Evolution of 'Black History Month' - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Evolution of 'Black History Month'

(Source: Dr. Carter G. Woodson African-American Museum) (Source: Dr. Carter G. Woodson African-American Museum)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

February marks the beginning of Black History Month, but many people are not familiar with the celebration’s origins and intentions. 

Black History Month was started by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the “Father of Black History.” 

Woodson received his Bachelors and Masters degrees from the University of Chicago, and was the second African-American to receive a PhD from Harvard University. 

In 1915, Woodson traveled to Chicago to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Emancipation.  He was inspired by the events and historic exhibitions, and decided to promote the scientific study of black life and history. On September 9, 1915, he, along with four friends, formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now known as the Association of African American Life and History) at the Wabash YMCA.  

In 1916, he established the Journal of Negro history (now the Journal of African American History) to promote research on and by African Americans, which could not get published in other journals. Woodson also urged black civic organizations, including his own fraternity Omega Psi Phi, to promote the discoveries of the contributions of African Americans to American history. 

Woodson wanted to see greater recognition of African-American history among academia and the general public; in February 1926, he announced Negro History Week. Negro History Week was intended to be a time to promote and celebrate the contributions of blacks to the American story. February was an ideal month for a black history celebration because of the black community’s tradition of celebrating two notable historical figures: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The African-American community began celebrating Lincoln’s birthday after his assassination in 1865. After Douglass’s death in 1895, celebrations commemorating Frederick Douglass’s birthday began to appear in black communities across the country. With Negro History Week, Woodson moved these February celebrations from the recognition of two notable men to the recognition of the wholistic recognition of the black community.

The commemoration of Negro History Week slowly began to evolve into a month. In the 1940s, black communities in West Virginia celebrated Black history throughout the month of February. By the 1960s, through the civil rights movement and greater cultural awareness, Negro History Week celebrations became Negro History Month celebrations. In 1976, 50 years after the first Negro History Week celebration, the Association officially changed the celebration from a week to a month and changed the name from Negro History Month to Black History Month. 

Dr. Carter G. Woodson was a great intellectual, scholar, and reformer.  The creation of Negro History Week was never intended to limit the study of black history to only seven days out of the year. At the time, Blacks contributions to American history were unrecognized and the portrayal of Blacks in American society was limited to stereotypes. The goal of Woodson’s work was to gain broader recognition of blacks as multidimensional actors who created, invented, thought, and performed beyond society’s limited perspective of history. Negro History Week was intended to be a moment to promote aspects of black history and urge people to seriously pursue the study of black history. To this end, the Association presents a theme and corresponding curriculum for Black history month every year. Since the 1970s, every president has issued a proclamation endorsing the Association’s theme. 

As you pause this year, realize that your study and celebration of Black history should happen all year long, not just in February. 

Sources:

Daryl Michael Scott, “Origins of Black History Month,” Association for the Study of African American Life and History, http://asalh.net/blackhistorymonthorigins.html accessed Dec. 30, 2015.

Korey Bowers Brown, “Carter G. Woodson,” Association for the Study of African American Life and History, http://asalh100.org/our-history/carter-g-woodson/ accessed December 30, 2015.

Charles H. Wesley, “Carter G. Woodson – as a Scholar,” The Journal of Negro History, 36 no. 1, 12-24.

Rayford W. Logan, “Carter G. Woodson: Mirror and Molder of His Time, 1875 – 1950,” The Journal of Negro History, 58 no. 1, 1-17.

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