Imagine being arrested just for doing your homework! In America during the early 1800s this was a real possibility. Slave owners began to fear the power of an educated slave, so laws were passed to keep people from teaching any slave to read or write.
But many slaves thought education was worth the risk, because it eventually could lead to their freedom. They often would try to learn at night when their chores were done. One of the things they used for their lessons was Freedom's Journal, an anti-slavery newspaper edited by John Russworm, who was a free African-American.
Many of the Africans who were brought to America as slaves were descendants of tribes who had built some of the world's most important learning centers, such as the empire of Songhay and the libraries of Timbuktu.
Sometimes slaves received just a little education from their masters or religious organizations, such as the Quakers. But free black men, like John Russworm, were allowed to attend school. In 1826 he became one of the first African-American college graduates in the United States.
Many other African-Americans made education their most important goal. Carter G. Woodson, born in 1875, had to skip school in order to help support his family. But he taught himself to read and went on to earn degrees from several colleges. Dr. Woodson became the leading author and teacher of Black history at the time.
In 1926 Dr. Woodson introduced Negro History Week to highlight the contributions made by African-Americans to the development of the United States. The week eventually grew into Black History Month, which our nation celebrates every February.
One of Dr. Woodson's many friends was Mary McLeod Bethune. She started a school in Florida with just a few dollars and five students. Over the years the school grew and grew and eventually became Bethune-Cookman College.
Bethune and Dr. Woodson earned widespread respect for their excellent work in education. In honor of their many contributions, the U.S. Post Office featured each of them on postage stamps.
Educators and other scholars, like Dr. Woodson, earn the title of Doctor (Ph.D.) by mastering a certain area of knowledge. A medical doctor (M.D.) takes care of our health, and many do research to find cures for diseases.
We benefit every day from doctors who do scientific work to benefit our health or create new products. The first blood bank, where donated blood is stored, was created by Dr. Charles R. Drew, an African-American. The blood that is donated at these banks is used to save lives during surgery, when a patient needs extra blood to replace the amount he or she has lost.
Black scientists throughout the years have developed systems to help people grow more food, prevent waste products from hurting the earth, increase energy sources, and even make a longer-lasting house paint.
Scientists often work for years to find the solution to a certain problem or a cure for a disease. When they succeed, it is called a "breakthrough." That is, they have moved beyond what was previously known and discovered something new.
Keep reading on the next page to learn about more African-American doctors and educators.
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