UPDATED: 9:05 a.m. Feb. 1, 2022
Originally published: Feb. 1, 2021
After what seemed like a full calendar year of nonstop Black history — what with the historic election of the first Black vice president, thanks in no small part to Black voters — Black History Month is making a triumphant return this year both in spite of and because of current turn of events.
As the country anxiously awaits President Joe Biden making good on his promise to nominate a Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, the nation’s education system remains under fire for curricula that include teaching Black history, making it unclear how — or if — those who write history books for future school-aged students will accurately document current events, including the diversification of the land’s highest court.
The way history chooses — and has chosen — to remember these types of moments that affect Black people is very much part of the reason why there remains an urgent need for Black History Month to not only be observed but also to be celebrated and honored, especially in 2022.
Let’s be clear: From the moment enslaved Africans were kidnapped and brought to the land that went on to be called the United States, there has been Black history in America. Black folks have overcome obstacle after obstacle to continue making that same history in the face of adversity.
So with Black History Month upon us, there may be no better time to reflect on the timeless and seemingly endless contributions that Black people have bestowed upon these United States.
From fighting for desegregation to fighting in the American military to fighting for an education, and much, much more, the struggle was very real. And while Black folks have continued the fight on a number of different levels, the struggle has persisted.
Civil rights have played a major role for the Black man in America, something that is more than apparent in the below vintage photos of Black people making history in America despite a greater power at work against it. It shows the good, the bad and, because it was in the U.S. during a time of heightened, overt racism, the ugly.
Scroll down to see more classic images from centuries ago up until just a few short decades ago.
1. Harriet TubmanSource:Getty
Harriet Tubman (c. 1820 – 1913), African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War. After escaping from slavery, she made thirteen missions to rescue over seventy slaves using the network of antislavery activists. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
2. Martin Luther King and civil rights leadersSource:Getty
Martin Luther King (3rd R) and other major American leaders of the Black civil rights movement (L from R) John Lewis, Whitney Young, Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, James Farmer and Roy Wilkins, are shown March 6, 1963, in Roosevelt Hotel in New York City during a meeting dedicated to the organization of the ‘March on Washington’, held August 28, 1963, to promote civil rights for African-Americans. (Photo credit should read OFF/AFP/Getty Images)
3. Black PanthersSource:Getty
A line of Black Panther Party members are shown as they demonstrate, fists raised outside the New York City courthouse, New York, New York, April 11, 1969. (Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)
4. Tuskeegee AirmenSource:Getty
Keep Us Flying! Buy War Bonds Tuskeegee Airmen Poster (Photo by �� David Pollack/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
5. Books Are Weapons PosterSource:Getty
A poster printed by the WPA War Services encourages citizens to read and learn about African-American history, culture and contributions. | Located in: Library of Congress. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
6. World War II 93rd InfantrySource:Getty
The 93rd Infantry Division, reactivated May 15, 1942, was the first African-American division to be formed during World War II. Fort Huachuca, Arizona, 1942. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
7. Rosa ParksSource:Getty
Rosa Parks seated toward the front of the bus, Montgomery, Alabama, 1956. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
8. Integrated Classroom in North CarolinaSource:Getty
A Black girl sits in the back row of a classroom in a Charlotte school as integration got underway. Three local schools were integrated in the city with only one minor disturbance.
9. African American Students Enter High School with Military EscortSource:Getty
African American students who had previously been banned from Little Rock Central High School were provided with portal-to-portal protection to enter the school in September of 1957 during the desegregation of Arkansas public schools. The African American students walk up the steps of the school entrance, flanked by soldiers carrying out President Eisenhower’s orders to enforce a Federal Court ruling to integrate Little Rock Central High School.
10. Lunchcounter Protest in VirginiaSource:Getty
African-American students attempt to get served at a lunch counter reserved for white customers in Portsmouth, Virginia.
11. Harry Belafonte Leads Civil Rights RallySource:Getty
New York City civil rights rally at West 38th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. A vast crowd listened to Harry Belafonte.
12. Malcolm X’s FuneralSource:Getty
Flanked by police officers, civil rights activist Betty Shabazz (1934 – 1997) was filmed as she left the funeral of her husband, Malcolm X, New York, New York, February 27, 1965. (Photo by Adger Cowans/Getty Images)
13. Martin Luther King’s FuneralSource:Getty
Crowds following Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral procession walk down West Hunter Street. Atlanta, April 1968. (Photo by James L. Amos/Corbis via Getty Images)
14. Lynching Victim Hanging Above CrowdSource:Getty
The body of an African-American man named MacMannus hangs from a tall tree above a huge crowd of white men. Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by H.R. Farr/Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
15. W.E.B. DuBoisSource:Getty
W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963), American educator, editor and writer who helped create the (NAACP) National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Undated Photograph.
