Remembering Black History: The Black West, pt. 1

Last year, I featured some of my favorite poets and poetry in honor of Black History Month. This year, I want to continue that with black men and women of the Old West.

As I prepare to write my historical western romance, I am in awe of the many black men and women who were just influential in the Western Expansion--those who had built a life for themselves out in the west and Midwest, but who are sadly very rarely mentioned in the history books or Hollywood.

So each week this month, in honor of the 1860's set western romance I'm working on (which will be part of a historical romance anthology with authors Alyssa Cole, Piper Hughley, and Kianna Alexander) I will be featuring some of the fascinating stories I've discovered during my research.

This week I want to feature the top 5 "badass" black women of the Old West:

1. Cathay Williams aka "William Cathay" (1842-1892), born to a slave woman in Missouri, served as a Buffalo Solider during the Civil War for 3 years before her identity was discovered and she was discharged from the Army. All I have to say is: WOW. What a badass. She is my hero! =)

2. Mary Fields aka "Stagecoach Mary" (1832-1914) was another badass. This tall, riffle-slinging, cigar-smoking, saloon-patronizing former slave became legendary in Montana and also became the first black woman to work for the United States Postal Service, driving their stagecoach doggedly through the wild terrain to get the mail delivered on time.

3. Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman (1892-1926) was born in Texas then later moved to Chicago, where racial injustices and discrimination followed her. But this determined Midwesterner didn't let the fact that she was black and a woman keep her from seeking out her dream. In 1920, she moved to France to obtain her aviators license and after 7 months came back to the States as the first African American woman pilot. Unfortunately, a tragic plane crash ended her life in 1926 but she will always be remembered as "a full-fledged aviatrix, the first of her race."

4. Lucy Parsons (1853-1943) was a vocal advocate for justice and equality in Texas and then later in Chicago. This former slave was a mix of African, Hispanic, and Native American ancestry and married a white, former Confederate solider but together they went on to become radical writers and speakers against injustices based on race, gender, or class. Goes to show, white or black, love does conquer all.

5. Bridget "Biddy" Mason (1818-1891) was a former slave who sued for her and her family's freedom and won. She moved out west, purchased land in the heart of what is now downtown Los Angeles, and organized the First African Methodist Episcopal (FAME) church in the city. With her wealth, she educated her children and became an influential philanthropist to the community.

I hope you enjoyed learning about my "badass" women of the old west. Next week, I'll feature the black Cowboys and frontiersmen of the Wild West.

Until then, check out more cool info on black women of the west in Black Women of the Old West by William Loren Katz, African American Women of the Old West by Tricia Martineau Wagner, or this very informative website on African American history: