The history of African Americans and other Black ethnicities is rich with fascinating stories. For example, there was the Stono rebellion in 1739 when enslaved people made a historic uprising against their owners, to Black surgeon Daniel Hale Williams performing the first successful heart transplant in 1893 at the Provident Hospital in Chicago. With tales like these, you can easily find encouragement and inspiration that would serve you well in your own life.

"The appearance of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."“The appearance of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.”

The roots of Black History Month

Black History Month was first recognized by President Gerald Ford in 1976, though its origins go much farther back. In 1915, nearly half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in the U.S., the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) organization was founded to study and bring awareness to Black American achievements. 1926 marked the first Negro History Week during which lectures, performances, history clubs and local events were held across the country. Black History Month began to take form in the 1960s around college campuses, and soon afterward became an officially-recognized celebration.

Celebrating Major Richard Robert Wright and National Freedom Day

To commemorate this year’s Black History Month, we’ll spotlight a crucial figure: Major Richard Robert Wright, who was an American military officer, educator, college president, politician, banking entrepreneur and civil rights advocate.

Wright was born into slavery near Dalton, GA, on May 16, 1855. After emancipation, he served as the first Black Army paymaster and was a major in the Spanish-American War. He had been appointed by President William McKinley himself and acted as the highest-ranked Black officer in the armed forces.

Wright was especially dedicated to intellectual pursuits, and his son, Richard Robert Wright Jr., earned a Ph.D. at Penn in sociology. He was one of the first African American to earn a Ph.D. at the university. Wright Jr.’s daughter, Ruth Wright Hayre, earned her own doctorate and found success as an educator.

Wright founded National Freedom Day, which was first commemorated on February 1st, 1942 in Philadelphia, PA, a year after his death. It wasn’t until 1948 that President Harry Truman proclaimed February 1st to be National Freedom Day. This time is specifically dedicated to recognizing the value and privilege of freedom that all Americans now share and commemorates the signing of the Thirteenth Amendment by Abraham Lincoln in 1865 following the American Civil War. Because it’s celebrated on the first day of February, it also serves as the first day of Black History Month.

This year’s theme: health and wellness

Every Black History Month has a flavor and theme of its own, and this year, it’s Black health and wellness, according to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) in Washington, D.C.

“This year’s theme explores the nuances of health and wellness in the Black community … [It presents] a new chance for everyone to gain wisdom and understanding on topics that don’t normally get discussed related to the Black community,” said Black Student Alliance Council (BSAC) president, Matthew Francis, at Texas A & M University.

Find inspiration in Black History Month and Major Richard Robert Wright

Many other nations across the globe recognize Black history in their own way, such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland. Wherever you may reside, you too can participate in the exceptional celebration of monumental achievements made by Black individuals since the beginning of civilization. Black History Month is about recognizing the extraordinary accomplishments of Black and African American individuals so we can find encouragement in their uncommon endeavors.

There are many inspirational stories of those who went above and beyond their calling to achieve great things, and many of those successes serve to help us in our everyday lives. Whether it’s stories of heroism, scientific breakthroughs, exceptional civil rights advances or something else entirely, take the time to learn a thing or two about the people who made this country — and the world — a better place for all.