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This crusade is much more important than the anti-lynching movement, because there would be no lynching if it did not start in the schoolroom.- Carter G. Woodson

Black History

Black History Month

The story of Black History Month begins in Chicago during the summer of 1915. An alumnus of the University of Chicago with many friends in the city, Carter G. Woodson traveled from Washington, D.C. to participate in a national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation sponsored by the state of Illinois. Thousands of African Americans travelled from across the country to see exhibits highlighting the progress their people had made since the destruction of slavery. Inspired by the three-week celebration, Woodson decided to form an organization to promote the scientific study of black life and history before leaving town.


5. Henrietta Lacks

10. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

4. Jane Bolin

9. Dorothy Height

3. Robert Sengstacke Abbott

8. Gordon Parks

7. Bayard Rustin

2.Shirley CHisholm

1. Alvin Ailey

6. Phillis Wheatley


15. Frederick McKinley Jones

5. Henrietta Lacks

14. Annie Lee Cooper

4. Jane Bolin

13. Gil Scott-Heron

3. Robert Sengstacke Abbott

12. Benjamin O. Davis, Sr.

2.Shirley CHisholm

11. Claudette Colvin

1. Alvin Ailey

Ailey’s dances—celebrations of African American beauty and history—did more than move bodies; they opened minds. His dances were revolutionary social statements that staked a claim as powerful in his own time as in ours: Black life is central to the American story and deserves a central place in American art and on the world stage.”- Director Jamila Wignot

Did you know that:In 1958, at just 27 years old, he founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Alvin Ailey

When Mr. Ailey died on December 1, 1989, The New York Times said of him, “you didn’t need to have known [him] personally to have been touched by his humanity, enthusiasm, and exuberance and his courageous stand for multi-racial brotherhood.”

Mr. Ailey was born on January 5, 1931. Born in the rural South (Texas), Mr. Ailey used his experiences to inspire his choreography. Mr. Ailey was mentored by the founder of the first racially integrated dance companies in the United States. After his mentor's death, he took over the school and began performing in Broadway shows.In 2014, Mr. Ailey received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his commitment to Civil Rights and dance in America.

"I want to be remembered as a woman … who dared to be a catalyst of change."- Shirley Chisholm

Did you know that:In 1972, Chisholm became the FIRST African American and the FIRST woman to run for President of the United States

'The next time a woman runs, or a black, a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is 'not ready' to elect to its highest office, I believe that he or she will be taken seriously from the start.'

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm

On the 50th Anniversary of Chisholm's campaign announcement, Congresswoman Barbara Lee stated: "From voting rights, to eradicating poverty and dismantling gender and racial injustice, we must keep Congresswoman Chisholm’s philosophy of being ‘unbought and unbossed’ with us as we fight for a more just future.”

Born on November 30, 1924, Ms. Chisholm was the daughter of immigrant parents. Ms. Chisholm would forge her way using her great oratory skills.By 1960, Ms. Chisholm had not only begun her work providing education for American youth, she had also joined several organizations to fight for equality.Throughout her career, she broke glass ceilings. In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"No greater glory, no greater honor, is the lot of man departing than a feeling possessed deep in his heart that the world is a better place for his having lived."- Robert Sengstacke Abbott

Did you know that Mr. Abbott made a specific choice not to use the words 'Negro' or 'black' when printing The Defender. Instead, he preferred 'the Race' or 'Race men and Race women,' which had become key phrases in the Black Pride/Garveism movements of the 1920s.

Robert Sengstacke Abbott's biographer, Roi Ottley stated: "...With the exception of the Bible, no publication [The Defender] was more influential among the Negro masses.”

Robert Sengstacke Abbott

Born on December 24, 1870, in St. Simons Island, GA, Mr. Abbott's formerly enslaved parents imparted the importance of education to their son. Mr. Abbott would attend the Hampton Institue and later graduate Kent Law School in 1899. In 1905, Mr. Abbott founded the Chicago Defender, after being prevented from practicing law due to his race. The Defender would become one of the foremost papers within the Black community, advocating for northern migration and writing of injustices but also of a spirit that represented unapologetic Black pride, dignity and assertiveness.

"Those gains we have made were never graciously and generously granted. We have had to fight every inch of the way—in the face of sometimes insufferable humiliations."-Jane Bolin

Did you know that Jane Bolin became the first African-American woman to serve as assistant corporate counsel for New York City..

