Short Stories Of African Americans Who Achieved Greatness, But Are Rarely Talked About/Forgotten
The new century continues to evolve. In a good and bad way most of the time. In this moment, I want to take the time to dwell on a few amazing accomplishments made by a few African Americans that were not so talked about in American history. After all, it is Black History Month. A month to celebrate black excellence and greatness.
In this day in age, all you really see is are things that are shown on social media and the news about the murders of black people, the incarceration of rappers, and even school teachers giving lessons on how a slave owner would punish a slave(yes, this is true—look it up). I’m a firm believer in showing young urban children how much we can achieve and the greatness of our people at a early age. So they know we are not only good for the violence that is shown. We are very intelligent people who can adapt and learn fairly easily.
Although, these things aren’t recent achievements, I do think it is good to always be reminded that we are not what people portray us to be, but what we do with the life we were blessed with. No better time to hear about history—especially black history—than Black History Month. So, let’s get into it.
Matthew Henson: Arctic Explorer
Henson was born in Maryland right after the Civil War. Tragically, he lost both of his parents at a young age. He went to live with an Uncle, but at the young age of eleven set out on his own. Shortly after traveling to Baltimore, he got on a ship as a cabin boy on a freighter.
Henson traveled through China, Europe, and North Africa. Also learning how to read and write from his well beloved Captain. After six years of sailing the ocean, his captain passed away, causing him to return to Washington D.C. for some time where he met a Navy Lieutenant named Robert Edwin Peary.
Peary was interested in Henson after hearing his adventurous stories on the sea, giving him a job as an assistant on his upcoming trip in Nicaragua, where he soon became a permanent member of the team. Throughout the 1890s, Peary and Henson traveled through Greenland many times, losing many members along the way due to weather and starvation. They would fail to make it through Greenland each time due to drastic weather issues and bad conditions.
In 1908, Henson and Peary tried one last time to travel through. Henson even learned to speak the Eskimo’s language to talk to them, being the only team member to do so. By befriending the Eskimos, he paved the way for their success in their journey. Henson arrived closest to the pole ahead of Peary, but Peary himself was able to plant the American Flag in the end. After all of that, Peary had begun to resent Henson for arriving first, and their friendship was no longer the same after that.
How crazy is that? To come so far and survive so much with someone, and not like them in the end for achieving the goal first. What a shame.
Of course after that, Commander Peary was highly praised for their accomplishments once they returned to America. Although it was Henson to finish first, he did not receive the same love and attention from others. Afterwards, he went to New York where things turned around for him.
President Taft was able to give Henson a comfortable living. In 1912, he published an autobiography which made his adventures more widely known to the public of his role on going to the North Pole. In 1944, he received a Congressional Medal, and a Presidential Citation in 1950. In 1955, he passed away, but not before being known as the co-founder of the North Pole. I believe he was able to rest peacefully knowing his greatness didn’t go unnoticed.
Bessie Colman: American Aviator
Bessie was born in a one-room shack the year of 1892 in the state of Texas. It was obvious she was a bright, intelligent young girl who attended school faithfully, and even was active in her Baptists Church. When not doing either one of the two, she was out with her family in the cotton fields to help them survive.
After leaving college only after one semester due to lack of funds, she moved down to Chicago with her older brother. Life out there was difficult for Bessie, and working as a manicurist wasn’t bringing in good money, and it surely wasn’t entertaining to do. What she really enjoyed was listening to the stories from pilots returned from being on the airfield during World War I. She finally quit doing those nails and decided to become a pilot.
In the year of 1918, it was a rare case to see an African American female pilot. It was basically non existent. It was impossible for her to fly for mainly two reasons; she was black and a female. Americans didn’t care that she was born in America because she wasn’t white American, so her desires to fly were mocked and laughed at.
A black newspaperman named Robert Abbot heard that Bessie was anxious to fly, so he advised her to go to France. He financed a trip to Paris in 1920 for Bessie, and for seven months she got to train to become a pilot with some the best pilots. Being the only African American in her class didn’t make things uncomfortable or awkward with classmates or teachers. They treated her with respect, and in the end she ended up earning her International Pilot’s license by 1921. Like I was basically trying to say in the beginning, we can do great things when we are all treated equally enough for them to notice our true potential. She went from being ignored to acknowledged.
By the time she returned to America, people started to hear about this incredible story, and she pretty much became famously known overnight for being a black female pilot. She passed away April 30, 1926.
These are just two people of many. I plan on speaking on many other black people who go unnoticed in this day in age throughout the month. Throughout the year! I hope all of my readers continue to enjoy the information I bring. And if you would like for me to speak on a topic—any topic—don’t be afraid to reach out and tell me.
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