Black History Month Celebrated
Posted on Wednesday, February 03, 2010 [9:44 AM]
Jordan Willis and Jayne
Hopkins of the Student Activities Office stand next to the
Commission on Human Rights' "Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians,"
which is on display
through the end of February in the Cralle Student Union
LWC Student Activities is celebrating
Black History Month 2010 by posting a short biography every
Monday-Thursday in February of influential black Americans. Student
Activities is also sponsoring a display of the Kentucky
Commission on Human Rights' "Gallery
of Great Black Kentuckians" in the Cralle Student Union
Black History Month began in 1926 when the historian and former
Kentucky resident Carter G. Woodson (right) created Negro History
Week. Woodson -- a graduate of Berea (Ky.) College -- selected the
second week of February because it included the birthdays of two
Americans who promoted the social condition of black Americans:
President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist and former slave
Feb. 25: Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass stood at the podium, trembling with
nervousness. Before him sat abolitionists who had traveled to the
Massachusetts island of Nantucket. Only 23 years old at the time,
Douglass overcame his nervousness and gave a stirring, eloquent
speech about his life as a slave. Douglass would continue to give
speeches for the rest of his life and would become a leading
spokesperson for the abolition of slavery and for racial
The son of a slave woman and an unknown white man, "Frederick
Augustus Washington Bailey" was born in February 1818 on Maryland's
eastern shore. He spent his early years with his grandparents and
with an aunt, seeing his mother only four or five times before her
death when he was 7. (All Douglass knew of his father was that he
was white.) During this time he was exposed to the degradations of
slavery, witnessing firsthand brutal whippings and spending much
time cold and hungry. When he was 8, he was sent to Baltimore to
live with a ship carpenter named Hugh Auld. There he learned to
read and first heard the words abolition and abolitionists. "Going
to live at Baltimore," Douglass would later say, "laid the
foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent
Douglass spent seven relatively comfortable years in Baltimore
before being sent back to the country, where he was hired out to a
farm run by a notoriously brutal "slavebreaker" named Edward Covey.
And the treatment he received was indeed brutal. Whipped daily and
barely fed, Douglass was "broken in body, soul, and spirit."
On Jan. 1, 1836, Douglass made a resolution that he would be
free by the end of the year. He planned an escape. But early in
April he was jailed after his plan was discovered. Two years later,
while living in Baltimore and working at a shipyard, Douglass
finally realized his dream: he fled the city on Sept. 3, 1838.
Travelling by train, then steamboat, then train, he arrived in New
York City the following day. Several weeks later he had settled in
New Bedford, Mass., living with his newlywed bride (whom he met in
Baltimore and married in New York) under his new name, Frederick
Always striving to educate himself, Douglass continued his
reading. He joined various organizations in New Bedford, including
a black church. He attended abolitionists' meetings. He subscribed
to William Lloyd Garrison's weekly journal, the Liberator.
In 1841, he heard Garrison speak at the Bristol Anti-Slavery
Society's annual meeting. Douglass was inspired by the speaker,
later stating, "No face and form ever impressed me with such
sentiments (the hatred of slavery) as did those of William Lloyd
Garrison." Garrison, too, was impressed with Douglass, mentioning
him in the Liberator. Several days later Douglass gave his
speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society's annual
convention in Nantucket -- the speech described at the top of this
page. Of the speech, one correspondent reported, "Flinty hearts
were pierced, and cold ones melted by his eloquence." Before
leaving the island, Douglass was asked to become a lecturer for the
society for three years. It launched a career that would continue
throughout Douglass' long life.
Despite apprehensions that the information might endanger his
freedom, Douglass published his autobiography, Narrative of the
Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written By
Himself. The year was 1845. Three years later, after a
speaking tour of England, Ireland and Scotland, Douglass published
the first issue of the North Star, a four-page weekly, out
of Rochester, N.Y.
Ever since he met Garrison in 1841, the white abolitionist
leader had been Douglass' mentor. But the views of Garrison and
Douglass ultimately diverged. Garrison represented the radical end
of the abolitionist spectrum. He denounced churches, political
parties even voting. He believed in the dissolution of the United
States. He also believed that the U.S. Constitution was a
pro-slavery document. After his tour of Europe and the
establishment of his paper, Douglass' views began to change; he
became more of an independent thinker, more pragmatic.
