Assemblymember Peoples-Stokes: Black History Month Highlights the Impact of African-Americans on Our Countryís Rich History

January 20, 2012
For over 35 years, February has been synonymous with Black History Month. It is the time to remember and admire the brave men and women who overcame so much to help make this country the great place it is today. The tradition of creating a time to honor African-Americans began in 1926 with the creation of Negro History Week. After the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the one-week observation of black history turned into a four-week-long celebration of the contributions of those courageous individuals who fought against racial intolerance.

While Black History Month is often a time to reflect on past accomplishments, it is also a time to look at the impact African-Americans are making today. The commander in chief of our country, President Barack Obama, has provided hope and inspiration to people by proving that the color of your skin does not determine the impact you have on the world.

President Obama is not the only person in the White House inspiring people. The presidentís wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, is leading a national push to end childhood obesity by launching the Letís Move campaign urging schools around the country to provide healthier lunches and promote increased physical activity.

While the President and First Lady provide modern-day examples of the inspiration African-American men and women can provide, it is also important to use Black History Month as an opportunity to look back at those who overcame daunting racial barriers. Forward-thinking leaders such as Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., all helped ensure that African-Americans today have the opportunity to make an impact on todayís world.

New York State has consistently paved the way for racial equality. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League made their headquarters in New York State for years, and the United Negro Improvement Association was founded in our great state. New York State was also significant in the formation of the Underground Railroad. Many safe houses were located across the state allowing for the safe refuge of the thousands of escaped slaves who were looking to flee the harsh conditions of the south.

New York was also the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance, which took place in the 1920s and was the celebration of a new African-American identity. Black Harlem families celebrated their culture and started using art, literature and music to fight against the pervading racism found across the country. This cultural renaissance was vital to the development of the African-American identity we see today throughout the country.

This month, as we reflect on the great African-American men and women who helped make this country what it is, it is not enough to merely appreciate their accomplishments and contributions. Rather, we should learn from these admirable people, follow their lead and continue working for full equality.