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What Black History Month Means to Me
as told by Austin SHRM President Billie Wright

Many years ago, a colleague asked me if I would like to submit an article about Black History Month to share with employees across the organization. The story could be about pioneers such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, Frederick Douglas and the like. These are people that history has highlighted over the decades so we are familiar with the works and deeds of these individuals. Or, the story could be about my own history. I decided to write about my own Black history, and I hope you are as amazed by it as I am each and every day of my life. First, let me give you a little history about Black History Month itself. It started out as Negro History Week in 1926 and was celebrated the second week of February in honor of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. In 1969 the Black United Students at Kent State encouraged the celebration to be held the entire month of February. The very first celebration of Black History Month was held in February 1970 at Kent State. Black History Month was officially recognized by the United States in 1976 as part of the bicentennial. The United Kingdom recognized Black History Month in 1987 and Canada in 1995. Black people have gone through four iterations of defining my race. Basically, how we are defined by government entities. We have gone from being referred to as colored, to Negro, to Black and now to African-American. I, personally, prefer to be referred to as Black and that is mainly because of my history and heritage. You see, my family is truly a rainbow coalition of sorts. My family was literally born from an enslaved woman. “Momma Louisa” had six children by her enslaved husband and four by her owner. Those born of the enslaved husband married Blacks and those born of the owner could “pass” for white; two of them married whites and two of them married Blacks. I come from a small town of 4,000 so the family joke is that you never marry anyone from home because you might be related to them! My multiracial family embraces both sides of our family as one, both good and bad. We can’t change our past, but we can and did set a different course for our future. Our family cemetery has both Blacks and whites buried there, with “Momma Louisa” resting under the big oak tree. Except for WWI and the Spanish American War, we have had someone in my family serve in every military war since the Civil War and every decade since WWII. In spite of the harsh brutalities heaped upon the Black race, my family is very patriotic and loved our country even during a time when it didn’t love us. And we still do. We can now claim six generations to have served and are still serving this great nation of ours. My own son is a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force. I also have two nephews and a niece still serving as well.

Black history is not just about celebrating the list of famous names that we are familiar with, but also celebrating the list of names within one’s own history. Here’s what I celebrate when I think about my Black history:

  • My grandmother’s grandfather was enslaved but made sure that she received an education. This was during a time when Blacks of all ages were relegated to picking cotton and domestic work.
  • My grandmother’s grandfather helped build our family church and it still stands today with his name on it.
  • My grandmother was the first Black female landowner in my family. She was bequeathed 12 acres of land by her employer. She raised my dad and supported her five siblings on the “family farm”.
  • I had three great-uncles, all brothers, who all served in WWII at the same time.
  • One of my distant relatives who was white went on to become a wellknown figure in Louisiana. There is a Louisiana state park in my hometown named in his honor.
  • Another one of my distant relatives who was white went on to marry and become the mother of Louisiana’s former Gov. Huey P. Long.
  • My mother’s brother was one of the first Black sheriffs in Tarrant County Texas.
  • My oldest brother was the first Black to graduate from his high school and the age of 16 and then went on to receive two bachelor degrees and a master degree by the time he was 28.

I could go on and on, but the list would be endless. The point that I am trying to make is that all of my history is part of my Black history and it is celebrated 365, 24/7. Today, I want to encourage you to seek out someone who is of the Black race and ask them about their own Black history. Who knows? You may just be sitting next to someone who is six degrees separated from Harriet Tubman or the next great Black inventor.

So, now that you know my Black history here is some history about everyday things that we use, see, or know of that were invented by Black people:

  • The traffic light and gas mask were invented by Garrett A. Morgan
  • The potato chip was invented by George Crum.
  • The light bulb was invented by Lewis Latimer.
  • Automatic elevator doors were invented by Alexander Miles.
  • The co-inventor of the personal computer was Mark Dean.
  • The first person to successfully perform open heart surgery was Daniel Williams.

For more information about black inventors, visit

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