Skip to main content
  • David Glenn Hunt Memorial Library
  • A BRIEF HISTORY


    Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by  African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.

    CLICK HERE TO VIEW A TIMELINE OF NOTABLE EVENTS IN BLACK HISTORY. 


    The Father oDr. Carter G. Woodson f Black History Month, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, was born in 1875 near New Canton, VA. He was the son of former slaves. In 1907, he obtained his BA degree from the University of Chicago. In 1912, he received his Ph.D. from Harvard University.

    In 1915, he and friends established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. A year later, the Journal of Negro History, began quarterly publication. In 1926, Woodson proposed and launched the annual February observance of “Negro History Week,” which became “Black History Month” in 1976. It is said that he chose February for the observance because February 12th was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and February 14th was the accepted birthday of Frederick Douglass.

    Dr. Woodson was the founder of Associated Publishers, the founder, and editor of the Negro History Bulletin, and the author of more than 30 books. His best-known publication is The Mis-Education of the Negro, originally published in 1933 and still pertinent today.

    He died in 1950, but Dr. Woodson’s scholarly legacy goes on.

     

    NOTABLE "FIRSTS" IN BLACK HISTORY 


     

    Dr. Carter G. Woodson


    The celebration of Black History Month began as "Negro History Week," which was created in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a noted African American historian, scholar, educator, and publisher.

    Read more about Dr. Carter G. Woodson

    Image credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

    Dr Carter G Woodson

    NAACP


    Founded in 1909 in response to the ongoing violence against Black people around the country, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) is the largest and most pre-eminent civil rights organization in the nation.

    Read more about the NAACP. 

    Image credit: Anthony Potter Collection/Getty Images

    NAACP

    Heavyweight Champ: Jack Johnson


    Jack Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas on March 31, 1878. Johnson became the first African American man to hold the World Heavyweight Champion boxing title in 1908. He held onto the belt until 1915.

    Read more about Jack Johnson and the Old Central Cultural Center. 

    Image Credit: Phillip Kester/ullstein bild/Getty Images

    Jack Johnson

    First Lawyer: John Mercer Langston


    John Mercer Langston was the first African American man to become a lawyer when he passed the bar in Ohio in 1854. When he elected to the post of Town Clerk of Brownhelm, Ohio, in 1855 Langston became one of the first African Americans ever elected to public office in America. 

    Read more about John Mercer Langston. 

    Image credit: Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

    John Mercer Langston

    Supreme Court Justice: Thurgood Marshall


    Thurgood Marshall was the first African American ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, serving from 1967-1997. 

    Read more about Thurgood Marshall. 

    Image credit: Bachrach/Getty Images

    Thurgood Marshall

    Eminent Scientist: George Washington Carver


    George Washington Carver developed 300 derivative products from peanuts, among those products are cheese, milk, coffee, flour, ink, dyes, plastics, wood stains, soap, linoleum, medicinal oils and cosmetics. 

    Read more about George Washington Carver. 

    Image credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    George Washington Carver

    First Senator: Hiram Rhodes Revels


    Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first African American ever elected to the U.S. Senate. He represented the state of Mississippi from February 1870 to March 1871. 

    Read more about Hiram Rhodes Revels. 

    Image credit: MPI/Getty Images

    Hiram Rhodes Revels

    First Woman Representative: Shirley Chisholm


    Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives. She was elected in 1968 and represented the state of New York. She broke ground again four years later in 1972 when she was the first major African American candidate and the first female candidate for president of the United States. 

    Read more about Shirley Chisholm. 

    Image credit: Don Hogan Charles/New York Times Co./Getty Images

    Shirley Chisholm

    Self-Made Millionaire: Madam C.J. Walker


    Madam C.J. Walker was born on a cotton plantation in Louisiana and became wealthy after inventing a line of African American hair care products. She established Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories and was also known for her philanthropy. 

    Read more about Madame C.J. Walker. 

    Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

    Madam C.J. Walker

    Oscar Winner: Hattie McDaniel


    Hattie McDaniel was the first African American performer to win an Academy Award in 1940 for her portrayal of a loyal slave governess in Gone with the Wind. 

    Read more about Hattie McDaniel.

    Image credit: John Kisch/Getty Images

    Hattie McDaniel

    Jackie Robinson


    April 5, 1947

    Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play Major League Baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. He led the league in stolen bases that season and was named Rookie of the Year. 

    Read more about Jackie Robinson. 

    Image credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

    Jackie Robinson

    First Black Billionaire: Robert Johnson


    Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), became the first African American billionaire when he sold the cable station in 2001. 

    Read more about Robert Johnson. 

    Image credit: Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

    Robert Johnson

    First Black President: President Barack Obama


    In 2008, Barack Obama became the first Black president of the United States. The 44th president of the United States was a former senator from Illinois.

    President Barack Obama, winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize presidency was marked by the passage of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, the killing of Osama bin Laden by Seal Team Six, the Iran Nuclear Deal, and the legalization of gay marriage by the Supreme Court. 

    Read more about President Barack Obama. 

    Image credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images

    President Barack Obama

    First Black Female Vice President: Vice President Kamala Harris


    January 20, 2021

    In 2021, Kamala Harris became the vice president of the United States, making her the first female vice president and the first Black and Asian American woman to hold this position.

    In 2016, Kamala Harris became the second African American woman and the first South Asian American to win a seat in the U.S. Senate. 

    Read more about Vice President Kamala Harris. 

    Image credit: Michael Perez of the Associated Press

    Vice President Kamala Harris

    References: