From science to politics, from education to entertainment, African Americans have played a vital role in shaping the United States of America. February marks the start of Black History Month, an annual month-long observance of the achievements of African Americans throughout the nation’s history, a time to reflect on, to pay homage to, and to celebrate the generations of African Americans who, in the face of tremendous adversity, have persevered and made noteworthy contributions to the nation.
Black History Month was not always a major celebration. Over the last century, it has gone from a weeklong event celebrated in just a few states and overlooked by the masses to a month-long celebration observed by several countries around the world. Black History Month is observed in February in the United States and Canada, while in the United Kingdom and Ireland, it is observed in October.
Here are a few important facts to know about Black History Month.
Black History Month Would Not Exist Without Carter G. Woodson
A Harvard-educated historian, teacher, journalist, and author, Carter G. Woodson is known as the "father" of Black History Month for his tireless efforts in fighting to preserve Black history in America out of fear that it would be erased. Woodson, who was the second Black man to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University behind W.E.B. Du Bois, noted that Black history had been "overlooked, ignored and suppressed" not only by the authors of history books, but by the teachers that used the books to teach.
In 1915, Woodson and well-known minister Jesse E. Moorland, co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The organization sponsored the first ever "Negro History Week," which was held on Feb. 7, 1926. The month of February was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and Frederick Douglass (Feb. 14), two dates that had traditionally been celebrated in Black communities.
Black History Month and the Civil Rights Movement
Woodson’s dedication to Black history became his life’s work. He died in 1950, just a few years before the start of the modern Civil Rights Movement, which heightened awareness around the discrimination faced by Black Americans, thus playing a major role in Black History celebrations evolving from a week to a month across many college campuses in the late 1960s.
The '60s and '70s ushered in the Black Power Movement, and an even larger wave of interest in honoring and celebrating Black culture. The first official Black History Month celebration took place at Kent State in 1970, but it would take another six years before it would be recognized by the United States government.
Black History Month Became Official in 1976
In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially proclaimed February as Black History Month. He urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."
"I urge my fellow citizens to join me in tribute to Black History Month and to the message of courage and perseverance it brings to all of us," Ford continued.
Black History Month began to grow from there, but were it not for the work of Black educators and students who picked up where Woodson had left off, Black History Month would not be what it is currently.
Today, many schools around the country commemorate Black History Month with curriculums centered around historical figures and events.
Black History Month Has a Different Theme Each Year
Every year, there is a designated theme for Black History Month. This year’s theme focuses on "Black Health and Wellness," honoring Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, as well as doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists and others practicing medicine throughout the African diaspora.
How to Celebrate
The stories of Black historical figures and important periods in Black history have been featured in films for decades. The Black experience in America has also been depicted and examined through many fictional stories.
A.frame has selected a list of films to watch to observe Black History Month. You’ll find films like Sounder, Do the Right Thing, Hidden Figures, Fences, Moonlight and many more. Please click here for a full list.
Black History Month: Films to Watch in Observance
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