Celebrating Black History Month

black history month

The history of the YMCA – like the history of the United States – is a story of incremental progress toward greater inclusion and equity for all. As we celebrate Black History Month, we remember and honor the Black leaders who helped move the Y – and America – forward on this journey, often in the face of unimaginable challenges. Here are a few of their stories.

Anthony Bowen
A former slave and the first Black American to become a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office, Anthony Bowen founded the first YMCA for the Black community in Washington, D.C., in 1853, eight years before the Civil War. Additional Black Ys and college chapters were established in the following decades, with membership reaching 28,000 nationwide by the mid-1920s.

Carter G. Woodson
In 1915, at the Wabash Avenue YMCA in Chicago, Carter Woodson organized the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which researched and celebrated the achievements of Black Americans. This led to his starting Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month.

Madam C.J. Walker
An entrepreneur, philanthropist and social activist, Walker was one of the first self-made female American millionaires. She escaped poverty and built a company selling hair care products, which also gave her sales agents an income of their own. Walker was a philanthropic supporter of the YMCA and participated in and financially supported the NAACP’s anti-lynching movement.

Jackie Robinson
In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and became the first Black major league baseball player. This same year he also became a volunteer coach at the Harlem YMCA with fellow coach and teammate Roy Campanella.

All month long in our centers and on social media, we’ll continue to celebrate Black Americans who have made – and are continuing to make – a lasting impact on our society.