Since the inception of what is now the United States of America. African Americans have played a major role in the history of this new nation, shaping world politics, diplomacy, and government as well as being appreciated for enormous contributions in civil rights, science, music, art, and literature. Although few can deny the centrality of African Americans in the evolution of American history, it is the hard work of many who sacrificed, suffered, and gave their lives not just for this country but for the global community.

Black History month was officially acknowledged in 1976 by President Gerald R. Ford. President Ford proclaimed that “ in celebrating Black History Month, we can take satisfaction from the recent progress in the realization of the ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers. But even more than this, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every endeavor throughout our history.” Since that proclamation, almost 40 years ago Black History Month has stood as a time to honor the accomplishments of African Americans that have helped to shape this nation.

Daryl Turner, President
Portland Police Association


MAHALIA JACKSON

20th century recording artist Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972), known as the Queen of Gospel, is revered as one of the greatest musical figures in U.S. history.

Born on October 26, 1911, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Mahalia Jackson started singing as a child at Mount Moriah Baptist Church and went on to become one of the most revered gospel figures in the U.S. Her recording of “Move On Up a Little Higher” was a major hit and she subsequently became an international figure for music lovers from a variety of backgrounds. She worked with artists like Duke Ellington and Thomas A. Dorsey and also sang at the 1963 March on Washington at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She died on January 27, 1972.

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MARY WINSTON JACKSON

Mary Jackson at Work NASA Langley

Mathematician Mary Winston-Jackson (1921-2005) is one of a small group of African American women who worked as aeronautical engineers, called “human computers,” at NASA during the Space Age. 

Born in 1921, Mary Winston-Jackson came of age during segregation in the United States. After excelling in her academic work and graduating with honors, she took a number of jobs including bookkeeper, receptionist and teacher before embarking on her long career in the aerospace industry. Winston-Jackson’s skills at math and science propelled the young mathematician/engineer, along with a handful of other African American women, to groundbreaking roles at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and later National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), during the Space Age. Over the course of her 30 year career at these institutions, she also challenged discrimination in the workplace and helped other women and minorities secure promotions and career advancement, as well as bringing their accomplishments to the attention of upper management. Winston-Jackson died in February 2005 at the age of 83. The story of her life at NASA is depicted in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.

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JACKIE ROBINSON

Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) broke the color barrier when he became the first black athlete to play Major League Baseball in the 20th century. He signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and was named Rookie of the Year that year, National League MVP in 1949 and a World Series champ in 1955.

Born January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, Jackie Robinson became the first black athlete to play Major League Baseball in the 20th century. He signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and throughout his decade-long career, Robinson distinguished himself as a talented player and a vocal civil rights activist. In 1955, he helped the Dodgers win the World Series. He retired in 1957 with a career batting average of .311. Robinson died in Connecticut in 1972.

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DOROTHY JOHNSON VAUGHAN

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan (1910-2008) worked as a NASA mathematician on the SCOUT Launch Vehicle Program that launched America’s first satellites into space.

Dorothy Vaughan in her twenties.

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan was an African-American mathematics teacher who became one of the leading mathematical engineers in early days of the aerospace industry. After the U.S. defense industry desegregated, Vaughan worked with leading computer operators and engineers, becoming an expert in the FORTRAN programming coding language at NASA. She worked on the SCOUT Launch Vehicle Program that shot satellites into space. Vaughan and other female African-American mathematicians are the subject of a 2016 film Hidden Figures.

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SOJOURNER TRUTH

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) is best known for her extemporaneous speech on racial inequalities, “Ain’t I a Woman?” delivered at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851.

Born in upstate New York circa 1797, Sojourner Truth was the self-given name, from 1843 onward, of Isabella Baumfree, an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Truth was born into slavery, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. She devoted her life to the abolitionist cause and helped recruiting black troops for the Union Army. Her best-known speech on racial inequalities, “Ain’t I a Woman?” was delivered extemporaneously in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention.

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