Ever since 1976, Americans have celebrated Black History Month every February, spending the month commemorating and highlighting the contributions of black Americans to the nation’s history. But just how did February come to be Black History Month?
The origin of the celebration began in 1926. The historian Carter G. Woodson conceptualized a “Negro History Week” to redress the lack of black figures featured in many textbooks and history books. Woodson chose the second week of February to highlight the contributions of black Americans who had made significant contributions to the nation’s history because both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays fall during that week.
Woodson publicized his campaign well, and many city mayors and university presidents joined in celebrating the occasion. Celebrations, lectures, performances and clubs dedicated to the study of black history and culture began to proliferate. The week proved to be so popular that many organizations began dedicating the entire month of February to black history and culture. By the late 1960s, the civil rights movement was at its peak, and the entire month of February was being used to commemorate black history almost everywhere.
In 1976, then-President Gerald Ford officially dedicated February as Black History Month, encouraging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Black History Month has since been recognized by every president, and set a specific theme for the year. This year, the theme is “African Americans in Times of War” to commemorate the centennial of the end of World War One.
A wide array of people are celebrated during Black History Month. These frequently include Madam C.J. Walker, the entrepreneur and activist who was the first self-made female millionaire, George Washington Carver, who took the humble peanut and made over 300 products out of it, and Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African-American Supreme Court Justice after Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him in 1967.
And Black History Month isn’t a strictly American event. Countries around the world, from Canada to the United Kingdom, spend the month commemorating the contributions and achievements of black citizens who have made enduring and pioneering contributions to their countries, as well.