Black History Month, also known as African American History Month, is an annual celebration each February of the rich cultural heritage and contributions by African Americans as well as a time for recognizing their central role in our history. Started in the United States in 1976, it is also officially recognized in Canada and more recently has been observed in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Historians link its celebration to National Negro Week which was started by Carter D. Woodson, an American historian, to better coordinate the teaching of African American history. It was celebrated in February to reference the birthdays of esteemed abolitionist, Frederick Douglas, and President Abraham Lincoln who ended slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.

Every Black History Month, pioneers in African American history are acknowledged like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali, and Harriet Tubman. We are shining a light on three Black Americans who are less well known and deserve to be celebrated for their achievements and notable contributions to engineering and technology, medicine and sports.

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Dr. Mae C. Jemison

Dr. Mae C. Jemison, a former NASA astronaut, became the first African American woman to orbit the Earth (for 8 days) while on the space shuttle Endeavour in 1992. Jemison is also a physician, a teacher, a former doctor for the Peace Corps, and the Founder and President of The Jemison Group, Inc., a technology consulting firm. She founded The Earth We Share, an international science camp for middle and highschool students, and regularly advocates for young women of color to become more active in the fields of technology, engineering, and mathematics. Jemison has been inducted into both the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame.

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Dr. Patricia Bath

Dr. Patricia Bath, who passed away in 2019, was an ophthalmologist and laser scientist. She was not only the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology in the US in 1973, but was also the first female African-American doctor to patent a medical device. She is primarily known as the first person to invent a surgery that greatly advanced treatment for cataracts. Dr. Bath invented the Laserphaco Probe in 1981 which used lasers to treat cataracts more precisely and less painfully. This important invention enabled vision recovery for people who had been blind or vision impaired for decades. She also co-founded the non-profit American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.

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William Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr

William Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.s recent three-year journey to the top of NASCAR drew widespread attention. When he finished second in the 2018 Daytona 500, he became the race’s highest-finishing rookie driver and its first Black competitor. Bubba has used his voice to make change, speaking out against NASCAR’s usage of the Confederate flag and the fear it causes some who might otherwise be attracted to the sport. His activism led to the Confederate flag no longer being permitted at racing events. As the only African American NASCAR driver to have won more than once he has become a hero for making an overwhelmingly white sport more welcoming for new fans of color.