In the United States, every February has been recognized as Black History Month since 1976. This month is a special celebration of the achievements and accomplishments of African Americans. No observance of Black History Month is complete without reviewing a key selection of important Black History Month facts and milestones.
African American Educational Milestones
There are many significant educational milestones in African American history.
- In 1823, Alexander Twilight earned a Bachelor’s degree from Vermont’s Middlebury College, becoming the first confirmed Black person to graduate from college in the United States.
- In 1835, Oberlin College in Ohio became the first college to implement an official policy of allowing Black students to enroll.
- Established in 1837, Cheyney University in Pennsylvania is the oldest historically Black college or university (HBCU) in the United States.
- In 1868, Howard University established the Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C. It became America’s first medical program for Black students.
- In 1960, Ruby Bridges became the first Black child to integrate into a school in the South. She attended the formerly all-white public school system in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Legal Facts in Black History
Several laws deal directly with the rights of African Americans.
- In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all slaves would henceforth be free.
- In its unanimous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Supreme Court found racial segregation in public education to be unconstitutional.
- Browder v. Gayle led to the desegregation of public buses in Alabama in 1965 after the Supreme Court found a state law to be unconstitutional.
- The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. It served to prohibit states from attempting to exclude African Americans from voting, with enforcement from the Attorney General.
- In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson created affirmative action when he issued Executive Order 11246. This order requires federal contractors to actively seek to recruit minorities and correct workplace imbalances.
Civil Rights History Facts
No discussion of Black History Month facts is complete without some of the major milestones in civil rights history.
- The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established in 1909. It is America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is landmark legislation prohibiting discrimination based on race, skin color and a few other protected characteristics (religion, ethnicity and sex).
- The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom drew around 250,000 million people to D.C. People of all races gathered to show support for civil rights legislation.
- In 1965, a few weeks after a peaceful march had been attacked in Selma, civil rights protesters marched to Montgomery under the protection of the FBI and National Guard.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday was established as a federal holiday in 1983. Its first federal observance took place in 1986. It is celebrated on the third Monday of January.
Elected Office Milestones in Black History
African Americans have held elected offices in the U.S. political system for a very long time.
- In 1870, Hiram Revels of Mississippi became the first African American member of the United States Senate.
- Also in 1870, Joseph Rainey of South Carolina became the first African American member of the United States House of Representatives.
- In 1968, Shirley Chisholm of New York became the first Black woman elected to Congress. She served seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
- Barack Hussein Obama was elected President of the United States in 2008, becoming the first Black man to hold this office. He served two four-year terms in office.
- In 2020, Kamala Harris was elected Vice President of the United States. She became the first woman and first person of Black and Asian descent to be elected to this office.
- Also in 2020, Cori Bush was elected as Missouri's first Black Congresswoman.
- In 2021, Amanda Gorman was selected by the Presidential Inaugural Committee to perform an inaugural poem. She is the youngest person ever selected for this role.
- Also in 2021, Raphael G. Warnock became the first Black senator from the state of Georgia.
African American Political Appointments
Not all African Americans in government are elected; some serve in appointed positions.
- In 1967, Thurgood Marshall became the first African American appointed to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.
- In 1989, General Colin Powell became the first African American and youngest person to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military role in the Department of Defense.
- In 2001, Colin Powell went on to become the first Black person appointed to the role of Secretary of State.
- In 2005, Condoleeza Rice succeeded Powel as Secretary of State, becoming the first African American woman to serve in that capacity.
- In 2009, Eric Holder, Jr. became the first African American to hold the position of Attorney General of the United States of America.
- In 2022, Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.
Learn More About Black History
These are just a few of the many fascinating facts about Black history. Expand your knowledge by learning more about the historical events that have defined what it means to be Black in America. Start by learning more about what Martin Luther King, Jr. did to progress the civil rights movement. From there, explore some famous examples of civil disobedience, many of which are directly related to Black history in America.