In January 2017, black excellence shined on the big screen when the lives and contributions of Ms. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson were celebrated in the movie, Hidden Figures. No longer hidden their experiences and efforts realized some 60 years later grossed $235.9 million worldwide, against a production budget of $25 million.
Who knew there were African American female mathematicians who worked on NASA programs like Project Mercy which was the first human spaceflight program in the U.S.? Evidently, many of us didn’t know. That leads me to ask what else don’t we know?
Although U.S. history is taught in our school systems, I believe that our communities, families, churches, and service organizations hold some level of responsibility in sharing our history. Why you may ask? Well, there are people in our society who strategically try to rewrite and/or erase certain cultural contributions or ugly truths from our nation’s history. In 2015, a textbook in Texas referred to Africans who were brought to America as "workers" versus slaves. But it's not just the schools. There's nothing more disheartening than leaders who join in the eradication of historical truth. When leaders like Dr. Ben Carson refers to slaves as “immigrants,” or Betsy DeVos who heads Education Secretary calls historically black colleges and universities “pioneers” of school choice we have a serious problem that has nothing to do with political correctness but, everything to do with rewriting and retelling history with "alternative facts". As we bear witness to present day events, we are also responsible for recalling those events with a level of accuracy and proper context based on facts. We must speak the truth and share the truth lest it takes another 60 years to honor and celebrate our hidden figures.
Though some may say we need more than the shortest month in the year to celebrate Black History, I believe the spirit and the intent behind this national observation are more important than the number of days. Carter Woodson cited as the “father of black history” was a scholar of African American history who pursued his life’s work to preserve the heritage and contributions of black Americans. His pursuits were manifested in 1926 when he designated the second week of February as “Negro History Week” which coincided with Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays. We honor Woodson for establishing the foundation and we celebrate the black students and educators at Kent State University who founded what we know now as Black History Month.
Here are a few other hidden figures you should know.
We honor Gwendolyn Brooks for her literary contributions. Brooks published her first poem at 13 and 75 poems by the time she was 16. She became the first African-American women to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Throughout her lifetime Brooks received numerous awards and honors breaking barriers and giving us black girl magic in the literary space!
We honor Daniel Hale Williams for his medical contributions as we also observe American Heart Month. Williams was one of the first surgeons in the world to successfully perform open heart surgery. He also opened the Provident Hospital, the first medical facility with an interracial staff. Williams further ripped racial divides in the medical field when he co-founded the National Medical Association because the American Medical Association did not allow African-American members.
We honor Madam C.J. Walker born Sarah Breedlove for her innovation and entrepreneurial efforts in the beauty industry. Walker was America’s first African American millionaire and the first women to become a self-made millionaire. Walker set the bar and Robert Johnson, founder of BET grabbed the bar and ran with it when he became the first African American billionaire and the first African American to be listed on any of Forbes world’s rich list.
We honor Althea Gibson for her accomplishments and contributions to sports. Gibson was the first African American player to win a Grand Slam at the 1956's French Open and compete in the world tour in 1950. Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fall solidifying her impact on the world of tennis. Her accomplishments and dedication to the game are celebrated by athletes and fans near and far. Most notably, Serena Williams also paid homage to Gibson for blazing the trail for women of color in the sport.