African American History Black History Month

Feb 7: Marsha P. Johnson

by Victoria Geiser

Marsha P. Johnson
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Marsha P. Johnson was a woman who profoundly affected not only the black community, but the LGBTQ community as well. As a black, transgender woman who worked as a drag performer as well as a sex worker, it is clear to say that she was a voice for those who needed it. She was an integral part of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, where protesters stood up against unjust police brutality and harassment in Greenwich Village in New York. One year later, Johnson and her friend Sylvia Rivera became leaders of the first gay pride parade. By using their newly acquired power, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) group was founded, and worked to offer housing to homeless and transgender youth. Unfortunately, speaking up for groups that aren’t looked upon positively by (white) society had put a target on her back, and in 1992, her body was found in the Hudson River. However, the efforts made by Marsha P. Johnson have not gone unrecognized. She spoke up against injustice toward marginalized groups, focusing on the intersectionality of black, LGBT people. While both the black community and the LGBTQ community face their own discrimination, there is a greater deal for those who fall into both of those categories, and Marsha P. Johnson fought for the rights of all.

The reason I was interested in Marsha P. Johnson is because of her involvement within the LGBTQ community; I personally have never been to a Pride celebration, but I am well aware of her part in the creation of such a tradition. At first, I wasn’t sure who to write about because I wanted to choose someone that isn’t commonly talked about. While I have heard of Marsha P. Johnson before, I feel as if I am only familiar with her name due to the Stonewall Riots and Pride.

I feel that someone who isn’t heavily involved with LGBT matters would not be aware of her existence. Because I take pride in my sexuality, I thought she was a great person to highlight her importance in my own life.I believe that Marsha P. Johnson is definitely an important figure to discuss during Black History Month because first, she’s black, and furthermore, she was so much more than that. She broke many barriers and was part of so many “controversial” niches. Being a transgender woman who regularly participated in drag performances and was a sex worker, she was not unfamiliar to scrutiny. I think she would be a good person to consider a role model, due to how many different marginalized groups she was a voice for.

Relating back to what has been discussed in class, I think it is necessary to note that once again history is not created in a vacuum. A large percentage, if not all, of the main efforts made by Marsha P. Johnson were in response to injustice being carried out against black and gay people. The Stonewall Riots took place in response to a gay bar being shut down, which was unnecessary and discriminatory. She also spoke up against police brutality and harassment that was occurring at the time. None of the events randomly sprung up, there was a great deal of discrimination taking place that lead to someone taking action, thus effectively creating a name for themselves.

African American History Black History Month

Feb 6: The Central Park Five

by Olivia Noll

Clockwise from top left, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Marquis Rodriguez, Jharrel Jerome, Ethan Herisse, Asante Blackk and Caleel Harris.Credit…Brad Ogbonna for The New York Times

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” To me, it is incomprehensible that these young boys were convicted of the crime in the first place”

The Central Park Five are a group of five males, four African Americans and one Latino. In 1989, the group of boys, ranging from ages 14 to 16, were falsely accused of raping a white female jogger in Central Park, New York City. The boys received sentences ranging from six to thirteen years. The attack highlighted racial tensions in the city, particularly about African American youth. In 2002, the case was solved after the confession from Matias Reyes, serial rapist and murderer. The DNA evidence confirmed that the Central Park Five were truly innocent. The five males, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, known as the Central Park Five received a $41 million settlement and the charges were lifted. Recently, Netflix created a mini-series telling the story of the Central Park Five titled When They See Us.


I saw a preview for the mini-series “When They See Us” on Netflix; I think the topic is interesting due to the recent spotlight it has got in the media through Netflix. I wanted to read more about the case and find out information about the young males involved. It is interesting to look back into history, although this is not too far back in time, and see how the trends still remain today. It is not uncommon for us to hear about the injustice of the criminal justice system, especially involving people of a different race. To me, it is incomprehensible that these young boys were convicted of the crime in the first place.

If the color of their skin were different, they probably would not have been convicted of the crime in the first place. People still believe for this to be somewhat true today. – that those of a different race, receive harsher punishment than those who are white. I have read studies that African Americans receive longer sentences than white men for the same crimes committed. This story is proof that there is still injustice for people of color.

