Historically, and some would argue even today, that African-Americans have been marginalized solely because of the color of their skin. For centuries their achievements, while significant, went unacknowledged or were minimized. To raise awareness, Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained Historian, organized Negro History Week on the second week of February in 1926 to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (an abolitionist) and Abraham Lincoln. By 1976, President Gerald R. Ford declared the month of February Black History Month. He was quoted as saying to the public, “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
African-Americans have contributed greatly to American society by way of inventions, Civil Rights initiatives, politics, medicine, and entertainment (including the Tuskegee airmen shown in the above photo). The first successful open heart surgery, Blood Bank, gas mask, traffic light, toilet seat, mobile refrigeration, 3D graphics, and the Super Soaker were invented by African-Americans. Black Canadians even created a hockey league two decades before the NHL was created. Can you imagine what life would be like without any of those things?
Even though Black History Month is being celebrated at universities, conferences and organizations across the country, there is no doubt that we have a long way to go in eradicating racial inequality. The wave of recent events reported in the media makes it painfully apparent. However, I believe it’s important to know where we have been and where we are going. Highlighting accomplishments such as these serve as a reminder of the progress that has been made and the possibilities to come.