February has long been recognized as Black History Month in Michigan, but not many people are aware of how it all started.
Back in 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson proposed an observance to honor the accomplishments of Black Americans. In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford, Michigan’s only president, officially recognized Black History Month in the U.S. Ford called upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
One of the earliest records of African Americans living in Michigan comes from the early 1760s when the British replaced the French at Fort Detroit.
During more than 250 years of living in Michigan, African Americans have made many important — and often under-recognized — contributions to our state. Michigan was an active participant of the Underground Railroad even before it became a state. In 1836, thirteen former slaves organized the Second Baptist Church in Detroit. Besides allowing African Americans to worship without discrimination, the church also opened Michigan’s first school for black children and it was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Michigan’s black population grew slowly but steadily during the years before the Civil War. Famed black abolitionist Sojourner Truth made Battle Creek her home in 1857. At a time when women, especially black women, did not give speeches, Truth used her remarkable speaking skills to promote equality and the need to end slavery.
As automobiles became Michigan’s central focus, tens of thousands of African Americans moved north, seeking employment in the auto factories. During the twentieth century, the list of African Americans who had an impact on Michigan — and the world — included: World champion boxer Joe Louis, political scientist Ralph Bunche (the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize), Motown Records’ founder Berry Gordy Jr., actor James Earl Jones, Congressman John Conyers Jr. and activist Rosa Parks — just to name but a few.
The Michigan Senate Republicans encourage residents throughout the state to celebrate the tremendous contributions African Americans have made — and continue to make — in our country and great state.