African American History Month 2009

This month, the Library of Congress, along with other US Government institutions like the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, honors African American History Month. This year’s theme, “The Quest for Black Citizenship in the Americas”, is a tribute to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which marks its 100th anniversary on February 12. The centennial of the NAACP, formed in 1909 by a group of men and women — whites and blacks, Jews and Gentiles — is an occasion to highlight the problem of race and citizenship in American history, from the experiences of free Blacks in a land of slavery to the political aspirations of African Americans today.

The idea for African American History Month dates back to 1925 when Harvard educated historian, Carter G. Woodson, an early member of the NAACP, conceived and announced Negro History Week. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that had the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. This year, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) will deliver the keynote address kicking off the Library of Congress celebration of African American History Month on Wednesday, February 4.

This past year, with such notable firsts as the first African American President, Attorney General and New York Governor, is a good time to look back at the first African American lawyers. The Just The Beginning Foundation, a multiracial, nonprofit organization comprised of lawyers, judges, and other citizens, is dedicated to developing interest in the law among young persons from various ethnic backgrounds underrepresented in the legal profession and supporting their continued advancement. Its long-term goal is to increase racial diversity in the legal profession and on the bench. On its web page of First African American Lawyers, George Boyer Vashon is listed as the first African American lawyer to be admitted to the practice of law in New York in 1848. He followed Macon Bolling Allen who was the first African American licensed to practice law in the United States (Maine, 1844) and the first Black American Justice of the Peace.

The BLS Library has in its collection Fire from the Soul by Donald Spivey (E185.86 .S65 2003) with chapters on Race first: an introduction to black history — The destruction of a people — Democracy contradicted — Outright violence — The new slavery — Urban blacks: new consciousness and new voice to the American dilemma — Seeking salvation during more hard times — Battling on every front — Race to the future: toward a conclusion.