What Is Black History Month and How Did It Begin? (2024)

Although Black History Month is observed each February in the United States, many people are not familiar with how or why it was created. To understand Black History Month, you have to look back to early 20th-century historian Carter G. Woodson. As the son of formerly enslaved people and the second African American to receive a doctorate from Harvard, Woodson was thoroughly familiar with how Black Americans were being left out of the narrative of American History.

Woodson's desire to correct this glaring oversight lead to the development of Negro History Week in 1926. This week served as a prototype of sorts, and would later grow into the Black History Month we know today. And while people often joke about Black History Month being regulated to the shortest month of the year, Woodson made a calculated decision to begin Negro History Week in February.

The Origins of Black History Month

First, Woodson Developed Negro History Week

In 1915, Woodson helped found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (today known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History or ASALH). The idea for an organization devoted to Black history came to Woodson as he was talking about the release of the racist film "The Birth of a Nation." Discussing it with a group of Black men at a YMCA in Chicago, Woodson convinced the group that Black Americans needed an organization that would strive for a balanced history.

The organization began publishing its flagship journal—The Journal of Negro History—in 1916, and 10 years later, Woodson came up with a plan for a week of activities and commemorations devoted to Black American history. Woodson chose the week of February 7, 1926, for the first Negro History Week for its symbolism. It included the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12), celebrated for the Emancipation Proclamation that freed many enslaved people, and the abolitionist and formerly enslaved Frederick Douglass (Feb. 14). As reported by Oprah Magazine, both of these men were already celebrated by many people in the Black community and it made sense for the ASALH to further solidify that recognition by building a holiday around that week.

Woodson hoped that Negro History Week would encourage better relations between Black and White people in the United States as well as inspire young Black Americans to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of their ancestors. In his book "The Mis-Education of the Negro" (1933), Woodson lamented, "Of the hundreds of Negro high schools recently examined by an expert in the United States Bureau of Education only eighteen offer a course taking up the history of the Negro, and in most of the Negro colleges and universities where the Negro is thought of, the race is studied only as a problem or dismissed as of little consequence."

Thanks to Negro History Week, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History began to receive requests for more accessible articles. As a result, in 1937 the organization began publishing the Negro History Bulletin aimed at Black teachers who wanted to incorporate Black history into their lessons.

Then, Black History Month Was Born

Black Americans quickly took up Negro History Week, and by the 1960s, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, American educators, both White and Black, were observing Negro History Week. At the same time, mainstream historians had begun to expand the American historical narrative to include Black Americans (as well as women and other previously ignored groups). In 1976, as the U.S. was celebrating its bicentennial, the ASALH expanded the traditional week-long celebration of Black history to a month, and Black History Month was born.

That same year, President Gerald Ford urged Americans to observe Black History Month, but it was President Carter who officially recognized Black History Month in 1978. With the federal government's blessing, Black History Month became a regular event in American schools.

Trying to capture the entire history of a people in a single month is obviously impossible. But each year, the ASALH gave Negro History Week themes, and that tradition has extended into Black History Month to help narrow people's focus to particular aspects of Black history. In 2021, the theme is "The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity", and the theme for 2022 will be "Black Health and Wellness". In recent years, Black History Month's themes have included:

  • 2014- Civil Rights in America
  • 2015- A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture
  • 2016- Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memory
  • 2017- The Crisis in Black Education
  • 2018- African Americans in Times of War
  • 2019- Black Migrations
  • 2020 - African Americans and the Vote

Learn More About Ongoing Movements Surrounding Black History

There are a number of organizations that continue to work within a broader movement to capture and help people learn more about Black History. Of course, Woodson's own organization, the ASALH, is still active today. You can also check out resources like:

The Zinn Education Project: This organization promotes the teaching of people's history. In other words, the Zinn Education Project pushes at the boundaries of what is considered history, so students are receiving more accurate and complex reflection of events than what is often found in classroom textbooks. Its website includes free teaching materials that can be organized by time period, theme, resource type, and grade level.

Center for Racial Justice in Education: This organization is dedicated to "train[ing] and empower[ing] educators to dismantle patterns of racism and injustice in schools and communities." It has a number of free resources, including a Black History month guide that is designed for both educators and families.

The NEA Black Caucus: Founded in 1970, the NEA Black Caucus defines its mission as "to advance the global Black community by developing leaders, informing policy,and educating the public." The organization hosts an annual leadership conference.


