Black History Month Origins

New Beginnings in Chi-Town:

Written by: Maurie Haith

The origin for Black History Month and its importance to Black people around the world began in Chicago, IL during the summer of 1915 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson traveled from Washington, D.C. to participate in a national celebration for the Commemoration of the Emancipation  of African Americans from slavery. 

Thousands of African Americans attended the event, which was a tremendous inspiration to Woodson for his concept. So, before departing Chicago, he met with several Black intellectuals to discuss the formation of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH)

In 1924, with the help of other Black civic organizations and the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, of which he was a member, Woodson announced the start of Negro History and Literature Week, which was later renamed Negro Achievement Week. 

Interest in the Celebration Grows

Some historians speculated as to why Dr. Woodson chose February as the month for Negro Achievement Week. The most prominent theories concluded that he wanted to correspond with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, who’s prominence to Black History is evident and who’s birthdays fall on the 12th and 14th, respectively. 

As Dr. Woodson worked to spread the concept of Negro Achievement Week, one massive historical event assisted him, the Great Migration. Between 1916 and 1970, more than six million African Americans migrated from the south to cities in the north, west and mid-west, in search of work and better lives. The pay was much better pay and there were improved opportunities, which helped grow the Black middle class, which in turn, increased demand for black history, culture, and literature. 

As demand grew for the information about Black History, Woodson and the Association struggled to meet the demand and formed branches that stretched from coast to coast. In 1937, at the urging of Mary McLeod Bethune, Woodson established the Negro History Bulletin. As black populations grew, mayors issued Negro History Week proclamations, and in cities like Syracuse progressive whites joined Negro History Week with National Brotherhood Week.

The Celebration of Black History Continues

The Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement of the 1960s and early 1970s had a dramatic effect on the study and celebration of black history. The desire to lengthen the celebration to a month-long celebration began before Dr. Woodson’s death in 1950, but the fight for equality was profoundly influential. In 1976, the young, more rebellious youth in the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH)utilized their influence to change the name of Negro History Week to Black History Week and to extend the celebration from a week to a month.

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