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.
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.
Oral Histories available in our Research Library*
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. Currently on display at The History Center in Tompkins County is the award and the gown she wore during the acceptance ceremony for the award. She lived in Ithaca until her death in 2018.
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 are currently raising funds to support a full length documentary about Dorothy's life.