Black History MonthFeb 09, 2023 10:23AM ● By Rachel Cordeiro
February has been set aside as a specific time to highlight African Americans and their accomplishments and contributions to our nation’s history and society as a whole. Initially, the focus was mainly on their success in America, but it has since transitioned to celebrating their impact worldwide.
In 1915, half a century after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in America, historian Carter G. Woodsen and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. According to history.com, this was “an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements of Black Americans and other peoples of African descent.” Today, the group is known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). In 1926, 11 years following the group’s founding, Woodsen first declared a week during which he wished to observe and honor the history of black people to be sponsored by the organization. The week was referred to as Negro History Week. Woodsen chose one particular week in February because it included two important dates of key historical figures in the path toward freedom from slavery.
These dates included the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12), who was successful in pushing the 13th Amendment through to a resistant Congress, and the birthday of Frederick Douglass (Feb. 14), a formerly enslaved person who became a great orator and national leader of the abolitionist movement. Traditionally, African-Americans had celebrated Lincoln’s birthday since his assassination in 1865, and in the 1890s, they began honoring Douglass on his birthday as well. For this reason, it seemed fitting to set aside this week not only in honor of a few great leaders and well-known men but also as an opportunity to learn about the triumphs of the entire race.
Woodsen’s vision was that this week would not simply be an annual event on the calendar but that, ultimately, the study and inclusion of black history would grow into a daily occurrence in the future, with no need for a special date to emphasize it only once a year. Eventually, the week-long observance developed into the entire month of February, and thus Black History Month was born.
Although this shift had begun as early as the 1940s, it didn’t gain further momentum until the 1960s, when it was influenced by the civil rights movement. During this time, city mayors across the country began recognizing Negro History Week, but it was primarily colleges and universities who were responsible for the growth and influence of its month-long emphasis. Additionally, as the observance of this month grew, the term Negro began to fade from use due to the offensive, derogatory manner in which it was used. Therefore, the term Black History Month replaced its previous title.
President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, encouraging the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since then, every American president has designated February as Black History Month while endorsing a specific theme. The Black History Month 2023 theme is “Resistance.”
Today, Black History Month remains an opportunity for everyone to honor the legacy of African-Americans who have been leaders and pioneers in various fields, influencing society through culture, politics and beyond.