Updated: Feb 21, 2022
All month long, the HBCU Coalition will be honoring black leaders of today and those who have come before us.
Dorothy Height spent her life working to improve the opportunities of African American women. She focused on the issues that affected them, including unemployment, illiteracy, and voter awareness. Height was a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, working with some of the major civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King Jr. In 1971 she helped to found the National Women’s Political Caucus. And she was the president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years. Acknowledging Height’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and to women’s rights, former President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. She famously said, "Greatness is not measured by what a man or woman accomplishes, but by the opposition he or she has overcome to reach their goals."
In 1950, Brooks became the first black person to receive the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and also the first woman to serve as a poetry consultant for the Library of Congress. The work for which Brooks receives the Pulitzer Prize, "Annie Allen, follows the life of a young Black woman growing up poor in the 1940s, when Jim Crow laws are still in effect, in urban Chicago. This poetry collection tackles everything from racism and discrimination Black Americans face every day to gender equality and the additional tribulations Black women face in society. She published more than 17 collections in her lifetime. From "The Bean Eaters" comes one of her most notable works, "We Real Cool." This poem about teenage rebellion is widely taught and critiqued in schools. For more info on Gwendolyn Brooks, you can go to Thought.co.
Frederick Douglass Patterson was an American academic administrator, the president of what is now Tuskegee University and founder of the United Negro College Fund. The Fund was established to provide support to historically Black colleges and universities as well as its students. The fund would go on to provide resources and support that helped more than 500,000 students earn college degrees over the next three-quarters of a century. Patterson was a 1987 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, and 1988 recipient of the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. He also earned three academic degrees by the time he was 31 including a Doctorate degree of Veterinary Medicine and Master of Science degree from Iowa State University (ISU), and a Doctorate of Philosophy from Cornell University.
Mary McLeod Bethune
In the 1930's, a number of African American leaders were advisers to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Among them were the educator Mary McLeod Bethune, who served as the National Youth Administration’s director of Negro affairs. Bethune was an American educator, philanthropist, humanitarian, womanist, and civil rights activist. She founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935, established the organization's flagship journal Aframerican Women's Journal, and resided as president or leader for myriad African American women's organizations including the National Association for Colored Women and the National Youth Administration's Negro Division. She is well known for starting a private school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida. It later continued to develop as Bethune-Cookman University. Bethune was also the sole African American woman officially a part of the US delegation that created the United Nations charter. Bethune was known as "The First Lady of The Struggle" because of her commitment to gain better lives for African Americans.
Carter G. Woodson
We start with a tribute to historian Carter G. Woodson. In 1926 he came up with the original idea of celebrating black history and along with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, they announced the second week of February would be "Negro History Week.” They chose the date to coincide with the February birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Fast forward to 1969 when black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University proposed extending it and calling it Black History Month. It officially launched in 1970 and has been celebrated every year since.