Black history month is such a profound time to celebrate all the amazing Black figures that have conquered and strived to do ground-breaking things in the face of oppression. So, today I want to do something different- instead of focusing on well-known figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, I’m going to give a spotlight to some Black figures that tend to be overlooked in history.
Madame C.J Walker
Madame C.J. Walker was a pivotal figure that left her mark in the hair industry for good. After Walker suffered from a severe scalp ailment that led her to extreme hair loss, she invented a hair product for African American girls to restore and strengthen their hair. She started her own manufacturing company where she distributed her hair products and profited millions of dollars. She became the very first American woman to become a self-made millionaire.
As she grew, she started opening beauty schools and factories in Pittsburgh. As you can see, C.J. was a force to be reckoned with. She established her business in the early 1900s, at a time where it was not very common for women to take control of their life, let alone start their own businesses. Women like C.J. Walker showed us how to go after our dreams and strive to be the best. If you would like to learn more about C.J Walker’s life, you can watch the Netflix original feature film called “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker.”
You know that electrical machine we use every day to reach a higher level in a building, instead of walking the stairs? Well, you can thank the great inventor Alexander Miles for creating the elevator. Prior to Miles’ intelligent invention, the first “elevator” had doors that had to be manually opened and closed when a person was entering and exiting the elevator. What inspired Miles to create this new design was when he and his daughter were riding the elevator and Miles realized how dangerous it is for the doors to easily be hanging open if something went wrong. So, he infamously invented doors that close simultaneously.
In the male-dominated field of aviation, it was hard for women (especially black women) to enter the industry. Bessie Coleman took a great risk and followed her dreams to become a pilot. After seeing the numerous pilots that just came from World War I, she knew then that this would be her passion. She dealt with a lot of setbacks from sexism to racial discrimination. It wasn’t until a Black newspaperman and publisher of The Chicago Defender, Robert Abbott, heard her cry and wanted her to fulfill her life goal.
He encouraged her to go into the aviation field not in America, but in France. He even financed her entire trip there! He saw something special in her and knew he had to help her grow her gift. She then went to France to learn to fly and earned her international pilot’s license by 1921. After returning from her trip she became an infamous star in the aviation community. After all the setbacks she faced and the struggles she endured, she still became one of the best female pilots of all time.