Black History Hightlights

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans. It’s a time dedicated to recognizing the pivotal role of African Americans in U.S. history. Black history month is meant to remind us of our past and simultaneously serve as inspiration for the future. Through that inspiration, people will find tools and paths that will help expand our perceptions. (Job 8:8-10)

“If you teach the Negro that he has accomplished as much good as any other race, he will aspire to equality and justice without regard to race.”

Carter G. Woodson, founder of Black History Month

Join us on this journey, as we highlight the lives of African Americans who’ve played a key role in American history:

1. Jackie Robinson


Athlete, television analyst.

  • Born on January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia
  • He broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947 by becoming the first African-American player.
  • He had a 10-year MLB career.
  • He was the recipient of the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, was an All-Star for six consecutive seasons from 1949 through 1954, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949—the first black player to do so. Robinson played in six World Series, contributed to the Dodgers’ 1955 World Series championship, and was included in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
  • His use of nonviolence, along with his unquestionable talent, challenged the traditional basis of segregation which then marked many other aspects of American life. He influenced the culture of and contributed significantly to the Civil Rights movement. Robinson also was the first black television analyst in MLB and the first black vice president of a major American corporation, Chock full o’Nuts. In the 1960s, he helped establish the Freedom National Bank, an African-American-owned financial institution based in Harlem, New York. He established the Jackie Robinson Construction Company in 1970 to build housing for families with low incomes.
  • After his death in 1972, in recognition of his achievements on and off the field, Robinson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom.

2. Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes standing next to art

Leading voice of the Harlem Renaissance, American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist.

  • Born February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri
  • He earned his B. A. degree at Lincoln University, alongside Thurgood Marshall.
  • After college, Hughes returned to Harlem, New York. He became part of the vibrant community of black artists who drove the Harlem Renaissance – his contemporaries included Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Wallace Thurman, and more.
  • In addition to 15 books of poetry, he published a number of novels and short story collections, nonfiction books such as A Pictorial History of the Negro in America, plays, children’s books, and more. He edited the literary magazine Common Ground, co-wrote the screenplay for Way Down South, and wrote two autobiographies.
  • Hughes received many awards and honors-a Guggenheim Fellowship ,the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for distinguished achievements by an African American. He was awarded honorary degrees by Lincoln University, Howard University, and Western Reserve University. After his death, the City College of New York began awarding an annual Langston Hughes Medal to an influential and engaging African-American writer.
  • Hughes died at the age of 65 due to complications after surgery for prostate cancer. His ashes are interred at the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

3. Rosa Parks

Mrs Rosa Parks, a Negro seamstress, being fingerprinted after her refusal to move to the back of a bus to accommodate a white passenger touched off the bus boycott, Montgomery, Alabama, 1956. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

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Activist in the Civil Rights movement, author.

  • Born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama
  • She was a member of the NAACP and served as the secretary of the chapter in Montgomery, Alabama by 1943.
  • In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery. She sparked a 381-day boycott that challenged the nations view on racism and equality
  • Mrs. Parks’ case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, and in November 1956, the high court ruled that segregation on transportation is unconstitutional.
  • In 1957, Mrs. Parks and her husband moved to Detroit and founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, offering guidance for young African Americans in leadership.
  • According to Wikipedia, Parks received national recognition, including the NAACP’s 1979 Spingarn Medal, a Nonviolent Peace Prize from Martin Luther King, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal.
  • Rosa Parks died at the age of 92 on October 24, 2005. Her casket was placed in the Capitol Rotunda (United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall) for view, an honor never bestowed upon a woman before.

4. Frederick Douglass


Former slave, public speaker, Civil Rights leader, abolitionist, author, presidential candidate.

  • Born in 1818, Maryland. The exact date of Douglass’ birth are unknown, though later in life he chose to celebrate it on February 14th.
  • In 1838, Douglas escaped from slavery. He took a northbound train to Manhattan while clothed in a sailor’s uniform using fake identification papers. He arrived in Manhattan a free man.
  • Douglas was born with the name Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. He changed his name after escaping slavery to avoid detection. The last name Douglas came from a character in Sir Walter Scott’s poem The Lady of the Lake.
  • Frederick Douglass was the first African American to be appointed a U.S. Marshal. 
  • He played a part in African Americans being granted the right to vote. Douglass also actively supported women’s right to vote.
  • He established an influential anti-slavery newspaper.  
  • His memoir was influential in fueling the abolitionist movement in America. 
  • He was appointed U.S. Minister to Haiti in 1889. 
  • As part of the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872, Douglass was nominated as a vice presidential candidate, with Victoria Woodhull as the presidential candidate.
  • Douglass was the first African American to receive a vote for president at a major political party convention.
  • He died on February 20, 1895.

5. Madam C.J. Walker


Entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a political and social activist.

  • Born on December 23, 1867, near Delta, Louisiana.
  • After suffering from a scalp ailment that resulted in her own hair loss, she invented a line of African-American hair care products in 1905.
  • She promoted her products by traveling around the country giving lecture-demonstrations and eventually established Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories to manufacture cosmetics and train sales beauticians.
  • Madam C.J. Walker, created specialized hair products for African-American hair and was one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire. As profits continued to grow, in 1908
  • Mrs. Walker opened a factory and a beauty school in Pittsburgh.
  • At the time of her death, she was sole owner of her business, which was valued at more than $1 million. Her personal fortune was estimated at between $600,000 and $700,000.

6. Bishop Charles Harrison Mason

Bishop Charles Harrison Mason

Founder and first Senior Bishop of the Church of God in Christ.

  • Born September 8, 1866, North of Memphis Tennessee, on the Prior Farm.
  • First sermon preached on Sanctification at Preston, Arkansas. His text was Timothy 2:3.
  • Experienced the power of the Holy Ghost in a new way at the Azusa Street Revival.
  • Used Baptism of the Holy Ghost, such as gift of tongues, interpretation, healing, words of knowledge, wisdom and exorcism of demons in his ministry.
  • Kept African American Christian spiritual expressions(clapping hands, call and response singing, dancing before the Lord) in the core foundation of the Church of God in Christ.
  • Created COGIC vision, structure and gatherings on Biblical models.

7. Billie Holiday

American jazz singer

  • Born on April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • She had no formal musical training, but had an instinctive sense of musical structure, along with a wealth of experience gathered at the root level of jazz and blues.
  • Her career span lasted nearly 30 years.
  • One of her most recognized songs was “Strange Fruit”.
  • Holiday had mainstream success on labels such as Columbia and Decca.
  • She died on July 17, 1959.
  • She won four Grammy Awards, all of them posthumously, for Best Historical Album. She was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1973.

8. Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood, Marshall

American lawyer who served as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

  • Born July 2, 1908, in Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Graduated from the Howard University School of Law in 1933.
  • He established a private legal practice in Baltimore before founding the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where he served as executive director.
  • Prior to his judicial service, he successfully argued several cases before the Supreme Court, including Brown v. Board of Education, Smith v. Allwright, and Shelley v. Kraemer. He contested racial segregation in public education is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
  • He was the Court’s 96th justice and its first African-American justice.
  • In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
  • In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall as the United States Solicitor General.
  • In 1967, Johnson successfully nominated Marshall to succeed retiring Associate Justice Tom C. Clark.
  • Thurgood Marshall retired during the administration of President George H. W. Bush.

9. Katherine Johnson


Physicist, mathematician.

  • Born on August 26, 1918, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia,
  • She graduated from West Virginia College at the age of 18 in 1937.
  • She was  the first African American woman to attend West Virginia’s Graduate School.
  • In 1962, she calculated the orbital equations that successfully sent, John Glenn, the first American, to orbit around the earth.
  • Mrs. Johnson helped send the first man to the moon, by working with NASA’s team of engineers to pinpoint the time and location of departure that would put astronauts on track.
  • She co-authored one of the first textbooks on space while while working in NASA’s Flight Dynamics Branch at the Langley Research Center.
  • Her calculations were also essential to the beginning of the Space Shuttle program, and she worked on plans for a mission to Mars.
  • In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her pioneering work in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
  • Katherine Johnson is currently 100 years old.

