Each February, Black History Month serves as a celebration of the accomplishments of African Americans and to recognize their role in U.S. history. Black History Month was the brainchild of historian Carter G. Woodson and many other African Americans. Carter believed that black people should be proud of their heritage and all Americans should know the achievements of Black Americans.
For countless modern Black millennials, this month-long celebration allows them to reimagine the possibilities that lie ahead. Many of the forces that drove Carter G. Woodson almost a century ago are more prominent than ever today.
Carter G. Woodson founded the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History® (ASALH), as a response to the sheer lack of information about the accomplishments of black people to the public.
February was chosen as the time of the celebration due to the linkage of the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and social reformer Frederick Douglas, both of which had a huge impact on helping to end slavery in The United States.
In 1976, 50 years after the first celebration, U.S. president Gerald Ford extended the week-long celebration to "honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history." Since then, Black History Month has been a month-long celebration in February, and every American president, Democrat, and Republican has issued proclamations endorsing the Association's annual theme.
This year the Black History Month theme is "Black Resistance." This year's theme is intended to shine a light on how Black Americans have fought against racial inequality. The resistance of Black Americans can be seen throughout our history, from slave rebellions, during the Civil War, and even today.
Resisting Black people have achieved triumphs, successes, and progress, as evidenced by the elimination of slavery in the south, the abolishment of Jim and Jane Crow, political representation, educational institution desegregation, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act, increased and diverse representation of Black experiences in media, and the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. The history and significance of black resistance movements cannot be overstated, as they have served as a model for every other social movement in the country.
You can view all of the past themes on the Association for the Study of African American Life and History® (ASALH) website.
Long before, during, and after the Civil Rights movement, black trailblazers and activists fought every day for equal rights for all and to create more diversity in the entire nation and throughout our legal industry.
Carter G. Woodson was born in New Canton, Virginia, on December 19th, 1875. Carter was born the son of formerly enslaved people and understood the importance of gaining proper education. After attending Berea College in Kentucky, he began to work for the U.S. Government in the Philippines. Once he returned to the United States, he continued his education at the University of Chicago, where he obtained his bachelor's and master's and later received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1912.
A few years later, in 1915, Carter helped found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, later named the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. During his career, Carter wrote many books, none more popular than his book Mis-Education of the Negro. This book became wildly popular among several colleges and universities, becoming a required reading.
In February of 1926, Carter began the Negro History Week. This was a week where people could come together and celebrate the many accomplishments of African Americans and celebrate their rich history. Carter chose February as the month for the celebration because February was the birth month of Frederick Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln, two of the most popular men who dedicated most of their lives to abolishing slavery throughout the country.
In early April of 1950, Carter G. Woodson died. Though Carter has since passed, his legacy and work continue to live on every February during what is now Black History Month. Through his continued efforts and resistance, he was able to accomplish his goal of placing African American historical contributions front and center. He is widely known today as the "Father of Black History."
Born on July 2nd, 1908, Thurgood Marshall would soon become one of the most well-known African-American legal trailblazers in history. In 1930 Thurgood graduated with honors from Lincoln University. Thurgood attended Howard University after being rejected by the Maryland School of Law due to the color of his skin. In 1933 Thurgood received his degree and ranked first in his class. After his graduating, he began his own private law firm in Baltimore, where one of his first victories was Murray v. Pearson (1935), where he fought the University of Maryland, the same university that denied him years before, for violating the 14th Amendment by denying an African American applicant admission to its law school solely based on skin color.
Later on, in the 1940s and 50s, Marshall distinguished himself as one of the country's top lawyers, winning 29 of the 32 cases that he argued before the Supreme Court. Some of his most notable cases are listed below.
Marshall utilized the authority of the courts to combat racism and prejudice, dismantle Jim Crow segregation, alter the status quo, and improve the lives of our country's most vulnerable citizens.
Jane Bolin was a powerful and successful judge in the United States, serving on New York's Family Court for four decades. Jane Bolin was born in what is now the City of Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1908. Bolin was a magnificent student who completed high school in her mid-teens and enrolled at Wellesley College. Fighting through racism, she completed her Bachelor of Arts in 1928 and was recognized as one of the top students in her class. After Wellesley College, Bolin enrolled in Yale Law School and graduated in 1931, becoming the first African-American woman to earn a law degree from Yale.
After obtaining her law degree, Bolin returned to her home city and began working in her family's practice. After a decade, she took on assistant corporate counsel work for New York City, becoming the first African-American woman to hold that position. In 1931 at the World's Fair, Bolin was sworn in as a judge by the Mayor, marking another notch in history by becoming the first African-American female judge in the United States. After more than 30 years, Bolin was forced to resign as judge, officially retiring at the age of 70. She died in early 2007 at 98 years old.
Macon Bolling Allen was born in early August 1816. Being born in Indiana, Macon Allen, unlike many African Americans during that time, was born a free man. Being born a free man allowed him to read and write on his own, and he eventually became a schoolteacher himself, which allowed him to continue to hone his skills. Having lived roughly 20 years in Indiana, Macon moved to Portland, Maine, in the early 1840s and began to study law and worked as a clerk for General Samuel Fessenden. Macon later passed the Maine bar exam and began to practice law in 1844, becoming the first black licensed attorney to practice law in the United States.
Not long after, Macon moved again to Boston in 1845, where he would later pass the Massachusetts bar exam. Even though Macon was born a free man and was able to practice law legally, he was still faced with an onslaught of racial hurdles. Macon overcame these hurdles and became a civil court judge in 1848 and the first black judge in the country despite not being a U.S. citizen under the Constitution. Throughout his entire career, Macon was able to continue his dream and constantly fight the odds in a pre-Civil Rights era until his death in 1894.
Dorthey Height was born on March 24th, 1912, in Richmond, Virginia. Not long after her birth, her family moved to Pennsylvania, where she began school and excelled in every way possible. In 1929 Dorothy attempted to attend Barnard College but was denied due to the color of her skin; instead, Dorothy attended New York University, where she obtained her bachelor's in education and a master's in psychology. Not long after, Dorthy began on her path of tireless activism. In 1937 Dorothy joined the Harlem Young Women's Christian Association (YMCA); during her time at the YWCA, Dorothy met Mary McLeod Bethune and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt on a visit to her facility. Soon after, Dorothy joined the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) and became a close friend of Mary Mcleod Bethune. In 1957 Dorothy became the president of the National Council of Negro Women. Dorothy worked hand and hand on different campaigns and initiatives with Martin Luther King Jr, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, John Lewis, and James Farmer, often called the bix six of the civil rights movement.
Cary's tale transcends boundaries since she was a lawyer, journalist, and teacher who committed her life to civil rights. She was born in 1823 to an activist family, where her parents assisted in directing escaped enslaved people through the Underground Railroad. Mary Ann taught in African American schools for 12 years after attending a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania. Following the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, she moved to Canada with her family. Her life path shifted from teaching to journalism once she left the United States. She started the first Canadian anti-slavery journal and was North America's first African American female editor and publisher. Cary returned to the United States shortly after the Civil War, specifically to Washington, D.C., where she got her law degree from Howard University. Although little is known about her legal career, she is well-known for her tireless efforts with the women's suffrage movement, and she even testified before the House Judiciary Committee in 1874 as part of the campaign for the right to vote.
Charles Houston, considered to be "the man who destroyed Jim Crow," began his career as an English professor. However, after witnessing obvious prejudice while serving in the United States Infantry during World War I, he decided to study law and devote his time to fighting for individuals who could not fight back. Mr. Houston attended Harvard Law School and became the first black American to serve as editor of the Harvard Law Review. He received his Juris Doctorate in 1923 and was admitted to the Washington, D.C. bar in 1924. Later in his legal career, he became dean of Howard University School of Law, turning it into the premier training ground for civil rights advocates seeking legal careers. During this period, he was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) first special counsel. Houston was engaged in practically every civil rights issue heard by the Supreme Court between 1930 and 1950. He is also credited with developing the method that ended public school segregation by demonstrating that integration would be less expensive than constructing "separate but equal" schools.
Our modern-day trailblazers continue the work of the past trailblazers in order to have an equal country working together in harmony in order to progress to new heights as a nation.
Barack Obama served as the 44th President of The United States of America from January 20th, 2009, until January 20th, 2017. In doing so, he became the first African American to hold office. At the start of Obama's presidency, he was faced with the ongoing war in Iraq and the economic collapse. During his first term, Obama signed three signature bills:
Obama also advocated for a fair pay act for women, financial reform legislation, and consumer protection actions.
Born on December 14th, 1930, in Montgomery, AL, Fred Grey following high school Fred began his education at Alabama State University, during which time he wanted to become a history teacher and preach. A faculty member at the university saw Fred's potential and pressed him to enter law school. Fred decided to enter law school at Cleveland's Western Reserve University Law School, as it was known at the time, now named Case Western Reserve University.
Along with his fight for victims of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, he played an important role in the Montgomery bus boycott which outlawed segregation on public transportation. Later on in life Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted calling him, “the brilliant young Negro who later became the chief counsel for the protest movement.” On July 7th, 2022 Fred Gray along with many others was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Dennis Archer was born in Detroit, Michigan, on January 1st, 1942. He attended Ross Beatty High School, where he graduated in 1959. After graduating from Ross Beatty High School, Dennis enrolled in Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, and transferred to Western Michigan University, receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in 1965. After receiving his B.S., Dennis continued his education at the University of Michigan, then Detroit College of Law, where he went on to receive his Juris Degree.
In 1971 Dennis helped found Hall, Stone, Archer, and Glen. In 1983 Dennis went on to be named the president of the National Bar Association, followed by becoming the president of the Michigan Bar Association the following year. Throughout his career, Dennis won countless awards, including the Newsmaker of the Year in 1998 and Public Official of the Year in 2000. In 2001 Dennis founded the Dennis W. Archer Scholarship Fund.
Loretta was born May 21st, 1959, in Greensboro, SC. She attended Harvard College in 1981, where she received her A.B., and enrolled in Harvard Law School in 1984, where she received her J.D. In 1990 Lorretta joined the United States Attorney's Office in New York. During her time at the United States Attorney's Office, she prosecuted many cases involving civil rights, narcotics, and public corruption. Fast forward to 1999, when then-president Bill Clinton appointed her to lead the office as the United States Attorney, where she served until 2001. Nine years later, in 2010, then-current president Barack Obama asked her to resume her role at the United States Attorney's office in New York. President Barack Obama announced in 2014 that he had nominated Lynch for Attorney General, and she was sworn in later that year as the 83rd Attorney General of the United States.
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