Black History Month: Overview

Merryl Tengesdal
Lt. Col. Merryl Tengesdal was the first African-American woman to fly the U-2 reconnaissance plane.

Each February, during Black History Month, the nation remembers the important contributions African-Americans have made throughout U.S. history. The recognition of African-American/Black History Month (AA/BHM) originated in 1926 as "Negro History Week." Led by American historian and author Carter G. Woodson, who founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, it recognized the contributions of African Americans to the country and fostered a better understanding of the African-American experience. In 1976, President Gerald Ford issued the first African-American History Month proclamation, calling upon the American people to celebrate the event each February.

In 1986, Congress passed Public Law 99-244 which designated February 1986 as "National Black (Afro-American) History Month." President Obama, in his 2013 African-American History Month proclamation said, "This dream of equality and fairness has never come easily -- but it has always been sustained by the belief that in America, change is possible. Today, because of that hope, coupled with the hard and painstaking labor of Americans sung and unsung, we live in a moment when the dream of equal opportunity is within reach for people of every color and creed." celebrates African-Americans who have contributed to, and sacrificed for, the U.S. military with the following features and profiles.

Fighting for Respect: African-American Soldiers in World War I World War I was a pivotal moment in world history, and it was also an important moment for African-Americans who made huge contributions to the U.S. war effort.

The Tuskegee Airmen "The Tuskegee story is an important civil rights story of Americans who happen to be black, in service to their country, their family, and to their friends -- in that order."

The Montford Point Marines Between 1942 and 1949, approximately 20,000 African-American men completed recruit training at Montford Point, North Carolina, and became known as the "Montford Point Marines." Their valor and performance would pave the way for our present integrated armed forces.

Clark Simmons: Profile "When you joined the Navy there was only one branch…open to you, and that was serving the officers."

An African-American Military Family Remembers Its Roots "My children know that military people are different, and are warmer and more accepting. They do notice a difference."

Benjamin O. Davis, Sr.: Profile On Oct. 25, 1940, Benjamin O. Davis Sr. became the first African American to hold star rank in the U.S. Army and in the armed forces.

Colin Powell: Profile General Colin Powell was the first African-American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the U.S. Army.

Lt. Col. Harriet West Waddy: Profile Waddy's career spanned a quarter century of our country's years of segregation, and in the process she was one of only two African-American women to attain the rank of major in the WACs during World War II.

Roscoe Robinson Jr.: Profile Gen. Roscoe Robinson Jr., was the first African-American officer to rise to the rank of Army four-star general.

William H. Carney: Profile Carney and 46 other African-American volunteers from New Bedford were assigned to the Union Army's Company C of the 54th, and their performance in a Civil War battle would soon silence those who predicted "the Negro would not fight."

William Pinckney: Profile For his heroism during Guadalcanal, Navy Cook First Class William Pinckney was eventually awarded the Navy Cross -- the second African American to receive the honor.

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