It’s Black History Month 2021. The month-long celebration is a chance to acknowledge the historic achievements of Black Americans and to highlight their undeniable impact on American history. Did you know that the celebration that is now Black History Month started long before these civil rights leaders like Malcom X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks made their mark.
Negro History Week
In 1915, historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). This group focused on researching the advancements made by people of African descent and, in 1926, sponsored the first Negro History Week.
The ASALH selected a week in February to coincide with Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12) and Frederick Douglass’ birthday (Feb. 14), dates the Black community had, at that time, celebrated for decades. Though the timing was chosen based on set traditions, Woodson always had higher ideals for the celebration. “We are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements,” he told a group of students just a few years before issuing a press release announcing Negro History Week.
Through the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, the observation of Negro History Week grew in popularity across America among budding Black history clubs. Joined with other celebrations like Negro Brotherhood Week, the period of time grew larger. Black teachers began teaching Black history curriculum in schools in addition to U.S. history. Each year, major cities acknowledged the celebration. Even before Woodson’s death in the 1950s, cities in West Virginia and other pockets of the country were starting to elongate Negro History Week celebrations to the full month of February.