February marks Black History Month, an annual celebration focusing on achievements by African Americans and a time to recognize the important role they have played in US History.
The event grew out of 'Negro History Week' -- the brainchild of historian Carter G. Woodson and other notable African Americans. Since 1976, every US president has officially designated February as Black History Month. To honor this month, we look at three individuals who had a tremendous impact at different periods in American history.
The Underground Railroad
Harriet Tubman was a prominent figure in the ending of slavery. She symbolized black freedom, and went far beyond the few hundred slaves she actually saved. It took great courage for her to escape from slavery. But it was the fact that she came back, hoping to free other slaves, that set her apart from other freedmen.
Tubman was part of the growing movement known as the Underground Railroad. First started in the early 1800s, it was a network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th century slaves. In a metaphorical sense, it was classified as a railroad, although in reality it was not. The Underground Railroad led to the North, a symbol of freedom and new life for black slaves toiling in the cotton fields of the South. During its peak in the 1850’s and 1860’s, it is said that more than 30,000 slaves escaped to the North. This was significant compared to the 100,000 that escaped in the first 40-50 years of its existence.
Many legends have emerged out of the Underground Railroad, like the quilt patterns, the Big Dipper, and the many songs that inspired slaves to reach freedom. Here is a great video for those interested in learning more about the Underground Railroad.
Rosa Parks : The Quiet Protest
Her name conjures up images of a quiet, steely lady who refused to yield her seat to a white man at a time of segregation. Rosa Parks was the spark that led to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. When her life was threatened, she left her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama for Detroit. There, she and her husband continued the struggle against police brutality, inequality and injustice for blacks.
This year, on the 100th anniversary of her birth, we remember her words -- "Everyone living together in peace and harmony and love... that's the goal that we seek, and I think that the more people there are who reach that state of mind, the better we will all be."
Ranging from old black folksongs from the 19th century to the rappers of the current music generation, African American music has a rich tradition. One of the pioneers of black music was Don Cornelius, who passed away last year.
In 1970, with about $400, Cornelius founded Soul Train, an African American music show on television. The entertainment icon showcased black music at its best and helped propel the careers of giants like Michael Jackson, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Marvin Gaye. Fans say that Cornelius introduced African American music to the world stage.