Greetings from the Great Bend Public Library, and happy Black History Month! In honor of this observation, I thought it would be cool to celebrate some of the amazing individuals whose lives and accomplishments are what celebrating Black History Month is all about.
First off I’d like to highlight famous abolitionist, suffragist, author, and diplomat Frederick Douglass. His list of accomplishments is astonishing when you consider that he not only started his life as a slave and had no formal education, but that he faced all of the challenges he encountered as an African American man living through the 19th century. During his childhood as a slave, he was forbidden to learn to read or write by the plantation owners, but the clever boy Frederick used his time running errands to fit in reading lessons. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, earning fame through his speeches and antislavery writings, alongside producing three autobiographies. It was common knowledge that he was considered a friend by President Lincoln, and he even worked with the President to allow black men to join the Union Army. As Douglass said, “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.”
Next I would like to highlight Harriet Tubman and her vital role as a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad in helping slaves gain their freedom. Harriet was also born a slave. She remained as such until at the age of 36, when she fled to the free state of Pennsylvania, despite being married to a free man. Tubman was never caught and never lost a “passenger” during her long run as a conductor leading some 70 slaves to freedom in Canada, at great risk to her own freedom and life. Tubman even served as a scout, spy, guerrilla soldier, and nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War. As Tubman said, “I have heard their groans and sighs, and seen their tears, and I would give every drop of blood in my veins to free them.”
Our last honoree to be highlighted today is Katherine Johnson, a famous mathematician for NASA, and a personal hero of mine. Johnson’s amazing intelligence and gift for numbers allowed her to accelerate through school. She enrolled directly into the second grade when she reached school age, and at age 10 she was ready to enroll in high school classes. In college, one of her mentors actually designed a geometry of space program just for her. At the age of just 18, she graduated summa cum laude from her university. After getting a job at NASA on her second attempt, Johnson started her important work that allowed for the first manned spaceflight. She was dubbed “the human computer,” as she was able to complete extremely difficult calculations without the use of a computer. These calculations were critical to the success of the first U.S. crewed space flights and many more after that. She broke barriers for many women, especially women of color, when neither were treated as equals in society let alone in NASA, paving the way for others who came after. As Johnson said, “I finished the report and my name went on it, and that was the first time a woman in our division had her name on something.” She lived to the ripe age of 102 before passing away in February of 2020.
If you would like to learn more about these amazing, groundbreaking individuals and other Black History heroes, check out some of the titles we have at the Great Bend Public Library, as well as those available through our digital services like Libby and hoopla. To see what else we’re up to at the library, visit our Facebook page and our website, greatbendpl.info. You can also message us on Facebook, email us at email@example.com, or give us a call at 620-792-2409 for any questions about our programming or services.
Book Nook is written by Hannah Grippin, outreach manager at the Great Bend Public Library.