In 1851 Douglass announced at a meeting in Syracuse, N.Y., that
he did not assume the Constitution was a pro-slavery document, and
that it could even "be wielded in behalf of emancipation,"
especially where the federal government had exclusive jurisdiction.
Douglass also did not advocate the dissolution of the Union,
because it would isolate slaves in the South. This led to a bitter
dispute between Garrison and Douglass that, despite the efforts of
others such as Harriet Beecher Stowe to reconcile the two, would
last into the Civil War.
Douglass continued his active involvement to better the lives of
black Americans. He conferred with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil
War and recruited northern blacks for the Union Army. After the war
he fought for the rights of women and blacks alike.
Feb. 24: W.E.B. Du Bois
An outstanding critic, editor, scholar, author, and civil rights
leader, W.E.B. Du Bois is among the most influential blacks of the
20th century. Born Feb. 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Mass., Du
Bois received a bachelor's degree from Fisk (Tenn.) University and
went on to earn a second bachelor's, as well as a doctorate, from
Harvard College. For a time, he was a professor of Latin and Greek
at Wilberforce (Ohio) University and the University of
Pennsylvania. He also served as a professor of economics and
history at Atlanta University.
One of the founders of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People in 1909, Du Bois served as that
organization's director of publications and editor of
Crisis magazine until 1934. In 1944, he returned from
Atlanta University to become head of the NAACP's special research
department, a post he held until 1948. Du Bois emigrated from the
United States to Africa in 1961 and became editor-in-chief of the
Encyclopedia Africana, an enormous publishing venture that
had been planned by Kwame Nkrumah, then deposed as president of
Ghana. Du Bois died in Ghana on Aug. 27, 1963.
Du Bois's numerous books include The Suppression of the
Slave Trade (1896), The Philadelphia Negro (1899),
The Souls of Black Folk (1903), John Brown
(1909), Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911), The
Negro (1915), Darkwater (1920), The Gift of Black
Folk (1924), Dark Princess (1928), Black Folk:
Then and Now (1939), Dusk of Dawn (1940), Color
and Democracy (1945), The World and Africa (1947),
In Battle for Peace (1952), and a trilogy, Black
It is this enormous literary output on such a wide variety of
themes that offers the most convincing testimony to Du Bois'
lifetime position that it was vital for blacks to cultivate their
own aesthetic and cultural values even as they made valuable
strides toward social emancipation. In this, he was opposed by
Booker T. Washington, who felt that the black should concentrate on
developing technical and mechanical skills before all else.
Du Bois was one of the first male civil rights leaders to
recognize the problems of gender discrimination. He was among the
first men to understand the unique problems of black women and to
value their contributions. He supported the women's suffrage
movement and strove to integrate this mostly white struggle. He
encouraged many black female writers, artists, poets and novelists,
featuring their works in Crisis and sometimes providing
personal financial assistance to them. Several of his novels
feature women as prominently as men, an unusual approach for any
author of his day. Du Bois spent his life working not just for the
equality of all men, but for the equality of all people.
Feb. 23: Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington was born a slave in Hale's Ford, Va.,
reportedly on April 5, 1856. After emancipation from slavery, his
family was so poverty-stricken that he worked in salt furnaces and
coal mines, beginning at age 9. Always an intelligent and curious
child, Washington yearned for an education and was
frustrated when he could not receive good schooling locally. When
he was 16, his parents allowed him to quit work to go to school.
They had no money to help him, so he walked 200 miles to attend the
Hampton Institute in Virginia -- now Hampton
University -- and paid his tuition and board there by working
as the janitor.
Dedicating himself to the idea that education would raise his
people to equality, Washington became a teacher. He first taught in
his home town, then at the Hampton Institute. In 1881, he founded
the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Ala. As
head of the Institute, Washington traveled the country to
raise funds from both blacks and whites; he soon became a
In 1895, Washington was asked to speak at the opening of the
Cotton States Exposition, an unprecedented honor for an black. His
"Atlanta Compromise" speech explained his major
thesis: blacks could secure their constitutional rights through
their own economic and moral advancement rather than through legal
and political changes. Although his conciliatory stand angered some
blacks who feared it would encourage the foes of equal rights,
whites approved of his views. Thus Washington's major
achievement was to win over diverse elements among Southern whites,
without whose support the programs he envisioned and brought into
being would have been impossible.
