First Lines for Black History Month

This is a special edition of First Lines Friday for black history month. These titles are a sampling of the list given by Nisi Shawl in her “annotated list of 40 black science fiction works that are important to your understanding of its history”

First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. Do these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?

For first lines for black history month this is the cover of Blake by Martin R Delany on a black background shades of orange creates a woodcut-like print of a man with a gun over jungle style leaves.

On one of those exciting occasions during a contest for the presidency of the United States, a number of gentlemen met in the city of Baltimore.

Blake: or; The Huts of America (1862) by Martin R. Delany 

For first lines for black history month this is the cover of Of One Blood by Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins and is a photo portrait of a black woman with a tall hat adorned with feathers and wearing a high collar dress.

The recitations were over for the day. It was the first week in November and it had rained about every day for the entire week; now freezing temperature added to the discomforture of the dismal season.

Of One Blood, or The Hidden Self (1903) by Pauline Elizabeth

This is the cover of Babel-17. Mostly black it has geometric maze-like designs in orange and yellow over the black on the lower half of the cover

It’s a port city.

Here fumes rust the sky, the General thought. Industrial gases flushed the evening with oranges, salmons, purples with too much red.

Babel-17 (1966) by Samuel R. Delany 

Cover of Mumbo Jumbo is an orange background with the title and author name in large, bold block letters that are on different colored blacks

A true sport, the Mayor of New Orleans, spiffy in his patent-leather brown and white shoes, his plaid suit, the Rudolph Valentino parted-down-the-middle hair style, sits in his office. 

Mumbo Jumbo (1972) by Ishmael Reed

Sold, to Mister Bascombe Wade of Willow Springs, one negress answering to the name Sapphira.

Mama Day (1988) by Gloria Naylor

As soon as he entered the room, Baines blurted out, “We want you to find us a viable human heart, fast.”

Brown Girl in the Ring (1998) by Nalo Hopkinson 

I awoke to darkness.

I was hungry—starving!—and in pain.

Fledgling (2005) by Octavia E. Butler

When I was eight, my papai took me to the part to watch a king die.

The Summer Prince (2013) by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Summer Prince (2013) by Alaya Dawn Johnson

I sang a song as I sprang from the womb—which is not unusual. 

The Record Keeper (2019) by Agnes Gomillion  

Lisette Toutournier sighed. She breathed in again, out, in, the marvelous air smelling of crushed stems, green blood bruised and roused by her progress along this narrow forest path.

Everfair: A Novel (2016) by Nisi Shawl


There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

I’ve constructed this list with deep gratitude to Nisi Shawl’s post “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction” 

Do You Want to Read More?

Did you enjoy this list? Check out previous First Line Fridays posts. Want to read more stories by black science fiction authors? Check out this list of stories available online compiled by Nnedi Okorafor

 Which of the First Lines in honor of black history month spoke to you? Did you buy it?

Black Women You Should Know

Women have long been ignored by history. Add in a minority skin color or race or religion and they are even less likely to be remembered. And that is a shame. Black women are making and have made history. From long past to current history makers, from the music room to the boardroom to the court room to the tennis court, here are 41 black women you should know.

Photo of young and middle aged black women sitting around a conference table in a business office, even these are black women you should know

We will all, at some point, encounter hurdles to gaining access and entry, moving up and conquering self-doubt; but on the other side is the capacity to own opportunity and tell our own story.” Stacey Abrams, an American politician, lawyer, voting rights activist, and author.

“Don’t let anything stop you. There will be times when you’ll be disappointed, but you can’t stop.” Sadie T. M. Alexander,  an American lawyer who was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in economics in the United States, and the first woman to receive a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

“Won’t it be wonderful when black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.” Maya Angelou, an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. 

Restored portrait photo of Mary McLeod Bethune-one of many black women you should know from history

“Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it might be a diamond in the rough.Mary McLeod Bethune,  an American educator, philanthropist, humanitarian, womanist, and civil rights activist.

“Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face.” Carol Moseley-Braun, politician and lawyer.

“Do not desire to fit in. Desire to oblige yourselves to lead.” Gwendolyn Brooks, American poet, author, and teacher, the first African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize (1950).

“Women must become revolutionary. This cannot be evolution but revolution.” Shirley Chisholm, an American politician— the first black woman elected to the United States Congress(1968), educator, and author.

”We must never forget that Black History is American History. The achievements of African Americans have contributed to our nation’s greatness.” Yvette Clarke,  an American politician

“The air is the only place free from prejudice.” Bessie Coleman, an early American civil aviator, the first African-American woman and first Native American to hold a pilot license.

“I knew then and I know now, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it.” Claudette Colvin,  an American pioneer of the 1950s civil rights movement and retired nurse aide.

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.” Angela Davis, an American political activist, philosopher, academic, scholar, and author.

“As black women, we’re always given these seemingly devastating experiences — experiences that could absolutely break us. But what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly. What we do as black women is take the worst situations and create from that point. Viola Davis, an American actress and producer.

“When we’re talking about diversity, it’s not a box to check. It is a reality that should be deeply felt and held and valued by all of us.” Ava DuVernay, an American filmmaker.

Photo of Ella Fitzgerald singing in a club filled with black men. Ella Fitzgerald is one of many black women you should know

“Just don’t give up what you’re trying to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” Ella Fitzgerald, an American jazz singer, the “First Lady of Song”

“When I liberate myself, I liberate others. If you don’t speak out ain’t nobody going to speak out for you.” Fannie Lou Hamer, an American voting, civil rights, and women’s rights activist

“There is no vaccine for racism.” Kamala Harris, an American politician and attorney, the 49th and current vice president of the United States. 

“Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.” Zora Neale Hurston, American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker.

“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”Dr. Mae Jemison, first African-American female astronaut

“I am a feminist, and what that means to me is much the same as the meaning of the fact that I am Black; it means that I must undertake to love myself and to respect myself as though my very life depends upon self-love and self-respect.” June Jordan, an American poet, essayist, teacher, and activist.

“Don’t agonize, organize.” Florynce Kennedy, an American lawyer, radical feminist, civil rights advocate, lecturer and activist.

Headshot of Coretta Scott King, wife of activists Martin Luthor King Jr. but one of the black women you should know in her own right

 “Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated.” Coretta Scott King, American author, activist, civil rights leader, and the wife of Martin Luther King Jr.

“If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow.” Beyonce Knowles, an American singer, songwriter, and actress.

“Friendly reminder that you don’t have to say the ‘n word’ to be racist. That’s not the sole requirement. Asking people to prove racism is another tool the oppressor uses to marginalize and discredit us.” Lizzo, nee Melissa Viviane Jefferson, an American singer, rapper, songwriter and flutist.

“Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.” Janelle Monáe,  an American singer, rapper, and actress

“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” Toni Morrison, an American novelist

“There are still many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made.” Michelle Obama, an American attorney and author who served as the first lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017

“To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.” Rosa Parks,  an American activist in the civil rights movement

“Black history isn’t a separate history. This is all of our history, this is American history, and we need to understand that. It has such an impact on kids and their values and how they view black people.” Karyn Parsons, an American actress, author and comedian.

“Dreams are lovely but they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.” Shonda Rhimes, an American television producer, screenwriter, and author

“I need to see my own beauty and to continue to be reminded that I am enough, that I am worthy of love without effort, that I am beautiful, that the texture of my hair and that the shape of my curves, the size of my lips, the color of my skin, and the feelings that I have are all worthy and okay.” Tracee Ellis Ross, nee Tracee Joy Silberstein, an American actress, singer, television host, producer and director.

Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” Wilma Rudolph, an American sprinter, who became a world-record-holding Olympic champion and international sports icon in track and field.

“You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served.” Nina Simone, nee Eunice Kathleen Waymon, an American singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and civil rights activist.

“Whatever we believe about ourselves and our ability comes true for us.” Susan L. Taylor, journalist

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Harriet Tubman,  an American slave, an abolitionist and political activist.

“Whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you’ll find that when you’re free . . . your true self comes out.” Tina Turner, an American-born Swiss singer, songwriter and actress.

restored photo of Sojourner Truth sitting in an armchair

“Truth is powerful and it prevails.” Sojourner Truth, an American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. 

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Alice Walker, an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and social activist.

“Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” Madam C.J. Walker, an American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political and social activist, recorded as the first female self-made millionaire in America in the Guinness Book of World

“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” Ida B. Wells, an American investigative journalist, educator, and early leader in the civil rights movement

“Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don’t put a ceiling on yourself.” Oprah Winfrey, an American talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and philanthropist.

I am lucky that whatever fear I have inside me, my desire to win is always stronger.” Serena Williams, an American professional tennis player.

These are but a few of the Black Women You Should Know. Because I’m American, my selections here are American, but there are black women across the world who deserve honors and remembrances. Please take a moment during this Black History Month to remember the black women who have worked quietly behind the scenes as well as those made famous by the actions or words. All women deserve more credit for their contributions to history. Even if their “only” contribution is living their own lives.

Image Credits

Top Photo-women in business by Christina @ on Unsplash

Second Photo-Mary McLeod Bethune, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Third Photo-Ella Fitzgerald, William P. Gottlieb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Fourth Photo-Coretta Scott King by John Mathew Smith & from Laurel  Maryland, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Final Photo-Sourjourner Truth , National Portrait Gallery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The first African-American Professional Nurse

Mary Mahoney made history as the first African-American Professional Nurse, yet many do not know her name. A strong woman, Mahoney, became a nurse despite severe societal limitations placed on black and minority women. She braved discrimination and worked toward equality for black and minority nurses and women.

Image of graduate nurse Mary Eliza Mahoney--she made history as the first African-American Professional Nurse

Early Life

A pair of freed slaves traveled from North Carolina to Boston in the 1840s. Their daughter, Mary Eliza Mahoney, was born in the spring of 1845 in the free state of Massachusetts. Experts dispute her exact birthdate and birthplace.

At ten, Mahoney went to one of the best schools in the city, the Phillips School.

The Phillips School, named for father of abolitionist Wendell Philips, became one of Boston’s first integrated school in 1855.

Dreams of Being a Nurse

In her teens, Mahoney realized she wanted to be a nurse. She started working at the New England Hospital for Women and Children (NEHWC). She worked as a cook, janitor, a laundress, and a nurse’s aide.

NEHWC operated one of America’s first nursing schools. But white hospital-based nursing schools routinely excluded African American nursing students. The only exceptions were when a select few African Americans were admitted to meet “rigidly enforced institutional quotas in what amounted to de facto segregation.”

Nursing School

In 1878, Mahoney entered NEHWC’s nursing school. She was 33. One of two black students in a class of forty-two students, Mahoney worked hard. The rigorous sixteen month program required sixteen-hour days. Students received medical, surgical, and maternal health training. After daylong classes and lectures, students worked on hospital wards or in patient homes on private duty. In their free time they had to do chores like laundry, ironing, and cleaning. Mahoney was one of four students who completed the course. She graduated in 1879, the first African-American woman in the United States, to earn a professional nursing license.


Being black limited Mahoney’s career as a professional nurse. Paid less than their white counterparts, black nurses could only work as private duty nurses or in black-only hospitals.

She worked as a private duty nurse. Her clientele were mostly wealthy white families who knew her as a patient, efficient, and gentle nurse. Families from New Jersey, Washington DC, and North Carolina requested her services.

In 1896, she joined the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the U.S. And Canada now known as the American Nurses Association. But black nurses were not always welcomed.

She joined, possibly co-founded, the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908. At the organization’s first national convention in 1909, she called out the inequalities in nursing education and asked for a demonstration at the New England Hospital. The convention elected her chaplain and gave her a lifetime membership.

