In February of every year, almost all schools, organizations, and major companies celebrate Black History Month in the US, a tradition that started back in the Jim Crow era and became officially recognized in 1976 as a national celebration. But why was February picked as Black History Month and who started it?
Before Black History Month became a month-long celebration, it was actually a weeklong celebration established by the scholar Carter G Woodson in 1926. He called it Negro History Week and focused on recognizing Black people’s contribution to civilization. Woodson was the son of formerly enslaved people in Virginia and the second black person, after W.E.B Du Bois, to earn a doctorate from Harvard University.
Woodson chose a week in February because of two people: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. President Lincoln was born on February 12th. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery and did not know his actual birthday, but he celebrated it on February 14th. Both Lincoln and Douglass have played a crucial role in the freeing of Black people in America and the Black community had celebrated their contribution on their birthdays after they passed.
Woodson established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 with four others. The organization encouraged scholars to engage in the study of Black history and put out a scholarly publication titled The Journal of Negro History. That organization, now renamed Association for the Study of African American Life and History, is still the official promoter of Black History Month.
It’s no secret that Black history was either ignorantly missing from American history classrooms or intentionally suppressed. It wasn’t until 1951 that Black history was mandated in public schools with California being the first state to do it. Then the 1960s saw an uptick in Black history courses. More and more places across the country recognized not just Black History Week but Black History Month in February.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially declared February as Black History Month. He told the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Did you know there is a new theme for Black History Month every year? The Association for the Study of African American Life and History chooses a new theme every year. This year’s theme is “Black Resistance.”
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