February marks the celebration African American Heritage Month, also known as Black History Month, a time to recognize and honor African Americans’ contributions throughout history. In 1915, Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), which was dedicated to researching and promoting information about Black Americans and people of African descent. The ASNLH (now known as the Study of African American Life and History or ASALH) sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926 in February. That week-long celebration was the first time there was a full national event around African American heritage and history.

By the late 1960s, that national week grew to become Black History Month. Many leaders, historians, and civil rights pioneers have called attention to the fact that there has been a lack of recognition and focus on Black American history, achievements, and involvement in every area of American history, which is one of the reasons Black History Month is important nation-wide.

Every year, the ASALH picks a theme for the annual event, and the 2023 theme is “Black Resistance.” You can read more about the ASALH, the 2023 theme, and 2023 events on their website: https://asalh.org/festival.

This month always provides an excellent opportunity to remember the legacies of those who have come before us and to look ahead to a future of equity, justice, and inclusion. This blog celebrates the accomplishments of Black pioneers in healthcare and mental health.

Dr. Rebecca J. Cole (1846-1922)

One of the earliest female African American physicians in history was Dr. Rebecca J. Cole. Born into slavery in 1846, Cole became one of the first Black woman to graduate from medical school when she completed her education in 1867. She worked as a physician at two hospitals for women and children—the Women’s Hospital of Philadelphia and The New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children—and was an advocate for equal rights for women during her career.

Dr. Charles R. Drew (1904-1950)

Often referred to as “The Father of Blood Banking,” Charles R. Drew was an early pioneer for blood transfusions during World War II and laid down much of the groundwork for blood donation procedures used today, such as donor screening, blood typing, refrigeration techniques, and more efficient ways of storing plasma over red blood cells, which saved thousands of lives during wartime operations abroad.

Bebe Moore Campbell (1920-2006)

Bebe Moore Campbell was a tireless advocate for the mental health needs of underrepresented communities, particularly the Black community. As a writer, journalist, teacher, and advocate, she founded NAMI-Inglewood in a predominantly Black neighborhood to provide a safe space for discussing mental health concerns. After she passed in 2006, her legacy lived on—on June 2, 2008, Congress recognized her efforts by formally designating Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month to raise awareness of the unique challenges faced by marginalized groups concerning mental illness in the US.

Additional Resources

  1. Rebecca Cole: Women History Blog
  2. The Life of Dr. Charles Drew: Blood Bank Innovator
  3. Bebe Moore Campbell: NAMI California
  4. Black History Month – Facts and History
  5. 8 Black Inventors Who Made Life Easier – History.com

We celebrate Black History Month every February by honoring Black pioneers whose courage changed our history forever, particularly those who worked tirelessly in healthcare settings providing quality care with compassion and understanding towards patients regardless of their background or economic status. We honor their contributions to more equitable healthcare for all. Visit our Member Page to learn how Uprise Health EAP supports equity for our members.