Group portrait of attendees at the first convention of the National Association of Graduate Nurses
Group portrait of attendees at the first convention of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, Boston, 1909, Public Domain

For years, Mahoney recruited women of color to join NACGN. In 1910, there were about 2,400 black nurses in the United States. Twenty years later, that number more than doubled.

From 1911 to 1912, she served as director of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Kings Park, Long Island, New York.

After more than thirty years of caring for others, Mary Mahoney retired. Mahoney never married, but she continued fighting for women’s equality. She was one of the first women to register to vote in 1920.

Death & Legacy

In 1926 at 81, Mary Mahoney died of breast cancer. They buried her in Everett, Massachusetts.

The National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses created the Mary Mahoney Award to honor those who advanced minority groups in nursing. The NACGN merged with the American Nurse’s Association (ANA) in 1951. The ANA continued the Mary Mahoney Award. There is also an annual Mary Mahoney Medal given for excellence in nursing.

They inducted Mary Mahoney into the American Hospital Association’s Hall of fame in 1976 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

There are a health care centers and educational programs named after her as well.

If you wish to learn more about Mary Eliza Mahoney, read Mary Eliza Mahoney and the Legacy of African-American Nurses by Susan Muaddi Darraj or Pathfinders: A History of the Progress of Colored Graduate Nurse by Adah Thoms.

Her gravesite became a memorial site thanks to the fundraising efforts of the 1968 winner of the Mahoney Award, Helen S. Miller. They completed the memorial in 1973.

In Conclusion

She made a difference. She made history as the first African American Professional Nurse. How difficult must it have been? But Mary Mahoney didn’t waiver and she didn’t stop. She’s a inspiration to us all.

Mary McLeod Bethune Lights the Way Even After Death

Mary McLeod Bethune was an extraordinary woman, an educator, and a civil rights leader. A child of former slaves, she grew from poverty and ignorance into a woman who changed her world. Most of all, she lights the way even after death.

portrait photograph of middle aged Mary Mcleod Bethune sitting in a chair and looking at the camera with a confident look on her face that says she lights the way

Early Years

Mary was the fifteenth of seventeen children born to former slaves. Most of her siblings had been born into slavery. Born on a rice and cotton farm near Mayesville, South Carolina in 1875. Mary’s mother, Patsy, worked for her former master. Her father, Samuel McLeod, worked the farm (house pictured below).

photograph of small cabin where Mary Mcleod Bethune grew up to light the way. Two young women wearing long skirts and hats stand outside the cabin

The family worked hard to buy the farm. They put Mary in the fields when she was five years old. By the time she was nine, she could pick two-hundred-fifty pounds of cotton per day.

As a child, Mary would accompany her mother to deliver the laundry to the “white people.” One day, curious about the white children’s toys, she picked up a book. The white child snatched it away from her because she couldn’t read. She decided she would learn to read.


A one-room black schoolhouse opened in Mayesville. Mary entered school at ten. She walked several miles each day (some say 4 miles) to attend the Trinity Mission School, run by the Presbyterian Board of Missions of Freedmen. Since she was the only McLeod child to attend school, she tried to teach her siblings after school.

She received a scholarship and continued her education at Scotia Seminary for Negro Girls (now Barber-Scotia College), a boarding school in Concord, North Carolina. In 1893, she graduated from Scotia.

From there she spent two years at the Dwight Moody’s Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (also known as Moody Bible Institute) in Chicago. She hoped to go to Africa as a missionary. But no church would sponsor her. Undaunted, she became a teacher. Her belief that that education provided the key to racial advancement led her on a journey to light the way.


Mary worked at her former elementary school in Sumter County for a short time. In 1896, she began teaching at Haines Normal and Industrial Institute in Augusta, Georgia.

Inspired by Lucy Craft Laney’s educational philosophy, Mary developed a similar philosophy. After a year at Haines, the Presbyterian mission transferred Mary to the Kindell Institute in Sumter, South Carolina.

Family Life

She met Albertus Bethune, a fellow teacher, at Kindell and married him in 1898. They had a son, Albert, in 1899.

Seeking better economic opportunities, they moved to Georgia, then to Palatka, Florida, and in 1904 to Daytona, Florida.

