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Black History Month is a time of remembering and celebrating African American history, culture, and the experiences of our nation’s African American community. In 1926, Carter G. Woodson, noted historian and “Father of Black History Month,” announced “Negro History Week” in America. In 1976, “Negro History Week” was expanded to a month when President Gerald Ford designated February as “Black History Month.” 

Throughout this month we will share Ohio’s African American Firsts, feature African American movies, and celebrate the talents of four African American historical reenactors. Visit this site often to learn more about people such as Jesse Leroy Brown, the Navy’s first aircraft pilot; Keith Burkes, the first African American “Brutus Buckeye;” and the nation’s oldest private, historically Black university, Wilberforce University. 

Black History Month Resolution

1809: George Peake

George Peake

Due in part to the Great Migration nearly 43,000 African Americans settled in Cleveland between 1809 and 1860. George Peake, the city’s first Black settler, arrived in 1809. Read more.


1831: Harveysburg Free Black School

Harveysburg Free Black School

The Harveysburg Free Black School, the first free school for African American children in Ohio, was established in 1831. Elizabeth Harvey opened the school due to her concern about the lack of free education for Ohio’s African American children. Read more.

1835: Oberlin College

Oberlin College

The Rev. John Keep, an Oberlin College Trustee and Abolitionist, cast the deciding vote in 1835, to allow African American students to regularly attend the college.
Read more.

1855: John Langston

John Langston

John Mercer Langston, a graduate of Oberlin College in 1849, became the first African American ever elected to the U.S. Congress as a representative of color from Virginia in 1855. Read more.

1856: Wilberforce University

Wilberforce University

The first private, historically Black university in the U.S. was established in 1856 near Xenia, Ohio. Bishop Daniel A. Payne became its first president and first African American college president in the U.S. in 1863. Read more.

1863: 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

In 1863, the first regiment of African American recruits from Ohio reported for Civil War service in Delaware, Ohio. They were the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, later renamed the 5th United States Colored Troops. Read more.

1887: Louise Troy

Louise Troy

Born in Xenia, Louise Troy was a Dayton teacher who became the only African American teacher retained after schools integrated in 1887. She later helped found the Dayton NAACP branch, which then later became the YWCA. Read more.

1888: Isaiah Tuppins

Isaiah Tuppins

Elected as mayor of Rendville in 1888, Isaiah Tuppins was the first African American to serve as mayor in Ohio. He also was the first Black man to earn his medical degree in Ohio, graduating from Columbus Medical College. Read more.

1914: Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan was a trailblazing African American inventor. The Clevelander patented several items, including a hair-straightening product, a breathing device, a revamped sewing machine, and an improved traffic signal. Read more.

1929: Mary Brown Martin

Mary Brown Martin

Mary Brown Martin became the first Black woman elected to the Cleveland Board of Education. She attended both Rockwell School and Central High School. The Mary B. Martin School in Cleveland is named in her honor. Read more.

1936: Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens was the first American of any race to win four gold medals in track and field in a single Olympics. Also known as "The Buckeye Bullet," Owens competed for The Ohio State University and broke two world records at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Read more.

1946: William Karnet Willis

William Karnet Willis

Born in Columbus, William (Bill) Karnet Willis was a talented football player for The Ohio State University. He became the first African American to play in the All-America Football Conference when he joined the Cleveland Browns in 1946. Read more.

1947: Dr. Clotilde Marion Bowen

Dr. Clotilde Marion Bowen

Clotilde Bowen became the first African American woman to graduate from The Ohio State University College of Medicine in 1947. In 1956, she became the first female physician in the United States Army. Read more.

1948: Jesse LeRoy Brown

Jesse LeRoy Brown

Jesse Leroy Brown was a student at The Ohio State University who excelled in engineering before becoming the Navy’s first aircraft pilot. Sadly, he would later become the first African American pilot killed in the Korean War. Read more.

1949: Frederick Jones

Frederick Jones

Frederick Jones invented the first automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks and railroad cars (a roof-mounted cooling device) in 1935. This system eliminated the risk of food spoilage during long-distance shipping trips and was later adapted to a variety of other common carriers, including ships and railway cars. His patent was issued in 1949. Jones's pioneering designs for mobile refrigeration units radically altered American consumer's eating habits. Receiving more than 40 patents in the field of refrigeration, Jones also developed an air-conditioning unit for military field hospitals and a refrigerator for military field kitchens. Read more.

