It's Black History Month. Here's everything you need to know
February is Black History Month.
Created to highlight the contributions by Black Americans to society and culture, this month is also an opportunity to amplify the multifaceted narrative that, at times, has been cut out of classrooms, communities and conversations across the nation. It’s also a moment to pay tribute to the extraordinary people who refused to let injustice be ordinary.
But when did Black History Month begin? We've got the answer down below, plus other facts about the annual observance.
Why is Black History Month celebrated in February?
On Sept. 9, 1915, Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Woodson, who is also called “The Father of Black History,” was a Harvard-educated historian and author who also established the "The Journal of Negro History," now called "The Journal of African American History" in 1916 as a vehicle to chronicle the Black experience — past and present.
Naturally, Woodson was eager to designate a time when the whole nation recognized — and celebrated — Black history. In 1925, February was chosen as Black History Month because it’s the birth month of two vital change agents in Black history: Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.
After escaping his own enslavement in 1838, Frederick Douglass became a relentless abolitionist, orator and statesman. In fact, one of Douglass’ most revered speeches is “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” a brave affront to the hypocritical concept of independence at a time when slavery existed and unchecked racial injustice surged.
President Lincoln’s valuable role can be summarized by his leadership of the Union efforts against the Confederacy, his issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and for his other pronouncements and actions against slavery, according to Dr. Frederick Knight, a Morehouse College history professor who specializes in the African Diaspora.
What is the history behind Black History Month?
The way Black History Month is celebrated today is not how it began.
“African Americans have a long tradition of studying Black history as a matter of correcting the historical record and to make claims as citizens,” Knight tells TODAY.com.
“This was especially important during an era when many leading white intellectuals and political leaders argued that African Americans were inferior and established policies that limited Black citizenship rights,” Knight says about the backdrop that shaped Woodson’s establishment of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.
Woodson’s organization created and publicized Negro History Week in 1925. Following this, the first Negro History Week was celebrated in February 1926. “Woodson fervently believed that Black people should be proud of their heritage and all Americans should understand the largely overlooked achievements of Black Americans,” Dr. Ivory Toldson, Director of Education for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, tells TODAY.com.
In February 1975, President Gerald R. Ford acknowledged the observance by shedding a light on the “achievements that have too long been obscured and unsung” of Black citizens in a “Message on the Observance of Black History Week.” A year later, the week-long observance was expanded to a full month.
"The name change to Black History Month was a result of the 1960s movement, which prompted African Americans to claim the identity of Black as a form of self-naming, self-empowerment, and self-realization," Knight says.
In 1986, Congress passed Public Law 99-244, which legally declared February 1986 as “National Black (Afro-American) History Month.” As recorded by the Library of Congress, presidents have issued annual proclamations for National Black History Month since 1996.
"We all have a duty to learn and honor the stories, experiences, and contributions of Black Americans — no matter what month it is — or the sake of our country’s future,” Toldson tells TODAY.com.
How to celebrate Black History Month beyond February
If you’re open to going on a trip, historically Black colleges are storied physical sites of Black history. You can also check out historic sites committed to honoring the Black experience like The National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, as well as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
In classrooms, educators can be intentional about infusing layers of Black history through theater, field trips, and curriculums — no matter the month. Dr. Nafeesa Muhammad, assistant professor of history at Spelman College, points to Blackpast.org, naacp.org, and thehistorymakers.org as credible sources to learn about Black history.
“For me I am Black 365 days of the year, so I’m not waiting for a country to acknowledge me or tell me my history, but I think it’s important for our community and those who believe in the fullness of America to tell the stories of all people groups to our children,” Latasha Morrison, diversity expert and author of "Be the Bridge," tells TODAY.com.
“It’s not just the responsibility of the school system, but it’s the responsibility of every adult to make sure all kinds of stories are told in order to have a complete America," she says.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com