African-American History Month (also known as Black History Month) is celebrated every February in the United States to commemorate important people and events in African-American history. African-American History Month began in 1926 as “Negro History Week” by the influence of historian Carter G. Woodson, who has been referred to as the father of black history. Negro History Week had a very successful impact on the black community by spawning the creation of black history clubs and gaining the increased interest of grade-school teachers and white progressives. Eventually, Negro History Week expanded to a month-long event after gaining national recognition from the federal government in 1976. Since 1970, Black History Month has been celebrated at KentStateUniversity. African-American History Month is an integral part of American History as it reminds every American citizen about the battles the black community fought through to win their equality, liberty, and civil rights as American citizens. In honor of African-American History Month, the United States observes the courageous spirits of Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barack Obama, and many, many more!
Harriet Tubman – Harriet Tubman was born into slavery around 1820, but the exact date is arguable as many slave birthdates and places were not often recorded. Tubman experienced abuse from her slave owners while growing up in Dorchester County, Maryland. They owned Tubman’s entire family and sold many of her siblings to buyer at any chance. During her adolescence, she suffered a head injury by accidentally getting between a run-away slave and his irate owner; he threw a two-pound weight at the run-away, but missed and hit Tubman instead. The blow left her unconscious for two days, but she didn’t receive medical attention because her owner didn’t want to spend money for the treatment. As a result, she reportedly suffered from black-out episodes the rest of her life. When Tubman got older, her owner tried to sell her, but never found a buyer. Shortly after, he died and Tubman knew that her family was likely to be separated and sold to new owners. Eventually, Tubman ran away to Philadelphia, but returned to Maryland on thirteen occasions to free her family and relatives from the clutches of slavery. Tubman traveled at night and hid during the day by the means of an Underground Railroad, a number of safe-houses, networked together in support of her mission. She traveled as far north as Canada to free escaped slaves after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 had passed, requiring Union States to help in the effort of recapturing fugitive slaves.
Fredrick Douglass – Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland, around the year 1818, but the exact date is unknown which Douglass writes about in his memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Born to a slave, Douglass was separated from his mother at a young age and his father was believed to be a white man; one of his owners. When Douglass was moved to Baltimore, his mistress taught him how to read. Eventually, however, Douglass would have to continue lessons on his own, including how to read and write. His newfound education encouraged and tormented him at the same time as he came to learn the meaning of the word “abolition.” Douglass experienced the brutalities of slavery, being moved from one owner to the next, starved, and beaten. Soon, he escaped to the North, but because he was a run-away slave, he could be recaptured and sent back to his owner. As a result, he left the country to live freely in Ireland and England. After two years, he would gain the support of European abolitionists, who helped him raise enough money to buy his freedom in the U.S. Although, his European supporters asked him to stay in England to escape the racism in the United States, Douglass returned to the U.S. to help his thousands of brethren, bound by the heavy chains of slavery. Later, Douglass became an active abolitionist, giving orations and writing several autobiographies about antislavery and the abolitionist movement.
Billie Holiday – Billie Holiday was born in 1915 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but grew up in Baltimore. With an absent father and a working mother, she was raised by a relative. Holiday experienced hard times during her youth with run-ins with the law, rape, and prostitution, which eventually led to her dropping out of school. Holiday moved to Harlem, where she and her mother worked together at a brothel. She started singing in various nightclubs in Harlem, gaining recognition for her unique vocal style, and being compared to Louis Armstrong for having a “good sense of lyric content” (Wikipedia, 2013). Holiday was signed to numerous record labels throughout her singing career. Her melodic improvisation revolutionized jazz singing by introducing new styles of phrasing and tempo which can be heard in such hits as “God Bless the Child” and “Lady Sings the Blues.” In 1939, Holiday recorded the heart-wrenching and popular song “Strange Fruit,” a protest song against lynching which was still occurring in the South. She closed every show at the nightclub, Café Society, with the song, closing her eyes and singing it like a prayer. Holiday has won countless awards for her musical talents, and in 1973, her legacy was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Langston Hughes – Langston Hughes was born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri to a school teacher and a father who eventually divorced his mother to escape the racism in the United States. Hughes spent much of his time in Kansas with his paternal grandmother as a child because his mother traveled often for work. Later he moved with his mother to Cleveland, Ohio where he began to show exemplary talent in writing during high school. He wrote for the school newspaper, edited the yearbook, and started writing short stories and poetry. He also wrote his first jazz poem, a type of poetry in which he popularized, called “When Sue Wears Red.” Although Hughes began to attend ColumbiaUniversity, he left the school after struggling with racism. He later enrolled in LincolnUniversity, an historically black college in Chester County, Pennsylvania. After he earned his bachelor’s degree, he returned to New York and became a part of the popular Harlem Renaissance. In Hughes’ poetry, he tried to depict the reality of hardships and prejudices experienced by the poor black community. Hughes wrote his first published book in 1930, called “Not Without Laughter,” and would continue to publish new collections and writings throughout his literary career.
