Black History Month - Struggle for Freedom | Key Events

Black history month - famous people

What is Black History Month?

Black History Month (other name being National African American History Month) is an annual observances celebrated by African Americans. This event is implemented in USA, Canada and Great Britain. Celebration month in USA and Canada is February and in UK it is Ojctober. The main aim in celebration of this month is remembrance of important events and people in the history of African nations.

History of celebration of Black History Month goes back to beginning of 20th century. In 1926 Carter G. Woodson, historian and founder of Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) announced second week of February as “Negro History Week”. Reason in selection of this week was birth dates of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. During this week lectures about American black history, history conversation clubs were organized in schools and people were taught about their traditions. Carter G. Woodson regarded that these events must be organized every year and blacks living in America must be informed about their history and origin. These initiatives were also approved by African Americans. Negro History Week was met with enthusiastic response; it prompted establishment of black history clubs, caused interest of black teachers, and even resulted in interest from whites. Negro History Week grew in popularity in the following decades, with mayors across the United States supporting it as a holiday.

After a couple of decades, Negro History Week was renamed to Black History Month. Organizations and events were implemented during the whole month. Black History Month was highly appreciated by American government and it was recognized as an official holiday in 1976 by the government. Black History Month was implemented in the United Kingdom in 1987. It was organized by the leadership of Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo. And in Canada it was announced officially in 1995.

Great migration

Scientists called movement of Africans to USA as “Great migration”. Migration of Africans began from the beginning of XX century. Most of them were sent to Northeast, Midwest and West states of USA. Totally 6-8 millions of Africans moved to USA during this period. Great migration is divided into two periods:

  1. First “Great migration” occurred between 1910-1930s: About 1.6 million of blacks immigrated to United States and situated mostly in industrial states.

  2. Second “Great migration” was implemented in 1940-1970s: Includes about 5 million people that were sent to northern and western states (California).

One of the positive effects of migration for Africans was that they found a new world, they became urbanized population and began to live in modern cities. During the end of second great migration Africans began to carry out internal migration. They preferred to move from northern and western states to the other states which were economically developed. It was called as the “New Great Migration”.

African Americans Firsts

There are some famous African Americans that were at the forefronts of the change. They are the culprits of many of the great achievements we’ve seen in lives of African Americans in XIX and XX centuries.

  1. Alexander Lucius Twilight was elected to the Vermont General Assembly in 1836 and became the first African American to be elected to a state legislature.

  2. Hiram R. Revels was the first African American to serve in the U.S. Senate and Congress. He was a Republican politician.

  3. Carol Moseley Braun was the first (and the only to date) female African-American Senator, the first African-American U.S. Senator for the Democratic Party, the first woman to defeat an incumbent U.S. Senator in an election, and the first (and the only to date) female Senator from Illinois.

  4. Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm became the first African-American woman elected to the United States Congress. She became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States, and the first woman ever to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

  5. Ralph Bunche was the first African American and the first American person of color to be so honored in the history of the Nobel prize.

  6. Patricia Roberts Harris was the first African American woman to serve in the United States Cabinet.

  7. Barbara Jordan was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, the first southern black female elected to the United States House of Representatives, and the first African-American woman to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic National Convention.

  8. Ronald Harmon “Ron” Brown was the United States Secretary of Commerce, serving during the first term of President Bill Clinton. He was the first African American to hold this position.

  9. Jane Matilda Bolin was the first African-American woman to graduate from Yale Law School, the first to join the New York City Bar Association, and the first to join the New York City Law Department. She became the first black woman to serve as a judge in the United States when she was sworn into the bench of the New York City Domestic Relations Court in 1939.

  10. Colin Luther Powell - was the first African American and the youngest person to chair (1989–93) the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first African American to serve (2001–5) as secretary of state. In 1989, Powell was promoted to four-star general, becoming the first African American to hold that rank, and was named chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Struggle for "Freedom" (1954-68)

It is also called as “Civil Rights Movement” or 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Reason of this movement was the struggle to eliminate racial segregation and discrimination against African-Americans. In the first phase of movement, people didn’t make use of any actions that involved violence while raising their voice and requesting their rights and state bodies, institutions and other communities often had to respond immediately to these situations. Because of that there weren’t any force-majeure situations during these protests.

Key events of movement

  1. Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott - Rosa Parks was one of the main activists during the movement. On December 1, 1955 local black leader Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus to make room for a white passenger; she was arrested and received national publicity, hailed as the “mother of the civil rights movement”.

  2. Little Rock Nine Crisis – Nine African-American students were stopped when trying to enter Little Rock Central High School by Orval Faubus, Governor of Arkansas. These students were accepted to Central High School, because of their highest degrees. After intervention of Dwight D. Eisenhower to this issue, students were allowed to participate in lessons of school. But harassments, attacks to black students by white people continued and only one of them finished school at last.

