element in the universe.