Madam C.J. Walker
Madam C.J. Walker

Black Heroes of the Past

Did you know of these important historical figures?

February is known as the month of love, but let’s remember the historical reason for February. It’s Black History Month. As an African American myself, this month is crucial to me. It’s about the matter of representation! It’s about being seen! It’s about being myself and not having to hide! It’s about so much more! This month is about learning about black historical figures who have made a difference but have been swept under the mat regarding the history books. Here at Gresham High School, we can express where we come from without being judged because only some come from the same place.

There are so many historical Black Heroes that nobody knows about. We know the basics: Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Martin Luther King JR., Harriet Tubman, etc, but those aren’t even half of them. Although those historical Black Heroes are essential, there are thousands more African Americans who made a difference and don’t get the credit they deserve. I make it a goal every February to learn about as many new people who made a historical difference within the black community as possible during February, and this time, I’d like to share the two historical African Americans who made a difference that I chose to learn more about.

Have you heard of Madam C. J. Walker? Many have, but many don’t know why she’s so important to black history. Born on December 23, 1867, in Louisiana, was an African American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political and social activist named Madam C. J. Walker. Just like many other African Americans of her time, she grew up in poverty. She was born to Owen and Minerva Breedlove, who had labored as enslaved people at a cotton plantation before the American Civil War.

She was orphaned at the age of just seven years old and later married at the age of fourteen, but only to escape a brother-in-law’s abuse. She had a daughter with her husband, but he later died when she was twenty years old, leaving her a widow. But her luck looked up when she created a hair product line specifically for black women that dealt with scalp and baldness, which became a massive success and led to Madam C.J. Walker becoming the first female millionaire. She’s important not only within the black community but also in the women’s community. She proved that being a woman doesn’t mean you can’t do what a man does, as well as showing the black community that they could do what white people did as well. She is critical to the black community because what she did was a positive result of black excellence and not a negative result within the black community.

Have you ever heard of Jane Bolin? Probably not, as she’s not in any history book we’ve read. She significantly impacted the black community, especially when it comes to the workforce. Jane Bolin was born on April 11, 1908, in Poughkeepsie, New York. She followed her father’s (Gaius C. Bolin) footsteps by entering the legal field. Her father was the first African American to graduate from William College, a highly regarded private institution in Massachusetts. Her mother (Matilda Ingram Emery) died when Jane was eight years old, so her father took care of her. She was an only child. As a child of an interracial couple, she was subjected to discrimination, but that didn’t stop her from being the best she could be. Did you know she made two historical differences within the black community? She was the first African American Woman to become a judge and the first African American Woman to graduate from Yale University. At the time, African Americans were doubted by a lot of people, which led to them doubting themselves. With her successes, Jane Bolin changed how African Americans thought of the workforce and themselves. She was known as the “Trailblazing Attorney” because of how good she was. She dedicated four decades to New York in Family Law, making the black community proud.

These two African American women had such a significant impact on me. I’m incredibly grateful for Jane Bolin because, as someone who wants to be an attorney, she inspires me to be the best I can be. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I, or those who came before me, would get the opportunity to become an attorney or even think about becoming one. I’m so incredibly thankful for Madam C. J. Walker because, as someone who loves their natural hair and wears natural hair every day, I’m happy that I have the option of many hair products for my hair texture. I couldn’t imagine my life without having any hair products to keep my curls from shrinking. These two African American women greatly impacted the black community; many don’t even know them. I hope you learned more than you knew already and that you do more research on African American History Heroes.

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