By Don Rajael, CCNN Writer
February is Black History Month, celebrating the accomplishments of African-Americans in USA history.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, African slaves were forced to work in harsh conditions on American tobacco and cotton farms. In 1845, a novel written by a runaway slave was published, called the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, in which the well-spoken Douglass offered eye-opening first-hand accounts of slavery.
Then, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the freedom of slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, during the American Civil War between the Union forces of the North and southern Confederates. The Union succeeded in defeating the 11 slave-owning states in the Confederacy, bringing them back into the USA and making slavery illegal. However, Blacks were still treated unfairly across the nation for decades to come, unable to vote and discriminated against in public places like schools and restaurants.
Thanks to the efforts of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s, African-Americans secured equal protection with laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize and inspired millions with his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington.
Ever since 1976, Black History Month has honored groundbreaking African-Americans in February, like civil rights leaders W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Rosa Parks, who was arrested after refusing to move to the back of the bus for a white passenger in 1955. Other historic figures include Jackie Robinson, the first Black Major League Baseball player, Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice, and of course Barack Obama, the first Black president.
Before Black History Month was made official, though, it was originally called “Negro History Week”. Created by African-American historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926, the week was chosen because of its nearness to the birthday of Lincoln on February 12 and Douglass on February 14. Woodson wanted to encourage teachers and other historians to explore the influence of Blacks in America, because they weren’t represented well at the time. He hoped that someday, Blacks were included enough to make it unnecessary for special weeks or months to honor them.
Featured image courtesy of Peter Souza.