When Black History Month was established Americans were urged to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history”. Forty-two years after this charge, I make sure to spend February reflecting on Black men and women who have shaped American history. This year, I am releasing a series of videos on five such heroes who inspire me every day.
My mother sued Western High School in Baltimore when she was 12 years old so that she could desegregate it when she was 15. Having a parent involved in Brown v. Board era litigation means you carry a special fondness for Thurgood Marshall. Marshall was Chief Counsel for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and won Brown’s case in front of the Supreme Court which held that separate was not equal and integration of public schools was a necessity. He would go on to become the first Black Supreme Court Justice where he fought for individual rights and civil liberties.
Harriet Tubman was another Marylander who made an incredible contribution that cannot be overlooked. A former slave herself, she made 19 trips and freed over 300 slaves in the course of her life. A lesser known fact about Tubman is that she was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the Civil War, one which lead to the liberation of over 700 slaves. Her courageous actions in the face of enslavement and death are an example to all of us.
As the former President & CEO of the NAACP, expanding and protecting voting rights is incredibly important to me. That’s why one of my videos will honor Fannie Lou Hamer. Hamer was an activist for voting rights, women’s rights, and, the rights of black Americans. She worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to organize Mississippi’s Freedom Summer which was an effort to register as many black Americans as possible to vote. She would go on to co-found the National Women’s Political Caucus and would be posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Frederick Douglass was another Marylander who escaped from slavery. He would go on to become one of the greatest intellectuals of the 19th century, becoming a leader of the abolitionist movement. Douglass’ autobiographies underscore the difficulties that blacks had to overcome and made the case against slavery in such a way that many whites would cite his work as an influence for joining the abolitionist movement. Douglass did not reserve his activism for slaves and believed in the equality of all peoples.
While leading the NAACP, a hero of mine became a mentor: Julian Bond. Julian was a giant of the Civil Rights Movement who helped establish SNCC and was Chairman of the NAACP from 1998 to 2010. He served in the Georgia Legislature for twenty years and it was this service that partially inspired me to consider running for public office.
Over the course of this month, I will be filming a short video talking about each of these inspirational men and women and posting them online. Follow me on Facebook to see them when they are released!