Editor's Note: A correction has been made in this column since it was published.
Before February comes to a close, I wanted to write a piece on Black History Month-inspired films and how not only do they show an inspirational story, but also present the perseverance of the human spirit. With stories such as that of Jackie Robinson, Katherine Johnson and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the film industry has made it a focus of theirs to bring these stories into the light in the hope of inspiring the next generation of African American activists.
On July 23, 1962, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame with honors and no questioning, however, the film “42” shows the journey before the big leagues. The film was directed by Brian Helgeland and stars Chadwick Boseman as the famed player that forever changed the game of baseball.
When Robinson first started out in the game, he was playing for the Kansas City Monarchs until he was approached by Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to come join his team as the first black ballplayer in the league. During his time in the MLB, Robinson experienced mass ridicule from crowds, players and league giants alike which almost drove him away from the game. Robinson was known for having a temper, which many players would try and use to get him kicked out of the league; on the other hand, Robinson liked to mess with players to throw them off their game.
Robinson’s time in the league officially ended 60 years of segregation in the game of baseball, and his legacy left his number forever immortalized in the league being worn by every player on April 15, which is known as Jackie Robinson Day. After his death in 1972, his wife created the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which gives scholarships to minority youths for higher education as well as preserving the legacy of the Baseball Hall of Fame member. Robinson forever changed the game of baseball and inspired such stars as Hank Aaron, Ed Charles and Bill Russell.
From the MLB to NASA, we take a look at Katherine Johnson and the impact she had on African American women everywhere in the film “Hidden Figures.”
This film was directed by Theodore Melfi and stars Taraji P. Henson as the groundbreaking mathematician assisting NASA in the Space Race against the USSR during the Cold War.
Before her time at NASA, Johnson worked as a “computer” and was then invited to assist in the efforts after the launching of a Russian cosmonaut. She became well-known at the space program for her skills in analytic geometry and went on to become the first African American woman NASA scientist.
During her time at NASA, Johnson took part in almost every early space exploration operation in the history of the space program including calculating trajectories for Alan Shepard's spaceflight (America's first human in space), verifying the calculations for John Glenn's first American orbit of Earth, computing the trajectory of Apollo 11's flight to the moon and working on the plan that saved Apollo 13's crew and brought them safely back to Earth.
Because of her accomplishments and achievements, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Nov. 24, 2015. She is one of the greatest minds in the world and continues to win awards at the age of 101.
When mentioning achievements in African American activism, how can one not mention the efforts made by the great Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his brave and unforgettable march on Selma, Alabama in 1965? In the film “Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay and starring David Oyelowo, the story follows Rev. King in the midst of his civil rights movement and the fight for equality in the eyes of the U.S. Throughout the movie, the audience is shown the story of the march from Selma to Montgomery march from three perspectives; King, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Alabama Governor, George Wallace.
With King and Wallace on the front lines against each other and Johnson watching this all unfold, viewers are also shown the reactions of men and women as they watch the march unfold on live TV. After the first day of the march and the death of one of the activists, King’s numbers are shown to have dwindled until an onslaught of civilians, black and white alike, join him in the march and lead to the passing of the bridge.
This film served two purposes in its runtime; of course to present the story of Martin Luther King Jr. and one of the greatest non-violent marches in U.S. history, but to also show the moment two races, black and white, joined forces and accepted each other in the world. King did numerous good things in his lifetime but this moment of unity, this moment of harmony in the midst of chaos, is his best moment and sends the best message across all generations: we stand together strong.
When all of us are born, we are presented a world with endless opportunities with the basic human rights being given to us. What we have to realize is that a lot of us had to fight to have the rights we take advantage of and continue to fight for today for the equality they should have been given at first breath.
During the days left in the month, take a moment to reflect and appreciate the impacts made, not just by these three people but by every icon and activist in the African American community.