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Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland and the United Kingdom also devote a month to celebrating black history. Black History Month is also referred to as National African American History Month.
The first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall stood alone as the Supreme Court's liberal conscience toward the end of his career, the last impassioned spokesman on such causes as affirmative action, abolishment of the death penalty, and due process. Full bio
The life experiences of Maya Angelou--author, poet, actress, singer, dancer, playwright, director, producer--became the cornerstone of her most acclaimed work, a multivolume autobiography that traces the foundations of her identity as a twentieth-century American black woman. Full bio
The historian and educator Carter Godwin Woodson was born in New Canton, in Buckingham County, Virginia. Woodson probably descended from slaves held by Dr. John Woodson, who migrated from Devonshire, England, to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. He was the first and only black American of slave parents to earn a Ph.D. in history. In 1915, in Chicago, he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History), and began the work that sustained him for the rest of his career. He later founded the Journal of Negro History (now the Journal of African American History), the Negro History Bulletin (now the Black History Bulletin), and the Associated Publishers. In addition, he launched the annual celebration of Negro History Week in February 1926, and he had a distinguished publishing career as a scholar of African-American history. One of the major objectives of his own research and the research program he sponsored through the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History was to correct the racism promoted in works published by white scholars. Woodson and his assistants pioneered in writing the social history of black Americans, and they used new sources and methods. They moved away from interpreting blacks solely as victims of white oppression and racism. Instead, blacks were viewed as major actors in American history. In view of the enormous difficulties he faced battling white racism and in convincing whites and blacks alike that his cause was credible and worthy of support, the achievement of so much seminal work in black history seems almost miraculous. Through his own scholarship and the programs he launched, Woodson made an immeasurable contribution to the advancement of black history.
Jane Bolin was the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, the first black woman to work as corporate counsel for the city of New York, the first black woman to be admitted to the Bar Association of the City of New York, and the first black woman judge in the United States. Full bio
One of the most talented and prolific writers to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Langston Hughes enjoyed a long and successful career as a poet and author of short stories, novels, magazine and newspaper articles, plays, and numerous other works. Full bio
New York congresswoman Shirley Chisholm was the the first black, as well as the first woman, to ever seek a major political party's nomination for the U.S. presidency. She demonstrated that aspirations for the nation's executive office need not be the exclusive domain of white males. Full bio
Jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane led one of most influential groups in the history of jazz. Inspired by the music of Africa, India, and the Far East, Coltrane brought together musical and cultural elements to make him one of the founders of a world music consciousness. Full bio
Arthur Ashe's 1993 memoir, aptly titled Days of Grace, is a reflection on his brief but rich life as a champion tennis player, a father, an African-American man, and a compassionate and courageous human being. Full bio
Rosa Parks sparked the Civil Rights Movement in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama. Her arrest led to a Supreme Court decision that segregation on public transportation was illegal. Full bio
Alex Haley, wrote the fact-based book Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Haley's account of his ancestor Kunta Kinte, who was captured by slave traders in 1767 and brought to America against his will, won a special Pulitzer Prize and a citation from the National Book Award committee. Full bio
After her escape from slavery in 1849, Harriet Tubman defiantly reentered the south approximately 19 times to lead more than 300 men, women, and children, to freedom via the 'Underground Railroad'. During the Civil War, Tubman served the North's Union Army as a nurse, scout, and spy. Full bio
Barbara Smith Conrad made headlines in 1957 after having been cast opposite a white male student in the University of Texas (UT) at Austin's production of the opera Dido and Aeneas. Segregationists objected to the interracial casting, and the Texas Legislature successfully pressured university administrators to pull her from the role. The resulting uproar attracted national attention, and Conrad gained the support of such luminaries as former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and performer Harry Belafonte. She went on to have an internationally acclaimed career as an opera singer that included an eight-year stint with the New York Metropolitan Opera.
In 1985 UT made an overture toward reconciliation by naming Conrad a Distinguished Alumnus. An amicable relationship was then forged over the years, culminating in the school's Briscoe Center for American History's production of a documentary about Conrad's story. Entitled When I Rise, it aired on PBS in February of 2011.
Richard Wright stands as a major literary figure of the 1930s and '40s, his writings a departure from those of the Harlem Renaissance school. Steeped in the literary naturalism of the Depression era, Wright's work expresses a realistic and brutal portrayal of white society's oppression of African Americans. Full bio
Ballet dancer Misty Copeland emerged as a new icon of physical strength and classical grace as a soloist with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) of New York City. Her best-selling memoir Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, published in 2014, detailed the struggles the biracial dancer encountered on her rise to the top of her profession. Its sales climbed in the summer of 2014 after Copeland was featured in a promotional video produced by athletic-gear maker Under Armour. In 2015, Copeland was named principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater. Copeland released a health and fitness guide titled Ballerina Body in 2017. The following year, she made her film debut as the Ballerina Princess in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
In the years since his assassination on April 4, 1968, as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King Jr. has evolved from a prominent civil rights leader into the symbol of the civil rights movement in the United States.
A member of the Black Panther party, Elaine Brown moved up the ranks to the helm as chairperson in 1974--the highest-ranking woman in the party and second in command only to the party's founder, Huey P. Newton. Her rise from obscurity in Philadelphia's ghetto to notoriety as a political activist is a story of a black woman's struggle for change.
Malcolm X was an African American Muslim leader and Black nationalist activist whose militant advocacy of Black pride, separatism, and armed self-defense foreshadowed the Black Power movement of the late 1960s. He was born on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, and was assassinated on February 21, 1965, in New York City.
Civil rights activist Rosa Parks was born a granddaughter to former slaves. Her refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in December of 1955, spurred the Montgomery Bus Boycott and became the catalyst that helped launch important symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker and renowned Langston Hughes biographer Arnold Rampersad discuss experiences that shaped young Langston Hughes, how he came to be a writer, the beauty of his writing style, his practice of reaching out to aspiring writers, and the Harlem Renaissance as a literary and cultural watershed.
In September 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson named Marshall the nation’s first black Solicitor General to conduct government legal action before the Supreme Court. At the age of 59, Marshall became the first African American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The series begins at a turning point in American history: the Selma marches and Watts riots that marked a new phase in the black struggle. Gates explores the rising call for Black Power, redefining American culture, politics, and society.
This is the first documentary on one of the most gifted and intellectually provocative authors of modern American literature. It establishes Ralph Ellison as a central figure in contemporary debates over art, politics, race and nationhood. Narrated by Andre Braugher, the film brilliantly presents the first scenes ever filmed from Ellison's landmark novel, Invisible Man.
In this Emmy Award-winning film, explore the life, work and legacy of Richard Wright. Born outside Natchez, Mississippi in 1908, Wright overcame a childhood of poverty and oppression to become one of America's most influential writers. His first major works, Native Son and Black Boy, were runaway best sellers which are still mainstays of high school and college literature and composition classes.