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Celebrating Black History Month

Black History Month: Notable Persons of Color in History

In honor of Black History month, Kaitlyn and I thought it would be informative to spotlight a number of notable people of color from throughout history. God created a world full of diversity and made each and every one of us unique. Diversity is something to be celebrated and cherished and too often people of color get overlooked so we want to shine a light on a few people of color that have made an impact in history! 

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands," - Revelation 7:9


Amanda Smith

(Missionary 1837-1915)

Amanda was born a slave on the East Coast of the United States. Her father was a great man, he made painstaking efforts to read scripture to his family every Sunday and spent many sleepless nights working desperately to purchase his family's freedom.

It was from her father that Amanda learned to read and write, uncommon for slaves. Her father also taught her about the hope we can have in Christ. No doubt she took a lot of spiritual zeal from her father.

Once freed, Amanda worked hard as a cook and maid to provide for her family. Unfortunately her husband died during the Civil War. So prayer became her new way of life. It must have been such a hardship, but how great did this grow her faith!

She was known for her singing voice and inspired teaching, and soon evangelical opportunities opened up for her all over the South, and even to the West.

In 1876, she was invited to travel to England to speak and inspire other believers. She stayed for a year and a half to teach the Gospel. From there she traveled to India and then spent 8 years in Africa.

Her heart to serve God did not end abroad, however. When she came back to the US, she worked very hard to fund "The Amanda Smith Orphanage and Industrial Home for Abandoned and Destitute Colored Children," which she set up in Chicago. The orphanage was not without its struggles, however.

Only in 1912 did Amanda retire from ministry. The only thing that kept her from serving and evangelizing was her poor health. She eventually passed away in 1915 at the age of 78.


Samuel Kaboo Morris

(Liberian Prince/Missionary 1873-1893)

Samuel Morris was born in a Liberian village originally with the name Prince Kaboo. While he was still a child, a rival clan destroyed much of his village and took him prisoner. The rival chief demanded that Kaboo's father pay a ransom.

While he was held captive, Morris was treated poorly and often was beaten within an inch of his life. One night, God acted in a miraculous way. Recounting the story, Morris said a bright light from heaven appeared to him and told him to flee. No sooner had he heard these words, the rope that was binding him fell to the floor!

Morris fled into the jungle and eventually made his way to Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. Here a young boy invited him to church. It was here Morris heard the miraculous tale of Paul. Noting how similar his own story was, Morris decided to give his life to Christ.

Morris worked in Monrovia for a couple of years, while growing zealous of his faith. A woman at his church encouraged him to seek out her mentor at Taylor University in the United States. Morris decided to pursue this new spiritual learning opportunity.

To get to Indiana, where the school was located, Morris walked and slept on the beach for many days before he found a ship willing to give him passage. While at sea he worked as a crewman, but was treated poorly and often beaten. Despite these poor conditions, Morris clung to the joy and hope he had in Christ. Consequently, when the ship reached the US many of his crew-mates came to Christ as a direct result of Morris' faithful witness.

When he arrived in the states, Taylor University warmly welcomed him. Even though Morris had no way to pay for schooling, some of the teachers started a scholarship to pay for his schooling. He found his friend's mentor, Stephen Merritt, who let Morris live with him and his wife and brought him to his prayer meeting where his story turned many people to Christ.

Morris did not get to finish his schooling, however. In 1893 he contracted a severe cold and passed away at age 20. His faith had a profound influence on many despite his short life. He came to Taylor University to study and prepare to be a missionary to his own people in Africa, but instead his infectious faith helped grow many at the University and helped them to see their own role in global missions. Taylor University has named numerous buildings and scholarships in his name!

Morris may not have gotten to be a missionary, but his life and faith in Christ inspired a missionary movement.


Jesse Owens

(Olympic Athlete 1913-1980)

Jesse Owens was born in Alabama in 1913. He was the youngest of 10 kids in his family. It was in 1922 that the family relocated to Ohio to find better opportunities then they could have had in the heavily segregated South.

Owens ran track in high school, and even gained some attention for his success. It wasn't until he got to attend Ohio State College that he really started to turn heads. In 1935 there was a track meet from the big 10 schools and Jesse destroyed 3 world records and tied a 4th, all in the span of 45 minutes. His records were in the long jump, 220 yard sprint and the 220y low hurdles.

A year later. Jesse competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. It was during this Summer Olympics that Adolf Hitler was hoping to show the world a resurgent Germany and have the games dominated by his Aryan German athletes. Thus establishing legitimacy to his claims of Aryan superiority. 

During the games, Jesse won 4 gold medals. He won the 100m sprint, the long jump, the 200m sprint and the 4x100 sprint relay. His long jump victory was documented in the 1938 film, "Olympia" by Leni Riefenstahl and Jesse credited the win to some technical advice he received  from German competitor Luz Long.

While Hitler was forced to shake hands with all the victors, it was documented by Albert Speer that he was in fact annoyed by the lack of Aryan presence among the victors and ended up only shaking his German athlete's hands before leaving the stadium. Though later a photograph apparently existed that Owens carried with him showing Hitler shaking his hand, but wasn't talked about in order to not show Hitler in a sympathetic light. 

Despite his victories, it must be mentioned that Jesse was not always treated fairly. On his travels for competitions he often had to stay in different hotels then the white athletes and eat at blacks-only restaurants.

Jesse Owen's time in the 1936 Olympics will  be depicted in the film, "Race" which hits theaters this weekend and stars Stephen James (Selma) as Owens and Jason Sudeikis, Jeremey Irons and William Hurt.

Jesse Owens became known as the "greatest and most famous athlete in track and field history" and was important in paving the way for African Americans in the Olympics.


Hattie McDaniel

(Academy Award Winning Actress 1895-1952)

Hattie McDaniel was born to former slaves in 1895 in Wichita, Kansas and was the youngest of 13 children. Her father was a stern Civil War veteran, but her mother loved to sing church music in their home. No doubt that is where Hattie got her love of the arts!

Hattie wasn't the only actor in the family. Her brother, Sam played a role in a "Three Stooges" short film. Some of her other siblings were performers as well.

Hattie worked in various musical shows with her brother, Otis, and even got into radio and became the first black woman to sing on the air in the US. When the market crashed in 1929, she worked many odd jobs to make ends meet. Eventually she worked her way to LA to be with her actor siblings and to find work.

When she finally got into Hollywood, she started acting in various movies and eventually landed herself the reputation of being a comedic actor. She joined the Screen Actors Guild and began to have more prominent roles as well as prominent connections. She became friends with people like Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Shirley Temple and even future president, Ronald Reagan! It was partly due to these connections that she beat out the competition to be cast in "Gone with the Wind."

Her memorable role in the film was that of Mammy, the irascible maid that scolds Vivien Leigh and gives Clark Gable a hard time. The role is memorable and as iconic as Hattie herself and in 1939 she became the first ever African American to win an Academy Award! She won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy.

By the end of her career, she had been in over 300 films but only credited for 80 or so. She was even in the infamous Disney film, Song of the South. Her legacy lives on with 2 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1 for radio and the other for film.

She was a pioneer in the entertainment industry and paved the way for future black actors to win an Academy Award including Denzel Washington and Whoopi Goldberg.


Reverend Doctor Charles Albert Tindley

(Minister and Composer 1851-1933)

Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley was born in 1851 and is often referred to as "The Prince of Preachers."

Tindley grew up in a household where his father was a slave, but his mother was free. By law he was then considered to be free as well.

After the Civil War, he moved to Philadelphia and secured work as a brick carrier. He also served at his local church as the janitor, a position that was completely volunteer-based.

Due to his background, he was never able to afford formal schooling. But he did manage to learn independently by asking for people to tutor him. He took some correspondence courses through Boston Theological School, so that he might learn Hebrew as well as Greek.

Without any degree, but instead because of the work of faithful people in his life, as well as a high scoring personal examination, he was qualified for ordination. Eventually, he became a pastor at the same church that he started his spiritual journey at as a janitor. In his years serving as pastor, many lives were pointed towards Christ. His church grew to 10,000 people at one point, becoming the largest congregation serving African Americans on the East Coast! After his death in 1933, the church was named in honor of him.

In addition to his work as a pastor, he is known as one of the founding fathers of gospel music. He was a skilled song writer and composer. In fact you can still find 5 of his hymns in the United Methodist Hymnal, including "I'll Overcome Someday" and "(Take Your Burden to the Lord and) Leave it There."

Tindley proved that through hard work and faith in God yo can achieve much for the Kingdom! 


Mary McLeod Bethune

(Educator/Missionary 1875-1955)

Mary was born to former slaves in 1875 in South Carolina. Missionaries opened up a school nearby to where she lived, to reach African American families with the Gospel, which is how she received formal schooling and came to know of Christ. She was the only member of her family to receive an education.

At the kindness of a benefactor, she received a scholarship to attend an all-girls seminary, and even attended the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. After finishing school, she felt led to become a missionary. At that time, however, she was told that there was no need for a black missionary. Instead, she turned her attention to how she could serve God in the United States.

Mary was a huge proponent of education! She believed that it was the main, if not the only, thing that prevented African American families from developing. She especially saw the need to educate young women, and opened an all-girl's school in Florida in 1904.

She spent many years teaching and was involved in many black community development organizations and councils.

Fun Fact: She decided to carry a cane, not for support, but for effect. She said it gave her "swank!"

