For many of us, Black History Month is something we’ve grown up with hearing about. Maybe, if we were lucky, we went to a school that even taught facts about Black History Month and Black history as a whole each February. Often, though, it’s easy to forget that Black History Month was only first nationally-recognized in 1969. That’s barely more than 50 years ago. For some older adults, it might be surprising to realize that Black History Month only began some years after they were born. Before learning anything about Black History, though, it’s important to recognize why the holiday exists. And to recognize that, it’s important to also acknowledge that Black Americans have been consistently and systematically disenfranchised since the inception of the country itself. After that, it’s easy to understand why having a dedicated month to acknowledging and celebrating the accomplishments of Black Americans is so incredibly important.
It was started by a historian and author.
According to the Library of Congress, National African American History Month first began in 1915 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which is now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or ASALH.
As the ASALH site says, Woodson was urging other organizations (including his college fraternity) to promote the achievements of Black Americans as early as 1920. He continued these efforts through the 1920s and in 1926, he put out a press release naming a week in February as Negro History Week.
The founder of the month was the son of former slaves.
As ASALH also explains, Woodson was the son of former slaves and completed his undergraduate, bachelor, and master’s degree in just a few years. He attended Berea College and the University of Chicago. In addition to this, he also earned a PhD from Harvard in 1912. At the time, he was only the second African American to do so.
There is a special tribute to Woodson every year at the White House.
In honor of all Woodson achieved in his career, including the origins and eventual popularity of Black History Month, there is an ornament of Woodson that hangs on the White House’s Christmas tree each year, according to the ASALH.
Woodson never lost hope that Black history would become a bigger part of American schools’ curriculum.
According to the ASALH site, Woodson died in 1950 but continued to believe that the Negro History Week he had created would cease to exist. Instead, he had hoped that the curriculum celebrating and teaching about the accomplishments of Black Americans would eventually become a seamless part of the curriculum. As an article entitled “The Origins Of Black History Month” on the ASALH site says of Woodson, “He pressed for schools to use Negro History Week to demonstrate what students learned all year. In the same vein, he established a Black studies extension program to reach adults throughout the year”
It wasn’t until the 1976 that Black History Month was nationally-recognized.
Decades later, and after many individual towns had decided to recognize Black History Month, President Gerald Ford made Black History Month a national observance, as an article by TIME points out.
The month of February was chosen for two specific reasons.
According to History.com, February was chosen as the specific month for Black History Month because it’s the month of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays.
Each year’s Black History Month has a different theme and focus.
You might be surprised to learn that each Black History Month has a different area of focus. According to the ASALH site, themes for the last decade have included The Emancipation Proclamation/March On Washington (2013), Civil Rights in America (2014), Sites Of African American Memories (2016), The Crisis In Black Education (2017), African Americans in Times Of War (2018), and Black Migrations (2019). For 2020, the theme of the month was “African Americans and the Vote.”
This is only the 100th year that all Black Americans had the same voting rights as white Americans.
According to People.com, 2020 is the 100th-year anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment and the 15th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote and African Americans the right to vote, respectively.
This speaks to Black History Month’s 2020 theme, the point of which is to explore the ways in which Black Americans’ rights to vote were denied and the ways in which they still are by voter suppression, an inherently racist tactic to prevent Black and brown people from voting.
The 2021 theme for Black History Month is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.”
According to the ASALH site, the 2021 theme for Black History Month is all about the Black Family and how it has been “stereotyped and vilified from the days of slavery to our own time.”
The month will also focus on the ways in which Black families were separated from their birthplaces through the atrocities of slavery, and the effects this has had.
“The Black family knows no single location, since family reunions and genetic-ancestry searches testify to the spread of family members across states, nations, and continents,” teh ASALH reads.
The United States isn’t the only country that celebrates February as Black History Month.
Even though Woodson began Negro History Week way back in 1926, since then other countries have joined the United States in recognizing February as Black History Month. According to National Geographic, that includes countries like Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
The month is recognized each year by Democrat and Republican presidents alike.
According to ASAH, “every American president, Democrat and Republican, has issued proclamations endorsing the Association’s annual theme” for Black History Month since the 1970s.
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