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National African-American History Month

Rosa Parks sits in the foreground by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Famous African-American Woman Rosa Parks

“During National African American History Month, we recognize the extraordinary achievements of African Americans and their essential role in shaping the story of America. In honor of their courage and contributions, let us resolve to carry forward together the promise of America for our children.”

— President Barack Obama

2012 Theme: “Black Women in American History and Culture”

The Veterans Health Administration is proud to join the nation in celebrating African American History Month in February.

This year’s national theme, “Black Women in American History and Culture,” encourages Americans of all backgrounds to reflect on and honor the countless critical roles black women have played in shaping America.

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), established in 1915 by historian Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, has recognized black women in American history and culture — from the unlikely Revolutionary War patriot Phillis Wheatley, to the leader of the Underground Railroad Harriett Tubman, to the unyielding opponent of lynching Ida B. Wells, to the mother of the modern civil rights movement Rosa Parks.

These are just a few prominent Black American women who have labored, struggled, organized, and sacrificed for the freedom of all Americans.

The accomplishments of these exceptional women are the expressions of a vibrant culture in which African-American women play a singular role. They have made possible the prominence of heralded individuals.

In churches, community groups, literary societies, sororities, and advocacy organizations, African-American women have been the core of organized black life, but here their strivings have often escaped the gaze of the public, and hence their history is too little known.

Their story is unique in the annals of American history. Black women were held as slaves and middle-class black women labored while their counterparts were housewives. Subjected to a long history of stereotypes about their sexuality, morality, spirituality, and intellect, African-American women have pressed forward to uplift themselves, their families, and their community.

To gain an understanding of the history of African-American women is to broaden our understanding of a people and the American nation.

VA is proud to join ASALH and the nation in recognizing the contributions of these and all notable black American women for enhancing both the nation and black communities.

In fiscal year 2011, black American women represented 14.46 percent of VA’s permanent workforce. Black American women Veterans represented 2.97 percent and black disabled women Veterans represented 0.98 percent. In senior-level positions, black American women participation rates increased to 8.32 percent in FY 2011 from 8.18 percent in FY 2010.

VA will continue to lead the effort in creating a diverse, results-oriented, high performing workforce that reflects the communities we serve and the diversity of our nation by eliminating barriers to equal opportunity and by cultivating a flexible and inclusive work environment that enables all employees to realize their full potential in service to our nation’s heroes, our Veterans.

VA Central Office in Washington D.C. will hold events in observance of African-American History Month every Thursday during February 2012.

The guest speaker for the inaugural celebration on February 2 will be Dr. Roslyn Terborg-Penn, University Professor Emerita, Morgan State University. Author of “Afro-Americans in the Struggle for Woman Suffrage,” Dr. Terborg-Penn is a scholar in African-American and African Diaspora Women's History.

Around the country VA Medical Centers are marking the month with special programs and ceremonies. The Erie, PA, VA Medical Center will feature a presentation by Royce Kinniebrew, author of “What the History Books Forgot: African Contributions to World Civilization,” on February 7.

Origins of African American History Month

In 1915, educator and historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson undertook the task of writing black Americans into the nation's history by founding the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which was later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. It was through this organization that Negro History Week was first celebrated in 1926 and subsequently, Black History Month was established in 1976.

Dr. Woodson chose the second week of February for Negro History Week because it marked the birthdays of two people who had greatly impacted Black Americans' lives: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

February has much more than Douglass and Lincoln to show for its significance in black history. For instance:

  • February 23, 1868: W.E.B. Dubois, an important civil rights leader and cofounder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was born.
  • February 3, 1870: The 15th Amendment was passed, granting blacks the right to vote.
  • February 25, 1870: The first black U.S. senator, Hiram R. Revels (1822-1901), took the oath of office.
  • February 12, 1909: The NAACP was founded by a group of concerned black and white citizens in New York City.
  • February 1, 1960: In what would become a milestone in the civil rights movement, a group of black college students from Greensboro, North Carolina staged a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter.

Related Link:
The Association for the Study of African American Life and History