Recognizing African American Contributors to U.S. Society
Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Maya Angelou, Thurgood Marshall, Oprah Winfrey, Angela Davis, Jackie Robinson, Katherine Johnson, Barack Obama, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, bell hooks, Michelle Obama, Janet Helms, and Carter G. Woodsen. This is but a small list of the multitude of African American activists and pioneers who have fought long and hard to bring about much-needed change in the United States. Their intellect, leadership, social justice activism, and tireless labor have brought sociocultural enrichment to all of us. Sadly, achievements by African Americans have often gone uncelebrated. You may not have heard of some of the individuals listed above. If not, I urge you to spend a few moments familiarizing yourself with who they are and their accomplishments.
Black History Month in the Workplace
Carter G. Woodsen is considered the founder of the movement, which began with Negro History Week in 1926. In 1976, the celebration became Black History Month, a month-long tribute. February’s celebration of Black achievement is now joined by Canada, Britain, and the Netherlands, where it is called Black Achievement month. In the United States, many workplaces, universities, K-12 schools, and professional groups are now celebrating Black History Month. They often host presentations, panel discussions, and forums celebrating the achievements of African-Americans. The workplace can be the ideal venue for remembering and celebrating individuals whose ingenuity, courage, and selflessness, opened pathways for generations to come. In the workplace, we are reminded of the struggles others faced, and still face, to build their careers.
An abolitionist and women’s rights activist, Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was born into slavery in upstate New York more than 200 years ago. She was born Isabella (Belle) Baumfree but changed her name to Sojourner Truth, indicating that she was moved by the holy spirit, and that she was about preaching the truth. She was a towering figure at a time when being African American meant slavery or poverty, and the world at large had a less-than-positive attitude about women and children. She fled enslavement carrying her infant daughter, Sophia, in 1826. As a free woman, when her son was sold illegally, she sued successfully for his freedom. Her legacy as one of the first African American female activists is inspirational, and one that merits recognition this month and every month. Herein I share her speech Ain’t I a Woman delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Her words are exacting and liberating.
Ain’t I a Woman
“Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
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! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member in audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ‘cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.“
The Arredondo Advisory Group is proud to highlight Sojourner Truth, an historical icon, a civil rights and women’s activist, and a bridge-builder. Please share her voice in your workplace.