Hello, everyone! Today I’m going to be writing about Black History Month, which is happening right now in the month of February. What do you know about it? It’s certainly a month to recognize and remember the important roles so many black men and women have played in the past 240 years (and beyond) of our country’s history. Books, articles, and films highlight many of these individuals. And of course, there are historic figures like Martin Luther King Jr., or Frederick Douglass, or Harriet Tubman, who are some of the most well-known and most-talked-about. But I think we all know there were far more “unsung heroes” who existed and don’t get the recognition they deserve. I’d like to share two that I’ve learned and would enjoy learning more about when my time permits!
- Tom Bass: He was a native Missourian, born into slavery in Boone County on January 5, 1859. After the Civil War ended and being raised by his grandparents, he entered the horse training world at the young age of 20. His accomplishments are many, perhaps most notably training horses (Saddlebreds, a gaited breed, were his specialty) for Buffalo Bill Cody, Theodore Roosevelt, and Will Rogers. He developed a more-controlling yet also gentler on the horse’s mouth bit, aptly named the Tom Bass bit, that is still used today. He died at the age of 75 and was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians in 1999. A good book that I have skimmed through and would love to fully read (again, when I eventually have a spare moment…maybe when I’m 80?!) that talks a lot about his life and work is Tom Bass: Black Horseman by Bill Downey.
- Harriet Jacobs: I’m a huge Mercy Street (PBS TV show) fan and am really enjoying seeing how Season 2 is unfolding. This season has focused a lot more on the contrabands/free blacks, what their plight was specifically in Alexandria, Virginia (where the show is set), and the people who helped them establish a life free from the chains of slavery. They’ve introduced a character named Charlotte Jenkins, who is based on real-life abolitionist Harriet Jacobs. There is an excellent article here (http://www.pbs.org/mercy-street/blogs/mercy-street-revealed/the-freedmens-cause-african-american-abolitionists/) that explains the historical significance of Jacobs and all that she (and many, many others) unfairly endured, yet ultimately overcame. Jacobs eventually became an advocate for the “refugees from slavery” by educating them, securing food and health care, and recording her experiences so they are preserved for us to read about. On a side note, the Mercy Street blog also has a lot of other good articles detailing the historical accuracy of the show — from the development of nursing to female soldiers and beyond — and I highly recommend checking them out!
There are certainly many more I would love to share with you, but my tight time forces me to conclude. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit about two of my favorite African-American historical figures, and I look forward to who my fellow bloggers choose to write about for Black History Month!