History of Black History Month
Carter G. Woodson organized the first Negro History Week Celebration on the second week of February in 1926. The week celebration eventually became a month long celebration which is now known as Black History Month.
February was chosen as Black History Month because two important birthdays occur in February—that of Abraham Lincoln, the author of the Emancipation Proclamation, and that of Frederick Douglass, an early African American abolitionist.
Important Dates in Black History
The U.S. Capitol was constructed with the help of free Blacks and slaves, working alongside white laborers and craftsmen.
The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery, was adopted by the 38th Congress. Ratification was completed December 6, 1865.
Howard University’s law school becomes the country’s first black law school.
Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, giving blacks the right to vote.
Spelman College, the first college for black women in the U.S., is founded by Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles.
Booker T. Washington founds the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama. The school becomes one of the leading schools of higher learning for African Americans, and stresses the practical application of knowledge. In 1896, George Washington Carver begins teaching there as director of the department of agricultural research, gaining an international reputation for his agricultural advances.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is founded in New York by prominent black and white intellectuals and led by W.E.B. Du Bois. For the next half century, it would serve as the country’s most influential African-American civil rights organization, dedicated to political equality and social justice In 1910, its journal, The Crisis, was launched. Among its well known leaders were James Weldon Johnson, Ella Baker, Moorfield Storey, Walter White, Roy Wilkins, Benjamin Hooks, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Julian Bond, and Kwesi Mfume.
Jackie Robinson breaks Major League Baseball’s color barrier when he is signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers by Branch Rickey.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans. declares that racial segregation in schools is unconstitutional (May 17).
A young black boy, Emmett Till, is brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. Two white men charged with the crime are acquitted by an all-white jury. They later boast about committing the murder. The public outrage generated by the case helps spur the civil rights movement.
Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat at the front of the “colored section” of a bus to a white passenger (Dec.1). In response to her arrest Montgomery’s black community launch a successful year-long bus boycott. Montgomery’s buses are desegregated on Dec. 21, 1956.
On August 28, 1963, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is attended by about 250,000 people, the largest demonstration ever seen in the Nation’s Capital. The march, which became a key moment in the growing struggle for civil rights in the United States, culminated in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a spirited call for racial justice and equality.
Four young black girls attending Sunday school are killed when a bomb explodes at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, a popular location for civil rights meetings. Riots erupt in Birmingham, leading to the deaths of two more black youths (Sept. 15).
President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act, the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. It prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin (July 2).
The bodies of three civil-rights workers are found. Murdered by the KKK, James E. Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner had been working to register black voters in Mississippi (Aug.).
Martin Luther King receives the Nobel Peace Prize. (Oct.)
Sidney Poitier wins the Best Actor Oscar for his role in Lilies of the Field. He is the first African American to win the award.
Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), coins the phrase “black power” in a speech in Seattle (April 19).
Major race riots take place in Newark (July 12-16) and Detroit (July 23-30).
President Johnson appoints Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. He becomes the first black Supreme Court Justice.
The Supreme Court rules in Loving v. Virginia that prohibiting interracial marriage is unconstitutional. Sixteen states still have anti-miscegenation laws and are forced to revise them.
Martin Luther King, Jr., is assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. (April 4).
Shirley Chisholm becomes the first black female U.S. Representative. A Democrat from New York, she was elected in November and served from 1969 to 1983.
Halle Berry becomes the first African American woman to win the Best Actress Oscar. She takes home the statue for her role in Monster’s Ball.
Denzel Washington, the star of Training Day, earns the Best Actor award, making it the first year that African-Americans win both the best actor and actress Oscars.
President Barack Obama, Democrat from Chicago, becomes the first African-American to be nominated as a major party nominee for president and goes on to win the election becoming the nationa’s first African-American president.