The beginnings of Black History Month emerged in 1926 and received an official US designation 50 years later in 1976. Since then, we celebrate Black History Month in February in schools, but our learnings may be limited to those monumental heroes we know so well—Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Jackie Robinson.
"It isn’t reparations. It is not a month of mourning for deceased black icons. The creation of Black History Month was a reaction to the widely held belief among white Americans in the early 20th century and prior that blacks made no significant or viable contribution to human civilization, let alone America," says Dr. Jeremy Levitt in his piece, The True Meaning of Black History Month. He continues, "Black History Month affords us the opportunity to honor the monumental achievements of living pioneers and departed path-breakers, from advocates and educators to innovators and discoverers."
In honor of Black History Month, we asked CJ associates to share pieces of Black history that resonate with them—highlighting Black individuals, important historical events, and art. Read on to learn more about Black contributions and history to celebrate, honor, and remember every day.
Hero image: Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm announcing her candidacy for the presidential nomination [25 January 1972] Courtesy of the U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)
Sean Watson, Client Development Director, San Francisco, CA
Who's the person you'd like to highlight for Black History Month? Why do they inspire you? I’d like to highlight Shirley Chisholm for Black History Month. She was an American politician, educator, and author. In 1968, she became the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress, representing New York's 12th congressional district for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. In the 1972 United States presidential election, she became the first Black candidate for a major party's nomination for President of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. I'm inspired by Shirley Chisholm because through her political and educational accomplishments she played a significant role in the development of Black people in America.
What's a piece of Black history that you want others to know about? History on Black History Month: The celebration of Black History Month began as a Black History Week, which was created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, a noted African American historian, scholar, educator, and publisher. It became a month-long celebration in 1976. The month of February was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
Share your favorite song, book, film, or artwork from a Black artist? Why do you love it? "African" by Peter Tosh is one of my favorite songs from a Black artist. He wrote the song during a time of civil unrest as a reminder to all Black people that we are part of the same community. I’ve always enjoyed this song as a symbol of unity for Black communities throughout the world.
"[Black History Month] is a great time to pause and appreciate the sacrifices of others that have paved the way for people like me to look up with pride and continue to take positive steps forward." - Obi Ezekwo
Obi Ezekwo, Client Development Director, New York City, NY
What does Black History Month mean to you? Being second generation American-Nigerian, raised in London, Black History Month is about cultivating my heritage and embracing the traditions and history shared by my parents and my life experiences. Not one or the other, but all. It’s a great time to pause and appreciate the sacrifices of others that have paved the way for people like me to look up with pride and continue to take positive steps forward.
Coming to America as migrants from Nigeria, I have witnessed the career hurdles my parents faced, my mum working as a Black female doctor in the Bronx and, my dad, as a chemical engineer. I saw how they established themselves and overcame various challenges. This gave me the courage and determination to achieve my own personal career goals and inspire younger people to do the same. As a result, I have a great enthusiasm in mentoring and helping young people.
Share your favorite song, book, film, or artwork from a Black artist? Why do you love it? One of my favorite films of all times has to be Coming to America. Apart from being an Eddie Murphy all time classic and comedy gold, it also helps give me a perspective of what America must have felt like initially for my parents coming over from Nigeria back in the 1970s. Looking forward to the sequel coming out in March!
My father recently published a book on my grandfather’s memoirs, In His Days: The Legacy of Ide Gabriel Nnolim Ezekwo by Samuel Ezekwo, exploring his journey as a missionary as he went through torturous efforts to propagate Christianity in southeast Nigeria. Not only does this book personally give me everything I want to know about my history as an Ezekwo, it’s also an inspiring story. I would also recommend The African Child by Camara Laye and Ghost Ship by A.D.A. France-Williams, the latter of which explores institutional racism in the Church of England.
Lika Walker, Director of Content Marketing, Santa Barbara, CA
Who's the person you'd like to highlight for Black History Month? Why do they inspire you? The countless unnamed and unrecognized Black people whose beautiful songs, sang in captivity, can be credited for most if not all American music that you know and love. A MUST LISTEN: podcast – 1619 Episode 3: The Birth of American Music.
What's a piece of Black history that you want others to know about? Look up Black Wall Street and the Tulsa race massacre. For what has been called "the single worst incident of racial violence in American history," I must admit I only learned about it last year. It's important to relearn and understand accurate histories so we can begin to rebuild the extremely fractured foundation of our country.
Share your favorite song, book, film, or artwork from a Black artist? Why do you love it? Strange Fruit by Nina Simone. It was originally recorded by Billie Holiday (another great!) and covered by many others over the years, but Nina's was my first introduction. It's a beautiful, yet heartbreaking song that compares victims of lynching to fruits from a tree.
Grace Saccoccio, Client Support Specialist, Westborough, MA
Who's the person you'd like to highlight for Black History Month? Tell us more about them and their accomplishments. Why do they inspire you?Sister Rosetta Tharpe is not known well in the mainstream, but she's been described as the "Godmother of Rock 'n Roll". She was a pioneer in guitar technique in the 1930s and '40s. She influenced early rock-and-roll musicians, including Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis, who then went on to inspire the next generation. She was born to cotton pickers in Arkansas but recognized as a musical prodigy. When a reporter asked her about the connection between her music and rock 'n roll, Tharpe is reported to have said, "Oh, these kids and rock and roll. This is just sped up rhythm and blues. I've been doing that forever." She was an icon, and I strongly encourage you to go listen to her on YouTube!
What's a piece of Black history that you want others to know about? There’s so much that’s not in the current American curriculum. One example would be Seneca Village in Central Park, NYC. It was a 19th-century settlement of mostly African American landowners, founded in 1825 by free Black Americans. It had hundreds of residents, and had established a school, church, and cemetery. All of the residents were evicted by eminent domain in 1857, and Central Park planning began. This is just a small piece and example of the history we never learn but should.
Share your favorite song, book, film, or artwork from a Black artist? Why do you love it? Blackbird by the Beatles as covered by Alicia Keys is a great performance for a song written for the Civil Rights movement. There are so many more great ones, but it holds a special place for me.
Camy Gehrke, Sr. Group Director, Client Development, San Francisco, CA
Who's the person you'd like to highlight for Black History Month? Why do they inspire you?Ella Fitzgerald, Black American Jazz Singer. She was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 GRAMMY awards and sold over 40 million albums. She was sometimes referred to as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella. Her musical collaborations with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and The Ink Spots were some of her most notable acts outside of her solo career.
I grew up in a family that listened to a lot of jazz music. My grandfather opened one of the first jazz clubs in Paris, France, and my aunt is a famous jazz singer. Growing up, both my grandfather and father educated me a lot about jazz music, and Ella Fitzgerald was someone I learned a lot about. She quickly became one of my favorite artists. I'd like to recognize Ella Fitzgerald, because she was the first female artist to win a GRAMMY and I love her music and love what she was able to accomplish as a female Black American artist.
Share your favorite song, book, film, or artwork from a Black artist? Why do you love it?Summertime performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. One of my favorite duets ever. Enjoy!
Mayuresh Kshetramade, CEO, New York, NY
Who's the person you'd like to highlight for Black History Month? Why do they inspire you? Ruby Bridges. From Wikipedia: "Ruby Nell Bridges Hall is an American civil rights activist. She was the first African American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis on November 14, 1960." Ruby is inspiring and has dedicated most of her life to making a positive difference in child development.
Share your favorite song, book, film, or artwork from a Black artist? Ibram X. Kendi's book, How to Be an Antiracist.
Nicole Ron, VP, Global Marketing & Business Systems, Santa Barbara, CA
What's a piece of Black history that you want others to know about? The Birmingham Children's Crusade of 1963. This is a story that I just learned about this year that is both heartbreaking and inspiring.
Many of the Black children in Birmingham, Alabama were very aware of civil rights movement and had watched their parents struggling with discrimination, racism, and hate in the form of segregation, poor treatment and refusal of basic rights. When Revered James Bevel offered support in light of the children's desire to get involved in the movement, he offered to mentor the children on how to peacefully protest. Many of the area's Black youth organized several days of peaceful protest, beginning on May 2nd. Sadly, the brave children were met with violence with many children being arrested, sprayed with powerful water hoses, hit with batons, and threatened with violence. Horrifically, young children were separated from their families and jailed for a week or more.
But this unthinkable treatment didn't deter the children and they continued to gather daily to peacefully protest. On May 10th, city leaders finally agreed to meet and discuss the needs of the Black community and the outcome was desegregation of business and the release of anyone who had been arrested during the demonstrations.
As a mother of a young child, I am moved by the bravery and persistence of these young Black Americans in the face of such hate and resistance to the request for basic human rights. That these children had to experience the strife and mistreatment of all those they loved, set aside their childhood and fight in a way that most of us have never, and may never, experience is heart-breaking, humbling and inspiring.