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Black History Month: How It Started

Every year in the month of February, people in the USA, Canada, and the UK celebrate black history month. It is also known as African American History Month.

During this month, people dedicate time to appreciate the achievements of prolific African Americans and events who have played a major role in shaping US history.

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Every year we see the black pride posts all over social media and other media outlets. In Canada, it became an officially-recognized event in 1995.

African Americans have a dark history showing how they landed in the USA. They went through slavery and a lot of hardships to reach the independence they now have to the point of having a black president in office at some point.

African American men and women can now vote and have rights just like everyone else.

The figures that are usually commemorated are the unsung heroes that range from politicians, activists as well as artists. African American women with great accomplishments and have steered the movement are also applauded.

Some of the people remembered are the likes of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Barrack Obama, Mohammed Ali and many others.

History of Black History Month

February was not just randomly picked as the month to celebrate black history month, it has significant meaning to the movement.

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February was the months when president Abraham Lincoln and Author Frederick Douglass were born, on 12th and 14th respectively. Lincoln issued the emancipation policy that worked to abolish slavery.

He even enlisted African Americans into the army. The black community celebrated their contributions to African American liberation and civil rights on their birthdays.

The celebration of Black History Month officially begun in 1976 when President Gerald Ford urged the public to, “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

The practice of celebrating the strides made by African Americans started way earlier around the year 1915. This was when Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH).

The organization was dedicated to researching and exalting achievements by black Americans and other people of African descent.

Carter G. Woodson was a Harvard-trained historian and his inspiration came from having attended a three-week national celebration of the 50th anniversary of emancipation in 1915.

It pushed him and his partners to want to do more for their community. Their aim was to encourage scholars to engage in the intensive study of the black past. 

History Making

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In 1916 Woodson became the editor of the ASNLH’s scholarly publication, The Journal of Negro History. Inspired by Woodson, his college fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, introduced Negro History and Literature Week in 1924.

The group known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) today sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926.

They chose the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, host performances, and lectures and establish history clubs.

Negro History Week was observed for years to come thanks to the guidance of some mayors of the time. It first evolved into a monthly celebration in the 1960s in many colleges due to the civil rights movement.

The celebration is not without criticisms as some have called it racist. Others question the appropriateness of confining the celebration of black history to one month, as opposed to the integration of black history into mainstream education throughout the year.

Black History Month usually has different themes each year. In 2019 the theme was Black migrations.

The 2020 theme, “African Americans and the Vote,” is in honor of the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment (1920) granting women’s suffrage and the sesquicentennial of the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) giving black men the right to vote.

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