By Nyesha Stone
How many African American pioneers can you name right now? If you can’t name many or any, you’re like many Americans who don’t know much about Black people’s history. But the more we as Black people have the urge to learn about ourselves, the more we create platforms to show and tell our own history, our way.
The Urban Movie Channel (UMC) is one of those platforms that’s shedding light on our history. It recently started releasing a docuseries entitled “True First,” which tells the stories of different African-Americans who were the first in their field of work.
Producer of the series and director of four episodes, Jerald Harkness, got the idea from a high school friend.
“There’s so much of American history that doesn’t include African American contributions in it,” he said, so he contacted UMC and pitched the series [because] “African Americans have contributed to America in so many different ways.”
Thankfully, it was accepted, and the research began.
Harkness made sure to discuss a variety of topics, such as 1960s and 70s politics and the early days of Hip Hop.
There are currently three episodes out featuring Stagecoach Mary, Shirley Chisolm and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Stagecoach Mary, born Mary Fields, was the first Black woman to have a contract with the US Postal Office, where she never missed a day of work, earning her name “Stagecoach.”
Shirley Chisolm is more well-known than Stagecoach Mary, but not by much. Chisolm was the first Black woman to be elected to Congress, but she was also an educator and author.
Lastly, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, known as the “original soul sister” and “Godmother of rock and roll,” was a successful gospel artist.
Although those were very quick descriptions of revolutionary women, it shows that Black people are more than what we’ve been taught.
“There’s so much to America’s history than [people] realize,” said Harkness. “We hope that we cater to people’s curiosity…these stories are remarkable.”
As a child, Harkness attended a predominantly white school. He remembers asking his art teacher if could do a presentation of portraits of African American greats. He wanted to show his white peers a fuller view of Black history, and not just the slave parts.
According to Harkness, America has yet to give African Americans the recognition we deserve, so he created his own way to make a difference.
“African Americans have contributed in every way possible,” in the evolution of America, Harkness said.
To watch True First, visit https://umc.tv/truefirst/.