Black History Month

In the spirit of the Swinerton Equity and Inclusion council’s Culture of Care pledge, we are hosting the first annual company-wide celebration of Black History Month. Spearheaded by the Black Community Business Resource Group, we are proud to share all month long information on Black history, acknowledgment of influential Black leaders, a look at the culture among the African diaspora, and insight into Swinerton’s Black talent and workforce.

Join us for Black History Month February 2021

All throughout February, we are going to be showcasing Black History month by:

  • 2021

    Week 1

    Introduction to Black History Month

  • Week 2

    Notable Black Leaders and Cultural Icons

  • Week 3

    Black Leaders and Icons within Construction

  • Week 4

    Black History in the Making and a Look Toward the Future


The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. In September 1915, Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and other peoples of African descent. This group, known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926.

The second week of February was selected to celebrate these achievements to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. This event inspired schools and communities across the country to organize local celebrations, create history clubs, and host performances and lectures.

See the Black History in the United States timeline.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Black activist, from 1955 until his assassination in 1968 during the civil rights movement. Through his inspirational speeches and activism, he played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of Black citizens in the United States. Additionally, he helped with the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (see below). His most famous work is the “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, where he delivered the message of his dream to eliminate segregation and racism in the United States.

Civil Rights Act of 1964 – “The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, is considered one of the crowning legislative achievements of the civil rights movement.”

Voting Rights of 1965 – “The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” (Source:

For more information about the life and work of Dr. King, check out The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.

Malcolm X

Malcolm X was a Black leader, minister, and supporter of the Black nationalism in the Civil
Rights movement. He advocated to his Black community to protect themselves against white
aggression by any means necessary; which at times put him in a position that often didn’t coincide with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s nonviolent teachings.

For more information about Malcolm X , check out The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex
Haley and Malcolm X.

Angela Davis

Angela Davis is a Black political activist, philosopher, academic, and author. She is well known
for her radical education and for being an activist for civil rights and social issues. Davis joined
the Black Panthers, which is an all-Black branch of the Communist Party.

For one of Angela Davis’ perspective writings on the Women’s Liberation Movement, check
out Women, Race & Class.

Oprah Winfrey

“When you undervalue what you do, the world will undervalue who you are.” Oprah is a Black talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and philanthropist. She is best known for her talk show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” that was broadcast from Chicago. It remains one of the highest-rated daytime talk shows in American television history.

For some insight into Oprah’s life and lifestyle, check out her memoir The Life You Want.

Tupac Shakur

Tupac, one of the most influential rappers of all time, who was well known for his lyrics and
freedom of speech through his music platform. He would use his platform to show the
life of the ghetto as a young Black male, by sharing stories others hadn’t heard before, and bringing transparency to the disparities of the Black community.

For more information about the music and life of Tupac, check out Tupac Shakur, The Life
and Times of an American Icon 
by Freddie Lee Johnson and Tayannah Lee McQuillar.


Black representation and partnership have been vital for the Black community and the need for Black visibility within our industry is more important now than ever. With respect to this week’s topic, we would like to share notable Black icons in construction as well as an example of Swinerton’s partnership with minority communities.

Construction Industry

McKissack & McKissack​​​​​​​
McKissack is the oldest African American-owned construction company in the United States. In 1905, Moses McKissack III, an astonishing builder, joined his brother Calvin to form one of the earliest Black architectural firms in Nashville, Tennessee. Today, the firm is still active and has worked on many facilities including the National Museum of African American History and Culture along with the MLK Memorial.

Vertner Woodson Tandy
One of the seven leading founders of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity at Cornell University in 1906, Vertner was a Black architect. He was the first registered architect in New York State.

Robert Robinson Taylor​​​​​​​
Robert was an architect and educator. He was the first Black student to enroll at the MIT, and the first accredited Black architect when he graduated in 1892. His first building project was the science hall at Tuskegee University.

Iconic Inventors

Frederick Jones

​​​​​​​Frederick Jones is an African American inventor whose incredible inventions compose much of what we know as building HVAC fundamentals. His list of inventions include: the air conditioning unit, thermostat control, a motor ticket dispensing machine, the design for an air conditioning unit, automatically stopping and starting gas engines, the two-cycle gas engine, an air conditioning unit, starter generator, thermostatically operating gas engines, the rotary compressor, controlling operation of refrigeration units, heating or cooling atmosphere in enclosures, the two-cycle gasoline engine, prefabricated refrigerator construction, a refrigeration control device, the means of defrosting a cold diffuser, air conditioning method, a control device for the internal combustion engine, and a thermostat and temperature control system.

Black History Month Week 4: Black History in the Making and a Look Toward the Future

The contributions and cultural influences stemming from African American history have been greatly undermined in American culture. From the literature arts, music, entertainment, food, and political movements, these are all aspects that are prevalent and deep rooted in today’s society. Here we take a look back at fundamental public figures and social movements that broke barriers of bringing African culture to the forefront.


Carter G. Woodson (1875–1950)​​​​​​​

Carter G. Woodson was an African American writer and historian known as the “Father of Black History.” Woodson was the second African American to receive a doctorate from Harvard and dedicated his career to the field of African American history and lobbied extensively to establish Black History Month (BHM) as a nationwide institution.

Woodson helped found the Association for the Study of African American Life and History which had the goal of placing African American historical contributions front and center in addition to forming the African American-owned Associated Publishers Press in 1921.

Woodson lobbied schools and organizations to participate in a special program to encourage the study of African American history, which began as a weekly celebration in February 1926. The program was later expanded and renamed Black History Month. Woodson had chosen February for the initial weeklong celebration to honor the birth months of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.

