The Origins of African-American History Month

The following article originally appeared in The City Sun, a weekly African-American newspaper that was published in Brooklyn from 1984-1996 by the late Andrew Cooper. I’ve referenced the article for school and work newsletters highlighting Black History Month.

Noted historian Carter G. Woodson created Black History Month. Woodson was the founder and director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

Negro History week started as a weeklong celebration, coinciding with the birthdates of Abraham Lincoln on February 12th and Frederick Douglass on February 14th. Over the years, many schools, churches and organizations took time to honor the heritage and achievements of Black Americans.

Negro History Week took on added life in the 1960s and 1970s during the Civil Rights movement. Buoyed by heightened awareness, Negro History week observances began to take place throughout February.

1976 was the first year where February officially became Black History Month. This was on the event of the American Bicentennial, and the 50th anniversary of Negro History Week.

Each week in February was used to mark an important aspect of Black American History.

February 1-7 was for Black Americans to remember their heritage and contributions to the founding and development of the United States.

February 8-14 would be a celebration of Black traditions, cultural diversity and oneness as a nation.

February 15-21 would focus on realizing goals, securing the gift of liberty for all, and making use of the contributions of all citizens in shaping our society.

February 22-28 would be a time to look at the future for advances not yet attained. The last day would be an occasion to size the accomplishments of the preceding four weeks.

In 1993, Governor Mario Cuomo declared 1993 as “African-American History Year” in New York State.


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