Feb 04, 2019

Celebrating African-American trailblazers

It’s well known that Barack Obama became the country’s first African-American president and Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s racial barrier.

Ralph Bunche
Ralph Bunche

But do you know that Jupiter Hammon is the first known African-American published author? His poem “An Evening Thought: Salvation with Penitential Cries” was published in 1760 while he was held in slavery.

Do you know about Ralph Bunche? In 1950, Bunche became the first African-American to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to resolve the Arab–Israeli conflict in Palestine.

Black History Month is a great time to reflect on the accomplishments of African-Americans and their major contributions to society.

“It’s important to recognize these trailblazers and what they accomplished despite the many hurdles they faced,” said Phil Penny, a manager of Transmission Planning for PPL Electric Utilities and a member of PPL’s African-American Business Resource Group. “It serves as a reminder that people should not be judged by the color of their skin or race or religion, but by their deeds and impact on others.”

As we celebrate Black History Month, here are some other important firsts by African-Americans:

Thomas Mundy Peterson
Thomas Mundy Peterson

● Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler of Delaware in 1864 became the first African-American woman in the United States to earn a Doctor of Medicine. She primarily treated women, children and freed slaves. In 1883, she published a book titled “A Book of Medical Discourses,” which was dedicated to nurses and mothers and focused on the medical care of women and children. Crumpler is credited with being the only female physician author in the 19th Century.

● Thomas Mundy Peterson in 1870 became the first African-American to vote in an election under the 15th Amendment, which banned race discrimination in voting. A month after the amendment was ratified, Peterson voted in a local election held at Perth Amboy City Hall in New Jersey regarding the town’s charter. Peterson became Perth Amboy’s first African-American to hold elected office, serving on the Middlesex County Commission.

● In 1940, Benjamin Oliver Davis Sr. became the first African-American general in the United States Army. Davis entered the military in 1898 and climbed up the ranks. Davis retired in 1948 after a 50-year career. His son, Benjamin O. Davis Jr. became the first African-American general in the United States Air Force in 1954 and advanced to four-star general in 1998.

● Patricia Bath of Harlem, New York in 1973 became the first African-American to complete a residency in ophthalmology – the first of her many firsts. Two years later, she became the first female faculty member in the UCLA Jules Stein Institute’s Department of Ophthalmology and in 1983 became the first U.S. woman to serve as chair of an ophthalmology residency training program. Five years later, she became the first African-American female doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention – a Laserphaco Probe, which used lasers to remove cataracts. The device helped restore sight for people who had been blinded by cataracts.

“These pioneers overcame tremendous adversities and set the foundation for future generations though their willingness to succeed and desire to inspire others,” said PPL Business Accounts Specialist Devora Minnifield, an AABRG member and event liaison for the group. “Despite the obstacles these trailblazers faced, they were determined to evoke change.”

PPL’s AABRG has several events for employees planned at the company’s General Office in Allentown to celebrate Black History Month, including an AABRG luncheon on Feb. 7 featuring Tina Richardson, the chancellor of Penn State Lehigh Valley; an event on Feb. 20 featuring jazz musicians and local African-American business owners; and menu options at the cafeteria to honor African-American culture.

“These events help support an inclusive environment where everyone can feel comfortable discussing their heritage,” Penny said.