Karlton Laster, Cleveland Metro Director, February 18, 2021
The Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) recognizes and celebrates February as Black History Month, and we encourage our supporters to join the celebration as well.
As a statewide organization, the OEC understands the rich racial and ethnic diversity of the Buckeye State. We are a microcosm of the country. We recognize and celebrate the contributions of Black people—across sectors and states—to American and environmental justice history. It is up to organizations like the OEC to contribute and lead the continuous fight for equity and change through our words and our actions.
Black History Month is a time for all of us to learn about, reflect on, and continue the history and work of Black people in America and their quest for equity and justice across all facets of life.
Black History Month began in 1926 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life & History made the second week of February “Negro History Week.” The week coincided with the birthdays of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. In 1969, Black students & educators at Kent State University began the campaign to recognize the month of February as Black History Month. This effort culminated in 1976 when President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month during the country’s bicentennial.
In celebration of Black History Month, the OEC encourages you to recognize and celebrate the achievements, contributions, resilience, and legacies of Black Americans. Here are a few examples of Black Ohioans who have made major contributions to the environmental justice and democracy movements that I am reflecting on this month:
Garrett Morgan: Morgan was a famed inventor who patented the traffic signal and a respiratory device that would later provide the blueprint for WWI gas masks. More here.
Carl Stokes: Carl Stokes served as the first Black mayor of a major American city. His advocacy to clean up the Cuyahoga River laid the groundwork for the first Earth Day as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and a number of landmark environmental laws. More here.
Ellen Walker Craig-Jones: In 1971, Craig-Jones was elected Mayor of Urbancrest (in Central Ohio), the first Black woman elected to the office of mayor. Craig-Jones dedicated her life to improving conditions in her hometown through her civic engagement and elected leadership. More here.
Daniel Payne: Payne founded Wilberforce University, the oldest Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in America in 1856, located in Southwest Ohio. More here.