Honoring African Americans Who Helped Shape the Nation

Harriet Tubman

Black History Month, also known as African Americans-History is a month in which we honor many who have helped shaped the United States. In honor of this celebration, we wanted to recognize several historical figures who showed courage, resilience, and, at times, risked their lives for the benefit of others.

Harriet Tubman

Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman escaped and made 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people using the Underground Railroad. How much do you know about this revolutionary woman? Here are a few facts: Harriet was born in an area in Maryland where the lines between slavery and freedom were often blurred. Her first husband John was a free man. Harriet earned the nickname “Moses” after the prophet Moses in the Bible who led his people to freedom. In all of her journeys she “never lost a single passenger.” Harriet wore many hats: She was an active proponent of women’s suffrage and worked alongside women such as Susan B. Anthony. During the civil war, Harriet also worked for the Union Army as a cook, a nurse and even a spy.

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth

In 1851, Truth began a lecture tour that included a women’s rights conference in Akron, Ohio, where she delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. In it, she challenged prevailing notions of racial and gender inferiority and inequality by reminding listeners of her combined strength (Truth was nearly six feet tall) and female status. Truth ultimately split with Douglass, who believed suffrage for formerly enslaved men should come before women’s suffrage; she thought both should occur simultaneously.

When the Civil War started, Truth urged young men to join the Union cause and organized supplies for Black troops. After the war, she was honored with an invitation to the White House and became involved with the Freedmen’s Bureau, helping freed slaves find jobs and build new lives. While in Washington, DC, she lobbied against segregation, and in the mid 1860s, when a streetcar conductor tried to violently block her from riding, she ensured his arrest and won her subsequent case.

Sen Hiram Revels

Senator Hiram Revels

On February 25, 1870, visitors in the Senate galleries burst into applause as senator-elect Hiram Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, entered the chamber to take his oath of office. Those present knew that they were witnessing an event of great historical significance. Revels was about to become the first African American to serve in the Senate.

Born 42 years earlier to free black parents in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Revels became an educator and minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. During the Civil War, he helped form regiments of African American soldiers and established schools for freed slaves. After the war, Revels moved to Mississippi, where he won election to the state senate. In recognition of his hard work and leadership skills, his legislative colleagues elected him to one of Mississippi’s vacant U.S. Senate seats as that state prepared to rejoin the Union.

When Hiram Revels’ brief term ended on March 3, 1871, he returned to Mississippi, where he later became president of Alcorn College.

Parker house in Ripley Ohio

John Parker

Born a slave in Norfolk, Virginia, John Parker was sold at the age of eight to a doctor in Mobile, Alabama. The doctor’s family taught Parker to read and write and allowed him to apprentice in an iron foundry where he was compensated and permitted to keep some of his earnings. Persuading an elderly female patient of the doctor’s to purchase him, Parker, at the age of 18, bought his freedom from the woman with money earned from his apprenticeship. Parker moved to southern Ohio and around 1853 established a successful foundry behind his home in Ripley. Patenting a number of inventions from his foundry, Parker was one of only a few African Americans to obtain a U.S. patent in the 19th century. Though busy with his business, Parker was also active in the Underground Railroad and is believed to have assisted many slaves to escape from the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. Parker, who was well-known by regional slave-catchers, risked his own life when he secreted himself back into slave territory to lead fugitive slaves to safety in Ripley.

Mae Carol Jemison

Mae Jemison

Mae C. Jemison (born October 17, 1956) is an American astronaut and physician who, on June 4, 1987, became the first African-American woman to be admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program. On September 12, 1992, Jemison finally flew into space with six other astronauts aboard the Endeavour on mission STS47, becoming the first African-American woman in space. In recognition of her accomplishments, Jemison has received several awards and honorary doctorates.

Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan

Garrett Augustus Morgan was an African American inventor and businessman as well as an influential political leader. Morgan’s most notable invention was the gas mask originally named “smoke hood“. Morgan also discovered and developed a chemical hair-processing and straightening solution. He created a successful company based on the discovery along with a complete line of hair-care products.

The first black man in Cleveland to own a car, Morgan worked on his mechanical skills and developed a friction drive clutch. Then, in 1923, he created a new kind of traffic signal, one with a warning light to alert drivers that they would need to stop, after witnessing a carriage accident at a particularly problematic intersection in the city.