It’s rare that people get excited about history. Most people have this preconceived notion that it is mundane, dry, and reduced to a few memorable moments, people, or events. It’s true that courageous moments like MLK’s “I Have A Dream Speech” or The Underground Railroad are historic moments. We know about them from history class in school, but Black History Month means more than these significant events.
February is Black History Month, which honors the monumental contributions from African Americans in the United States throughout history. Federally recognized and celebrated nationwide, Black History Month celebrates how African Americans played a role in shaping this great nation. Who was the father of Black History Month?
The Man Behind Black History Month
Carter G. Woodson, a pioneer in African American history, is given a lot of credit for Black History Month. He was the son of former slaves and was disgusted by textbooks that excluded or ignored the Black population in America. To include and write about Black Americans’ relationship to U.S. History, he established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. He also developed the foundation’s respected publication, the Journal of Negro History. Woodson established Negro History Week in 1926, and that later transitioned to Black History Month in 1976. Find out more little known facts about Black History Month below.
One In Four Cowboys Was Black
Despite what you see in old Western movies or read about in books, one in four cowboys was Black. Some argue that the “Lone Ranger” was inspired by a Black man named Bass Reeves. This man was born a slave, but he escaped during the Civil War and resided on Native American territory. He was a master of disguise, an excellent marksman, had a Native American companion, and he even rode a silver horse.
A large part of the 17th and early 18th century saw an increasing amount of interracial marriages between Blacks and Whites. In 1664, the colony of Maryland enacted the first law against interracial marriage, then referred to as miscegenation; other colonies soon followed suit. It would take 300 years for the law to be overturned in 1967. Mildred Jeter, a Black woman, married Richard Loving, a White man, and they were arrested and sentenced to one year in prison. Their case went to the Supreme Court, where it was ruled unconstitutional to prohibit interracial marriage.
Carter G. Woodson chose the second week of February for the initial Negro History Week. The reason he chose February is because of two prominent February birthdays: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Douglass escaped slavery and became a civil rights leader and abolitionist. President Lincoln, as most of you know, signed the Emancipation Proclamation that abolished slavery in the confederate states.
Lincoln University in Pennsylvania was the first institution of higher education founded for African Americans. The creation of this establishment paved the way for 104 other historically Black colleges. Famous alums from some renowned Black colleges include Thurgood Marshall, Oprah Winfrey, and Spike Lee.
Black History Month Has Different Themes
Since the first celebrated Black History Month in 1976, every February has had a specific theme. The theme for Black History Month in 2021 is “Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) decided on this theme because it’s time that all Americans honor the accomplishments of Black Americans throughout history.
Claudette Colvin Came Before Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks is often thought of as the first person who refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Historically, several brave women did the same thing before her, one being Claudette Colvin. On March 2, 1955, Colvin refused to move to the back of the bus. She was 15 years old at the time, and this predated Rosa Parks’ protest by nine months.
Colvin studied influential Black leaders and when the bus driver asked her to move to the back of the bus, she claimed that the force of those leaders kept her in her seat. She was thrown in jail and later challenged segregation in court in the Browder v. Gayle case, which overturned bus segregation in Montgomery and Alabama. Her story remains in the shadows of Rosa Parks’ story because the NAACP thought Parks was a better icon than a teenager for the movement.
The Quakers Protested Slavery In 1688
Sometimes known as “The Society of Friends,” the Quakers have a long history of abolition. Four friends from Germantown, Pennsylvania are responsible for the initial 17th century protest, though. These four people thought the slave trade was unjust and inhumane, and argued the Golden Rule against this horrible treatment of the fellow man. In the document they wrote for the protest, they wrote, “Pray, what thing in the world can be done worse towards us, then if men should rob or steal us away, & sell us for slaves to strange Countries, separating husband from their wife and children…” The four friends continued to protest, presenting it at the “Monthly Meeting at Dublin” in Philadelphia. 88 years of effort later, the Quakers finally denounced slavery.