Black history from the year you were born
Each February, Black History Month is dedicated to celebrating the achievements, and reflecting on the experiences, of African Americans. What began as a week in 1926 has blossomed into 28 days of remembrance and lessons on the contributions of Black Americans.
Many African Americans come from a lineage of captured and enslaved people who were forcibly brought to the U.S. to build the culture and infrastructure of a place in which they never asked to live. Forced immigration and centuries of cultural genocide have driven Black Americans to literally and figuratively rebuild a culture from the ground up. In the face of historical oppression and inequality—slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the police violence that spawned the #BlackLivesMatter movement—African Americans have continuously fought for their rights and spawned countless milestones, achievements, and freedoms. While being forced to exist largely on the fringes of society, Black Americans nevertheless have made many significant contributions to the arts, education, politics, technology, and numerous other fields.
Many well-known moments and figures appear below: The 1930s saw history from Olympic track and field star Jesse Owens and the eventual breakout moment of author and activist Zora Neale Hurston; in the ‘50s, the first Civil Rights Act since 1875 was signed into law; five decades later, American elected the first Black president.
But in the theme of education—part of the function of this month for much of the country—you’ll learn of other less-discussed moments and faces in Black history: The 1940s’ desegregation of the armed forces, the first Black Miss America in the ‘80s, or the 1995 Million Man March in Washington D.C. to name a few examples.
Click through Stacker’s 100-year list to learn more about just some of the significant achievements and moments in African American history from 1919 to 2019.
1919: Oscar Micheaux produces 'The Homesteader'
Regarded as the first African American feature filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux produced the film version of his book "The Conquest,” under the name "The Homesteader.” This silent film featured an all-Black cast and touched on the issues of race relations during that era.
1920: Zeta Phi Beta is established at Howard University
This historical, Greek-lettered sorority was created by five women Howard University students. Their vision was to effect positive change and raise cultural awareness within their community while promoting high educational standards. The sorority is still around today and remains based out of its Washington D.C. headquarters the sorority purchased in 1959.
1921: 'Shuffle Along' becomes the first major African American musical on Broadway
When "Shuffle Along" debuted May 23, 1921, almost a decade had passed since an all-Black musical of any kind had graced a Broadway stage. The vaudeville-style play about a mayoral race launched the careers of Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson and is widely regarded as one of the first Black musicals to cross over to mainstream white audiences. As such, the musical's success signaled a change and dismantling of sorts of racial segregation in the Broadway theater world.
1922: Abolitionist Frederick Douglass' home becomes a national museum
Cedar Hill, Douglass’ home until his 1895 death, in 1922 became a certified historical site. Among the preserved sites visitor can see during a visit is his "growlery,” or man cave. Douglass would retreat to this private room with a stove, desk, and a bed whenever he wanted privacy to work on his writing.
1923: Jean Toomer's 'Cane' is published
This series of vignettes explore the African American experience in the United States. Alternating in structure between prose, poetry, and script-like writing, most passages in the book are freestanding, though some characters are reoccurring. "Cane" sold under 1,000 copies upon its release but went on to become an important relic of Harlem Renaissance literature.
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1924: National Bar Association founded
The National Bar Association was founded out of two movements—the Greenville Movement and the Convention of the Iowa Colored Bar Association—after a number of Black lawyers were denied membership to the American Bar Association. Today, the association has more than 84 chapters and represents more than 60,000 law professionals.
1925: A. Philip Randolph and Milton P. Webster create the BSCP
Organized by African American employees of the Pullman Company, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) was the first labor union by and for Black employees. A first of its kind, BSCP is largely considered significant in both the labor and civil rights movements.
[Pictured: Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters display their banner at a 1955 ceremony celebrating the organization's 30th anniversary. Asa Philip Randolph (1889-1979), Union president, seen wearing black and white shoes, holds up Brotherhood flag.]
1926: Negro History Week is formed
The precursor to Black History Month was the brainchild of historian Carter G. Woodson in collaboration with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Corresponding with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, the week was initially erected to give Black Americans a sense of pride in their own history and has since been expanded to a whole month.
[Pictured: Negro History Week proclamation on Feb. 6, 1956, with (from left) Dr. Leroy Weeks, Vassie D. Wright, and Mayor Norris Poulson.]
1927: Floyd Joseph Calvin hosts the first Black radio show
"Courier Hour" was the first radio talk show that highlighted African American issues for its Black audience. His work inspired countless podcasts today that exist with the same mission of highlighting Black voices and issues.
1928: First African American elected to Congress
Oscar Stanton De Priest began his career in politics in 1915 with a stint on the Chicago City Council. More than a decade later, he made history when he was tapped as the Republican candidate for a seat in the House of Representatives representing the state of Illinois.
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