Black History Month (February 1 to February 28) is an annual observance of prominent figures and events throughout history. This commemorative period was first established as a weeklong observance known in 1926 as national “Negro History Week,” by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. During the 1960s, activists from the civil rights movement urged authority figures to expand Negro History Week. It wasn’t until 1976 when President Gerald R. Ford proclaimed February to be officially recognized as Black History Month. In honor of this month-long celebration, the Spring Creek Sun compiled a list of African-American politicians who managed to overcome many racial and gender barriers, and become the first African-Americans elected in their fields. Their work has helped make a difference in the United States.
Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to serve in Congress and to pursue the Democratic presidential nomination. Chisholm’s forthright attitude in liberal politics helped to shatter racial and gender barriers during the 1960s and 1970s. Chisholm continued to serve as Brooklyn’s Congresswoman until 1983 (a total of seven terms). Throughout her career, she advocated for African-Americans and female advancement in politics. She was one of the founding members of the National Women’s Political Caucus (1971), the only national organization solely dedicated to increasing women’s political and public participation, and she helped to form the National Congress of Black Women (1984), a non-profit organization devoted to educational, political, and cultural development of African-American Women.
Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American to serve as a Supreme Court Justice (October 1967 until October 1991). One of the greatest achievements in his career was winning the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Marshall, a civil-rights lawyer, represented a group of black parents from Kansas who were forced to attend a segregated school. This class action suit helped to bring forward one of the most crucial decisions in legal history—ending racial segregation (which was established in the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson.) On May 17, 1954 the court ruled that segregation violated the 14th Amendment.
Carol Moseley Braun was the first African-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992. She was an advocate for reforming education, government and healthcare. When she was elected senator, she concentrated on women’s rights, civil rights, educational reform and advocated for stricter gun control laws. During her position, she served on the Senate Finance Committee.
Colin Powell was the first African-American appointed as the U.S. Secretary of State, and the first, and the only one, to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In 1987, during the Reagan administration, he became a national security adviser where he helped to coordinate summit meetings on pro-Communist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. A few years later, in 1989, President George H. W. Bush appointed him as Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs. Powell became the first African-American, and the only one, to hold this position, which is considered the highest military post within the Department of Defense. As Chairman, Powell developed a military strategy known as the “Powell Doctrine,” an approach that pushes for the use of force to increase success while also minimizing the amount of casualties involved. Powell served as United States Secretary of State under President George W. Bush from 2001-2005.
Condoleezza Rice was the first African-American woman to serve as the United States’ National Security Adviser, as well as the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State (2005- 09). A woman who accomplished many firsts, Rice‘s career began when she was the first African-American to serve as provost of Stanford University, serving as both the chief of budget and as an academic officer. In 2001, she broke both gender and racial barriers by becoming the first African-American woman to be appointed as a National Security Adviser. While working as Secretary of State (appointed by George W. Bush) she concentrated on the mission to develop “Transformational Diplomacy,” which attempted to create and sustain democracy within governed states around the world, particularly the Middle East.
Barack Hussein Obama is the first African-American to serve as US President. He was first elected in 2008 and was re-elected to a second term in 2012. His political career began in 1996, when he was elected to Illinois State Senate and then in 2004 to the US Senate. Throughout his time in office, he tried to draft legislation on ethics, expand the availability of healthcare services and develop early childhood education programs for low-income families. In addition, he served as chairman for the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, where he advocated for the videotaping of confessions and integrations for capital cases due to the amount of death-row inmates who were found innocent. In 2007, he placed his bid for presidential candidacy on the Democratic ballot along with Hilary Rodham Clinton. On November 4, 2008 Obama defeated Republican nominee John McCain, and became the 44th President of the United States, and the first African-American to accomplish this feat.