The Origin of Black History Month

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"Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history." -Carter G. Woodson

(THE PICKET) – A son of a slave and the second African American to obtain a PhD from Harvard University in 1912, Carter G. Woodson’s ideas were the precursor for Black History Month in the U.S.

Motivated by a trip to Chicago in 1915 to participate in a three-week celebration of the 50th anniversary of the end of slavery, Woodson, Jesse E. Prominent and three others created the Association of the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) on Sept. 9, 1915. The mission of the organization was to educate and train black historians, teachers, philosophers, and assemble and publish artifacts on black America.

Woodson knew African American History was deliberately kept out of the history books in white institutions. Color-only schools were given the hand me down textbooks from white schools, resulting in black children being taught white history and the development of America from a white perspective only.

“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization.” – Carter G. Woodson, The Journal of Negro History

In an attempt to boost interest and study of black history, Woodson founded the publication of the Journal of Negro History in 1916, which served to educate black Americans about their history and achievements. Woodson was zealous in ensuring that black America was taught its accomplishments and contributions in the development of the U.S.

In 1926 he promoted the idea of “Negro History Week.” This celebration would be held during the second week of February to coincide with the two already predominate dates in that month: Feb. 12, which is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln and Feb. 14, the birthday of Fredrick Douglass. Association of the study of Negro Life and History started to produce a high volume of lesson plans to help teachers bring Negro History Week into schools. Black America marveled at Negro History Week for what it represented, and they urged that black history be incorporated into lesson plans at the nation’s public schools, many of which were in areas high in black population. Churches played a major role in the support of this movement by hosting literary events with literature provided by ASNLH.

"As another has well said, to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching." -Carter G. Woodson
“As another has well said, to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching.” -Carter G. Woodson

Woodson’s creation of a Black History Week eventually became a month-long celebration in 1976. President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Week as a month- long holiday in 1976 but is was not until 1986 when Congress passed Public Law code 99-244 that designated February as “National Black History Month.” The concept of celebrating black history for a month had been in practice among black institutions and black organizations on college campuses since 1969 starting first at Kent State University. Kent State University is also the first college campus to have an organization geared toward black people:  Black United Students, dedicated to the struggle of black people, America and abroad.

Woodson expressed unconditional love for his people and reiterated that his work would not be in vain but instead timeless and continue to impact generations to follow.

Da’shawn Long is a staff writer for The Picket. He can be reached at Dlong03@rams.shepherd.edu or followed on Instagram @sirswave