Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The origin of Black History Month

The story of Black History Month begins with historian Carter G. Woodson. Woodson was passionate about black history. His passion, however, evolved in the most unlikely place. While working at a coal mine when he was twenty, the daily conversation of the black Civil War veterans often focused on interesting historical facts not recorded in history books. Woodson realized that despite the constantly evolving history of the African American experience, documentation was sparse.

Woodson’s enthusiasm led him to college where he earned a bachelor degree in European history and a Ph.D. in history. As a new graduate, he managed to earn a living as a high school teacher and later as a professor of history at Howard University. Yet, his desire to document black history remained. He co-founded and financed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 with the lofty goal for it to both publish and fund research and writing projects about black history.

Carter Woodson Works Toward Documenting Black History

After the organization received substantial funding, Woodson was able resign from Howard and dedicate all of his time to the Association. Through the organization, he established a home study program, directed the study of African American history in schools, hired researchers to search the international archives, and lastly, he founded the Associated Publishers. It published books and resources about black history. The Association also published the quarterly publication the Journal of Negro History, which was distributed throughout the world.

Black History Month Takes Root

In 1926, Woodson finally came across an idea that would forever associate his name with Black History Month. Negro History Week, as it was called by the black fraternity Omega Psi Phi, was a week in February dedicated to celebrating the achievements of blacks. Their celebration was somewhat stagnant until Woodson offered to put the Association’s name behind the idea in February 1926. Woodson chose the second week in February because it marked the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Through Woodson’s promotion of the celebration in the Journal of Negro History and the creation and distribution of kits for children, Negro History Week gained in popularity. In 1976, it evolved into Black History Month.

Gates, Henry Louis and West, Cornel, The African American Century, Touchstone, 2002.

1 comment:

Kel said...

Thanks for the lesson, Benita. I love learing about how celebrations and events got started!