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Celebrating the Impact of African Americans

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Demetri Beekman, Executive Director for Equity and Inclusion at the Wisconsin DPI

Black History Month, an annual commemoration in the United States and Canada, honors the achievements and contributions of Black individuals throughout history. This observance recognizes the pivotal role African Americans have had in shaping the cultural, economic, and political fabric of these nations. February was selected by the creator and founder, Carter G. Woodson, to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, key figures in the abolition of slavery and the advancement of civil rights.

During Black History Month, a myriad of events, educational initiatives, and cultural festivities spotlight the accomplishments of Black leaders, activists, inventors, and artists. It offers a platform to learn about the struggles and triumphs of the Black community, fostering reflection on ongoing efforts for equality and social justice. The month underscores the importance of inclusivity, diversity, and mutual understanding in society, encouraging people of all backgrounds to appreciate and respect the rich heritage and significant impact of Black individuals and communities.

This year's theme focuses on African Americans and the Arts, emphasizing the profound influence of African American artistic expression across diverse domains. From visual and performing arts to literature, fashion, folklore, film, music, architecture, culinary arts, and cultural movements, African American creativity has left an indelible mark. Through art, African American artists have preserved history, community memory, and fostered empowerment. Historic movements like the New Negro, Black Arts, and Black Renaissance, along with contemporary movements such as hip-hop and Afrofuturism, have been spearheaded by individuals of African descent, setting global cultural standards.

Despite historical denial or marginalization of their contributions, there exists a continuous lineage of Black artistry from ancient times to the present day. Notably, African Americans have significantly shaped cultural landscapes through endeavors like sweetgrass basket weaving, the creation of spirituals, and the evolution of music genres like blues, gospel, and soul. Literary contributions, sculptural endeavors, and artistic movements like the Harlem Renaissance further exemplify the profound impact of African American creativity.

  • Pioneers of tap dance: Leon Collins, Gregory Hines, John 'Bubbles' Sublett, and 'Baby' Laurence Donald Jackson, born on significant dates in February. Their contributions underscore the enduring legacy of African American artistic innovation and excellence.
  • Film actors and directors: Maria P. Williams, Spike Lee, John Singleton, F. Gary Gray, Angela Bassett, Denzel Washington, Antoine Fuqua.
  • Artists: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gordon Parks, Jacob Lawrence, Kara Walker, Emma Amos, Alma Thomas, Edmonia Lewis, Augusta Savage.
  • Music: Lena Horne, Doris Duke (gospel), Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Viola Davis, Bert Williams, Halle Bailey.
  • Literature: Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Octavia Butler, Alex Haley, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansberry.

Statement from Dr. Jill Underly, State Superintendent of Public Instruction: Black History is American History
"In my time as state superintendent, we have seen attacks against difficult but needed lessons about the true, complicated history of the United States, and difficult but needed conversations about the lived experiences of our learners and educators of color. Black history is American history, and it is crucial to represent it with honesty and respect. Teaching these lessons and having these conversations are what is best for kids – every kid."