Crimson Education is kicking off Black History Month with some historical lessons on how the celebration came into existence, and why it is still relevant today.
The emergence of Black History Month dates back to the summer of 1915, when Carter G. Woodson traveled from Washington D.C. to Chicago, Illinois to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the emancipation of slavery. He was an alumnus of the University of Chicago and the second Black recipient of a Ph.D. Degree from Harvard. He went on to teach at Howard University, one of the most well-known HBCUs. As Woodson and thousands of Black Americans descended upon the Chicago Coliseum to view exhibitions that highlighted African American’s recent accomplishments, he was suddenly inspired to do more in the spirit of honoring Black history and heritage.
On September 9th, 1915, Woodson, Jesse E. Moorland, and three others formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization that promotes the scientific study of Black life and history. Today it is known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Over the next decade, Woodson undertook many efforts to spread and promote the finding of Black accomplishments throughout his communities far and wide. One of the most important being The Journal of Negro History, which was a compilation of researchers’ findings on the achievements of Black individuals throughout time. Many heard his calling, and as a result, he released a statement to the press announcing that Negro History Week would take place in February of 1926. This would be historically known as the precursor to Black History Month!
It is said that Carter G. Woodson chose the month of February to pay respect to two men that made significant contributions to Black history at the time. The first is President Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12, 1809, and served as the 16th president of the United States. He led us during arguably one of the country’s greatest moral and constitutional crises, the American Civil War. Lincoln is credited with abolishing slavery through the passing of the 13th amendment, which states that:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” ― 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery.
Frederick Douglass is the second influence, having been born somewhere around February 14th. The exact date is unknown because Douglass was born into slavery at the time. However, at age 20 he successfully escaped with his wife and went on to become one of the most important political advocates of the emancipation and equality of all people. Through his autobiographies, antislavery writings, and public speaking, his mission was to show slaveholders that Black individuals were not only intellectual but that they could function independently.
“The American people have this to learn: that where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither person nor property is safe.” ― Frederick Douglass
Negro History Week would go on to be celebrated well into the 1940s, when the stories of Black oppression and successes started to make their way into the education system and were celebrated unapologetically before the public. However, it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Movement that the world would see the slow transition from a one-week celebration to a month-long recognition of Black identity. As young intellectuals on college campuses became increasingly aware of the connections between Africa and its role in the birthing of modern America, they quickly pressured Woodson’s organization to evolve and fight for the shift to a long and formal commemoration. Though the term wasn’t formally coined by the government, Black History Month was quickly adapted to many college campuses where students would host a multitude of events honoring their ancestors. Finally, in 1976 President Gerald Ford officially recognized the holiday, citing that every American should “recognize the important contribution made to our nation’s life and culture by black citizens.” Each president from that day until now, both Republican and Democrat, has since then has recognized its importance to our society.
This is just a short introduction to a complex history celebrating the struggles, accomplishments, and perseverance within the Black community. We encourage you to continue your research and seek out the stories and findings within the Black community that inspire you.
Stay tuned for more blogs this Black History Month!