1954: Robert Madison

Robert Madison

Architect and entrepreneur Robert P. Madison opened his own office in 1954, the first such office opened by an African American architect in Ohio and only the ninth in the country. He was one of three architects who designed the Frank J. Lausche State Office Building in 1979. Read more.

1962: Carl Stokes

Carl Stokes

Carl B. Stokes was the first African American member of the Democratic Party elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. He was later elected mayor of Cleveland, becoming one of the first African Americans to be mayor of a major U.S. city. Read more.

1971: Ellen Walker Craig-Jones

Ellen Walker Craig-Jones

In 1971, Ellen Walker Craig-Jones became the first African American woman to be elected mayor by popular vote and the first African American woman to be elected mayor of a municipality in the U.S. Read more.

1971: Wayne Embry

Wayne Embry

Wayne Embry became the first African American general manager in the NBA when he took on the position for the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971. He later became the NBA's first African American team president with the Cavaliers in 1994. Read more.

1974: Keith R. Burkes

Keith R. Burkes

Keith Burkes became the first African American to be The Ohio State University Brutus Buckeye mascot in 1974. He was also the first Brutus to go into the stands during football games and worked to expand the role of Brutus beyond a football mascot. Read more.

1993: Rita Dove

Rita Dove

Akron native Rita Dove was the youngest person and the first African American to be appointed Poet Laureate Consultant by the Library of Congress. Read more.

1998: Stephanie Tubbs Jones

Stephanie Tubbs Jones

Stephanie Tubbs Jones was the first African American woman from Ohio elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. The Clevelander was also the first African American prosecutor in Ohio. Read more.

2001: Halle Berry

Halle Berry

Cleveland native Halle Berry was the first African American to win the Academy Award for best actress. Berry previously portrayed Dorothy Dandridge in the television film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge in 1999. Dandridge being the first African American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Read more.

2014: Dr. Michael Drake

Dr. Michael Drake

Dr. Michael Drake, the 15th president of The Ohio State University, was the first African American to serve in that role. Read more.

The titles identified below specifically center around African American characters and their encounters with racial issues or prejudice. This makes them great conversation starters within families and social circles. In addition to these themes, its also a good idea to introduce youth to media (movies and literature) with other diverse characters -- as well as stories that don't always place race directly at the center. Check out these lists for some additional alternatives: Great African American Movies, Best Mexican/Mexican American Movies, Asian and Asian American Books, Award-Winning African American Books, and Books About Native Americans.

And the Children Shall Lead (ages: 9+)

And the Children Shall Lead (1985)
Age appropriate: 9+

Cast: Danny Glover, Pam Potillo, LeVar Burton

Plot: Set in the 1960s , a 12-year-old-year African American girl, her white friends, and members of a small Mississippi town have to decide where they stand on the issue of civil rights when a busload of civil rights workers comes to town to register voters.

Conversation starter(s): 

  • Can you think of examples that show how race still affects the way people are treated today?
  • What would you do if you were faced with the same situation as the kids in the movie?
  • How is their school and are their friendships different today than they were in the 1960s?
  • How do the characters demonstrate courage, compassion, and empathy? Why are those important character strengths?

Read more.

Hidden Figures (ages: 10+)

Hidden Figures (2016)
Age appropriate: 10+

Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe

Plot: The true story of three African American female mathematicians who served vital roles at NASA during the early years of the space program during the 1950s and ’60s.

Conversation starter(s): 

  • How do the lessons from the Civil Rights movement apply today? How far have we come? How are people still discriminated against?
  • How accurate do you think the movie is? Why might filmmakers sometimes choose to alter the facts in movies based on real life? How could you find out more about the women and people of color who worked for NASA in its early years?
  • Who are the role models in this story? How do they demonstrate perseverance, teamwork, communication, and integrity? Why are those important character strengths?

Read more.

Loving (ages: 12+)

Loving (2016)
Age appropriate: 12+

Cast: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will Dalton

Plot: The true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose arrest for interracial marriage in 1960s Virginia began a legal battle that would ultimately result in the U.S. Supreme Court's historic 1967 decision.

Conversation starter(s): 

  • What does this movie teach us about history and how both laws and public opinion change over time? Can you think of other laws targeting specific groups of people have been amended or overturned?
  • Are Richard and Mildred role models? Why? How do they demonstrate perseverance? Why is that an important character strength?

Read more.

Pride (ages: 12+)

Pride (2007)
Age appropriate: 12+

Cast: Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac, Kimberly Elise

Plot: The true story of the creation of a swim team for African American teens in the 1970s at the Philadelphia Department of Recreation.

