The last week of February is almost here, and with that, the end of Black History Month draws nearer as well. Now is as good of time as ever for each of us to reflect on how we acknowledged and celebrated this important month. Did you dedicate time to serve causes in community related to Black culture? Perhaps you spent some time diving down the rabbit hole on the internet to learn more about important figures in Black history.
No matter how you celebrate, it is important that we remember year-round how important Black history is. Black history is everyone’s history, and without the innumerous Black figures who came before us responsible for the social change and innovations we enjoy today, our lives would be very different. Black history exists every day, and it is important that we treat it as such.
When we think of “our history” as Americans, we think of the Founding Fathers; we think of the Great Depression; we think of the Cold War. But just as much as these figures and events contribute to “our history,” so does Black history. Black history exists outside the confines of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement – it has always been there, and it is still happening today. No matter your race or ethnicity, Black history is American history.
In school, we oftentimes learn about the biggest figures in Black history – Martin Luther King Junior, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks – but the few that we cover do not even begin to demonstrate the vast history of African Americans in the United States. From colonization to the modern day, African Americans have played a huge role in shaping what we view as American history.
The widespread accessibility of the internet today means that many people have the ability to research Black history and figures, but that does not mean that everyone is suddenly as knowledgeable as they should be on the subject. Let’s take a look at some of the lesser-known contributions from Black figures so we can truly appreciate what they have done to shape our history.
Most people are familiar with jazz music and dance, but not as many are familiar with its uniquely African American roots. Jazz originated on slave plantations and was one of the few ways in which slaves were able to preserve their identity and express themselves. It eventually spread throughout the United States and became the popular style we know today. In jazz dance, Katherine Dunham and Alvin Ailey are important but often forgotten Black figures in jazz technique. Among jazz music, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan and Miles Davis all played important roles in shaping the style and its evolution.
Although the United States Congress is growing more diverse with each election, it was not always that way. In 1968, Shirley Chisholm made history as the first Black woman to serve in Congress. She was also the first Black candidate to seek a presidential nomination from one of the major political parties, as well as the first woman to seek the nomination from the Democratic party in 1972. Though she faced much discrimination throughout her campaign, she paved the way for African Americans in US politics that came after her.
If you enjoy produce that does not come from your local farmer’s market, you can thank Frederick McKinley Jones for that. Though he earned over 60 patents throughout his lifetime, he is most famous for his invention of refrigerated transport. This played a huge role in World War II, in which it was used to provide perishable foods and medicines to soldiers. After the war ended, it became available for commercial use and paved the way for the modern supermarket.
The official month dedicated to Black history may be coming to an end for the year, but Black history is important every day. Make an effort during all months of the year to learn about Black history – it is just as much your history as it is anyone else’s.