Updated: Feb 2, 2022
By: Sandy Wilson, Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Sales and Leasing for our Brown Harris Stevens' Riverdale and Harlem offices.
Each year in February, we recognize Black History Month, which seeks to educate, celebrate, and inform about the achievements of Black Americans, and also to acknowledge the integral part that Black Americans have played in the history of building the United States.
The original idea for Black History Month was introduced in 1915 by Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the Reverend Jesse Moorland, who founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or ASALH). The idea of Black History Month evolved from the work done at ASNLH, which was devoted to researching and promoting the achievements of Black Americans and also the achievements of the African diaspora.
Eventually, as Black History Month became more popular, President Gerald Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history” and in 1976 proclaimed February as the first Black History Month.
Since then, Black History Month has become a time to honor the contributions and rich legacy of such great leaders as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and so many others. It has since expanded to include official celebrations in Canada, the United Kingdom, and around the world.
To begin this month, I want to share 10 of my favorite Black history facts. To read more, visit Biography’s collection of 120 Black American history facts.
1. Scientist and mathematician Benjamin Banneker helped design the blueprints for the city of Washington, D.C.
2. Thomas Dorsey, considered the “Father of Gospel Music” was known for his fusion and secular rhythms. His famous composition, “Take my Hand, Precious Lord,” was recorded by Mahalia Jackson as well as Elvis Presley.
3. In addition to being a self-made millionaire entrepreneur, Madam C. J. Walker was a civil rights activist who was part of the delegation to the White House to petition President Woodrow Wilson to make lynching a federal crime.
4. “Strange Fruit,” a song about black lynchings in the south made famous by Billie Holiday, was originally a poem written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher.
5. Before he became an NBA legend, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
6. Black American fashion designer Ann Lowe designed the wedding dress Jacqueline Kennedy wore when she married John F. Kennedy.
7. Barack Obama has won two Grammy Awards: in 2005 for the audio version of his memoir “Dreams From My Father,” and his second in 2008 for his political work, “The Audacity of Hope.”
8. In 1944, in Fort Hood, Texas, future baseball legend Jackie Robinson, who was serving as a lieutenant for the U.S. Army, refused to give up his seat and move to the back of the military bus when ordered to do so by the driver. Robinson was court-martialed but was ultimately acquitted. His excellent reputation, along with publicity from the NAACP, shed light on this injustice.
9. In addition to her career in Washington, Condoleezza Rice is an accomplished pianist who has accompanied cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Aretha Franklin, as well as performed for Queen Elizabeth II.
10. Explorer Matthew Henson accompanied Robert Peary on seven U.S. expeditions to the Arctic, reaching their destination of the North Pole on April 6, 1909. In 2002, Henson was posthumously awarded the National Geographic Society Hubbard Medal.
11. Charles Richard Drew was an African American physician (Amherst and McGill graduate) who was instrumental in developing ways to process and store plasma for blood banks. He is still known as the “Father of Blood Banks."
There is so much fascinating Black American history to discover. I hope you’re inspired to learn more about the stories and contributions of Black Americans throughout history.
In 2022, the theme of Black History Month is “Black Health and Wellness,” exploring the work of medical pioneers in Western medicine like doctors, nurses, and scientists, but also “includes teaching rituals and initiatives that members of the Black community have done to be well” over time. You can learn more by starting with this selection of books on Black health and wellness, compiled by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
Sandy Wilson is both the Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Sales for Brown Harris Stevens' Harlem and Riverdale offices.