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The History of Black History Month

Black History Month was the creative inspiration of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a University of Chicago alumnus, who saw the need to educate all Americans about the numerous and important accomplishments of African Americans throughout history. Curriculum taught in classrooms did not include the vast contributions of this race, and therefore, did not convey the entire truth.

Dr. Woodson chose the month of February for the black history celebration because it was the birthday month of two heroes who played a major role in shaping black history – President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. What began in 1926 as Negro History Week, gradually grew in popularity with the development of black history clubs and teacher requests for classroom materials in the 1940’s. The event expanded to a month long celebration in the 1960’s with the designation of Black History Month for the month of February.

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CFO Jeff Atwater invites you to celebrate Black History Month as we highlight several African American leaders and visionaries who have contributed greatly to Florida’s economic success. Learn about these leaders – past and present whose lives were dedicated to making our state a better place.

Jonathan Gibbs

Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs

Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs, originally from Philadelphia, relocated to the South in 1864 to help rebuild the former Confederate states. He established a private school in Jacksonville, Florida where he became active in politics and Reconstruction. Gibbs was the first African American to serve on the Florida Cabinet and was appointed Secretary of State in 1868 by Governor Harrison Reed. In later years, he served Florida as the superintendent of public instruction and established the state's first public school system.

Israel Jones

Israel Lafayette Jones

Israel Lafayette Jones moved to South Florida from North Carolina in 1892. He worked nine years as a successful caretaker and foreman of a Coconut Grove plantation. During this time, Jones saved enough money to buy a small island called Porgy Key, now known as the southern end of Biscayne Bay Park, where he moved his family in 1897. By growing and selling pineapple and key limes, he was able to save money to acquire more land including Totten Key. Jones purchased this land for $1 and later sold it for $250,000. From humble beginnings, Israel became Miami’s first black millionaire, creating a lasting land legacy in South Florida.

Mary Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was born in 1875 in South Carolina. At the age of 10, she enrolled in Trinity Presbyterian Mission School where she learned to read and developed a love for education. In 1904, with $1.50 in her pocket, she founded the Literacy and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach. Both her students’ achievements and her personal sacrifice caught the attention of vacationing business leaders, including John D. Rockefeller, who made sizable donations to the school. Bethune-Cookman College was established in 1941, achieving university status in 2007.

Carrie Meek

Carrie Meek

Carrie Meek was born and raised in segregated Tallahassee. After graduating from Florida A & M University, she earned her graduate degree from the University of Michigan. Meek worked as an educator at Bethune-Cookman University and later at her alma mater, FAMU. She relocated to Miami where she played a pivotal role in desegregation and was active in community projects throughout the city. In 1978, she was elected to the Florida House of Representatives and later was the first African American female elected to the Florida State Senate. Her efforts in the Legislature spearheaded construction of affordable housing.

Warrick Dunn

Warrick Dunn

Originally from Louisiana, Warrick Dunn quickly rose to stardom on the Florida State University football team, breaking many school records and was later chosen in the first round of the NFL draft. From humble beginnings, Dunn became the head of his family shortly after his 18th birthday and raised his siblings when his mother, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty. He graduated from Florida State University in 1997 and later earned his MBA from Emory University. Shortly after graduation in 1997, he established the Home for the Holidays program in partnership with Habitat for Humanity; the program rewards single parents with first-time homeownership. Warrick Dunn Charities continues its numerous community endeavors providing advocacy, awareness and support to citizens in Central and North Florida and around the country.

Black History Books

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

- by Frederick Douglass

Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom

- by Catherine Clinton

Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856-1901

- by Louis R. Harlan

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

- by Martin Luther King Jr.

Mary McLeod Bethune

- by Earl Devine Martin

Florida's Highwaymen: Legendary Landscapes

- by Bob Beatty