The origin of the formal “Black History Month” commemoration goes back to 1915 when Harvard historian Carter G. Woodson and Pastor Jesse E. Moorland founded a group called the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which researched and promoted achievements of people who were of African descent. Today, the group is known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or ASALH. Back in 1926, ASALH began the sponsorship of a Negro History Week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to honor the birthday of Frederick Douglass. The birthday of Abraham Lincoln was celebrated as well. With overwhelming response, teachers, students, philanthropists, and progressive whites began supporting the effort. Becoming a crucial part of African American life and culture, a genuine appreciation for Negro History Week was fostered, expanding well past Woodson’s death in 1950. In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, and many college students on campuses around the country began to celebrate Black History for the entire month of February. In 1976, the nation’s bicentennial, President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans everywhere to reflect on and honor the accomplishments of African Americans.
Since then, schools and churches across the country hold events, awareness seminars, and celebrations to honor prominent African Americans from history and in the local communities. Anyone under the age of 50 grew up celebrating this month as a way to study, research, remember, and honor the generations of African Americans who struggled with great adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society, thus impacting social and political change worldwide in the process.
However, many generations lived in a very different time and still bear painful scars. We have a responsibility to continue pressing forward, and cannot allow the sacrifices of those that have come before us to be forgotten. Our history is fraught with adversity, but it is with thanksgiving for past sacrifices, hope for the future, and pride in our accomplishments that we celebrate Black History Month.
Since the first Black History Month in 1976, every American president has released an African American History Month proclamation. I suggest we make our own proclamations this year. It’s time we stepped forward to endorse the effort, taking pride in those who struggled before us. In the words of President Gerald R. Ford, let us “Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Join me here every week in February as we celebrate Black History.