February 1, 1960

Four African American college students were refused service when they sat down at a “white only” counter at Woolworth, a popular retail store in Greensboro, North Carolina. Their refusal to leave after being denied service became the catalyst for a series of sit-ins that occurred across the country for months afterwards. Ultimately, the actions of the Greensboro Four led to the desegregation of businesses in North Carolina and throughout the U.S.


February 3, 1870

The 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was ratified, guaranteeing citizens the right to vote regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. While in theory this allowed African American men to vote in elections, discriminatory practices and legal barriers often prevented voting access. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that these prohibitive laws were removed, but voter suppression still remains a problem today.


February 11, 1990

Civil-rights activist Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa after serving 27 years of his sentence for non-violent protests against the country’s apartheid government. Mandela’s activism earned him a Nobel Peace Prize and inspired civil rights movements across the world, including in North America, where his influence has been widely recognized.


February 12, 1809

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was born in Hardin County, Kentucky. Lincoln is well-known for leading the United States during the Civil War and ultimately instating the Emancipation Proclamation, which advocated for abolition in the South. The proclamation paved the way for the official abolition of slavery through the 13th Amendment, although neither pieces of legislation eradicated slavery entirely and many effects of slavery continue to be felt today. 


February 14, 1818

Abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass was born in Talbot County, Maryland. Douglass is best known for his autobiographical works which chronicle his experiences as a slave and eventual journey to freedom. Douglass’ other writings, including a self-published abolitionist newspaper, were widely circulated during his lifetime as well, and made him a powerful spokesperson for the abolitionist movement in America.


February 1-28, 1976

In the early 1900s, historian Carter Woodson noticed that key figures and events in black history were excluded from textbooks. Carter chose the month of February to bring attention to these omissions, because the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass occur during this month. After celebrations of Black History Month became increasingly popular in universities and cities, President Gerald Ford officially declared February as Black History Month in 1976.