As we celebrate Black History Month, I want to take some time to reflect on the great moments of our history. And what a history we have! There have been so many African Americans who risked and gave their lives in the fight for justice and equality that I felt obligated to give them the recognition they so rightly deserve. Some of these memorable moments were made individually, while some were made collectively. But they all had one goal, to fight for our civil rights and to make this world a better place to live. So, in honor of those who paved the way for a better life for us, as well as those who made ground-breaking history, here’s my list of the Top Ten Historical Moments in Black History.
The Emancipation Proclamation consists of two executive orders issued by United States President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War. The first one, issued September 22, 1862, declared the freedom of all slaves in any state of the Confederate States of America that did not return to Union control by January 1, 1863. The second order, issued January 1, 1863, named ten specific states where it would apply. Lincoln issued the Executive Order by his authority as “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy” under Article II, section 2 of the United States Constitution. The Emancipation Proclamation was criticized at the time for freeing only the slaves over which the Union had no power. Although most slaves were not freed immediately, the Proclamation brought freedom to thousands of slaves the day it went into effect in parts of nine of the ten states to which it applied (Texas being the exception). Additionally, the Proclamation provided the legal framework for the emancipation of nearly all four million slaves as the Union armies advanced, and committed the Union to ending slavery, which was a controversial decision even in the North.
9. The Voting Rights Act
The National Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed discriminatory voting practices that had been responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of African Americans in the United States. Echoing the language of the 15th Amendment, the Act prohibited states from imposing any “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure … to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” Specifically, Congress intended the Act to outlaw the practice of requiring otherwise qualified voters to pass literacy tests in order to register to vote, a principal means by which Southern states had prevented African-Americans from exercising the franchise. The Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, who had earlier signed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.
8. Bloody Sunday.
The Selma to Montgomery marches were three marches in 1965 that marked the political and emotional peak of the American Civil Rights Movement. They were the culmination of the voting rights movement in Selma, Alabama, launched by Amelia Boynton and her husband. Boynton brought many prominent leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement to Selma, including James Bevel, who initiated and organized the march; Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Hosea Williams. The first march took place on March 8, 1965 — “Bloody Sunday” — when 600 civil rights marchers were attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas. The second march took place on March 9. Only the third march, which began on March 21 and lasted five days, made it to Montgomery, 54 miles (87 km) away. This day will forever be known as Bloody Sunday, as policed forced the peaceful marchers to turn around and head back to Selma, they used tear gas and clubs to harm these peace marchers. African Americans were in a struggle to get voting rights listed in the United States Constitution, in Alabama half of the population were African Americans and only one percent of them were registered voters. The route is memorialized as the Selma To Montgomery Voting Rights Trail, a U.S. National Historic Trail.
7. Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of legislation in the United States that extended voting rights and outlawed racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public (“public accommodations”). Once the Act was implemented, its effects were far reaching and had tremendous long-term impacts on the whole country. It prohibited discrimination in public facilities, in government, and in employment, invalidating the Jim Crow laws in the southern U.S. It became illegal to compel segregation of the races in schools, housing, or hiring. Powers given to enforce the act were initially weak, but were supplemented during later years. Congress asserted its authority to legislate under several different parts of the United States Constitution, principally its power to regulate interstate commerce under Article One (section 8), its duty to guarantee all citizens equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment and its duty to protect voting rights under the Fifteenth Amendment.
6. Montgomery Bus Boycott.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a political and social protest campaign started in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, USA, intended to oppose the city’s policy of racial segregation on its public transit system. Many historically significant figures of the civil rights movement were involved in the boycott, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and others, as listed below. The boycott resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the Montgomery public transit system, because the city’s black population who were the drivers of the boycott were also the bulk of the system’s ridership. The ensuing struggle lasted from December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks, an African American woman, was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat to a white person, to December 20, 1956 when a federal ruling took effect, and led to a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses to be unconstitutional.
5. Brown v. Board of Education
Brown verses Board of Education of Topeka, (1954), was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students denied black children equal educational opportunities. The decision overturned earlier rulings going back to Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Handed down on May 17, 1954, the Warren Court’s unanimous (9–0) decision stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” As a result, racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This victory paved the way for integration and the civil rights movement.
4. Jesse Owens, 1936 Summer Olympics.
James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) was an American track and field athlete. In 1936, Owens arrived in Berlin to compete for the United States in the Summer Olympics. Adolf Hitler was using the games to show the world a resurgent Nazi Germany. He and other government officials had high hopes German athletes would dominate the games with victories. Meanwhile, Nazi propaganda promoted concepts of “Aryan racial superiority” and depicted ethnic Africans as inferior. Owens surprised many and showed the fallacies of racial supremacy by winning four gold medals and achieving international fame. On August 3, 1936 he won the 100m sprint, defeating Ralph Metcalfe; on August 4, the long jump; on August 5, the 200m sprint; and, after he was added to the 4 x 100 m relay team, his fourth on August 9. Just before the competitions Owens was visited in the Olympic village by Adi Dassler, the founder of Adidas. He persuaded Owens to use Adidas shoes and it was the first sponsorship for a male African-American athlete.
3. Jackie Robinson, broke baseball’s color barrier.
Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson (January 31, 1919 – October 24, 1972) was the first African American Major League Baseball player of the modern era. Robinson broke the baseball color line when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. As the first black man to openly play in the major leagues since the 1880s, he was instrumental in bringing an end to racial segregation in professional baseball, which had relegated African-Americans to the Negro leagues for six decades. The example of his character and unquestionable talent challenged the traditional basis of segregation, which then marked many other aspects of American life, and contributed significantly to the Civil Rights Movement. Apart from his cultural impact, Robinson had an exceptional baseball career. Over ten seasons, he played in six World Series and contributed to the Dodgers’ 1955 World Championship. He was selected for six consecutive All-Star Games from 1949 to 1954, was the recipient of the MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949 – the first black player so honored. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams.
2.March on Washington, 1963.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was among the leaders of the so-called “Big Six” civil rights organizations who were instrumental in the organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which took place on August 28, 1963. The march originally was conceived as an event to dramatize the desperate condition of blacks in the southern United States and a very public opportunity to place organizers’ concerns and grievances squarely before the seat of power in the nation’s capital. Organizers intended to excoriate and then challenge the federal government for its failure to safeguard the civil rights and physical safety of civil rights workers and blacks, generally, in the South. However, the group acquiesced to presidential pressure and influence, and the event ultimately took on a far less strident tone. As a result, some civil rights activists felt it presented an inaccurate, sanitized pageant of racial harmony; Malcolm X called it the “Farce on Washington,” and members of the Nation of Islam were not permitted to attend the march. King is perhaps most famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech, given in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march did, however, make specific demands: an end to racial segregation in public school; meaningful civil rights legislation, including a law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment; protection of civil rights workers from police brutality; a $2 minimum wage for all workers; and self-government for Washington, D.C., then governed by congressional committee. Despite tensions, the march was a resounding success. More than a quarter million people of diverse ethnicities attended the event, sprawling from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial onto the National Mall and around the reflecting pool. At the time, it was the largest gathering of protesters in Washington’s history. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech electrified the crowd. It is regarded as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory.
1. Barak Obama, first African American President.
Barak Hussein Obama II ( born August 4, 1961) is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as the junior United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned after his election to the presidency in November 2008. Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was the president of the Harvard Law Review. He was a community organizer in Chicago before earning his law degree. He worked as a civil rights attorney in Chicago and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. Obama served three terms in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004. Following an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000, he ran for United States Senate in 2004. Several events brought him to national attention during the campaign, including his victory in the March 2004 Democratic primary election for the United States Senator from Illinois and his prime-time televised keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004. He won election to the U.S. Senate in November 2004. Obama’s presidential campaign began in February 2007, and after a close campaign in the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries against Hillary Rodham Clinton, he won his party’s nomination. In the 2008 general election, he defeated Republican nominee John McCain and was inaugurated as president on January 20, 2009. Obama is also the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.