While many of us grew up celebrating Black History Month in the U.S., it’s not always common knowledge where the monthlong recognition came from. So let’s take a moment to highlight the “Father of Black History” himself.
Who Is Carter G. Woodson?
Carter G. Woodson was the son of former slaves who taught himself most school subjects while working to support his family. He attended high school at 20, only to finish in two years before going on to earn degrees from Berea College in Kentucky and University of Chicago. He would also become the second man to graduate with a doctorate from Harvard University (the first was W.E.B. DuBois).
During the summer of 1915, Woodson traveled to Chicago for the 50th anniversary of emancipation celebration. It was an annual celebration funded by the state that saw thousands of Black Americans travel to see Black history exhibits and presentations. This inspired Woodson’s first act in preserving Black history: the creation of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASALH). In 1916, he published the Journal of Negro History which is still around today as the Journal of African American History.
According to the ASALH, in 1924, Woodson who was a graduate member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. asked the support of his fraternity in creating Negro History and Literature Week, later renamed Negro Achievement Week. The following year, Woodson capitalized on the popularity of Negro Achievement Week by pushing for national support. In February 1926, Woodson sent out press releases for the first annual Negro History Week.
Woodson held many titles when he died at age 74 in 1950, including historian, author and journalist. He would live to see his push for recognition of Black achievements and history become the monthlong celebration we recognize it to be.
Negro History Week
According to the NAACP, Woodson chose the week of Feb. 7 through 14th to coincide with two days that the Black community already celebrated: President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on the 12th and the iconic abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ birthday on the 14th.
Negro History Week caught on quickly with the formation of Black history clubs, classroom lessons and a growing demand for Black literature. The ASALH provided reading material, photographs and more nationwide to meet the needs of a Black community with a rising class consciousness.
How Did One Week Turn Into Black History Month?
Popularized by Black youth, the celebration often extended well past a week by the 1940s. In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month, the first in a long line of U.S. presidents to issue proclamations in support of the celebration every year.