It is important during Black History Month to look and bring attention to the themes that are still pertinent today. Should we not be concerned that this is still happening? We really should. The unfairness to those of a different race in 2020 blows my mind. And while we think it all ended with the end of the Civil Rights Movement, it did not. It is still happening.

As a future educator, I think Black History Month holds great importance. Although I will instill good values in my students all the time, Black History Month is a great way to shine light on the past in order to help shape the future young minds. By recently bringing the Central Park Five story back into the spotlight, hopefully people realize that what happened in 1989 still happens to a certain degree today.


African American History Black History Month

Feb 5: Edna Lewis

April 13, 1916 – February 13, 2006

Edna Lewis
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by John “Jack” Weidner

“the perfect representation of African American History, and also the American Dream”

All great food tells a story. The smells describe a region; the ingredients describe a people. A dinner is often the remnants of a struggle for life—the price of putting love onto a plate. So how does one woman tell the story of America with lard, butter, and country ham?

To discover the answer, one cannot just comb through the pages of African American chef Edna Lewis’s cookbooks, but must truly taste the gold it describes. The tales she told with food that earned her the title of the “Grande Dame of Southern Cooking,” and even “the South’s answer to Julia Child,” but when she was born in 1916, she was simply the granddaughter of a freed slave living in Freetown, Virginia. Back then, cooking was not a profession to her but a way of life. It connected community members to each other and as well as the land.

Lewis came from a family of great cooks. They cooked according to the season and used the recipes that were developed by black chefs from the plantations. Lewis took in all she could, and in 1932, followed the Great Migration north to New York City. She worked as a domestic, doing odd jobs here and there, and while in the epicenter of the “New Negro,” she hosted dinner parties for her friends. It was through this that she met Johnny Nicholson, an antiques dealer who was opening a restaurant. He gave her the chance to be the head chef at Café Nicholson, and she quickly became a supreme name in New York’s culinary scene. She served southern meals the likes of Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and William Faulkner, but she left after only five years. She returned home to the South.

Her life became dedicated to becoming a champion of Southern cuisine and establishing it as a true artform. She sought to show the world that chicken was a canvas that could be painted with a skillet and fats to become a masterpiece, that it had far more to offer than the deep-fried, greased mound most of us are familiar with today—and she did. Lewis’s food tastes of passion and dignity. There is a pride in her past that represents the cherished qualities of all that is America. What does it mean to be American? Look down at your plate.


On Edna Lewis’ legacy:

I found out about Ms. Lewis from watching the Netflix documentary series Chef’s Table (you should totally check it out). It was an episode about a southern black female chef named Mashama Bailey. She is the head chef at The Grey restaurant in Savannah, Georgia. At one point in the episode, she beings to discuss the connection that African Americans have with the food in the south. She spoke about it being more than a meal—it was community. Later in the episode, Bailey spoke about the different chefs that inspired her. She named a few, but the one that stuck out was Edna Lewis. Bailey said that Lewis showed the world that Southern cooking could be “gourmet,” and that a piece of fried chicken could be just as prestigious as foie gras. I quickly googled Lewis, ordered her first cookbook, and began reading. Her story was everything to me. It was more than remarkable. It was American. It was the story of Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Henry Frick, and even Walt Disney. It was an outsider making a name for themselves in a country that did not want them.This is why I chose Lewis. To me, she was the perfect representation of African American History, but also the American Dream. She was the granddaughter of a freed slave and she rose to become one of the most famous American chefs ever to have lived. She came from nothing, which proves the fact that history does not begin in a vacuum. Lewis struggled to get where she was. She was not born the most famous Southern cook. She embodies the dream of so many minorities in this country, also she was a woman, and not a lot of people discuss women making something great of themselves. Men steal a lot of the glory, but women do so many amazing things. The farther I get into academia, the more I realize that fact to be true. Another reason I think she relates to Black History Month is because she is a huge part of African American history, but people do not know about her, so in this month of reflection, I want her story to be shared. A woman who paved a way for so many black chefs after her deserves to be recognized.

