Did you know that one of the reasons Black History Month sits in February is because President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday also sits in this month? Founded in 1926 as “Negro History Week,” this annual celebration was set to take place during the second week of February because President Lincoln’s birthday was February 12th and Frederick Douglass’s birthday was on February 14th. Both of these birthdays held significance in Black communities’ due to the work of Douglass and Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation freeing African Americans from slavery. Another lesser-known fact -- Frederick Douglass was the first African American to run for president. While the origins on Black History Month and its ties these birthdays hold significance, there are many more strides in Black History to celebrate on this day. Today, we focus on pioneer, Shirley Chisholm.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Chisholm was the oldest daughter of Charles and Ruby St. Hill. A talented debater, her professors at Brooklyn College encouraged her to consider a political career but she showed hesitance. Chisholm knew she’s faced challenges among the nation’s political leaders. She didn’t look like them. She was a double minority – a black woman.
Today, we know of many double minorities who have strived to and succeeded in opportunities that aren’t easy to achieve. We have shared the stories of Janet Collins, the first Black prima ballerina to perform at The Met and the brave Bessie Coleman who had to leave the country in order to earn her pilot’s license. Like these two prolific women, Shirley Chisholm knew how hard the road would be ahead of her.
After initially working as a school teacher, Chisholm joined local chapters of the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, Democratic Party club and Urban League. In 1964, she ran for and became the second African American in the New York State Legislature followed by her winning a seat in Congress in 1968 – the first African American woman to do so. During her tenure, Chisholm introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation and championed racial and gender equality and fighting to end the Vietnam War. During her time as a congresswoman, Chisholm co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus, helped form the Black Caucus and became the first Black woman and second woman to ever serve on the House Rules Committee.
With all of her accomplishments, when Chisholm decided to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, much discrimination followed. She was blocked from participating in televised primary debates to which she had to take legal action resulting in her just making one speech. Chisholm retired from Congress in 1983 after serving seven terms. Upon retirement from her political roles, Chilholm turned her focus back to teaching but this time at Mount Holyoke College. See below to learn more about the significance of Chisholm's legacy.
As Told By: Dr. Wanda Patrick, PhD
To kick off Black History Month, Weaver Union School District invited Sweet Blackberry to educate their elementary and middle school students on the importance of Black History. Elementary school students screened Sweet Blackberry's newest film 'Flying High: The Bessie Coleman Story.' The school system also gifted their students with Sweet Blackberry Founder, Karyn Parson's debut novel, 'How High The Moon.' Dr. Wanda Patrick, shares insights to this delightful visit.
February is Black History Month; what better way to celebrate literacy than have the founder of Sweet Blackberry address the students at Weaver Union School District. Karyn arrived at the middle school, Monday, February 3rd, eager to share her experience as the author of How High the Moon.
996 extremely eager and excited middle school students wanted to know what it was like to be an author and if it was difficult to balance a career and a family. Of course, many students wanted to take a photo with Karyn. A really excited young author met Karyn one on one getting encouragement to continue writing and to never stop.
Monday was a long day for Karyn. She accepted a proclamation from the city of Merced along with the NAACP for their work accomplished at the Multicultural Arts Center for Black History Month (photo below). Karyn spoke to the city council about Sweet Blackberry’s mission and why she was in Merced.
There was a dinner in her honor attended by the President of the NAACP, Merced County Office of Education (MCOE) after school program personnel, Weaver Middle School Principal, many Weaver Middle School personnel, Farmdale Principal, and the Karyn Parson Team.
On Tuesday, February 4th, Karyn presented the Sweet Blackberry film about Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman to earn her international pilot's license, to the students of Farmdale and Pioneer. The students were captivated with the very interesting story of Bessie. Karyn told the students how she was an actress, but always came back to writing.
Karyn left the students with a quote that we will be using for our NAACP 59th Annual Freedom Fund Dinner this October 10, 2020: “Don’t let someone else define your dreams”