Black History Month Reflections – Week 3
Have you guessed what everyone has in common yet?
Here’s a HINT from Mark : The answer can be found in the images incorporated into this post.
This Week’s Features
Charlayne Hunter Gault is an American civil rights activist, journalist and former foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, CNN, and the Public Broadcasting Service.
In 1955, one year after the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, Hunter was in eighth grade and was the only black student at an Army school in Alaska, where her father was stationed. Her parents divorced after spending the year in Alaska, and Hunter moved to Atlanta with her mother, two brothers, and maternal grandmother. After moving to Atlanta, she attended Henry McNeal Turner High School where she became editor-in-chief of The Green Light, the school’s newspaper, assistant yearbook editor, and “Miss Turner High”. While in high school, at the age of 16, she, along with two friends, converted to Catholicism after being raised as a follower of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1958, members of the Atlanta Committee for Cooperative Action (ACCA) began to search for high-achieving African-American seniors who attended high schools in Atlanta.
In January 1961, following a two-year legal battle, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and fellow student Hamilton Holmes walked resolutely onto the University of Georgia campus as the first African American students to enroll at the all-white public university. Within forty-eight hours of their arrival, students opposed to the pair’s admission were rioting outside Hunter-Gault’s dormitory and hurling bricks and bottles through her window. Hunter-Gault and Holmes were ostensibly to ensure their safety. They soon returned under a new court order, “determined as ever to stay the course.”
Marian Anderson was an American contralto. She performed a wide range of music, from opera to spirituals. Anderson performed with renowned orchestras in major concert and recital venues throughout the United States and Europe between 1925 and 1965.
Anderson was an important figure in the struggle for African-American artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States during the mid-twentieth century. In 1939 during the era of racial segregation, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The incident placed Anderson in the spotlight of the international community on a level unusual for a classical musician. With the aid of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Anderson performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, on the Lincoln Memorial steps in the capital. She sang before an integrated crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions.
On January 7, 1955, Anderson became the first African-American singer to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. In addition, she worked as a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United States Department of State, giving concerts all over the world. She participated in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, singing at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Anderson was awarded the first Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Congressional Gold Medal in 1977, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, the National Medal of Arts in 1986, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.
George Washington Carver was an American agricultural scientist and inventor who promoted alternative crops to cotton and methods to prevent soil depletion. He was the most prominent black scientist of the early 20th century. Carver was born into slavery, in Diamond Grove (now Diamond), Newton County, Missouri, near Crystal Place, sometime in the mid-1860s.
While a professor at Tuskegee Institute, Carver developed techniques to improve soils depleted by repeated plantings of cotton. He wanted poor farmers to grow other crops, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes, as a source of their own food and to improve their quality of life.
The most popular of his 44 practical bulletins for farmers contained 105 food recipes using peanuts. Although he spent years developing and promoting numerous products made from peanuts, none became commercially successful. Apart from his work to improve the lives of farmers, Carver was also a leader in promoting environmentalism. He received numerous honors for his work, including the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP. In an era of high racial polarization, his fame reached beyond the black community. He was widely recognized and praised in the white community for his many achievements and talents. In 1941, Time magazine dubbed Carver a “Black Leonardo”.
Color film of Carver shot in 1937 at the Tuskegee Institute by African American surgeon Allen Alexander was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2019. The 12 minutes of footage includes Carver in his apartment, office and laboratory, as well as images of him tending flowers and displaying his paintings. The film was digitized by The National Archives as part of its multi-year effort to preserve and make available the historically significant film collections of the National Park Service.
Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee is a retired American track and field athlete, ranked among the all-time greatest athletes in the heptathlon as well as long jump. She won three gold, one silver, and two bronze Olympic medals in those two events at four different Olympic Games. Sports Illustrated for Women magazine voted Joyner-Kersee the Greatest Female Athlete of All-Time. She is on the board of directors for USA Track & Field (U.S.A.T.F.), the national governing body of the sport.
Joyner-Kersee is an active philanthropist in children’s education, racial equality and women’s rights. She is a founder of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation, which encourages young people in East St. Louis to pursue athletics and academics. She collaborated with Comcast to create the Internet Essentials program in 2011, which costs $9.95/month for low-income Americans and offers low-cost laptops and 40 hours/month of high-speed internet service. Since its inception, it has provided internet access to 4 million Americans.
She was inspired to compete in multi-disciplinary track & field events after seeing a 1975 made-for-TV movie about Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Didrikson, the track star, basketball player, and pro golfer, was chosen the “Greatest Female Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century. Fifteen years later, Sports Illustrated for Women magazine voted Joyner-Kersee the greatest female athlete of all time.
Muhammad Ali was an American professional boxer, activist, entertainer, poet and philanthropist. Nicknamed The Greatest, he is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century, and is frequently ranked as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. In 1999, he was named Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated and the Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC.
Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, he began training as an amateur boxer at age 12. At 18, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics and turned professional later that year. He became a Muslim after 1961. He won the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston in a major upset on February 25, 1964, at age 22. Also that year, he renounced his birth name as a “slave name”, and formally became known as Muhammad Ali. In 1966, Ali refused to be drafted into the military due to his religious beliefs and ethical opposition to the Vietnam War, and was found guilty of draft evasion and stripped of his boxing titles. He stayed out of prison while appealing the decision to the Supreme Court, where his conviction was overturned in 1971. However, he had not fought for nearly four years by this point and lost a period of peak performance as an athlete. Ali’s actions as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War made him an icon for the larger 1960s counterculture generation, and he was a very high-profile figure of racial pride for African Americans during the civil rights movement and throughout his career. As a Muslim, Ali was initially affiliated with Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam (NOI). He later disavowed the NOI, adhering to Sunni Islam, and supported racial integration like his former mentor Malcolm X.
Outside of boxing, Ali attained success as a spoken word artist, releasing two studio albums: I Am the Greatest! (1963) and The Adventures of Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay (1976). Both albums received Grammy Award nominations. He also featured as an actor and writer, releasing two autobiographies. Ali retired from boxing in 1981 and focused on religion, philanthropy and activism. In 1984, he made public his diagnosis of Parkinson’s syndrome, which some reports attributed to boxing-related injuries, though he and his specialist physicians disputed this. He remained an active public figure globally, but in his later years made fewer public appearances as his condition worsened, and he was cared for by his family. Ali died on June 3, 2016.
Arthur Ashe was an American professional tennis player who won three Grand Slam singles titles. Armed with superb natural talent, a keen competitive spirit and poise that set him apart from his rivals, Arthur Ashe made his way from the segregated playground courts of his youth to the pinnacle of the tennis world. He started to play tennis at seven years old . He was the first Black player selected to the United States Davis Cup team and the only Black man ever to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open. He retired in 1980. He was ranked world No. 1 by Rex Bellamy, Bud Collins, Judith Elian, Lance Tingay, World Tennis and Tennis Magazine (U.S.) in 1975. In 1975 Ashe was awarded the ‘Martini and Rossi’ Award, voted for by a panel of journalists, and the ATP Player of the Year award. In the ATP computer rankings, he peaked at No. 2 in May 1976. Rated among the world’s top ten players while still in college, Ashe reached the number-one ranking in spectacular fashion in 1968. After capturing the U.S. amateur title, he served an astonishing twenty-six aces in the final to become the first African American man to claim to U.S. Open championship.
Ashe is believed to have contracted HIV from a blood transfusion he received during heart bypass surgery in 1983. He publicly announced his illness in April 1992 and began working to educate others about HIV and AIDS. He founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health before his death from AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of 49 on February 6, 1993. On June 20, 1993, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by United States President Bill Clinton.
Wilma Rudolph was an American sprinter, who became a world-record-holding Olympic champion and international sports icon in track and field following her successes in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games. Defying the odds, Wilma Rudolph became the first African American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympia. Childhood illness had left Rudolph with a partially paralyzed left leg, but her mother insisted that she would walk again, and through strenuous physical therapy, Rudolph regained total control of her leg by age twelve.
In 1957, she won a track scholarship to attend Tennessee State University. During the 1960 Olympic games, Rudolph set world records for the 100-meter and 200-meter races, finishing in 11.0 seconds and 23.2 seconds, respectively. She anchored the women’s 400-meter relay team, in which she turned a two-yard deficit in to a three-yard factory, clocking 44.5 seconds. When asked about her legacy as a world-class athlete who had overcome major setbacks, she remarked “I just want to be remembered as a hardworking lady with certain beliefs.”
After retiring from competition, Rudolph continued her education at Tennessee State and earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1963. That year she also made a month-long trip to West Africa as a goodwill ambassador for the U.S State Department. Rudolph served as U.S. representative to the 1963 Friendship Games in Dakar, Senegal, and visited Ghana, Guinea, Mali, and Upper Volta, where she attended sporting events, visited schools, and made guest appearances on television and radio broadcasts. She also attended the premiere of the U.S. Information Agency’s documentary film that highlighted her track career.
In May 1963, a few weeks after returning from Africa, Rudolph participated in a civil rights protest in her hometown of Clarksville to desegregate one of the city’s restaurants. Within a short time, the mayor announced that the city’s public facilities, including its restaurants, would become fully integrated.
In addition to her athletic accomplishments, Rudolph is remembered for her contributions to youth, including founding and heading the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, which trains youth athletes. Rudolph has been memorialized with a variety of tributes, including her image on a commemorative U.S. postage stamp. Wilma: The Story of Wilma Rudolph (1977), her autobiography, was adapted into a television docudrama. Her life is also remembered in Unlimited (2015), a short documentary film for school audiences, as well as in numerous publications, especially books for young readers.