In addition to Tuskegee Institute, which still educates students
today at Tuskegee University, Washington instituted a
variety of programs for rural extension work, and he helped to
establish the National Negro Business League. Shortly after the
election of President William McKinley in 1896, there was an effort
to get him to name Washington to a cabinet post,. But Washington
withdrew his name from consideration, preferring to work outside
the political arena. He died on Nov. 14, 1915.
Feb. 22: Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey was born Jan. 29, 1954, in Kosciusko, Miss.,
to Vernita Lee, a housekeeper, and Vernon Winfrey, a soldier. She
was actually born Orpah Gail Winfrey, but mispronunciations and
misspellings eventually won out and Orpah became Oprah.
Oprah spent her childhood struggling with a strange dichotomy:
academic achievement and a dysfunctional home life. Until she was
6, she lived with her grandmother. During that time, Winfrey
learned to read. She then moved to Milwaukee to be with her mother.
The two lived together in poverty. Winfrey's mother was
less supportive of her daughter's growing intelligence,
and Winfrey also endured physical abuse by
relatives. In the midst of it all, she skipped two grades and was
awarded a scholarship to college atage 13.
Soon after, Winfrey's mother shipped her off to her father
in Nashville, Tenn. Vernon made education a priority and
pushed Winfrey to succeed. She became an honors student,
won a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, and was
crowned Miss Black Tennessee at age 18. As soon as she became a
student at Tennessee State, Winfrey dived into broadcast
media, working at a nearby Nashville radio station. She soon moved
on to television, becoming the youngest news anchor and first black
American anchor at Nashville's WTVF-5.
Winfrey's first stint as a talk-show host came after a move to
Baltimore, where she joined the news team at WJZ-13. She was
quickly tapped to co-host the local show People Are
Talking. Winfrey's next career step took her from the shores
of the Atlantic to the shores of Lake Michigan. She landed in
Chicago, at WLS-AM, taking over the low-rated morning show AM
Chicago. Her style, personality and ability to talk to people
about real issues sent the last-place show into first place in less
than 12 months. In a little more than two years - between its debut
in January 1984 and September 1986 - Oprah lead the program into
national syndication, easily overtaking top-rated
Feb. 18: Michael Jordan
Born Feb. 17, 1963, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Michael Jeffrey
Jordan was the fourth of five children born to James and
Deloris Jordan. James Jordan was a mechanic, and Deloris Jordan was
a bank teller. Soon after Michael's birth, James and Deloris felt
that the streets of Brooklyn were unsafe to raise a family, so they
moved the family to Wilmington, N.C. As a youth, Michael
immediately became interested in sports. However, it was baseball,
not basketball, that was his first love. He would play catch in the
yard with his father, who also loved baseball. He soon started to
play basketball to try and follow in the footsteps of his older
brother, Larry, whom he idolized growing up.
As a sophomore at Laney High School, Michael decided to try out
for the varsity basketball team but was cut because he was raw and
undersized. He grew four inches the following summer, and he
practiced tirelessly. The hard work paid off as he averaged 25
points per game in his last two years and was selected to the
McDonald's All-American Team as a senior. Following high school, he
received a basketball scholarship from the University of North
Carolina, where he played under legendary coach Dean Smith. In his
first year, Jordan was named Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of
the Year. During his sophomore year, he helped lead the Tarheels to
the 1982 NCAA men's basketball championship, making the
After winning the Naismith College Player of the Year award in
1984, Jordan entered the NBA draft. (Although he decided to leave
college early, Jordan later returned to the university in 1986 to
complete a degree in geography.) In the 1984 NBA draft, Jordan was
the third overall pick by the Chicago Bulls. As a rookie for the
Bulls, he made an immediate impact, averaging an amazing 28.2
points a game, including six games where he scored more than 40
points. He was selected to the NBA All-Star Game and named Rookie
of the Year. He eventually won five regular-season MVP awards, six
NBA championships, six NBA Finals MVP awards, three All-Star game
MVP awards and a defensive player of the year award.
On July 23, 1993, tragedy struck Jordan's seemingly perfect life
when his father was murdered off Interstate 95 in North Carolina.
Two locals had robbed him, shot him in the chest and threw his body
into a swamp. Three months later -- onOct. 6, following a run of
three consecutive NBA championships -- Jordan announced his
retirement from basketball, citing that "he no longer had the
desire to play."