Through her work as an activist, she became very close friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, and subsequently advised Franklin Delano Roosevelt on many issues facing the African American community across the US.

While we admire her work as a champion of civil rights, we especially look to her as a champion of faith. It was because of her love of Christ that she strove to serve the communities around her. She saw the hope of Christ as a way to change the cycle of poverty and oppression that she saw in the US.

Her goal was to change lives, but also to glorify God in all that she did.


Doris Miller

(Hero of Pearl Harbor 1919-1943)

Doris grew up in Waco, Texas with his family, working on their farm. He grew to be quite a large man, standing 6 foot 3 inches and weighing in at 200 pounds.

His size brought him both benefits and drawbacks. He was well-suited to be a linebacker on his high school football team and was a great farm hand for his father. But he also found himself in many fights at school, which cost him expulsion and much of his high school education.

Having worked a couple of years on the family farm, Doris enlisted in the United States Navy originally assigned to be a cook for the USS West Virginia, a battleship that was eventually shipped out to Pearl Harbor.

On the morning of December 7th, 1941, a "day which will live in infamy," the ship along with the harbor found themselves under attack from more then 200 Japanese planes. Due to his physique, he was ordered to run and retrieve wounded soldiers and bring them to a more sheltered portion of the ship. After aiding the captain of the ship, he was placed at an anti-aircraft gun and was in charge of loading the large piece of machinery, a very dangerous task! Eventually, he took over the AA gun and defended his crew-mates, saving many lives.

A year after Pearl Harbor, he was awarded with the Navy Cross, the 3rd highest honor in the Navy, for his heroic acts.

You might remember Doris from the 2001 Pearl Harbor film directed by Michael Bay, where he was portrayed by Oscar winner, Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Nearly 2 years after Pearl Harbor, Doris was killed in action when the USS Liscome Bay was sunk by a Japanese submarine during the Battle of Makin Island.

He will be remembered for his acts of heroism and bravery in a time of dire crisis.


Rosa Parks

(Mother of the Civil Rights Movement 1913-2005)

Rosa Louise Parks was born on February 4th 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama to a carpenter and a schoolteacher. She faced racism early as she went to a segregated school and was forced to walk to school while the white kids got to be driven there. 

On December 1st 1955, Rosa was working as a seamstress and after work boarded the 2857 Cleveland Ave. bus around 6pm. A ordinance passed in 1900 that all buses would be separated by a white section and a black section with the whites sitting in the front and blacks in the rear. Also the bus drivers could make room for more whites if their section was full and make the blacks move back or get off the bus entirely. (though this wasn't an official rule it nevertheless was practiced almost universally) 

The driver of the bus that day was James Blake whom Rosa had encountered before when he made her enter the bus from the rear and drove off without her. During a stop, enough white passengers entered that one man didn't have a seat in the white section so Blake ordered that the blacks move back and all did except for Rosa who moved over to a window seat. Blake asked her if she was was going to stand up, and she said, “No, I’m not.” Blake told her “Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested” to which she responded, “You may do that.” Blake called for the police and she was arrested and taken to the police station where she was booked, fingerprinted and incarcerated.

Rumors have circulated that she was just tired and that was why she did not move but that wasn't true. She was in fact already a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and was planning to protest but not that particular day it just happened to be the perfect moment, one that led to a city-wide boycott of the bus system in Montgomery, AL.

After the success of the boycott, city leaders created the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself!

Through that act, Rosa Parks became an icon of the civil rights movement earning many honors in her lifetime including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award in 1980 and after her death in 2005 was honored by President George W. Bush with a statue of her at the US Capital's National Statuary Hall.

Rosa Parks embodied how much of a difference one person can make in history.


Bass Reeves

(Original Lone Ranger 1838-1910)

 

One fact of history that has gone unnoticed by many, a large proportion of cowboys back in the good ol' Western expansion were black men and women.

Reeves was born a slave to a prominent political family in Arkansas. After working in the fields of the plantation for many years, he eventually became a servant to the family's son and heir. During the Civil War he was enlisted and fought in many battles.

Reeves eventually fled the war and bravely became a fugitive slave. He spent most of his time in the "Indian Territories," familiarizing himself with the many tribes and languages and customs.

Eventually he settled back in Arkansas. While raising his family, he focused on developing his skills as an outdoors-man, becoming an incredible sharp shooter.

Due to his familiarity with many Native tribes and languages, as well as an incredible marksman, he was appointed as a Deputy Marshall, a position never before held by a black man. He was incredibly skilled at his job. He arrested more then 3,000 felons in his career. A fact made all the more impressive when you find out that he never suffered a gun-related injury. Many believe that his life and success as a Marshall was the inspiration behind the "Lone Ranger."

Some excerpts and photos from greatblackheroes.com