Black History Month: Honoring a Century-Old Tradition

An annual Black History Month Parade held in San Antonio, Texas in February of 2023. Black History Month, a treasured celebration, is more than just a token annual event. It is a month-long commemoration that...

An annual Black History Month Parade held in San Antonio, Texas in February of 2023. An annual Black History Month Parade held in San Antonio, Texas in February of 2023.

Black History Month, a treasured celebration, is more than just a token annual event. It is a month-long commemoration that reflects on the past, acknowledges the continued struggle for racial justice, and draws inspiration from the remarkable achievements of African Americans. Originally established nearly a century ago, this federally recognized tradition has evolved into one of the most celebrated cultural heritage months on the calendar.

Who Created Black History Month?

A photo of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the man who came up with the concept of Black History Month in 1926. A photo of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the man who came up with the concept of Black History Month in 1926.

Black History Month owes its existence to Carter G. Woodson, widely known as the "Father of Black History." In 1926, Woodson initiated "Negro History Week" with the aim of creating and popularizing knowledge about the Black past. Having overcome the hardships of slavery, Woodson became an accomplished author, historian, and the second African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) in 1915 to promote the scientific study of Black life and history. Woodson dedicated his life to spreading awareness of Black history, providing resources, and fostering national celebrations.

When Does Black History Month Take Place?

Author Brittany Mbray spent time in multiple classrooms in Coshocton, Ohio giving presentations for Black History Month in 2023. Author Brittany Mbray spent time in multiple classrooms in Coshocton, Ohio giving presentations for Black History Month in 2023.

Black History Month is typically observed from February 1st to the end of the month. However, it should not be limited to these dates alone. According to Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, former ASALH National President, Black History Month should be seen as a special tribute that comes to life through various activities and events throughout the year. There are countless ways that Black history is celebrated, including exhibitions, literature, national park sites, music, and even cemeteries. It is a living, ongoing appreciation of the great lives and cultural contributions of African Americans.

Why is February Chosen for Black History Month?

A group of high school students performing in "The Wiz," Black History Month Show on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023 in Alexandria, La. A group of high school students performing in "The Wiz," Black History Month Show on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023 in Alexandria, La.

February was carefully chosen for Black History Month because it aligns with the birthdays of two influential figures in shaping Black history. Frederick Douglass, a renowned abolitionist who escaped from slavery, celebrated his birthday on February 14th. President Abraham Lincoln, the leader who formally abolished slavery, was born on February 12th. The establishment of Black History Month, originally as "Negro History Week," was rooted in existing celebrations within Black communities. Instead of creating a new tradition, Carter G. Woodson built upon traditional days of commemorating the Black past. Furthermore, civil rights advocate Richard Wright lobbied for National Freedom Day in February, which coincides with the start of Black History Month.

How Can I Commemorate Black History Month?

A photo from a Black History Month event in 2024.

The purpose of Black History Month is to educate and celebrate the rich history of African Americans. The theme for this year's celebration, decided annually by the ASALH, is African Americans and the Arts. There are numerous ways you can observe this occasion. You can attend luncheons hosted by the ASALH or immerse yourself in online programming offered by the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum also provides a digital toolkit to celebrate the Black people who have used art as a platform for social justice. Additionally, you can explore reading lists, online resources, and multimedia related to the theme of the year. Remember to check for in-person gatherings, festivals, or performances specific to your city.

As we recognize and honor Black History Month, let us remember that it is not merely a token event. It is a vital occasion that encourages education, reflection, and inspiration. By celebrating Black history, we contribute to the ongoing fight for equality and justice for all.

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