Black History Month 2012: Black Women in American Culture and History

Black History Month Collage
Pictured above: Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune (founder of Bethune-Cookman University and unofficial advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt), Ella Fitzgerald (musician and first African American woman to win a Grammy Award), Marian Anderson (contralto singer and first African American to sing at the New York Metropolitan Opera), and Shirley Chisholm (politician and first African American woman elected to U.S. Congress)

Black History Month, also known as African American History Month, is a time to celebrate the central role that African Americans have played in American history from colonial times to the present. U.S. presidents began dedicating February as Black History Month in 1976, but the celebration’s origins stem from the “Negro History Week” developed in 1926 by African American historian Carter G. Woodson. February was chosen for the celebration because both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, two major figures in the abolitionist movement, were born in February.

Black History Month now has a specific theme each year, chosen by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and the 2012 theme is “Black Women in American Culture and History.” In Columbia, the MU Black Studies Program will be holding a series of events to celebrate Black History Month, and the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department will also host various events, including a talent show, a soul food dinner, a gospel music performance and a film screening with a discussion following. Online, the NAACP is providing daily facts about Black History to those who register (messaging and data rates may apply), and the History Channel’s page on Black History Month has video clips, audio clips of famous speeches and photo galleries of famous African American women in politics, entertainment, sports and more.

In honor of Black History Month, we at DBRL would like to showcase library materials by and about African American women. In addition to the links for biographies and non-fiction titles listed below, stay tuned for posts coming later this month showcasing African American female authors, poets, entertainers, and more!

DBRL Biographies of African American Women

DBRL Nonfiction on African American Women

African American History Online (requires library card for access)


  • Photo of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune created by Gordon Parks, photographer. No known restrictions. Accessible from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
  • Photo of Ella Fitzgerald created by William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Part of the Golden Age of Jazz collection that entered the public domain on February 16, 2010. Access provided by William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.
  • Photo of Marian Anderson created by Harris & Ewing, photographer. No known restrictions on publication. Accessible from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
  • Photo of Shirley Chisholm created by Thomas J. O’Halloran, photographer. No known restrictions. Accessible from the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
  • Collage format courtesy of

About Emily Kickinson

Emily Kickinson, the alter ego of a mild-mannered library employee, spends a lot of time fighting crime. Unlike her real-life counterpart, she is good at comebacks, uses sarcasm appropriately, and has bright blue hair. If she could have one superpower, she'd be torn between flying and shooting lasers from her eyes. In the wild, Emily can be spotted actually hugging trees.
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