Patricia Roberts Harris
Lawyer, educator. Born in Mattoon, Ill. Harris finished her undergraduate studies at Howard University (Washington, D.C.) with a summa cum laude B.A. degree in 1945. Before going on to receive her J.D. degree with honors from George Washington University Law School (Washington, D.C.) in 1960, she did postgraduate work at the University of Chicago and at American University (Washington, D.C.).
Harris was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and to the District of Columbia bar in 1960. After working for the U.S. Department of Justice for a year, she served as associate dean of students and lecturer in law at Howard University from 1961 to 1963.
In 1963 Harris became Professor of Law at Howard, and in 1969 she was made Dean of the School of Law. During this period, from 1965 to 1967, she also served as ambassador to Luxembourg. Following her deanship, Harris joined a Washington, D.C., law firm as a partner. By this time her educational recognition had expanded to include several degrees from institutions throughout the country.
During her career, Harris was active on numerous committees and commissions dedicated to the fight for civil rights. A political person as well, she was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1964, a presidential elector from the District of Columbia in 1964, chairman of credentials committee in 1972, and a member-at-large of the Democratic National Committee in 1973. President Jimmy Carter appointed her to his cabinet as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 1977.
The first African American woman to hold a Cabinet-level position, Harris went on to become Secretary of Health and Human Services in 1979,
Reference: W. A. Low, V. A. Clift, Encyclopedia of Black America.
Since the 1970s, the month of February has been an exceptional period for the Black community as we devote 28 days – 29 if we’re lucky – to commemorate all things Black. Black History Month is celebrated across the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and Netherlands, and from school systems to television networks, many organizations recognize the month by building Black history into their programming during the month of February
Here at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, this Black history month is particularly special because we’re celebrating our anniversary – we’re 110 years young, and we’re challenging all of our supporters to celebrate Black history a different way each day.
These are 28 ways you can celebrate Black History this month:
March 1 Harry Belafonte singer and actor, born 1927
March 2 Fifteen-year-old, Claudette Colvin, refuses to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in
Montgomery, Alabama nine months before Rosa Parks, 1955
March 3 Annie Lee, African American artist and humanitarian, born, 1935.
March 4 Zensi Miriam Makeba, “Empress of African Song”, born, 1932
March 5 Crispus Attucks is killed in the Boston, Massacre, marking the start of the American Revolution, 1770.
March 6 U.S. Supreme Court rules against citizenship for African Americans ibn the Dred Scott decision, 1857
MARY W. JACKSON 1921 - 2005
Nasa is to name its headquarters in Washington DC after its first black female engineer, Mary Jackson.
Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine said Jackson had helped to break down barriers for African Americans and women in engineering and technology.
The story of Mary Jackson was told in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. Born in Hampton, Virginia, she died in 2005.
Last year, Nasa renamed the street outside its headquarters as Hidden Figures Way.
"Hidden no more, we will continue to recognize the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have made Nasa's successful history of exploration possible," Mr Bridenstine said in a statement.
"Mary W Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped Nasa succeed in getting American astronauts into space," Mr Bridenstine added.
"Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology."
The move comes at a time of introspection across the US about historical injustices suffered by African Americans.
The recent death in police custody of George Floyd triggered protests around the world and renewed demands for an end to institutional racism.
MARY ELIZA CHURCH
Mary Eliza Church Terrell was born in 1863 and lived until 1954, a period of great change in the history of African Americans. In her lifetime she advocated for a wide range of causes—woman's suffrage, adult education, anti-segregation, anti-lynching, and women's employment. Church Terrell's father, a former slave, successfully opened numerous businesses on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, becoming one of the first black millionaires. Despite her father's wishes that she work in a position befitting her class status, Terrell rebelled and went into education. This strong-willed nature was consistent throughout Terrell's life as she spoke against the numerous injustices she saw. Church Terrell worked alongside Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and Mary McLeod Bethune. She co-founded the Colored Women's League in Washington and the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and helped W. E. B. Du Bois found the NAACP.
The story of the Underground Railroad, a secret trail of safe houses or "stations" in the mid-nineteenth century that led from states where slavery was legal to the free states, is one that captures the urgency and stealthy measures required to rescue slaves from slavery. While many participated in this secretive system, Harriet Tubman has become the most famous "conductor" in this direct-action abolitionism. In 1849, at the age of twenty-seven, Harriet Tubman escaped from the Maryland plantation where she had been held in slavery. Between 1849 and 1860 Tubman made fourteen trips back into slave territory and led seventy to eighty people to freedom. She also helped free fifty others by providing detailed instructions on how to escape undetected.
