In 1875, two ex-slaves gave birth to a son whom they called Carter. As illiterate ex-slaves, they had few resources and could not afford to put young Carter through school. Instead, he had to go to work to earn money to help support his family. He eventually did go to school, however, and even went on to become a high school teacher. (Most are familiar with Carter G. Woodson's motto: "It's never too late to learn.")
Sad to discover that none of the schools taught the history of black Americans, he started the American Negro Academy. The express purpose of the Academy was to study and celebrate the important things black people had accomplished. His idea was well received by many-black and white-thirsty to know more. So great was their interest that on February 19, 1926, Woodson established "Negro History Week." We now know Negro History Week as Black History Month.
It's in that legacy that the Odyssey celebrates the great achievements of African-American pioneers like Mr. Carter G. Woodson. When I think of the purpose Black History Month once served, I truly appreciate Mr. Woodson's efforts. It was revolutionary thought and courage like his that has enabled us to excel as a people. Education on the topic of black accomplishment was much needed then, both in the lives of newly emancipated slaves, as well as for the rest of white America who had a limited perception of blacks. However, many question its significance today.
Personally, I feel that by setting aside special months for Black History, Women's History, Latino Heritage, etc., we honor and recognize efforts we should keep in the forefront all year long. We have all struggled and made achievements that are noteworthy. We have all learned lessons that could be beneficial to one another. The barrier that still separates us today is steadily diminished through this type of cultural exchange. So why limit ourselves to celebrating one month a year? Make it a personal practice to learn something about the other peoples of the world all year long. If you stick with the Odyssey we'll surely help you accomplish that mission!
What you will find is that while there have been many steps taken toward making our world a better place for all people, there's still a long way to go. Injustice, poverty, and famine are only a few of the challenges that your generation will inherit. It's hard to imagine how these things will affect your world, but we are all connected. To realize and accept the challenges that still lie ahead, ask yourself: "What can I do?" Then equip your mind with tools of knowledge: learn about others and teach someone something about you.
Have you heard people refer to America as the "melting pot?" Many speak of the principle of unity in terms of all Americans joining together as the "melting pot" of the world; all cultures blending together to make one big happy, soupy society. It sounds nice, but think about it: If all Americans melt their culture down, whose culture would we all take on? For example, when I tell people where I'm from their next question is usually, "No where are you really from?" That's because people recognize America as a nation of people descended from Europe. Minorities then find themselves facing the stigma of being subordinate, second-class citizens. We know this is not the case but it's one of the unwitting results of having a meting pot society. The unfortunate truth is that many minorities already face melt down as people strive to achieve this skewed picture of success and the "American Dream." In addition, there's the money-driven, drive-thru, convenience-
based, consumer culture that is sweeping the nation. Neither are societies that I want to live in.
These are scary thoughts to me. Either way we all lose the value that each of our different cultures has to offer, as each generation assimilates to the dominant culture while moving away from their ethnic roots. I propose that, as the leaders of this generation, we shift our thinking a little. Let's be a salad bowl society! We can all live together as carrots, lettuce, onions (and whatever other salad topping you like)-creating one big, healthy, organic, tasty delight. Everyone can remain just what and who they are while we work together to achieve just the right flavor. The first way we can attempt to bring all of the ingredients together is to learn about one another. I will never know how yummy arugala is, nor will I benefit from all of the vitamins and nutrients that arugala adds to my salad (and thus to me), if I don't know what it is. So lets break down stereotypes and venture out to learn about one another.
illiterate - unable to read and write
emancipated - freed from oppression or bondage, liberated
stigma - a mark of disgrace
subordinate - belonging to a lower or inferior class or rank; secondary
skewed - distorted or biased
assimilate - to conform or take on a similar likeness
resilient - able to bounce back or recover easily and readily
No, let's do more than learn-let's celebrate! African-Americans have proven to be resilient over the years. Not only that, we have constantly excelled against the odds. Extraordinary leaders have paved the way in Education, Music and the Arts, Science and Exploration, Athletics, Civil Rights, Politics and Government, and Business. From the beginning of time, intellects and scholars like Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), who made the first clock in the new world in 1791, have impacted and contributed greatly to establishing America as the superpower that it is today. This mathematician and astronomer also helped to survey the District of Columbia.
