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Celebrating Head Start’s Commitment to African American Children

Black History Month was officially recognized by the United States in 1976, for Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” As this month comes to a close, we take a look back at Head Start’s history and how the dedication of many in the summer of 1965 created the foundation for Head Start’s commitment to ensuring that all children, regardless of race, class or national origin have a chance to succeed.

The Head Start program began in the summer of 1965, amidst mass social upheaval and an organized civil rights movement that was determined to ensure economic equality and an end to discrimination for all Americans, especially African Americans.  The program, partly in response to this, was one of many created during the Johnson administration’s declared War on Poverty.

But Head Start’s success was neither clearly predicted nor easy, especially for many educators and parents in the South who faced strong opposition to the idea of providing early education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to African American children.

At a recent regional conference of Head Start leaders and staff, Dr. Marvin Hogan, Executive Director of Friends of Children of Mississippi, Inc. (FCM) recalled that the first programs in his state were created and run by parents, volunteers, influential individuals and organizations amidst serious threats of violence and intimidation from racist members of the community.  He remembered being impressed by them and what he described as the extreme amounts of courage they must have mustered in order to continue on each day.  

Today we remember and honor all those special individuals from the very first years of Head Start who unknowingly made it possible for us fifty years later to have a Head Start legacy to continue.  Their hard work and dedication undoubtedly enabled the success of millions of children and their families, including some of our nation’s most talented artists, politicians, business leaders, and champions for social progress such as President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Head Start alum Cornell Brooks, President of the Ford Foundation and Head Start alum Darren Walker, and proud Head Start parent and actor Danny Glover, just to name a few.