In early 1994, Jordan decided to take up a new hobby --
baseball. Despite not playing baseball since high school more than
13 years ago, Jordan signed a minor league contract with the
Chicago White Sox in 1994. He played one unspectacular season for
the Double-A Birmingham Barons. On March 18, 1995, Jordan, a man of
few words since his retirement, sent two important words to media
sources: "I'm Back". He celebrated his return to the NBA by doing
what he did best: beating the New York Knicks. He lit them up for
55 points on March 29, 1995. Although the Bulls lost in the
1995 playoffs to the Orlando Magic, it was obvious that Jordan was
still the same superstar player. He went on to lead the Bulls to
three more consecutive NBA championships and etch his place in the
history as the NBA's greatest player of all-time.
On Jan. 13, 1999, Jordan re-announced his retirement, saying
that "he was 99.9 percent sure that he would never play again".
Soon after, Jordan became part owner of the Washington Wizards.
Near the start of the 2001-02 season, there were hints that Jordan
may try another comeback to the NBA. On Sept. 25, 2001, Jordan
confirmed those rumors, announcing that he would once again return
to the NBA as a member of the Wizards. His two seasons in
Washington were mediocre at best. His statistics were solid and he
showed some flashes of his old self but he could not lead the
Wizards to the playoffs and missed several games because of injury.
He retired for good following the 2002-03 season and was
subsequently dismissed as president of the Washington Wizards. In
June 2006, he became part owner of the Charlotte Bobcats.
Feb. 17: Martin Luther King Jr.
Born in Atlanta, Martin Luther King Jr. earned degrees from
Morehouse (Ga.) College, Crozer Theological (Pa.) Seminary and
Boston University. The son of the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist
Church in Atlanta, King was ordained in 1947 andin 1954 became
minister of a Baptist church in Montgomery, Ala. He led the black
boycott (1955-56) of the city's segregated bus lines and in 1956
gained a major victory and prestige as a civil-rights leader when
Montgomery buses began to operate on a desegregated basis.
King organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which
gave him a base to pursue further civil-rights activities, first in
the South and later nationwide. His philosophy of nonviolent
resistance led to his arrest on numerous occasions in the 1950s and
'60s. His campaigns had mixed success, but the 1963 protest he led
in Birmingham, Ala., brought him worldwide attention. He
spearheaded the August 1963, March on Washington, which brought
together more than 200,000 people. In 1964, he was awarded the
Nobel Peace Prize.
King's leadership in the Civil Rights movement was challenged in
the mid-1960s as some members of the movement grew more militant.
King's interests, however, widened to include criticism of the
Vietnam War and a deeper concern over poverty. His plans for a Poor
People's March to Washington were interrupted in 1968 for a trip to
Memphis, Tenn., in support of striking sanitation workers. On Apr.
4, 1968, King was shot and killed as he stood on the balcony of the
Lorraine Motel, which has since become a the
National Civil Rights Museum.
James Earl Ray, a career criminal, pleaded guilty to the murder
and was convicted. But Ray soon recanted, claiming he was duped
into his plea. Ray's conviction was subsequently upheld, but he
eventually received support from members of King's family, who
believed King to have been the victim of a conspiracy. Ray died in
prison in 1998. In a jury trial in Memphis in 1999, the King family
won a wrongful-death judgment against Loyd Jowers, who claimed in
1993 that he had arranged the killing for a Mafia figure. Many
experts, however, were unconvinced by the verdict, and in 2000,
after an 18-month investigation, the U.S. Justice Department
discredited Jowers and concluded that there was no evidence of an
King's publications include Stride Toward
Freedom (1958), Why We Can't Wait (1964) and
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967). His
birthday is a national holiday, celebrated on the third Monday in
Feb. 16: Rosa Parks
During her childhood, Rosa Parks worked as a field
hand, took care of her younger brother, and cleaned classrooms for
tuition. As an adult, she worked as a seamstress, office clerk and
domestic. Parks became involved in civil rights activities as well,
serving as secretary of the Montgomery, Ala., chapter of the
On Dec. 1, 1955, when Parks was riding a bus home from her job,
the bus filled with passengers. Parks was expected to relinquish
her seat for a white man. She refused, and she was arrested for
violating Alabama's segregation laws. The black community mobilized
a boycott of the bus system, which lasted for 381 days and resulted
in the ending of segregation on Montgomery's buses.
