Even if you haven’t read any of Maya Angelou’s poems or other writings, you’ve heard of her. But did you know that In 1944, she became the first female Black cable car conductor in San Francisco?
After weeks of trying to get an interview for the job, Angelou wrote:
“(O)ne day, which was tiresomely like all the others before it, I sat in the Railway office, ostensibly waiting to be interviewed.
“The receptionist called me to her desk and shuffled a bundle of papers to me. They were job application forms. She said they had to be filled in triplicate. I had little time to wonder if I had won or not, for the standard questions reminded me of the necessity for dexterous lying. How old was I? List my previous jobs, starting from the last held and go backward to the first. How much money did I earn, and why did I leave the position? Give two references (not relatives).
“Sitting at a side table my mind and I wove a cat’s ladder of near truths and total lies. I kept my face blank (an old art) and wrote quickly the fable of Marguerite Johnson, aged nineteen, former companion and driver for Mrs. Annie Henderson (a White lady) in Stamps, Arkansas.
“I was given blood tests, aptitude tests, physical coordination tests, and Rorschachs, then on a blissful day I was hired as the first Negro on the San Francisco streetcars.”
After working eight years as a nurse, Rebecca Lee Crumpler began medical school at the New England Female Medical College in 1860. This school was the first in the United States to train female doctors, Harvard wrote. She graduated in 1864 as the first Black woman to receive an M.D. in the U.S. At the time, only 300 of the 54,543 physicians in the U.S. were women, and none of them were Black.
After opening a medical clinic in Boston, she treated women and children who lived in poverty, often asking no payment for her services.
By the end of the Civil War, about 179,000 Black men served as soldiers in the U.S. Army — making up 10% of total troops. An additional 19,000 served in the Navy, according to the National Archives. Nearly 40,000 Black soldiers died over the course of the war — 30,000 of infection or disease. Black soldiers served in artillery and infantry, and performed all noncombat support functions that sustain an army. Black carpenters, chaplains, cooks, guards, laborers, nurses, scouts, spies, steamboat pilots, surgeons and teamsters also contributed to the war cause. There were nearly 80 Black commissioned officers.
Black men fighting in the Civil War have aften been depicted in movies, but little has been said about the Black women. These women, who couldn’t formally join the Army, served as nurses, spies and scouts, according to the National Archives. The most famous was Harriet Tubman, who scouted for the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers.
Annie Turnbo Malone was one of the country’s first Black millionaires. She started Poro Co., which made hair and beauty products for the Black community. She hired the young Sarah Breedlove as one of her door-to-door sales agents. You probably know Breedlove better as Madam C.J. Walker, who invented a line of African American hair products, according to biography.com, after suffering from a scalp ailment that resulted in her own hair loss.
7. Black inventors
Everyone may know about George Washington Carver, but there are so many more Black inventors who have contributed much to our way of life. Here are just four:
Lewis Howard Latimer: Invented and patented the carbon filament, so lightbulbs would last longer than those with a paper filament designed by Thomas Edison.
Sarah Boone: An African American dressmaker, she made her name by inventing the modern-day ironing board. With its approval in 1892, she became one of the first Black women to be awarded a patent.
Garrett Morgan: Love them or curse them, you can thank 46-year-old inventor and newspaperman Garrett Morgan for the three-position traffic signal. “Though Morgan’s was not the first traffic signal (that one had been installed in London in 1868), it was an important innovation nonetheless: By having a third position besides just ‘Stop’ and ‘Go,’ it regulated crossing vehicles more safely than earlier signals had,” history.com wrote.
Marie Van Brittan Brown: If you sleep better at night and when you’re away from home because you have a security system, you should know it was invented by a Black woman. “Marie Van Brittan Brown felt uneasy in her neighborhood and the police were unreliable. So, she took matters in her own hands and patented the modern home security system,” timeline.com wrote. “Over 50 years later, the technology is installed in millions of homes and offices worldwide.”