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Black History Month Library Guide

Resources for recognizing Black History Month

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A Brief History

Carter G. Woodson Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875 - 1950), son of former slaves and a Harvard trained historian, believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. His hopes to raise awareness of African American's contributions to civilization was realized when he and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now known as Association for the Study of African American Life and History), conceived Negro History Week in 1925. The event was first celebrated during the second week in February 1926 coinciding with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not just white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.

By the time of Woodson's death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration. At mid–century, mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week. The Black Awakening of the 1960's dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all color on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.

The celebration was expanded in 1976 during the bicentennial when President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That year, fifty years after the first celebration, the association held the first African American History Month. Since then each American president has issued African American History Month proclamations. ASALH continues to promote the study of Black history month all year.

Scurlock, A. N. (1925). Dr. Carter G. Woodson [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=record_ID%3Asiris_arc_227889&repo=DPLA

Important Events

1619 Twenty Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, aboard a Dutch ship. They were the first blacks to be forcibly settled as involuntary laborers in the North American British Colonies.
1739 The Cato revolt, also known as the Stono Rebellion, was the first serious disturbance among slaves. After killing more than 25 whites, most of the rebels, led by a slave named Cato, were rounded up as they tried to escape to Florida. More than 30 blacks were executed as participants.
1777 George Washington reversed previous policy and allowed the recruitment of blacks as soldiers. Some 5,000 would participate on the American side before the end of the Revolution.
1829 The first National Negro Convention met in Philadelphia.
1857 The Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court denied that blacks were citizens of the United States and denied the power of Congress to restrict slavery in any federal territory.
1865 13th Amendment, abolition of slavery, was passed by Congress.
1868 14th Amendment was passed extending liberties and rights granted by the Bill of Rights to former slaves.
1896 In Plessy v. Ferguson the Supreme Court upheld a Lousiana state law that allowed for "equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races."
1918 The First Pan-African Congress met in Paris, France, under the guidance of W. E. B. Du Bois.
1922 - 1929 These are the years usually assigned to the Harlem Renaissance.
1937 Joe Louis defeated James J. Braddock to become heavyweight boxing champion of the world.
1947 Jackie Robinson became the first black to play major league baseball.
1954 In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Supreme Court completed overturning legal school segregation at all levels.
1955 Rosa Parks refused to change seats in a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. On December 5 blacks began a boycott of the bus system which continued until shortly after December 13, 1956, when the United States Supreme Court outlawed bus segregation in the city.
1963 The March on Washington was the largest civil rights demonstration ever. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.
1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal. This document was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction.
1965 Voting Rights Act outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting.
1965 Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem by members of the Nation of Islam.
1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. In the following week riots occurred in at least 125 places throughout the country.
1969 The Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in schools had to end at once and that unitary school systems were required.
2008 Barack Obama is elected the 44th president of the United States and the first black U.S. president. In his acceptance speech in Chicago's Grant Park later that evening, Obama said, "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."