Happy Black History Month! February is the time to celebrate the achievements of Black Americans and their role in U.S. History.
The road to the Black History Month of 2021 began in 1865 when The Civil War ended, and the 13th amendment was ratified and abolished slavery in the United States. But the amendment didn’t protect Black Americans from racism, prejudice, and violence.
Segregation, Jim Crow Laws, and others continued to oppress Black Americans, but there were victories. The Executive Order in 1941 opened national defense and government jobs to all Americans, regardless of race. In 1955 Rosa Parks became the ‘mother of civil rights movement’ and incited the boycott of the Montgomery bus system by refusing to give up her seat on the bus. The 1957 Supreme Court case of Brown vs. Board of Education made segregation in schools illegal.
The Civil Rights movement, taking place mainly in the 1950s and 60s, inspired a growing awareness of Black culture and identity. The celebration of Black History had already grown from a week to a month on most college campuses.
President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Months in 1976. He wanted people to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
The Black History Month Theme of 2021 is, “Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” Going along with this theme, we wanted to highlight a few strong leaders from the civil rights movement, that we may not have heard about in history class.
- Mamie Till Mobley, (1921-2003) Mobley is the mother of Emmett Till, who was brutally murdered in Mississippi by two white men who claimed Till “wolf-whistled” at one of their wives. Officials tried to dispose of Till’s beaten corpse but Mobley obtained a court order to have her child’s remains returned to Chicago. Mobley insisted that her son’s mutilated and brutalized body be displayed during the funeral. “I want the world to see what they did to my boy.” Over 100,000 people saw his corpse lying in the casket at what was at the time the largest civil rights demonstration in American History.
- Ella Baker, (1909-1986) Baker worked for the NAACP in the 1940s then moved to Atlanta in the 1950s to help MLK establish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Her specialty was helping young activists and even helped organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. “You didn’t see me on television; you didn’t see news stories about me. The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces of put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come.”
- Bayard Rustin, (1912-1987) Rustin is credited with organizing many mass civil rights demonstrations, including the 1963 March on Washington. He was openly gay, which was considered more taboo at the time, and was an important advisor to Dr. King. Rustin assisted with the bus boycotts and helped deepen Dr. King’s nonviolent tactics which became a key element of MLK’s legacy.
This month be sure to celebrate Black History and Black Americans and celebrate for those who no longer can. I'll end with a quote from Congressman John Lewis, who unfortunately passed in 2020:
"Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way."