Continuing on the subject of Black History Month, here are additional African American heroes who appear on my four American Hero albums:
Sojourner Truth (1797?-1883) suffered through slavery in state of New York until the age of 30. A spellbinding preacher with a beautiful, powerful singing voice, she was the first black woman to travel across America denouncing slavery. She was a simple, honest, and deeply religious activist who stood for freedom and women’s rights. Her poise, self-confidence, and fiery passion made her into an early national symbol for strong black women. One hot day in Akron, Ohio in 1851, Ms. Truth delivered a powerful speech still known as one of the greatest women’s liberation speeches ever given. Her exact words were not recorded, but one version of her speech includes “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now that they are asking to do it, the men better let ‘em.”
Jackie Robinson (1919-72) broke the color barrier in 1947 when he became the first black major league baseball player. In spite of racial hostility and even death threats from players and fans, he played the game of baseball with quiet dignity and extraordinary talent. He was a daring base runner, an excellent fielder and held a career batting average of .311. He was an active spokesperson for civil rights, and in 1962 he became the first African-American elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame. Jackie was born in 1919 on the verge of Black History Month—January 31st.
He said, “There is not an American in this country who is free until every one of us are free,” which my song co-writer Dave Kinnoin and I worked into the final verse of our song:
“In this democracy,
Nobody’s free 'til we all are free!”
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) believed that love and peaceful protest could eliminate social injustice. A clergyman and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, he was one of the outstanding black leaders of the United States at a time when many blacks were clearly treated as inferior people. His house was bombed and his life and family was often threatened, but until the day he died, Dr. King continued to teach people the world over to protest peacefully in order to achieve equality and peace.
Harriet Tubman (1820?-1913) was born a slave near Bucktown, MD. At about the age of 29 she escaped to the North. Before the outbreak of the Civil War she made nineteen journeys back to lead other slaves—including her own parents and most of her brothers and sisters—to freedom along the secret route known as the Underground Railroad.
Slave owners were constantly on the lookout for Ms. Tubman and offered large rewards for her capture, but they never succeeded in seizing her or any of the slaves she helped escape. She helped so many blacks escape to freedom that she became known as the “Moses of her people.”
George Washington Carver (1864?-1943), known as the Peanut Man, helped countless poor Southerners survive as farmers. Born a slave, he overcame harsh racial prejudice to earn two college degrees, becoming one of the most famous scientists of his time. His research reportedly led to the development of 300 products made from peanuts. From the sweet potato, he found more than 100 uses. A soft-spoken, modest man, Professor Carver donated his savings near the end of his life so his research could continue. On his gravestone is written: “He found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”
Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994) overcame severe physical handicaps to become one of America’s greatest athletes. As a young girl living in poverty, child #20 in a family of 22 children, she was often sick. At the age of six, she was fitted with a metal leg brace and told she would never walk again. Through determination, dedication, and great courage, Wilma Rudolph turned her life around to become the “fastest woman in the world” as well as the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics. In her soft-spoken, calm, and gracious manner, she taught us that we must not allow our circumstances to hinder our potential to succeed.
After winning her three gold medals at the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics, the mayor of her home town wanted to hold a parade in Wilma’s honor. She agreed to participate only if the town would change its segregated custom and hold a racially integrated parade and banquet. It did. This was the first fully integrated municipal event in the history of Clarksville, Tennessee.