Michigan and Black History Month

by Shirley Brown, Project Healthy Living Coach

February is Black History Month.  The National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans.  African Americans have made a profound and continual impact on America in many areas including history, education, entertainment, literature, science, sports, politics, culture, and the military. Michigan has produced a significant number of affluent African Americans.

Michigan actively participated in the Underground Railroad, even before becoming a U.S. state. In 1836, thirteen former slaves organized the Second Baptist Church in Detroit. Besides allowing African Americans to worship without discrimination, the church also opened Michigan’s first school for black children and functioned as a stop on the Underground Railroad.  The Underground Railroad helped lead many runaway slaves into Canada to gain their freedom.  And while not a real railroad, it stands as a symbol of the journey to freedom.  During the years leading up to the Civil War, Michigan’s black population grew slowly but steadily.

By Randall Studio (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sojourner Truth, circa 1870
Famed former slave, women’s rights advocate, and black abolitionist Sojourner Truth, born Isabella, spent the last twenty-six years of her life in Battle Creek, Michigan.  Truth was bought and sold four times and spent the first twenty-nine years of her life as a slave in New York, performing strenuous physical labor.  After gaining her freedom, Ms. Truth when on a speaking tour in 1851, at a time when women, especially black women, did not give speeches. Truth used her remarkable speaking skills to promote equality and the need to end slavery. Truth stood six feet tall and had a deep voice. Her heart drenching stories often leading her listeners to tears.

Rosa Parks, circa 1955

Several famous African Americans that have made a tremendous contributions to Michigan including:

Actor – James Earl Jones

Activist – Malcom X & Betty Shabazz

Doctor/Surgeon – Ben Carson

Civil Rights Activist – Rosa Parks

Sports/Boxer – Joe Louis

Politics/Mayor – Coleman Young

Congressman John Conyers

Inventor – Elijah McCoy

Entertainment – Berry Gordy, Jr.

Comedian – Sinbad

Judge – Greg Mathis

Politics – Ralph Bunche

Politics – John Conyers

Automotive Dealership -Edward Davis


Shirley BrownShirley Brown is a Healthy Living Coach through the MiCAFE program at Elder Law of Michigan. She has been a member of the Elder Law team since 2011. As the MiCAFE Healthy Living Coach for the Eat Smart and Live Strong Program, Shirley facilitates the development of effective, high-quality nutrition education and physical activity promotion targeting senior citizens that are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

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