The Origins of Black History Month
Black History Month began in Chicago in 1915, fifty years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. Jesse E. Moreland, a minister, and Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, founded the Association for the Study of African Life and History (ASALH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements of Black Americans and other peoples of African descent. Thousands of African Americans traveled across the country to see the exhibits highlighting their people’s progress since the destruction of slavery, turning into a three-week celebration.
Woodson selected the month of February to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12 and the 14. More importantly, he chose them for reasons of tradition. Since Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, the black community and other Republicans celebrated the fallen president’s birthday. And since the late 1890s, black communities across the country had been celebrating Douglass, who escaped slavery to become a prominent activist, author, and public speaker.
Woodson shined a light on the countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization. The black middle class began to expand and consume black literature and culture. Black history clubs formed, and teachers demanded materials to instruct their scholars. Woodson and the Association began to set a theme each year for the celebration, and ASALH branches formed from coast to coast. By the late 1960s, young blacks on college campuses became increasingly conscious of links with Africa and celebrating Black History Month.
Black History Month continues to this day. This year’s theme is “Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity,” which explores the African diaspora (A diaspora is a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic locale) and the spread of Black families across the United States. To learn more, visit here.