As far back as I can remember February has been Black History Month. In school we always learnt about Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglas and George Washington Carver and other black figures who left an impact on our society. Invariably one student would ask “Why is there a Black History Month, but no White History Month?” There is no one sentence answer to that question, but the best way I have heard it explained was through the history of Black History Month. This February will be the thirty-eighth black history month since President Gerald Ford decided to commemorate the month as part of America’s bicentennial celebration. On February 10th 1974 black history month became a yearly tradition.
Ford’s decision to make black history month didn’t just come out of thin air. The precursor to the month long celebration of black culture was originally called “Negro History week”. In 1915 Carter Woodson, a graduate of the University of Chicago returned to his home state of Illinois to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation. After experiencing the popular state sponsored exhibits on slavery and reconstruction he and a friend, A. L. Jackson, formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) to promote the study of black culture. In 1916 they began to publish The Journal of Negro History.
Mr.Woodson looking quite dapper.
Woodson and the ASNLH were upset by the lack of support their movement was receiving, and, in an effort to popularize the study they announced the creation of Negro History Week in February 1926. The second week of February was intended to encompass the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederik Douglas, both celebrated annually to some degree by the black community. Since the inception of Negro History Week it slowly began to grow, gaining acceptance as more and more Americans, regardless of race accepted the celebration. Woodson died in 1950, wanting the celebration to be more than a one week affair and hoping to bring black history into the normal curriculum. Twenty six years after his death, during the fiftieth Negro History Week President Ford made his proclamation, making Black History month part of American Life.
Now whenever I am asked, “Why is there a Black History Month, but no White History Month?” I respond that Black History Month is intended to bring black history into the classroom rather than usurp the time from “White” history, but to remind us that Black history is American history, and they should be taught together.
The Journal for Negro History has been renamed The Journal for African American History and can be found here:
President Ford’s declaration of Black History Month can be found here:
To learn more about Black History Month check out: