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Shaping Our History

This statue of Carter G. Woodson sits in Memorial Park in Washington D.C. Woodson is considered the "Father of Black History."

The month of February marks Black History Month, a nationwide commemoration of the notable contributions Black people have made in shaping the history of the United States. While this federally recognized month is familiar to many, most are unaware of how it came about, who started it, and why it is in February. Pay tribute to Black history by uncovering the origins of this national, cultural celebration.

Black History Month traces back to 1926 with Carter G. Woodson, a son of former slaves who is considered the “Father of Black History.”

Woodson spent his childhood working in coal mines, but was determined to learn, teaching himself writing and arithmetic before entering high school. He went on to earn a master’s degree in history from the University of Chicago and a doctoral degree in history from Harvard.

A profound history scholar, Woodson was alarmed that textbooks largely ignored African-American history and wanted to recognize their roles in molding U.S. history.

He and several of his friends established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 and also founded the group’s highly regarded publication, the Journal of Negro History. In 1926, Woodson looked to build on his efforts to highlight Black contributions by establishing Negro History Week, celebrated annually on the second week of February.

Woodson chose February because it coincided with the birthdays of two men who were prominent in the abolition of slavery: civil rights leader and abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln, who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in the confederate states.

A half-century later, President Gerald Ford expanded Negro History Week in 1976 when he became the first president to officially recognize Black History Month, calling on Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

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