Black History Month
As a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, like W. E. B. Du Bois before him, believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. His hopes to raise awareness of African American’s contributions to civilization was realized when he and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.
By the time of Woodson’s death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration. At mid-century, mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week. The Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all colors on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.
The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That year, fifty years after the first celebration, the association held the first African American History Month. By this time, the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story. Since then each American president has issued African American History Month proclamations. And the association—now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)—continues to promote the study of Black history all year.
Past, Present, & Future
December 1875 – April 1950
Known as the “Father of Black History,” Carter G. Woodson holds an outstanding position in early 20th century American history. Woodson authored numerous scholarly books on the positive contributions of Blacks to the development of America. He also published many magazine articles analyzing the contributions and role of Black Americans. He reached out to schools and the general public through the establishment of several key organizations and founded Negro History Week (precursor to Black History Month). His message was that Blacks should be proud of their heritage and that other Americans should also understand it.
In 1915, he and friends established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. A year later, the Journal of Negro History, began quarterly publication. In 1926, Woodson proposed and launched the annual February observance of “Negro History Week,” which became “Black History Month” in 1976. It is said that he chose February for the observance because February 12th was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and February 14th was the accepted birthday of Frederick Douglass.
November 1924 - January 2005
The first African American woman in Congress (1968) and the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major political parties (1972). Her motto and title of her autobiography—Unbossed and Unbought—illustrates her outspoken advocacy for women and minorities during her seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 30, 1924, Chisholm was the oldest of four daughters to immigrant parents Charles St. Hill, a factory worker from Guyana, and Ruby Seale St. Hill, a seamstress from Barbados. She graduated from Brooklyn Girls’ High in 1942 and from Brooklyn College cum laude in 1946, where she won prizes on the debate team. Although professors encouraged her to consider a political career, she replied that she faced a “double handicap” as both Black and female.
Initially, Chisholm worked as a nursery school teacher. In 1949, she married Conrad Q. Chisholm, a private investigator (they divorced in 1977). She earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in early childhood education in 1951. By 1960, she was a consultant to the New York City Division of Day Care. Ever aware of racial and gender inequality, she joined local chapters of the League of Women Voters, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Urban League, as well as the Democratic Party club in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
In 1964, Chisholm ran for and became the second African American in the New York State Legislature. After court-ordered redistricting created a new, heavily Democratic, district in her neighborhood, in 1968 Chisholm sought—and won—a seat in Congress. There, “Fighting Shirley” introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation and championed racial and gender equality, the plight of the poor, and ending the Vietnam War. She was a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971, and in 1977 became the first Black woman and second woman ever to serve on the powerful House Rules Committee. That year she married Arthur Hardwick Jr., a New York State legislator.
January 1929 – April 1968
During the less than 13 years of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership of the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from December 1955 until April 4, 1968, African Americans achieved more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years had produced. Dr. King is widely regarded as America’s pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history.
In 1964, at 35 years old, Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. His acceptance speech in Oslo is thought by many to be among the most powerful remarks ever delivered at the event, climaxing at one point with the oft-quoted phrase “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
October 1964 –
Is the Vice President of the United States of America. She was elected Vice President after a lifetime of public service, having been elected District Attorney of San Francisco, California Attorney General, and United States Senator.
Vice President Harris was born in Oakland, California to parents who emigrated from India and Jamaica. She graduated from Howard University and the University of California, Hastings College of Law.
In 2010, Vice President Harris was elected California’s Attorney General and oversaw the largest state justice department in the United States. She established the state’s first Bureau of Children’s Justice and instituted several first-of-their-kind reforms that ensured greater transparency and accountability in the criminal justice system.
In 2017, Vice President Harris was sworn into the United States Senate. In her first speech, she spoke out on behalf of immigrants and refugees who were then under attack. As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, she fought for better protections for DREAMers and called for better oversight of substandard conditions at immigrant detention facilities.
On August 11, 2020, Vice President Harris accepted President Joe Biden’s invitation to become his running mate and help unite the nation. She is the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to be elected Vice President, as was the case with other offices she has held. She is, however, determined not to be the last.
