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137 ARW celebrates African American History Month with four-part series

The 137th Air Refueling Wing celebrates African American History Month with a four-part series on African-American Airmen who have advanced the U.S. Air Force, the Air National Guard and the 137th Air Refueling Wing. (U.S. Air National Guard illustration by Master Sgt. Andrew LaMoreaux)

The 137th Air Refueling Wing celebrates African American History Month with a four-part series on African-American Airmen who have advanced the U.S. Air Force, the Air National Guard and the 137th Air Refueling Wing. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Master Sgt. Andrew LaMoreaux)

WILL ROGERS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Okla. -- National African American History Month, or Black History Month, is an annual celebration of the achievements of black Americans and recognizes the central role of African Americans in U.S. history.

But did you know the month-long observance started as a single week?

Historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans established "Negro History Week," which was first celebrated in February of 1926. Every American president since 1976 has designated February as Black History Month.

Why February?

Woodson and the organization known today as the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History first sponsored Negro History Week in 1926, which corresponded with the week containing the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12, 1809) and Frederick Douglass (chosen by Douglass as Feb. 14, 1818), a famous social reformer and abolitionist.

As a result of the Civil Rights Movement and the growing awareness of the black identity, especially on college campuses, President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month in February of 1976, the nation's bicentennial.

According to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, President Ford called on the public to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history" and to join him in tribute to "the message of courage and perseverance [Black History Month] brings to all of us."

The contributions of African Americans are felt and experienced in all aspects of U.S. society, including the U.S. Air Force and its components. Its capabilities are not based on just the aircraft, missiles and satellites, but also the perseverance, innovation and dedication from each and every Airman.

This year is unique in that it marks the 75th anniversary of the most well-renowned African-American unit of World War II - the 332nd Fighter Group - which was manned by the Tuskegee Airmen and accomplished an outstanding combat record. 

Their impressive military feats and courageous lives still inspire and impress today, but without African American History Month, stories like these would be lost.

As the month proceeds, we look forward to highlighting those Airmen and their stories that have advanced and continue to advance the U.S. Air Force, the Air National Guard and the 137th Air Refueling Wing.

To read Part 1, click here.

To read Part 2, click here
To read Part 3, click here.
To read Part 4, click here