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Black History

Learn interesting facts about Black History.

Black History Month takes place in February. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Black History Month takes place in February.

Black History Month is commemorated in the United States during February. Each year, in classrooms across America, leading figures in African-American history are explored and discussed. Outside of the school setting, February can be a time to explore black history and the contributions of leading African-American figures. But it wasn't always this way. Hard work and determination went into the creation of Black History Month.

The "Father of Black History Month"

A descendant of former slaves, Carter G. Woodson was the second African-American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University, according to the Carter G. Woodson Institute. Though he did not begin school until he was 20 years old, Woodson earned his high school diploma in two years and quickly moved through the ranks of higher education. His studies showed him the lack of factual information on African-American history being taught in American schools. He decided the world needed to understand that there was a black history in America and around the globe. What he did to create that understanding has earned Woodson the accolade of "Father of Black History Month."

Founding of Black History Month: Negro Achievement Week

Woodson laid the groundwork for Black History Month by organizing the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). He hoped the institute would showcase the contributions of Africans and African-Americans to culture and history. Woodson believed that publishing factual historical information about African-Americans would help relieve tensions between ethnicities and decrease racism in America.

In 1924, Woodson's scholarly publications on black historical contributions led to the creation of "Negro History and Literature Week," which was later renamed "Negro Achievement Week." This week of black history education in February included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two leaders in the abolitionist movement. Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that led to the end of black slavery. Frederick Douglass wrote about being a slave and became an abolitionist leader.

As word spread about Negro Achievement Week, scholars and civic organizations were eager to get involved and black history clubs and groups became popular across the nation. Delighted at the early and enthusiastic response, Woodson designated February as the time to educate all people about the history of African-Americans.

The Progression of Black History Month

In the 1950s and 1960s, the exploration and discussion of black history deepened. Official proclamations of Negro Achievement Week became the norm, exactly at a time when tensions were rising between white and black Americans. This was the era of the civil rights movement and there were mixed feelings about what it meant to be black in America. It was not until 1976 that Negro Achievement Week became Black History Month, when the association realized that more than a week was necessary to explore black history.

The change was in response to the rising awareness of America's black population about its own history. Soon colleges across the country began including the study of black history and the civil rights movement in their curriculums. Today, Black History Month and the study of African-American history are considered the norm in American public schools.

Black History Month Activities

Students celebrate Black History Month by learning about important African-American figures like Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harriet Tubman. Being out of school is no reason not to find some way of marking Black History Month.

Some suggestions for ways to celebrate and commemorate Black History Month include:

  • Visiting the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. to view African-American historical exhibits, including the Greensboro lunch counter where the famous sit-in took place.
  • Reading the biography of a prominent figure in black history, such as W.E.B. Dubois (founding member of the NAACP and writer on the African-American perspective).
  • Visiting the Henry Ford Museum, which has free African-American history exhibits during Black History Month.
  • Visiting the home of a noteworthy African-American in history.
  • Attending a concert or other musical event that celebrates the African contribution to music, such as a jazz or blues concert.
  • Traveling to the South to visit the former land of slavery, explore plantations and Southern history museums to see how different things are today.
  • Traveling to Africa to discover long-lost African roots and enjoy the rich culture.

Of course, the study of black history need not be confined to February; many of the above suggestions can be carried out any time of year.

Black History Month Today

The African American History Month Web site is a good resource for videos, bibliographies and biographies as well as scheduled events throughout February. The site offers an annual theme which allows for a more focused look at black history through the close examination of particular figures and events.

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