Blog : Black History Month

On this day: February 28, 1988

On this day: February 28, 1988

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On this day: February 28, 1988

Debi Thomas became the first African American woman to win any medal at the Winter Olympics. In 1986 Thomas became the first African American woman to win the U.S. National Championships and the World Championships. Adding to her accomplishments, she earned a bronze medal in the 1988 Winter Olympics

Her rivalry with East Germany’s Katarina Witt at the 1988 Calgary Olympics was known as the Battle of the Carmen’s. The competition was given this name because both independently elected to skate to the music of Bizet’s opera Carmen in their respective long programs.

Debi Thomas credits legendary ice skating show and comedian Mr. Frick as being the person who inspired her to give figure skating a try.

Thomas shares “My mother introduced me to many different things, and figure skating was one of them. I just thought that it was magical having to glide across the ice. I begged my mom to let me start skating. My idol was the comedian Mr. Frick, formerly of Frick and Frack. I would be on the ice, “Look mom, I’m Mr. Frick.” When I went to my first world championship, I mentioned the story, and Mr. Frick saw it on TV. He sent me a letter and we met at Geneva when I won the world championship.”

In 1991, Thomas earned her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University. She retired from skating the following year in order to enter Northwestern University Medical School. After graduating from Northwestern in 1997, Thomas decided to continue her medical training to become an orthopedic surgeon.

Debi Thomas has received many accolades for her contributions to figure skating. She was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2000, and served as a representative for the U.S. Olympic Committee at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

On this day: February 27, 1897

On this day: February 27, 1897

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On this day: February 27, 1897

Opera singer Marian Anderson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Anderson was entered in the New York Philharmonic Competition at age 17 by her music teacher and placed first over 299 other singers. Anderson became an important figure in the struggle for black artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States during the mid-twentieth century.

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. The incident placed Anderson into the spotlight of the international community on a level unusual for a classical musician. With the aid of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Anderson performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Anderson sang before a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions. Anderson continued to break barriers for black artists in the United States, becoming the first African American, to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on January 7, 1955.

The First African American To Win An Academy Award

The First African American To Win An Academy Award

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Hattie McDaniels' Acceptance Speech

On February 29, 1940, Hattie McDaniel took a long walk from a segregated table in the back of the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles to accept the Academy Award for her role as Mammy in “Gone With the Wind.”

She was the “First African-American” to win an Oscar. Though “Gone With The Wind” won a precedent eight awards that evening, no award presented was more historic than the one presented to Hattie McDaniel as Best Supporting Actress.

Hattie  McDaniels’ acceptance speech:

“Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honored guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of their awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel, and may I say thank you and God bless you.”

On this day: February 25, 1870

On this day: February 25, 1870

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On this day: February 25, 1870

Hiram Rhodes Revels, a Republican from Natchez, Mississippi was sworn into office as a U.S. senator, becoming the first African-American to sit in Congress.

Revels was sworn in two days after Congress readmitted Mississippi to the Union (February 23, 1870) on condition that it would never change its constitution to Mississippi’s remittance was nine years after the state had seceded to join the Confederacy leading up to the Civil War.

On February 25, 1870, Revels, on a strict party-line vote of 48 to 8, with only Republicans voting in favor and only Democrats voting against, became the first African American to be seated in the United States Senate. Everyone in the galleries stood to see him sworn in.

Revels resigned two months before his term expired to accept appointment as the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University), a historically black college located in Claiborne County, Mississippi.