February officially became the month to celebrate Black History in 1976. Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln both have birthdays in February, which is the reason this month was chosen. However, the very first time African American history was officially honored was in 1926, during what was called “Negro History Week.” Here are five other important “firsts” in Black History you should know about.
1. First Self-Made Millionaire
Not only was Madam C. J. Walker the first black woman to become a self-made millionaire, she was also the first American woman to hold that distinction. Her story is even more inspiring when you learn that she was born to recently freed slaves on a cotton plantation. As an adult, Walker began suffering from a scalp condition, which made her experiment with homemade remedies. Her line of hair care products specifically made for African Americans became popular and made her a millionaire.
2. First Lawyer
The first black man to become a lawyer was John Mercer Langston when he passed the bar in 1854 in the state of Ohio. Later, in 1855, he became the town clerk for Brownhelm, Ohio. This elected position also gave him the honor of being one of the first African Americans to hold a public office.
3. First Licensed Female Pilot
Bessie Coleman was the first African American female to be a licensed pilot. She had to overcome poverty, discrimination, and finally move across the Atlantic Ocean to France in order to achieve her dream, but in 1921, Coleman received her international pilot’s license from the Fédération Aéronatique Internationale. Following her return to the United States, she became famous for the stunts she performed at air shows.
4. First Institution for Higher Education
Historically black colleges and universities have played a vital role in the fight for equal rights for African Americans. The first institute dedicated to the education of black Americans was founded in April of 1837 as the Institute for Colored Youth in Cheyney, Pennsylvania. Originally dedicated to training free people of color for getting jobs in a trade or agriculture, in 1983, it officially became part of the higher education system in Pennsylvania and was renamed Cheyney University.
5. First Major League Baseball Player
Perhaps one of the best-known “firsts,” Jackie Robinson became the first black baseball player in the major leagues in 1947. He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he became the first player to win Rookie of the Year. Robinson didn’t let discrimination, harassment, or death threats stop him from becoming one of the best players of all time, and, in 1955, with Robinson a major contributor to their roster, the Dodgers won the World Series.
By: Kelli Drummer-Avendano
Also read: Activities for Black History Month