Black History Month overview

Jackson Newspapers
Jackson Newspapers

What is Black History Month? It’s an annual month-long celebration honoring the triumphs and struggles of African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of Black people in U.S. history – including the civil rights movement as well as their artistic, cultural and political achievements. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of distinguished Black author, editor, publisher and historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History”, and other prominent African Americans.

Dr. Woodson got the idea in 1915 after attending a celebration in Illinois for the 50th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, which under Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, abolished slavery in 1863 in the Confederate states that seceded from the U.S. It wasn’t until two years later on June 19, 1865, now known as Juneteenth, that all people held as property in the United States were officially free. He then lobbied schools and organizations to participate in a special program to encourage the study of African American history, which began in February 1926 with Negro History Week. The program later expanded and was renamed Black History Month. Woodson had chosen February for the initial weeklong celebration to honor the birth months of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.

Since 1976, every U.S. President has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.

President Barack Obama once said in a 2016 speech: “Black History Month shouldn’t be treated as though it is somehow separate from our collective American history, or somehow just boiled down to a compilation of greatest hits from the March on Washington, or from some of our sports heroes, it’s about the lived, shared experience of all African Americans, high and low, famous and obscure, and how those experiences have shaped and challenged and ultimately strengthened America. It’s about taking an unvarnished look at the past so we can create a better future. It’s a reminder of where we as a country have been so that we know where we need to go.”

The theme for Black History Month 2021 is The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity. Themes are set every year by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, an organization founded in 1915 by Dr. Woodson.