  • "Carter G. Woodson: Father of Black History." Ebony. Vol. 59, no. 4 (February 2004): 20, 108-110.
  • Dagbovie, Pero Gaglo. The early Black history movement, Carter G. Woodson, and Lorenzo Johnston Greene. Champaign, IL: The University of Illinois Press, 2007.
  • Mayes, Keith A. Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2009.
  • Whitaker, Matthew C. "Black History Month Still Relevant for US." The Arizona Republic. 22 February 2009. Available online: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/viewpoints/articles/2009/02/21/20090221whitaker22-vi p.html
  • Woodson, Carter G. The Mis-Education of the Negro. 1933. Available online: http://historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/misedne.html.
  • __________. The Story of the Negro Retold. The Associated Publishers, Inc., 1959.
What Is Black History Month and How Did It Begin? (2024)


What Is Black History Month and How Did It Begin? ›

As early as the 1940s, some communities had transformed February into Negro History Month. With the ascendance of the American civil rights movement and the rise of Black consciousness in the 1960s, Negro History Week had become Black History Month in more and more places.

What is Black History Month and how did it begin? ›

Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.

What does Black History Month mean to you answers? ›

Feb 1. Written By Maddie Koss. Each February, we celebrate the achievements and history of African Americans as part of Black History Month. It's an opportunity to understand Black stories, uplift Black voices and spotlight those who have made a difference in our culture and history.

What is the best explanation of Black History Month? ›

Black History Month was created to focus attention on the contributions of African Americans to the United States. It honors all Black people from all periods of U.S. history, from the enslaved people first brought over from Africa in the early 17th century to African Americans living in the United States today.

What led up to Black History Month? ›

Carter G. Woodson, an NAACP leader, educator and historian, established Black History Week to recognize the central role Blacks played in the development of the nation. The first celebration occurred on Feb. 12, 1926.

When was Black History Month first made? ›

February marks Black History Month, a tradition that got its start in the Jim Crow era and was officially recognized in 1976 as part of the nation's bicentennial celebrations. It aims to honor the contributions that African Americans have made and to recognize their sacrifices.

Why is Black history important in history? ›

African Americans have played a central role in shaping U.S. history. From slavery and its abolition to the Great Migration, the civil rights movement and military, scientific, cultural and political achievements, explore key moments, milestones and figures in Black History.

Why is Black History Month important facts? ›

Black History Month celebrates African Americans' history, contributions, and achievements. Almost 100 years ago, Black History Month began as a weeklong event. It's now a month-long celebration that takes place every February. Black history embraces the 400-year-long record of Black life in America.

What is a Black History Month fact? ›

It was first celebrated during the second week of February in 1926 to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and abolitionist/editor Frederick Douglass (February 14). In 1976, as part of the nation's bicentennial, the week was expanded to a month.

What does Black history mean to you? ›

Black History Month is a time of reverence, homage, and celebration. A reverence for the men and women who suffered for the color of their skin. An homage to the people who gave their voice and mind to create change. A celebration of how far we've come as a people and how much more we can still achieve.

Who was the first Black famous person? ›

Richard Potter, America's First Black Celebrity - Black Heritage Trail NH.

Who has the biggest impact on Black history? ›

These leaders have also had a significant impact in shaping the world we live in today.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the most well-known civil rights leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr. ...
  • Rosa Parks. ...
  • Barack Obama. ...
  • Frederick Douglass. ...
  • oprah Winfrey. ...
  • Harriet Tubman. ...
  • Medgar Evers. ...
  • Jackie Robinson.
Mar 2, 2022

Did you know Black history facts? ›

Black History Month Trivia
  • William Tucker, son of indentured servants from Great Britain, was the first recorded African child to be born in the colonies in 1624.
  • Vermont was the first colony to ban slavery in 1777.
  • In the 1770s, a Quaker named Anthony Benezet created the first school for African American children.
Jan 11, 2022

What happened on February 26 in Black history? ›

#blackhistory: On February 26, 1869, Congress sent the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to the states for ratification.

What happened on February 1st in Black history? ›

February 1, 1865 U.S. President Abraham Lincoln signs the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery in the United States. February 1 is known as National Freedom Day in its honor. February 3, 1870 The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified.

What happened on February 28th Black history? ›

On this day in 1859, Arkansas legislature required free blacks to choose between exile and enslavement. On this day in 1932, Richard Spikes invented the automatic gear shift.

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