As the month of February comes to a close, DirectEmployers Association would like to honor National African American History Month and the trailblazers who have opened the door for equality in the workplace. President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month (now referred to as National African American History Month) in 1976, calling upon the public to, “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”1
Let’s take a look at some of the prominent figures who made history in the workforce.
Hiram Revels of Mississippi became the first African American senator in 1870. Five years later, Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi took the oath of office. During the American Civil War, Revels had helped organize two regiments of the United States Colored Troops and served as a chaplain. After serving in the Senate, Revels was appointed as the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University).2
Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler, née Davis, (February 8, 1831 – March 9, 1895) was the first African-American woman to become a physician in the United States. She married Arthur Crumpler who had served with the Union Army during the American Civil War. Her publication of A Book of Medical Discourses in 1883 was one of the first written by an African American about medicine.3
Moses Fleetwood Walker, is credited by some with being the first African American to play Major League Baseball. Walker played one season as the catcher of the Toledo Blue Stockings, a club in the American Association. He then played in the minor leagues, until 1889, when professional baseball erected a color barrier that stood for nearly 60 years, until the game was once again integrated, with the rise of Jackie Robinson, in 1947.4
Samuel James Battle (January 16, 1883 – August 7, 1966) was the first black police officer in New York City. After attending segregated schools in North Carolina, Battle moved north, first to Connecticut, then to New York City, where he took a job as a train porter and began studying for the New York City Police Department civil service exam. He was sworn in on March 6, 1911.5
Guion Stewart Bluford, Jr., Ph.D. (born November 22, 1942), (Col, USAF, Ret.), is an American aerospace engineer, retired U.S. Air Force officer and fighter pilot, and former NASA astronaut, who was the first African American in space. He participated in four Space Shuttle flights between 1983 and 1992. In 1983, as a member of the crew of the Orbiter Challenger on the mission STS-8, he became the first African American in space as well as the second person of African ancestry in space, after Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez.6
Nancy Alene Hicks Maynard (1 November 1946 – 21 September 2008) was an American publisher, journalist, former owner of The Oakland Tribune, and co-founder of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. She was the first African-American female reporter for The New York Times, and at the time of her death, The Oakland Tribune was the only metropolitan daily newspaper to have been owned by African Americans.7
In addition to these amazing pioneers, the current movie playing in theaters, Hidden Figures tells the story of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan–a group of groundbreaking African American women mathematicians working within NASA–who played an important part in launching the first man into space.
National African American History Month is a time to reflect on how we can all be stronger by embracing what makes us different. Inclusion in the workplace is important and we need to take time to recognize the cultural diversity that makes us who we are–and ultimately embrace the heritage of all those we work with.
We would also like to thank our partners who provide career assistance and give employers a medium to reach African American job seekers. These partners include: The Black Perspective, IMDiversity, and The Black Collegian Online.
1. “Black History Month.” History.com. http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-month
2. Hiram Rhodes Revels. In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiram_Rhodes_Revels
3. Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler. In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_Lee_Crumpler
4. Moses Fleetwood Walker. In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_Fleetwood_Walker
5. Samuel James Battle. In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_J._Battle
6. Guion Stewart Bluford, Jr., Ph.D. In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guion_Bluford
7. Nancy Alene Hicks Maynard. In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Hicks_Maynard