Black History Month is observed in February. This month-long commemoration is an opportunity to celebrate Black achievement while also serving as a reminder to take stock of where systemic racism persists and to highlight the people and organizations working to change things.
Here’s what you need to know about Black History Month and how you can participate this year:
The first iteration of Black History Month was Negro History Week, established in February 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History.” This historian helped establish the field of African American studies and his organization, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, aimed to encourage “people of all ethnic and social backgrounds to discuss the Black experience”.
“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”
― Carter G. Woodson
His organization was renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASAALH) and is now the oldest historical society dedicated to the advancement of African American history.
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Why is Black History Month in February?
Woodson chose February for the week-long commemoration because it coincides with the birthdates of both former US President Abraham Lincoln and social reformer Frederick Douglass. Both men were instrumental in the abolition of slavery.
Woodson also recognized that members of the Black community were already celebrating the births of Douglass and Lincoln, and he sought to build on those traditions. According to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, “he was asking the public to extend their study of Black history, not to create a new tradition” (ASAALH).
Why is Black History Month celebrated?
Initially, Black History Month was intended to educate students and young people about the contributions of Black and African-Americans. Such stories had largely been forgotten, and they had become a neglected part of the national narrative.
It is now seen as a celebration of those who have influenced not only the country but the world through their activism and achievements. In the United States, the month-long spotlight in February allows people to engage with Black histories, go beyond discussions of racism and slavery, and celebrate Black leaders and accomplishments.
Why is Black History Month important?
For many modern Black millennials, Black History Month provides an opportunity to reimagine what possibilities lie ahead. However, many people believe that the forces that drove Woodson nearly a century ago are more relevant than ever.
“There is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history,” said Lonnie G. Bunch III, Director of the Smithsonian Institution, at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. in 2016. And there is no greater cause than remembering to honor our struggle and ancestors”.