February is dedicated as Black History Month, honoring the triumphs and struggles of African Americans throughout U.S. history, including the civil rights movement and their artistic, cultural and political achievements. We created this page to post various stories that contribute to this great history. Check back as we will populate frequently with new stories. Some you have all heard before and many of the "lesser known" moments and facts in Black history.
Most people think of Rosa Parks as the first person to refuse to give up their seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. There were actually several women who came before her; one of whom was Claudette Colvin.
It was March 2, 1955, when the fifteen-year-old schoolgirl refused to move to the back of the bus, nine months before Rosa Parks’ stand that launched the Montgomery bus boycott. Claudette had been studying Black leaders like Harriet Tubman in her segregated school, those conversations had led to discussions around the current day Jim Crow laws they were all experiencing. When the bus driver ordered Claudette to get up, she refused, “It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, and Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down. I couldn't get up."
Claudette Colvin’s stand didn’t stop there. Arrested and thrown in jail, she was one of four women who challenged the segregation law in court. If Browder v. Gayle became the court case that successfully overturned bus segregation laws in both Montgomery and Alabama, why has Claudette’s story been largely forgotten? At the time, the NAACP and other Black organizations felt Rosa Parks made a better icon for the movement than a teenager. As an adult with the right look, Rosa Parks was also the secretary of the NAACP, and was both well-known and respected – people would associate her with the middle class and that would attract support for the cause. But the struggle to end segregation was often fought by young people, more than half of which were women.
On Wednesday, August 28, 1963, 250,000 Americans united at the Lincoln Memorial for the final speech of the March on Washington. As Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the podium, he eventually pushed his notes aside.
The night before the march, Dr. King began working on his speech with a small group of advisers in the lobby of the Willard Hotel. The original speech was more political and less historic, according to Clarence B. Jones, and it did not include any reference to dreams. After delivering the now famous line, “we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” Dr. King transformed his speech into a sermon.
Onstage near Dr. King, singer Mahalia Jackson reportedly kept saying, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin,” and while no one will know if he heard her, it could likely have been the inspiration he needed. Dr. King then continued, “Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream….” And then the famous Baptist preacher preached on, adding repetition and outlining the specifics of his dream. And while this improvised speech given on that hot August day in 1963 was not considered a universal success immediately, it is now recognized as one of the greatest speeches in American history.
Amanda Gorman 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.
The national youth poet laureate captivated millions during Biden’s inauguration. Her original poem, “The Hill We Climb”, has become a beacon of hope for many. But the young star isn’t finished yet. On February 7th, she recited another original poem before the Super Bowl, "Chorus of the Captains." This poem celebrated and introduced the three honorary captains — Pittsburgh-based Marine veteran James Martin, who volunteers with the Wounded Warrior Project and works with at-risk kids, Los Angeles educator Trimaine Davis and Tampa ICU nurse manager Suzie Dorner. Gorman is the first poet to ever recite a poem before a Super Bowl and youngest poet to recite at a presidential inauguration.
“You really have to crown yourself with the belief that what I’m about and what I’m here for is way beyond this moment,” Gorman shared during a TIME Black Renaissance interview with former first lady Michelle Obama. “I’m learning that I am not lightning that strikes once. I am the hurricane that comes every single year, and you can expect to see me again soon.”
The ban on interracial marriage in the U.S. was overturned because of one couple in 1967.
Mildred and Richard Loving left their home state of Virginia to get married. They were warned by Virginia state officials that getting married would be a violation of state law, as Richard was white and Mildred was not. When they returned home, Mildred was promptly arrested. When she was finally released, the couple was referred to the American Civil Liberties Union by Robert Kennedy. The ACLU, seeing an opportunity to end anti-miscegenation laws, jumped at the chance.
After making their way through local and state courts, Loving v Virginia was put before the Supreme Court, and the bans on interracial marriage were deemed unconstitutional. It was a landmark victory for couples of different races, and the Lovings are often heralded as being the catalysts for making it happen. The last law formally prohibiting interracial marriage was overturned in Alabama in 2000. The Lovings were featured in a 2016 biopic, Loving, starring Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton.
