This Week in Black History: Rosa Parks, Hank Aarons and More Noteworthy Black Icons to Celebrate

All month long, we are honoring those who have impacted the world with their activism, inventions, achievements and more

01 of 09

Feb. 1, 1901: Langston Hughes Is Born

Langston Hughes

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri to parents Carrie M. Langston and James N. Hughes. He released his first book of poems, The Weary Blues, in 1926 and was awarded a literary prize for his debut novel, Not Without Laughter, in 1930.

The award-winning poet went on to create a large body of highly influential work — including several novels, short stories and plays — that highlighted portrayals of Black life in America during the 20s to the 60s. Some of his most famous poems are Let America Be America Again (1936), I, Too (1945) and Harlem (1951).

Hughes died of complications from prostate cancer on May 22, 1967, in New York City. He was 65 years old. His home at 20 East 127th Street in Harlem was given landmark status and East 127th Street was renamed "Langston Hughes Place" in his honor.

02 of 09

Feb. 2, 1897: Alfred L. Cralle Invents the Ice Cream Scoop

Alfred L. Cralle
Courtesy Photo

Cralle was born in 1866 in Kenbridge, Virginia and grew up helping his father in the carpentry trade. While working as a porter for a hotel, Cralle noticed that people were having a hard time scooping ice cream with ordinary utensils, so he decided to create a device that would help, according to The Undefeated.

In 1897, Cralle had patented the Ice Cream Mold and Disher, which was designed to not only scoop ice cream but also keep it from sticking to the device to make the process a lot easier. His handy invention is still used today.

03 of 09

Feb. 3, 1989: Lori McNeil Defeats Chris Evert in the Pan Pacific Open

Lori McNeil
Barbara Alper/Getty

Legendary tennis star McNeil became an All-American in singles and doubles at Oklahoma State University before turning pro in 1984, according to the Women's Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame.

She most famously beat the now-retired International Tennis Hall of Famer Chris Evert in the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo on this day in history, 32 years ago.

McNeil's legendary career highlights include NCAA Big Eight Athletic Conference Singles Champion (1982), U.S. Indoor Doubles Champion (1986), Texas Tennis Hall of Fame inductee (2000) and U.S. Women's Tennis Coach at the World University Games (2005).

She's won 32 career doubles titles and was appointed assistant coach to the U.S. Olympic Team in 2004, and continues to serve as a mentor for young players.

04 of 09

Feb. 4, 1913: Rosa Parks Is Born

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (1913-2005), American Civil Rights activist. Booking photo taken at the time of her arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white passenger on 1 December 1955.
Universal History Archive/Getty

The civil rights activist was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, to parents James and Leona McCauley. She is known for getting arrested after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, after a white bus driver demanded that she do so.

The brave act of defiance, which took place on Dec. 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, led to a year-long bus boycott by Montgomery's Black residents. The movement eventually led to a Supreme Court ruling that said bus segregation was unconstitutional.

By Dec. 21, 1956, one year and 20 days after her initial arrest, Parks was photographed sitting in the front seat of a bus after her long-fought victory. Parks died in 2005 after a lifetime of fighting against civil rights injustices.

05 of 09

Feb. 5, 1934: Baseball Legend Hank Aaron Is Born

Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron. Bettmann/Getty

Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama, and primarily played for the Milwaukee Braves as right fielder. His career highlights include earning three Gold Glove Awards, making 25 All-Star Game appearances and leading the Braves in 1957 to their first World Series Championship since 1914, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The trailblazing athlete beat out Babe Ruth's home run record of 714 with his own 755, which remained the most home runs of all time until the record was broken in 2007 by Barry Bonds. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 and has since been immortalized by the Atlanta Braves within their SunTrust Park stadium, where a bronze statue of the player lives to honor his illustrious career.

He died on Jan. 22, 2021, at the age of 86.

06 of 09

Feb. 6, 1993: Arthur Ashe Dies at 49

Arthur Ashe
Arthur Ashe wins Wimbledon. Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty

The tennis champion and tireless civil rights activist died of AIDS-related complications one year before his 50th birthday.

Ashe was the first and only Black man to win Wimbledon and the U.S. and Australian Opens, according to The New York Times. He was the first Black tennis player chosen to represent the U.S. at the Davis Cup and won five championships. He also helped create the Association of Tennis Professionals in an effort to help protect the interests of players.

The icon was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985 and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. To this day, ESPN presents the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to a person in the sports world who exhibits courage in the face of adversity.

07 of 09

Feb. 7, 1926: Carter Godwin Woodson Initiates First Negro History Week

Carter Godwin Woodson
Hulton Archive/Getty

The scholar proposed and launched "Negro History Week," which became "Black History Month" in 1976. The author of more than 30 books was said to have chosen the month of February in order to honor two significant birthdays: Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and Frederick Douglass (Feb. 14). The man also known as the "Father of Black History" was the second African-American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University (the first was W.E.B. Du Bois) in 1912. He died in 1950.

08 of 09

Feb. 8, 1986: Debi Thomas Becomes First Black Woman to Win a National Figure Skating Title

Debi Thomas
Ronald C. Modra/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty

On this day 34 years ago, Thomas was the first Black figure skater to win the U.S. National Figure Skating Championship in Women's Singles. She achieved the incredible feat while also studying pre-med as a student at Stanford University, BET reports.

Before retiring from the sport and beginning medical school at Northwestern University, Thomas also took the title of the first Black figure skater to win a medal in any Winter Olympics sport when she earned a bronze medal at the 1988 Winter Olympics.

09 of 09

Feb. 9, 1944: Alice Walker Is Born

Alice Walker
Dana Nalbandian/WireImage

The esteemed writer, activist and poet was the first Black woman novelist to win a Pulitzer Prize for Literature and the National Book Award for her third novel, The Color Purple. The novel, which centers on the life of African-American women living in the South in the 1930s, was later adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg in 1985, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey. It was also made into a Tony award-winning Broadway musical, which debuted in 2004.

Walker's other significant works include Possessing the Secret of Joy, The Third Life of Grange Copeland and Meridian. She was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2001 and the California Hall of Fame in The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts in 2006, according to PBS.

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