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The Celebration Of Black History Month And Notable Figures

Every February, Black History Month commemorates African People's achievements and recognizes their role in American history. Carter G. Woodson felt that black people should be proud of their background and that other Americans should be aware of Black Americans' achievements. So, Carter and several other African Americans created what is known today as Black History Month.

This month-long celebration invites many modern Black millennials to envision the possibilities that lay ahead. Many of the forces that propelled Carter G. Woodson almost a century ago are stronger than ever before.

Origin Of Black History Month

Carter G. Woodson formed the Study of Black Life and History in 1915, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History® (ASALH), in response to the public's lack of knowledge of black people's achievements. 

The month of February was chosen for the celebration because it coincided with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and social reformer Frederick Douglas, both of whom had a significant role in helping to end slavery in the United States. 

In 1976, 50 years after the initial observance, President Gerald Ford expanded the week-long celebration to a month in order to fully "celebrate the too-often overlooked contributions of African Americans in every field of effort throughout our history." Since then, Black History Month has been a month-long celebration in February, and every president of the United States, Democrat or Republican, has issued proclamations affirming the Association's annual theme.

2023 Black History Month Theme And Meaning

The topic of Black History Month this year is "Black Resistance." This year's topic is to shed awareness on how African Americans have battled racial inequity. From slave rebellions during the Civil War to events today, “Black Resistance” can be seen.

Resisting Black people have achieved triumphs, successes, and progress, as evidenced by the elimination of slavery in the south, the abolishment of Jim and Jane Crow, political representation, educational institution desegregation, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act, increased and diverse representation of Black experiences in media, and the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. The importance of black resistance movements in American history cannot be underestimated, as they have served as a template for every subsequent social movement in the country.

You can view all of the past themes on the Association for the Study of African American Life and History® (ASALH) website.

Legal Trailblazers And Activist

Long before, throughout, and after the Civil Rights Movement, black trailblazers and activists battled every day for equal rights for everyone and greater diversity in our country and the legal profession. 

Carter G. Woodson 1875-1950

Carter G. Woodson was born on December 19, 1875, in New Canton, Virginia. Carter was born as the son of once-enslaved people and realized the value of an education. He began working for the US government in the Philippines after attending Berea College in Kentucky. After he returned to the United States, he completed his study at the University of Chicago, where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees, and then at Harvard University, where he earned his doctorate in 1912.

Carter helped create the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, which was eventually renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Carter wrote many publications throughout his career, the most well-known of which was the Mis-Education of the Negro. This book became a mandatory read at various schools and institutions after becoming incredibly popular. 

Carter established the African Heritage Week in February 1926. This was a week for people to get together and honor African Americans' many accomplishments and rich heritage. Carter selected February as the month for the celebration because it was the birth month of Frederick Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln, two of the most popular individuals who spent the majority of their lives working to end slavery across the country. 

Carter G. Woodson died in early April 1950. Though Carter died, his memory and work linger on every February during what is now known as Black History Month. He was able to achieve his goal of putting African American historical achievements front and center via his continual efforts and opposition. He is often regarded today as the "Father of Black History.”.  

Thurgood Marshall 1908-1993

Thurgood Marshall, born on July 2, 1908, grew to become one of the most well-known African-American legal trailblazers in history. Thurgood graduated from Lincoln University with honors in 1930. Thurgood went on to attend Howard University after being denied admission to the Maryland School of Law based on the color of his skin. Thurgood obtained his degree in 1933, finishing first in his class. He started his own private law firm in Baltimore after graduating, and one of his earliest successes was Murray v. Pearson (1935), in which he sued the University of Maryland, the same university that refused him years before for breaching the 14th Amendment by rejecting an African American candidate admittance to its law school solely on the basis of skin color. 

Later, in the 1940s and 1950s, Marshall established himself as one of the country's finest lawyers, winning 29 of the 32 Supreme Court cases he fought. Some of his most notable cases are listed below.

Marshall used the courts' authority to battle racism and prejudice, to demolish Jim Crow segregation, to change the status quo, and to enhance the lives of our country's most vulnerable individuals.

Jane Bolin 1908-2007

Jane Bolin was a prominent and successful judge in the United States, sitting over four decades on New York's Family Court. Jane Bolin was born in 1908 in what is now the city of Poughkeepsie, New York. Bolin was an outstanding student who graduated from high school in her mid-teens and enrolled at Wellesley College. Despite racism, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1928 and was acknowledged as one of the top students in her class. Bolin attended Yale Law School after Wellesley College and graduated in 1931, being the first African-American woman to earn a law degree from Yale University. 

Bolin returned to her hometown after earning her legal degree and began working in her family's firm. After a decade, she became the first African-American woman to work as an assistant corporate counsel for New York City. Bolin was sworn in as a judge by the Mayor in 1931 during the World's Fair, making her the first African-American female judge in the United States. Bolin was persuaded to resign as a judge after more than 30 years, formally retiring at the age of 70. She died in early 2007 at the age of 98. 

Macon Bolling Allen 1816-1894

Macon Bolling Allen was born in early August 1816. Macon Allen was born free in Indiana, unlike many Black Americans at the time. Being born free enabled him to read and write on his own, and he later became a schoolteacher himself, allowing him to refine his talents further. After almost 20 years in Indiana, Macon relocated to Portland, Maine, in the early 1840s, where he studied law and served as a clerk for General Samuel Fessenden. Macon later passed the Maine bar exam and began practicing law in 1844, becoming the country's first black licensed attorney. 

