Every February, the United States honors all of the sacrifices that African Americans have so graciously made that have helped shape the nation. Black History Month celebrates not only the cultural heritage but also the accomplishments and adversities that are an ineradicable part of our country’s history. Most importantly, Black History Month is a time for recognizing African Americans' central role in U.S. History.

For countless modern Black millennials, this month-long celebration allows them to reimagine the possibilities that lie ahead. However, for many, the forces that drove Carter G. Woodson almost a century ago are more prominent than ever.

How It Began

Black History Month was created to direct attention to the contributions of African Americans to our country. It was initially a way to teach students and young adults about Black and African-Americans’ contributions. Such stories had primarily been forgotten and were a neglected part of the national narrative. 

Now, Black History Month honors many African Americans from different periods in U.S. History, from enslaved people first brought to America, from Africa, in the 1600s to African Americans who currently live in the U.S. 

In 1915, historian Carter G. Woodson, known as the “father of black history,” co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History because of the lack of information on the achievements of Black Americans and other peoples of African descent that were accessible to the public. Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), this group declared a week in 1926 as “Negro History Week” to acknowledge African Americans' contributions to U.S. history. The second week of February was chosen to celebrate Negro History week precisely because of two important historical figures' birthdays: Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist who wanted to end the practice of enslaving people, and former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln led the U.S. during the Civil War, predominantly fighting over the enslavement of African Americans within the country. Before the creation of Negro History Week, few people studied Black history, and it wasn’t even included in textbooks. This event inspired schools and communities across the country to organize celebrations, create history clubs, and host performances and lectures on African American history and cultural heritage.

Over the next few decades, many mayors of cities across the nation began issuing yearly proclamations recognizing “Negro History Week.” Thanks to the civil rights movement and the booming awareness of Black identity, by the late 1960s, “Negro History Week” evolved into Black History Month on numerous college campuses.

In 1976, this week-long event officially became Black History Month when President Gerald Ford extended the week-long recognition into one month to “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Black History Month has been celebrated in the U.S. every February since.

Black History Month Today

Since the first Negro History Week in 1926, many other countries have joined the United States in celebrating African Americans and their many contributions to history and culture, like Canada, the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands. Today, Black History Month continues the discussion of African Americans and their achievements through museum displays and film screenings and by encouraging the study of the accomplishments of African Americans throughout the year. In fact, just to name a few, The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Museum join in paying tribute to the many generations of African Americans who struggled with hardships to attain full citizenship in American society. Since 1976, every United States President has declared February as Black History Month and endorses a specific theme each year. 

2022 Theme: Black Health & Wellness

The Black History Month 2022 theme is “Black Health and Wellness,” which highlights the legacy of Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine and other ways of knowing (birth workers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals, and initiatives that Black communities have done to increase their wellness. This year's theme is opportune as we enter year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has unfortunately affected minority communities and placed significant burdens on many Black medical professionals.

To promote good health and wellness, Black people have relied on self-determination, mutual aid, and social support initiatives to build hospitals, medical and nursing schools, and community clinics. These clinics were made by individuals, grassroots organizations, and mutual aid societies, like the National Association of Colored Women and Black Panther Party, to provide spaces for Black individuals to oppose health and economic inequalities and bias found in mainstream institutions. This year’s theme hones in on how important Black Health and Wellness truly is and highlights Black scholars and medical professionals' successes in modern medicine.

Influential & Notable Black Americans

Every year during Black History Month, pioneers in Black history are often mentioned, such as Dr. Martin Lurther King Jr., Rosa Parks, W.E.B Du Bois, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou. These inspirational activists and leaders have helped shape what Black History Month was genuinely made for. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Lurther King Jr. is one of the most famous, if not the most famous, African Americans in history. King was a social activist and a Baptist minister and played a vital role in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. Dr. King understood the importance of equality and human rights for Black people and victims of injustice and fought for those rights until his death in 1968. He was the force behind events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington (where he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech), which helped bring about the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. In 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and is remembered each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a U.S. federal holiday since 1986.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks was an American activist who fought for basic human rights after refusing to give her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, AL. While she was not the first person to disobey the segregation laws in the United States, Parks was labeled the “Mother of the Freedom Movement” following her disobedience and succeeding arrest. Although Parks lost her tailoring job and received death threats following the Montgomery Bus Boycott, she continued to be an active member of the NAACP and worked under Congressman John Conyers to help the homeless find housing. After her work with the homeless, in 1987, The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute of Self-Development was established to offer job training to black youth. Like MLK, Parks worked very hard to procure basic human rights for Black people across the nation. In 1999, Rosa Parks was given the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the highest honor a civilian can receive in the United States.