The boycott also brought national attention to the civil rights
cause and to a young minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Parks continued her commitment to civil rights throughout her
life, willingly serving as a symbol of the Civil Rights struggle.
Parks died of natural causes on Oct. 24, 2005, at her Detroit home.
She was 92.
Feb. 15: Colin Luther Powell
Colin Luther Powell was born April 5, 1937, in the South Bronx
of New York City. His parents had emigrated from Jamaica. His
father, Luther Theophilus Powell, worked as shipping clerk, and his
mother, Maud Arlel, was a seamstress. Colin Powell studied in
Morris High School and then at City College of New York, where he
earned a bachelor's degree in geology. As a student, he was quite
While at CCNY, Powell joined the Reserve Officers' Training
Corps, where he found the perfect place for himself. He joined the
Pershing Rifles drill team. Upongraduation from CCNY in 1958,
Powell was granted a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army.
In 1962, he met and married Alma Vivian Johnson, while stationed at
Fort Devens, Mass. They have three children: Michael, Linda and
Powell worked in the Army for 35 years as a professional
soldier, rising to the rank of general. From 1962-63, the early
stages of the Vietnam War, Powell served as an adviser. From
1968-69, he was an executive officer and then the assistant chief
of staff of the operations with the rank of major. In 1971, Powell
earned a master's of business administration from George Washington
(Va.) University while working in the Army. In the 1980s he became
senior military assistant to the Secretary of Defense. From
1987-89, he was President Ronald Reagan's national security
adviser. During this time, Powell also served as commander in chief
of the Army's Forces Command.
On Oct. 1, 1989, Powell took up his appointment as the 12th
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is the highest
position in the Defense Department. At the age of 52, he was the
youngest and the first black American to be on that post. He
followed a policy of making military intervention as the last
option in his entire defense-related tactical decisions. His
characteristic methods have come to be known as the Powell
When he retired in 1993, Powell began addressing large audiences
and public gatherings. He also wrote an autobiography, My
American Journey. When he began campaigning for the Republican
Party, rumors circulated about a possible political career. In
1996, he was said to be considering a possible presidential bid
against President Bill Clinton, whom he served as chairman of the
Joint Cheifs of Satff. Powell put a stop to the rumors when he said
he did not wish to pursue a political career.
Feb. 11: Medgar Evers
Evers was one of the first martyrs of the Civil Rights movement.
Born in 1925 in Decatur, Miss., he enrolled at Alcorn A&M
(Miss.) College after a short stint in the Army. Evers
graduated from Alcorn in 1952, and his first job was selling
insurance in rural Mississippi. He soon grew enraged at the
despicable conditions suffered by poor black families, so he joined
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In
1954, he was appointed Mississippi's first field secretary.
Evers was outspoken, and his demands were
radical for rigidly segregated Mississippi. He fought for the
enforcement of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Brown v.
Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., which outlawed school
segregation; he fought for the right to vote; and he advocated
boycotting merchants who discriminated. Evers worked unceasingly,
despite the threats of violence that his speeches engendered. He
gave much of himself to the struggle, and in 1963, he gave his
life. On June 13, 1963, he drove home from a meeting, stepped out
of his car, and was shot in the back.
Immediately after Evers's death, the gun that
was used to kill him was found innearby bushes, with the owner's
fingerprints still fresh. Byron de la Beckwith, a vocal member of a
local white-supremacist group, was arrested. Despite evidence
against him -- which included an earlier statement that he wanted
to kill Evers -- two trials of all-white juries ended in deadlock
decisions, and Beckwith walked free. Twenty years later, in 1989,
information surfaced that suggested juries in both trials had been
tampered with. The assistant U.S. district attorney, with the help
of Evers's widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, began putting together a
new case. On Feb. 5, 1994, a multiracial jury retried Beckwith and
found him guilty of the crime.
The loss of Evers changed the tenor of the
Civil Rights movement. Anger replaced fear in the South, as
hundreds of demonstrators marched in protest. Evers' death prompted
President John F. Kennedy to ask Congress for a comprehensive
CivilRrights bill, which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into
law the following year. Evers' death, as his life had, contributed
much to the struggle for equality.
