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What is Black History Month?

Updated on August 21, 2013

February is Black History Month in the United States

February is Black History Month in the United States. In the mainstream media, at least in 2008, not much has been said to remind people of this fact. Perhaps it has been overshadowed by the presidential race (which itself is historical), or other celebrity news which, unfortunately, leads to ratings and ad dollars.

My 10-year old son asked me - no, begged me - to write a Hub about Black History Month. In order to provide more information to him and others that are interested in the history of Black History Month, and some of the great people that we should be remembering and honoring, particularly this month, I dedicate this Hub to Matt. By the way, this should be a great resource, not only in February, and not only to learn about prominent Black leaders, but also to teach children about politics.

Thurgood Marshall

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Truth comes to us from the past, then, like gold washed down from the mountains."  Frederick Douglass
"Truth comes to us from the past, then, like gold washed down from the mountains." Frederick Douglass

When did Black History Month Start?

Black History Month is the progression from the earlier recognition of "Negro History Week," which began in 1926. At that time, in the early 20th century, people had not studied black history much at all, and African Americans were not well-represented in history books. Either they were ignored, and not discussed, or cast in unfavorable light.

The tradition was started by Dr. Carter Woodson, the son of former slaves, who had earned a Ph.D. from Harvard - the second African American to do so. Dr. Woodson thought that February would be an appropriate time to recognize the historical contributions of black people in America, particularly due to the fact that two influential leaders were born that month: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Negro History Week was celebrated annually the second week of February.

Abraham Lincoln is known, of course, for his role in largely ending slavery in the mid-1800s. As the 16th President of the United States, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which eventually led to the Civil War between the North and the South. Frederick Douglass was a famous abolitionist, who worked both to end slavery and then in early civil rights campaigns during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War.

In the 1960s, Negro History Week became Black History Month. The founder's hope was that it would be celebrated by both black and white people alike. For this reason, he chose the birthdays of both a caucasian and an African-American as the basis for the annual event. Unfortunately, however, it took many decades for Black History to be noted on the February calendars of people other than blacks. Eventually, during the Civil Rights movement, governmental leaders started promoting the event on a broader basis. By 1976, Black History Month was well-established, and has continued on a national basis ever since.

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Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson

Maya Angelou

Duke Ellington

Who We Honor in Black History Month

Although Black History Month is an annual event, there are not specific requirements as to who is honored, or how they are remembered. Any type of recognition of the contributions of significant African American people is open for discussion.

The original purpose of Black History Month was to ensure that historical accounts would accurately reflect the lives of powerful, influential black people. Its founder, Dr. Woodson, hoped that one day the need for Black History Month (or Negro History Week) would no longer exist.

In this article, just a notable few African Americans are profiled. Each one of these individuals deserves his or her own Hub page, at least - so it would not be justice to try to condense a history lesson on each and every great African American in recent history. Nor is it within the scope of this Hub to try to convey the broad scope of black historical events that have shaped this nation over the past 150 years, or more.

Hopefully, with an understanding of the background and purpose of Black History Month, you will be encouraged to delve deeper and learn more about the lives of persons about whom you are interested

Arthur Ashe - A Tennis Great Remembered

C. DeLores Tucker

 

Thurgood Marshall: The first African American to serve on the United States Supreme Court. He held a Justice position for 24 years, from 1967-1991. One of his most significant accomplishments was his work as a lawyer on the case Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court ruled that "separate but equal" schools for white and black children was unconstitutional.

Maya Angelou: An acclaimed poet and novelist, Maya Angelou has published many well-known books including her award-winning autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Her poems are moving and uplifting, published in a number of volumes, as well. Notably, she was honored by reading her poem, On the Pulse of Morning, at the January 20, 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton.

Duke Ellington: Probably the most accomplished jazz musician in history, and considered by many to be a "founding father" in the development of American music. Duke Ellington's monikers include "The King of Swing," and "The Aristocrat of Swing." His band, the Washingtonians 3, famously performed at the Cotton Club and Carnegie Hall. The band performed in Broadway musicals, including Show Girl, and made film appearances. Ellington's popularity spanned decades from the late 1920s through the 1960s. He has been the recipient of awards too many to mention, including 3 Grammys.

C. DeLores Tucker: She was an influential political activist and civil rights leader who became the highest ranking African American woman in the Pennsylvania state government. DeLores Tucker chaired the black caucus of the Democratic National Committee and, and spoke at 5 Democratic Conventions. Ms. Tucker may be best known for her outspoken criticism of rap music and rappers. She joined forces with the Republican party on this issue (Bill Bennett) and took the NAACP to task for its nomination of Tupac Shakur in 1994 for the Image Awards.

Billie Holiday

Million Man March Poem by Maya Angelou

The night has been long,

The wound has been deep,

The pit has been dark,

And the walls have been steep.

Under a dead blue sky on a distant beach,

I was dragged by my braids just beyond your reach.

Your hands were tied, your mouth was bound,

You couldn't even call out my name.

You were helpless and so was I,

But unfortunately throughout history

You've worn a badge of shame.

I say, the night has been long,

The wound has been deep,

The pit has been dark

And the walls have been steep.

