Gertrude Jeannette – Actress, Playwight, Motorcyclist, and Cultural Star

Rising to Stage and Film Fame Despite Racism and Red Baiting

Gertrude Jeannette's New York City Taxi Driver's license
Actress, playwright, motorcyclist, and first woman licensed to drive a taxi in New City, Gertrude Jeannette had a long and extraordinary career in the theater and film as well as the passing lane. She lived to be 103.

Gertrude Jeannette was a true trailblazer as the first woman to get a motorcycle license in Manhattan and The Big Apple’s first licensed female cabdriver. Perhaps her more important accomplishments were as an actor, director and playwright who mentored a generation of Black actors in New York. But none of that would have happened were it not for a persistent childhood stutter and a man named Joe Jeannette who loved to dance.

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Isabelle Kelley – The Economist Who Fed America

A Little Known Advocate Who Ran Federal Programs Feeding Hundred of Millions

Isabelle Kelley was particularly moved by widespread hunger among African Americans in the U.S.
Through presidential administrations from Franklin Roosevelt to Richard Nixon, Isabelle Kelley was the architect of the federal government’s sweeping food assistance and nutrition programs addressing widespread hunger in America.

You probably don’t know her name. But one female economist has been feeding America for decades. From the “Penny Milk Program” of the 1940s to today’s Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP), Isabelle Kelley made it her mission to see that the poorest of Americans did not go to bed hungry.

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The Leesburg Stockade Girls – A Civil Rights Horror of 1963

How Racist Georgia Authorities Held Teenagers in a Secret, Squalid Prison

Two of the 30 girls who were locked away in a secret prison in Americus, Georgia in 1963
Two of more than 30 African American teenage girls who were locked away in secret for 45 days in a dilapidated former Civil War jail for participating in a 1963 Civil Rights protest in Americus, Georgia. (Photo: Danny Lyon, 1963)

It was 13-year-old Shirley Green’s first civil rights demonstration. She went to the protest without her parents’ knowledge, figuring she could make it back home before they did. She was wrong.

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Author of First Cookbook Written by an African American: Malinda Russell

She Helped Pave the Way for Black Cooks and Writers

A 19th-century health kitchen of the kind Malinda Russell learned to cook in.
There are no known photos or drawings of Malinda Russell who, in 1866, became the first African American to write a cookbook. And it wasn’t about what would later be called “soul food,” but rather her mastery of the sophisticated recipes of European cuisine.

Being a historic foodways researcher, I think of Amelia Simmons, Hannah Glasse, Eliza Leslie and Mary Randolph as old friends. It took chef and culinary historian Michael Twitty’s book, The Cooking Gene, to introduce me to Malinda Russell. Far more than just a collection of recipes, Russell’s slim volume sheds light on the history, culture and power structure of her time.

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Tye Leung Schulze, Women’s Rights Advocate, First U.S. Chinese Voter

Rescued Chinatown Sex Slaves in Turn of the Century San Francisco

A staunch human rights advocate and activist, Tye Leung Schulze worked throughout her career to free female Chinese sex slaves from American brothels. She was also the first Chinese-American voter.

Standing just over four feet tall, she was nicknamed “Tiny.” But when it came to character, compassion, and her dedication to civil rights and women’s rights, there was nothing small about Tye Leung Schulze.

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A Slave Who Sewed Her Way to Freedom and The White House

Against all odds, Elizabeth Keckley rose from being a whipped and raped plantation slave girl to become the confidant and famed dressmaker of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln during the Civil War.

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley wasn’t born to greatness. She was born the daughter of an enslaved woman on a Virginia plantation. Sent to North Carolina, where she was repeatedly beaten and whipped in an effort to break her spirit. Given to a white merchant who used her as his concubine and raped her for four years. Pregnant at age 20. Not exactly the makings of a success story.

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