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How America Created Black History Month

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We all know Black History Month occurs every February, and the mission is simple:  to honor the contributions of African-Americans in U.S. history.

What you may not realize is that the celebration has origins dating back to nearly 100 years ago.

Black History Month has a fascinating background as colorful, original and interesting as those who helped shape the month-long remembrance we observe in America.

Here’s some interesting facts about a month that deserves our attention.

It started out as a week remembrance

Almost one century ago, Black History Month began as “Negro History Week.”

Carter G. Woodson, a historian, scholar, educator and publisher with degrees from the University of Chicago and Harvard, is credited with initiating the first celebration.

Woodson believed in truth and reason, and created the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History as a way to raise awareness of African-American contributions to society.

Both he and the organization conceived the week in 1925 and it was first celebrated in February 1926.

Woodson is often called the Father of Black History.

February was purposefully chosen

February was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass – each men who influenced the lives of so many African-Americans.

The two lived during the 1800s and shared the same beliefs, but had very different lives.

Lincoln, of course, served as our 16 president, while Douglass escaped slavery to become a national leader of the abolitionist movement, garnering huge praise for his speeches and antislavery writings.

Early response was strong

While the first-ever Negro History Week was met with lukewarm response, it wasn’t long before Woodson’s idea became a success.

Black history clubs arose nationwide and teachers wanted content and materials that could be used to instruct their students. Some progressive whites – not just scholars and philanthropists – backed the concept, too.

By 1950, Negro History Week was firmly entrenched in African-American life and more Americans respected the event.

Some mayors issued proclamations honoring the week, and the Civil Rights movement – as difficult as it was at times – helped create awareness even further.

The first month-long event

Expanding the celebration to a month was first suggested by black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in Ohio in February 1969.

The idea became reality the following year, culminating in the first-ever Black History Month held at Kent State the following year.

Interestingly, the celebration lasted a little longer than a month as it ran January 2 – February 28, 1970.

Going national

Six years later during the nation’s bicentennial, Black History Month truly went nationwide and became official when it was backed by President Gerald Ford.

He advocated that Americans “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Every president since then has issued Black History Month proclamations.

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