Have you ever wondered what truly makes Black History Month special? Carter G. Woodson, a noted scholar and historian, instituted Negro History Week in 1926. Thanks to his persistence, this week would eventually become Black History Month. Since 1976, each February we now celebrate and honor the struggles and triumphs of millions of American citizens, as well as their contributions to the nation’s cultural and political life. Below are a few of those African-Americans whose contributions have made an impact within North Carolina, specifically in the Triangle area:
- John Merrick founded the North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association in Durham in 1898. The company grew to become the largest and most successful black-owned business in the United States.
- North Carolina Central University in Durham opened as a private school in 1910. In the 1920s, it became the nation’s first state-supported four-year liberal arts college for blacks.
- John Hope Franklin was a U.S. historian best known for his work “From Slavery to Freedom,” first published in 1947. He held teaching appointments at Duke, UNC and St. Augustine’s during his extensive career in higher education. The John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies opened at Duke University in his honor in 2000.
- In 1944, a secret basketball game held between a white team from Duke University and a black team from North Carolina Central University was one of the first integrated sports events in the South. Central won it 88-44.
- Founded in 1865, Shaw University is the oldest HBCU in the South and established the nation’s first four-year medical school.
- The North Carolina Teachers Association was formed by African-American educators in 1881. It promoted education as an avenue toward racial progress.
- John H. Baker served as North Carolina’s first black sheriff. He was the sheriff of Wake County for 24 years.
- Basketball legend Michael Jordan was a standout with the University of North Carolina during his college career. He would later become the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats and a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
- Floyd McKissick was the first black recipient of a law degree from the University of North Carolina’s Law School in 1951. From his practice in Durham, McKissick specialized in hundreds of civil rights cases in the courts in the 1960s.
- Educated at Fort Valley State College and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Howard Lee was elected mayor of Chapel Hill in 1969, serving until 1975. He was the first African American mayor in a predominantly white, southern city.
- The first African-American on record to hold elected office in the county was Smith Brooks, a Smithfield town commissioner during Reconstruction.
- In 1969, 25-year-old teacher Mack Sowell became the first African-American elected to public office in the 20th Century when Selma voters made him a town councilman.
- In 1998 Democrat Dorothy Johnson won a seat on the county Board of Education, making her the first African-American elected to a countywide office.
When you think about the adversity that these people had to go through, you begin to realize how far we have come as Americans. Within the Triangle alone, we certainly have come far in mobilizing the community in the efforts to assist everyone who needs help, as well as realizing that EVERYONE is equal. That is exactly what the United Way of the Greater Triangle does!! We are a convener for our community and hope that we can influence the people within it in a positive direction. No matter the social class, color, race or gender of a person, the United Way will try to live up to the high expectations that have been set forth by some of the very people that have led the path within North Carolina.