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Black History Month (From a 14 Year Old's Perspective)
Black History Month
I used to always wonder why February was Black history month, and, I was able to finally find out. The reason dates back to 1926 when a Harvard scholar named Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves, dedicated his life to ensuring that black history was accurately documented and spread. In an effort to bring national attention to the contributions of black Americans, Woodson organized the first annual Negro History Week in 1926. He chose the second week of February in honor of the birthdays of pivotal black supporters Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. From there, it spread to the whole month of February.
Seeing as it is Black History month, I figure the best thing to talk about would be black history. A good place to start would be when Africans were brought over to America to work as slaves after the Native Americans began dying from disease. The first Africans brought over were not officially slaves, but by 1640, slavery was official in America. In 1846, over 200 years later, Dred Scott was, a slave, unsuccessfully sued for his freedom in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case, which lasted until 1857. Scott filed several times for his freedom, but ultimately lost on the basis that he was property, and not a person. Eventually he was given to a different slave owner who had previously owned him. These slave owners, the Blow’s, decided to free him. Dred was formally freed on May 26, 1857 by Taylor Blow. If you ever get a chance, you should visit the courthouse in Missouri where Scott filed for freedom. It is still in St. Louis, Missouri as a museum.
There are many more things I could talk about for black history. There are probably too many to talk about them all. I will, however, mention a few more people that assisted in the early days of what would eventually become the civil rights movement. There was Harriet Tubman, who helped lead slaves into freedom through the underground rail road, and Frederick Douglass, who fought for equality for all races. They played a huge role in civil rights.
A Few Civil Rights Landmarks
There are more current, and probably more well-known, people who helped in the civil rights movement as well. There was Rosa Parks, who refused to give her seat up to a white man on a bus and was arrested on December 1, 1995. Her actions weren’t the first of this kind, but we know this one well because it led to the Montgomery bus boycott which was lead by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and this act of civil disobedience was carefully calculated as were many other acts of civil disobedience of the ear such as African Americans demanding to be served at whites on;y lunch counters. The last few years of Rosa Parks’s life were unfortunately spent in a lawsuit with the musical group, Outkast, over their song called Rosa Parks.
There was also Malcolm X, whose birth name was Malcolm Little. He changed his last name to X to signify his lost tribal name that he would have had, if not for slavery. Malcolm became affiliated with the nation of Islam, and was eventually appointed as a minister and national spokesman. Malcolm X was one of the most powerful civil rights activists, in part because he was more about human rights than civil rights. Some people accused him of being a black supremacist, and in some ways, he was. However, he softened his views later in life to promote equality. Malcolm X also rejected the idea that non-violence was the only way to fight for equality. Basically, he believed that disobedience didn’t have to be civil.
Dr. Martin Luther King, unlike Malcolm X, preached non-violence and civil disobedience. He even won a Nobel peace prize for his efforts to promote equality. However, King is most well known for his “I have a dream” speech which he delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Besides these things, King also helped lead the march on Washington, which Malcolm X sardonically referred to as the “Farce on Washington”. Both King and Malcolm were assassinated, but left a legacy, like many of their fellow civil rights activists.
Not everyone who fought to gain equality was considered a civil rights activist however. Many hip-hop songs from the eighties and nineties delivered a message of what life was like for African Americans, and if nothing else, they opened people’s eyes to things such as racism and gang violence. Groups such as Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, with “The Message”, and N.W.A, with “Straight Outta Compton” are two examples of this. There are also shows like The Boondocks (which lasted three seasons and ended one year ago) which can portray racism and the civil rights movement, from a different, and at times, comedic angle.
Today, the two most prominent civil rights leaders are Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Al Sharpton makes regular appearances on news stations and has a radio shows. Al Sharpton has also run for president, senator of New York, and mayor of New York City—all unsuccessfully. Jesse Jackson also unsuccessfully ran for president two consecutive elections in 1984 and 1988. Jackson was a part of the operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) movement and he started the Rainbow Coalition. These two groups later merged to form Rainbow PUSH.
It wasn’t until 2008 that the first African American president would successfully run for president, as Barrack Obama became the 44th president.
Athletics are also another area rich in Black history. Almost everyone knows Jackie Robinson was the first Major League Baseball player, and consequently the first black player elected to the hall of fame. Willie O’Ree was the first black National Hockey League player in 1958, Willie Thrower was the first black National Football League quarterback. There are many other notable firsts, but there’s not enough time to mention all of them.
A few other things which should be known in black history month is that Madame C.J. walker was the first black millionaire, Oprah Winfrey was the first black billionaire, Harriet Wilson was the first black novelist, and Phillis Wheatley was the first published poet, and Josephine Baker was the first black actress to star in a major motion picture. Two of my favorite facts about black history however, are that Thomas Jennings invented dry cleaning, and that Lewis Latimer made electric light bulbs and long lasting.
There is a rich history of African Americans and Blacks all over the world, too much to be covered in just one article. There is probably even too much to be covered in just one, twenty-eight day month. So we must be content to just celebrate its past, present, and future.