Black History Month 2023

The Metuchen Downtown Alliance and the Metuchen Human Relations Commission are proud to celebrate Black History Month with trailblazers, ground breakers and international legends.

Posters will be displayed in store windows around Downtown Metuchen.

Thomas Mundy Peterson was born in Metuchen on October 6th 1824. Mr. Mundy was the first Black American to vote in an election under the just-enacted provisions of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Back in the ’50s, Althea Gibson helped break the color barrier in the sport of tennis, which up until that point had been segregated. She was the first Black player to win a Grand Slam tournament. And in 1957, she became the first Black champion in Wimbledon history. All in all, she racked up 11 Grand Slam tournament titles.
An acclaimed dancer and choreographer, Ailey started the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958, a troupe of Black dancers who traveled and performed all over the world. One of his most well-known dances is called “Revelations,” which examines and celebrates spirituality and is still performed today. In 1988, he received the Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime contribution to American culture through the performing arts.
Born in a small Texas town, Coleman’s brothers served in the military during World War I and ended up motivating her to pursue an aviation career. Since no flight schools in the U.S. would accept a Black female student, she ended up crossing the Atlantic to learn how to fly in France. Her hard work paid off: In 1921, Coleman became the first Black and Native American woman to earn a pilot’s license.
You have probably heard of Rosa Parks from your history texts, and now you can add another civil rights force of nature to your list: Claudette Colvin. In 1955, she was just 15 years old when she refused to sit at the back of the bus, citing her constitutional right to stay right where she was seated. Because she challenged the driver, she was arrested, becoming the first woman detained for her resistance on a bus.
When future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall gives you a job, you know you’re destined for greatness. As the lead trial attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (where Marshall hired her), she went on to write the legal brief for Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark case that struck down racial segregation in American public schools. She ultimately became the first Black woman to argue before the Supreme Court.
If you’ve heard of the phrase “The revolution will not be televised,” you have poet, activist, musician, and spoken word performer Gil Scott-Heron to thank. It’s the name of one of his most recognized poems, and his work in the 1970s is widely considered to have laid the groundwork for rap music. While he passed away in 2011, his influence lives on.
Jane Bolin was all about blazing trails. Not only was she the first Black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, she was also the first Black woman to join the New York City Bar Association and the nation’s first Black woman judge. During her legendary career, her work helped ensure that private employers would hire people based on their skills and experience, instead of discriminating against potential employees based on their race and ethnicity.
Dr. Mae Jemison is an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut. She became the first Black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Jemison joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1987 and was selected to serve for the STS-47 mission, during which she orbited the Earth for nearly eight days on September 12–20, 1992.
Marsha P. Johnson was a transgender activist who played an instrumental role in the LBGTQ+ liberation movement. She was quite literally on the front lines—when police raided the Stonewall Inn in 1969, she was among the first to resist. She also marched in New York City’s first Pride demonstration the following year. Because she frequently faced homelessness and discrimination herself, she and fellow transgender activist Sylvia Rivera opened a shelter for queer and trans youth.
Misty Danielle Copeland is an American ballet dancer for American Ballet Theatre, one of the three leading classical ballet companies in the United States. On June 30, 2015, Copeland became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT’s 75-year history.
Quincy Delight Jones Jr. is an American record producer, musician, songwriter, composer, arranger, and film and television producer. His career spans 70 years in the entertainment industry with a record of 80 Grammy Award nominations, 28 Grammys, and a Grammy Legend Award in 1992. 
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, born Rebecca Davis, was an American physician, nurse and author. After studying at the New England Female Medical College, in 1864 she became the first African-American woman to become a doctor of medicine in the United States.
Ruby Bridges was just 6 years old when she became the face of a new era in the fight for civil rights. In 1960, she was the first Black student allowed to attend William Frantz Elementary in Louisiana, setting off a domino effect as the effort to integrate American schools began to take shape. She is still alive today and currently serves as the chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which advocates for “the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences.”
As the first Black woman elected to Congress, Chisholm was a barrier breaker in every sense of the word. From 1969 to 1983, she represented New York’s 12th District, and in 1972, she became the first woman ever to run for president representing one of the country’s two major political parties (she ran as a Democrat). Her campaign slogan of “Unbought and Unbossed” continues to be a rallying cry for women in politics everywhere.
Sidney Poitier KBE was a Bahamian and American actor, film director, and diplomat. In 1964, he was the first black actor and first Bahamian to win the Academy Award for Best Actor.