Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


The History Behind Black History Month

By Shawn Healy

Black History Month has been celebrated in February since 1926 when Harvard scholar Carter G. Woodson attempted to make "the world see the Negro as a participant rather than as a lay figure in history."

But why devote February to Black History Month? The answer lies in our nation’s rich past. The month coincides with two men who had a great deal to do with freedom for the United States' African-American population, Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1909) and Frederick Douglass (February 14, 1818). Woodson’s vision was reinforced by the historical events pertinent to African-Americans that unfolded in February both before and after 1926.

On February 1, 1865, Abraham Lincoln approved the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. Five years later, on February 3, 1870, the approval of the 15th Amendment extended the right to vote to people of all races. February is also when we celebrate the anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott (February 22, 1956), and mourn Malcolm X’s assassination (February 21, 1965).

African-American history is fundamental to the American fabric, which is why we celebrate it this month and throughout the year at the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum.

We encourage you to check out our permanent exhibit, “Freedom For All?” which pays particular attention to African-American history. The exhibit shows how six groups used the five freedoms of the First Amendment to lay claim to the liberties promised in our founding documents. Sojourner Truth’s use of religious tenets to convince President Lincoln and others that slavery was a moral wrong punctuates our abolition kiosk, and Barbara Johns, a sixteen-year-old high school student in Farmsville, Virginia, led a student strike at her segregated school and ultimately found her case merged with four others in what would become the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The “separate facilities are inherently unequal” decision was the linchpin of the Civil Rights Movement and is featured on a kiosk devoted to this defining moment in American history.

Lastly, we invite you to participate in our upcoming February programs focused on African-American themes, such as a discussion on Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, founder of Chicago. Check out the “What’s Happening?” section of this newsletter to learn more.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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