  3. Sit-ins (1958–1960) - Sits-ins are nonviolent protests against racial segregation towards African Americans and it was one of the most famous and influential steps taken back then. Main driving cause for these were limitations on people of color, especially in the Southern states of USA, blacks were faced with attacks, protests against entering cafes, restaurants etc. where white people were and they were not allowed to sit on the seats. As well as some café and restaurants placed a poster in front saying “serving only to whites”. In July 1958, the NAACP Youth Council sponsored sit-ins at the lunch counter of a Dockum Drug Store in downtown Wichita, Kansas. This movement was quickly followed by many black students from other colleges. Demonstrators focused not only on lunch counters but also on parks, beaches, libraries, theaters, museums, and other public facilities.

  4. Voter registration organizing – During the civil rights movement, voting right for blacks was one of the main issues. Starting from the beginning of 1960s, African-Americans began to request rejection of voting prevention and build community organizations that could win a share of political power in the state. Within this issue, leading organization was SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), which started off by organizing voting projects in Mississippi. Of course, this initiative was met with protests and violations of whites. After passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protection and facilitation of voter registration despite state barriers became the main effort of the movement.

  5. March on Washington (1963) – This march was organized for elimination of discrimination in job finding process. It was held on August 28, 1963. Goals of the march were meaningful civil rights laws, a massive federal works program, full and fair employment, decent housing, the right to vote, adequate integrated education. The march was a success, although not without controversy. Approximately 200,000 to 300,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. After the march, King and other civil rights leaders met with President Kennedy in the White House.

  6. King awarded Nobel Peace Prize - On December 10, 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest at the time to receive the award (now youngest laureate is Malala Yousafzai).

  7. Civil Rights Act of 1968 – This act prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin. It also made it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone by reason of their race, color, religion or national origin”.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

Adoption of Civil Rights Act in 1964 was one of the most important successes during Civil Rights Movement and is also regarded as valuable piece of legislation in the history of USA. This act eliminated discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or nationality. Act ended unequal behavior against people, especially people of color, racial segregation in public authorities, schools, public places, etc. Initiator of this legal act was John Kennedy. But it was signed by Lyndon Johnson, because of assassination of President Kennedy. Major features of this act are as followings:

  1. Forbid unequal application of voter registration requirements.

  2. Eliminate discrimination, segregation against people based on race, color, religion or nationality in all public accommodations.

  3. State and municipal governments must provide appropriate opportunity to access public facilities not being affected by race, color, religion or national origin.

  4. Expanded civil rights organizations (NGOs) taking active role in society.

  5. Anyone is called as an “employer” if he/she has fifteen (15) or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.

  6. Required compilation of voter-registration and voting data in geographic areas

  7. It became easier to transfer civil rights cases from state courts to federal courts cause of segregation of white judges.

"I have a dream"

Martin Luther King Jr was one of the most important and influential figures in the history of blacks. His role in supporting rights of blacks during 20th century is undeniable. He was an activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. From his earlier ages, King began to take an active role as an activist. He realized Bus Boycott, established African-American civil rights organization named as SCLC (Southern Cristian Leadership Conference) and was its first president. He also fought against segregation applied to blacks in some states. King always supported nonviolent protests and tried to achieve everything via negotiations and mutual agreements. African-American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin was King's first regular advisor on nonviolence. He was also inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas on nonviolence. He participated in many protests done by blacks, e.g. Montgomery Bus Boycott together with Rosa Parks, Albany Movement, Birmingham Campaign, March on Washington, Bloody Sunday (1965), etc.

King never tried to create a political party and never thought of being nominated for presidency by being candidate from any political party. King also emphasized in his speeches that giving compensation to blacks will not provide economical balance between black and white Americans, but American government must pay approximately 50 billion dollars for elimination of after-effects appeared during last 10 years. King was the first and youngest African-American awarded a Noble Peace Price on 14 October, 1964 for leading nonviolent resistance to racial prejudice in the U.S.

One point which made Martin Luther King so famous was his speech called “I have a dream”. Being one of the most important events of Civil Rights Movement of African-Americans it happened during Washington March for Jobs and Freedom (1963). King delivered 170 minutes speech and many of his sentences began with “I have a dream”.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.  
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today. 

Martin Luther King was killed on 4 April 1968. King went to Memphis state to participate in the protest supporting the black sanitary public works employees. He stayed in his room number 306 at the Lorraine Motel. At the time of the assassination, Martin Luther King was talking with his friends on the balcony of his room. King was killed by James Earl Ray, who was arrested two months later. Assassination of King caused nationwide protests. Some high ranked governors of USA gave urgent briefing about King’s death and censured this event. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared April 7 a national day of mourning for the civil rights leader.

