Black History Month - 2021
I’m adopted and was raised by a white family in rural Arkansas. As much as my parents tried to teach me about Black History, they were limited in their knowledge and the public school system fell short. I’ve done A Poster A Day series every February. My goal in this is to both learn more about Black historical figures and events but also share that knowledge with others in engaging and exciting ways. Each poster is accompanied with a writeup or video explaining the significance of the subject.
This has been one of my favorite recurring projects as it gives me a challenge to communicate effectively while also giving me creative freedom to see the task through.
Here are some of my favorites from 2021.
It’s amazing what can be changed with an open mind and a place at the dinner table. Today, we’re talking about Zephyr Wright was born in 1915 and was raised in Marshall, Texas. She studied home economics at a historically Black college. Soon after, she was hired by Lady Bird Johnson as a chef around the age of 27. She’d go on to be employed by them for 27 YEARS through the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.
Not only did she cook for the Johnsons, but over the course of her time there, she became an integral part of the family. She helped around the house, watched the kids, and even bounced her ideas and opinions off of Lyndon Johnson himself. She told him her own stories on how she has faced discrimination for things as simple as bathrooms, restaurants, and hotels.
One such story involves a trip to Austin, Texas when Lyndon Johnson was serving as senator. Zephyr (and her husband Sammy, who was hired as a chauffeur), typically went ahead of the family to prepare the place they were staying. When Johnson mentioned this, Zephyr said that she wasn’t going to do it.
She went on to say, “When Sammy and I drive to Texas and I have to go to the bathroom, like Lady Bird or the girls, I am not allowed to go to the bathroom. I have to find a bush and squat. When it comes time to eat, we can’t go into restaurants. We have to eat out of a brown bag. And at night, Sammy sleeps in the front of the car with the steering wheel around his neck, while I sleep in the back. We are not going to do it again.”
These stories stuck with Johnson and a lot of people think that they influenced his desire for civil rights reform. When Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, he actually gave her the exact pen he used to sign the bill. He specifically said, “You deserve this more than anybody else”.
When Johnson left office in 1969, Zephyr also left employment with the family, but her legacy lives on with what brought everyone together in the first place – her cooking. You can still find several of her recipes throughout the internet, including Shrimp Curry and Chili con Queso – go check them out!
158 consecutive games. 14 seasons. 9 Pro Bowls. 6 All Pros. 4 NFL records. 2 NFL Championships. The first Black man in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That’s Emlen “The Gremlin” Tunnell.
He was born in 1924 and grew up in a very diverse neighborhood. In high school, he played halfback and went to the University of Toledo to play ball. That season, he broke his neck and was sidelined for the remainder of the year. (In the spring, he had healed enough to help lead Toledo’s basketball team to the finals of the National Invitation Tournament). After that season, he served in the Coast Guard (and also played football for them!) and then went to play at Iowa for two seasons.
In the summer of 1948, he was signed by the New York Giants, beginning his NFL career. He was the first Black man to sign and play for the Giants – pretty big deal. There he played safety on defense and as a returner on special teams, recording over 1,240 interception return yards, 4 pick sixes, 3,421 return yards, and five special teams touchdowns. Insane.
In fact, he managed to get 79 interceptions across his career- that’s still 2nd place today!
Vintage NFL highlights are one of my favorite things to watch because even slightly ‘old’ games feel like such a different sport. But highlights of Emlen Tunnell could be fit in with some of the top players today. The dude was electric. But more importantly, recognizing people for the work they’ve put in inspires those around them – that’s why Tunnell is such a big deal. 🏈
The Million Woman March
A celebration of family unity took place in Philadelphia in October of 1997. Known as the Million Woman March (an homage to the Million Men March that took place two years prior), hundreds of thousands of women gathered to honor and recognize the experience of being an African-American woman.
The event was organized over the course of a year by several grassroots activists, hoping to bring social and economic development to the Black community and inspire women to join hands as sisters, regardless of nationality, religion, or economic status.
Word was spread through the early internet, word of mouth, sororities and several other women’s organizations. It didn’t feature very many big names (like the Million Man March did), but it brought facts and statistics to the minds of everyone who attended. In the 90s, 9 out of every 100 Black teenage girls were victims of violent crime. Black women were 18 times more likely to get AIDS than White women. Black women were paid 40 dollars less than white women per week. These inequalities were shot to the forefront and have inspired individuals that continue to be committed to advocacy today.
After heading home for the event, many of the women who attended said that they left with pride, confidence, and hope. Mission accomplished.