February 1st marks the start of Black History Month, with 28 days dedicated to the accomplishments of African Americans throughout U.S. history. The month-long celebration was originally conceived as a one-week event in 1925 by Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson, often referred to as the “father of Black History.” Woodson was focused on raising awareness of African American contributions to the U.S., believing truth would prevail over prejudice.
The week-long celebration gained in popularity across the country, with many mayors making proclamations noting the week. In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” The first Black History Month was held, and every U.S. president has issued a proclamation for Black History Month since Ford.
Many are familiar with the accomplishments of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., activist Harriet Tubman, and former U.S. President Barack Obama. But the number of notable African Americans is too long and varied to be included in just one list.
A Few Notable History Makers and Trailblazers
- Robert Sengstacke Abbott – Founder of the Chicago Defender newspaper.
- Shirley Chisholm – First Black woman elected to Congress.
- James Baldwin – Novelist, playwright, and activist.
- Frederick McKinley Jones – Invented AC units for trucks, trains, ships, and planes.
- Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray – Activist, lawyer, priest, and author.
- Bessie Colman – The first licensed Black pilot in the world.
- Ruby Bridges – First Black student (age 6) at all-white William Frantz Elementary School.
- Rudolph Fisher – Physician, radiologist, novelist, and orator.
- Gwendolyn Brooks – Poet and first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize.
- Jean-Michel Basquiat – One of the most influential artists of modern and contemporary art.
Learn more about the achievements of Black Americans at the National Archives, the National Museum of African American History & Culture, and the Pulitzer Center.