Muslim leader of African-Americans

Malcolm X

Among other leaders of African-Americans there was a Muslim figure, who was one of the most influential ones in supporting blacks’ rights. He was Malcolm Little (known as Malcolm X, and in Arabic el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz). He was known as a courageous advocate in struggling against crimes done to blacks, preaching to people on anti-racism, segregation and nonviolence, and also supported pan-Africanism ideas. Life of Malcolm X against racism and violence against blacks began from the beginning of 1950s. He became member of Nation of Islam in 1952 and quickly became one the most important members in of the organization. During the first years of membership, Malcolm X worked in different positions, especially head of Sunni-Islam Mosques in different states of USA and also established some temples by his own.

American public first heard about Malcolm after Johnson Hinton incident, in which Hinton, member of Nation of Islam, was beaten by New York police officers. Malcolm and small group of people started gathering in front of the police station, requesting to meet with Hinton. At first, police didn’t respond to this request, but in light of increasing amount of people starting to flock in, police gave permission for the visit. Afterwards, Malcolm X insisted on arranging an ambulance to take Hinton to the hospital.

Malcolm X used from his influence in involving some popular people to the Nation of Islam. One of them was Cassius Clay a boxer (known as Mohammad Ali) and Malcom became a close friend of his.

Malcolm X rejected civil rights movement and defended the opinion that African-Americans should return to Africa or a separate state of Africans should be created in America. He called Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders as “abettors” of whites. Some statements as *“black people are the original people of the world”, “white people are devils”, “blacks are superior to whites” and “decease of the white race is adjacent”* promoted by Malcolm X caused accusations towards him and Nation of Islam. After making these statements, he and his followers were labeled as racist, violence-seekers, segregators and threat to developing relations between blacks and whites.

By March 1964, Malcolm X decided to part his ways with the Nation of Islam and its leader Elijah Muhammad. After leaving organization he continued his activities and cooperated with other organizations. He decided to be pilgrim, in April 1964 he went to Jeddah for Hajjand afterwards began to travel abroad. He visited African and Arabic countries, met with religious leaders of this region. In 1965 Malcolm X returned to USA. Malcolm preferred to give speeches in the Islamic communities and organize meetings. During this period he was threatened with murder. These threats came both from Nation of Islam members, and also from other wings of government. On February 19, 1965, Malcolm X told in his interview that Nation of Islam was actively trying to kill him. Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965. He was preparing to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom, when a man shouted in the 400-person audience and opened the lethal gun fire.

Famous African Americans

  1. Oprah Winfrey is an American media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. Her net worth is 3.1 billion dollars. Source of her wealth is Harpo Productions (US-based multimedia company).

  2. Michael Jordan is an American former professional basketball player. He is also a businessman and principal owner and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets basketball team. His net worth is 1.1 billion dollars.

  3. Tiger Woods is an American professional golfer who is among the most successful golfers of all time. He has been one of the highest-paid athletes in the world for several years. His net worth is 640 million dollars.

  4. Robert Johnson is an American businessman, media magnate, executive, philanthropist and investor and founder of Black Entertainment Television cable channel. His net worth is 550 million dollars.

  5. Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jr is a retired American professional basketball player who played point guard for Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA) for 13 seasons. His net worth is 500 million dollars. Source of his wealth is from basketball, real estate, restaurants and investments.

  6. William Henry “Bill” Cosby, Jr is an American stand-up comedian, actor and author. His net worth is 450 million dollars, source of his wealth being from TV programs and entertainments.

  7. Roy Donahue “Don” Peebles is a real estate entrepreneur, author and political activist. Peebles is the founder, chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Peebles Corporation. His net worth is 350 million dollars.

  8. Berry Gordy, Jr is an American record producer and songwriter. He is best known as the founder of the Motownrecord label, as well as its many subsidiaries. His net worth is 325 million dollars.

  9. Quintin E. Primo III is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Capri Capital Partners LLC, one of the largest minority-owned real estate investment management firms in the United States. His net worth is 300 million dollars.

  10. Donald “Don” King is an American boxing promoter whose flamboyant personality, and public and professional involved in some of boxing's most historic match-ups. His net worth is 290 million dollars.

  11. Janice Bryant Howroyd is an African American entrepreneur. She is founder and Chief Executive Officer of ACT-1 Group, the largest minority woman-owned employment agency in the United States. Her net worth is 250 million dollars.

  12. Herman J. Russell is the founder and former Chief Executive Officer of H. J. Russell and Company, dealing with construction and real estate. His net worth is 200 million dollars.

I would love to add my final remark. Some may or may not disagree, but many people believe the way forward is far simpler than depending a legally accepted Month. As Morgan Freeman put it:

I don't want a Black History Month. Black history is American history. (Morgan Freeman) 

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