Black History Month

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Black History Month
An Ernie Pryor original painting dedicated to the Black United Students @ Kent State University.jpg
A painting dedicated to the founders of Black History Month, the Black United Students at Kent State University, by Ernie Pryor.[1]
Also calledAfrican-American History Month
Observed byUnited States, Canada,[2] United Kingdom,[3] Germany,[4] Netherlands[5]
SignificanceCelebration of African-American history
DateFebruary (North America)
October (Europe)

Black History Month is an annual observance originating in the United States, where it is also known as African-American History Month. It has received official recognition from governments in the United States and Canada, and more recently has been observed unofficially in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. It began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It is celebrated in February in the United States[6] and Canada,[7] while in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom it is observed in October.[8][9][5]


Carter G. Woodson (1875–1950)

Negro History Week (1926)

The precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be "Negro History Week".[10] This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and of Frederick Douglass on February 14, both of which dates black communities had celebrated together since the late 19th century.[10] Negro History Week was the center of the equation. The thought-process behind the week was never recorded, but scholars acknowledge two reasons for its birth: recognition and importance.[11] Woodson felt deeply that at least one week would allow for the general movement to become something annually celebrated. Also, after the ten year long haul to successfully complete his "Journal of Negro History", he realized the subject deserved to resonate with a greater audience.

From the event's initial phase, primary emphasis was placed on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of black Americans in the nation's public schools. The first Negro History Week was met with a lukewarm response, gaining the cooperation of the Departments of Education of the states of North Carolina, Delaware, and West Virginia as well as the city school administrations of Baltimore and Washington, D.C..[12] Despite this far from universal observance, the event was regarded by Woodson as "one of the most fortunate steps ever taken by the Association", and plans for a repeat of the event on an annual basis continued apace.[12]

At the time of Negro History Week's launch, Woodson contended that the teaching of black history was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the race within broader society:

If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization.[13]

By 1929, The Journal of Negro History was able to note that with only two exceptions, officials with the State Departments of Educations of "every state with considerable Negro population" had made the event known to that state's teachers and distributed official literature associated with the event".[14] Churches also played a significant role in the distribution of literature in association with Negro History Week during this initial interval, with the mainstream and black press aiding in the publicity effort.[15]

Throughout the 1930s, Negro History Week countered the growing myth of the South’s “lost cause,” as epitomized in the novel and movie “Gone With The Wind. That myth argued that slaves had been well-treated, that the Civil War was a war of “northern aggression,” and that blacks had been better off under slavery. “When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions,” Woodson wrote in his book “The Miseducation of the American Negro.” “You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it.” [16]

In the black community, Black History Month was met with enthusiastic response; it prompted the creation of Black history clubs, an increase in interest among teachers, and interest from progressive whites. Negro History Week grew in popularity throughout the following decades, with mayors across the United States endorsing it as a holiday.[10]

On February 21, 2016, 106-year Washington D.C. resident and school volunteer Virginia McLaurin visited the White House as part of Black History Month. When asked by the president why she was there, McLaurin said, "A Black president. A Black wife. And I’m here to celebrate Black history. That's what I'm here for."[17]

United States: Black History Month (1970)

The Black United Students first Black culture center (Kuumba House) where many events of the first Black History Month celebration took place.

Black History Month was first proposed by black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969. The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State one year later, from January 2, 1970 – February 28, 1970.[6]

Six years later, Black History Month was being celebrated all across the country in educational institutions, centers of Black culture and community centers, both great and small, when President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month, during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial. He urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history".[18]

United Kingdom (1987)

In the United Kingdom, Black History Month was first celebrated in October 1987.[19] It was organised through the leadership of Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who had served as a coordinator of special projects for the Greater London Council (GLC) and created a collaboration to get it underway.[20] It was first celebrated in London.[21]

Canada (1995)

In 1995, after a motion by politician Jean Augustine, representing the riding of Etobicoke—Lakeshore in Ontario, Canada's House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month and honored Black Canadians. In 2008, Senator Donald Oliver moved to have the Senate officially recognize Black History Month, which was unanimously approved.[7]

Republic of Ireland (2010)

Ireland's Great Hunger Institute, at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, notes: “Black History Month Ireland was initiated in Cork in 2010. This location seems particularly appropriate as, in the 19th century, the city was a leading center of abolition, and the male and female anti-slavery societies welcomed a number of black abolitionists to lecture there, including Charles Lenox Remond and Frederick Douglass."[22]


When first established, black history month resulted in some controversy.[23] Those who believed that black history month was limited to educational institutions questioned whether it was appropriate to confine the celebration of Black history to one month, as opposed to integration of black history into the mainstream education the rest of the year. Another concern was that contrary to the original inspiration for Black History Month, which was a desire to redress the manner in which American schools failed to represent Black historical figures as anything other than slaves or colonial subjects, Black History Month could reduce complex historical figures to overly simplified objects of "hero worship." Other critics refer to the celebration as a form of racism.[24] Actor and director Morgan Freeman and actress Stacey Dash have criticized the concept of declaring only one month as Black History Month.[25][26] Freeman noted, "I don't want a Black history month. Black history is American history."[27]

