Black History Month is a yearly celebration of successes by African Americans and a time for recognizing their vital roles in U.S. history.
Black History Month began as Negro History Week in 1926. Carter G. Woodson, known as “the father of Black history,” helped form the field of African American studies. His organization, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), promoted “people of all ethnic and social backgrounds to discuss the Black experience.” He famously is known to have said, “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” Later, the ASNLH would become The Study of African American Life and History, and is the oldest African American Historical Society in the country.
February was chosen by Woodson to be Black History Month because it’s also the birth month of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. As a result of their roles in the fight to end slavery, the Black community had been celebrating their birthdays for several decades. (The NAACP was also founded on February 12, 1909, the centennial anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.)
With the growing Civil Rights Movement, and a growing celebration of the Black community, Negro History Week was celebrated in urban areas across the country in the 1960’s. Eventually, on college campuses, it grew into Black History Month as we know it today. Black History Month was recognized in 1976 by President Gerald Ford, who said, “Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Each president since then has also recognized Black History Month, and Congress voted “National Black History Month” into law in 1986.
It may surprise many in the United States to learn that Black History Month is celebrated in Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Ireland, though the focuses vary. For example, in the United Kingdom, the mission statement for Black History Month is, “Dig deeper, look closer, think bigger.”
As Black History Month comes to an end, it’s important to remember that we observe it as a chance to celebrate Black achievement and leaders. Black History Month also serves as a reminder to recognize where systemic racism endures, and highlight the people and organizations creating change. It’s an opportunity to learn about Black histories, focusing on the achievements of many in addition to the stories of racism and slavery. The Fauquier County NAACP Branch is committed during Black History Month and every month, to its mission: to secure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons.
by Libbi Moore