Black History Month
Friday, February 5, 2021 12:46 AM
In Short, Black History Month (February)
Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-educated historian, is credited with creating Black History Month.
• A history professor at Howard University, Woodson got the idea in 1915 after attending a celebration in Illinois for the 50th anniversary of the 13th Amendment (passed Jan. 31, 1865), by which all people held as property in the United States were officially free.
• The antecedent of which was Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (1863), which abolished slavery in the Confederate states that seceded from the U.S. The word of which reached a group of enslaved people months later, June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas (commemorated today by Juneteenth celebrations).
• Woodson, after viewing various exhibits depicting events in African American culture, decided to form what now is named the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH), to highlight the study of the accomplishments of Black Americans.
• Professor Woodson chronicled the overlooked achievements of African Americans in The Journal of Negro History in 1916. Encouraging his fraternity Omega Psi Phi to promote his work, to which they created Negro Achievement Week in 1924. This transmuted in 1926, per a news press release, into Negro History Week for the second week of February. Chosen because of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12th, and Frederick Douglass on February 14th.
• Over the next 50 years, clubs, schools, and communities across the country began taking part in the week-long celebration. This expanded, particularly in the 1960s, into a month-long recognition. Leading up to this, in the 1940’s there were efforts within the Black community to expand the study of Black history: Black teachers in the South often taught Negro History as a supplement to United States history. During the civil rights movement in the South, the Freedom Schools incorporated Black history into the curriculum to advance social change.
• In 1976, President Ford declared February Black History Month in a commemorative speech, in which he urged citizens to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
• Today, Black History Month is widely celebrated, as we take the time to honor paragons of African American heritage, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and many others. Congress passed a law in 1986 that deemed February National Black (Afro-American) History Month. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton issued proclamations recognizing it as a national observance. Since 1996, every POTUS has issued one annually.