(Final in a three-part series)
Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role they have played in U.S. history.
The Great Migration of African Americans from the South to industrial towns in the North began in the 1920s. By the 1960s, millions of African Americans had migrated north.
Last week, we presented some historic milestones that took place during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. This week brings us into the 21st century.
– Michael Jackson, whose legendary career began with Motown Records, publishes the Thriller album. It becomes one of the best-selling albums of all time.
– Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple wins the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. The movie receives 11 Academy Award nominations.
– Spike Lee’s film She’s Gotta Have It wins him the Best New Director Award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.
– Astronaut Guion “Guy” S. Bluford Jr. becomes the first African American to travel in space, as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Challenger. He will ultimately complete four shuttle missions.
– Earvin “Magic” Johnson leads his team to five National Basketball Association championships. He is named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.
– General Colin Powell becomes the first African American to be named Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He goes on to serve as Secretary of State.
– Oprah Winfrey, the first African American to head a major nationally syndicated talk show, founds Harpo Productions. She goes on to produce numerous movies and television shows.
– W. Lincoln Hawkins, Ph.D., wins the National Medal of Technology. During his lifetime, he will secure over 140 patents and help make universal telephone service available through his work as the first African-American scientist at Bell Labs.
– Rita Dove is appointed as Poet Laureate and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. She becomes the youngest person—and first African American—to receive this highest official honor in American letters.
– In 1923, the Township of Rosewood was destroyed and an estimated 150 African Americans were murdered by Whites. In 1994, the Florida legislature passes the Rosewood Bill, which entitles the survivors to $150,000 each in compensation for the massacre.
– Dr. Jocelyn Elders becomes the first African-American Surgeon General. She is known as an outspoken advocate on various health-related issues.
– Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls win their fifth National Basketball Association championship. One of the most effectively marketed athletes of his generation, he is instrumental in popularizing the NBA worldwide.
– Tiger Woods becomes the first African American—and the youngest golfer—to win the Masters tournament. He goes on to win 14 major championships.
– Venus Williams wins the singles title at Wimbledon, becoming the first African-American woman to do so since Althea Gibson. She and her sister Serena go on to win three Olympic women’s doubles gold medals.
– Condoleezza Rice is the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. National Security Advisor and the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State.
– Grant Fuhr—National Hockey League goaltender and the first African American to have his name on the Stanley Cup—becomes the first African American to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
– Michelle Howard is promoted to Rear Admiral. She goes on to become the first African-American woman to achieve three- and four-star rank and the first to be named Vice Chief of Naval Operations.
– Barack Hussein Obama II becomes the 44th President of the United States and the first African American to hold the office. He is later elected to a second term.
– Barbara Hillary is the first African-American woman to reach the North Pole—at age 75. She goes on to successfully reach the South Pole at age 79.
Credit for the evolving awareness of the true place of African Americans in history can, in large part, be attributed to one man: Carter G. Woodson. In 1915, he established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.
Carter G. Woodson wanted to change the world’s perception of African Americans and recognize their contribution to American society and culture.
Woodson said, “We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.”
It was his efforts and those of other champions who broke down daunting barriers, finally allowing African Americans to participate as American citizens and have their stories told.
Subsequently, innumerable African Americans have seized previously unavailable opportunities to contribute to American culture and heroically defend their country during wartime.
A century later, the valuable contributions of African Americans cannot be denied. Their profound impact on America continues in a myriad of areas, including history, education, entertainment, literature, science, sports, politics, culture, and the military.