Ella Fitzgerald (1924-1996), known as the "First Lady of Jazz," was one of the most celebrated singers in the country. She was also the first African American to win a Grammy music award. Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman to serve in the U.S. Congress, 1969-1982, and she even sought the Democratic Party nomination for president in 1972. W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963), often called the greatest intellectual of the twentieth century, was one of the founders of the NAACP and the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Benjamin E. Mays (1895-1984) served 27 years as Morehouse College president. Mays distinguished himself as a leader in education, religion and race relations. He was a mentor and inspiration to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
John H. Johnson, CEO of Johnson Publishing Company, Inc. and publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines began his career early when, against much adversity, he published the Negro Digest (1942)-the forerunner of Life Magazine. Dominique Dawes became the first African-American to win an Olympic medal in gymnastics as a member of the 1996 Gold Medal Women's Gymnastics Olympic Team. Ms. Dawes has also become an advocate for healthy, drug-free lifestyles in her role as national spokesperson for the Girl Power! Campaign, a public education effort targeting young girls between the ages of 9 and 14.
That's just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce). There's much more where that came from! So stay tuned all month as we break down barriers and bridge cultural gaps with the power of knowledge! Still to come: "Dare to Dream," a Civil Rights Timeline of the civil rights movements in America, and an update "Where Are African-Americans Today?", a discussion about how far we've come since the civil rights movement, and the road still ahead.
Let's take a moment to observe some extraordinary African-Americans:
Willa Brown (1902-1992) -
She was the first Black woman to hold a commercial pilot's license and to gain officer rank in the Civil Air Patrol Squadron.
Lewis Latimer (1848-1928) -
Awarded the patent for the cost-effective method for producing cartoon filaments for electric lights in 1881. He later became chief draftsman for General Electric and Westinghouse corporations.
T.J. Marshall -
Was awarded the patent for the fire extinguisher in 1872.
Ronald E. McNair (1950-1986) -
Physicist and astronaut. He lost his life aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 when the shuttle exploded shortly after take off.
Jean Baptiste Point DuSable (1745-1818) -
In 1790 he established the first permanent settlement in an area which was later to become Chicago.
Daniel Hale Williams (1856-1931) -
In 1893 he performed the world's first successful open-heart surgery without the use of anesthesia. He was a founder of the National Medical Association.
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Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) -
Founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company in 1958. His company was the first Black modern dance troupe to perform in the Metropolitan Opera House.
Sammy Davis, Jr. (1925-1990) -
Dancer, singer, actor and author. Began his entertainment career at the age of three, performing with his father and uncle. He received the NAACP's Spingarn medal for his efforts on behalf of civil rights. His autobiography, "Yes, I Can," was a 1966 bestseller.
Duke Ellington (1899-1974) -
Great American composer, arranger, bandleader and pianist. Regarded as the most creative African
American composer of the twentieth century. In 1969, he received the Presidential Award for his contributions to African American art and music.
Lillian Evans Evanti (1890-1967) -
She was the first African American to sing opera with an organized company in Europe. In 1941, she founded the National Negro Opera.
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) -
Poet, novelist, playwright and journalist. His novels include "Not Without Laughter," "The Big
Sea," and "I Wonder as I Wander," his autobiography. He also published many volumes of poetry and edited several anthologies, attempting to popularize the work of African American authors.
Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972) -
Gospel singer and civil rights activist, was also an entrepreneur and producer. She had her own CBS radio and television program, and also managed her own beauty salon and florist shop.
Jacob Lawrence (1917- ) -
One of the foremost artists of his time. In 1941, the 24-year-old Lawrence was the first Black painter to be represented by a New York gallery. His paintings have celebrated historical
figures such as Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman.
Spike Lee (1957- ) -
Independent film director and actor. His films include "Do the Right Thing," "Get on the Bus," and the epic "Malcolm X." Often controversial, he has won acclaim for his portrayals of the Black middle class. Lee believes that his mission is "to put the vast richness of Black culture on film."
Toni Morrison (1931- ) -
Ivy League Professor and celebrated author of such novels as "Song of Solomon," "Sula," "Jazz." In 1993, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, becoming the first African-American woman, and only the 8th woman, to do so.
Gordon Parks, Jr. (1912- ) -
Photographer, film director and author. Parks was the first African American staff photographer for Life magazine. He was also the first Black person to direct movies for a major studio. One of those movies, "Shaft" is in the process of being remade and will star Samuel L. Jackson. Parks received an Emmy award in 1968, for the documentary, "Diary of a Harlem Family."
