February is Black History month and the entire month is full of celebrations and observances honoring African Americans. According to the Association for the study of African American Life and History (ASALAH) Black History month stems from National Negro History Week, organized in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson. The timing of National Negro History Week was selected due to the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. February 12 is Lincoln’s birthday and February 14 is Frederick Douglass Day. ASALAH described the timing of Negro History Week as follows.
“Woodson chose February for reasons of tradition and reform. It is commonly said that Woodson selected February to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history, namely Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and the 14th, respectively. More importantly, he chose them for reasons of tradition. Since Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, the black community, along with other Republicans, had been celebrating the fallen President’s birthday. And since the late 1890s, black communities across the country had been celebrating Douglass’. Well aware of the pre-existing celebrations, Woodson built Negro History Week around traditional days of commemorating the black past. He was asking the public to extend their study of black history, not to create a new tradition. In doing so, he increased his chances for success.”
In addition to Lincoln’s birthday, Frederick Douglass Day and Black History month, the first week of February is African Heritage and Health Week, Feb. 4 is Rosa Parks Day in California and Missouri, Feb 7 (or the first Tuesday in Feb) is African American Coaches Day, International Day of Black Women in the Arts and National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. February 12 is Lincoln’s birthday and NAACP Day as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded on Feb. 12, 1909.
While Negro History Week continued to be celebrated, it wasn’t until the rise of the Civil Rights Movement that the week gave way to Black History month. In 1975, then president Gerald Ford officially recognized Negro History week and encouraged people nationwide to participate in the celebration of black achievements. President Ford’s official recognition of Negro History week/Black History week helped pave the way for a nationwide, month-long observance. You may read President Ford’s remarks below.
“It is most appropriate that Americans set aside a week to recognize the important contribution made to our nation’s life and culture by our black citizens.”
“With the growth of the civil rights movement has come a healthy awareness on the part of all of us of achievements that have too long been obscured and unsung. Emphasis on these achievements in our schools and colleges and in daily community life places in timely perspective the benefits of working together as brothers and sisters regardless of race, religion or national origin for the general well-being of all our society.”
“In this spirit, I urge my fellow citizens to be mindful of the valuable message conveyed to us during the celebration of this week.”
“Gerald R. Ford”
The next year, President Ford would expand his message from urging people to celebrate Black History week, to the organization of Black History month. President Ford issued the message on Feb. 10, 1976, and it could be stated that this was when Black History month officially got its start as it is recognized and observed today. You may read President Ford’s complete message affirming Black History month here.
In 1986, Congress passed a joint resolution that by law proclaimed February as Black History month. The joint resolution specifically includes the timeline of events that led to the formation of Black History month. The resolution begins with Carter G. Woodson’s 1926 launch of Negro History week to President Ford’s proclamation for Black History month in 1976. The proclamation includes the following
“Whereas the observance of Black (Afro-American) History month provides opportunities for our nation’s public schools, institutions of higher learning and the public to gain a deeper understanding and knowledge of the many contributions of black Americans to our country and the world.”
You can learn more about Black History and the contributions black people have made to society as well as their fight for equal rights under the Constitution at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
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