As we celebrate Black History Month, Aires’ Cultural Collective Employee Resource Group has written a piece highlighting a few of the many immense contributions of African American individuals in various concentrations such as supply chain and transportation, sports, music, and food.

Please read on to learn about crucial leaders like “Stagecoach Mary,” “The Real McCoy,” and “Black Babe Ruth.” Also, did you know that it was an African American woman who is credited with developing the animation used to create GIFs?

Finally, help us pay homage to two widely known and beloved contributions from the African American community at large, jazz music and African American food.

African American Leaders in transportation, sports, and technology

Mary Fields (aka “Stagecoach Mary”): Mary Fields was born into slavery in the early 1830s. She was emancipated after the Civil War and began her career as housekeeper/groundskeeper at the Ursuline Convent in Toledo, Ohio. She was 6 feet tall, outspoken, and a fearless woman. Her work at the convent is not how she earned her nickname. Due to her reputation, she eventually left the convent and started working for the postal service. She worked as a mail carrier and traveled a dangerous route via stagecoach. Her efficiency and ability to defend the stagecoach and protect the mail from thieves is how she earned the nickname “Stagecoach Mary.” She was the first African American woman to work as a mail carrier. She is credited with paving the way for female minorities in the distribution field.

Elijah McCoy: Elijah McCoy was born free in Canada in 1844. His parents escaped enslavement with help from the Underground Railroad. Throughout his career, he had 57 U.S. patents mostly related to the lubrication of steam engines. He went to Scotland at the age of 15 to study mechanical engineering.

According to his bio, “In 1872, McCoy developed an automatic lubricator that spread oil evenly over a train's engine while it was still moving. The invention allowed trains to run for long periods of time without stopping, which saved both time and money. McCoy was a prolific inventor, securing dozens of patents in his lifetime … As his invention grew in popularity, inferior copycats emerged. Railway engineers requested ‘The Real McCoy.’ The popular expression, meaning ‘the real thing,’ is still used today.”

Josh Gibson: Josh Gibson was born in 1911. He was a baseball player who was known as the “Black Babe Ruth.” He moved to Pittsburgh, PA with his family in 1923. He played for two historic Pittsburgh teams, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. He was the second African American to be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Lisa Gelobter: Lisa Gelobter is the CEO and Co-founder of tEQuitable, a company that “works to address issues of bias, discrimination, and harassment in the workplace.” Lisa served as the Chief Digital Service Officer for the U.S. Department of Education during the administration of President Barack Obama. She has many great accomplishments, one of which many of us commonly use. Lisa is credited with developing the animation used to create GIFs. The next time you send a GIF, take a second to thank Lisa!

African American Music

American music is highly intertwined with African music forms. All of these musical genres reflect the African musical tinge: pop music, soul music, jazz, rap, and rhythm and blues.

Jazz Music: Jazz music began in the late 19th to the early 20th century and started as interpretations of European and American classical music that was mixed with slave and African folk songs with some influence from the West African culture. The genre’s style and composition have changed throughout the years because each performer has their own improvisation and personal interpretation style, which is also one of the greatest appeals of jazz music.

These are some of the most famous jazz musicians of all time: Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington.

Check out some jazz greats in this YouTube playlist.

Soul Food

The cuisine referred to as "soul food" originated in the kitchens of enslaved African Americans in the late 1800s. Soul food recipes typically called for ingredients that are indigenous to Africa and were often found on American plantations. Dishes such as fried chicken, bread pudding, Hoppin' John, greens and "potlikker," catfish, and hush puppies are worthy (and tasty) representatives of African American culinary traditions. Consider patronizing a local soul food kitchen near you or attempting to make your own!

Check out some classic soul food recipes below.


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