Cathay Williams was born in Independence Missouri to a free man and an enslaved woman. As such, she was legally a slave. Due to the prohibition against women serving in the military, Cathay WIlliams enlisted in the U.S. Army under the name William Cathay. She was the first African-American woman to enlist in the U.S. military, and she was able to hide behind her male facade for two years before her identity was discovered.
Garrett Morgan can be thanked for his role in inventing traffic control.
Born in Paris, Kentucky, on March 4, 1877, Garrett Morgan was the seventh of 11 children. His mother, Elizabeth Reed, was of Indian and African descent, and the daughter of a Baptist minister. His father, Sydney, a former slave freed in 1863, was the son of John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate colonel. Garrett Morgan's mixed race heritage would play a part in his business dealings as an adult.
With only an elementary school education, he began his career as a sewing-machine mechanic. He started his own sewing machine business, which enabled him to sponsor many more inventions. He went on to patent several inventions, including an improved sewing machine and traffic signal, a hair-straightening product, and a respiratory device that would later provide the blueprint for WWI gas masks. The inventor died on July 27, 1963, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Sarah Baartman was born in South Africa's Eastern Cape in 1789. Her mother died when she was two, and her father, a cattle driver, died when she was an adolescent. She entered domestic service in Cape Town after a Dutch colonist murdered her partner, with whom she had a baby who died.
In October 1810, although illiterate, Baartman allegedly signed a contract with English ship surgeon William Dunlop and mixed-race entrepreneur, Hendrik Cesars, in whose household she worked, saying she would travel to England to take part in shows.
On stage she wore skin-tight, flesh-coloured clothing, as well as beads and feathers, and smoked a pipe. Wealthy customers could pay for private demonstrations in their homes, with their guests allowed to touch her.
Sarah Baartman died at 26 in 1815, but her exhibition continued. Her brain, skeleton and sexual organs remained on display in a Paris museum until 1974. Her remains weren't repatriated and buried until 2002.
“Service is the rent you pay for room on this earth.”
Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives. She was elected in 1968 and represented the state of New York. She was assigned to the House Forestry Committee but demanded reassignment. She was moved to the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, then promoted to the Education and Labor Committee. She championed minority education and employment opportunities, and vehemently opposed the draft. Eventually, she became a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus.
She broke ground again four years later in 1972 when she was the first major party African-American candidate and the first female candidate for president of the United States. After seven terms in the House, she retired to become a teacher and public speaker.
In 1932, the Public Health Service, working with the Tuskegee Institute, began a study to record the natural history of syphilis in Macon County, Alabama. It was called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” The study initially involved 600 black men. Participants were coerced into taking part in the study in exchange for free medical exams, free meals, and burial insurance for the families.
Researchers told the men they were being treated for “bad blood,” a local term used to describe several ailments. In truth, they did not receive any treatment needed to cure their illness even when penicillin became available in 1947. Researchers even went so far as to convince local physicians in Macon County not to treat the participants with penicillin. In order to track the disease’s full progression, researchers provided no effective care even as the men died, went blind or insane, or experienced other severe health problems due to their untreated syphilis. They also did not advise the men on protective sexual activity to reduce the spread of the infection to partners.
Although originally projected to last 6 months, the study actually went on for 40 years. Reparations in the amount of $10 million were disbursed to families affected in 1973, but as a result of the experiment many African Americans developed a lingering, deep mistrust of public health officials.
The iconic cartoon character Betty Boop was inspired by a black jazz singer in Harlem. Introduced by cartoonist Max Fleischer in 1930, the caricature of the jazz age flapper was the first and most famous sex symbol in animation. Betty Boop is best known for her revealing dress, curvaceous figure, and signature vocals “Boop Oop A Doop!” While there has been controversy over who inspired the character, Betty Boop’s origin has been traced back to Esther Jones who was known as “Baby Esther” and performed regularly in the Cotton Club during the 1920s.
Baby Esther’s trademark vocal style used “boops” and other childlike scat sounds. While the animated character did little to bring her mainstream fame and she died in relative obscurity, a piece of her lives on in the iconic character Betty Boop.
One in 4 cowboys was black and it's believed that the real “Lone Ranger” was inspired by an African American man named Bass Reeves.
Reeves was born a slave, but he escaped during the Civil War. He eventually became a Deputy U.S. Marshal, was a master of disguise, an expert marksman, had a Native American companion, and rode a silver horse.
Over the 35 years that Bass Reeves served as a Deputy U.S. Marshal, he earned his place in history by being one of the most effective lawmen in Indian Territory, bringing in more than 3,000 outlaws. Killing some 14 men during his service, Reeves always said that he “never shot a man when it was not necessary for him to do so in the discharge of his duty to save his own life.”
Inoculation was introduced to America by an African slave.
Few details are known about the birth of Onesimus, but it is assumed he was born in Africa in the late seventeenth century before eventually becoming a slave in Boston - “gifted” to the Puritan church minister Cotton Mather from his congregation in 1706.
Onesimus told Mather about the centuries old tradition of inoculation practiced in Africa. By extracting the material from an infected person and scratching it into the skin of an uninfected person, smallpox could be deliberately introduced to the healthy individual making them immune. Considered extremely dangerous at the time, Cotton Mather convinced Dr. Zabdiel Boylston to experiment with the procedure when a smallpox epidemic hit Boston in 1721, and over 240 people were inoculated.
The African practice Onesimus introduced was also used to inoculate American soldiers during the Revolutionary War thereby introducing the concept of inoculation to the United States.
Most people think of Rosa Parks as the first person to refuse to give up their seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. There were actually several women who came before her; one of whom was Claudette Colvin.
Nine months before Rosa Parks, fifteen-year-old Claudette refused to move to the back of the bus. Claudette had been studying Black leaders like Harriet Tubman in her segregated school. “It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, and Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down. I couldn't get up,” she said of her bus experience.
At the time, the NAACP and other related organizations felt Rosa Parks, who was older, middle class, and light-skinned, made a better icon than a poorer, dark-skinned teenager. Therefore, Rosa became the face for the movement. She served as one of four women who challenged and overthrew Alabama segregation law in Browder v. Gayle.
For frequent updates, visit the Facebook page of Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder!