The origin of Black History Month began in 1926. In actuality, it was only a week long and was coined, “Negro History Week.” Negro History Week was created by distinguished historian Carter G. Woodson and other notable African Americans of the day, who felt the contributions and influence of African Americans in U.S. history was unrepresented.
- The Beginning:
Originally, the holiday was set for the second week of February and coincides with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford declared the entire month of February to be Black History Month. Today, the United States continues to devote the month of February as a time to acknowledge the contributions of African Americans in U.S. History, or in the words of President Ford, to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Other countries, such as Canada (February) and the U.K. (October) also dedicate a month to Black History.
- The Origins of the NAACP:
The acronym, NAACP, stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It is an organization designed to promote the civil rights of African Americans. The NAACP was founded in 1909, by W.E.B. Du Bois, Moorfield Storey, Ida B. Wells, Archibald Grimké, and Mary White Ovington.
- Before there was Rosa Parks:
Did you know that Rosa Parks wasn’t the first to refuse to give up her seat on the bus? In fact, Rosa Park’s notable refusal to give up her seat on the bus, another passenger had also refused to give up her. A 15-year-old school girl, named Claudette Colvin refused to move to the back of the bus. Nine months before Rosa Parks actions sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, Claudette Colvin was arrested and jailed for refusing to move to the back of the bus. Subsequently, she was one of four brave women that challenged segregation laws. In reality, Claudette Colvin paved the way for Rosa Parks to take a stand in Alabama less than a year later.
- Interracial Marriage:
Interracial marriage was still banned in the United States until 1967. As inconceivable as it is today, it wasn’t until 2000 when the in the state of Alabama removed the language from their state constitution, which banned interracial marriage. However, thanks to the bravery and the love between Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter, interracial marriage became legal for the first time since 1664. Loving and Jeter married in 1967 in the District of Columbia. When they returned home to Virginia, they were both arrested and faced up to a year in prison. The case reached the Supreme Court that found the interracial marriage ban to be unconstitutional.
- African-Americans in the Military:
African-Americans made many important contributions in combat in the United States. African-Americans participated in numerous battles throughout history, including the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Spanish-American War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Mexican-American War. In fact, about a fourth of the naval battalion in the Battle of Lake Erie was African-American. The term Buffalo Soldier was coined by the Native Americans who fought against the African-American soldiers in the American Indian Wars.
- Colleges and Educational Contributions:
Most of us know about Brown v. The Board of Education, a milestone in dismantling the “separate but equal” legislation. Brown v. The Board of Education did more in all areas of society, not just in education—but those changes wouldn’t happen overnight. It would take a great deal of work and persistence before many American colleges and universities accepted the ruling. In 1964, the federal government began funding the Historically Black Colleges and Universities through the Higher Education Act. Black colleges and universities continued to provide opportunities for African-American students, however, with the push from the federal government, opportunities at historically white universities and colleges became more readily available for African-American students.
- Scientific Discoveries:
Onesimus was an American slave born in Africa. Onesimus was a gift to Cotton Mather, a Puritan minister in Massachusetts in 1706. While in the United States, Onesimus told Cotton Mather about an African practice of inoculation. Onesimus convinced Mather and Dr. Zabdiel Boylston that by taking the infectious material of an infected smallpox patient and scratching it onto the skin of an uninfected person, it could result in the immunity to smallpox. In 1721, when the disease peaked in Boston, 240 persons were inoculated using the procedure suggested by Onesimus. Of those inoculated, 2% died, compared with 15% that contracted smallpox. This was the beginning of vaccinations in the United States!
- Cowboy Up! The Real Lone Ranger!
Watching old western movies, it might not be easy to tell, however, one in four cowboys was black. Bass Reeves was one of the first black deputy U.S. Marshals west of the Mississippi River. He was born into slavery, but escaped during the Civil War and moved to Indian Territory—-now known as Oklahoma. The West was alluring to many former slaves, as rumors of freedom and good wages spread throughout the U.S. It was these promises of a better life that brought African-American men to the westward cowboy lifestyle. At least one-quarter of the western cowboys was African American, working the dangerous and strenuous conditions.
- The Civil Rights Movement:
The Civil Rights Movement began nearly 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by Abraham Lincoln, declaring all slaves to be free. However, with the passage of time, African-Americans, while considered free, were still disenfranchised and still experiencing various forms of oppression. “Jim Crow” laws instilled pervasive inequality until the Supreme Court ruled the “separate but equal” law unconstitutional in 1954. Almost a century of state-sanctioned discrimination began to be challenged. Through the efforts of Civil Rights leaders, acts of civil disobedience, and nonviolent protests, the turbulent years 15 or so years that followed made way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
- Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s 14-minute speech may be one of the most memorable speeches of all time. The words that King spoke on August 28, 1963, was unrehearsed and unplanned. King had a speech prepared for that day, yet improvised those famous words, “I have a dream today!” King was instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement in the sixties. He was responsible for organizing Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and led the Selma to Montgomery marches, among many other demonstrations, marches, and protests. Below is an
Below is an excerpt of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous speech on 1963:
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.