This hero had a single life's goal: to tear down the legal structures that enabled and supported racism in the United States. His work not only served to re-engineer society, it provided a roadmap for lawyers everywhere dedicated to fighting institutionalized injustice.
She risked her life to escape from slavery. Once free, she risked her life again... and again... to help others gain their freedom as well.
No one knows exactly when Araminta “Minty” Ross was born. Few bothered to record the origins of the enslaved. We know only that her mother was named Rit, a cook on the Brodess family plantation in Maryland. Rit had nine children. Three of her daughters were sold into the Deep South by her master and never heard from again. When her master attempted to sell her youngest son Moses, Rit hid him in her cabin and promised to split the head of the first man who entered to take him. That time, the sale was called off.
As a child, Harriet did chores for local white families. She was beaten frequently for working too slowly. On one occasion, a white man she offended struck the five-foot slip of a girl in the head with a two-pound weight, fracturing her skull. After that, she suffered seizures, likely from epilepsy, the remainder of her life.
In her 20s, Minty could no longer bear life. She proclaimed that she feared life in captivity more than death. She decided to run away to the North, where slavery had been abolished. Unable to openly tell her mother goodbye, she bid adieu with a song: "I'll meet you in the morning … I'm bound for the promised land." That's also when she changed her first name to Harriet, her mother's full name, and adopted the last name Tubman.
Henrietta Lacks saved millions of lives. For more than 60 years, she has been credited for helping cure polio as well as developing treatments for cancer.
The only thing is... she never knew about her contribution to medical science!
Loretta Pleasant (she later changed her name to Henrietta) was an African-American woman born in the US state of Virginia in 1920. When she was four-years-old, her mother died giving birth to her tenth child. Unable to care for his large family, Henrietta's father sent his children to live among various relatives. Henrietta went to live with her grandfather, who raised her in a log cabin that sixty years before had been the slave quarters of a Southern plantation.
Like most members of her family, Henrietta went to work rather than to school. She helped to farm acres of Virginia tobacco fields. Life was hard....
He grew up in a society that deliberately separated blacks and whites while claiming they were equal. In reality, he and other African-Americans had few rights and even fewer opportunities. Despite this, our hero reached for the stars and achieved them… four times in a row! In so doing, he found acceptance -- albeit briefly -- in an unlikely place, offering hope that equality might one day become reality even in the United States.
The grandson of slaves, Jesse Owens and his parents joined the "great northward migration" of Southern blacks, fleeing the increasing threat of lynching by Southern whites. They landed in Ohio in 1922. Jesse was not quite 10 years old.
In secondary school, Jesse’s passion for running and jumping earned him a scholarship to Ohio State University. He won award after award for the Buckeyes, earning him the nickname: "Buckeye Bullet." Yet because of the color of his skin, when he traveled with the team, he could not enter restaurants or stay in the same hotel as his white mates. It didn't matter that he was their star performer. In Jim Crow America, “separate but equal" held sway, even in the North.
On May 25, 1935, Jesse set three world records for running and the long jump in a single day. This made him a shoe-in to represent the US at the 1936 Olympic Games. But there was a catch: the Games were being hosted in Berlin that year, no the capital of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.
Even before Winston Churchill coined the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Great Britain, this unsung hero of medicine established blood ties between the two countries.
Charles Drew was born in Washington D.C. in 1904. An African American, Charles was raised in a segregated city where black people had few opportunities for economic advancement. Yet Charles had one advantage: he was gifted at sports. By winning medals as a swimmer, Charles gained entrance into Dunbar High School, the only black school in the District of Columbia that paid its teachers as well as their white counterparts.
His athletic skill went on to earn him a scholarship to New England's prestigious Amherst College, where Charles was indeed a star – of both the track and American football teams. But sports was not Charles' only talent. He also dreamed of becoming a medical doctor.
Imagine this: You're one of the best athletes in the world. You train and you train and you qualify to represent your nation in the Olympic Games. You raise the money to afford the travel costs just to get there -- the next step in the long journey toward the gold. But when you arrive, you find you've been replaced by an athlete who didn't qualify because her skin color is less offensive to the fans than yours.
Now, imagine that happening to you twice.
This is a true story. It's the story of Louise Stokes.
Even as a child, Louise was fast. By the time she was 15, in 1928, she dominated the track team at her high school in Malden, Massachusetts. She was unbeatable. An all-rounder, she was also star center of the school basketball team. And she still made time to sing with her church choir.
Though Louise was black, her high school leadership team saw past the color of her skin, for she was a tremendously talented athlete: a true natural. By the time she graduated, Louise had set the New England record for the 100-meter dash. She'd also tied the world's highest standing broad jump when she leapt 8 feet, 5 inches (more than 2 1/2 meters) into the air. When the International Olympic Committee announced not long after that they would include women's track and field events at the 1932 Los Angeles Games, hope ignited in the heart of Louise Stokes.
He overcame enslavement and abject poverty and went on to help lift others up through the power of education. What was his recipe? Hard work, discipline, patience, and a long tail view.
Both beloved and controversial, Booker T. Washington was undeniably one of the greatest Americans of his generation. He had a vision for the future that he knew was unachievable in his own lifetime. But he did not let that stop him from constructing a foundation for a more equitable and just nation, one brick -- or educated African-American -- at a time.
Booker T. began life on a Virginia plantation in 1856. His youth coincided with the final years of institutionalized slavery in the United States; the succession of the southern "slave states" from the nation as northern states moved to abolish the practice; and the eruption of a brutal Civil War as a result of this moral and ideological division.
It was a critical time in history of the United States. Would the country finally make good on the promise set forth by its own constitution over 100 years before: to treat all "men" as equals? Or would it continue to traffic and trade people of color?
On the unveiling of her official portrait, we feel it appropriate and timely to continue our tribute to Black History month with a hero who continues to make history. She has been nominated by more people than any other figure featured thus far on the #HistoryHero BLAST, second only in nominations to her husband, Barack Obama. Indeed, as incredible as her achievements are already, we're fairly certain she has yet to make her most indelible mark.
What would you do if you looked out at the world and saw that it was not right? Sojourner Truth traveled the land and called injustice out. Folks listened.
In 1851, in Akron, Ohio, feminists from all over the United States gathered for a "women's rights" convention. The most prominent white female speakers of the day shared the dais and, one after another, advocated for women's suffrage – the right to vote. Then, unexpectedly, a short, middle-aged black woman took the stage. She'd been invited by Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero Frances Dana Barker Gage, one of the organizers of the event.
Murmurs throughout the hall betrayed that many in the audience were incredulous: What could an old black woman, surely illiterate and uneducated, contribute to the meeting? Yet, the moment Sojourner Truth began to speak, the audience fell silent.
"I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?" Sojourner asked. "I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it."
The world had been introduced to the power and presence of Sojourner Truth.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler had one aim in life: to relieve the sufferings of others.
And no amount of prejudice was going to stop her.
Yet, for too long no one has known her name, nor anything about what she accomplished despite seemingly insurmountable odds.
Rebecca Lee was born in Delaware in 1831, the daughter of Absolum Davis and Matilda Webber, but she would be raised by her aunt in Pennsylvania. These were the decades before the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation, and while Pennsylvania was then a Northern "free state" -- meaning it did not allow slavery -- most white doctors refused to see black patients. Rebecca's aunt was a sought-after healer and nurse for her local African-American community. Rebecca, it appears, wished to follow her aunt’s example.. But she aspired to a higher goal: she wanted to be a doctor.