Every February in the US, we honor the achievements and contributions of Black Americans during Black History Month. It’s a time to reflect and to amplify stories from the Black community.
Historically, Black history and accomplishments were (and sadly, sometimes still are) left out of US classrooms. That’s why it’s important to recognize and honor these achievements and stories, not only in February but every day of the year. But if you’re wondering what African American History Month is and why it’s celebrated in February, read on. Hopefully you’ll also learn some useful Black History Month facts that’ll help you recognize, honor, and celebrate black life and history all month long.
What is Black History Month?
Black history month is an annual month-long celebration, recognizing the achievements made by Black Americans throughout US history. It was originally meant for schools as a month-long curriculum focus, but has since expanded to be a period of reflection observed outside of the classroom. Every February, wider society pays tribute to generations of Black Americans in the US, examining their individual stories and key events in black history.
The concept of Black History Month started during the summer of 1915 by Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard historian. Woodson traveled from Washington D.C. to Chicago, Illinois to join the thousands of people observing the 50th anniversary of emancipation. Inspired by the experiences of this powerful event, Woodson, along with Minister Jesse E. Moorland and three other men, founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The organization aimed to focus on the study of Black history and the accomplishments of Black Americans.
National attention around the organization and its work began in 1926 when the ASALH announced the creation of a “Negro History Week”. The week aimed to bring national focus to the movement, while also coordinating with schools to help them get necessary curriculum resources.
As time went on, this week-long observance and study of Black American history took hold on a national level. By the 1960s, colleges and universities across the United States were officially observing Black History Week. The week expanded to a full month when finally, in 1976, President Gerald Ford decreed Black History Month a national observance.
What Does it Represent?
Black History Month represents an important time in the calendar, acknowledging as it does, the achievements and contributions the Black community have made to the US. Before 1926, Black history was simply not recognised or studied in school textbooks. Since then, this month-long celebration seeks to put Black History firmly in the spotlight, highlighting the many invaluable contributions the community have made to the country.
Why is it Still so Important to This Day?
While great strides have been made to acknowledge and atone for wrongs of the past, recent events serve as sad reminders that there is still much work to be done. Today, Black History Month is no longer an exclusively US celebration, with the likes of Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and more marking the occasion too.
The February celebration of Black History Month stems back to when it was just a one-week celebration. When the ASALH chose the first Black History Week in 1926, they chose the second week in February because Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass both had birthdays that week. Black History Week evolved into Black History Month in the 1960s thanks to the hard work of the ASALH and the Civil Rights Movement.
Black History Month Themes
Ever since President Ford officially decreed Black History Month as a national celebration, Presidents have continued to issue annual national decrees with a specific theme for that year. This tradition started in 1976 and continues today. The 2022 Black History Month theme is Black Health and Wellness. This year’s theme focuses on the history of healthcare within the African American community, honoring the great work done by Black scholars, medical practitioners, midwives, herbalists, and more throughout the African Diaspora.
What are some previous Black History Month themes? Check out a few below:
1928: Civilization: A World Achievement
1938: Special Achievements of the Race: Oratory, Drama, Music, Painting, Sculpture, Science and Inventions
1948: The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth
1958: Negro History: A Factor in Nationalism and Internationalism
1968: The Centennial of the Fourteenth Amendment Afro-American History Week
1978: Roots, Achievements, and Projections
1988: Constitutional Status of Afro-Americans in the 21st Century
1998: Black Business
2008: Carter G. Woodson and the Origins of Multiculturalism
2018: African Americans in Times of War
For a full list of previous Black History month themes, check out ASALH.
Cool Facts About Black History Month
- The origin of Black History Month goes all the way back to 1928 in the United States, but since then, other countries have also started observing the month-long event. For example, Canada also celebrates Black History Month in February. Other countries like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Ireland celebrate Black History Month in October.
- President Gerald Ford officially made Black History Month a national month of observance in 1976. The year also coincided with the 50th anniversary of the first Black History Week and the USA’s bicentennial birthday.
- On February 12, 2022, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) will celebrate its 113th birthday. NAACP is America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. They chose the date of their inception back in 1909 because it fell on the 100th birthday of former President Abraham Lincoln.
- The National Civil Rights museum, located in Memphis, Tennessee, is steeped in significant history. The museum is situated on the site of the former Lorraine Motel where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was tragically assassinated on April 4, 1968. To visit the museum is to experience and observe a powerful, sometimes tragic, history, giving you a good understanding of the struggles that were and still are experienced by Black citizens.
- April 4th, the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, also coincides with the birthday of his dear friend and famous poet, Maya Angelou. For years after that day in 1968, Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday in observance of King’s tragic assasination and would instead send flowers to King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, every year on April 4.
- Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife, is well-known for her musical talents just as much as she is for her civil rights work. She was a talented singer and violin player. She won a fellowship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and while there, met her future husband Martin Luther King Jr.
Celebrate by Creating Inspiring Designs
Art has always been a popular medium to celebrate and observe Black History Month. It’s an amazing creative outlet to express yourself, and honor the rich history of the African diaspora. Just take a look at the artwork of talented Picsart creator Namafu Amutse. If you want to create your own Black History Month themed art, Picsart is the perfect place to do it. You can create collages, use templates, or use stickers to get your message across. Looking for some design inspiration? Check out this Replay we’ve created inspired by Namafu Amutse’s art:
Picsart now has a Black History Matters sticker pack that you can use to further customize your edit. Check out the Black History Month celebration replay below, and be sure to share yours with the Picsart community.
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