Discover some lesser known heroes with these titles.
Anderson published My Lord, What a Morning in 1956 on the heels of her groundbreaking role as the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. In it are bittersweet reminiscences of a working-class childhood, from her first job scrubbing the neighbors’ steps to the sorrow and upheaval of her father’s untimely death. Here are the stories of a young girl with prodigious talent, and her warm remembrances of the teachers, managers, friends, accompanists, and fans who worked to foster it. Here is a veritable travelogue of her concerts across the globe and rare glimpses at the personal life of a woman more concerned with family than celebrity. An entire chapter devoted to the Easter concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 reveals Anderson’s immense respect for Eleanor Roosevelt, who resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution when they refused to let Anderson perform at Constitution Hall.
“When it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.'” – Claudette Colvin On March 2, 1955, an impassioned teenager, fed up with the daily injustices of Jim Crow segregation, refused to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Instead of being celebrated as Rosa Parks would be just nine months later, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin found herself shunned by her classmates and dismissed by community leaders. Undaunted, a year later she dared to challenge segregation again as a key plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery and swept away the legal underpinnings of the Jim Crow South.
Unlike most white Americans who can search their ancestral records, identifying who among their forebears was the first to step foot on this country’s shores, most African Americans encounter a series of daunting obstacles when trying to trace their family’s past. Slavery brutally negated identity, denying black men and women even their names. But from that legacy of slavery have sprung generations who’ve struggled, thrived, and lived extraordinary lives. For too long, African Americans’ family trees have been barren of branches, but advanced genetic testing techniques, combined with archival research, have begun to fill in the gaps. Among the searchers are Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is an American sociologist who examines the culture of schools, the patterns and structures of classroom life, socialization within families and communities, and the relationships between culture and learning styles; Mae Jemison, an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut. She became the first black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour and Dr. Benjamin Carson, who grew up in a broken home amongst poverty and prejudice, his grades suffered and his temper flared, and yet, his mother never lost her faith in him. Insisting he follow the opportunities she never had, she helped to grow his imagination, intelligence and, most importantly, his belief in himself.
Bayard Rustin was a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He was arrested on a bus thirteen years before Rosa Parks and he participated in integrated bus rides throughout the South fourteen years before the Freedom Riders. He was a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., teaching him the techniques and philosophy of Gandhian nonviolent direct action. He organized the March on Washington in 1963, one of the most impactful mobilizations in American history. Despite these contributions, few Americans recognize his name.
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine: The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, which are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.
Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.