Dr. James Durham
1762 - 1806
Born in 1762 in Philadelphia. He lived and worked most of his early life as a slave, owned by slaveholders who were themselves doctors. Dr. John Kearsley was the owner who taught Durham as a child to read and write fluently in Spanish and French. Kearsley also introduced Durham to medicine by teaching him the principles of pharmacy. From this, Durham swiftly gained a variety of health-related experience due to his exposure to Dr. Kearsley’s medical practice. After the death of Dr. John Kearsley in 1776, James Durham, at the age of 15, was sold to Dr. George West, who in turn helped the young enslaved person to expand his knowledge of medicine.
In 1783, when Durham was 21, he was sold to Dr. Robert Dow, a prominent Scottish-born physician living in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dow, despite being Durham’s enslaver. would also become a genuine friend who aided young Durham in further strengthening his medical training. Dow allowed Durham to practice on patients of varying races while working with him, which is the first recorded instance in the United States of a black person trained in medicine being allowed to work with patients of any racial background. Later in 1783, Dow either granted Durham his freedom, or Durham paid for his liberation from the earnings he received from the patients he treated. Durham would now practice medicine independently in New Orleans, specializing in throat medicine.
By 1788, Durham had established many prominent connections due to his reputation as a reputable physician. He was now particularly noted for his treatment of diphtheria cases, a serious infection within the membranes of the throat and nose. Durham’s success ignited the interest of Dr. Benjamin Rush, the most prominent physician in the United States at the time, who urged Durham to come back to Philadelphia and open up a practice there. Durham, however, stayed in New Orleans and in 1789 helped save the lives of numerous patients during an epidemic of yellow fever that swept the city. He also continued to see patients of various racial backgrounds.
March 1998 –
Is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, as well as an award-winning writer and cum laude graduate of Harvard University, where she studied Sociology. She has written for the New York Times and has three books forthcoming with Penguin Random House.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, she began writing at only a few years of age. Now her words have won her invitations to the Obama White House and to perform for Lin-Manuel Miranda, Al Gore, Secretary Hillary Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, and others. Amanda has performed multiple commissioned poems for CBS This Morning and she has spoken at events and venues across the country, including the Library of Congress and Lincoln Center. She has received a Genius Grant from OZY Media, as well as recognition from Scholastic Inc., YoungArts, the Glamour magazine College Women of the Year Awards, and the Webby Awards. She has written for the New York Times newsletter The Edit and penned the manifesto for Nike’s 2020 Black History Month campaign. In 2017, Amanda Gorman was appointed the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate by Urban Word – a program that supports Youth Poets Laureate in more than 60 cities, regions and states nationally. She is the recipient of the Poets & Writers Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, and is the youngest board member of 826 National, the largest youth writing network in the United States.
August 1948 - December 1969
Deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, was born on August 30, 1948 and raised in the Chicago suburb of Maywood, Illinois. In high school he excelled in academics and athletics. After Hampton graduated from high school, he enrolled in a pre-law program at Triton Junior College in River Grove, Illinois. Hampton also became involved in the civil rights movement, joining his local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His dynamic leadership and organizational skills in the branch enabled him to rise to the position of Youth Council President. Hampton mobilized a racially integrated group of five hundred young people who successfully lobbied city officials to create better academic services and recreational facilities for African American children.
In 1968, Hampton joined the Black Panther Party (BPP), headquartered in Oakland, California. Using his NAACP experience, he soon headed the Chicago chapter. During his brief BPP tenure, Hampton formed a “Rainbow Coalition” which included Students for a Democratic Society, the Blackstone Rangers, a street gang and the National Young Lords, a Puerto Rican organization. Hampton was also successful in negotiating a gang truce on local television.
In 1990, and later in 2004, the Chicago City Council passed resolutions commemorating December 4 as Fred Hampton Day.
On August 19, 1958, 7-year-old Ayanna Najuma, and a group of 12 students together with a High School teacher named Clara Luper, set the stage for a civil rights protest that would sweep the nation in the 1960’s and continues to resonate in modern America through movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo.
Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and his practice of nonviolent protest, the plan was simple. The students would occupy the ‘white’ only lunch counter of a drug store called Katz and ask ask to be served a hamburger and a coca-cola. When they were inevitably denied service on the grounds that the lunch counter was for ‘whites only’ they would refuse to leave and stay seated in their seats until closing.
This sit-in protest was one of the first in the civil rights movement, happening 18 months before black college students took seats at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Over the next six years, Ayanna and her fellow civil rights demonstrators, led one of the longest nonviolent sit-in protests in the United States desegregating almost every eating establishment in their home city of Oklahoma’s capital.
January 1919-October 1972
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919 to a family of sharecroppers. His mother, Mallie Robinson, single-handedly raised Jackie and her four other children. They were the only black family on their block, and the prejudice they encountered only strengthened their bond. From this humble beginning would grow the first baseball player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier that segregated the sport for more than 50 years.
In 1945, Jackie played one season in the Negro Baseball League, traveling all over the Midwest with the Kansas City Monarchs. But greater challenges and achievements were in store for him. In 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey approached Jackie about joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Major Leagues had not had an African-American player since 1889, when baseball became segregated. When Jackie first donned a Brooklyn Dodger uniform, he pioneered the integration of professional athletics in America. By breaking the color barrier in baseball, the nation’s preeminent sport, he courageously challenged the deeply rooted custom of racial segregation in both the North and the South.
In 1997, the world celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Jackie’s breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier. In doing so, we honored the man who stood defiantly against those who would work against racial equality and acknowledged the profound influence of one man’s life on the American culture. On the date of Robinson’s historic debut, all Major League teams across the nation celebrated this milestone. Also that year, The United States Post Office honored Robinson by making him the subject of a commemorative postage stamp.
October 1956 –
Mae C. Jemison is an American astronaut and physician who, on June 4, 1987, became the first African American woman to be admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program. On September 12, 1992, Jemison finally flew into space with six other astronauts aboard the Endeavour on mission STS47, becoming the first African American woman in space. In recognition of her accomplishments, Jemison has received several awards and honorary doctorates.
As she had been in high school, Jemison was very involved in extracurricular activities at Stanford, including dance and theater productions, and served as head of the Black Student Union. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from the university in 1977. Upon graduation, she entered Cornell University Medical College and, during her years there, found time to expand her horizons by studying in Cuba and Kenya and working at a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand.
After Jemison obtained her M.D. in 1981, she interned at Los Angeles County/University of Southern California Medical Center and later worked as a general practitioner. For the next two and a half years, she was the area Peace Corps medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia where she also taught and did medical research.
Following her return to the United States in 1985, Jemison made a career change and decided to follow a dream she had nurtured for a long time: In October, she applied for admission to NASA’s astronaut training program. The Challenger disaster of January 1986 delayed the selection process, but when she reapplied a year later, Jemison was one of the 15 candidates chosen from a field of about 2,000.
August 1961 –
44th President of the United States.
Few presidents have walked a more improbable path to the White House. Born in Hawaii to a mother from Kansas and a father from Kenya, Obama was raised with help from his grandparents, whose generosity of spirit reflected their Midwestern roots. The homespun values they instilled in him, paired with his innate sense of optimism, compelled Obama to devote his life to giving every child, regardless of his or her background, the same chance America gave him.
After working his way through college with the help of scholarships and student loans, Obama moved to Chicago, where he worked with a group of churches to help rebuild communities devastated by the closure of local steel plants. That experience honed his belief in the power of uniting ordinary people around a politics of purpose, in the hard work of citizenship, to bring about positive change. In law school, he became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, then he returned to Illinois to teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago and begin a career in public service, winning seats in the Illinois State Senate and the United States Senate.
On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States, winning more votes than any candidate in history. He took office at a moment of crisis unlike any America had seen in decades – a nation at war, a planet in peril, the American Dream itself threatened by the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression. And yet, despite all manner of political obstruction, Obama’s leadership helped rescue the economy, revitalize the American auto industry, reform the health care system to cover another twenty million Americans, and put the country on a firm course to a clean energy future – all while overseeing the longest stretch of job creation in American history. On the world stage, Obama’s belief in America’s indispensable leadership and strong, principled diplomacy helped wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, decimate al Qaeda and eliminate the world’s most wanted terrorists, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program, open up a new chapter with the people of Cuba, and unite humanity in coordinated action to combat a changing climate.
August 1948 - December 1969
Soared across the sky as the first African American, and the first Native American woman pilot. Known for performing flying tricks, Coleman’s nicknames were; “Brave Bessie,” “Queen Bess,” and “The Only Race Aviatrix in the World.” Her goal was to encourage women and African Americans to reach their dreams. Unfortunately, her career ended with a tragic plane crash, but her life continues to inspire people around the world.