Conversation starter(s): 

  • Have you ever seen someone in real life being treated unfairly for no reason?
  • What would you do if you felt discriminated against or saw a friend being held back from their goals based on their skin color?

Read more.

Sounder (ages: 12+)

Sounder (1972)
Age appropriate: 12+

Cast: Cicely Tyson, Paul Winfield, Kevin Hooks

Plot: Coming-of-age story centers around education for the oldest son of family of Black sharecroppers in the Depression-era South.

Conversation starter(s): 

  • Why were the types of books the main character is given by white and African American teachers so different?
  • What does the boy need to overcome to pursue his dream of learning?

Read more.

Hoop Dreams (ages: 13+)

Hoop Dreams (1994)
Age appropriate: 13+

Cast: William Gates, Arthur Agee, Emma Gates

Plot: Documentary follows two inner-city Chicago African American boys working to go from college to professional basketball players.

Conversation starter(s): 

  • How are issues of race and class linked, especially in urban America?
  • How does this movie shed light on those issues?

Read more.

Just Mercy (ages: 13+)

Just Mercy (2019)
Age appropriate: 13+

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson

Plot: Based on true story of Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson, this film focuses on his work to help a wrongfully convicted death row inmate.

Conversation starter(s): 

  • How would you describe the relationship between racism and justice/the law?
  • Does that align with what you've seen in movies and on TV?

Read more.

Selma (ages: 13+)

Selma (2014)
Age appropriate: 13+

Cast: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey

Plot: The true story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s campaign to secure voting rights and the organization of the historic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Conversation starter(s): 

  • What are the differences between a protest and a riot?
  • How are protests typically shown on TV or in the movies? What about riots?

Read more.

The Great Debaters (ages: 13+)

The Great Debaters (2007)
Age appropriate: 13+

Cast: Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Kimberly Elise

Plot: The true story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s campaign to secure voting rights and the organization of the historic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Conversation starter(s): 

  • Does seeing racism and prejudice portrayed in a historical setting make it any easier to watch? Why, or why not?

Read more.

The Hate U Give (ages: 13+)

The Hate U Give (2018)
Age appropriate: 13+

Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby

Plot: A Black teen witnesses the fatal police shooting of a close friend and is forced to deal with race and racism finding her voice to stand up for what's right.

Conversation starter(s): 

  • One character in the movie says that “white folks want diversity but not too much diversity” – what do you think she means? Do you agree?

Read more.

The Color Purple (ages: 14+)

The Color Purple (1985)
Age appropriate: 14+

Cast: Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey

Plot: The film deals with serious themes (including incest and abuse) and centers on the struggles of a Black southern woman after suffering decades of abuse.

Conversation starter(s): 

  • How have times have changed for women since the era in which the story takes place? Has anything remained the same?
  • Why are the challenges faced by women of color different from those faced by white women?

Read more.

BlacKkKlansman (ages: 15+)

BlacKkKlansman (2018)
Age appropriate: 15+

Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier

Plot: The true story of an African American FBI agent who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s with the help of a Jewish surrogate.

Conversation starter(s): 

  • Do you think filmmakers should be responsible for exploring big social issues like racism in their work? Why, or why not?

Read more.

Mudbound (ages: 15+)

Mudbound (2017)
Age appropriate: 15+

Cast: Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke

Plot: Depicting a portrait of the Jim Crow South, the movie follows two men who return from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi.

Conversation starter(s): 

  • Do you think showing disturbing violence helps audiences more fully comprehend the African American experience? Why, or why not?

Read more.

13th (ages: 16+)

13th (2016)
Age appropriate: 16+

Cast: Melina Abdullah, Michelle Alexander, Cory Booker

Plot: Documentary focused on the racial inequalities within the U.S. prison system.

Conversation starter(s): 

  • What surprised you most about our country’s treatment of African American citizens over its long history?

Read more.

In honor of Black History Month, the Ohio Statehouse will be presenting four special programs online by We’ve Known Rivers. Please visit the Ohio Statehouse online by clicking here. Note: Zoom is required to view the virtual programs.
February 2, 2021 at noon -- Courage in the Skies: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen by Anthony Gibbs

February 9, 2021 at noon -- A People Denied: Tri-Racial Appalachian Heritage by Lynette Ford
February 16, 2021 at noon -- Henry “Box” Brown by Rory Rennick
February 23, 2021 at noon -- Three River Streams: Stories from the “We’ve Known Rivers” Rivermates