16. Booker T. WashingtonSource:Getty
Seated studio portrait of American educator, economist and industrialist Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, early twentieth century. (Photo by Harris & Ewing/Interim Archives/Getty Images)
17. The 369th, 15th New York who won the Croix de Guerre for GallantrySource:Getty
Portrait of African American soldiers of the 369th, 15th New York who won the Croix de Guerre for Gallantry. (Photo by War Department/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
18. Mutilated Corpse of Claude NealSource:Getty
Claude Neal, who confessed to raping and murdering a white woman, was dragged from his jail cell in Brewton and lynched on the banks of the Chipola River.
19. Segregated FountainSource:Getty
July 1939: An African-American man drinking at a segregated drinking fountain in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by Russell Lee/Library Of Congress/Getty Images)
20. Womens Defense Corp of AmericaSource:Getty
A group of African-American women who are members of the Women’s Defense Corp of America, mid-1940s. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
21. Crowd Waiting to Enter Supreme CourtSource:Getty
Dec. 7, 1953 – Washington: Crowds line up in the Supreme Court Building in Washington to hear second round arguments challenging the constitutionality of segregation in public schools. Cases from four states and the District of Columbia were being considered. With only 50 seats available not all got in to hear Negro attorneys urge the Supreme Court to end racial segregation in public schools and wipe out ‘a sorry heritage from slavery.’ Leading an array of legal talent prepared to defend segregation, is John W. Davis, one-time Democratic candidate for president and expert on constitutional law.
22. Black Students Integrate Little Rock’s Central High SchoolSource:Getty
Elizabeth Eckford ignores the hostile screams and stares of fellow students on her first day of school. She was one of the nine Black students whose integration into Little Rock’s Central High School was ordered by a Federal Court following legal action by NAACP.
23. Troops Watch as Black Students Go to SchoolSource:Getty
African-American students attending Little Rock Central High are escorted to a waiting Army station wagon for their return home after classes. Their guard was heavier than usual because of a ‘walk-out’ demonstration by about 50 segregationist students. One of the black students was burned in effigy on the campus in an atmosphere of general tension.
24. Segregated RestroomsSource:Getty
View of segregated public restrooms labeled ‘ladies,’ ‘men’ and ‘colored,’ circa 1960. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
25. Portrait Of Medgar EversSource:Getty
Civil Rights Activist and NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers poses for a portrait circa 1960 in Jackson, Mississippi. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)
26. Separate Waiting RoomSource:Getty
A police sign for a ‘white only’ waiting room at the bus station in Jackson, Mississippi, on May 25, 1961. (Photo by William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images)
27. Race riots in Birmingham, Alabama.Source:Getty
Race riots in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo by John Duprey/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
28. A White Man Bars African-Americans From RestaurantSource:Getty
An unidentified man bars African-American children and young adults from entering Bishop’s Restaurant at 113 North Broadway in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, June 1, 1963. (Photo by Johnny Melton/Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images)
29. Myrlie Evers Speaking at MicrophoneSource:Getty
Mrs. Medgar Evers, widow of the slain integrationist leader, is shown addressing a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Freedom Rally at Howard University on Aug. 25, 1963. At far left is Mrs. Evers’ son Darrell.
30. A Young MarcherSource:Getty
A young marcher during the march for jobs and freedom to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., where Martin Luther King made his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech on August 28, 1963. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
31. Civil Rights FightersSource:Getty
An FBI poster seeking information as to the whereabouts of Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney and Michael Henry Schwerner, Civil Rights campaigners who went missing in Mississippi in 1964. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
32. Elijah MuhammadSource:Getty
Headshot of black Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad (1897 – 1975) wearing a fez with a pinstriped jacket and a bow tie, circa 1965. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
33. Anti Segregation In The Southern Stores March At Broadway In New YorkSource:Getty
Anti Segregation In The Southern Stores March At Broadway In New York (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
34. Selma to Montgomery MarchSource:Getty
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seen close from the rear, speaking in front of 25,000 civil rights marchers, at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery march in front of Alabama state capital building on March 25, 1965. In Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Stephen Somerstein/Getty Images)
35. Selma to Montgomery MarchSource:Getty
Selma to Montgomery civil rights marchers, with Negro boys holding large and small American flags. On March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images)
36. Soldiers at Civil Rights ProtestSource:Getty
U.S. National Guard troops block off Beale Street as civil rights marchers wearing placards reading, ‘I AM A MAN,’ pass by on March 29, 1968. It was the third consecutive march held by the group in as many days. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had left town after the first march, would soon return and be assassinated.
37. Coretta Scott KingSource:Getty
American civil rights campaigner, and widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King (1927 – 2006) stands behind a podium covered in microphones at Peace-In-Vietnam Rally, Central Park, New York, April 27, 1968. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
38. ‘Kidnapped’ Poster At Black Panther RallySource:Getty
At a rally in support of the Black Panther Party, two young men hold poster of Panther leader Bobby Seale under the heading ‘Kidnapped,’ New Haven, Connecticut, May 1, 1970. The poster refers to the trial of the New Haven Nine, of which Seale was one, which had just begun. (Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)
39. ‘Right On!’ Black Power ButtonSource:Getty
A ‘Right On!’ button, featuring an illustration of a clenched black fist to symbolize the Black Power movement, early 1970s. (Photo by Blank Archives/Getty Images)