Black History Month in the United States had its origins in 1926, when the historian Carter G. Woodson and hisAssociation for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” This week was chosen because it marked the birthdaysofAbraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two key figures in African American history.
By the time of Woodson’s death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life. Mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations establishing its celebration. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States that took place in the mid-‘50s to the late ‘60s focused even more attention on the previously-overlooked contributions of African Americans.
The expansion of Negro History Week to a month-long celebration was first proposed by Black students at Kent State Universityin February of 1969. The first official celebration of Black History Month took place there in February of 1970.
Six years later, during America’sbicentennial, Black History Month was recognized by the U.S. government. Two years later, in 1978, the United States Postal Service created a new series commemorating Black Americans, with Harriet Tubman of the famous Underground Railroad chosen as the first historical figure to start the “Black Heritage USA Series.”
In 1986, sixty years after the first Negro History Week, Congress passed the law which designates February as “National Black (Afro-American) History Month” and calls for the President to issue annual proclamations calling the American people to learn about, acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of African Americans.
The United States’ Black History Month has inspired similar celebrations in other countries, notably Canada, where it is also celebrated in February, and the United Kingdom, where it is celebrated in October.
As commendable as Black History Month is, there are those who argue that it should not be necessary. Carter G.Woodson created the holiday with the hope and expectation that it could someday be eliminated, when racial distinctions no longer matter and Black history is taught as an integral part of American history.
By Ellen Keim