Every February we celebrate a very special holiday. And no, we’re not talking about Valentine’s Day. We’re referring to the 28 days we dedicate to honoring Black History Month, our nation’s way of showing respect and recognition for the hard work and sacrifices made by African-Americans.
But, out of all the calendar days, why is Black History Month in February?. And who started this tradition?
We put together a quick timeline that will have you brushed up on the black history that created Black History.
Harvard-educated historian Carter G. Woodson is credited with starting Black History Month. A history professor at Howard University, Woodson got the idea after attending a celebration in Illinois of the 50th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, which under Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, abolished slavery in the U.S. The festivities lasted for three weeks, with various exhibits depicting events in African American culture.
According to Scott, after Woodson wrote “The Journal of Negro History” in 1916, which chronicled the overlooked achievements of African-Americans, he sought to spread his findings to a wider audience. Through community outreach, he encouraged his old fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, to promote his work. The fraternity responded by creating “Negro Achievement Week.”
Two years later, despite Omega Psi Phi’s efforts, Woodson still wanted to make a bigger impact. So in 1926, he and the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History(ASALH) officially declared the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” This was celebrated for years and was chosen because of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 12, and noted abolitionist Frederick Douglas on Feb. 14.
In the 50 years that followed, according to History.com, clubs, schools and communities across the country began taking part in the weeklong festivities — slowly, more and more cities declared official recognition of “Negro History Week.” Particularly in the 1960s during the civil rights movement, with wider public knowledge of the trials and triumphs of African-Americans, a mere seven days turned into monthlong recognition.
To solidify this change, President Gerald Ford declared February “Black History Month.” He urged citizens to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Today, Black History Month is still widely celebrated across the U.S. as we take the time to honor greats such as Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and Oprah Winfrey.