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.
Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history.
Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme.
The Black History Month 2023 theme is “Black Resistance.” Black people have sought ways to nurture and protect Black lives, and for autonomy of their physical and intellectual bodies through armed resistance, voluntary emigration, nonviolence, education, literature, sports, media, and legislation/politics. Black led institutions and affiliations have lobbied, litigated, legislated, protested, and achieved success.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK (1898-1987)
Septima Poinsette Clark was an African American educator and civil rights activist. Clark developed literacy and citizenship workshops that played an important role in the drive for voting rights and civil rights for African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement.
She became known as the "Queen mother" or "Grandmother" of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Martin Luther King Jr. commonly referred to Clark as "The Mother of the Movement".
Clark's argument for her position in the Civil Rights Movement was one that claimed "knowledge could empower marginalized groups in ways that formal legal equality couldn't.”
Clark is most famous for establishing "Citizenship Schools" teaching reading to adults throughout the Deep South, in hopes of carrying on a tradition. While the project served to increase literacy, it also served as a means to empower Black communities.
“I have a great belief in the fact that whenever there is chaos, it creates wonderful thinking. I consider chaos a gift.” ~Septima Poisette Clark
EBENEZER BAPTIST CHURCH (1886-Present)
Black faith institutions were spaces where Black communities met to organize resistance efforts, inspired people to participate in the civil rights movements, and offered sanctuary during times of crisis.
An example of this is Ebenezer Baptist Church in the "Sweet Auburn" community of Atlanta, Georgia. Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, the church’s second pastor, promoted Black businesses, urged his congregation to become homeowners, and “get a piece of the turf.” He led them in the battle for adequate public accommodations for blacks, despite Jim Crow segregation laws.
In 1931, Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., became pastor at Ebenezer. In 1960 his oldest son, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., joined his father as co-pastor, giving Ebenezer international stature. He remained in that position until his death in 1968. As a final farewell to his spiritual home Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral was held in the church.
Today, Ebenezer Baptist, with a congregation of over 6,000, continues to serve the Atlanta community in the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site under the dynamic leadership of Reverend Dr. Raphael G. Warnock. Dr. Warnock is only the fifth minister to lead the Ebenezer congregation in its 136 year history.
ISAAC MYERS (1835-1891)
In 1869 several black delegates were invited to the annual meeting of the National Labor Union. Among them was Isaac Myers, a prominent organizer of African American laborers. He spoke eloquently for solidarity, saying that white and black workers ought to organize together for higher wages and a comfortable standard of living. However, the white unions refused to allow African Americans to join their ranks. In response to this, Myers met with other African American laborers to form a national labor organization of their own, the Colored National Labor Union.
The CNLU was established to help improve the harsh conditions facing black workers. Among the goals of the CNLU, were the issuance of farmland to poor African Americans in the South, government aid for education, and new nondiscriminatory legislation that would help struggling black workers.
Myer's continued to contribute to the labor movement. He became increasingly involved in the Republican Party during the 1870s.
His efforts towards labor laws and equality for the African American population inspired a multitude of others. A myriad of other coalitions, councils and labor unions were formed by Black communities to resist inequality and to advocate for themselves in a number of different career fields.
MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE (1875-1955)
Mary Jane McLeod Bethune became one of the most important black educators, civil and women’s rights leaders and government officials of the twentieth century. The college she founded set educational standards for today’s black colleges, and her role as an advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave African Americans an advocate in government.
Bethune opened a boarding school, the Daytona Beach Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls. Eventually, Bethune’s school became a college, merging with the all-male Cookman Institute to form Bethune-Cookman College in 1929. It issued its first degrees in 1943.
A champion of racial and gender equality, Bethune founded many organizations and led voter registration drives after women gained the right to vote in 1920. In 1924, she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, and in 1935, she became the founding president of the National Council of Negro Women. Bethune also played a role in the transition of black voters from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party during the Great Depression.
“Mary Bethune was one of the most potent factors in the growth of interracial goodwill in America.” ~The New York Times, upon her death in 1955
LANGSTON HUGHES (1902-1967)
Langston Hughes became one of the most prolific black writers and poets of the 20th century. Through his work, Hughes aimed to depict the lives of African Americans in the United States in the 1920s. He is known to be one of the first Black Americans that was able to fully support himself solely on his writing.
In 1921, Hughes published his first poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” in Crisis magazine. This poem was highly praised and explored the depths of African American Soul. From there, he went on to join the Harlem Renaissance’s cultural movement with his poem “The Weary Blues” securing him notoriety as a black writer and a scholarship to further his studies at Lincoln University and travel the world giving lectures. Following this time, some of his greatest works were released. His most praised work, “Let America Be America Again” focused on the working class, expressing their yearning for the American Dream.
Later works, including “Simple”, a set of comic stories exploring urban working class themes, and “Harlem”, a poem exploring how the american dream falls short for many, cemented his commitment to telling the real american story. Hughes will always be remembered as an advocate for the working class and a smashing success story in the black community.
“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.” -Dreams by Langston Hughes
ARTHUR ASHE (1943-1993)
Arthur Ashe is known to be one of the greatest tennis players of his time, inducted into the Tennis National Hall of Fame in 1985. In early life, Ashe was the first African American person to play in the Maryland boys’ championships, also the first integrated tennis competition in the US. Despite only being able to oppose other black tennis players for most of his early life, Ashe continued his path of success, earning a scholarship to play tennis for UCLA. At the peak of his career, Ashe became the first and only black man to win the Wimbledon singles title.
