Bridget “Biddy” Mason was born into slavery on August 15, 1818, in Hancock County, Georgia or Mississippi. At an early age, she was taken from her parents and moved to the plantation of a different slave owner. During her teenage years, she learned domestic and agricultural skills. Additionally, she developed skills in herbal medicine and midwifery taught to her by other female slaves. These skills were passed down from African, Caribbean, and Native American traditions. Her knowledge benefited both the slaves and the plantation owners.
Ms. Mason was forced to travel west with slave owners Robert and Rebecca Smith when they joined the Mormon migration to Utah. Ms. Mason had three children: Ellen born in 1838, Ann born in 1844, and Harriet born in 1847.
In 1848, Ms. Mason, then 30, walked 1,700 miles behind a 300-wagon caravan. Along the route, Ms. Mason was responsible for setting up and breaking camp, cooking the meals, herding cattle, and serving as a midwife. She also took care of her three young daughters, aged 10, 4, and a newborn.
In 1851, Smith moved his family once again. This time a 150-wagon caravan headed for San Bernardino, California. While California was supposedly a “free state,” Smith continued to hold Ms. Mason and her daughters captive.
While in California, Ms. Mason and her children befriended free Blacks who informed the L.A. County Sheriff that Smith was illegally holding slaves. Soonthereafter, Smith made plans to move to Texas, a state where slavery was still legal. The sheriff was alerted that the Smiths planned to illegally force Ms. Mason and her daughters to move to Texas with them. The sheriff gathered a posse and apprehended Smith’s wagon train in Cajon Pass, California, and took Ms. Mason and her family into protective custody under a writ of habeas corpus.
Ms. Mason challenged Smith for her freedom utilizing the court system. Judge Benjamin Hayes circumvented racist testimony laws that prevented Blacks from testifying against whites by interviewing Ms. Mason in his chambers. There, she said that she did not want to go back to the south with the Smiths. As a result, on January 21, 1856, Judge Hayes granted the writ, ruling “it further appearing by satisfactory proof to the judge here, that all of the said persons of color are entitled to their freedom, and are free and cannot be held in slavery or involuntary servitude, it is therefore argued that they are entitled to their freedom and are free forever.”
Ms. Mason became a doctor’s assistant and ran a midwifery business. She accumulated a fortune worth about $7.5 million in today’s dollars, making her one of the richest women in Los Angeles at that time. She established a homestead in what became downtown Los Angeles. Ms. Mason used her wealth to establish a daycare center for working parents and created an account at a store where families who lost their homes in flooding could get supplies. She also co-founded and financed the First African Methodist Episcopal (FAME) Church, which still thrives to this day. Known as Grandma Mason, she died in 1891 and is honored through the Biddy Mason monument in downtown Los Angeles.
Ms. Mason was fond of saying, "If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come in. The open hand is blessed, for it gives in abundance, even as it receives."
This text is excerpted from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biddy_Mason, https://www.aclunc.org/sites/goldchains/explore/biddy-mason.html and https://www.nps.gov/people/biddymason.htm.
Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Miami, Florida, Ketanji Onyika Brown Jackson was raised by her parents, Johnny Brown, a lawyer, and Ellery Brown, a school principal. Her parents wanted to honor their ancestry and asked a relative serving in the Peace Corps in West Africa for a list of African names for their daughter. The name they selected, Ketanji Onyika, means "lovely one."
Despite excelling in school, being nominated the “mayor” of her high school and earning the designation of “most likely to succeed,” Justice Brown Jackson’s guidance counselor discouraged her from setting her sights on Harvard University. Notwithstanding the discouragement from her counselor, Justice Brown Jackson attended Harvard University for college and law school, where she served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Prior to law school, she spent a year working for Time magazine and serving as an intern for the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.
Justice Brown Jackson began her legal career with three clerkships, including one with U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer. Prior to her elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, she served as a district judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia from 2013 to 2021. Justice Brown Jackson was also vice chair of the United States Sentencing Commission from 2010 to 2014. Since 2016, she has been a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers.
Justice Brown Jackson and her husband, Patrick, have two daughters: Talia and Leila. In 2016, Leila wrote a letter to President Obama recommending her mother for the Supreme Court vacancy that was a result of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.
Nominated by President Joe Biden in 2021, Justice Brown Jackson succeeded Justice Breyer upon his retirement from the court on June 30, 2022. Upon her swearing in, she became the first Black woman and the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.
After her confirmation, Justice Brown Jackson was quoted as saying the following: “It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, but we've made it! We've made it — all of us."
This text is excerpted from: https://www.biography.com/law-figure/ketanji-brown-jackson,
Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was born in 1875 in a small log cabin on a rice and cotton farm in South Carolina. She was the fifteenth of seventeen children born to Sam and Patsy (McIntosh) McLeod, both former slaves.
Her parents wanted to be independent, so they sacrificed to buy a farm for the family. As a child, Dr. McLeod Bethune observed that the only difference between herself and white children was the ability to read and write. She set out to change that by learning as much as she could.
When Dr. McLeod Bethune began attending her town’s one-room schoolhouse for Black children; she was the only child in her family to attend school. She would go home from school each day and teach her family what she had learned each day.
Dr. McLeod Bethune attended Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College) and later Dwight L. Moody's Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago (now the Moody Bible Institute), hoping to become a missionary in Africa. However, she was told that Black missionaries were not needed.
Dr. McLeod Bethune and her husband Albertus Bethune married in 1898. Together they had a son named Albert.
Dr. Bethune started the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training Institute for Negro Girls in 1904 with $1.50, vision, an entrepreneurial mindset, resilience, and faith in God. She created “pencils” from charred wood, ink from elderberries, and mattresses from moss-stuffed corn sacks. Her first students were five little girls and her five-year-old son, Albert Jr. In less than two years, the school grew to 250 students. Recognizing the health disparities and lack of medical treatment available to African Americans in Daytona Beach, she also founded the Mary McLeod Hospital and Training School for Nurses, which at the time was the only school of its kind that served African American women on the East coast.
Daytona Institute would continue to increase in popularity, and merged with the Cookman Institute of Jacksonville, Florida in 1923 and became Bethune-Cookman College.
Tireless, talented and committed to service, Dr. Bethune held leadership positions in several prominent organizations even while also leading her school. In 1935, she founded the National Council of Negro Women, which would become a highly influential organization with a clear civil rights agenda.
She was appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the National Youth Administration in 1936. By 1939 she was the organization’s Director of Negro Affairs, which oversaw the training of tens of thousands of Black youth. She was the only female member of President Roosevelt’s influential “Black Cabinet.” She leveraged her close friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to lobby for integrating the Civilian Pilot Training Program and to bring the Program to the campuses of historically Black colleges and universities, which became the alma maters of some of the first Black pilots in the country.
This text is excerpted from: https://www.cookman.edu/history/our-founder.html and
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_McLeod_Bethune. To read more about Dr. McLeod Bethune’s life and legacy, visit those websites, as well as: https://www.biola.edu/talbot/ce20/database/mary-mcleod-bethune. To view footage and hear one of her most notable speeches, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npy6NFFahes and