The History of Black History Month

Kelaiah Benjamin, Staff Reporter

After attending the Lincoln Jubilee in 1915, which was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of emancipation, Carter G. Woodson, a historian, and son of former slaves, was inspired to contribute to the celebration of  Black accomplishments, history, and heritage. 


Months later, Woodson established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. The organization’s goal was to, “promote, research, (and) preserve… information about Black life, history, and culture to the global community.” In 1916, the ASNLH created “The Journal of Negro History”, a publication that highlighted researchers’ findings on the historical achievements of Black people. 


According to the NAACP, “Woodson fervently believed that Black people should be proud of their heritage and all Americans should understand the largely overlooked achievements of Black Americans.” It was because of this deep-rooted belief that Woodson convinced his fraternity, Omega Psi to create Negro History and Literature Week in 1924. This was, of course, a milestone to be proud of, but Woodson knew that Black History deserved a bigger spotlight. 


Two years later, Carter Woodson chose the week of February 7th, 1926 to dedicate to activities and remembrances of Black American history. This week was significant because it included the birthdays of two influential men in black history: abolitionist Fredrick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, who is celebrated for the Emancipation Proclamation. Negro History Week was embraced by African Americans and by 1976,  the ASNLH lengthened the week of commemoration to a month. President Gerald Ford encouraged all Americans to observe Black History Month, but it wasn’t until 1978 that President Jimmy Carter made Black History Month a federally-recognized event. Now, Black History Month is celebrated in the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Each year there is a new Black History Month theme. This year’s focus was Black Health and Wellness, dedicated to celebrating  “the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing (e.g., birth workers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals, and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well.”

So what does this history mean for our future? What can we learn from it? It means that we’ve had a path paved for us to celebrate our culture with others and include them. While we learn of our roots, so should our peers, no matter ethnicity, religion, or background. We’ve learned that in order for change to happen we have to stand united.