What do most people think of when they hear “February?” Generally their minds immediately go to Valentine’s Day, and the associations of February as a month of romance and love. But more importantly, February is Black History Month. Black History Month, which was established in the U.S. in 1976, 50 years prior in 1926, was only recognized as Black History Week. In America, and throughout the world, Black History Month is a remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora.
Although the achievements of African Americans must be recognized every month of the year, an unfortunate reality is that for many people—particularly children-- education on black history has become something of an afterthought.
The education that is provided is often limited to specific black figures--Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Malcom X, to name a few. While all of these figures offered magnificent achievements that propelled the Civil Rights movement (and humanity) forward, there are numerous other African American leaders who brought and are still bringing so much to the table.
African American women’s significant contributions as judges, educators, authors, athletes and community leaders should not be a secret.
Listed below, are five eminent Black women trailblazers who are deserving of greater mainstream attention:
One of the best-known women writers in the field of American Science fiction. She was widely admired for blending science fiction with African-American spiritualism. Her more famous works include Kindred (1979) as well as the Parable series. She’s quoted as saying “People have the right to call themselves whatever they like. That doesn't bother me. It's other people doing the calling that bothers me.” A true creative disruptor, Butler changed the perception that African Americans lacked an interest in Science Fiction with her compelling narratives.
A much under-appreciated musical genius, a trumpeter who broke ground for women in the male dominated world of jazz. She enjoyed a very successful career in the first half of the 20’th century, collaborating with giants like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. She made history in 1989, becoming the first female jazz musician to tour the U.S.S.R., on an invitation from Mikhail Gorbachev himself.
Zora Neale Hurston
The daughter of two former slaves, Hurston was an illustrious anthropologist, writer and folklorist and a prominent fixture of the Harlem Renaissance scene. Her most celebrated work of fiction is Their Eyes Were Watching God published in 1937. With its overt feminist themes in relationship to the protagonist’s black identity, the book was well ahead of its time and is considered a literary classic today.
Until the box-office success of Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson’s remarkable achievements in physics and math were elusive to most. The now celebrated physicist and mathematician made tremendous contributions to the United States' aeronautics and space programs with the early application of digital electronic computers at NASA. When NASA used electronic computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn's orbit around Earth, Johnson was the “go-to” for the verification. f those numbers. Glenn himself held Johnson in the highest regard, refusing to fly unless she verified the calculations.
The current Californian Senator who has also served(2004-2011) as its Attorney General. Harris is the first woman, Jamaican American, Asian American as well as the first Indian American attorney general in California. She is also the second black woman and first Indian American elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. For Harris, Black History Month “is a moment in time to celebrate the accomplishments and the contributions that Black people in this country have made not only as Americans and to their fellow Americans, but contributions that have had international and global impact.”
These women pioneers have achieved massive progress in their respective fields, but still remain under-appreciated, and likely because of their race. Black History Month should serve as the launchpad for greater awareness of their incredible progress and why such women are the need of our times.