Every February, the country joins together to observe Black History Month. This annual celebration honors the many contributions of African Americans throughout history in addition to generating awareness and support in the steps still being taken today toward racial justice.
This year’s theme is Black Health and Wellness, as announced by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the founders of Black History Month based in Washington, D.C. A timely theme as we navigate through the third year of the pandemic, the purpose is to highlight health care providers and medical scholars while bringing the public’s attention to important developments within the Black community on this topic.
Many celebrations are scheduled to take place across the county, but it’s important to first understand the history and foundation of such a pivotal observance.
Origins of Black History Month
- 1915: The “father of Black history” and Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson designated time to promote achievements by Black Americans while educating people about Black history and culture.
- 1926: What began as a week-long observance was started in February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
- Late 1960s: The week-long observance evolved into a month-long celebration called Black History Month, which was partly attributed to the civil rights movement.
- 1976: President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month, calling on Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Three Interesting Facts about Black History Month
- There’s a new theme every year. Honoring the original practice by Woodson, ASALH designates a new theme to focus the public’s attention. For instance, the 1928 theme was “Civilization: A World Achievement,” and the theme in 1976 was “America for All Americans.” You can find a full list of the annual themes here.
- Black History Month is celebrated outside of the U.S. In 1995, Canada began celebrating the observance during February, and Jean Augustine is called their “mother of Black History Month.” In the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands, Black History Month is recognized in October.
- President Barack Obama delivered a message from the White House 40 years after Ford’s recognition. In his speech, Obama famously said: "Black History Month shouldn't be treated as though it is somehow separate from our collective American history or somehow just boiled down to a compilation of greatest hits from the March on Washington or from some of our sports heroes… It's about the lived, shared experience of all African Americans."
As we take the month of February to pay homage to the significant contributions, sacrifices and impact Black Americans have made across the world, we understand that this observance should not stop at the end of the month. Let’s reflect on the Black voices who have greatly helped shape this nation, today and every day.