Feb. 10: Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman is perhaps the most well-known of all the
Underground Railroad's "conductors." During a 10-year span, she
made 19 trips into the South and escorted more than 300 slaves to
freedom. And, as she once proudly pointed out to Frederick
Douglass, in all of her journeys she "never lost a single
Tubman was born a slave around 1820 in in Maryland's Dorchester
County. At age 5 or 6, she began to work as a house servant. Seven
years later she was sent to work in the fields. While she was still
in her early teens, she suffered an injury that would follow her
for the rest of her life. Always ready to stand up for someone
else, Tubman blocked a doorway to protect another field hand from
an angry overseer. The overseer picked up and threw a two-pound
weight at the field hand. It fell short, striking Tubman on the
head. She never fully recovered from the blow, which subjected her
to spells in which she would fall into a deep sleep.
Around 1844, Tubman married a free black man named John Tubman
and took his last name. (She was born Araminta Ross; she later
changed her first name to Harriet, after her mother.) In 1849, in
fear that she, along with the other slaves on the plantation, was
to be sold, Tubman resolved to run away. She set out one night on
foot. With some assistance from a friendly white woman, Tubman was
on her way. She followed the North Star by night, making her way to
Pennsylvania and soon after to Philadelphia, where she found work
and saved her money.
The following year she returned to Maryland and escorted her
sister and her sister's two children to freedom. She made the
dangerous trip back to the South soon after to rescue her brother
and two other men. On her third return, she went after her husband,
only to find he had taken another wife. Undeterred, she found other
slaves seeking freedom and escorted them to the North.
Tubman returned to the South again and again. She devised clever
techniques that helped make her forays successful, including using
the master's horse and buggy for the first leg of the journey;
leaving on a Saturday night, because runaway notices couldn't be
placed in newspapers until Monday morning; turning about and
heading south if she encountered possible slave hunters; and
carrying a drug to use on a baby if its crying might put the
fugitives in danger.
By 1856, Tubman's capture would have brought a $40,000 reward
from the South. On one occasion, she overheard some men reading her
wanted poster, which stated that she was illiterate. She promptly
pulled out a book and feigned reading it. The ploy was enough to
fool the men.
Tubman had made the perilous trip to slave country 19 times by
1860, including one especially challenging journey in which she
rescued her 70-year-old parents. Of the famed heroine, who became
known as "Moses," Frederick Douglass said, "Excepting John Brown --
of sacred memory -- I know of no one who has willingly encountered
more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than
[Harriet Tubman]." And John Brown, who conferred with "General
Tubman" about his plans to raid Harpers Ferry, once said that she
was "one of the bravest persons on this continent."
Becoming friends with the leading abolitionists of the day,
Tubman took part in antislavery meetings. On the way to such a
meeting in Boston in 1860, in an incident in Troy, N.Y., she helped
a fugitive slave who had been captured. During the Civil War,
Harriet Tubman worked for the Union as a cook, a nurse and even a
spy. After the war she settled in Auburn, N.Y., where she would
spend the rest of her long life. She died in 1913.
Feb. 9: Thurgood Marshall
In 1954, Attorney Thurgood Marshall led the civil rights case of
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., to a successful
hearing in the Supreme Court of the United States. Thirteen years
later, he became the court's first black justice.
The descendant of slaves, Marshall graduated from all-black
Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1930; he then received a law
degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C., in
1933. Marshall opened his own law practice in Baltimore
and became known as a vocal force for civil rights; this led him to
a job with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People in 1936.
Marshall spent more than two decades with the NAACP,
gaining his greatest fame in arguing Brown v. Board of Education.
When the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that "separate educational
facilities are inherently unequal," Marshall and the NAACP won a
great victory for civil rights.
Marshall was nominated to the Second Circuit of the U.S. Court
of Appeals in 1961, then in 1965 appointed to the post of solicitor
general by President Lyndon Johnson. Marshall was nominated to the
Supreme Court in 1967, and he served for 24 years before he
retirement in 1991. Marshall, known as a liberal throughout his
tenure, was replaced on the court by conservative Clarence Thomas,
the court's second black justice. Marshall died of heart failure
two years later.
In 1976, the Texas Southern University School of Law was renamed
the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in his honor. Marshall is
buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Feb. 8: Paul Laurence Dunbar
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was a seminal African-American
poet in the late-19th and early 20th centuries. Dunbar gained
national recognition for his 1896 Lyrics of a Lowly Life.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, to parents who had escaped from slavery,
Dunbar's father was a veteran of the Civil War, having served in
the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and the 5th Massachusetts
Colored Cavalry Regiment.
