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celebrate Black History Month

Diversity Equality Inclusion - February 23, 2021

Celebrate Black History Month!

by G. Theresa Thomas

The celebration of Black History Month began as “Negro History Week,” which was created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson.

Black History Month was first proposed by black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969. The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State one year later, from January 2, 1970 to February 28, 1970.

February was later chosen as the month to celebrate Black History Month because the Black abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass was born in this month and so was Abraham Lincoln, who played an important role in shaping Black history.

Every aspect of American life has been touched in some form by the brilliance of an African American. From underground railroads to mountain top speeches, from sit-ins to marches for freedom, we have been and remain contributors to our nation’s success. We have crossed barriers that were set to deny our value and even our existence, but African Americans have been and always will be a people of resilience.
Two of the first African Americans to grace the stage of Carnegie Hall were pianist W.T. Talbert and soprano Sissieretta Jones. Hattie McDaniel was the first African American actor to win an Oscar. Jackie Robinson was the first African American to play in major league baseball. And who can forget Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton or Earl Lloyd—the first African Americans to play in the NBA.

Along with being stars of the stage, film and sports, African Americans are inventors. The short list below highlights some of the lesser-known inventors of widely used and well-known innovations. Test your knowledge by seeing if you can link the names on the left to their inventions on the right (try it without Google first!). You may be surprised by what you do not know and intrigued to learn more.

1. Booker T. Washington a. Three Position Traffic Signal
2. Lonnie G. Johnson b. Hide-away bed
3. Marie Van Brittan Brown c. Super Soaker Water Gun
4. Sarah E. Goode d. First Home Security System
5. George Robert Carruthers e. Hair Products/Straightening Comb
6. Lewis Latimer f. Ultraviolet Camera
7. Garrett Morgan g. Founder, Tuskegee Institute
8. Sarah Breedlove h. First draft of an air conditioning unit

Maybe you were able to make the connections with ease. If so, share your knowledge with someone so that they can also appreciate the richness of what African Americans contribute to our great country. If you found the test challenging, here are some easy things you can do to improve your awareness and understanding:

  1. Talk with a person of color, ask them who inspires them. It may not be an inventor but a strong family member who has overcome the odds that being a minority in America can present. Take time to listen, appreciate and embrace their experience, their motivation and their fears.
  2. Plan a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. When it re-opens, expect to spend the day taking in the many exhibits designed to make you understand and feel both the struggles and victories of African Americans. Until it re-opens, you can explore virtual exhibits on their website.
  3. Become familiar with African American literature. Our stories give you a birds-eye view of our experiences. Authors such as Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker offer a great place to start. Their books cover a wide range of experiences and views.
  4. Celebrate with us! Celebrate what we have been able to overcome, how we are still being challenged and the future that we hope will be better for our children.


Answers: 1-g, 2-c, 3-d, 4-b, 5-f, 6-h, 7-a, 8-e


Read more from the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Committee.


Theresa Thomas is the Associate Executive Director for Goodwin House Alexandria. In 2020, she agreed to lead the Goodwin Living Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Committee. Theresa grew up in North Philadelphia, in a single parent household. She has experienced discrimination based on the color of her skin, her economic status and her gender. While discrimination has left some scars, it also has produced a determination to set and achieve her own goals. As the DEI Chair, Theresa seeks to listen. She believes that by listening first, we can educate and support each other on how to deconstruct a wall that has been built and fortified for years on misinformation or refusal to accept the truth.

About the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) Committee: We are a group of team members and residents who together serve a mission to educate, embrace and empower a workplace of diversity, equality and inclusion. Our vision is to seek open and honest communication and collaboration that will inform and celebrate the cultural, ethnic and sexual orientation of all members of our staff without bias.


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