When Isabella Baumfree renamed herself Sojourner Truth, she selected her name as testament to her life's work—as one who travels towards the greater good. Truth's greater good lay in an explicitly feminist abolitionism. In the 1840s and 1850s Truth moved around the country preaching and speaking on the importance of abolition and when she spoke of abolition she meant freedom for all, not just men. While people were not always welcoming to an illiterate black woman who had spent her formative years in slavery, Truth persevered, publishing her life story and becoming an extremely popular and influential speaker. In 1851 Truth gave voice to the complex workings of race and sex with her famous speech on women's equality, "Ain't I a woman?". In this speech she called attention to the contradictions of viewing women as helpless and weak while referencing her own experiences as a strong person—both physically and mentally. Interestingly, Truth's stories have been mostly excluded from the slave narratives literary canon, not because of her race or sex but because she was a northern slave and not a southern one.
IDA B. WELLS-BARNETT
In 1892, when Ida B. Wells-Barnett launched the first phase of an international campaign against lynching in the United States, lynching was a fairly common practice. Horrified at the murder of three of her colleagues, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, an activist and journalist, began an extensive campaign speaking out against lynching and quickly became a well-known spokesperson on the subject. Wells-Barnett wrote about and spoke out against lynching in the United States, but she also toured in England and Scotland as she believed that international action was required to end lynching. While the practice continued into the twentieth century, Wells-Barnett's activism brought awareness of the realities of the epidemic to a far-reaching audience, and the court of public opinion ultimately helped to curtail the crimes.
While Ida B. Wells worked tirelessly against lynching, the campaign of terror continued well past her death. In the 1930s Billie Holiday took up the work of addressing the issue in an entirely different manner—through song. In 1939 Holiday began performing "Strange Fruit," a song that would be associated with her throughout her career. The lyrics—"southern trees bear strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood at the root, black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees"—were a barely veiled reference to the bodies of lynching victims dangling from tree limbs. The haunting description of the lynching as well as Holiday's heart-wrenching interpretation were so controversial that Columbia Records refused to record the song and Holiday received a special release from her contract so that she could record the song with an independent label. Throughout her career, Holiday would end her sets with "Strange Fruit," each time chilling the audience with the frank depiction of racial violence.
MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE
Mary McLeod Bethune was one of the leading activists in African American history, rivaling the likes of W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Frederick Douglass. Bethune's career began in Daytona, Florida where, in 1904, she founded a school for the domestic education of young girls. The school quickly grew capturing the attention of Booker T. Washington as well as the black press. By the mid 1920s Bethune's tiny school for five students was a thriving coed college. Despite economic hardships during the Great Depression the college managed to stay open and her reputation as a leader in education expanded. In addition to her role as college president, Bethune founded and presided over several of the most important organizations for black women at that time, including the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the National Council of Negro Women. In 1939 Bethune became director-in-charge of Negro Affairs in the New Deal National Youth Administration (NYA). She reached even greater heights as a leader when she was appointed as a top advisor and organizer in the Federal Council on Negro Affairs, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Black Cabinet." Bethune's relationships with both F.D.R. and Eleanor Roosevelt opened unprecedented doors for African Americans—both men and women.
FANNIE LOU HAMER
In the early 1960s it was still the general practice to attempt to stop black people from voting in the South. This was often done by levying taxes against potential black voters, using intimidation strategies such as threatening violence and requiring only black voters to take unfair registration tests. In 1962 Fannie Lou Hamer attended a meeting run by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) regarding black voter registration. Hamer's boss, a farmer who employed Hamer as a sharecropper, discovered that she had attended the meeting and fired Hamer when she refused to agree that she would not register to vote. The combination of the exposure to organized activism coupled with the loss of her job and her civil liberties began Hamer's lifelong pursuit of racial justice and, in particular, equal voting rights. In this photograph Hamer is shown testifying at the 1964 Democratic National Convention about the harassment and beatings she received in her attempts to register to vote.
SHIRLEY CHISHOLM NOV. 30, 1924 - JAN 1, 2008
Shirley Chisholm is best known for her 1972 bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination; she was the first black woman to make this attempt in a major political party. However, she had been active in state and national politics for more than a decade and had represented parts of Brooklyn in the New York State Assembly from 1965 to 1968. She became the first black woman to serve in Congress in 1968. During her tenure, she co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus. Chisholm left Washington in 1983 and devoted the rest of her life to civil rights and women's issues.
The revival of folk music in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s was intrinsically linked to political movements towards racial equality. Folk music influenced a generation, and for many Odetta was the source of that inspiration. Her strong voice, natural appearance, and strong political messages influenced a generation of people ranging from Rosa Parks to Bob Dylan to Janis Joplin—and thousands of other folk music enthusiasts and activists. Odetta performed at many of the major civil rights events and protests. In 1963 she solidified her place as the musical voice of the Civil Rights Movement when she sang "O Freedom" at the March on Washington. Odetta passed away in December of 2008, but her music and legacy continue to inspire activists.
CORETTA SCOTT KING
During the Civil Rights Movement, Coretta Scott King was often seen at the side of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While Coretta had previously been involved in activist movements, it was after Dr. King's assassination in 1968 that she became increasingly notable as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. King's accomplishments were far reaching but of particular note were her 1983 formation of the Coalition of Conscience, her campaign in the 1970s for the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and her presence in the antiapartheid movements of South Africa. King continued her lifelong pursuit of racial equality until her death in 2006 and her legacy continues through the King Center, which she founded in Atlanta in 1968.
In the 1970s Angela Davis, the political activist and intellectual, came into the spotlight as an outspoken advocate for social change. The 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing that took the lives of four black children occurred in Davis's hometown of Birmingham. This bombing as well as other incidents of racially motivated murder spurned Davis into speaking out for social change and she quickly became a figurehead for prisoners' rights and racial equality. In the early 1970s Davis was famously arrested and tried for kidnapping and murder. An international campaign to "Free Angela Davis" ensued, and she was found not guilty in 1972 after sixteen months of incarceration. Today Davis continues to lecture about various types of oppression found in the United States and abroad. She currently teaches in the esteemed History of Consciousness program at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Sometimes working towards social change takes the shape of direct political action. Sometimes it comes in the form of social commentary and criticism expressed through art, music, and literature. The poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks has a unique perceptiveness about black urban experiences that encourages activism through its frank descriptions of black social reality. Brooks was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Annie Allen in 1950. As the sixties arrived, Brooks' poetry became more political. Her book The Bean Eaters was in many ways a call to activism. In the 1960s and 1970s Brooks was a strong presence in the Black Arts Movement—a movement deeply rooted in racial politics. Brooks' poetry did not shy away from the political, rather it engaged it. She addressed and blended history and current events into her works—evoking historical figures and moments such as Malcolm X., Medgar Evers, Harold Washington, the integration of the Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, as well as the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.
Audre Lorde is known for her ability to meld the personal and the political in her poetry, her essays, and her life. Lorde's writing embraced her experiences as a lesbian, the process of dying from cancer, and the challenges she faced as a mother raising a black son, with little distinction in her work between what can be considered political and what cannot. Lorde's oft quoted line "the Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" recalls a history of the ways that black women have fought against a variety of oppressions. Her radical thoughts on how the fights against oppressions can occur recall the ways in which the women before her worked—constantly creating new tools and ideas and actions that could in fact change how black women could live in America.
ALTHEA GIBSON - (AUG 25, 1927 -SEPT. 28, 2003)
Althea Gibson started playing tennis as a child in New York City, winning her first tennis tournament at age 15. She dominated the American Tennis Association circuit, reserved for black players, for more than a decade. In 1950, Gibson broke the tennis color barrier at Forest Hills Country Club (site of the U.S. Open); the following year, she became the first African-American to play at Wimbledon in Great Britain. Gibson continued to excel at the sport, winning both amateur and professional titles through the early 1960s.
DOROTHY HEIGHT - MARCH 24, 1912-APRIL 20, 2010
Dorothy Height has been described as the godmother of the women's movement because of her work for gender equality. For four decades, she led the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW )and was a leading figure in the 1963 March on Washington. Height began her career as an educator in New York City, where her work caught the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt. Beginning in 1957, she led the NCNW and also advised the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.
AUGUSTA SAVAGE - (FEB. 29, 1892–MARCH 26, 1962)
Augusta Savage displayed an artistic aptitude from her youngest days. Encouraged to develop her talent, she enrolled in New York City's Cooper Union to study art. She earned her first commission, a sculpture of civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois, from the New York library system in 1921, and several other commissions followed. Despite meager resources, she continued working through the Great Depression, sculpting several notable African Americans, including Frederick Douglass and W. C. Handy. Her best-known work, "The Harp," was featured at the 1939 World's Fair in New York, but it was destroyed after the fair ended.
PHILLIS WHEATLEY - MAY 8, 1753-DEC. 5, 1784
Born in Africa, Phillis Wheatley came to the U.S. at age eight, where she was sold into slavery. John Wheatley, the Boston man who owned her, was impressed by Phillis' intellect and interest in learning, and he and his wife taught her to read and write. The Wheatleys allowed Phillis time to pursue her studies, which led her to develop an interest in poetry writing. A poem she published in 1767 earned her much acclaim. Six years later, her first volume of poems was published in London, and she became known in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom. The Revolutionary War disrupted Wheatley's writing, however, and she was not widely published after it ended.
CHARLOTTE RAY - JAN. 13, 1850-JAN. 4, 1911
Charlotte Ray has the distinction of being the first African American woman lawyer in the United States and the first woman admitted to the bar in the District of Columbia. Her father, active in New York City's African-American community, made sure his young daughter was well educated; she received her law degree from Howard University in 1872 and was admitted to the Washington D.C. bar shortly afterward. Both her race and gender proved to be obstacles in her professional career, and she eventually became a teacher in New York City instead.
Jackson became an engineer in 1958 after completing a program at a segregated school. She published an assortment of research mainly on the boundary layer of air around airplanes before stepping back and joining Langley’s Federal Women’s Program, working to ensure gender equity in the field. She died in 2005.
OUR FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA