Sojourner Truth, ABOLITIONIST, ACTIVIST (b. 1797 – 1883)
Sojourner Truth, an escaped slave who lost her family, her first love and children to the peculiar institution, turned her pain and Christian faith into triumph by helping others — especially women — recognize their worth.
“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me!”
That was the message that caught the attention of attendees during her spontaneous speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, in May 1851. Although she is famed for that speech, it’s unlikely the words are exact: They come from a version published years later using a stereotypical Southern dialect, while Truth grew up in New York and Dutch was her first language.
Regardless, she was a prominent and frequent speaker on women’s rights and abolition. Born Isabella Baumfree in New York around 1797, she was the ninth child born into an enslaved family. She gave herself the name “Sojourner Truth” in 1843 after becoming a Methodist and soon began a life of preaching and lecturing.
Truth pursued political equality for all women and spoke against other abolitionists for not pursuing civil rights for all black men and women. As the movement advanced, so did Truth’s reputation. (Click here to learn more about the Phenomenal Sojourner Truth)
Barack Hussein Obama (b. 1961) 44th President of the United States.
Barack Hussein Obama’s stride into history has been as confident as it has been unlikely.
He announced his candidacy for president on Feb. 10, 2007, a black first-term U.S. senator who previously had served just seven years in the Illinois Senate. He had little support from established politicians, and many black voters did not even know who he was. But his campaign became a movement. His soaring speeches promising hope and change inspired millions. Less than two years later, a record crowd gathered on the National Mall to witness what was once unthinkable: the inauguration of the first black president of the United States.
It was a singular achievement by a man with a singular history. He was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father and white mother. As a child, he lived in Indonesia before returning to Hawaii to be raised by his white grandparents.
As a teenager, he began to discover his black identity largely through basketball. He admired and emulated the loose-limbed swagger of the guys who played the game. He saw black as cool, and embraced the virtues of blackness while managing to sidestep much of its complicated baggage.
All along, he behaved like a man unconstrained by stereotype. He married a black woman from Chicago’s South Side, gushing in one of his books not only about her beauty and intelligence but also the warmth and strength of her family. (Click here to learn more about the Phenomenal Barak Obama)
Shirley Chisholm, (1924 – 2005) - Politician, When thinking about how contentious things are in Congress today, imagine being the sole black female congresswoman nearly 50 years ago, at the height of the civil rights movement. Shirley Chisholm was relentless in breaking political barriers with respect to both race and gender. She was a pioneer.
In 1968, Chisholm became the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, representing New York’s 12th District for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. As both a New York state legislator and a congresswoman, Chisholm championed the rights of the least of us, fighting for improved education; health and social services, including unemployment benefits for domestic workers; providing disadvantaged students the chance to enter college while receiving intensive remedial education; the food stamp program; and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children program.
Before President Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” slogan and Hillary’s “Stronger Together,” there was Chisholm’s “Unbought and Unbossed.” In 1972, Chisholm became the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for president of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. (Click here to learn more about the remarkable Shirley Chisholm)
Alvin Alley, FOUNDER OF ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATERb. (1931 – 1989)
Because he brought dance and the beauty of black bodies to the fight for justice.
Alvin Ailey, the legendary modern dance pioneer, choreographer and civil rights artist-as-activist, left us his answers. Although Ailey died nearly 30 years ago, many of his best-known pieces have become as emblematic of vibrant, relevant American art as tap dance, jazz, the literature of Toni Morrison and hip-hop. Ailey explored issues of social justice, racism and spirituality in the African-American experience. This was during the height of the civil rights movement, when the notion of black classically trained dancers moving to the music of Duke Ellington, gospel, blues, Latin and African pop was truly revolutionary, if not unfathomable.
Born into poverty in Texas in 1931, Ailey drew from his emotional well of close-knit black churches, rural juke joints, fiery protest songs and a lonely childhood as a closeted gay man to fuel his passion for dance. He befriended many of his fellow mid-century American masters (Maya Angelou, Carmen De Lavallade, Merce Cunningham and Katherine Dunham, to name a few) while living in New York. After Ailey’s death from an AIDS-related illness in 1989, the company and school grew into the premier repository for emerging black choreographers, and is still the most popular dance touring company on the international circuit. (Click here to learn more about Alvin Alley)
Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856 - 1915) was an American educator, author, orator, and adviser to multiple presidents of the United States. Between 1890 and 1915, Washington was the dominant leader in the African American community and of the contemporary black elite. Washington was from the last generation of black American leaders born into slavery and became the leading voice of the former slaves and their descendants. They were newly oppressed in the South by disenfranchisement and the Jim Crow discriminatory laws enacted in the post-Reconstruction Southern states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was born into slavery and rose to become a leading African American intellectual of the 19 century, founding Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (Now Tuskegee University) in 1881 and the National Negro Business League two decades later.
Booker Taliaferro Washington was born on April 5, 1856 in a slave hut in Franklin County, Virginia. His mother was a cook for the plantation’s owner. His father, a white man, was unknown to Washington. At the close of the Civil War, all the slaves owned by James and Elizabeth Burroughs—including 9-year-old Booker, his siblings, and his mother—were freed. Jane moved her family to Malden, West Virginia. Soon after, she married Washington Ferguson, a free black man.
Booker T. Washington became the first African American to be invited to the White House in