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Recognizing Black Pennsylvanians during Black History Month

February 27, 2024 12:00 AM
By: PDE Press and Communications Office

Black History Month is an annual observance during the month of February dedicated to highlighting and commemorating Black achievements and the diverse history that has shaped the United States. 

Black History Month originally began as Negro History week in 1926, during the second week of February, as it coincided with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. This later expanded to February being recognized as Black History Month and has since inspired thousands throughout the Commonwealth, country, and world to recognize the importance of the month. Each year, communities nationwide have organized local celebrations and discussions to remember the legacy and history of Black individuals across the United States.  

This year’s Black History Month theme, endorsed by the President, isAfrican Americans and the Arts, and showcases the talents of Black artists across diverse mediums and perspectives, including writers, musicians, and more. This year, we featured several notable Black Pennsylvanians, both artists, and educators, to showcase their diverse and rich history during their lives in the Commonwealth.  

Charlotte Forten Grimke was an anti-slavery activist, poet, and educator born in Philadelphia in 1837. Forten was a prominent member of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society, where she arranged for lecturers including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Senator Charles Sumner. During this time, she began writing activism-themed poetry, which were published in anti-slavery publications like The Liberator and the Evangelist. 

During the American Civil War, Grimke was in a unique role, teaching free Black children on the Sea Islands near Beaufort, SC. During this time, she chronicled her life in a series of detailed journals and essays, some of which were published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1864. Following the war, Grimke moved to Washington D.C. and in 1896, helped to found the National Association of Colored Women.  

Marian Anderson was a classically trained musician, born in Philadelphia in 1897. During her lifetime, she was barred from singing at a Daughters of the American Revolution integrated event at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. After this, then first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt assisted in Anderson’s performance at an open-air Easter Sunday concert on the Lincoln Memorial steps in 1939. On this occasion, Anderson sang in front of an integrated crowd of more than 75,000 and was broadcast to millions globally.  

Anderson later became the first African American singer to perform at the Metropolitan Opera and was a delegate of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Later, she sang at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and was awarded one of the first Presidential Medals of Freedom in 1963.  

Quinta Brunson is a writer, producer, actress and comedian who was born in Philadelphia in 1989. Her work for Abbott Elementary, which highlights teachers working at a public, urban school in Philadelphia, has received numerous accolades and awards. She is the first Black woman to be nominated three times in the comedy category, was honored with a 2022 Peabody Award in the area of entertainment, and most recently won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 2024.  

In the modern era, Brunson has been paramount at championing the hard work that teachers perform daily and was named by the National Education Association as a Friend of Education for giving educators a voice on the smaller screen. Brunson’s work and Abbott Elementary continue to play an important role in recognizing teacher’s work in the 21st century. 

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