But today, voices of old spirit sound

Speak to us in words profound,

Across the years, across the centuries,

Across the oceans, and across the seas.

They say, draw near to one another,

Save your race.

You have been paid for in a distant place,

The old ones remind us that slavery's chains

Have paid for our freedom again and again.

The night has been long,

The pit has been deep,

The night has been dark,

And the walls have been steep.

The hells we have lived through and live through still,

Have sharpened our senses and toughened our will.

The night has been long.

This morning I look through your anguish

Right down to your soul.

I know that with each other we can make ourselves whole.

I look through the posture and past your disguise,

And see your love for family in your big brown eyes.

I say, clap hands and let's come together in this meeting ground,

I say, clap hands and let's deal with each other with love,

I say, clap hands and let us get from the low road of indifference,

Clap hands, let us come together and reveal our hearts,

Let us come together and revise our spirits,

Let us come together and cleanse our souls,

Clap hands, let's leave the preening

And stop impostering our own history.

Clap hands, call the spirits back from the ledge,

Clap hands, let us invite joy into our conversation,

Courtesy into our bedrooms,

Gentleness into our kitchen,

Care into our nursery.

The ancestors remind us, despite the history of pain

We are a going-on people who will rise again.

And still we rise. The night has been long,

The wound has been deep,

The pit has been dark,

And the walls have been steep.

Under a dead blue sky on a distant beach,

I was dragged by my braids just beyond your reach.

Your hands were tied, your mouth was bound,

You couldn't even call out my name.

You were helpless and so was I,

But unfortunately throughout history

You've worn a badge of shame.

I say, the night has been long,

The wound has been deep,

The pit has been dark

And the walls have been steep.

But today, voices of old spirit sound

Speak to us in words profound,

Across the years, across the centuries,

Across the oceans, and across the seas.

They say, draw near to one another,

Save your race.

You have been paid for in a distant place,

The old ones remind us that slavery's chains

Have paid for our freedom again and again.

The night has been long,

The pit has been deep,

The night has been dark,

And the walls have been steep.

The hells we have lived through and live through still,

Have sharpened our senses and toughened our will.

The night has been long.

This morning I look through your anguish

Right down to your soul.

I know that with each other we can make ourselves whole.

I look through the posture and past your disguise,

And see your love for family in your big brown eyes.

I say, clap hands and let's come together in this meeting ground,

I say, clap hands and let's deal with each other with love,

I say, clap hands and let us get from the low road of indifference,

Clap hands, let us come together and reveal our hearts,

Let us come together and revise our spirits,

Let us come together and cleanse our souls,

Clap hands, let's leave the preening

And stop impostering our own history.

Clap hands, call the spirits back from the ledge,

Clap hands, let us invite joy into our conversation,

Courtesy into our bedrooms,

Gentleness into our kitchen,

Care into our nursery.

The ancestors remind us, despite the history of pain

We are a going-on people who will rise again.

And still we rise.

Million man march - Washington, D.C.
Million man march - Washington, D.C.

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    • profile image

      Autumn Lynn 

      3 years ago

      This website rocks

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Awesome piece. I am bookmarking it and sharing with my students. My students class project for Black History Month this year was to make an Afican American Memory Quilt. It turned out beautiful. Up, useful, awesome and bookmarked.

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 

      7 years ago from United States

      Wow. People are still posting comments 3 years later. As a black person, I appreciate the sharing of this information with others. Thank you!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you so much pmccray, and I hope that readers will go to your beautifully written hubs on Black History Month, as well. Best to you, Steph

    • pmccray profile image

      pmccray 

      7 years ago from Utah

      Excellent hub. It is important that none are forgotten in the struggle to bridge the gap of racism in our nation. Voted up, marked useful, beautiful and shared.

    • Kristine Manley profile image

      Donna Kristine 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      I so enjoyed this Hub. It's good to see races of people celebrating each other and their history. Thumbs up!

    • profile image

      Brian2012 

      7 years ago

      Man life is grate with out black and whites fighting and killing each other

    • profile image

      Barack Obama 

      9 years ago

      I am so glad that you are here

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Earnesthub - thank you! It was one of my first hubs, but still one of my favorites.

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 

      9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Hi Stephanie, I just found this hub. I have learnt heaps from it. Thanks.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you so much, both of you (looks like my earlier comment somehow did not post). I really appreciate the feedback! It is so exciting to learn about these great individuals and be able to share it with other people.

    • Jungle Talk profile image

      Jungle Talk 

      10 years ago

      This is an awesome hub. I thoroughly appreciate your overview of some of the greats in our countries history. As an artist, I also enjoy the artistic expressions of the black community, which often embodies their history, culture, and background.

      I do think the founder, Dr. Woodson, was very insightful. Above you mention that he, "...hoped that one day the need for Black History Month (or Negro History Week) would no longer exist." As a nation of many origins, recognition of all our great people will be the paramount celebration.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 

      10 years ago from New Brunswick

      excellent hub! here in canada, there's not much promotion either but here is one site that presents a Canadian perspective.

      http://thestorytellinglibrarian.blogspot.com/

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