I also think her story is an example of how African American history is entwined with American history (the idea that we discussed in class). Edna Lewis is not simply a black chef; she is an American chef. She helped establish a truly American cuisine, that was developed by slaves in the households of rich white people. Soul food (a term that Lewis separated herself with, but has, nonetheless, became the name we refer to it today) has become synonymous with American food. It is truly American, and Lewis revived it and made it art. Our country owes her a debt, and her efforts must be respected as not just African American, but American.


African American History Black History Month

Feb 3: Mary Eliza Mahoney

The first African American to work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States.

May 7, 1845-January 4, 1926

by Avyana “Ivy” Williams

Mary Eliza Mahoney was an African American born in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 7th, 1845. Mahoney was the first African American to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States. Graduating in 1879, she was also the first African American to graduate from a nursing school. When Mary was a teen, she already wanted to become a nurse. So, Mahoney began to work at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, but she was a janitor, dishwasher, and a cook; before ever reaching a nurse.

Mahoney got accepted to the New England Hospital for Women and Children nursing school at the age of thirty-three. The program was sixteen intense months with first-hand experience. Of the forty-two students of the program, only four completed, one being Mahoney meaning she was the first African American to earn a professional license.


On Mary Eliza Mahoney’s legacy:

I believe Mary Eliza Mahoney was important because she followed her dream no matter what. Mary never gave up because of how hard life was and that really inspires me to keep pushing, no matter how hard life gets. I feel like she relates to Black History Month because it’s a month where significant blacks get recognized and credit for what they did in society. Mary should be in it because many people don’t know her full story and how she became a nurse. She and many other African Americans should be recognized for their hardship in life and to promote a positive outlook for other African Americans to follow their dreams.

Photo of Mary E. Mahoney’s gravesite as it now appears. Photo by Mary Ellen Doona. Image source:
Helen Sullivan Miller at the gravesite of Mary Eliza Mahoney.
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Editor’s note

by Denise Holladay Damico

Mary Eliza Mahoney was commemorated with an award named after her by the National Association for Colored Graduate Nurses in 1936; this award is still given today by the American Nurses Association. In 1973, Helen S. Miller, winner of the 1968 Mahoney Award, led a fundraising drive to erect a monument at Mahoney’s gravesite. The drive was supported by the American Nurses Association and Chi Eta Phi, the national sorority for professional and student nurses. To learn more, visit


African American History Black History Month

Feb 1: Kobe Bryant

August 23, 1978-January 26, 2020

Mural of Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.
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“He achieved the American Dream as a black man in the world.”

Editor’s Note: Many students in my Spring 2020 African American History course were shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Kobe Bryant. Therefore, this year we have chosen to make Bryant our first feature in our Black History Month series. -Denise Holladay Damico, January 31, 2020.

by Ramiir Dixon-Conover

I decided to do my Black history month vignette on Kobe Bryant. Kobe recently died in a helicopter crash January 26 along with his daughter and other’s. Kobe has inspired thousands of people all across the world. Being an athlete, I grew watching Kobe and the Lakers. Kobe is one of the greatest players to play the game of basketball.

A memorial wall at a basketball facility called “House of Kobe” in Valenzuela City, in the Philippines.Credit…Rolex Dela Pena/EPA, via Shutterstock.
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Dwayne Wade, favorite player, looked up to Kobe Bryant coming out of college and pushed to be as great as him on and off the court. Kobe Bryant is a legend who many players in many sports he looks up to him.

Kobe was born in Philadelphia, PA. He changed the game and when he retired in his words, “My life just started”. He was thinking of ways to use “Mamba Mentality” in the outside world to help others. [Editor’s note – read more about “Mamba Mentality” here –]. As a person, many say he was a great person to be around because of how he thought.

Being a basketball player this too affected me because who I never expected for Kobe to go so soon. It will definitely be different without him to be here and affect many people lives who actually knew him.

Growing up playing basketball Kobe Bryant was the player I wanted to be like. He changed the game in many ways. His dedication and hard work was an inspiration for many athletes. What he accomplished in the NBA is very great and historical.

President Barack Obama holds a personalized team jersey presented to him by Los Angeles Lakers guards Kobe Bryant, center, and Derek Fisher, left, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House honoring the 2009 NBA basketball champions, Jan. 25, 2010. Source: Wikipedia.