There she founded the Daytona Educational and Industrial School for Negro Girls.

Her husband left her and her son in 1907. They never divorced. On the 1910 Census record, Mary McLeod Bethune listed herself as a widow. Albertus died in 1918.


Photograph of Mary McLeod Bethune and a long line of her female students

In October 1904, Mary rented a house next to Daytona’s dump. The house became the Daytona Educational and Industrial School for Negro Girls. She made desks out of discarded crates. Charities and parents of her students helped her get other supplies. She started teaching five girls aged six to twelve, and her son Albert.

They made ink for pens from elderberry juice, and pencils from burned wood. By the end of the year, she was teaching thirty students. The school grew to more than 250 students.

In 1931, the Methodist Church helped the merger of her school with the boys’ Cookman Institute, forming the Bethune-Cookman College, a coeducational junior college.

By 1941, the college had developed a four-year curriculum and achieved full college status.

In 2006, they added the first Master’s degree program. The College achieved university-status in 2007, officially becoming Bethune-Cookman University.


Mary worked tirelessly to improve black lives. A few of her accomplishments include:

Her impressive accomplishments are too many to detail in this blog post. Read more about how Mary lights the way even after death at or or her books and papers.


photograph of the statue of Mary McLeod Bethune that includes a boy and a girl silohetted against the sun that appears to be a white ball the boy will catch

Mary worked to better the lives of her fellow blacks, particularly women, her entire life. She died of a heart attack on May 18, 1955.

She was the first African-American to have a national monument dedicated to her on public land in Washington DC.

Postage stamps, Schools, public parks, and streets have honored her. And Bethune-Cookman University continues to educate young people.

The Legacy of Mary McLeod Bethune

Her last words shine a light forward. These words are a tiny sample of what she said her legacy was:

I LEAVE YOU LOVE. Love builds. It is positive and helpful.…
I LEAVE YOU HOPE.… Theirs will be a better world. This I believe with all my heart.
I LEAVE YOU THE CHALLENGE OF DEVELOPING CONFIDENCE IN ONE ANOTHER. As long as Negroes are hemmed into racial blocks by prejudice and pressure, it will be necessary for them to band together for economic betterment….
I LEAVE YOU A THIRST FOR EDUCATION. Knowledge is the prime need of the hour….
I LEAVE YOU RESPECT FOR THE USES OF POWER. We live in a world which respects power above all things. Power, intelligently directed, can lead to more freedom. Unwisely directed, it can be a dreadful, destructive force….
I LEAVE YOU FAITH. Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible….
I LEAVE YOU RACIAL DIGNITY. I want Negroes to maintain their human dignity at all costs. We, as Negroes, must recognize that we are the custodians as well as the heirs of a great civilization….
I LEAVE YOU FINALLY A RESPONSIBILITY TO OUR YOUNG PEOPLE. The world around us really belongs to youth, for youth will take over its future management. Our children must never lose their zeal for building a better world….
• Faith, courage, brotherhood, dignity, ambition, responsibility — these are needed today as never before.

From the last will and testament of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune

In Conclusion

In my humble opinion, Mary McLeod Bethune was an extraordinary woman whose greatest legacy was how she lights the way even after death. Read her full last will and testament to appreciate the impact of the light she shines. If you enjoyed this post, please let me know in the comments below. You can read other posts on strong women including Hattie Canty and Marie Van Brittan Brown.

(Photo Credits: 1. Portrait: Brawley, Benjamin Griffith (1919) Women of Achievement, Chicago: Woman’s American Baptist Home Mission Society, Public Domain, 2. Family home: from the Florida State Archives Photographic Collection. Retrieved October 22, 2007..Transferred from en.wikipedia by SreeBot, Public Domain, 3.Mary McLeod Bethune with a line of girls from her school (ca. 1905) Public Domain, 4. Statue of Mary McLeod Bethune in Lincoln Park Image=Flickr user Ezra Wolfe – Sculpture=Berks, Robert, Public Domain.)