February is Black History Month. Black History Month was not always a month long observance. The precursor to Black History Month was Negro History Week which began in 1926. Negro History Week was observed during the second week of February. The second week of February was chosen because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14).

The first celebration of Black History Month occurred in 1970 at Kent University. This led to Black History Month being celebrated in schools, colleges, universities, and black communities the following years. In 1976, Black History month was officially recognized by President Gerald Ford who called upon Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

African Americans, both historically and contemporarily speaking, have been disproportionately affected by racial injustices in our country. Additionally, they are largely underrepresented in the legal and political sectors in the U.S. For example, in 2020, 5% of all lawyers were African American (American Bar Association 2020). With the help of numerous social justice and civil rights activists, attorneys, and politicians, African Americans have made significant progress in the legal, political, and social spheres of our country.

Some Significant Accomplishments of African Americans:

● Jane Bolin was the first African American female graduate of Yale law school and the first African American female judge in the United States. Read more about Jane Bolin here: https://www.biography.com/political-figure/jane-bolin

● Constance Baker Motley was the first African American woman to argue in front of the Supreme Court where she argued 12 civil rights cases, winning 9 of them. Read more about Constance Baker Motley here: https://www.uscourts.gov/news/2020/02/20/constance-baker-motley-judiciarys-unsung-rights-hero

● Thurgood Marshall played a critical role in ending segregation and went on to become the first African American justice in the U.S. Supreme Court. Read more about Thurgood Marshall here: https://www.naacpldf.org/about-us/history/thurgood-marshall/

● Claudia Gordon was the first deaf African American attorney in the United States. Read more about Claudia Gordon here: https://www.respectability.org/2018/02/first-deaf-african-american-lawyer-claudia-gordon-anti-discrimination-advocate/

● Barack Obama was the first African American president of the United States. Prior to his presidency, Barack Obama was the first African American person to become the president of Harvard law school’s Law Review. Read more about Barack Obama here: https://www.biography.com/us-president/barack-obama

● Kamala Harris became the first African American Attorney General in California in 2010 and in 2021, became the first female, African American and Asian American vice president of the United States. Read more about Kamala Harris here: https://www.biography.com/political-figure/kamala-harris

Although it is important to acknowledge progress, it is equally important to recognize the work that still needs to be done. While Black History Month is coming to an end, the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans should be celebrated throughout the year.

What can you do to celebrate Black History Month today and throughout the year?

  1. Devote time to learn about trailblazing African American figures and their contributions to the U.S.

  2. Watch Black history documentaries.

  3. Visit museums and historical sites dedicated to Black history and culture. Some notable locations in Southern Maryland include the Drayden African-American Schoolhouse, Historic Sotterley, Old Jail of St. Mary’s County, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, and the The Commemorative for Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

  4. Support Black-owned businesses.

  5. Read books by Black authors.

  6. Listen to and learn about music by Black artists.

For more details about Black History Month visit: https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-month