The National Museum of African American History and Culture, (NMAAHC) located in Washington, D.C., is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. Established by Act of Congress in 2003, after decades of efforts to recognize and honor the contributions of African Americans, the Museum opened to the public on September 24, 2016. It is the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
The Museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts and nearly 100,000 individuals have become members.
According to Lonnie G. Bunch, III, the Founding Director, “This Museum will tell the American story through the lens of African American history and culture. This is America’s Story and this museum is for all Americans.”
In the United States and Canada, February is officially designated Black History Month. The United Kingdom celebrates Black History Month in October.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson was among the first Americans to recognize the lack of accurate representation of the contributions of African Americans in history books and history classes.
Woodson was the son of former slaves. He worked in a Kentucky coal mine, and at the age of twenty, he enrolled in high school. He graduated two years later and went on to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. Woodson dedicated his life to accurately recording Black history and sought ways to have that history integrated into the history books that were being used in American classrooms.
In 1926 he established Negro History Week to try to educate Americans about the many contributions of Blacks to US and World histories because these accomplishments were still largely unrecognized. He selected February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and W.E.B. DuBois. February is also the month the 15th Amendment, which granted Blacks the right to vote, was passed (February 2, 1870). The named changed to Black History Week and the time extended to a full month.
According to President Gerald Ford in 1976 when he officially recognized February as Black History Month, “All Americans should seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Carter G. Woodson and other dedicated historians, the contributions by individuals such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr. are part of our collective history, but there is still much we as a society can learn during Black History Month.
Did you know that Kenny Washington was the first African American to sign an NFL contract? From the 1920’s until 1933, seventeen African Americans played in the league. From 1934 to 1946, no African American players were allowed in the league. In 1946, Washington who had been a standout running back for UCLA finally got his chance. Washington insisted his best friend and fellow Bruin, Woody Strode be signed with him by the Los Angeles Rams. In the Midwest, two African American players, Marlon Motley and Bill Willis had recently signed AAFC contracts. Motley and Willis who were several years younger went on to have distinguished NFL careers, and both are now in the Football Hall of Fame. Washington was 28 at the time of his signing and had already had five knee surgeries. His NFL career lasted only three seasons.
Washington also played baseball for the Bruins and was a teammate of Jackie Robinson. Robinson broke the color barrier for professional baseball in 1947 when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In 1948, after his try-out with the New York Rangers, Canadian Herb Carnegie (a Black ice hockey player in the Quebec Provisional League) was offered a contract to play in the Ranger’s minor league system; however, the New York Rangers’ three salary offers were considerably less than Carnegie was making with his Quebec team, so he was unable to sign a contract. Canadian Willie O’Ree became the first Black player to actually play in the NHL in 1958 after he was called up from his QHL team the Quebec Aces by the Boston Bruins to replace an injured player.
In 1992, Carol Mosely Braun from Illinois became the first Black woman to be elected to the United States Senate.
Mae Jemison became the first Black woman astronaut in 1992.
Robert H. Lawrence became the first Black astronaut in 1967. Lawrence died in a training accident before he was able to go to space, so Guion Bluford was the first African American in space.
Percy Lavon Julian was an African American chemist who developed a drug to treat glaucoma. He developed a fire extinguisher for use by the US Navy; he successfully synthesized the female hormone progesterone and the male hormone testosterone, and he synthesized cortisone which is used to treat arthritis and inflammatory diseases.
African American Eugene Jacques Bullard was living in France when WWI began. He joined the French Foreign Legion and applied to the French Air Force to be a pilot. Bullard served as a pilot in the 93 Spad Squadron of the Lafayette Flying Corps in the French Aéronautique Militaire. Despite being a military pilot with confirmed kills, having fought in World War I for three years, and earning medals for valor, his application to transfer to the United States Air Force was ignored after it was discovered that he was Black. During his lifetime, Eugene Ballard was awarded fifteen French war medals including the Knight of the Légion d’honneur.
Haney, Elissa. “The History of Black History.” Infoplease ©2000-2015. Sandbox Networks, Inc. publishing as Infoplease 22 Jan. 2018 http://www.infoplease.com/
Brunner, Borgna. “Famous Firsts by African Americans.” Infoplease ©2000-2015. Sandbox Networks, Inc. publishing as Infoplease 22 Jan. 2018 http://www.infoplease.com/
History.com Staff. History.com 2010 “Black History Month” http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-month 22 Jan. 2018, A+E Networks.
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Kenny Washington - By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3981332 K Washington
Percy Lavon Julian - By <a rel="nofollow" class="external free" href="http://www.chemheritage.org/classroom/chemach/images/lgfotos/07pharm/julian-djerassi2.jpg">http://www.chemheritage.org/classroom/chemach/images/lgfotos/07pharm/julian-djerassi2.jpg</a>, <a href="//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Percy_Lavon_Julian.jpg" title="Fair use">Fair use</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9341030">Link</a>