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Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of blacks in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.
During the month of February, Salisbury Alumnae Chapter will recognize prominent African Americans to celebrate our history of monumental contributions and accomplishments.
Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, a then 15-year-old Claudette Colvin did the same. On March 2, 1955, Colvin was taking the bus home from high school when the driver ordered her to give up her seat, according to NPR. Colvin refused, saying she paid her fare and it was her constitutional right, but was then arrested by two police officers. Colvin later became the main witness in the federal lawsuit Browder v. Gayle, which ended segregation on public transportation in Alabama.
Born in 1903 in Norfolk, Virginia, Ella Baker became involved in political activism in the 1930s. She organized the Young Negroes Cooperative League in New York City, and later became a national director for the NAACP. In 1957, Baker joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, whose first president was Martin Luther King, Jr. She also worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to support civil rights activism on college campuses. Baker died in New York City in 1986.
A leader and strategist of the student wing of the Civil Rights Movement, Diane Nash was a member of the infamous Freedom Riders. She also helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Selma Voting Rights Committee campaign, which helped blacks in the South get to vote and have political power.
Raised in Chicago, Nash initially wanted to become a nun as a result of her Catholic upbringing. Also known for her beauty, she would later become runner-up for Miss Illinois. But Nash’s path changed direction when she attended Fisk University after transferring from Howard University. It was there that she would witness segregation first hand, since coming from a desegregated northern city. Her experiences in the South resulted in her ambition to fight against segregation.
Historian David Halberstam considered Nash, “bright, focused, utterly fearless, with an unerring instinct for the correct tactical move at each increment of the crisis; as a leader, her instincts had been flawless, and she was the kind of person who pushed those around her to be at their best—that, or be gone from the movement.”
Known as the “Grandmother of the American Civil Rights Movement,” Septima Poinsette Clark was an educator and civil rights activist who played a major role in the voting rights of African-Americans.
In 1920, while serving as an educator in Charleston, Clark worked with the NAACP to gather petitions allowing blacks to serve as principals in Charleston schools. Their signed petitions resulted in the first black principal in Charleston. Clark also worked tirelessly to teach literacy to black adults. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter awarded her a Living Legacy Award in 1979. Her second autobiography, Ready from Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement, won the American Book Award.
Coining the phrase, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Fannie Lou Hamer was a voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Hamer stood firm in her religious beliefs, often quoting them in her fight for civil rights. She ran for Congress in 1964 and 1965, and was then seated as a member of Mississippi’s legitimate delegation to the Democratic National Committee of 1968, where she was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War.
Hamer died of breast cancer in 1977 at the age of 59. Buried in her hometown of Ruleville, Miss., her tombstone reads ‘I am sick and tired of being sick and tired’.
Daisy Bates was an American civil rights activist, publisher and writer who played a leading role in the Little Rock integration crisis in 1957. Before that, Bates and her husband started their own newspaper in 1941 called the Arkansas State Press. The paper became a voice for civil rights even before the nationally recognized movement.
Bates worked tirelessly until her death in 1999. After moving to Washington, D.C. in the 1960s, she served on the Democratic National Committee and also served in the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, working her magic on anti-poverty programs. In her home state of Arkansas, it has been established that the third Monday in February is ‘George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day,” an official state holiday.