Why Celebrate Black History Month?
All the month of February has been designated as Black History Month. Since the 70's that familiar declaration has introduced countless celebrations of African American history and achievement, from Black History Minutes on televisions across the nation to the pronouncements of U.S. presidents. The question is why is February devoted to the celebration of African American history?
The answer lies with eminent American historian Carter G. Woodson, who pioneered the field of African American studies in the 20th century. Inspired by having attended a three-week national celebration of the 50th anniversary of emancipation in 1915, Woodson joined four others in founding the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to encourage scholars to engage in the intensive study of the black past, a subject that had long been badly neglected by academia and in U.S. schools. In 1916 Woodson began editing the association's primary scholarly publication, The Journal of Negro History. In 1924, spurred on by Woodson, his college fraternity introduced Negro History and Literature Week. Two years later, determined to bring greater attention to African American history, Woodson and the organization launched Negro History Week in February 1926.
February is the birth month of two figures who stand large in the black past. Abraham Lincoln, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and African American abolitionist, author, orator Frederick Douglass. Since the deaths of Lincoln and Douglass, the black community had celebrated their contribution to African American liberation and civil rights on their birthdays. By rooting Negro History Week in the month of February, Woodson sought to both honor the inestimable legacy of both Lincoln and Douglass and to enlarge an already existent celebration of the black past to include not only the accomplishments of these two great persons but also the history and achievements of black people in general.
As early as the 40"s, there were a few communities that had changed February into Negro History Month. With the birth of the American civil rights movement and the rise of black consciousness in the 60's,Negro History Week had become Black History Month in more and more places. In 1976 the association that Carter G. Woodson had founded facilitated the widespread institutionalization of February as Black History Month.