Already Black History Month is over. Every year, you hear the same jokes about how black folks were given the shortest month of the year. With all the accomplishments and contributions that African-Americans have made, you’d think we’d get more time; however, there’s a reason we got stuck with February.
Did you know Black History Month actually used to be just one week? Yes, y’all. Seven days. Today, you can find Black History Month celebrated almost everywhere in the nation. But what is the history of Black History Month? You can thank the efforts of Carter G. Woodson for that.
The humble beginnings of Black History Month are rooted in 1915 Chicago. It started as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Emancipation, sponsored by the state of Illinois. People traveled far and wide to see the exhibits that highlighted the progress of blacks since slavery ended. It was more of an exhibit than a celebration that only lasted a few weeks. These three weeks and the crowds that turned out during them inspired Woodson to get together with other advocates and and form the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). As a Member of Omega Psi Phi, he first tried to get his fellow brothers involved in this idea he had. By 1924, it was dubbed Negro History and Literature Week and was later named Negro Achievement Week. He is the one who decided that this week was to be celebrated in February 1926.
So why February? Both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass have birthdays in February. Ever since Lincoln died, black folks recognized his death every year and they always celebrated Douglass. So, it isn’t because it was the shortest month it was because of old traditions of African Americans during that time. According to ASALH, the celebration soon became about celebrating black people as a race, not just the excellent stand-outs: “More importantly, Woodson believed that history was made by the people, not simply or primarily by great men. He envisioned the study and celebration of the Negro as a race, not simply as the producers of a great man. And Lincoln, however great, had not freed the slaves—the Union Army, including hundreds of thousands of black soldiers and sailors, had done that. Rather than focusing on two men, the black community, he believed, should focus on the countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization.”
By 1937, Negro history week had caught on. It was so overwhelming that people were looking for more ways to celebrate and incorporate it into their school circle. The response was huge. Here is the crazy thing that happened. After Negro History week because popular by us, according to ASALH, people were popping up all over trying to get a piece of the action. Meaning there were people claiming to be history experts, authors rushing to make books and businesses trying to make money off the idea of Negro history week. Over the years it became bigger and bigger. Many states were already celebrating it for a full month in the 40’s and 50’s but it wasn’t until 1976, 50 years after Woodson came up with the idea that the month of February was declared Black history month.