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BLACK HISTORY MONTH BASICS

F

ebruary is Black History Month not only in the U.S., but in the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands.
Keep reading to learn more about Black History Month and celebrate important contributions of six notable
African-Americans.
IN AMERICA

It started when Carter G. Woodson, a
Harvard-trained historian, wanted to raise
awareness of African-American contributions to society. He founded the Association
for the Study of Negro Life and History,
which announced Negro History Week in
1925 and celebrated the first one in 1926.

The week in February was chosen on purpose; it contained the birth anniversaries of
President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist
Frederick Douglass.
The 1960s brought social change and the
Civil Rights Act, as well as an increased
awareness of African-American contributions to culture. In 1976, the U.S. bicentennial, the week was expanded through the

month of February. President Gerald R.
Ford asked Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected
accomplishments of black Americans in
every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since Ford, every American president
has declared February Black History Month.
Woodson’s group lives on, too, as the
Association for the Study of African-

Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable
The founder of
Chicago is a mysterious man. Not much
is known about Jean
Baptiste Pointe du
Sable’s early life; he was
born around 1745, possibly in Haiti, maybe
in Canada. Maybe
his father was a pirate
and his mother an
African slave. He may
have been educated in
France. But we know
he founded Chicago
and that, for years, he
wasn’t recognized for it.
Sometime in the
1780s, Du Sable and U.S. ARMY CORPS
his family — he mar- OF ENGINEERS
Ricki Stevenson,
ried a Potawatomie
woman and had chil- founder of Black Paris
dren — settled in the Tours., speaks about
CHICAGO
area then known as Sable during a Black
MAGAZINE
History Month 2014
Eschecagou, near the
The house built by
event.
mouth of the river.
John Baptiste Pointe
du Sable close to the
He lived there off
mouth of the Chicago
and on for 20 years,
River as it appeared
enlarging his trading
when owned by the
post and holdings. In 1800, he sold his
Kinzie family in the
Chicago land to John Kinzie, a white
MOSES ENGINEERING COMPANY,
early 1800s.
NEW YORK
man. Kinzie was, for years, hailed as the
A
depiction
of
Pointe
du Sable
first settler of Chicago. Du Sable died in
a plaza called Pioneer Court was built on One of the
from A.T. Andreas 1884 book
1818 in Missouri.
the site of the du Sable homestead, and
most imHistory of Chicago.
During the 1960s, as Americans realized
in 1976, the same year African-American portant is
more and more African-American contriHistory Month was federally declared, the the DuSable Museum of African-Amerbutions to the nation, du Sable started to
homesite was named a National Historic ican History, founded in 1961, located
get the credit he deserved.
Landmark.
in Washington Park. It is the oldest, and
A 1963 article in Ebony magazine lamentSince then, a number of bridges, roads
before the National African-American
ed that du Sable was not yet recognized in
and other Chicago-area places and inMuseum in Washington, D.C., largest
Chicago, pointing out that his home was
stitutions have been named for du Sable. museum of African-American culture.
known as the Kinzie homestead. In 1965,

American Life and History.

OUTSIDE THE U.S.

The United Kingdom celebrated Black
History Month for the first time in 1987
through the leadership of Ghanaian analyst
Akyaaba Addai-Sebo. Canada recognized
February as Black History Month in 1995
with a motion by the House of Commons.

Mary McLeod Bethune

The fifteenth of 17 children born to former slaves, Mary
McLeod Bethune grew up to be the founder of a college, a
senior official in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration,
and present at the founding of the United Nations.
Bethune grew up in South Carolina and was educated in
segregated schools. In 1904, she founded the Daytona Educational and Industrial School for Negro Girls in Florida, which
eventually became Bethune-Cookman College. She also
served as president of the National Association of Colored
Women and founded the National Council of Negro Women.
From 1936 to 1944, Bethune was director of Negro Affairs in
the National Youth Administration in the Roosevelt administration. She was part of the Black Cabinet, a group of
African-American officials who lobbied for advancement for
African-Americans. Bethune worked for equal pay for African-American federal workers, African-American participation in New Deal programs, ending lynching and stopping the
poll tax, and was a regular speaker at conferences on racial
issues. She also served as president of Carter G. Woodson’s
Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.
During World War II, Bethune was special assistant to the
secretary of war and assistant director of the Women’s Army
Corps. She left federal service in 1944 but was still president
of the National Council of Negro Women, in which capacity
she attended the founding conference of the United Nations.
Bethune died in 1955.
Schools around the country are named for Bethune, and the
college she founded and which bears her name still exists. A
statue of her was erected in Washington, D.C, in 1974, and a
crater on Venus is named
in her honor.
The National
Park Service
maintains one
of her residences, 1318
Vermont Ave.,
Washington,
D.C., as a
historic site.

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