As we head into our last week of February, I know that I, along with many others, have reflected on the contributions that many African Americans have made throughout history. While it’s always important to remember individuals likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, Rosa Parks, and George Washington Carver, as they have been instrumental in the advancement of African Americans, it is also important to highlight lesser-known individuals, such as Carter G. Woodson and Denmark Vesey. My City Year team at the Johnson School of Excellence wanted to highlight many important African Americans during Black History Month. But first, let's meet some of these important individuals!

Carter G. Woodson dedicated the late years of his life to the preservation of African American history and artifacts. He felt a lot of African American contributions to history were overlooked. Coinciding with Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass’s birthdays, Woodson led the charge for the creation and celebration of the “Negro History Week” in February of 1926. Initially the week was meant to encourage structured teaching of African Americans. North Carolina, Delaware, West Virginia, and the cities of Baltimore and Washington D.C. were among the first to implement the teachings. In February of 1969 a group of students from Kent State University’s Black United Students group proposed the idea of Black History Month. It wasn’t until 1976 that the expansion was formally recognized by the federal government during the presidency of Gerald Ford.

We all know about Nat Turner and the revolt that he led, but before him there was a man by the name of Denmark Vesey who is credited with being the ringleader of “the rising,” a huge slave revolt planned in Charleston, South Carolina. As free man, Vesey was never able to buy his wife and children out of slavery. He was also head of one the largest church congregations at that time. In 1822 Vesey and his followers had planned to kill some thousands of white slave owners and sail to the island Haiti. Vasey’s plans were discovered and he was eventually tried and killed by hanging. Vesey’s courage and dedication to free slaves eventually led to later uprisings, particularly Nat Turner’s revolt.

At Johnson School of Excellence, our City Year Team has organized a Black History Month “Guess Who” trivia game. Every morning, the team gives out hints over the intercom describing an important figure in black history. These hints are also given out at the end of the day. Each class has the chance to buzz down to the main office with their answer. The first class to buzz in with correct answer receives a point for that day. In addition there is a bulletin board created weekly where we display the lesser-known figures in African American history with facts about their lives and their accomplishments.

Our team felt that creating this game would be an important way to get students excited about learning about the many important contributions made by African Americans throughout history. Stay tuned to City Year Chicago’s blog, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram to learn more about what our teams are doing to promote #BlackHistoryMonth in our schools!

Antonio Marshall serves as an AmeriCorps member at the Johnson School of Excellence in the North Lawndale Community on Chicago’s west side. 

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