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The History of Black History Month

February of 2011 will be National African American History Month, as proclaimed by the president.

President Barack Obama issued the proclamation yesterday, following a tradition started in 1976 by President Gerald Ford.

This year’s theme is “African Americans and the Civil War,” and President Obama makes a call out to “public officials, educators, librarians and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities.”

He didn’t add, “And yes, go ahead and complain about there not being a National History Month for some other group, as if you don’t really understand what this is all about.”

How did Black History Month get started? Mostly thanks to Carter G. Woodson.

Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915. Until he died in 1950, Woodson worked to encourage historians and educators to study the culture and history of black Americans. The Association began The Journal of Negro History in 1916, and Woodson founded a publishing firm to boost his field of study. Woodson began Negro History Week in 1926, and picked February because of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington.

The Association changed its name in 1972 to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). As the United States approached its bicentennial, President Ford issued in 1975 A Message on the Observance of Black History Week.

The following year the ASALH expanded it from a week to a month, and in 1976 President Ford followed suit and issued A Message on the Observance of Black History Month.

Since then, it’s been customary for U.S. Presidents to issue similar proclamations every February.

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