February is Black History Month. Many know this black celebration very well. But why is Black History Month in February, and how did it come to be.
Why is Black History Month in February?
Every February, we celebrate a special event. No, we are not referring to Valentine’s Day. Instead, we are talking about the 28 (or 29) days we commit to honoring Black History. Black History Month is our nation’s way of showing respect and recognition for the hard work and sacrifices made by African Americans.
Since 1976, the United States has celebrated the achievements of African-Americans during this time. The month-long celebration reminds us of the accomplishments and milestones. Whether it’s in the classroom or online, black history month has been an important celebration amongst the black community.
However, have you ever wondered why exactly Black History Month is in February? In recent years this time, I always recall that one Proud Family episode. You know that episode where Oscar points out that black history month is celebrated during the shortest month of the year? Yeah, that one.
Every year I hear Oscar’s voice echo in my mind. While always making the assumption that Oscar’s statement was the answer to why Black History Month is in February; this year I actually looked into it.
The Father Of Black History Month: Carter G. Woodson
It all started with a man named Carter G. Woodson.
In 1915, Woodson became the man credited with creating Black History Month. According to Daryl Michael Scott, the history professor at Howard University, got the idea in 1915 after attending a celebration in Illinois. The celebration was for the 50th anniversary of the 13th Amendment. While under Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, the amendment abolished slavery in 1863 in the Confederate states.
It wasn’t until two years later on June 19, 1865, that all people held as property in the United States were officially free.
So, during that late Summer in 1915, many traveled from Washington, D.C. to participate in the national celebration. Thousands of African Americans traveled from across the country to see exhibits highlighting the progress their people had made since the overthrow of slavery. Included in the throngs of people was Woodson.
Getting Others Involved
Woodson joined the other exhibitors with a black history display. Before leaving the three-week event, Woodson was inspired and decided to form an organization to promote the scientific study of black life and history before leaving town. On September 9, 1915, Woodson met at the Wabash YMCA with Alexander L. Jackson, George Cleveland Hall, and more for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH).
Believing that publishing scientific history would transform race relations, Woodson aimed to dismiss the lies about the achievements of Africans and peoples of African descent. He hoped to popularize the findings that he and other black intellectuals published in The Journal of Negro History. In the early 1920s, Woodson urged black civic organizations to promote the achievements that researchers uncovered.
Desires were high for Woodson. After urging his fraternity brothers to take up the work they responded In 1924. They created Negro History and Literature Week, which they renamed Negro Achievement Week. However, the efforts from Omega Psi Phi wasn’t enough. Their outreach was significant, but Woodson aspired to greater impact.
Why Did Woodson Choose February?
Woodson chose February for the reasons of tradition and reform.
It’s said that Woodson selected February to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans. Many of us know that these two great Americans played a notable role in shaping black history. Still not sure who those two are? The answer: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Continuing on, Woodson also chose the two abolitions for reasons of tradition. Since Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, the black community, has been celebrating the fallen president’s birthday. Additionally, since the late 1890s, black communities across the country had been celebrating Douglass’. Well aware of the pre-existing celebrations, Woodson built Negro History Week around traditional days of commemorating their roles in black history.
However, Woodson was up to something more than building on tradition. Even though he admires both men, Woodson had never been fond of the celebrations in their honor. He protested against “ignorant spellbinders” who addressed large gatherings while displaying their lack of knowledge about the men.
Without saying so, Woodson aimed to reform the celebration and the study of the two great men to a broader examination of a great race. Woodson believed that history was made by the people; not simply or primarily by great men. Lincoln, however great, had not freed the slaves—the Union Army, including hundreds of thousands of black soldiers and sailors, had done that. Rather than focusing on two men, he believed that the black community should focus on the countless black men and women who had added to the advance of human civilization.
Black History Month Transformation
Like most ideas that resonate with the spirit of the times, Negro History Week proved to be more dynamic than Woodson or the Association could control.
“We are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.”
Well before his death in 1950, Woodson believed that the weekly celebrations would eventually come to an end. In fact, Woodson never viewed black history as a one-week affair. So, he pressed for schools to use Negro History Week to demonstrate what students learned all year. Additionally, he established a black studies extension program to reach adults throughout the year. It was in this sense that blacks would learn of their past on a daily basis. Woodson believed that black history was too important to America to be packed into a limited time frame. He spoke of a turn from Negro History Week to Negro History Year.
Efforts began slowly within the black community to expand the study in the 1940s. In the South, black teachers often taught Negro History as a supplement to U.S. history. One early recipient of the movement told that his teacher would hide Woodson’s textbook beneath his desk. His teacher would do this to avoid drawing the wrath of the principal.
During the Civil Rights Movement in the South, Freedom Schools incorporated black history into the curriculum to advance social change. The Negro History movement was an intellectual revolution that was part of every effort to transform race relations.
The Legacy of Black History Month Today
What Carter G. Woodson would say about the continued celebrations is unknown, but he would smile on all honest efforts to make black history a field of serious study and provide the public with thoughtful celebrations.
How do you guys celebrate Black History Month? At Two Bees, we’ll be covering great black moments not only in history but as well as in hip-hop. Stay tuned for more, and happy Black History Month!