February is Black History Month

by Howard Lestrud
ECM Online Managing Editor

It seems very appropriate that the birthday of one of most accomplished civil rights advocates, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., should come so close to a special observance in February called Black History Month. This observance had its beginning in 1920 as Negro History and Literature Week.

In this column we will look at he history of Black History Month, we will meet some famous African Americans and we will find some information that will aid us in learning more about the African American heritage. One of the best sources I found comes from biography.com. Go to http://www.biography.com/blackhistory/

Another good website for Black History Month is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_History_Month Let’s read from the biography website and learn more about the origin of Black History Month.

“In 1915, Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Rev. Jesse E. Moorland co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). Their goal was to research and bring awareness to the largely ignored, yet crucial role black people played in American and world history. The following year, Woodson published and distributed his findings in The Journal of Negro History. He founded the publication with the hope that it would dispel popular mistruths. He also hoped to educate black people about their cultural background and instill them with a sense of pride in their race.

“The son of former slaves and the second black person to receive a degree from Harvard University, Carter Woodson understood the value of education. He also felt the importance of preserving one’s heritage and, upon his urgings, the fraternity Omega Psi Phi created Negro History and Literature Week in 1920. In 1926, Woodson changed the name to Negro History Week. He selected the month of February for the celebration as a way to honor of the birth of two men whose actions drastically altered the future of black Americans. Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. President who issued the Emancipation Proclamation was born on February 12th and Frederick Douglass, one of the nation’s leading abolitionists was born on February 14th.

“Woodson and the ANSLH provided learning materials to teachers, black history clubs and the community at large. They also published photographs that depicted important figures in black culture, plays that dramatized black history, and reading materials.

“Dr. Carter G. Woodson died in 1950, but his legacy continued on as the celebration of Negro History Week was adopted by cities and organizations across the country. This observance proved especially important during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, a time when the inhumane and unequal treatment of black people in America was being challenged and overturned.

“The Black Power Movement of the 1970s emphasized racial pride and the significance of collective cultural values. This prompted the ASNLH, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, to change Negro History Week to Black History Week. In 1976, they extended the week to a month-long observance.

“Black History Month is now recognized and widely celebrated by the entire nation on both a scholarly and commercial level. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History continues to promote, preserve and research black history and culture year-round.”

At this website you will find some great links: Black History Month; Harlem Renaissance; Photo Gallery; 350 Famous African Americans; 101 Fast Facts; Black Medal of Honor Recipients; Black History in the Classroom; Share your thoughts; Links and resources; Visit the Apollo Theater.org and Learn more at History.com. One of the most fascinating features on this website for me is the 101 Fast Facts. Let’s look at a few.

Inventions and Discoveries
Fact #1
Elijah McCoy (1843 – 1929) invented an automatic lubricator for oiling steam engines in 1872. The term “the real McCoy” is believed to be a reference about the reliability of Elijah McCoy’s invention.

Fact #17
Alexander Miles of Duluth, Minnesota patented an electric elevator in 1887 with automatic doors that would close off the shaft way, thus making elevators safer.

Records Breaking
Fact #27
Track and Field star, Jesse Owens (1913 – 1980) broke many records at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, including becoming the first athlete to win four gold medals in one Olympiad.

Fact #31
Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009) singer, songwriter, and entertainer extraordinaire, was nominated for 12 Grammy awards and won a record breaking eight in 1984. He has received 13 Grammy awards in his career, and is a double inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as part of the Jackson 5 and as a solo artist). He holds the title of Most Top 10 Singles from an album for Thriller (1982) and the Most #1 Singles from an album for Bad (1987)

Little Known
Fact #39
Muhammad Ali (1942 – ) the self–proclaimed “greatest [boxer] of all time” was originally named after his father, who was named after the 19th century abolitionist and politician Cassius Marcellus Clay.

Fact #45
Lewis and Clark were accompanied by York, a black slave, when they made their 1804 expedition from Missouri to Oregon. York’s presence aided in their interactions with the Native Americans they encountered.

Fact #70
Thomas L. Jennings (1791 – 1859) was the first African-American to receive a patent in 1821. It was for a dry-cleaning process in 1821. He used the money earned from the patent to purchase relatives out of slavery and support abolitionist causes.

Fact #100
Deford Bailey (1899 – 1982) was a “wizard” at playing the harmonica and was most notable for mimicking the sound of locomotives. He was the first African-American to perform at the Grand Ole Opry and one of the first African-American stars of country music.

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