The first licensed African American female pilot.
Born in Atlanta, Texas in 1892, Bessie Coleman grew up in a world of harsh poverty, discrimination and segregation. She moved to Chicago at 23 to seek her fortune, but found little opportunity there as well. Wild tales of flying exploits from returning WWI soldiers first inspired her to explore aviation, but she faced a double stigma in that dream being both African American and a woman.
She set her sights on France in order to reach her dreams and began studying French. In 1920, Coleman crossed the ocean with all of her savings and the financial support of Robert Abbott, one of the first African American millionaires. Over the next seven months, she learned to fly and in June of 1921, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale awarded her an international pilot's license. Wildly celebrated upon her return to the United States, reporters turned out in droves to greet her.
Coleman performed at numerous airshows over the next five years, performing heart thrilling stunts, encouraging other African Americans to pursue flying, and refusing to perform where Blacks were not admitted. When she tragically died in a plane accident in 1926, famous writer and equal rights advocate Ida B. Wells presided over her funeral. An editorial in the "Dallas Express" stated, "There is reason to believe that the general public did not completely sense the size of her contribution to the achievements of the race as such."
Inoculation was introduced to America by a slave.
Few details are known about the birth of Onesimus, but it is assumed he was born in Africa in the late seventeenth century before eventually landing in Boston. One of a thousand people of African descent living in the Massachusetts colony, Onesimus was a gift to the Puritan church minister Cotton Mather from his congregation in 1706.
Onesimus told Mather about the centuries old tradition of inoculation practiced in Africa. By extracting the material from an infected person and scratching it into the skin of an uninfected person, you could deliberately introduce smallpox to the healthy individual making them immune. Considered extremely dangerous at the time, Cotton Mather convinced Dr. Zabdiel Boylston to experiment with the procedure when a smallpox epidemic hit Boston in 1721 and over 240 people were inoculated. Opposed politically, religiously and medically in the United States and abroad, public reaction to the experiment put Mather and Boylston’s lives in danger despite records indicating that only 2% of patients requesting inoculation died compared to the 15% of people not inoculated who contracted smallpox.
Onesimus’ traditional African practice was used to inoculate American soldiers during the Revolutionary War and introduced the concept of inoculation to the United States.
Hattie McDaniel was able to carve out a place for herself in Hollywood despite rampant racism and a consignment to bit parts. She paved the way for many African American women, but not without her fair share of obstacles. Her performance as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind (1939) won her Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars that year. However, the national movie premiere was in Atlanta. Because of Georgia’s Jim Crow Laws, she was prohibited from attending the event.
Hattie went on to star in over 300 films, was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 2006, and was the first Oscar winner to appear on a postage stamp. Despite her ultimate success, her choices (insofar as she had any) in roles were often criticized. The NAACP said Hollywood’s roles for African Americans were narrowed to servants or characters whose main purpose was being comically slow and dim-witted. Hattie was criticized for settling for lesser roles than her white colleagues. Despite this, Hattie went on to have a stellar career.
Madam C.J. Walker was an African American entrepreneur who became America's first female self-made millionaire.
Born in 1867 to former slaves on a Louisiana cotton plantation, Madam Walker rose in power to become America's first female self-made millionaire. She did so through the creation of the Madam C.J. Walker Company. Headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, her company was a cosmetics manufacturer that specialized in beauty and haircare products for African American women.
Walker's business prowess was matched only by her philanthropy and activism. She helped establish a YMCA in the Black community of Indianapolis and contributed funds to the Tuskegee Institute. Upon moving to New York, she joined the NAACP, donated generously to the NAACP's anti-lynching fund, and commissioned the first Black architect in New York City to build Villa Lewaro, her home on the Hudson where great minds such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington gathered to discuss social matters important to the African American community.
By the time of her death in 1919, she was known not only as a remarkably successful African American business owner, but one of America's most successful entrepreneurs of all time.