Black History Month: Why February?

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Historian Carter G. Woodson was one of the first scholars to study African American history. In 1915 he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), to promote the scientific study of black life and history. Eager to promote black history and achievement outside of his immediate community, and with the support of fellow scholars, Woodson announced the first Negro History Week in February 1926.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

Woodson’s choice of month was strategic. Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, had been a day of commemoration since Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, and starting in the 1890s, black communities had taken to celebrating Frederick Douglass’ birthday, February 14. Upon its inauguration, Negro History Week was a great success. Schools readily incorporated it into classrooms with instruction materials issued by the ASALH. Black history clubs formed in progressive communities, and as black populations grew, cities began issuing proclamations of Negro History Week. Through the 1930s, riding the success of Negro History Week, the ASALH formed branches across the country to better serve historians eager to help re-educate the nation.

Despite Negro History Week’s success, Woodson’s intent was not for black history to become a week-long affair. Instead, he argued for the integration of black history throughout the year, hoping for a time when an annual celebration was no longer a necessity. Woodson believed, like many today, that black history was too important to America and the world to be limited to one week.

In the 1940s efforts within the black community to expand the study of black history in schools and public celebrations began to catalyze. Southern black teachers began incorporating black history as a supplement to United States history, and through the civil rights movement, Freedom Schools used black history in curricula to advance social change. The shift from Negro History Week to Black History Month was incremental. By the late 1960s, with increasing pressure from black intellectuals, Black History Month began replacing Negro History Week. In 1976, the ASALH pushed to cement permanent shifts from Negro History Week to Black History Month across the country. Since then, every American president has issued proclamations endorsing the annual theme set by the ASALH.

AANewDeal

Curriculum Pathways resources--such as this primary-source document analysis of New Deal policies during the Great Depression--examine the history and literature of the African African experience.

Sources:

Scott, Daryl Michael. "Origins of Black History Month." Founders of Black History Month. 9 Sept. 2014. Web. 29 Jan. 2015. <http://asalh100.org/origins-of-black-history-month/>.

"About Us." About Us. Woodson Museum. Web. 29 Jan. 2015. <http://www.woodsonmuseum.org/about-us>.

Foner, Eric, John Arthur Garraty, and Historians Society of American. The Reader’s Companion to American History. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1991. eBook Collection (EBCSOhost). Web. 29 Jan. 2015.

Looking for resources focused on African-American history? Don’t miss these free online lessons:

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About Author

Clare FitzGerald

Curriculum Development Specialist

Clare FitzGerald is a research scientist with Curriculum Pathways. As part of a cross-disciplinary research team seeking to improve youth outcomes, Clare facilitates community collaborations, conducts applied research, and generates digital content. Clare joined Curriculum Pathways in 2014, and in 2016 completed her PhD in Public Administration from North Carolina State University. Her research interests include performance measurement and management as well as innovation and technology adoption and use.

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