Happy black history month! There’s countless black women who have made an impact on the world. Here’s just a few you should know about.
Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman to be a part of the United States congress and the first woman to seek the nomination for US President for one of the two major political parties. In 1964, Chisholm was elected to New York’s state legislature. In 1968, she was elected to a newly created district in New York’s House of Representatives, making her the first African American woman to do so.
This alone is an outstanding accomplishment and as she served her seven terms she earned the nickname, “Fighting Shirley.” She continuously fought for racial and gender equality, the plight of the poor, and advocated for the ending of the Vietnam war.
Being the child of immigrants and the first African American woman in congress, she was no stranger to discrimination in 1900s America. Chisholm was blocked from participating in televised primary debates, had underfinanced campaigns, and was constantly scrutinized in her white male dominated work environments.
Though she suffered through enough hardships to last many lifetimes, she persevered and stuck to her beliefs. She is an inspiration to African Americans and women everywhere. Through Shirley Chisholm’s legacy she wanted to be remembered, “as a woman… who dared to be a catalyst for change.”
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler is recognized as being the first African American woman to receive the degree of medical doctor in the US. She worked for the Freedman’s Bureau for four years and wrote a book called A Book of Medical Discourse which instructed black women about how to take care of their health and their children’s health.
A year after Dr. Crumpler graduated from the New England Female Medical College, the Thirteenth Amendment was passed, which abolished slavery in the US. She moved to Richmond, VA and was employed by the Freedmen’s Bureau to offer medical attention mainly to formerly enslaved people. She is the only known black female doctor to be employed by the bureau.
To put into perspective how impressive all of this is, Dr. Crumpler graduated from college in 1864. At this time, there were around 54,000 physicians in the entire country. Only 300 of them were women and only one of those women was black.
After retiring from the bureau in 1869, she returned to her home in Boston, MA. She would live the rest of her life treating patients regardless of their financial situations. She is truly an amazing woman and doctor who cared deeply about her community and spent her entire life caring for it.
You have heard of Rosa Parks, but you may not have heard of Claudette Colvin. Claudette Colvin was only 15 years old when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She did so only nine months before Rosa Parks in March 1955, and needs to be remembered for her bravery at such a young age.
Colvin was riding the bus home with a few of her friends when they were asked to move so white passengers could have their seats. Her friends moved, but she refused to. She said it was her constitutional right to sit in that seat, but she was sadly taken off the bus and put into an adult jail.
While this was an amazing act of courage, it is suspected that it did not get as much media coverage because Colvin was pregnant at the time. There was a chance that could have become the main focus of the situation rather than the injustice of it all.
A little over a year later, Colvin acted as a plaintiff in the court case that ended segregation on buses. She then moved to New York to become a nurse and kept rather quiet about her role in the Civil Rights Movement. Without her being the first person to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat, progress may not have happened as quickly as it did. She should be a major inspiration to young people who want to make a change.
Black History Month is a great time to learn information about black figures in history! But remember that these people can be remembered and honored all year round. We also need to remember that there are so many impactful black figures alive and advocating for important topics right now. We cannot overlook them when they are alive just as much as we cannot overlook them in history.
MediLexicon International. (2021, February 8). Who is dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler? Medical News Today. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/dr-rebecca-lee-crumpler-the-first-black-woman-md-in-the-us
Michals, D. (2015). Biography: Shirley Chisholm. National Women’s History Museum. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/shirley-chisholm
Rumble, T.-D. (2018, March 10). Claudette Colvin: The 15-year-old who came before Rosa Parks. BBC News. Retrieved February 10, 2023, from https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-43171799