How Black History Got Its Own Month

At the beginning of every year, we Americans know that the second month of the calendar year belongs to black history. The month of February celebrates the achievements and history of black culture in the United States. Little is known or shared of how this came to be. Some believe it resulted because of the civil rights movement in the 60s and 70s. Others believe that we were given the shortest month of the year because black history is not really seen as American history. But what many don’t know who is responsible for the month and why. Let’s explore this history.

In 1926, Carter G. Woodson, a black historian and second black PhD graduate of Harvard, after W.E.B Dubois, created the Negro History Week in Washington, D.C. Woodson chose the second week February as it included both birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The purpose of the week would be for recognition and importance of black contribution in the United States. The first Negro Week gained interest from the states of North Carolina, Delaware, West Virginia, and the interest of the Baltimore and Washington D.C. school districts.

At the time of Negro History Week’s launch, Woodson contended that the teaching of black history was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the race within broader society:

If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization.

By 1929, states with a considerable black population had made note of the week, distributing literature from the week to teachers and personnel in school districts. Churches also played an important role, passing out literature to their parishioners. The Negro History Week shone a light on the treatment of slaves in the south and demystified the idea that blacks were treated well as slaves and were better off as slaves. Before this, books and movies such as Gone With The Wind carried a narrative that the Civil War was a result of northern aggression and that slaves were happy with their conditions in the south.

The following is what Woodson’s thoughts were on slavery:

“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it.”

By 1970, the Negro History Week had grown in importance, especially as the Civil Rights Movement had taken a hold of the country. Black educators and students at Kent State University (Ohio) had proposed and successfully established Black History Month at Kent State. Six years later, the celebration had spread across the country as then president, Gerald Ford recognized the month of February as Black History Month during the U.S. Bicentennial celebration of independence. He urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history”.

Black History Month was so successful in the United States, some other countries began to follow suit. The UK followed in 1987, celebrating October as its Black History Month. In 1995, Canada recognized February as Black History Month. In 2010, the city of Cork, Ireland also declared the month of October for black history, as it was one of the leading locations of abolition in the 19th century.

All in all, Black History Month has brought light to the contributions of black people in the entire world. Black people have contributed a lot to the advancement of humans on this earth and their achievements should be celebrated. Blacks are no greater or lesser than any other race but as history shows, it is the one race that is still treated as lesser or not worthy of noting. However, when one further exams history, one can see the contribution of the black race is notable in the advancement of all people that have lived on this earth in the past, present, and future.


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