Celebrating Black History Month and Recognizing Prominent African Americans

Establishment of Black History Month

February has been recognized as Black History month since 1926. At this time, Dr. Carter G. Woodson chose the second week of February as “Negro History Week” because it celebrated the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Woodson grew up in the coal mines of Kentucky, entered high school at the age of 20, completing his studies in two years. He went on to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. However, he was disturbed that his history books largely ignored the contributions of African-Americans in history. Woodson took on the challenge of writing black American’s contribution into history, including establishing the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, founding the journal Negro History and launching Negro History Week. The week-long observance was extended for the entire month in 1976 to coincide with the Bicentennial of the United States.

Examples of Famous African Americans

Here are some examples of famous African-American figures and their contributions to American history:

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong was born in 1901 in New Orleans and grew up to be one of the most recognizable figures in jazz music, in part due to his distinctive, gravelly voice. Armstrong was an innovator on the trumpet, while still technical in his skills. He went on to tour the United States and many countries in Europe, showcasing his talents. Perhaps his most well-known song is “What a Wonderful World.”

Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison was the first African-American woman astronaut, completing her mission in 1992. Jemison dreamed about traveling to space as a child, graduating from high school at the age of 16. She went on to Stanford and studied engineering, eventually studied medicine at Cornell. Jemison also served in the Peace Corps. for two years in Liberia and sierra Leone.

Barack Obama

The first African-American elected president of the United States. Barack Obama, who was born to an inter-racial couple, began his political journey as an organizer on the south side of Chicago. He went on to attend Harvard law school and is known for his oratory abilities.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery, but escaped and returned 13 times to help free other slaves using the Underground Railroad. When the American Civil War began, Tubman worked in the Union Army as a cook, nurse, armed scout and spy. She continued working for women’s suffrage until her death in 1913.

Activities for Black History Month

Assign each student a famous African-American. Ask students to find what significant contributions they made to our society. Provide students with a rubric for this assignment, including the information they must provide. Consider including information such as when and where they lived, education, significant contributions and other interesting facts about their life. Ask students to bring in a picture of their assigned person to create a bulletin board for Black History Month.

A few options for this assignment to consider include: having the students give an oral presentation or summary of their figure. Encourage students to utilize technology by taking them to the computer lab to research on the Internet and online databases. Provide students with useful websites and review computer and Internet protocol based on students abilities.


  • Classroom experience.