From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

What Black History Means to Me

The first interpretation of African history is the responsibility of scholars of African descent.

John Henrik Clarke

What black history means to me:

We are the children and descendants of the great African empires of Mali, Songhay and Old Ghana.

We are Estevanico, an African who accompanied Spanish explorers through the Arizona and New Mexico territories in 1538.

We are the slave Phillis Wheatley, who in the 1770s wrote poetry that has been read throughout the world.

We are Jean Point du Sable, a Negro trader who founded and helped settle Chicago.

We are five thousand slaves and free blacks who served in the Continental Army and Navy between 1776 and 1781.

What black history means to me:

We are black abolitionists Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, and rebel slaves Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser and Nat Turner.

We are the black scout George W. Bush, who led white settlers into the Oregon Territory in 1844.

We are James Beckwourth and Nat Love and countless other black cowboys and Buffalo Soldiers who helped to pioneer and settle the Old West during the mid- and late 1800s.

We are the many countless and faceless blacks who served with distinction and honor for the Union Army during the Civil War.

What black history means to me:

We are Jan Matzelinger, who in 1883 invented the first machine that manufactured an entire shoe.

We are Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, who in 1893 was the first licensed physician to perform a successful open-heart operation.

We are John Arthur “Jack” Johnson, who pioneered the way for other blacks in modern sports by becoming the first black heavyweight-boxing champion of the world and holding that title from 1908 to 1915.

We are Mathew Henson, who accompanied Commander Robert E. Peary on his North Pole expedition in 1909.

What black history means to me:

We are the budding legends and giants of the Black Renaissance during the 1920s through the 1940s: James Weldon Johnson, Richard Wright, Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Josephine Baker, Bessie Smith, Lena Horne, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson and Hattie McDaniels, among others.

We are Carter G. Woodson, organizer of the first black historical association and journal, and founder of Black History Week.

What black history means to me:

We are Mary McLeod Bethune, cofounder of Bethune-Cookman College, and a prominent advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

We are Army Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis Sr., who became the first black person to attain that rank in 1940.

We are Dr. Charles Drew who in 1941 developed and laid the early groundwork for the blood transfusion process and the plasma blood bank.

We are Dorie Miller, Negro American hero of World War II, who shot down four Japanese planes at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

What black history means to me:

We are Ralph Bunche, first black to be awarded a doctorate in political science at Harvard University, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations in 1950.

We are some of the black legends and superstars of the modern sports world: Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Rafer Johnson, Bob Hayes, Wilma Rudolph, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Charles Sifford, Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, among others.

What black history means to me:

We are the black students of North Carolina A&T College, who introduced the revolutionary civil rights “sit-in” technique at W. T. Grant’s and F. W. Woolworth’s Department Stores in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960.

We are Edward Brooke, Massachusetts senator, elected in 1966, and the first black person since Reconstruction to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

We are Robert Weaver, who became the first black Cabinet chief in 1966, when appointed the secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

What black history means to me:

We are Thurgood Marshall, former solicitor general of the United States, and in 1967 the first black to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

We are Shirley Chisholm, U.S. representative from Brooklyn, New York, the first black to formally run for president of the United States in 1972.

We are Lieutenant Colonel Guion S. Bluford Jr., USAF, American astronaut, the first black to fly into space, as a member of the space shuttle Challenger in 1983.

What black history means to me:

We are Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young Jr., Roy Wilkins, and other names forever enshrined in memory and history.

We are our ancestors and forefathers of times past; we are our men, women and children of today; we are our hopes and dreams for tomorrow.

We are a vehicle of heritage, culture and pride on a journey of love, understanding and acceptance. Yes, we are a beautiful and noble people. We are somebody special.

This is what black history means to me.

John Horton

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