Every February we come together to celebrate Black History Month. It’s a time to reflect and celebrate the legacy and contributions of Black people in America. During the short month, we recognize Black leaders, innovators, and change-makers who have helped pave the way for our leaders today.
Even though we have a dedicated month, celebrating black history shouldn’t be limited to just the second month of every year. It’s a part of our American history as a whole and without it, America wouldn’t be. Our fingerprints are ingrained into the fabric of this country and so is our history. But the month is still important. It’s a reminder that we should always remember to celebrate the past. It’s also a reminder of how important black people are to the nation. If you are going to properly celebrate Black history month, it’s important to learn about how it originated and why we celebrate it in February.
Who is Carter G. Woodson?
The idea to celebrate black history is attributed to American historian and author Carter G. Woodson. Woodson, who was a Harvard graduate, was born in Virginia in 1875. Son of former slaves, he worked in the coal mines of West Virginia just to make a living, but education was his true calling. He graduated from Berea College, became a teacher, and continued his studies.
Woodson would go on to get degrees at the University Of Chicago and Harvard University. In 1912 he became the second black man to obtain a Ph.D. from Harvard, W.E.B. DuBois being the only other to reach this educational achievement.
During the summer of 1915, Woodson participated in a national celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 13th Amendment. The event, which was held in Washington DC, highlighted the progress of Black Americans since the destruction of slavery. Inspired by the celebration, Woodson wanted to create an organization that would promote the scientific study of black life and history.
On September 9, 1915, Woodson and a few of his colleagues created the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Woodson believed that history was the key to transforming race relations. If people understood the history of Blacks in America it would dispel widespread falsehoods about Black achievements in this country.
Negro History Week Becomes Black History Month
In 1916, Woodson published some of his findings in The Journal of Negro History. He hoped this would help popularize his ideas. In the years after, Woodson would work with Black organizations to help spears the word of his ideas on Black history. A graduate member of Omega Psi Phi, in 1924 he worked with his fraternity to create “Negro History and Literature Week,” which was renamed “Negro Achievement Week.” In 1926 Woodson would send out his first official press release announcing “Negro History Week” would be celebrated annually in February.
Woodson picked February as the month of celebration to pay homage to Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Both men celebrated birthdays in the month and were important figures in Black American History. Lincoln was accredited with helping free the slaves after the civil war and Douglass was a well-known abolitionist and orator. The month seemed a fitting time as any to celebrate the achievements and history of Blacks in America.
For the next 50 years, black communities across the country celebrated Negro History Week. Over time more and more cities started to officially recognize the week and just seven days wasn’t enough. In the 1960s college campuses began to extend the celebration to a full month.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially named February Black History Month. During his commemorative speech, he told Americans to, “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
The story about why we celebrate Black History Month is history in itself. Carter G. Woodson saw an opportunity for Black people to create hope from a sense of pride in the past. There was so much more to our story than tragedy and Woodson made it normal for us to celebrate the good, instead of wallow in the pain.