Carter Woodson. The “Father” of Black History.
In the United States, the month of February is observed as Black History Month or National African American History Month, and we use the month to remember the important contributions and achievements of African Americans throughout our nation’s history. The celebration can be felt nationally and worldwide as many organizations, cities, states and countries host events that educate on the rich culture, and memorable figures of African American history. As a new month of remembrance begins, let’s consider the important reasons why Black History Month is observed each year.
Carter G. Woodson was the sole individual responsible for creating Negro History Week in Washington, D.C., in February 1926. To Woodson, the black experience was too important simply to be left to a small group of academics, and believed that his role was to use black history and culture as a weapon in the struggle for racial uplift. His goal was to ensure that school children be exposed to black history. Woodson chose the second week of February in order to celebrate the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford expanded African American week into a full month. He said the country needed to seize on the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of African Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.
Black History Month is an integral part of our nation’s tradition in which we continue to promote positive examples of poignant historical events, exemplary leaders and steps towards societal change. This remembrance is not only deeply meaningful for the African American community, but imperative for the greater understanding of national and world history.
HARRIET Tubman "I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other." Born into slavery in Maryland, Harriet Tubman escaped to freedom in the North in 1849 to become the most famous "conductor" on the Underground Railroad. Tubman risked her life to lead hundreds of family members and other slaves from the plantation system to freedom on this elaborate secret network of safe houses. A leading abolitionist before the American Civil War, Tubman also helped the Union Army during the war, working as a spy among other roles. In honor of her life and by popular demand, in 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the center of a new $20 bill.
CORETTA Scott King "Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated." Coretta Scott King was an American civil rights activist and the wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Coretta Scott met her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., while the two were both students in Boston, Massachusetts. She worked side by side with King as he became a leader of the civil rights movement, establishing her own distinguished career as an activist. Following her husband's assassination in 1968, Coretta founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and later successfully lobbied for his birthday to recognized as a federal holiday. She died of complications from ovarian cancer in 2006, at age 78
MAYA Angelou "Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible." One of the most prolific writers of our time, black or otherwise, Maya Angelou's storied career spanned several decades and included the publication of everything from poetry and essays to several autobiographies, including 1969's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The deeply personal and extremely successful book, chronicled Angelou's experiences of rape, identity and racism as a young girl in the south. It earned the her the distinction of penning the first nonfiction best-seller by an African American woman.
ROSA Parks “I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in." On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks rejected bus driver James F. Blake's order to relinquish her seat in the "colored section" to a white passenger, after the whites-only section was filled. This sparked a citywide bus boycott - the Montgomery bus boycott. That protest came to a successful conclusion a year later when the Supreme Court ruled that buses had to be integrated. Soon after the boycott began, Parks and her husband lost their jobs as a result of her involvement in the boycott. Although Parks remained a target for years to come, it never stopped her and she went on to work with Malcolm X and was eventually hired as a receptionist and assistant for Congressman John Conyers' Detroit office after volunteering for his congressional campaign.
ELLA Baker "Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens." Ella Baker became one of the leading figures of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s. Following her early work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she was among the founders of Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. Three years later, she helped launch the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. While not as well known as King, John Lewis or other famed leaders of the civil rights movement, Baker was a powerful behind-the-scenes force that ensured the success of some of the movement's most important organizations and events.
FANNIE Lou Hamer "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." Born into a Mississippi sharecropping family in 1917, Fannie Lou Hamer spent much of her early life in the cotton fields. She became involved with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in 1962, through which she led voting drives and relief efforts. In 1964, she co-founded and ran for Congress as a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, drawing national attention to their cause at that year's Democratic Convention. Hamer continued her activism through declining health, until her death in 1977.
MICHELLE Obama "For me, becoming isn't about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn't end." Michelle Obama is a lawyer and writer who was the first African American First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. She is the wife of the 44th U.S. president, Barack Obama. Raised on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, Obama is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. In her early legal career, she worked at the law firm Sidley Austin where she met Barack Obama. She subsequently worked in non-profits and as the associate dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago as well as the vice president for Community and External Affairs of the University of Chicago Medical Center. Michelle married Barack in 1992, and they have two daughters. As first lady, Obama served as a role model for women and worked as an advocate for poverty awareness, education, nutrition, physical activity, and healthy eating. She supported American designers and was considered a fashion icon. Her 2018 memoir, Becoming, discusses the experiences that shaped her, from her childhood in Chicago to her years living in the White House.
Biography.com Editors. The Biography.com. A&E Television Networks.
MAYA Angelou "History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again." Maya Angelou was a civil rights activist, poet and award-winning author known for numerous poetry and essay collections. One of the most prolific writers of our time, black or otherwise, Maya Angelou's storied career spanned several decades and included the publication of everything from poetry and essays to several autobiographies, including 1969's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The deeply personal and extremely successful book, chronicled Angelou's experiences of rape, identity and racism as a young girl in the south. It earned the her the distinction of penning the first nonfiction best-seller by an African American woman.
During World War II, Angelou moved to San Francisco, California. There she won a scholarship to study dance and acting at the California Labor School.
Also during this time, Angelou became the first black female cable car conductor — a job she held only briefly — in San Francisco.
In the mid-1950s, Angelou's career as a performer began to take off. She landed a role in a touring production of Porgy and Bess, later appearing in the off-Broadway production Calypso Heat Wave (1957) and releasing her first album, Miss Calypso (1957).
A member of the Harlem Writers Guild and a civil rights activist, Angelou organized and starred in the musical revue Cabaret for Freedom as a benefit for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, also serving as the SCLC's northern coordinator.
Biography.com Editors. Maya Angelou Biography. A&E Television Networks. April 2, 2014.
“I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in." - Rosa Parks
On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks rejected bus driver James F. Blake's order to relinquish her seat in the "colored section" to a white passenger, after the whites-only section was filled. Parks was not the first person to resist bus segregation, but the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) believed that she was the best candidate for seeing through a court challenge after her arrest for civil disobedience in violating Alabama segregation laws
Her bravery led to nationwide efforts to end racial segregation. Parks was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr.Award by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Although she had become a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement, Parks suffered hardship in the months following her arrest in Montgomery and the subsequent boycott. She lost her department store job and her husband was fired after his boss forbade him to talk about his wife or their legal case.
Unable to find work, they eventually left Montgomery and moved to Detroit, Michigan along with Parks' mother. There, Parks made a new life for herself, working as a secretary and receptionist in U.S. Representative John Conyer's congressional office. She also served on the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Parks received many accolades during her lifetime, including the Spingarn Medal, the NAACP's highest award, and the prestigious Martin Luther King Jr. Award.
On September 15, 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded Parks the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given by the United States' executive branch. The following year, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given by the U.S. legislative branch.
TIME magazine named Parks on its 1999 list of "The 20 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.”
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