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Black History: Created by Us for Us

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Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom observe Black History Month annually from Feb 1st to March 1st. As an observance, Black History Month serves to recall, honor, and illuminate events and people in the history of the African diaspora. But what about the history of Black History Month? 



Woodson’s Personal History

Woodson’s family owned a poor six-acre vegetable farm where he worked as a child. His father, James, was illiterate but ensured that his eight children learned basic and timeless life principles. He refused to hire his children out, "[b]eliev[ing] that such a life was more honorable than to serve one as a menial.”

While reading a McGuffey Readers textbook, young Woodson determined he would attend college like one of the successful characters in the pages. In 1903, he received a two-year degree from Berea College before traveling to the Philippines for work. 

While supervising a school program there, Woodson was amazed to discover that Filipinos were not being taught their history and identified similarities with African Americans. A seed of thought had bloomed. 

Woodson Continues to Defy the Odds

Woodson graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in History from the University of Chicago, making him only the second African American to receive a Ph.D. from the university. 

 In 1918 he published A Century of Negro Migration, which argued that the Great Migration represented a “new phase of Negro American life which will doubtless prove to be the most significant event in our local history since the Civil War.” 
This book put Carter on the map, and less than a decade later, he established Negro History Week. Woodson hoped that when whites saw the significant contributions of African Americans, racial discrimination would lessen.

The First Celebration

On February 7, 1926, Woodson initiated the first celebration of Negro History Week. It was the same week as the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave and prominent abolitionist movement activist.

Woodson hoped to commemorate the achievements of African Americans separate from agitation and politics, saying, “Lincoln, however great, had not freed slaves - the Union Army, including hundreds of thousands of Black soldiers and sailors, had done that.”

This crusade is much more important than the anti-lynching movement

because there would be no lynching if it did not start in the schoolroom.

— Carter G. Woodson



Rising Pride and Consciousness

It is said that the 1920s was the decade of the New Negro, a name given to the post-World War I generation because of its rising racial pride and consciousness. During this decade, Negro History week appeared across the country in schools and throughout the public sphere.

Woodson and The Association for the Study of African American Life and History set a theme for the annual celebration. They provided study materials—pictures, lessons, plays, and posters of important dates and people. As the Black populations grew, mayors issued Negro History Week proclamations. In cities like Syracuse, developing whites teamed up with Negro History and National Brotherhood Week.

In 1976, ASALH used its influence to institutionalize Negro History as an entire month. Around the 50th anniversary of Negro History Week, Gerald Ford was the first President to issue a national Black History Month proclamation. Every U.S. President since has issued proclamations endorsing the ASALH’s annual theme.



As we celebrate this historical month, it’s essential to remember its origins and founder. We can honor Woodson’s life and legacy by celebrating our achievements, recognizing our history, and spreading awareness around both.

This Black History Month, support your Black neighbor's small business or enterprise or invest in the education and nurturing of a Black student. Black History Month is not only by us but also FOR us. We can continue to grow its efficacy, impact, and power by building on its rich, unforgettable foundation.

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