This past April, my parents and I visited the National Museum of African America History and Culture in Washington, D.C. with some of my colleagues. It was a wonderful experience to share with my parents, especially my father who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, is a huge sports fan, loves music and history.
There are three history galleries that go in chronological order. As you come off the “time capsule” you are transported back to the 1400s, to the sound of waves, to another place. Here is where your journey begins. The first stop is Slavery and Freedom, the 1400s – 1877. Next, is Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: The Era of Segregation 1876 – 1968. Last, is A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond.
During our short visit in April, we only saw the first floor and half of the second floor. It was decided then that we would go back at some point to see the rest of it and we did. In November, my parents and I traveled back to Washington, D.C. for another trip through the time capsule.
This time, our first stop was the Emmett Till memorial. Even though I know the story, I was still overcome with emotion as I looked at his casket and read the quote by his mother, I have read my times before. We then continued through the floors, seeing exhibits we missed the first time and spending more time looking at the ones we did see.
A highlight for me was seeing artifacts donated by Colonel Charles McGee. Colonel McGee was one of the Tuskegee Airmen and an officer in the United States Air Force and holds a record of 409 combat missions flown in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. In 2003, I had the honor of meeting Colonel McGee at a presentation he gave.
There is so much to see, read and listen to. Everything grabs your attention. One exhibit causes you to pause and reflect. While you look at the picture, you stop and take in the moment. Others cause you to smile and laugh. Then, as you are focused on reading, you hear a small child’s voice behind you, asking questions with a huge smile on his face, as he recognizes a picture of President Obama. This place really is captivating.
Leading up to the Olympic Games in Rio, there was already so much talk about some of the athletes. Ibtihaj Muhammad made headlines as the first Olympian to wear a hijab during competition. She will return home to New Jersey with a team bronze medal. Below are four other African American women who have already made history in Rio.
Simone Biles, Gymnastics: First, a little about gymnastics. There are four events in women’s gymnastics: floor exercise, uneven bars, vault and the balance beam. Gymnasts compete in each event and are scored by judges based on the difficulty of their routine and how well they execute the routine. Deductions are given for any mistakes and can sometimes mean the difference between winning and losing. Back to Simone. 19 year old, Simone Biles is arguably, the best gymnast in the WORLD. Prior to the Olympics, she was the world All-Around champion in 2013, 2014, and 2015. That means she completed in each of the four events and her total score was the best out of everyone that competed. In addition to the All-Around medals, she won individual medals in some of the events and the US women’s team, won the gold medal in the 2014 and2015 World Championships too. That brings us to the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Simone won a total of 5 medals in Rio: 4 gold and 1 bronze. The US Women’s team won gold. Simone also won the gold medal in the All- Around competition, floor exercise, vault, and a bronze on balance beam; she most decorated gymnast in United States history! Finally, Simone was chosen to be the United States flag bearer for the closing ceremonies.
Simone Manuel, Swimming: Swimming also has different events. Swimmers can compete in the freestyle, breast stroke, and back stroke style at different lengths, 50 meter or 100 meter. There is also a team medley where 4 swimmers compete in the event. Simone Manuel was a champion before Rio, but adding an Olympic gold medal to your resume is awesome. Simone earned the gold medal in the 100 meter freestyle and the 4×100 meter medley. The best part was watching her reaction after she realized she won and her interview after is an inspiration to all.
Ashleigh Johnson, Water Polo: The 21 year old from Miami, Florida is a student at Princeton University. Johnson’s also making history because she is the first African American women to compete in water polo at the Olympics. She said, “I definitely feel the responsibility to be a role model for other black people and minorities because there are so little of us in this sport. Just being myself, being black draws more attention to me. But I didn’t feel like looking different means I had to play differently, or had to prove anything to anybody. I felt like I could be myself and play as well as anybody else.” (Time.com) Johnson is the goalie for the women’s water polo team.
Michele Carter, Track and Field: Michele Carter won the gold medal in the Track and Field shot put. Carter is another athlete making history since she is the first American woman to win gold in this event. It has to be cool to win a gold medal in the Olympics. It’s even better when your father won silver and is your coach. Michelle’s father, Michael, won a silver medal in the same event at the 1984 Olympic Games, which were held in Los Angeles California. He was also a defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers and won three Super Bowls with the team. Mr. Carter was beyond ecstatic for his daughter’s victory. “It’s no comparison,” he said. “With a Super Bowl, you’ve got a chance to win it every year. This only comes around once every four years or once in a lifetime. I’m numb right now.” (USAtoday.com). Michelle is a great example of how giving all you got, even when others don’t think you can do it, pays off. In addition, Michelle is promoting body image for all women. Her program You Throw Girl aims to help women build confidence. Check out this article from The New Yorker.
Aug 18, 1920: Woman Suffrage Amendment Ratified
The 19th amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote, received two-thirds majority of state ratification thanks to Tennessee and is now a new law. It culminates more than 70 years of struggle by women. It reads “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United State or by any State on account of sex” and “Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
The women’s suffrage movement began in the mid 1800. Women became politically active in politics due to the abolitionist and temperance movements. In July 1848, 200 women met in Seneca Fall, New York to discuss women’s rights. The convention was led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott and became known as the Seneca Falls Convention. Even Frederick Douglass attended this convention! During this time, women focused on better educational and employment opportunities for women. They did also try to gain the right to vote but it was met with much opposition. Over the years, more women’s rights conventions were held. The first national women’s rights convention was in 1850 and it was held every year after. Year after year, women pushed for the right to vote. Wyoming was actually the first state to allow women to vote in 1890.
By the 20th century, the role of women in society was changing. Women worked more, received a better education, and had fewer children. Still, they did not have the right to vote. In 1917, America entered World War I. With so many men overseas fighting in the war, women stepped up to aid the war effort. By 1918, women had equal suffrage in 15 states, but not across the country yet. Finally, an amendment passed the House of Representatives in January 1918. In June 1919, it was approved by the Senate for ratification. Suffragists around the country pushed for ratification and it finally happened on August 18, 1920 when Tennessee became the 36th to ratify the amendment. On August 26, 1920, it was formally adopted into the Constitution.