The Origins of Black History Month

Carter G. Woodson

Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history. Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history.

In many cities throughout the U.S., a variety of events and activities will be held to celebrate Black History Month. While many have acknowledged the significance of this month, many do not know the origins of Black History Month. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Who was Dr. Carter G. Woodson and why did he create “Negro History Week,” now popularly known as Black History Month?

Carter G. Woodson was born in 1875 in New Canton, Virginia, the son of former slaves. Carter G. Woodson was a learned man and a distinguished scholar, advocate, and social theorist. Woodson earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago, and was one of the first African Americans to receive a doctorate from Harvard University. Woodson dedicated his career to the field of African-American history and lobbied extensively to establish Black History Month as a nationwide institution. He also wrote many historical works, including the 1933 book The Mis-Education of the Negro.

In 1915, Carter G. Woodson helped found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (which later became the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History), which had the goal of placing African-American historical contributions front and center. The next year he established the Journal of Negro History, a scholarly publication.

Woodson lobbied schools and organizations to participate in a special program to encourage the study of African-American history, which began in February 1926 with Negro History Week. The program was later expanded and renamed Black History Month. (Woodson had chosen February for the initial weeklong celebration to honor the birth months of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.)  To help teachers with African-American studies, Woodson later created the Negro History Bulletin in 1937 and also penned literature for elementary and secondary school students. Woodson died on April 3, 1950, a respected and honored figure who received accolades for his vision. His legacy continues on, with Black History Month being a national cultural force recognized by a variety of media formats, organizations and educational institutions. We are all in debt to Dr. Carver G. Woodson for his contribution to the ongoing history of African Americans in this country.