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Black History Month

Resources for recognizing Black History Month

Black History Month

Origins of African American History Month

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The “Father of Modern Black History,” Carter Godwin Woodson, son of former slaves and Ph.D. recipient from Harvard University, was an ardent advocate for the study of African American history.

Woodson was a historian, author, editor, and teacher, and served as dean of the Howard University School of Liberal Arts and the West Virginia Institute. Works he has authored include The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 (1915), A Century of Negro Migration (1918), The Negro in Our History (1922), and The Miseducation of the Negro (1933).

In 1912, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Woodson began publishing the Journal of Negro History shortly thereafter. As Woodson assisted the organization, authored several books, and served in various roles in academia over time, he recognized that most African Americans had little knowledge of their history and culture. Not only did whites see little worth in African American history, but due to their indoctrinated subservience and embarrassment surrounding the slavery experience, African Americans also displayed little interest in their past.

In 1926, Woodson promoted Negro History Week as a means of commemorating African American history when the primary contribution of African Americans to American history was viewed as slavery. Woodson and his colleagues sought to preserve their African American culture and to enlighten the public of the varied contributions and achievements that comprised their history. Because Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and Booker T. Washington all had birth dates in February, a week was selected that was in close proximity to those dates. ASALH published literature to support lectures, exhibits, and curriculum development for Negro History Week. The celebration was so well received that it gained national acclaim. In 1976, during the nation's bicentennial, Negro History Week was expanded to Black History Month, which is celebrated annually with a focus on a specific theme each year.

Read more about this year's theme.

Important Events in Black History

1619

A Dutch ship brought twenty Africans to the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia. They were the first blacks to be forcibly settled as involuntary laborers in the North American British Colonies.

1739

The Stono Rebellion, one of the earliest slave revolts, occurs in Stono, South Carolina.

1793

Eli Whitney's cotton gin increase the need for slaves.

1808

Congress bans further importation of slaves.

1831

In Boston, William Lloyd Garrison begins publication of the anti-slavery newspaper the Liberator and becomes a leading voice in the Abolitionist movement.

1831-1861

Approximately 75,000 slaves escape to the North using the Underground Railroad. 

1846

Ex-slave Frederick Douglass publishes the anti-slavery North Star newspaper.

1849

Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery and becomes an instrumental leader of the Underground Railroad.

1850

Congress passes another Fugitive Slave Act, which mandates government participation in the capture of escaped slaves.

1857

The Dred Scot v. Sanford case: congress does not have the right to ban slavery in the states; slave are not citizens.

1860

Abraham Lincoln is elected president, angering the southern states.

1861

The Civil War begins.

1863

Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation proclaims that all slaves in rebellious territories are forever free.

1863

Massachusetts' 54th regiment of African American troops led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw marches out of Boston on May 28th, heading into combat.

1865

The Civil War ends.

Lincoln is assassinated. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting slavery, is ratified.

The era of Reconstruction begins.

1866

The "Black Codes" are passed by all white legislators of the former Confederate States.

Congress passes the Civil Rights Act, conferring citizenship on African Americans and granting them equal rights to whites.

The Ku Klux Klan is formed in Tennessee.

1868

The 14th Amendment is ratified, defining citizenship and overturning the Dred Scot decision.

1870

The 15th Amendment is ratified, giving African Americans the right to vote.

1877

The era of Reconstruction ends.

A deal is made with southern democratic leaders which makes Rutherford B. Hayes president in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South, and puts an end to efforts to protect the civil rights of African Americans.

1879

Thousands of African Americans migrate out of the South to escape oppression during the Great Migration.

1881

Tennessee passes the first of the "Jim Crow" segregation laws, segregating state railroads. Similar laws are passed over the next 15 years throughout the South.

1896

Plessy v. Ferguson case: racial segregation is ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.
The “Jim Crow” (“separate but equal”) laws begin, barring African Americans from
equal access to public facilities.

1954

Brown v. Board of Education case: strikes down segregation as unconstitutional.

1955

In Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks is arrested for breaking a city
ordinance by refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man. This defiant act
began the Montgomery Bus Boycott and gave initial momentum to the Civil Rights Movement.

1957

Martin Luther King, Jr. and others set up the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference, a leading engine of the Civil Rights Movement.

1964

The Civil Rights Act is signed, prohibiting discrimination of all kinds.

1965

The Voting Rights Act is passed, outlawing the practices used in the South to disenfranchise
African American voters.

1968

Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

2008

Barack Obama becomes the first African American to win the U.S. presidential
race.

 


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