By Gwendolyn Hawks-Blue
Diversity and Inclusion Team co-chair
Millions of lives have been affected by the actions and work of Black people of African descent. Many people know little of this history. When we become aware of it, we see more accurately the important part Black people played in developing modern society.
The individuals in this article made Responsible Choices that brought good into the world. They initiated or created processes and inventions that saved lives, established opportunities for ethnicities to work together, labored to build God’s shalom and unity among ethnic groups, and helped eliminate discrimination. I am so pleased we are acknowledging and celebrating a few of their actions.
Enslaved Onesimus was a gift to Puritan minister Cotton Mather from his congregation in 1706. Onesimus told Mather about the centuries-old tradition of inoculation practiced in Africa. Mather persuaded Zabdiel Boylston to experiment with the procedure when smallpox hit Boston in 1721.
Onesimus’s traditional African practice was used to inoculate American soldiers during the Revolutionary War, introducing the concept of inoculation to the USA. (See www.pbs.org/video/benjamin-franklins-tragic-association-with-inoculation-ldjsc.)
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams practiced at a time when Black people could not receive care at White hospitals, and Black doctors and nurses could not practice at them. Columbia University Irving Medical Center reports:
Determined that Chicago should have a hospital where both [B]lack and [W]hite doctors could study and where [B]lack nurses could receive training, Williams rallied for a hospital open to all races. After several months of hard work, he opened Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses on May 4, 1891, the country’s first interracial hospital and nursing school.
Provident also was the first Black-owned and operated hospital in the USA.
George Graves and William Fuller, appointees of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, succeeded in creating congregations made of White and Black people in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Although challenged by racial prejudices and the mindsets of the day that cautioned against interracial engagements, both men expressed the desire to take the gospel to all and to engage with other religious groups. Graves wrote:
In the name of Jesus Christ, let all Christians unite, and let us as ministers of Christ gather people together, high and low, rich and poor, to the glory of Christ and the benefit of humanity.
Harry Passman was among the White converts William Fuller baptized into the church. Because of his Jewish heritage, Passman represented the Reorganized Church in Palestine throughout the 1920s.
Garrett Morgan in 1912 invented the “Safety Hood and Breathing Device,” which came to be known as the gas mask. Also, after seeing an automobile collide with a horse and carriage, he invented an automatic traffic signal and sold the device to General Electric. Today’s modern traffic signal lights are based on his design.
Dr. Charles Drew in 1939 developed a technique that dramatically increased the shelf life of blood and plasma. His development of the blood plasma bank has given a second chance of life to millions.
Pauli Murray’s vision was for a society that valued diversity and rallied around common human virtues. A graduate of Yale Law School, Murray’s written works profoundly challenged the legal foundation of racial discrimination and contributed immensely to the dismantling of segregation and discrimination. The first Black woman ordained as an Episcopal priest, Murray also co-founded the National Organization for Women.
This minuscule bit of history helps dispel myths, inaccuracies, and damaging omissions that distort perceptions about Black people. Individuals recognized in this article focused beyond themselves and demonstrated courage, perseverance, and commitment to live their unique callings. Facing tremendous challenges, they each made Responsible Choices that were for the good of all.
Their accomplishments show how all of society benefits when individuals are able to develop their talents and have their gifts received. Hopefully, awareness of these stories will expand our appreciation and celebration of the rich diversity of history and inspire us to make choices for the good of all, even when challenged.