10. Benjamin Banneker 


Self-educated astronomer, almanac author, farmer, and scientist.

  • Born on November 9, 1731, in Baltimore County, Maryland.
  • He was a freeman and was raised on a farm near Baltimore that he eventually inherited from his father.
  • Although he periodically attended a one-room Quaker schoolhouse, Banneker was largely self-educated and did much of his learning through reading of borrowed books.
  • In his early 20’s, he constructed a striking clock almost entirely out of wood, based on his own drawings and calculations.
  • In 1788, Banneker began to make astronomical calculations, and he accurately predicted a solar eclipse that occurred in 1789.
  • He is known for being part of a group led by Major Andrew Ellicott that surveyed the original borders of what is known today as Washington, D.C.
  • In 1791 he sent Thomas Jefferson, then U.S. secretary of state, a letter asking Jefferson’s aid in bringing about better conditions for African Americans.
  • Between 1792 and 1797, Banneker published six almanacs in twenty-eight editions.
  • He died on October 9, 1806.

11. Ida B. Wells


Civil rights and women’s rights, activist, teacher, local paper editor.

  • She was born into slavery on, July 16th, 1862, in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
  • Mrs. Wells was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation during the American Civil War.
  • She was educated at Rust University and at age 14 began teaching in a country school.
  • She co-owned and edited a newspaper, the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight.
  • After the lynching of one of her friends, Wells turned her attention to white mob violence.
  • In 1980, she began documenting her views on lynching in America in the newspaper.
  • Wells traveled internationally, shedding light on lynching to foreign audiences.
  • Ida B. Wells was a founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club which was created to address issues dealing with civil rights and women’s suffrage.
  • She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
  • She continued writing, speaking, and organizing for civil rights and women’s suffrage for the rest of her life.
  • She died on March 25, 1931.

12. Muhammad Ali


An American professional boxer, activist, and philanthropist.

  • Born January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • He began training as an amateur boxer at the age of 12 years old.
  • At the age of 18, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.
  • At the age of 22, in 1964, he won the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston.
  • His resistance to white domination during the Civil Rights Movement was an influence on racial pride for African Americans.
  • In 1966, he refused to be drafted into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs, and opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War. He was eventually arrested, found guilty of draft evasion charges, and stripped of his boxing titles. He successfully appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971.  Ali’s actions as a conscientious objector to the war made him an icon for the larger counterculture generation.
  • Ali was one of the leading heavyweight boxers of the 20th century. His records of beating 21 boxers for the world heavyweight title, as well as winning 14 unified title bouts, were unbeaten for 35 years.
  • Ali thrived in the spotlight, often freestyled with rhyme schemes and spoken word poetry.
  • As a musician, Ali recorded two spoken word albums and a rhythm and blues song, receiving two Grammy nominations. As an actor, he performed in several films and a Broadway musical. Ali wrote two autobiographies, one during and one after his boxing career.
  • After retiring from boxing in 1981, at the age of 39, Ali focused on religion and charity.
  • He died on June 3, 2016.

13. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking. (Photo by Julian Wasser//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Baptist minister, activist, and Civil Rights Leader.

  • January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • He graduated from high school at the age of fifteen; he received the B. A. degree in 1948 from Morehouse College.
  • He played a key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968.
  • In 1955 MLK became Dr. Martin Luther King when he earned his PhD on theology from Boston University.
  • Dr. King sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and all victims of injustice through peaceful protest.
  • In 1957 Dr. King led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.
  • In 1957 became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
  • He helped organize the nonviolent 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • He also helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • On October 14, 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance.
  • In 1965, he helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches.
  • Dr. King he was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a national holiday in 1986.

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