Black History Month

Slideshow

Josephine Baker
Lucille Bluford
Annie Turnbo Malone
Margaret Bush Wilson

To commemorate and celebrate the contributions to our nation made by people of African descent, American historian Carter G. Woodson established Black History Week, with the first celebration occurring on February 12, 1926.  For many years, the second week of February was set aside for this celebration to coincide with the birthdays of abolitionist/editor Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, as part of the nation’s bicentennial, the week was expanded into Black History Month. Every President since Gerald Ford has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month as a way to recognize the accomplishments of African Americans.  Each year, there is a theme for Black History Month, and this year’s theme is “Black Women in American Culture and History.”  Missouri has been fortunate to have had numerous accomplished African American women who have made significant contributions to America’s culture and history, including Josephine Baker, Lucile Bluford, Annie Malone, and Margaret Bush Wilson.

Josephine Baker (born Freda Josephine McDonald) was born in St. Louis on June 3, 1906.  Baker was a world famous singer, dancer, actress and civil rights activist.  After becoming a hugely successful performer in France, Baker returned to the United States and became involved in the civil rights movement.  She refused to perform in segregated concert halls and spoke at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.  Baker is also remembered for her “Rainbow Tribe,” her twelve adopted children from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as for her participation in the French Resistance during World War II.

Lucile Bluford moved with her family to Kansas City in 1918, when she was seven years old.  Bluford graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Kansas in 1932, after she was unable to attend the University of Missouri because it was not admitting African Americans at the time.  Bluford worked at the Kansas City American newspaper and then at the Kansas City Call newspaper, where she eventually became its editor and publisher.  Bluford also became involved in the Kansas City civil rights movement and was a tireless advocate for human rights in Missouri.  She was the first woman and first African American woman to be appointed to the Missouri Human Rights Commission by Governor James T. Blair, Jr. who stated in his speech before the Missouri General Assembly on January 7, 1959: “A distinguished Human Rights Commission was appointed, which will continue to pursue the state’s objective of assuring equal rights and opportunities for all our citizens…our cause for human rights is a right cause, for on our side there is justice.” Bluford dedicated a large part of her life to breaking down racial barriers to education, including filing several lawsuits against the University of Missouri after being denied admission eleven times.  A half a century later, the University awarded Bluford an honorary doctorate in Humanities.

Annie Turnbo Malone, though born in Illinois, moved her hair products company to St. Louis in 1902.  By the end of World War I, she was one of the most successful black women in the country.  Malone founded Poro College, the first school dedicated to the study and teaching of black cosmetology in the United States in an attempt to offer black women an opportunity to advance.  Malone is also remembered for founding the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center, which is the oldest facility in St. Louis dedicated to care for disadvantaged youth.

Margaret Bush Wilson was born in St. Louis on January 30, 1919.  After graduating from Lincoln University Law School in 1943, she was hired by the United States Department of Agriculture and soon moved back to St. Louis.  Wilson started with her husband the law firm Wilson and Wilson, where she specialized in real estate law.  In 1946, the Shelleys, an African-American couple, purchased a home in a Missouri neighborhood.  Sometime later, the Kraemers, a white couple, moved into the same neighborhood and went to court to enforce the neighborhood’s racially restrictive covenant.  In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Shelley v. Kraemer that such racially restrictive covenants were not enforceable.  Wilson was counsel for the Real Estate Brokers Association of St. Louis, which was formed partly because the St. Louis Real Estate Exchange excluded blacks; the new association’s immediate goal was to obtain funds to appeal the Missouri Supreme Court’s contrary ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Wilson also served nine terms as Chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors as well as serving on numerous boards for national companies and non-profit organizations.

You can learn more about these nationally influential women by visiting the State Historical Society of Missouri’s website.  You can also delve further into African-American history and achievements at Biography's Black History site and at African American History Month's website.

There are many ways to celebrate Black History Month during February throughout Missouri:

Cape Girardeau Events

Fulton Event

Kansas City Events

Saint Louis Events

Springfield Events