February We Celebrate Black History Month

It was Negro History Week before it was Black History Month

In 1926, Carter G. Woodson, the scholar often referred to as the “father of Black history,” established Negro History Week to focus attention on Black contributions to civilization. According to the NAACP, Woodson — at the time only the second Black American after W.E.B. Du Bois to earn a doctorate from Harvard University — “fervently believed that Black people should be proud of their heritage and [that] all Americans should understand the largely overlooked achievements of Black Americans.”

Woodson, the son of former enslaved people, famously said: “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

Woodson chose a week in February because of Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday was Feb. 12, and Frederick Douglass, who was born enslaved and did not know his actual birth date, but chose to celebrate it on Feb. 14.

“Those two people were central to helping to afford Black people the experience of freedom that they have now,” says W. Marvin Dulaney, president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), which Woodson founded in 1915 and today is the official promoter of Black History Month.

There’s a new theme every year

Each year, the ASALH chooses a different theme for Black History Month. This year, the theme is “Black Resistance.”

“African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms, and police killings since our arrival upon these shores,” the ASALH says of this year’s theme. “These efforts have been to advocate for a dignified self-determined life in a just democratic society in the United States and beyond the United States political jurisdiction.”

Dulaney says this year’s theme was chosen, in part, because of the current politically charged environment around race.

He calls efforts in states like Florida, which recently rejected a new Advanced Placement course covering African American studies, and Alabama, where the State Board of Education has voted to limit how educators can talk about race in the classroom, “a strong retrenchment” against coming to terms with Black history. In light of that, the theme seemed appropriate this year, Dulaney says.

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