Since a lot is being blogged about Black History Month both here at the Amoeblog and in the blogosphere in general this month, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a moment to briefly examine the history of Black History Month itself, as well as present a general timeline of black history. One thing that amazes me is the short time span that Black History Month has been around, especially considering that African Americans have been a part of the American fabric dating back to the colonial times. Black History Month only officially started a short 34 years ago, even if the practice of observing black history dates back to the 1920's, which is still not that long ago in a historical context.
Originally known as Negro History Week, it was created in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a scholar with a Ph. D from Harvard who was the son of parents who were both formerly slaves. Woodson was so incensed that there was little or no proper written documented history of blacks in this country that he fought hard to initiate change. Up until that point on the rare occasion in which blacks were included in the American history books it was in a negative light -- they were typically portrayed as inferior human beings to the white ruling class.
A decade before initiating Negro History Week, Woodson laid the foundation by establishing the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History which began with careful documenting and writing the history of blacks in this country. The formation of that association led to the creation of the Journal of Negro History which, in turn, led to the launching of Negro History Week 84 years ago for which the second week in February was designated. Black History Week officially began in 1972, and four years later (in 1976) it became Black History Month. Below are a few random select key dates (by no means fully comprehensive) in American black history -- many officially documented by Woodson.
1500 - 1530
Black plantation slavery begins in the New World when Spaniards begin importing slaves from Africa to replace Indians who died from harsh working conditions and exposure to disease.
The first African slaves arrive in Virginia.
Eleven blacks successfully petition the government of New Amsterdam for their freedom in what was the very first black legal protest in America.
Slavery is made illegal in Vermont -- the first state to abolish slavery.
Gabriel Prosser, an enslaved African-American blacksmith, organizes a slave revolt intending to march on Richmond, Virginia. The conspiracy is uncovered, and Prosser and a number of the rebels are hanged. Virginia's slave laws are consequently tightened.
Congress bans the importation of slaves from Africa.
Denmark Vesey, an enslaved black carpenter who had purchased his freedom, plans a slave revolt with the intent to lay siege on Charleston, South Carolina. The plot was discovered, and Vesey and 34 co-conspirators were hanged.
The enslaved black preacher Nat Turner leads the most significant slave uprising in history when he and a group of followers launch a brief but significant rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. The rebels were stopped, Turner was hanged, and consequently Virginia instituted much stricter slave laws.
Human rights activist Frederick Douglass begins publication of the antislavery newspaper The North Star.
Harriet Tubman returns to Maryland to guide members of her family to freedom via the Underground Railroad, ultimately helping more than 300 slaves to escape.
W. E. B. DuBois, important civil rights leader and co-founder of the NAACP, is born.
The 15th Amendment is passed, granting blacks the right to vote. And the first black U.S. senator, Hiram R. Revels (1822-1901), takes his oath of office.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is founded by a group of concerned black and white citizens in New York City.
Marcus Garvey establishes the Universal Negro Improvement Association, an influential black nationalist organization "to promote the spirit of race pride" and create a sense of worldwide unity among blacks.
Negro History Week is initiated by Dr. Carter G. Woodson.
Jackie Robinson breaks Major League Baseball's color barrier when he is signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers by Branch Rickey.
Although blacks had participated in every U.S. war, it was not until after World War II, in 1948, that President Harry S. Truman issues an executive order integrating the U.S. armed forces.
The U.S. Supreme Court rules unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racial segregation in public schools violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
Emmett Till, a young black boy, is brutally murdered by two white men for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The public outrage generated by the ensuing court case helps kick start the civil rights movement. Also that year Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat at the front of the "colored section" of a bus to a white passenger and is arrested for failing to do so. In response Montgomery's black community launches a year-long bus boycott that leads to the ending of desegregation on their buses.
In February, in what would become a civil-rights movement milestone, a group of black Greensboro, N.C., college students begin a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is arrested and jailed during anti-segregation protests in Birmingham, Alabama and writes his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which advocated nonviolent civil disobedience. A quarter of a million people partake in The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the largest demonstration ever seen in the nation's capital. Martin Luther King delivers his famous, history altering "I Have a Dream" speech.
On February 21st Malcolm X, the militant leader who promoted Black Nationalism, is shot to death by three Black Muslims in New York City.
Martin Luther King, Jr., is assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. That same year President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing.
In April of that year the first race riots in decades erupts in South-Central Los Angeles after a jury acquitts the four white police officers for the videotaped beating of Rodney King.
The Million Man March of African-American men occurs in Washington, D.C. with Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, as one of the event's most prominent organizers.
Halle Berry becomes the first African-American woman to be awarded an Oscar for best actress in a leading role for her role in Monster's Ball.
Barack Obama is the first African-American president of the United States. Also last year the U.S. Senate confirmed, with a vote of 75 to 21, Eric H. Holder, Jr. as Attorney General of the United States -- the first African American in that position.