Paul Robeson (1898-1976) -
Actor, singer, athlete, and political activist. Received the NAACP's Spingarn Medal in 1945. Robeson made history when he became the first Black man to play Othello on an American stage with a white cast.
Alice Walker (1944- ) -
Poet, essayist, novelist and publisher. Received a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for "The Color Purple."
August Wilson (1945- ) -
Award-winning playwright who bases his plays on African American life and culture. Wilson is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for drama. In 1987, he also received a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for best play for "The Piano Lesson," a story about descendants of a slave family whose father and grandmother were traded for a piano.
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Ronald Harmon Brown (1941-1996) -
Secretary of Commerce and the first African American to chair the Democratic National Committee. As Secretary of Commerce, he was a leader in creating economic opportunities for Americans worldwide. Brown died in a plane crash while on an economic trade mission in Europe in 1996.
Clara Adams-Ender -
The highest-ranking woman on active duty in the U.S. Army, Brigadier General Clara L.
Adams-Ender is the commanding general of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and deputy commanding general of the Military District of Washington.
Shirley Chisholm (1924-) -
First African American woman to serve in the U.S. Congress, 1969-1982. Sought the Democratic Party nomination for president in 1972.
Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) -
The first Black woman from the South to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1973-1979. Jordan, an attorney, gained national recognition for her impassioned call to Congress for Richard Nixon's impeachment.
Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) -
The first African American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, 1967-1991. Won legal victory in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908-1972) -
Charismatic minister, civil rights leader and member of the U.S. Congress from 1944-1967, and again from 1969-1971.
Sharon Sayles-Belton (1951- ) -
First Black and first female Mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Elected to office in 1994. Former Minneapolis City Council President.
Maxine Waters (1938- ) -
California State Assembly Representative, 1976-1989. Member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1990.
Andrew Young (1932- ) -
Civil rights leader. Member of Congress, 1972-1977. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, 1977-1979. Former Mayor of Atlanta. Still active in civic affairs, he helped bring the Centennial Olympic Games to Atlanta in 1996.
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W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) -
A founder of the NAACP and the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He was often called the greatest intellectual of the twentieth century.
Medgar Evers (1923-1963) -
Activist for social and political change. Evers was a field leader for the NAACP in Jackson, Mississippi. He was assassinated at his home in 1963.
Louis Farrakhan (1933- ) -
Leader of the Nation of Islam. He made the call for a million Black men to come together for the historic Million Man March on October 16, 1995 in Washington D.C. for a day of atonement, reflection and recommitment to the family and to the Black community.
Dick Gregory (1932- ) -
Civil rights activist, comedian, lecturer and health guru. Gregory ran for president in 1968.
Jesse Jackson (1941- ) -
Founder of Chicago's Operation PUSH. Activist for social and political change. Sought the Democratic Party nomination for the U.S. presidency in 1984 and 1988.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) -
Leader of Montgomery Bus Boycott and the freedom movement of the 1960s. A founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, minister and prophet of nonviolence. King was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Assassinated in 1968, he has since been immortalized with a national holiday.
Rosa Parks (1913- ) -
On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man in defiance of local segregation laws. Her arrest triggered a year-long bus boycott that awakened the nation to the emerging civil rights movement.
Harriet Tubman (1826-1913) -
Often called the "Black Moses," she was the conductor of the Underground Railroad, helping hundreds escape slavery in the United States.
Myrlie Evers-Williams (1933- ) -
Current Board Chair of the NAACP, Evers-Williams continues to be active in social and civic issues which promote equity for African Americans.
Malcolm X (1925-1965) -
A Muslim minister who became a powerful leader and speaker on issues concerning economic, social and political empowerment of African American people. He was assassinated in 1965.
Whitney M. Young, Jr. (1921-1971) -
Civil rights leader, educator, author, and humanitarian. He dedicated his life to promoting programs to improve opportunities for Blacks in housing, employment, education, and social welfare. For more than two decades, Young led the National Urban League in its efforts to improve the economic status of African Americans.
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Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) -
Renowned educator and a founder of Bethune-Cookman College in Florida. She was the first Black to receive an honorary degree from a white college in the South. Appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve as director of Minority Affairs of the National Youth Council, she was the first Black woman to head a federal office.
Johnetta Cole (1936- ) -
Educator and anthropologist, Cole was the first Black woman president of Spelman College.
