Since the 1970s, this familiar declaration has introduced countless celebrations of Black History Month America and achievement, from Black History Minutes on local television stations to pronouncements by U.S. presidents. Why is February designated as African American History Month?
Black History Month America 2022
Carter G. Woodson, who pioneered African American studies in the early 20th century, holds the key to the answer. In 1915, after attending a three-week national celebration of the 50th anniversary of emancipation, Woodson and four others founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) to encourage scholars to think deeply about the Black past, a subject that has long been neglected in academia and in American schools. Woodson started editing the association’s main scholarly journal in 1916.
The first Negro History and Literature Week was organized by Woodson’s college fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, in 1924. With the aim of drawing greater attention to African American history, Woodson and the ASNLH founded Negro History Week in February 1926.
February is the birth month of two figures who loom large in the Black past: U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (born February 12), who issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and African American abolitionist, author, and orator Frederick Douglass (born February 14). Since the deaths of Lincoln and Douglass (in 1865 and 1895, respectively), the Black community had celebrated their contributions to African American liberation and civil rights on their birthdays.
By rooting Negro History Week in February, Woodson sought to both honor the inestimable legacy of Lincoln and Douglass and to expand an already existent celebration of the Black past to include not only the accomplishments of these two great individuals but also the history and achievements of Black people in general.
As early as the 1940s, some communities had transformed February into Negro History Month. With the ascendance of the American civil rights movement and the rise of Black consciousness in the 1960s, Negro History Week had become Black History Month in more and more places. In 1976 the association that Woodson had founded (later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) facilitated the widespread institutionalization of February as Black History Month, and U.S. President Gerald Ford urged Americans to participate in its observance. All subsequent presidents would do the same, sometimes referring to the event as National Afro-American (Black) History Month or National African American History Month.
• A continued engagement with history is vital as it helps give context for the present.
• Black History Month is an opportunity to understand Black histories, going beyond stories of racism and slavery to spotlight Black achievement.
• This year’s theme is The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity, and will explore the African diaspora.
February is Black History Month. This month-long observance in the US and Canada is a chance to celebrate Black achievement. This year, it also follows a tumultuous period where racial justice calls reached a fever pitch, providing a fresh reminder to take stock of where systemic racism persists and give visibility to the people and organizations creating change.
Here’s what to know about the monthly observance and how to celebrate this year:
How did Black History Month begin?
Black History Month’s first iteration was Negro History Week, created in February 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, known as the “father of Black history.” This historian helped establish the field of African American studies and his organization, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, aimed to encourage “people of all ethnic and social backgrounds to discuss the Black experience”.
“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”
― Carter G. Woodson
His organization was later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASAALH) and is currently the oldest historical society established for the promotion of African American history.
Why is Black History Month in February?
February was chosen by Woodson for the week-long observance as it coincides with the birthdates of both former US President Abraham Lincoln and social reformer Frederick Douglass. Both men played a significant role in helping to end slavery.
Woodson also understood that members of the Black community already celebrated the births of Douglass and Lincoln and sought to build on existing traditions. “He was asking the public to extend their study of Black history, not to create a new tradition”, as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASAALH) explained on its website.
How did Black History Month become a national month of celebration?
By the late 1960s, thanks in part to the civil-rights movement and a growing awareness of Black identity, Negro History Week was celebrated by mayors in cities across the country. Eventually, the event evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History month. In his speech, President Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history”.
Since his administration, every American president has recognized Black History Month and its mission. But it wasn’t until Congress passed “National Black History Month” into law in 1986 that many in the country began to observe it formally. The law aimed to make all Americans “aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity”.
Why is Black History Month celebrated?
Initially, Black History Month was a way of teaching students and young people about Black and African-Americans’ contributions. Such stories had been largely forgotten and were a neglected part of the national narrative.
Now, it’s seen as a celebration of those who’ve impacted not just the country but the world with their activism and achievements. In the US, the month-long spotlight during February is an opportunity for people to engage with Black histories, go beyond discussions of racism and slavery, and highlight Black leaders and accomplishments.
What is this year’s Black History Month theme?
Every year, a theme is chosen by the ASAALH, the group originally founded by Woodson. This year’s theme is The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity and will explore the diasporic nature of the African family – both the individual families whose members are spread out across different states, nations and continents, but also the wider perception of the African diaspora as the “Black family at large”.
In addition, organizations like Black Lives Matter are using the month to look ahead, celebrating Black Future Month, as well as black history.
Is Black History Month celebrated anywhere else?
The Canadians celebrate it in February. October is the month when it is celebrated in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, and Ireland. In Canada, African-Canadian parliament member Jean Augustine motioned for Black History Month in 1995 to bring awareness to Black Canadians’ work.
During the first Black History Month celebrated in the UK in 1987, the focus was on Black American history. Over time, Black British history has gained more prominence. It is now dedicated to honoring African people’s contributions to the country. According to its UK mission statement, “Dig deeper, look closer, think bigger”.
Why is Black History Month important?
For many modern Black millennials, the month-long celebration offers a chance to reimagine what’s to come. Woodson’s drive nearly a century ago is as relevant today as it was then.
In 2016, Lonnie G. Bunch III, Director of the Smithsonian Institution, said at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.: “There is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history.”. “We owe it to our ancestors to remember the struggle and sacrifice they made for us”.