In preparing for this post on Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the month of February, I decided that I would try to learn about some lesser known African-American historical figures. I came across names like Bessie Coleman, Jimmy Winkfield and Edward Bouchet, among others. They were, respectively, the first African-American female pilot, a two-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey (his 1902 win was the last time an African-American rode the winner at the Kentucky Derby), and a renowned physicist and professor who was also the first African-American to earn a PhD from an American university.
Our collective history is built upon so many stories that it unfortunately becomes easy to lose many along the way. The extraordinary people mentioned above lived lives that challenged societal assumptions. They fought for rights that I take for granted, rights that many of us take for granted. And yet, I had never heard of them. It is impossible to hear every story, to know and celebrate every single individual that accomplished great things and, in their own way, helped to contribute to a more open-minded world. Black History Month is an important time to get to know more stories; we all know some, but there are so many Bessie Colemans and Edward Bouchets to learn about. Maybe you already studied Coleman and Bouchet; What about Bayard Rustin? Phillis Wheatley? There are always more stories.
This is an especially significant time to be celebrating Black History Month, given the approaching 50th anniversary of the Selma marches. These marches were a key impetus in the passing of the Voting Rights Act and are depicted in the Academy Award-nominated film Selma. Oprah Winfrey recently hosted a gala honoring civil rights legends, which was televised for her network, OWN. I was lucky enough to catch most of it when it aired on January 18th and I heard more unfamiliar names: C.T. Vivian, Juanita Jones Abernathy, and Andrew Young. There are always more stories.
When you visit the library this month, keep your eyes out for the Reference Department’s display in honor of Black History Month, which will showcase books relevant to this subject. If you need assistance locating sources or getting started with your research, you can always consult with a librarian, check our catalog, or search one of our many databases.
So many of us immerse ourselves in fictional worlds and fictional characters (myself included). It can be so rewarding to learn about real people living real lives, people who built roads to freedom that generations can now walk upon.