W.E.B Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois was an author, academic, and civil rights activist in the generation before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Du Bois was a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which is still one of the leading organizations for Black rights and activism. Prior to becoming a founding member of the NAACP, Du Bois was well known as one of the leading Black intellectuals of his era and became the first Black American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Du Bois's work sincerely transformed the way the lives of Black citizens were viewed in American society. 

Harriet Tubman

Born into slavery in 1822, Tubman was famously known for her abolitionist and humanitarian efforts that helped enslaved people escape after escaping slavery herself in 1849. Harriet Tubman served as an essential part of the “Underground Railroad,” the secret path through slave-holding states that helped runaway slaves escape to northern states. She was also known as “Moses” due to her devout Christian faith, and she helped numerous slaves find their freedom in states just north of the Mason-Dixon Line. 

Frederick Douglass

In the middle of the 19th century, Frederick Douglass lived during the Civil War and was completely against slavery. Douglass, a prominent African American abolitionist and prior slave himself, is best known for Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, his generative autobiography. In his narrative, Douglass summarizes his life as a slave during the Civil War and his successive escape that was extremely instrumental to the ultimate goal of ending slavery and the abolitionist movement.

Sojourner Truth

Similar to Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth was birthed into a life of slavery. However, Truth later escaped, going on to become a prominent activist for women’s rights and abolitionist. Like various other abolitionists, religion played a key focal point in the efforts of Sojourner Truth’s advocacy. During the Civil War, Truth had a significant role in recruiting African American soldiers to fight for the Union that was then pitted against the Confederacy.

Langston Hughes

Esteemed poet and beloved novelist Langston Hughes made his mark during the Harlem Renaissance. This was a period of artistic and cultural growth with deep African American roots that occurred in New York’s iconic Harlem neighborhood. The Weary Blues, his first book of poetry, and subsequent works, aided to outline the lower-class African American economic situation. Hughes had a major influence on his generation, including Wallace Thurman, Zora Neale Hurston, and many others. Some may say that Hughes still carries influence to this day.

Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a blooming tale that displays racism as it deeply moved a young female and shaped her into the esteemed author she’d later become. The author of that influential autobiography, Maya Angelou, is among the legendary African American authors. Not only was she famed for autobiographies, but Maya Angelou was also a leader in civil rights and worked alongside other civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., to end segregation permanently.

Little Known Black American Heroes

Each Black History Month, the above names are highlighted because they are on stamps, calendars, and even quoted in political speeches. However, so many other unacknowledged Black history heroes have opened doors, fought for freedoms, and invented techniques still used in the modern world. Unspoken heroes such as Claudette Colvin, Shirley Chisholm, Bayard Rustin, Dorothy Height, Bessie Coleman, Ruby Bridges, Benjamin O. Davis Sr., and Gordan Parks have made way for many of today’s pioneers to excel in the present day.  

Claudette Colvin

Just nine months prior to Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, AL, in 1955, Claudette Colvin refused to move to the back of the bus to give her seat up to a white person at just 15 years old. This brave young girl stood up for her constitutional right to remain in her seat in the middle of the vehicle. After refusing to move and challenging the driver, she was arrested. Colvin was the first woman ever to be detained for her resistance. However, the NAACP chose not to use her case to challenge segregation laws because of her age. Later on, in 1956, Colvin became the main witness in the federal lawsuit Browder v. Gayle, which finally ended segregation on public transportation in Alabama.

Shirley Chisholm

Although in today’s world Congress is more diverse than ever, in the 1960s, it was not diverse at all. However, in the very late 1960s, when Shirley Chisholm attempted to shatter the glass ceiling, things changed. During the racially contentious period in the 60s, Chisholm became the first-ever Black woman elected to Congress. From 1969 to 1983, she also represented New York’s 12th District, and in 1972 she became the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Her campaign slogan was “Unbought and Unbossed.” Vice President Kamala Harris even paid tribute to Chisholm in her presidential campaign, using a similar logo to Chisholm’s. Shirley Chisholm also served as an educational consultant for New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare and even ran for New York State Assembly in 1964.

