BLACK WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH
Tompkins County has been home to many trailblazing Black female leaders, including nationally known names like Civil Rights leader Dr. Dorothy Cotton, Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, Ruth Carol Taylor- the first Black flight attendant in the United States, as well as innumerable local female leaders and community groups that have shaped the culture of Tompkins County for decades. During Black Women's History Month we honor and recognize the contributions of Black women to the community, culture, and history of Tompkins County.
Sha Battle established April as International Black Women's History Month in 2016 in the city of Atlanta to uplift and support the achievements of Black and minority women, and to build understanding and awareness of the contributions of Black women to the world.
Learn about historic Black women in Tompkins County from the resources on our website, by visiting our Exhibit Hall, and through exploring our Archival Collections.
PRESENTATIONS & ONLINE LEARNING RESOURCES
In 1953 Beverly Jane Martin (1935-1993) became the first Black senior class president at Ithaca High School, and later served the Ithaca City School District for 36 years after her college graduation from Cornell University. In 1978 she became the school district's first Director of Affirmative Action, and was also the district's ombudsman. In 1992, a year before her death, Central Elementary School was renamed the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School in her honor.
Historic Figures from Tompkins County
Oral Histories available in our Research Library*
Explore our Women's Voices and Black Voices oral history collections through visiting our Research Library to listen to their interviews.
BLACK WOMEN'S HISTORY IN TOMPKINS COUNTY - ARCHIVES & RELATED COLLECTIONS
Photograph from the Club Essence Collection
Dr. Dorothy Lee Forman Cotton (1930-2018) met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1960 when he preached at a church she attended in Virginia. The two began working together with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which organized peaceful protests and worked for the rights of Black Americans during the Civil Rights era. From 1960-1968 Dr. Cotton was the Education Director for SCLC and directed the Citizenship Education Program ― one of the few high-level positions for women in the SCLC at the time.
Dorothy remained an active civil rights educator throughout her career, and served as the Director of Student Activities at Cornell University from 1982–1990s.
Dr. Cotton was awarded the National Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in 2010. She lived in Ithaca until her death in 2018. Her legacy is carried on by the Dorothy Cotton Institute and Ithaca-based independent institute which offers popular education and training to inspire and support people who want to foster and protect human rights and to advance civic participation for social transformation
Purchase Dorothy's Autobiography: 'If Your Back's Not Bent'
There's Your Ready Girl, a short documentary film about Dr. Cotton's contributions to the Voting Rights Movement premiered in the fall of 2020.
PhotoSynthesis Productions and the Dorothy Cotton Institute completed the full length documentary 'Move When the Spirit Says Move: The Legacy of Dorothy Foreman Cotton' in 2023. Find a screening near you at www.movewhenthespiritsaysmove.com.