What you need to know about the origins of Black History Month (2024)

Black History Month is considered one of the nation’s oldest organized history celebrations, and has been recognized by U.S. presidents for decades through proclamations and celebrations. Here is some information about the history of Black History Month.

How did Black History Month start?

It was Carter G. Woodson, a founder of the Assn. for the Study of African American History, who first came up with the idea of the celebration that became Black History Month. Woodson, the son of freed Virginia slaves, who went on to earn a PhD in history from Harvard, originally came up with the idea of Negro History Week to encourage Black Americans to become more interested in their own history and heritage. Woodson worried that Black children were not being taught about their ancestors’ achievements in American schools in the early 1900s.

“If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” Woodson said.

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Why is Black History Month in February?

Woodson chose February because it had the birthdays of President Lincoln and the activist, author and speaker Frederick Douglass. Lincoln was born Feb. 12, and Douglass, a former slave who did not know his exact birthday, celebrated his on Feb. 14.

Daryl Michael Scott, a Howard University history professor and former president of the Assn. for the Study of African American History, said Woodson chose that week because Black Americans were already celebrating Lincoln’s and Douglass’ birthdays. With the help of Black newspapers, he promoted that week as a time to focus on African American history as part of the celebrations that were already ongoing.

The first Negro History Week was announced in February 1926.

“This was a community effort spearheaded by Woodson that built on tradition, and built on Black institutional life and structures to create a new celebration that was a week long, and it took off like a rocket,” Scott said.

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Why the change from a week to a month?

Negro History Week was wildly successful, but Woodson felt it needed more.

Woodson’s original idea was for it to be a time for student showcases of the African American history they learned the rest of the year, not as the only week Black history would be discussed, Scott said. Woodson later advocated starting a “Negro History Year,” saying that during a school year “a subject that receives attention one week out of 36 will not mean much to anyone.”

Individually several places, including West Virginia in the 1940s and Chicago in the 1960s, expanded the celebration into a month. The civil rights and Black Power movement advocated for an official shift from Black History Week to Black History Month, Scott said, and, in 1976, on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Negro History Week, the Assn. for the Study of African American History made the shift to Black History Month.

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Presidential recognition

Every president since Gerald R. Ford through Joe Biden has issued a statement honoring the spirit of Black History Month.

Ford first honored Black History Week in 1975, calling the recognition “most appropriate,” as the country developed “a healthy awareness on the part of all of us of achievements that have too long been obscured and unsung.”

The next year, in 1976, Ford issued the first Black History Month commemoration, saying with the celebration “we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

President Carter added in 1978 that the celebration “provides for all Americans a chance to rejoice and express pride in a heritage that adds so much to our way of life.” President Reagan said in 1981 that “understanding the history of Black Americans is a key to understanding the strength of our nation.”

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Black History Month

Origin of Black History Month: Black History Month was originally conceived as "Negro History Week" by Carter G. Woodson, the founder of the Association for the Study of African American History. Woodson, a historian with a PhD from Harvard, aimed to encourage Black Americans to become more interested in their own history and heritage. He was concerned that Black children were not being taught about their ancestors’ achievements in American schools in the early 1900s.

Reason for February: Woodson chose February for Negro History Week because it coincided with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and the activist Frederick Douglass (February 14). These dates were already being celebrated by Black Americans, and Woodson saw an opportunity to focus on African American history during this time.

Expansion to Black History Month: The idea of Negro History Week was expanded into Black History Month due to its initial success. Woodson's original vision was for it to be a time for student showcases of African American history learned throughout the year, rather than the only week for discussing Black history. Over time, several places, including West Virginia in the 1940s and Chicago in the 1960s, expanded the celebration into a month. The civil rights and Black Power movement also advocated for the shift from Black History Week to Black History Month, which was officially recognized in 1976 by the Association for the Study of African American History.

Presidential Recognition: Every president since Gerald R. Ford through Joe Biden has issued a statement honoring the spirit of Black History Month. Ford first honored Black History Week in 1975, and the following year, in 1976, he issued the first Black History Month commemoration. Subsequent presidents have continued to recognize and honor the celebration.

This information provides a comprehensive overview of the history and significance of Black History Month, including its origins, the reason for its timing in February, its expansion from a week to a month, and the consistent presidential recognition it has received over the years.

Concepts Related to the Article

The concepts used in the article about Black History Month include public speaking, the curse of knowledge, methods of speech delivery, and introductions and conclusions. These concepts are relevant to understanding the historical context and significance of Black History Month, as well as the communication and advocacy efforts associated with it.

  • Public Speaking: Public speaking plays a crucial role in advocating for the recognition and celebration of Black History Month. It involves the face-to-face attempt to inform, persuade, or entertain a group of people through words, physical delivery, and visual or audio aids .

  • Curse of Knowledge: The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, who is communicating with others, assumes that others have information that is only available to themselves, assuming they all share a background and understanding. This concept is relevant to understanding the challenges and considerations involved in effectively communicating the significance of Black History Month .

  • Methods of Speech Delivery: Understanding different methods of speech delivery is essential for effectively conveying the historical and cultural significance of Black History Month. The article mentions the fall of the Berlin Wall as an example of the impact of public speaking in history .

  • Introductions and Conclusions: Crafting effective introductions and conclusions is important for engaging audiences and conveying the key messages related to Black History Month. These components of public speaking are essential for capturing the attention of the audience and leaving a lasting impact , ,.

These concepts provide a broader understanding of the communication strategies, cognitive biases, and historical context relevant to the celebration and recognition of Black History Month.

What you need to know about the origins of Black History Month (2024)
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