Black History Month

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Each year, the month of February is celebrated as “Black History Month” in the US. The Wikipedia describes:

Black History Month is an annual observance originating in the United States, where it is also known as African-American History Month. It has received official recognition from governments in the United States and Canada, and more recently has been observed in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. It began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It is celebrated in February in the United States and Canada, while in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom it is observed in October

A recent article in The New York Times highlights “How Negro History Week Became Black History Month and Why It Matters Now?” The article describes chronological history of Black History Month and how it has been celebrated in the United States for close to 100 years. But what is it, exactly, and how did it begin?

“In the years after Reconstruction, campaigning for the importance of Black history and doing the scholarly work of creating the canon was a cornerstone of civil rights work for leaders like Carter G. Woodson.”

Martha Jones, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor, explained:

“These are men [like Woodson] who were trained formally and credentialed in the ways that all intellectuals and thought leaders of the early 20th century were trained at Harvard and places like that. But in order to make the argument, in order to make the claim about Black genius, about Black excellence, you have to build the space in which to do that. There is no room.”

The Times piece lists a timeline starting 1985, an era of Frederick Douglass, the most powerful civil rights advocate until 2021 highlighting an era “every president since Ronald Reagan has issued a Black History Month proclamation”.

1926: Beginning of Negro History Week

Dr Carter G. Woodson, who was inspired to do more in the spirit of honoring Black history and heritage, announced the first Negro History Week in February 1926. “We are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.”

He chose February because it was the month in which both Lincoln and Douglass were born. After Lincoln’s assasination, his birthday, on Feb. 12, had been celebrated by Black Americans and Republicans. Douglass Day, which was observed on Feb. 14, had grown in popularity since Mary Church Terrell had started it in Washington in 1897. Dr. Woodson saw Negro History Week as a way to expand the celebration of these two men and encourage Americans to study the little-known history of an entire people.

1970: Beginning of Back History Month

“After gaining in renown, Negro History Week becomes Negro History Month and then Black History Month’ writes The Times.

In the 1960s, growing political consciousness among Black college students led to a push for more opportunities to study Black history. In February 1969, students and educators at Kent State University proposed the first Black History Month — and celebrated it in February 1970.

The Times writes: Drawing on the patriotic significance of the bicentennial he issued a statement on the importance of Black History Month to all Americans, in February 1976, President Gerald Ford supported Black History Month as an important element of the nation’s bicentennial celebrations.

“The last quarter-century has finally witnessed significant strides in the full integration of black people into every area of national life. In celebrating Black History Month, we can take satisfaction from this recent progress in the realization of the ideal envisioned by our founding fathers. But, even more than this, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

President Gerald Ford in Feb 1976