Black History Month
by Milan Riley
Black History Month is a national occasion celebrated during the month of February. This is a time to appreciate authors, inventors, political figures, scientists, and cultural leaders of African descent for their important contributions. The observance first began in the United States on January 2, 1970 and has been annually observed ever since. In addition, it is celebrated in Canada and the United Kingdom.
The Origin of Black History Month
The roots of Black History Month began with African American History Week. Historian Carter G. Woodson organized the first African American History Week in the second week of February to commemorate the achievements of Black Americans. He choose the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, who both contributed so much to the emancipation of African Americans. The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs, and host performances and lectures. Though the event transformed into Black History Month in 1970, it wasn’t official until 1976, when President Gerald Ford first recognized the observance.
Carter G. Woodson
Celebrated Individuals in Black History
Notable African American Figures
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was an activist and peaceful protester for African American rights during the 1950’s and 60’s. As a Baptist minister, Martin Luther King Jr. also led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was born on January 15, 1929 and was assassinated on April 4, 1968 after delivering his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” the preceding day. King’s most famous speech was made on August 28, 1963, called “I Have a Dream.” Martin Luther King, Jr. greatly contributed to the end of segregation through his support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Martin Luther King. Jr delivering “I Have a Dream”
Rosa Parks was an American civil rights activist best known for her role in the Montgomery bus boycott. She initiated the movement by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955, thereby helping to end segregation in public transportation. Rosa was born on February 4, 1913, and died on October 24, 2005. She received many awards such as the Congressional Gold Medal, Spingarn Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Rosa Parks on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama
Born in 1924, Shirley Chisholm ran for New York State Assembly in 1964 and became the first African American congresswoman when she was elected in 1968. Shirley continued to serve from 1969 to 1983 before becoming the first African American of a major political party to run for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination. Her well-known campaign slogan was “Unbought and Unbossed.” Of her legacy, Chisholm said, “I want to be remembered as a woman … who dared to be a catalyst of change.”
Rep. Shirley Chisholm
John Baxter Taylor, Jr.
Born on November 3, 1882, John Taylor was a record-setting athlete in track and field before he died on December 2, 1908. As a quarter-miler for his college, John set a world record of 49.1 seconds for the 440-yards in 1903. In 1907, John set a new record of 48.6 seconds in the same event and became the indoor champion for 600 yards. A year later, John Taylor became the first African American to win an Olympic Gold Medal after participating in the 1908 Summer Olympics Men’s medley relay.
John Baxter Taylor, Jr.
Hattie McDaniel started her entertainment career as a band vocalist in the 1910s and later debuted as an actress in The Golden West (1932). She was born on June 10, 1893 and died on October 26, 1952. Hattie was best known for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind (1939). Her performance earned the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress that same year, making her the first African American to win an Oscar.
Hattie McDaniel receiving an Oscar
Guion Stewart Bluford Jr. is an American aerospace engineer, retired U.S Air Officer and fighter pilot, as well as a former NASA astronaut. Guion was born on November 22, 1942, and is currently 79 years old. He flew 144 combat missions during the Vietnam war and was one of the 10,000 applicants selected by NASA’s competition to become space shuttle astronauts. On August 30, 1983, he became a crew member of the STS-8 mission and the first African American to go to space. Afterwards, Guion completed missions STS-61A, STS-39, and his last journey, STS-53, on December 2, 1992. Guion was awarded the Air Medal and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.
Guion Bluford in space