The annual Black History Month for the year 2011 has kicked started in the United States as well as Canada. The month dedicated to people and events in the history of African diaspora has been observed in the month of February every year since 1976.

The U.S. Census Bureau, officially announced the beginning of the Black History Month on Tuesday as the time to recall and honor the many contributions to our nation made by people of African descent.

Started as a special week 85 years ago by historian Carter G. Woodson, the observance is now a full month of activities across the country. African-Americans number nearly 42 million in the U.S., 13.6 percent of the total population. By 2050, this proportion is estimated to reach 15 percent. Although New York had the largest number of blacks of any state, Mississippi had the largest share of this group in its total population -- 38 percent. African-Americans are the largest minority group in 23 states, informed a statement on the U.S. Census Bureau website, where Americans have been invited to find more related facts online.

For the second day of Black History Month, Profile America, produced by the Public Information Office of the Census Bureau, chose to showcase the achievements of Charles Thomas, a left fielder in Major League Baseball. It recalled an incident in 1903, which is considered as the beginning for all African-Americans to be part of major league baseball teams.

While everyone knows that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball in 1947, it is largely forgotten that the groundwork for that event was laid more than 40 years earlier. In 1903, the Ohio Wesleyan baseball team played an away game against Notre Dame, the statement from Profile America narrated.

The team's catcher was a young African-American, Charles Thomas. When he was denied lodging at the team's hotel in South Bend, Indiana, the Ohio Wesleyan baseball coach, Branch Rickey, had Thomas share his room. Years later, Rickey said the painful incident was his inspiration to sign Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

While the U.S. Census Bureau is expected to bring out a daily feature through the Black History Month, several media outlets are also trying to raise cognizance on the contribution of African-Americans to the country. The internet is also buzzing with activity on the occasion. has a separate channel dedicated Black History to inform, entertain and educate. The website features bios, videos, interactive timeline, photogalleries as well as fast facts.

Some interesting facts listed by the website are below:

- Tyra Banks was the first African-American lady on the covers of GQ magazine and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

    - In 1980, singer and performer Michael Jackson secured the highest royalty rate in the music industry-37 percent of the album's profit.

      - Comedian Bill Cosby's 1984 sitcom, The Cosby Show, became the highest-ranking sitcom for five years in a row. The plan aired for eight years.

        - African-American surgeon Charles R. Drew is often credited with the invention of the initial large-scale blood bank.

          - African-American mechanical engineer, David Crosthwait, Jr. was the man behind the heating systems for the Rockefeller Center and New York's Radio City Music Hall.

            - African-American inventor Garrett Augustus Morgan produced the gas mask. Back then he turned popular for saving workers trapped in a toxic fume-filled tunnel.

              - In 1897, African-American inventor Alfred Cralle patented the first ice cream scoop. His original design remains in wide use, even today.

                - History has credited Thomas Edison with the invention of the light bulb, but fewer people know about Lewis Latimer's innovations toward its development. Until Latimer's process formaking carbon filament, Edison's light bulbs would only burn for a few minutes. Latimer'sfilament burned for several hours.

                  The Black History Month is also being observed in Canada. On this occasion, knowledge at grass root levels seems to be the goal as local media reports informed that students across the country are being provided with a primer on black history.

                  Winnipeg Free Press reported that the Historica-Dominion Institute, the country's largest charitable organization dedicated to Canadian history, identity and citizenship, is behind the Black History in Canada Education Guide, which has been shipped to more than 3,000 high schools.

                  United Kingdom observes the Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month, in the month of October.

                  Although Black History Month as a tradition began in 1976, it takes root in the Negro History Week, which was started in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson. The intention behind this was to educate the black community about their cultural background and in turn infuse a sense of pride. However, over the years several questions have been raised over the observance of the month - from 'why is black history celebrated over the shortest month of the year?'to 'why separate black history from American history? ' While some criticize it as condescending, others view it as a commercialization.