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Growing up, Black history lessons in school were limited to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington Carver and Harriet Tubman. It wasn’t until I found my local public library—and with guidance from friendly librarians—that I began to understand the full breadth and depth of the impact of Africans in America. As a little Black girl growing up in white suburban Maryland, these lessons at the library, reinforced by conversations with my parents, were necessary to shaping a healthy identity as a Black woman.
As I studied my history, I learned that Harriet Tubman overcame her small stature and birth into slavery as, not only a brilliant conductor on the Underground Railroad, but a strategist who led the first military maneuver executed by an American woman. I learned that Jesse Owens overcame his childhood as a sickly sharecropper’s son to become an Olympic gold medalist. I learned that Black Americans in the South left what was familiar to migrate by the millions toward opportunity in the North, Midwest and West Coast. And I fell in love with the poems of Langston Hughes, who articulated the pain and the beauty of the Black experience in words that perfectly expressed what I had—until then—only felt.
Today there are more resources than ever to understand and feel empowered by the lessons of the past. To make these resources available to everyone, Google Arts and Culture is adding to its extensive online collection of Black History and Culture. We’ve worked with cultural institutions across America to preserve and showcase artifacts, art, documents and stories honoring the legacy of Black Americans. And as a part of the collection, influencers pay homage to the historical icons and moments that inspire them today. Check out what Nas has to say about how his father and jazz music impacted his life:
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