Black History Month is a time to learn and appreciate the history of influential African-Americans in our nation. As a writer of color, I feel it is fitting to reflect on some of the black journalists, poets and writers who have inspired me in my career.
Ida B. Wells
As a journalism student working as an investigative reporting intern at inewsource, I find inspiration in reading about the work of Ida B. Wells, an investigative reporter during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century.
She advocated against racial injustices throughout her life, suing and winning an illegal segregation case against the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company in 1884. After three of her friends were murdered by a mob in Memphis, Tennessee, Wells began to research lynchings against African-Americans in the late 1800s.
In the 1930s, she ran as the first African-American woman in an American election for the Illinois State Legislature.
One of the most powerful documentary films I have watched in recent years was the 2016 film “I Am Not Your Negro,” based on an unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin.
Baldwin — an influential novelist, poet, public speaker and playwright — published his first novel, “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” in 1953. The book focuses on his life in Harlem as an African American and was succeeded by other books and essays about the struggles of the black community in America.
Throughout his career, Baldwin shared his thoughts on issues pertaining to racial tensions and his experience as a gay man. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr., debated with Malcolm X and observed other aspects of the Civil Rights Movement.
The first time I cried because of a novel was when I read Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” for a fourth-grade book report. Being part of a loving and supportive family, I couldn’t understand or relate to the atrocities the main character Celie faced as a child, yet I fought through my tears to finish reading it because I was so intrigued by the epistolary writing style.
In 1983, Walker became the first woman of color to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, which she received for “The Color Purple.”
Whenever I need a boost of confidence, I turn to Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” from her 1978 collection of poetry, “And Still I Rise.” The poem details her response to the hatred and judgment of others, and how she continues to dance, laugh and walk in a self-assured manner.
Known for her poetry, Civil Rights Movement activism and her series of seven memoirs, starting with “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Angelou unabashedly wrote about deeply personal issues throughout her life.
ABC World News Tonight co-anchor Max Robinson was the first African-American man to be a broadcast news anchor. He began his career reading the news behind a newsroom logo that hid his African-American identity, and later reported on urban neighborhoods and the race riots in the 1960s.
One of the National Association of Black Journalist’s founding members, Robinson supported the education of younger journalists as a mentor until he died from complications related to AIDS in 1988.
Mary Ann Shadd
When she started “The Provincial Freeman” in 1853, journalist Mary Ann Shadd became the first black woman in North America to be the publisher of a newspaper. She supported the abolitionist movement, following in the footsteps of her parents who helped runaway slaves to reach freedom through the Underground Railroad.
In 1883, she earned a law degree from Howard University, making her one of the first black women to practice law.