Recognizing Black Excellence throughout History
February marks one of the most important months out of the year: Black History Month. Although black history is integral to everyday American history, it’s important to take time to learn more about and honor those in our community that have impacted society. This month is dedicated to paying tribute to generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to gain full rights and citizenship in the U.S. So how did this monumental reminder of black greatness come about? From a great black man in history, Carter G. Woodson. Let’s learn more about Black History Month and how to celebrate this year.
Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History
Black History Month is a federally recognized, nationwide celebration that calls on all Americans to reflect on and honor the significant role that black people have played in U.S. history. This celebration was started by Carter G. Woodson, a scholar who is known as a pioneer of African American history.
Woodson faced adversity of his own throughout his life, being born the son of former slaves. He grew up working in coal mines and quarries as a child. Determined to gain an education, Woodson put himself into high school at age 19. He went on to earn his master’s degree in history from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Harvard.
Woodson was the second black man every to receive a doctorate from Harvard, and went on to spend his life advocating the scholarly research, study and publication of works exploring the African American experience. He did this through his daily dedication writing the impact of black culture and accomplishments back into the history books.
Black History Week
Focused on his mission, Woodson established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) alongside minister Jesse E. Moorland back in 1915. He led the group’s most well received publication, the Journal of Negro History.
These organizations laid the groundwork for Woodson’s next great work for the American people: establishing Negro History Week in 1926. This week, which was set in February, was based on the belief that the achievements of blacks accurately set forth would validate their important place in history. Woodson decided to place this week in history in February in order to surround the birthdays of two greats in the civil rights movement. These are of Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who went on to become an abolitionist and civil rights leader, and Abraham Lincoln, who’s birthday fell on February 2. (Although Frederick Douglass' exact birth date is unknown, he celebrated the day on February 14.)
Black History Week Turns to Black History Month
In 1976, Woodson’s Negro History Week was officially made into Black History Month by President Gerald R. Ford. Ford explained that the country needed to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since this point, February has been dedicated as a time to reflect, remember, and become inspired by the accomplishments of those who came before us.
How to Celebrate Black History Month
When it comes to celebrating Black History Month, there are countless ways to feel more connected and educated about our nation’s past and the contributions of black Americans.
For our northern friends, Woodson’s home – located in Washington – is a National Historic Landmark. His home was a hub for black intellectuals, writers, scholars, educators and poets, and is now open to the public.
By visiting cultural centers this month, we can observe the work, talent and history of the black experience throughout history. From The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to The Whitney Plantation and more, museums offer a unique insight into the artifacts that capture the lives of our ancestors.