Dunbar's parents instilled in him a love of learning and
history. He was the only black student at Dayton Central High
School, but he participated actively as a student. He wrote his
first poem at age 6 and gave his first public recital at age 9.
Dunbar's first published work came in a newspaper published by his
high school friends, Wilbur and Orville Wright, who owned a
printing plant. The Wright Brothers later invested in the
Dayton Tattler, a newspaper aimed at the black community
edited and published by Dunbar.
Dunbar's first collection of poetry, Oak and Ivy, was
published in 1892 and attracted the attention of James Whitcomb
Riley, the popular "Hoosier Poet." Riley and Dunbar wrote poems in
both standard English and dialect. Dunbar's second book, Majors
and Minors (1895), brought him national fame and the patronage
of William Dean Howells, the novelist and critic and editor of
Harper's Weekly. After Howells' praise, Dunbar's first two
books were combined as Lyrics of a Lowly Life, and Dunbar
started on a career of international literary fame that was cut
short by his death of tuberculosis at 34..
Dunbar kept a lifelong friendship with the Wrights, and was also
closely associated with Frederick Douglass and Booker T.
Washington. He was honored with a ceremonial sword by President
Dunbar wrote a dozen books of poetry, four books of short
stories, and five novels and a play. His essays and poems were
published widely in the leading journals of the day. During his
life, considerable emphasis was laid on the fact that Dunbar was of
pure black descent, with no white ancestors
Feb. 4: Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou has had a long and distinguished career. She is a
poet, writer, civil-rights activist and
historian. Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson on April
4, 1928, in St. Louis, Mo. She spent her childhood in St.
Louis, California, Arkansas; she lived with her paternal
grandmother, Annie Henderson, for most of her childhood years. At
age 8, Angelou was raped by her mother's boyfriend in St.
Louis; this led to years of muteness for Angelou, which she
overcame through help from a caring neighbor and a great love for
At age 16, Angelou became the first black streetcar
conductor in San Francisco; in later years, she became the first
black woman screenwriter and director in Hollywood. In the 1960s,
she was a friend to both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X; she
served in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with
King, and she worked for years in the Civil Rights movement.
Also in the 1960s, she worked and traveled in Africa as a
journalist and teacher, and she helped with several African
independence movements. In 1970, she published her first book,
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, to great acclaim; it was
nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry the following year.
Angelou is also an accomplished actress, dancer and singer,
having performed in a touring production of Porgy and Bess
and the acclaimed television series Roots.
Angelou is probably best known for her autobiographical works,
which in addition to I Know Why the Caged Bird
Sings also includes All God's Children Need Traveling
In 1993, Angelou read her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at the
inauguration of President Clinton; this was one of the high points
of her career, and again brought her into the public spotlight. She
is currently a professor of American history at Wake Forest (N.C.)
University, and she makes regular lecture and speaking tours.
Feb. 3: William Henry "Bill" Cosby Jr.
Born July 12, 1937, William Henry "Bill" Cosby
Jr. is an American comedian, actor, author, television
producer, musician and activist. A veteran stand-up performer, he
got his start at various clubs, then landed a starring role in the
1960s action show I Spy. He later starred in his own
series, The Bill Cosby Show, in 1969. He was one of the
major characters on the children's television show The Electric
Company for its first two seasons. He then created the
humorous educational cartoon series Fat Albert and the Cosby
Kids, about a group of young friends growing up in the city.
Cosby has also acted in a number of films.
During the 1980s, Cosby produced and starred in what is considered
to be one of the decade's defining sitcoms, The Cosby
Show. It aired from 1984-92, and it is still seen in
syndication. The sitcom highlighted the experiences and growth of
an upper-middle-class black family. He also produced the hit sitcom
A Different World, which became second to The Cosby
Show in ratings. In the 1990s, he starred in Cosby,
which aired from 1996-2000. During the show's last two seasons, he
hosted Kids Say the Darndest Things.
Cosby's good-natured, fatherly image has made him a popular
personality and garnered him the nickname "America's Dad." He has
been a sought-after spokesman over the years, and he has endorsed a
number of products, including: Jell-O Pudding, Kodak film, Ford,
Texas Instruments and Coca-Cola. In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete
Asante included him in his book the 100 Greatest African
Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia.
In 1976, Cosby earned a doctorate of education degree from the
University of Massachusetts. His dissertation was, "An Integration
of the Visual Media Via Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids Into
the Elementary School Curriculum as a Teaching Aid and Vehicle to
Achieve Increased Learning."
Feb. 2: Jackie Roosevelt
Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born in 1919 in
Cairo, Ga., to a family of sharecroppers. His mother, Mallie
Robinson, single-handedly raised Jackie and her four other
children. They were the only black family on their block, and the
prejudice they encountered only strengthened their bond. From this
humble beginning would grow the first baseball player to break
Major League Baseball's color barrier.
Robinson excelled early at all sports and learned to make his
way in life. At the University of California-Los Angeles, Robinson
became the first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports:
baseball, basketball, football and track. In 1941, he was named to
the All-American football team. Because of financial difficulties,
he was forced to leave college.
Robinson eventually decided to enlist in the Army. After two
years in the Army, he progressed to second lieutenant. Robinson's
military career was cut short when he was court-martialed in
relation to his objections with incidents of racial discrimination.
Robinson left the Army with an honorable discharge.
In 1945, Robinson played in the Negro Baseball League, traveling
all over the Midwest with the legendary Kansas City Monarchs. But
greater challenges and achievements were in store for him. In 1947,
Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey approached Robinson about
joining the Dodgers. Major League Baseball had not had an
African-American player since 1889, when the sport became
When Robinson first donned a Brooklyn Dodger uniform, he
pioneered the integration of professional athletics in America. By
breaking the color barrier in baseball, then the nation's
preeminent sport, he courageously challenged the deeply rooted
custom of racial segregation in both the North and the South.
At the end of Robinson's rookie season with the Dodgers, he was
named National League Rookie of the Year with 12 home runs, a
league-leading 29 steals and a .297 batting average. In 1949, he
was selected as the NL's Most Valuable player and also won the
batting title with a .342 average. Robinson was inducted into the
Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
Robinson married Rachel Isum, a nursing student he met at UCLA,
in 1946. As an African-American baseball player, Robinson was on
display for the whole country to judge. Rachel and their three
children -- Jackie Jr., Sharon and David -- provided Jackie with
the emotional support and sense of purpose essential for bearing
the pressure during the early years of baseball.
Robinson's life and legacy will be remembered as one of the most
important in American history. In 1997, the world celebrated the
50th Anniversary of Robinson breaking Major League Baseball's color
barrier. On the date of Robinson's historic debut, all MLB teams
celebrated the milestone. Also that year, the United States Post
Office honored Robinson by making him the subject of a
commemorative postage stamp.
Feb. 1: Barack Obama
Barack Obama was born to a white American mother,
Ann Dunham, and a black Kenyan father, Barack Obama Sr., who were
both young college students at the University of Hawaii. When his
father left for Harvard University, Dunham and Barack stayed
behind. Obama's father ultimately returned alone to Kenya, where he
worked as a government economist.
Barack's mother remarried an Indonesian oil manager and moved to
Jakarta when Barack was 6. He later recounted Indonesia as
simultaneously lush and a harrowing exposure to tropical poverty.
He returned to Hawaii, where he was brought up largely by his
grandparents. The family lived in a small apartment -- his
grandfather was a furniture salesman and an unsuccessful insurance
agent and his grandmother worked in a bank -- but Barack managed to
get into Punahou School, Hawaii's top prep academy. His father
wrote to him regularly but, though he traveled around the world on
official business for Kenya, he visited only once, when Barack was
Obama attended Columbia University, but found New York's racial
tension inescapable. He became a community organizer for a small
Chicago church-based group for three years, helping poor South Side
residents cope with a wave of plant closings. He then attended
Harvard Law School, and in 1990 became the first African-American
editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Obama turned down a prestigious judicial clerkship, choosing
instead to practice civil-rights law in Chicago, representing
victims of housing and employment discrimination and working on
voting-rights legislation. He also taught at the University of
Chicago Law School. Eventually Obama ran as a Democrat for the
state senate seat from his district, which included both affluent
Hyde Park and some of the poorest ghettos on the South Side, and
In 2004 Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat,
representing Illinois. He gained national attention by giving a
rousing and well-received keynote speech at the Democratic National
Convention in Boston. In 2008 he ran for president as a Democrat
and won, becoming the 44th president of the Unites States and the
first black American elected to that position.