Recognizing Black History Month is equally as important as understanding the history of the celebration, and the notable woman who have shaped the world we live in today. There are several organizations noted throughout this blog post; to support the mentioned organizations, click on their links below.
The History of Black History Month as a nationally recognized celebration
1915 – Dr. Carter G. Woodson (historian) founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History – now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
1926 – Dr. Woodson proclaimed the first Negro History Week in February – the week included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (signed the Emancipation Proclamation and was a key figure in the abolition of slavery) and Frederick Douglass (former slave who taught himself to read and write and became a renowned activist for enslaved African Americans).
1975/1976 – President Ford made a speech encouraging all Americans to recognize the important contributions made to the life of the United States and the culture of its citizens. The celebration officially changed from Black History Week to Black History Month.
1986 – Congress passed Public Law 99-244 which designated February 1986 as National Black History Month. This included calling on the President to encourage the American people to celebrate with ceremonies and activities, and set the stage for celebrations moving forward.
1996 – President Bill Clinton issued Presidential Proclamation 6863 for “National African American History Month”; that same year, the Senate passed Senate Resolution 229 commemorating Black History Month.
Notable African Americans that shaped the identity and culture of the United States
Ida B. Wells (1862 – 1931) – Wells was best known for her fearless documentation of the gruesome lynching of African Americans. This consistently put her life at risk. She was involved in starting the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and had the opportunity to tour England and speak about women’s suffrage issues and civil rights.
Angela Davis (1944 – Present) – Davis was an activist in the late 1960s who joined the Communist Party and eventually ran as a vice-presidential candidate in the 1980s. She was an affiliate of the Black Panthers organization, in which she was arrested but acquitted on charges after a shootout in a courtroom. She has been an avid political activist throughout her illustrious career.
Fannie Barrier Williams (1855 – 1944) – Williams was an educator and activist. She is widely known for her speech in 1893 at the World’s Colombian Exchange in Chicago, IL. She also helped to found the following organizations: National League of Colored Women, National Association of Colored Women, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Earlene Brown (1935 – 1983) – the first US woman to earn an Olympic medal in shot put. Brown was a discus and shot thrower who set the American record at the 1956 Olympics and won bronze at the 1964 games.
Shirley Chisholm (1924 – 2005) – Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1969 (and served seven consecutive terms from that point forward). She was also the first woman and the first African American to seek the nomination for President as a democratic candidate.
Althea Gibson (1927-2003) – was the first Black player of any gender to compete in a US national tennis competition. Growing up in Harlem, she started playing tennis at the age of 14 and the very next year won her first tournament.
Coretta Scott King (1927 – 2006) – King was the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an avid activist for racial equality. After his death, she continued perpetuating his legacy and founded the MLK Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. She is also an author of several books.
Emma Azalia Smith Hackley (1867 – 1922) – Hackley is a woman of many talents, including but not limited to piano, violin, opera (which she studied in Paris), elementary school teacher, and more. She co-founded the Colored Women’s League and was an avid voice for the fight against discrimination.
Ella Fitzgerald (1917 – 1996) – Known for her incredible singing talents in the 20th century, she was a 13 time Grammy award winner (despite being shut out of major performance venues due to her race), and sold over 40 million albums.
Alice Coachman (1923 – 2014) – became the first Black woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal at the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Though she was confronted with discrimination in athletics on account of both her gender and the color of her skin, she still persevered.
Harriet Tubman (1820 – 1913) – One of the most renowned abolitionists, Tubman escaped slavery in 1849 and helped other enslaved people by way of the Underground Railroad. It is noted that at one point in time, there was a bounty for her capture set at $40,000 (approx. $1.5 million today).
Oprah Winfrey (1954 – Present): Oprah is a well-known entrepreneur and activist, and the first Black billionaire. She hosted her own show for more than 20 years and eventually expanded to a TV network and her own magazine. She is an avid supporter of a leadership academy for girls in South Africa, and supported the election of America’s first Black President, Barack Obama.