Observing Black History Month in February
From our Diversity Ministry
February 28: Our Last Post – BANNED BOOKS
There are so many stories out there, both fiction and nonfiction. Don’t let this be the only time you reflect on Black History and the many more untold and unacknowledged contributions of Black men and women in history. A number of books written by Black women are currently on various Banned Books lists. They include but are not limited to:
- Maya Angelou – I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
- Toni Morrison – Beloved
- Nicole Hannah-Jones – The 1619 Project, A New Origin Story
- Alice Walker – The Color Purple
- Bell Hooks – Black Looks: Race and Representation
- Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God
- Tiffany Jackson – Grown
- Lupita Nyong’o – Sulwe
February 27 – Miss Jones
Sissieretta Jones became the first Black woman to headline a concert on the main stage at Carnegie Hall in 1892. Jones was heralded as the greatest singer of her generation and a pioneer in the operatic tradition at a time when access to most classical concert halls in the U.S. were closed to black performers and patrons. She also performed at the White House and abroad. At 24, she sang opera at the newly build Madison Square Garden concert hall to an audience of thousands. Unfortunately, no recordings of her voice exist today.
February 26 – Baby Esther, the original Betty Boop!
A child singer and dancer, Esther Jones inspired Paramount to create the cartoon character Betty Boop in 1930 — but she never received any credit or royalties.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Esther Jones was a natural performer who first took the stage at age 4. Her parents, Gertrude and William, were her original managers. In her performances, Jones danced, made funny faces, and used the phrase, “Boop, Boop-a-Doop.” But word of Jones’s performances quickly swept New York City, and it wasn’t long before she was performing regularly in the Big Apple.
In the 1920s — and beyond — it was quite common for white performers to steal the acts of their Black counterparts without credit or compensation. But, whereas the Black performers of today can rally people to their cause using the power of social media, Black performers of yester-year — like Esther Jones — weren’t quite as lucky.
So, Helen Kane continued to swipe her whole act from “Baby Esther,” and became infinitely more popular than the original. Kane became so popular, in fact, that when the Betty Boop cartoon debuted in 1930, it all but completely mimicked Kane’s style.
Baby Esther never received the recognition and rewards from her act, and soon faded into obscurity after a lawsuit filed by Kane against Max Fleischer and Paramount over the Betty Boop character. Kane ultimately lost when Esther’s manager testified that he had coached a little Negro girl in the “Boop, Boo- a-Doop” that ultimately made Betty Boop famous.
February 25: The first African American television host
Jazz pianist and singer Hazel Scott was not only the first African-American woman to host her own television show, but she also bravely stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Hollywood studio machine. The gifted and popular performer dazzled audiences in the U.S. and abroad with her jazzy renditions of classical works.
It was not just in Hollywood that Scott took a stand against racial prejudice. She was one of the first performers to refuse to play before segregated audiences, including the stipulation in all her contracts. Scott credited her courage to the example her mother set for her as a proud and independent woman. Scott’s fame and talent helped too: by 1945 she was attracting large audiences and earning today’s equivalent of over one million dollars per year.
February 24 – Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951)
Henrietta Lacks was not a healthcare professional but a Black patient with an immortal legacy. She was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer and treated at one of the few hospitals in the country that served Black people. Unknowingly, her cells were cultured and used for research as researchers found that her cells were unique in that they survived and reproduced, or essentially, immortal. Her tissues and cells were taken for research all without her consent for all the time that she was being treated with radiation.
This discovery has been one of the most important resources in medicine, even to this day. Her cells, often referred to as HeLa, have been used to develop vaccines, gene mapping, and in vitro fertilization. Only about 20 years later, her family was made aware of the use of her cell lines; they did not personally benefit or profit from these discoveries. What happened to Ms. Lacks is considered to be a human rights issue as it involved her race, socioeconomic status, and class. Henrietta’s legacy is more than her cells, and her story has been shared all over the world. Her story has raised concern and brought to light the issues in public health, health equity, and informed consent.
February 23 – Rebecca Lee Crumpler, MD (1831-1895)
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler helped change the face of medicine in America. In 1864, she became the first Black woman in the United States to receive an MD degree. In fact, she was the only Black graduate of the New England Female Medical College in Boston. She spent her career caring for freed slaves and serving poor women and children. She worked diligently on the idea of preventative care and published a book that explored some of those possibilities called “A Book of Medical Discourses: In Two Parts.” Despite facing sexism and racism throughout her career, Dr. Crumpler persevered and made it her mission to help those most in need in her community.
February 22 – Nora Douglas
Nora Douglas Holt was a composer, singer, critic, socialite, and a deep part of the culture of the Harlem Renaissance. Her study of music began as a child taking piano lessons, and grew to her attending Chicago Musical College, where in 1918 she earned a master’s degree, said to be the first African-American (let alone African American woman) to earn a master’s degree in music composition in the United States. Unfortunately, most of her compositions for orchestra and chamber songs were stolen from storage while she was abroad singing in Europe and Asia. She became a music critic for the Chicago Defender, a Black daily newspaper from 1917-1921, and in 1919 founded the National Association of Negro Musicians. During the 20s she found the magazine Music and Poetry and became friends with members of the Harlem Renaissance. She was the first African-American elected to the Music Critics Circle of New York, hosted her own classical music radio program, and participated in the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Senegal.A note for February 21
Dr. Patricia Bath is the second Black woman inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2022, alongside Marian Croak. An ophthalmologist, Dr. Bath’s inventions advanced the surgical industry. She created the Laserphaco Probe – a device and technique used to remove cataracts. She is the first Black woman physician to ever receive a medical patent, and secured five total patents.
February 20th – Marian Croak
Marian Croak is one of the first two Black women inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in its nearly 50 year history. She currently works as Google’s vice president of Engineering, and is being honored due to her work in advancing “Voice over Internet Protocol”, the technology behind audio and video conferencing. She has accumulated more than 200 patents over her career and also created the “text-to-donate” system for charities. She’s the reason that working from home during quarantine and beyond is easy.
Notes for February 19: ONE OF THE MOST CELEBRATED TAP DANCERS OF ALL TIME
Gregory Oliver Hines (February 14, 1946 – August 9, 2003) was an American dancer, actor, choreographer and singer. He is considered one of the most celebrated tap dancers of all time.
Hines starred in more than 40 films and also made his mark on Broadway during his lifetime. He was the recipient of many accolades, including a Daytime Emmy Award, a Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award, as well as nominations for a Screen Actors Guild Award and four Primetime Emmy Awards. His accomplishments in the entertainment industry were recognized by the United States Post Office with a commemorative stamp issued in 2019 in the Black Heritage series of first class postage.
February 18: “FREDI WALKER IS A GREAT YOUNG ACTRESS” – The Los Angeles Examiner
Fredericka ‘Fredi’ Washington was a Black performer who often traveled with Duke Ellington and became well-known in her own right during the Harlem Renaissance Era. With her hazel green eyes and very light skin, she could have passed for white but she wholly embraced her Black Heritage. She is probably best known professionally for her work as Peola in the 1934 film Imitation of Life, but behind the scenes she fought tirelessly for civil rights.
Notes for February 17: Featuring Abraham Galloway
Abraham Galloway was an African American who in his short 33 yrs escaped enslavement in North Carolina, became a Union spy during the Civil War and recruited Black soldiers to fight with the North. He has been compared to James Bond and Malcolm X, and his accomplishments include traveling to Haiti to join revolutionaries planning an attack on the American South, and being one of the first African Americans elected to the North Carolina Senate.
February 14: The Founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Was Born – On this date in 1760.
Richard Allen, February 14, 1760 – March 26, 1831, founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was born as a slave of a Quaker lawyer, the honorable Benjamin Chew at Germantown, Pennsylvania (now a part of Philadelphia) in 1760.
Our notes for February 12: The First African American Secretary of the Army Confirmed
Clifford Leopold Alexander, Jr., born on September 21, 1933, was an American lawyer, businessman and public servant. He was the first African-American Secretary of the Army. He died on July 3, 2022.
In 1909, several dozen activists of various races came together in New York City to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, known as the NAACP, in response to violence against Black people across the U.S. Some of the African American founding members were W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary Church Terrell, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett.
Frederick Douglass, Abolitionist, Recognized on February 7
According to the NPCA, the legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass was the most photographed American in the 1800s — and that was no accident. The organization explains that Douglass purposely sat for photos often, as he wanted to spread a more accurate image of African Americans at the time. He also intentionally kept a straight face in photos, to challenge the idea that Black people were ever happy to be enslaved.
Remembering Lucy Stanton on February 6
Educator and abolitionist, Lucy Stanton ,was the first Black woman to graduate from college. She completed a ladies’ literary program and graduated from Oberlin College in 1850. Her commencement speech was an appeal for anti-slavery.
Our Observation on February 5
1ST U.S. BLACK FOREIGN MINISTER TO EUROPE
During a distinguished career that spanned nearly four decades, Clifton R. Wharton, Sr. (1899-1990) was the first black Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Department of State. While he was not the nation’s first black ambassador, Wharton was the first black diplomat to become ambassador by rising through the ranks of the Foreign Service rather than by political appointment, and the first black diplomat to lead a U.S. delegation to a European country.
Minister Wharton’s service to our country was recognized by the United States when a first class commemorative stamp was issued in his honor.
On this date in 2007, on February 4
FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN HEAD COACH TO WIN THE SUPER BOWL
Tony Dungy becomes the first African American head coach to win the Super Bowl when his Colts defeated the Chicago Bears on February 4, 2007.
On this date in 1947, on February 3
FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN PRESS CORRESPONDENT IN CONGRESS
Percival Prattis becomes the first African American news correspondent allowed in the United States House and Senate press gallery. See his life story and career on Wikipedia.
This date in 1897, the 2nd of February.
ALFRED L. CRALLE PATENTS THE ICE CREAM SCOOP
While working in Pittsburgh as a porter, Alfred L. Cralle noticed that the popular treat ice cream, was difficult to dispense. It stuck to spoons and ladles and usually required two hands and at least two implements to serve.
Cralle invented a mechanical device now known as the ice cream scoop and applied for a patent. On February 2, 1897, the 30-year old was granted U.S. Patent #576395.
This day in 1865
February 1, 1865, the same day Congress approved the 13th Amendment ending slavery, Charles Sumner introduced a motion that made Boston attorney John Rock the first black attorney to be admitted to argue in the Supreme Court of the United States. John Rock was credited with coining the phrase “black is beautiful.”