Though BHM annual observance originated in the United States, it has received official recognition from governments in the United States and Canada, and more recently has been observed in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

Harlem Renaissance (Art Movement)

The Harlem Renaissance was an intellectual revival of African American art and literature centered in Harlem, Manhattan, New York City, spanning the 1920s.

The cultural movement was considered the rebirth of the African American arts. Freed African Americans sought civic participation, political equality, and economic and cultural self-determination.

With the Harlem Renaissance came a sense of acceptance for African American writers. With Harlem came the courage “to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame.”

Literature Impact

The movement featured many renowned  African American writers and poets, such as Langston HughesZora Neale Hurston, and Claude McKay.

Many poets of the Harlem Renaissance were inspired to tie in threads of African American culture into their poems. As a result, jazz poetry was heavily developed during this time. “The Weary Blues” was a notable jazz poem written by Langston Hughes.

Musical Impact

A new way of playing the piano called the Harlem Stride style was created during the Harlem Renaissance. Jazz performers and composers at the time such as Eubie BlakeNoble SissleJelly Roll MortonWillie “The Lion” SmithFats WallerEthel WatersAdelaide Hall; and bandleaders Duke EllingtonLouis Armstrong, and Fletcher Henderson were extremely talented, skillful, competitive, and inspirational. They are still considered as having laid great parts of the foundations for future musicians of their genre.

Composers (including William Grant Still) used poems written by African American poets in their songs and would implement the rhythms, harmonies, and melodies of African American music—such as bluesspirituals, and jazz—into their concert pieces.

Fashion Impact

The fashion of the Harlem Renaissance was used to convey elegance and flamboyancy and was created with the vibrant dance style of the 1920s in mind.

Through their works of literature, Black authors were able to give a voice to the African American identity, as well as strive for a community of support and acceptance.

Jackie Robinson (1919–1972)

Robinson was an American professional baseball player who became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB). Robinson broke the baseball color line when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, ending racial segregation in professional baseball. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

In 1997, MLB retired his uniform number 42 across all major league teams; he was the first professional athlete in any sport to be so honored. Starting in 2004, April 15th, became “Jackie Robinson Day”, on which every player on every team wears No. 42. He influenced the culture of and contributed significantly to the civil rights movement.

Muhammad Ali (1942–2016)

Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. was an American professional boxer, activist, entertainer, and philanthropist. Nicknamed “The Greatest,” he is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated figures of the 20th century and as one of the greatest boxers of all time.

Ali was a very high-profile figure of racial pride for African Americans during the civil rights movement and throughout his career. His power as a heroic symbol bridged the entire span of the movement’s ideological spectrum in ways that nobody else could. Ali appealed simultaneously to people and organizations who otherwise agreed on little politically.


Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris is the 49th and current Vice President of the United States. She is the first female Vice President, the highest-ranking female elected official in U.S. history, and the first African American and first Asian American Vice President.

Born in Oakland, California, Harris graduated from Howard University and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. She was elected Attorney General of California in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Harris served as the junior US Senator from California from 2017 to 2021 and was the second African American woman and the first South Asian American to serve in the US Senate.

As a Senator, she advocated for healthcare reform, federal de-scheduling of cannabis, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the DREAM Act, a ban on assault weapons, and progressive tax reform. She gained a national profile for her pointed questioning of Trump administration officials during Senate hearings, including Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist, planetary scientist, author, and science communicator. Since 1996, he has been the Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. The center is part of the American Museum of Natural History, where Tyson founded the Department of Astrophysics in 1997 and has been a research associate in the department since 2003.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an author and journalist. Coates gained a wide readership during his time as a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he wrote about cultural, social, and political issues, particularly regarding African Americans and white supremacy. He has published three non-fiction books: The Beautiful Struggle, Between the World and Me, and We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. In 2015 he received a “Genius Grant” from the MacArthur Foundation.


Beyoncé is one of the world’s best-selling recording artists, having sold 118 million records worldwide. She is the most nominated woman at the Grammy Awards and has the second-most wins for a woman with a total of 24. She is also the most awarded artist at the MTV Video Music Awards, with 24 wins. In 2014, she became the highest-earning Black musician in history and was listed among Time’s 100 most influential people in the world for the second year in a row. Forbes ranked her as the most powerful female in entertainment on their 2015 and 2017 lists. She occupied sixth place for Time’s Person of the Year in 2016, and in 2020, was named one of the 100 women who defined the last century by the same publication.

LeBron James

LeBron James is widely considered one of the greatest NBA players in history, James is frequently compared to Michael Jordan in debates over the greatest basketball player of all time. Playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and Los Angeles Lakers, James is the only player in NBA history to have won NBA championships with three franchises as Finals MVP. His accomplishments include four NBA championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards, four Finals MVP Awards, and two Olympic gold medals.

Having become more involved in philanthropic and activist pursuits later in his career, James’ charitable organization (LeBron James Family Foundation) helped open a school, housing complex, and community center/retail plaza in his hometown of Akron, OH.


Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a decentralized movement protesting incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against Black people, as well as for various other policy changes considered to be related to Black liberation.

In July 2013, the movement began with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African American teen Trayvon Martin (17 months earlier in February 2012). The originators of the hashtag and call to action, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, expanded their project into a national network of over 30 local chapters between 2014 and 2016. The movement became nationally recognized for street demonstrations following the 2014 deaths of two African Americans: Michael Brown—resulting in protests and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri—and Eric Garner in New York City. Since the Ferguson protests, participants in the movement have demonstrated against the deaths of numerous other African Americans by police actions or while in police custody.

The movement returned to national headlines and gained further international attention during global protests in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. An estimated 15 million to 26 million people participated in the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, making it one of the largest movements in the country’s history.