“National African American History Month is a time to tell those stories of freedom won and honor the individuals who wrote them. We look back to the men and women who helped raise the pillars of democracy, even when the halls they built were not theirs to occupy ... We listen to the echoes of speeches and struggle that made our Nation stronger, and we hear again the thousands who sat in, stood up, and called out for equal treatment under the law.”
—President Barack Obama
National African American History Month 2014
February is the month we celebrate African American/Black History Month to recognize the many men and women who fought so hard and sacrificed so much, including giving their freedom and, for some, their lives to make this nation a better place for all to live.
This year’s theme “Civil Rights in America” takes us down memory lane of the struggles that African American men and women endured throughout history. For a long time in American history, African Americans did not have any rights. Things like being required to sit or stand in the back of the bus; not being served at restaurants; unable to vote; required to attend segregated schools are just a few things that changed only within the past sixty years or so.
As we take a trip down memory lane in recognition of African American History Month, one of the first stops we make is in 1909 when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded with co-founder, W.E.B. DuBois. The goal of the NAACP is to ensure that all people were afforded the rights that were guaranteed in the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution. These rights respectively promised to end slavery, provide equal protection of the law and to allow all males to vote.
We now head to 1955. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was formed in response to Rosa Parks arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was instrumental in leading the boycott and the efforts which lasted over a year until the buses were desegregated on December 21, 1956.
Another person instrumental in the boycott was Ella Baker which takes us to 1960, when she met with a group of black college students from North Carolina A&T University who refused to leave a Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina after being denied service. That lunch and the actions that followed led to the creation of The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC - pronounced "snick"). SNCC not only fought to protest segregation but they played a much bigger and more important role in voter registration in that state.
And now to 1964; the SNCC sent volunteers into Mississippi for a voter registration drive which in the history books came to be known as “Freedom Summer.” One of the first volunteers was Fannie Lou Hammer who later became the SNCC Field Secretary and traveled around the country speaking and registering people to vote. She also co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) which challenged the all-white Mississippi delegation to the Democratic National Convention on African American representation within the delegation. And although the MFDP did not fully accomplish its goals in the earlier years, the party went on to show all people of color that they too could have a political voice.
The trip down memory lane highlights a few African Americans who led local battles, suffered agonies and achieved victories throughout America’s colorful history for the benefit of all. We owe so much to those African American men and women before us and it is fitting that we honor the African Americans who contributed to the many victories then and now, in order for us to now celebrate the benefits and freedom, and also be able to enjoy the month of February as African American History Month.