Black History Month 2021 comes on the heels of the inauguration of Kamala Harris who is not only the first woman to ever serve as Vice President, but the first person of color to hold that office.
Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.
The Black History Month 2021 theme, “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity” explores the African diaspora, and the spread of Black families across the United States. In addition, to celebrating the Black Family, it is a time to recognize the role of African American women in our history. Some of the most noteworthy in the field of public service:
Barbara Jordan represented Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives and was the first African American Congresswoman from the Deep South. In 1976, she became the first African American woman to deliver a keynote address at the Democratic Convention.
Rosa Parks helped initiate the civil rights movement in the United States and later became one of its primary organizers when she refused to give up her seat to a White man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955.
Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to Congress. In 1972, she became the first Black woman of a major political party to seek a nomination to run for president.
Carol Moseley Braun became the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, when she was chosen to represent Illinois.
Susan Rick, who currently heads the White House Domestic Policy Council was the first African American woman to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in 2009.
Condoleezza Rice was the first female African-American secretary of state and the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor.
African American women have also shaped local history. Many who lived in our own community have been leaders and role models. They include:
- Sojourner Truth (born Isabella Baumfree, 1797-1883) who lived in Ulster County. She was born into, but escaped from, slavery and was one of the early voices in both the abolitionist and the women’s rights movements.
Jane Bolin, born in Poughkeepsie, was the first Black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, the first to join the New York City Bar Association, and the first Black woman to serve as a judge in the United States.
- Audrey Carey in 1991 became the first became Newburgh’s first Black mayor and the first Black woman mayor of any city in New York State. She served two full terms.
- Major General Irene Trowell-Harris, a trained nurse, became the first African American woman to achieve that rank. In 1986 she was given the command of the 105th USAF Clinic at the Stewart Air National Guard Base. The local chapter of Tuskeegee Airmen Inc. is named for her.
These women have not only made history, they have served as inspiration for the next generation of high achievers. They have collectively enhanced our history and enriched our lives.