Black History Month – Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Barack Obama

Black History Month is an annual observance that celebrates the achievements and contributions of Black people throughout history. The month-long celebration has its roots in the United States, where it was first established in 1976. Since then, it has become an important event in many countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom.

The origins of Black History Month can be traced back to the early 20th century, when the historian Carter G. Woodson began advocating for the recognition of the contributions of Black people to American history. Woodson was the son of former slaves and had a deep passion for education. He earned a PhD in history from Harvard University and went on to become one of the most important historians of the 20th century.

In 1926, Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) established “Negro History Week,” which was celebrated during the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The aim of Negro History Week was to encourage the study of Black history and to promote greater awareness of the contributions of Black people to American society.

The celebration of Negro History Week spread throughout the United States, and over time it evolved into Black History Month. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month, urging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

1976: “Negro History Week” becomes “Black History Month” under President Gerald Ford; Photo courtesy of Sun-Times archives

Black History Month is an important time to celebrate the achievements of Black people and to reflect on the struggles and challenges that they have faced throughout history. There are many ways to celebrate Black History Month, including:

  1. Attending cultural events, such as concerts, plays, and art exhibitions that showcase the talents of Black artists.
  2. Volunteering for organizations that serve the Black community, such as after-school programs or community centers.
  3. Reading books by Black authors or about Black history and culture.
  4. Participating in workshops or discussions on issues related to race and racism.
  5. Watching movies or documentaries that explore the Black experience.

Movies are a powerful way to learn about history and to celebrate the achievements of Black people. Below, we round up a list of 10 movies that are perfect for Black History Month:

Selma (2014)

Selma is a historical drama directed by Ava DuVernay that tells the story of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (played by David Oyelowo). The film depicts the dangerous and violent obstacles faced by King and his followers as they fought for equal voting rights for Black Americans. Selma received critical acclaim and was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Malcolm X (1992)

Directed by Spike Lee,  Malcolm X is a biographical drama that chronicles the life of Malcolm X (played by Denzel Washington), one of the most prominent and controversial leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. The film follows Malcolm X from his early years as a criminal to his conversion to Islam and eventual assassination.

Hidden Figures (2016)

The story of three African American women who played a key role in the success of the NASA space program. Based on the 2016 book of the same name, Octavia Spencer received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Dorothy Vaughan. The film also stars Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe as mathematicians Katherine Goble Johnson and Mary Jackson.

12 Years a Slave (2013)

A historical drama based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free Black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. The film received nine Academy Award nominations, winning Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay for John Ridley, and Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o.

The Color Purple (1985)

A drama that explores the lives of Black women in the early 20th century. Widely considered one of director Steven Spielberg’s defining masterpieces, the film stars Whoopi Goldberg in what became her breakthrough screen role and also features the first big-screen performance from Oprah Winfrey.

Do the Right Thing (1989)

A film that examines the tensions between a predominantly Black neighborhood and its white-owned pizzeria. Another by one of film’s most prolific high-profile directors, Spike Lee’s 1989 dramedy explores the consequences of prejudice over the course of one summer day and was nominated for two Academy Awards.

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Directed by Shaka King, Judas and the Black Messiah is a biographical drama based on the true story of Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya), the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and William O’Neal (played by LaKeith Stanfield), an FBI informant who infiltrated the party. The film depicts the rise of the Black Panther Party and the government’s efforts to suppress it.

Black Panther (2018)

Directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther is a superhero film set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda. The film follows Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa and marked the first time that a film by Marvel Studios was nominated in the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards. It has since spawned a sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight is a coming-of-age drama directed by Barry Jenkins. The film is divided into three chapters and tells the story of Chiron, a Black man growing up in a rough Miami neighborhood. The film explores Chiron’s relationships with his drug-addicted mother, his friend Kevin, and a kind-hearted drug dealer named Juan. As Chiron grows older, he struggles with his own identity and sexuality.

The Butler (2013)

A historical drama directed by Lee Daniels and inspired by the life of Eugene Allen, who served as a butler in the White House for over three decades. The movie follows the fictional story of Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker), a Black man who grows up in the South and eventually becomes a butler at the White House during the Civil Rights Movement.

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