HERE‘S WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Born in 1875, Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History,” was a scholar and the son of former slaves. He became the second African American to receive a PhD from Harvard University, and was one of the first scholars to study African-American history. Woodson is also known for ground-breaking academic works such as The History of the Negro Church (1922) and The Mis-Education of the Negro (1933). On west.org we honor Dr. Woodson and his contributions to the preservation and celebration of American history.
CREATING BLACK HISTORY MONTH
The American journey of Black History Month begins around 1915, 50 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. In September of that year, along with William D. Hartgrove, George Cleveland Hall, Alexander L. Jackson, and James E. Stamps, Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). The organization’s purpose was to research the role of people of African descent in American history and to bring the contributions of African Americans into he mainstream. Like W. E. B. Du Bois (who was, incidentally, the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard), Woodson believed that truth could not be denied, and that reason would prevail over prejudice .
Through the organization, Dr. Woodson conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925. The event was first celebrated in 1926 during the second week of February, which encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson, who was also an educator, lobbied schools, churches, and organizations to participate in a special program to encourage the study of African-American history. The response was overwhelming. Black history clubs sprang up, teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils, and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.
HERE’S WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT BLACK HISTORY MONTH – Diagram of a slave ship and the alignment of captive slaves during the Atlantic slave trade shows the inhumane conditions endured by millions of brutalized Africans. Image, public domain.[/caption]
In 1950, by the time of Dr. Woodson’s death, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration. Mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week. The Black Awakening of the 1960’s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all color on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.
By the 1970s, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses. During America’s Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, President Gerald R. Ford recognized Black History Month as a national celebration, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
HONORING BLACK HISTORY MONTH TODAY
Since its official, national recognition in 1976, Black History Month has been designated by every American president as a time to reflect upon the history and accomplishments of African Americans and to honor the individuals and groups which have worked tirelessly toward racial justice. Other countries around the world also devote time to celebrating Black History.
American Presidents have also adopted the practice of endorsing specific themes for the month’s observations. The 2013 theme, “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington,” marks the 150th and 50th anniversaries of two pivotal events in African-American history.
For Black History Month in 2014, President Barack Obama in his Presidential Proclamation said the following:
“As we pay tribute to the heroes, sung and unsung, of African-American history, we recall the inner strength that sustained millions in bondage. We remember the courage that led activists to defy lynch mobs and register their neighbors to vote. And we carry forward the unyielding hope that guided a movement as it bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice. Even while we seek to dull the scars of slavery and legalized discrimination, we hold fast to the values gained through centuries of trial and suffering.”
As the Black American journey continues to uplift the hopes and dreams of those of other cultures worldwide, the stories and testimonies found in African American history serve as a constant light and reflection of the true soul and promise of America. Carter G. Woodson, in promoting the study of black history, has inspired a nation to honor the resilience and spirit of a people.
Karen Lascaris is a regular contributor to Westa.org. She is the author of “In Our Own Image: Treasured African American Traditions, Journeys, and Icons”, published by Running Press of Philadelphia.
READ MORE ABOUT BLACK HISTORY on our blog below, and WATCH the video below about the history of Black History Month, courtesy, History.com. Many thanks!
 – “About Carter G. Woodson”, Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). https://asalh100.org/our-history/carter-g-woodson/, accessed 2-7-2017.
 – “About African American History Month,” excerpted from an essay by Daryl Michael Scott, Howard University, for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. http://www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov/about.html; accessed 2/4/2016.
 – “African American History Month”, The National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts. http://www.national-consortium.org/Special-Recognition/African-American-History-Month.aspx