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Black History Month: Celebrating History

Fact #1

On February 1, 1965, actress Ruby Dee performed in lead roles at the American Shakespeare Festival as Kate in The Taming of the Shrew and Cordelia in King Lear, becoming the first black actress to portray a lead role in the festival.

Fact #2

Alfred Cralle was born just after the Civil War in 1866. He worked as carpenter where he discovered his love for mechanics. After studying at Wayland Seminary School in Washington DC, Cralle moved to Pittsburg, PA where he worked as porter at a hotel and local drug store. He would notice that the servers there would have trouble using multiple spoons to serve the ice cream. Using his ingenuity and mechanical know-how, Cralle created a device which he called the Ice Cream Mold and Disher to make serving ice cream easier and quicker.

On February 2, 1897, he not only became the first African American to receive a U.S. Patent for his invention, but he was also one of the first black inventors in America to be awarded a patent without a white partner. Cralle went on to become a well-known businessman and civil rights leader, however, he never became famous or received any profit for his invention. The Ice Cream Mold and Disher, now simply called the ice cream scoop is still used in all ice cream shops today.

Fact #3

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first Black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps (AAC), a precursor of the U.S. Air Force. Trained at the Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama, they flew more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa during World War II. Their impressive performance earned them more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and helped encourage the eventual integration of the U.S. armed forces.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States armed forces. During their years of operation, 1940 to 1946, 996 pilots were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Approximately 445 were deployed overseas and 150 lost their lives during that period. 66 pilots were killed in action or accidents and 32 were captured and held as prisoners of war.

Fact #4

Carter Godwin Woodson, who been called “the father of black history”, was an African American historian, author, journalist, and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. He gained graduate degrees at the University of Chicago and in 1912 was the second African American, after W. E. B. Du Bois, to obtain a PhD degree from Harvard University.

In February of 1926, Woodson pioneered the celebration of "Negro History Week", designated for the second week in February, to coincide with marking the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson wrote the purpose of Negro History Week as: “It is not so much a Negro History Week as it is a History Week. We should emphasise not Negro History, but the Negro in History. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hatred and religious prejudice.” It would be over 40 years before The Black United Students and Black educators at Kent State University expanded this idea to include an entire month beginning on February 1, 1970. Since 1976, every US president has designated February as Black History Month.

Fact #5

John Mercer Langston was the first Black man to become a lawyer when he passed the Ohio state bar in September 1854. This was after a committee on the district court confirmed his knowledge of the law, deeming him "nearer white than black," and admitted him to the bar.

When he was elected to the post of Town Clerk for Brownhelm, Ohio, in 1855 Langston became one of the first African Americans ever elected to public office in America. He later followed those accomplishments by also becoming the first black man to represent Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives. John Mercer Langston was also the great-uncle of Langston Hughes, famed poet of the Harlem Renaissance.

Fact #6

Medgar and Myrlie Evers are widely regarded as two of the greatest leaders of the civil rights movement. In 1954 Medgar Evers became the Mississippi field secretary of the NAACP, and Myrlie worked right alongside her husband . For more than a decade, the Everses fought for voting rights, equal access to public accommodations, the desegregation of the University of Mississippi, and for equal rights in general for Mississippi's African American population.

As prominent civil rights leaders in Mississippi, the couple became high-profile targets for pro-segregationist violence and terrorism. In 1962, their home in Jackson, Mississippi, was firebombed in reaction to an organized boycott of downtown Jackson’s white merchants. The family had been threatened, and Evers targeted by the Ku Klux Klan. Medgar Evers was later assassinated in front of his home on June 12, 1963. His death galvanized President John F. Kennedy to ask Congress for a comprehensive civil rights bill, which was signed into law the following year by President Lyndon Johnson.

In the years following his assassination, Myrlie continued the pioneering work she and Medgar had begun together by giving lectures, writing books, joining the board of the NAACP and becoming one of the first Black women to run for Congress. In 1989, she founded the Medgar Evers Institute, a conduit for the continued fight to secure equal rights for all people and to preserve those rights for future generations.

Fact #7

Three brilliant African-American women at NASA -- Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson -- serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation's confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world.

Katherine Johnson (August 26, 1918 – February 24, 2020) was an American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights.[1] During her 33-year career at NASA and its predecessor, she earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks. The space agency noted her "historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist".

Dorothy Jean Johnson Vaughan (September 20, 1910 – November 10, 2008) was an American mathematician and human computer who worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and NASA, at Langley Research Center in Hampton Virginia . In 1949, she became acting supervisor of the West Area Computers, the first African-American woman to receive a promotion and supervise a group of staff at the center.

Mary Jackson (April 9, 1921 – February 11, 2005) was an American mathematician and aerospace engineer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which in 1958 was succeeded by NASA. She worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia for most of her career. She started as a computer at The Segregated West Area Computing Division in 1951. She took advanced engineering classes and, in 1958, became NASA's first black female engineer.


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