A Great First Step

The rich history of African American history.

Jacob Jestes, Writer

Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month, has been observed in the United States the month of February annually ever since the year 1976. This year will be the 46th subsequent year this national holiday is observed in the United States. It is also celebrated in other countries, such as Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom; with Canada also celebrating it in February, whilst Ireland and the United Kingdom do so in October. This month in celebration of the often overlooked, rich history of Black Americans is incredibly important for our culture. What may also be lesser known is that the history of this holiday itself is also incredibly rich.

 

The story of the development of this holiday begins in 1915. During September of this year, Harvard-trained Historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the “Association for the Study of Negro Life and History”. This organization was dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and other peoples of African descent. In 1926, the organization sponsored a national “Negro History Week”, opting for the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. This inspired schools and communities nationwide to have their celebrations, start clubs, as well host lectures and performances. 

 

Over the years since then, numerous mayors across the country began issuing proclamations recognizing “Negro History Week”. By the late 1960s, of course, thanks to the civil rights movement, recognition of black identity were growing more than ever. As a result, some college campuses had evolved the week into a “Black History Month”. Finally, in 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month as a national holiday; he spoke: “Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history”. The United Kingdom recognized the holiday in 1987, Canada did so in 1995, and Ireland was a bit late to the party, recognizing it officially in 2014.

 

President Ford spoke correctly when he said that the accomplishments of Black Americans were “too often neglected”. His words still ring true today. In a history class, you are likely to hear very little about Black Americans and how they were the people that literally and figuratively built our country. This sentiment does not only apply to Black Americans; in that same class, it is also very unlikely you’ll hear much about Native Americans and how our country was built on land red from their blood. Learning about these things is vital to not repeat the same mistakes. A month in remembrance of the history of these peoples is not the end all be all, but it is certainly a great first step.