“Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face.”
—Carol Moseley-Braun, politician and lawyer
Our nation started the tradition of Black History Month in February when Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, established Negro History Week in 1926. The first official designation of February as Black History Month came in 1976. You can read more about the origin of Black History Month at the ASALH website
Dr. Woodson also established a theme for each year, and the 2022 theme is Health and Wellness. This theme acknowledges the legacy of Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine and honors traditions such as doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, and others throughout the African Diaspora. Here are some contributions Black citizens have made to the field.
Solomon Carter Fuller (1872–1953)
Solomon Carter Fuller is widely acknowledged as the first African-American psychiatrist but underappreciated as a pioneer of Alzheimer’s disease. He immigrated to the United States from Liberia at age 17 and excelled in his medical career to become associate professor of both pathology and neurology at Boston University by 1921.
He was one of five research assistants selected by Alois Alzheimer to work in his laboratory at the Royal Psychiatric Hospital in Munich. This experience arguably paved the way for trailblazing research in Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Fuller was the first to translate much of Alzheimer’s pivotal work into English, including Auguste Deter’s first reported case of the disease. He published what is now recognized as the first comprehensive review of Alzheimer’s disease, reporting the ninth case ever described.
Mae Carol Jemison (b. 1956)
Mae Carol Jamison is an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut. She became the first Black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour
. Jemison joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1987 and was selected to serve for the STS-47 mission, during which she orbited the Earth for nearly eight days in September 1992.
Jemison graduated from Stanford University with degrees in chemical engineering and African and African-American studies. She then earned her medical degree from Cornell University. Jemison was a doctor for the Peace Corps in Liberia and Sierra Leone from 1983 until 1985 and worked as a general practitioner. Jemison left NASA in 1993 and founded a technology research company. She later formed a non-profit educational foundation.
Journalist Susan L. Taylor, the editor in chief of Essence
magazine, said, “Whatever we believe about ourselves and our ability comes true for us.” Black History Month is our opportunity to learn more about the many brilliant and courageous role models that came before us. We can celebrate their accomplishments, be grateful for their contributions, and remind ourselves that Black History is American history.