Jane Bolin

On her 85th birthday the Chief Judge of NY said: "When I was sworn in as Chief Judge of the State of New York exactly two weeks ago today, I spoke of the difficulties I had encountered finding a job as a woman lawyer back in 1963. I can only imagine the barriers that confronted you, which you so ably surmounted. . . . I’d like to borrow your birthday to express my gratitude to you for hurdling the barriers and easing the way for all women lawyers and judges"

Born on April 11, 1908, in Poughkeepsie, NY, Jane Bolin was the daughter of an interracial couple.Ms. Bolin excelled at school, graduating in her mid-teens before enrolling in Wellesley College. During this period Ms. Bolin was one of only two Black students at the school and was forced to live off campus due to the exclusionary and racist climate of the time. Despite this, Ms. Bolin graduated at the top of her class and attended Yale Law School.She would become the first Black woman to graduate from Yale Law, the first Black woman to join the NY Bar Association, and the first Black female judge in the United States.

But I tell you one thing, I don't want to be immortal if it mean living forever, cause then everybody else just die and get old in front of you while you stay the same, and that's just sad.” ― Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Did you know that In 2023, more than 70 years after Henrietta's family was finally compensated via a confidential agreement with Thermo Fisher, who had made billions off her cells.

'The time is now for Europe and America to come to terms with its colonial past and address the pain exploitation and atrocities that it has inflicted upon black people. Henrietta’s story is woven into this very fabric. Be that impetus for change, don’t wait for the funders to control your narrative. As Sam Cook states “Change can come, but frustrated silence or anger that alienates potential advocates could move it out of reach yet again”.'

Helen Wilson-Roe

Henrietta Lacks

In 2023 U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland stated: "Henrietta Lacks changed the course of modern medicine. It is long past time that we recognize her life-saving contributions to the world.”

Born on August 1, 1920, in Roanoke, VA, Mrs. Lacks lost her mother at an early age. Unfortunately, her father was unable to care for her and her ten siblings after the passing of his wife, and Henrietta (nickname Hennie) was sent to live with her maternal grandfather. It was here living in the former slave quarters on the former plantation of her white great-grandfather and great-uncle that Hennie would meet her husband, David 'Day' Lacks.Less than three months after the birth of Mrs. Lacks ' fifth child, she was diagnosed with epidermoid carcinoma. Mrs. Lacks was treated with radium tubes, but unbeknownst to her a tissue sample was taken. Johns Hopkins researcher, Geroge Otto Gey, was given two samples from Mrs. Lacks, one cancerous and one healthy. From the cancerous sample, the researcher identified HeLa immortal cells. These cells have been used to make some of the biggest biomedical research discoveries of the modern era, including the polio vaccine.

“Wisdom is higher than a fool can reach”-Phillis Wheatley

Did you know that Despite patronage during her early career, Phillis Wheatley ended her life working as a housemaid in Boston.

Phillis Wheatley

On February 28, 1776 after receiving a poem from Ms. Wheatley, General George Washington wrote to her stating: "I thank you most sincerely for your polite notice of me, in the elegant Lines you enclosed... the style and manner exhibit a striking proof of your great poetical Talents."

Born circa 1753, Ms. Wheatley was captured by enslavers and brought to the United States via the Middle Passage. When she arrived she was sold to the Wheatleys of Boston and was renamed after the ship that had carried her to the shores of the United States. Within 16 months, Ms. Wheatley was able to read the Bible, Greek and Latin, and British literature.As a teenager, Ms. Wheatley began to write poetry. By 1773, a British patron funded a trip to London, where Ms. Wheatley published her first collection of poems. This was the first ever book to be published by an enslaved person. With this publication Ms. Wheatley would become the most famous Black female in the world - and she would be emancipated shortly after it's publication.

My activism did not spring from being black, rather, it is rooted fundamentally in my Quaker upbringing and the values instilled in me by the grandparents who reared me.-Bayard Rustin

Did you know that In 2013, Mr. Rustin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 2020 he was posthumously pardoned by the state of California due to the inherent injustice of the conviction.

'We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers...The only weapon we have is our bodies, and we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn'

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin

Speaking of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the chairman of SNCC John Lewis stated: "this was going to be a massive undertaking, and there was no one more able to pull it together than Bayard Rustin. The consensus was that he be involved.”

