Starting in 1976, the month of February has become a time to reflect upon and honor the achievements of African American’s, and to acknowledge their crucial role in American history.
A name synonymous with freedom, Rosa Parks cemented herself in civil rights history by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. Martin Luther King Jr. was a well known activist from the 60’s who led many peaceful movements for civil rights. They are known all throughout America. But some equally notable people not in the spotlight have also made major contributions to black history.
Dr. Mae Carol Jemison is an engineer from Alabama who was interested in space and science from a young age. At the age of 16, she studied chemical engineering at Stanford University. In 1987, she was selected for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) astronaut training program, which resulted in a trip to space on the STS-47 space shuttle in 1992, where she spent 127 orbits. She made history by being the first black woman in space.
Since her return to Earth, she founded a business developing new technology, has done charity work and written books. Throughout her life, she has advocated for her right to be whatever she wanted to be, and she is living proof of her famous quote, “Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”
“I think that Jemison is cool because she got a high education so early in her life and was able to go to space,” Athena Lumayag ’22 said. “Even after her accomplishments, she still did a lot of charity work which shows her selflessness. She seems like a very inspiring and self-driven person.”
Shirley Chisholm was a politician from New York. After graduating college, she began to get involved in politics, working for Lewis Flagg Jr.’s campaign to become the first black judge in Brooklyn. In 1964, she decided to run for the New York State Assembly. In December of that year, she won overwhelmingly. In 1968, she ran for the United States House of Representatives and won over two men, becoming the first black congresswoman in the United States. In 1993, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2005, at the age of 80, she died after several strokes. Her tombstone has her famous catchphrase on it, and her slogan while running for office, “Unbought and Unbossed.”
“I think that she is impressive because she was fighting for her people and was acting as a leader for them too,” Aaron Yang ’22 said. “Especially since she was black and a girl, she must have fought through a lot of hardships and still succeeded. She sounds like she was a very strong leader.”
Wilma Rudolph was an Olympic sprinter from Tennessee, who was born prematurely, and she was sick a lot as a child, surviving pneumonia, scarlet fever and polio, which paralyzed her left leg and foot leaving her in a leg brace. After seven years of hard work and rehabilitation, she regained the ability to use her leg. After training at track with the University of Tennessee track team, she qualified to run in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia as a 16-year-old, where she and her team won the bronze medal. She competed at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, and won three gold medals, being the first American woman to win three metals at the same Olympics.
After retiring from competition, she became a coach and teacher, and attended civil rights protests pushing for desegregation. In November 1994 at the age of 54, Wilma Rudolph died of brain cancer after a five-month fight. The record holding Olympian is an inspiration to people who have physical struggles. Her journey from paralysis to the podium is proof that with hard work, anyone can overcome their struggles.
“She’s like the woman version of Usain Bolt, fastest woman in the world,” Adi Naim ’22 said. “She was also the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics and she holds many medals and records. I think that is awesome because she is representing her gender and showing that black woman are just as strong, talented and amazing as any other person. Basically, she paved a pathway and future for her gender and race.”