Since its inception, black history month has expanded beyond its initial acceptance in educational establishments. By 2020, Black History month had become a focus beyond schools. The Wall Street Journal describes it as "a time when the culture and contributions of African Americans take center stage" in a variety of cultural institutions including theaters, libraries and museums.[28] It has also garnered attention from the U.S. business community.[29] In February 2020 Forbes noted that "much of corporate America is commemorating" black history month including The Coca-Cola Company, Google, Target Corporation, Macy's, United Parcel Service and Under Armour.[30]

See also

Other history months

Heritage months



  1. ^ Lou Veal, "'Black History Month' begins with opening of culture center", Daily Kent Stater, Volume LV, Number 52, February 3, 1970, Kent State University.
  2. ^ Wayde Compton, "Remembering Hogan's Alley, hub of Vancouver's black community", CBC News, February 14, 2016.
  3. ^ "Black History Month Introduction; Prime Minister, Theresa May", September 28, 2016.
  4. ^ "Black History Month Hamburg".
  5. ^ a b "Black History Month 2011 – The Association of Students of African Heritage (ASAH) Netherlands", Afro-Europe, February 1, 2011.
  6. ^ a b Wilson, Milton. "Involvement/2 Years Later: A Report On Programming In The Area Of Black Student Concerns At Kent State University, 1968–1970". Special Collections and Archives: Milton E. Wilson, Jr. papers, 1965–1994. Kent State University. Retrieved September 28, 2012.
  7. ^ a b "About Black History Month". Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Archived from the original on February 1, 2012. Retrieved February 14, 2012.
  8. ^ Ryan, Órla. "Ireland becomes fourth country in world to celebrate Black History Month".
  9. ^ "BHM365". Black History Month 365. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  10. ^ a b c Daryl Michael Scott, "The Origins of Black History Month," Archived February 14, 2013, at the Wayback Machine Association for the Study of African American Life and History, 2011,
  11. ^ Reddick, L.D (January–June 2002). "25 Negro History Weeks". The Negro History Bulletin. 65.
  12. ^ a b C.G. Woodson, "Negro History Week," Journal of Negro History, vol. 11, no. 2 (April 1926), p. 238.
  13. ^ Woodson, "Negro History Week", p. 239.
  14. ^ "Negro History Week: The Fourth Year", Journal of Negro History, vol. 14, no. 2 (April 1929), p. 109.
  15. ^ "Negro History Week: The Fourth Year", p. 110.
  16. ^ "'Birth of a Nation' and the Birth of Black History Month". The Attic. Retrieved March 3, 2020.
  17. ^ "'I am so happy': 106-year-old woman dances with joy as she meets Obama". CTVNews. February 22, 2016. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  18. ^ "President Gerald R. Ford's Message on the Observance of Black History Month". Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum. University of Texas. Archived from the original on January 19, 2013. Retrieved February 14, 2012.
  19. ^ Ammar Kalia, "From emperors to inventors: the unsung heroes to celebrate in Black History Month", The Guardian, 8 October 2019.
  20. ^ Kubara Zamani, "Akyaaba Addai-Sebo Interview", Every Generation Media, reprinted from New African magazine.
  21. ^ "Black History Month FAQ". Black History Month. Archived from the original on February 21, 2012. Retrieved February 14, 2012.
  22. ^ "How Ireland is celebra]]ting its National Black History Month". October 12, 2018.
  23. ^ Pitre, Abul (November 3, 2002). "The Controversy Around Black History". The Western Journal of Black Studies. 26.
  24. ^ Hirsch, Afua (September 30, 2010). "Black History Month has to be more than hero worship". The Guardian. Retrieved February 14, 2012.
  25. ^ McCarter, William Matt (2012). "There is a White Sale at Macy's: Reflections on Black History Month". International Journal of Radical Critique. 1 (2). Retrieved January 29, 2013.
  26. ^ "Stacey Dash says Morgan Freeman agrees with her views on Black History Month, ask for apology from ‘Twitter haters’", TheGrio, January 27, 2016.
  27. ^ "Freeman calls Black History Month 'ridiculous'". MSNBC. December 15, 2005. Archived from the original on July 7, 2011. Retrieved February 14, 2012.
  28. ^ The Wall Street Journal, "During Black History Month, Enjoy a Slice of American Culture", January 21, 2020 [1]
  29. ^ The Wall Street Journal, "Secrets of Wealthy Women: African-American Women on Overcoming Obstacles," February 6, 2019 [2]
  30. ^ Forbes, Samantha Todd, "How Google, Coca-Cola And Other American Companies Are Celebrating Black History Month 2020, February 2, 2020 [3]

Further reading

  • Derrick Bell, "Brown v. Board of Education and the Black History Month Syndrome," Harvard Blackletter Law Journal, vol. 1, no. 1 (1984), p. 13.
  • C. G. Woodson, "Negro History Week," Journal of Negro History, vol. 11, no. 2 (April 1926), pp. 238–242. In JSTOR.

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