Black History Month
Black History Month, also referred to as African-American History Month, commemorates the contributions and achievements made by African Americans. In the United States, Black History Month is observed annually during the month of February.
Origins of Black History Month
The origins of Black History Month date back to 1926, when noted African-American historian, Carter G. Woodson, sought to spotlight the accomplishments of African Americans. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), first organized “Negro History Week.” It was observed during the second week of February, to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
The U.S. government did not acknowledge the event until 1976, when President Gerald Ford urged the public “to recognize the important contribution made to our nation’s life and culture by our black citizens.” The week-long observance was expanded to Black History Month. Since then, every U.S. president has recognized February as Black History Month.
Notable African-American Figures
During Black History Month, we pay tribute to the African-American men and women who have made significant contributions in the fields of science, politics, educations, sports, arts, entertainment, and more. The following list features famous African-American historical figures.
- Frederick Douglass – An American abolitionist, author, and orator. Frederick Douglass spent much of his life as an anti-slavery activist, becoming a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. In his best-selling autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” Douglass detailed his experiences as a slave
- Harriet Tubman – “Conductor” of the famous Underground Railroad during the 1850s. Harriet Tubman led her family and several hundred enslaved people into freedom via the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, Tubman served as a scout, spy, and nurse.
- George Washington Carver – One of the most prominent scientists and inventors of his time. George Washington Carver developed a variety of uses for crops such as cow peas, sweet potatoes, and peanuts. Known as “the Peanut Man,” he found 100 alternative uses for the peanut, including dyes and gasoline. Carver also served as an educator at the Tuskegee Institute.
- Madame C.J. Walker – One of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire. Madame C.J. Walker built her booming business on selling homemade hair care products catered to African-American women. Aside from being a successful entrepreneur, Walker was a philanthropist, funding scholarships for women at the Tuskegee Institute and donating money to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other African-American organizations.
- Langston Hughes – An American poet, novelist, and playwright. Langston Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, the African-American cultural, social, and artistic movement that took place in Harlem, New York in the 1920s. He was one of the earliest innovators of the literary art form known as jazz-poetry. He is In his lifetime, Hughes wrote more than 60 books, including poetry, novels, short stories, musicals, and autobiographies.
- Jackie Robinson – A professional baseball player, who broke the color barrier. Jackie Robinson made history on April 15th, 1947 when he became the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson faced opposition from fans and fellow players, receiving threats. However, Robinson promised Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, that when faced with racism, he would not fight back. After retiring early in 1957, Robinson engaged in civil right activism and became a spokesperson for the NAACP.
- Rosa Parks – Activist in the Civil Rights Movement. On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on the bus to a white passenger. Her actions sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a 381-day protest against segregated seating. The bus boycott helped launch national efforts to end segregation in other public facilities.
- Martin Luther King Jr. – Social activist and baptist minister. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Civil Rights Movement during the mid 1950s until his death in 1968. King sought to end social inequality through peaceful protest. In 1955, King served as the protest leader and spokesperson of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Later in 1964, he led the March on Washington where he gave his most famous address, known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. His activism helped bring about landmark legislation, such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
- Ruby Bridges – The first African-American student to attend an all-white public elementary school in the South. On November 14th, 1960, Ruby Bridges was escorted to her class by her mother and U.S. marshals due to violent mobs. Although Ruby attended a desegregated school, she was ostracized by school staff and peers. Only one teacher, Barbara Henry, agreed to teach Ruby. No other students were in Ms. Henry’s class. Later in life, Bridges formed the Ruby Bridges Foundation.
- Wilma Rudolph – Olympic track and field athlete. In 1960, Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field at a single Olympics. As a child, Rudolph had trouble with her left leg and had to wear a brace. However, Rudolph overcame her disability to later compete in the 1956 and 1960 summer Olympics.
Black History Month Resources
Honor Black History Month in your classroom with our teaching resources.Supplement a lesson on black history with varied word lists on key historical events, prominent African-American figures, and diverse literature by and about notable African Americans. Pair these, and other monthly holiday spelling lists, with interactive games and activities to provide extensive vocabulary practice.