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Black History Month: When did the US begin celebrating?

February is Black History Month which has taken place since 1970. Where does the celebration originate and what will communities do to mark the month?

February is Black History Month which has taken place since 1970. Where does the celebration originate and what will communities do to mark the month?

On 31 January, President Biden issued a proclamation to affirm February as National Black History Month, and called "upon public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities."

When making the announcement, President Biden also said that it "was essential that we take time to celebrate the immeasurable contributions of Black Americans, honor the legacies and achievements of generations past, reckon with centuries of injustice, and confront those injustices that still fester today."

The United Kingdom began celebrating Black History Month in 1987, followed by Germany in 1990, Canada in 1995, and the Republic of Ireland in 2010. 

Origins of Black History Month

Historians tie Black History Month to "National Negro Week" which was first established by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). Over the subsequent decades, the week grew in popularity with many local leaders adopting celebrations in their cities and towns. The week of 12 and 14 February were selected for the celebration as those were the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas. 

Black History Month has been celebrated in the United States since 1969.

The celebration began at Kent State University when the Black Student Union hosted the first iteration of the month long celebration. In the following years, more educational institutions adopted the holiday and in 1976, it was adopted at the federal level by President Gerald Ford.

The year, 1976, also happened to be the country's bicentennial anniversary and during Black History Month, President Ford urged the nation to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

What is the theme of this 2022 Black History Month?

Each year the President of the United States selects a theme for Black History Month and this year's is Black Health and Wellness.

The motivation behind the theme aims to draw attention to "the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing (e.g., birthworkers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora," reported ASNLH. 

The Department of Health and Human Services also stated that they would be working during the month to focus "on the overall wellness of Black communities is particularly important now because of the high risk for COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and death faced by this community and the impact COVID-19 has on people with underlying medical conditions."

Is President Biden going to nominate the first Black women to the Supreme Court?

In late January, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer retired from his post, giving President Biden an opportunity to nominate a justice to the highest court in the land.

Then candidate-Biden told the country that he would nominate the first Black women to the Supreme Court if he were elected President. While no announcements have been made, the White House Press Secretary Jen Pskai noted "that the President’s commitment, above all else, is to nominate a qualified woman — a Black woman — to serve on the Supreme Court with impeccable credentials."


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