Innovators of Black History Month

BY: PAMELA STERN

Black History Month began as Negro History Week, which was created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, a noted African American historian, scholar, educator, and publisher. This week long celebration became a monthly celebration in 1976. The month of February was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

Black History Month is also known as African-American History Month in America, this is an annual observance in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Black History Month remembers important people and events of African Americans. This month honors the African Americans who have changed the way we live and have achieved great accomplishments. Below are some influential African Americans who were the first in their respective categories:

Heavyweight Champ: Jack Johnson became the first African American man to hold the World Heavyweight Champion boxing title in 1908. He held onto the belt until 1915.


First Lawyer: John Mercer Langston was the first black man to become a lawyer when he passed the bar in Ohio in 1854. When he was elected to the post of Town Clerk for Brownhelm, Ohio, in 1855, Langston became one of the first African Americans ever elected to public office in America. John Mercer Langston was also the great-uncle of Langston Hughes, famed poet of the Harlem Renaissance.


Famous Protestors: While Rosa Parks is credited with helping to spark the Civil Rights movement when she refused to give up her public bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955-inspiring the Montgomery Bus Boycott-the lesser-known Claudette Colvin was arrested nine months prior for not giving up her bus seat to white passengers.

Supreme Court Justice: Thurgood Marshall was the first African American ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. He was appointed by President Lyndon B. milk, coffee, flour, ink, dyes, plastics, wood stains, soap, linoleum, medicinal oils and cosmetics. Johnson and served on the court from 1967 to 1991.

Eminent Scientist: George Washington Carver developed 300 derivative products from peanuts among them cheese, First Senator: Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first African American ever elected to the U.S. Senate. He represented the state of Mississippi from February 1870 to March 1871.

First Woman Representative: Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives. She was elected in 1968 and represented the state of New York. She broke ground again four years later in 1972 when she was the first major party African American candidate and the first female candidate for president of the United States. The Shirley Chisholm State Park was named in honor of this Brooklyn-born pioneer in 2019, and is located in East New York, which previously was occupied by the Penn and Fountain landfills.

Self-Made Millionaire: Madam C.J. Walker was born on a cotton plantation in Louisiana and became wealthy after inventing a line of African American hair care products. She established Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories and was also known for philanthropy. Oscar Winner: In 1940, Hattie McDaniel was the first African American performer to win an Academy Award the film industry’s highest honor for her portrayal of a loyal slave governess in Gone With the Wind.

First Professional Black Baseball Player: On April 5, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play Major League Baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. He led the league in stolen bases that season and was named Rookie of the Year.


First Black Billionaire: Before Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan joined the billionaire’s club, Robert Johnson became the first African American billionaire when he sold the cable station he founded, Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 2001.


First Black President: In 2008, Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States.