February is Black History Month, a great opportunity to celebrate African Americans’ many achievements throughout U.S. history. Since 1976, this annual celebration has recognized the contributions of black Americans to our country.
Here are five important things to know about this meaningful commemoration:
It Started as a Week.
In 1915, Harvard-educated historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse Moorland founded what’s now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. That organization established Negro History Week in 1926, which strived to inspire schools and communities to organize local celebrations and host performances and lectures.
Carter Woodson: The Father of Black History.
Woodson was tireless in his lobbying to establish Negro History Week as a program to encourage the study of African-American history. He dedicated his career to the subject and wrote many books on the topic. His most famous volume is The Mis-Education of the Negro (1933), which has become required reading at numerous colleges and universities.
February Was Chosen for a Reason.
Negro History Week was the second week of February. Why? To coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. President Lincoln, of course, was the 16th U.S. president and paved the way for the abolition of slavery with his Emancipation Proclamation. Douglass was an escaped slave turned activist and author, and a prominent leader in the abolitionist movement to end slavery.
A Week Becomes a Month.
The civil rights movement of the 1960s helped elevate Negro History Week to national prominence… and turn it into a month-long celebration. As a result, in 1976, President Gerald Ford made things official, proclaiming February to be Black History Month.
Honoring African-American Men and Women.
You don’t have to look far to notice the many impressive achievements of black men and women in the fields of science, politics, law, sports, entertainment, and many others. Here are some of the most notable names you’re probably hearing celebrated this month (and Biography’s website does a wonderful job of profiling many others):
- Harriet Tubman – Underground Railroad “Conductor,” Civil Rights Activist
- Alice Ball – Chemist
- Josephine Baker – Singer, Dancer, Civil Rights Activist
- Martin Luther King, Jr. – Baptist Minister and Social Activist
- Rosa Parks – Civil Rights Activist
- Mary Jackson – Scientist, Mathematician, NASA’s First Black Female Engineer
- Maya Angelou – Civil Rights Activist, Author, Poet
- Joycelyn Elders – First African-American U.S. Surgeon General
- Colin Powell – U.S. Secretary of State, Four-Star General (U.S. Army)
- Barack Obama – U.S. President, U.S. Senator, Lawyer
Want to learn more about Black History Month?
Visit History’s website for more information!