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Black History Month - Beginning 1926 in the United States

FIrst Slaves in 1619

Carter G Woodson Black History Month is observed annually in the United States and Canada in February and in the United Kingdom in October. It serves as a remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora.

Although the first African slaves arrived in the United States in Virginia in 1619, it took over 350 years before the U.S. government officially acknowledged the absence of Black History from official American History and the need for a special emphasis to be placed on that history. 

Historian Carter G Woodson established the first beginnings of Black History Month in 1926. In collaboration with the Association for the study of Negro life and History, they announced "Negro History Week"  as the second week of February annually. 

Expecting Black History would become fundamental to American history (soon), Woodson did not foresee nor intend his designated holiday to be long-lasting.

Yet, Negro History Week was surprisingly popular and led to the creation of black history clubs and a heightened interest in Black History in the United States especially among teachers.

Image: Carter G. Woodson (public domain)

Official Black History Month Designation

The movement to increase the length of time allocated to Black History from one week to one month was marked at Kent State in February 1970. Six years later during the bicentennial, the U.S. government under Pres. Gerald Ford, recognized the expansion of Negro History Week to Black History Month.

Black History Month was first celebrated in the United Kingdom in 1987 and in Canada in 1995. 

The Continuing Relevance of Black History Month

Debate continues on the need and appropriateness for one month dedicated to the history of one race. 
  • Shouldn't the United States be acknowledging the contributions of Black people every day?
  • Shouldn't the contributions of all minority races and peoples be recognized everyday?

Black History Month serves an essential role in the formation of a more equitable society. While focused on a single race and more predominantly on the Black people from Africa, it still serves as an important model and a reminder, lest we forget. 

Without a mechanism for recognizing contributions outside the normal power structures, what guarantee exists that everyone else won't be forgotten?

President Gerald R. Ford's Message on the Observance of Black History Month

February 10, 1976

In the Bicentennial year of our Independence, we can review with admiration the impressive contributions of black Americans to our national life and culture.

One hundred years ago, to help highlight these achievements, Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. We are grateful to him today for his initiative, and we are richer for the work of his organization.

Freedom and the recognition of individual rights are what our Revolution was all about. They were ideals that inspired our fight for Independence: ideals that we have been striving to live up to ever since. Yet it took many years before ideals became a reality for black citizens.

The last quarter-century has finally witnessed significant strides in the full integration of black people into every area of national life. In celebrating Black History Month, we can take satisfaction from this recent progress in the realization of the ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers. But, even more than this, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.

I urge my fellow citizens to join me in tribute to Black History Month and the message of courage and perseverance it brings to all of us.


Source:  http://www.ford.utexas.edu/library/speeches/760074.htm

For more information on Black History Month:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_History_Month

Posted: February 13, 2013     Nancy J Conrad

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