Celebrating Events and People of Black History Month

Black History Month is a time to celebrate important moments in African American history and inspiring African Americans. It received official federal recognition in 1976 and the month of February was designated as a time to recognize achievements of African Americans throughout American history. There is some debate as to the merit of Black History Month as critics argue that one designated month perpetuates the notion that black history is not American history. It is, however, more generally observed as a positive time to remember the long fight for equal civil rights and to commemorate the accomplishments of remarkable people and historically significant events.

Influential Figures

During Black History month, we remember inspiring people who have made their mark in fields like politics, science, literature, sports, art and entertainment. Many of the most inspiring African Americans in history were political activists who changed the course of American history from the Civil War era to the civil rights movement and beyond. This legacy begins with the works of abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, early civil rights leaders like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois, and culminates with the activists of the civil rights movement including Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. Perhaps the most iconic of this long line of civil rights activists is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who led the activism of the SCLC, spearheaded the famous March on Washington, and won the Nobel Peace Prize before his assassination in 1968.

Other inspiring African Americans were trailblazers in their chosen field, finding extraordinary success in spite of exclusionary practices and discriminatory barriers. Athletes like baseball legend Jackie Robinson and Olympian Jesse Owens paved the way for modern black athletes, while scientists like Granville T. Woods and George Washington Carver made huge advancements with their inventions and scientific findings. African Americans have a made huge contributions to the arts and in entertainment throughout American history. This tradition of commercially and artistically successful performers includes famous musicians like Louis Armstrong and James Brown who reshaped the musical landscape to hugely successful entertainers like Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jackson. Black history Month is also a time to recognize the artistic contributions of writers like Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston, poets including Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, and visual artists like Augusta Savage and Kara Walker.

Important Events and Milestones

Many key moments in Black History are centered on abolition and the fight for equal rights. From the issuance of the emancipation proclamation through the mid-20th century, the African American community struggled against systematic discrimination. Even after the abolition of slavery, federal edicts like Plessy v. Ferguson and state-level Jim Crow laws created a system of segregation that continued until the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1964. While there had long been vocal proponents of civil rights for African Americans, this case marked the start of the civil rights movement's large scale call for the end of discriminatory segregation and political disenfranchisement. Leaders of the civil rights movement used tactics of non-violent civil disobedience and protests. Important events during this era include the arrest of Rosa Parks and the resulting Montgomery Bus Boycott, the integration of several southern schools and universities, and the march on Washington, D.C. where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the famous speech. The movement gained public support and resulted in the legislative changes like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

There have been several other significant political and military milestones in black history. For example, the Tuskegee Airmen pilots were the very first African American aviators in the U.S. military and led the way for the integration of the military. Other political milestones include the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the terms of former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and former General Colin Powell, and most recently, the election of President Barack Obama.

In addition to important political events, there are a number of important moments in popular culture and the arts that represent the significant milestones in black history. During the 1920's, the Harlem Renaissance led to the recognition of the work of talented black artists, writers, and academics. In recent years, new barriers have been broken as 2002 saw Halle Berry win the Best Actress Oscar, the very first instance of an African American woman winning that award.

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