Black History Month allows Americans of African heritage to recognize and appreciate all they’ve contributed to American society through various artistic forms like literature, music, and visual art. 2024 will mark “African Americans and the Arts,” commemorating how artists from this population have profoundly shaped culture through writing songs or visual pieces – we will discuss its origins and significance and feature contributions by prominent black female artists throughout this post.
Black History Month was initiated as Negro History Week by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926 and was first celebrated in February. Since then, February has been recognized as Black History Month to coincide with Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays, the founding of the NAACP, and the birth of activist/writer James Baldwin. This month-long celebration highlights black Americans’ accomplishments throughout history and promotes awareness, appreciation, and respect for them by all.
President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon all Americans to seize this momentous occasion “to recognize and pay our sincerest tributes to black Americans’ accomplishments across every field and endeavor throughout American history.” Since then, this month-long event has served as an occasion for reflection, education, and celebration across our nation.
Though Black History Month is most prominently observed in the United States, other nations have developed similar traditions for celebrating and remembering black people’s contributions – Canada recognizes Black History Month every February, while Britain and Ireland commemorate it during October.
Black History Month 2024 will highlight “African Americans and the Arts,” offering an ideal opportunity to recognize some of history’s finest black women artists who have made significant contributions and impacts across literature, film, music, and visual art.
Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, and Aretha Franklin have become iconic black female singers with their strong voices and iconic performances; these women paved the way for generations of singers such as Beyonce Knowles-Carter, Alicia Keys, and Whitney Houston to follow in their footsteps.
Literature has seen incredible advances made by black female authors over time. Perhaps best known among them, Toni Morrison won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature with works such as Beloved and The Bluest Eye; other influential black female authors included Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, and Alice Walker, who made significant marks within global literary communities worldwide. We must remember Amanda S. C. Gorman, who delivered her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2021.
Black women in film have made significant contributions as actors, directors, producers, and writers. Halle Berry made history when winning her Oscar for “Monster’s Ball.” Also, prominent black female directors in Hollywood, such as Ava DuVernay (director of Selma and 13th) and Shonda Rhimes (creator of hit shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal), contribute significantly as filmmakers and creators.
Black female artists have significantly contributed to visual art forms like painting and sculpture. Alma Woodsey Thomas is perhaps best-known as an abstract painter known for using vibrant colors and geometric forms in her abstract pieces; Augusta Savage had an immense effect on Harlem Renaissance sculpture, while Kara Walker uses cut paper silhouettes to explore issues regarding race, gender roles, and power dynamics.
Photo credit: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Black History Month allows us to recognize and acknowledge all the contributions of black Americans throughout history. 2024’s theme — “African Americans and the Arts” — provides an excellent means of commemorating how African-American culture and history have helped shape culture over time, so let us mark Black History Month and celebrate by honoring all who came before us!
Still I Rise
BY MAYA ANGELOU
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise” from And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Source: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (1994)
Written by The GNL Editorial Staff