Martin Luther King Jr. Rosa Parks. President Barack Obama. These are all undoubtably names you have heard before, because they are some of the better known people within the African American community who have aided in making great changes in our nation. Medgar Evers. James Baldwin. Shirley Chisholm. These names may sound less familiar to you because, well, they are. These people receive little recognition, but have also been instrumental in the fight for racial equality. Let’s look into the achievements and accolades of these men and women, and take a moment to celebrate them, as well as
learn about the origin and history of Black History month.
We’ll start with Medgar Evers, who was born in 1925 in Mississippi, a place where segregation was prominent. Many black students didn’t go to school and experienced racial abuse from a young age. Even though Medgar faced many obstacles, like having to walk 12 miles to and from school, he stayed focused and committed to receiving an education. H
is tenacity to succeed payed off, because he graduated high school and joined the U.S Army to fight in World War II.
It was when Medgar Ever returned from World War II that he started his fight for equality. In 1954, when his father was sick in the hospital, he experienced a white mob attempting to hurt an injured black man outside of the hospital. “It seemed that this [racism] would never change. It was that way for my daddy, it was that way for me and it looked as though it would be that way for my children. I was so mad that I just stood there trembling and tears rolled down my cheeks”, said Melvin about the event that inspired him to fight for equality in our nation. Immediately, he quit his job and became a full time field secretary of the NAACP. During his time with the NAACP, he was assassinated for fighting for what he believed in by a member of the White Citizens’ Council. His death inspired civil rights protests, as well as numerous works of the arts. Medgar Evers was a dedicated and ethical man who gave his life for our freedom, and we should recognize him for all he helped to accomplish in the Civil Rights movement.
Next comes James Baldwin, a talented author who is considered “the greatest black writer in the world” by many. He was born in and raised in Harlem, a place known for its large African American community. In turn, Harlem has been known to harbour many black artists, musicians, and writers. In 1946, after growing up and blossoming into a thoughtful and talented writer, Baldwin moved to Paris. There he was able to write more about his personal and racial background. “Once I found myself on the other side of the ocean, I see where I came from very clearly… I am the grandson of a slave, and I am a writer. I must deal with both,” Baldwin told The New York Times. Baldwin did not need to protest in rallies or boycott; all his power was used through his pen. He emerged as one of the leading voices in the Civil Rights Movement for his work on race. It was his essays that established Baldwin as one of the top writers during his time. Works such as Notes of a Native Son(1955) and Nobody Knows My Name and More Notes of a Native Son(1961) hit the bestsellers list, selling more than a million copies.
Finally, we come to Shirley, my personal favorite. In 1968, she was the first African-American who was elected into Congress representing New York; a mere four years later she became the first major-party black candidate to make a bid for the U.S. presidency. Shirley Chisholm faced many racial challenges in achieving these historical accomplishments; many people were completely dubious that she
was capable of anything, and their assumptions were based solely on racial profiling. Shirley was born on November 30, 1924, in a predominantly black neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York but spent most of her childhood in Barbados with her grandmother. She graduated from Brooklyn College in 1946 and then began her career as a teacher and earned a master’s degree in elementary education from Columbia University. As a social activist Chisholm political journey included her fight for equal education opportunities and social justice. Chisholm left Congress in 1983 to teach. She was not only one of the first prominent blacks in her era and community, but also one of the first women. She is an inspiration to many for her many great achievements.
Black History Month was originally an annual, week-long celebration of black culture that began in 1926. However, in 1969 the idea of expanding the week into a month was proposed by black students at Kent State University and the month-long holiday was celebrated for the first time at the university in 1970. Six years later, President Gerald Ford would endorse the celebration, thus increasing national support of it. The celebration of black history month expanded to the United Kingdom in 1987 and Canada in 1995. Marty Meehan once stated, “As we celebrate Black History Month we should be grateful for the achievements they [African American] made and inspired by their legacies to continue their work.” The amazing number of accomplishments that black people made during times of oppression is highly impressive and deserves to be appreciated. For the rest of the month I encourage you to look deeper into black history and learn about all that the African Americans have achieved.