Ashe was aware of the impact of using his platform for good. After his failed attempt to reach the South African Open due to Apartheid Laws, Ashe made it a goal of his to protest the Apartheid Regime over the next 2 decades. He founded Artists and Athletes against Apartheid and continued to protest, even being arrested outside the South African Embassy in 1985.
Ashe paved a path for many black athletes through the rest of his life before suffering a heart attack which required a quadruple bypass surgery in 1979 and another bypass surgery in 1983. From this tragic series of events, Ashe required a blood transfusion to speed up recovery. This transfusion resulted in him contracting HIV, which remained a secret until a few months before his death. Before passing, he founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, continuing his legacy.
The 2022 Black History Month theme is Health and Wellness. Below are some interesting stories relating to that topic.
CARTER G. WOODSON & THE ORIGIN OF BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Carter G. Woodson was an American historian, author, journalist, and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). He established Negro History week in 1926 during the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson's concept was later expanded into Black History Month in 1976.
In 1926 Carter realized the importance of providing a theme to focus the attention of the public. The theme for 2022 focuses on the importance of Black Health and Wellness.
This theme acknowledges the legacy of Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well.
Throughout February we will be sharing important events and individuals that have contributed to Health and Wellness in America.
OTIS BOYKIN (1920 - 1982)
Otis Boykin was an inventor whose work with electrical resistors paved the way for the first successful pacemaker. His resistor was also quickly incorporated into a number of products, including guided missiles and IBM computers in the U.S. and overseas. A resistor is a crucial electronic component that impedes the flow of electrical current.
His mother died of heart failure when Otis was only 1 year old. This trajedy eventually led to the invention of the pacemaker. His path wasn’t in the medical field but in science and engineering. He first worked as a laboratory assistant at Fisk University’s aerospace lab, where he eventually graduated. After College he worked at an Electro Manufacturing Company and then the Chicago Telephone Supply Corporation, where he did much of his pacemaker research.
Otis Boykin patented 26 devices.
REBECCA LEE CRUMPLER (1831 - 1895)
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first Black woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. She is credited with helping countless African Americans who had no access to healthcare.
Crumpler graduated at a time when very few African Americans were allowed to attend medical college or publish books. Crumpler first practiced medicine in Boston, primarily serving poor women and children. Crumpler worked for the Freedmen's Bureau to provide medical care for freed slaves.
She was one of the first female physician authors in the nineteenth century. In 1883, she published A Book of Medical Discourses. The book has two parts that cover the prevention and cure of infantile bowel complaints, and the life and growth of human beings. Dedicated to nurses and mothers, it focuses on maternal and pediatric medical care and was among the first publications written by an African American about medicine.
CHARLES DREW (1904-1950)
Charles Drew was an American surgeon and medical researcher. He is credited with discovering a method for long-term storage of blood plasma and organized the country’s first large-scale blood bank. He was given the title of "Father of the Blood Bank."
His innovation is believed to have saved thousands of lives during World War II. He standardized procedures for long-term blood preservation that were adapted by the American Red Cross, according to the American Chemical Society.
Charles Drew also stood up for African Americans health and wellness. As the most prominent African American in the field, Drew protested against the practice of racial segregation in the donation of blood, as it lacked scientific foundation. He later resigned his position with the American Red Cross, which maintained the policy until his passing in 1950.
DANIEL HALE WILLIAMS (1856 - 1931)
Daniel Hale Williams pursued a pioneering career in medicine. Williams set up his own practice in Chicago’s South Side and taught anatomy at his alma mater, also becoming the first African American physician to work for the city’s street railway system.
Due to the discrimination of the day, African American citizens were still barred from being admitted to hospitals and Black doctors were refused staff positions. Firmly believing this needed to change, in May 1891, Williams opened Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses, the nation’s first hospital with a nursing and intern program that had a racially integrated staff. The facility, where Williams worked as a surgeon, was publicly championed by famed abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass.
Daniel Hale Williams is credited as one of the first physicians to perform open-heart surgery in the United States, which took place in 1893.
SOLOMON CARTER FULLER (1872 - 1953)
Solomon Carter Fuller has been called the country’s first Black psychiatrist.
Fuller always showed an interest in medicine, especially since his grandparents were medical missionaries in Liberia.
Fuller faced discrimination in the medical field in the form of unequal salaries and underemployment. His duties often involved performing autopsies, an unusual procedure for that era. While performing these autopsies Fuller made discoveries which allowed him to advance in his career as well contribute to the scientific and medical communities.
His groundbreaking research into Alzheimer’s helped the medical community understand the true nature of the disease. The results of Fuller’s research helped to confirm that Alzheimer’s was not the result of insanity but rather a physical disease of the brain.
PATRICIA BATH (1941 - 2019)
Patricia Bath was the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology. She noticed that rates of blindness and visual impairment were much higher at the Harlem Hospital’s eye clinic, which served many black patients, than at the eye clinic at Columbia University, which mostly served whites. That led her to conduct a study that found twice the rate of blindness among African-Americans compared with whites. Bath continued to explore inequities in vision care throughout her career.
Despite official university policies extolling equality and condemning discrimination, Bath experienced both sexism and racism during her tenure at both UCLA and Drew. Determined that her research not be obstructed by the "glass ceilings," she took her research abroad to Europe where she excelled in research and laser science, the fruits of which are evidenced by her patents for laser eye surgery.
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.