The Origins of Black History Month

We are pleased to bring you a guest post from National CASA’s diversity manager, Tracy Evans.

The Origins of Black History MonthTo understand the history of Black History Month, we have to look back to the summer of 1915, fifty years after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. The city of Chicago had sponsored a celebration of the anniversary of emancipation, and Carter G. Woodson and thousands of other African Americans traveled from across the country to see exhibits highlighting the progress their people had made since the destruction of slavery. Despite being held at the Chicago Coliseum—the site of the 1912 Republican convention—an overflow crowd of six to twelve thousand people waited outside for their turn to view the exhibits. Inspired by the three-week celebration, Woodson decided to form an organization to promote the scientific study of black life and history.

The Origins of Black History Month

Carter G. Woodson

In September of 1915, Woodson, who was a Harvard trained historian and scholar, teamed up with the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland to found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent.  Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the group launched a national Negro History Week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the already popular birthday celebrations for Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Negro History Week offered opportunities for schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs and host performances and lectures.

As the years progressed, mayors of cities across this country began issuing yearly proclamations recognizing Negro History Week. By the late 1960s, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since then, every president afterward has declared the month of February as “Black History Month.

Nearly 100 years since the founding of the Association for the Study of Negro Life, we are still ever mindful of the importance of Black History Month. Black History Month is a great time to begin engaging people of all races in year-round conversations about the contributions made by African Americans in this country; conversations such as these help to foster vibrant, inclusive communities as we all work to build stronger communities for children in care.

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