Each February, Americans celebrate Black History Month, a time to reflect on the history and culture of African Americans. But how did this celebration come to be? With Black History Month coming to a close next week, it’s important to reflect on the historians who fought to ensure the recognition was created.
According to Time Magazine, in the early 1900s, Carter G. Woodson realized that his curriculum at the University of Chicago and Harvard notably underrepresented African Americans. According to those historians, African Americans were barely involved in American history, something Woodson knew wasn’t true.
In 1915, Woodson and his fellow historian Jessie E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (today called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History). The organization promoted the study of black history and celebrated the accomplishments of African Americans.
According to History.com, the group sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926, the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The group chose to celebrate Lincoln and Douglass since the black community already had a tradition celebrating their birthdays.
Celebrations of Negro History week continued to spread and, thanks to the civil rights movement and the Harlem Renaissance, by the 1960s many college campuses began to celebrate Black History Month. President Gerald Ford first recognized Black History Month in 1976 saying that the public should “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Since President Ford, United States Presidents have issued a national decree of each year’s theme. This year’s theme was “African Americans and the Vote,” which celebrated the anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment, which granted black men the right to vote, and the anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women’s suffrage.
According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Black History Month is important to celebrate because you can learn a lot about a country based on “what they deem important enough to remember, to create moments for — what they put in their museum and what they celebrate.”
Instead of choosing to forget it’s mistakes, embarrassments, and atrocities America should choose to remember them, and celebrate the culture of the people they once oppressed.