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 and Frederick Douglass.
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.
In this year’s proclamation, President Barack Obama declares the month of February to be National African American History Month. He outlines the struggle of African Americans to overcome “our Nation’s original sin” — slavery — mentions progress that has been made since he took office, and goes on to say how much more still has to be done.
To read about famous African Americans who’ve changed history, try Who2’s Black History Month.
Oh, and, for those keeping track, February is also National American Heart Month
(Note: A version of this post was published in 2011.)