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Black History Month Celebrated

Posted on Wednesday, February 03, 2010 [9:44 AM]

Black History Month001 February 2010

Jordan Willis and Jayne Hopkins of the Student Activities Office stand next to the Kentucky
Commission on Human Rights' "Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians," which is on display
through the end of February in the Cralle Student Union Building.

Carter Woodson

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 Building.

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 Frederick Douglas.

Feb. 25: Frederick Douglass

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 equality.

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 prosperity."

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 Douglass.

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

WEB DuBois

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 Flame (1957-1961).

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 Washington02

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 well-known speaker.

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

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 Donahue.



Feb. 18: Michael Jordan

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 game-winning shot.

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.

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 assassination plot.

 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 January.



Feb. 16: Rosa Parks

WEB Rosa ParksDuring 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 NAACP.

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 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 average. 

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 Annamarie.

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 Doctrine.

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 

Medgar EversMedgar 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

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 passenger."

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 

WEB 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 Lauence 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 Theodore Roosevelt.

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

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928.
She spent her childhood in California, Arkansas, and St. Louis, and lived with her paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, for most of her childhood years. At age 8, she was raped by her mother's boyfriend in St. Louis; this led to years of muteness for Maya, which she finally overcame through help from a caring neighbor, and a great love for literature.
At age 16, Maya 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 60's, she was a friend to both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X; she served in the SCLC with Dr. King, and worked for years for the civil rights movement. Also in the 1960's, she worked and traveled in Africa as a journalist and teacher, and helped with several African independence movements. In 1970, she published her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, to great acclaim, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry the following year.
Angelou has had a long and distinguished career, and is a poet, writer, civil-rights activist, and historian, among other things. She was also an accomplished actress, dancer, and singer, having performed in a touring production of Porgy and Bess , Jean Genet's play, The Blacks, and the acclaimed television series, Roots. Angelou is probably best known for her autobiographical works, which include I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, and fill a total of five best-selling volumes.
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. Currently, she is a professor of American History at Wake Forest University, North Carolina, and makes regular lecture and speaking tours.

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 literature.

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 Shoes.

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.

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 Robinson

bhm_JackieRobinson.jpgJackie 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 segregated.

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

bhm_President_Obama.jpgBarack 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 10.

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 won.

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.



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