Black History Month: Honoring Some Prominent African Americans | Local News


Among the many designations for the month of February is Black History Month, created in 1926 as “Black History Week” by Carter G. Woodson.

Woodson was a historian and his work contributed to the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The second week of February has been set aside to commemorate this week, deliberately coinciding with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Lincoln was President of the United States during the Civil War, which focused heavily on equal rights and ending slavery.

Douglass was born a slave but escaped after his third attempt and rose to prominence as an author, intellect and human rights leader. His 1845 autobiography, “A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” became a bestseller and his words in abolitionist churches were quoted in newspapers and credited with the movement to end slavery in the United States. Douglass was the first African-American to hold a high-ranking position in the United States government, as a diplomat in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti. He was also the first African American to be named vice president.

Woodson used their February birthdays as a guideline for Negro History Week, which focused on teaching black American history in public schools. The inaugural year had less ecstatic enthusiasm, with just three states and two major US cities participating in the effort.

According to a Wikipedia article, Carlson viewed teaching black history as central to the appreciation and contributions of black Americans. By 1929, black history was taught in some schools and churches. The very first observance of Black History Month was held at Kent State University in Ohio from January 2 to February 28, 1970. It took a few years before Black History Month was recognized nationwide, but was recognized by President Gerald Ford in 1976 when the United States celebrated its bicentennial.

As the world remembers Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his teachings on equality for all people of all races, many black Americans have also impacted the world, despite not having not met with the recognition that King received. Some of them, according to The Undefeated, are:

• Robert Abbott (1870-1940) – Founder of the Chicago Defender, one of the most important black newspapers in history.

• Rosa Parks (1913-2005) – Because she refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white passenger, Parks sparked a controversy that resulted in the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. She has been called the “first lady of civil rights” and the “mother of the freedom movement”.

• Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) – Known for his prowess in the boxing ring, Ali was an activist who came to prominence when he refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War. He won many titles and championships in the ring and brought attention to the fight of black Americans.

• Shirley Chisholm (1984-2005) – The first black woman elected to the US Congress in 1968, where she represented a New York district for 12 years. Chisholm was also the first woman to seek the presidential nomination in 1972.

• Benjamin O. Davis Sr. (1880-1970) – The first African-American general in the US Army fought for the desegregation of American forces in Europe during World War II.

• Dr. Charles Drew (1904-1950) – As a physician, Drew revolutionized medical practices by studying plasma, which is the liquid part of blood. He learned that plasma can be stored longer than whole blood, which facilitated medical procedures of the time.

• Edward “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974) – Musician and bandleader, Ellington worked his way into the jazz arena, adding another side to the soul music and Motown sound dominating the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

• Aretha Franklin (1942-2018) – Considered the “Queen of Soul”, Franklin left a lasting legacy with her strong voice reflecting her gospel childhood as the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher. She blended these musical roots with the sound of the blues, elevating her to one of the most revered singers and performers of all time.

• Jesse Jackson (1941-Present) – Another civil rights activist, Jackson is credited with paving the way for the election of a black president. In fact, he ran for the job himself in 1984 and despite losing, continued his mission of equal treatment for African Americans.

• Michael Jackson (1958-2009) – His life was relatively short, but he grew from humble beginnings with his family band to become one of the most popular performers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Her dance moves became the model from children to adults. Despite negative publicity and lawsuits, Jackson retained the title “King of Pop”.

• Katherine Johnson (1918-2020) – Her mathematical genius sent her to NASA in the space age, where she calculated data for space missions. She was one of three black female students chosen to enroll at West Virginia University in 1939, her success elevating her to the post of NASA.

• Michael Jordan (1963-Present) – Also known as ‘MJ’, Jordan is touted as ‘the greatest basketball player of all time’ for his success in both college and the NBA. He starred in the 1996 movie, “Space Jam,” which mixed Jordan into a lively cast. His promotion of Nike Air Jordan sneakers remains popular today.


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