Background of Black History Month

Natalie Eychaner, Features Editor

Black History Month is celebrated in many ways around the world– but do you think about why it is celebrated or how it was started? Starting in 1926, Black History Month has evolved from the second week in February to the whole month. Looking into its past reveals a long history of pushing for African-American awareness and rights.

Carter G. Woodson,an African-American historian and educator, founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History along with Jesse E. Moorland. This came in 1915, a half century after the 13th amendment was passed to abolish slavery. The purpose of this organization was to honor contributions of African Americans in US history.

They pushed for teaching materials that included African Americans as well as a deepened understanding of African-American culture. This same association designated the second week in February, chosen in honor of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays, as a way to celebrate achievements that African Americans had made.

As years went on, more and more mayors and schools began to accept and celebrate that week. Although the ASALH was effective, books in most schools still only mentioned two African Americans. This changed in 1976 when President Gerald Ford declared Black History Month a national observance. Every president since has recognized Black History Month.

Every year, a new theme is chosen to celebrate the month. Ranging from education opportunity, achievements made, civil right as well as many others, each year the purpose is to highlight prominent figures and promote African-American culture. This year’s theme is African Americans in Times of War. African-American war heroes are being celebrated and prided for their actions. One thing to note is that Canada and the United Kingdom also celebrate their own version of Black History Month. This month was seen as a way to highlight people like Madam CJ Walker, America’s first woman to be a self-made millionaire.

Another person is Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to be appointed to the US Supreme Court by President Lyndon B. Johnson and served from 1967 to 1991. With the formation of ASALH, this was really the first opportunity for African-Americans to be acknowledged and prided for their accomplishments. Black History Month is celebrated to this day, now in universities, schools, museums and within households.