The History of Black History Month

Black History Month is also commonly called African American History Month. The history of Black History Month comes from the need for a month that celebrates the achievements of African American women and men. Dr. Carter Woodson conceived of the idea for Black History Month.

Dr. Carter Woodson: Founder of Black History Month

Dr. Woodson was born in 1875, the son of former slaves, and he received a PhD from Harvard University in 1912. During his studies, he noted that there was a lack of information on and celebration of the role of African Americans in American history. Correcting this omission became a passion of his and in 1915 he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life (later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History). In 1926 he started the first Negro History Week (later renamed African American History Week). He chose the second week of February for the timing of this celebration, as it was the same month of the birth of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. Lincoln and Douglas were both instrumental figures involved in the fight to end slavery, and Dr. Woodson thought that this made it a fitting time period to host the celebration of African American history. Since 1928 each week, and now each month, has had a theme that has helped those people who are organizing Black History months focus on one main topic within the vast subject area of African American history.

In 1975 Black History Week gained national recognition when President Gerald Ford issued a proclamation about the observance of Black History Week. In 1976, the weeklong celebration was expanded into a month. The first celebration of the Black History Month was held at Kent State. President Ford recognized the month as time to “review with admiration the impressive contributions of Black Americans to our national life and culture”. Future Presidents would continue to recognize Black History Month, but it did not become an official month until 1986 when Congress passed the Public Law 99-244 (National Black (Afro-American) History Month). President Reagan explained the purpose of the celebration of African American/Black History Month: “the foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity… and it is to celebrate the many achievements of African Americans in every field from science and the arts to politics and religion.” Congress has passed additional legislation celebrating Black History Month and the accomplishment of African Americans in the United States.

Black History Month provides a significant opportunity for organizations to have conversations around the history and contributions of African Americans.  Please visit our Black History Month Page for more information about Black History Month as well as ways to engage your employees or volunteers.

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