Martin Luther King, Jr. – Michael Luther King was born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia and later changed his named to “Martin” in honor of the German priest and theologian during the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. He grew up in a family of clergymen, beginning with his grandfather in 1914 and his father in 1931 at EbenezerBaptist Church. Ironically, however, King was not as enthusiastic about the faith he was brought up to believe during his youth as he came to be in his adulthood. However, after studying the Bible in-depth, King changed his outlook on religion and was set on a path to a life in ministry. King graduated from MorehouseCollege, a distinguished African-American institution in Atlanta with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology. After graduation in 1948, he attended Crozer’s Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania to earn a Bachelor of Divinity degree. After earning a fellowship at Crozer, he was able to pursue a doctorate in philosophy at BostonUniversity in 1953. King was a prominent figure in the Montgomery bus boycott, which not only brought justice to Rosa Parks, but the local black community as it required the City of Montgomery to revoke its law mandating segregation in public transportation. But segregation, racism, and prejudice were just the issue; he wanted justice, equality, and changes for the black community across America. As a result, he lectured on racial and civil rights issues throughout the country and demonstrated peaceful protests along with other black church leaders and civil rights activists. In spite of the verbal and physical abuse and the arrests he often faced during his mission for civil rights, King demonstrated the famous March on Washington for a peaceful change. Two-hundred thousand people gathered along Lincoln’s Memorial on August 28, 1963 to hear King recite his famous and influential speech, “I Have a Dream.” His unrelenting efforts resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which authorized the federal government to outlaw the discriminatory acts on ethnicity, religion, and women. Moreover, segregation laws were lifted and voting requirements were amended to end discriminatory practices against the black community which resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He received the Noble Peace Prize in 1964 and continued to demonstrate peaceful protests throughout the 1960’s, to inspire change in the world.
President Barack Obama – Barack Obama was born into an interracial family in 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Obama’s parent’s divorced when he was young and he moved around with his mother frequently during his childhood. In fact, they moved to Indonesia, shortly after she remarried. Young Obama attended school and experienced both lower and upper class living. Eventually, he moved back to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents and attend a private high school. After high school, he attended OccidentalCollege in Los Angeles, but then transferred to ColumbiaUniversity to receive his bachelor’s degree in political science with a concentration in international relations. After graduation, Obama worked as a community coordinator in Chicago between 1983-1985 creating, both, job training programs and tutoring programs. Before moving back to the east coast in 1988 to attend HarvardLawSchool, he traveled to Europe and Kenya to visit his father’s birthplace. He received his J.D., magnum cum laude in 1991. He returned to Chicago to work as a Visiting Law and Government Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School. Slowly making his way into the political arena, he served as a board member, director, and chairman for numerous outreach organizations in Chicago, and was elected State Senate in 1996. In 2005, he was sworn in as U.S. Senator and announced that he would resign in 2008 to focus on his candidacy as president. On November 4, 2008 he won the presidential election on the platform of “hope” and “change” in the United States and became the first African-American to be elected president. In 2012, President Barack Obama, introduced his new campaign, “It Begins With Us” which won him a second presidential term on November 6, 2012.
(Source for all Images: Wikimedia Commons)