Bayard Rustin

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is usually credited with the iconic March on Washington in 1963; however, Bayard Rustin actually organized and strategized this historical event. This march brought over 200,000 peaceful protestors of differing races and religions in unison to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. As a homosexual man who had contentious ties to communism, he was considered too much of a liability to be on the movement's front lines, so he did his work in the background. Nevertheless, he was considered one of the most talented minds and continuously served his community while fighting for more jobs and better wages. Rustin co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, along with King.

Dorothy Height

Acclaimed as the “godmother of the women’s movement,” Height’s background in education and her dedication to social work helped her advance women’s rights. After receiving two degrees from NYU in the 1930s, Height worked for the New York City Welfare Department and soon became the assistant executive director of the Harlem Y.M.C.A. Height was also the Young Women’s Chrisitan Association leader. She became involved in anti-lynching protests, shed light on the exploitation of Black women working in “slave markets,” and even escorted First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the National Council of Negro Women, a council she served on for more than 40 years. In the 1950s, she lobbied President Dwight D. Eisenhower to take an aggressive stance on desegregation issues within schools. Dorothy Height was also one of the few women present at the March on Washington in 1963, where she stood on the platform with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream '' speech.     

Bessie Coleman

Even though Bessie Coleman is known as the first licensed Black pilot in the world, it was not until after her death that she was recognized as a pioneer in aviation. Although history favors the Wright Brothers and Amelia Earhart, Coleman went to flight school in France in 1919, after not being accepted into any U.S. flight school, and received her pilot license in 1921. In 1922, she executed the first public flight by a Black woman and became famous for her “loop-the-loops” and making figure eights. Her courageous and determined spirit created diversity in the aviation field and paved the way for a new generation of diverse pilots like the Tuskegee airmen, Blackbirds, and Flying Hobos. In 1995, the Bessie Coleman Stamp was made in her honor.

Ruby Bridges

Bridges was the first Black child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis on November 14, 1960. Despite discrimination and intimidation, Bridges never missed a day of school. Just six years old at the time, Ruby Bridges most likely had no idea that the bold act she committed would spark a chain reaction that would lead to the integration of schools in the South. Since then, Bridges has written two books on her experience and has been honored with the Carter G. Woodson Book Award. In 1999, Bridges established The Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote tolerance and create change through the education system. She is also a lifelong activist for racial equality, and in 2000, she was made an honorary deputy marshal in a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Benjamin O. Davis Sr.

Davis Sr. was the first Black general officer in the regular army and the United States armed forces. He served for 50 years as a temporary first lieutenant at an all-black unit during the Spanish American War. While in this role, Davis Sr. progressively supported the desegregation of the United States army. During his service, Benajmin O. Davis Sr. was also a professor of military science at Tuskegee and Wilberforce University, a commander of the 369th Regiment, New York National Guard, and a special assistant to the Secretary of the Army. In 1948, President Harry Truman oversaw the public ceremony of Davis’s retirement after fifty years of military service.

Gordon Parks

Parks was one of the most creative figures behind a camera in the 20th century. His photojournalism from the 1940s through the 1970s captured parts of American life that included civil rights, poverty, and race relations. He was the first African American to work at LIFE magazine and eventually became responsible for some of the most beautiful imagery in pages of Vogue, Ebony, and Glamour. Later in life, Parks co-founded Essence magazine. In 1969, he became the first Black American to write and direct a major film, The Learning Tree, based on his bestselling semi-autobiographical novel. In 1999, Parks famously said, “I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera.”

The Cochran Firm

Johnnie Cochran had long dreamed of creating a national law firm of men and women from all races, religions, creeds, and backgrounds to show how well we could all work together to make the world a better place. When Mr. Cochran started The Cochran Firm, his mission was “a journey to justice.” Today, with more than 35 offices across more than 20 states, the attorneys at The Cochran Firm work every day to fulfill that dream and continue that mission by working for our clients with the same work ethic and dedication to justice exemplified by Mr. Johnnie Cochran himself.

The Cochran Firm is a diverse group of highly skilled and experienced lawyers that are dedicated to bringing high-quality representation to injured people and their families. Our experienced attorneys at The Cochran Firm are among the nation’s most recognized and successful attorneys in the country. When navigating through the legal process, you deserve to have an experienced attorney by your side. Our attorneys at The Cochran Firm know how to fight for you.

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