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Recognizing African-American Trailblazers for #BlackHistoryMonth

Week 1: Barbara Jordan, Isabel Wilkerson, Ralph Johnson Bunche, Clint Smith, LeVar Burton, and Merze Tate

This year for #BlackHistoryMonth I am highlighting people who have had an impact on my life, profession and the world. This is a summary of the first week of posts.

Day 1: Although I never met her in person, I was inspired by Barbara Jordan. I was a political junkie, even as a kid, and was impressed with her work on the Watergate trial and her speech at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. She was an amazing speaker, and I’m glad that her statue is a part of the campus at University of Texas-Austin where I taught for many years.

Day 2: On this second day of #BlackHistoryMonth, I want to recognize LeVar Burton whose roles on TV from Roots to Star Trek to Reading Rainbow had a huge impact on my life.

He changed my understanding of our history and helped me see that we could reach for the stars. He is an amazing role model and his grace and wisdom are a light to all.

Day 3: I am excited to share a book and author who changed my perspective on my own family’s history. The book, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, helped me to better understand the history of the Great Migration and the choices my parents made to give me and my siblings more opportunity. It also helped me in writing my own book, #RadicalEmpathy. Isabel Wilkerson is an American journalist and the first woman of African-American heritage to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism.

Day 4: It is my privilege to honor the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Ralph Johnson Bunche was an American political scientist, diplomat, and a leading figure in the mid-20th-century decolonization process who received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his late 1940s mediation in Israel.

Bunche was involved in the formation and administration of the United Nations and played a major role in both the decolonization process and numerous peacekeeping operations sponsored by the UN. In 1963, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President John F. Kennedy.

He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (my PhD alma mater) which named the building which currently houses the Department of Political Science after him. He received his PhD from Harvard University and was the first African American to gain a PhD in political science from an American university. He taught at Howard University and was chair of the Department of Political Science. He also contributed to the Howard School of International Relations with his work regarding the effect racism and imperialism had on global economic systems and international relations. In 1953–54, he served as the President of the American Political Science Association.

Source: https://lnkd.in/gJt53reE
Portrait from the National Portrait Gallery https://lnkd.in/gRpTvDJ6

Day 5: I remember hearing Clint Smith discussing his book How the Word is Passed. It’s an amazing work that resonated with me in many ways, particularly since I had recently finished my recently released book The Roots of Racism. His journey is one that this country needs to recognize and embrace.

From his website:

Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of the narrative nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, which was a #1 New York Times Bestseller and named a New York Times 10 Best Books of the 2021. He is also the author of the poetry collection, Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award.

Clint received his B.A. in English from Davidson College and his Ph.D. in Education from Harvard University.

Day 6: At the end of the first week of #BlackHistoryMonth it is my great pleasure to recognize the life and work of Dr. Merze Tate. Born in 1905 on a farm in rural Michigan. She was the first African-American graduate of Western Michigan Teachers College, first African-American woman to attend the University of Oxford, first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in government and international relations from Harvard University (then Radcliffe College), as well as one of the first two female members to join the Department of History at Howard University.

As a globally engaged scholar, Dr. Tate travelled the world multiple times and learned five languages. She was awarded multiple Fulbright scholarships, was nominated as a UNESCO representative, and became an expert advisor to world leaders on disarmament throughout the Cold War era. Throughout her travels in Europe, she was an international correspondent for a Black newspaper in the United States.

Dr. Tate was a prolific educator who used her powerful voice to speak out against injustice and fight racism through education. Knowing the value of knowledge, Dr. Tate took “so that all may learn” to heart and embodied a learner-centered life as teacher, journalist, author, inventor, and advisor to world leaders. She taught at multiple HBCUs before making her academic home at Howard University for 35 years. Dr. Tate shared her knowledge and used her connections to uplift others, help them discover their potential, and amplify their voices.

In 2021, Western Michigan University honored their trailblazing alumna, renaming their University College to Merza Tate College.

Next up, Week 2!



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Terri Givens

Terri Givens


Founder/CEO Brighter Higher Ed. Political scientist & consultant. Higher Ed, Radical right parties, immigration politics & European politics