February is Black History Month, a time to reflect on African American accomplishments throughout the centuries. I think it is important for us to recognize certain segments of the population who are often overlooked in history with a month celebrating them, as it gives school children and society a chance to think about not only the achievements they have made, but the obstacles they have overcome. When researching this month for social media though, I realized that something was consistently missing: the women.
Notoriously, and I think some of you may agree, women’s contributions are often overlooked or minimized in our history books. Abigail Adam's puts it the best in a letter to her husband, future president, John Adams, in 1776. She urges, “I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” (history.com) She continues, indicating that women fought side by side for Independence. She was advocating for equality, although it would be almost 150 years later when the U.S. House of Representatives would vote to pass the 19th Amendment (1920), giving women the right to vote, and another almost 40 years when Congress would pass the Civil Rights Act (1964), outlawing discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin.
Needless to say, women’s history and black history seem to coincide, which is why perhaps celebrating them back to back throughout February and March makes sense. Many of the first suffragists were also abolitionists. As women in general have fought for a seat at the table, so too have women of color, starting with Shirley Chisholm in 1968. Four years after the Civil Rights Act passed, Chisholm became the first African American woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress, representing New York’s 12th Congressional District. In 1972 she also became the first women to run for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the first major-party black candidate for U.S. President. (Biography.com) Chisholm was a force to be reckoned with. She faced opposition from her own Black Party Caucus, of which she was a founding member, and told them to shut up and get out of her way. It turns out that the men did not want her to run for president because they thought a black man should be the first to win. (Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed, 2004)
Today, only one African American woman has ever served in the U.S. Senate, Carol Moseley Braun (1993-1999). Currently, there are 18 African American women out of 104 serving in the 114th Congress. Only one African American women is serving in a state wide elected office (Denise Nappier (D-CT) State Treasurer) and out of our country’s top 100 most populous cities, three African American women serve as mayor. (Rutgers) African American women continue to run, win and make waves. Just this past election cycle, Mia Love became the first black female Republican ever elected to the U.S. Congress and the first black person ever elected to Congress from Utah.
There is no doubt that politics is a man’s world, but women of all colors are slowly starting to chip away at the rough exterior. And while the male perspective may continue to overwhelm our history books and recollections, many of us know the truth: Women were there, always have been, raising the children being sent off to battle, making the beds wounded soldiers slept and died in, protecting the homestead and helping to support the men whose stories would later be told without mentioning them in detail. It is good to reflect on the women who came before us and on the women who are currently taking bold steps to break down barriers and to make a difference in this world, for all of us.
Happy Black History Month, from Raising Ms. President!