There is more to Black History Month than only recognizing civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. or activists like Malcolm X. Many African Americans were heavily involved in the formation of the United States.
February is a time to recognize those significant figures in history that went unnoticed or misunderstood for far too long.
Brenda Stevens, director of multicultural services and international student advisor, said she has several role models and heroes of Black History.
“[Mary McLeod Bethune] is my education hero,” Stevens said.
Bethune opened a school for African American women and later opened a college, Bethune-Cookman University in 1923.
“As a child, I would go to the library every Saturday… and I would read [about black history],” Stevens said. “This is indicative of not having that history. They did not have a Black History Month. They did not have textbook that gave them these faces and accomplishments.”
Stevens said she remembers saying to herself as a child, “Black people did this!?”
“Imagine, that’s why we have Black History Month,” Stevens said. “Everyone has to have that mirror image of success to say, ‘Wow! If Harriet Tubman was brave enough to save all of those people, maybe I can speak up, maybe I can be selfless in what I do. If George Washington Carver can be the scientist that he was, maybe I can do science’.”
“Everybody aspires to be somebody,” Stevens said. “We all have that historical context to say, ‘Wow! My ancestors contributed to what is going on in this country’.”
“There is so many people involved in making Black History Month but more importantly making black history, which is American History,” said Ryan Cartwright, junior psychology major. “It was on the backs of many African people that our country was built upon, and therefore if it wasn’t for those who made those sacrifices we wouldn’t have this country that is so wealthy in so many aspects. Those people that died for our rights, [that] is definitely something that should be celebrated throughout the year.”
Cartwright said he looks up to Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. when he considers personal heroes.
“If it was not for [Malcolm X] and Dr. King and many other people, we would be stuck, and we wouldn’t have much understanding of what to do in the climate we are in today,” Cartwright said.
“[Malcolm X is] looked over a lot because of the violent connotation that people put on him. [Malcolm X] was pushing the right to defend ourselves more than he was pushing to be violent for no reason.”
Lakia Wade, freshman zoo and wildlife biology major, also said she draws personal inspiration from Black History Month.
“Every day is Black History Month, honestly. The Month is honoring those African Americans who did things,” Wade said. “Some parts of our history are still hidden. A lot people don’t know that African Americans did things first.”
Wade said the movie “Hidden Figures” that recently came out and how that was significant in recognizing the black women that had a big role in working with NASA.
“I think it’s inspiring, and it helps me to be creative and step out there, take a step out and do something,” Wade said.
Creativity for Wade also exists outside NASA. Madam CJ Walker was the inventor of black hair care, becoming the first female millionaire.
“Madam CJ Walker was significant because she was an African American female who saw something different in a way. Back in those times it was hard for females, let alone a black female,” Wade said.
Wade said understanding black history is larger than Martin Luther King Jr.
“I believe they should show other African Americans [in school] because Martin Luther King shouldn’t be the only face of black history,” Wade said. “I think people should look more into African American history and how we helped cultivate and build this world.”
Numerous African Americans have made and continue to make vital contributions to society:
Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Harvard scholar, was born to parents that escaped slavery. Woodson took on the task of writing African Americans into the history books. He started the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History in 1915.
W.E. B. DuBois was a civil rights leader and co-founder of the NAACP.
An academic and a free man Frederick Douglass made contributions in building the United States government.
J.P. Knight invented the first traffic light.
Elijah McCoy was a mechanical engineer and inventor. He created a steam engine lubricator nicknamed “the real McCoy” because others tried and failed to copy.
Lewis Latimer was an inventor. He had many patents including the carbon filament in light bulbs.
Matthew Henson was an explorer that led the first expedition to the North Pole in 1909.
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. was the first African American Air Force general and commander in WWII.
Bessie Coleman was the first African American female to hold a pilot license in 1921. (Contrast that with Amelia Earhart, who flew across the Pacific in 1935.)
Mahalia Jackson was a gospel singer and Dr. King supporter. She helped him with the “I have a dream” speech.
Jesse Owens won four Olympic medals in the 1936 Berlin games, in a nation where the leader would not even shake his hand.
These leaders and more are worthy of study during and after Black History Month. As the formal commemoration ends, it is up to individuals to learn more about black history in order to better understand all history.
Kendra Hartman is a staff writer for The Aviso