Every February, the United States honors all of the sacrifices that African Americans have so generously made that have helped form the country. Black History Month celebrates not only the cultural heritage but also the achievements and hardships that are an ineradicable part of our country's history. Most significantly, Black History Month is a time for acknowledging African Americans' central role in U.S. History.
For countless modern Black millennials, this month-long event enables them to reimagine the possibilities that lie ahead. However, for many, the forces that drove Carter G. Woodson a century earlier are more prominent than ever.
Black History Month was created to direct attention to the contributions of African Americans to our country. It was at first a method to teach students and young people about Black and African-Americans' contributions. Such stories had primarily been forgotten and were a neglected part of the nationwide narrative.
Now, Black History Month honors numerous African Americans from different periods of time in U.S. History, from enslaved individuals first brought to America, from Africa, in the 1600s to African Americans who currently live in the U.S.
In 1915, historian Carter G. Woodson, known as the "father of black history," co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History because of the absence of information on the achievements of Black Americans and other peoples of African descent that were accessible to the general public. Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), this group declared a week in 1926 as "Negro History Week" to acknowledge African Americans' contributions to U.S. history. The second week of February was picked to celebrate Negro History Week specifically because of two important historical figures' birthdays: Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist who wished to end the practice of enslaving individuals, and former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln led the U.S. through the Civil War, mainly fighting against the enslavement of African Americans within the nation. Prior to the development of Negro History Week, few people studied Black history, and it wasn't even included in textbooks. This event motivated schools and communities throughout the country to arrange events, develop history clubs, and host performances and lectures on African American history and cultural heritage.
Over the next few decades, many mayors of cities across the nation started issuing annual proclamations acknowledging "Negro History Week." Thanks to the civil rights movement and the flourishing awareness of Black identity, by the late 1960s, "Negro History Week" evolved into Black History Month on various college campuses.
In 1976, this week-long event officially became Black History Month when President Gerald Ford extended the week-long recognition into one month to "honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history." Black History Month has been celebrated in the U.S. every February since.
Since the first Negro History Week in 1926, many other nations have joined the United States in celebrating African Americans and their many contributions to history and culture, like Canada, the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands. Today, Black History Month continues the conversation of African Americans and their accomplishments through museum displays and film screenings and by encouraging the study of the accomplishments of African Americans throughout the year. In fact, just to name a few, The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Museum take part in commemorating the many generations of African Americans who struggled with hardships to attain full citizenship in American society. Since 1976, every United States President has declared February as Black History Month and endorses a specific theme each year.
The Black History Month 2022 theme is "Black Health and Wellness," which highlights the legacy of Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine and other methods of understanding (e.g., birth workers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc..) throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 style considers activities, rituals, and initiatives that Black communities have done to increase their wellness." This year's theme is opportune as we enter year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has regrettably affected minority communities and placed considerable burdens on lots of Black healthcare professionals.
To promote health and wellness, Black individuals have counted on self-determination, mutual aid, and social support initiatives to develop hospitals, medical and nursing schools, and community clinics. These clinics were made by individuals, grassroots organizations, and mutual aid societies, like the National Association of Colored Women and Black Panther Party, to offer spaces for Black individuals to oppose health and economic inequalities and predispositions found in mainstream organizations. This year's theme hones in on how important Black Health and Wellness is and highlights Black scholars and healthcare professionals’ successes in modern medicine.
Every year throughout Black History Month, leaders in Black history are often discussed, such as Dr. Martin Lurther King Jr., Rosa Parks, W.E.B Du Bois, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou. These inspirational activists and pioneers have helped shape what Black History Month was made for.
Dr. Martin Lurther King Jr. is among the most well-known, if not the most well-known, African Americans in history. King was a social activist and a Baptist minister and played an essential function in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. Dr. King understood the value of equality and human rights for Black people and victims of injustice and fought for those rights until his death in 1968. He was the force behind events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington (where he gave his well-known "I Have a Dream" speech), which helped initiate the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. In 1964, King was granted the Nobel Peace Prize and is remembered each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a U.S. federal holiday since 1986.
Rosa Parks was an American activist who fought for fundamental human rights after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white male in Montgomery, AL. While she was not the first person to disobey the segregation laws in the United States, Parks was labeled the "Mother of the Freedom Movement" following her disobedience and succeeding arrest. Although Parks lost her tailoring job and received death threats following the Montgomery Bus Boycott, she continued to be an active member of the NAACP and worked under Congressman John Conyers to help the homeless find housing. After her job with the homeless, in 1987, The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute of Self-Development was developed to offer job training to black youth. Like MLK, Parks worked very hard to obtain basic human rights for Black people across the country. In 1999, Rosa Parks was given the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the greatest honor a civilian can receive in the United States.
W.E.B. Du Bois was an author, academic, and civil rights activist in the generation before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Du Bois was a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which is still one of the leading organizations for Black rights and activism. Prior to becoming a founding member of the NAACP, Du Bois was known as one of the leading Black intellectuals of his era and became the very first Black American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Du Bois's work genuinely transformed the way the lives of Black people were viewed in American society.
Born into slavery in 1822, Tubman was notoriously known for her abolitionist and humanitarian efforts that helped enslaved individuals escape after escaping slavery herself in 1849. Harriet Tubman acted as a vital part of the "Underground Railroad," the secret course through slave-holding states that helped runaway slaves escape to northern states. She was also referred to as "Moses" due to her devout Christian faith, and she helped many slaves discover their freedom in states just north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
In the middle of the 19th century, Frederick Douglass lived during the Civil War and was entirely against slavery. Douglass, a prominent African American abolitionist and previous slave himself, is best known for Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, his generative autobiography. In his narrative, Douglass summarizes his life as a slave during the Civil War and his successive escape that was incredibly instrumental to the ultimate goal of ending slavery and the abolitionist movement.
Similar to Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth was born into a life of slavery. However, Truth later escaped, going on to become a popular activist for females' rights and abolitionist. Like many other abolitionists, religion played a key focal point in the efforts of Sojourner Truth's advocacy. During the Civil War, Truth had a significant role in recruiting African American soldiers to fight for the Union that was then pitted against the Confederacy.
Prestigious poet and beloved novelist Langston Hughes made his mark during the Harlem Renaissance. This was a period of artistic and cultural development with deep African American roots that took place in New York's renowned Harlem neighborhood. The Weary Blues, his first book of poetry, and subsequent works helped to detail the lower-class African American economic situation. Hughes had a major influence on his generation, including Wallace Thurman, Zora Neale Hurston, and lots of others. Some may say that Hughes still carries influence to this day.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a blooming tale that displays racism as it deeply moved a young female and shaped her into the esteemed author she'd end up being. The author of that influential autobiography, Maya Angelou, is among the legendary African American authors. Not only was she famed for autobiographies but Maya Angelou was also a leader in civil rights and worked with other civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., to end partition permanently.
Each Black History Month, the above names are highlighted because they are on stamps, calendars, and even mentioned in political speeches. However, many other unacknowledged Black history heroes have opened doors, defended freedoms, and created inventions still used in the contemporary world. Unspoken heroes such as Claudette Colvin, Shirley Chisholm, Bayard Rustin, Dorothy Height, Bessie Coleman, Ruby Bridges, Benjamin O. Davis Sr., and Gordon Parks have given way for many of today's leaders to excel in the present day.
Just nine months prior to Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, AL, in 1955, Claudette Colvin refused to move to the back of the bus to give her seat up to a white person at just 15 years of ages. This brave girl defended her constitutional right to remain in her seat in the middle of the vehicle. After declining to move and challenging the driver, she was detained. Colvin was the very first woman to be arrested for her resistance. Nevertheless, the NAACP chose not to use her case to challenge segregation laws because of her age. However, in 1956, Colvin became the main witness in the federal claim Browder v. Gayle, which finally ended segregation on public transit in Alabama.
Although in today's world Congress is more diverse than ever, in the 1960s, it was not diverse at all. Nevertheless, in the late 1960s, when Shirley Chisholm tried to shatter the glass ceiling, things changed. Throughout the racially contentious duration of the 60s, Chisholm became the first-ever Black female elected to Congress. From 1969 to 1983, she also represented New York's 12th District, and in 1972 she became the first female to run for the Democratic Party's presidential election. Her campaign slogan was "Unbought and Unbossed." Vice President Kamala Harris even paid tribute to Chisholm in her presidential campaign, utilizing a similar logo to Chisholm's. Shirley Chisholm also served as an educational consultant for New York City's Bureau of Child Welfare and even ran for New York State Assembly in 1964.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is usually credited with the iconic March on Washington in 1963; however, Bayard Rustin actually organized and planned this historical event. This march brought over 200,000 peaceful protestors of differing races and religious beliefs in unison to MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech. As a homosexual male who had controversial ties to communism, he was thought to be too much of a liability to be on the motion's front line, so he did his work in the background. Nonetheless, he was thought to be one of the most talented minds and constantly served his community while fighting for more jobs and increased wages. Rustin co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference along with King.
Acclaimed as the "godmother of the women’s movement," Height's background in education and her devotion to social work helped her advance women's rights. After receiving two degrees from NYU in the 1930s, Height worked for the New York City Welfare Department and quickly became the assistant executive director of the Harlem Y.M.C.A. Height was also the Young Women's Chrisitan Association leader. She became involved in anti-lynching protests, shed light on the exploitation of Black females working in "slave markets," and even accompanied First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the National Council of Negro Women, a council she served on for more than 40 years. In the 1950s, she lobbied President Dwight D. Eisenhower to take an aggressive position on desegregation problems within schools. Dorothy Height was also among the few females present at the March on Washington in 1963, where she stood on the platform with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while he gave his famous "I Have a Dream "speech.
Even though Bessie Coleman is known as the first licensed Black pilot in the world, it was not until after her death that she was recognized as a pioneer in aviation. Although history favors the Wright Brothers and Amelia Earhart, Coleman went to flight school in France in 1919, after not being accepted into any U.S. flight school, and got her pilot license in 1921. In 1922, she executed the first public flight by a Black woman and became famous for her "loop-the-loops" and making figure eights. Her courageous and determined spirit developed diversity in the aviation field and paved the way for a brand-new generation of diverse pilots like the Tuskegee airmen, Blackbirds, and Flying Hobos. In 1995, the Bessie Coleman Stamp was made in her honor.
Bridges was the first Black child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana throughout the New Orleans school desegregation crisis on November 14, 1960. Regardless of discrimination and intimidation, Bridges never missed a day of school. Only six years old at the time, Ruby Bridges most likely had no idea that the brave act she committed would spark a domino effect that would lead to the integration of schools in the South. Since then, Bridges has written two books on her experience and has been given the Carter G. Woodson Book Award. In 1999, Bridges developed The Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote tolerance and create change through the education system. She is likewise a lifelong activist for racial equality, and in 2000, she was made an honorary deputy marshal in a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Davis Sr. was the first Black general officer in the regular army and the United States armed forces. He served for 50 years as a temporary first lieutenant at an all-black unit during the Spanish American War. While in this role, Davis Sr. progressively supported the desegregation of the United States army. Throughout his service, Benajmin O. Davis Sr. was also a professor of military science at Tuskegee and Wilberforce University, a commander of the 369th Regiment, New York National Guard, and a special assistant to the Secretary of the Army. In 1948, President Harry Truman oversaw the public ceremony of Davis's retirement after fifty years of military service.
Parks was among the most creative figures behind a camera in the 20th century. His photojournalism from the 1940s through the 1970s captured parts of American life that consisted of civil rights, poverty, and race relations. He was the first African American to work at LIFE magazine and eventually became responsible for some of the most stunning images in pages of Vogue, Ebony, and Glamour. Later in life, Parks co-founded Essence magazine. In 1969, he became the first Black American to write and direct a major film, The Learning Tree, based on his bestselling semi-autobiographical novel. In 1999, Parks notoriously said, "I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera."