Black History Month

Feb 19

As many of us know, February is the month where we are able to honor all the great African-American people and accomplishments that have emerged from this community. Along with achievements in civil rights, poetry, entertainment, and much more, there have been African-Americans that have made a huge impact on the driving and transportation world as well. This community of dedicated, loving people has impacted the United States of America as well as the world. “Just don’t give up what you’re trying to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” (Ella Fitzgerald, jazz vocalist)

1839: The Amistad Slave Ship Revolt: Started by Joseph Cinque (born as Sengbe Pieh), 37 African slaves were shepherded to this slave ship to riot. Eventually, the ship was regained by the United States. This revolt was taken to the US Supreme Court where the court ordered that the slaves be returned to African and be freed.
1838: Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery by posing as a black seaman on a train ride to the north. Freed from his entrapment, Douglass became an important political figure and famous speaker.
1849: Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery and became one of the most celebrated and effective leaders of the Underground Railroad. This woman led thousands of slaves to freedom before and during the war.
1850: The Underground Railroad (started by William Still) was a network of secret routes, way-stations, safe havens, and meeting points where thousands upon thousands of African-Americans could escape their slavery in the south. This Underground Railroad was so put together that there were pathways leading all the way down south to the Mexico Border or up north to the Canada Border.
1850: Also this year, William Lloyd Garrison (white abolitionist) privately published the memoirs of Sojourner Truth, a former slave, Underground Railroad conductor, abolitionist, and woman’s rights preacher.
1919: Marcus Garvey (an entrepreneur, journalist, and proponent of Black Nationalism) encouraged African-Americans to return to Africa. To further push the situation, he established the Black Star Line, a fleet of African-Owned steam ships that serviced the Caribbean Islands, Africa, and America. Talk about transportation at its finest!
1923: Garrett Morgan received a U.S. patent for his traffic signal. This traffic signal has shaped how Americans (and the world) drive today.
~1942-1944: Maya Angelou (famous for her poetry, film and education) became the first ever African-American female to become a cable car conductor in San Francisco, California.
1955: The famous arrest of Rosa Parks takes place. After refusing to leave her seat for a white male on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama, she was arrested and jailed. This led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, lead by the infamous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
1956: A Supreme Court ruling prompted Montgomery to desegregate its busses. Also, the Supreme Court ordered schools to desegregate with “deliberated speed.”
1960: CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) began sending student volunteers on bus trips to test the implementation of new laws prohibiting segregation in interstate travel facilities. These students became known as “freedom riders.”
1983: Guion Bluford became the first African-American to ever be launched in space.
1991: Rodney King Jr. is beaten by four Los Angele Police Officers after being stopped for a speeding violation. The incident was captured on videotape by a bystander and was shown on national TV.
1992: Race riots erupted in South Central Los Angeles, California after the jury for the trial of Rodney King Jr. acquitted the four white police officers who beat Rodney King Jr.
1992: Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to orbit space as a part of the Space Shuttle Endeavor.
1995: NASA Astronaut Bernard Harris became the first African-American to walk in space.
2005: Rosa Parks died at the age of 92.
2007: Barrington A. Irving Jr. became the first black pilot (and youngest pilot) to fly solo around the world.

Okay, I do understand that not all of these are, in fact, related to the rules of the road. But what they are and represent are accomplishments in forms of transportation. Many may think the Underground Railroad would be pushing it when speaking of breakthroughs in transportation, but I believe that this “railroad” was the greatest form of transportation America has ever seen. From conductors to innovative thinkers, to safety, the Underground Railroad demonstrates what railroads for trains aspire to be.

Other Notable Events:

With a whole history, it is hard to narrow down the events in one small blog and only use events and people that had anything to do with transportation. I know I still didn’t use all the people and events that occurred, but I did get a great majority and included them in this section. I apologize in advance for the left out events and people, as some of them may or may not be ones that influenced you the most! I wholeheartedly believe that all the events hold great importance. “For Africa to me…is more than a glamorous fact. It is historical truth. No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place.” (Maya Angelou)

1619: The first African slaves arrived in Virginia.
1787: Slavery was made illegal in the Northwest Territory and the U.S. Constitution then stated that Congress may not ban the slave trade until 1808.
1793: Eli Whitney’s invented of the cotton gin which significantly increased the need for slaves and their hard labor. Also, a federal fugitive slave law was passed, demanding the return of slaves who had escaped or crossed state lines.
1800: Gabriel Prosser, an enslaved African-American blacksmith, organizes a slave revolt intending to march on Richmond, Virginia. The conspiracy is uncovered, and Prosser and a number of the rebels are hanged. Virginia’s slave laws are consequently tightened.
1820: The Missouri Compromise banned slavery north of the southern boundary of Missouri.
1831: Nat Turner, an enslaved African-American preacher, led the most important slave uprising in American history. He and his band of followers launched a short-lasting and extremely bloody, rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. The militia suppressed the rebellion which led to Turner’s hanging soon after. As a consequence of the rebellion, Virginia instituted stricter slave laws. In addition, William Lloyd Garrison began publishing the Liberator, a weekly paper that advocated the complete abolition of slavery. He becomes one of the most famous figures in the abolitionist movement.
1857: The Dred Scott case said that Congress did not have the right to ban slavery in states and concluded that slaves were not citizens, meaning they had no rights.
1861: The Confederacy was founded when the Deep South seceded and the Civil War began.
1863: The Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
1865: The Civil War finally ended, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, the Ku Klux Klan formed in Tennessee by ex-Confederates, the Thirteenth Amendment is ratified (prohibiting slavery), and Congress established the Freedman’s Bureau to protect the rights of newly emancipated blacks. (Big year!)
1868: The Fourteenth Amendment became ratified and defined what citizenship truly was. Individuals born or naturalized in the United States were to be American citizens, including those who had been born slaves. This nullified the Dred Scott Case of 1857.
1870: The Fifteenth Amendment is added to the Constitution which gave blacks the right to vote.
1881: Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama.
1989: General Colin Powell was appointed Chairman of the Joint of Chiefs of Staff, becoming the first African-American to achieve the highest military ranking in the U.S. Armed Forces.
1896: Plessy v. Ferguson: This landmark Supreme Court decision stated that racial segregation is constitutional, and, in turn, paved the way for the oppressive Jim Crow laws in the South.
1931: Nine black minors were accused in Scottsboro, Alabama for charges of having raped two white women. Although the evidence was slim to none, the jury (who were Southern, of course) sentenced them all to death. The Supreme Court ended up overturning their convictions twice, but sadly the state of Alabama continued to retry them and found the boys guilty each time. In the third and final trial, four of the boys were freed, but five were sentenced to unnecessarily long prison sentences.
1947: Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier when he was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers by Branch Rickey.
1948: President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order integrating the U.S. Armed Forces. Although this is a breakthrough, African-Americans had already served in every war, this just made it official.
1952: Malcom X became a minister of the Nation of Islam and one of the two most powerful members of the Black Muslims, next to Elijah Muhammad.
1954: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas dubbed racial segregation in schools as unconstitutional.
1955: Emmett Till (a 14 year old black boy) was kidnapped, beaten, shot and dumped in the Tallahatchie River for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The two white men who murdered him were acquitted by jury of all white folks. The outrage that came from this trial led to the Civil Rights Movement.
1957: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a civil rights group, was established by Martin Luther King, Charles K. Steele and Fred L. Shuttlesworth.
1960: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded. This organization provided young blacks with a place in the civil rights movement.
1962: James Mereditch became the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Soon after, riots broke out so President Kennedy sent 5,000 federal troops to alleviate the situation.
1963: Martin Luther King was arrested and jailed during anti-segregation protests in Birmingham, Alabama. Whilst he was jailed, he wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail” which advocated nonviolent civil disobedience. In addition, nearly 250,000 people attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which is still the largest demonstration ever seen by the nation’s capital. At this march, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his well-known speech, “I Have a Dream.”
1964: President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. This Act prohibited the discrimination of all people based on race, color, religion, or national origin. This year, Martin Luther King also received the Nobel Peace Prize.
1965: Malcolm X was assassinated. Less than one month later, state troopers violently attacked what were peaceful demonstrations led by Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. as they try to cross the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. This goes down in history as “Bloody Sunday.” (For those rock fans, you may recall U2’s song “Bloody Sunday.”)
1967: President Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. He became the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.
1968: Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
1992: The first race riots in decades erupt in South-Central Los Angeles after a jury acquits four white police officers for the videotaped beating of African-American Rodney King Jr. in 1955.
2008: Barack Obama became the first African-American president as well as the country’s 44th president.
2009: Eric H. Holder Jr. is confirmed by the Senate to be the Attorney General of the United States and is the first African-American to serve as Attorney General. In addition, the first African-American female flight crew took their historic flight, having come together accidentally when the scheduled first officer called in sick. Captain Rachelle Jones, first officer Stephanie Grant, and flight attendants Diana Galloway and Robin Rogers flew together on an Atlantic Southeast Airlines from Atlanta to Nashville.


If you’ve made it to the end of this entry, many of you are probably thinking “Man, this was a long one!” and I would agree. It is extremely long! The reason for its length: I don’t believe that you could fit greatness in about 500 words. I’m closer at nearly 2,000. Honestly, I could probably write on each even separately, but I can’t. I hope you all enjoyed this entry and learned more about the events that led up to Black History Month.

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