The History of Black History Month

The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. That September, the Harvard-trained historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent, and bringing awareness to the largely ignored, yet crucial role African-American’s played in U.S. and world history.

The following year, Dr. Woodson published and distributed his findings in The Journal of Negro History. He founded the publication with the hope that it would dispel popular mistruths. He also hoped to educate African-Americans about their cultural background and instill them with a sense of pride in their race.
 
The son of former slaves and the second black person to receive a degree from Harvard University, Carter Woodson understood the value of education. Woodson and the ANSLH provided learning materials to teachers, black history clubs and the community at large. They also published photographs that depicted important figures in black culture, plays that dramatized black history, and reading materials.
 
He also felt the importance of preserving one's heritage and, upon his urgings, the fraternity Omega Psi Phi created Negro History and Literature Week in 1920. In 1926, Woodson changed the name to Negro History Week. He selected the month of February for the celebration as a way to honor of the birth of two men whose actions drastically altered the future of black Americans. Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. President who issued the Emancipation Proclamation was born on February 12th and Frederick Douglass, one of the nation's leading abolitionists was born on February 14th.
 
Dr. Carter G. Woodson died in 1950, but his legacy continued on as the celebration of Negro History Week was adopted by cities and organizations across the country. In the decades the followed, mayors of cities across the country began issuing yearly proclamations recognizing Negro History Week. By the late 1960s, thanks in part to the Civil Rights Movement and a growing awareness of black identity, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses. President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."