Born in Atlanta, Texas on January 26, 1892, Bessie Coleman had twelve brothers and sisters. Her mother, Susan Coleman, was an African American maid, and her father George Coleman was a sharecroppper of mixed Native American and African American descent. In 1901, her father decided to move back to Oklahoma to try to escape discrimination. Bessie’s mother decided not to go with him. Instead, the rest of the family stayed in Waxahachie, Texas. Bessie grew up helping her mother pick cotton and wash laundry to earn extra money. By the time she was eighteen, she saved enough money to attend the Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now Langston University) in Langston, Oklahoma. She dropped out of college after only one semester because she could not afford to attend.
At age 23, Coleman went to live with her brothers in Chicago. She went to the Burnham School of Beauty Culture in 1915 and became a manicurist in a local barbershop. Meanwhile, her brothers served in the military during World War I and came home with stories from their time in France. Her brother John teased her because French women were allowed to learn how to fly airplanes and Bessie could not. This made Bessie want to become a pilot. She applied to many flight schools across the country, but no school would take her because she was both African American and a woman. Famous African American newspaper publisher, Robert Abbott told her to move to France where she could learn how to fly. She began taking French classes at night because her application to flight schools needed to be written in French.
Finally, Coleman was accepted at the Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France. She received her international pilot’s license on June 15, 1921 from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Coleman’s dream was to own a plane and to open her own flight school. She gave speeches and showed films of her air tricks in churches, theaters, and schools to earn money. She refused to speak anywhere that was segregated or discriminated against African Americans. In 1922, she performed the first public flight by an African American woman. She was famous for doing “loop-the-loops” and making the shape of an “8” in an airplane. People were fascinated by her performances and she became more popular both in the United States and in Europe. She toured the country giving flight lessons, performing in-flight shows, and she encouraged African Americans and women to learn how to fly.
In 1931, the Challenger Pilots’ Association of Chicago started a tradition of flying over Coleman’s grave every year. By 1977, African American women pilots formed the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club. In 1995, the “Bessie Coleman Stamp” was made to remember all of her accomplishments.
November 1987 -
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1987. An athletic and mobile quarterback, Kaepernick attended the University of Nevada, Reno, where he set several school and college records. The San Francisco 49ers drafted Kaepernick in 2011, and he led the club to Super Bowl XLVII less than two years later. In 2016, Kaepernick drew attention for refusing to stand for the national anthem, a form of protest that was adopted by other players and became a hot-button political topic.
Professional NFL Super Bowl quarterback who fights oppression globally. Originally fully funded by Kaepernick, he founded the global Know Your Rights Camps to advance the liberation of Black and Brown people through education, self-empowerment, mass-mobilization and the creation of new systems that elevate the next generation of change leaders. In 2018, he completed his Million Dollar Pledge, where he personally donated one million dollars to thirty-seven different organizations fighting for justice such as Assata’s Daughters, Standing Rock, United We Dream and more. He also rallied the support of many friends including Alicia Keys, J. Cole, Kobe Bryant, Serena Williams, Steph Curry, Zendaya and more, who matched his donations to raise an additional $400,000+ for these organizations to continue their work on the ground in the communities.
He has done previous work with Camp Taylor, an organization helping children with congenital heart defects after being adopted by parents who lost two children due to heart defects. Kaepernick has received the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, ACLU’s Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award, The Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship, Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award, The W.E.B. Du Bois Medal from Harvard University’s Hutchins Center and was awarded the Len Eshmont by his NFL teammates, which is considered the most prestigious honor the players vote on.
March 1983 -
Born March 1, 1983, in Mexico City, Mexico, to Kenyan parents, Dorothy Ogada Buyu and Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o. Her father, a senator, was then a visiting lecturer in political science. She was raised in Kenya. At age 16, her parents sent her back to Mexico for seven months to learn Spanish. She read film studies at Hampshire College, Massachusetts and, after working as a production assistant on several films, graduated from the Yale School of Drama’s acting program. In 2013, she impressed cinema audiences in her film debut, as brutalized slave Patsey in acclaimed director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (2013). She was also the lead in MTV’s award-winning drama series, Shuga (2009), appeared in the thriller Non-Stop (2014), and had roles in the big-budget films Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016).
