What Is Black History Month?

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Black History Month is an annual observance in February that celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans throughout history. It originated in the United States and is now recognized in several countries around the world. The month serves as a time to honor the struggles and accomplishments of African Americans, as well as to raise awareness of their history and culture. It provides an opportunity to educate and engage with the achievements and experiences of African Americans, promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion. Black History Month is an important reminder of the significant impact African Americans have had on society.

If it is the month of February, then it must be Black History Month! You may already be aware that in February, the entire United States acknowledges and celebrates the contribution of Black individuals in our history and culture. Other countries such as the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands also observe this occasion. However, have you ever wondered who initiated Black History Month and why? How did it all begin?

Let us travel back to the year 1915. In that year, a historian of African-American descent named Carter G. Woodson founded what is now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). During that time, students were taught very little about the history of Black Americans. Black history was even absent from school textbooks! Woodson aimed to change this by ensuring that everyone becomes more knowledgeable about Black history. Thus, ASALH introduced “Negro History Week.” Woodson’s intention was to dedicate a week to honor African American history, hoping that it would inspire others to continue learning about Black history throughout the year.

He specifically chose the second week of February, which coincides with the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Why them? Frederick Douglass was a formerly enslaved person who managed to escape and then dedicated his efforts to end slavery for all. He became a significant leader in the abolitionist movement in the United States. Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, served as the president of the United States during the Civil War. He signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which ultimately led to the abolition of slavery in the country. Woodson saw both Douglass and Lincoln as symbols of freedom for Black Americans.

Woodson’s idea gained popularity, and many schools and communities joined in the celebration. Churches and schools would organize picnics, listen to speeches, or stage plays. As time went on, the festivities continued, and some felt that a week was not enough time to honor Black history!

In the 1950s and 60s, the Civil Rights Movement brought about significant changes in America, including the way Black history was taught. College students demanded more courses on African-American history and culture. Black students wanted the opportunity to learn history that included them and their ancestors. They also argued that Black history is an integral part of American history. Students protested and, in some cases, successfully achieved their demands. The first college to establish a Black Studies program was San Francisco State University in 1968, and more than 600 other colleges followed suit within the next five years.

Alongside these developments, some colleges started observing Black History Month instead of just a week. In 1976, Gerald Ford became the first president to officially recognize Black History Month nationwide. This marked 50 years since Woodson initiated “Negro History Week.”

Since then, we have been celebrating Black History Month every year. Communities all across the country take the time to honor and celebrate Black history and culture. Many schools educate their students about significant African-Americans in history during this month. How does your community observe Black History Month? How about your school? February holds special significance for many due to these events. However, Dr. Woodson intended for his celebration to inspire year-round learning. His goal was to emphasize the importance of Black individuals in the history and culture of the United States—not just for a week or a month, but forever. How can we ensure that Dr. Woodson’s legacy lives on?

Try It Out

Feeling inspired? Each year, Black History Month revolves around a particular theme. Let’s delve deeper into the theme for 2023—”Black Resistance.”

  • Resistance can come in various forms, including music! Many talented Black musicians have used their art to express resistance, from spirituals to protest songs. With the assistance of an adult, conduct research online or at the library to discover a Black resistance song that resonates with you. You can start your search here, here, or here. Reflect on the significance of the song and the artist’s intentions. Afterwards, share your findings with a friend or family member.
  • Art can be a powerful tool to connect with people and change their perspectives. How can we utilize art to uphold Dr. Woodson’s legacy during Black History Month? Utilize a Canva template or materials you have on hand to create a poster about Black History Month. Alternatively, use your artistic skills to express what Black resistance means to you. Then, share your creation with friends or family members!
  • It has been over a century since Dr. Woodson established the ASALH. What would he think about the current celebration of Black History Month? Write a letter to Dr. Woodson, discussing the changes or similarities that have occurred. Finally, read your letter to a friend or family member.

Wonder Sources

  • https://www.britannica.com/dictionary (accessed 31 Jan., 2023)
  • https://asalh.org/about-us/about-black-history-month/ (accessed 13 Jan 2023)
  • https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-month (accessed 13 Jan 2023)
  • https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/black-history-month (accessed 13 Jan 2023)
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Abraham-Lincoln (accessed 13 Jan 2023)
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Frederick-Douglass (accessed 13 Jan 2023)
  • https://www.wgbh.org/news/education/2019/04/21/fifty-years-ago-brandeis-created-one-of-the-first-black-studies-departments (accessed 23 Jan. 2023)

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