February is the month in which we celebrate the many accomplishments and contributions of black Americans to our nation. This annual time of recognition traces its roots back to 1926 and was the idea of Dr. Carter Woodson. Dr. Woodson was the son of former slaves and worked in the coalmines of Kentucky when he was a child; later he went on to earn a doctorate degree from Harvard University. He was concerned that the history books in the United States ignored the stories and contributions of black people in this country and when they were mentioned, it was not with the respect that they deserved. He established what is now known as the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History in 1915 and also founded the well-respected Journal of Negro History.
He chose February to recognize black history because it is the birthday month of Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States who freed the slaves, and Frederick Douglass, a former slave from Maryland who was a leader in the anti-slavery movement and an eloquent and inspiring speaker. Many other events that are important to black history took place in February such as the passage of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution in 1870, which gave blacks the right to vote; the election of the first black senator, Hiram Revels, also in 1870; and the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 in New York City.
Our area has its share of important black history makers as well: Lucy Addison, a wonderful teacher and principal of Roanoke’s first black high school built in 1916; Oscar Michaeaux, America’s first black filmmaker who made movies here in the 1920’s; and Booker T. Washington, born a slave in Franklin County who became one of the nation’s most prominent educators.