Born on March 17, 1912, in West Chester, PA, Mr. Rustin was raised by his maternal grandparents. As a child, Rustin was exposed to both the African Methodist Episcopal Church and NAACP, with W.E.B. DuBois and James Weldon Johnson being frequent guests in the home. In 1932, he left Pennsylvania to attend the HBCU Wilberforce College, run by the AME Church. He would be expelled for organizing a strike and would return to Cheyney University.In 1937 after moving to Harlem, he became active in defending the Scottsboro Boys. By 1941, Mr. Rustin was active in organizing Civil Rights actions, including the Million Man March. Mr. Rustin organized the Journey for Reconciliation in 1947. Unfortunately, in 1953 Mr. Rustin would be arrested for lewd conduct. This would allow critics of the Civil Rights movement and Mr. Rustin to devalue his contributions. Despite this, Mr. Rustin never stopped fighting against inequality, and would help found the SCLC with Dr. King.

Black studies, the identification with Africa emerging, has instilled a lot of pride in black kids. But the black kids on the campuses are suddenly asking for separate classes and segregated dormitories. I’ve said to them, ‘Black people have fought and died that you might be here. These white kids will be the next leaders, and will reshape your lives for the next 200 years unless you get in the classrooms with them and help’.”- Gordon Parks, 1969

Did you know that Gordon Park's defined the film genre known as blaxploitation. His 1971 film Shaft is considered the foundational Hollywood funded film of genre.

'I chose my camera as a weapon against all the things I dislike about America—poverty, racism, discrimination'

gordon Parks

Gordon Parks

Contemporary African American visual artist Mickalene Thomas said: "Gordon Parks has socially, politically and culturally influenced how we tell our stories. He has taught us that the camera is an empowering tool that cultivates impact. His legacy has changed the game for Black creatives and paved the way for artists like myself."

Born in 1912, Mr. Parks was the youngest of 15 children. He attended a segregated elementary school, but despite the integrated middle/high school, Mr. Parks was prohibited from playing sports or attending school activities. At the age of 11, Mr. Parks was thrown in the river by white classmates in an attempt to drown him. After his mother's death 3-years later, he would move to Minnesota to live with his sister and husband where he would be turned out to live on the street less than a year later.During the height of the Great Depression, Mr. Parks would be capture by the photographs of migrant workers. At age 28, he purchased his first camera and began training himself. By 1942, after catching the eye of Marva Louis (wife of boxer Joe Louis), Mr. Parks was working for the FSA chronicling the nation's social condition. He never looked back, over the century he would capture the Black American experience through all forms of art.

Sources Beyond Seen

“Alvin Ailey.” 2010. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. February 5, 2010. https://www.alvinailey.org/alvin-ailey-american-dance-theater/alvin-ailey.“Bayard Rustin.” SNCC Digital Gateway, 25 Aug. 2016, https://snccdigital.org/people/bayard-rustin/.“Congresswoman Barbara Lee Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Shirley Chisholm’s Presidential Campaign.” House.gov, 24 Jan. 2022, https://lee.house.gov/news/press-releases/congresswoman-barbara-lee-commemorates-50th-anniversary-of-shirley-chisholms-presidential-campaign.“Forgotten Founders: Phillis Wheatley, African-American Poet of the Revolution.” National Constitution Center – Constitutioncenter.org, https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/forgotten-founders-phillis-wheatley-african-american-poet-of-the-revolution. Accessed 8 Feb. 2024.Hauad, Veronica. “Robert S. Abbott and the Chicago Defender.” Osu.edu, https://u.osu.edu/gordon.3/files/2012/06/Veronica-Hauad1.pdf. Accessed 5 Feb. 2024.Historical Society of the New York Courts. “Judge Jane Bolin.” Historical Society of the New York Courts, 21 Feb. 2018, https://history.nycourts.gov/judge-jane-bolin/.“In the News - the Gordon Parks Foundation.” Gordonparksfoundation.org, https://www.gordonparksfoundation.org/in-the-news. Accessed 14 Feb. 2024.Martinez, Ivan, and The Conversation. “Who Was Henrietta Lacks? Here’s How HeLa Cells Became Essential to Medical Research.” PBS NewsHour, 1 Aug. 2023, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/who-was-henrietta-lacks-heres-how-hela-cells-became-essential-to-medical-research.Waddy, Stacy. “Gordon Parks, Pioneering Black Film Director – Archive.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 22 Sept. 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/sep/22/gordon-parks-black-film-director-blaxploitation.

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