This Is Why We Celebrate Black History Month in February
"If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition."
In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially declared February the month that we celebrate the achievements of African Americans. But why February? It turns out, the decision to make February “Black History Month” was the result of a series of significant events that all happened to transpire in the second month of the year. Here’s how it came to pass—and for more great historical facts, don’t miss the 40 Most Enduring Myths in American History.
It started with “Negro History Week.”
Back in 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, chose the second week of February to celebrate the contributions of African Americans throughout our country’s history. They named it “Negro History Week.”
Woodson himself explained the significance of carving out a time period to commemorate African American achievements as such: “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.” Find out more with the 20 Lesser-Known Civil Rights Figures You Need to Know About.
These two significant birthdays take place in February.
Woodson chose the second week of February specifically because it coincided with the birthdays of two figures who were pivotal to abolitionism: Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12, and Frederick Douglass, who was born on February 14. February held other events of historical value, too, such as the birth of civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois (February 23rd) and the passing of the 15th Amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote (February 3, 1870). African American communities had already celebrated these dates since the end of the Civil War, so the precedent was already set.
Black History Week expands to Black History Month.
Throughout the early 20th century, the literature of the Civil Rights movement began to spread in churches and schools in states that had sizable African American populations. Communities started to organize local celebrations, host performances and lectures, and establish history clubs. Soon, mayors in various cities began to endorse Black History Week as an official holiday.
The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s helped this snowballing movement evolve from a week to a month. In February 1969, the leaders of the Black United Students at Kent State University first proposed expanding Black History Week into Black History Month. The following year, the university celebrated Black History Month for the very first time. And for more historical facts, don’t miss the 25 All-Time Greatest One-Liners by Politicians.
President Gerald Ford makes Black History Month official in 1976.
On February 10, 1976, President Gerald Ford brought Black History Month into existence with the following statement, “In the Bicentennial year of our Independence, we can review with admiration the impressive contributions of black Americans to our national life and culture. One hundred years ago, to help highlight these achievements, Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. We are grateful to him today for his initiative, and we are richer for the work of his organization. Freedom and the recognition of individual rights are what our Revolution was all about.”
There’s always a theme.
Since 1976, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History has designated a specific theme to the year’s Black History Month. In 2017, the theme was “The Crisis in Black Education,” which focused on the crucial role of education in the history of African Americans. In 2018, the theme was “African Americans in Times of War,” which will honor the enormous contributions of African Americans in the country’s wars, to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. This year, it’s “Black Migrations,” which will emphasize the movement of people of African descent to new destinations and new social realities. Here are more of the 50 Facts About American that Most Americans Don’t Know.
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