National Black History Month has received official recognition in Canada and the United States, however, it is now spreading across the world, with the UK, Ireland, and the Netherlands getting involved. With that in mind, it is now time to reveal more about observing this month and the unique history that is behind it.
History of National Black History Month
National Black History Month started as a method of remembrance with regard to the vital events and people in the history of the African diaspora. Today, it is an important month of both remembrance, recognition, and education. It is a time for people of any color to look at the incredible figures in Black History, as well as raising awareness about the issues that are still present in society in terms of racism and the rights that black people are affected by. Education is at the core of National Black History Month, and it is a great opportunity for people from all walks of life to broaden their horizons and expand their understanding.
While some people say that National Black History Month can be traced back to “Negro History Week,” which was created by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926 alongside the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, its inspiration goes back even further than that. In the summer of 1915, Woodson traveled with many friends from his hometown of Chicago to Washington D.C. for a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the emancipation of black people. They were a few of many thousands of black people who traveled across the country that summer to honor the progress that had been made since the destruction of slavery.
This event spawned a new publication, The Journal of Negro History, which Woodson began in 1916. And finally, ten years later, the predecessor to National Black History Month was created.
A week in February was chosen by Woodson because he thought it was significant that it coincided with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (14th of Feb) and Abraham Lincoln (12th of Feb), and both dates have long been celebrated in black communities for their impact on black history.
Even though the idea was formed around 50 years earlier, it was not until 1970 that National Black History Month as it is known today was created. It was first proposed in 1969 at Kent State University in Ohio, USA by the Black United Students and black educators. The first celebration took place the following year and, in six years’ time, it was being celebrated across the entire country. This happened when Gerald Ford, who was President at the time, recognized National Black History Month during the United States Bicentennial celebration.
During his speech, he said that Americans should:
Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history
After this, National Black History Month spread to other parts of the world, with the United Kingdom first celebrating in 1987. However, in the UK, Ireland, and the Netherlands, the observance is in the month of October.
National Black History Month Timeline
Journal entry records delivery of slaves to Virginia
Likely not the first appearance of African slaves in America, this is still a critical date in Black History. Colonist John Rolfe documents the arrival of a ship with “20 and odd” Africans who had been kidnapped by Portuguese and are brought to the New World.
Nat Turner leads slave revolt
The only effective slave revolt in American history is led by Nat Turner in Southampton County, Virginia. A group of around 75 black people rebel against their white slave owners and are free for two days, killing dozens of white people, until they are eventually overtaken by state militia. Turner is later hanged for his crimes.
Lincoln enacts the Emancipation Proclamation
During the third year of the Civil War, US President Abraham Lincoln declares that enslaved people shall be “forever free”. The war is fought for another two years but eventually this proclamation comes true and slaves in the southern US are also set free in 1865.
Negro History Week is observed
American historian, Carter G. Woodson is determined to bring African American History to the forefront, so he begins with with Negro History Week in 1926, which eventually develops into Black History Month.
First National Black History Month is observed
In alignment with the US 200th birthday, President Gerald Ford encourages all Americans to honor and pay homage to the accomplishments of black Americans throughout history. Since then, each US president has issued proclamations regarding National Black History Month.
How to Observe National Black History Month
There are a number of different ways that people can meaningfully celebrate National Black History Month. Try out some of these interesting ideas or come up with some creative ways of your own:
Learn More About Black History
One thing that most people should be encouraged to do is find out more about black history, both in general but also in regard to the local area. Get some information on how black people originally arrived as slaves in certain areas and how they were emancipated, whether during the United States Civil War in the 1860s, the abolishment of slavery in the United Kingdom in 1833, or through other historical events.
Also, why not spend a little bit of time learning a little bit more about the unsung heroes of Black History? Do a little bit of digging to find out about members of the black community who made an effort to speak up for their people and fight for their rights. These people should be honored during National Black History Month.
Visit a Black History Museum
For those who find interactive learning to be the best way to get connected, this would be a great time to visit a museum that addresses various parts of the history of black people. Can’t get there in person? That’s okay! Many of these places offer a lot of resources online as well. Try out some of these excellent museums:
- DuSable Museum of African American History. Located in Chicago, Illinois, USA, this museum is America’s oldest of its kind at more than 60 years old. In fact, the museum has been around longer than National Black History Month has been!
- Museum of London: London’s Black History. Focusing on Black British history, this part of the museum offers access to archives, recordings, articles, videos and photographs including the important Windrush generation and the influence of dub reggae.
- National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Located in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, this place tells stories of courage, perseverance and cooperation of those who worked to help bring American slaves from the south into freedom in the north. With art exhibitions, education about racism and various resources online and in person, this center offers strong support to the cause.
Show Support to Black Owned Businesses
Why not purchase something from a black-owned business during National Black History Month? Also, get the word out and show love for these businesses across various social media platforms. Supporting tenacious and passionate black entrepreneurs is one of the best ways to give back to the black community.
Get Involved with Various Black NonProfit Organizations
One great way to get involved and connected during National Black History Month is to show support to black non-profit organizations. Examples include SisterLove, NAACP, Black Girls Code, Black Lives Matter, The Center for Black Equity, Black PAC (which organizes black voters) and many more. Check with a local chapter of one of these organizations to find out ways it is possible to get involved through volunteering, lending a voice, making a donation, educating others and much more.
National Black History Month FAQs
Who started National Black History Month?
Several people played a part in the establishment of Black History Month. Its origins date back to 1926 when Carter G. Woodhouse, a black historian, began the observance of Negro History Week celebrated in February. Eventually, in the 1960s, students at colleges and universities began celebrating for a month and the date was made official in 1976.
When did National Black History Month start?
The first recognition of Black History Month in the United States was in 1976. Although Negro History Week had been celebrated for 50 years (usually in early February), the observance was expanded into a full month unofficially in the 1960s through students on college campuses.
Why is National Black History Month celebrated in February?
February is the birth month for two prominent leaders who played an important part in US Black History. This include President Abraham Lincoln (February 12) who fought against slavery in the Civil War, as well as African American abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass (February 14).
Where did National Black History Month start?
While the first officially recognized Black History Month in the US is initiated by President Gerald Ford in the White House, its origins go back further. In 1915, Carter G. Woodhouse and some friends travel from Chicago to Washington DC to participate in a celebration of 50 years of emancipation.
What other countries celebrate Black History Month?
Only the US and Canada celebrate National Black History Month in February. Other countries, such as the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Ireland, tend to celebrate black history in October.