The History of Black History Month

Today, most of us know that February is Black History Month. Many of us can’t think of a February that passed without celebrating and honoring the achievements of some of the most notable and influential Americans ever. But this is a fairly new holiday and one that took on national status just a few decades ago.

In this article, we’ll give you a (brief) history of this month and tell you how you can celebrate on Clapper!

Black History Month Then…

The origins of Black History Month date back to 1926 with Harvard-trained historian, Carter Woodson. Woodson wanted to raise awareness of the contributions African Americans had made throughout American History. Woodson’s original event was only a week-long, situated in February to encompass the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was incredible, with schools and local communities requesting learning materials and endorsing the effort.

A protest during the Civil Rights Movement, when Black History gained more attention.

The event was such a success that it continued every year. By the 1950s, more Americans were taking part in the celebration. Mayors nationwide issued proclamations for and observed the celebration. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s further expanded this awareness and expanded the importance of Black History and the contributions African Americans had made to our history and culture. The first month-long celebration of Black History was in 1970, proposed and hosted by Black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University.  Then, in 1976 (the US Bicentennial) President Ford made Black History Week into a month officially. He encouraged all Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Every president has honored this month since then.

…And Now

While this month honors all black people from all periods of US history, each year the ASALH chooses a new theme to bring attention to elements that merit distinction. This year’s theme is Black Resistance, and you can see all previous themes here! These themes and contributions can be celebrated through museum exhibits, film screenings, book or poetry readings, discussions, and by encouraging the study of African American achievements. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) promotes the year-long study of Black History.

And, while I’m most familiar with the United States Black History Month, it’s far from the only one out there. The holiday is observed in the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, and Germany, just to name a few.

Notable Figures

There is no shortage of figures to learn about and honor this month. It’s impossible to ignore and dismiss just how much Black and African American people have shaped this country. And while icons like Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King Jr. have more than earned their renown, there are thousands more figures that deserve it too. This list from Oprah Daily scratches the surface with 26 pioneers that we should all know about – including Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, pictured below.

A picture of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm in 1972, announcing her run for the presidential nomination.
Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968, and later the first woman and Black person to run for president.

Black History Month on Clapper

This month, we’ll be hosting a special interview series with some of our favorite Black creators! Every Thursday at 5pm CT, you can tune into @ClapperCreator to listen to some of our top Black creators share their stories and experiences.

You can also use the hashtag #blackhistorymonth. You can use this hashtag to share your experiences, raise awareness about the contributions Black people have made, or hear stories from our users.

Further Reading

The official US Government Black History Month Page.

This NPR article explains why we celebrate in February.

The Wikipedia page for Black History Month.

This History Channel article covers the origins of the holiday.