African-American History Month - February
National African-American History Month, also known as Black History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by African-Americans that is observed throughout the month of February. This month brings recognition to the significant role of African-Americans in the history of the United States. Since 1976, every U.S. President has established the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom also dedicate a month to celebrating people of African decent.
The origins of African-American History Month began in 1915, about half a century after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, when Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, along with the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). Known today as the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH), the organization has been dedicated to researching and promoting achievements of African-Americans and other peoples of African decent. Woodson and others founded this organization with the common belief that "truth could not be denied and that reason would someday overcome prejudice." Of this belief Woodson stated, "We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice." In 1926, when it was still known as the ASNLH, the group created Negro History and Literature Week, later renamed National Negro History week. The second week of February was chosen for the celebration so as to coincide with the birthday observances of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two key figures in the history of African-Americans. Communities and schools were inspired by this event to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs and host lectures and performances.
During the following decades, mayors of cities across the nation began issuing annual proclamations recognizing Negro History Week. By the 1950's, substantial progress had been made in involving more and more Americans across the nation in observing the history week. Then in the late 1960's, the Negro History Week became more widely known and unofficially celebrated as Negro History Month in many communities. This was taking place during the Civil Rights Movement, which helped to focus Americans of all color on the important contributions African-Americans have made to our history and culture.
The evolution of the week into the now month-long observance was gradual. In 1975, President Ford issued a Message on the Observance of Black History Week imploring all Americans to "recognize the important contribution made to our nation's life and culture by black citizens." In that message Ford also noted, "Emphasis on these achievements in our schools and colleges and in daily community life places in timely perspective the benefits of working together as brothers and sisters regardless of race, religion or national origin for the general well-being of all our society." In 1976, the commemoration of black history in the United States was officially expanded by the ASALH to Black History Month and President Ford issued the first public message on the observance of Black History Month, which later became known as African-American History Month.
In 1986, Congress passed a law designating the month of February as "National Black (Afro-American) History Month." This law noted that February 1, 1986 would "mark the beginning of the sixtieth annual public and private salute to Black History." Congress called upon the president to issue a proclamation to the people of the United States to observe February, 1986, as Black History Month "with appropriate ceremonies and activities." President Ronald Reagan was the first president to issue an official proclamation establishing the history month. Each year since, every president has issued a proclamation reaffirming the month. In 1993, President Clinton's annual proclamation changed the title of the observation to National African-American History Month. Along with the annual presidential proclamations, the month is also assigned a theme to follow for that month by the ASALH. Some of the more recent themes have been "Heritage and Horizons: The African-American Legacy and the Challenges for the 21st Century" (2000), "From Slavery to Freedom: Africans in the Americas" (2007) and "The History of Black Economic Empowerment" (2010). These themes offer a focus on one part of the history of the African-American people and are used in nearly every level of education, community gatherings, lectures and performances.
Through the course of American history many African-Americans have overcome great adversity and have made significant contributions to American society as a whole in areas ranging from government, law, military, science and medicine to education, literature, sport, music, film and dance. During the month of February, we as a nation honor one of the many ethnic and cultural groups that comprise the very diverse society that is the United States.
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Click here to read some great quotes such as:
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."...I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today."
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
"One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings."
"I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. All I care to know is that a man is a human being, and that is enough for me; he can't be any worse."