John Mercer Langston (1829-1897) -
Admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1854. Was Dean of Howard University, where he founded the law department. He was the first Black person in the history of the United States to win elective office (Township Clerk, Lorain County, Ohio).
Benjamin E. Mays (1895-1984) -
Served 27 years as Morehouse College president. Mays distinguished himself as a leader in education, religion and race relations. He was a mentor and inspiration to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Charlotte E. Ray (1850-1911) -
Received her degree from Howard University in 1872. She was the first Black woman lawyer in the United States, and also the first Black woman to argue before the District Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) -
Renowned educator who founded Tuskegee Institute in 1881. The Tuskegee Institute was the first industrial training school for blacks with an entirely black faculty. He also founded the National Negro Business League in 1900, was a dinner guest at the White House in 1901, and served as chief black advisor to Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft. He was the first African American depicted on a United States postage stamp.
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Vincent T. Cullers -
Founded the first Black advertising agency in 1956.
Berry Gordy, Jr. (1929- ) -
Founder of Motown Enterprises, business executive, producer and composer. Under his leadership, Motown became a model of black capitalism, pride and self-expression and a repository for some of the greatest talent ever assembled at one company. Artists signed by Motown included the Supremes, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5, and Martha and the Vandellas.
Quincy Jones (1933- ) -
Emmy and Grammy award-winning arranger, composer, and producer. In the music business for more than fifty years, Jones is also a television producer and the force behind the progressive
Madame C.J. Walker (1869-1919) -
Cosmetics manufacturer and first African American woman millionaire. Madame Walker also
established the Walker School of Beauty.
Oprah Winfrey (1954- ) -
Host of television's Oprah Winfrey Show. In 1986, she formed Harpo Productions, a movie and television production company which has created many successful programs. She has also created the Oprah book club, which has promoted reading, as well as helped out countless authors. She has received numerous awards including 16 Emmy Awards. In June, 1998, she was named one of the one hundred most influential people of the 20th Century by Time Magazine.
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Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) (1942- ) -
"The Greatest." The first boxer to regain his title as heavyweight champion of the world three times. He brought notoriety to the Nation of Islam. Ali retired from boxing in 1981. Although diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, he is still a pillar of strength and courage.
Arthur Ashe (1943-1993) -
Tennis player, ABC-TV sports commentator, author and political activist. Ashe was the first African American named to the Davis Cup Team in 1963, and also the first African-American to win the U.S. Open in 1968. He became an outspoken advocate for AIDS awareness after contracting the disease through a blood transfusion. He formed a foundation to fight AIDS. His legacy as champion lives on today.
Althea Gibson (1927- ) -
The first African American to play tennis at the U.S. Open in 1950, and Wimbledon in 1951. In
1957, she became the first African-American to win the Wimbledon tournament.
Michael Jordan (1963- ) -
Considered the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships. His natural abilities have led to highly publicized ventures into professional baseball and golf. He is one of the most sought after spokespersons in the world and has just taken on a new role as CEO of the Washington Wizards basketball team.
Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee (1962- ) -
Heptathlon silver medalist in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Set Olympic records in the long jump and the heptathlon. A gold medalist in the heptathlon in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, she is a successful and aggressive athlete, even though she suffers from asthma.
Joe Louis (1914-1981) -
He fought 65 fights and won 63 during his boxing career. He became heavyweight champion of the world in 1937. The "Brown Bomber" was given the Fight of the Century Award in 1960.
Kirby Puckett (1961- ) -
Regarded as the most popular professional athlete in Minnesota history. Kirby led the Minnesota Twins to World Series Championships in 1987 and 1991. His memorable career was cut short in 1996 by an eye disorder.
Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) -
He broke the color barrier in baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers to become the first
Black man in the Major Leagues. In 1949 he was the first Black to receive the National League's
Most Valuable Player Award.
Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994) -
In 1960, she became the first African American woman to win three gold medals in track and field at a single Olympiad. She held the women's world records in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash, and anchored two world record 400-meter relay teams.
Eldrick "Tiger" Woods (1975- ) -
Tiger Woods is one of the winning-est professional golfers in the history of the sport. In 1999 alone, he won 11 golf tournaments, 8 of them on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) tour. Not since 1974 has anyone won as many PGA events in one season. In 1997, he won the prestigious Masters Tournament and became the first person of African American or Asian American decent to do so. He was also the youngest person to win this event.
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