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Well, it’s February y’all! I’ve seen fried chicken on sale in our honor and the other day, a white dude proudly told me that he knows the whole first stanza of “We Shall Overcome,” to which I gave him a hesitant thumbs-up. All signs point to our four-week time to shine and, because 2012 is a leap year, we get a bonus day. Hot diz-am! I fully intend to make the most of it. I love Harriet Tubman, I appreciate Frederick Douglass, I’m a Tuskegee Airmen groupie, but there is so much more to Black history than them, the Emancipation Proclamation and sports trivia. Out of most of the facts and tidbits pertaining to this fine stretch of year reserved just for us, however, that’s what it pretty much boils down to.

You know, I feel like kicking over a crate of kittens every time I see that stupid Ancestry.com commercial where the man is so tentative about exploring his history because he can kinda guess his roots as an African-American. His granddaddy was born a slave, he says—insert his dramatic pause here—but died a business man. And that made his research all worth his while. Here me booing? Because I don’t think there’s any part of our history worth being ashamed of. It all makes up the story of us, sad, heartbreaking and infuriating as some of it is. But it’s made us who we are. And so have these incidents, people and random nuggets about Black-dom.

1. Cathay Williams was the one and only female Buffalo Soldier, posing as a man named William Cathay to enlist in the 38th infantry in 1866. She served for two years before a surgeon stumbled on the fact that she was a woman and saw to it that she was discharged. And, true to sexist convention, she was repeatedly denied military benefits or a pension.

2. Both Condoleezza Rice and Martin Luther King, Jr. skipped two grades and started college when they were just 15 years old. (What were you doing when you were 15, ya slacker?!) She studied political science at the University of Denver; he majored in sociology at Morehouse.

3. Journalist, activist and sistergirl-in-my-head Ida Wells-Barnett refused to give up her railcar seat for a white man in 1884 and bit a conductor on the hand when he tried to force her out of it. He called for backup and she was eventually dragged off the train. She sued the railroad and initially won, but the decision was overturned. The whole experience fueled her passion for justice and journalism.

4. In 2008, Jamaican wonderman Usain Bolt became the first man to ever set three world records in a single Olympic games. Loves!

5. The media made the Black Panthers notorious for their Afros, dark get-ups and willingness to defend themselves, but their Ten Point manifesto for change launched programs that benefited Black communities nationwide, like free dental care, breakfast for low-income children, even drama classes.

6.  Lincoln University in Pennsylvania is the first institution of higher education founded for African-Americans. (And don’t let nobody tell you any different—hail hail Lincoln!) It paved the way for the 104 other historically Black colleges, which have produced distinguished alums like Thurgood Marshall, Spike Leeand the almighty Oprah.

7. Black ingenuity helped devise creative—and effective—plans to escape enslavement. In 1848, husband-and-wife team William and Ellen Craft made it to the North and eventually England, when she dressed as a white man and he posed as one of her slaves. A year later, Henry “Box” Brown literally mailed himself to freedom in a shipping box during a 27-hour trip from Richmond to Philadelphia. He couldn’t keep him story to himself, however, and he ended up ticking off Frederick Douglass, who believed that other men and women could’ve escaped the same way if Henry had shut his yap. He eventually went abroad, married a white chick and was never heard from again.

8. Liberia was founded and colonized by U.S. expatriates, one of two sovereign states in the world founded by ex-slaves and marginalized Blacks. Sierra Leone is the other, but that was the handiwork of the British.

9. Jesse Jackson does more than make up words: he negotiated the release of Lt. Robert O. Goodman, Jr., a Black pilot who had been shot down over Syria and taken hostage in 1983.

10. Remember when Will Smith was The Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff was, well, Jazzy Jeff? Together, they won the first-ever Grammy for Best Rap Performance, but they boycotted the awards because the category was barred from television.

11. The hair brush, lawn mower, cellphone, refrigerator and—thank you, sweet baby Jesus—the air conditioner were all the fruits of African-American inventors’ creative laboring. Every time I walk inside on a sweltering hot day, I’m happy to thank a brother for meeting the need.

12. Who knew? Baseball legend Jackie Robinson had an older brother, Matthew, who was also a star athlete in his own right. He won a silver medal in the 200-yard dash in the 1936 Olympics—coming in second to Jesse Owens.

13. Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first Black major-party presidential candidate survived three assassination attempts during her 1972 campaign. If Kanye was around to make “Stronger,” that could’ve easily been her campaign theme song.

14. Eatonville, Florida, the childhood home of writer and cultural anthropologist (and my all-time favorite author!) Zora Neale Hurston, is also the first town in the country to be incorporated by Black folks.

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36 Comments

  1. While@Harvard in 1908 a professor assured a student that Negroes had no role in history. Said student responded by becoming the first and only Black American of slave parentage to earn a PhD in history and…by changing the world. Just a few years later he established the Association for the Study of AfAm Life&History which provided a network for Black teachers, authors, and students to research, generate and publish Black history at a time when NO printing companies agreed to produce Black-centered work. He launched Negro History Week in 1926 (later expanded into a month) and almost single-handedly made it possible for Black acheivement literature to be produced for the masses. Financial challenges came as he remained in lifelong debt trying to sustain his Association. He often sold his publications at a loss in order to make it affordable to poor Blacks and even expunged his own life insurance policy in attempt to remain afloat. He hustled and established relationships with the likes of the Rockefellers to lobby wealthy whites for monetary contributions. He never married and often never slept. Because of him, there are colored faces in books, af americans honored on film and in monuments. The Smithsonian will launch its African American Museum in 2015. He established the first graduate program in History @Howard and set the template for Black studies everywhere. Nobody gave us the shortest month. A man provided us with and legitimized a platform we never had before. Honor him by building upon it. CELEBRATE DR CARTER G WOODSON !
    >
    > *Book recommendation- Carter G.Woodson:A Life in Black History by Jacqueline Goggin

  2. CaramelBeauty

    Everything makes me proud to be black. All of the inventions my people have made and contributed to this country, to the extreme courage, humanity and the extreme awesomeness of women, like Sojouner Truth and Harriet Tubman!!!! I am so in awe of those women, as well as all the ancestors who ran to freedom because they knew they were better than slavery!!!! The fact that my skin has a beautiful glow and that fact that I don’t have to actually look eighty until I am in my grave!!!!!!

    I constantly celebrate my blackness, because dearies, Black is Beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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