Lupita’s stage credits include playing “Perdita” in “The Winter’s Tale”, (Yale Repertory Theater), “Sonya” in “Uncle Vanya”, “Katherine” in “The Taming of the Shrew”, as well as being in the original production of Michael Mitnick’s “Elijah”.
Lupita played the female lead, Nakia, in the 2018 superhero film Black Panther (2018).
February 1902 - May 1967
Born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. His parents, James Hughes and Carrie Langston, separated soon after his birth, and his father moved to Mexico.
While Hughes’ mother moved around during his youth, Hughes was raised primarily by his maternal grandmother, Mary, until she died in his early teens. From that point, he went to live with his mother, and they moved to several cities before eventually settling in Cleveland, Ohio.
It was during this time that Hughes first began to write poetry, and one of his teachers introduced him to the poetry of Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman, both of whom Hughes would later cite as primary influences.
Hughes graduated from high school in 1920 and spent the following year in Mexico with his father. Around this time, Hughes’ poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” was published in The Crisis magazine and was highly praised. In 1921 Hughes returned to the United States and enrolled at Columbia University where he studied briefly, and during which time he quickly became a part of Harlem’s burgeoning cultural movement, what is commonly known as the Harlem Renaissance.
During the 1930s, Hughes would frequently travel the United States on lecture tours, and also abroad to the Soviet Union, Japan, and Haiti. He continued to write and publish poetry and prose during this time, and in 1934 he published his first collection of short stories, The Ways of White Folks.
February 1902 - May 1967
Entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist, Madam C.J. Walker rose from poverty in the South to become one of the wealthiest African American women of her time. She used her position to advocate for the advancement of black Americans and for an end to lynching.
Born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, on a plantation in Delta, Louisiana, one of six children of Owen and Minerva Anderson Breedlove, former slaves-turned sharecroppers after the Civil War. Orphaned at age seven, Walker lived with her older sister Louvenia, and the two worked in the cotton fields. Partly to escape her abusive brother-in-law, at age 14 Walker married Moses McWilliams. When her husband died in 1887, Walker became a single parent of two-year old daughter Lelia (later known as A’Lelia).
Seeking a way out of poverty, in 1889, Walker moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where her four brothers were barbers. There, she worked as a laundress and cook. She joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church, where she met leading black men and women, whose education and success likewise inspired her.
An advocate of black women’s economic independence, she opened training programs in the “Walker System” for her national network of licensed sales agents who earned healthy commissions. Ultimately, Walker employed 40,000 African American women and men in the US, Central America, and the Caribbean. She also founded the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association in 1917.
Walker’s business grew rapidly, with sales exceeding $500,000 in the final year of her life. Her total worth topped $1 million dollars and included a mansion in Irvington, New York dubbed “Villa Lewaro;” and properties in Harlem, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.
As her wealth increased, so did her philanthropic and political outreach. Walker contributed to the YMCA, covered tuition for six African American students at Tuskegee Institute, and became active in the anti-lynching movement, donating $5,000 to the NAACP’s efforts. Just prior to dying of kidney failure, Walker revised her will, bequeathing two-thirds of future net profits to charity, as well as thousands of dollars to various individuals and schools.
February 1750 - 1832
Born on a plantation in the West Indies, Richard Humphreys came to Philadelphia in 1764.
Wrote his will and charged thirteen fellow Quakers to design an institution: “…to instruct the descendants of the African Race in school learning, in the various branches of the mechanic Arts, trades and Agriculture, in order to prepare
and fit and qualify them to act as teachers…”
On February 25, 1837, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania became the nation’s first Historically Black College and University (HBCU). The University was established through the bequest of Richard Humphreys, a Quaker philanthropist who bequeathed $10,000 — one-tenth of his estate — to design and establish a school to educate people of African descent and prepare them as teachers.
First known as the African Institute, the school was soon renamed the Institute for Colored Youth. In its early years, it provided training in trades and agriculture, which were the predominant skills needed in the general economy.
In 1902, the Institute was relocated to George Cheyney’s farm, a 275-acre property just 25 miles west of Philadelphia. The name “Cheyney” became associated with the school in 1913, though the school’s official name changed several times during the 20th century.