The History of Black History Month

By Chinedum Aguwa (‘22)

Disclaimer: The term “negro” is used throughout this article. Most of the names have replaced the term “negro” with “Black” in recent years but I am citing historical sources. There have been many arguments that the term “negro” refers to Black inferiority. Other words like “colored” and “African-American” have also been deemed inappropriate to use to describe the Black community. If you are not sure what to identify a person in the Black community as, please ask them first and be empathetic to how they want to be referred to. Do not use this article to determine how others want to be identified.  For more information, please visit this link.

What is Black History Month?

As many of you may know, February is Black History Month in the United States. This is the time of the year to celebrate Black excellence all over the world, from known leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. to historically Black colleges like HBCUs. It is important to celebrate this month because we can never forget the contributions from the Black community as well as the triumphs that they went through. Black History Month is also the time to learn and become more empathetic to the marginalized groups around us to create a society where we work together despite our differences. 

What is the history of the event? 

It starts with a person named Carter G. Woodson. “He worked as a coal miner before receiving his master’s at the University of Chicago, and he was the second African-American to receive a Ph.D. at Harvard”(Chambers 4). Woodson went to participate in the fiftieth-anniversary celebration of the emancipation of slavery with thousands of other African Americans in Illinois. There is actually a reason why Black History Month is in February. No, it’s not that people gave this month to Black people because it is the shortest month. It is actually because Woodson wanted to celebrate the birthdays of two leaders who shaped the course of Black history. Abraham Lincoln and Federick Douglas were both born in February and it is common for Black communities to celebrate the birthdays of these prominent leaders.

Woodson was so inspired by the event that he created an organization called the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, or ASNLH alongside A.L. Jackson and others. Carter G. Woodson and his colleagues then published The Journal of Negro History in 1916,  in which they wrote about Black history and science. In 1924, he helped create the Negro History and Literature Week, which they renamed Negro Achievement Week. In 1926, Woodson announced that Negro History Week would take place in February. During that week, Carter G. Woodson and his colleagues engaged with schools, lectures, parades, and more. In 1950, Woodson died due to a heart attack. In 1976, Woodson’s association switched from a Negro Week to a Negro History Month (what is now called Black History Month). 

Overall, Black History Month is important because it gives us the opportunity to learn and understand the tribulations and successes of the Black community. It is a time to celebrate, so please take the time to do so. Research, teach, and listen to Black history, not only in February but in every month of the year! Remember what Carter G. Woodson once said, “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

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