February is Black History Month

February is Black History Month. We will be highlighting extraordinary African American figures and important historical events throughout the month. We hope you enjoy this celebration of the rich history of­­- and significant contributions made by- African Americans.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rather than feebly attempt to sum up Dr. King’s extensive accomplishments, we instead present these little known facts about the civil rights leader:

Martin Luther King, Jr. was actually born Michael King, Jr. When Michael Sr. became a minister he adopted the name Martin Luther King, Sr. in honor of the German Protestant religious leader Martin Luther. Eventually Michael Jr. did the same, becoming Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. skipped both the 9th and 11th grades (or 9th and 12th, depending on the source), and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta at the tender age of 15. He received his bachelor’s degree at just 19 years of age, when many young people have barely begun their college careers.

Many people know that in 1964 Dr. King was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, but that wasn’t the only high profile award he was honored with. Three years after his death in 1968, the civil rights icon won a Grammy award for Best Spoken Word Album for “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.” 

Dr. King was a Trekkie. Seriously. He was a big Star Trek fan and even convinced actress Nichelle Nichols- who played Uhura- to stay on the show when she considered leaving to pursue Broadway roles. “Do you not understand what God has given you? … You have the first important non-traditional role, non-stereotypical role. … You cannot abdicate your position. You are changing the minds of people across the world, because for the first time, through you, we see ourselves and what can be,” Nichols remembers King saying to her.

There are over 900 streets named after Dr. King in 40 states and around the world.

When Martin Luther King Jr. married his wife Coretta, the newlyweds were unable to stay in a white-owned hotel. Instead, the couple spent their wedding night at a black owned funeral home.

Dr. King got a C in public speaking. His father thought his son was the best speaker he’d ever seen, but in his first year of seminary school in Chester, Pennsylvania, one of Dr. King’s professors gave him a C in his public speaking class! By his third and final year, Dr. King was valedictorian with straight A’s, and on his way to becoming a legendary orator.

According to the King Center, the civil rights leader went to jail nearly 30 times. He was arrested for acts of civil disobedience and on trumped-up charges, like the time he was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone.

George Washington is the only other American to have his birthday observed as a national holiday.
In 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that created a federal holiday to honor King. The holiday, first commemorated in 1986, is celebrated on the third Monday in January, close to the civil rights leader’s January 15 birthday. Although ‘MLK Day’ was first observed in 1986, all 50 states didn’t officially recognize the holiday until 2000. Utah was the last state to make it official, renaming its ‘Human Rights Day’ holiday after King.

To find out more about Martin Luther King, Jr. visit:

Jesse Owens

At a time and place in history when little was expected of an African American man- Nazi Germany’s 1936 Olympic games- he proved that the color of one’s skin is not an indicator of ability, or lack thereof.
“In one week in the summer of 1936, on the sacred soil of the Fatherland, the master athlete humiliated the master race.
In Germany, the Nazis portrayed African-Americans as inferior and ridiculed the United States for relying on "black auxiliaries." One German official even complained that the Americans were letting "non-humans, like Owens and other Negro athletes," compete. But the German people felt otherwise. Crowds of 110,000 cheered him in Berlin's glittering Olympic Stadium and his autograph and picture were sought as he walked the streets.
When Owens finished competing, the African-American son of a sharecropper and the grandson of slaves had single-handedly crushed Hitler's myth of Aryan supremacy. He gave four virtuoso performances, winning gold medals in the 100- and 200- meter dashes, the long jump, and on America's 4x100 relay team. Score it: Owens 4, Hitler 0.

In a 1950 Associated Press poll, he was voted the greatest track and field star for the first half of century, outpolling Jim Thorpe by almost three to one.
In 1976, President Ford presented Owens with the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the U.S. can bestow upon a civilian.
Owens died of lung cancer at age 66 on March 31, 1980 in Tucson, Ariz.
Four years later, a street in Berlin was renamed in his honor.” (ESPN.com)

Read more about Jesse Owens at http://www.jesse-owens.org/about1.html

“You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.”- Medgar Evers

Medgar Evers is remembered as a civil rights hero. His work in Mississippi was celebrated throughout the country during the 1950’s and 60’s and he is still regarded as one of the most influential civil rights activists of the time.
But did you know that Evers was also a WWII veteran? He fought in the Normandy Invasion and served in both France and Germany. Following the war, he attended Alcorn College (now Alcorn State University) in Mississippi on the GI Bill majoring in business administration. He was a very involved student, participating in debate, choir, and on the football and track teams. He was also editor of Alcorn’s student newspaper for two years and held several student offices. While in college, he met and married Myrlie Beasley; they went on to have three children.
Upon graduation from Alcorn College, Evers applied to the segregated University of Mississippi Law School but was denied admission. From there he went on to become Mississippi’s first field secretary for the NAACP. One of Evers’ first tasks was to investigate the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy who was murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman. 