Not only was a role model on the work but off the court as well. He was an African American man he grew up in the inner city just like I did and beat the odds. He achieved the American Dream as a black man in the world. He was a great husband and father and I wanted to model my future after that. This topic relates to the meaning of Black History Month because we celebrate this month to celebrate the lives of great African American leaders who impacted the world.

Kobe Bryant is one who impacted numerous sports. The way he carried himself as an African American male in today’s society was special. Many great athletes in today’s leagues look up to Kobe and was greatly impacted by it. He was a hero without a cape to myself and thousands of people.

A sand sculpture honoring Bryant at Puri Beach in India was a sign of his global profile and appeal.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.
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African American History Black History Month

Feb 2: Forgotten Black Inventors

by Alexandria Brown

When the term forgotten is used, it simply means someone not known in common history lessons or general knowledge. These people invented important and/or common items, however they are not known as well known as someone like George Washington Carver. For reasons of race, time, or something else; these people are commonly forgotten.

Frederick Jones
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My first example is Frederick Jones. He invented the thermostat control, motor, and portable air conditioning unit among other things. His work in refrigeration helped transport food and blood throughout World War II. It is not outright stated why he is not commonly known or taught about. The man holds 61 patents and was given an award posthumously in the 90s. Yet, I had never heard of him before. I assume it is as result of him thriving during a period of history against him.

Another inventor I have come across in learning about is Richard Spikes. A number of his patents include the beer tap, turn signals, and automatic gear shifts and transmissions. He was born in the 1807 and died nearly blind during the 1960s. Although his inventions aided the auto world and he may be known there, his name is not general knowledge. Again, it is not outright stated why this is so, considering he holds his own patents. It is safe to assume that taking for granted the important inventions and being born on the wrong side of society are the main reasons for this.

.Marie Van Brittan Brown created the early home security system. She was scared of hate crimes in her area and set up cameras and two-way microphones in order to maintain her security within her own home. She also established an early panic button. Her patent was for a closed circuit security system in 1966. If not for her, modern home security may still be in early development. Considering she was battling hate crimes, it is safe to say being an African American woman is the reason for being forgotten in history. Also, she created the early system, so later developers overshadow her glory.

Detail of Marie Van Brittan Brown’s Home security system design, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Image source:


African American History Black History Month

Feb 4: Medgar Wiley Evers

“A true American civil rights activist”

July 2, 1925-June 12, 1963

Medgar Wiley Evers
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by Justen Anderson

Medgar Wiley Evers was an African American civil rights activist in the southern state of Mississippi. Evers, was born on July 2nd, 1925 in Decatur, Mississippi. After growing up in the South in farming family, Evers found himself drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. He fought in both France and Germany during World War II and was later released due to his great performances. Evers studied at Alcorn College, today known as Alcorn State University, located in Lorman, Mississippi, where he met and married Myrlie Beasley their senior year in 1952.

He became strongly involved with politics when the Brown v. Board of Education case deemed school segragation unconstitutional. In 1963, Evers was awarded the NAACP Spingarn medal due to his leading acts while trying to accomplish economic opportunities for blacks, voting equality, access to public facilities. He was called “A true American Civil Rights Activist.” Later that year, Evers was assassinated by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith, who was associated with a group called the “White Council”.


On Medgar Evers’ legacy:

I believe like all of the activists, Evers played a huge role in enabling blacks to have a say and voice in society. He just goes unnoticed due to various other African American prominent figures in that time period. While Mississippi became a huge broadcast and the #1 segregated city in the U.S of struggle and racism, during the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-20th century, between 1952 and 1963, Medgar Wiley Evers was one of the state’s most influential activist, for racial change, peace, and equality. To be a figure of that kind in the south during the civil rights movement took character and braveness that very few others possessed.

Evers relates directly to Martin Luther King, Jr. They were both two heroic figures that took a stand to make a change for not only themselves but for generations to come after they passed. Without people like them standing up, there would be no telling how life would be today. Blacks could still be looked at as animals in which they were referred to as monkey’s and gorillas. There were also African American petting zoo’s where the whites took blacks and made them act as if they were animals for occupation and entertainment for whites. My mind can’t process what I’d do or how I’d act if I were in that situation. At the end of the day were all human with the same desire and wants in life. That’s what Evers stood up for.