By: Jasmine Cochran
It’s Black History month, and, coincidentally, as our first Black President exits the White House, America is ablaze with political unrest. To honor the unique juncture of celebrated blackness and turmoil reflective of the 60s and 70s, I’d like to point out three pivotal Black American political leaders who proved that this land is ours, too, and we can, indeed, make changes from within.
- Hiram Revels
Revels, born in 1822 in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was forbidden to learn to read and write because of his race. Consequently, he learned literacy from a freed Black woman. In the 1840s, he studied at a Quaker school, where he became involved with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and in 1849, he was ordained as a minister. In 1854, Revels was imprisoned for preaching the gospel to Blacks. In that same decade, he married and began to raise a family of six daughters. In 1857, he became the principal of an African-American high school in Baltimore, Maryland, and during the Civil War, Revels helped organize Union regiments and recruit soldiers for the first colored regiment in Maryland.
After the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed, and Black people were viewed as U.S. citizens, could vote, and run for office, Revels was appointed to serve a term on the Natchez city board of alderman in Mississippi. During his first session, he offered a rousing prayer that garnered the attention of everyone in attendance. In 1869, Revels accepted the nomination to run for Senator, representing Adams County on the Republican ticket, and in 1870, Mississippi elected him as a Senator, making him the first African-American to hold the office. He served from February 1870-March 1871.
- Shirley Chisolm
Shirley Chisolm, a native of Brooklyn, New York, was the first African-American Congresswoman. She served seven terms in the House of Representatives. In 1972, Chisolm became the first Black candidate to run for President of the United States, and she did so on the Democratic ticket. Key points in her platform were education and social justice, which aligned with her Masters in elementary education from Columbia University. In 1969, Chisolm became one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus. She left Congress in 1983 to teach, and she died in Florida in 2005. In 2015, she posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
- Barack Obama
Barack Obama fulfilled the dreams of millions of Americans before him, when he became the 44th President of the United States of America. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Obama became an attorney and law professor. He was also a community activist in Chicago. In 2008, when he was elected, he became the first African-American President. He is married to Michelle Obama, and has two beautiful daughters.
Obama’s presidential successes include:
- Reversing the effects of the Great Recession,
- Decreasing unemployment,
- Introducing legislation that made healthcare available to all citizens, and
- Overcoming constant pushback from the opposing party and representing the nation with unprecedented style and grace.
All three of these historical figures serve as a source of pride for the Black community, and it is our responsibility, especially considering the obstacles we face today, to do justice to their hard work by executing hard work of our own.