- CLS San Diego
Black History Month
Every February we celebrate Black History Month by taking time to recognize and honor the hard work and sacrifices made by African Americans from past to present. But, why is Black History Month in February? And who started this tradition?
Harvard educated historian, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the 2nd African American to earn a doctorate degree in 1912, is credited with creating Black History Month. Woodson came up with the concept in 1915 after attending a 3-week long 50th anniversary celebration of the 13th Amendment (which under Abraham Lincoln's presidency abolished slavery in the United States). Woodson was greatly inspired by the events and, that same year, decided to form the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH) in order to encourage the study of the accomplishments made by Black Americans.
In 1916, after Woodson wrote The Journal of Negro History, chronicling the overlooked achievements of African Americans, he sought to amplify Black people's success and spread his findings to a wider audience. So, in 1924 "Negro Achievement Week" was created. But, wanting to do even more, Woodson and the ASALH announced in a press release that the second week of February would officially be declared "Negro History Week". That month was selected because of the birthdays of Frederick Douglass on February 14th and Abraham Lincoln on February 12th. For years, “Negro History Week” was recognized with clubs, schools, and communities across the country taking part in the week-long celebration. Particularly in the 1960’s during the civil rights movement, there was a growth in public knowledge about the trials and triumphs of African Americans, and seven days turned into a month-long recognition.
To solidify this change, President Ford declared February "Black History Month" in a commemorative speech given in 1976. He urged citizens to "seize the opportunity to honor the too often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history." In 1986, congress passed a law that deemed February "National Black History Month.” Additionally, Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton issued their own proclamations recognizing it as a national observance, and every POTUS has issued one annually since 1996.
Although the month of February is considered Black History Month, it’s important to remember that Black history is a part of every day, every life, every year, all the time.