“You can’t understand American history without understanding Black American history,” says historian Matthew Delmont of Dartmouth University.
Each February, National African American History Month honors the struggles and triumphs of millions of American citizens over the most devastating obstacles — slavery, prejudice, poverty — as well as their contributions to the nation’s cultural and political life.
How Black History Month came to be
Image from: https://www.blackpast.org/
The celebration of the contributions of African Americans began in 1926 with Negro History Week (using the term that was later replaced by “Black” or “African American”).
The week was timed to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln, signer of the Emancipation Proclamation, and Frederick Douglass, who fought against slavery and became a social reformer after his own escape from enslavement. The week was the brainchild of historian Carter G. Woodson, who looked to the day when the accomplishments of Black people would be celebrated all year long.
The history week led to educational materials for schools with Black students, but many segregated schools with white pupils had little exposure to the materials about notable Black people.
Fifty years later, during the United States’ bicentennial celebration, President Gerald R. Ford turned the week into a national monthlong observation called Black History Month, saying it was time to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Now speeches and performances are held. And schools focus on notable African Americans — Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks are now among the most well-known figures in American history. “Blacks always valued this history,” Delmont says. “Black History Month helped others understand how much impact black Americans have had in the United States.”