It’s Black History Month, and this year, we’re celebrating the achievements and history of Black people all over the States harder than ever. With a particularly difficult year behind us (more on that later), it’s time to celebrate louder and harder than before. So if you want to know what Black History Month is, where it originated, and get to know a few of its incredible male role models, keep reading.
How Did Black History Month Begin?
In 1915, historian Carter G. Woodson (left) founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life & history. He saw the complete lack of information on Black people’s accomplishments that were available for public viewing and wanted to change things.
It took a further 9 years, but in 1926, his group founded “Negro History Week“, an annual week of celebration that took place throughout the second week of February, and focused on recognizing the achievements of Black people around the United States.
The second week of February was an important choice; the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln, the 16th U.S president who created the Emancipation Proclamation and was committed to ending slavery, and Frederick Douglass, the national leader of the abolitionists land in this week, so it was a poignant and fitting tribute.
The movement worked, and grew in popularity so much over the decades that followed, that in 1970 it was renamed Black History Month, spanning the entire month of February across the States. This was an incredible step, which allowed a deeper focus on the commitments and accomplishments of black Americans.
What’s important to note is that Black History Month is an homage to black people from all periods of U.S history, not just the most recent. From enslaved people brought from Africa to America in the 17th Century, to African Americans living in the States today – this is a time to remember and celebrate everyone.
Male African American Icons to celebrate during Black History Month
From Rosa Parks to Barack Obama, Harriet Tubman to Martin Luther King Jr, the accomplishments and contributions of black Americans is difficult to encapsulate in just one blog post. We can certainly give it a good go though.
This week, we’ll focus on 4 men to thank for the way the U.S has grown to this point. Let’s take a look.
Fredrick Douglass (1818 – 1895)
Douglass was born into enslavement in 1818, and sent to Maryland, Baltimore in 1826, where the wife of the man Douglass worked for taught him to read.
He became a great storyteller, which would aid him in later life, and when he was about 20 years old, he escaped to New York – a state deemed free, and free from slavery. This is where he started telling his stories – stories about his life in enslavement, which helped him get a foot in the door with abolitionists who wanted to ban slavery for good.
Because Douglass became such a renowned figure in the abolitionist movement, his former owner noticed him and tried to recapture him. You see, whilst he was free in the north of the States, he was still deemed a slave in the south. To escape re-enslavement by his former owner, he headed to England, only returning to the U.S when his friends bought his freedom, making it safe for him to come back.
On his return, Douglass continued telling powerful stories, and helped abolish slavery – his words are still prominent today.
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free” – Fredrick Douglass
Martin Luther King Jr (1929 – 1968)
A hero and civil rights activist who inspired and changed the lives of millions, Dr Martin Luther King Jr is a worldwide figure whose presence is still felt today.
From his youth, King felt the overwhelming presence of prejudice everywhere he went. Born at the end of the 1920’s when segregation of color by law was rife throughout the States, King was moved to speak up for equality and justice for black people.
In 1965, together with his wife, he lead peaceful demonstrations to help black people gain the right to vote, a powerful movement which saw thousands of demonstrators walk 54 miles for justice and equality.
King was famous for his compelling speeches, and no matter where you go in the world, you’ll be able to hear his poignant I have a Dream speech, which he performed during another peaceful demonstration in Washington D.C in August 1963.
It’s easy to say that King made history – in 1964 he helped sign the Civil Rights Act, which forbade racial segregation in publicly owned places, which gave black people a right which they’d never had in the past.
Sadly, King was assassinated in 1968. Who knows what he would have gone on to accomplish had he lived.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.” – Martin Luther King Jr
Thurgood Marshall (1908 – 1993)
Thurgood Marshall is best known for changing the state of education in the U.S by abolishing segregation of schools and helping black children find their places in the best school for them, rather than the one they were forced to attend.
His foray into law is often said to be all thanks to a school prank gone wrong.
You see, Marshall was sent to detention, where he was instructed to read the U.S Constitution. This Constitution stipulates the rights that every American is entitled to, which Marshall found didn’t quite match up to what he was seeing. He was used to racial segregation and discrimination – not quite what the Constitution had in mind.
It sparked a fight in him, which he armored himself with and took to law school, where he fought for civil rights and equality for African Americans. He became so good at his craft that he was able to stand up to the Supreme Court and argue that school segregation was ‘separate’ and wrong. In 1954, the Supreme Justice agreed with Marshall, and thus the beginning of the end of school segregation was put into motion.
In 1967 he was appointed as the Supreme Justice, and fought for civil rights in the Supreme Court – making waves and a name for himself along the way.
“Racism separates, but it never liberates. Hatred generates fear, and fear once given a foothold; binds, consumes and imprisons. Nothing is gained from prejudice. No one benefits from racism.” – Thurgood Marshall
Barack Obama (1961 -)
Barack Obama is best known for making history by becoming the first African American President of the United States, where he ran in office from 2005 to 2008.
His election helped inspire millions of black Americans, whether that was to believe in a better future for the nation, or a better future for themselves. His election also helped to break the barriers of the old world, and show that racism could be combatted and overcome.
Obama’s family life was watched closely too, with him, his wife Michelle and their two daughters, Sasha and Malia becoming national treasures, and becoming role models to millions of black children who would often find their hopes and dreams marginalized. With the Obamas in power, these millions of children found hope for a brighter future, and a new standard was set in America.
“Where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.” – Barack Obama
How will you be celebrating Black History Month? Join us next week, when we’ll be looking at some of the most important women in Black history. Join us on our social media channels to stay posted! See you next week.