Not long after, in 1845, Macon relocated to Boston, where he eventually passed the Massachusetts bar exam. Although Macon was born a free man and could legally practice law, he encountered an array of racial obstacles. Despite not being a U.S. citizen under the Constitution, Macon surmounted these obstacles to become a civil court judge in 1848 and the country's first black judge. Until his death in 1894, Macon was able to pursue his ambition and consistently face the obstacles in a pre-Civil Rights period.

Dorothy Height 1912-2010

Dorthey Height was born in Richmond, Virginia, on March 24, 1912. Her family relocated to Pennsylvania not long after her birth, where she entered school and excelled in every manner. Dorothy sought to enter Barnard College in 1929 but was refused due to the color of her skin; instead, Dorothy attended New York University and earned a bachelor's degree in teaching and a master's degree in psychology. Dorthy was soon on her way to being a relentless activist. Dorothy joined the Harlem Young Women's Christian Association (YMCA) in 1937; during a visit to her facility, Dorothy met Mary McLeod Bethune and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Dorothy soon joined the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) and grew close to Mary Mcleod Bethune. Dorothy was elected president of the National Council of Negro Women in 1957. Dorothy collaborated in several campaigns and activities alongside Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, John Lewis, and James Farmer, dubbed the "big six" of the civil rights movement.  

Mary Ann Shadd Cary 1823-1893

Cary's story crosses borders because she was not only a lawyer but a journalist, and teacher who dedicated her life to civil rights. Her parents were activists who assisted in directing escaped enslaved people through the Underground Railroad when she was born in 1823. Later in her early childhood Mary Ann attended a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania, then went on to teach in African American schools for 12 years. Following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, she and her family relocated to Canada. After leaving the United States, her career path shifted from teaching to journalism. She founded the first Canadian anti-slavery journal and was the first African American female editor and publisher in North America. Cary returned to the United States shortly after the Civil War, specifically to Washington, D.C., where she attended Howard University and earned her law degree. Although little is known about her legal career, she is well-known for her valiant efforts with the women's suffrage movement, and she even testified before the House Judiciary Committee in 1874 as part of the campaign for the right to vote.

Charles Hamilton Houston 1895-1950

Charles Houston, known as "the man who destroyed Jim Crow," started out as an English professor. However, after witnessing obvious prejudice while serving in the United States Infantry during World War I, he decided to study law and devote his time to fighting for individuals who were unable to defend themselves. Mr. Houston attended Harvard Law School and went on to become the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review. In 1924, he was admitted to the Washington, D.C. bar after receiving his Juris Doctorate. Later in his legal career, he was appointed dean of Howard University School of Law, where he transformed it into the premier training ground for civil rights activists pursuing legal careers. During this time, he served as the NAACP's first special counsel. Between 1930 and 1950, Houston was involved in nearly every civil rights case heard by the Supreme Court. He is also credited with developing the method that resulted in the end of public school segregation by demonstrating that integration would be less expensive than building "separate but equal" schools.

Modern Day Trailblazers 

Our modern-day trailblazers carry on the work of previous trailblazers in order to have an equal country working in harmony to achieve new heights as a nation. 

Barack Obama

Barack Obama was the 44th President of the United States of America, serving from January 20, 2009, to January 20, 2017. As a result, he became the first African American president. At the start of his presidency, Obama faced the ongoing war in Iraq as well as the economic collapse.  However, during his first term, Obama signed three signature bills into law:

Obama also advocated for a fair pay act for women, financial reform legislation, and consumer protection actions.

Fred Gray

Fred Grey was born on December 14th, 1930, in Montgomery, AL, and after high school, he began his education at Alabama State University, where he hoped to become a history teacher and preacher. A university professor recognized Fred's potential and encouraged him to attend law school. Fred, later on, decided to attend law school at Cleveland's Western Reserve University Law School, which is now Case Western Reserve University. 

Along with his fight for Tuskegee syphilis victims, he was a key figure in the Montgomery bus boycott, which ended segregation on public transportation. Martin Luther King Jr. later described him as "the brilliant young Negro who later became the chief counsel for the protest movement." Fred Gray, along with many others, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on July 7, 2022. 

Dennis Archer

Dennis Archer was born on January 1, 1942, in Detroit, Michigan. He went to Ross Beatty High School and graduated in 1959. Dennis attended Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, after graduating from Ross Beatty High School, and later transferred to Western Michigan University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1965. Dennis continued his education at the University of Michigan, then the Detroit College of Law, where he earned his Law Degree.

Dennis was a founding partner in Hall, Stone, Archer, and Glen in 1971 and was later elected President of the National Bar Association in 1983, followed by President of the Michigan Bar Association the following year. Dennis received numerous awards throughout his career, including Newsmaker of the Year in 1998 and Public Official of the Year in 2000. Dennis established the Dennis W. Archer Scholarship Fund in 2001.

Loretta Lynch

Loretta was born on May 21, 1959, in Greensboro, South Carolina. She graduated from Harvard College with an A.B. in 1981 and then went on to Harvard Law School, where she earned her J.D. in 1984. Lorretta joined the United States Attorney's Office in New York in 1990. During her tenure at the US Attorney's Office, she prosecuted numerous civil rights, narcotics, and public corruption cases. Fast forward to 1999, when then-President Bill Clinton appointed her as the United States Attorney, a position she held until 2001. In 2010, then-President Barack Obama asked her to return to the United States Attorney's Office in New York, where she had worked for nine years. President Barack Obama announced Lynch's nomination for Attorney General in 2014, and she was sworn in as the 83rd Attorney General of the United States later that year.

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