This archived article was written by: Kelli Burke-Gabossi
Part one of a two-part series
With the election of the first African-American president, history continues to show how successful African-Americans have become in this country. Since February is Black History Month, now is the perfect time to acknowledge how far they have come since they arrived in America.
Africans were brought to America as slaves in 1619. In the early 1800s, the United States banned the import of slaves. Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery and launched The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper. In the mid 1800s, Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery and helped lead the Underground Railroad to guide hundreds of slaves to freedom. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln, declaring the freedom of slaves.
In 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded “to promote equality of rights and to eradicate caste or race prejudice among the citizens of the United States; to advance the interest of colored citizens; to secure for them impartial suffrage; and to increase their opportunities for securing justice in the courts, education for the children, employment according to their ability and complete equality before law.”
Brown v. Board of Education declared that state law establishing separate public schools for black and white students is illegal in 1954. A black legal team used this issue of desegregation to declare racial segregation laws unconstitutional.
Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 5, 1955. She was arrested, released on bail and fined $14 after her trial. Starting Dec. 5 of that year, activists formed the Montgomery Improvement Association, led by Martin Luther King Jr., to boycott the transit system for 382 days. Due to financial loss and the legal system ruling against them, the city was soon forced to remove the law of separation on buses. During the boycott, the MIA took more legal matters into their hands as well.
King joined civil rights leaders in organizing the March on Washington where in front of the Lincoln Memorial he delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech to over 200,000 civil rights supporters. Soon after, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed to enforce desegregation laws and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to allow voting for all races.
In 1967, former NAACP member Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court becoming the first black justice. In 1980, Robert L. Johnson launched Black Entertainment Television on cable and later sold the station to become the first African-American billionaire. Oprah Winfrey became the first African-American woman to host a nationally syndicated talk show when “The Oprah Winfrey Show” debuted six years later.
Gen. Colin Powell was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, becoming the first African-American to achieve the highest-military ranking in the U.S. Armed Forces in 1989; he soon progressed to be elected Secretary of State under the Bush Administration in 2001. Also in 1989, Ronald H. Brown was elected as the first African-American chair-person of the Democratic National Committee, and Douglas Wilder became the first elected African-American governor in Virginia.
The Million Man March was organized in 1995 to bring together thousands of African-Americans to show unity and strength in character.
Condoleezza Rice was appointed Secretary of State in 2005, becoming the first African-American woman to hold this position. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first African-American president-elect.
It is amazing to see how far African-Americans have progressed, considering where they started in this country. Their leaders worked continuously for equality and respect and are accomplishing it.