While we’re all familiar with Black History Month and its meanings, its placement during the month of February is less obvious. Was it an arbitrary choice or is there a greater purpose to its timing? To understand why Black History Month is in February, one needs to first look to the celebration’s roots.
The Birth of Black History Month
Black History Month starts with African-American historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson. The son of former slaves, Dr. Woodson worked his way out of the Kentucky coal mines and into a Harvard education. He became a historian and journalist who dedicated his life to increasing awareness of African-American history. Upon researching, Woodson was saddened to discover the scarcity of African-American history and the contributions of the culture to America.
Dr. Woodson believed that a culture without history had no inspiration. Therefore, in 1915 he founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Following that, he launched the seminal Journal of Negro History. As his passion for this important topic increased, Dr. Woodson created the celebration of Negro History Week as a way to highlight and celebrate the contributions of African Americans throughout history.
Thanks in great part to Dr. Woodson’s efforts, President Gerald R. Ford would go on to establish Black History Month as a nationally observed celebration in February 1976.
President Ford simply followed suit after Dr. Woodson. Woodson originally selected February as the month to observe Negro History Week because February is the birth month of former President Abraham Lincoln, whose Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery in 1863. Additionally, February is also the birth month of Frederick Douglass, the former slave turned social reformer and impactful abolitionist. Furthermore, February is also the month that the 15th Amendment was passed in 1870, which gave African Americans the right to vote.
Additionally, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded on February 12, 1909, the centennial anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.
How do we Celebrate Black History Month?
Every year, the theme of Black History Month changes, focusing on different contributions of African Americans within the American historical landscape. Themes include African Americans in Times of War (2018), which focused on the contributions of African Americans during wartime; Civil Rights in America (2014), which marked the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; and Seventy-Five Years of Scholarly Excellence (1990), which paid homage to African American forebearers.