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*On this date in 1931, Barbara Hillary was born. She was a Black nurse, publisher, adventurer, and environmental justice advocate.
Born in New York City in the Lincoln Square neighborhood (formerly San Juan Hill). She was raised in Harlem by her mother, her father having died while she was a baby. Hillary grew up impoverished her mother cleaned homes to support the family, but she spent much of her time reading: "there was no such thing as mental poverty in our home."
She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in gerontology from the New School University. Following her education, she became a nurse, practicing for 55 years before retiring. In 2007 at the age of 75, Hillary became the first Black woman to reach the North Pole. She reached the South Pole in January 2011 at the age of 79, becoming the first Black woman on record to make it there and simultaneously the first Black woman to reach both poles. Following her ventures to the North and South poles, she became an inspirational speaker, addressing organizations such as the National Organization for Women.
Hillary was active in her community. She was the founder of the Arverne Action Association, Inc., a group dedicated to improving life in Arverne, New York, and the Rockaway Peninsula Community. She was also founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Peninsula Magazine, a non-profit and multi-racial magazine in the New York City borough of Queens. This magazine was the first of its kind in the region. After visiting the poles, Hillary took interest in the effects of climate change on the polar ice caps and the world beyond and took to public lecturing on the topic. In 1998, Hillary was diagnosed with lung cancer which required surgery which resulted in a 25 percent reduction in her breathing capacity.
This was her second cancer diagnosis, having been diagnosed with breast cancer in her 20s. She became ill in early 2019 as fluid accumulated in her heart valve. Despite the illness, she traveled to the Mongolian steppe to visit a community whose cultural traditions are threatened by climate change. After months of declining health, she was hospitalized and later died on November 23, 2019 in Far Rockaway, New York.