Black History Month: Celebrating the Achievements of African Americans

Black History Month: Celebrating the Achievements of African Americans

Former U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson, once said, “Negroes should expect to be treated as a servile race.” He also said, “Segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit.” Did we mention that Wilson was also a former KKK member?

Sadly, some people still hold racist views which is why continuously campaigning for the end of systemic racism and advocating for equality is a central message in many social justice movements.

So, how else can we can illuminate issues of racism and encourage diversity, inclusion and equality? By making room for those in minority and marginalised communities, by passing the mic so they can share their ideas and lived experiences, by advocating for fairer government policies, by ensuring that historical accounts truly reflects the reality, contributions and experiences of black, indigenous and people of color folks.

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This entire month of February is also observed as Black History Month; a month officially recognized in 1976 by President Gerald Ford to encourage the American public to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans throughout the country’s history. The theme for Black History Month this year is “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity”.

Here is a list of exceptional historical figures and Black changemakers you should know:

Harriet Tubman

Freedom fighter and abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, was an icon for African Americans, for women and for humanity. After escaping her own enslavement in the North in 1849, Tubman risked her life to rescue enslaved Americans until the outbreak of the American Civil War, earning her the nickname ‘Moses’.

In addition, Tubman was also a wild forager, herbalist, wildcrafter and naturalist and used her knowledge of plants to heal soldiers in the Union Army during the Civil War. She used her foraging skills to feed everyone during their many journeys along the Underground Railroad, often dosing bread with homemade herbal tinctures of opium poppies to quiet babies and small children as to not attract attention during their escape. She was a true hero and mother to all.

Harriet Tubman. Photo: Flickr.

Salva Dut

If it weren’t for my fifth grader’s reading class, I would never have heard of the incredible journey of Salva Dut in the New York Times best-selling bookA Long Walk to Water written by Linda Sue Park. The book tells the story of two fictional characters, one named Salva, a character based on the real life Salva Dut who fled South Sudan as an 11-year-old in the height of the civil war to join thousands of “lost boys” journeying by foot to seek safety in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. The book explores the struggles and the suffering faced by the South Sudanese– hardships still faced by many to this day.

As a former refugee and child displaced by civil war, Salva Dut went on to establish Water for South Sudan in 2003, a non-profit organization with the goal of providing the people of South Sudan access to clean and safe water. Focussing on the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty, hunger and thirst, the charity’s mission also includes improving hygiene and sanitation practices in South Sudan, prioritizing areas that are in great need.

At the onset of COVID–19 pandemic, the organisation was still able to build 57 new wells, rehabilitate 48 older wells, conduct 13 hygiene education trainings, and distribute relevant COVID–19 information to more than 18,000 people.

Salva Dut (left) pumps water from one of the boreholes he has helped drill in South Sudan. Photo: Water for South Sudan.

George Washington Carver

With how human activity is upsetting climate systems, it seems we may be on our way to engineering our very own extinction. However, as early as the 1900s, scientists such as George Washington Carver, an African American agricultural scientist and inventor, already knew the importance of composting and regenerative agriculture. Considered by many to be the father of modern regenerative agriculture in the US, George Washington Carver was born enslaved and went on to become the first African American to earn a Bachelor of Science degree. He was also the first Black student and the first Black faculty member at Iowa State University, going on to become a well-respected botanist.

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He devoted much of his work to helping poor Southern farmers improve yields. Monocropping cotton had stripped the nutrients from the soil and Carver’s crop rotation system featuring nitrogen-fixing plants such as peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes helped to improve soil, and yields. In fact, it was the surplus in peanut crops and the many value-added products from the plant that would transform an inconsequential crop to a multimillion-dollar industry worthy of tariff protection. Carver’s scientific work in helping to heal the land through plant pathology as well as his ability to promote racial harmony deserves recognition this month and beyond.

Portrait of George Washington Carver. Photo: Flickr.

Recommending reading:

Cover image of George Washington Carver via Flickr.

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