Black History Month

Black History Month

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For the song, see Black History Month (song).

Black History Month is a remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It is celebrated annually in the United States and Canada in the month of February, while in the UK it is held in the month of October.



[edit] History

Statue of Woodson in Huntington, West Virginia

Statue of Woodson in Huntington, West Virginia

Black History Month was established in 1976 by Afro-Americans for the Study of Afro-American Life and History.[1] The month-long celebration was an expansion of Negro History Week, which was established in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, director of what was then known as the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Woodson selected the week in February that embraced the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. The celebration may have had its origins in the separate efforts of Mary Church Terrell, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and the African American collegiate fraternity Omega Psi Phi. The former had begun the practice of honoring Frederick Douglass on February 14, the date he used to mark his birth. The Omegas established a "Negro Achievement Week" in 1924. Woodson was friends with Mary Church Terrell and worked with her and the National Council of Colored Women to preserve Douglass’ home and personal papers. Woodson was also a member of Omega Psi Phi. While Terrell’s celebration of Douglass was a local event and the Omega Achievement Week was part of their community outreach, Woodson broadened the scope of the celebration in three significant ways. First, he conceived of the event as a national celebration, sending out a circular to groups across the United States. Secondly, he sought to appeal to both whites and blacks and to improve race relations. For this reason, he chose President Lincoln’s birthday as well as Douglass’. Finally, Woodson viewed Negro History Week as an extension of ASNLH’s effort to demonstrate to the world that Africans and peoples of African descent had contributed to the advance of history. Each year, ASNLH would select a national theme and provide scholarly and popular materials to focus the nation’s "study" of Negro history. As such, Negro History Week was conceived as a means of undermining the foundation of the idea of black inferiority through popular information grounded in scholarship. The theme, chosen by the founders of Black History Month, for 2007 is "From Slavery to Freedom, Africans in the Americas."

The Negro History Week Movement took hold immediately. At first it was celebrated almost exclusively by African Americans, taking place outside of the view of the wider society. Increasingly, however, mayors and governors, especially in the North, began endorsing Negro History Week and promoting interracial harmony. By the time of Woodson’s death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a well-established cultural institution. Indeed, it was so established that Woodson had begun to criticize groups for shallow and often inaccurate presentations that did not advance the public’s knowledge of Negro life and history.

With the rise of the Black Power Movement in the 1960s, many in the African American community began to complain about the insufficiency of a week-long celebration. In 1976, the ASNLH, having changed its name to The Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, responded to the popular call, citing the 50th annual celebration and America’s bicentennial. For more on the association visit

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879.

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879.

[edit] Purpose

History books had barely begun covering black history when the tradition of Black History Month was started. At that point, most representation of blacks in history books was only in reference to the low social position they held, with the exception of George Washington Carver. Black History Month can also be referred to as African-American History Month, or African Heritage Month. One of the few U.S. history works at that time told from an African American perspective was W.E.B. DuBois’ 1935 work "Black Reconstruction."

In the United Kingdom (UK), Black History Month is celebrated in the month of October. The official guide to Black History Month in the UK[] is published by Sugar Media, Ltd., which produces 100,000 copies nationwide.[2]

Part of the aim of Black History Month is to underline the harms of racial prejudice and to cultivate black self-esteem following centuries of socio-economic oppression[citation needed]. It is also an opportunity to further recognize significant contributions to society made by people with African heritage.

[edit] Controversy

African Americans

Top left: W. E. B. Du Bois; Top center: Martin Luther King, Jr.; Top right: Edward Brooke; Bottom left: Malcolm X; Bottom center: Rosa Parks; Bottom right: Sojourner Truth

W. E. B. Du Bois • Martin Luther King, Jr. • Edward Brooke
Malcolm X • Rosa Parks • Sojourner Truth

Total population

African American
13.1% of the total U.S. population
Non-Hispanic or Latino
12.7% of the U.S. population
Hispanic or Latino
0.33% of the U.S. population

Regions with significant populations

 United States
(predominantly Southern)



(called Americo-Liberians)



American English, African American Vernacular English, minorities of Spanish, French, and indigenous African languages


Christianity (mostly Protestantism or Roman Catholicism), Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and other religions

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NoI preacher in 1998, in England.

Black History Month sparks an annual debate about the continued usefulness and fairness of a designated month dedicated to the history of one race. Critical op-ed pieces have appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer [1] and USA Today [2].

Some African American radical/nationalist groups, including the Nation of Islam, have criticized Black History Month. Other critics contend that Black History Month is irrelevant because it has degenerated into a shallow ritual.[7]. Some, like Morgan Freeman say that it serves to undermine the contention that black history is American history.

Woodson, creator of Negro History Month, hoped that the week would eventually be eliminated, when African-American history would be fully integrated with American history.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] References


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Organizations and movements

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