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The Reason Why We Celebrate Black History Month in February

The Reason Why We Celebrate Black History Month in February.. The tradition began based on the birthdays of two important historical figures.

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The Reason Why We Celebrate Black History Month in February
The Reason Why We Celebrate Black History Month in February—

Why is Black History Month in February?

A longstanding rumor in some of the more skeptical pockets of the African American community is that February was selected as the month to honor Black history because it provides the least number days — a mere 28 — to celebrate Black achievement.

Historian Daryl Scott, Professor of U.S. History at Howard University, refutes this rumor, saying that “Black people gave us Black history month.” Specifically he adds, “It was Woodson,” as in Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who established Negro History Week in 1926 to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to American life and history.

“Woodson was cleaning up bad history,” says Scott, who served as President of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc. (ASALH), the organization that Woodson founded in 1915. This “bad history” left out many of the outstanding contributions of Black Americans to U.S. History, says writer and historian Ronda Racha Penrice, author of Black American History For Dummies.

Penrice says that the grassroots movement that led to the creation of Black History Month was critical because: “There’s a perception that we [African Americans] didn’t contribute much, but you’ll find our contributions all over the place!”

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Negro History Week took place during the second week of February to commemorate the births of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who claimed February 14 as his birthday, and President Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12.

Various Black communities throughout the U.S. already hosted Douglass Day and Lincoln Day celebrations to honor their work. “So when Woods comes along,” says Scott, “He takes those two unofficial celebration days and he says, ‘We’ll celebrate the week.’”

Scott says that Woodson essentially invited the Black community to honor an entire group of people in lieu of the contributions of solely two individuals.

Who was Dr. Carter G. Woodson?

Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950) was born in New Canton, Virginia, to parents Anne Eliza (Riddle) and James Henry Woodson, both of whom had been enslaved and were illiterate. He was a staunch believer that education could uplift individuals and the Black community as a collective. In 1912 he received his Ph.D. from Harvard University, making him the only person born to enslaved parents to ever earn a Ph.D. in history from any U.S. institution.

Three years later, he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), to provide Americans with information about how Black Americans had contributed to American history and culture.

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Woodson’s myriad contributions, which included penning countless books, journals and a publishing company, earned him the title “The Father of Black History.”

Penrice says that Woodson established Negro History Week because he “fundamentally believed that the quickest way to dehumanize a people was to tell them that they didn’t have a history.” Woodson spent his career working to ensure that Black Americans were portrayed in their full humanity and greatness. He was one of the “prophets looking backwards,” says Penrice.

How did Negro History Week evolve into Black History Month?

As Negro History Week caught on “like wildfire,” according to Scott, the ASALH grew as well, establishing new branches throughout the country, all of which celebrated Negro History Week. Scott adds that Woodson and the ASALH provided each branch with educational materials about Black history to share with its members.

Woodson “wanted the school children to make presentations during Negro History Week based upon what the teachers had been teaching them all year up until that point,” he adds. “So it was never just a one-week affair in his mind.”

As Negro History Week grew in popularity, eventually various Black communities pushed for a month-long celebration. This push gained more momentum during the 1960s when the Black Power Movement and school integration efforts were gaining momentum, says Scott. In 1976 the ASALH expanded the week-long celebration into a month-long celebration, and President Gerald R. Ford acknowledged it with a presidential proclamation. Since then, every U.S. President has followed suit.

 

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