It’s Black History Month: Here’s a Brief History

February is Black History Month in the US. The month-long celebration was founded by Carter Woodson, a Black Harvard University historian. The national celebration, which began in 1926, brings major African American contributions that were omitted from American history for decades into focus.

The cultural celebration takes place in the month of February to commemorate the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (America’s 16th president) & Fredrick Douglass (an escaped slave who became a prominent activist, author & public speaker). Both men played key roles in the abolishment of slavery in the United States. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a law that ended slavery in all states in 1862; and Douglass fought for human rights through his public work as a leader in the abolitionist movement.

Many schools in the United States participate in Black History Month by assigning books specifically written by Black authors to their students. Some also teach the history of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, which mainly took place in the 50s and 60s. The most prominent leader during the Civil Rights Movement was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (an activist, minister & community organizer), who organized a peaceful protest & march on Washington in 1960 for Jobs & Freedom. This is where Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream Speech”. Later that year, he became the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Black History Month also provides schools and institutions the opportunity to teach about overlooked personalities, scientists, historians, and activists like Rosa Parks, who along with Dr. King & other community leaders, organized a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama for a year. Ms. Parks, by refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus was arrested for civil disobedience. Her case became prominent and caused many others to follow suit. Or Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cancer cells (HeLa) are one of the most important cell lines used in medical research.

New Yorkers are also celebrating the month with different events, including a walking tour of the Flushing Freedom mile in Queens, which features an Underground Railroad passageway. These passageways, scattered throughout the country, were critical in helping escaped slaves reach safe destinations once they left states that still held slaves. An informative tour about Seneca Village, a community founded by mostly African-American property owners in 1825 in what has now become Central Park, will also take place in the park.

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