In 1963, after years of dedicated work (including boycotts of “whites only” merchants, the integration of Ole Miss, and nearly a decade of organizing voter registration drives), and numerous threats on his life, Evers was murdered when a sniper shot him in the back as he arrived home from an organizational meeting. The assassination occurred just hours after President Kennedy gave a speech calling on Congress for civil rights action. However, it took three juries 31 years to convict white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith of the murder. De La Beckwith was finally found guilty of first-degree murder in 1994 and sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2001 at the age of 90.
Evers’ widow, Myrlie, carried on her husband’s legacy, becoming chairperson of the NAACP and founding the Medgar Evers Institute in Jackson, MS. She was named Ms. Magazine’s Woman of the Year and even delivered the invocation at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. 

For more information about Medgar Evers, visit:

The Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman

The Underground Railroad, started by William Still, was a network of secret routes, way-stations, safe havens and meeting points that helped as many as 100,000 African Americans escape from slavery in the south. Some of the routes went as far north as Canada and as far south as Mexico.
One of the most effective and well-known leaders of the Underground Railroad was Harriet Tubman. Born Araminta Ross, she guided hundreds of slaves to freedom before and during the Civil War. Harriet Tubman had used the Underground Railroad to escape slavery and gain freedom for herself. She described her new independence like this:
“When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in heaven.”
After her escape, she made it her mission to help other slaves attain their own freedom. She was never captured while assisting slaves and, as she said, she “never lost a passenger.”
Find out more about this courageous woman at http://buff.ly/MLfSnr or http://buff.ly/MLfPIr

 Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)

Douglass escaped from slavery in 1838 by posing as a free black seaman on a train ride to the north and became an infamous speaker on the abolitionist lecture circuit and an important political figure. He became one of the most famous intellectuals of his time, advising presidents and lecturing to thousands on a range of causes, including women’s rights (in fact, in 1848, he was the only African American to attend the first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York).
Frederick Douglass was invited to Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration at the White House in 1865. Douglass was the only black guest in attendance.
Douglass was also the first African-American to receive a nomination for Vice-President of the United States in 1872, on the Equal Rights Party ticket.
Black history Month originated in 1926 by Carter Godwin Woodson as Negro History Week. The month of February was chosen in honor of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, who were both born in that month.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” –Frederick Douglass
Want to learn more? Go to http://buff.ly/1ndHmgK

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

In 1773 Phillis Wheatley authored the first published book by an African American, a poetry tome entitled “Poems on Various Subjects Religion and Moral.” Wheatley was subjected to an oral examination of her literacy skills because it was believed that African Americans were unable to write poetry. John Hancock was among the group testing Wheatley; he went on to sign The Declaration of Independence.
Among her many works was a poem Wheatley wrote for George Washington’s birthday. In his letter of acknowledgement he wrote, “I thank you most sincerely for the… elegant line you enclosed...the style and manner exhibit a striking proof of your poetic talents."
Phillis Wheatley led a truly remarkable life, and her many celebrated works are a testament to the fortitude and grace of a young female slave.  Read more about this African American heroine at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/phillis-wheatley

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks was born on February 4,1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her mother was a teacher and her father worked as a carpenter. Parks attended segregated schools in the Jim Crow south, but she became a high school graduate at a time when only 7% of African Americans had their diploma. This would not be the only remarkable accomplishment for Parks, who would go on to earn the title of “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”
On December 1, 1955, Parks broke the law. Her crime was to take an empty seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. It's an act that doesn't seem special at all today. But in 1955, segregation laws in some states required separate seating for blacks and whites in restaurants, on buses and in other public spaces. Parks stood for racial equality by refusing to move when the driver asked her to give her seat to a white man. Parks sat quietly while the driver called the police. “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true,” Parks said. "The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” http://buff.ly/LIhA8U
Read more about Rosa Parks at http://buff.ly/LIhCNW



In 1839 Joseph Cinque (born Sengbe Pieh) led 37 African Slaves in a revolt aboard the Amistad slave ship. The group killed the ship’s captain and took control of the vessel, which was later recaptured by the U.S.
The matter was tried in the Supreme Court, where Former U.S. President and Massachusetts senator, John Quincy Adams was Joseph Cinque's defense attorney. The result: it was ordered that the slaves be returned to Africa and freed.
This was not the first successful slave ship revolt, however. In 1730, 96 Africans aboard the Little George slave ship gained control of the vessel and successfully piloted their way back to Africa. It also wasn’t the last; in 1841 Africans aboard the Creole slave ship revolted and sailed to the Bahamas, where they were declared free by the British.
Steven Spielberg directed Amistad, the story of the 1839 slave ship revolt. Morgan Freeman, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey and Anthony Hopkins starred in the film, which was nominated for 30 awards in 1998.
Want to learn more about this amazing event? Visit http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mutiny-on-the-iamistadi-slave-ship

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