BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Recognizing the greats from our own backyard
Carter G. Woodson was coined the father of Black History Month after enstating a history week in 1926.
By Tara Bailey
-Did you Know-
→ Did you know Black History Month is not only celebrated in the United States? Although it originated stateside in 1970, more recently the Netherlands, Ireland, and the United Kingdom adopted this holiday as well.
Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month, understood the importance of knowing the scientific and historical accounts of people of African ancestry. Being a historian, journalist and author, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. The mission of his association is to promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community. In February 1926, Woodson instituted “Negro History Week,” the predecessor to Black History Month.
The 100 Black Men of Western PA also strives to promote Woodson’s agenda. Part of the group’s mission is to enhance educational and economic opportunities for all African Americans. To achieve their mission, they served as mentors to hundreds of young Black minds in Pittsburgh over decades. Teaching pupils, the importance of their African ancestry is one of the 100’s priorities.
Chapter President Michael Carlisle reiterates the significance of celebrating Black History Month. “If we stand tall it is because we stand on the shoulders of our Ancestors and Elders. Throughout Black History Month we not only review cherished memories of them, but we also honor them through our consciousness, words, and deeds.
The 100 Black Men are carrying on that tradition by sharing, passing down what we have given and know to the next generation.”
→ Did you know Pittsburgh is home to journalist, abolitionist, physician, soldier, and writer Martin Robison Delany? He was one of the first Blacks to be admitted to Harvard Medical School and became a leading Pittsburgh physician.
Delany’s contribution to Pittsburgh has been long-standing. Pittsburgh playwright and author Wali Jamal Abdullah published the “Delany Papers,” a revised edition of “The Condition, Elevation, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States,” politically considered by Martin Robison Delany originally published in 1852. “Regardless of race, Martin Delany was one of the most significant figures ever to rise from the streets of Pittsburgh,” Abdullah said.
The life of Delany has served as an inspiration to countless Pittsburghers, and his legacy will continue to serve as a beacon of Black excellence.
→ Did you know the uptown Pittsburgh neighborhood “The Hill,” was known as Little Haiti? Next to Harlem, the Hill District was considered the epicenter of arts and entertainment.
Places such as the world’s famous jazz club Crawford Grill hosted musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Lou Williams, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and many more. The Hill District was home to photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris, playwright August Wilson, musicians George Benson, and Jimmy Wopo. A smorgasbord of exceptional talent.
The undeniability of this rich history is not center staged only in the Hill District. The rap duo “The Dot & The Dub,” from the westside reigned supreme in the early 2000s. Jazz legend Dakota Staton was from Homewood, musician Wiz Khalifa attended Taylor Allderdice High School and Billy Eckstine was from Highland Park.
→ Did you know American Broadway actor and singer Billy Porter is from Pittsburgh? Staring in the hit television series POSE, in 2019 Porter won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, becoming the first openly Black gay man to win in a leading category.
Before his stardom, Porter attended Taylor Allderdice and graduated from the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University. Fellow actor Bill Nunn made his film debut in Spike Lee’s 1988 film School Daze. Nunn enjoyed an illustrious acting career before his death in 2016. His legendary character “Radio Raheem,” in School Daze immortalize the harsh reality of police brutality plaguing the Black community. Nunn can be seen in 50 other notable films, “Mo’Better Blues,” “New Jack City,” “Sister Act,” “Kiss the Girls,” and “Spider-Man 2.”
Black Musicians and actors are not the city’s only claim to fame, socially conscious artists 1Hood Media and activists’ like the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) chairman and
CEO, Tim Stevens, politician Sala Udin who fought for equality, and Pittsburgh’s “Civil Rights Mother,” Alma Speed Fox used their voices to speak for the Black community. Criminal defense attorney Turahn Jenkins, the former Allegheny County District Attorney candidate, has dedicated his career to fighting for reform in the criminal justice system.
Education trailblazer Dr. Helen Faison gave selflessly for almost half a century to Pittsburgh Public Schools. From school counselor to becoming the first female and African American high school principal.
In every sector of society, Blacks have played a prominent role in cultivating and shaping trends, fashion, music, activism, healthcare and sports. Pittsburgh’s Negro baseball team The Homestead Grays won nine consecutive league titles from 1937 through 1945. The Grays record has never been replicated by any other professional sports team.
→ Did you know during the month of February the greeting “Happy Black History Month,” is just as synonymous as saying “happy holidays, happy fourth of July, or happy Valentine’s day? Celebrating Black History Month is embraced as any mainstream holiday. There are decorations, parties, dinners, stories being passed down to children, music and movies all dedicated to appreciating the painful history of a people. Therefore, when we say “Happy Black History Month” we are not only saying it to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of great Black pioneers, but also for the local Black heroes of today. Our beloved hometown of Pittsburgh earned its place in showcasing Black culture, so Happy Black History Month.