The History of Black History Month

As Black History Month is celebrated in the United States, it seems like a good time to revisit its history.

“In his red-brick rowhouse in the heart of D.C., the man who would become known as the ‘father of Black history’ wrote furiously. From a second-floor ‘home office’ at 1538 Ninth Street NW, Carter G. Woodson led and orchestrated a movement to document Black history, dictating dozens of books, letters, speeches, articles and essays promoting Black people and their place in American history.”

Carter G. Woodson was a groundbreaking African-American historian who helped to establish African-American history as a major field of historical study.

Carter G. Woodson’s office. Photo: The Washington Post

The Washington Post reports that “At 12:15 p.m. on most days, Woodson, who would launch what became Black History Month, met with his staff in the kitchen of the house. He’d give orders and strategize. There was little time to waste. He saw his mission — to correct how White people wrote about Black people, and to place Black Americans at the front and center of American history — as critical. ‘If a race has no history,’ Woodson wrote, ‘it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.'”

Woodson launched “Negro History Week” in 1926 to focus on African-Americans’ experiences in the United States and their roles in American history. Albert Broussard (Professor of Afro-American history at Texas A&M University) emphasizes that “Woodson’s goal from the very beginning was to make the celebration of Black history in the field of history a ‘serious area of study,'”

According to WBEZ, “The idea eventually grew in acceptance, and by the late 1960s, Negro History Week had evolved into what is now known as Black History Month. Protests around racial injustice, inequality and anti-imperialism that were occurring in many parts of the U.S. were pivotal to the change.” Many colleges and universities began to celebrate Black History Month with seminars, workshops, lectures, and other events each February. The annual celebrations were transformed into a nationally recognized Black History Month in 1976.

The history of race and racism has expanded enormously since Woodson created “Negro History Week” started, but African-American historians continue to shape the histories of the United States, Africa, and the Atlantic World, transforming historical methods and all of World History in the process.

The Washington Post reports on Carter G. Woodson and the history of Black History Month.

WBEZ broadcast a story about African-American Chicagoans’ role in the origins of Black History Month.

This entry was posted in Atlantic World, Cultural History, Globalization, Historiography and Social Theory, History in the Media, History of Race and Racism, History of the Western World, Human Rights, Museums and Historical Memory, The Past Alive: Teaching History, United States History and Society, World History. Bookmark the permalink.

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