Why is Black History Month celebrated in February? Origin and meaning

Black History Month traces its origins to one man’s drive to expand awareness of the role a whole people played in shaping history, not just great men.

Why is Black History Month celebrated in February? Origin and meaning

Black History Month came from humble beginnings nearly a century ago, begun as “Negro History Week”. It was created to raise awareness of the achievements of African Americans and those of African descent and their role in US history. It has been celebrated nationally as African American History Month every year since 1976. Black History Month is also now celebrated in several countries around the world.

The origin of Black History Month

In the summer of 1915 thousands of African Americans travelled from across the country to Chicago to participate in a national celebration of the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment which emancipated former slaves. Carter G. Woodson was so inspired by the event that he decided to form an organization to promote the scientific study of black life and history. Thus was born the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH).

Woodson encouraged his fellow black civic organizations to promote the achievements that researchers were discovering and in 1926 created Negro History Week to take place in the second week of February. The date was chosen to take advantage of ongoing celebrations taking place on the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two men who had played a prominent role in shaping African-American history. He wanted to transform the celebrations to focus on the contributions that advanced human civilization made by countless black men and women, not just great men.

Black History Week becomes a month

Over the ensuing decades observation of Negro History Week was taken up in schools around the nation. With time cities across the US began observing Negro History Month, with its adoption accelerating during the civil rights era. The culmination came in 1976 during America’s bicentennial when President Ford officially recognized Black History Month. He called on the nation to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

Since 1976 every American president has issued proclamations endorsing the Association’s annual theme. The Black History Month theme for 2021 is “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity” which explores the African diaspora and how it is portrayed as the black family at large.