BLACK HISTORY MONTH, or African American History Month, is an annual celebration of African Americans and their contribution to American history. Celebrated in February, Black History Month was officially recognized by former President Gerald Ford in 1976. He called upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Because Women of the ELCA also celebrates Bold Women’s Day on the fourth Sunday in February (Feb. 28 this year), we are honoring four bold African American women in our history.
Valora K Starr, director of discipleship, offers these four stories about bold African American women in our history. She used Wikipedia as the predominant source.
Harriet Tubman, “Moses”: slave, abolitionist, humanitarian, armed scout, spy
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery, Araminta “Minty” Ross (c. 1815-March 10, 1913). At 22, she escaped. By 1860, she made between 13 and 19 missions to rescue approximately 340 enslaved people, family, and friends. She used the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.
Tubman’s religious faith was an essential resource as she repeatedly ventured into Maryland. She spoke of “consulting with God,” and she trusted that God would keep her safe. Abolitionist Thomas Garrett (1789-1871) said of her, “I never met with any person of any color who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken directly to her soul.”
“I always told Him, ‘I trust to you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect You to lead me,’ an’ He always did.” — Harriet Tubman
Mary Fields, “Stagecoach Mary”: freighter, cook, domestic worker, star route mail carrier
Mary Fields (c. 1832–1914) was born in Hickman County, Tennessee. At almost 60 years old, she was hired as a mail carrier because she was the fastest at hitching a team of six horses. Her star route contract delivered U.S. mail from Cascade, Montana, to Saint Peter’s Mission (unclaimed territory) in 1885. Her only partner was Moses, her mule.
Mary lived with many families. The final person she lived with was Mother Mary Amadeus, Mother Superior of an Ursuline convent in Toledo, Ohio. In 1884, Mother Amadeus was sent to Montana Territory to establish a school for Native American girls. When Mother Amadeus was stricken with pneumonia, Fields hurried to Montana to nurse her back to health and run the school.
“All I have is God, my hands and Moses.” — Mary Fields
Mary McLeod Bethune, educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, and civil rights activist
Born Mary Jane McLeod on July 10, 1875 (d. May 18, 1955), in Mayesville, South Carolina, she was best known for starting a private school for “colored students” in Daytona Beach, Florida. She attracted donations of time and money and developed the academic school as a college later known as Bethune-Cookman College. President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her as a national advisor to what was known as his Black Cabinet. Because of her commitment to better African American lives, she was known as “The First Lady of the Struggle.”
“She gave out faith and hope as if they were pills and she some sort of doctor.” — journalist and newspaper publisher Louis E. Martin said upon her death
Oseola McCarty, domestic, washerwoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, and advocate
Oseola McCarty (March 7, 1908 – September 26, 1999) was born in Wayne County, Mississippi. She was conceived when her mother was raped on a wooded path in rural Mississippi as she returned from tending a sick relative.
By the sixth grade, she quit school to take over tending to those sick relatives. Like her grandmother, she later became a washerwoman, a trade that she continued until arthritis forced her to quit in 1994. She learned to tithe and save from her mother.
In 1995, the University of Southern Mississippi learned that, upon her death, McCarty gave $150,000 to the university to provide scholarships for African American students in need of financial assistance. This gift was approximately 60 percent of her estate.
On her first trip ever to a college campus, a student asked her, “Why aren’t you spending this (money) on yourself? She replied, “I am.” In 1998, the Univesity of Southern Mississippi awarded her an honorary degree. McCarty never married or had children. She died from liver cancer in 1999.
“I can’t do everything, but I can do something to help somebody. And what I can do, I will do. I wish I could do more.” — Oseola McCarty
(Photo of McCarty by JRP | CC BY-NC 2.0: Adapted and used with permission; the others are in public domain)