February is Black History month. Some say that this special month is no longer necessary because African American history should be taught throughout the year. That argument minimizes the historic significance of the month itself and the opportunity it brings to set time aside to dig deeper into Black history.
Black History month started out as a week to focus on the achievements of African Americans then expanded to a month. During the month of February, it is an opportunity for students to explore the back story of why a week and then a month had to be established in the first place and engage in meaningful discussions about race, inequality and culture in this country.
Nat Turner’s rebellion
In 1831 Nat Turner leads the only effective, sustained slave rebellion in US history, attracting up to 75 fellow slaves and killing 60 whites. After the defeat of the insurrection, Turner is hanged on 11th of November. Nat Turner’s rebellion put an end to the white Southern myth that slaves were either contented with their lot or too servile to mount an armed revolt.
The Emancipation Proclamation
The Emancipation Proclamation, decreed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1st, 1863, declared slaves in all confederate states then at war with the Union “forever free” and made them eligible for paid military service in the Union Army. Although it did not end slavery in the nation, it did transform the character of the war. After the proclamation was made, every advance of Federal troops expanded the domain of freedom and black men were allowed to serve in the Union Army and Navy. By the end of the war almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for freedom.
Given the hardships of life in early America, it is ironic that some of the best poetry of the period was written by an exceptional slave woman. The first African-American author of importance in the USA, Phillis Wheatley (c.1753-1784) was born in Africa (Gambia or Senegal) and brought to Boston when she was about 7, where she was purchased by the pious and wealthy tailor John Wheatley to be a companion to his wife Susannah.The Wheatleys recognized Phillis’s remarkable intelligence and, with the help of their daughter, Mary, Phillis learned to read and write. At the age of twelve she was reading the Greek and Latin classics, and passages from the Bible. At thirteen she wrote her first poem. Read more Phillis Wheatley, the First African-American published author
The end of segregation
At 10th February 1964, after 10 days of debate and voting on 125 amendments, the US House of Representatives passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by a vote of 290-130. The bill prohibited any state or local government or public facility from denying access to anyone because of race or ethnic origin. It further gave the US Attorney General the power to bring school desegregation law suits.
Rosa Parks’ act of bravery and defiance on a bus, which led to a 381-day bus boycott in Montgomery, gave rise to a new demand of equality led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the late 1950s, only 49 southern school districts had desegregated, and still many black Americans in the South found themselves unable to vote or serve on juries. The Civil Rights Movement, headed by Dr. King, allowed black Americans to voice their concerns through protests and marches, resulting in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which put an end to segregation in public places and paved the way for a more equal society for the first time in African American history.
“I have a dream”
The March on Washington took place in Washington, D.C., and was attended by 250,000 people. Martin Luther King’s speech at the March remains one of the most famous speeches in American history. King started with prepared remarks but then departed from his script, shifting into the “I have a dream” theme he’d used on prior occasions, speaking of an America where his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He followed this with an exhortation to “let freedom ring” across the nation, and concluded with:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”
The Nelson Mandela’s freedom
The notorious Rivonia Trial, as Mandela’s sentencing was called, is now seen as nothing more than a cruel ploy used by the white South African government to silence Nelson Mandela once and for all. But even while in prison, Mandela continued to be a beacon of hope for his people who carried on the struggle against Apartheid in his absence. In 1990, after 27 years of imprisonment, Mandela was freed. His release marked the beginning of the end for apartheid. In less than five years after his release, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and elected president of South Africa.
In November 2009, the UN General Assembly declared 18 July “Nelson Mandela International Day” in recognition of the former South African President’s contribution to the culture of peace and freedom.
General Assembly resolution A/RES/64/13 recognizes Nelson Mandela’s values and his dedication to the service of humanity, in the fields of conflict resolution, race relations, the promotion and protection of human rights, reconciliation, gender equality and the rights of children and other vulnerable groups, as well as the upliftment of poor and underdeveloped communities. It acknowledges his contribution to the struggle for democracy internationally and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world.
The run of the life
Jesse Owens was a member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic team competing in Berlin, Germany. The African American members of the squad faced the challenges not only of competition but also of Adolph Hitler’s (1889–1945) boasts of Aryan supremacy, or the domination of Hitler’s ideal white, European athletes. On the first day, Hitler shook hands only with the German victors and then left the stadium. Olympic committee officials insisted Hitler greet every medalist or none at all. Hitler opted for the latter and skipped all further medal presentations. Owens won a total of four gold medals at the Olympic games. As a stunned Hitler angrily left the stadium, German athletes embraced Owens and the spectators chanted his name. Read more Jesse Owens: The Hero of the Games