Black History Month.
You always hear jokes about how they gave us the shortest month of the year. With all the accomplishments and contributions that African Americans have given the United States of America, you would think that we would get more time. There is a reasoning behind that.
Did you know that Black history month actually used to be a week? Yes, 7 days.
Today you can find Black history month celebrations all across the United States. Companies like Mcdonalds with their 365 black campaign, are dedicated to the celebration of African-American accomplishments every year. But what is the History of Black history month?
During a time when there were segregation laws and civil rights movements, how did the celebration of us survive through the years? You can thank the efforts of Carter G. Woodson for that.
The summer of 1915 in Chicago is where you can trace the humble beginnings of Black History Month. It started as a celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of the emancipation sponsored by the state of Illinois. People traveled far and wide to see the exhibits that highlighted the progress of blacks since slavery ended. This was more of an exhibit than a celebration that only lasted a few weeks.
The crowds were so big that it inspired Woodson to get together with others and form the Association for the study of Negro Life and History. (ASNLH) As a Member of Omega Psi Phi, he first tried to get his fellow brothers involved in his idea.
By 1924 it was dubbed Negro History and literature week, which was later named Negro Achievement Week. Woodson decided that this week was to be celebrated in February 1926.
So why February? February is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Every since Lincoln died blacks celebrated his death every year and they always celebrated Douglass. So it isn’t because it was the shortest month it was because of old traditions of African Americans during that time. According to ASALH, He envisioned the study and celebration of the Negro as a race, not simply as the producers of a great man. Lincoln, however great, had not freed the slaves—the Union Army, including hundreds of thousands of black soldiers and sailors, had done that. Rather than focusing on two men, the black community, he believed, should focus on the countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization.(Direct quote)
By 1937 Negro history week had caught on. It was so overwhelming that people were looking for more ways to celebrate and incorporate it into their life. The response was huge.
Here is the crazy thing that happened. After Negro History week, according to ASALH, people were popping up all over trying to get a piece of the action. There were people claiming to be history experts, authors rushing to make books and people creating businesses trying to make money off the idea of Negro history week.
Yet, no one ever thought about it before. Over the years it became bigger and bigger. Many states were already celebrating it for a full month in the 40’s and 50’s. It wasn’t until 1976, 50 years after Woodson came up with the idea, that the month of February was declared Black history month. You may take black history month for granted but never forget how it started.
One idea became a change for all of us to see. African American history is American history and should be celebrated any day of the year. Even till this day, we are still finding out new stories about the difference African-Americans made in America. Rather it was contributions to music, theater, science, sports, business, and beauty, who knows where we would be today without history makers like Carter G. Woodson.
You can find the edited and published version of this piece on OpenMic.com